Tuesday, February 17, 2015

What if You Don't Know How to Solve Equations?

The text read, “Any chance you’re still in your office??”

My answer, “No – at home.”

Her response, “Ok. I have to come show you some papers tomorrow.”

More from her, “Here’s a preview. This is a quiz…after two weeks of instruction.”

The teacher did come by the next day, and she brought the quiz papers. She was frustrated that her 11th grade students couldn't solve equations. She was looking for ideas on how to help her students.

She’s a great teacher. She develops good relationships with her students, she's not afraid to take risks, and she's always seeking ways to help her students. So when her students struggled on this quiz, she didn't say, “I can’t teach them,” or blame the teachers before her on their lack of preparedness. 

All she focused on was how to help them.

I suggested that she take some of the common errors, copy them exactly as they had done them (she had already made annotations and corrections on the quiz papers), and ask the students to figure out what was wrong. She would have the students to work in small groups to help each other figure out where the error had been made. They weren't to solve the problems, but they were supposed to write and describe what the mistakes were.

She also wanted to allow the students to retake the quiz. I suggested that she create a “study contract” that they complete in order to retake the quiz. The students would have to attend a certain number of our “Math ER” help sessions we offer during students' lunch/advisory period and complete a study guide containing extra problems just like the ones on the quiz but with different numbers and variables.

When I saw the teacher the next day, she shared with me how it went with the activity I had suggested. She said that it was interesting that some students who could do the problems correctly had a hard time figuring out where the mistakes were. Some students who had done poorly on the quiz were able to find the mistakes, and finding the mistakes helped to change false ideas about how to solve the problems.

The activity required students to think critically and to evaluate. It helped to separate the ones who acted only on memorization (the steps to solving the problem), while some who didn't memorize the steps could problem-solve when they had to figure out the mistake she showed them. It also exposed the ones who couldn't do either. By doing the activity, the teacher will be able to target the support she gives, and they will be better prepared for what comes next in the course.
I can’t wait to see how the students do on the re-take. Hopefully she won’t get any more answers like this…

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