kitchen table math, the sequel: Algebra for Parents

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Algebra for Parents

My employer, the School of Education and Human Services at Oakland University, is currently considering (at my urging) offering one or more online courses for parents of secondary school-aged children.  Our target audience is homeschooling parents, but others are welcome as well.  We plan to offer, as our pilot offering, "Algebra for Parents".  If that is successful, we would look into expanding to a larger menu of courses.

The main idea behind these classes would be to help parents shore up their content knowledge, with a secondary focus on the pedagogy of home-based education.  These would be not-for-credit courses run through our professional development program; we are framing this as "Professional Development for Homeschool Teachers".

I know that Ed Schools are not very popular on this blog, and PD in math ed has a pretty poor reputation for being superficial and light on content (often, unfortunately, completely deserved).  And I know first-hand that many homeschoolers are skeptical about getting entangled with institutions.  But I have pretty high hopes for this venture.  For one thing, I'll be teaching the course, and I have complete creative control over what gets done.  For another thing, I myself am the parent of five home-educated & unschooled children, all of whom learn quite differently, so you can count on an atmosphere that is open to a wide range of approaches.

All the details of format and pricing are still being worked out, but right now I am thinking that the class will run in six-week sessions.  Each week we will meet once for a single two-hour, real-time webinar (ugh, hate that word), with the rest of the week filled out with individual work and forum discussion.   Figure total involvement at anywhere from 2-6 hours per week, depending on how much you want to engage with the work.

Catherine has given me permission to announce the class here for the purposes of gauging interest.  So please let me know (either in comments, or in private email):  Would you be interested in taking (and paying for) a class like this?  Does the format and focus sound right for you, or are there other things we should consider? 

27 comments:

Kevin said...

Although I am now homeschooling my son, we're way past the point of needing algebra.

You might want to try gauging interest on the TAGMAX mailing list:

http://www.tagfam.org/

Kevin said...

I have been unable to comment on this (or any other Blogger blog) with my usual (wordpress.com) identity.

I will not be commenting for a while until Blogger gets their bug fixed (or OpenID or Wordpress—it isn't clear who is at fault here, though only Blogger blogs seem to be refusing to accept me).

Crimson Wife said...

You might want to consider asking on the Well-Trained Mind homeschooling forum. I would recommend making an announcement on the "Logic and Middle Grades Challenges" board as well as the "High School and Self-Education" one.

Anonymous said...

I am not personally interested (as I'm pretty comfortable and confident in my algebra skills), but the idea sounds like a reasonable one.

One thing you should probably consider, though, is whether your parent-students are fluent enough with fractions and decimals. If not, you'll need to do some emergency rational-number teaching. You won't want to be "winging" this.

-Mark Roulo

Michael Weiss said...

Kevin --
Just out of curiosity, what level math are you and your son at now?

Allison said...

It's an interesting idea.

At she urging of several homeschooling friends, MSMI has been teaching a series for home schooling parents on Singapore Math. Once a month, I do a 6 hour day that covers approximately 2 years of Primary Mathematics.

the parents I'm seeing are Very dedicated and involved, but secondary school is not on their agenda. I'm not sure who homeschools math for secondary school. the parents I see would not be comfortable doing it at all, and are looking at community college or other methods of getting that level of math taught. these parents are already astonished at how deep elementary mathematics is, and are working very hard to learn it this way themselves.

I think the material of Parker and Baldridge would be excellent. that is the need I see most often.

Glen said...

Michael, I've often thought that something like this would be useful, but each time I've pondered what it should provide SPECIFICALLY, I've run into the issue that parents are even more diverse than the kids in a typical class. This makes the question of how and what to teach pretty tricky. Parents who passed their algebra classes twenty years earlier may realize that they've forgotten a lot of algebra, but they may not realize that they no longer have even the prerequisites (if they ever did.) Some of their classmates might do fine with a quick refresher, and other classmates might never have taken algebra and have nothing to refresh.

So a successful algebra class almost requires that the learners be recent graduates of a successful pre-algebra class. You might need to do both. I would think it would be easier to deal with the diversity at a pre-algebra level and "normalize" the inputs to your algebra class.

Michael Weiss said...

One of the reasons I came to this idea in the first place is that I know many, many homeschooling parents who make it through K-7 and then have a panic attack at the approach of secondary math & science. In my own limited circle, the attrition rate as kids approach high school age seems to be upwards of 75%. (AFAIK there is no nationwide data on this.) Certainly there are lots of reasons for this -- social factors, concerns about college, etc. But I think parents' confidence in their own content knowledge plays a significant role.

