Pretend you are one of my MGS31s. This is the course code for the first term of three terms (slower track) Geometry. If you are in this class in the fall term, you are officially off-track, which means you have failed [at least] one semester of Algebra 1 or this class last term. You are also at least a junior, in a class which is taken by many freshmen who took Algebra 1 in middle school. You are not feeling good about your mathematical acumen or this class. And the section you have been assigned to is early – 8:04 a.m. – a time at which teenage brains are still struggling to stay awake. This has been scientifically shown. It doesn’t matter that your teacher is Ms. Menard, who LOVES geometry (what is WRONG with her, anyway?) and is determined that you will love it too. You will resist her efforts, despite your longing to be on-track, earn this damn math credit, and graduate high school on time. You will come to class late, sometimes snooze, or text to stay awake, and defiantly NOT participate. Ms. Menard’s okay – sort of, in a nerdy math teacher kind of way – but what she represents is not. And she is, after all, only a teacher, and as a 16-year-old with bigger problems, doing what SHE wants is not your priority.
I have a room full of you and your peers every morning. I don’t believe that you can’t ‘do math’, and I do believe that you can learn to appreciate Geometry, which is, indeed, the greatest thing since and before sliced bread. I have taught struggling students before, and I am determined to use everything in my arsenal to engage you. But despite the fabulous Logic Game that Needs a Name, despite the Mathalicious baseball lesson, I am unable to reach you. I get compliance from about half of you, and understanding from approximately one-quarter of you. From the rest of the class, I get resistance, lateness, and/or absenteeism.
I am teaching Discrete Math this term for the first time, a course which I am putting together as I go through the term, as well as Algebra 2. So I’ve already got two other preps, one which requires a lot of planning time. I have scads of geometry lessons, so I have tried to re-use material, with moderate tweaking. But the same ole’ same ole’ isn’t working, and truth be told, it didn’t work that well when I taught Geometry at that high need school in my early teaching years. The end of the 2nd marking period has passed; I’m almost done with this class – why not coast? The kids are.
But I can’t bear it. I can’t stand starting my day with failure. And I don’t want to waste my precious time (not meant sarcastically) on a half-assed job that I know I can do better. Over the summer, I signed up to be a beta tester for some project-based learning units at Curriki.org. I didn’t have time or inclination to look at them in the beginning of the term, but in my search for something different over the last few weeks, I returned to them. They are fully written units, Common Core aligned (bonus!), complete with pacing, worksheet masters, and rubrics. There are links, suggestions, resources, and student editions of each for the six units. Theoretically we should be one or two units into the course, but to be completely honest, we are just beginning to talk about triangles. So I decided to try the first unit. The good thing – and bad thing – about teaching off-track students in a large school is that no one pays attention to what you are doing with them, especially at 8 am. So I can experiment to my heart’s content.
The first project is entitled “Selling Geometry”; the students need to create a marketing campaign directed at teens to convince them of them of the importance of Geometry in the world. They will be developing this campaign as we study geometry basics (angles, line segments, triangles) and rigid motions. I like the creative aspect of the project; it appeals to some of the students who shy away from the math. Over the weekend, I prepped for the unit. I found apps (free, of course – no budget) for our iPads with which the students could create presentations. I created – with the help of some tweeps – a team-building activity to start out with. I tried to envision exactly how my classroom would look during this project – my first principal, Brad Haggerty, taught me that if you can make your expectation is crystal clear to yourself, you can communicate it effectively to your students. And away we go – wish me luck! Updates to follow.