What Have I Gotten Myself Into?

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I have posted previously that I am teaching 1 section of Calculus and 8 heterogeneous sections (4 each day) of Math AIS.  I am personally hitting the wall in Math AIS.  Here are my thoughts:

  • I like the students.
  • I like that I can pick and choose what I do (or don’t do) in the class.
  • I like that I don’t have to “grade” the students.
  • I dislike that there isn’t a grade or any extrinsic motivation for them to do ANYTHING in Math AIS.
  • I dislike that because I am creative and unwilling to bow down to drill and kill that Math AIS is eating up all of my plan time for Calculus.
  • I dislike that the classes are VERY heterogeneous and that I don’t feel I am doing any population well. (On paper, I have mostly Algebra 1 and Fundamentals of Algebra.  In reality I have students from 2 different Algebra 1 teachers and 3 different Fundamentals of Algebra teachers.  So they are all at different places in the curriculum.  Then I also have 5 Geometry and 2 Algebra 2 students thrown in the mix.  Sink or swim, suckahs!!)
  • I dislike that I have nothing to “follow”…no curriculum, no end goals….just go in and teach your angle-sinde-angle off…
  • I dislike that I don’t have anyone to collaborate with in my building…to bounce ideas off of…to build this course.
  • I like the idea of flipping the classroom a bit….
  • I dislike knowing that I don’t even have any real idea of how to start to do that or what it would like…
  • I like to see students “doing” math.
  • I like to seeing students doing relevant math and making connections.
  • I like to see students “get it”.

So….there are my thoughts as they stand right now.  I had a long talk with my content specialist over lunch today and discussed these thoughts.  He listened, but he doesn’t really have an answer. (Not that I really expected one.)  Is there anyone else out there who is teaching Math AIS? Particularly with mixed classes?  If you do, or know someone who does, could you pass this post on to them?  Thanks!

Finding Patterns

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At the end of last class I gave my students the preassessment for the Manipulating Polynomials lesson on the Math Assessment Project website.  I had ONE student even come close to understanding the essence of the problems.  Today I taught the associated mini-lesson.  I was  a little worried, but I trusted the process and jumped in with both feet.

I gave them one extra example, broke them into groups, and had them work on the cut-and-paste-poster activity.  I asked the students who were struggling to take one of the dot patterns and start by just writing down the number of black dots, white dots, and total dots.  Then we discussed how the number of each type of dot could be expressed as a function of n (not using that terminology, but you know what I mean).  There was some struggling.  There was some fussing.  There were even a couple of complaints of, “When am I ever going to use this?”   (More on this below) The satisfying part, though, is that they KEPT WORKING.  They worked through their struggles.  They asked for help when they needed it. (I admit, I broke down and gave them the formula to find the nth perfect square and nth triangular number.)  They discussed the problems with their peers.  They even seemed satisfied when they arrived at a solution.

I have worked very hard this year trying to have my AIS students see beyond the tricks and gimmicks that they may learn in class and to enjoy the rigor and perseverence of math.  This was one of the first times that they showed me that they were willing and able to reason mathematically.  They showed that eventhough the problem was challenging for them, they were willing to think analytically and to persevere.

Looking back, I think this task was successful for many reasons, but mostly because of the relevance of the task. Not the “real world relevance”, but the relavance quoted from Ben Blum-Smith on Dan Meyer’s blog:

The real test of whether a math problem is “relevant” is not “do you use this in ‘real life’,” whatever that means, but “do you want to solve it?” It’s not that you want to solve it because it’s relevant; wanting to solve it is what it means to be relevant.

These students were genuinely interested on some level.  I think that they were intrigued that they could find an expression that could describe what was happening in the picture.  They were excited that this even allowed them to find future values beyond what was on the paper in front of them.  This was empowering to see in a class room of students who dislike and have ven come to fear math.  I am definitely looking forward to finding more and more relevant tasks for my Math AIS students.

Side Note:  Speaking of relevance….I think a surefire way to decide if a task has lost it’s relevance is when a student asks, “When are we ever going to use this?”  This means that a student sees no connection to anything they could possibly ever do in the “real world”.  I have taken two distinctly different paths when being asked this question.  First, I have scrapped the activity and done something new.  When I do this I usually see that there is some underlying skill that they are struggling with.  Once this is remedied, the task at hand usually seems much more
“doable”.  Secondly, I have honest and frank discussions about what the student(s) want to do in life.  What are their goals, dreams, and aspirations.  Once they can remove themselves from the now and look at the bigger picture they realize that the tasks we are looking are appropriate.  Not to mention that it might be beneficial to practice and become efficient in the skills of rigor and perseverence.

Out With the Old??

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Wow, I can’t believe it has been so long since I last posted something. I have recently started getting back into reading blogs and getting really excited about all of the great math teaching that is going on out there. I am dedicating myself to write one blog post a week until the New Year. Here goes number one….”