Several of you have brought up algebra readiness as a potential obstacle. I guess that's something I'll learn if this goes forward. But it seems that the same concern exists at every level, no? There are always people at stage n-2, who aren't ready for stage n because they really need a class at stage n-1 first.

Allison, am I correct that the MSMI sessions charge $20 registration for a five-hour session? I have a meeting tomorrow morning with our PD office to discuss format and pricing, and I genuinely have no idea how much to charge for something like this.

Allison said...

Yes, but I am specifically doing this as a charitable institution whose mission is to meet these needs, so I am only covering the cost of the room, not even my time.

MSMI charges more for teacher events, based on an hourly rate that is market based. These sessions are by no means a complete course and in my mind are not sufficient for a teacher in a classroom. They are an introduction to this material and why PM does what it does. My parents are coming back again to events they've attended before, because I adapt each Saturday to them, too. Could I charge more? Maybe. I wanted to reach as many parents as I could.

I guess I would start by asking myself why someone would choose to homeschool algebra. The answers might mean your population isn't quite as diverse after all. Their students are probably being ill served, so maybe they are parents of gifted kids or special needs kids, etc. Rather than homeschooling for philosophical or religious reasons. Just a possibility...

Stacey Howe-Lott said...

Hi Allison - What is MSMI? I'm interested in learning b/c I'm just starting Singapore Math with my 4 year old.

Kevin said...

My son is doing calculus with Art of Problem Solving. I'm having to refresh my knowledge of integration, which I've not needed for 30 years.

Michael Weiss said...

So, we are thinking $300-$350 for a six week session, with a 2-hour live "class" each week followed by independent work and asynchronous forum discussion & support. Parents could (obviously) choose how much they want to engage in the post-class discussion, but figure a total time investment of anywhere from 2-6 hours per week, at 50-60 bucks per week.

It's still not clear when (or even if) this will happen, or whether the format and pricing we eventually settle on will be anything like what I've just described above. But I would be very interested in reactions to this proposed model.

Michael Weiss said...

I guess I would start by asking myself why someone would choose to homeschool algebra.

It's an interesting way to frame the question, because I come at it almost entirely from the other end. I think of it as: There are people who are homeschooling, for a wide range of reasons. Why do they stop as high school approaches? Is it because they don't feel confident in their own knowledge of secondary content, or for some other reason?

I also want to stress that this isn't just for homeschoolers, but for any parent who wants to help their kids learn but doesn't feel up to the challenge. (That's why I'm calling it "Algebra for Parents" rather than "Algebra for Homeschoolers".) Maybe instead of paying a tutor to afterschool their kids, they might decide to invest in their own education and help their kids themselves.

Crimson Wife said...

I live fairly close to Oakland and my DD just started pre-algebra with Horizons and Singapore Discovering Math 1A. However, $300-$350 would be way out of my budget.

What I had been thinking of doing is working through Paul Foerster's Algebra 1 textbook plus watching the video lessons done by David Chandler ahead of my DD. The DVD-ROM with the video lessons runs $60 and the textbook is available used for in the $15-$25 range. Both can be re-used by my student.

Anonymous said...

"It's an interesting way to frame the question, because I come at it almost entirely from the other end. I think of it as: There are people who are homeschooling, for a wide range of reasons. Why do they stop as high school approaches?"

Yes.

My wife and I didn't decide to homeschool algebra. We decided to homeschool. Eventually (soon), we'll get to algebra as it will be the next item in the math sequence.

My guess for why people stop at high school is that you will find a whole flock of reasons:

(a) Lack of confidence in ability to teach the material (or farm it out),
(b) Desire for the extra-curriculars (e.g. sports, theater, dances),
(c) Concern about not getting into college because of a lack of recognizable credentials,
(d) Concern about not getting into a state college because of quotas favoring public school kids

I'm sure that there are more.

-Mark Roulo

Michael Weiss said...

I live fairly close to Oakland

I'm not sure where you actually live, but you wouldn't be the first person to think that Oakland University is in Oakland, California. Actually we're in Rochester, Michigan (specifically, "Oakland County", a suburb of Detroit). Maybe you knew that, and you really are close?

Allison said...

The reason I framed it that way is that I doubt you are going to sway those who already decided against. But you might draw those who already chose it, and now want to get better, or who are finding it more difficult than they realized.

