Dana Center staff publish articles on critical transitions in mathematics

Posted on March 11, 2010

Dana Center mathematics educators Lisa Brown, Susan Hull, and Cathy Seeley, along with Texas A&M mathematics professor Janie Schielack, recently published three articles on critical transitions for math students.

The articles, published in the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’s school journals, are part of a monthly curriculum series that NCTM is publishing in consultation with a team of nationally recognized mathematics education experts. This team, pointing to the Dana Center’s national reputation for good work in the area of critical transitions for math students, invited Dana Center staff to contribute articles on this topic.

Excerpts from each of the articles are reproduced below with permission from NCTM. To read an article in its entirety, you can purchase it from NCTM by following the link included at the end of each excerpt

Transitions from Elementary to Middle School

Janie Schielack and Cathy L. Seeley

Transitioning from elementary school to middle school has always been a difficult time for students. A new middle school teacher describes one difference: “In elementary school, eating lunch with the teacher is a reward; in middle school, it is a punishment.” In addition to adjusting to the changes in social environment, students moving from elementary to middle school must deal with different academic expectations, reorganization of the school day, and multiple teachers (generally one per course).

Previous research supplies evidence that, in general, students suffer significant declines in academic achievement in the transition from elementary school to middle or junior high school (Alspaugh 1998). In particular, students’ attitudes toward—and achievement in—mathematics appear to be negatively affected in this transition (Eccles et al. 1993).

Although this research does not clearly pinpoint causes of these negative effects, examining instructional materials, classroom environments, and curricula of elementary and middle schools reveals some challenges that students encounter. And, as with all challenges, these present opportunities for teachers to help students bridge this transition.

Published in Teaching Children Mathematics, February 2010, Volume 16, Issue 6, page 358; purchase the complete article here.

Transitions from Middle School to High School: Crossing the Bridge

Lisa C. Brown and Cathy L. Seeley

As students transition from middle school to high school, the academic landscape changes. This transition is complicated by a number of challenges—some general and some specific to mathematics—faced by students, educators, and families.

Some of the challenges that students face when they move from middle school mathematics to high school mathematics include:

  1. an insufficient alignment of mathematics instruction and curriculum across grades;
  2. issues with the initial mathematics content typically taught in high school; and
  3. the psychological and social factors influencing students’ beliefs and perceptions about their ability to learn difficult material.

Despite these challenges, we can draw on a number of practices to help guide students through this critical transition toward greater success and opportunity in high school and beyond.

Published in Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, February 2010, Volume 15 Issue 6, page 354; purchase the complete article here.

High School to Postsecondary Education: Challenges of Transition

Susan Hudson Hull and Cathy L. Seeley

How can we help prepare our high school students to make the critical transition to what comes after they graduate? We cannot wait until students are seniors to inspire them to consider postsecondary education or training and at the same time prepare them to succeed when they get there.

It is increasingly important for students to continue their education beyond high school, not only for their future—both opportunities and earnings—but also for our country’s future (Achieve, Inc. 2008; Education Trust 2003).

Recognizing this, President Obama, in his first address to Congress in 2009, set a goal of postsecondary education for every American (Associated Press 2009). The good news is that a recent study found that 90 percent of low-income students intend to go to college after graduation from high school, with little gap between white and minority students’ college-going intentions. The bad news is that the same study shows that only half actually enroll (Associated Press 2009).

Published in Mathematics Teacher, February 2010, Volume 103, Issue 6, page 442; purchase the complete article here.