Opportunity! (#4, or the one that counts)


Until last year, I always taught 9th grade algebra and the occasional 11th grade remedial algebra/problem solving strategies course. I learned a lot about how to teach, but most often to students who were either adjusting to high school, extremely math-phobic, or both.  Last year, I moved solely to the 11th grade team. I taught a little more than a hundred kids, split up into five sections: three Algebra 2 & Trigonometry sections, one of which was a slightly accelerated “honors” version of the class, plus two sections of the remedial algebra/problem solving course that I’d taught in the past. I learned a lot, and also had a good time applying my teaching experience to new topics in more advanced algebra. I did not even come close to preparing my students for the inaugural Algebra 2 regents exam.

The Situation

So here’s what I really wanted to get to yesterday: this year, thanks to a demanding but fascinating course load, I have a giant opportunity to learn a whole heck of a lot about teaching and learning. Not that the previous six years have not been that, but right now, things have really come together to offer me a terrific opportunity.  This year, I’m again on the 11th grade team, in addition to continuing with any seniors who want to pick up where they left off in last year’s A2 & Trig course. For programming purposes, we’re calling that senior course Precalculus, which it more or less is. The section is packed with kids who want to see how far they can push themselves mathematically, and even though it hasn’t met yet, whispers of its devilish reputation traveled throughout the 12th grade on Wednesday. Students in my Precalculus class are also studying applied math topics in their senior block, so when I see them, it’s mostly to survey the latter half of A2 & Trig. Leaving a discussion of that syllabus for later this weekend, my opportunity is to teach the most mathematically advanced topics I’ve ever taught to the most mature, motivated students I’ve yet taught. I’m excited.

Back in 11th grade, I’ll have four sections, each brimming with 30+ students (bringing my grand total to over 150 math students, far more than I’ve ever been responsible for – I’m not complaining, I know I’m lucky to have had fewer for years). One of those sections is an Honors A2 & Trig section, filled with kids who have passed the Integrated Algebra exam, passed or performed well on the Geometry exam, and have otherwise demonstrated solid academic skills. These kids are sharp: I know from stories told by colleagues and because I taught half of them as freshmen two years ago. The other three sections are a combination of students who would have ended up in either A2 or remedial last year. Due to programming, Expedition work, and a general sense that it would better to have kids who barely passed Integrated Algebra further developing their skills alongside the kids who barely failed, or who, for other reasons, didn’t come close, we decided to make a class called Advanced Algebra. From the beginning my plan has been to combine topics spanning Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Problem Solving, and applied topics. Over the last two weeks of planning, I’ve decided to take it another step: rather than naming units by the mathematical topics taught, I’m going to structure this class as a sequence of Investigations, each of which seeks to inspire curiosity first, facilitate some “non-routine” problem solving and then add the necessary algebra topics.

Summary of the Opportunity

Course # of Sections Student Make-Up Unit Style Teaching Style
Precalculus 1 Seniors, opting in Math topics College-y
Honors Algebra 2 & Trigonometry 1 High-achieving juniors and sophomores Math topics MIxed inquiry and lecture
Advanced Algebra 3 11th and 12th graders, possibly high levels of math-phobia All investigations, all the time! Very mixed, highly differentiated, if I may steal that term.

It’s more kids and more preps than I’ve ever taught before. It’s new mathematical topics – some of which I haven’t seen since my freshman year of college. It’s chance to practice teaching “traditionally” sitting right next to a chance to practice teaching “progressively” at the same time, and a chance to compare the two, controlled for a lot of variables. It’s a helluva good reason to have started a blog this year, and I’m glad I don’t have to try to squeeze more half-assed explaining of myself into this rambling post.

It’s an opportunity for me to be excited.


One comment

  1. […] I’ve also had some time spare moments to step back and think about how very differently my five sections are shaping up.  With ~130 kids on my rosters, three different preps, and all five sections […]

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