Thursday, October 24, 2013

Low Expectations for Algebra 2

First off, I really don't believe in natural ability. When I hear teachers saying things like, "These kids just aren't math people", I want to scream. I understand that there are gifted people out there in the world, but hard-work trumps talent any day. Many kids are mistakenly led to believe that they aren't "math people" by elementary teachers who think that there are "math people". Instead of encouraging productive struggle, we let kids with learning challenges off the hook and make them think that they're stupid. By the time they get to high school, teachers are fighting a battle whose outcome had mostly been decided by a teacher who got to the kind long before you did. It's an unfortunate state of affairs. 

That said, my Algebra 2 class this year is chock-full of students who consider themselves weak at math ... and, truthfully, they are. I haven't taught Algebra 2 in a few years but I've been in conversation about it with other teachers in my school. In my grand plan for what my Algebra 2 course would look like, I figured that I could run through a quick review of linear functions and systems of linear equations and then plunge headfirst into quadratics before Halloween. Well, Halloween is next week and I just gave a unit assessment on Linear Functions. Now we are going to delve into systems of equations ... but first I thought I'd do something investigative.

I feel like I have low expectations for the class. A large percentage of the class are classified Learning Support, which really doesn't bother me very much. And I also don't buy into the idea that I have to go slower for them. Well, maybe slower, but not less rigorous. All students should have access to high quality mathematics. (Do I sound like an ad for the CCSS-M?) I found a good activity in a recent Mathematics Teacher which compared miles per gallon and gallons per hundred miles. I prepared for a large group instruction/discussion and expected the worst. I was sure that I was going to get a barrage of, "this is stupid" or "this is too hard" or "this doesn't make any sense" or "are you going to the football game on friday". Pretty much anything except a high quality discussion about these ratios/measurements. 

What happened did surprise me. The class was quiet and paying attention. Admittedly, there were only about 4 students actively answering questions, but the remaining ones were either working independently or following along and making sense as we went. There was a lot of head nodding and button pushing and I'm pretty sure that by the end they had a good idea of where we had been and picked up a few skills along the way. We still had to end the discussion 5 minutes before the end of the class because they can't concentrate for 45 straight minutes... but really, who can in 2013? 

The rest of the discussion, and the real meat of the activity, is tomorrow. If it goes half as well as today, I'll be pretty ecstatic. 

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