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More than math

Pitsco Algebra program brings relevancy and cross-curricular benefits to Carolina HS&A
  • Principal Anthony Holland
    Principal Anthony Holland

Administrator’s Corner

Anthony Holland, Principal
Carolina High School & Academy
Greenville, South Carolina

TPN: The Pitsco Network
AH: Anthony Holland

TPN: What is your background in education?
AH: I have been in education for 20 years, serving first and always as a teacher. I have had the opportunity to work in North Carolina, Georgia, and now in South Carolina. I have also served as a district-level employee and a secondary school assistant principal and am currently serving Greenville County Schools as a high school principal (third year).

TPN: When and why was the Pitsco Algebra program implemented at Carolina High School & Academy?
AH: The Pitsco Algebra program was implemented at Carolina High School at the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year because of its ability to bring a kinesthetic, hands-on approach in learning mathematics to our students. Furthermore, it allows our students to see the everyday uses and relevance of the mathematics being learned in school. Our students do not ever have to ask, “When will I ever need this?” or “Why do I have to learn this?”, because they see it every day.

TPN: How well is the Pitsco Algebra program preparing students for the math courses that follow in high school?
AH: One of the best things about this program is that it not only prepares students for other math classes but for all of their courses. There is so much cross-curricular material involved in these classes that the students really get an opportunity to see how other classes relate to each other. Unfortunately, this is something that some students do not usually figure out until their college days. However, when specifically looking at other math classes, this program is building a solid mathematics foundation. It meets students where they are and then brings them all to the same point through individualized lesson plans.

TPN: What are you and other school/district officials doing to monitor progress with the Pitsco Algebra program?
AH: We are always collecting data. We are looking at Algebra I end-of-course exam passing rates, class passing and failure rates (including gender-specific rates), attendance rates, referral/discipline rates, and many other areas also. After our first year, we looked at the makeup of the classes and how students were selected for these classes, even how we as a school scheduled these classes and the setup of the lab itself. We are continually in communication with the students and teacher to monitor how these classes are going.

TPN: What evidence (quantitative data/results; anecdotal info) can you point to that shows the program is effective?
AH: The evidence we have includes passing rates of the students in these classes compared to those in our traditional algebra classes, as well as quarterly grade reports and end-of-course exam results. Although these results were not where we wanted them to be at the end of last year, we had to make some adjustments to better prepare our students for this type of learning environment. Because we have had only one full year so far with a total of 42 students, there is more time and data needed to make better conclusions; however, we are excited in what we are seeing so far.

TPN: Based on your knowledge, why do so many students struggle to comprehend algebra?
AH: Because of how abstract it is. Students at this age level are used to things being concrete, and now they are being challenged to think abstractly. This is really the students’ first look at the properties and principles behind the math. It is moving students from how things work to why they work.

TPN: Why is it important for all students to understand algebra?
AH: Algebra is the basic foundation to so many other avenues of mathematics and other curriculums. I say this because the ability to go from thinking concretely to thinking abstractly is a skill that can benefit any content area. This so-called “gateway” course paves the road to all the other branches of mathematics, and in today’s high-tech world, these skills are needed more than ever.

TPN: How have CHS&A students performed on state math testing the past few years?
AH: Over the past few years, our passing rate on the Algebra I end-of-course exam has fluctuated between 57% and 64%, whereas the district and state averages have been approximately at 79%. Thus, in this area, our students have been performing below average. This is why we are so excited about the Pitsco Algebra lab. Our students have far-reaching capabilities, and we are continuing to search for and utilize the tools they need to allow them to get there.

TPN: What are your school’s goals/strategies for improving student performance on state math tests?
AH: Our goals and strategies generally include being aggressive in seeking out new programs and technology that will make our students successful; however, it always comes down to that teacher in front of the classroom, and we are investing a lot of time and energy into developing our math teachers as well as providing current and relevant professional development. More specifically, we have developed and established an Introduction to Algebra course for those students that are not yet prepared to enter the abstract world of Algebra I. We look at the test scores, grades, and previous-teacher recommendations for every freshman entering our school to make sure that they are properly placed into a class that will afford them the opportunity to be successful.

TPN: What factors make Pitsco’s Algebra solution an effective teaching tool?
AH: Hands-on, relevance, and teamwork. The hands-on experience keeps students engaged in their learning process while the relevance of what they are learning helps them relate it to various situations, and they have the ability to accomplish this all through a cooperative learning experience. This classroom is a model of most environments throughout the business world outside of school.

TPN: Would you recommend the Pitsco Algebra program to other administrators?
AH: Yes, I would, and matter of fact I already have. We have had some other administrators come and visit our school and our Pitsco lab to see what it is all about, and we told them what it has done for us. The key is how this program models real-world experiences while meeting students where they are mathematically and then developing their skills and knowledge.