As an avid reader of Teacher Internet™, you may think it's all wild innovation and maker spaces in the math universe. Not so! Every day we all have very uninteresting procedures we have to implement, the real workhorse of any classroom. It's the inescapable part you don't read much about. At some point, you have to put away the VR goggles and 3D printers and give an assignment. In my attempt at College Algebra this year, I do exactly that, a lot.

My audience is ~30 kids split into two classes. That's really small, for me anyway. When there's only 15 people in the room, everyone gets face time for as long as any kid could possibly want.

And some of them take all they can get. Another feature of this audience is they're all extremely capable, but we're all over the place in terms of how long it takes for stuff to click and get assignments done. One kid is over and done with the task at hand in 10 seconds, where another needs 5 minutes. Adding to the challenge is just who is super speedy varies depending on the task. It is a weird environment.

Number one message I send to this group is I don't care at all how long it takes you to do something, I want you to understand what you're doing at the end of the task. If that means we're in 15 different places some times, that's fine. Most of these kids have been fighting the speed thing for years, I think it's time to give them a break.

How do you accommodate such a group? With work time, tons of it. I think I stand and talk in front of this group like 20 minutes a week, tops. The rest of the time they're working on problem sets. It is, by far, incredibly uninteresting. But uninteresting != boring.

Yeah, they work all the time, but the tasks are varied. There's some solving, some listing, some writing, and some graphing depending on what we're doing. And at no point are they working on a task to the point of exhaustion. Enter my go to format this year: 9-6-3.

Take a skill, have them perform it on 9 items, do an extension on 6 of those items, and finish with an analysis task for 3 items. Based on my observations the first few weeks of the year, this format keeps everyone at a similar overall pace despite their varied work speeds. 95% of the kids can complete all of that in the time allotted. Although 5% won't quite finish, they really get the ones they dd because they were given the time to sit and contemplate for a while. There's like 10-15% who finish pretty fast and without any prompting by me will be helping other kids around them.

I think the biggest success in this format is other than the initial "do this for all 9" the remainder of the choices are up to the kid. I'll do similar tasks with "here are 6, pick 4." I'm sure there's something in here about choice theory or something, but the kids put up no protests under this system. The kids take ownership here, managing their time to make sure they can do what's expected. That's the other big component, an inspection always comes and they know it. My inspections aren't a big deal, but it's a little thing that sends a big signal: I want you to try something and I want to see how you tried.

In the end all the kids get in reps, they aren't exhausted, and the ones who need to ask a ton of questions have ample time to ask their questions.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon