The lesson inside the lesson

I love my calculus class. They are mostly seniors, and seniors are busy people. I know that my predecessor’s greatest peeve was kids missing class and not taking responsibility for catching up, and I know that in the past many seniors have had a less than rigorous final academic year. This week I confronted these issues head-on.

We are on the block, and meet Tuesday, Thursday. Friday (today) is a professional day, so no class. Tuesday, five students were gone to help with an elementary school campout. This is a neat opportunity to mentor young kids, and I encourage it. They came to me the week before with a planned absence form. I let them know that makeup work would be available on the website, and when they mentioned they’d be out camping Tuesday I promised to post it a day early. The lesson they missed was about sums, products, and composites of functions, and finding the domains. It went pretty well; kids were getting it and I assigned some additional practice. Thursday, folks came to class and promptly took a quiz on the subject. And? those who had attended the previous class did well; those who did not attend… Their faces told the story. I let everyone know this was a formative assessment, and not high stakes. Still, these are the school’s high-achieving kids and they are not used to bombing quizzes.

So, we moved on to the lesson. Their task was to extend from our current understanding – derivative of power functions, and function composition – to differentiating a general polynomial. They did the work in groups; there was a worksheet to provide scaffolding; I circulated. They struggled mightily, because of the abstract level we were working at, but ultimately everyone got it. It was a great hour.

I thanked everyone for their hard work. I mentioned that three students were gone today (for peer mediation training; again, a worthy cause!) And I think that it hit them. This lesson had been good, and hard. It would be really difficult to make it up outside class. I let them know that my goal was to make every class worthwhile; I asked them to please think carefully about their absences, to take responsibility, and to work very hard to make up for each one. This was the lesson. It felt like a step in the right direction.


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We are all born into this world, and at some point we will die and that will be that. In the meantime, let’s enjoy our minds and the wonderful and ridiculous things we can do with them. I don’t know about you, but I’m here to have FUN.
-Paul Lockhart

In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.

-Yogi Berra


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