Middle School Math Grumbles Turn to Giving

CharityThe grumbles are audible as I assign a new Think Through Math unit, “Pass 5 lessons in 2 weeks”.  Sighs and complaints are freely thrown about by my 8th graders who clearly have better things to do with their time.

When we started the year and took the Think Through Math placement test, almost 90% of my students tested below 8th grade level. While I attributed it to our newly adopted curriculum, which has replaced almost 2/3 of our old curriculum with new material, much of which has been dropped down to us from Algebra I and Geometry, it was still a shocking number to be faced with. Especially since so many of the students were identified at or below a 3rd grade level.

As the year progressed and I continued to assign blocks of lessons every 2 or 3 weeks, and the gaps started filling. In class we worked hard to cover material missed between the end of 7th grade and the beginning of 8th grade.  Although no longer part of our curriculum, they still needed to know what these topics entailed and how to apply them in our daily math lessons.  We plugged away, worked hard and they continued moving through the various levels of placement, and they started commenting on things they saw while working on their Think Through Math units. “Last night I had a problem like the one we did in class last week and I totally knew how to do it- even though I know I saw it on the pretest and got it wrong since I hadn’t learned it.”

Students advanced to harder topics and started hitting a Think Through Math wall. They would fail 5 or even 8 lessons in a row, and wanted to give up.  Around the winter break I signed each class up to donate their points to a different charity. The students at my school are blessed beyond so many others in this country and I love encouraging them to give back to the community.  Once I made the charity donations a competition between classes, they began to work harder than ever to earn points. “Login on the weekend, you’ll get more points,” or, “I always do mine after 9pm and I get more points,”.

Not only were they completing the assigned units, they were strategizing ways to earn more points to donate to charity.  My 140 students are the only ones on our campus of 1,200 who aren’t competing for a pizza party. All their points are going towards charities like St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Boys and Girls Club, or the Make-a-Wish foundation, and I’m excited that they’ve gotten their second wind. We’ve recently learned that our campus is one of the top 10 performing Think Through Math schools for the state of Texas, and we’re a big state!

During the last days of school, they scrambled to get points to put their class donation over the top. The motivation is working.

Erika Berk, 8th grade math & Algebra I, Cinco Ranch Junior High, Katy Independent School District