Merced County Times Newspaper
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MCOE math coordinator reframes math instruction

Duane Habecker admits math is a difficult subject. In classrooms it has been taught in such a way that makes it hard for students to master.

Habecker, 52, is a coordinator in the Educational Services Department at the Merced County Office of Education and a veteran mathematics instructor. He taught mathematics for 22 years in Oakland, Hayward and Pleasanton and was a math coach in Pleasanton for four years with the Pleasanton Unified School District. He’s been with MCOE for two years.

“We can control a lot of how students experience mathematics,” Habecker says. “It’s no more difficult than any other subject. It has a bad reputation because of poor instruction.”

Habecker says his job is to help school superintendents and curriculum directors craft a vision for what good math instruction is and how learning can take place in their districts.

He works with 12 of Merced County’s 20 school districts, training teachers, principals and teachers on special assignment. He works in Atwater, Ballico-Cressey, Dos Palos, Hilmar, Le Grand Elementary, McSwain, Sierra Foothill Charter School in Mariposa, Merced Scholars Charter School, Merced River, Planada and Weaver school districts, along with migrant education students and their families.

“I’ll train anybody who’s in the room. I’m available to provide training to make that vision come to life. We need student-centered instruction and need students to participate actively in their learning, instead of using mistakes as punishment. Mistakes are a necessary part of growing,” Habecker explains.

This involves creating a mindset and culture where all students can learn and are welcome. Habecker conducts real-live demonstrations in teachers’ classrooms to illustrate these teaching strategies.

“It’s not just me spouting off nice platitudes,” he adds.

Math is an essential skill for college and career. He covers math instruction for 4-year-olds up to 12th grade, including advanced placement calculus and trigonometry.

Habecker said if a student struggled to read, their parents would move mountains to help them in reading. That doesn’t happen in math where a struggling student often is written off about learning the subject. That’s not part of Habecker’s thinking.

With a new program, it takes about two or three years for the results to be manifested on test scores. But Habecker says in districts where he’s working educators have reported tremendous growth and are seeing students do new things.

“It’s about making math accessible to all our students. Math is the gateway to a lot of careers and lots of colleges. It’s a very important gateway or a barrier,” Habecker says.

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