Thursday, February 12, 2015


Have you ever spent two hours on a Wednesday evening at Panera reviewing with your students?  I have.

In the fall a couple of the kids planned a study group before one of the IESs (individual exercise sets...still not using the word tests in my class) and they asked if the other honors precalc teacher and I would show up.  We did, along with maybe 20 kids, and the session went well.  Last night, well over 60 kids showed up, to the point that Panera was overrun with people doing math.  We're not obnoxious, and we all get some food while we're there, so the employees are fine with us being there.  The other customers look astonished that a bunch of teenagers are doing math, pretty much on their own, though they have a little bit of support if necessary.  The atmosphere we create...actually, that they amazing, and it's one I wish I could replicate in my classroom.  The kids are self-motivated, and once we hand out the practice problems they are pretty much self-directed, choosing which of the practice problems they need to do and checking in with us to see if their work is correct.  Granted, cinnamon crunch bagels make any task easier, but the energy and focus and camaraderie is such a great thing to watch, let alone to be a part of.

So what is it about the review sessions that makes it difficult to duplicate on a daily basis in the classroom?  I've been giving this a lot of thought lately and haven't come up with any solid answers.  Maybe it's the pressure of the impending IES, maybe it's the fact that their close friends are there along with their acquaintances from class, maybe it's the sheer number of students, or maybe it's something the cinnamon crunch bagels.  What I do know is that if the goal is to have the kids working independently with support from me, then mission accomplished.  They're struggling but persisting, they're willingly putting in the necessary effort, and those who are taking seriously the charge to learn and understand the material are seeing their efforts pay off.  There are still a few who still confuse furiously scribbling down notes in an attempt to memorize everything with real learning, and things tend to not go so well for them.  My hope is that they will see the light sometime soon and patiently pace themselves through the upcoming material so that the next review session is, in fact, a review session and not a cram session.

I'm under no illusions about just how fortunate I am to have kids who are willing to come to Panera on a Wednesday night and who have the means to do so.  But I like to think that the structure of the class has at least a little to do with the way they now approach reviewing the material.  It's not just about the IES, though that's part of it.  It's not just about the grade, though that's also part of it.  Instead, the real emphasis is on the learning.  It's about everyone learning and it's about helping everyone else learn.

And it's about cinnamon crunch bagels.

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