Preparing Students For High School Maths

A Guide For Primary School Teachers

A High School Maths Teacher’s Wish List

What has occurred in recent years as many more students complete high school and seek a tertiary education, is a growth in parents wanting their children to do Mathematics at a higher level. They see Mathematics as a key to tertiary entry and insist that their children be given the opportunity to do the subject at the highest level possible even going against the school’s advice on the matter.

Therefore, high school Maths’ teachers must teach almost all students for all their years at high school irrespective of their innate ability in the subject.

This trend will not go away and high school teachers need the help of primary teachers to prepare their students to enter the rigours of high school Mathematics.

This article is written based on my experience as both a high school Maths teacher and as a Head of Mathematics who often had to advise parents on what was best for their students in the subject. Much of what I write here was presented to primary school teachers in a workshop on the topic.

Most, if not all of the points I make in this article, will be known to experienced primary school teachers so it is aimed more at those new to the profession.

Mathematics is a subject discipline where the student must develop his/her understanding of Mathematics. Learning rules and procedures can take the student only so far. It will not help in the modern world of real life Maths problems in unfamiliar contexts.

To help prepare students for high school Maths, upper primary school teachers need to attempt to develop the following within their students.

  1. A work ethic and one which is self-motivating. Often, students in Mathematics will need to work alone and unaided.
  2. A homework ethic. The speed of teaching the syllabus requirements in high school is dictated by outside authorities. This means that the teacher must cover a mandated syllabus in a specific time. For the student, this means that homework is an essential part of the learning process if he/she is to keep up with the pace of teaching.
  3. A study ethic. It is important that students learn that homework does not equal study.
  4. A belief that all students can do some Maths.
  5. An understanding that Maths is an essential part of everyday life and we all do Mathematical things successfully every day, often automatically.
  6. A belief in students that asking questions in Maths is a ‘cool’ thing to do.
  7. A belief in students that Maths is unisexual, not just for the boys.

Below is a list of what I call essential preparation that is not directly Mathematical but will assist students greatly in their study of Mathematics as well as other subjects.

Students should be taught:

  • Study skills
  • How to be powerful listeners
  • How to ask questions
  • Checking procedures
  • Estimation as a checking device
  • Various problem solving techniques
  • An effective setting out procedure
  • That the answer only is not enough. The students must explain in written Mathematical form how they achieved their answer.
  • That there is often more than one way to solve a problem
  • An understanding of order convention
  • Examination technique

Communicating mathematically is a skill that needs to be taught. It involves students being taught the following:

  1. The correct use of Mathematical terms including their spelling;
  2. Correct use of all Mathematical symbols;
  3. Logical setting out;
  4. Justification of each step where necessary;
  5. Logical reasoning;
  6. The use of neat and clear figures, accurate and appropriate diagrams;
  7. To work vertically down the page to allow ease of checking and the elimination of errors in copying;
  8. The translation from one form of expression to another, e.g. numerical/verbal data to diagrams/tables/graphs/equations, and
  9. Correct and appropriate use of units, e.g. in area, volume and so on.

Lastly, you can give your students a taste of high school classes by doing the following. (You might call these suggestions an Action Plan).

  • Set your classroom up with desks in rows and teach a number of “Chalk and Talk” lessons.
  • Insist that students work on their own while doing Maths exercises in a quiet environment.
  • Use textbook exercises.
  • Run some formal, timed examinations in a formal classroom setting.
  • Do regular problem solving exercises. Ones in unfamiliar contexts so they get accustomed to the idea that problem solving is an everyday event, not just one that comes up in assessment.

As I alluded to in the title of this article, this is a high school Maths teacher’s wish list. Whatever you can do as a primary teacher to help develop this wish list would be greatly appreciated by Maths teachers but more importantly will help students to step into the rigours of high school Maths more confidently.

Public and Private Schools Should Learn From One Another In Improving Support for Their High Schools

I was reading the sports section of USA Today the other week and the listing of top 25 High School Football Teams in the country. It was interesting to note that seven of the top 25 high school teams (or 28%) were private or parochial schools.

This led me to research how this compared with recent USA Today’s rankings of top high school teams in other sports. Here’s what I found.

In Boys’ Basketball, a whopping 16 of the top 25 high school teams (or 64%) were private or parochial schools. In Girls’ Basketball, six of the top 25 (or 24%) were private or parochial schools. And in Baseball, nine of the top 25 (or 36%) were private or parochial schools.

Why is this, I wondered?

Is it because there are more private and parochial schools in the country? That’s definitely not the case because according to Department of Education statistics, there are approximately 2,000 private and parochial high schools in the country compared with roughly 30,000 public schools. In other words, just 6% of all high schools in the country are private or parochial. The other 94% in the country are public schools.

Could it be then that the average private or parochial school is larger in terms of enrollment than their public school counterparts? Nope. The average enrollment in a private school is between one-half to one-third of the average enrollment in a public secondary school.

What then accounts for the superiority of private schools versus public high schools in sports relative to the number of schools and their enrollment numbers?

In my experience in attending and/or working with both private and public high schools, I would submit to you that there are four main things that private schools routinely do that public schools don’t, rarely do or don’t do as well:

1. Private schools regularly cultivate a sense of superiority.

Private secondary schools have done an exceptional job of positioning themselves as superior. This has led to the perception that they are. And as they say, perception is or can become reality.

