Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Course Advisory

I'm advising kids on courses to take for next year, and here are some thoughts on my mind:

* If a kid is getting a high 70s grade currently in my honors class, would that kid benefit from dropping down to regular math and getting more in-class reinforcement / practice? (We can only do so much practice of the same thing in honors class before all the other kids get bored.) What if that kid enjoys the pacing and rigor of an honors class, but just has trouble mastering everything at that pace?

* If a kid is consistently acing my regular math class, but isn't much of an adventure-seeker in math, would they be suitable for honors?

* If a few kids who are pretty sharp in honors geometry wish to take Algebra 2 over the summer so that they can "move along" on the track and end up taking Calc BC in their senior year, is that a bad idea (or is that just my old-school opinion that no one should be squeezing a year's worth of algebra foundation into 6 weeks)?

* If our policy is that any senior who fails a course won't graduate on time, how can I encourage my struggling juniors to take non-AP Calculus next year to improve their college-readiness?

Thoughts or recommendations? I worry about the best placement for every kid, because long after I am gone from this school I would still want them to be properly challenged and to be able to enjoy math at the same time.


Addendum: The kids are coming around to agreeing that they shouldn't be squeezing Alg2 into a 6-week summer course. It helped that I said, "This other math teacher who graduated from MIT and teaches at a very prestigious private school in the States thinks it's a bad idea," and it also helped that my former Alg2H kids (now they're in Precalc honors) walked in on the conversation with one kid, and they collectively shook their heads to say that it's a BAAAAAD idea and that everything you see in Alg2, you will need in Precalc. Also, one of my current Geometry Honors kids told his friends, "Remember how so-and-so took Geometry over the summer to skip ahead? I gave him an easy -- facilisimo! -- Geometry problem the other day, and he couldn't do it. Taking math in summer school's a bad idea!"


  1. 1) With no context - or assuming it is my school, if the student enjoys the class and is getting high 70s, I would hesitate to have them switch.

    2) Likely no. I think a kid needs to want it. Because for many, the switch is a HUGE challenge (pace, rigor, depth) and they will have to overcome the challenge. To do this, they have to want to work for it.

    3) I don't think the foundational Alg 2 should/could be done over the summer, except in rare instances. And I'd look at their Alg 1 grades (geometry doesn't seem like it would be a good metric for the ability to do Alg 2 over the summer)...

    4) I don't quite get what you're asking.


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  3. Hey Sam,

    Thanks for confirming some of my initial thoughts on this. As a side bit of info, my course advice is by no means the "final verdict" for placing students. I can recommend a kid to take honors next year, for example, but if that kid decides not to, that's up to them. I'm just thinking in my head as to what I should say to each kid, I guess, when they ask me. (They have to ask me sometime this week, if they intend on taking honors next year.)

    #3 is helpful. I know your school has really advanced math track, and ours does too... sort of. The kids would have had to decide a year ago to take Geometry over the course of the summer between 8th and 9th grades. But, for some reason a few of them who hadn't done that are now wishing to be on that track, so despite my efforts to dissuade them from abridging Alg2, they've been talking to the summer-school director to open up a 6-week course for Alg2 just for them. So that they can go to Precalc next fall. Bad idea? I think so!!! The summer school director said that she'd open up a class if there are 6 or 7 of them who are willing to take it -- and I think that i don't have 6 or 7 SERIOUSLY QUALIFIED kids to warrant opening that class. I'm glad you're confirming that's a bad idea.

    Regarding #4, at my school there's a policy that seems to push seniors AWAY from taking college-prep classes their senior year. Namely, the policy is that they will not graduate if they fail a course during their senior year. So, let's say I've got a kid who's getting a low 70s in Precalc, whom I think could really benefit from taking one more year of college-prep math next year to re-inforce some of the skills we've been working on this year, or that we will be working on later this year. Our school offers non-AP "regular" Calculus for that purpose, except these kids who I think can really use that last year of math are going to opt OUT of Calculus next year in order to make sure they make the graduation no-fail requirement. How do I convince them that there is worth in taking that risk? (I guess this is more of a rhetorical question maybe, but I'd welcome any thoughts.)

  4. "How do I convince them that there is worth in taking that risk?"

    I don't think you can: if they fail the course first semester, it could also affect their getting into university. The only way I could see doing this is if you could have a summer school "Calculus Prep" class for those students to get them ready for Calculus. Otherwise, you could just as easily argue that skipping math senior year and re-taking precalculus first semester in university would be a better option.

    But I do agree that if they did take Calculus senior year and passed, that would be the best outcome. Since this is a school policy, and not a state or national requirement, I wonder if a well-reasoned argument could get your principal to give a waiver for those students, provided the students did the homework, came in for extra help if they got below a ___ on a quiz/test, yaddah yaddah, etc.

    Paul Hawking
    The Challenge of Teaching Math
    Latest post:
    Helping your students who have difficulty taking notes

  5. For the Algebra 2 summer question, I'm thinking --- why not let them try? If they're sufficiently motivated, they might amaze you. Maybe you can give them the same final that Algebra 2 students take to test how their proficiency. After all, someone once said, "The only 'good learning' is that which is in advance of development."