I have been teaching Precalculus for about 15 years. I learned how to teach Precalculus using Paul A Foerster’s excellent Precalculus text and gradually began adding in my own ideas and worksheets as I got more and more comfortable with the material. So the textbook went from being my teacher and sole source of instructional material to just one of many resources and finally to a thing the kids carried around but often didn’t use for weeks at a time. Then it came time to adopt new textbooks and the Indiana Department of Education recommended that we postpone adoption for a year until the new (CCSS) standards came out. The next year, we tried Springboard (a one year commitment since the text is consumable), but none of us liked the way it was structured. So, sans textbook, and still waiting for the IDOE to finalize the high school standards, I just did my own thing with worksheets I created. I missed having the textbook as a resource — “Turn to page 123 and do #1-25 odds”– but I made it through year one. Year 2 was easier, but I still missed having a resource to which students could refer for help. Year 3–still no textbook and still no definitive high school standards. Finally, Indiana adopts Common Core. Then the legislature decided to postpone for a year and think about it. They are still arguing and we are still in limbo about CCSS and our high school standards. For four years now! Arghh! (Precalculus won’t be tested in any end of course exam, probably because no one quite agrees on exactly what Precalculus is. The CCSS for Precalculc is mostly just trig and then a bunch of unconnected stuff they didn’t know what to do with. They eviscerated Precalc and dumped way too much in Algebra 2. But it sure would be helpful to know exactly what Indiana will be requiring for Algebra 2 so I know what I’ll have to cover in Precalc! Come on, Indiana! But I digress.)
Back to my evolution. No matter what I do, I am never fully satisfied with my curriculum because there isn’t time to do everything, so I always struggle with what to leave out and wrestle, as all math teachers do, with striking the right balance between “covering the material” and providing students with time to think and experience mathematics in a meaningful way. I also struggle, as all math teachers do, with how to meet the diverse needs of students who learn at different speeds. I always seem to have a handful of students who stick it out in Precalculus, working hard all year, only to end up with a D or even an F, because they need a lot of extra support and just can’t learn everything as quickly as everyone else. Just giving them a test they fail and then moving on seems so pointless and unfair. So when I read about Jo Boaler’s free online course How to Learn Math, I signed up and found that what was bothering me about math education bothered other people as well. To make a long story short, I watched Jo’s videos (you can see some at her new website http://www.youcubed.org), read a bunch of blogs and discovered Standards Based Grading. Two weeks before school started, I decided to take the plunge and do SBG in Precalculus this year. . . alone . . . unaided . . . and without any training. I also thought I’d throw in some flipped classroom. What was I thinking?! But I was so convinced that I needed to make the change, that, against my own inner warnings (this is going to take so much time and so much extra work, Jane, and it might not even work) I did it.
Next blog: What has happened so far with SBG