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  • Katrien Vance

    December 29, 2019 at 1:46 pm

    End of 2019, and I am taking stock.  I have so far taught 2 units, one on slope (as angle, ratio, percentage), and one on linear functions.  (I am teaming with my colleague @maggie who has half the class, so the kids have had 4 units–she has taught a unit on ratios/rates and one on 2-dimensional geometry.)

    I am 100% happy with our approach in terms of bringing in more activities, allowing for more questions and more productive struggle.  I still struggle with not telling kids too much and with allowing kids to take the time they need to work their way to their own understanding of a concept.  I got away from using VNPS, but I do use whiteboards for teams at their tables a LOT.  The kids love Desmos.  Using learning goals and knowing each day or activity’s goal has helped me be a lot more specific in knowing what individual students understand.

    For the second unit, we grouped the kids into one group who tends to pick things up quickly and one group of kids who take a little more time.  It was fascinating to see the difference.  If I taught only one of those groups, I might blame or credit the “Curiosity Path” approach for their failure or success.   It took me more than three weeks to get the first group comfortable with y = mx + b in such a way that they could draw a graph from the equation, make the equation from a graph, etc.  The second group was like, ok, cool, we got it, and I had time to do some exponential functions and play with a zombie apocalypse activity.  The approach did not make the math easier for the group that finds math challenging, but I do believe that it allowed everyone to feel some success and feel like a part of the process, and that, over time, this would have a cumulative effect on students’ confidence and willingness to engage in math thinking. 

    I am very fortunate and do not have to give kids a grade or prepare them for any standardized test.  The pressure, if there is any, is simply to say what course they should take when they enter high school.  Some parents really want to make sure their 8th graders complete Algebra 1 and take Geometry in 9th grade.  Some of our kids complete Geometry and go into Alg 2 in 9th grade.  Some of our kids need Alg 1 in 9th grade–there is a wide range.  My approach this year has been inspired by this particular group, who I do not think are ready for all of Alg 1 yet, so @maggie and I are trying to lay a strong foundation of concepts and problem-solving and curiosity and ENJOYMENT of math.  Luckily for me, the parents this year are not concerned when I say that their child will probably take Alg 1 in 9th grade–that what we’re doing this year is an intro.  And I know that trying to cram all of Algebra into this year for them would only set them up for failure next year.  I know everything we’re doing is worthwhile.  But.  I also know that by not completing Alg 1 in 8th grade, they will be viewed by some as being “behind.”  I feel responsible, even as I know that they simply CAN’T complete Algebra 1 this year.  This conversation saps the joy out of teaching math for me (when I let it).

    Onward.  In January, my colleague @maggie is teaching Bootstrap, a curriculum that uses Algebraic principles to teach kids how to write the computer code for a very simple videogame.  It’s a GREAT program, and I encourage people to find out about it.  The materials are 100% free online; they have workshops to teach you how to teach it. The founder Emmanuel Schanzer came up with the idea as a way of making Algebra more concrete for kids; they LOVE creating the videogame.  While she does that with the 7th graders, I am going to use the Algebra textbook for 3-4 weeks to reinforce concepts my 8th graders need, including integers.  I plan to use a lot of ideas from Kyle and Jon’s workshop about making the textbook work for inspiring curiosity, as well as Kyle’s “Math Is Visual” resources.  We’ll see where we get, but I hope to give them a real understanding of these tools so that when they are in Algebra 1 next year, it will feel EASY and NATURAL.

    February/March will be a unit I plan to call this “Breaking Numbers.”  It will include factoring, GCF, prime factorization–all things that should be review–and go to polynomials and factoring quadratic expressions if we can get there. I have about 3 weeks for the unit (doing it with one half of the class in Feb and the other half in March).

    April/May could be a probability unit.  I feel as if this will give the kids some real hands-on practice with skills they should have mastered but have not, including fractions, percentages, equivalents.  I can also bring in dependent and independent events, compound events, etc., and get into more sophisticated aspects of probability.  Again, very hands-on.  The kids will create a set of games for younger students in the school to play (we are a PreK-8th school) and then use that data.  This can also allow for practice organizing data into graphs and charts, mean/median/mode, etc.  Great cross-age activity, too, and a chance to have younger kids see “big-kid math” as fun.

    I don’t know if this is interesting for anyone else to read, but I appreciate the opportunity to clarify my own thinking about what we’re doing and where my challenges are.