The Purpose of Homework and My Response

The purpose of homework is to promote learning.  That’s it.  It’s not a way to earn a grade or something to keep kids busy.  It’s also not something that just must be completed in order to stay out of trouble.  Homework is a chance to try things independently, make mistakes and explore the nature of those mistakes in order to better learn the material at hand.

If students are not learning from the homework, it is a waste of time and effort.  There are a few things that could cause students not to learn from the homework.  Even if the assignments are of high quality, without the reflection and correction piece, students will not learn much from homework.

Reflection and correction go together.  It’s not about getting right answers, but thinking about what caused mistakes, identifying misconceptions or procedural inefficiencies and replacing those.  To reflect a student should NOT erase their incorrect working but instead should write on their homework, in pen, what went wrong and what would have been better.

It is quite possible more can be learned when reviewing homework than any other time.  It is certainly a powerful experience.

Textbooks and videos, tutors and peer help offer little appropriate support to help make homework, or practice, meaningful.  Textbooks only provide correct answers, YouTube videos usually do similar treatment to topics as textbooks offer.

I wish to help students learn and believe that reviewing work that has been done is too powerful of an opportunity to pass.  The trick is, how can I provide reflection and insight when to someone I am not sitting with and talking to?  I think I can help provide this reflection piece by doing all of the practice problems myself on a document camera and discussing pitfalls and mistakes, as well as sharing my thinking about the problems as I tackle them.  Further, I can share typical mistakes I see from students as they are learning topics.

So as I develop the Algebra 1 content I will be working on adding videos and short written responses to the assignments to help students think about what they’ve done, its appropriateness, correctness and their level of understanding.

Why Teaching Properties of Real Numbers is Important

If you are going to do a fraction review, the lesson here might be of some help.  I believe things are best reviewed in context, but this is a decent set of information that also introduces the real numbers and some other basics of math.

The PDF icon to the left has a lesson outline you can feel free to use with the PowerPoints of in any way you see fit.

The structure is all there in the lessons, but they're not over scripted.  Remember, I believe the majority of a lesson should be spontaneous.  It should be anticipated and prepared for, but how the lesson really unfolds depends on the audience.

Below you will find an overview of how and why I teach real numbers as well as two PowerPoint icons you can download and use as your own.  I only ask that you share where you found them.

Anything you purchase from Amazon.com through the banner below goes to producing more materials, and at no cost to you.

What Good Is It?

The Real Number Line has always been one of the dullest lessons I have to teach.

Natural Numbers are the set of numbers you can count on your fingers, beginning with one.  The Whole Numbers are the Natural Numbers and Zero...Integers are ...

Blah Blah Blah

I have to teach it because it's in the curriculum.  And I always wonder, what use is it if a student knows the difference between a whole number and a natural number?

It is hypocritical of me to complain in such a fashion because I laud the virtues of education being greater than a set of skills or a body of knowledge.  Education is about learning to think, uncovering something previously unknown that ignites excitement and interest.  Education should change how you see yourself, how you think about the world.  It should enrich our lives.

Teaching the Real Number Line can be a huge first step in that direction, if done properly.

Math is About Ideas, Not Just Computation

There are some rich, yet entirely approachable, mathematical ideas that can be introduced with the Real Number Line (RNL).  For example, a series of questions to be posed to students could be:

1.  The Natural Numbers are infinite, meaning, they cannot be counted entirely.  How do we know that?
2. The Integers are also infinite.  How do we know that?
3.  Is infinity a number?
4. Which are there more of, Natural Numbers of Integers?  How can you know, if they're both infinite?

The idea of an axiom can be introduced.  Most likely, students assume math is true, or entirely made up, but correct or incorrect, because it is written in a book and claimed to be such by a teacher.  The idea of how we know what we know and if math is an invention or a discovery can be introduced by talking about axioms.  For example:

1. Is it true that 5 + 4 = 4 + 5 ?
2. If a and are Real Numbers, would it always be true that b = b?  (What if they were negative?)
3. Is it also true that b = b - a?  How do we know that?
4. Is the following also true:  If a = b, and b = c, then a = c?  How do we know?

