agenda for 03.13.06: collect homework, lesson: clearing an equation of fractions or decimals, homework: pg 140 # 1-28

ok so now that the introduction is over, i think i can share a little bit about what happened today.

having met with the school psychologist last friday, he suggested that while my desire to foster intrinsic motivation within my students is admirable, that i nonetheless underestimate the power of behaviourism. he said "candy works wonders." so over the weekend, i went to smart & final and bought a box of air-heads and a box of bazooka joe gum (i also bought a box of apple-heads, but that was for the bf, and therefore, neither here nor there). i decided that starting today, i would use positive reinforcement. the part of me that wants to treat these kids like people recoiled at the thought of training them.

anyway, i only received two assignments, so my opportunity to dole out candy was limited. the one girl, V, always gives me her homework, so there is hardly a motivtional need for her. the other girl, A, turned in her very first homework assignment ever. she saw her grades last week, on friday, and i think the realization that her failing grade was due to her lack of completed homework has motivated her. so, another small step towards a psychic victory.

in fact, the more i push and prod, the more improvement i see. one boy in particular, R, really worries me, since he is not at all social. he speaks really softly when he speaks at all. he does not participate in class. in fact, he doesn't even socialize with the other kids. i referred his case to the school psychiatrist. i hope he gets around to him. as for my end, i am making a concerted effort to call on him more. he's bright, just introverted. hopefully i can coax him out of his cave. the other boy, J, who has given me the most grief is also making improvements. after having missed a solid week and a half of my class, i spoke to his father, with suggestions that he sit down with him and make sure he is completing his assignments and that he get to school on time. since last week, he is now attending (which he hadn't been doing), arriving prepared (also hadn't been doing), and participating in class (where before he had been at best distracted and aloof and at worst distracting and disruptive). i have still not seen a single homework assignment, but he insists, "i'll give it to you tomorrow, miss." i called his father today, and his father corroborated his story. i instructed his father to have his son turn in assignments as he completes them. i am giving this boy, J, a chance to make up his work. there's a lot of it. he's taking algebra 1A for the fourth time now. i hope he does not need to take it a fifth time.

also, i should point out that the school psychologst told me that in his short tenure at the school, i was the first teacher to express concern over one of their students, who came into the office personally and who actually asked, "what can *I* do to help?" …depressing.


Devon said...

question: do you think it would behoove classes in general if there were, say, only ten or fifteen problems in an assignment rather than 28? i'm assuming the class had to do all 28 rather than just the even or odd problems.

it probably wouldn't, but I remember having that race against the clock feeling screwing up my chance at calm that only NIN's The Downward Spiral could dissipate.

but that freaks me out though, only two assignments to grade. though on the other hand the stoner me would think "woo hoo, more time for porn."

cathode ray said...

i think with algebra, choosing say 10-15 probs is just as scary as 28 "regular" probs. besides, i think they need the practice, since, let's face it, a lot of algebra is just drill. we're not yet at the beautiful point in it where it can get interesting. right now, its still Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.

i think in english or history, even just one really good thought-provoking question is sufficient. "what is the goal of democracy?" "why is raskolnikov so broken up about killing someone with an axe?" unfortunately, answering "why is pemdas the cornerstone of solving algebra?" still doesn't mean they can find a value for x. their multiplicating skills are... jaw-dropping. let's not talk long division. i dunno. is practice practice practice effective in that case? ... i've also given short assignments, and i haven't had those turned in either. *shakes head* we may never know.

steven said...

re: is practice practice practice effective?

I don't know, but this brings up a recent episode you might enjoy/appreciate. I work with a lot of math people and am friends with quite a few non-math people, and the other night one of the latter asked me how to teach addition and subtraction (to a 5-year-old). And I said I didn't know because I never actually felt like I was learning it. Math has always been extremely visual in my head and I just see the math happening. But the question got me asking some of the math people at work how they worked arithmetic in their heads. Answers included (paraphrased):

"Each number has a constellation of points associated with it. The number 8, for instance, has a point at each quadrant of its two loops, with the top and bottom loop sharing a colocated point. Summing is just an overlapping and reassignment of points to the result."

"I see a long kind of paper tape in my head, and it's subdivided into grids, and there's kind of a dynamic zoom for order of magnitude, kind of like a slide rule."

"I don't know, the numbers just kind of whisper to me for single operations like multiplication or addition."

"I never realized until college that I was multiplying just as I was taught in elementary school -- ones, tens, hundreds, carry the one, etc. -- but in my own mental language."

and of course everyone said:

"But it happens really fast, it takes much longer to describe than it takes to happen."

I e-mailed some non-math people about it and they pretty much all said the same thing , which was that they saw nothing in their heads when they did math, and were just drawing on what I'd call tabular knowledge (memorized relationships).

It would be interesting to understand what students see and how that can be used to teach more effectively.

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