Our pre-calculus (largely trigonometry and advanced algebra) teacher began using my classroom this semester during one of my free periods. I usually stay in the room during his classes, partly because he's a great teacher and there is a nice dynamic in this class of motivated students, but also because many of them are in my physics class and I can tailor the math content of the physics based on what they have covered in pre-calc.
It has also given me an opportunity to watch a lot of bright kids struggle with some fairly straight-forward math (we're still early in the course); these same students walk into my class two periods later and struggle to apply the math with which they struggled earlier in the day. The only kids who aren't struggling are two foreign exchange students. One is from Russia, while the other is from Kurdistan, and both, despite language barriers, perform well in class, on homework, and on tests. They have basic arithmetic facts memorized (one American student couldn't believe that they knew 16x16 of the tops of their heads) and have largely already seen the content at least a year before.
The American students in these classes aren't slackers by any means. They are all the type of student we love to have in class. So where did we go wrong? Why are even our sharp students barely able to keep up in class with kids who only speak broken English? Interestingly, both of the exchange students use their calculators deftly to save time, but are completely comfortable without them, meaning that someone, somewhere has figured out how to get students to use technological tools without turning them into technological crutches.
This begs a couple of questions. First, what do we have to do to ensure that our kids are on a level playing field with their future business partners and competitors from Asia, Africa, and Europe? George Bush called NCLB a "good law" in his state of the Union address. I don't see it doing anything though to ensure that our kids have the requisite skills to enter math and science fields in college and beyond. Correct me if I'm wrong, readers in Kurdistan, but I have a strong feeling that Kurdistan lacks the moral equivalent of No Child Left Behind.
Second, is there a way that we can use technology to bring our kids up to speed? How can we find the balance that instructors elsewhere seem to have struck? What tools are the best for driving student achievement and learning? Talk back below and let us know where you've had luck or if you think it's just time to move Kurdistan to raise your kids.