Preparing for Lesson One With a New High School Class

As head of Mathematics in a large high school, each year young, inexperienced teachers, often in their first year in the classroom would be appointed to my school. It was my responsibility to induct them into my department and guide them through the beginnings of their career. Below is the advice I would give them to help them start with their new classes to give their students that they were experienced rather than novice teachers.

The first lesson with a new class, even for the experienced teacher, set the tone of the class at least for the first few weeks.

So below is what a teacher needs to organise and do in their first lesson at the start of the year.

Prior Preparation:

ï‚Ÿ Class list ruled up as a period roll;

ï‚Ÿ A starting activity;

ï‚Ÿ Room plan for a seating plan if you are not using the alphabetical plan;

ï‚Ÿ Work outline for each student plus extras for students not on the roll;

ï‚Ÿ Assessment schedule;

ï‚Ÿ List of students with special needs;

ï‚Ÿ Your tote box with teaching needs including pencils;

ï‚Ÿ Organise the room the way you need it for each class.

ï‚Ÿ Texts, handouts for this lesson;

ï‚Ÿ Check out the students’ record cards beforehand. Make notes about issues re students. Make an effort to put a face to a name in Lesson one.

ï‚Ÿ Photos of each student, if possible from school records;

ï‚Ÿ Plan the whole lesson. Have an activity that all students can do.

ï‚Ÿ Have a list of all you need to do. Make sure you have extra activities to do to fill the time.

ï‚Ÿ A short, fun activity at the lesson’s end.

Divide your plan into a generic plan that fits all the lessons. Then ensure that you have separate files of information for each class you will see on the first day. Then you’ll be ready to start the year off “on the right note”.

Preparing Students For High School Maths

A Guide For Primary School Teachers

A High School Maths Teacher’s Wish List

What has occurred in recent years as many more students complete high school and seek a tertiary education, is a growth in parents wanting their children to do Mathematics at a higher level. They see Mathematics as a key to tertiary entry and insist that their children be given the opportunity to do the subject at the highest level possible even going against the school’s advice on the matter.

Therefore, high school Maths’ teachers must teach almost all students for all their years at high school irrespective of their innate ability in the subject.

This trend will not go away and high school teachers need the help of primary teachers to prepare their students to enter the rigours of high school Mathematics.

This article is written based on my experience as both a high school Maths teacher and as a Head of Mathematics who often had to advise parents on what was best for their students in the subject. Much of what I write here was presented to primary school teachers in a workshop on the topic.

Most, if not all of the points I make in this article, will be known to experienced primary school teachers so it is aimed more at those new to the profession.

Mathematics is a subject discipline where the student must develop his/her understanding of Mathematics. Learning rules and procedures can take the student only so far. It will not help in the modern world of real life Maths problems in unfamiliar contexts.

To help prepare students for high school Maths, upper primary school teachers need to attempt to develop the following within their students.

  1. A work ethic and one which is self-motivating. Often, students in Mathematics will need to work alone and unaided.
  2. A homework ethic. The speed of teaching the syllabus requirements in high school is dictated by outside authorities. This means that the teacher must cover a mandated syllabus in a specific time. For the student, this means that homework is an essential part of the learning process if he/she is to keep up with the pace of teaching.
  3. A study ethic. It is important that students learn that homework does not equal study.
  4. A belief that all students can do some Maths.
  5. An understanding that Maths is an essential part of everyday life and we all do Mathematical things successfully every day, often automatically.
  6. A belief in students that asking questions in Maths is a ‘cool’ thing to do.
  7. A belief in students that Maths is unisexual, not just for the boys.

Below is a list of what I call essential preparation that is not directly Mathematical but will assist students greatly in their study of Mathematics as well as other subjects.

Students should be taught:

  • Study skills
  • How to be powerful listeners
  • How to ask questions
  • Checking procedures
  • Estimation as a checking device
  • Various problem solving techniques
  • An effective setting out procedure
  • That the answer only is not enough. The students must explain in written Mathematical form how they achieved their answer.
  • That there is often more than one way to solve a problem
  • An understanding of order convention
  • Examination technique

Communicating mathematically is a skill that needs to be taught. It involves students being taught the following:

  1. The correct use of Mathematical terms including their spelling;
  2. Correct use of all Mathematical symbols;
  3. Logical setting out;
  4. Justification of each step where necessary;
  5. Logical reasoning;
  6. The use of neat and clear figures, accurate and appropriate diagrams;
  7. To work vertically down the page to allow ease of checking and the elimination of errors in copying;
  8. The translation from one form of expression to another, e.g. numerical/verbal data to diagrams/tables/graphs/equations, and
  9. Correct and appropriate use of units, e.g. in area, volume and so on.

Lastly, you can give your students a taste of high school classes by doing the following. (You might call these suggestions an Action Plan).

