Friday, September 4, 2009

Summer Rust!

I heard it today. The first sign that the kids are back in the swing of school and starting to think about the year ahead of them.

I gave them a test. No, not one for the grade book. Just a test to see what they know and remember. This was your basic multi-digit multiplication and long division, a bit of decimals, fractions, and percents. Then some basic word problems.

As I was picking up the papers I heard those words..."I'm a bit rusty on this stuff."
The boy in the back was clearly serious and the nervous chuckles resonated throughout the room. I then posed this question to the class: "Who else felt a bit rusty on this stuff?" Three-fourths (seventy-five percent or .75) of the students raised their hand.

Of course I told them this was okay. It is the beginning of the year. This undoubtedly reassured those with the nervous chuckles.

Why is it alright to be rusty? Shouldn't the students come in as strong as they left. Their Connecticut Mastery Test scores show they are bright, able, and they showed mastery in March.

Those students who did do some work over the summer clearly stand out. They are the ones who felt quite confident and competent this week. A little bit each week for eight weeks seems to be all it takes.

The students I tutored over the summer felt this confidence and were able to master this task. They had one hour per week of instruction with maybe one extra hour of homework.

My thinking is we should make a little bit of math work mandatory over the summer. Students are expected to come into school having read from a summer reading list. How about a summer math packet. Not one just geared for the CMT's filled with multiple choice questions, but one that builds on skills that they use in the real world such as estimation strategies, tricks to multiply and divide large numbers mentally, and adding large groups of numbers quickly and efficiently.

This is an area in education we probably need to look closely at for the benefit of our students. We need to turn that rust into shine.

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