Thursday, August 26, 2010

Day 7

I think I may actually be getting worse at this. While not horrible, today didn't go at all how I wanted it to. It started with us getting a late start primarily because they forget to reset the bells after Back to School Night last night (and partially because our Link Crew brought doughnuts for the freshmen and they met in the cafeteria, but mostly the bells). So we started a few minutes late and, well, you know how I'm doing on my timing, so that didn't help.

We started with an opener (pdf), as usual, and I really liked the problems on this one (my age in seconds, but without the units; converting Deepwater Horizon daily oil spill into number of 2 liter bottles per second). Unfortunately, they didn't really know how to approach problems 1 and 2, which are the ones I liked. That's partially because we ran out of time yesterday, but it's also partially because they seem hesitant to dive into anything they don't already know how to do. I wrote on the whiteboards next to the smart board where the problems were projected some hints to get them started, but they didn't even seem to be interested in writing that down. I think I'm not doing a very good job of communicating with them about how I want them to approach mathematics, or perhaps it's not so much communicating but I'm not convincing/encouraging/selling them.

We then moved on to the lesson (pdf), where I pulled data from The Biggest Loser to explore direct variation. The wheels really fell off here because it took them an inordinate amount of time to graph four points on graph paper. (Obviously, inordinate is in the eye of the beholder, in this case me.) Not only did it take a long time, but many of them didn't graph the points correctly. I had made the assumption, obviously a bad one, that graphing was something they had done enough of that asking them to graph four points, with a decent amount of scaffolding in terms of the how to construct and label the axes, would not be a difficult task. So, again, I'm left wondering if my expectations are too high, if my assumptions about their background knowledge are incorrect, or if I'm close to being right on and just haven't managed to get them to buy in. (And I think I showed some frustration for the first time today. I'm chalking that up at least partially to being tired from Back to School Night last night, but that's still not a very good excuse. I need to be more patient.)

I again had to cut my lesson short of where I had anticipated getting, but at least this time I cut it at the right point so that I didn't talk through the bell (perhaps 15 seconds to spare). So I asked them to finish parts a-f on the second page for homework (we did part a, and started on part b). In addition, their homework includes watching the video on solving one-step equations. This is the second instructional video I've asked them to watch, but I'm still unsure about how many of them are actually watching it. (As an aside, I've debated with myself about how much to "check up on them," and I'm still in the stage of letting them learn the ropes. I'm thinking we're at about the end of that stage, though.)

So, tomorrow is another day, but I'm pretty sure I have too much planned again. This weekend will give me a chance to redo my plans yet again, and perhaps I'll get closer to the sweet spot next week.


  1. Are any of your students reading this blog? I wonder if they knew how much thought and energy you put into every minute of each lesson and the amount of reflection you do might motivate them?

  2. Claire - I don't know if they are or not. It is included in the feeds to our Learning Network page on our website, but I don't know if many folks actually go to that page. The center column of that page are items I share with my Google Reader, and that also populates the page that all of our browsers at school start up with (which is similar to this page), and I did share Day 5 on there. But I'm not sure my students are settled in enough at school to be noticing those things.

  3. Karl--I admire the creative and real-world problems you've brought into your classroom. Clearly, you are spending much time trying to make algebra relevant for these twenty-first century learners. The lessons are challenging, and much more interesting than anything I've seen in text books. I am very impressed.

    I am struck, though, by your words, "I think I'm not doing a very good job of communicating with them about how I want them to approach mathematics." Exactly how do you "want" them to approach mathematics? Is this also what they "want"?

    As a former English teacher in your school and a former member of your Century 21 Learners team, I recall many conversations with you about the best teaching methods for modern students. On several occasions, I expressed frustration because my students resisted reading the literature I assigned, the literature that I believed was important for them to encounter on their road to adulthood. I may be expressing your viewpoint incorrectly, but didn't you embrace the idea that what a teacher "wants" to teach isn't as important in the twenty-first century as what a student "wants" to learn? Perhaps your students don't see these particular algebraic functions as relevant to their own lives...despite your heroic efforts to engage them.

    Getting my students to "buy in" (I like your expression) to literature and writing was the biggest challenge I faced in my career. Sometimes I was tempted to give up assigning the classics, to abandon rules of grammar, to ignore poor punctuation, and to allow the students to learn only what they wanted to learn.

    Yet, surely a teacher's "wants" matter, even in a modern, technologically rich classroom full of intelligent, technologically sophisticated teenagers. (Are you beginning to agree with me? Or am I wrong in believing that you once disagreed with me?)