The idea here is not to teach students the difference between the Associative Property and the Commutative Property, but to use these properties to introduce students to math as a topic that can be discussed, and that it is not about answer getting, but instead about ideas.

For more on this topic and a few other related items, visit this page.

Why Are Some Rational Numbers Non-Terminating Decimals?

If you had a particularly smart group of students, you could pose this question.  I mean, after all, 1/3 = 0.3333333333333333...  And yet, we are told rational numbers include decimals that can be written as a fraction (the ratio of two integers).

How it works is sometimes very clear and clean.  For example, 0.7 is said, "Seven tenths." And "Seven tenths," can also be written as the ratio of seven and ten.  And the number seven tenths is of course equal to itself, regardless of how it is written.  The number 0.27 is said, "twenty seven hundredths," which can easily be written as the ratio of twenty seven, for the numerator, and one hundred, as the denominator.  And this can continue so long as the decimal terminates.  But try the same thing with the a repeating decimal and you do not end up with things that are equal.

The algorithm to convert a repeating, but non-terminator decimal into a fraction is pretty straight forward.

But that does not address why a rational number would be a non-terminating decimal.

Click the PPT Icon to the left to download a lesson on converting repeating decimals into fractions for honors students.  It includes a proof of why the square root of two is irrational.

The simple reason that some rational numbers cannot be expressed as terminating decimals has to do with our numbering system.  We use base 10 numbers.  Our decimal system provides us an easy way to write fractions with denominators that are powers of 10.

That means that we have ten numbers, including zero, that fill up one column, like a car’s odometer.  When you travel 9 miles the odometer will read 000009.  When you travel the tenth mile the odometer will read 000010.

Not all of our number systems are base ten. While the metric system is base 10, or at least translates into powers of ten, the Imperial system is base 12 from inches to feet, but 5,280 feet to the next unit of miles, and so on.

Time is another great example of bases other than ten.  Seconds and minutes are base sixty.  You need sixty seconds before you have an hour, not ten.  But hours are base 24 because 24 hours are needed to make one of the next category, which is days.

In time, 25 minutes of an hour is the ratio:

But in base ten this is 0.4166666666666666... Our decimal system does math in base ten, not base sixty.  This is not 41 minutes!  A typical mistake would be two say 25 minutes is 0.25 of an hour.

Back to our original example of 1/3.  Not all numbers can be cleanly divided into groups of ten, like 3.  If we had a base 3 numbering system, where after the third number we moved, then 1/3 would just be 0.1.  But in our numbering system, 0.1 is one tenth.

Other numbers, like four, translate into ten more easily.  Consider the following:

The only issue remaining is that 2.5/10 is not a rational number because 2.5 is not an integer and rational numbers are ratios of two integers.  This can be resolved as follows:

Let's try the same process with 1/3.

As you can see, we will keep getting ten divided by three, forever.

This is a great example of how exploring a question can uncover many topics within the scope of the course being taught.

I hope this has caused you to pause and think of how exploring questions, relationships and properties in mathematics can lead to greater understanding than just teaching process and answer getting.

Here is a PowerPoint presentation you can download and use in your class.

The video below is a fun way to explore some of the attributes of prime numbers in a way that provides insight into the nature of infinity.   All of the math involved is approachable to your average HS math student.

Here is a link to the blog post that goes into a little more detail than offered in the video:  Click Here.

If you find these materials valuable, you could help me create more.

Algebraic Fractions Part 1

Algebraic Fractions Pt 1

Algebraic Fractions $–$ Rational Expressions

In this section we will learn how Algebraic Fractions can be multiplied, reduced and added or subtracted. This particular entry will cover reducing and how reducing uses the greatest common factor of all terms.

It is often the case that students that once struggled with fractions gain insight and confidence with the rational numbers.

An algebraic fraction, or rational expression, is just a ratio of two algebraic expressions. The difference between an algebraic expression and a number is the variable, or unknown value. (Note that they’re called expressions and not equations because they’re not equal to anything.)

For example, 5x, is the product of five and x. Since we do not know what x equals, we cannot carry out the multiplication. So, we just leave it written 5x.

