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Nov - Dec 2001
I am the parent of a student at BHS who has hit the wall
mathematically in Math Analysis. Although she is generally an A
student and is working with one of the best math tutors in the area,
she has been unable to raise her grade on tests above a low C or D. I
hate to be obsessing on grades but as we all know junior year is what
most colleges look at when they are admitting. Besides, she is
completely demoralized to be working so hard and not "getting it."
Are other parents seeing their kids struggling with this course? What
are you doing to help them? She is considering dropping it to take it
in summer school. Has anyone had a student do that? She complains
that the teacher is not teaching them the material and puts stuff on
the test that they have not gone over in class. Any advice or help
would be greatly appreciated.
In response to the question about math analysis, my son had a great deal of
difficulty with it, as well. He worked very hard, and still wound up with a C in
Junior year. He was able to get through it by spending many lunch hours in
the teacher's classroom, where she answered questions and other students went
to study and peer-tutor each other. I don't remember if there were other tutors
there, or not. (The downside to having Laura Leventer become a VP was losing
her has a math teacher - she was great!)
For perspective, he went on to do quite well in Calculus AB the next year, and
having that C on his report card during Junior year didn't seem to make a big
difference - at any rate, he was accepted at all the colleges he applied to, which
included 4 UC campuses.
I am not sure why Calculus was easier for our son than Math Analysis, but
maybe the contrast is similar to the difference between Algebra and Geometry -
I know some kids find one easier than the other.
The note about the junior who is having trouble with math analysis is
really on target with my daughter's experience. My daughter is still doing
okay, but having a great deal of trouble. She also complains that there
are things on the test that have not been taught--that the teaching is
unintelligible, and now that they are beginning to go over new material she
has requested a tutor, since she doesn't follow anything he says. Your
daughter is not alone. We are looking for a math tutor. Any new
suggestions? The names are a bit old on the POT web site.
My daughter also struggled with Math Analysis. She took the class several
times and, when asked on a college application, what was her greatest
accomplishment so far, she wrote that her greatest achievement would be when
she finally passed math analysis. Finally, after three tries she did. And we
celebrated that C. She is now a UC student, terrified of anything with the
word "math" but, enjoying the rest of her education. My tip to you, don't
stress, encourage her not to stress, and find a good math tutor. I had an
adult friend who was engineer and he helped her.
I want to reply to the parent of the student who is struggling in
math analysis. My daughter is also struggling in this course.
Although she is making A's and B's, she also is dismayed by the lack
of return on the work that she puts in. She also complains that
teacher puts material on the tests that is not covered in class. He
then says that he is trying to teach them test-taking skills. I have
no advice. My daughter is trying to get out of the class and will
certainly leave at the semester.
I am responding to the mother whose child is having trouble with math
analysis. My son is also taking this course. Until last week, when he
began to study trigonometry, the entire course had consisted of a review of
Algebra II. Thus, I would not expect the teacher to go over everything in
class that was taught before in Algebra II. From what you write, it seems
your daughter may have forgotten much of her algebra. This can happen to
good students but is fixable.
Since I am a math professor at UCB with some experience teaching freshmen
calculus, let me add that algebra is an important stepping stone to
calculus. When we lecture to a large class, we assume everyone knows
algebra and may move quickly through some necessary algebraic steps.
Students who have a solid background follow along and are able to focus on
the new material. Their homework is not daunting. Students with a weak
background in algebra often get lost in lectures. They have to work very
hard on their homework and might pull a C with tutors and help from the
Student Learning Center. Many will have to drop out of the course. They
will then spend a year in precalculus which will delay their entire program.
Calculus has become a gateway for more and more college programs besides
science and engineering. For example, you need a good grade in calculus to
be admitted to the Haas School of Business.
I have no answer to your dilemma just commiseration. My son, who has always
been a math whiz is getting a C in this class and says that it is difficult
and he often doesn't understand it. (I, who was great in math until
trigonometry, have no idea what math analysis even is). I'll be curious to
see what others' responses are.
