(NBI) A problem I’m looking forward to

One of the prompts for week 3 of the new blogger initiation is to show a math problem that we particularly like. In preparation for all of my new classes this summer, I spent quite a bit of time working through all the homework problems.  I came across one at the end of chapter 2 in my precalculus book that I am really excited for.  It is at the end of a unit on polynomial functions. A large portion of the unit is spent on characteristics of the graphs of polynomials and curve sketching.  Key things like the sign of the leading coefficient, degree of the polynomial, and symmetry based upon if the function is even or odd are what is focused on in the instruction.

Not the actual graph in the book, but a similar one found in google image search. The graph in the book shows reflection about the y-axis

List at least three reasons that the graph shown is not the graph off(x)={-4x^3-3x^2+5x+2}.

I really like this problem for a few reasons. I think it really does a good job synthesizing all of the material covered in the unit. A student who correctly answers shows that they understand the necessary concepts covered in the unit. It also gets students writing instead of just “solving math problems,” which is a point of emphasis of our administrator this year. I’m looking forward to see what my students do with this problem when the time comes. I’ll let you know when we get there!

What do you think?

Until next time . . .


Mixed Emotions

Well, I just finished grading my first quiz in calculus. It was a pretty basic algebra review covering the first half of chapter 1 in our textbook. (As an aside, I really don’t like the textbook.  It is what I inherited from the teacher before me. Our school’s budget is extremely tight, and I wasn’t able to get a book that I would have liked better. Maybe next year.) I’m not particularly proud of the level of rigor in this first quiz, but I figured I’d try to help ease the transition with a pretty basic softball-type quiz. I had a student before the quiz started come in and say, “Mrs. *** (the previous teacher, who is still the volleyball coach) said that she never gave a quiz in trig or calculus that wasn’t open book or open notes.” I just smiled and said, “That’s nice. I’m sure you’ll be fine without them for this quiz. Mrs. *** isn’t the teacher anymore.” This is the quiz that had everyone so worked up. Should be an absolute cakewalk for an honors calculus class, shouldn’t it?

Overall, the class didn’t due too poorly. But, there’s one student who has me absolutely worried. I try to be pretty generous with partial credit when grading quizzes and tests, but even still this student only managed a 4.25 out of 18. The only questions they got correct were #1, #2, and #12. The outgoing teacher told me this student shouldn’t be taking the course, but I have no say in the matter. If a student who meets the prerequisites signs up for the course, they get to take it. I had this student last year in my honors chemistry class, so I’m not surprised at their struggle here. The thing that absolutely blows my mind is when I modified CalcDave’s calculus questionnaire, the student answered the question “Why are you taking calculus?” with “I need another math credit to graduate”!! There are definitely much easier options for a fourth math credit, but their best friend is taking the course too, so I’m sure that’s the deciding factor for them. I’m really at a loss for how to handle this. I plan on having a talk with the student on Monday to encourage them to think about other options, but I’m not sure exactly how to approach it. Have any of you experienced something like this before? How have you handled it? I’m willing to work with any student and do whatever I can to help them achieve, but this student won’t even ask any questions. They have as much said that they’re too intimidated by me and afraid to ask anything. I found out last year after they transferred to my school that I was the first male teacher they’ve ever had, so I guess that has something to do with it.

So, in reference to this post’s title, why the mixed emotions? As disappointing as the situation with that student is, I’m so extremely proud of one of the others. The second student grew up in our school, but was home-schooled at the beginning of the 8th grade year, which is when kids in our school have the option of skipping pre-algebra and taking Algebra 1 instead (assuming they meet the criteria for skipping). This student should have been in Algebra 1, but when they came back second semester they were placed in pre-algebra instead. Because of that, the math class this senior took last year was Algebra 2. The previous teacher had a habit of pushing students like this to take both Trig and Calculus as seniors. (I personally would rather see a kid get a good solid Trig foundation and focus, but that’s a discussion for another time.) This student asked me what I thought they should do, and I told them I thought they were capable of taking both, but it would definitely be a lot of hard work. This kid has definitely been working hard, and after the first 2 weeks and first quiz, they have the highest grade in my calculus class, besting a couple of others that are probably considered smarter. I am so proud of the work they have put in. They are involved in extra-curricular activities and work a job as well, so I know they have very little time for a personal life in addition to their studies. I wish all my students had the same work ethic and attitude as this one. Great things are in store for them in life.

