The evolution of a precalculus teacher

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, 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




Fun with Daily Desmos

My Desmos solution

My Mission #3 assignment with MTBoS was to explore one, only ONE of several excellent websites and write a blog about my experiences.  Since I just commented in my previous entry that I didn’t know anything about Desmos (and everyone who is anyone on MTBoS seems to use it) I decided that now was the time to learn it.  So I did a couple of the basic challenges on Daily Desmos and I was pleased with my trigonometric transformational approach.  I wonder if anybody else tried that.  The online Desmos graphing calculator is user friendly and the Desmos Challenge problems (matching graphs) complements my Precalculus curriculum very nicely, so I hope to incorporate it in my classroom.  I will have to Twitter some questions first…

Of course, I had to check out some of the other interesting websites:

Estimation 180:  Teaching estimation skills with pictures (similar to the visual approach of Dan Meyer’s Three Act problems)  I like the idea of using my own pictures to do some interesting warm-up problems.

VisualPatterns:  I can use definitely use these in the classroom (functions, sequences) and with math club.  Saves me a lot of work!  Woo-hoo!

Math Mistakes:  What a novel idea–posting student mistakes and then reflecting on the conceptual misunderstandings and implications for teaching.  I read some very insightful posts.  Here was a great one:

Mistakes, Radicals, Rational Exponents, and Partitioning?

One Good Thing: A forum for teachers to post something GOOD that happened in their classroom.  Very uplifting 🙂

And …. I just figured out how to embed the links to all of these in my post!  Another Woo-Hoo!


I just tweeted a few people and read some tweets. Nobody has tweeted back yet, but I have already found some amazing blogs and downloaded some great resources that I found on Twitter feeds. I can tell that my biggest problem will be managing my time and knowing when to stop.  I hope that I can cultivate a few like-minded Twitter pals to share ideas with.  I guess that the best thing I have learned is that all of these wonderful teachers who know how to use Desmos (I don’t) and attach links to Twitter feeds that have “bitly” in them (I don’t know how to do that either) and who use these amazing activities that I want to learn how to use still struggle with the same classroom issues and feelings of inadequacy that I have.  And they share the same joy when they try something new and it actually works!!  

An Experienced Amateur starts to blog

I am a 16 year veteran of teaching high school math.  I teach in a private Christian high school with supportive families, generally good kids who care about school, and high expectations for academic rigor. Like many teachers, I started out teaching pre-algebra and first year algebra, was “promoted” to second year algebra, and am now teaching Precalculus and AP Statistics.  (Somewhere along the line, I skipped geometry entirely, and I have found that to be a detriment to my math background at times.)  I have started this blog because I want to be part of the MathTwitterBlogoSphere (MTBoS) with all of its resources and teacherly camaraderie.

I consider myself “an experienced amateur” because I am an experienced teacher with strong content knowledge and classroom management skills and, I think, excellent rapport with my students.  I have developed much of my own curriculum over the years and my students are challenged and learn a lot in my class, but, BUT, I am always looking for better ways to motivate my students and communicate the beauty of mathematics.  I recognize that I am holding myself to an unattainable standard of perfection, but I can’t seem to help it.  I want to be an amazing math teacher, not just a good one, and I am not there yet.

Maybe this blog will help.  Help me to improve.  Help me to realize that I am not the only crazy perfectionist out there.  Help to realize that it is OK to strive and fall short of perfection and remain joyful and optimistic while doing so.