If there’s one thing I have learned from teaching Algebra 1 to fourteen-year-old freshmen this year at Regis Jesuit High School in Denver, CO, it is that it’s extremely difficult to hold their attention in an 85-minute math class. For the past seven months, I have tried, failed, and tried again to teach basic Algebra concepts in ways that freshmen will learn and actually enjoy. The beauty in teaching wide-eyed and loud-mouthed freshmen is that they are some of the best critics of my class because they hardly ever have a vocal filter. Each week, I get several praises and many more criticisms of my classes. These have ranged from, “We should do this all the time, Mr. Hurteau,” to “Honestly, Mr. Hurteau, I was so bored that I just gave up and stopped paying attention, so can I just see you at lunch to re-learn everything?” These are real quotes, people!
What shocks me, though, is not their criticism but my reaction to it. I’m never angry nor do I blame my freshmen. As I tell all of my students, I want their most brutal honesty because the most genuine critiques are those I can truly learn from and use to reinvent my lessons.
So, today, I decided to raise the stakes in class. Students had to get into teams and had the opportunity to send a person to the board to answer practice problems. Each correct problem earned the team a point, and the team with the most points at the end of the lesson got to lead the class in a game of Heads Up, Seven Up. Now, I remember playing this game since I was in elementary school, so I was worried my students might immediately dismiss the idea and get lost in their iPad adventures.
Instead, they got excited, quickly assembled their teams, and got right to work. Usually noise in the classroom is frustrating and unwelcome, but student chatter isn’t always bad. Instead of running around the room like a crazy man trying to answer each student’s individual question, I got to sit back and watch my students collaborate together to solve the problems. Amazingly, each team scored a very high number of points as their competitive instincts took over and focused them to achieve the ultimate goal. The Heads Up, Seven Up game that ensued for the last ten minutes of class was a refreshing reward for the whole class. As they left, I heard a lot of “We should do this every day,” “I love that game,” and even some students bragging, “Hah! We got more points than you!”
As a first-year teacher basically experimenting with new and hopefully entertaining lessons, comments like these are so sweet to hear. They give me confidence as a teacher and hope that these students will walk back in a few days from now with anticipation and eagerness to learn something fun and exciting in Mr. Hurteau’s Algebra 1 class.