Enrichment – A Teacher’s Reboot

I forgot how much I enjoyed helping kids. A love of kids serves as the root of my energy level. Sometimes I forget this fact, and it’s not until a program like the one in which I am working falls into my lap and reminds me that despite the drudgery of the days that seem to drag on during the school year, I can always find a little more energy in challenging children to think a little harder and try to accomplish something that they otherwise would not try to do on their own.

I am teaching a five-week program this summer. Yes, other teachers may say, “You just finished 9 months of grueling class days…and you are going back?! Well, this is a bit different. I teach at an independent school, and this program is one for kids from public schools. It is an "enrichment program” that serves as a head-start for many of the kids as they move into Geometry. The students are selected via application and recommendation process, and only 60 are selected from 147. So I can pretty much do what I want – as long as the curriculum is challenging and the students are engaged.

Let the fun begin.

This week we have been working with Khan Academy to assess the ability and understanding of the students in working with exponents. Students are able to attempt sets of 10 practice problems with the goal of getting all ten right and acquiring proficiency in a subject area. There are currently 4 different exponent modules, and they utilize a very logical scaffold to increase depth of knowledge (which also increases difficulty).

I was pretty floored by just how far most of the kids can get through these modules. Everyone has passed the first (simple evaluations of exponents), and some have progressed through all four with ease. Further, some have moved to Scientific Notation, evaluating expressions for given variables, and even logarithms. These are rising freshmen, people! Good news that the top tier of Houston Independent School District is moving at a pace that matches our best students in my independent school!

Khan Academy is fantastic – I can track progress of my students, work with them one-on-one while the attempt problems, and create follow-up activities to help the weaker students catch up. For instance, yesterday was day two of using the KA website, so instead of diving right in to the practice problems, I had the students get into pairs and describe four rules, of their own creation (so no textbook limitations needed…allowing them to use a “how to” mindset), in dealing with exponents and show how to use them in examples. They did a pretty good job! Some students repeated rules, others missed pieces of the concepts, but the majority of them created some very solid guidelines. A good first effort.

Tomorrow we will start a segment on functions, leading up to a group project on exponential decay. In trying to stay on the technology high ground, I will use their graphing calculators to help build stat plot models and help them understand real-life trends…eventually.

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