Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Curriculum & Standards - What is the mission? What is the right decision?

Had a good moment today!  Had a parent pull me aside in a public place (not school) and thank me for helping their student with math.  The student had just completed their math course required at college (college algebra).  It was a student that struggled in all my math courses, a student who I demanded non-negotiable skills from.

The student struggled with grades - usually in the below average range, but I did not make the courses about a grade.  We made it about the skills, the concepts, what the student would have to do at college.  We quizzed, requizzed - worked at skills, would become frustrated and repeat.  I spoke at length with the student prior to graduation that math at college was something that the student could do -- just find the proper math help -- tutors, help centers, etc.  In the end the student got a C+ -- that is awesome!

It is times like this where I feel I have the curriculum balanced properly between how fast and how much mastery - because curriculum speed and mastery are not independent of one another.  My Algebra 2 course - which is college prep - does not go as far as many other school's Algebra 2 courses.  But the material we cover we know; we work hard at having a conceptual understanding of the items we do, and a mastery of the basics.

It means things like delaying the quadratic formula in favor of completing the square first.  Doing Geometry proofs as a few weeks of enrichment versus a semester of memorization.  About making each course a progression of the previous - including the course's grade.  A Geometry grade at my school is about 50% Algebra 1 skills, an Algebra 2 grade is 50% Algebra 1 and Geometry skills.  And so forth - except AP Calculus.

When I think about the trilogy of college prep courses - Algebra 1, Geometry and Algebra 2 -  I am mostly concerned that they learn how to problem solve, have a true mastery of basics skills, and have a tenacity to stick with things - to look for the how and why.  I simply don't care if all the "standards" have been met, I don't care about a grade -- I want the team (student & I) to care about the big picture. 

And the big picture is that we do the things to make students successful.  Because I work for the student, not the 16 year old in my class, but the "future student" - the 23 year old student.  The student who wants the skills, knowledge and tenacity to be successful in their life - that is my math mission, that is how I set up my math curriculum.