Campus: CSU, Sacramento -- March 01, 2001
Algebra Class Offers Lessons in Teen Culture
California State University, Sacramento child development professor Lynda
Stone has been playing anthropologist.
Twice a week, Stone treks to a Sacramento middle school to observe young
American teens in their native habitat. She's trying to understand how they
work in classroom groups and, specifically, if doing so helps them learn
Stone is far from completing her study, but her work so far is tantalizing.
It suggests that some students benefit from "copying" and that
seemingly useless "chit chat" can actually help the students use
life experiences to solve problems. Stone also says the student groups seem
to mimic class norms - such as expectations of being helpful.
The project has long-term interest to an emerging group of educators seeking
to understand classroom culture, with hopes of helping teachers create better
But her work has more immediate implications here in California.
Students who hope to graduate from high school are now required to pass
algebra, a notoriously difficult subject. That's made a good number of students
- and adults with long memories - cringe. And educators across the state
are hoping group work will help meet the challenge.
"We don't have nearly enough understanding about what is going on in
these groups, or how to make them more effective in teaching," Stone
says. "We need to know more."
So Stone sits and watches groups of students at work. Her camera catches
them on videotape. Wireless microphones catch the conversations. She pulls
students aside for individual interviews.
If she can find additional grant funding, Stone plans to expand her analysis
to other types of classes and even to playgrounds and the neighborhoods
in which students live. She envisions a small army of graduate students
doing the same type of fieldwork she's now doing.
More information is available from CSUS public affairs at (916) 278-6156.