Just the Basics!
I teach Algebra 2.
Don’t be scared.
I’m not any smarter than you are. I promise.
But this week my heart broke for my students. It happens every year. We make it to the unit that has polynomial division and all the students groan. Why? Not only is the name of the concept intimidating, it also involves long division! Every year all of us Algebra 2 teachers know that we are going to have to re-teach long division. You know problems like this from 4th grade:
As Algebra 2 teachers expect to re-teach this. We are prepared that students have become so reliant on calculators that they have lost the skill of long division. So, this is not what broke my heart.
In my explanation of the process of long division, I worked 968 divided by 45. I asked, “What do you do if this happens?”
Collectively the students responded, “OH! Write r-23!” When asked what “r” meant, they quickly responded, “Remainder.”
My heart broke in their response to my next question, “What’s another way to express a remainder to a division problem?” Silence. Complete. Utter. Silence.
Not one student told me that I could express the remainder as a fraction (23/45). Not one students out of 116!!! I checked with my colleagues. The exact same conversation happened in their classrooms. Even when I said, “Remember what you elementary teacher taught you. You can write the remainder as a fraction.” All blank stares. And, again, this happened in each and every Algebra 2 classroom.
Why can’t students who can find multiplicities, graph cubic functions, and solve quadratic equations four different ways do simple, basic arithmetic?
It’s just the basics.
I have seen students type in their TI-84’s, “1 x 6″…I am not kidding.
It’s the basics. Students are missing the building blocks. We are asking them to build a structure when many have a foundation that is too shaky to hold the structure.
I would like to have time to go back and push away the misconceptions. Reteach multiplication facts. Do projects that help them SEE the math and the beauty in the numbers. Strengthen the skill. And, I believe the passion for math would grow. The interest in science would blossom. I would REALLY, REALLY like to do MathTree Roots-to-Leaves for the first month of school to fill in the gaps and deepen their understanding of math…and then, it wouldn’t be so scary to them! Maybe, just maybe they would start to see the beauty, the symmetry, the possibilities of math!
But, the pacing guide for Algebra 2 calls. End of course testing is looming around the corner. So, we pull out our trusty friend, Mr. TI-84, and I add to the misconceptions, making their little buildings even shakier. I try to lay my head down on the pillow at night with a clean conscience. I try not to believe that I am adding to the problem instead of being part of the solution.
My heart breaks again.