Apr 17, 2008

The history teacher can still do math!

"All the history teachers in the house who can do algebra say HO-OOOO!" "HO-OOOO!!!"

I been tutoring an 8th grader in algebra. He's a bright young man, and he has a great attitude about working with me and trying his best to do better in his class. He's got a strong case of ADD and struggles with keeping focused long enough to do the more complex problems, like solving systems of equations. He also seems to have some dyslexia-like reading problems.

He seems to have a good supportive environment at school - an aware math teacher, plus a special ed teacher who works fairly closely with him on how to modify his assignments. I find the idea of modifications challenging. Often it amounts to doing fewer problems, such as just doing the first couple in each set. But attention problems aside, what this student needs is MORE problems, not LESS. He won't learn it by doing three problems instead of 8 - but he might learn by doing 20 instead of 8. But that feels punitive, and it's impractical to give him triple homework.

One thing I find most interesting and difficult about helping him is he pretty well grasps the new concepts his class is learning, but he struggles with simple foundational math, on which the new stuff relies. He understands how to solve for y in the inequality -- but doesn't know his times tables (3x4?), and isn't solid in how to modify by a negative number. So we spend time on both, trying to shore up multiplication, both conceptually and just memorizing, and also working on new concepts. It's a great lab opportunity for my teaching. I can really attend to things like how to vary explanations so that if the first way doesn't make sense, a 2nd way will. And we have a hugely simplified environment: one student, one tutor, quiet environment with minimal distractions, no test pressure, and an agreeable motivated student. It's also great practice for working on teaching something that comes easy for me. Math's always been easy, so it's hard for me to relate personally to struggling with understanding it, or with learning times tables. So I can push myself on understanding exactly what he's clear on and where his struggle lies.

[It also makes it clear to me how much teaching is teaching, no matter the subject. Teaching kids math and teaching kids history are both teaching kids, and the subject matter is secondary.]

It's been a while, but I'm going back to the high school teaching next week. Woohoo! That is where the action is, and I can't wait to get back. I dreamed recently that it was my first day back and I was telling the class "Hey, you guys! I'm back! I'm so happy to be here again! Let's get going!" I woke up smiling, and thought "right on". It'll be a month of economics for 12th graders, who are so very very close to getting out of high school (jail) that they're counting minutes to graduation. Won't that be conducive to learning....