Seniors graduated a few days ago and I'm making an attempt to be a little more proactive about some things this summer. Mainly addressing some to do items that have been languishing for a few years. Before it starts in earnest, a few final thoughts about the year.

Ten years ago when I informed an advisor from college I was switching to education, his only comment was "well, will be interesting to see how you like teaching Algebra 2 forever." Interestingly enough, there was only a small run where I taught the same thing multiple years in a row. This year's biggest challenge was all the creation that was necessary. At the end, it all turned out pretty well.

College Algebra

I took a giant gamble in January where I decided to stop whole group instruction. Somehow, we made it through the entirety of the second semester and it really wasn't a problem. It required a lot of effort on my part to properly script moves. Accounting for the time kids would take on things was constantly in flux and I was always over or underestimating. Though it felt like there was a lot of wasted time, it could be argued it all evened out because even if it took forever to get kids started, they were doing something quite a lot of the time.

Essentially, I had 4 hours of class time each week and kids had about 3 hours of work to do (exploration, discussion with me, classwork). Early in the week a lot of time was burned with setup as I had to float around and give some introductory information and outline the requirements of the week. Each little pod took a different amount of time to buy what I was selling. In any given week maybe 8-10 kids out of 32 would finish their week's work early and not have a lot to do Friday. This was not ideal, but a reasonable trade off to allow the ones who needed longer to take longer. A mistake on my part is letting a particular group of students set the pacing for everyone some weeks. Often they were taking longer not because they needed to, but because they actively chose to. It was very hard to decide whether I should penalize them for taking forever (and thus make grades about compliance) or surrender the time now to avoid delays in the future (inevitability there'd be an assessment they had 0 clue how to do because I forced them to stop working on a topic). The long term benefit of having everyone in the same ballpark was more valuable than getting into a protracted skirmish with 4 kids (it was highly likely that weaponizing grades would've caused behavior problems from 1 of them).

I am teaching College Algebra again and I think starting with the small group model from the beginning will be interesting. There are a few procedures I can tighten up as well. In the end, teaching this class was a good experience and the students as a whole were very good. There is a lot of joy in helping seniors rediscover an interest in math when a lot of people have told them they aren't good at it.

Calculus AB

The eternal struggle. There's sort of three things going on. Vocab, concepts, and deep mechanical fluency. And you only have time to pick two. I have always chosen to focus on some core fundamentals to the detriment of smaller ones to improve the whole group proficiency. I just don't like leaving kids behind. As a group, there was a lot to like. Many many kids put in a good effort and showed promise during our AP reviews. What that will translate to in July remains to be seen. Last year saw sizable increases and the sense I had was more kids were prepared and at a better level of preparation than last year. Fingers crossed.

There are always new efficiencies to find and I think I've got some we can work on next year. Wrapping my head around presenting good, concise, mathematical arguments was a late game discovery this year, something that will be helpful if we can put it into practice for longer.

Post Exam reactions were fairly positive. The ones who I thought would do well didn't seem too frazzled and the free response questions were incredibly restrained and well within stuff my kids would've known how to do. As I said to them several times (with only a little snark), with 62 people taking the test, I would think more than 2 could pass.

My big goal this summer is to finalize my classwork. I change it so much each year that I think it's finally time to decide what I should be doing and stick with it, as a sanity saver throughout the next school year.

Calculus BC

Probably the biggest questions here. This was our first group of students taking it as a separate class. The sheer scope of the material caught up to a few of them at the end of the year. But they were all incredibly capable students. It would be almost impossible to pick a better group to start a class like this with. They really embraced the task at hand, validating the recommendations they were given to take it.

There was some mild complaining about free response with this group, but after seeing the question they were talking about (#6), I agree with their assessment. We didn't dive into series quite thoroughly enough, so there was a lot of surprise that could've happened in free response scenarios. The big relief was that as with AB, there were minimal comments otherwise. All the students felt like the material was accessible. We also had some very calming conversations about what it takes to show proficiency on this thing and I think that helped. I really hope some of them do well and that there are some universal good results for the whole group.

In their exit comments, they did mention that they'd like assessments to be a little more intense. Throughout the year all of their assessments were collaborative (sometimes with notes, sometimes without). In my mind it made the most sense for such a small group, with only 15 students the grades shouldn't be important, the focus should be on collective understanding. In effect, their request was for me to force them to be stronger individuals, as a few noted that while they understood what was going on, they found themselves becoming dependent on others. Interesting to seem them recognize this with no connection at all to the "I need to know I have a better grade than other people" mindset.

New Frontiers

As the old ones leave, it's time to start thinking about the ones that will come to take their place. I had a meeting with the BC students of 2018-19 and they all seem very excited. Especially when I said not only would they be getting their own personal calculator (not for keeps, but for use throughout the year), but that they could give it a goofy name. Varsity Math is proving a successful recruiting tool, with Statistics numbers finally headed to the right direction (30 next year, up from 9 this year) and kids pumped to be involved in all of our AP offerings. Summer Camp enters year three, and it continues to be a fun way to onboard kids into the Varsity Math universe.

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AuthorJonathan Claydon