Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Future of Algebra II...

Well, the youngin's are all done their exams. Algebra II - as I expected, a class average of approximately a D. This will not happen next term. Many more phone calls to parents - to the point where the parents will (hopefully) start getting the kids to do their work if for no other reason than to keep me from calling.

Also, in the Do Nothing section, only 5 out of 20 kids have an average above 70. I wonder if the poor grades will have any effect on their future performance?

So far as lesson plans go, here's the deal:

  • I am ending Baker's Choice. We have not gone through the whole unit, though next year I would like to. We have covered through systems of inequalities, which is usually as far as level three gets. Tuesday we will have a wrap up and review, and Thursday we will have the test.
  • Next I will briefly cover systems of equations. They covered this ad nauseum in Alg I. I would like to present it as an application - give them a real world situation that they can attempt to solve any way they want, discuss the results, hope it leads us to one of the methods for solving systems of linear equations. The main methods we cover are graphing, substitution, and elimination (aka linear combination). I may cover Cramer's Rule, but then I would have to get into matrices, and I think I'd rather move on to functions.
  • So we will do functions after systems. I am having a little bit of a problem thinking of a way to present the concept of a function in a concrete manner. I like to introduce new concepts with this class by discussing actual concrete things, and so I need to come up with many examples for the kids to fool around with. After that, we'll talk about function notation and why function notation is important and/or useful.
  • Next, I am not certain if I will do quadratic functions or polynomial functions. I think I'd like to start with quadratic and then expand to polynomial. Again, I need to come up with concrete examples and real world applications. I want them to be as adept with quadratic functions as they are with linear. Factoring is going to be the major problem - they simply memorize (which they really aren't very good at) without understanding why. I think I am going to possibly do the quadratic functions unit using algebra tiles. If nothing else, we'll have fun with scissors.
  • I have also noticed, and may have already mentioned it here, that a big block of their misunderstanding things is actually a reading comprehension problem. They do not really understand the mathematical vocabulary, or directions. For example, on the midterm, many students attempted to solve an algebraic expression. Only equations and inequalities can be solved - expressions are simplified. I may do a mini unit on "The Language of Math", or may decide to make it a weekly feature, interspersing it within other units. One idea I have for them is to brainstorm all the mathematical terms they can think of, write them all on the board, define them in their own words, write an example of how they are used, relate them to the "non-math" definitions, make flashcards, etc. I would also like to do a lot more writing assignments - a lot of my students are terrible at expressing their ideas on paper. I believe they will have a much better understanding if they have to clearly write out their thoughts and ideas. I can also better see where the misunderstandings occur with open ended questions.

This is the rough plan -I'll have to see how it goes.

Monday, January 23, 2006

It's not the kids......

Parents must make all the difference in the world. I sent out about 17 progress reports for kids in my Algebra class that failed to turn in a major project. Most of the kids never do their homework anyway, do not pay attention in class, and in general seem as though they could care class about anything academic. A couple are generally pretty good kids, very respectful, decent study habits, but still didn't turn in the project. Two parents called me regarding the project - both kids in the latter group. Not a single phone call from the parents of the kids who are failing the class. I'm going to remember this when my son begins school.

And then there's another kind of parent.....
One of my colleagues, another math teacher in the department, got a phone call on Friday from a parent of a student who is not doing very well in her classes. From the side of the conversation I heard, and the conversation with my colleague afterwards, the parent is a bully. She was not happy with her daughter's progress and intent on blaming the teacher.

First she(the parent) said it was a communication problem. My colleage suggested the student come more often for extra help. The parent replied that if her daughter couldn't understand it in class, how was having the same teacher explain it individually going to help?

My colleague suggested the Math Lab. The parent had some reason why that wouldn't work.

My colleague suggested a tutor.The parent said she pays seven thousand a year in tuition and shouldn't have to have a regular tutor on top of that. She also said the child had been seeing a tutor but had still failed the latest test.

