A Tale of Two Schools

A New Tech High student interviews a Napa High student about math education.

As a senior at , having read the various articles in the “war over New Tech math scores,” I thought the answer is obvious: The reason why New Tech has difficulty with the “California State Test in Math” (CST math testing) is because it teaches real world concepts and lessens the teaching of content. As I researched the subject, I discovered something vastly different than what I originally perceived.

I decided to find out about ’s approach to math education to understand both sides of the story, so I interviewed a Napa High senior, Scott Erickson, who took time to discuss his experience in Algebra II this year.

“Generally the teacher will go chapter by chapter,” showing the class what to do, he told me.

“Then she’ll give us typically a handout or have us do book work and then at the end of class we’ll summarize it again.”

Scott said sometimes the students even work in groups, as we do at New Tech, to solve assignments; but that’s an exception rather than the rule.

The Napa High approach seems to work for him:

“We took the test last year and I mean, I can only speak for myself personally but I did really well on the test, I was towards the top of the upper half of the nationwide scores and I’d say that’s pretty good for me because math has generally been my most challenging subject,” Scott said.

Patrick Bynum, the Physics teacher of Scientific Studies, an Algebra II/Physics combination class at New Tech, took time out of his day to explain the direction his class is moving in. Scientific Studies is now working towards adopting a “problem based learning” program, where students are given a problem to solve within a group.

“In problem based learning the students are given a prompt, usually a more difficult problem than you would expect,” Bynum said. 

“There is a Know, Need to Know session,” which is an activity students generally do where they list what they know before the project is completely laid out and what they need to know, “a brain storming session, and then the students investigate paths to a solution and finally come to an answer. This usually takes 2 or 3 days.” An average project is three to four weeks long.

New Tech students like me tend to perceive traditional high schools as the “dreaded textbook schools,” but the math education style Scott describes doesn’t seem so sinister: It seems rather effective, and is very similar to the education New Tech is moving toward in math (and Physics in the Scientific Studies class’s case).

Interestingly enough, the perceived gap between math learning styles becomes blurred. Napa High’s math education and Scientific Studies’ “project based learning” have low tech elements, and are collaborative in nature. The only difference is that Napa High sways more towards individual instead of collaborative learning.

New Tech is improving with “problem-solving methods,” and with their dedicated teachers who spend countless hours molding these projects to perfection, there is no doubt student CST math testing at New Tech will improve. This time however, we seem to be swaying towards Napa High’s blueprint instead of our own.


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