"Math requires skills that are extremely important for anyone to know. Countless jobs now require vast amounts of knowledge in mathematics and engineering. But are OSA math classes preparing students well enough?" --Rafi Ponet, 7th grade.

Math requires skills that are extremely important for anyone to know. Countless jobs now require vast amounts of knowledge in mathematics and engineering. But are OSA math classes preparing students well enough?

Before that though, we need to get a more in depth idea of why learning math is necessary.

“Math is all around us and helps us understand the world,” Oakland School for the Arts Math Department Chair, Michael King stated. "Some people might say it's the language of the universe, and at least throughout Algebra 1 the things you learn in math will be useful to you. It's things like learning how to manage your money, and learning how to solve problems. It also just helps you understand everything. To be a good citizen you need math. To understand the newspaper, your work and things around you.”

Math not only helps people understand their surroundings and teaches problem solving skills, but it also helps with some jobs.

“It’s important to learn math in general because many careers require math skills, jobs in tech, and things like that,” Arlyle Schultz, OSA’s Head Academic counselor said. Especially here in the Bay Area where there are many jobs involving tech, developing math skills could not be more important.

This quarter, OSA has had to deal with a problem involving math classes.

“In the very beginning of the year, everyone takes the MDTP. Many 6th graders took that test and it showed that they were ready for Math 7,” explained Brenda Wagner, one of the Math 8 teachers at OSA “The classes are based on standards that the state has put on each class. But they are not necessarily appropriate to the individual grade levels. When that happened a lot of 6th graders were moved up into the 7th grade classes and some of the classes had 35 kids, which was too many. We had to cram kids in and we could tell that it wouldn’t work. There were enough 6th graders to create another class so that's what we did.”

Questions came up about whether OSA should have been prepared for this, but Schultz put it like this. “We couldn’t see the future and in the past we had never seen this many students move up a level in math.”

The problem, however, was that to create this class, they needed space. OSA shares a historic building with the Fox Theater in downtown Oakland, an area that’s packed with buildings and streets—so finding an empty classroom in a school that's all squished together proved to be a challenge.

“We go to room 338 on the days with normal schedules (Monday, Thursday, and Friday), and room 322 on Wednesday. Tuesday we don’t have math,” seventh grade Literary Arts student Zanthe Jones-Gerachis (she/her) said of her new math class schedule. Jones-Gerachis was formerly in Mr Alexander’s Math 7 class, but was recently moved to Ms Wagner’s Math 7 class, with sixth graders. Previously, her class was composed of 7th graders.

This makes getting to class way more challenging for the students and teachers because they have to remember what class they go to on what day. Not only this, but the class was added around a month after school had started, causing students schedules to change and classes switched.

“Originally I had to wait for like two months [before actually getting put in a Math 7 class],” said 6th grader Zara Quiter, who was moved up to a higher level. “It was stressful because I was like ‘what if I couldn’t get caught up in this math class?’ I did math packets so I wouldn't fall behind.”

Not only did OSA have to find space for this class, they had to find a teacher.

“It was disruptive,” Wagner stated. “Kids didn’t know what class they were going to. Kids didn’t know who their teacher was. Mr. King had to sub for that class for a month or so but then we decided that rather then having him take on a whole nother class, that he hadn’t taught in years, it made more since for me to teach that class since I teach Math 8, which isn’t too different than Math 7,” she concluded.

With the classroom and teacher problems sorted out, the math teachers decided to wait and see how the new set up worked.

“The classes were smaller so the teacher could provide more individual learning to each student. That’s the big benefit,” Wagner said.

“There's a benefit for everybody,” Schultz agreed. “Everyone is in the right math class.”

Even with those problems taken care of, OSA is adjusting to a new math curriculum, moving away from the CPM (College Preparatory Mathematics) curriculum they had used in the past. They have started using Amplify this year and so far it has been a slightly difficult change.

“We are having a bit of trouble because it doesn’t quite match with the old core curriculum, but I think over time it will get better and better,” Wagner said.