  4. Cheryl - No, I think you summed it up nicely. :-) Although I don’t think I ever said that what you wanted to share with them was irrelevant, just that it shouldn’t be the only thing. (Exactly how long does it take for a work to become a "classic?" Is there an algebraic function for that?)

    But I do think there’s a difference between your subject area, Language Arts, and mine (in this case, Algebra). Your curriculum revolves around reading, writing, speaking, and communicating. Those are all areas that I think you can easily address in ways like we talked about, and yet still meet the mandates of your curriculum. With Algebra being much more skill based, I think it’s much harder to diverge and still meet the curriculum that I’m required to meet.

    In addition, I think that you, an experienced and well-respected veteran teacher who was a leader of the department, had much more opportunity to influence what happened in your classes. As opposed to me, a guy that hasn’t taught math in 14 years, is only teaching one section of Algebra, and doesn’t even rate a desk in the department. I think my opportunities to rock the boat are a little more limited.

    Having said all that (rationalization?), I don’t necessarily disagree with you. One of my biggest problems is my curriculum, so I’m trying to bridge the gap between what I see as a better way with the realities of a curriculum that I can’t change overnight. (Again, I think Language Arts was different, you could much more easily incorporate these new literacies into your classes while still meeting your curriculum.) I do think we have experiences and perspectives to offer our students, and I apologize if it came off previously that I did not think that. But, at the end of the day, I still believe it’s their learning, and I’m frustrated both by my curriculum and by my own inadequacies.

  5. Have you asked your students what mathematical concepts they want to learn?

  6. Cheryl - No, that's where I'm hamstrung somewhat by my curriculum, but also by our collective inability to talk about what mathematics is. I have asked them a few things and will be asking them for some reflections next week. And we will be exploring more about what math is and isn't next week, so I'm attempting to address it some, but not enough.

  7. What I'm driving at is that ninth graders often don't know what they want to learn. Their realm of experience is limited because they are young.

    As a ninth grader, I would have never known how moved I would be by Orwell's 1984 or by Dickens' Oliver Twist (Sorry--I've never learned how to italicize on Blogspot). Thankfully, my ninth grade English teacher assigned both books. I would have never known how exciting geometry could be, but my 8th grade geometry teacher was one of the most inspirational people I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. A philosopher and maybe even a mystic, she made points, lines, and theorems seem extremely interesting and important to us. I would have never appreciated the U.S.Constitution, but...I had an amazing civics teacher who made me read and think deeply. I would have never chosen to study any of these topics on my own.

    When I was in ninth grade, Herman's Hermits and The Man From U*N*C*L*E* were my main obsessions. I loved slow dancing and boys who wore English Leather cologne. But, because teachers cared about the life of the mind, they made me read challenging books and confront extraordinary ideas. They turned me into a life-long learner by constantly sharing books and ideas that mattered to them.

    Clearly you are a brilliant, passionate man. Isn't that the most important thing for a teacher to be? I hope you begin to love those kids and to stop disparaging yourself! The technique isn't as important as the passion. That will rub off on your kids, I assure you. And if not, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." That quotation from the Buddha comforted me many a time as I struggled to inspire my students....

  8. Cheryl - Thanks for the advice. And, again, I'm not suggesting we don't share things we think are important with our students. But what if you'd pursued your passion for Herman's Hermits? Maybe you would've become a musician. Or maybe you would've traveled to England, visited the Globe Theater, and then become an English teacher.

    I'm not suggesting we don't ask our students to do challenging things. I guarantee you that my class is more "challenging" than a typical Algebra one. But I would argue that reading Oliver Twist is not the only way to challenge our students. That's not to say that reading Oliver Twist (and, yes, I'm using italics often just to taunt you) is a bad thing. But if students can read, write and learn about today's equivalent of Herman's Hermits, and as part of that learn about business, economics, technology, sociology, and any number of other subjects, why do we seem to discount that as not "academic?"

  9. Thanks for your ideas...I'll contemplate them. (Notice the italics, please)

  10. And...oh yes...Herman's Hermits were musical talent whatsoever...but they were very cute, with big blue eyes and sweet smiles. Their cloying, sentimental lyrics appealed to my ninth grade sense of romance, but there was nothing they could have offered me musically, believe me....

  11. Nice job with the italics.

    If you had gone on tour with Herman's Hermits (I assume they went on tour?), who knows what you might have learned. Or if you'd gone to England and stalked them there, you might've discovered a whole different life.

    And what's so wrong with a ninth grade sense of romance? Sometimes I think a little naivete might be a good thing . . .