When High School Students Can’t Divide*

For anyone struggling to choose between sessions for the California Mathematics Council-North Conference at Asilomar, I’m posting a draft of the slides for my talk “When High School Students Can’t Divide*” here. I know that it’s super tricky to pick the talks you want to attend; hopefully this helps!

I would love to continue the conversation about how to support students who are struggling with high school mathematics, especially as emerging multilinguals. Feel free to get in touch!

December: Loving Portfolios, Tolerating Logistics

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December, 2019.

At the end of every semester, we end instruction two weeks early. Students prepare portfolios, which is our school’s performance based assessment (based on the work that schools in our network in New York do). Instead of semester finals, they review the content and projects they’ve learned and reflect and present on their knowledge.

There are many changes this year. It is decided that all 9th through 11th grade students will do an oral defense and present their knowledge of one class to a panel of teachers and students. 11th graders at our school have done oral defenses for the last few years, but it is a new (and exciting) model for 9th and 10th graders. At the same time, I am mostly out of the classroom. Whereas I formerly sheperded advisees and students through the process of writing essays and answering questions, I now find myself covering classes and recess so that teachers have a prep period.

I love Portfolios and I guess I tolerate structures and logistics, so it’s actually not a bad deal. I get a chance to spend time with students in both mathematics and science. I know a few students from observing various classes and this provides a better opportunity to get to know students. Nothing motivates students’ names like having to get attention and redirect students.

At the same time, it’s a fascinating insight into what non-classroom teachers do while teachers are teaching. During the 2nd week of Portfolios, students spend one period a day at recess so that teachers can have their prep. This involves coordinating with our T-10s (security guards) about who goes where, especially when it’s raining or almost raining. It involves trying to think about logistics of how and when teachers drop off and pick up their students (a conversation which I am reminding myself to revisit next semester before Portfolios so we can build some shared understanding on what the process feels like for all people involved). It involves chasing students and making sure they don’t go off campus or hide where they’re not supposed to be. Quite a few students remark that being at recess, on a blacktop with a chain-link fence feels like prison. I have no answer to this (though I think I’d rather be outside on the blacktop. Though not if it’s raining. Which it does.)

As a coach, I also get the opportunity to sit in on some of the oral defenses. I spend the first day trying to float through the classrooms of the teachers I coach who have less experience with oral defenses. They all do great, as do our students. Even for students who aren’t 100% ready (and many of them are at least appropriately nervous), they show up and try. One particular group of students does a great job lifting each other up and giving positive feedback – “You tried your best and I know you’ll do ever better next year when you know more English. Keep going!” (paraphrase)