Another algebraic expression would be 15x2. This is the product of 15, x, and x.

An algebraic fraction, or rational expression of these two could be $\frac{5x}{15{x}^{2}}$ .

This expression can be reduced and below we will see two ways to approach reducing algebraic fractions.

$\frac{5x}{15{x}^{2}}$ = $\frac{5x}{5x}\cdot \frac{1}{3x}$

These are equal because when multiplying rational exponents you multiply the numerators together and then multiply the denominators together.

It is useful to separate 5x and 15x2 in this fashion because a number divided by itself equals one.

$\frac{5x}{15{x}^{2}}$ = $\frac{5x}{5x}\cdot \frac{1}{3x}$

$\frac{5x}{15{x}^{2}}$ = $1\cdot \frac{1}{3x}$

So this would be: $\frac{5x}{15{x}^{2}}$ = $\frac{1}{3x}$.

To reduce you find what factors the numerator and denominator share and recognize that those shared factors are being divided by themselves, resulting in the number one.

The greatest common factor is what gets divided out of both the numerator and denominator. Another way to see this is below:

$\frac{5x÷5x}{15{x}^{2}÷5x}=\frac{\frac{5x}{5x}}{\frac{15{x}^{2}}{5x}}=\frac{1}{3x}$

This method is less clear to see, but the math is the same.

Regardless of the method, the key piece of information required to reduce is the greatest common factor. The greatest common factor of two expressions is the largest expression that divides into the expressions in question.

For example: has a greatest common factor of 3xy, because 3xy is the largest thing that divides into all three terms.

Let’s look at another example and use a table for factoring.

15a4b3, 20a7b, 30a7b2

 15a4b3 20a7b 30a7b2 3$•$5$•$a$•$a$•$a$•$a$•$b$•$b$•$b 2$•$2$•$5$•$a$•$a$•$a$•$a$•$a$•$a$•$a$•$b 2$•$3$•$5$•$a$•$a$•$a$•$a$•$a$•$a$•$a$•$b$•$b

These are all of the factors of each of these expressions. To find the GCF we can make a list of the repeated factors, factors that are in common between all three expressions.

5$•$ a$•$a$•$a$•$a$•$b

If we divide this GCF out of each term, we would be left with:

 15a4b3 3$•$5$•$a$•$a$•$a$•$a$•$b$•$b$•$b = 3b2

 20a7b 2$•$2$•$5$•$a$•$a$•$a$•$a$•$a$•$a$•$a$•$b = 4a3

 30a7b2 2$•$3$•$5$•$a$•$a$•$a$•$a$•$a$•$a$•$a$•$b$•$b = 6a3b

Where this will come into play is with reducing something like:

$\frac{15{a}^{4}{b}^{3}-20{a}^{7}b}{30{a}^{7}{b}^{2}}$

By dividing out the GCF of all three terms we are left with:

$\frac{15{a}^{4}{b}^{3}-20{a}^{7}b}{30{a}^{7}{b}^{2}}=\frac{3{b}^{2}-4{a}^{3}}{6{a}^{3}b}$

Reducing:

To reduce an algebraic fraction all terms must have a common factor. Terms can be separated by the fraction bar or by addition or subtraction. The expression below has three terms, two in the numerator and one in the denominator. In order to reduce, all terms must share a common factor. What students will often do when reducing this expression is reduce the a’s, just leaving the expressions of $–$b. Sometimes, they will realize that a divides into itself one time, so they will write
1
$–$ b.

If we assign some relatively prime numbers for a and b, and evaluate each of these figures we will see that they are not all equal. If the reducing was correct, each expression would be equal.

Let a = 5, b = 3

Only Figure 1 is correct. The others are incorrect because in order to reduce all terms must have a common factor. Here is why.

The order of operations governs the process in which we perform mathematical calculations. The fraction bar groups together the terms in the numerator, even though there are not any parenthesis. Operations grouped together must be carried out before any other operations. Division is reducing, which takes places after the group’s operations are completed.

So why can we divide (reduce) before carrying out the group’s operations? Consider the following example for an idea of why this is before reading the why this works.

