I’ve been beating myself up, and it’s only day 4 of school. It’s sad because I just want this year to be the most fantastic year ever, and I wanted it to start so positively. But I’m feeling sad about my classes. I am okay being a teacher centered teacher for my Algebra II class. I really am. We have a curriculum that we are following, and we don’t have too much time to dawdle. Also, the kids are younger, so I feel okay keeping them mostly reigned in. And my MV Calculus class is going to be relaxed, though more challenging to teach than last year, because there are only two students (gasp!). That is a nice combination of student and teacher directed.
However, my calculus classes are a different story. I don’t have a set curriculum, which allows me a lot of freedom. I want to make sure that these students leave understanding calculus. I want them to see what makes calculus cool. What makes math cool.
So I promised both sections of my calc kids on the first day that my goal was to make math understandable to them. And I secretly promised myself that day that I would make math more interesting than they’ve ever seen it before.
It’s day 4 of teaching, and I feel like I’m flopping already. My classrooms are depressing (no sunlight in one; loud sounds of recess floating through the window in the other). I haven’t made one interesting lesson or one group/partner activity. I’ve just been up at the stupid SmartBoard pointing, talking, asking questions, going over homework. We’re just reviewing. And honestly, I don’t even really know where the students are in terms of what they know and what they don’t know. I call on random people, I walk around when they’re working on problems practicing in class, and still: not much clue. That’s not good.
I want to feel okay letting go this year and shift from having a teacher centered classroom to having times when the room is student centered. Where I’m not the one talking for most of the class. And I feel if I talk about that goal here, it’ll force me to keep it in mind. And be slightly more accountable.
As Alison Blank (@pvnotp) said on Twitter: “Maybe just try to be student-centered a little more often – like set aside one class every two weeks where you switch it up.”
Baby steps. And I’m going to try that. Even if it means something as small as playing a review game with students, or having some sort of hard problem challenge we spend the whole period solving together (like I do sometimes in MV Calculus), or making a guided worksheet to lead students through a concept. I should also remember that I can mix things up by asking for different forms of homework, instead of book homework, worksheets, etc. I can ask students to write a letter to their math-illiterate uncle explaining a concept we’ve been working on in class, or create a quiz of their own, or write a formal solution to a challenge problem. I can have students each work on different problems and make a SmartBoard presentation of their solutions for the class — and grade their presentations. Or even have students research the practical applications of calculus.
My brain to itself: Okay, Mr. Shah, keep these things in mind as things you can do instead of traditional classwork and traditional homework. And you just came up with these in the last 5 minutes. Imagine what you could come up with if you gave yourself 10 minutes, or (egads!) 15 minutes?
So I’m going to try to experiment a little this year in calculus. Be slightly daring. Put my foot in the water.
Optimism! Glimmers of hope!
If you want to see why I’m so dejected at the moment, you can see my SmartBoard presentation for my calculus class.
Setup. We’re in Algebra Boot Camp and we’re learning about rational functions before we start on the Limits unit. Up to this point, these kids have reviewed holes and vertical asymptotes, and have just started thinking about the domain of rational functions.
It’s not that the SmartBoard is bad, exactly. I actually think it’s pretty well thought out and organized. But you can see what my class would look like, by looking through it. (FYI, this particular lesson on domain, x- and y-intercepts, horizontal asymptotes, and sign analyses takes more than a day to go through. It will take 2 days to teach and 1/2 a day to pull it all together.)
I know I shouldn’t beat myself up too much. It’s only day 4. But I am. I’ve just been in a bit of a teacher funk. I’ll get out of it. All I need is some kid to say that they’re actually learning something in my class, and that they’re excited about it. I’ll get that.
Important Note. I don’t mean this to be a pity party. I don’t want pity comments – please. I only posted this because this is a place for reflection, thoughts, emotions, whatever. An archive of how I’m feeling today, so I can look back later and see how I’m evolving.
However if you have ideas on activities/games that work for you, things that break “the teacher introduces an idea –> teacher asks questions to develop idea –> teacher goes through example applying idea –> teacher asks students to practice a few problems –> start over” cycle, I would love for you to throw those in the comments below.