Sunday, September 20, 2009

New Kid on the Block

Blach! I think last Thursday and Friday were the 1st 2 days in a row that I had a completely good day. All the other days have been filled with either snippy looks from certain students because I dared move their seats, or second guessing myself because all the other teachers seem to be clicking and I'm not chatting with them, or rush rush rushing to get all my things ready to teach my 3 different preps and not feeling as prepared as I'd like to be and semi-winging it. And just general "blahness".

On Thursday I decided to kill my students with kindness. Instead of just scanning their homework for completeness, I wrote little notes on them ... something positive: "great work", "you really get it", "your handwriting is so neat and easy to read", that sort of thing. That was in my snippy student class with the seat changes. Well, miracle of miracles, we had a good day together. They actually worked and laughed at my lame jokes, and nary a snippy look passed.

Then another teacher sat down with me and we mapped out the algebra course we're teaching and that was good and I felt like I belonged. Then I actually had time to think things through about how I'd teach a concept (the dreaded "5-2(x-3)" type of situation where they DON'T want to distribute the negative (or subtraction) in front of the 2.

Then there was teenage girl drama on Friday, and I happened to walk in on it, and I think I was part of their solution. This was with a group of friends that were clashing, and some of the girls were my snippy students, so maybe we've made progress towards forming a better relationship.

So, WooHoo, I'm on the up part of the inevitable rollercoaster.


  1. Anonymous7:44 PM

    hi there,

    I'm just wondering...have you used algebra tiles for distributive property, add/subtract integers, etc? PRetty sure you have. Anyway, today was my first time using algebra tiles with my 8th grade Algebra students (some what average and a little above average students) and I found it kind of boring for them. What are your thoughts???

  2. Anonymous8:13 PM

    I haven't found the solution to that "5-2(x-3)" type of problems, but I thought I'd share what's been helpful for students. I try to do a lot of oral explanation. So I would give them 20 distributive property problems like 3(2x-6). I have them do it and when we go over it, I'd call on students to tell me what they did. They would have to tell me 3 times 2x and 3 times "negative" six. If they tell me 6, I say that's not 6 so they know to say -6. We would do this for the entire twenty problems. I think doing something like this with the problem you posted would be helpful. Sometimes students don't recognize the negative signs and they don't know that minus is the same as negative. By doing this type of oral explanation, we're able to correct their mistake right there.

  3. Sounds like we are in about the same place in algebra I. I so identify with you on the whole
    5 - 2(x - 3)problem which will haunt them all the way through high school until they learn to get it right. I put a question like this: 3(x - 5)- 5(x - 10) on EVERY single test I give for the entire year. Once we learn to solve linear equations, I will set it equal to some number, but they will still have to distribute the negative. To me, this concept is one of the most important things they must come away from algebra I knowing how to do well.

    I think the key is to make them do it over and over and over until it becomes second nature to them.

  4. Thanks for your feedback.

    Karyn - I have never used the algebra tiles. It's just a personal thing, but I have too many issues with them, and I never effectively figured out how to make it work for my classes (and me).

    2nd anon :) - I like the repetitive nature of hearing the process over and over again. That probably helps students. I did have an issue with a student, though, and didn't effectively address it about her saying, "well is it subtraction or a negative?" and mixing them up and I didn't like my "they're the same thing basically" explanation because it really feels like a math cop out since one's an operation, and one's a sign that finds the opposite of a number.

    Mrs. H - after my 2nd class, I had an epiphany on an explanation, and tried it with my 3rd class .... after what I did, they seemed to grasp the idea better (time will tell, though), so I'll monitor and see if it really was effective. Here's what I did:

    I had a sheet ready. Down one column I had 8 problems of a variation of the following set up like:

    9 - (3 + 2) = _____
    9 3 2

    in the second column I had 8 problems of a variation of the following set up like:

    9 - (3 - 2) = _____
    9 3 2

    I had them do the first line of every problem. We checked we had the right answer. Then I had them fill in the blanks for the 2nd lines with plus or minus to get the same answer. Then I asked them to look for a pattern in the 1st column, then the 2nd column. THEN I talked about distributing the negative and how you are subtracting the WHOLE inside and bla bla bla. THEN we went to x's and numbers and such mixed.

    Whew! We'll see what happens.

  5. I empathize. I have moved from a middle school position to a high school position in the same district but it feels like being a new teacher. I feel disorganized and I hate it. At any rate, as far as distributing the negative factor, I usually have students change subtraction to addition when we first work on simplifying expressions. So "5-2(x-3)" becomes "5 + (-2)(x-3)".