I could have written exactly what you did -- that my previously A math
student is working hard, getting tutoring, and doing poorly on tests. She
says that the teacher doesn't explain the material and puts things on tests
that he hasn't taught. Her friends are also having a difficult time. The
teacher has told me that math analysis requires a different type of thinking,
and that the kids eventually get it -- this did not inspire much faith in me.
Tests count for 80% of the grade, which apparently is a department policy.
However, this ends up being discouraging for students who don't perform well
on tests. In all other math courses at BHS, both before and after Math
Analysis, there are different levels that students can take. I don't
understand why there's only one M.A. level. Seems to me that this is a
systemic problem, unless it's covertly meant as a screening device to keep
kids out of Calculus. As you can see, I am similarly discouraged, and have
found no good answer. I am hoping that my kid's other good grades will cover
when it comes time for college admissions. Conversations with the teacher
have not been productive. I'm sorry I don't have helpful suggestions, but
just wanted to let you know that others share your concerns.
My daughter took Math Analysis through Brigham Young University
on-line when she was a senior and in the same situation as your
daughter. You can look it up on the web or get the information (as we
did) from The Tutoring Center on Dwight in Berk.
My daughter sounds very like your child- a junior in Math Analysis, generally
an A student, working hard and only squeezing out C's and D's. I did like
her teacher, although his answer to "what can she do to pull better grades?"
gave me no comfort. His answer was that Math Analysis is the course that
really weeds out the good student who is not particularly a math person from
the good student who is a math person. In your case, as it was in ours, your
daughter is only a junior. According to the teacher, besides natural talent
there is a maturation that is necessary for this course material that usually
does not kick in until senior year, and we are talking brain maturation here,
not something that can be affected by outside influences. So, we were stuck
with a kid, good student although math was not her strong point, who was a
junior and a young one to boot. She would often say that she would just be
getting the hang of a concept when it was time to move on and the test on
that section was over. I blamed her predicament on our not understanding all
the ramifications of starting Algebra I in eighth grade.
I once had a discussion with the then head of the math dept at BHS about my
daughter's plight and he indicated that he was really trying to get the
district to slow down on pushing algebra on the middle-schoolers. And he
warned us that we were in for even more trying times with senior math- what
was there to take besides courses that had all the AP math kids? Accorking
to him, more and more colleges want to see math in all four years (not really
caring as much what levels, so 2 years algebra, 1 year geometry and math
analysis would do just fine, with math analysis taken when that all important
brain maturation had a chance to kick in). All in all, due to the system,
our daughter was in over her head and had a miserable time of it, tutors
If you want to know what happened to her, she started Statistics in her
senior year, we went back to the tutor that she had been most pleased with
for Math Analysis, he took one look at the stuff and said it was over his
ability, we called colleges that she was interested in, got the news that no
math was preferable to math with D's or heaven forbid F's, and she dropped
math at BHS like a hot potato. It would have ruined her year and all her
other courses. She is now happily at a 4-yr liberal schools in the East.
Some of our friends thought it outrageous that we allowed her to drop math
because it was "too hard", but they hadn't walked junior year in our shoes.
Really, we gave her the gift of a sane senior year and us too. So many
people just get carried away killing the kids for some esoteric college goal.
You want the college they go to want someone like they really are, not as
some driven trained automaton.
Best of luck to you. Just thought you might like to know that there is life
after BHS and math analysis, and quality college life at that.
In regard to the "Math Analysis woes:" our child has managed to do OK in
terms of grades, but has some similar problems with the class. She is also
quite upset that material is appearing on exams that has not been presented
in the class. She says she discussed this with the teacher, who did not
deny that the material had not been presented in class, but was told that
"some students were able to answer the problem." She has just requested a
math tutor. Much of the material earlier in the year was review for her,
but she reports having great difficulty understanding new material the way
it is being presented in class.
