Thursday, February 23, 2012

Math Matters

My principal put a copy of this article in my mailbox today. It's not very long and is worth reading. This closing quote is what has me thinking at the moment:

"During my tenure as a member of Temple University's faculty in the 1970s, I tutored black students in math. When they complained that math was too difficult, I told them that if they spent as much time practicing math as they did practicing jump shots, they'd be just as good at math as they were at basketball. The same message of hard work and discipline applies to all students, but someone must demand it."

Right now, all I can think about is, don't we demand that hard work and discipline from our students? At least, I think I demand that from my students. If I'm not demanding it, what do I do differently?

More things to think about...

Saturday, February 04, 2012

No Answers, Just Questions

I gave my Algebra 2 students a quiz this week on multiplying polynomials and factoring. I didn't put any feedback problems on it this time. We have been working on factoring for the last week to week and a half and it was time to see how well they knew it. We are getting ready to move to solving quadratic equations and I plan on giving students another opportunity to assess on factoring on the next quiz, but it was just plain time to give that assessment. Two weeks ago, I had given the assessment with feedback (details here) if you want the back story.

I do have to say that the students did much better on multiplying polynomials than the first time around. I would have liked to see a few more 4s and 5s - but for the most part, students were where I had expected and hoped they would be. Factoring, well, I'm still not so sure how I feel about their results. The results were not as horrendous as I feared they might be. However, I had hoped for more 4s and 5s and the reality is that I have more 2s and 3s than I would like. I am a little baffled.

I felt I had prepared them fairly well. We did notes on Friday and Monday on ax^2 + bx + c using what I call the x + box method. I had given them a note sheet with not only the examples, but what I felt was a pretty good explanation as to how I work through it. Students practiced in class with worksheets on Monday and Tuesday and we did a review game using my SMART Board game I came up with (details here in the last 2 paragraphs). Students seemed to feel that they had a good grasp on it when they left class Wednesday. Then Thursday was the quiz and I'm not sure what happened from Wednesday to Thursday. I watched students do the process on their own Wednesday with confidence (several students in particular who have been struggling with my class) and saw on their quizzes Thursday that they forgot part or all of the process. I have no idea what happened. How can they know it well in class the day before and then forget it the next day?

I think some of it goes back to not practicing the material enough. I have blogged about this on and off over the last month (In order: herea little here, and here). Students I have today are not like what students in my generation were. Plus, their outside of school situations are very different than what students in the community I live in are. Many of my students do not do much practice outside of class - especially the ones who need it. Do I need to totally restructure my class so that they have practice time embedded in it? Do I shift to something like Mathy McMatherson discusses in his recent blog post - giving only exit tickets and occasional outside of class practice? I can relate to several of the issues he discusses in his post - he is wise beyond his (teaching) years. If you don't already read his blog, add it to your reader. Well worth your time.  While I am mentioning some other recent blog posts I've read - Bowman's post on retention of high school mathematics has me thinking also. How can I expect my students to retain this year's stuff if they can't even retain this week's stuff? Bowman teaches Calculus in Jordan and also blogs good stuff. Another newer blogger worth adding to your reader. I'm also trying a little of what Glenn talks about here with guided notes for his students. More on what I did in a later post - but I thought it was worth trying.

As long as I am adding other blog posts that have me thinking on this issue, I need to add David Coffey's recent post on our expectations of students. I think this is the largest overlying issue to me right now. If I keep setting up parts of the learning process for them (giving them guided note sheets, embedding practice in class and not putting the onus on my students to do outside work), how successful are they going to be once they leave my class? What will happen to them next year when their teacher will do very little of those things? How do I help my students to be successful?