“When all of the math teachers got together they said they liked Amplify,” King explained. When asked more about CPM, King replied, “CPM is really good with group work. It was organized where students would work in groups of four, which gave students more responsibility. Sometimes it feels too easy to some people and too challenging to other people. We switched so people could find a balance.”

Most middle school students seem happy with the new curriculum, or at least we glad to leave CPM behind.

“CPM would sometimes throw curveballs at you when it came to lessons, while Amplify is more reliable,” seventh grade Literary Arts student Kai Vesjada (he/him) stated. Vesjada was not affected by the switch because he had already been moved up a level to Math 8 at the beginning of the year.

“The old one [curriculum] was so confusing,” said Jones-Gerachis. “Not necessarily the math, but the textbook constantly changed topics in a chapter; like it would be about the area of a triangle and then about something completely different. So far Amplify is fine. I haven't used it for as long but it’s not as confusing, so that’s good,”

However, many students think that OSA needs to figure out how to prepare for this from happening again, including a better way to handle it.

“I think they need to be prepared for a lot of students moving up math classes in the future,” Quiter said.

“I think that going forward, OSA should test the students who are interested in moving up in math before the school year starts,” said Vocal Music student Tuesday Solomon (she/her).

Solomon was moved up into Math 7 and her entire schedule changed. “This way, students wouldn't get used to one math class or schedule and then have all of it change. If OSA did this, students also wouldn't miss the first few weeks of that math class, and they would not have to start a unit in the middle of it,” Solomon stated.

Both Quiter and Solomon thought that most students at OSA could be moved up a grade in math and be fine.

I think anyone with a decent understanding of math could be fine a year up as long as they paid attention,” Quiter stated.

Solomon agrees. “I think that if you pay attention in class and try to get your work done, you will understand the curriculum. I wouldn't say that it is too easy, but I do think that we could be moving quicker through it,” Quiter continued.

With more students coming into middle school better prepared in math, everyone (not just OSA) will have to deal with problems like the ones OSA has dealt with to start this school year. Don’t be surprised if schools have to start making drastic changes to solve them and if middle school math looks very different 10 years from now.

Before that though, we need to get a more in depth idea of why learning math is necessary.

“Math is all around us and helps us understand the world,” Oakland School for the Arts Math Department Chair, Michael King stated. "Some people might say it's the language of the universe, and at least throughout Algebra 1 the things you learn in math will be useful to you. It's things like learning how to manage your money, and learning how to solve problems. It also just helps you understand everything. To be a good citizen you need math. To understand the newspaper, your work and things around you.”

Math not only helps people understand their surroundings and teaches problem solving skills, but it also helps with some jobs.

“It’s important to learn math in general because many careers require math skills, jobs in tech, and things like that,” Arlyle Schultz, OSA’s Head Academic counselor said. Especially here in the Bay Area where there are many jobs involving tech, developing math skills could not be more important.

This quarter, OSA has had to deal with a problem involving math classes.

“In the very beginning of the year, everyone takes the MDTP. Many 6th graders took that test and it showed that they were ready for Math 7,” explained Brenda Wagner, one of the Math 8 teachers at OSA “The classes are based on standards that the state has put on each class. But they are not necessarily appropriate to the individual grade levels. When that happened a lot of 6th graders were moved up into the 7th grade classes and some of the classes had 35 kids, which was too many. We had to cram kids in and we could tell that it wouldn’t work. There were enough 6th graders to create another class so that's what we did.”

Questions came up about whether OSA should have been prepared for this, but Schultz put it like this. “We couldn’t see the future and in the past we had never seen this many students move up a level in math.”

The problem, however, was that to create this class, they needed space. OSA shares a historic building with the Fox Theater in downtown Oakland, an area that’s packed with buildings and streets—so finding an empty classroom in a school that's all squished together proved to be a challenge.

