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Dealing with poor math skills...

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Chris Leverington Chris Leverington 4035 Points

My district has gone to requiring 9th graders take chemistry, with the generally required difficulty often found in junior/senior level classes.  While it has been an adventure...the most challenging aspect is that many of the students have poor math skills and have great difficulty doing well, because they are so bad at math.   For example we just had our gas laws test.  Many students did poorly.  A lot of the issues were mathematical and not a lack of understanding of the material.  Like they would set the problems up correctly and then solve them wrong.   It seems like no matter what I do, they don't come around and its getting extremely frustrating.  What do you do to help cope with these issues?

Alex Kinder Alex Kinder 1195 Points

Is algebra still a pre-requisite? That is necessary for students to even have a chance in chemistry...

Chris Leverington Chris Leverington 4035 Points

Unfortunately not. They just blindly put all 9th graders into chemistry. I have sped kids with a 3rd or 4th Grade math/reading level in class.

Kara Luce Kara Luce 1025 Points

I use Modeling Instruction and have found that even students with poor math skills find success.  For example, every single one of my students can tell me what happens to pressure when we increase volume, and why.  Even my lowest students know how to find the new pressure mathematically without using "the equation" (they do, but they don't realize they do - hard to explain on a forum).  I do introduce the equations so that those who will continue further in chemistry will know them and recognize them, but I don't expect every single regurgitate them for me.  They also know a whole lot more about linear functions - they still struggle with them, but they have made huge improvements, which makes the math teachers happy. There are Modeling Instruction workshops all over the country during the summer - I definitely recommend checking them out.  modelinginstruction.org

Casey Nolan Casey Nolan 20 Points

Is there possibly an issue with confidence in mathematics? Sometimes students have issues because they aren't sure how to connect the formulas to real life applications, so perhaps focusing on the units (such as crossing out units in stoichiometric problems) or using images may help. I am interested to hear what worked and what didn't, because this is a common problem with many general chemistry high school courses.

Chris Leverington Chris Leverington 4035 Points

You'd have to get them to write the units in. It's extremely frustrating. Writing in the units is too much work, so they don't...and then mess up the math. Its a very complex issue that goes beyond just poor math skills, but that seems to be the starting off point. I had a girl in my honors class the other day set the problem up right...it was something like 45g NaCl (1 mol/58.5g) and she did 58.5 divided by 45. I showed her that and she said, "i always get confused on which one divides by what". I just shook my head and said, you always divide by the one on bottom. But a sophomore in honors chem that gets confused by this is mind-boggling

In the school that I am involved with, we work closely with the math teachers. Although our standards are not the same, we know that science and math are naturally integrated together. We take advantage of knowing the scope and sequence that the math teachers are using in their classroom, and try to plan ours around when our students are learning/reviewing important materials that are going to impact their understanding of what is going on in our class. It is not always possible to plan things out this way, but we have seen growth since we have begun working together.

Pamela Dupre Pamela Dupre 92364 Points

We struggle with some of the same issues in elementary. Sadly, the people who are in charge of the scope and sequence for science and math in my state, are not educators. Therefore they don't comprehend the relationship between math and science. I have worked with some teachers in the past that didn't want to do science labs because students hadn't mastered some math concepts they were working on. Once I got them to a lab they realized we were measuring in metric units and this enabled the children to apply what they were learning in math! Imagine that.

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