Most Shocking Responses to the Midterm

3/4 + 3/8

The sales tax is 7%. Calculate the total if the subtotal was $84.04.

If you could change one thing about this class, what would it be?
Give us more homework (from the student who never does homework)

Yesterday was a full-blown clerical day...that is, no obligations, meetings, or trainings. Show up, get a bagel from the cafeteria and work. For a special education teacher, this is pure bliss. I have so many things to do in a typical day - tracking down students and talking to teachers about accommodations, parent phone calls, writing documents for IEPs, holding meetings, etc. Oh yeah, and don't forget teaching six classes a day.

Several of my students are pure slackers. They don't do homework, they lose their books, they complain endlessly and loudly in class, they refuse to take notes. But because they have IEPs it's my responsibility to document all the ways we're helping them to overcome the incredible (sarcastic) strains we place upon them. Bring a pencil. Do the six homework problems I assigned (in the time during class that I give you to work on them. Shut the hell up when the teacher's talking.

Last week, several of these students, independently, said that they weren't worried about their grades because last year they "didn't do any work at all in social studies/science/math/consumer science and still passed" because their teachers were "nice". Cue laughter among students. Hmmm....

I warned them. High school isn't like that. You need credits to graduate. Your grades are a permanent part of your record that will be released to any job or school in the future that requests them. High school teachers will fail you. High school special education teachers bear the burden of documenting all the things we do to help (tutoring, extra time for tests, having your tests read aloud, shortened assignments, preferential seating). But we will still fail you.

One semester down, one to go. I'm putting together a sort of writing/reflection component for our pre-algebra class for the second half of the year. I finally have access to edit my course websites, so I'll be building those. I'm excited about some problem solving activities I'm introducing in my lowest level math class. I got the grant to fund my classroom Wii, so we'll be starting to use that for motivation and team building. I rearranged the desks into group tables.

When you teach lower level math to students who have historically struggled with math, you can easily fall into a trap where you eliminate higher level thinking. Instead of showing how or why a linear equation works, we just say here are the steps for finding the solution. No context. Just follow the instructions. The only question some math teachers ask is "what do you do next?" Last semester, I worked on asking more difficult questions - why does that work? Can you find the error in my work? How did you know you were right? Is there another way to solve that?

This semester, I want to teach them to talk about and puzzle over a problem with a partner or two. All attempts to have students do this to date have utterly failed. They sit there like lumps until I prompt them along. They are afraid to be wrong or to try things out without knowing that it's the "right way". We'll see what happens.

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