Until next time . . .


(Sorry about the clunky they/their in the post. I tried to avoid the use of he/she in reference to students. I’m not really sure what the protocol is there. If anyone wants to clue me in I’d appreciate it.)

(NBI) Shifting Paradigms

In some ways, I feel like a first year teacher again. I’m filled with a new-found enthusiasm for my classes because I’m enjoying what I’m teaching again, but I’m having a hard time so far getting students to buy in. I know that we are only 2 weeks into the year, but I’m a little discouraged by what I’m seeing from some of my classes, particularly some of the upper-level ones.

The majority of my students who are in Algebra 2 and above (they’re the ones who haven’t had me in math since 7th grade / Pre-algebra) seem to share a similar trait. They are either so petrified of “failure” that they won’t step out and even attempt to tackle a difficult or unfamiliar problem or they are so apathetic that they’ve given up on trying something new. For too long, they have just been taught rote procedure or “plug into this formula” type thinking. As their teacher, I desperately want to help them gain understanding and develop a spirit of learning and constant improvement. However, their idea of “asking for help” is far different from mine. They just want me to tell them exactly what to do next. My idea of giving them help is to try to guide them to the next step by probing them for current knowledge and gently directing them to the next step through questioning. I know that if I can get them to make the necessary connections on their own, it will stick much better than if I just tell them, “do this.” I almost always answer their question with a question. The most common initial response from me is “What have you tried so far?”  Their most common reply: “Nothing. I don’t have any idea where to begin.” It absolutely infuriates some of them to the point that they’d rather sit there frustrated and feeling like failures instead of coming up to me. I am having a hard time getting them to accept the idea of not getting everything right the first time (or even the second or third). How do you get students to be OK with the idea of making mistakes as the pathway to learning? What have some of you done to cross that hurdle with your classes. I know it is not a unique problem, but it seems like this huge barrier for me right now because I haven’t really experienced it much before.

More than anything, I want my students to develop a desire for and love of learning. I want them to be able to look back 10/15/20 years from now at a reunion and say, “Mr. Jolicoeur helped me begin to make learning a personal, active, and ongoing process.” I don’t care if they remember a specific lesson or whether or not they can derive the law of sines. But if they begin to realize that their capabilities are far greater than they think, then I will feel as if I am accomplishing my job as their teacher.

I know this probably has come across as a rambling, incoherent mess; but, as I stated earlier, I’m doing this for my own reflection. Getting words down on the screen is definitely helping me to process and order my thoughts.  If you’ve made it this far and would like to comment or give feedback, I definitely would appreciate it though!

Until next time . . .


**Disclaimer for those who come across this blog who know me personally or know where I teach.**  What I have to say is not meant as a personal criticism or attack of the teacher I’m replacing. I have nothing but respect for her and her almost 40 years of experience. There are just some things that I view differently. She was/is a good teacher and will always be someone that I look up to and respect.

(NBI) Improvements to Make This Year

As part of the New Blogger Initiative (NBI), one of the writing prompts for week 1 is to talk about one or two specific things I plan on doing this year.  I know that one of my biggest flaws as a teacher is in the area of communication, both with students and with parents. My primary foci of change for this year revolves around this key theme.

1.  Improve in giving prompt feedback to students in their grades.

The biggest battle I fight with myself is over letting things that need to be graded pile up.  This becomes especially harder for me once basketball season rolls around and I’m involved coaching every night.  I know that timely, personal feedback is essential to student success, and every year I have the intention of not letting things pile up, but usually 2 or 3 times a year it happens anyways.  I feel incredibly guilty when it happens, but it’s still a constant battle.  My primary personal goal this year is to not let anything go ungraded for more than 2 class days (with the goal of having it all returned the next day).  I have a good student aide during 8th period this year who can help with some of the grading so that all I need to do is check over those papers and see how kids are doing. So far, so good; but I know that the year is just beginning.  I truly feel that this year will be the one in which I finally conquer this battle.

