Miracles really can happen for a math teacher.
The roster: 25 students who had previously failed the first half of Geometry, had lousy attendance, thought they didn’t “need” Geometry, still didn’t grasp basic algebra or even foundational arithmetic skills, hadn’t passed prior math SOL’s.
The assignment: Teach the entire geometry course in four months and get students to pass the Virginia state administered Standards of Learning (SOL) test.
Admin wanted a miracle.
The Ultimate Math Teacher Plan
My plan: Every day, when students arrived at class, they found their seats based on the location of their classroom math folders, which had been pre-placed by me. That’s right, different assigned seating every single class. I didn’t want anyone to get comfortable or to form alliances, and I didn’t want the students to know from whom they could consistently cheat.
Those folders? Yesterday’s graded classwork and today’s worksheets. So, if a student paid attention and recorded work during class, easy 100% when he opened the folder the next day. If he hadn’t, well, bummer; then he’d better adjust if he hoped to pass the class this time around.
How to earn points in math
Kids earned points for coming to class, for NOT taking bathroom breaks, for having a good attitude, for having a calculator on their desk when the bell rang. I actually gave points for that kind of stuff.
But homework? Well, that was not really a point opportunity because these kids made it clear that they were never going to practice geometry outside of class.
Then there was the same formula test that they completed EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. At the beginning of the semester, I figured that they had already been taught half of the formulas (before they failed the initial geometry class), and I chose to pretend that they had mastered them. We called them the easy half. I’d say, “Where is that formula on our sheet?” In unison, they’d yell, “It’s easy.” My cheerleading skills were coming in handy.
Miraculous math teacher dream
I went to sleep one night, worried that they would never learn the differences between a rhombus and a rectangle. Apparently I was dreaming about it because, no joke, I woke up with a poem. I taught them my precious iambically pentameter-less poem. Because I’m all about cross-training math with English. 😊
Rhombus, rhombus, it’s like a slanted square,
Diagonals in the middle? Make right angles there.
Diagonals in the corners? Cut those angles in half,
Rectangles can’t do any of that. Rectangles, kiss my aff.
Some of you might say, “You can’t do that.” Nevertheless, I did. Since I’m in a confession state of mind, you should know that I taught SOHCAHTOA as “Some Old Hippy Caught a High Tripping on Acid,” too. Don’t judge me. These kids needed an out of the box way to remember.
Never stop teaching
We knew every calculator trick and problem type in the book. The tricks and types were named after students. I’d work extra closely with a particular student to get him to be an expert on one small topic. When someone didn’t know how to do a problem type, Circle Sammy, Paralleling Patricia, or even Complementary Kevin would provide the expertise. That way, kids learned that someone else in class besides me knew the answer…so they wanted to know it, too. They learned to picture Sammy with his answers to circle problems or Patricia with her interior/exterior antics.
We worked countless SOL style questions to learn patterns of solutions and work-arounds for math. I’m embarrassed to say that it was all about the test.
Finally, the day of the test arrived. I showed up in a borrowed school cheerleader uniform with a sausage biscuit for anyone who ran by my room with enough time to grab it. The Rocky Theme Song played loudly (which, in retrospect, was not the best choice since they weren’t even born when the Rocky movies came out), but I was inspired. So there’s that.
Then, the miracle. My kids were told that they could, under no circumstances, turn in their tests before 75 minutes had passed. I told them to WRITE down work (why do kids think they can just look at the computer and come up with an answer?) and redo it if necessary. Their grades for the day were based on 75 minutes of solid work. I had spies.
Success teaching math
Then. The miracle.
After months of daily math teeth-pulling, all of the students passed the Geometry SOL test. Suddenly, I was a math teacher hero. Admin applauded me. Kids thanked me.
But…that was Admin’s miracle, not mine.
It’s the REST of the story that miraculously changed my life. Read about the REAL miracle that changed my math teacher life in Part 2 of the Nerdy Math Girl Blog.
Nerd on, my friends.