I Think It Is the End of the World Going On

OK, Virginia, I thought you were in the South. The South politically and physically. So what’s up with the damn snow?

My school district canceled tomorrow’s classes as of 4:15 this afternoon. We aren’t even supposed to get snow until noon tomorrow. I’ve taught two days this week, and we’ve now used up all of our snow days and we have to give up holidays to make up the days.

Ridiculous.

Good Man ran to the grocery store, called me, and said, “I think it is the end of the world going on.”

Yes, it is, Good Man. The snow is coming!

Algebra

As part of my GT endorsement class I had to survey a small group of gifted students on curriculum. I surveyed my math class.

I only have six students in my math class, so it was fairly easy. I told them that I would only use their answers to make math better and I wouldn’t be upset with anything. They must trust me, because I got very honest answers.

Their responses were interesting, funny, and… surprising. Five of my six students said that algebra is their favorite part of math. It’s their favorite thing to do.

What I like MOST about math is: when we solve algebra problems because it helps you in real life.

We should do more word algebra problems because they’re more challenging than the regular algebra.

What I like MOST about math is: Algebra, some I get, and some I don’t. I feel good when I complete it.

When I was in sixth grade, around February, thirty of us (twenty boys and ten girls) started doing seventh grade math. We were with the math specialist and even though I’d always been strong in math, algebra stumped me. Oddly, the teacher had done Hands-On Equations from September through January with Mark and one other student. But when we came through, that went out the window and she made us just memorize all of the steps. I didn’t understand. I remember getting in a huge argument with my mom over it in the car one day.

Plus, under the Chicago Math series, we were allowed to re-test and re-test as many times as we wanted until we got “mastery.” As a teacher in a high-stakes testing environment, I know why this is done. We have to re-teach students until they show mastery. However, as a student, I know that we took advantage of that. What’s the point of studying and trying and learning it the first time if you’re never allowed to fail? (One student asked another teacher at my school, “If I fail this test you’ll just keep me after school and re-teach me, right?” Things don’t really change.)

I did come to love algebra, once we got into more interesting questions—one of my major difficulties was that “x + 7 = 12″ was too stupid to solve step-by-step, so what was the point? (“Mom, they know it’s five. So why write x?!”)

But while I wanted my students to struggle a bit with algebra, I didn’t want them to dread it. So I introduced it like my mother did: as a game, as a puzzle.

And whatever I did worked, because most of my class loves algebra and wants more of it. And even the one who didn’t claim it as his favorite part of math said it’s OK when they’re not “those super long algebra equations […] they just are paper eaters.”

And we’ve gone far, far beyond the one-step equations that the curriculum mandates and onto “set it up, simplify it, and two-step it” word problems.

There are four brothers. The oldest gets $10 more for Christmas than the second oldest, who gets $10 more than the third oldest, who gets $10 more than the youngest. If the total money they receive is $220, how much money does the oldest brother get?

My students know how to set that up, solve it, and check it. And almost all of them like it.

Success!