Underprivileged Who Are Struggling In Mathematics Education Essay

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The problem which this study seeks to address is that many fifth graders particularly those who are underprivileged and encountering challenging issues are struggling in mathematics as evidenced by their significantly lower and below-standard grades in mathematics and their difficulty to solve world problems.

Goal (Expectation)

Fifth graders, when taught special mathematics vocabulary instruction, will show year-to-year progress in math tests, assignments, report cards, and standardized mathematics tests.

Evidence

Baseline Data from Target School

Many (32%) fifth graders fail to pass fifty percent of their chapter exercises in mathematics.

Many (23%) fifth graders score below average in terms of general mathematics vocabulary.

Majority (53%) fifth graders fail their chapter problem solving tests in mathematics.

Majority (56%) of fifth graders evaluate their problem-solving skills negatively and have anxiety about solving word problems.

Literature Data

Failing to understand mathematical terms that they encounter in word problems leads to a loss of ability to solve them.

Mathematics uses symbols and numbers, students often get confused when asked to apply them because they do not completely understand.

Problem-solving proficiency lies on acquiring the basic mathematic skills as well as being able to comprehend and use the language

Outcomes/Objectives

Fifth graders' scores on chapter vocabulary inventories will be 20% higher because of introduced vocabulary instruction.

Fifth graders' general vocabulary test scores will be 20% higher because of introduced vocabulary instruction.

Fifth graders' scores on chapter problem-solving tests will be 20% higher because of introduced vocabulary instruction.

Fifth graders' attitudes on their problem-solving capabilities will be more positive after the introduction of vocabulary instruction.

Causes

Students' difficulty with solving word problems is because of the lack of mastery of the technical operations involved.

Students' difficulty with solving word problems in math lies in the difficulty understanding the words or the language behind the problem.

Students may have an understanding of the words in the problem but are unable to connect the words to their own understanding.

Students are unable to effectively solve word problems because of the lack of confidence and the panic that overcomes them when they are unable to understand what they need to solve.

Solutions

Teachers will create a glossary of mathematical terms which will be taught to fifth graders.

Teachers will use concept maps or other graphic organizers to review and clarify relationships of terms.

Teachers will provide problem solving activities daily for practice.

Teachers will encourage direct journaling activities to allow students to articulate their problems, difficulties and breakthroughs in mathematics.

Teachers will conduct pre- and post- vocabulary inventories to assess progress.

Appendix B

Outline

Improving Math Problem Solving Skills Though Vocabulary Instruction

Chapter I: Introduction

Problem Statement

The problem which this study seeks to address is that fifth grade children particularly those who are underprivileged and encountering challenging issues are struggling in mathematics.

Purpose

The study's purpose is to determine if a specific solution strategy will result to an improvement in the fifth graders' capacity to solve math problems.

Description of the Community

The community belongs to the Montgomery Public Schools (MPS) system which is the third largest school system in Alabama.

1. The MPS has experienced growth proportionate to that of the community.

The school district has over 3,681 students enrolled (Alabama Department of Education, 2010).

It encompasses a total number of 59 schools - "32 traditional elementary, 10 traditional middle/junior high schools, 4 high schools, 9 magnet schools, 2 alternative schools, and 2 special education centers" (Alabama Department of Education, 2010).

The MPS employs around 4,500 people including 1,600 full-time teachers, 900 substitute teachers, 150 part-time teachers, and 350 part-time support staffs (Alabama Department of Education, 2010).

The school district's goals focus on academic excellence for its students.

The mission of MPS is to "offer stimulating environments led by qualified and dedicated teachers" (Alabama Department of Education, 2010).

The MPS focuses on the vision of "preparing students for life" (Alabama Department of Education, 2010).

The MPS is dedicated to its accountability goals under the No Child Left Behind policy.

MPS has a particular thrust on children with special needs.

There are alternative transportations routes to support underprivileged children.

The schools throughout the MPS feature services for special students and gifted students.

Description of Work Setting

The research project will take place at one of the middle schools located within Montgomery, Alabama.

The student population in this school is approximately 900 students.

The ethnic distribution of the school is approximately 34 % Caucasian, 10 % Hispanic, 25 % African American, 10 % Asian, and 9 % other.

The school's current mathematics curriculum follows the Alabama Mathematics Content Standards.

At the end of the fifth grade, students will have improved on competencies in the four fundamental arithmetic operations (addition, subtraction, division, multiplication) and applying these operations to decimals, fractions, as well as positive and negative numbers.

Students are expected to be skilled in using common measurements in determining area, length and volume of basic geometrical figures. They are also expected to apply measurement concepts to angles using tools such as the compass and protractor in solving problems (Alabama Department of Education, 2010).

