25
Feb
08

my department chair is an unfathomable mystery

It’s been a few days, so I have an update on my “progressive” teaching ideas that I wanted to implement.  I’ve decided on a project for both my sixth graders and my ninth graders. 

 For the sixth graders:  They are designing buildings with a certain budget that has to be observed.  This is a group project with a presentation and a write-up due at the end.  Since they have to furnish the buildings as well, they have to review their area knowledge for computing things like the cost of carpets and paint.  And, I’m having them keep track of whatever mathematical concepts they use, so that that aspect is being highlighted.  Some of them have made things quite complicated for themselves, but they are all remaining fairly enthusiastic and things are getting done faster than we expected (I let them help set the timeline), so I’m probably going to move up the presentation dates at least a week.  Then we’ll finish before spring break and they can go on break with a light heart and no commitments for my class.   (We started this almost a week ago)

For the ninth graders:  I’m going to have them create and write a text on area.  We just started today, so we’ll see how it goes.  At least a couple of them do think this is more interesting than regular class — they were throwing things around the room and nonsense like that at one point so I suggested that we could always go back to what they were more familiar with at which point behavior improved significantly.  There’s still the danger that all they’ll do is look at the chapter on area in the book, but some of them have avoided that and are really developing some nice theories.  I know I can’t expect 100% buy-in, but I really wish I could get it sometimes.

Now, for various reactions (aside from student reactions which have already been addressed).  The sixth grade project has been going on longest and so has more reactions to it.  Their form master (each grade level has a male teacher assigned to it for their entire tenure at the school who sort of guides the boys in their general development or formation or what have you) is always lurking about in the corridor between classes, so I got to see some of his reaction to this project, which was basically sceptical disbelief and a kind of sarcastic remark about how much fun they’re having.  At least one boy’s parents have scolded him for goofing off when he was working on this project at home with his groupmate.  That was the most amusing reaction I’ve heard.  Colleagues I’ve bounced the idea off of all seemed to think it was a good idea.  But then we come to one of the most important opinions (in the sense of me being able to continue with my plans). 

So, I had started the sixth grade project and was outlining my idea for the ninth grade project to a colleague to see what she thought and she asked me what I thought the time frame would be.  I said till spring break (about 3 weeks), at which point she suggested I run the idea by my department chair in order to see what he thought because “all projects that last more than a week or two really should be run by your department chair.”  Which I had no idea I needed to do.  I have to wonder if that’s due to my university background or due to my generally independent nature.  Anyway, I didn’t want to do it.

My department chair is so conservative!  I mean, he’s so conservative he addresses everyone by their title and last name, even at social events.  His stated pedagogy for teaching math is:  lecture, give homework over the lectures, give quizzes over the homework, give tests over the quizzes.  Projects like this don’t seem to fit that mold at all well.  So I was certain he was going to shoot me down on the ninth grade project and I wasn’t too sure what he’d say about the sixth grade project.  But I figured I’d better bite the bullet and tell him.  We met this morning and he thought both ideas were great!  He’s all for projects!  He’s done some projects of his own in the past!  He gave me some ideas to improve it and cautioned me not to expect perfection on the first time trying something like this.  I couldn’t believe it!  My math colleague that I talk to all the time couldn’t believe it!  I really don’t understand this guy.  But hey… I’m glad because it means he’s cooler than I thought.

Of course, it’s better if the headmaster never finds out.  After all, my department chair was okay with the two day exams I was giving in Geometry last year, which are now forbidden by a new rule in the faculty handbook.  That rule was all the headmaster.  Because “it’s never been necessary before.”  But let us not dive into a litany of all the failings of my administration’s attitudes towards teaching and teachers.

 –ryo out

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