Wednesday, December 03, 2008

High school calculus teacher has to fund using more paper for longer, and more frequent exams for students

On Tuesday, Dec. 2, USA Today ran a story about a high school mathematics teacher who sells ad space on his paper examinations.

Math and calculus teacher Tom Farber at Rancho Bernardo High School in suburban San Diego, CA started the practice when the school reduced the copying budget for each teacher during the year.

The front page story is by Greg Toppo and Janet Kornblum, is titled “Teacher does the math – and sells ads on test papers; To pay for his photocopies, ‘tough action’ is the answer”, link here. The online title story is “Ads on tests add up for teacher.”

The teacher says he wants to give his students more practice for their Advanced Placement calculus exams, so he needed to make the free-response exams longer and offer more problems.

When I substitute taught, I encountered a calculus exam in two parts. The first part was without graphing calculators, and the students had to turn in that portion before getting the second part with calculators. The class periods ran about 90 minutes.

In some school districts, it’s possible for students to have two years of calculus in public high school, taking them as far as integration (and even the notorious “integration by partial fractions”). That gives a big jump on college tuition and costs, but the current economy may force many school districts to cut back AP programs.

In graduate school back in the 1960s, some professors gave closed book in-class hour examinations in 50 minute periods. Typically that’s enough time for only four or five problems, some with parts.

The story also brings up another point: many teachers spend money out of their own pockets for supplies. We used to hear about that with low-income districts and mostly in elementary schools. The National Education Association says that the typical bill for teachers is about $430 now. To me, it's always sounded grossly unfair that teachers have to spend money out of their own pockets to do their jobs! I couldn’t find that story there, but the site does give some amusing stories if searched for “supplies”. I think its “classroom management” link is also interesting.

Update: Dec. 4, 2008

History teachers ought to present Shay’s Rebellion, instrumental to the creation of our constitutional government, and related to today’s problems with debt. Students might have a lot to learn, valuable to them as young adults, from studying the effect of this episode of history. Teachers should ask test questions on this material with the semester American history exams, and students should be prepared for questions on the incident on standardized tests. The incident is explained in the third DVD of the PBS series “Liberty!”.

Picture: Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Fairfax, VA.

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