“We go to room 338 on the days with normal schedules (Monday, Thursday, and Friday), and room 322 on Wednesday. Tuesday we don’t have math,” seventh grade Literary Arts student Zanthe Jones-Gerachis (she/her) said of her new math class schedule. Jones-Gerachis was formerly in Mr Alexander’s Math 7 class, but was recently moved to Ms Wagner’s Math 7 class, with sixth graders. Previously, her class was composed of 7th graders.

This makes getting to class way more challenging for the students and teachers because they have to remember what class they go to on what day. Not only this, but the class was added around a month after school had started, causing students schedules to change and classes switched.

“Originally I had to wait for like two months [before actually getting put in a Math 7 class],” said 6th grader Zara Quiter, who was moved up to a higher level. “It was stressful because I was like ‘what if I couldn’t get caught up in this math class?’ I did math packets so I wouldn't fall behind.”

Not only did OSA have to find space for this class, they had to find a teacher.

“It was disruptive,” Wagner stated. “Kids didn’t know what class they were going to. Kids didn’t know who their teacher was. Mr. King had to sub for that class for a month or so but then we decided that rather then having him take on a whole nother class, that he hadn’t taught in years, it made more since for me to teach that class since I teach Math 8, which isn’t too different than Math 7,” she concluded.

With the classroom and teacher problems sorted out, the math teachers decided to wait and see how the new set up worked.

“The classes were smaller so the teacher could provide more individual learning to each student. That’s the big benefit,” Wagner said.

“There's a benefit for everybody,” Schultz agreed. “Everyone is in the right math class.”

Even with those problems taken care of, OSA is adjusting to a new math curriculum, moving away from the CPM (College Preparatory Mathematics) curriculum they had used in the past. They have started using Amplify this year and so far it has been a slightly difficult change.

“We are having a bit of trouble because it doesn’t quite match with the old core curriculum, but I think over time it will get better and better,” Wagner said.

“When all of the math teachers got together they said they liked Amplify,” King explained. When asked more about CPM, King replied, “CPM is really good with group work. It was organized where students would work in groups of four, which gave students more responsibility. Sometimes it feels too easy to some people and too challenging to other people. We switched so people could find a balance.”

Most middle school students seem happy with the new curriculum, or at least we glad to leave CPM behind.

“CPM would sometimes throw curveballs at you when it came to lessons, while Amplify is more reliable,” seventh grade Literary Arts student Kai Vesjada (he/him) stated. Vesjada was not affected by the switch because he had already been moved up a level to Math 8 at the beginning of the year.

“The old one [curriculum] was so confusing,” said Jones-Gerachis. “Not necessarily the math, but the textbook constantly changed topics in a chapter; like it would be about the area of a triangle and then about something completely different. So far Amplify is fine. I haven't used it for as long but it’s not as confusing, so that’s good,”

However, many students think that OSA needs to figure out how to prepare for this from happening again, including a better way to handle it.

“I think they need to be prepared for a lot of students moving up math classes in the future,” Quiter said.

“I think that going forward, OSA should test the students who are interested in moving up in math before the school year starts,” said Vocal Music student Tuesday Solomon (she/her).

Solomon was moved up into Math 7 and her entire schedule changed. “This way, students wouldn't get used to one math class or schedule and then have all of it change. If OSA did this, students also wouldn't miss the first few weeks of that math class, and they would not have to start a unit in the middle of it,” Solomon stated.

Both Quiter and Solomon thought that most students at OSA could be moved up a grade in math and be fine.

I think anyone with a decent understanding of math could be fine a year up as long as they paid attention,” Quiter stated.

Solomon agrees. “I think that if you pay attention in class and try to get your work done, you will understand the curriculum. I wouldn't say that it is too easy, but I do think that we could be moving quicker through it,” Quiter continued.

With more students coming into middle school better prepared in math, everyone (not just OSA) will have to deal with problems like the ones OSA has dealt with to start this school year. Don’t be surprised if schools have to start making drastic changes to solve them and if middle school math looks very different 10 years from now.