Posted in Education, STEM, Teaching

Did our STEM Course Effectively Prepare our Students for the Rigors of Seventh Grade Math?

After an amazing year in the sixth grade classroom, it’s rewarding to reflect back on all of the things that went so well this year…  

The experiential learning and field experiences our students were exposed to this year helped breathe life into the curriculum covered inside the classroom.  As the students learned about the history of Canaan, NH, they went on an archeological dig at an old landfill the early town residents used.  The boys uncovered artifacts that were used by Canaan residents over one hundred years ago.  They were able to hold onto the history of the town we discussed in the classroom.  The boys thoroughly enjoyed these hands-on experiences throughout the year.

Another amazing highlight from this past academic year was piloting our STEM course.  After months of preparation, we executed the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics class for the sixth grade with enthusiasm.  The boys absolutely adored this class.  When they reflected back on the year, almost every student noted that STEM class was their favorite course offering of the year.  The project based learning approach to the curriculum allowed the students to develop their social-emotional intelligence as they worked in groups to think critically about the world around them in order to solve relevant problems.  It was awesome!

Over the course of the year, my STEM class co-teacher and I often wondered if we were appropriately providing the students with the math skills needed to be successful in the seventh grade.  Would they be ready for the rigors of pre-algebra and beyond?  Would some of the students be left behind?  Were there any gaps in our curriculum or instruction?  So, to help us check ourselves and be sure our STEM class did what we hoped it would do, we had the students complete a math placement exam during the final week of the academic year.  While the results of the exam would be used to help adequetly place the students in math classes next year, we had a hidden agenda behind having the students complete the test.  

We used the exam as a way to collect data regarding the math component of our STEM course.  Did we cover the curriculum in such a way that our students are effectively prepared for next year?  First, we were overjoyed by how well the boys performed on the exam.  Every student fared far better than we had expected.  The results were very positive.  However, we still went through each exam, noting the skills involved in the problems the student got wrong.  There were no big surprises.  As we had covered fractions and decimals early in the year and really didn’t review those areas later in the year, the boys struggled with problems involving fractions and decimals.  Equations also proved challenging for many of our students.  We realized towards the end of the year that the students didn’t fully grasp the concept of equations and solving them.  Word problems of varying types also proved to be a weakness for many boys.  Two areas we did not cover this year also provided the students with much difficulty: Probability and Mean, Median, Mode, and Range.  There were of course a few other areas that caused some students to be confused, but those were few and far between and so we didn’t focus on the outliers.  

From this master checklist, we compiled a shorter list of the concepts and skills we want to better focus on in next year’s STEM course:

  • Adding, Subtracting, Dividing, and Multiplying Fractions and Decimals
  • All Types of Word Problems
  • Interpretting Graphs and Other Forms of Data
  • Solving, Creating, and Comprehending Equations
  • Finding the Mean, Median, Mode, and Range of Various Number Sets
  • Solving Problems Involving Probability

With this list in mind, this summer, I will work at revising and revamping the STEM course curriculum and individual units so that they better address these areas.  While this exam did provide us and our students with more work at the close of a very long year, we realize the many benefits it provides us with as we grow and develop as educators.  To hone our craft as effective teachers, we need to be constantly reflecting and looking back at everything we do in and out of the classroom.  Are we best supporting and helping our students become effective global citizens?  If we don’t take advantage of opportunities like this math placement exam, will we ever really know if we are helping our students develop and grow?  Reflection is one of the most important characteristics of effective teachers.  And so, yes, we now know rather than just hope or feel that we have effectively prepared our students for the rigors of the seventh grade math courses.  

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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