Tuesday, September 16, 2014

One Week In: Grade 9 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 second of three posts on my classes this semester (one post per class). My grade 12 math post is here.

My grade 9 math class is a very fun group.

They are a large group (30) who, on the whole, seem to have great work ethic and discipline. We did a Teach Like a PIRATE introductory activity on the first day where they had to each create something that represented themselves, and I was blown away by the creativity of these students!

My grade 9s' strengths.

A diagnostic test (given to make sure that academic math was the right place for them, as opposed to the applied level math also offered in grade 9), indicated that most were reasonably strong in the subject. Even in the first week, they are moving faster and more confidently than I expected - I haven't taught an academic junior class for 7 years, and I've been taken pleasantly by surprise by their zeal.

They are a group of students who take their work very seriously. There was a lot of stress going into the diagnostic test, and worry about not remembering the math they learned from last year or being able to complete the test in time. There were a lot of complaints afterward that the test was brutally hard. We (grade 9 teachers) had tried to reassure the students that the test was only to make sure everyone was placed properly, and while I was sorry to hear that there was so much stress on the students' part, it showed me that they cared.

What my grade 9s have pledged to work at and improve upon during the school year.
Love seeing the commitment to getting better at math, and being outside their comfort zone!

On the whole, the students are very comfortable with technology, though not all have their own devices. We've been using a class set of tablets to supplement, for now, but the applied level class will be taking them over in the near future (the tablets are allocated to the applied classes... I've been lucky to have them up until now!).

The Term:

I've been structuring the units similarly to the math classes (MCF3M and MFM2P) I converted to BYOD last year. Our first unit - Number Sense - went very smoothly, thanks partially to the addition of a peer teacher to the class. I had a great peer teacher last semester, and she was invaluable. Already this semester's peer teacher has been a huge help as all 30 students worked through their first set of learning goals.

Many students are choosing to learn from the textbook, and worksheets are very popular. Students are always encouraged to help each other out, and to take advantage answer keys to assess whether or not they are mastering the skills. Others are choosing online games (like Integer Jeopardy, or Dividing Fractions Soccer), and nearly all of them are working together - teaching and learning from each other - which is great to see.

We've started using a tracking board again, so that the students can see (and double-check) where they are in the unit. It also allows me to touch base with students who are falling behind. It works to help keep both the students and myself organized!

Student Reaction

Even though this is a very different approach to learning math than what the students are used to, they seem to be adapting very well. This could be because everything is new in grade 9 - new school, new timetable, new courses, new classmates. The response seems to be overwhelmingly positive.

The other day, while I was filling out the tracking board for the first time, I overheard some of the students talking as they were watching me colour in their completed squares. They were saying they felt these concepts were easy, that they were proud to see their accomplishments noted on the tracking board, and that they were surprised to see that what they had accomplished in one week this year would have taken them over a month last year. They were thrilled!

Now, granted, these were mostly review concepts, but allowing the students to choose how they learn seems to improve their confidence. Having them choose the pace at which they learn seems to take away some of the stress they've associated with learning math. I'm looking forward to great things with this vibrant group.

Next steps

As we move into our first "new material" unit tomorrow, I'm looking forward to involving the students in more inquiry-based learning, and getting them to set their sights on big-picture math. It will take all of us (including me!) a little out of our comfort zones!


  1. Hi Heather,

    Sounds like there are a lot of great things going on in your class. It must be nice to be able to focus on one subject with a few different classes. I loved teaching grade 7 and 8 because I got to do that!

    I like that you're giving your students lots of ways to show their learning and challenge themselves.

    1. Thanks, Shauna! I want to take student challenges to the next level... I think I'm making it more fun to learn (and easier to learn), but I'm not making it more meaningful, yet. That's my big goal for the year!


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