In 2013, math teacher, Karine Ptak and her colleagues at Frederick High School in Maryland faced a significant challenge. Their students had an “alarming failure rate” on the Maryland State High School Assessment in Algebra with Data Analysis (HSA).

Ptak and three of her colleagues knew they had to create a new approach. They targeted what they called the “middle range kids.”

“Kids who defintly have the ability but somehow have been left behind,” says Ptak.

The educators started surveying a group of students and they learned two key things.

  • Traditional class structures were not working
  • Students were not doing their homework

No More Mandatory Homework

After polling their students, Ptak and her coworkers learned that 73 percent of their students didn’t do the homework because they didn’t know what to do.

And 21 percent said they did not have the time. Ptak says, a lot of their students had to work after school and a lot of them had to watch younger siblings.

So the teachers decided to make a drastic change. They eliminated mandatory homework and they decided to use class time differently.

The Traditional Math Class

The typical math class structure was for the teachers to do a lot of lecturing, go over a few examples, and then send the students home with math problems to work through on their own. Students that were not able to do the work at home often began to shut down.

So the teachers mixed things up. They got rid of the warm-up period where they would review homework from the day before. Doing so allowed for instruction on new lessons to begin earlier in the class.

“We did the bulk of the practice happened towards the middle of class,” says Ptak. Students had the opportunity to work on their own, they worked in groups, they worked online.”

This gave students access to technology in class, which was important because many students did not have that access at home.

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