Monthly Archives: August 2012

What Every First-Year Teacher Should Know

When you step into that high school mathematics classroom for the first time, and your major concern is classroom management (because let’s face it, it is), you fall back onto what’s comfortable – showing everyone within earshot how good you are at math. While this is a comfortable place for you, the first-year teacher, to be, it’s not very interesting for most of the students in your classroom. Here’s my short list of what every first-year teacher should know ( in no particular order):

  • Make sure that all of your students are engaged in some meaningful mathematics. Then you don’t have to worry as much about behaviors.
  • Getting students to do the math doesn’t mean that you’ve given up control of your classroom. In fact, it allows you the opportunity to observe and listen so that you can direct your class in a more meaningful way.
  • Having students work collaboratively to make sense of mathematics or to solve problems isn’t cheating. It’s giving them practice at working with others, a life skill that’s possibly more important than the content you’re trying to teach. Today’s students have to learn different skills than what you learned when you were in high school.
  • Assessment is more than written tests and quizzes. There are lots of opportunities for formative assessment – observing, listening, discussing. Summative assessments don’t always have to come at the end of a chapter. Assessments can be creative. Remember, they are opportunities for your students to show you what they know. They are not opportunities for you to say, “Gotcha.”
  • Listen to parents and students. You’ll be amazed at what they tell you if you ask.
  • Finally, and probably most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues for help or guidance. That’s what we’re here for.

Good luck! And let me know if I can help.

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The Evolution of a Teacher

When I began teaching high school mathematics in 1988, there were no such things as affordable graphing calculators. A mere four years later, I had a classroom set of TI-81 graphing calculators.

Actually, in my second year, one of my Honors Calculus students showed me his HP Graphing Calculator. It looked nothing like what we would all soon know as graphing calculators. It had this tiny screen that handled about four lines of text – amazing by 1989 standards – and it had two keypads that were connected across a folding spine. Amazing!

So, five years into my teaching career, I have this classroom set of graphers – TI-81’s. What was I supposed to do with them? I mean, I had taught Algebra 1, I knew what the kids were supposed to learn. They had to learn how to draw graphs of lines. They had to learn how to manipulate symbols. How was this new device supposed to help without undermining me? I didn’t have a clue. Sure, it was cool, but the kids were supposed to be able to manipulate a pencil and a ruler – not this new, cool device. It’s not that I was anti-calculator; I was new. And I didn’t want to lose my job. But this was too interesting a tool not to use. So I learned. I read – journal articles. It was 1993, after all. Web? What’s that?

I bought my own graphing calculator: A TI-85. I know a lot of people didn’t like that model, but I did. I liked the menus. I liked what it could do that the TI-81 couldn’t. But it was more expensive, so schools went with the TI-81, which evolved into the TI-82, TI-83, TI-83 Plus, and TI-84 Plus Silver and TI-89 Titanium. That line has been pretty much developed out. It’s where we are right now. We’re comfortable. We know how to use them – as teachers, as students, as test developers. We use them to analyze graphs, to solve systems of equations, to crunch data, and manipulate algebraic symbols, if we have a CAS.

In 2006, I received an invitation to participate in a field test of a new piece of TI classroom technology: The TI-Nspire. Never heard of it; jumped at the chance. It was both computer software and handheld device. Literally. The first exposure my students had to the TI-Nspire was at a computer in the lab. At the time, I couldn’t imagine how this new tool would revolutionize my classroom. Frankly, the first models were so clunky, that I just wanted my TI-84 Plus Silver. But they (at TI) listened to us – we teachers in the field test and my students, too. There were some things were really didn’t like – those green alpha buttons – and things we really liked – being able to grab and move function graphs around, for example. Think about that for a second. We could grab a graph and move it around the screen, changing the slope or changing the y-intercept. As we did that, the function rule would change. That means that I could graph a line, grab it, move it, and see the effect on the rule. Holy cow! That’s a game changer. There was so much that this new device could do, my head was spinning. After all, it’s just a tool. If I can’t use it to teach something, then what’s the point? How was I to make the best, most effective use of this new tool? Still working on that. Every day.

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Well, here we go.

I’m not exactly sure what I hope to accomplish with this. I can’t imagine that anyone would care about what I might have to say about teaching. But maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe this isn’t for others. Maybe it’s really just for me. So, what do I hope to accomplish? Hmm. I’ll have to think about that one.

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