CTY Math Coordinator's Handbook
The CTY math staff is a very close, family-like group, and a large
number of staff members return year after year. This makes it possible
for many of the important details of the mechanics of CTY math to be
passed along informally, as a sort of "apprenticeship" which occurs
during the course of the summers. Usually, this works beautifully,
because most instructors have been TAs, and most coordinators have
been instructors. However, when someone lacking this experience is
hired as a math coordinator (as has happened a few times), there is no
single, comprehensive information source which this person can use as
a guide. The pre-calculus instructor's handbook does not cover many
aspects of the coordinator's job, and the coordinator's job
description is not sufficiently specific. The new coordinator must
repeat, in only a few days, the development of methods and ideas that
previous math coordinators have already worked out over the course of
several years. This is clearly not an efficient training technique!
To help new coordinators manage this uncomfortable situation, this
handbook gives a detailed explanation of the activities,
responsibilities, and overall role of the CTY math coordinator. It
discusses some of the major decisions that a coordinator will have to
make, and points out aspects of the job which may vary from site to
site. Topics are organized by the time period in which they occur.
The handbook is pretty useful as a checklist for the experienced
coordinator, as well. After all, there's a lot of stuff to remember!
The Math Coordinator's Handbook was written by Ari Rapkin, with help
and suggestions from Martha Meadows, Mike Brandstein, and Shermann
Min. Collectively, their experience as math coordinators spans five
CTY sites and a total of nearly twenty years.
Beginning of summer
Placement testing materials
- Make sure there are enough ADT's, scantrons, pencils, scrap paper,
and scoring keys. Get a timer or a watch with a second hand.
Progress checklists, HSST's & keys, textbooks and curriculum spirals
- If any are missing, have them sent from the central office. Make
sure there are a reasonable number of each.
- Find a convenient place to keep testing materials and extra or
shared resources. Remember that tests and valuable things
(e.g. graphing calculators) need to be kept secure. Suggested
places: coordinator's classroom, the math staff's house/dorm, or an
Study hall policy
- This is an annual source of confusion. Sometimes the site-wide
studyhall format or location just isn't appropriate for pre-calc,
and the math coordinator has to point this out to the site director
and say "Let's do this differently.". There are several possible
ways to conduct the pre-calc study hall: in dorm rooms, in dorm
lounges, in classrooms, in lecture halls, etc. I'm not going to make
a specific recommendation. Instead, here are pros & cons:
- General stuff: Seven hours a day in the same classroom is a long
time, and the students enjoy a change of scenery (as do the
staff!). Unfortunately, holding study hall anywhere but the regular
classroom building means everyone -- staff and students -- has to
carry their stuff back and forth every day. Of course, if you're at
a commuter site, the students are stuck with this scenario
anyhow. Also, few places are as well designed for studying as a
classroom. Dorm-room desks may come close, but lecture hall desks
are often too small and lounges are simply not on: they're generally
poorly lit and not furnished with writing surfaces.
- Dorm rooms: This is the only study-hall location which allows the
students to use their computers. However, distractions abound
(including those same computers), and there aren't enough
math-staffers or teacher's editions to go around. It's a nuisance
for the staff to have to trudge from dorm to dorm with a heavy load
of books and folders. Finally, there's no good way to handle
evening testing: if you allow testing during study hall, then you
have to assign a math staffer to proctor the student(s) in an office
or dorm lounge, or else impose on the RA to act as a proctor.
- Dorm lounges: The whole class is in one place, so the instructor &
TA don't have to run a marathon each evening. Unfortunately, other
classes have discovered these benefits, so there may be contention
for lounges. There's probably a TV and a soda machine to act as
distractions. Some lounges are so close to student rooms that they
cannot be used if the rooms' residents are present. Also, since the
lounge is by definition a casual place, the students feel less bound
by rules of classroom behavior.
- Lecture halls: If the lecture hall is big enough, more than one
class can share it. This is good because the staff members can split
duties & resources and keep an eye on each others' students, but bad
because the large number of students is harder to control (and
lecture halls tend to echo).
- Classrooms: Seven hours a day in the same classroom is too much, but
this can be adjusted by holding study hall in a different
classroom. If it's in the same building, then everyone can leave
their stuff in their regular classroom during the afternoon and
overnight. This helps the staff be aware of students who are
spending all their free time studying -- they're the ones who take
their books home.
