Monthly Archives: December 2010

How millennial are you?

I scored 69, which puts me a couple generations ahead of my peers. Sweet!

If they asked me for questions, I would add these:

  1. “In the past 24 hours, have you used ‘sweet,’ ‘tight,’ or ‘sick’ as an exclamation?” (More likely to be a millennial than a boomer.)
  2. Can you spell millennial? (More likely to be a boomer than a millennial.)

How long will it take?

Wow. This is fascinating and obvious: rather than providing all the links and scaffolding, present the problem completely stripped down.

A photograph of an octagonal, lucite water tank, being filled by a water hose. Ask the class, “How long will it take to fill the tank?” Without all the math notation — coordinate plane, labeled vertices and angles, formulas — everyone in the class gets involved in the conversation, including the kids who instinctively step back and let the “smart kids” do the work.

Students have to (and do, according to Meyer) ask the questions that are normally supplied by the textbook: how fast is the water running? how tall is the tank? how wide is the tank? what’s the shape of the tank? is there a formula that applies?

My students can’t add 1+1

Literally. (Sort of.)

I’ve given my Algebra 2 students (mostly sophomores) several quizzes over the last few weeks, testing their ability to add and subtract integers. Many of them repeatedly got the wrong answer for this problem:

1 – (-1) = [a box for the answer]

I became incensed one night in October when I recognized the horrible state of their arithmetic fundamentals. Although in California this is a 7th grade standard — which puts them only three years behind — the basics of this should have been building in them since about 3rd grade. Subtraction is the inverse of addition, the left half of the number line contains the negative numbers, etc.

What did I do with my anger? I announced in class that no one would pass the semester without being able to demonstrate competency in integer arithmetic. I said I would talk to an assistant principal and decided whether to give an F or an I for the final grade of those who couldn’t subtract. The response was predictable:

  • “You can’t do that.”
  • “We couldn’t have gotten this far in math without being able to subtract.”
  • “How are you going to decide whether or not we can subtract?”
  • “Will we give an F or an I?”

The second response was especially funny because it came from a girl who got a 7 out of 20 on her most recent integer subtraction quiz. (In fact, she escalated the discussion to the point of rudeness. I ended up showing her the quiz — while her classmates watched — in order to end the discussion.)

I’ve developed a set of 20-question quizzes and a very handy answer key that makes it possible for my TA to grade 40 quizzes in about 10 minutes. I administer the quizzes every few days, during class, to the students who haven’t reach 15 points.

Note: it’s now several weeks since my announcement. I’ve spoken to two APs. Both said, “You can’t do that.” I haven’t told the students I can’t do that, so as far as they know I can and will.

You’re on your own

I had an especially fidgety Geometry class a few weeks ago, and so I threatened them with removing all the support systems that have been handicapping them. “From your behavior, you’re telling me you don’t need me.” Specifically, beginning next semester, I would no longer teach.

The new, improved, more useful, more productive class would run like this:

  1. There will be a test for each chapter on a pre-announced date.
  2. There will be a practice test available for you well in advance.
  3. I will assign homework, for those of you who want to do it, but I won’t check it or give a grade for it.
  4. I will not lecture. I will sit in the back of the room, drinking coffee. If you want my help for anything, I will be there.

Other than the coffee part, I will follow through on this for the first unit. (This unit, Transformations, is relatively self-contained. A good place to experiment.)

There were three reactions from the students:

  1. “Great! I’m an independent learner, and I’ve been frustrated by the stupid questions my classmates ask.”
  2. “Oh no! I can’t learn unless I’m in a traditional lecture/homework/quiz/test environment.”
  3. “Sweet! I won’t have to do any homework or take any notes.”

We all know the students in Group 3 are kidding themselves. I also believe that some individuals in the other groups will be surprised by how things actually turn out. Some of them will be pleasantly surprised, and some will be disappointed.

Is this irresponsible of me? Maybe, but there should be plenty of time in the semester for their grades to recover, and I will allow re-takes of the test. I think we’ll all learn something.