The Times They Are…

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Based on events of the last year, it appears that change is imminent at my school.  The direction of the wind seems favorable, but time will tell.  In the meantime, some thoughts: we have a need, not to reform, but to transform.  If we cannot answer “why?” a current practice is in place, it must be discarded.  We must be willing to have these discussions in earnest; lip-service is insufficient.

It is clear that what is required is a transformation of our classroom practice.  Transmission of information is a consequence of what we do, not the goal.  It should be hoped that technology will play a supporting, not leading, role.  Rather than being shoe-horned in for its own sake, appropriate technology should be utilized in support of real, genuine work.  Assessment should be utilized in the support of growth.  Until we are throwing in the towel, all assessments should be formative.  Assessments must be real; real projects intended to be shared with a larger audience as opposed to papers for the teacher’s eyes only, one more thing to be marked and discarded.  We need interdisciplinary connection.  We must be willing to try one radical thing every semester.  We must be student-responsive. Read More…

Trigonometry Notes

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I’ve often spoken to colleagues (and students and parents) about my dislike of high-school-level mathematics textbooks.  None of the books I’ve seen (with the exception of some calculus texts which are probably intended to be university-level) provide a sufficient logical foundation for the ideas they contain.  Most don’t even pretend to try.  They simply give cookie-cutter, template examples and throw you twenty or so “problems” which you can then use to ape their techniques.  No discovery, no understanding.

Here’s part of an email I sent to some colleagues last year as I was considering what I could do to improve the current landscape:

During a department meeting last semester in which we were talking about textbooks for next year, I lamented the poor quality of our
Algebra II text (and was met with general agreement from the department).  Apparently, all of the versions of Algebra text we have used in the past have had different, but not dissimilar, issues.  There always seem to be at least a few places where the ordering of topics is strange (which I’m sure the author(s) had reasons for, but these are lost on me), the page layouts are apparently designed to give you a wicked case of ADHD (if you don’t already have it), and (worst of all), ideas are introduced as cold facts, rarely presented with any sort of justification or indication of how they tie in to the big picture (if, indeed, there is any big picture) and with only some oblique references or watered-down examples to show why you should care to understand them.

101questions / Three-Act Lessons

One of my favorite new things in the classroom this year is my use of three-act lessons. I first came across three-acts last year on Dan Meyer’s blog and immediately fell in love.

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(For the uninitiated, check out Dan’s TEDx talk and his post on why students hate algebra, then go look at his three-act repository along with Andrew Stadel’s.  For ideas on creating three-acts of your own, check out Makeover Monday.)

I first tried out three-acts in a brush-up course at the end of the summer.  The class was mostly kids who are not typically strong math students and needed some remediation before the new year.  After the first meeting, we did one three-act each day, afterwards reinforcing and building on the  necessary skills (along with some other stuff I deemed important).  It was a huge success.  After a couple of days the kids came to class excitedly asking, “Are we gonna do another video today?”  They weren’t even being sarcastic; they genuinely loved it.  And the level of engagement was astounding.  I’ve never had buy-in like that from the “weaker” math students.  They are normally the ones that hate math class.  I don’t teach any of those students in my classes during the regular year, but a couple of them have stopped by to let me know that the brush-up was really helpful for the classes they’re in now.  Couldn’t ask for better results. Read More…

Commencing Exploration

And we’re off.  I’ve been thinking about jumping into this for a while now.  The wonderful people at Exploring the MathTwitterBlogosphere finally hit me with the cattle prod, so here it goes…

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My name is Benjamin Sabree.  I’m a high school mathematics teacher and department co-chair at an independent school in MS.  I fell into teaching quite by accident about 8 years ago when my girlfriend at the time (now wife) suggested I try it out for a year while we looked for somewhere we could go to grad school together.  She had been teaching art at a public high school for a year before that and thought I might really enjoy the experience.  She was right.  I started out teaching physics and quickly realized I had found exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up.  My choice of graduate program was even partly due to the fact that Case allowed me to teach my own classes rather than be someone’s TA.  Grad school deepened my love for mathematics, so when I finished, into the math classroom I went, first at a community college and then back at the same school where I taught physics before.  Since returning I’ve taught some version of each course in our main Upper School math sequence.  For the past couple of years, I’ve been teaching honors precalculus (whatever that is) and a few flavors of calculus.  This year I’ve made the switch to standards-based grading in my calculus classes. One quarter in and I don’t think I’ll ever assess or grade in the traditional way again. Read More…