Friday, September 3, 2010

This week was rough...

Sam Shah wrote about some of his struggles this past week. His openness helps us all, and I will try to be as open about what I'm struggling with...

It's too late now. I should have asked last week for interesting ways to approach the basics of solving equations. I did a lot of lecture, and some small group practice.

I have a few projects I'm planning to do later, but I'm doing a lot of lecturing now. Some students say they like that best, actually. (But I know it's not what helps them learn the most.) In one section, I asked what percentage of the time we should have: projects, lecture, and small group practice. Students called out all sorts of percentages for each, and I had them do averages. We came up with 1/4 projects, 1/3 lecture, and 2/5 small group practice. (No, that's not quite 100%.) I like that as a goal. But I'm not there yet. This week, I probably gave them about 10% projects (we did the function machine game), almost 20% small group practice (sometimes alone or in pairs, sometimes groups of 4), and over 70% lecture. Yuck!

I asked that question in the one section that's going really well. In another section, I've told 2 students they're on probation (for repeated disrespectful behavior), and had a similar behavior talk with one other student. I am not teaching high school; I am teaching at a community college. Yes, I often have discipline problems. That's hard to admit; it makes me feel inadequate. I often think that if I were interesting enough, students would cooperate perfectly.

I find myself lecturing more in the classes where students aren't into it. Getting group work going well is pretty hard when there's resistance. It's hard to write this. I wish I could sail into the classroom with interesting activities every day. I am not there yet. (After 20 years of teaching, Sue? When will you be there?...)

No one (3 sections, about 140 students total) passed the mastery test I gave on pre-algebra topics. (FIDO = fractions, integers, distributive property, and order of operations). They'll all be doing retakes. Yikes! Everyone has this homework assignment: for each problem on the test,  do it correctly, explain the steps in words, and make up a new similar problem.

I think it will get better. A lot of students struggle with graphing, and there are so many cool projects to do for that.

Today I have no regular classes, but I come in for two hours of "hour by arrangement". Many of my students come in, and they can get help, play mathy games, or just do a worksheet that's been provided. The best thing about the hour by arrangement, in my opinion, is that the students start to bond - it helps them form a community.


  1. I had a rough week. Negative and positive integers was the hard concept. I tried a physical number line that they walked. I tried real-life problems that weren't hokey. I tried notes and graphic organizers.

    The plus side of every day with the same students is that at some point it clicks. You don't get that same kind of luxury.

  2. Thanks for sharing this experience. I hope it gets easier for you soon. Please don't be too hard on yourself - these "kids" are responsible for their own behaviors.

  3. It is interesting to hear that students who actually are paying for school can still misbehave. I have had my share of bad weeks as well. You are a great teacher. The fact you reflect on your teaching is huge. I don't know if you are familiar with Kagan's cooperative learning. I have some of their math books and it has helped me tremendously with students working in together. Before them, I had group work and now I have cooperative learning. The website is

  4. The ones who misbehave are probably not paying themselves. My guess is those are the ones whose parents pay. Also California has a tuition waiver for those in need.

    I'll check out the cooperative learning materials. Thanks.


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