$\frac{15x+5}{10x}$

The GCF of all the terms is five. This expression could be written as it is below.

$\frac{15x+5}{10x}=\frac{5\left(3x+1\right)}{5\cdot 2x}$

And we could write that as follows:

$\frac{5\left(3x+1\right)}{5\cdot 2x}=\frac{5}{5}\cdot \frac{3x+1}{2x}$

And five divided by five is one. The product of one and anything is, well, that anything. Multiplying by one does not change the value (that is why one is called Identity).

$\frac{15x+5}{10x}=\frac{5\left(3x+1\right)}{5\cdot 2x}=\frac{3x+1}{2x}$

The reason we can reduce before completing the operations in the group (numerator in this case), is because of the nature of multiplication and division being interchangeable. For example:

$5\cdot 3÷5=5÷5\cdot 3$

You may object here because in a previous section we showed how the order of division cannot be changed without changing the value. For example:

$\begin{array}{l}8÷4=2\\ 4÷8=\frac{1}{2}\end{array}$

$\frac{15x+5}{10x}=\frac{5}{5}\cdot \frac{\left(3x+1\right)}{2x}=\frac{3x+1}{2x}$

Without going into too much detail, division is multiplication by the reciprocal, and there is multiplication by the same factor taking place in both numerator and denominator. So when reducing, you are simply dividing out that common factor before multiplying it, which is mathematically sound.

Regardless, it must be understood that to reduce an algebraic expression each term must contain a common factor. In the expression remaining from the example above, two of the terms contain a factor of x, but not the third. To reduce (divide), before adding the numerator together, would be in violation of the order of operations.

Practice Problems:

Reduce the following:

1.     $\frac{32{x}^{2}{y}^{4}z}{14{x}^{5}y}$

2.     $\frac{3a}{9{a}^{2}}$

3.     $\frac{5{x}^{m}{y}^{3}}{15{x}^{m}y}$

4.     $\frac{27{a}^{2}b+3{a}^{2}b}{99{a}^{5}{b}^{3}}$

5.     $\frac{7xy-2}{4{y}^{2}z}$

Exponents v Rational Expressions: The Most Difficult Topic to Teach in Algebra 1?

There are many topics in math that are difficult for students to grasp because either the concept itself is elusive and maybe they don’t have the foundation required, or the procedures are complicated and riddled with traps.  Algebraic Fractions or Rational Expressions, whichever name you prefer, is a great example of a topic that hits both of those.

Algebraic Fractions are intimidating from the get-go.  Students see fractions with algebraic expressions and their heads practically explode!  Where as exponents, are inviting and seemingly easy, at first anyway.  But as students get into more complicated problems involving Algebraic Fractions, the path becomes clearer.  To find a common denominator first find the LCM of the denominators, multiply each term, reduce and then combine like terms.  To finish it up, reduce if possible by seeing if a GCF exists between all terms.  If one exists, divide it out of all terms and done!

Once students get away from some of the basic properties and have to combine several ideas involving exponents together at the same time the students are hopelessly lost.  An expression with exponents that needs to be simplified that might involve negative bases with negative exponents that are written in the denominator, then combining like-bases with the properties of exponents all while trying to traverse the muddy lines separating the order of operations (PEMDAS) when sometimes the first three (P, E, and M) are completely interchangable because it’s all multiplication, where other times you must take care of the group first and the multiplication last.  It’s over-whelming and all comes back to my favorite harping point, the ability to read mathematics by understanding the meaning behind how it is written.

While I work very hard to build a strong conceptual foundation for my students, sometimes I start doing the framework of the house before the foundation has has time to set.  This is often the case with Algebraic Fractions.  But, if their procedural fluency is sufficient, they can often repair their weaknesses in the foundation, or never need to shore it up at all and suffer little, if any, from it.

There are other topics that can be taught with concept only, for example, graphing a linear equation by finding the intercepts.  If students know what intercepts are, know how to find their coordinates, and know that linear equations are equations whose solutions form a line, they can put all of that together on their own.

