I realize it's still April. Our last day of school is May 14th. But, I'm already thinking about next year. In fact, I'm thinking a lot about next year. Things I want to do. Things I don't want to do. Things I need to do. Things I should think about doing.
Here's the deal. Oklahoma is changing standards next year. Originally, we were a PARCC state. Next year is supposed to be our first year of full implementation of Common Core. Except, we decided to not call it Common Core. We're calling them the Oklahoma Academic Standards (OAS). I referred to them as Common Core the other day in the presence of our elementary principal, and I got yelled at. I'm sorry. Changing the name does not change what they are.
Then, Oklahoma decided that we don't have the necessary technology infastructure for PARCC testing. So, we will write our own test that aligns with PARCC and CCSS/OAS. All was fine and well. Then, this month, the Oklahoma senate approved a repeal of Common Core. Instead of teaching CCSS/OAS, Oklahoma is supposedly going to write their own standards that are more rigorous than Common Core. As a teacher, this is frustrating. I just want to know what I'm supposed to be teaching. Will we teach/test CCSS for a few years while writing our own standards? Or will we jump directly into new standards that haven't even been written yet? I doubt we will go back to our old PASS standards, but it seems like anything can happen lately. How can I prepare to provide the best education possible to my students when we keep changing our minds?!?
So, I tell you all this to say, I'm still not exactly sure what I'm teaching next year. I'm teaching Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Trig/Pre-Calculus. But, exactly what those classes will consist of is still up in the air. I may not have a for-sure set of standards for next year, but I do know this:
Next year, I will NOT spend class time teaching integer operations.
I teach in a school with a history of poor academic achievement. For the past two years, I have spent at least a week in Algebra 1 on adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing integers. And, I'm sick of it. This is one of those concepts that is first introduced in 6th or 7th grade in Oklahoma. I should not have to teach it in high school. This year, I gave my Algebra 1 kiddos integer speed tests. 64 questions. 4 minutes. I told them that they were going to take one every day until they passed. After a week, I gave up. Not a single student could even finish the test in 4 minutes.
I've got to raise the bar. Every day in my class is valuable. And, I could teach so much more if I can regain that week of review. Because let's face it: reviewing integers is the biggest waste of time. They've heard the explanation a million times before. The ones who need the most help are the quickest ones to tune me out. After all, a negative and a negative make a positive. Somehow they missed out on the fact that it only works that way when you are multiplying or dividing. -3 - 7 does not equal positive 10!
This year, I attempted to go back to the basics. We did exploratory activities with algebra tiles. I saw a few light bulbs go off, but there was not enough light put off to justify the insane amount of time that was spent learning how to use the algebra tiles. Last year, I made foldables and taught my students memorization tricks. That didn't work any better.
Over the course of the year, most of my students seem to (finally!) internalize the rules for integers. Maybe it was my incessant singing of "Same signs add and keep. Different signs subtract. Keep the sign of the bigger number. Then, you'll be exact" every time someone made a mistake with adding/subtracting integers this year that helped???
When I took Calculus I in college, we had two gateway exams that were in addition to our 3 regular exams. One gateway exam was over differentiation, and the other gateway exam was over integration. If I remember correctly, there were 20 questions, and you were required to get 18 or more correct to pass. Each gateway exam was taken for the first time in class. If you passed, you were done! If you did not pass, you were allowed up to four additional chances to take and pass the exam. These had to be done outside of class time, and they were scheduled with the professor or TA. If you could not pass the gateway exam, your final grade would automatically be dropped one letter grade.
I want to take the strategy and apply it to integer operations. I will give the first integer operations test in class. The tests will be graded and passed back to the students. Students who score below a 90% must re-test. Re-tests must happen on their own time. And, there will be a set date that students must demonstrate mastery of integer operations by. Ideally, I want 100% of my students to demonstrate mastery of integer operations by the beginning of September. We start school in mid-August. This means I will have to get on this ASAP!
Students who make less than a 90% on their integer operations test will be provided with a list of websites, online games, flash cards, etc. that they can use to practice with. I will also be available to help them before school, after school, or at lunch. Students who have not demonstrated integer mastery by the beginning of September will be required to log 1 hour of integer practice in my classroom each week until they pass. This time can be spent before school, during lunch, or after school. This is going to be absolutely 100% non-negotiable. Students who do not log their hour of practice in my classroom will be given mandatory lunch detention until mastery is achieved.
This accomplishes multiple things. It communicates to students that integer operations are an important concept for algebra success. It communicates that this is something that students should have learned in middle school. It also communicates that if they didn't learn it in middle school, then I am here to help them. I care so much about their success that I am willing to inconvenience myself to help them master their integer operations. I am identifying a weakness that I see in the students at my school as a whole. And, instead of lamenting the weakness, I'm acknowledging it and providing practice opportunities and support.
I want students to take control of their own learning before that first gateway exam. I will provide them study materials, practice tests, and links to online resources. They can assess their own needs. My students are capable of so much more than I give them credit for. It's time I let them show me what they can achieve when they set their mind to it.
For my Algebra 2 students, I think their gateway exam needs to cover exponent rules. I should not have to spend a week reteaching exponent rules to Algebra 2 students.
Have you ever done anything like this with your students? Do you see any changes I need to make? I'm very open to constructive feedback. My teaching style is slowly morphing, and I think it's a good change!
P.S. This blog post did not go where I planned for it go at all. I started writing this post to tell you about an awesome new game I learned about at my last Math Teachers' Circle meeting. I will be using it to emphasize integer operations and the order of operations. That'll have to wait until tomorrow, though!