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The Math Grinder

Updated: Nov 21, 2022

When I took this teaching job at Hangzhou International School (HIS) I knew I was going to be in over my head in one way. The mathematics I was going to be teaching was higher level mathematics than I had looked at in thirty years. Seriously. Solving homogeneous differential equations? Euler's method for approximating derivatives and Maclaurin series? Yeah. Not since I was a junior and senior in college.

I passed on a job in another city that would have been exactly what I had been teaching for the past twenty years. That didn't sound thrilling enough and I wanted to do something different. I knew teaching the high level class was going to be a stretch for me and I hoped I wouldn't embarrass myself. Well, I came really close on Friday. I was attempting to explain a specific method for solving an obscure type of equation and it went south. I get it, but I did a crappy job of explaining the necessary steps. Back to the drawing board...

It's 3:00 in the afternoon. I just spent six straight hours revising my notes and preparing for one class on Monday. The problem I ran into was that I didn't get it to the level that I thought I did. When questions came up I wasn't ready for it. The students that I have in this class are all very good at mathematics. Several of them will either attend Ivy League schools or M.I.T. next year. One of the students in this class had already learned the method we were discussing and he knew it better than I did. It came very close to a "losing face" situation when we ran out of time at the end of class. That will not being happening again if I can help it. I don't have to know it all, but I do have to know what's expected of me.

I'm not complaining. I signed up for this, and I'm glad I did. I'm happy to have my apartment minutes from my classroom. I'll be there again tomorrow morning grading tests and trying to get ready for the entire week. I'm learning things I had forgotten long ago and it's going to make me a better teacher in the long run.

On a more positive note I've re-discovered Teachers Pay Teachers. It's a website where teachers sell their activities and lesson plans. A good hour activity for 8th grade students will cost about $3.00 USD. To be good it has to be fun, have a theme, be self correcting, and get students up and out of their seats. I've created some very cool activities through the years and I've considered sharing some of my stuff there. My M&Ms activity for teaching Chi-Squared hypothesis tests would be a winner. Maybe my Escher-like tessellation material too?

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Nov 20, 2022

Ran into the math problem when I took over Calculus. Hadn't done that level math in 25 years since engineering approaches things a bit differently (the calculus is done during the design phase so it's all application math). "Losing face" bothered me at first til I figured out that the kids were OK with you stumbling so long as you admitted it. I would stare at a problem that was covering the board and say "I must have made a mistake somewhere, any ideas" and if none were forthcoming "Can I get back to you on this tomorrow?".

I've looked at Teachers Pay Teachers but the problem is that you have to cough up the $$ before you have any…

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