2. Make my classroom resources available online for students and parents.

As I adjust to teaching all new classes and essentially creating new lessons and plans, I want to make it as easy as possible for my students and parents to keep informed and keep up with anything that they may have missed if absent.  To that end, I have a set up a public access portion of my googledocs account and set up a folder for each of my classes.  In each folder, I will store any handouts, worksheets, etc, that I may use.  Our school has been outfitted with new Mimio Teach hardware and software (which I am growing to love) this year.  One neat feature that I have found is that I can save anything done through the Mimio software as a pdf file.  That is such a huge deal for me because now I can post anything that we’ve done on the board easily online as a pdf so students who are absent can easily get it.

3. Communicate earlier with parents/guardians regarding struggling students.

Despite what the guys on my basketball team might tell you, I am not a confrontational person or someone who likes to discuss negative news. I have always hesitated and been unsure of how to approach struggles with parents.  Another key goal this year is to be more proactive in my communication with parents so that they are not caught off-guard once progress reports begin to roll out.

I know that these are all self-centered goals as opposed to student-centered, but I truly believe that they will be key to my improvement as a teacher and to my effectiveness in the classroom.

I never really know how to end these things, so until next time . . . .


Life Thus Far

My teaching experience thus far has probably been very different from the majority of any of you who may read this blog.  I am now beginning my 13th year of teaching, all of which have been at the same K-12 school in West Virginia.  My bachelor’s degree is in Mathematics Education with a minor in Composite Science.  When I was hired, this school had a full-time math teacher and full-time science teacher.  My original teaching job was basically to teach the classes that weren’t covered between them.  When I was hired, the administrator told me he wasn’t expecting the math teacher to be around for too much longer, so it probably would only be a couple of years until I had all the high school math classes which is what I really wanted.

My first year’s teaching load was as follows: Honors Chemistry (11th/12th grade), 7th Grade Math, Pre-Algebra (8th grade), Earth Science (8th grade), Consumer Math (11th/12th grade), and Accounting (11th/12th grade).  The first year was rough, as is expected, but I made it through.  I was in a completely new environment on my own without a lot of support around.  My family was about 750 miles away.  The one major blessing out of that first year was meeting the woman who would become my wife, so that made the transition a little easier.  To  make a long story short, the science teacher left  long before the math teacher did, so I’ve been viewed as a “science guy” for most of my career.  I ended up teaching a total of 17 different courses in my first 8 years. I was starting to get frustrated with what I was teaching and felt like promises that had been made weren’t being kept.  I could have left and gone somewhere else, (and many argued that I should have), but my heart (and my wife’s family) was here in West Virginia.

*Fast forward a few more years*

After 38 years of teaching (29 of which were at this school), the previous math teacher decided to retire last spring.  Finally, in my 13th year of teaching, I am now teaching the classes that I have wanted to all along.  I have 5 new classes and 1 old class this year:  Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2, Pre-calculus, Calculus (all new) and 7th grade math.

I am so excited to teach this year and beyond.  The first week went great.  One of my calculus students asked me after class on Thursday, “Mr. J, do you enjoy teaching more this year?”  I told her that I enjoy what I’m teaching more this year.  I’ve always enjoyed being a teacher, but truly enjoying what I teach has made it so much better.  This past summer has been a lot of work in preparation, and I know I still have a long way to go, but I can’t wait for the challenge.

More than anything else I want to be a good teacher and impact my students the way that my teachers impacted me. For so many years, I truly didn’t care about improving as a teacher.  Two summers ago, I came across Dan Meyer’s TEDx talk entitled “Math Class Needs a Makeover.”  I had really started to understand that I needed to make effort at improving as a teacher, it wasn’t just going to be the result of passivity.  I spent that summer devouring all of the content on Dan’s blog and then began branching out and reading many different teacher’s blogs as well, some of whom you will see in my blogroll (once I get that aspect of my site updated, that is).  I never really commented much, but I started to actively seek out resources that I could use to be a better teacher.  I signed up for Twitter and became a lurker there, following many of the same people who I was reading.  Slowly, I’ve started to dip my foot into the waters of active participation in this wonderful community.  My goal in becoming a more active member is not for any sort of self-promotion or recognition, but to chart the steps that I take in improving my teaching.

