What does it mean to “level” math–and why was I not taught it in university?

With my new job I now teach grade 9/10. I took over grade 9 at the end of the polynomial unit, and start with the grade 10s Foundations and Pre-calculus class. In grade 9 and 10 I hated math, like cried everyday, would wake up with nightmare about math before tests, would be violently sick before finals. It was bad; however, in grade 11 math suddenly clicked. I understood it so well that I even took it as my minor my first two years of my degree before switching to Middle Years. Math was one of my favorite subjects to teach during my internship, because you can have fun with it, its easy to grade (the right answer is the right answer, regardless of how you do it), there is more than one way of thinking, and you can connect to all types of learners. Teaching this class was not even a concern for me, I am teaching at my old high school, and would have the support of a lot of fantastic teachers. Within three days of taking the job I realized how under prepared I was for math. We are told as graduates of the University of Regina, that an education degree allows you to teach any grade, and any subject. I quickly learned that this does not mean you are prepared by the university to teach any grade or any subject. I took two math curriculum classes during my education degree and four higher math courses, I don’t know how much more I could learn about math. I even sat in on some secondary math curriculum classes, and attended professional development based on secondary math. Yet, I cannot seem to follow any thing that the former teacher did with her students, which are now mine, and I have no idea what I am missing. Even when I ask how she did her math and grading, it still makes no sense. She uses a system where the students do as much as they can, and that determines their grade, but if they only want to do the harder questions, they will get a higher grade because the level of thinking is higher. How does she determine what the levels are, I looked at her notes, and I looked at my math notes, and at a dozen different sites, but I have no idea where she sees the levels. If this is the new way of teaching, why was it not taught in University. It makes sense that higher level of thinking allows for higher marks, but how do you know something is higher, just by how long it takes to solve, how many steps are involved. I’m trying to use the strategies that I learned for teaching math in university, but I quickly realized that those strategies do not work with a group of students who do not want to learn, and who believe math has no use in their lives (regardless of how many real-life problems I give them). What am I missing? What do I need to change? And can someone please explain to be what leveling questions means, and how do it? I love math, and I want my students to love math, but I feel like I’m failing them.

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