Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Mulligan

I don't love the block schedule. I'm not sure I even like it, and I'm not sure it's good for teaching math.

But, as a first year teacher, there are two significant benefits:

  1. Reduced number of preps
  2. I get a mulligan halfway through

I'm pretty excited about #2 right now. Now that I have half a school year under my belt, there are about a million things I want to change, and some of the changes just work better when you get a new class. Here's a short list of changes I'm thinking about:
  • Change the purpose of the openers
  • Start student portfolios
  • More mid-block formative assessments
  • Make whiteboarding and sharing an everyday part of class
  • Better cooperative group activities with individual accountability
  • More emphasis on communicating reasoning
  • Preparing for student mistakes instead of helping them avoid them
  • More consistency is the handling of assignments
  • Focus more on connecting with student
  • Focus less on the real word justification of the mathematics
  • Connect mathematical reasoning to students' lives more often
  • Follow through with consequences more consistently
  • Make better use of our weekly trips to the computer lab
The new term starts next Tuesday. While I'll certainly try to work on all of these, I'm going to pick two or three over the weekend to really set my sights on and reflect on in more detail. More to come later.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Becoming A Better Mathematician

A year ago, there were two Project Euler problems that really gave me headaches (#26 and #34, if you're really interested). I remember spending hours on them to no avail. This was frustrating, especially with how I work. I ended up skipping them and moving on to other problems, but that kind of thing doesn't sit well with me.

So I took them up yesterday, and surprisingly, solved both without a terrible amount of trouble or time. I could chalk this up to simply taking a break and seeing the problem in a different light - which has worked for  before - but I think it's more than that. Teaching high school mathematics has made me a much, much better mathematician.

While this certainly gives me a personal sense of accomplishment, I'm more interested in the specific things that have made me a better mathematician and how I could use these in my teaching. Reflecting on my work yesterday, there were a few significant changes in the way I was working:

  • Make big problems small
    • My go-to approach is to plug some stuff in a small example, see how it works, and look for some kind of pattern.
  • Slowing down
    • I was solving for slowly - once I had an idea that I thought might work, I took the time to think/write out my reasoning before getting started on the solution.
  • Starting over
    • I was much more ok with completely scrapping something and starting in a new direction.

These are nothing revolutionary. Far from it. They are things I've heard and read before, and things I (sometimes) try to incorporate into my teaching. But there is something about experiencing this first-hand that really drives it home.

What's my take away? This needs to be a more conscious part of my teaching. It's not going to change a student in a day. It might now show up on a test. But at the end of the year, if I've done my job right, there will be a whole new level of problems that a student will now have the ability to take on. The process is slow, but without fruit.

I also need to keep doing mathematics. Whether it's inside the classroom or out, it's not an indulgence - it's a professional development necessity.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

  1. Run - three to four times a week. It makes me a happier, healthier person. I just need to commit to the time.
  2. Read - at least one book a month.
  3. Blog - one new post a week, even if I don't feel like I have much to say. Because when I start writing, I find that I always do.