Time to Reflect and Regather

With the beginning of my Christmas vacation only 24 hours away now (one class and then a long committee meeting today followed by a committee meeting tomorrow morning) this feels like a natural time to think about what has gone right this academic year and what can be better in the next calendar year.

I was hired at my school four years ago to teach four sections a day and to serve as department chair. For a variety of reasons, during the first three years I taught five classes per day during 8 of the 9 trimesters. This year I started off with five classes again and now I am finally down to four per day. I have had as many as four different preps in the past, but now have two. The difference in energy level required during the day is stunning. I like to think that I was doing alright in the past. I am optimistic that I am a better teacher (day by day) now. I am able to spend more time and energy planning at night and in the morning. I have found some fun activities and problems to explore. I feel sharper and fresher when we have discussions in class. However, there are some big issues I want to address.

Before the year began I purchased a marble notebook for each of my stats students. I wanted them to have more regular feedback from me and I envisioned taking time about once a week to give them the last ten minutes of class to work on a problem attached in their notebook as a formative, non-graded assessment. My hope was that we’d look at it the next day and by the time graded assessments rolled around, they would have a clearer understanding of what they understand. I’d have a clearer sense of what I needed to explain in better detail, or at least have a sense of what points needed reinforcement. What I discovered was that ungraded meant unimportant to most of my students. Even those who were earning A’s by the time of a graded quiz or tests were turning in blanks or sheer nonsense. Frustrated by the time and energy I was spending with little obvious return, I stopped doing this after four or five rounds. I need to grow up, deal with the disappointment, explain myself better, and do what I believe is the right thing to do.

We teach AP Calculus BC as a follow-up to AP Calculus AB. Consequently, we have nowhere near the calendar pressure of other AP courses. I need to take greater advantage of that freedom. In 2014 I want to devote one day per week to some combination of games, puzzles, and cooperative problem sets. These are the sharpest math minds at our school and they deserve to be challenged regularly. We instituted this curricular decision so that we would have more time for reflection for our students. I know that many of them would have been successful by and measurable metric if they raced their way through this curriculum in one year. However, I am convinced that they benefit from the time we allow them to revisit ideas and explore them more deeply. They benefit from some space to breathe and reflect. I do not want to restrict that time and energy only to problems from the AP curriculum. There is a larger world of ideas to play with. the game of Set, the game of Ultimate tic-tac-toe, visual patterns. These are all things I talk about, I visit these sites, I advocate for these activities. However, I too often fall into the trap of just turning the page in our text and worrying about the next test or quiz. They deserve better.


So, even though it’s early these are my New Year’s Resolutions. I have always believed that I am more likely to carry through with them if them if they are public so I am putting myself on notice.