When most adults reflect on their high school math experience, they often do not have fond memories.
They sometimes remember the drilling of facts and the “right” way to solve the problem. They may remember writing proofs, but not knowing why they had to do them. Some may even remember how nervous they were before big tests because they knew the impact that one assessment could have on their grade.
We often have parents share their math histories with us and the concern that their students will have the same experiences. We like to make sure that all parents and community members know that while the subject matter may not have changed in the past few decades, the way we teach it sure has.
At Poynette High School, we have implemented the practice of being reflective practitioners through the guidance of our principal Dr. Mark Hoernke and district curriculum specialist Anna Neimeyer. Every other week, we meet to discuss what we are doing in our classroom, the literature or research that backs up our practices, and the data we are seeing from our students.
We give each other feedback, suggestions and support. This helps to make sure all members of the department are using innovative teaching methods that benefit all students.
From these meetings we have made small changes, such as discovering new graph paper that can be used when students are graphing quadratic equations, to major changes including developing consistent procedures for reporting work habits or methods to reach out to struggling students early and often.
Over the past few years, the Poynette Math Department has made significant changes to the courses offered to students. While Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II are still required for students and Pre-Calculus and Calculus are offered as electives, we have made sure to increase the number of opportunities for students to include math in their schedules, no matter their comfort level with the subject.
Six years ago, school data showed some students really struggled with the Algebra I curriculum for many different reasons. Because Algebra I is the foundation of all of the math students will do in high school, the department created a support class aimed at ensuring students received the extra boost of help they needed to be successful in Algebra.
After seeing great success with the course, Geometry Support was offered for the first time a few years later. This year, Algebra II Support was added to the course offerings. The inclusion of these three courses creates a system in which students are supported, encouraged, and challenged during all of their required math classes.
During this time period, the math department also realized there was a gap in our course offerings for students who wanted to take advanced math, but not necessarily go into a math career after high school.
While we did offer AP Statistics, Pre-Calculus and Calculus, students often did not want to take these courses because they did not fit in with their college and career plans. Therefore, we created a college readiness course that focused on the content students would need to know when they took math and science courses at the college, technical college or trade school level.
This course was also developed to be self paced, meaning students could pass through material they already knew while spending more time on concepts they needed more practice on. Since its creation, this course has developed into a dual credit offering through Madison College, offering students the opportunity to earn college credit while they are still in high school.
While we have made some big changes in the courses offered to our students, some of our most meaningful work has been done inside of our classrooms. We are incorporating more discussions and writing on mathematics concepts and vocabulary.
Students will often start the year by complaining that they are “in math class, not English”, but by the middle of the year they are proficiently explaining their work on every problem on the assessment or during class discussion even when it is not required!
We are also incorporating more partner and small group exploration on advanced concepts so that students can improve their 21st century skills while accessing mathematical content that they may be too intimidated to try on their own. Over the years, we have also begun to incorporate more projects and group activities so that students are able to show their mathematical knowledge through more than just quizzes and tests.
We feel that we have made some great changes over the past few years in the Poynette High School Mathematics Department and have many data measures that show we are going in the right direction. However, we know that our work is not done. We are excited to see what the next few years will bring and are ready to make sure that every student who takes our math courses are ready for any college or career they choose.