Native American Special Education Needs More Math


I think all special education needs more math,  but today I’m at the Native American special education conference, EPICS, so let’s talk about that. It’s a good conference, not least of all for the entertainment, and I’m already planning to come back next year.

I went to some good sessions on working with schools to get an appropriate plan for children with severe behavior and emotional problems. I went to a session on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) which had a good bit of art and engineering and zero of the rest of it.

I’m as guilty as anyone, because although Marshall Longie and I gave a presentation on the transition from school to work on the Spirit Lake Nation, and although we mentioned what a barrier lacking a high school diploma is, we didn’t go into much detail on that aspect. 

So, let me make up for that now … Clearly, not punching holes in the wall and being able to focus on a task for more than 5 minutes are prerequisites to getting a job, but those are just that, prerequisites. I started out teaching math to students who were severely emotionally disturbed and that is how the idea that became 7 Generation Games originated.

One reason youth without a high school diploma can’t get a job is because most jobs, including entry level ones in retail and restaurants, require a certain basic level of math and reading. Now maybe an applicant does have that minimum, despite the lack of a diploma or GED but, in fact, numerous studies have found that as high schools increase their math requirements, drop on rates go up , and disproportionately so for minority students.

Students drop out in part because they can’t, or think they can’t, do math. 

As someone who has taught everywhere from tribal community college to the PH.D. programs at Pepperdine and the University of California, I can vouch for these studies as consistent with my experience.

This is a vicious circle because if you leave the place where they teach you math, odds are, you aren’t going to learn it.

Math is a barrier to many students, but I do my damndest to convince them that it doesn’t have to be.

For all of the time we spend on IEP meetings and the money spent on counselors, administrators and aides to comply with special education requirements, it troubles me how little is actually spent on the education part of it. Hear me out. I’m often dismayed by the fact that schools buy the absolutely cheapest computers they can without much thought.

Yes, we make math games for Chromebooks and that is the choice for a lot of schools. 

7 Generation Games for Chromebooks

Often, I see schools using Chromebooks where the WiFi is so slow and unreliable that it makes many applications nearly unusable. When I ask why they went with a technology that assumes content is delivered over the Internet, The teachers shrug and say, “Yes, it sucks but this was the cheapest solution.”

I’m not saying this to push buying our extremely expensive games – actually our math games start at free and average out to $2 per student for all of the games for a year plus supplemental teacher resources. I’m also not hating on Chromebooks. If that solution works for you because your school has good internet access, great! 

My point is that even at the most basic educational resources like computers and internet access, many schools are not even considering what is best for teaching students math (or other academics). 

For students with special needs, the curriculum is often so bad its appalling. I can’t tell you the number of classrooms – in high school! – I’ve walked into theat students were doing a packet of worksheets. I’m not a 100% hater on worksheets, either, but if that is your whole math class instead of less than 25% of it (and I’m being generous here) , then no wonder you’re having behavior problems because that #&$ is @#$&ing boring.

I’ve taught at a school where 90% of the students were low income. If your problem is that you can’t afford anything more than the workbooks , go here, please, and use whatever videos and PowerPoints you want.

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