I’m teaching math!
I just found out yesterday that part of my teaching load will consist of two sections of Algebra II Honors. I’ll also be teaching two sections of Honors Physics with Kelly O’Shea, which I’m super excited about, but right now, my head is spinning a bit from the newness of teaching math.
Here’s a little background on the Algebra II Honors course at my new (old) school. Algebra II Honors is a course taken mostly by sophomores, after they’ve completed a Exeter-style problem solving course that focuses mostly of geometry in the 9th grade. Students in this course go on to take Precalculus Honors in the 11th grade, which is mostly differential calculus.
The description from the school website reads:
Honors Algebra 2 / Trigonometry
This course covers all of the topics from Algebra 2 in addition to a full treatment of trigonometry. While students consider the properties and applications of each of the major function families in isolation, significant time is also dedicated to the study of function composition and transformations. Prerequisites: Algebra 1 and Geometry, and departmental approval. Text: Larson et al., Algebra and Trigonometry.
One other good thing about teaching this math course is that its that most of our Honors Physics students are enrolled in it, so I’ll likely be teaching a number of my students in both math and physics, which will be a new and exciting experience.
I’m still gathering background information, but as I understand it, this course has historically been a pretty grueling and fast-paced race through functions and trig— a “tools” course, if you will. I’m also still finding out exactly how much leeway I’ll have in terms of approach to this course since I’ll be teaching it with one other teacher who is completely new to the school.
Finally, I’m most excited to be teaching this course so that I can feel like a more legitimate member of the math blogging/twitter community, and feel a bigger payoff for reading so many math blogs. Here are a few thoughts and questions flowing through my head at the moment:
- Standards Based Grading: I really want to do SBG with this class, and I think it will work well since many students will already be enrolled in Honors Physics which will be SBG. I’m wondering if any Algebra II teachers out there have a good collection of standards you’ve used with Algebra II?
- Developing a Theme: Back in the beginning of the year, Dan Goldner asked a question that struck me even when I had nothing to do with math teaching: what’s the theme of Algebra II? The comments on this post are excellent, and Dan followed it up an excellent first stab: Relationships. Another interesting theme is MBP’s, How can we predict the future?
- Writing: I loved Sam’s post on including more writing in Math (and the ugliness that brings). I want to do this, and I’m wondering how to do it with SBG. Should writing be a separate skill for each topic/unit, or should it be folded into the standards so that you haven’t mastered a skill until you can answer problems that ask you to write about it instead of just doing computational work?
- Pitfalls: I imagine a course like Algebra II, is filled with pitfalls. My experience teaching physics has helped me to find many of the misconceptions students have about various physics concepts, and I now find myself not just trying to get students to avoid these, but instead, actively engage and build upon them. Where can I go for similar help in Algebra II?
- Teaching for understanding: Sue Van Hattum recently shared an excellent essay by Richard Skemp on the difference between relational and instrumental understanding. This article clearly articulates that learners can often operate with two completely different ideas of what it means to understand. Too often, students teachers can get into the trap of teaching procedural understanding how to manipulate a particular equation or follow an algorithm (instrumental understanding), and completely neglect any deeper understanding of why a particular algorithm works or its place in a larger framework of understanding (relational understanding). I see this all the time in physics, and am pretty well attuned to how to identify instrumental understanding in my students, but I imagine it’s going to take much more work on my part to do this as easily in mathematics.
- Preparing for the future: In a little more than a year after my students enter my classroom, they’ll be taking derivatives and powering their ways through related rates problems. What things can I do in my class to help make sure my students are best prepared for success in this curriculum?
- Instilling a love for math: As Kelly mentions below, Algebra II in general, and this course in particular are often seen as “weed-out” courses where students decide (or are told) that they are not “math people” and leave the class with a feeling math isn’t for them, or worse, that they can’t do it. This is something I want to avoid at all costs. I can certainly see SBG and coherent theme helping with this goal, as well as a bunch of other outside the class ideas like MArTH Maddness or even having the class start up a Saturday Math circle for local kids, but I think this is something that needs to be woven deeply into the structure of the curriculum as well.
That’s it for now. I’m sure I’m going to have many more posts as I begin to dive into preparing for this course, and I appreciate any wisdom you might be able to share to help guide me on this new adventure.