- Another annual source of confusion: do we allow the students to take
HSST's and/or finals after classes are officially over? The possible
times include: during the last afternoon (when they're supposed to
be packing), the dance that night, or the morning they leave. There
are pros and cons to every one of these, and they're very site-
dependent because each site schedules its end-of-session activities
differently. Choose for yourself. (Consult with the other
administrative folks, of course.) What's most important is that you
choose early, and see that everyone knows the policy so that
confusion doesn't arise at the end of the session.
Math staff orientation
- Take some time during staff orientation to make sure that all the
math folks get to know each other. Go do something fun together.
(Mandatory Fun! ... and it's your last chance to get off campus)
- This schedule is straight from the 1992 job description. Alter the
timing as appropriate to your site's orientation schedule.
- Thursday evening: Meet, explore each other's experience and areas of
strength. Decide who will work with whom and what courses they will
teach (see below for more on this. It can -- and I think should --be
put off until everyone's had a day or two to get familiarized with
each other and CTY).
- Friday afternoon: Discuss the history and philosophy of CTY
pre-calc. Share past experiences about students and their abilities,
instructors and their attitudes toward math and teaching, and the
nature of a CTY class.
- Saturday morning: Focus on pragmatic issues: how to administer a
class, where to start students, flexible pacing, appropriate
questioning, appropriate progress, and assessment.
Study skills workshop
- Many students have never needed to develop good study skills, and so
have an especially difficult time with a self-paced course. Try to
arrange with the academic counsellor to offer math study skills
workshops. It's useful to have a completely optional one during the
first week and another during the second week which you can require
that specific students attend.
- Emphasize to the math staff the importance of paying close attention
to the students' study habits, and taking action right away when a
problem is noticed.
- The CTY math staff email network. Okay, most of the school-year
traffic concerns The Simpsons or sumo, but if you want fast answers
from a whole bunch of long-time CTY math staffers, this is the place
to ask. During the course of the summer, a lot of useful information
goes back and forth.
Before (or at the start of) each session
- These may be available several days in advance if you're at a
Baltimore site. If not, you probably won't have them in your hands
for very long before the kids arrive. In any case, take the time to
sort through these -- get other math folks to help! -- and determine
how many Regents or other Unified-Math students you have, how many
geometry-only requests, and a rough estimate of the counts for each
subject. It's hard to tell who needs what with the trig-plus
courses, but there aren't generally very many students that advanced
so they'll end up in the same classroom anyhow.
- If you're really ambitious, generate a list of pre-calc students for
whom you're missing questionnaires (or whose information is
unclear). Then flag their registration packets so that you can have
them fill out questionnaires when they check in. This requires some
coordination with whoever's organizing registration, but it's worth
the effort. If you try to get this information after the parents
have gone home, your success rate will be much lower.
Who teaches what
- Once you've looked through the questionnaires, you can make a
tentative decision about how many sections of each pre-calc course
you're going to need. Ask your instructors and TAs what they'd like
to teach and who'd like to work together, then try to match up their
requests with what you need. You'll probably have to do some
shuffling after the placement testing, but with luck most of your
tentative plans will hold. Then you can distribute course materials
and make up class lists, student folders, etc.
- It's helpful to pair new staff members with experienced ones. Trying
for gender balance is good too, since we're supposed to be role models
for the students to identify with. Don't put a great deal of effort
into this, though. Pairing people with course content is much more
RAs and dorms
- Find out who the math RAs are. Introduce yourself to them, and check
that they know the plans for study hall. Make sure the instructors
(and TA's, if possible) meet at least their own RAs, if not all of
them. Find out which dorms the math kids are in. If you're going to
be holding study hall in dorms, get keys to those dorms.
- Some math RAs are quite comfortable with math, and are willing or
even eager to help their students with their work, answer questions
during class visits, etc. This is delightful when it happens, and
worth encouraging. On the other hand, be alert to RAs who are not so
mathematically inclined. Reassure them that this sort of
participation is entirely voluntary, and there will be no negative
consequences if they opt not to.
Course materials and progress records
- Make sure that the instructors have progress chart masters, and the
appropriate textbooks, curriculum spirals, progress checklists, and
supplementary materials. Make sure that they know where the rest of
these materials are kept.
- See that the instructors know which classrooms they have and get the
keys. Find out which keys open which other classrooms. (The ability to
swap keys can come in very handy, especially if the TAs don't have
their own keys.) If there are multiple classes using the same
resources (e.g., two rooms of Algebra II) try to assign them to
nearby rooms. Also, if there's an extra classroom nearby, try to get
it for use as a testing room.
