Today was . . . confusing. I’m pretty sure it was confusing for my students, but it was also confusing for me. We started with the usual opener (pdf) and they seemed pretty stumped again. At this point I’m expecting them to be able to do a straightforward order of operations problem, particularly because they have calculators. That wasn’t the case, as some of them struggled with 1a.
I knew they would struggle some with 1b, as I could tell when they did the openers on Friday that they weren’t very comfortable with distributive property. (Note to self: I need to find out for sure what they’ve had in middle school. I know in the past that distributive property was something they had been exposed too, but now I’m wondering if perhaps that’s not the case anymore). I wasn’t that concerned that they struggled with 1b, as this was another opportunity for them to see how to do it, and because I know tomorrow I’m going to give them more practice with it.
Question 2, however, was a little bit depressing. While I knew some students would struggle with it, I wasn’t prepared for the number of students who apparently had no idea where to start. I referred back to what we did on Friday (suggesting they look back at our work from Friday if they didn’t remember), and referred to the video they watched on solving two-step equations. I was anticipating that they would be able to do column 3, “undo the steps,” and struggle a bit with column 4, “The Algebra,” yet many were unable to even start the undo the steps column. I think this confirms my supposition that at the end of the day Friday they didn’t get it quite as well as I had hoped, but I’m also frustrated since I thought the video they watched should’ve helped solidify the idea of simply doing the inverse (opposite) operation. When I ask how to “undo” something they all seem to know, yet they can’t come up with what to ask on their own. I’m hopeful that when we do some more practice problems tomorrow (no new stuff) it will begin to click for more students.
Then the lesson (pdf) today was equally frustrating. (Note: image from Discovering Algebra from Key Curriculum Press). We did what I thought was going to be a quick and straightforward experiment, using their textbooks as a ramp and rolling pencils off of them, and then measuring how far they rolled. Then we were going to plot the points and see if there was a relationship (greater the height of the ramp, the farther the pencil rolled). I’m not sure if it’s just too early in the morning, or if I did a really bad job explaining this, but they moved through this so lethargically that it felt like by the end they had no idea why we did it. Again, I’m feeling conflicted about how much scaffolding I need to give them to be successful, versus my philosophy that they need to be problem solvers themselves.
Then we moved on to a data set from the U.S. Department of Transportation, showing the average fuel efficiency of U.S. passenger cars by year since 1980. I pulled the chart from the web and then started a table for them. I then asked them to copy the year and the mileage from the chart into the appropriate columns in the table, and then in a third column they had to calculate the years since 1980. I demonstrated with the first three points to make sure they knew what I was asking them to do, then asked them to complete the rest of the table (they did not have to copy the actual chart itself). That proved really difficult for some of them, so once again I’m questioning my assumptions about what is reasonable to expect 14 and 15 year olds to do. Should transferring information from the chart to a table, when I setup the table and help them with the first three data points, be pretty straightforward as I think it is, or is that unreasonable?
Either way, that took much longer than I anticipated (yeah, back to my poor timing issues that I thought I had resolved). As some students had finished their tables and others were still working, I revealed step 2 so that the students who had finished could start on their graphs. Again, I worried that I was scaffolding too much by telling them to scale both axes by 1’s. It turns out that that wasn’t enough scaffolding for many, as they labeled their x-axis 0, 5, 10, 11, 12, . . . Once again, my assumption was that they have done some graphing previously and that this wasn’t completely new for them. So, again, I need to find out for sure (in my own defense, I did ask the students if they have graphed previously and they say they have).
I then talked through steps 3 through 5 to make sure they knew what I was asking for, and then gave those to them for homework (as well as a few will need to finish the graph as they did not finish in class). I’ve been working really hard at not trying to play “gotcha” with checking their homework, but I think I may be wavering a little bit on that. Every day I talk about the importance of doing whatever I’m asking them to do outside of class, and the importance of coming in for help when they don’t understand, but the blank looks are starting to wear on me a bit. My philosophy of continuing to trust them and share with them the reasons I’m asking them to do things, and then giving them time to figure it out and start stepping up will eventually have to end if they don’t step up. As I said to someone I was talking about this with today, eventually if it’s not working for my students, then I’ll have to change something as I do have a limited amount of time with them (even if I think that’s detrimental to them in the long run).
Today felt like I stepped back about two weeks.