Pre Calculus

- Making sure kids don’t hate math.
- Keeping the ideal of rich problem sets and exams with which I started the Fall, but adapting to kids who have proven unprepared for that.

When the year began, I was probably most excited for this class. I’d be working with nearly 40 students (mostly seniors, some juniors) who had opted into the class, and I would loosen the structure a bit in order to allow ideas to take over. I would adapt some of the math I’d studied at PCMI in July into weekly problem sets for the kids, give homework online, and assess only based on exams that would – ideally – feel easy to kids after all their hard work on the problem sets.

It didn’t work.

Even the best students don’t metamorphose magically just because I’ve known them for years, or because they’re seniors, or because they’ve chosen to undertake this challenge. Part of what made my relationship with these kids work was the way they connected to the content last year. When I tried to take them on subtler mathematical adventures, or to do more of the computational lifting that the state Algebra 2 curriculum requires, things got a little difficult. A lot of these kids aren’t tough thinkers, either: the moment things get tough, they begin to believe that “it’s hard” is a valid reason to check out.

So this Spring, it’s time to win them back. The easiest way to do this is to bring back a lot of the structure of last year, but I’d prefer not to go all the way in that direction. I will assess more frequently than once every two weeks, and I won’t be so naive as to think that problem sequences are enough to keep all the kids involved, but I still want to run a class where the work is self-motivating for those who undertake it.

Then how do I summarize my goal for this class? I want more kids to be involved – even those in their senior spring – and I want them to leave with a knack for math and for some good critical thought as they move on. Classic wishy wash.

Short term, I’ll make the learning targets specific and achievable for the new unit. We’ll start the Spring with a unit called “How to Count,” in which we cover the probability and stats that are on the Algebra 2 Regents exam. Hopefully we’ll have a good time. There will be more frequent quizzes. I’d like to keep the structures that worked — the emathinstruction packet, the deltamath homework — and continue with abbreviated problem sets in some respect. There will have to be quizzes to help kids see where they stand, and we’ll keep the exams about the same.

Baby steps toward clarifying goals.