2. Private schools regularly cultivate, communicate with and engage all of their various constituencies.

Private schools, as a practical matter, have to regularly reach out to and engage all of their constituencies – current students and parents, prospective students and parents, alumni and alumni parents and others as well. As a result, there is a much greater sense and depth of loyalty and tradition in private high schools than there is in most public today.

3. Private schools regularly recruit students.

As a matter of survival, private high schools have also had to regularly showcase their programs and schools and recruit potential students whereas most public don’t and don’t feel they have to.

4. Private schools regularly and more professionally raise funds from all of their various constituencies.

Private high schools have also had to, as a matter of survival, routinely raise funds from all of their various constituencies. Most have even hired staff members that are specifically trained and devoted to doing this. Consequently, they approach fundraising in a more professional way than public schools do today. As a result, they raise more money than public schools do, which has enabled them to somewhat level the playing field – resource wise so-to-speak – with their public school counterparts. In addition, because this money is voluntarily given, there is a greater sense of commitment to the schools and programs contributed to by their constituents.

Public schools can and should learn from this. To raise their games so-to-speak, they should take these plays from their private high school counterparts’ playbooks and emulate them.

Similarly, private schools should learn from their public school counterparts, and they should start to form booster clubs and raise funds for each of their various extra-curricular activities. This won’t take away support from people’s overall supportiveness. It can and will only add to it.

In short, high schools and their booster clubs should learn from and emulate one another in terms of what each does well. This can and will lead to the improved success of their schools and arts and athletic programs as well.

How Parents Can Recognize a Good High School

When children reach the high school age one of the most challenging tasks for parents is finding a good school for their children’s to attend. Parents need to be able to recognize what successful high schools looks like, and utilizes that information to identify the best choice for their children. Making an informed decision can help determine what school has the best career preparation for their child. Ultimately, their future is in the hands of the school they decide to attend.

High schools are very important when it comes to helping children to mature into productive people in our society. Who we allow to education our children is very important, and should be taken very seriously. The successful schools have a staff which demonstrates they have a vested interest in helping children to succeed, and they will do whatever it takes to make it happen.

Successful high schools generally have some of the same characteristics. Parents should become aware of these characteristics in order to make an informed decision when enrolling children in school. In order to make an educated decision, parents should do their homework and research any school they have an interest in. This article can help parents by discussing five characteristics successful high schools have in common. Parents should take the time to investigate these characteristics before making a choice on which school to enroll their children.

The first positive quality involves the staff:

Is the staff motivated to help the students?

Is the staff qualified to meet the demands of high school students?

Does the school have good experienced teachers?

Are the teachers certified in their subject area?

Does the staff work after school if needed to help improve student achievement?

Do the students and parents have a good repore with the staff?

Is the staff involved with extra-curricular activities with the students?

Does the staff keep the parents informed of the progress of their child?

The second positive quality involves the school curriculum:

Does the curriculum meet the needs of the population it serves?

Does the curriculum involve higher order thinking skills, and investigative skills for the students?

Does the curriculum align with the state standards?

Does the curriculum allow for student participation?

Does the curriculum have strong assessment tools for the students?

Does the curriculum allow for help when students are behind?

Does the curriculum have a track record of success?

The Third Positive quality involves a successful track record:

What percentage of students graduated each year?

What percentage of students attended college?

What percentage of students attended a vocational?

What percentage of student’s sign-up for the Military each year?

What percentage of students gets jobs immediately after graduating?

How much scholarship money does the school earn each year?

What is the attendance record for the school?

What kind atmosphere is in the school?

Are parents involved in the school?

The fourth positive quality involves extra-curricular programs:

What kind of extra- curricular activities does the school offer?

Does the school offer a variety of extra-curricular activities?

Some of the activities might include the following: sports, clubs, organizations, coop program, tutoring program, field trips, college fair, college tours, dual enrollment programs, school officers, etc.

Are students encouraged to participate in extra-curricular programs?

Does the staff organize most of the extra-curricular programs?

Are there leadership opportunities for the students?

Are there a number of clubs and organizations for the students?

Can students start clubs or organizations?

The fifth quality involves the school leadership:

The principal of the school will be the person who will set the tone of the building. It is very important that the parent is familiar with the kind of person he/she is, and what kind of leadership style they utilize.

Is the principal positive when you talk to him/her?

Does the principal make every decision in the building?

Does the principal use a shared leadership style?

Does the principal have a good repore with the students, staff, and parents?

Does the principal have an open door policy?

Is the principal visible throughout the building and at school activities?

Is the principal open for creative ideas?

Does the principal put the students first?

Are academics important to the principal?

In addition to the qualities listed above, the parent can get additional information about the school and the principal by observing what is going on day to day in the building. The day to day activities should include an orderly run school with a respectful staff and helpful main office. Additional positive qualities include: having a mission statement visible as you enter the building and keeping the building, clean and safe.

Overall, parents need to do their homework before sending their children to attend a high school for the next four years. This opportunity only comes once in a life time, so parents and students need to be prepared to make this experience as successful as possible.