Sunday, September 28, 2014

Projects or matrices

So I spent 12 years working as an Engineer - designing packaging equipment, doing projects, managing people -- high level responsibility - pay matched.   And guess what?  I never did matrices - not one single one.  Yet it is a requirement for high school now in most Algebra 2 courses?  Does that make your typical Algebra 2 student better that they know Cramer's rule?  Or are we (teachers) just making ourselves feel good by having students pump and dump (memorize and forget) one more thing.

Don't get me wrong - I think it has a place in high school - PreCalculus, a class for students who want a STEM career but if I have to really make students understand matrices in Algebra 2- that will take at least 5 class periods - nearly 3% of my year.

I can teach about stocks and its math, loans or how to use math to solve open ended problems - but that takes time. So....  how valuable are matrices?  Because choices need to be made, and as a group we are picking matrices.

So are matrices more important than stocks (401k 403b anyone?) or loans (buying a house and car is a little more common than matrices)?  The point is we have a limited commodity - time!

There is simply not enough time.  And if I hear one more expert answer my question of how we are supposed to do it all - say "When you have a unified K-12 curriculum it will happen."  - I may seriously crap myself.

I love matrices- there is really vision for programming and problem solving with Cramer'r Rule.  Looking for patterns - using to simplify repetitive problems - but if you do it in 5 days in Algebra 2 do you make it to the level of discovery and struggle students need for growth as learners?

I keep thinking the experts forgot we have only 180 days when planning my curriculum  - which I lose at least 15 a year to trips, etc.  (and those trips need to happen).  So in 165 days in 4 years I have to teach and lead student's discovery of math's interconnections and uses - a standard every few days.  Ugh.

Now common core haters should not be smiling - we need a national set of standards and math does need multiple solutions not just memorization of algorithms.   We just need to make sure what was published in 2010 is not written in stone.  We need to allow for creativity and paradigm shifting thoughts -- they should be reviewed and revised every few years.  That is real progress.

When I was in industry my simple goal was slow constant sustainable growth - I never said lets be 15% better next year.  We moved for 2-3% growth year after year - and once you do that you get long term amazing results.  There is too much change too quickly - half the initiatives I have seen in my limited time of 9 years never got the chance to work - not enough time or belief by anyone that they would work.

So there - projects or matrices --  it is really the question of how we make problem solvers.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Organization -- Not enough, or too much?

Statement of fact - I am not the most "organized" teacher.  Maybe I could be - but time is a limited commodity, and I do not like trading teaching time for neat piles.  I also don't trade teaching time for homework checking time (on a daily basis), a type of "neat pile."  I now check homework once every few days; I used to work hard at checking the work but the longer I have taught - the less I check and the better my students do.

Some of that is simply gaining some experience - I look back and know I do better in year 3 than year 1.  But it is more than that too.  The experience between year 7 and year 9 is not nearly as dramatic.  So student performance is definitely effected by teacher experience but there is point where it does not have a substantial impact.  It then becomes how you the teacher lead the class - your expectations, what you demand of them.

In industry you only give power for decisions to those you trust - and then you manage.  It is the same in school - a 16 year old cannot be allowed to decide to not be part of school or do school.  It is a young person's job, and if they cannot handle the decision to "do school" - then the educator (the senior manager) needs to take over and push.  And that is a ton of work - 10% of my students take 75% of my time.

I may not be  "organized" but homework is not a cornerstone of what we do (in my math room).  We work bell to bell like it is our job.  It is non-traditional, but I do not worry about what my class should "look like" either.

We do math from beginning to end.  A student is given a plethora of chances to show mastery - but no one is allowed to sit idle.  I joke, kid, mentally push them to be part of the class - just being quiet will not save you.  And thus everyday, every student has to do math for 44 minutes.

It allows me to ignore the routine of other rooms.  It allows me to use homework as practice but not learning.  It allows me to push students to mastery - so passing means a student who can succeed mathematically in the world.

And that is powerful.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

More thans....

I have been putting a lot of thought into the impact teachers have on their students,  positive and negative, especially at high school level.  We are charged with teaching young adults in math, but we are really teaching them persistence and problem solving skills.   We are looking out for their future - arming them with the skills to succeed.

So every week when I am planning lessons for my courses -- I sit back and remind myself that teachers are more than:
   Spitters of facts
   Demanders of facts
   Discipline junkies
   Responsibility demanders.

I work for the students (not the 16 year old but the 27 year old future adult) -- and what my time machine tells me is the 27 year old wants to make the 16 year old ready for the world.

That is why I talk truly about the skills the world needs.   I worked for over a decade in a STEM capacity and never did Cramer's rule, simplified gigantic exponent expressions or graphed a hyperbola.  But the skills of thinking and researching how to find an answer to a problem I did do.  The skills of thinking and finding an answer I did use to graph a hyperbola.

So the what I am doing is important, but I am careful not to end on the slippery slope of saying Algebra 2 is real life skills by itself, for most students it is simply not true.  That is why I am stuck on the "more than" thought today -- I am prepping students for more than ACT or college math with Algebra 2.  I am making students who are able to not only do the basic facts to be successful in college math but also making them work on projects to make them prepared for their future.

More than....

Monday, September 1, 2014

End of pencil & paper homework?? Not yet......

So school starts in 2 days, volleyball is in a two day lull and I am reflecting on finishing touches for the school year.  And what I keep focusing on is how little homework seems to help students understand mathematics long term.  I see how they can quickly internalize a procedure and how rote practice can imprint a procedure but I wonder how to make homework a real learning and understanding tool.

I remember myself in High School - I was not interested in learning, I did the absolute minimum to get the grade I wanted, no care for understanding.  I know I am not the typical teacher, I did not like to play school.  But I was a pretty typical student for my class with respect to homework and caring how much I learned.  If I could take the first number divided by the end number in a word problem to get a correct answer that is what I did.  So why would I expect different from my students, that's why it is on me as the teacher.

On me?  I mean my homework and lessons must set the bar high enough that real understanding happens.  And that has meant less topics done longer, it has meant changing my grading so a D in Algebra 1 results in a student who can do Algebra 2.  Prior to my epiphany a D student was someone who did their homework and reworked tests, and that used to show on ACT tests (not college math ready).

Now I demand students can repeat and understand why, and homework is not much help in that goal.  So it has gone from 1 thru 59 odds (30 problems) to 4 to 8 targeted review problems - and I am seriously questioning the value of those.  I am going to assign 2 days of Khan this year - they have done some updating and I received a Morgridge Family Foundation grant for 10 ChromeBooks to help.  I like that better because it lets student's work at their level and makes them get the correct answer!  (It seems like every time I check assignments the students are just giving me any answer, even though I always provide the correct solutions for homework!)

So here I sit, here I ponder, here I wonder if homework should go yonder (ugh - sorry for that).   It is a bridge too far today, but I am going from 4 days per week to 2 days and that is progress.  And I will keep a firm grip on the my metrics - especially ACT score - to judge if this move is successful. 

Because that is my job to adjust and improve making every day better than the previous and to deliver the best education to my students.