Reading over my last post reminded me of a conversation I had yesterday.
I subbed for an Anatomy & Physiology class yesterday. For the record, I have a real appreciation for anyone who subs on block scheduling. Trying to keep a class of high schoolers doing what a teacher left for them for 90 minutes is no easy task when you are their teacher, and subs have it worse. But going into this class, the teacher had told me that this is the best group of kids and that “They all want to be there.” This was immediately evident. Since the teacher knew she was going to be out, she had told them what they needed to do beforehand. Some of them had already started before I got in the room. They ALL worked on their required work the entire time. And it wasn’t just some “here’s some busy work to fill the time” work. It was legit Anatomy & Physiology work, from what I could tell. Groups were working together and helping each other. In the end, the groups had all finished and were just talking about the class and how they were all planning on going on to college to be doing something in the medical field. Everyone was respectful, everyone did their work, and everyone was happy.
I think the fact that they all chose to take that class makes a HUGE difference in the culture of the class. I see it in my College Algebra and mostly my Calculus class. When students are taking an elective that they chose, they are automatically bought in. That whole “how do I motivate them?” question was already answered at registration.
I have said this to a bunch of teachers in my school but I am constantly blown away by my College Algebra class. In my school, students are only required to take 3 years of math to graduate. The college counselor warns them, though, that most colleges want 4 years of math. Algebra I is required to graduate, too. Most students do Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II and then after that can choose if they want to take another math class (some students do come in placed into Geometry, so they have to make a choice their junior year). Their choices are PreCalculus, College Algebra, Calculus, or Applied Technical Math. The drop for seniors in math is big. I have some seniors in Algebra II because they took a year off of math, but the choices for a 4th math class probably don’t look all that appealing to a lot of the seniors.
I also notice a big difference in attitudes in my Calculus and College Algebra courses. In both classes, these students all plan to go to college. In both classes, they’ve chosen to be there. But in my Calculus class, these students are scared to fail – they’ve mostly never failed before and Calculus is their first hard math class. College Algebra, on the other hand, is filled with students who recognize that they enjoy math and want to be prepared for college, but are not at the level of Calculus at this point. This means my College Algebra students are welcome to getting help and working with each other. They are willing to experiment and do things differently than what they’ve done in other math classes. They have the best collective attitude out of all my classes.
It makes me wonder what we are doing to kids by forcing them to take classes to graduate. I know that at bigger schools there are more choices for math classes (we’ll be adding a one semester Statistics class next year and cutting College Algebra down to one semester). I wish we could be more accommodating to students by allowing them to take what they are really interested in. I’m not saying that math isn’t important for everyone, but I just wish there was more choice in what type of math students could do. What other math classes do your schools offer?
La curiosité pour le sujet est la source de la motivation en classe.