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SuccessMy year is almost over.  I’m not complaining, but I felt the strain of teaching too many different courses (Honors Physics, AP Calculus, 2 Robotics & Engineering classes, and Algebra 2).  Every day was a scramble to prep for class, make copies, and grade papers;  it took away from the time I got to spend interacting with the students.  Despite my insanity, I had a few notable successes.  Here are just two:

Story #1

I recently got two emails from the mother of a student.  Let’s call him Pete (no, it’s not his real name).  If you had asked me the first quarter of the year, I would have told you Pete was going to fail Algebra 2.  In fact, I was certain he was going to fail.  The first email came about a month ago:

Good morning. Just wanted to thank you for helping Pete with tutoring. He has come home excited about getting better grades in your
class. It is nice to see him working towards getting those “4’s”, and really wanting to keep his grade up. Thank you again for your time and encouragement.

And then just this week:

Good Morning, once again just want to thank you for helping Pete realize that with hard work he can “Master” things in math and life.
I was proud to hear that even though he was not feeling well on Thursday, he found a way to make it to the school to take a quiz, he didn’t want you
to think he was slacking.

Pete started staying after school for help one or two days a week for the last several months.  Sometimes he would just work out problems on the board for an hour.  Some days he took a quiz.  I never forced him to stay, I didn’t do anything except set expectations and keep the bar high.  Pete’s motivation developed as he starting mastering a single concept.  Little by little he started to have some success.  It was new to him, and he liked it.  The final is two days from now, but Pete will pass the course.

Story #2

Let’s call this guy Paul.  Paul was a royal pain-in-the-ass for the first half of the year.  I don’t think Paul had ever had any success in math.  He was a victim of “learned helplessness” and was often a belligerent student.  Paul is planning on going into the union and didn’t see much need to do anything beyond basic math.  It was pretty clear that if he was going to pass my class, it wasn’t going to be by much.

I didn’t give up on Paul, I made him work every class.  It took a while, but he mastered a single concept.  A little success made a huge difference in his outlook and after a short time, he mastered another concept.  Then something truly amazing happened.  Paul’s friends started asking him for help and his confidence started to grow.  With only a few weeks of school remaining, the students in the National Honor Society were asking Paul for help.  Whenever Paul was asked for help by his peers, I would make it a point of asking him how it felt.  I’ll take some of the credit for Paul’s turnaround, but I know for a fact that if I used traditional grading methods, he would have never mastered anything this year and would possibly be doing it all again in summer school.

 Epilog

I think if there is a moral to these stories it’s that students will rise to meet expectations.  Set the bar low and they will easily reach it.  Set the bar high and they will struggle, learn from their failures, and gain confidence in themselves.  But consistency is important.  If you start down the path to SBG and wavier or back down, you’ve permanently lowered the bar in the students’ eyes.  Don’t do it.

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kuta imageI started teaching yet another course a my high school this year, actually two other courses if you count teaching at the community college.  In addition to Physics, AP Calculus, and Robotics & Engineering, I’m also teaching a section of Algebra 2.  My fellow math teachers have been using Kuta Software for the past couple of years, but it didn’t have a Calculus module, so I never got to play.  When I was assigned Algebra 2, I was given the license codes and found they now have a calculus module as well.

I’ve used other software in the past, but Kuta is just fantastic.  I can create a custom worksheet for homework, quizzes, and tutoring in under a minute.  Each section of problems has different options.  For example, multi-step equations let you decide if there are variables on one or two sides, if they have to distribute once or twice or not at all.  Each concept has lots of other specific controls, but you can also just use their Easy, Medium, and Hard problem selection button.

If you have a worksheet or quiz already made, just select a problem, hit the space bar, and the problem changes, but stays within the parameters you set.  This is perfect for Standard-Based Grading where you need another quiz.  Just open an old one, select each problem and space bar, and you have a brand new quiz.  Of course it can also generate multiple versions at once.

I can go on and on.  Visit their site at http://www.kutasoftware.com and look at the free worksheets.  Then download the 14 day trial and play.  I can’t say enough good things about this software.  We purchased unlimited 3 or 5 year licenses for Pre-Algebra through Algebra 2, and a single license for Calculus.  I wasn’t part of the purchasing, but it seems like there are more purchase options than are shown on the web page.


What’s New in 2013/2014?

Every year brings a change, this one is no exception.

I will be picking up the sophomore honors Algebra II class to keep them separate from the juniors. This should help accelerate them and put them on a stronger track towards Calculus. Looks like there will be only one section each of Physics and Calculus, but still two of Robotics & Engineering.

Hot topics this year are going to be the Common-Core Standards, Standards-Based Grading (SBG), improving AP Calculus scores, and somehow adding Python, maybe as a club.

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