Friday, November 17, 2006

6 x 7, round three 

As discusssed in my two previous posts 6 x 7 = ? and 6 x 7, round two, I used timed tests to improve standardized test scores. In addition, students began to transfer their increased confidence in math to success in other areas.

Individual students experienced significant changes - I'll share three. The first student, Peter, had gone through elementary school half-asleep. He had zero energy. His parents had him tested and "nothing was wrong". He was a nice kid, but lethargic was the only way to describe his mannerisms. He was slow doing everything, rarely finished any assignment on time, and took much work home. Then we started the timed tests. I don't recall how long it took him to complete the 50 facts in the three minute time limit but I do remember the megawatt grin on his face when he finally did. He literally started walking taller. The rest of his work got completed more quickly. By spring, his parents came to conference and asked, "What happened?" It was as though his brain had broken through a barrier of some sort and he could now perform like the other students.

A very, very bright student also experienced a shift. Jim was bored with school but because he was smart, he had few academic problems, though he had not learned his facts, either. He did ok in math but carelessness affected his results. He was tested for the gifted program; his score was borderline so he was denied participation. What the psychologist refused to consider was that Jim had made a disproportionate number of factual mistakes on the test, errors that were easily fixable. Nevertheless, she refused him access. He started the timed tests, and yes, his factual knowledge improved significantly. Though he did not get reconsidered for gifted classes at that time, his overall attitude towards school became more positive.

Tina, another student in the class had an attitude towards math that fit all the stereotypes. She was incredibly creative in writing, art, poetry, etc. but she "hated" math and often suffered an anxiety attack when taking math tests. After a few weeks taking timed tests, her fear of math started to subside. In the spring, when she took the standardized test, she became aware that her answers were out of synch with the questions. Instead of panicking, she stopped, took a deep breath, methodically retraced her answers and questions, found the problem where she had erred and still completed the entire section.

These three students along with the others had learned to exercise their brain. Just as a dancer or athlete or musician must exercise and practice, we must also teach students that they need to practice and exercise the mental muscle, the brain - learning basic math facts is simply a way to train one's brain.