Episode 22: On The Right Path With High School Math

In Episode 22, Amy Van Hoose talks to Triad High School math teachers, Curtis James and Jennifer Mallette, about helping high school students succeed in math.  Having a strong background in mathematics prepares high school students for success in a wide variety of careers whether a students chooses to go to college, a trade school, the military or straight into employment after graduation.  There seems to be an explosion of careers in mathematics and statistics thanks to ever changing technology.

Jennifer Mallette

I’m excited to be the “New Kid on the Block” at Triad High School! I taught Honors Geometry and Algebra at Belleville West for 13 years prior to my move. I have lived in Troy since 2004, so I am happy to be fully involved in the community now. My 3 children keep me very busy. When we are not at a sporting event in Troy, you can catch us at a Cardinals game. Check out my classroom some time and you’ll think that you’re there yourself : )

Curtis James

I grew up in a farming community near Slater, MO, and moved on to Mizzou, graduating in 1996 with degrees in Education and Mathematics. My wife, Karen, grew up in Troy, so we moved to the community after I graduated. In 2007, after spending 12 years teaching at Hazelwood East H.S. and Clayton H.S. in Missouri, I joined the Triad District. I love the faculty, staff, and students at Triad, and I enjoy commuting 6 minutes per day instead of 60 miles per day! I finished a Master’s degree in Curriculum & Instruction from SIUE in 2001, and I finished a Master’s degree in Mathematics from SLU in December 2015. I enjoy reading, camping, cooking, and spending time with Karen and my twin sons, Ian and Spencer.

Why is a strong background in mathematics important for high school students?

The Illinois Learning Standards for math build a firm foundation for math skills. When students come into high school, they should have a solid number sense. Without that, it is extremely difficult to go on to the harder problems and concepts.  Algebra is really generalized arithmetic. Students need a good foundation in arithmetic in order to be successful in Algebra and Geometry.

Why are reasoning and sense making important in high school mathematics?

This is a great question. Students and parents may not often see the reason why we work proofs or solve equations in high school mathematics, however, those skills are critical for logical thought. Obviously STEM careers such as engineers, computer programmers, and scientists will use these skills in very concrete ways. However, it takes at least a basic understanding of Algebra to create and manipulate a spreadsheet. Businesses use mathematical models and statistics to improve their sales and marketing. Lawyers have to have an intimate understanding of logic to make successful arguments. Even writing the basic research paper requires a thesis statement (something to “prove”) and then requires supporting facts and details. The thought processes we learn in Algebra and Geometry are implicit in nearly every logical decision we make in adult lives.

How can students be sure to get the mathematical background that you need for the future?

I firmly believe that students should take four years of mathematics, especially if a student is wanting to go to a college.  I think students don’t realize how rusty their math skills can become by missing a year or two of math practice. Some years ago, I had a young lady in my Calculus II class. She wasn’t my strongest student, but she worked hard. She was a talented cellist, and went to school to focus on that talent. Fast forward to four years later, she told me that she put off taking any math until the 2nd semester of her senior year of college.  She had forgotten so much math that she was not sure she was going to pass college algebra. She had passed a college-level calculus class as a senior, but her skills had deteriorated so much that she almost didn’t graduate college!

I would also stress that when it comes to taking placement tests for college (usually English or math), that students should try to do a little preparation before the test. It is a always a shame when students come back and tell me they placed into a remedial math course because they we surprised by the placement test, which often restricts students’ use of calculators.

Why are academic standards important?

There are certain levels of proficiency that businesses in our community expect from their workers. Even technical fields such as an electrician requires some algebra knowledge on entrances tests, the military will determine which jobs you are eligible to perform based upon the ASVAB test. I have a former student who studies to be a machinist at SWIC, and he has used trigonometry in some of his classes.

How can parents help?

I know that we want our high schoolers to be independent, but some of them are just not ready yet. Check Plus Portals and if you see that their homework grades are really low, it may be time to take away Fortnite and have them work on their homework first. You don’t have to check for correctness, just make sure they DO the homework every night. If you begin this routine their freshman and sophomore years, it should set the expectations for the remainder of their high school career.

Even if you don’t remember much high school geometry or algebra, providing support and encouragement and asking them how the class is going will go far towards helping the student solve their problems. If they are having trouble, ask them to search Youtube, encourage them to call a friend, or go see their teacher outside of the classroom or send them an email.

Finally, I am not sure students always understand how to study for a math test. There is always reviewing notes and examples, but if a teacher gives a practice tests (and most teachers do in our non-honors classes), then encourage students to finish the review guide and check answers.  If there is a problem that students don’t know how to do, then I ask them to look for similar problems in notes or homework. YouTube, a quick text to a friend, or an email to a teacher can help the student figure out their troubles.

How can parents help get kids excited about math?

Go online together and search careers (or even interests or hobbies) and investigate how math relates to those fields. If your kids have the opportunity to participate in Math Team in the middle or high schools, cheer them on.  If you have younger kids, make math fun with games. I know that playing card games with my kids where they had to keep score helped their everyday addition and subtraction skills. When they were really young, we played “sugar packet math” while waiting for food at restaurants. I would give them sugar packets and show them I had 5 packets and asked how many they needed to give me to make 8 packets in a pile. It kept the kids entertained while waiting for food, and they were having fun learning.

National PTA

 – Parents’ Guide to Success in High School Mathematics

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

– A Student’s Guide to High School Mathematics


– A site to find flashcards and games on any topic


– A site to find flashcards and games on any topic

Khan Academy

– Students can log in for free lessons on all math topics

How to Become a Straight-A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less

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High School Math-Top Selected Products and Reviews

Click the link to find Amazon’s top rated books on high school math.


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