Algebra in the End Zone Spring 2010 Semester Reflections
27 February 2010
The Student Population
Due to budget constraints the students in the second version of Algebra in the End Zone are not all football players. Both men and women were allowed to enroll and the class consisted of athletes and non-athletes. The specific numbers at the beginning of the semester were as follows: 17 football players, 2 baseball players, 2 softball players, 2 participating in track and field. In total we had 20 athletes (17 + 2 + 2 + 2 = 23 less 3 overlap, two-sport athletes). We started the semester with 45 students in total. The reasons for taking so many students were as follows. First 5 football players were on the wait list and I was committed to supporting them. Two other students on the wait list I believed would make the class a better class and so I wanted to add them. Finally this left 3 other students who in fairness I felt I should take since I was adding the other 7. Suffice to say the class was crowded and unwieldy often for the first few weeks.
Of particular importance is the fact that 9 of the football players who participated in the first semester of Algebra in the End Zone were part this class also. In fall semester 2009 they took Math 111 which is a 3-day per week course covering the first half of beginning algebra. Spring semester 2010 they took Math 110 which covers all of beginning algebra 5-days per week. We felt that having them for a second semester to build on what we had accomplished in the first would be beneficial. Additionally, repeating half of the material would help them to build a strong algebra knowledge base. This risk we take with repeating the material is boredom. But hey life has risks and I have had success with this technique in the past.
Also worth emphasizing is the fact that the second semester AEZ class is a hybrid class (not a homogeneous football population) had a less than stellar history in the Writing in the End Zone experience. The experience of the WEZ instructors had been that in the hybrid class the non-athlete part of the class tended to move more towards the behaviors of the athlete population rather than in the more desirable opposite direction. In short it did not work well. In the end however it was my feeling that the football players were better off in a less than ideal situation but with some continuity in terms of instructor and commitment than to be turned loose and scattered into other classes.
We are now 6 weeks into the semester and the numbers have changed somewhat. One of the football players has since dropped football but is still enrolled in the course and another of the players transferred to my Math 111 class. So at this point we have 18 athletes, 15 of which are football players, and 25 non-athletes.
Observations on the First 6 Weeks of Class
As I left last semester, the first AEZ semester, I was very unsure of what we had accomplished. I knew we had improved and I further knew that as a class we were not quite college level. I felt as if we had underachieved as a class, students and instructor alike. However as each week passes this second semester, I feel better and better about what we accomplished last semester and how really outstanding the guys are performing this semester.
During the first 4 weeks of the course we worked on topics that were mostly review for the AEZ students from the fall. Still I felt good about how they performed. The focus in class was much better, the quality of their homework was greatly improved to the point of being outstanding fairly regularly, and the quality of work on quizzes also was excellent. But I was worried about their ability to handle new material. It is always most insightful to see how students perform when the ride gets a little rough and rocky. And in fact they did struggle a bit and even whined some. But they fought through it. And on the first quiz they blew me away with their excellence. The symbol manipulation was excellent and the written explanations (which I require for virtually every problem in the course) were equally excellent. I have attached copies of their quizzes. Overall the class struggled with the material but the fall semester AEZ guys did not. Of the 7 A grades on the quiz the AEZ guys had 5. The other scores for AEZ guys were 1 B grade, 2 C grades and an F. More importantly the explanations of the problems for the A students were very well done. They wrote thorough, clear explanations and they used their own wording rather than just repeating the words I gave. This was most impressive. Three days later I gave a very similar quiz with just a bit more and a bit more difficult new material. And they guys did even better: 8 A grades and 1 B out of 9.
I really believe we will be seriously successful for the rest of the semester. Their work habits are excellent, they really take pride in doing high quality work, and they bring their A game to class most every day. Additionally they call, text or email when they are going to be late or miss class. They make up work from when they are absent. All things that were so hard to get them to do last semester seem to be coming naturally to them this semester. I am really proud of these guys.
Enough happiness. The success I am finding with the old AEZ guys matches "nicely" with the failures I am finding with the new AEZ guys. Can we find success again this semester? I believe yes but am concerned that with the size of the class and the great needs of the other students that I will be less effective with the new AEZ guys. But we will see. Stay tuned.
Still we are certainly most curious about what has worked with the old AEZ guys and why they have improved so much. We plan to do some focus groups/interviews with them to gain some insight into what they think and feel about what we have done. Stay tuned for that as well.