I wish it was a Prius

I should totes be asleep as I’m not nearly over this cold I have, but this is really bothering the shit out of me.

I mentioned a few weeks back that I’m teaching this Algebra/Geometry hybrid course this year. Basically at our school, we’ve found that while all of our kids are decent at algebra, some of them could really use a stronger foundation heading in to Algebra 2. To that end, we sort our 9th grade either into a full Geometry course, or a “hybrid” Algebra/Geometry course. Students take Algebra for the first semester (culminating in the Regents exam), and then Geometry for the second semester (again culminating in a Regents exam. EFFECTIVE TESTING!**).  The goal of the first section is to help build a stronger foundation in Algebra, and the second section is to expose them to certain ideas in Geometry (including proofs) before they head into Algebra 2 and the IB curriculum during Junior and Senior year (all our kids take IB at some level).

Prior to my arrival at this school, the same teacher had been teaching Hybrid for three years. She had a lot of things down really well and it was a curriculum that worked really well for her. My co-planner and I have all of her notes and materials to work from. Our department head and AP (and even the former teacher) have said “Don’t feel like you have to use those materials if you’d rather take it in a different direction. Teach stuff that you think is interesting!”

The problem is, I find that feedback to be terrifyingly open-ended.

I think Algebra 1 can be a really interesting, deep topic. I think there’s a lot of depth in there that the traditional Algebra 1 Regents Prep curriculum (which I think a lot of these kids are coming from) leaves out. If I draw one more line on a board and a kid says “Oh, that’s a slope” I might literally shoot laser beams out of my eyes. Kids are lazy about Algebra and while they know a lot of procedures, they don’t know a lot of concepts. So it sounds like this is a perfect opportunity to teach that to them!

Except I don’t trust my abilities to teach that to them. Or more importantly for there to be tangible things for students to take away. I worry it will be a lot of “Oh, we talked a lot in class, but I forgot about what.”  And I want to create a through-line for the Algebra section of this class, but I can’t figure out what to use. In Algebra 2 we’re using functions, but do we make that our through-line for Algebra 1 also? Do I tie that into Statistics through Regression?

Or do I take a completely different tack and try to find real-world applications of all this material? Do I reactivate my Mathalicious account and start implementing all of their fancy-pants projects? Do I give students independent research projects to complete to help them find their own connections and discover more depth on their own?

I feel like I have this fantastic, cool, mathematically engaging opportunity, and I feel like I’m wasting it. These kids are almost never going to work with linear functions again in high school, at least not theory-wise. But I’m not sure I’m a good enough teacher yet to get to all this stuff.  And I’m not sure I’m a smart enough mathematician to explain it in simple ways.

This was all brought about by the fact that I spent three hours planning a lesson on fucking histograms. HISTOGRAMS. This is not super complicated stuff. But I agonize over how to engage the third of my class that learned all this two years ago while at the same time engaging the third of my class that thinks I’m speaking a different language. Which is hardly a unique problem to have in education, and again our kids are skilled enough that even the “low-performers” still do pretty well. But I want this all to mean something and that is stressful and tiring.

So I don’t know what to do. I’d welcome any suggestions if someone could give me a good BIG IDEA or two for this semester.  If you only had four months to reinforce Algebra 1, what is most important?

And with that I’m going to sleep because it’s stupid that I’m still up this late.

** In my school’s defense, everyone has been like “Yeah, the test is important, but our kids will probably pass anyway, so don’t let that be a huge guiding factor for you.” I just think the tests are annoying.

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One thought on “I wish it was a Prius

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