Thursday, September 13, 2007

Coach Roach, Bleacher Teacher

Tennis coaching has been a lot of fun the past few weeks. We started our league matches this week. On Tuesday, we played Garfield, which won all of their JV matches last year, and they promptly crushed us. Today, we took the school bus down to Rainier to play Franklin, traditionally a pretty bad tennis team. I decided to mix the roster up a bit to get a few kids on the lower end of the ladder a chance at playing a competitive singles match.

After the six singles matches had finished, we were all square at 3:3. The winner of the meet would be whichever school won two of the next three doubles matches. I was confident in our number one and two doubles teams, but when the matches were at 5:4 and 6:5, respectively, I got some goosebumps. We ended up winning not only those two matches, but all of the other doubles matches! The entire team definitely needs some help in both the serve and volley departments, so that is what I'll be concentrating on in the next few weeks. The guys are really starting to get in great position to dominate their matches, but they usually whack the ball out of the court, or dink it into the net--that's where I come in!

Observation of the middle school math class has been amazing this week. I've already been invited to play in the teacher's basketball pickup game on Friday's, which I'll start next week. I can't really think of a better and more fun way to network with teachers than to let them win at play basketball! From my 20 or so observation hours so far, becoming a middle school math teacher seems like a perfect fit. Every single class of every day, at least one of the students brings a fresh perspective to a problem we're working on. That freshness seems like it would keep me alert and young for many years to come :)

There are a few more hoops I have to jump through (instead of just shooting them?) to become a middle school math teacher than to be a middle school english teacher, or a high school business teacher--but I just don't think I'll like the high school age as much in the classroom as I do at tennis practice, and getting a job as an english teacher is about 100x harder than getting a job as a math teacher. All of the math graduates go make a lot of money with their degree. Mr. Howell had a Bachelor's in German. So even though I already have an english minor, and I'd be able to start on an english-emphasis degree right away, it'd probably be worth it to take a few math classes at NSCC and do the math-endorsement to be set later.

I have fond memories of middle school, and to me that age is just a lot of fun. For the most part, the girls are bigger than the boys in 8th grade, which I find to be pretty darn funny. It is sort of like the relationship between my older sister and I, where I was the small boy who'd make fun of her, then she'd pummel me. There are a good amount of runts in the class who poke fun at the girls, the same girls who I bet they hide from at lunch break.

I've also been able to help both Mr. Howell and the student teacher describe things better to the students. It is easy when I'm sitting at the back of the class observing, and I can see making a few of the mistakes I see while trying to keep track of all the little nuances that go into making a productive learning environment for the students.

Today, we were working on a problem where we had a pool that was both indoor and outdoor. We knew the area of the indoor portion of the pool, and the equation for the entire pool--and they had to find what parts of the equation were for the outside portion of the pool, then graph what they thought the outdoor portion of the pool looked like. There were many different possibilities, and some of the students made it much more complicated than they needed to, but that just reminded me of myself doing it the exact same way when I was younger.

The equation had X^2 somewhere in it, which wasn't used in the indoor section of the pool, so it had to be part of the outdoor section. But they couldn't for the life of them figure out how to sketch a figure with the area of X-squared! It is pretty much just a square with X on all sides, but you can't just tell the student that, so we had to come up with a way to try and describe what X-squared might look like sketched.

Mr. Howell came up with a good idea of having a rectangle with a length of 5 and width of 3. He asked the class what the area of the rectangle was.


"OK, good, so length times width to find the area of a rectangle. What happens if the length is 5x and the width is 3x?"


"Hmm... almost, you multiplied the 5 and the 3, but did you multiply the x's? I think you're leaving out an X..."

Bewilderment, no hands.

"Hmm... OK, say X=2, we've got 5 times 2 times 3 times 2, right?"


"So, we can simplify that as 5 times 3 times 2-squared. How can we use that knowledge to answer our 5x times 3x question?"



The kids hadn't been taught factoring yet, which was pretty essential to this question. We went through the first two of his four Integrated One classes, then I realized that they knew how to multiply the length and width to get the area using a variable (albeit uneasily), but they didn't know how to get a length and width from a given area--especially when X is involved.

I suggested that for his 5th period class he do both the 5x-3x example, but also give them an example with a given area and work backwards. He loved the suggestion, and it seemed to work out pretty well for the 5th period class, although they are a bit sharper than the other two classes--so we couldn't tell if the reason why they seemed to grasp the content better is because of their innate sharpness, or the different teaching method--argh!

I have to give it to teaching though, I sure use a lot more of my brain in a week observing than I did in my six months working for an insurance company in Portland. And I'm having a whole lot more fun!

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