Huntsville City Schools

Deputy Superintendent Blog August 31, 2015


We are excited to move forward with our Math Acceleration Program. Providing opportunities for every student to complete Algebra by the end of Grade 8 places our students on a trajectory of success by high school and beyond. No longer will our students take Algebra and Geometry spread out over several years, making it impossible for them to access the higher-level math courses necessary for success in college level courses. The Math Acceleration Program makes high mathematical attainment a reality for all students.

We are pleased with the progress our Math Acceleration Team is making. Kudos to our math teachers for working diligently each day to ensure that every student gets excited about math. We see evidence of our teachers individualizing instruction and creating engaging and exciting lessons. Our monthly professional learning inservice provides opportunities for teachers to collaborate and learn new strategies to implement in the math classroom.

It is imperative that math concepts are transferred across other subjects and activities in our students’ lives. Think about the ways you encourage your students to use math in your classroom and beyond. This is a subject matter we must all embrace and encourage if we want every student to be successful in math.

Math Across All Content Areas: Every teacher is a math teacher!


“Studies Probe How Students Can Apply Math More Widely” by Sarah Sparks in Education Week, June 3, 2015 (Vol. 34, #32, p. 14-15),

Improving Transfer of Mathematics Skills to Other Areas

“Mathematics is the language of science, the foundation of engineering, the power switch for new technology,” says Sarah Sparks in this Education Week article, “but students often struggle to transfer their understanding of math concepts to practical application in other STEM subjects.” Sparks attended a recent conference of the Association of Psychological Science and came away with some key factors that help students escape the “silos” of single subjects and transfer knowledge and skills to other areas:

• Among young children, language development is crucial, especially key vocabulary like plus and take away.

• Children’s “approximate number system” – or the ability to estimate size differences between two groups without counting – is another key factor.

• 10 or 15 minutes of practice with a skill or concept to map the underlying content “can really change the type of memory models that are activated,” says Charles Kalish of the University of Wisconsin/Madison.

• Using skills in a simulated situation – for example, second graders were asked to add different levels of blue and yellow flavoring to an ice cream machine to make shades of ice cream requested by various cartoon monsters. Students who worked in this simulation were much more likely to be able to apply the skill in a novel situation than students who did purely symbolic practice.

• Hands-on practice is helpful for most students.

PARENT CONNECTION: Helping Parents Help Students with Math

Parents are students' first teachers and have a great impact on how students view school. Without realizing it, we subconsciously pass on our fears about academic subjects. Math is one of the areas that parents struggle with most in trying to support their child. We find our ways trying to teach students math the way we were taught. Although 20 + 20 = 40, we teach students that there are multiple ways to arrive at the correct answer. Educators have a responsibility to share strategies with parents about how to effectively support students with math. The below article provides insight about how we can help parents create a math positive home.

Math Anxiety Is Contagious!

In this New York Times article, Jan Hoffman reports on a study in Psychological Science of how parents’ math anxiety is picked up by their first and second graders, pulling down the kids’ school achievement in math (but not in reading). The means of transmission? Parents helping their children with math homework. The study found that the more math-phobic parents helped, the worse their children did, slipping more than a third of a grade level behind classmates and becoming math-anxious themselves. “The parents are not out to sabotage their kids,” says Sian Beilock, one of the authors of the University of Chicago study. “But they have to ensure their input is productive. They need to have awareness of their own math anxiety and that what they say is important… Saying, ‘I’m not a math person either, and that’s O.K.’ is not a good message to convey.”

How does math anxiety work in the brain? According to Mark Ashcraft of the University of Nevada/Las Vegas, “On challenging math problems that require a lot of working memory, math-anxious people fall apart.” Their working memory is tied up with worries “and they don’t have enough left over to do the math.” The anxiety most often kicks in when students encounter middle-school algebra, but it can begin earlier, especially for girls who have math-anxious female elementary school teachers.

One thing that increases parental math anxiety is the introduction of new math curriculum materials that take an approach to basic operations that’s radically different from what they learned in school. “Educators can’t take math, turn it into Greek, and say, ‘Mom, Dad, will you help your kid with this,’ and not expect to get a ‘Wha?’”, says Harris Cooper of Duke University. An Idaho mother went on Facebook to complain about how Common Core math standards were driving her to drink. “I’ve taken to labeling math homework by how many glasses of wine it takes to peel myself off the ceiling after I’m done,” she said. “That was a two-glasser after whatever it is we’re calling long division.”

What can white-knuckle math parents do to reduce the negative effect they’re having? One approach is to create a math-positive environment and model “math behavior,” says Cooper. “You have your math homework, and I have mine” – counting change, calculating when dinner will be ready, and looking at prices in the supermarket. Another approach is to tag-team with a more math-confident spouse. And then there’s consulting with the teacher, looking over curriculum manuals, and actually mastering the math.

“Generations of Math Fears” by Jan Hoffman in The New York Times, August 25, 2015,; the study described in this article, “Intergenerational Effects of Parents’ Math Anxiety on Children’s Math Achievement and Anxiety” by Erin Maloney, Gerardo Ramirez, Elizabeth Gunderson, Susan Levine, and Sian Beilock in Psychological Science, August 7, 2015, is available for purchase at