It’s been a while since I wrote about my problem child – the super multi-level Geometry class which I co-teach, and to which I am dedicated not only as a matter of course, but as a matter of principle as my principal (sorry!) seems to believe that ‘lower third’ students don’t need Geometry. We completed a unit on Transformations successfully; the students not only performed well on a standard assessment (exam), but also created some lovely Coat of Arms projects.
The class runs fairly smoothly on a daily basis, and there is a comfort level and mutual respect between the students, and between the class and me. My co-teacher has not fared as well, unfortunately, despite our efforts to demonstrate to the students that we share leadership of the classroom; he has conducted lessons, circulates regularly, greets students at the door, and assists them during group work. But when I am not in the room (as during a recent sick day), he is unable to keep them working. Perhaps there needs to be two teachers in the room at all times. I’m not sure. I do know, however, that the classroom would not run as smoothly if he weren’t there.
The unit after Transformations is on Similarity, and it has been tough going. I have been using guided note sheets to facilitate the note-taking process. But what started as a welcome support, I find, has become a rote activity which can replace actual participation in the classroom. Most of the students follow along the lesson and fill in the sheets, but many don’t seem to be processing what they are writing, and/or misplace the sheets after the lesson. The students who are using them as I intended, as a resource to which they can refer, would probably take thorough notes without them. Yesterday, I was trying to finish reviewing the similarity shortcuts [thinking to myself how boring my delivery was], and ran out of time for any substantive practice. I left the class dissatisfied with the direction the class has taken.
I need to interject here that the direct lessons are interspersed with groupwork and explorations, such as this volume/area/similarity exploration we completed the day before. But I can’t seem to get a rhythm I am happy with in this unit (I didn’t feel this way during Transformations). During my Common Planning meeting yesterday, I met with my mentor to discuss progress, or lack thereof, and to re-adjust the overall plan for this class. She has conducted weekly observations, and her feedback has been supportive and invaluable; she always points out the ‘bright spots’ she sees, and her method of brainstorming is to elicit ideas from me and offer broad suggestions, which we then discuss and rehash until a clear direction emerges.
She also noticed that the notesheets, which had been so helpful a few weeks ago, seemed to be dragging the class down. I decried the lack of practice time, during which I felt the students would be more engaged with each other and the content. I realized, as we were talking, that walking through the Similarity shortcuts as theorems was not a fruitful exercise [I think]; we will spend very little time on formal proof of similar triangles, and a lot of time problem-solving, in both applied and abstract exercises.
What is the best way to deliver this content? The explorations are engaging, but don’t necessarily lead to the specific conclusions that I want the students to be able to apply elsewhere. And clearly many of them need a lot of scaffolding in order to complete the practice exercises. My mentor suggested that I give the students the practice work and resources for the required content, and let them work in groups to complete them. With two teachers in the room, and an introduction to the material, as long as they were cooperating with one another, she believes, they will make progress. Work can be differentiated according to our observations and the individual learning goals of the students. And we can debrief, share, recap – whatever – as a class to review any new ideas that are central to the work.
This idea was born out of the need for us to complete the curriculum for those students who were planning on taking the Regents exam, and a desire to give all of the students an appreciation for Geometry and more confidence in their ability to progress in a math classroom.
Finally, I want to create opportunities for those students who are not satisfied with their grades to demonstrate progress in a manner that they have more control over. I thought of tossing the ball into their court, and telling them to figure out a way to show me this, but again, I know this will be a huge challenge for many of them (especially those that need this option). One option is to create a choice board that will provide rigorous but approachable activities from which they can choose.
I know these are all good ideas, but here’s the thing, right now, at the end of March: This is one prep of three that I have this term, including a class I have never taught before. This class has taken all of my energy and resourcefulness, and to be honest, I am feeling somewhat burnt out. So I am looking for suggestions, reflections (beyond these), any ideas related to how to keep this class vital, differentiated, rich in Geometry, while ensuring that I make it through the year.