  • Set your classroom up with desks in rows and teach a number of “Chalk and Talk” lessons.
  • Insist that students work on their own while doing Maths exercises in a quiet environment.
  • Use textbook exercises.
  • Run some formal, timed examinations in a formal classroom setting.
  • Do regular problem solving exercises. Ones in unfamiliar contexts so they get accustomed to the idea that problem solving is an everyday event, not just one that comes up in assessment.

As I alluded to in the title of this article, this is a high school Maths teacher’s wish list. Whatever you can do as a primary teacher to help develop this wish list would be greatly appreciated by Maths teachers but more importantly will help students to step into the rigours of high school Maths more confidently.

A Young Teacher’s Guide To Homework In Mathematics In High School

Most of what appears below was the advice that I wrote for teachers who taught Mathematics in my department when I was its head. It appeared in my department’s handbook.

Homework was an accepted part of what we did as Mathematics teachers for all classes except those with special needs students.

How And When To Set Homework

• It should be set daily or after each lesson.

• Write the assigned homework on the board.

• Ensure the students write it in their school diaries at the end of the lesson. In junior classes, you may stand at the door checking the homework is written in their diary as they leave.

• Discuss how long the work should take and any necessary advice.

• Lastly, early in the school year, teach your students how to use their textbook to help them do their homework.

What Homework Should You Set?

For students to achieve their full potential in Mathematics at high school, homework must be done on a regular basis. Homework, based on current class work, is meant to be an extension of the lesson and is needed for the re-enforcement of concepts.

In high schools, homework in Mathematics may consist of:

• Written exercises set for practice of skills and concepts. These are based on classwork.

• Learning work, e.g. rules, vocabulary and theorems.

• Assessment tasks – these usually count towards Semester reports.

What About Students Who Don’t Do Their Homework?

Teachers should record in their diaries the names of defaulters. Parents must be advised when a pattern of missing homework becomes evident.

Teachers should develop a process for dealing with homework defaulters.

What If Students Can’t Do Their Homework?

As most homework is based on the work done in class that day, this is not usually a problem for most students. However, if a student has difficulty in beginning homework, teach these strategies:

• The student should look for a similar problem in the work done in class. This is usually all that is needed to jog the memory.

• The student should look for an example in the textbook prior to the exercise. Each different type is usually done in full with an explanation.

• If students still have difficulty, they should see their teacher the next day BEFORE CLASS and arrange a time for individual help. Most teachers are available for a “homework help” time at lunch time or before and after school. Your teacher will tell you when he/she is available.

What If A Student Tells His/Her Parents That They Never Have Homework?

Often, there are complaints from parents who tell us that their students never have homework. This is clearly not the case! If a student has no written homework, (which is unlikely) then we would suggest that the parents set one of the following to be done:

• Ask the student to write a summary of the rules for the current unit and to work an example of each type of problem. The textbook will be useful here. Look for chapter summaries.

• Look at the student’s exercise book and find an exercise that caused difficulty. Set this exercise to be done.

• In each textbook, there are chapters on basic skills. Students can do any of the exercises from this chapter.

• Often there are chapter reviews and practice tests. These can be done.

The Review Process

Homework should, wherever possible, be reviewed during the next lesson for the greatest impact on learning to occur. This learning may, in fact, be the basis of the next lesson. A full description of a review practice can be found in the Article “Reviewing Homework in High School Classes” to be found on this website.

Even though there is a continuing debate as to the merits of homework, the advice here will help the young Mathematics teacher deal with homework successfully.

Tutors and Advice to High School Students

As a teacher of Mathematics and, later in my career, as a head of Mathematics department, I was often asked to recommend a tutor by parents or their students.

This often occurred after a student had been absent for some time from class or when a student needed a pass in Mathematics to matriculate into a particular course at university.

These are the points I made to students:

• Maths tutors can’t do the Maths for you, especially homework and assignments. The tutor is there to guide you to build your understanding of Mathematics*.

• They can help improve your confidence; explain areas that you find difficult but they can’t guarantee success. You have to do the work if you are to improve and succeed.

• They may also be able to discover where you began to have problems and work to fix that. Your parents must make that a priority for the tutor.

• You must note down areas in class where you are failing to understand the concept and ask the tutor to go over those areas. The tutor’s explanation will often provide a different approach to the teacher’s approach to the topic that will help you understand the concept/procedure.

• However, success only comes when you work hard in class and works hard with your maths tutor. One doesn’t replace the other.

• You must continue to engage with your teacher, asking questions and seeking advice when it is needed.

• You must continue to work on set homework diligently and do any work set by the tutor.

• It is also important that you accept the idea of tuition and like or respect your tutor. If you don’t like the tutor or can’t follow his/her explanations, tell your parents and seek a replacement.

• Your parents should seek a report from the tutor on progress made and on the efforts of their student, regularly.

Above all, you must be proactive in seeking to improve your understanding of the subject.

*Mathematics here can be replaced by any subject that requires improvement.