Involved in this project will be two fifth grade classrooms and their teachers.

One class will be assigned as the control group (class receiving no direct math vocabulary instruction) and the other class will be designated as the experimental group (class receiving direct math vocabulary instruction.

Both classes have relatively similar achievement level in math and roughly the same student characteristics.

Writer's Role

The writer has been a math teacher for 16 years and is presently a substitute teacher of fifth grade students at the present elementary school.

The writer's responsibility as a substitute teacher in Math is not only to instruct students on mathematical concepts and operations.

The writer tries to motivate students and determine what their true needs are in order to be able to assist them more effectively with learning.

The writer will facilitate the implementation of the proposed mathematics vocabulary instruction to the target fifth grade classes.

Chapter II: Study of the Problem

Problem Description

The problem being studied is that many fifth grade students at the target elementary school are struggling with math, particularly in solving word problems.

Many students fail quizzes in math.

Many students fail chapter tests particularly in world problems.

Many students function below grade level on tests.

Many students earn low report card grades in math.

Problem Documentation

Many (32%) fifth graders fail to pass fifty percent of their chapter exercises in mathematics.

Many (23%) fifth graders score below average in terms of general mathematics vocabulary.

Majority (53%) fifth graders fail their chapter problem solving tests in mathematics.

Majority (56%) of fifth graders evaluate their problem-solving skills negatively and have anxiety about solving word problems.

Literature Review

The review of literature indicated that mathematics vocabulary is a significant factor in a student's mathematics aptitude particularly in problem-solving.

Math learners have to establish a separate vocabulary in order to understand and communicate the language of mathematics. More than a subject studded with numbers, mathematics is considered itself as a language (Adams, 2003). Researchers have estimated that by the time learners are through with the fourth grade, they will have to learn more than 500 mathematical symbols and terms (Riccomini & Witzel, 2009).

Mathematics is considered an abstruse subject and a scary one even from the perspective of the regular student. Newman (2006) insists however that once students are able to penetrate the barrier, they will find that mathematics is "a fairyland which is strange, but makes sense, if not common sense" (p. 41).

Mathematics is really a language issue after all. Blessman and Myszczak (2001) found that among the most confusing issues in mathematics is its vocabulary. Failing to understand mathematical terms that they encounter in word problems leads to a loss of ability to solve them.

Research has established how important mathematical vocabulary is in developing effective problem-solving skills among students (Barton & Heidema, 2000; Monroe & Panchyshyn, 1995). Since mathematics itself demands an understanding of language, learners' capacity to understand the words embedded in the problems influences their problem-solving ability immensely.

Research has shown that knowledge of mathematics vocabulary affects student achievement in mathematics-particularly in the area of problem solving (Baron & Heideman, 2000; Larson, 2007).

Mathematics vocabulary among students in order to transform them into more proficient problem solvers (Riccomini & Witzel, 2009).

Causative Analysis

There are a number of causes leading to the deficiency in fifth graders to become efficient problem solvers.

Students' difficulty with solving word problems is because of the lack of mastery of the technical operations involved.

Students' difficulty with solving word problems in math lies in the difficulty understanding the words or the language behind the problem.

Students may have an understanding of the words in the problem but are unable to connect the words to their own understanding.

Students are unable to effectively solve word problems because of the lack of confidence and the panic that overcomes them when they are unable to understand what they need to solve.

Chapter III: Outcomes and Analysis

Goals (Expectations)

Fifth graders, when taught special mathematics vocabulary instruction, will show year-to-year progress in math tests, assignments, report cards, and standardized mathematics tests.

Expected Outcomes (i.e., Measurable Objectives)

Several specific outcomes will be achieved by fifth graders who will benefit from mathematics vocabulary instruction.

Fifth graders' scores on chapter vocabulary inventories will be 20% higher because of introduced vocabulary instruction.

Fifth graders' general vocabulary test scores will be 20% higher because of introduced vocabulary instruction.

Fifth graders' scores on chapter problem-solving tests will be 20% higher because of introduced vocabulary instruction.

Fifth graders' attitudes on their problem-solving capabilities will be more positive after the introduction of vocabulary instruction.

Measurement of Outcomes

The following methods will be used to measure outcomes of the mathematics vocabulary instruction.

Fifth graders from the experimental and control group will be given pre- and post- chapter vocabulary lists when a new chapter in the math curriculum begins and their grades recorded.

Fifth graders will be given a general vocabulary exercise at the start and at the end of this action research.

Fifth graders' scores on chapter tests will be recorded.

An attitudes survey will be performed among students in order to evaluate any mark of improvement as far as students' perceptions of their capacity as problem solvers after the implementation.

Analysis of Results

Scores on the pre- and post- chapter vocabulary lists will be computed and compared using percentages and graphs.

