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Good Times

written Sunday, 10/10/2010

This school year is going by so quickly. Such is typically the case when things are going relatively well. I’m enjoying Teaching Year #6.

Previous years have had their share of fun times, but they were too often hampered by headaches/heartaches. Challenges remain of course, but I’m better able to handle them than before. The relative newness of feeling like I actually know what I’m doing and being able to navigate the pitfalls is exhilarating.

I still spend more time on school matters than I ought to – more than I would be able to sustain if I’m plotting a long career in this field. Over ten weekly hours are spent offering tutoring, wishing that I could get students to the point where they didn’t need to see me so often during office hours, but simultaneously wishing that certain other students would come by and take advantage of my availability. Quarter 1 just ended and my goal for the remainder of the year is to limit my after-school office hours to 1 hour (or 1.5 at the very most) and then spend no more than an hour beyond that preparing for upcoming lessons/tests. That should get me out of the building by 6pm if I can stick to the plan.

I’m generally satisfied with the quality of my instruction, although there’s always room for improvement. The main enhancement that I’ve been developing this year is active anticipation of upcoming difficult material. I’ve been frequently “previewing” future topics, saying, “You don’t have to know this now, but you will soon.” The objective is to give a glimpse into where we’re heading with the current topic and to provide some sense of familiarity when those future topics finally get officially introduced. On a couple occasions already when we’ve encountered a new topic, students have said, “Didn’t we already learn this?” Good sign.


This unit circle angles program is meant to be a precursor to the Unit Circle program I made last spring

Overall this year, I like all my students individually and collectively (In the past I’ve liked almost all of my students at Lusher individually, but found that this didn’t necessarily translate to enjoying large groups of them in a classroom setting). Each of the four PreCalculus and two AP Calculus classes has a unique feel to them. For the first time I look forward to every period of the day.

In PreCalculus I have a number of bright students who possess the capability of going far in math, yet oddly they aren’t blowing me away with their drive. They’re nice enough kids, but they typically seem content with doing just the minimal amount to get their A. Last year I gave an “alternate exam” of especially challenging questions at the end of each quarter to students who I thought possessed an impressive combination of skill and motivation. This year I didn’t bother – at least not for Q1. I’m hoping that as we get into more difficult material, they’ll become inspired to go the extra mile.

The real story this year is with the large number of students who’ve overcome struggles in my class. Many of them have sought the extra help they needed during office hours and bounced back dramatically from disappointing test grades. Some of the highest grades for the Q1 Exam were earned by students who’d gotten D’s on earlier tests. Others had trouble passing a single test early on, but tenaciously fought back from the brink of failure to achieve a C for the quarter. I find myself marveling that some of them just keep showing up for help rather than giving up. Those are the kids I admire the most and will remember for years to come.

A surprising number of students are getting into the Word Arithmetic puzzles that I’d introduced in previous years with little interested generated. I suppose I promoted it a bit more vigorously this time, but not much. Some unexpected students are amongst those who’ve become most intrigued. It’s a wonderful exercise in mathematical reasoning and logic, and it will become a staple of my extra-credit opportunities.

I don’t know what to expect from this year’s AP Calculus group. At times I’ve had a gut feeling that this group of 32 is on its way to earning a significantly higher average score on the AP exam than last year’s group of 21. At present time though I’m not so sure. If they want to win my math tattoo challenge, I think they’ve got a ways to go.

My main enhancement in that class is to start introducing more AP practice problems earlier and more frequently in the course. This seems like a no-brainer I admit. I think I was too defiant against “teaching to the test” in previous years.

I am pleased to have heard back from an assortment of previous AP Calc students who have since gone on to college. Whether they did well on the AP exam or not, I’m hearing generally good reports of Calculus experiences in college. As I predicted and hoped, they feel well-prepared for college math and find that the material is much easier to grasp the second time around.

The opportunities to have fun in this job are plentiful. During Q2 the media arts teacher and I are planning to start pushing ahead with the next mathematical love poem video. I have a live open-mic performance planned for later this week. And messin’ with students minds continues to be my favorite hobby. Oh, we just found out this past week that Lusher became a “five-star school.” Administrators are thrilled. This is clearly good news, so I should probably be more cognizant of what exactly it means to be a five-star school. Admittedly, I don’t care too much. My number one priority it to keep enjoying my students and my role as their math teacher.


This year's teacher photo.
Like fine wine.

Somehow freshman in Ms. Greco's class have come to believe that I must be her son. I don't know how they figured it out, but this old family photo lends credence to the rumor.

My AP Calculus students are getting the calculus alright. It's the algebra and arithmetic that's killin' them.
(Original B-movie poster: "Monster From The Ocean Floor")