Exponents are different.  The basic properties of exponents can be taught without covering the “rules” at all.  By simply knowing that exponents are repeated multiplication, and writing things out, students can get quite a long way.  I’d suggest they can get through division like the problem below without using the “Negative Exponent Rule.”

Now this is not a practical way to go about simplifying an expression.  The rules, or properties, prevent students from having to reinvest the wheel, as it were.  However, if the rules are introduced too soon, before the foundation has set and hardened, then with exponents, there will be serious troubles ahead.  And yet, visualizing this method displayed above, without using the properties to obtain the answer by some procedure, allows one to visualize that there are two more x’s in the denominator and four more y’s in the numerator.

But without a measurable level of fluency with applying the rules of mathematics, simplifying expressions involving exponents quickly becomes insurmountable. Consider a problem with multiple brackets, rational exponents, negative bases and negative exponents, like the one below. This would be overwhelming to approach with only a conceptual understanding, but no applicable short cuts in the proverbial tool box. With exponents it is imperative that a balance between the ability to approach any problem from a conceptual framework or to approach the same problem from a procedural framework with equal accuracy, must be achieved.  Students with strong conceptual understanding but little practical procedural ability will struggle with a similar level of difficulty compared to students with little conceptual understanding but that are well versed in the “rules” of exponents.

Students and teachers are very accustomed to seeking and rewarding answer-getting techniques.  This is what makes exponents a wonderful topic to spend a lot of time on.  You can show students how focus on procedure alone is insufficient, and how multiple methods of finding solutions is a powerful tool because combined with a little experience clear paths to solutions unfold when there is no proper first step.

An example of a problem without a proper first step is below:

There are many, equally efficient, and mathematically correct ways to begin simplifying such an expression. Students that rely on procedures will struggle mightly with these types of problems because the first step depends on what you recognize first (conceptual understanding).  How to respond to what is first recognized depends on the procedural fluency of the student.

It is a great exercise to take a problem like this and have one student perform some operation of their choosing, then another to perform a second operation and so on, until the problem is simplified completely.

By exposing students to problems where the initial step is highly variable and the method of arriving at correct answers vary upon what is noticed by students, they can develop a sense that math works this way.

Students should not consider math to work as follows:  Well, this problem looks like the last problem we did and I used the quadratic formula last time, so let’s do that.

It is my intent that when teaching something like exponents (and radical expressions can be similar) I am trying to plant the seed of this idea that math can be approached from many points of view, and sometimes, the right answers are not so cut and dry.

I am currently working on a series covering exponents, square roots and rational expressions where both the needs of the student are addressed through tutorial/remediation videos, and instructional coaching, lessons and practice problems for teachers.   The videos will be posted here on this website, but also on my YouTube channel.  The lesson will serve to meet two callings.  First, students have conceptual understanding of the topics and procedural fluency, but both done in a way that promotes mathematical literacy.

If you are interested in such a treatment of exponents, done in a way to encourage to view mathematics in a different light entirely, you can subscribe to my newsletter, or visit my YouTube channel and subscribe there.  Either way, I’m finishing up the series on exponents soon and will post them when done.

Thank you for reading.  And please, if you found this to be informative or useful, spread the word.

Philip

The Case Against Point-Slope Formula

One of the biggest problems in public education, math in particular, is answer-getting.  And this is endemic, not the fault of students, teachers or administrators, legislators or parents … alone.  Students seek answer-getting methods and are rewarded for finding answers.  Teachers are given massive amount of curriculum to be covered in a year while at the same time deeper understanding is demanded.  It’s not any one person’s fault, nor is it one party’s fault.

Leadership is trying to fulfill expectations and avoid tripping over the strings attached to funding.  For example, graduation rates are a coveted measure of success of a school.  On the flip side, what constitutes the requirements for high school graduation are not closely monitored, or incentivized.  There is a lot of pressure to promote students through the ranks of education, starting in Kindergarten, even when it is not always in the best interest of the student.

I won’t even get into how curriculum calendars and pacing guides became en vogue, but they are a massive burden on teachers.  A teacher must decide to cover material on a predetermined schedule, and if they fall behind, they must hurry to catch up or face reprimand for not being on pace … This is complete insanity!  Learning takes time and that time cannot be compressed.  It cannot be compressed when students are cramming for tests (that aren’t strictly fact based), and it can’t be compressed during the school year either.