The one major drawback to teaching in the environment that I do is the lack of collaboration with other math teachers.  I am the math department here.  The online community is my only place to go for other ideas, and I would argue it’s the best place to go because of the many varied perspectives and people involved.  I have a strong feeling that I will still be much more of a consumer of content as opposed to someone whose ideas get used by others, but that is fine.  Hopefully if there is someone who is in a similar situation to me, they will realize that there is help out there and that they are not alone.

Thank you for being a participant in this journey with me.  I hope that you might benefit by it in some small way.

Who I Am and Why I Teach

I think there are really 2 key things in my childhood school experience that led me into the teaching profession. It may sound hokey and unbelievable, but I knew I wanted to be a math teacher when I was in the 8th grade. I always enjoyed math as a kid, but growing up in a K-12 Christian school didn’t provide me many areas of challenge.  When I was in 7th grade, my parents convinced the principle to let me skip 7th grade math and move into pre-algebra. Seeing that I made the transition ok, the following year 3 other 8th graders were allowed to skip pre-algebra and join me in Algebra 1. The high school math teacher was Mr. Ouellette, a man that I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to. He recognized that I still wasn’t being challenged in Algebra 1 and convinced the administration to let me speed through the curriculum at my own pace under his guidance.  I completed Algebra 1 in the first semester and caught up to and joined the regular Algebra 2 class midway through the second semester.

Seeing Mr. Ouellette’s dedication to and sacrifice for his students inspired me and gave me the desire to be a teacher.  He was always helping students outside of class time.  It seemed like he never took a lunch break for himself and never left school at the end of the day like most of the rest of the teachers.  I enjoyed helping my classmates with their work, and I knew I wanted to be like Mr. Ouellette and help others by teaching math. He wasn’t the only good teacher I had, but he is the one who first instilled in me a love of math.

The second contributing factor came from my high school experience.  My family left the school I grew up in after the 8th grade, and we transferred to a different, smaller K-12 Christian school when I entered the 9th grade. This school had teachers who cared about me and wanted me to learn and grow, but they did not have the resources or the teachers to really continue to challenge me.  The highest math course they offered was an “Advanced Math” class I took in 11th grade which was a semester of trigonometry and a semester of analytic geometry.  It was also a video course which meant we had a “supervisory” teacher responsible for us, but he wasn’t in the room with us because he was teaching another class during that period.  We went to his room when we were supposed to take quizzes and tests, but were on our own for the videos.  He was a great guy, but the math was mostly over his head, and he wasn’t really able to help us very much.  The 5 of us who took the course (4 seniors and myself, a junior) essentially taught ourselves the material.

That experience really solidified my desire to be a teacher and gave me a burden for teaching in a Christian school where quality math instruction is many times lacking.  I don’t mean to denigrate the school I graduated from. They did the best with what they had, and I did receive a good education and feel that I was mostly prepared for college.  Some of the teachers there had a great impact on my life, particularly my basketball coach. I wanted to be just like him. He is a big reason why I decided to teach and coach as well.  I am grateful for the experiences I had because they helped form who I am today.

In my next post, I will briefly recount my teaching experience thus far and explain further what has led me to joining the online community of math teachers in a more active way.

First day of classes tomorrow!! I am so excited for this new year.

Come on in, the water’s fine!!

Well, I’ve finally decided to take the plunge. I have been reading many blogs and following the conversation on twitter for a couple of years, but I have not been much of an active participant. It’s time for that to change.

I probably have 2 dozen or so education blogs in my reader, but Dan, Sam, and Kate are some of the ones that I have really taken a lot from over the last few years. I was very jealously following twitter math camp a month ago and wishing I was there for the experience. I really enjoyed reading all of the follow up posts (many of which can be found here). Hopefully I’ll be able to join the fun next year.

A few days ago, Sam threw down the gauntlet to new bloggers to join in the experience, and I guess it’s time for me to start the blogging process myself. I have 5 new classes this year, so charting my journey and development along the way will be helpful even if only for myself. I am mostly nervous because writing is not a strong suit of mine (hence, I’m a math teacher) and all of you veterans out there seem so well composed and full of witty and insightful thoughts to share which I know I’m not yet capable of.

My next post will be more of personal introduction and explanation of why I became a teacher. I’m sure that my writing won’t be prolific, but my goal is to post at least once a week. Our first day off classes is on Monday, so there’s a lot to do before then. See you soon!!!