Friday, October 28, 2011

Pilot Recap, Week 10: Tough, but necessary

Great class periods with exciting content?  Check.

Engaged students appreciating math?  Check.

Improved performance? 

Nope, no checkmark there yet.  That's where Heather and I sit now, dealing with the frustration of students not accomplishing what we want for them.  The open-ended problems we graded for this unit were excellent.  I saw real progress made with them in terms of students building models and using graphs, algebra, and numbers to solve a big problem at hand.  They enjoyed the problem too.  But today was test day and that's altogether different.  Showing what they know individually without being able to work with someone else or look something up is a real challenge, but a necessary one.  I enjoy students talking and working on math as much as anyone but I also want to see what they can do on their own.  Whether it's a test or quiz or in-class assignment, as a teacher I've got to have that kind of information to assess students.

After two hours of Heather and I hashing out the issues at hand and solutions to them, we know that we can't solve all of them ourselves.  Sure, we'll do more quizzes in MML and more time in class discussing problems they've tried for homework.  We'll work more on metacognition, something many incoming freshmen lack.  But a big part of the problem is lack of motivation on the students' parts.  Yes, they enjoy class.  But going home and doing work on their own is work, hence the name.  They have MML assignments and conceptual work that is really challenging, but again, necessary.  That's where learning happens, not when I'm speaking but when they start doing.  And some are just not doing what they should.  You can lead a horse to water...

So what's the take-away?  The course is solid and has phenomenal potential.  We see that and so do students.  We've gotten comments like, "this is first time I could see why we do the things we do in math."  "This is the first time math has really made sense."  But we are dealing with a student who is not really ready for college and not just mathematically.  They still have skills to learn and habits to form.  That process is tough but necessary.  We are actively cultivating the skills, thought processes, and behaviors necessary to succeed in this course, college, and work.  Still, a lot rides on them.  I have the same challenges as a parent, that you prepare them but ultimately they have to sink or swim on their own.  And it's a painful process to watch when it doesn't go well.  But, like I do with my kids, I will be there on the sidelines when they come to me for help.  I will do my part and eventually, I hope, so will they.

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