My colleague stated that the child was actually needing to catch up, as on the latest test, it appeared from her work that the student did not understand the difference between line segments and angles. The parent apparently turned to the child, who was standing right there, and asked, "B., do you know the difference between lines and angles?" B. answered "yes" , so of course this is further evidence that the teacher is wrong.

It went on and got worse from there.....my colleague even suggested that if the parent thought it truly was a problem with her teaching, that the child switch classes. The parent replied that this was not possible because the daughter "has a life, you know." It ended with my colleague hanging up in tears.

For my colleague's sake, I hope the student does end up switching classes. It will land her in one of my classes, as I am the only other teacher that teaches that level.....but I really think I would enjoy parent-teacher discussions with that parent. (My colleague is an extremely sweet person, who is more than anything baffled by the verbal abuse this parent heaped on her. I am by no means sweet, and baffled is the last reation I would have in regards to this situation. So, please, dear parent, send the kid on over!)

On another note, I haven't been writing much about classroom life because we are in the middle of exams...all we've done is review and take the exams. It's not terribly interesting. (Discouraging, maybe, but not interesting.)

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Rough, rough day

I do not know how public school teachers do it. Its amazing how one interaction with a student can ruin a whole day, and in my case night since I am still up fretting about it. I have a student, who I shall call B., who is just .........ugh. Subtly, oh so subtly disrespectful. I'd almost rather have an outright ofensive student, than the subtle, can't quite put your finger on it, attitude that this student has. I gave the young man a detention for talking in class, after being warned that he shouldn't. I have also decided to give him detention for disrespect, which at our school is an automatic 7 days. I've been wondering how to handle the situation (arguing, lack of cooperation, eye rolling, etc.), and have decided to essentially warn him that he has used up all the patience and good will that I have for him this year. The very next time he argues, refuses to cooperate, rolls his eyes, or any other sign of a lack of respect and/or cooperation, he will simply be told to leave. He will not be welcome back in class that day, and will receive a zero for any work missed as a result. (I know this probably seems ridiculously minor to folks in some schools, and yet this kid just pushes my buttons.) Anyway, I just kind of feel as though I don't really know how to handle it.

Scaffolding

On another topic.....I've still been working on The Baker's Choice unit with my Algebra kids. If I teach them nothing else, I at least hope to teach them that math is used to represent the real world. These are kids that have already proven they are no good at drill and kill exercises. (For the most part) ,they are not good at memorizing algorithms, which is how a lot of algebra is often taught. My perception of the predominant thinking at my school regarding teaching level three math:

  • They don't really understand it, so they need lots and lots of repetition to do it correctly
  • They won't remember it anyway
  • There is no time to teach them applications because first we must get them to memorize the procedure, and.......see step one.
  • Repeat.

This is apparently "traditional" mathematics instruction. I am trying to implement "standards based" instruction, teaching math with understanding. Especially with a level three class, we all know that endless repetition of something you don't really understand does not work. Why would one insist on doing more of it in hopes of hammering the stuff into the kids' heads? Stuff that, since they don't really understand, they really will never use? Since most of the teachers at my school seem to think they'll never get it anyway...I've got nothing to lose.

I realize that within the Baker's Choice unit, I do have to provide a little more scaffolding...with reading comprehension, graphing...a lot of it. I am too tired to get into details.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Crossing of the To Do

Finished my level II geo midterm and level III Alg II midterm. I'm fairly pleased with them, and I am not working up until 1 am to finish them. As a matter of fact, I finished geo yesterday. Procrastination improvement points for me!!!

I'm still getting up early to take the algebra one...check for time and typos. But that is also still better than last year, when I ended up giving out a correction sheet along with the test. I still basically adapted a lot of last year's midterms, but I like what I added, and/or changed.

