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!


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