Saturday, July 10, 2004


As I'm trying to figure out what is supposed to happen in elementary and middle schools, I am once again reminded that I am from Bizzaro Land. You know, that place where everything is backwards and Superman is evil?

Allow me to share some facts about my high school: The football team hadn't had a winning season in nearly 20 years, and no one cared; neither the football players nor the cheerleaders were popular. My class's prom queen took honors physics her junior year and AP Calculus and AP Computer Science her senior year. This is not some fancy school that you have to apply for; there is no test to get in. All you had to do was live inside the line on the map, and it's not located in one of those super-pricy suburbs that you've heard of.

My experiences at Bizarro High were partly a result of what happened at Bizarro Middle School and at Bizarro Elementary. And as I'm reading the NCTM Principles and Standards, I'm trying to figure out what it means to be a middle school math topic. I know how to do all the computational tasks this document assigns to the middle school — arithmetic with fractions and decimals. I must have been taught these at some point. The more abstract concepts ("represent, analyze, and generalize a variety of patterns..." and the like), I can't vouch for having been taught, but I've picked them up somewhere along the way. (This is of course assuming that middle school of the 1980s was somewhat like what is expected of middle schools today.) But I didn't take middle school math.

Bizarro Middle School had an unusual approach to math education. Before the teacher started a new topic, you could take the test on it. If you got a 90% or better on the test, then you didn't have to do that topic. Instead you sat in the back of the classroom and worked quietly on enrichment packets. Several of us tested out of every single sixth grade topic and worked our way through almost every packet that the middle school had. It was pretty clear that we would run out of things to do very early in the year in seventh grade. So in seventh grade they enrolled us in ninth grade math (the version that the accelerated eighth graders took to get a year ahead) and in eighth grade they bused us to the high school to take tenth grade math.

Now I have a skewed and elitist view of K– 8 math topics, and I need to figure out what is normal. Not only do I have pre-service teachers in the course I usually teach, but now I'm also hoping to teach one of the courses specially designated for pre-service teachers.