I gave myself the month of June off after a busy year. On July 2 I sat down and started a project that I was stewing about all year long. I am happy about the problem sets I wrote for Geometry, I think that they are a nice set of interesting problems. Many of them have been borrowed from sources all over the internet and I think that my students who took them seriously are more persistent in their problem – solving than they were when the year began. However, I also learned a couple of important things along the way. Not all of my students gained in persistence through these problem sets. In part, I think that the students found them a bit intimidating at times. I also think that they skewed a little long on time needed for thoughtful reflection. I have two solution ideas for the upcoming year. We purchased a license to Kuta’s Infinite Geometry (and their other course options) and I did not use this as often as I should have last year. I do not think that these are terribly thoughtful exercises, but I do know that they are flexible (for me) and supportive (for my students) and I need to use them more often. Since all of our classes in our new schedule are at least 50 minutes, I will be able to carve out comfortable space for in-class practice on basic skills as we are developing them. I also made a commitment to reviewing my problem sets and working on two improvements. I wanted to clean up the language and make sure that problems are a bit clearer in what I want my students to focus on. I got engaged in a great twitter conversation about how important it might be to have students answer y-intercept questions as ordered pairs rather than as a number and how important it is to talk about the graph of a line as an object that is distinct from the equation of a line. I tried to make sure I talked about points on the graph of the line whose equation is 2x + 3y = 12 instead of asking for a point on the line 2x + 3y = 12. Just one example of how I tried to clean up the language I was using. More importantly, I trimmed many of the problem sets by eliminating some questions. I have posted all of my HW problem sets on my dropbox and I am happy to share them with anyone who wants to borrow (or just outright steal!) from them. You can find those problem sets here.
I would love to hear any advice/questions/concerns about these HW assignments. Please reach out by commenting here or through twitter where I am @mrdardy
I took my mom to the airport this morning which means I have one less reason to start thinking about work again. We start back on Jan 5 – as many of us do, I am sure – and I have a pile of papers to grade and some class planning to do. As I have written before, we are working with a new Geometry book that I wrote last summer. You can find a dropbox link to it here. I have also posted a folder of the HW assignments we’ve written for it here. I’ll be updating the HW folder regularly. I have been compiling a list of edits for the text and I’ll be doing the updating work this spring.
As I think about our next Geometry unit I have really been wrestling with the role of HW and how to incorporate it into my classroom routine. I’ve been mostly teaching AP classes the past few years and I have definitely adopted an attitude that HW is assigned but not graded. I’ll discuss it in class when someone asks a question, but I don’t plan around that activity. These questions from my students pop up on quiz days or on test review days but not too often otherwise. I am under no illusion that the students are doing all of what I ask from them, but their performances indicate that most of them are doing enough to get a grasp of the material. I believe that their understanding and mastery of the material would be deeper with more practice. I also believe that they would practice more diligently if I incorporated HW into my grading system somehow. What I have seen is that any way that I have tried to include this into my grading system encourages copying and shortcuts that are frustrating to me and reward bad behavior. This year, however, I am working with younger students again in the Geometry class. These students pretty clearly crave much more attention to HW than my older kids seem to want/need. Days when I post the last HW on my AppleTV and spend time directly addressing it are clearly appreciated. What I am wrestling with is the feeling that these days also lack some of the creative problem solving feel of days with more open-ended questions driving the conversation. Am I wrestling with the balance between what motivates me and what motivates my students? I know that there is a cliche that most of us become the teachers we had. I certainly think about some of the inspirational teachers I had and try to capture some of that magic. However, I also find myself thinking at least as much about the experiences that were NOT inspirational and try to avoid those scenarios. For me, many of those uninspiring days centered around 20 – 30 minute conversations about last night’s HW. Days where we seemed to be spinning our wheels. I know I was not the only student who had completed the HW from the night before and did not need to have most of those problems reviewed right after completion. I know that I have students who drift away from being engaged when we are going over problems they have already thought about and completed correctly and confidently. I am really struggling with how to best strike a balance between what some of my students crave and what I think is best for them. I think that our time together is best spent on open questions that push our understanding forward, problems that would be a real stretch for them on their own. I want to include those (periodically) on HW assignments and concentrate on THOSE problems when we are together. Given that a number of my students seem to crave the comfort of the routine of doing HW and then going over it together, I need to find comfortable ways to incorporate that without stalling other routines. One way I am thinking of – and I know that this is not original at all – is to have answers posted at the beginning of class and asking students to take the lead on any review questions that pop up. I can have a few kids up at once and cover this material more quickly and in a more student-centered way. This way, we can get to the more challenging questions together more quickly and I can respect the desire to have space for HW review. Since we are writing our own HW assignments, the students have no answer page to look at and this may be an important source of the difference in HW attention desired. My older kids have standard texts with answers in the back of the book for reassurance.
I’ll report back soon after we start again and I’ll write about how this works. In the meantime, as always, I welcome wisdom in the comments section or through my twitter @mrdardy