The case against teaching the L3 Algebra standard - Part II

It's been a few months since my last post about not teaching level 3 Algebra. This is a follow up of the comments I received on that post, the comments I've gotten in person, and the changes I have made to my initial decision.

At the beginning of the school year, I had made a decision to not teach the Algebra standard to my year 13s. My reasoning was that they could make up enough credits from the other standards, the content didn't match university content, and that it was causing too much stress which actually leads to less credits being achieved that go toward university entrance in our school.

That post from months ago garnered a lot more attention than I had initially thought thanks to one of my former lecturers from university posting it on a popular math page and in a forum we both belong to. It gave me a lot of information that I am very grateful for.

Here's what I learned.

There were strong feelings for and against, but also some people in the middle-ground. I figured there would be a lot against because Algebra is a topic that has always been done and because it is apparently required for students to get into engineering. When I found out the latter was not entirely true, I took the opportunity to change it in my school with the backing of my Head of Department.

I had always planned on teaching a crash-course in Level 3 Algebra that would get the students up to speed on what they need for this year and what I thought they would need in university for a first-year course that included mathematics (whether that's engineering, vet, medical, etc). After the blog post, I had received comments from university lecturers around the country advising me of what they believed the students needed. Remember, this came from those that actually teach and assess the university courses. Not administration, not 'the university', not people who assume what university students required, but the actual people with the real knowledge.

On my previous blog post, there was a very strong view that I shouldn't be getting rid of the topic because it would disadvantage a large range of students. I think there might have been some miscommunication in there because I was teaching the topic and had always planned to, but not to what the standard tells me to. There is a lot that is not required and there is some things that are not in there.

There was mention that giving my students two exams within a three hour period is unfair to those students at other school who will be doing all three exams within the three hour period. I agreed, this can be seen as unfair. Heck if were up to me, I'd bin exams and allow students to take as much time as they need to improve their knowledge in the subjects as much as possible. They do it in art class, why not in math? Art's externals are projects/portfolios. The students literally hold a record of their progress throughout the year. Math? They have to understand the topic enough to regurgitate skills in a timed session no matter what their state of mind is that day, be it from sickness, lack of sleep, not revising recently, or just being in an exam setting.

When it came to telling the students of the plan, they initially were not happy. But going through the reasons and what we'd do instead calmed them down. They would still learn high-level algebra but the content would be adjusted for what they'd actually need and they wont have to sit the final exam. It also gives them extra time and opportunity to learn the calculus subjects deeper, giving them an advantage when they enter their exams and when it comes to calculus next year. For those that want to do scholarship (or if I had students that were going into one of the two courses that require Algebra), I am still giving them that opportunity. It just wont be the same as class teaching. They and their parents seemed convinced of my methods.

Teaching is difficult. We have to manage our expectations, with the students' individual expectations, with the school's and the CoL's, and those of the whanau, local, and wider communities. We have to make calls.

I admit I might be doing this wrong. Perhaps the NCEA exams are set up better than a course that has topics specifically picked by the people that my students will be learning from next year. Perhaps my method of not teaching all my students the subject instead of just those that require it is not the best strategy. I don't know. If you have any ideas or any thoughts of what I'm doing wrong, let me know. I want to know.

Whatever the case, what I've come away with is that this is the kind of collaboration we need. Not just a math teacher talking to other math teachers, not just as a high school teacher talking to other high school teachers (both in and out of my school), but as a teacher talking to university teachers to know what they want. We also need to go further and talk to primary school teachers about what they want and we want. We need to streamline learning all the way through students' schooling. We also need to let the administrators of our courses understand what our students need in the 21st century. And there is probably not one right answer. We need an open dialogue. Luckily we have been given a forum in the form of the NCEA review.

Let me know what I'm doing right and what I'm doing wrong. Join the conversation to help our students become genuine members of our global community!

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