And yet, from the same mouths of the people who bestow the virtues of standardized testing comes the call for differentiation in education!  What’s the saying about those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones?  I am working on a constructive solution to these types of things, but for now, I’ll do as my mother says and engage in silence on the topic as I have nothing nice to say.

All that said, all parties involved are well-intentioned. Yet, must traverse a jungle of pitfalls that land us in poor teaching.

There is one particular topic in Algebra that sticks around because it satisfies all of these pressures that, in the end, result in low-quality education.  It is easily taught, gets quick answers and can be tested easily on a multiple choice (standardized) test:  The Point Slope Formula.  Now, I taught this formula for years.  When I first heard its usefulness being called into question, when I first heard that it was a simple answer-getting technique, I bucked at the idea.  I mean, after all, I am a good teacher who has high standards and plenty of rigor.

And that’s one of the issues with change.  We are all part of the system, and while it is easy to break apart what everybody else is doing wrong, they’re part of the same system that produced you…look at yourself first.  Back to the topic at hand…

A typical problem would say, Given the point (2, 3) and the slope of -1, find the equation of the line.

Students would use the formula below and they’d plug in 2 for x and 3 for y and -1 for m.  Then they’d distribute and then solve for y.  Dang, if they mess up distributing or the one step of inverse operations required, BOOM, there’s a chance for remediation or reteach or whatever the fancy phrase at the time is.

But none of that, the process or the reteach would ever touch the nature of the question at hand.  None of it would connect the question to the concept of linear equations and how graphs are related to equations, which means the students could not build upon that concept in the future.

The concept at play here is the nature of the relationship between dependent (x) and independent (y), how every point on a line is a solution to the equation, and perhaps even how slope describes the relationship between the dependent and independent variables.

If a student knows the following, they can arrive at a solution in a way that addresses practical issues at hand and without having to be taught yet another thing!

1. The equation of a line can be written y = mx + b.
2. The values of x and y are an ordered pair, which means they’re a solution to the equation we need.

Consider the following two tables where I show the concepts (related to linear equations) at play using the two methods discussed.  Then, I’ll show the simplicity of one method versus the other.  As is often the case, the method that approaches a problem from the concept has a simpler solution.

I do believe there is benefit from teaching and learning the point-slope formula, especially if it is taught when learning order of operations or how to distribute. But as a method of answer getting when learning about linear equations, I believe, it is inappropriate.

I hope this post caused you to pause and reflect upon your own teaching.  What other things do we teach kids that circumvent the concept at hand in order for a quick grab at an answer?  Leave me a comment, let me know your thoughts.

Summer School

I am teaching Algebra 1 for summer school this year, finally.  I’ve been teaching Geometry during summer school for a number of years, but prefer to teach Algebra 1.

…but … I’m taking a big risk in summer school this year.  Yup.  And there will be consequences if I fail.

But before I explain those consequences and the risk, let me set the stage.  The first idea is this:  In high school, even good high schools like where I work, there is an enormous amount of pressure on teachers to pass students.  The unintended result is that standards are lowered.  In math, and this is well articulated in nearly every TED Talk about the state of mathematics in education today, but students are taught these disparate procedures.  Students don’t learn concepts and thus cannot connect ideas or build upon past learning.  The end result of trying to make it easier by just showing kids how to arrive at an answer is that math becomes this enormous weight with seemingly thousands of things to memorize and recall.

That is tragic because the beauty of math, to me, is that you only need to understand a few things and those seemingly thousands of things just present themselves to you!

The second idea to consider is the population of students taking Algebra 1 in summer school.  The upperclassmen will have failed many times and will be jaded.  The freshmen will likely be behavior problems.  There will those that failed due to truancy and others still that failed because they’re simply lazy.  Then there will be the truly fearful students and the self-defeating students, those who never give themselves a chance.  (It’s easier to not really try and fail then really try and have to face failure without the out, Well, I never really tried.)   All of these kids have the aptitude to be successful in math, but getting them to realize it is where the art of teaching really comes into play.  The easier group is the very few who truly lack the aptitude in math, though it’s likely all students in summer school would identify themselves as belonging in this group!

