Wednesday, January 23, 2008

It's what I do

Yesterday, as the new semester got underway, I welcomed a new class (and a new kind) of class into what is essentially my "homeroom" class. Called "Unicorn Time,"(UT) it is a block of 21 minutes where students meet to watch announcements, receive report cards, meet for assemblies, take standardized tests, watch TV, and catch up on gossip. Although students do not earn grades during UT, they don't take it seriously either. They are only accountable for their attendance. We teachers were encouraged to use this time with these students to form positive relationships, becoming their mentor, role-model, and hero. On paper, this is a great idea. In the classroom, it's still a great idea, but one very unlikely to ever fulfill.

With no more recourse than holding students in low esteem and possibly yelling at students who are unwilling to follow directions, the time slot has no teeth for anything of any value, other than convenience for administrative tasks. I tried several times to come up with exciting mini-lessons on various subjects from number theory, word origins, presidential trivia, and magic tricks to make the time productive for all involve, but I became increasingly weary of inventing topics and acting them out for an audience that was less than captive. Overall, the kids grew to respect me, and I learned quite a few neat things about them.

This semester, however, the UT structure has changed for a select group of math teachers who volunteered to take on struggling math students, those who need help passing the state's standardized test. With my old class dispensed to other non-math teachers (many of whom were actually quite sad that they had to now watch Sportscenter in a different UT classroom), I welcomed 8 new students with a lot of mathematical and academic baggage.

So why would I give up my cushy role of attendance taker and babysitter during this 21 minute period for the new role of math teacher for students who are not only bad at math, but who are self-proclaimed "haters" of math? Because it's what I do! I LOVE math, and I LOVE teaching. Out of the same motives a philanthropist gives his resources to a worthy cause, so am I willing to contribute my talents and time to making a difference for some kids who really need it. Although I will not get that hospital wing named after me, maybe I can help one of these "elite eight" students to pass tests, learn and love math, and get fired up about school and learning once again. I have rediscovered the joy the last two days of teaching these types of students, who have totally different needs, backgrounds, and expectations of the AP calculus students I am used to. To be able to go back to the very rudiments of mathematical notation and syntax, and explain concepts and skills in such a concrete way is invigorating and exciting for both me and my students.

For instance, today we reviewed the basic rules for combining exponents. There are three simple rules that can often be memorized, buy not so easily recalled and used correctly. I went way back to addition and how multiplication if short-handed addition. I saw a spark ignite in their quiet, thirsty eyes. Next I showed them that exponentiation is merely short-handed multiplication. After a few examples, they all understood the methods behind the rules, and why we'd want to use the rules to begin with. They suddenly knew when to use each rule, as they now had the mental framework for employing the rule. It was an intense 21 minutes filled with enlightening, pleasing grins.

Yes, I do think I am going to enjoy my UT class this semester, even if I have to find another time to watch Sportscenter.


Anonymous said...

That is great that you have taken advantage of the situation and work with these kids probably need a sense of direction in their lives for school an beyond!

Dmac said...

When you finally discover the formula for duplication, please share with me so I can at least have the pleasure of working with your clone again. Your the best. Do you have the formula?