Some pointed thoughts on Math Analysis at BHS
I've tried to bite my tongue regarding the math analysis issue, but I have
to speak out. I have an excellent mathematics background. My undergraduate
training was in engineering. I understand mathematics and I understand
Speaking as a professional educator, I am outraged at the downright arrogant
manner in which math analysis is being handled at BHS.
In posting after posting in this newsletter I read how numbers of students
are struggling with the course content. A teacher reportedly said "... that
Math Analysis is the course that really weeds out the good student who is
not particularly a math person from the good student who is a math person,"
(in a posting in the 12/1 copy of this newsletter).
My polite response to that teacher - and to all teachers at BHS who hold the
equivalent opinion in their respective departments - is "baloney!" Classes
in high schools should be taught so our students can acquire the breadth of
knowledge necessary to prepare them for work or college. Classes in high
school should not be designed to "weed out" students. Leave that to college
organic chemistry to weed out inappropriate medical school applicants.
I guess I'm an old-timer, but I believe that if a substantial number of
motivated students in a class are not grasping the material, that reflects
most strongly on the teacher and on the department, not on our kids. A
definition of "teacher" is "one that teaches; especially: one whose
occupation is to instruct." The responsibility is on the teachers to find
ways to communicate their knowledge so it can be understood by the students.
That's their job. Passing out a worksheet containing degree to radian
conversions the day before a quiz does not qualify as good, nor even
I know many students who have gone through BHS. Many learned math despite
their teachers. Some, I admit, learned math because of exposure to one of a
handful of good math teachers. I know of at least one student who has
successfully avoided all collegiate math courses, due directly to a class
with one BHS math teacher who single-handedly turned him off to the subject.
When such a large number of students are having an awful experience with one
particular course, then something is dreadfully wrong. It's time for the
powers-that-be to focus clearly on this mockery of high school education. If
math analysis is in the curriculum, then it is mandatory that the teachers
stop hiding behind the smokescreen of "this is a weed out course" and start
doing what they have been hired to do - teach these concepts to our kids so
they can learn them.
Accountability demands that if the majority of your students don't learn
what you're teaching them - and if all motivated students don't learn at
least enough to really deserve a C grade - then you are failing in your
mission as an educator, and something has to change.
I have just read the postings on Math Analysis at BHS. Many people
observed that material appears on the tests that has not been
presented in class; one poster quoted the teacher admitting doing
this. The teacher may have his rationale for this practice, but it is
unethical to test students on material that has not been taught. If
the BHS administration is allowing this practice, then we need to
complain to the Superintendent and School Board.
The purpose of a class is to convey a body of information to the best
of the teacher's ability to teach and the students' ability to learn.
Everyone who wrote said their child was struggling, going from A's in
math to C's and D's. There were no postings to the effect, "Math
Analysis was a piece of cake for my kid", suggesting a problem with
curriculum and/or instruction. One way to check this is to compare
Math Analysis courses at other high schools--do those students have
more success? Why?
There was a comment that Math Analysis weeds out the average bright
math student from the students who really "get" advanced math. I am
appalled that a high school course would be structured to inhibit the
success of any student. A teacher's fundamental calling is to believe
in her or his students and do their best to help every student
succeed. Intentional failure to do so is a perversion of the art of
teaching and has no place in the public schools.
No course in the math department engenders more comment than math analysis.
This year, as evidenced by the letters from parents to the E-tree, a number
of students find the class very difficult. Other students, who usually talk
to me at school, find the course insufficiently challenging.
Shortly after I became head of the math department last fall, the problem
was brought to me by a Jacket reporter. I raised the issue in a department
meeting and asked my colleagues to think about it. After that, we have
unfortunately been forced to spend almost all of our meeting time talking
about WASC. We intend to discuss the issue of math analysis in depth as
soon as can.
