Saturday, September 4, 2010

Day 12

So today seemed to go really well until right until the end, but then it seemed like maybe they weren’t getting it after all. Of course, it was the Friday before a three-day weekend, plus we don’t meet on Tuesday so I won’t see them until Wednesday, but still.
We started with our usual opener (pdf), but I tried something different today. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been surprised about how long the students are taking to do what I consider to be pretty routine stuff. So, each day on the openers I’ve been saying things like “I think these should take you about five minutes” or whatever, but then they take ten minutes and I’m not quite sure what happened.

So today I decided to make it a little more explicit, I put suggested completion times after each opener. Now, I want to be clear that I don’t believe that speed is the most important thing here. I don’t want to rush my students. Yet I also believe that students must have a comfort level and facility with the mathematics to do things at a reasonably good pace if they’re ever going to be able to move forward and work on more interesting – and complex – mathematics.

So at the beginning I told the students what I was doing, and that they shouldn’t panic if it took them longer – or shorter – to do each problem. I told them that those times were the times that were the target for them, where I would like to see them get. I also told them that the total time on the timer was slightly more than the sum of the times, so that I didn’t push them too much (I think I had four minutes on the timer in the upper right corner, even though the suggested times totaled three minutes). When the timer went off, I then said that if they were finished, or working on #3, they were in pretty good shape. But if they weren’t even on #3 yet, then perhaps there was some concern there and they might want to come in and get some help. They then had several minutes to talk over the openers in their groups before we worked them on the smart board.

I’m not sure how I feel about this, as part of me really hates doing this. But they did seem a little more focused today, and I’m going to try it for a few weeks and see what happens.

We then moved on to the lesson (pdf), where we approached solving two-step equations via the idea of working “magic” with numbers. So, here’s the scenario. I told them to pick a number between 1 and 25 and write it down. I then gave them one operation at a time (“Add 8” or “multiply by 4”). After each operation, they then wrote down their result. After about five operations – and keep in mind they have calculators for this – I then revealed the magic and told them what the last number they wrote down was (“5”, or “Your original number”).

Now, I knew this was going to happen, yet it still was somehow a surprise. A fair number of students didn’t get “5” or “their original number.” So, here’s my question to you, is it unreasonable to expect that students, using a calculator and taking one basic operation at a time, couldn’t complete five operations in a row successfully? I’m really struggling with this, because I think (perhaps naively) that they should be able to and that, if they can’t, they are going to struggle mightily in Algebra. Given the fact that clearly some of them are struggling with this, I’m not sure what to do to help them. Ideas?

After translating the “magic” to the algebra to show them why the tricks worked, we approached solving two-step equations by “undoing” operations. As we were working through this I was feeling pretty good, they really seemed to be getting it and understanding the concept, even if they were still a little shaky with the fourth column (“The Algebra”). But then I turned them loose (in their groups) on the last page of the lesson, and suddenly a whole bunch of them didn’t know what to do. Not just with the fourth column, but with the other columns. I had anticipated they would struggle with the last one (writing their own given just a result), but not that they would struggle so much with the first two.

Their homework for next week (again, I won’t see them until Wednesday), is to watch the video on solving two-step equations (in addition to completing their reflection/goals assignment from Wednesday), so hopefully that will help solidify the concept of undoing and what to write for each step.

So, overall, week three felt better, but still nowhere near where I want it to be. I did much better on my timing each day, and I think I’ve scaffolded things better for my students, but I still worry that I’m doing too much of the thinking. As always (at least until the end of the year), next week is another opportunity to do better. Let’s hope I do.


  1. My experience with kids and learning in the last 17 years, is that they feel we as teachers/parents/the world OWES 'it' to them. 'It' being anything and everything they should do on their own and for themselves!

    I have been wondering when the 'shift' in who kids are would catch up with you. Not that you haven't been in the school, but since you have been out of the classroom....

    That said, what can we as teachers do about it? And you asked, any ideas?

    On kids not 'getting it' with math....
    I have found that teachers of math, who are very good at math themselves, don't always understand or see why us non-math people don't 'get it'.

    Somewhere in the process of HOW TO DO the math is where I am finding they need help. And what happens is when the teacher shows them, they get it. When another student or parent shows them, they get it. But then when on their own, alas they are lost! They struggle when confronted with the disequilibrium of thinking it through themselves.

    Which brings me back to them thinking we OWE it to them. They want us to THINK for them also.

    Don't know if this helped, but it is a univeral issue. I teach special ed in a junior high now, but have taught in Catholic and public schools in both TX and NM in middle school/jr high settings and some high school credit classes.

    They ALL have this problem in ALL subjects. SusanS

  2. suzysouth - No, I get (well, pretty much) why math is sometimes a struggle for a lot of students (even when I think my lesson is a pretty good one). And I'm working hard to having them do it and not me.

    My specific question here was why they couldn't punch the correct buttons on a calculator. In this case, I don't think (but I could be wrong) that that's a math comprehension issue.

  3. I still think they don't care and that this is one of the biggest problems we as teachers face. They have developed the ability to 'not do' until it has become their mantra. Few students have the idea that they should actually remember something for more than a day or two. "Oh, was I supposed to remember that?" is a comment I hear a lot (both reg ed and sped kids).

    As in your graphing exercise...I have found that you almost have to train them to your expectations and then you can go forward with teaching. When I taught 9th grade Chemistry, I spent the full first 3 weeks training them in things they should know and remember, like how to get into and out of groups, set up and take down labs, and so forth.

    I am enjoying your transparency and gaining nuggets of wisdom each day. Don't give up on them. They need teachers who WILL trust them with their own knowledge and abilities! They will eventually come around.