For Algebra II, I added an applications section. (NO!!! NOT word problems.......many may disagree, but word problems really turn my stomach. They are only masquerading as authentic applications. Real world applications do not come in little drips, and for heaven's sake, if Johnny has $1.98 total, why doesn't he simply count the number of nickels , dimes and pennies as opposed to writing algebraic equations to figure it out??!!! Okay...sorry for the sidebar.) Anywho, the kids have data that is graphed and they must answer questions regarding it...they must explain why. If I knew how, I'd post the actual exam questions. Is it possible to post Word documents on a blog? Or create a link to Word documents?

On the geo one, I did a much better job of teaching proof this year, if I do say so myself. The kids actually seem to be getting it, and the proofs I put on the midterm should be a good asessment of whether not they understand the basics of proof (I hope).

Blogging Thoughts

Writing a blog is a rather daring thing, in my book. I feel uncertain putting my very unpolished, somewhat inarticulate, and rather bland writing on the web for all to see (not that all are looking....if any are looking. And I don't do it for the people reading, though advice is ALWAYS welcome. I do more for my own self reflection and clarification of ideas. Still.......). Its funny in that its all a rough draft. I am hoping that as I blog more, my writing improves, hopefully drastically. Writing here is almost like sight reading a piece of music...except you never go back and revise. You just hope to get better at sight reading.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Back to School

Due to a snow day yesterday, today was our first day back after nearly three weeks off. I stuck to the Wednesday schedule and stayed at work until 6:30 tonight. I am still catching up (see previous post on procrastination), but I at least feel refreshed and have some energy for it.

Math, math everywhere

There is a good post and discussion over at Ms. Frizzle on teaching (or not teaching) math in middle school and in other subjects......I'd create an actual link but I am not sure how yet.

Catching up in Geometry Class

I had one level II geometry class today, where I handed back their tests (along with a gazillion other things I just finally finished correcting.) Afterwards, I met with 2 of the kids that failed for extra help.

I have about 125 students all together, so working with all of them one on one is just not possible. And yet, its working one on one where I learn the most about how kids learn. I see what errors the kids are making...I get a much better idea of their thought patterns.

A few "teaching " problems I've come across I am not sure how to fix. The idea of the Angle Addition Postulate is one of them. If an angle is formed by two adjacent angles, the measure of the angle formed is equal to the sum of the two adjacent angles. ( a figure here would be very helpful, but I don't yet know how to post pictures.) To me, this idea is very obvious; yet I have kids that just do not seem to get it. It's as if they do not see, literally, the same way I do. I think next year I am going to somehow figure out a way to use manipulatives, something the kids can pick up and mess around with, when I teach this. I think a program like Geometer's Sketchpad would also be helpful. Any geometry teachers out there have a similar problem and/or solution?

Monday, January 02, 2006

Procrastination is my Specialty

So I am trying to instill good study habits in my young charges...refusing, absolutely refusing to accept late homework, taking points off if they take too long to do make ups, and other such things.

It is 1:02 am. I have had over two weeks off, and yet I am still up correcting all the work that should have already been corrected weeks ago. I even found some things from October that I failed to return to the kids. I give myself an F for timely assessment, and an A for hypocrisy.

I also just spent about 20 minutes blog-surfing. It is in fact (sort of) relevant....a lot of what I have learned about teaching I have learned from blogs. (When I grow up I want to be Ms. Frizzle....) But, still....I am basically procrastinating on going to bed. The first step is admitting you have a problem.

Maybe we'll have a snow day tomorrow....

Lessons Learned

In all my last minute correcting, I have come up with one observation: instead of collecting or checking that the students have done the homework, I think I will begin giving more homework quizzes. Basically, we'd quickly go over the homework as a class, then I will give a mini, 3 point quiz on the basic concepts. (Regular quizzes are usually 20 -30 points, tests are 100)Advantages to this method:

  • better and faster assessment of what the kids get, and who is falling behind. Better feedback for me and the kids as a result
  • quicker to grade. Homework quizzes are usually only three questions, all right or all wrong

OK, I guess that's all the advantages I can think of at 1 am, but they're pretty darn big ones.

Good night.

Er,...actually....good morning.