Friday, August 23, 2013

...and we're back!

After a summer of roller coasters, little league baseball, revising worksheets, and the conference at Exeter, the new school year began on Wednesday.  The luxury of knowing that the students can successfully self-start and run the class has given way to beginning the process again with a new group of students and hoping the kids I had last year will continue to use the principles of Harkness as they study in their new classes which are not being taught through Harkness.  After three days, things are looking good.

First, while I tend to see my former students a lot since a good number of them come back to me for a college recommendation letter, several have come back specifically to tell me that they found the summer work for AP Calculus "really easy"...something that has never happened before, with the common response being a comment about how much they had forgotten over the summer.  Others stopped by specifically to tell me they miss my class because of the way it was taught.  One in particular came back to say that, when asked her favorite math class this year in another class, she said honors pre-calculus precisely because it was taught through Harkness.  While I'm sure that there are some students who are relieved by the fact that lectures have returned, I know that there are also plenty who are not.  To each of the students who came back, I gave the same advice: use the principles of Harkness as much as you can, both in and out of class.  They know the value of talking things through, of pursuing and achieving a deep knowledge of the material by discussing it. Hopefully, the fact that they miss the way the class was taught will translate into valuing discussing the new material in calculus when they get the chance.

Second, the new students have taken to the discussions very quickly.  Some were told beforehand by friends how much they loved the way the class was run, while others came in with no idea what was about to hit them.  And there were a few students who, after the discussion on Thursday, went to their counselor and switched out of honors pre-calculus.  This happens every year, so I know it's not something exclusive to teaching through Harkness, and it always makes me a bit sad that the students don't even give themselves a chance.  The rest of the students have quickly fallen into good, productive, respectful discussions.  It has been a pleasant surprise how quickly this has happened, but I suspect that the fact that the honors algebra 2 teachers began implementing more discovery learning in their classes last year is at least partially responsible for it.  A few of the students have inquired about what the tests will look understandable concern, but one that I hope will fade as they get more comfortable with the discussions, and as they learn that the problem-solving practice they are getting every day is precisely the skill necessary for success on the tests.

So overall, a good start to the new year.  Hopefully, the success of Harkness will be evident in the AP Calculus courses to the point that the other math teachers (and maybe others?) will begin implementing more discussion-based methods in their classrooms.  Only time will tell.


  1. Johnothon - I think it's great you are teaching your classes through Harkness Math, something I would love to try. But I teach in a large public high school in NYC, which has a very specific Regents curriculum. Do you know if any of the Harkness Math classes align [somewhat] with Algebra 2/Trigonometry? (Did you go to Exeter?)

    Thanks - Wendy

    1. We are using the method, but not the materials from Exeter. Due to the state standards in Ohio, the move toward Common Core, and our local curriculum, we wrote our own exercises for the course. So while I'm not sure whether or not the Exeter materials match the Regents curriculum, it's not a necessity to run the course (though it did take us the entirety of last summer to write the exercises, and then we revised them this summer).

      And yes, I went to the Greer Conference at Exeter in June. Without exception, the best professional development in which I've had the opportunity to take part in 23 years of teaching.