Thursday, August 21, 2014

So, a Polish exchange student walks into a math class...

First and foremost, I am having the time of my life in my math classroom right now.  I am teaching 4 sections of Algebra 2, one section of AP Calculus, and one section of AP Stats.  I am being spoiled with having nearly all juniors and seniors, which make for much more mature discussions.  It's not all easy, though.  There is still the undercurrent of students who trip daily over understanding that going from -1 on the number line to 8 is 9, not 7.

  This is not going to stop me from being overjoyed with what is happening in my room.

I am a few days ahead of some of the other teachers and needed to slow down and needed to catch some students up.  We just finished a lesson yesterday on writing an equation of a line in a slight variation of the point slope form (y = m(x - x1) +y1).  Some kids have fallen through the cracks and needed attention.  Today, instead of pressing forward into our next lesson, we stayed put and focused on the homework that I was collecting.  Today, they presented the problems in groups from the front of the room with the document camera.  The students had the first 10 minutes of class to work in their groups to look over the entire worksheet and fill in the gaps with each other.  In the past, this has been a classroom management nightmare for me.  The kids, in the past, would just copy the one person's paper and zero to little conversation extended past, "hey, let me copy what you have for number 6."  Today, that was NOT the case.

In one class, Jimmy says to his group, "I just started and I am behind.  I don't remember any of this, but I am willing to try.  Can anyone explain the first one to me and let me try the next to see if I get it correct?"  One of his groupmates responded, "Sure, we will all help you.  It wasn't easy at first for any of us, but we are finally getting it when we work together."  HOLY FREAKING COW!!!!

In another hour, a group that sat in the back noticed a girl in the front was alone today due to the absences of her groupmates.  They asked if for today, they could have the other girl with them so she could have someone to discuss the math with.  BAM!!

Other things I heard from allowing them to work together:

  • You mean, that is all I have to do?  Oh, man this is easy now.  Thanks for helping me.
  • Dude, look!  The constant rate of change is always delta y over delta x.  You know, the change in y divided by the change in x?
  • So, if we want to find the length of the candle at 5 hours, plug 5 into the x spot here and do the numbers.

Then, came time for them to explain it to the class.  After first class's miserable experience, I adjusted the rules for the remainder of the day.
1.  All group members go to the front and everyone must share an explanation.
2.  Mistakes are okay.  In fact, I am praying for some mistakes to be made so we can talk about them.
3.  All explanations must be of quality.  I don't want, "I took this and put it here and got that" (arm motions involved).  Use complete thoughts.  I took the constant rate of change and plugged into the formula for m...

I was floored by the kids!!!  They were awesome.  We celebrated the easy right answers and found mistakes and shared how to fix them.  We even helped a group get through a problem on which they didn't have a clue.  The struggling students starting catching on to the content.  The middle of the road kids gained confidence.  And the eagle readers of the group shared their knowledge with the others.   They left a little bit more confident in their understandings of a linear function.

But the best part.... during the last class of the day... I inherited a foreign exchange student from Poland who was finding the Honors Algebra 2 class too difficult with the language barrier and joined me sometime last week. Allie pulled me aside and said, "Mrs. Berg, I know I know how to do this problem and that it is right.  I just don't know if I can explain it all in English."  My response, "Well, do you want to say it all in Polish?  I think that would be REALLY cool!!"  Allie, "Really?  Okay.  I will.  Thank you."

Even though I could barely understand exactly what she was saying (let's be honest... I only understand when she said 'delta'), her explanation with pointing and her work was dead on!  And the kids were so involved with what she was saying, they too understood what she was doing!!  So, a polish exchange student walks into a math class and teaches the problem in her native tongue and students could still understand it!

Is it Friday?!?!?!  Because it sure feels like my weekend arrived early!


  1. What an amazing week! Congratulations! Way to celebrate the successes!

    I also think it's really great that you let the student explain her answer in Polish.

    Happy weekend!