January 26, 2019

My Perpetual 8-Week Challenge


I teach at a large local community college and we just finished our first week of the Spring 2019 semester.  Half of the classes I am teaching this semester are college-level algebra classes and the remainder are developmental arithmetic classes.

This semester, both of my arithmetic classes are taught in an 8-Week format.  In the middle of March, my students will be transitioning to a developmental algebra class.  I teach 2 or 3 of the arithmetic classes each semester, so that is why I am calling this post "My Perpetual 8-Week Challenge".

My passion is helping students develop a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts and overcome their math fears.  That's why I LOVE teaching the developmental arithmetic classes.  I am the author of the curriculum that we use for the course.  I wrote the first edition in the summer of 2010, and we are currently working out of the seventh edition.  I designed the curriculum to be very non-traditional, with lots of hands-on activities to help demonstrate the concepts of fractions, decimals, and integers.

Since my arithmetic students are adults, many of them have a past haunted by years of negative and challenging math experiences.  It takes a great deal of courage for many of my students to walk through the door on the first day of class and return for future classes.



My goal and challenge is to help these students start making positive steps in their mathematical journey.  We spend our class time using hands-on math manipulatives, working practice problems, sharing results, and checking our answers.  It takes a few weeks each semester for it to start happening, but before too long I will hear some of my students talking among themselves saying this is their favorite class.



Yesterday, they turned in their first Study Skill assignment.  It was a page about their mathematical background.  One of the items on the assignment is:

"Complete the sentence to summarize your previous math experiences.
   I have always__________________________________________ "

Reading their responses to this item usually makes my heart hurt.  You will understand as you read this semester's responses below.  Many students responded, but some have not yet turned in their paper.

NOTE:  I have typed the responses using their words, grammar, and spelling.

Class 1 (14 of 22 students responded)
  • been intimidated by math
  • struggled in my math classes
  • hated math
  • felt bad at math
  • been terrible at math
  • struggled in math
  • being scared of maths
  • struggled with math
  • dislike math
  • strugle in remember things for long time
  • had a little trouble in geometry, algebra is good for the most part
  • been good at math I just struggle with bigger numbers
  • been average and struggled some with algebra
  • done well in my math classes

Class 2 (10 of 20 students responded)
  • horrible experiences
  • struggled
  • despized math
  • had problem with math
  • had trouble asking for help
  • been scared of test but im getting okay with them
  • alone
  • tried my best at math but I was never good at it
  • understood math, just do not have great memory
  • been good at math, once I got it down

And so our 8-Week journey has begun.  I have 7 more weeks to help this group of students begin to conquer arithmetic and prepare for algebra.  My challenge is to turn their "struggles" and negative experiences into a series of "I got it!" statements.


(Illustrations created by Sarah Pecorino Illustration)

Happy teaching,
Janet Mitchell

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