No, really, say the data on math and science teachers is not so….

It is difficult to imagine any reason for math and science teachers to leave teaching – NOT!  In many middle schools, science is “not on the test” so why bother with it. Math is only so good as to raise test scores, not as an actual intellectual pursuit. Algebra is taught to match the very specific questions to be posed on spring assessment. It is any wonder that math and science teachers find any joy what so ever in their jobs.

Sadly, most math teachers still use “tricks” and pneumonics rather than actually help students develop the underlying thought of mathematics.  As I have been subbing, I continue to see/hear all types of math garbage in and garbage out. It is amazing the sheer variety of “worksheets” for memorizing multiplication while there is so little on the construct of an area model….go figure (oops, no pun intended).  Often times, teachers may have a math degree, however, they themselves forgot how they “learned” the concept and so are not able to teach (process of learning) and this again leads to memorization. The other side is some one may not be a math major and they themselves learned math poorly and pass on those misconceptions.  In California, one must only pass the CSET for content knowledge in math, not ability to demonstrate you can inculcate the concepts in a student.  The CSET is notorious for the fact that even math majors often fail the exams portions.

Science has a similar dilemma.  If is any indication, science may be hit or miss in any given classroom as far as passing on mis-conceptions. Again, some one with a science degree merely needs to pass the CSET. The opposite of this is teachers who are not adequately prepared to teach science so they rely on pre-packaged text book products and kits such as FOSS (designed so ANYONE can teach science).   The last time I used FOSS in Grade 7, it still taught photosynthesis as an activity to do on paper…..not a process that is demonstrated with some elodea, methyl blue, carbon dioxide and water in a closed test tube exposed to sunlight.  FOSS is a product with Delta Education and has been created by Lawrence Hall of Science at CU Berkeley.   I kept wondering at the time I was using the kit if Ernest O. Lawrence was rolling over in his grave as he observed the tragedy of photosynthesis being taught in such a ridiculous manner (of course I was told by my principal and the curriculum associate at LHS that a creative teacher would do as I suggested…..there was no acknowledgement that maybe the FOSS kit needed a polishing up).

It stands to reason, based on the research produced by Mr. Ingersoll and colleagues, retaining a math or science teacher is an issue and there are plenty of qualified teachers out there.   When I think of the reasons I alone have walked away from teaching both science and algebra, it always comes back to a lack of satisfaction. Teaching to a test, and working with students loaded up on misconceptions is not pleasurable – nor is hearing one more parent say something such as, “well, the math gene doesn’t run in our family”.

Those of us passionate about math and science are creative, observant people who explore nature for its own worth.  Anything less is of course unsatisfying. Having to remove the magic and joy of math and science to deliver pablum to the youth of America is a far cry from what I believed I was getting into when I obtained my BA  in Speech Pathologyand MA in Secondary Science Ed/Urban Ed-Biology.  When we became a nation of pre-packaged kits for teaching science, I knew in my heart something was amiss and yet, the kits are “convenient”, so school districts are enticed.  Since I have a graduate degree, I am of course interested in the “data”.  FOSS is “research based”, code for  It was difficult to find the data supporting students performing better on standardized testing, getting into math/sci programs at prestigious institutions or increasing student interest.   The published data is limited and misleading at best and yet school districts love the RESEARCH BASED.

A central finding is that “breadth-based learning, as commonly applied in high school classrooms, does not appear to offer students any advantage when they enroll in introductory college science courses,” the authors conclude, “although it may contribute to scores on standardized tests.”

I guess it really is about the test scores – it sure is not about the joy of learning.

Updated 4/29/2009