PreRequisite Knowledge/Review (Blog Challenge #4)

Whew! I made it, the last blog challenge “blog”. I will be continuing on this journey; however, the last few weeks of school have just been very hectic. So, here I am, giving the last blog challenge.

During my teaching career, I have done a lot of thinking and talking with colleagues about what to do with prerequisite knowledge and/or review. Should I review previous concepts? If so, how long should I take? It seems a good chunk of the first part of Algebra II is review from Algebra I. During my first few years, I taught with a wonderful lady who used to say we needed to identify a set of skills for each class that we want the students to know solidly when leaving the class. This made sense to me, but of course, it never matriculated. That was in a different state. Last year, as we started discussing the new CCSS and the transition phase, this came up again. How were we going to raise our expectations, the “rigor” we keep hearing about if students do not come in with what they need?

So, we developed a list of skills that we are using a basis for our required bell ringers. I did this myself last year in PreCalculus. I would do a skill or a few of skills per week or unit. Then, they would see a few problems from the skill(s) on the test. I am not one for taking up papers and having a lot of papers to grade, so this does a few things. First off, most of my students do their bell work because they want to know how to do it for the test. It minimizes having to review concepts that students have learned in the past. When I got to the hard logarithm problems last year in PreCalculus, my students had almost no trouble with them. In fact, for most of them, it was their favorite thing. I really questioned this at first because usually, that can be a tough area for some of my students. When thinking more in depth about it, I realized it was because they knew the skills needed to solve logarithm problems because we had been doing so much of it in bell ringers. It is important to make bell ringers meaningful. We do not need to create busy work for the students to do during that time.

This year, I am doing this in all of my classes. Algebra II will no longer have any repeat from Algebra I. I refuse in an honors/gifted class to teach skills they have already seen. So, I am doing my review this year as bell ringers and in every course, I have dove right in, head first into the water. We are not spending weeks before reviewing old content. We are going to do it as needed with bell ringers. But, I am curious, what do others do for review? Do you spend a few days at the beginning of the year doing that? Do you do a summer review? This is something I am actually considering and have considered in the past. I taught at a school that implemented a summer review for a special PreCalculus course, basically the course that led to AP Calc. No matter what, I am done reviewing concepts for the first six weeks. This is something I feel will tremendously help my students. It won’t only help them in my class, but in post secondary education.

The “Why” (Blog Challenge #3)

Teaching . . . My life dream from as young as I can remember. I have always wanted to be a teacher, so you probably want to stop reading and think this is a snoozer. Maybe it is, I don’t have a life revelation like many did. However, I must say that today, with challenges I am being faced with, I have to remember the “why”. Why did I become a teacher? Yes, it was my lifelong dream; however, what has kept me in it and what drives me today?

I played school with my stuffed animals, chalkboard/bulletin board combination, and my ‘papers’. I laid them all out nicely and neatly in rows. I got even more excited when I grew old enough to help my aunt grade papers. She was a teacher, so she was someone I always looked up to and one would say idolize. Yes, I was also the kid in the class that wanted to be the helper.

It wasn’t until high school that I decided I would be a math teacher. I had a wonderful Algebra I and II teacher. At a large high school, it is rare that someone would have the same teacher for both, but I was fortunate in that. As good as she was, I realize now, she was a very traditional teacher and I was very good at drill and kill and doing the exact steps she taught. I learned very quickly in my freshmen college math course, I had not learned one bit to think about the mathematics. I simply learned processes to get an answer. This becomes challenge #1 for me in my classroom – Never let the students just ‘monkey see-monkey do’. It is most important for students to understand the “why”.

Let me back up a bit. When I started high school, my parents thought I would simply be average in school. I made decent grades, nothing great. I did enough to usually stay on honor roll, but I think it is safe to say I was one that was ok skating by. I did not want to be the smart girl in my class because then I might have been noticed. So, when I actually started showing some interest in mathematics in college, my family of course tried to sway me towards something else. Most could not understand why I would want to major in mathematics with the plans of becoming a high school teacher. The university I went to had and still has one of the top Pharmacy schools in the nation. People all of the time asked why I wouldn’t do that, it would make so much more money. Here is challenge #2 for me in my classroom – Tell my students my story. Let them know they need to choose a career that they will love to get up every morning and go there. Sure, there are bad days, but overall, I love getting up and going to work. That beats all of the money in the world.

I teach mostly gifted and honors students here in Louisiana. I did teach 3 years at a high school in Maine and 3 years in Washington, 1 at a high school and 2 at a middle school. My students now often ask why I teach when it seems to them I could do a number of things in life. I take my students to engineering day at Louisiana Tech (have to plug their engineering program – it is WONDERFUL!) every year and usually this really prompts my students to ask me why I do not do that or something else. Of course, as math teachers, we fool our students most  all of the time. They think I know everything about math and a lot about science. I have been to summer workshops with their engineering people and have students in their program. I will be honest, with the rapid changes in education, it has entered my mind to consider it. But, I can’t let go of the “why” and this is what I share with my students.

I love math and I love teaching. This is the best of both worlds. I love getting up everyday and going to work. When I had my son over a year ago, people thought I would just hate leaving him. I will admit, it is hard to leave him, but if I didn’t love what I did everyday, there is absolutely no way I could leave him. Yes, he is my child, but I look at it as I have approximately 80 others who are relying on me. I want to facilitate math learning in a way the student has rarely or even possibly never experienced before. I want to have high expectations for my students, but have a classroom that students can feel comfortable walking in and taking risks.

This year is the first year I have really had to ask myself the “why” in my 12 year career. Why do I do this when I could possibly do something else? With the new expectations being placed on all teachers in our state, why do I want to continue to do this? Why do I want have to work after my son goes to bed nightly to meet these expectations? Overall, I have realized all of this will make me a better teacher in the long run. But the answer is simple, I love what I do. Regardless of what is thrown at me during my career, it never will change: I love teaching and I love math. That is enough of the “why” for me.