This year, I am teaching nothing but Physical Science. This course is like an intro to physics and chemistry course. It takes the easier parts of both subjects, barely touches upon them, dumbs them down, and makes them into a year long course. My district wants it taught as physics for the first semester, chemistry for the second. The class is designed to be a science class for students who are euphemistically referred to as “underperforming,”  which is newspeak for the kids who struggle to pass any class, but still need a third science course to graduate. Sort of like “science for dummies.”

The first two weeks of school were “nature of science” where we review the scientific method. Our school is on a “block schedule” where I see each class every other day for 110 minutes. I spent a full block teaching them to use “significant figures” in solving math problems. 

Simply put:

The rules are simple. A digit in a number is significant if it is not a zero. If it IS a zero, it is significant under one of two conditions: it is sandwiched between other significant numbers, or it is a trailing zero in any number that contains a decimal. For example: 1001 has 4 significant digits, and 20.100 has five. 

Using significant digits to multiply or divide is easy: the answer cannot have more significant digits than the number of significant digits of any number used to calculate that answer, and you simply round off the remaining digits to zero. For example: 1111 times 22 equals 24,000. 

That’s it. 

I gave them a quiz on the concept. It was 10 questions long. 80% of the students failed. More than half of them missed every single question. The students asked to retake the test. I told them that we would retake it, then I reviewed the material with them for another hour. We then watched a Youtube video explaining the concept. They still didn’t get it, so we spend most of ANOTHER block reviewing and doing a worksheet to practice the concept.

I quizzed them again. The students complained that I gave them different questions, because the answers were different than the first quiz. 

One student told me that he didn’t even know what “significant figures” was. I said to him, “We have been studying this for 3 entire blocks. You haven’t been absent. What is the problem?”

He says: “I slept during the first one. The second one was boring me, so I zoned out.”

This student is in his third year of high school and has only completed 5.5 credits. That is less than the 6 credits a student should get for a single year. It is now mathematically impossible for this student to earn enough credits to graduate. A standard diploma requires 24 credits. There is a reduced credit option that allows a student to graduate with 18 credits, but it is no longer possible for him to hit even that lowered standard. He is currently failing 2 of his 6 classes, and it is only the third week of school. 

I am not allowed to wake students up or discipline them, because our administration is in favor of what they call restorative discipline and is attempting to combat what they call the “school to prison pipeline.”

The student is black. I mention this because I saw an article this morning about how the US education system is racist because black kids fail at a higher rate than whites. My school administrators claim that black students are suspended and disciplined at a higher rate than whites, so we are to allow them to fail if they do not want to do any work. 

This student is sitting in the same class with his white counterparts. He has the same textbook, same assignments, and hears the same lectures. The assignments are graded by computer, so no racial bias there. They either have the correct answer or do not. He is failing because he chooses to sleep in class, and when he IS awake, he admits to “zoning out” and then doesn’t learn anything. 

I don’t understand how allowing students to fail is any better than disciplining them. 

Categories: Uncategorized


Jess · September 12, 2020 at 4:10 pm

In the past, schools took it as a responsibility to prepare students for the harsh realities of life. Failure was discouraged, since failing as an adult meant either a terrible fight to survive, or the fate of a criminal.

Now, it's easier to avoid conflict. Those that fail can find some type of government assistance, and criminals are not punished as severely as in the past. Schools are failing at an important duty, and all society is influenced by the bad results.

SiGraybeard · September 12, 2020 at 6:20 pm

…because our administration is in favor of what they call restorative discipline and is attempting to combat what they call the "school to prison pipeline."

As McThag pointed out about his school district, this is exactly how they ended up with Parkland. That killer was through "restorative discipline" a dozen times. That's how much good it did.

Divemedic · September 12, 2020 at 8:08 pm

@ Jess:
That is because school funding depends upon graduation rate. If a school fails too many students, they don't get paid.

squeeky's mom · September 13, 2020 at 4:24 pm

I was hired by a bank in Fl. to teach a course to their new hires during a housing boom. These were all young adults who had recently graduated from high school. Understanding that if you are paid twice a month versus every other week you were making a different amount yearly was beyond almost all of them. When I jokingly asked how many months in a year I actually got 3 out of 15 who didn't know that a year was 12 months. Once answered 14? and two thought for sure it was 13 months. I wasn't sure if this was an overall issue of school programs or just bad teaching. Came home and immediately asked my 13 year old grandson how many months in a year. He knew but was going to a private school at the time.

Kelly McCrady · September 15, 2020 at 9:24 pm

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Kelly McCrady · September 15, 2020 at 11:03 pm

hold a BS in zoology from '93, but I'm new to this type of math (never heard of "significant digits"; probably another thing we didn't study in our major). I had to go look it up elsewhere to get a better grasp on it because 1,111 x 22 = 24,442, so with 2 significant digits shouldn't the answer read 24,000, not 2,400? My current career involves busting typos (book editor) so that's also why I ask.

Divemedic · September 16, 2020 at 4:28 am

LOL. You are right. Typo.

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