I have recently come to the conclusion that some people are never going to change the way they teach. Standards may change, district goals may change, curricula may change…they will still teach basically the same stuff the same way that they always have. Usually, they teach it the same way they learned it in school. I do NOT claim to be an expert, but I do know that I challenge my students to think. I try new things all of the time. I get really excited when I find a new and engaging way to teach something. My students get frustrated because I refuse to give them the answer. I implore my students to find the joy in the process and not just getting the right answer. I believe that anyone can learn mathematics, but some students lack the perseverance and dedication to even try. I wake up in the middle of the night trying to figure out new ways to connect to these students. And this is the reason that I get frustrated with the teachers who stand in front of the class and lecture the same notes, the same way that they did last year…and the year before that. Sure, they may provide “guided notes”…and do review games of some sort or another occasionally, but the actual instruction is the same as it has always been. This is also the reason, however, that I am back on here. I am back on here so that I hold myself responsible to my blogging community to keep creating lessons in which my students are challenged to think; to actually do math. Furthermore, I am here to get inspired (and to steal ideas) from the amazing teachers that I follow on here. I can’t wait!

Week One: Done

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Well, week one flew by. It is only three days, but I am always surprised how fast it goes.

My AIS students seem willing and eager to work with me. We did the normal opening day stuff, but we also wrote and signed class expectations and each class brainstormed and selected a survey question. We are going to construct a survey with a question from each class. My colleagues in the English department have graciously agreed to administer this survey so that we can make sure to survey every student. I even spoke to our journalism teacher and he agreed to publish our results in the school paper! I think the students will have a lot of fun with this. I will keep you posted.

On Friday I met with one of our district’s literacy coached for 20 minutes or so. I know that the students in my Math AIS classes struggle with their literacy skills and this is one of the reasons that they fail to find success in mathematics. I expressed the desire to work on some proven literacy strategies so that I can help my students with their vocabulary retention as well as reading comprehension. He had some great ideas and he let me borrow “Teaching Reading in Mathematics” by Mary Lee Barton and Claire Heidema . I am excited to iron out some of these strategies and implement them into class soon.

It is a little scary in that I have so much less direction this year because I am teaching 4 sections of Math AIS this year. I am starting to get that excited feeling though as I start to realize how I have the freedom to do a lot of the good sound instructional practices that I have gotten away from due to the rigor and vastness of the NYS curriculum.

Feelings Check

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I started this post two weeks ago and just had time to finish it:

In less that two weeks I will be starting an entirely new and unique teaching course Ioad. I have been reluctant to share this because I have been coming to grips with how I really feel about it.

I have taught Algebra 2 for my entire 11 year teaching career. I feel like it is my baby. I really enjoy the curriculum. My students have not always done as well as I have wanted them to, but I tried to remedy this by imploring new strategies frequently. Therefore, when I got my teaching assignment I was surprised. I would be teaching Calculus (which I have taught for the past 6 years) and four sections of Math AIS.

In the past, no one has had more than one or two AIS classes, so to have 4 was a shock! Also, these classes are not homogeneous so I could have students from Fundamentals of Algebra all the way through Algebra 2 in the same AIS class. I met with my department chair and the principal and they outlined how they want AIS to take a new direction. They do not want it to be just homework help or test prep. They foresee me doing mini-lessons with small groups while others are working on applications on their own. We have bought in to Study Island so I do have that tool. They want me to set up a “math lab” where students want to come to help better understand the concepts that are being presented in class. In some ways this is an exciting new opportunity that could really allow me to group. In many other ways, however, it is a scary new endeavour….especially being the first year of the new APPR process.

Does anyone have experience setting up a lab like this? Experience teaching hetergeneous AIS classes? Any help would be GREATLY appreciated!!

Logarithm Laws

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I killed logarithms this year. My students really understand logarithms. I have not always been able to say this, but this year I was feeling good. I can not for the life of me figure out why the students can not apply the three basic logarithm laws. They really struggle expanding out condensed expressions. They have a hard time condensing expanded expressions. When they have equations of the form:


it doesn’t even cross their minds to combine the logarithms using their logarithm laws. They simply want to “cross off the logs” because there are logs on both sides. Does anyone else have this problem?


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I originally wrote this Tuesday, but failed to actually get it posted:

The principal brought us in and gave us our teaching assignments today. As I outlined yesterday, I have 4 preps. Two of the ladies I work with also have four preps. One of these ladies is out on maternity leave right, but the other one was there giving local finals with me today. I could tell by body language and other comments that she was not happy. I called a meeting this afternoon for everyone except my department chair to have an open conversations about our worries and concerns.

The meeting was really productive. My department chair has openly told us that he is willing to listen to us and consider changes. Rather than just go to him and complain we decided to enter as a united front and we drafted up schedules that would eliminate the need for 4 preps for anyone. We also incorporated the changes that he had wanted to make. We contacted him and have a meeting scheduled for either tomorrow afternoon or Thursday morning.

Regardless of how this all turns out the most important thing that may come out of this is that we came together as a department and truly collaborated. We are a small department (of seven), but we don’t work together all that well. There are a couple pods of three that work really well with one that kind of floats between the two groups. This scheduling issue though has caused us to pull together and work for the greater good of the school. And, at the end of the day, isn’t that what it should really be all about?