Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A good time for math?

I'm now in my ninth year of teaching math, and over the years, I have taught different courses at different times throughout the day. We'd ideally like to schedule classes to coincide with times when students are most alert and receptive to new ideas. But, since school is closed down at midnight, not to mention that I'm asleep then, it has to be sometime during the regular school day. This leaves first, second, third, or fourth period (90 minute block classes.)

Let's take a look at the ideal and actual scenario of each:

First Period
Ideally: The students are well-rested from sweet mathematical dreams the night before, filled with the energy from a good, balanced breakfast, and alert from the caffeine stimulation that comes from a good cup of joe. They also have the advantage of coming in early to tutorials and just "rolling-over" their math session into the start of their school day. Who doesn't enjoy starting their day with math? (rhetorical question)

Actually: The students are sluggish from poor or little sleep where they fretted over finishing up a project or assignment. Some students are still awake, although barely, from their "all night" video game marathon. Their breakfast consists of the sugars found in sodas, energy drinks, and candy bars. Their bodies are about to crash. They come to class with their overpriced, undersized frothy foo-foo they call "double chocolate cafe latte espresso cappuccino deluxe" with the cute cardboard sleeve (so they don't burn their math hand.), which they almost spill as they throw themselves through the classroom door as the tardy bell rings. No one enjoys starting their day with math.

Second Period
Ideally: By second period, students' bodies have had time to fully awake and absorb the nutrients from their breakfast. The blood is out of the belly and back in the brain-they are running in
full gear. They come to class ready to attack the math problems. Look out math!

Actually: Students' bodies have now crashed from their sugar high. They are very fatigued and very irritable. They want nothing to do with school, especially math. They are SOOOOO hungry, and they anxiously wait for third period when they FINALLY get to have lunch. Luckily, it IS a math class, so they can catch a quick 90 minute nap until the bell rings at the end of class.

Third Period
Ideally: Students go to lunch and replenish all the energy that they assiduously expended during their morning classes. They take their math textbooks with them so they have some reading material if they finish eating early. With renewed energy and focus, they absorb the entire lesson, ask poignant, insightful questions. They're wishing every period was math class.

Actually: Students go to the lunchroom to refill on sugar: sodas and candy. If they are lucky, they'll pick at a ham and cheese sandwich their mom made them, then wash it down with "full-throttle" and a "rock star" energy drinks. They return to class (tardy) totally wired, unable to sit still, concentrate, or count to two, much less find complex zeros to a fifth-degree polynomial.

Fourth Period
Ideally: The enthusiasm is hard to contain as students finally arrive at the class they have been awaiting all day long. Realizing that this is their last opportunity of the day to learn something new in the classroom, students savor every minute of class. The energy of anticipation is very high as some students think of already being at home so that they can begin their math homework. Luckily, time flies when you're having fun, so the class seems artificially short--a bitter sweet affair.

Actually: The enthusiasm IS hard to contain, as students anticipate 90 more minutes until their liberation from forced pedagogical pedantry. Students are really focused on numbers, however, they're not the ones on the chalkboard, but rather the ones on the clock. Who can expect anyone to do math at the end of a long day when their brains are spent? Unfortunately, time drags when you'd rather be elsewhere, so the class seems artificially long. But hey! At least it's Friday, so there's no math class again for another two days.

Maybe the students will seize the opportunity to catch up on their sleep--Naaaaaaah, that's what math class is for!

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