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Students enter math matrix

December 09, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

karenh@herald-mail.com

An equation stating "one semester=one grade" probably will not work for some of the students math teacher Ryan Haupt has taught this year. While some students mastered skills, others might need a little more time.

According to the structure of a new program at North Hagerstown High School, that's OK.

Haupt is one of five teachers who are balancing the needs and abilities of more than 100 students as part of the math matrix, a two-year program covering three units of math - introduction to algebra, algebra and geometry. While those subjects traditionally are covered in semester-long courses, students in the math matrix program can take a little longer, or even finish a little earlier than their classmates.

For Haupt and other teachers, the goal is to reduce student failure rates in classes that typically have tripped up freshmen.

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"We're trying to get them the help that they need before it gets to the point where they give up," Haupt said in an interview last month.

Freshmen in the math matrix are tested each grading period and matched with students of similar abilities or deficiencies in reorganized classes geared toward their level. Students' classmates and teachers can change from one six-week grading period to the next, but the teachers collaborate during shared planning times to make sure the curriculum stays consistent.

The approach allows students to achieve mastery of the material at their own pace, said Bob Brown, the school system's testing and accountability coordinator.

"What we're doing is not so much saying to the kids we're going to keep saying the same things over and over again," Brown said. "We're going to say this once, but we're going to say it at your speed."

Instead of rote repetition, the matrix addresses how quickly students can pick up the material, Brown said.

On Wednesday, Haupt paced the classroom with a hyperactive, caffeinated excitement as students determined how folding a piece of paper in thirds would affect the width of the center section.

According to Haupt, who last grading period taught a class of students needing extra academic supports, 62 students this grading period are on track to finish introduction to algebra this semester. That includes Haupt's newest group of students, who joined him this grading period.

Nineteen students are working on a unit the rest of the math matrix already has completed, while 20 students are in an on-track class with extra supports, Haupt said.

With the expansion of state testing and more demanding credit requirements, Brown said the school system is studying ways to allow students more time with material. Ultimately, that might affect both the length of courses and the time required for some students to complete what has been considered a four-year degree, Brown said.

"I think we're going to see a high school program that for some students will be less than four year," Brown said. "I also think we're going to see a high school program that for some students will be five years."

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