Sunday, August 16, 2009

The End of Summer

Summer is over again. It's back to work full-time tomorrow, and I never really stopped. Over the past two weeks I had off, I went to my classroom to work on seven out of the 10 weekdays, and really didn't take any time off. Vacation is for sissies anyway.

I'm going to go at this school year head-on. I've not been satisfied with my results lately, and it's time to try something different. I'm going to throw my textbook out the window. It's a useful tool to provide problems for the students to practice, but the textbook we have been using is written far higer than our students' literacy level. Its content also assumes knowledge that is most definitely not in evidence. So I am going to shake things up. As I understand it, we are to begin a cookie-cutter checklist this year that supposedly keeps all teachers of the same grade level on the same page at the same time. I'm not going to participate unless I am told to directly by my supervisors. I won't be insubordinate, but if I have my way my students won't start messing with variables and equations until I am absolutely confident that they can manipulate whole numbers, fractions, decimals, and percents with grade-level competence or better.

I'm tired of hearing the old argument that they'll get practice with computation as we move along. They surely don't. You can't practice what you don't know how to do. I am going to administer direct supervised learning of those basic skills for the first three or four weeks of school. How can I justify that? For the past five years we have been directed to spend the first month of school reviewing for our high-stakes standardized test. Well, this year the test is only given in the spring so I figure I have that month to take care of it. Computation is Indiana math standard 8.2 and I am going to beat the holy crap out of it until my kids' first move when confronted with a problem is no longer to reach for a calculator. It's not going to be all drill, athough I'm tired of hearing that drill doesn't work. It does. We've got some new technology in the classroom, including a buzzer system that lets kids ring in like they're playing Jeopardy. I'm going to use competition, games, and teacher-created activities to bring these kids up to speed.

They're going to calculate 15% and 20% tips mentally. They're going to make change from a cash drawer. They're going to figure out discounts and sales tax. They're going to develop a list of prime numbers up to 250 and be able to break down any composite number into its prime factors. When they're done with that, they're going to be able to tell whether a fraction is fully simplified by whether the top and bottom of the fraction are mutually prime. They're going to figure out, given a speed and remaining distance in a trip, how much longer they have to travel at that speed. And they're going to do it mentally! They're going to use the Pythagorean theorem to find hypotenuses to the nearest whole number in their heads. My kids will be able to read a frakking ruler, unlike my kids in years past.

I'm tired of trying to teach kids who can't reliably multiply 8 X 7 in their heads how to solve multi-step equations because someone who hasn't evaluated my students tells me it's the day that it has to be done. These kids are not stupid, but we are if we keep doing things the way we have been.

1 comment:

KC Ryan said...

Good for you, Jim! Best of luck.