Wednesday, April 6, 2016

What not to do in algebra class...read if you want to laugh!

I think that I decided to write this blog post because I feel that the last 2 days I am a shining example of what NOT to do when you are teaching a problem-based curriculum. I think that everyone should have the ability to laugh at yourself so here I go...

So...I was in the middle of a discussion with my algebra class about the unit problem for IMP Fireworks which involves a celebration where a rocket is shot off of a building and the fireworks need to be set on a timer that allows the fireworks to "go off" when the rocket is at it's highest height. The problem is GREAT because some smart student (who obviously was an ace at physics) has already determined the equation for the height of the rocket with respect to time. My students have to find the answers to the following questions:

  • How long will the rocket be in the air?
  • When will it reach it's highest point?
  • What is the height of the rocket when it is at its highest point?
  • ...there are a few more but these are the ones we were mainly discussing...
So...I am supposed to be letting them determine how they might use the equation to answer these questions and I was getting this from my students:
  • How are we supposed to know, Mrs. Owens?
  • But...we don't know how high the rocket goes...
  • So...why don't they just shoot the fireworks off the top of the building instead?
  • I plugged in 3 seconds and got _____ for my answer. So, that's the highest point.
  • ***I can't even remember what all this one student kept asking me...he was so bothered by the situation and the way they were doing it. He was also bothered by the fact that "quad" means 4 but for an equation to be quadratic the variable has a power of 2. I had another student to help me out and say that the power of 2 means that it is squared and a square has 4 sides.
So...my response was finally something like this:
O. My. Goodness!!!!!!  Just do the math!! You have the equation so the hard part is already done for you. JUST SUBSTITUTE TIMES IN FOR T AND MAKE A TABLE!! Quit getting so bogged down in the context that you forget how to be a math student!!!! You can use the table to estimate the highest height and the time that the rocket hits the ground!! Just be quiet and DO IT!! Use your algebra skills!!

I am laughing as I write this. I had one student to say, "No Mrs. Owens. We are learning how to apply this math in the real world!"  It is funny to reflect back on this because I was so frustrated trying to move them forward. We had worked on introducing the unit for way longer than we were supposed to and I was just trying to motivate the need to find the exact values...which we will learn how to do as we study the unit. I did have a good conversation with them about how the ACT and other standardized tests have portions (especially science reasoning on the ACT) where you are sometimes given a formula and even told what each variable stands for and all you have to do is plug in the values and simplify!! OR that they are given charts and graphs where the information is right in front of them and they have to just interpret what it means. You can sometimes get too bogged down into trying to "figure something out" when you can just read the chart/graph and find the answer!!