April 9, 2008
It’s hard for a student to know how they learn if they’ve only ever been taught one way.
I am a year or two above everyone in my school when it comes to math. This year, in tenth grade, I am taking pre-calculus. Most people are taking Geometry or Algebra 2. Since I am the only student who needs pre-calculus, there is no class for it. There was a little bit of scrambling last year figuring out what to do with me. They came up with an independent study class – I would sit with one of our genius teachers (he seriously is) for two periods a week, and the other two would be independent. Now, our school hasn’t done that before (we haven’t done a lot before, considering we’re barely two years old), so what it would look like was pretty up in the air.
In the beginning of the year, the class was talking about the overall topics when I had a teacher, and me pretty much just sitting there amazed at how much there is to know in the world. On the other days I would attempt math problems from a pre-calc textbook. Then, we switched to worksheets that were fairly similar to the textbook. I still wasn’t getting it. For some reason, I was just in way over my head and I wasn’t getting anything from doing these problems. The math wasn’t sticking. When I wasn’t in the classroom, I was banging my head against the wall at one a.m. because I simply did not understand the math.
We then switched to multi-step problems on websites, and that didn’t go too badly. I got more sleep. On Monday, I asked for a test because I had finally figured out that I hate repeatedly doing math problems and then just getting assigned…..more math problems. Exciting, no? It’s easier to know what you don’t like. I realized that I don’t like endless problem sheets with no end in sight. I like having an end goal towards which to work. Now that there’s a test, something real to say, “I’m learning this for that.” I had no incentive before. Maybe it’s weird, having a test be my incentive. But maybe I’ll retain trigonometric proofs. We’ll see after Monday.
Math class won’t automatically improve now that I have a test to look forward to. I am a traditionalist in math. I like pencil-and-paper worksheets. I miss having a real class. Having people to interact with and complain about the work with is really an essential element of the classroom. And now I know that. I’ve only ever had that kind of class. This year, with my independent study, I learned how I learn in math.
There is only one marking period left, and then summer. As for next year, perhaps I’ll take calculus at the Community College or at Drexel. It is to be determined.
Photo: "hard math" from misterbisson