Scores on general vocabulary exercises will be computed and compared to determine whether students from the experimental group outperform their counterparts from the control group in defining common and new mathematical terms.

Scores obtained by the two groups on chapter exercises will be computed and compared to determine whether or not the scores of the students in the experimental group are higher than those of the control group, implying a higher skill or improvement in problem solving abilities.

The perceptions of the students regarding their capacity in vocabulary and problem-solving will be gathered and described in order to compare whether there is a positive change in attitude in the experimental group as a result of the implemented intervention.

Four separate z-tests (one for each of the objectives) will be used to compare pre- and post-implementation percentage data to see whether there is an increase at the .05 level of significance.

Chapter IV: Solution Strategy

Problem Statement

The problem being studied is that many fifth grade students at the target elementary school are struggling with math, particularly in solving word problems.

Discussion

A number of solutions are presented in the literature.

Students struggling with mathematics particularly in problem solving will benefit from mathematics vocabulary instruction.

Students will be able to understand the language of the math problem and know exactly what the problem requires them to do.

Students will be able to connect the terms in the problem to their own concrete understanding and definition of the word.

Particular strategies are recommended in mathematics vocabulary instruction.

There has to be word-learning strategies incorporated in vocabulary instruction for it to result to a better comprehension.

There has to be corresponding instruction to enable students to learn in a more organized manner.

Students' success rates in mathematics are higher when they have positive attitudes about the subject and in their own competence to solve problems.

Description of Selected Solutions/Calendar Plan

Several approaches to improving the capacity of fifth graders to become problem solvers will be implemented.

Fifth graders who are struggling with mathematics will receive vocabulary instruction on mathematical terms and concepts using creative strategies which will enable them not only to become more proficient in concepts but to allow them to learn and solve in a more organized manner.

Fifth graders will be allowed to evaluate their own competencies and attitudes toward math through direct journaling activities.

The following steps will be taken.

Students with learning disabilities will receive mathematics vocabulary instruction.

The following vocabulary teaching strategies will be used by the teachers.

A glossary of mathematical terms will be built by the students with the help of the teacher.

Vocabulary instruction will use concept maps or other graphic organizers to review and clarify relationships of terms.

Teachers will provide problem solving activities daily for practice.

Teachers will develop pre- and post- vocabulary inventories for evaluation purposes.

This schedule will be followed:

The implementation of the selected curriculum will commence for a period of 8 weeks. Students belonging to the experimental group will receive 8 weeks of vocabulary instruction using the proposed curriculum.

Each group will receive daily instruction on mathematics computations and concepts from the teachers for one-half hour. Another half-hour will be spent on individual skills. Another half-hour will be spent on the experimental (vocabulary instruction) or control treatment.

The control group will receive drills on the mathematical operations or concepts presented per chapter using the basal module while the experimental group will receive mathematics vocabulary instruction using a) glossary building; b) concept maps; c) direct journaling; and d) pre- and post- vocabulary inventories.

Appendix C

Abstract

This action research project is designed to improve the problem solving capacity of fifth graders in a suburban elementary school. The rationale for this project is the fact that many fifth graders in the target elementary school fall behind the state standards for performance in mathematics and are everyday struggling with mathematics, particularly in problem solving. Based on research and literature, mathematics vocabulary instruction will be used in order to improve the performance of fifth graders on problem solving. Two fifth grade classrooms will serve as the control and experimental group. The control group will receive basal mathematics instruction while the experimental group will receive mathematics vocabulary instruction using several learning strategies such as glossary-building, concept maps, practice, and direct journaling.

Appendix D

Pre- and Post-Project Student Attitudes Survey

When solving a math problem involving words, I usually know what to do to get the correct answer.

__ Strongly Agree ___ No opinion ___ Strongly Disagree

__ Agree ___ Disagree

When solving a word problem, I usually know all of the vocabulary words in the problem.

__ Strongly Agree ___ No opinion ___ Strongly Disagree

__ Agree ___ Disagree

I consider solving word problems fun.

__ Strongly Agree ___ No opinion ___ Strongly Disagree

__ Agree ___ Disagree

4. I would like to solve math problems with words if I understood all the vocabulary words.

__ Strongly Agree ___ No opinion ___ Strongly Disagree

__ Agree ___ Disagree

5. I think being able to solve word problems in math is important.

__ Strongly Agree ___ No opinion ___ Strongly Disagree

__ Agree ___ Disagree

6. I think I am now a better problem solver after being in this class.

__ Strongly Agree ___ No opinion ___ Strongly Disagree

__ Agree ___ Disagree

7. Please define the following terms:

a. difference

b. integer

c. parallelogram

d. area

e. circumference

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