Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Is Algebra Necessary?

So on July 28th the New York Times ran an article titled "Is Algebra Necessary?"  by Andrew Hacker and it posed the question of the necessity of Algebra on non-STEM students.  It also stated the dismal statistics on how Algebra or being unprepared for college Algebra cripples a large portion of college students.  But really I think what the author is talking about, though stated as a fairly radical idea, is not wholly off base.  It is just a sign that we, math teachers, are not spending enough time with applications while teaching Algebra/Geometry/Algebra II -- the college prep trio.

The author talked about teaching the consumer price index (CPI) and more ideas, I think ideas like this are absolutely required and need time in our college prep trio.  I already have added loans to Algebra 1, computer programming (through Alice) & 3D drawings to Geometry, and stocks/retirement planning to Algebra 2.  (Note I think I will stick CPI into Alg 2 retirement planning -- just "stealing" another idea).  But these projects come at a cost -- there are topics in each course that receive less time or are put off until Pre-Calculus that many neighboring schools do in the trio. 

Some examples of items I delay would be - no coverage of the quadratic formula in Algebra 1 (solving through factoring and simply squares only), no matrices in Algebra 2 (especially Cramer's rule -- a horrible short cut for a weak math student - just memorize this - no need to think..), limited conics in Algebra 2, limited proofs in Geometry, etc.  The list could go on and on.   But we are only armed with 180 days and must make tough decisions as math educators.  The common core does not set grade level or class level targets for 9-12 (unlike K-8) meaning that we have to make the best system that creates students prepared for their world.  While remembering that in our world problem-solvers are required, singing the quadratic formula isn't.....

I think too many teachers have now become test scared.  I don't cover a lot of subjects yet testing-wise my district is doing fine -- meeting the standards, which really doesn't prove much.....   Except many schools around me do "cover" everything and are not testing as well as my school.  Why?

I think the projects I am developing and refining create students who attack problems and are more persistent than students who get the "coverage."   So on power-tests they can use what they know and work their way through many problems that had limited to no-coverage in the trio.  (These skills are really the common core mathematical practices!)

I think it is this question, "Where are the applications?" that the author is asking about in the article.  Algebra is necessary, period.  But how much, at what point in the trio, how the curriculum is arranged, the speed of coverage and demands of mastery are the questions.  If you want to see what projects I do see the google docs below (realize these are not-every complete and change constantly each year)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Senior Math -- Those not ready for Pre-Calculus...

So what to do with students who took Algebra 1 as Freshmen, Geometry as Sophomores and Algebra 2 as Juniors and just did not do well....

The Seniors who are not ready for Pre-Calculus, the ones that cannot afford to not take math.  The options in a small school are limited - either don't have them take a 4th year of math (mistake) or reduce the rigor of the Pre-Calculus course (mistake).

So standing on the edge of the abyss with two horrible choices I selected secret answer "c."  I set up a "guided" study course for these Seniors.  Basically it is a complete review of Alg 1/2 and Geometry.  I call it guided study because it is scheduled the same time as my AP Calculus course, meaning I do not teach to the Senior Math group.  They use each other, internet resources, etc to work towards mastery of topics so they will be ready for credit-bearing math in college.  I had 1 student two years ago -- success, 2 students last year -- success.  Success is the students getting into credit bearing college math (one student actually tested out of math at a vo tech school!)  [I always start the year by telling the Senior Math group of their independent status]

So I expanded the course and it will be 6 students this year.  But last year the course required a lot of Sunday time to prep worksheets and other items for the week!  So I decided to do guided study - each day in class the students must complete 15-20? problems in a section of the texts; this class work is their requirement to projects, quizzes and tests (mostly projects and pure mastery of topics for quizzes and combo for tests).  Also it should be noted a student that works during the period would have little homework.

Quizzes I make from a worksheet generator and will just use from Geometry and or Alg 2 course.  The tests will be book tests, no time for anything else.  And to make the course "different" I just grabbed an old textbook series no longer used and use it for this course!

Hopefully it will work, it has worked well the past 2 years -- This is best way to offer an option without a clear "mistake."

Look at sequence and draft of projects on google docs: Juda Senior Math

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Who am I, Why blog, Accomplish What?!

I am a second career math teacher.  I spent about 12 years in engineering and management prior to teaching.  I have been teaching for 6 years -- all at Juda (in Wisconsin) -- High school enrollment of 95 students.

I believe that math is a method to make students into problem solvers and lifelong learners, I really like PBL ideas and use google docs to create a lot of my materials.

I am blogging with the hope of keeping myself moving and reflecting on what I am working on.  I hope to put things out there with the hope of refining ideas and materials.

I often see good blogs, but rarely from teachers who work in a rural situation.  The reality of a rural HS teacher is a huge class load and limited student count.  I had 8 preps last year but only 112 students (I usually have 7 but I teach Physics every other year).  This type of load makes a difference on how you prep, but there is a huge advantage that I know my students strengths and weaknesses.  (I think all schools should have teachers rotate classes and follow students -- a post for another time...)

I hope to post what I work on and the goals I have in this environment.  And eventually I hope for constructive words from people to make me a better teacher.