I believe you will find parents who never intended to homeschool who are nonetheless hone schooling math. Parents of gifted kids, or kids who got ahead in elementary might be doing this because their child is getting other classes from school but ill served in math. So these are parents who aren't at high school decision points yet necessarily. Here in MN, parents can get single subject homeschooling or curricular changes in certain circumstances.
You may also find parents who are trying to remediation. Again they may not being homeschooling per se.

The MSMI attendees are almost always already using primary mathematics, and want more help. First round, I imagine you will draw a population already teaching algebra for similar reasons.

Crimson Wife said...

Oops, I didn't realize that Oakland University was in Michigan rather than California. Yep, definitely not close in that case! Downtown Oakland, CA is about 20 miles from where I live but Rochester, MI is roughly 2400 mi if I were to take I-80E.

Allison said...

One piece that I hope you will concentrate on is pedagogy. I know I'm the "content content content dictates pedagogy" person, but I see parents who don't know how to do formative assessment, and aren't sure how to know what is a reasonable idea of scaffolding, what is reasonable idea of stretch.

Michael Weiss said...

However, $300-$350 would be way out of my budget

This is a concern, definitely, and I am concerned that we will be unable to price this at a level that will be low enough to be affordable but also high enough to make the venture worthwhile from the administration's POV.

On the other hand, I know there are a lot of parents who will pay a tutor $25 bucks a pop to work with their child two or three times per week. Over the course of a year that really adds up. Maybe they would be willing to consider instead investing in their own knowledge so that they could teach their own?

I don't know, it seems reasonable to me. But I'm not sure whether the market really exists. So far almost all of the responses I've gotten have begun with "It sounds like an interesting idea, but I personally wouldn't do it because..."

Michael Weiss said...

One piece that I hope you will concentrate on is pedagogy. I know I'm the "content content content dictates pedagogy" person, but I see parents who don't know how to do formative assessment, and aren't sure how to know what is a reasonable idea of scaffolding, what is reasonable idea of stretch.

Quoted for truth.

lgm said...

Michael,

For that price I would go with a distance learning provider or hand out the Dolcianis for the high school courses unless I had many children to teach. I did have high school math independent study, so it doesn't phase me to have my kid do it that way. The price has little roi for the parent when compared to buying the course from a competent teacher.

Crimson Wife said...

"On the other hand, I know there are a lot of parents who will pay a tutor $25 bucks a pop to work with their child two or three times per week. Over the course of a year that really adds up. Maybe they would be willing to consider instead investing in their own knowledge so that they could teach their own?

In my experience, the families who hire tutors tend not to be homeschooling but rather have their children in traditional public or private schools. And frankly, I don't think many of those parents would be particularly interested in self-educating to tutor their own kids.

It's a bit of a catch-22: the homeschoolers might have the interest but most would not have the budget; the public & private school parents might have the budget but most would not have the time or interest.

Allison said...

Home schoolers are not a monolith. Neither are private or public school parents. this works to Michaels advantage, I suspect. there are some home schoolers looking for excellence with the economy of scale, and learning math wrote matter to them (because they have 4 or more to educate). the are some home schoolers who do hire tutors. three are some parents in schools who are still doing their own math education. the diversity of reasons will lead in good direction for this program, I imagine.

Allison said...

Stacey,
MSMI stands for Middle School Mathematics Institute.It's A 501(c)3 that I formed to help teachers, schools, and parents. I focus most of the program on fractions, decimals, rational numbers, pre algebra. those are the subjects where students get derailed. I'm in MN. The institutes and workshops we offer Are in MN. I'd love to tell you more of you are local enough to get something out of it. I also talk to parents and schools by event and phone. Go to www.msmi-mn.org for more info or email me.

Jean said...

I'm a homeschooling parent and I'd sign up if there was something like that around here. I haven't hit a wall yet with my daughter, who is in 7th grade math, but I'd like to brush up better than I can with Khan Academy. OTOH I have the luxury of a husband who does calculus for fun, so I'm not too worried, although I will probably still send her to a CC for higher math in HS--outside experience is nice and so are recommendation letters.

Anonymous said...

I am definitely interested in this, but I have found that most things like this are way out of my price range. As much as I would like to take a parent class on Algebra, I don't have a coupla hundred to drop on it. It would need to be $100 or less for me to be able to afford it. For $350, I could put my child in an online class taught by a professional and not have the entire burden fall to me. What I mean is, what if I spend $350 on your class and I still suck at teaching algebra? With a class taught by someone else, I have some assurance of getting my money's worth.