Monday, September 4, 2017

Making Sense Of Solving Systems... with #360Math

It's the beginning of the new school year... again. And my new set of students are at it again.
They work in groups of two and write their last names above their heads on the board so I know who's working on what. I am teaching Algebra 1B again this year. Yes, I honestly don't enjoy teaching this class. But I want to make the best of everything. I've been using 360 math for a few years now. It's getting popular among my teacher friends and I get to talk to many teachers about the benefits of it all.

But my friends always ask me.

"Do you really have 100 percent participation?"
"What if you have a student who is really resistant?"
"What if a student really doesn't care?"
"Do you use 360math everyday?"

Come on, friends.

360math is better than what we are making our students do on their notebooks. No. Students have bad days and some students really don't care. So I don't get 100 percent participation everyday in every class. And no. If I use 360math everyday, it will be the same as taking notes in their notebook everyday. We all know we get tired of monotony. We all know we have other hands on activities that doesn't require students stuck to the board. And yes. I'm sorry. I also do traditional lectures about once a week. But I make it short and have them run straight to the boards afterwards.

I think this is my fifth year using 360math. Every year I told myself that my students are not even capable of solving systems. So then why do I waste my time having them solve systems using word problems? I tried skipping word problems altogether. My colleagues would agree with me. I knew I was right. I felt it was the previous math teachers' fault.

But you see, I have a daughter who is in 6th grade. And a son who is in 5th grade. And I help them with math at home.

I realized my kids have a hard time with word problems. I wasn't going to blame their teachers for this.

So this year, I decided that I'm going to use word problems 80 percent of the time in my classroom. Cuz I want my students to stop asking me where they would use math in the real world. I believe I'm at week 4 in the school year. I've only spent 2 days WITHOUT word problems.

Students tell me I make their life difficult. They say they feel like they're in an English class. But no one has yet asked me how Algebra is used in the real world.

I started week one with this question from my Pearson textbook. I just introduced the rules of using the board in pairs. I didn't teach anything. I told them to do whatever they want on the boards to solve this question and give me an answer. My students were lost. They just drew the picture they saw on the board.

It was the third day of school so they all tried to do something for me. I walked up to some groups and some knew the answer already. I told them to show me the work on the board. Then I asked them if they could maybe make me a table or a graph. We spent a whopping four days on the board with the same question with me walking around and suggesting they do certain things until we came up with a table, a graph and an equation.

Some students complained that I'm a horrible teacher because I didn't teach them anything. Others felt good about themselves because I was apparently not a teacher and somehow they figured out how to solve this.

On the fifth day, I had them sit on their desks and take notes from me. Students told me I am teaching only because I am afraid they will snitch on me to the principal. I told them to go snitch anyway. I tried to help the students understand what the x and the y axis means, what the y intercept and the slope represents. And I had them explain the answer they found in words so other people who do not know Algebra would understand them.

On the sixth day, I gave them 5 word problems. Three weeks already passed. They only solved about one problem a day. They took their first test. There was only one word problem on the test. I do not need more than one to see if they got that one standard or not.

I was really shocked to learn that most students know how to graph and get the answer, but do not know what the slope represents, what the x and y axis represents and even what the answer means. But for some reason, the lower level students who didn't know how to graph got the correct answer and knew what it represented. They used tables to get their answer.

I don't know if my students are learning more. I don't know if I am doing the right thing. But I know that the SBAC tests students on communicating and reasoning. I am a math CAASPP rater and I know that even if my students don't know how to graph, if they can get to the answer, they'll get credit on many portions of the performance task as long as they understand what they are reading and have a working strategy to get to the answer.

So here it is. My new use of #360math. Having students make sense of everything behind the numbers. And I pledge to use at least 80 percent of my time teaching word problems to my students so they understand that numbers are just another representation of information we use everyday.