Thursday, May 3, 2012

Life as a Math Teacher

Eighth grade here is a combination of Earth Science and pre-physics.  The first half of the year is spent teaching the dull and unexciting (at least to most of my students) minutae of rocks and the rock cycle and geologic time.  There are highlights- we get to talk about natural disasters and I have an earthquake simulator in my classroom, which is pretty neat.  We get to talk about outer space- see my Mission Impossible Unit. :)  The last portion of the year is physical.  We talk about speed, acceleration, Newton's 3 laws, and waves.  Some of it seems pretty abstract to them, but these are some of my favorite labs of the year.  I mean, we arm wrestled to demonstrate Newton's 3 Laws, and I know that my kids will never forget that (I hope). 

 I always thought that my math teachers were a bit of a nag as far as units and showing my work went.  I generally showed my work so that I could get partial credit even if I got the answer wrong, but I just didn't see the big deal about any of it.  Why were they constantly harping on us to show our work and write in the units?

I get it now.  Having to teach these latter part of the year standards, I'm having to teach and apply a lot of math.  For a couple of weeks, the kids kept trying to tell me that it was science and not math class.  They stopped doing that pretty quickly when I kept telling them that science is all subjects.  It probably annoyed them.  The kids that are low in math really struggle, but I've been working closely with my math teacher on strategies, trying to figure out how he taught various concepts that I might approach differently, etc., and they DO seem to be catching on.  Unfortunately, karma has come back around and given me a classroom full of students like me.  Even when I model and then we do problems together, the kids don't write down the units and rarely show their work.  Regardless of whether I say "Make sure you write down your units with your answer" 1,000 times, 9 out of 10 of them aren't going to do it because they don't think it's important.  I've gotten a lot of them to show their work because I explained that I can't tell how to help them improve if they don't show their work because I won't be able to see what exactly is confusing them or where they're going wrong.  Most of them want to improve because we're in the 4th 9 weeks and they need to recover from their 3rd 9 weeks slump and finish the year with a good average.  Units, units, units.  I do the broken record thing where I repeat the same word, phrase, or sentence numerous times, generally until the kids are screaming at me that they've got it. :)  I figure hey, I'll stop when they all write it down, and the more they hear it, the more likely they are to remember it. 

Anyway- thanks to all my math teachers out there for tolerating me, being patient with me, reteaching me, and just generally helping me get to this point in my life.  Thank you to all the math teachers who are so collaborative with their teammates, and thank you to anyone that teaches cross-curricula.  It helps me out a TON.  I love cross-curricular lessons, but that's probably because science uses so many stems and so much math, and honestly, I can relate a fair bit of it to social studies through practice problems and science history.  I really appreciate it, and I get it now.  I'll always write my units.  It's ingrained in me now, especially after teaching and stressing the importance of units to my students.  We're getting there!

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