This course was structured many years ago when few students who took the
class were not seriously interested in math. At that time, we created an
Honors Algebra II because that would give the largest number of students
the chance to get the extra grade-point and kept one level of math
analysis. Due to changes in the population of students taking math analysis
such as grade level, future goals, university requirements, etc., we intend
to examine how we handle the math after Algebra II.
If you have thoughts on this subject, please e-mail me or have your child
talk with me. My email address is Judith_Bodenhausen@berkeley.k12.ca.us; my
office is in H209.
Regarding math analysis at BHS, it is not designed as a filter to keep
students out of calculus. I have taught BC calculus for eighteen of the
last twenty years. I don9t think a year has passed in which I have not had
students who earned a higher grade from me than they received in math
I have already met and will meet again with the math analysis teachers. We
are discussing the issues of expecting students to learn material directly
from the book with no class discussion and a relatively uniform difficulty
level for tests from the various teachers. I anticipate that by the middle
of next week, we will have resolved these issues.
Lastly, I would like to comment on tutoring. All math teachers make
themselves available to tutor their own students. In addition, we have two
after school tutorials that run 7th period until 4:30 Monday through
Thursday. The geometry tutorial in H306 and the algebra/math analysis
tutorial in H308 are staffed by Cal students and Cal outreach staff. In
addition, several BHS honors math students are usually available to assist.
However, if you prefer to have a private tutor for your child, I suggest
monitoring what they do. I have watched numerous tutors do the "fishing"
for students rather than "teaching those students how to fish." These
tutors merely told the students how to do their assignments rather than help
the students understand how to do the assignments themselves.
We maintain a list in the department of individuals who have contacted us
and told us that they tutor. Copies of the list are available in H209.
Math Department Specialists
Regarding math analysis at BHS: I'm glad to hear the department chair
that the class will be re-evaluated before the next school year. I
think the comment about this class serving to "weed out the students who
are not serious about math" is one of the most ridiculous and
un-foresightful comments I've heard in a long time. What other class
are 11th and 12th grade students to take?! Many students now take
Algebra I in 9th grade and they still need 3 if not 4 years of HS math
to qualify for UC and other colleges. I can understand that Calculus BC
is for very serious math students only. Liz
Are there two public high schools in Berkeley? All the parent comments on
this course refer to it as impossibly difficult; many feel it is used
unfairly to "weed out" those with less math aptitude. Our experience was
the opposite. When our daughter took this course, she and her friends
complained that they were just treading water; other than a little trig,
they didn't learn anything new. (The teacher was also a problem, however.)
Our daughter believed the trigonometry could have been added on to Algebra
II and it would have been better to go directly to calculus without wasting
time on all the review material in Math Analysis. Her theory is that the
course is boring for the Algebra Honors students but sometimes too much of a
challenge for the non-Honors students. These students are finally faced
with some of the requirements they will need for calculus. Maybe the
non-Honors courses need to be strengthened. Perhaps the problem is not so
much with Math Analysis teachers, as with a standard math curriculum that no
longer requires learning many of the essential tools of mathematics.
Our son is now in math analysis and says it's an easy course and that
almost everything taught so far has been review. It might be that the
problem stems from the lack of an honours section. First and second
year math do have honours but not the third year. Perhaps the mixed
class ends up being too easy for some and too hard for others.
I have to weigh in with positive comments about Math Analysis. My
son, a junior, is taking it now and it has turned out to be one of his
favorite classes. He was apprehensive about the class since he knew it was
likely going to be one of the most challenging of the math classes he's
taken, but the teacher has been wonderfully thorough and patient while
keeping the class at the highest level. He feels he's learning the material
in depth, understanding it, and is getting prepared for the next challenge
of Calculus or Stat.
The opinions and statements expressed on this page
are those of parents who belong to the
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should not be taken as a position of or endorsement by the
University of California, Berkeley.