Sunday, September 14, 2014

One Week In: Grade 12 Math

After a little more than a week of classes, I wanted to get some thoughts on my courses this semester down on paper (er, word processing document). I started the school year with so many hopes, plans and ideas for my students, but there are always hiccoughs - will students all have access to technology? Will they be willing to try new things? Will ideas that work so well in my head translate just as well into real-life?

This is the first of three posts on my classes this semester (one post per class). My grade 9 math post is here.

My grade 12 college math class is an interesting group.

My grade 12s' strengths.
I have both academic-level students and students who have just barely scraped by in previous math courses in this class. Many seem reluctant to use technology in many capacities (we did an introductory activity where they picked a graphing calculator app and used it to create graphs and answer questions) - some complain, saying it's hard (read: different), while some refuse to use the technology at all, saying they don't see the point because they'll never use technology in this way. I'm hoping the more we use it, the more they will get comfortable with it.

Though this is an elective class that some need for their college programs, some are taking it just to fill the period, and have no real interest in being there. They can be a tricky group, and I want to be able to offer something for everyone, while still completing the curriculum expectations.
What my grade 12s have pledged to work at and improve upon during the school year.
I was glad to see math so prominent!

The Project:

We have started with an independent unit project on aspects of personal finance. I tried to offer as much choice as possible - everything from how they want to demonstrate their knowledge for each individual learning goal, to what kind of final product they want to hand in. Students create the type of family they want to study, choose how they want to learn about each learning goal, and even decide the order in which they would like to tackle the learning goals between now and the project due date.

Though many of the resources are electronic, there are always "traditional" options for learning, including a textbook and in-class lessons. I am trying to introduce my students to as many new (often electronic) resources as possible, and encouraging them to look many things up or do research on their own devices, in a BYOD-style.

It is a month-long project, not interspersed by full-class lessons, or other activities. This is it. It will give me the chance to assess and evaluate more through conversation and observation than I'm used to. It's a new style of project for the students, and this style of assessment is new for me as well.

So far?

So far, I think it's going well. Having just come off their summer jobs, and being right on the brink of moving away to college next year, the students have fresh ideas in their heads as to income, expenses, and the value of money.

For the students, the toughest part of the project seems to be deciding what to do first, and what to complete in what order. Because we've blown this wide open, some students have a very hard time getting started. Each period, I start with checking in with every student, asking then what their goals are for the period - what part of the project do they want to get done today? - and making sure they have the resources they need to accomplish that goal.

For me, the toughest part of the project is having to be as familiar as I can be with EVERY learning goal at the same time, because the students are all over the place. Budgets, annuities, housing prices, amortization tables and the differences in the various savings plans are all familiar to me, but it has been years since I've had to teach most of it.

Going from helping one student figure out an annuity formula, to answering a question about taxes, to offering suggestions as to how a student can get a house insurance quote is tricky for me. I find it tough to switch gears like this, but I enjoy being able to problem-solve with the students: looking things up together (online, or in real estate listings in the local newspaper), comparing budgets with other students, or working through a calculation together on a portable white board.

Moving Forward

I am a little worried that the students will get bored of the project, since the timeline is so long. To break up the days of project work so far, we've watched a couple of episodes of Til Debt Do Us Part, and I have emails out to try and get financial planners to come in and speak with the students one-on-one about their budgets. I'm always looking for new, relevant ways to break up the periods to keep it fresh and interesting.

Provided the students can set their goals and stay focused, I'm confident their final portfolios will be amazing, and be able to help them with their financial decisions in the future. After giving them free rein for the overall project, I'm looking forward to seeing what they come up with!

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