Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Just thinkin'

Two days a week, as I leave the room in which I teach astronomy, a group of students start trickling in for the next class. It's a math course, but when I asked the students what course it was, the various responses included "Math for Dummies", "Special Ed Math", and "At least it's better than being in Iraq." The students range in age from fresh out of high school to a woman who must at least be in her sixties. From the level of activity before their class starts, it is like taking a step back into high school, into one of the rowdy classrooms full of students who can't settle down after a sugar- and gossip-filled lunch break. Turns out the class has the following description:

Fundamentals of Mathematics serves as an introduction to fundamental concepts of arithmetic. This course covers the arithmetic operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and exponentiation on whole numbers, fractions, decimals and percents; ratios and proportions, an introduction to the different systems of measurement, and applications of these topics. This course is intended for preparation for Prealgebra.

No college credit is given for this course. Nor for the course that is next in the sequence. These students are enrolled in the most remedial math course that is offered at the school. I can't stop thinking about how I would approach teaching this course. I can tell that they don't want to be there... either they hate math or can't do math or hate that they can't do math. I can see embarrassment on some faces. But all of them have some goal that brings them there, some certificate or degree program. Wouldn't it be more embarrassing to allow oneself to be impeded? Isn't it empowering to address one's deficiencies? Shouldn't the students be proud of themselves? How can a more positive attitude be instilled in the students ? It's giving me plenty to think about.


Sarah Prineas said...

That's a tough one. At the U of A I taught remedial writing (we didn't call it that, OF COURSE). Some of the kids were motivated, knew they'd been cheated by their crappy high schools, and had to catch up for college. Some of them just shouldn't have been there because they didn't care. The goal was not learning, but getting that certificate, or whatever.

Writing might be easier, though, because it was also teaching critical thinking skills, not just basic grammar, which might be the equivalent of 2 +2.

David Moles said...

Could you go all Jaime Escalante and just teach them calculus?

Dr. Lisa said...

I don't have the gravitas of a person who can be portrayed by EJO, so I probably can't follow David's suggestion. ;)

Sarah - I'm sure some of them are the motivated sort you describe, but there are a few loud discontent ones that are likely to determine the classroom environment if not handled properly.