The last thing to consider is that learning takes time and the time cannot be compressed.  Yet, summer school will be 11 days per semester, 7 hours of instruction time per day.  One day will be state testing and final exams.  So 10 days of class time.

I have set a goal within those 70 hours, in an environment where it is acceptable to lower standards a little bit, and with a group that would greatly resist pushing themselves.  I want all of the students to be truly proficient in Algebra 1, first semester.  I am going to try and teach them to be aggressive learners who challenge themselves and their understanding.  I want them to be introspective and reflect upon mistakes, beliefs and thinking.

In short, I am going to try and mold their thinking about math and education like I do with my honors students who take the Cambridge IGCSE test.  I will hold the standards high, I will not be dumbing down anything we cover, though I will be selective about the specific things we learn.

At first, students are going to struggle mightly with the idea that I will not be explaining everything to them, I will not be writing out steps.  They will struggle with the idea that their notes should be things they’ve realized, not just things I’ve written. I will be writing as little as possible and guiding them, with vigilant reminders to be actively engaged and so on.

If I am successful then the students will not only learn Algebra 1, but they’ll also recast the light in which they see themselves.  They will learn how to learn.

If I fail, they’ll fail and their bad mindsets will be reinforced by yet another bad experience in math class.  I take a lot of pride in the service I provide to students and this outcome would be completely unacceptable to me!

But, I think the reward is worth the risk.

A few specifics about how I’ll execute my plan … without a plan, remember, a goal is just a dream.

1. The expectation of active engagement will be made explicit on day one.  (I’ll share the essence of this post with them.)
2. I will provide accessible and engaging (I hope) support materials for them that focus on concept and show procedure as a consequence of properties of the concept.
3. Organization:  Students will know the plan for the 11 days, and I will break each day’s activities down for them so they know exactly what to expect.
4. Remediation plan:  Quizzes will be taken daily, short and sweet.  Students will grade these check-point type quizzes themselves and will be given a small amount of participation points for correct grading.  Homework will be fixing the errors made and completing a remediation assignment.

Here’s a map of what’s going to be covered, generally speaking:

Day 1:  Sets of numbers, prime numbers, LCM/GCF, and Percent problems

Day 2: Time Problems and the calculator, Algebraic Fractions (rational expressions), Order of Operations and function notation introduction.

Day 3:  Square Roots, Cube Roots and Exponents

Day 4: Test 1, Reading and Writing in Algebra, solving simple equations

Day 5: Inequalities, solving rational equations, variation

Day 6: Functions, graphs of various functions, function arithmetic and inverse functions

Day 7: Test 2, Linear Equations introduction, t-charts

Day 8:  Slope, intercepts, graphs of vertical and horizontal lines, slope-intercept form

Day 9: writing equations of lines, parallel and perpendicular lines, linear inequalities

Day 10: Systems of equations by graphing, substitution, elimination

Day 11: Review, Final Exam, AZ Merit

Once summer school begins I’ll be posting a daily vlog on my YouTube channel about how it is going, what I’ve tried and how the students have responded.  So, stayed tuned!

How to Save Time Grading

and Promote Assignment Completion

Grading papers is one of the most time-consuming responsibilities of teaching.  Hours upon hours can be, I argue, wasted, pouring over daily homework assignments.  This article will discuss how to integrate awarding credit for daily assignments in a way that saves hours of time while increasing your awareness of student progress, increases student completion rates and better informs students regarding their progress in the subject.

This routine described here is a daily variety, not how I grade quizzes, tests or projects.  However, there are some tips that apply to recording those grades later in this article.

Let’s begin with a question: What is the purpose of homework?  For me, it’s practice needed for students to gain proficiency.  Homework is about trying things, working out how to struggle through difficult problems and making, and learning from, mistakes.  Without effective homework, students will not integrate their learning into a body of knowledge that they can draw upon for application or just recall.

