A Risk I’m Taking

My first meetings of the school year are today. Students and their families will be in full force on Monday, and then the first day of classes is Tuesday, September 4th. Thus will begin my 19th year of teaching.

I will be teaching three sections (out of five) of Geometry (from CPM, a new curriculum for us), the one section of Precalculus Honors, and the one section of Advanced Topics (an elective, consisting of a handful of mostly seniors, with AP Calc as a co-requisite).

This year will be a little strange, as I go on sabbatical for the second half (starting December 20th). This has presented the department with some staffing challenges. We have someone taking over Geometry and Precalculus Honors from me, but no one to take Advanced Topics. At the end of last year, I was tasked with finding “something for them to do” in the second half that they would be able to work on mostly independently. As you can imagine, this was hard to do. I did not want them to “just watch online videos” to “learn” some new topic and then… do what? Present the material to the class? Teach it to their classmates? To what end? What student would be invested in this?

I wanted the ethos that I try to instill in them—what doing math is really all about—to remain even after I’ve left. No small order. Eventually I settled on this plan:

We will use two volumes from the Teacher Program Series published by the AMS (mostly written by the four Math-Yodas of EDC and PCMI: Bowen Kerins, Darryl Yong, Glenn H. Stevens, and Al Cuoco). These volumes are based on the problem sets that secondary teachers in the PCMI program work on every day. They are structured very carefully so as to allow the participants to do most of the discovering and connection-making themselves, through trying to solve the problems. Up through December, I will see them through Volume 3: Famous Functions in Number Theory. They will work on one problem set per week, and all the while I will talk with them about the spirit of the course and the text, and prepare them for the second half of the year, when they will work, mostly on their own, on Volume 4: Some Applications of Geometric Thinking.

It’s risky, and I still haven’t totally hammered out all the administrative nitty-gritty (i.e., what will assessments look like?), but I am feeling good about it. Definitely more so than if I had tried to get them to do something more traditional. I will keep you posted as to how it goes…

7 thoughts on “A Risk I’m Taking

  1. Lisa Winer says:

    This is crazy because I teach a class called honors problem-solving seminar and these two questions were on my last problems. It is great to hear that other people are thinking about it too!

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