The breadth of the purpose of homework and how that purpose is best served is beyond the scope of this article, but I would like to suggest that homework is something done in their notes, whenever possible.  The reason being is that notes are a receipt of their learning, to be reviewed in the future to help remember observations and important facts.

Overview of How It Works:

At the beginning of class, often before the bell rings, I begin walking around the classroom stamping homework that deserves full credit.  (What merits full credit is up to your discretion, but it should be a clear and consistent expectation, known to students.)  As I circle the room, I look for common mistakes, ask kids if they have questions or difficulties and make small talk.

Students that didn’t do, or complete, the homework have to answer for it on the spot!

Then, I simply mark those that did not receive credit for the homework on a student roster I keep on a clip board.  (For a video of how this works, visit the link here: )

Quick Notes:  This method has students ready for class because they have their notes.  They’ve also asked me questions if they had any, so I can begin with meaningful review.  I also have forced students that are remiss to account for their actions and done so in a way that applies positive peer pressure.  The scores are recorded by leaving blanks for completion and only marking those that do not get credit (which will be very few).

Credit:  I award full credit or zero credit when checking homework.  If a student attempted all problems, with evidence of attempt demonstrated by work shown and questions written, they get full credit.  Those that fail to receive full credit have the opportunity to reclaim 80% (the percentage is arbitrary but again needs to be consistent, clear and known by all), the students must see me during tutoring time by the Friday of the week of the assignment to show that they’ve fulfilled the expectation.  Students that did not attempt the homework can also see me during tutoring time (before or after school, not between class times or lunch), and receive partial credit.

But the rule of being due the Friday of the week assigned is big.  The purpose of homework is practice.  Without proper practice skills and knowledge are not developed.  Homework is not about compliance and fulfilling an expectation with a grade as a reward.  Students that are hustling to complete homework from two months prior are likely not promoting their understanding of current materials.  Plus, by having the time requirement applied to the homework policy, students are not enabled to fall too far behind.

The added bonus is that you will not be buried with make-up work the last week before grades are due to be reported!

Work to be Turned In:  If the nature of the work is not something that can be kept and must be turned in, have the students pass their work forward by row.  As you collect each row’s stack, count them.  If a row’s stack is incomplete, ask who in the row didn’t turn in the work.

If students can NOT fulfill the expectation and only receive a bad grade from it, and that reprimand comes well after the unwanted behavior, they will quite happily go along thinking nothing bad is going to happen.  Having to answer, publically, for their lack of work, especially when the vast majority will work, is a powerful deterrent!  Just as when checking the work of students and asking those who failed to complete for an explanation, this keeps them accountable and will increase the amount of students completing their work.

When collecting the papers, alternate the direction of the stacks and do not mix them up when grading.  This will allow you to quick return the papers after you’ve been done.  If it is a daily practice type of work turned in, I’d suggest awarding full or no credit and only recording, again on the printed class roster, those that were awarded no credit.

Recording Grades:  Whether you’ve collected daily practice or are carefully grading quizzes and tests, how you record those grades can either waste your time, or greatly reduce the amount of time spent.

By recording each grade as it is calculated by hand on the student roster it is quick and easy to transfer them to the computer.  This is a huge time-saving practice.  You don’t need to hunt on the computer screen for each student, and do so for each assignment.  When they’re recorded by hand, you can simply enter the column of numbers in the computer.  When the last name lines up with the last number that you entered, you know they’re all entered correctly.

By following this method, the data entry side of grading is done in a few moments of time instead of over hours, working through those stacks of papers, again!

Final Thoughts:  By looking at, and discussing, homework with students on an individual basis, very briefly, you gain insight into their progress.  They get a chance to ask questions.  Students that need a little bit of motivation receive it as an immediate consequence for poor behavior, rather than waiting until the end of the quarter, when a lot of pressure will be placed on you to help them bring up their grades.

This routine has proven to be a cornerstone of my classroom management.  It gives me a way to set the expectation that we are here to learn and that learning is done through work and reflection.  Students that need discipline receive it immediately and in a way they find uncomfortable, but it is done so with an invitation that guides them to the desired behavior (of completing their work).