- Go to the classrooms (with the other instructors, if possible) and
make sure that everything is set up and working. Rearrange
furniture, put up posters, try out the overhead projector,
etc. There may be restrictions on what you can do to the rooms, so
check first. (For example, at Dickinson you can't take extra
furniture out of the rooms.)
- Be on hand during as much of orientation as possible, because some
parents will be in a hurry and unable to stay until the official
question-&-answer time, and since they don't know who's going to be
their child's instructor they'll all want to talk to YOU. Keep a
notebook handy, since you'll get a lot of placement info from
parents. Don't promise a specific placement or instructor, make
overly glowing assurances about how much work the student will
finish, etc.; if the parents ask these things, explain the placement
testing process and repeat the words "self-paced instruction" as
necessary. If they ask about residential things, answer what you can
but feel free to direct them to the residential dean or someone else
who really knows these things.
- At some sites, the math coordinator talks to the pre-calc parents
separately after the all-parents welcome speech. This gives you a
chance to introduce the math staff, give a little history of the
math program, describe day-to-day events and the rigors of the
program, explain what we expect from students and from parents,
etc. This is a good time to talk some more about the meta-learning
that's going on: even if a kid doesn't finish trig, he or she has
learned a good deal about how to learn. Try to keep this speech short,
especially at residential sites, because the parents are anxious to
get back on the road for the many-hour drive home.
- In your conversations with parents, and in your speech if you give
one, stress the importance of making plans with schools now, instead
of waiting until the student comes home or worse, until
September. Emphasize the importance of being supportive, but not
overly demanding. Point out that not finishing a year's worth of
work does not mean that the student failed.
- Every session, there are a small number of parents who didn't read
the course description and are just now discovering that pre-calc is
not a group-activity or lecture course. Describe the interactive
things we do (extra problems, small-group lectures, students studying
together) and if they're still not happy send them to an
administrator. There's no need to apologize for providing exactly
what was offered.
Placement testing (ADT's)
- When, where, and how the testing happens is really
site-dependent. Whether or not there's a Scantron machine to do the
scoring is also unpredictable (but "no" is the safer guess). If not,
making plastic stencils to go over the Scantron forms speeds things
up a lot.
- Once you've got the tests scored, it's time to match scantrons with
questionnaires, and assign kids to classes. This is known as "The
Party Game", and usually CTY will spring for pizza and sodas, for
sustenance while you tackle this administrative nightmare. Pull all
the Geometry kids' scantrons right away (this is why you sorted out
their questionnaires earlier!) since their class assignments are
independent of their ADT scores. Make sure none of them have really
atrocious scores. If any do, they're candidates for an algebra
review before beginning Geo. Then split up the rest of the bunch
based on ADT scores, school history & plans, Regents/Unified, and your
innate good judgment. :-)
During each session
- Make sure everyone is keeping thorough, detailed records of what the
students are doing -- strong areas as well as weak. Checklists can
wait, but it wouldn't hurt to update them weekly.
Math staff meetings
- This can be completely informal -- e.g., a chat over lunch -- or you
can schedule a time and place. Just make sure that you're not
discussing sensitive issues where students might overhear. Try to meet
at least twice a week.
Observing the other instructors
- Spend an hour or two in each classroom during the first half of the
session. This isn't a real formal thing, but check with the instructor
& TA beforehand to see what's a good time. They may have special
activities planned. This is a good time to peep at their
record-keeping, and to acquire info for staff evaluations. Pay
attention to the interactions of staff with students, and of staff
with staff (i.e., is the instructor using the TA appropriately?).
- Afterwards, tell them what you thought, and offer any suggestions or
praise that apply. If there were any serious problems, check up later
to be sure that improvements have been made.
- Unfortunately, not every instructor-TA pair gets along
perfectly. The staff members need to know that it's okay to
disagree, as long as the discussions are held out of earshot of the
students. Also, make sure they're aware that they should bring any
serious problems to the attention of the coordinator or the academic
dean quickly, so that they don't drag on unnecessarily.
RA visits to classes
- For self-paced courses, these visits will be quick. Policy says that
each RA is to attend classes 2 hrs/wk, but in self-paced classrooms
there's little to see or do, and the RA's presence may in fact be a
distraction. Also, pre-calc RAs frequently have students in several
classes, and they must split their visitation time accordingly.
- It's Never Too Early to Start Writing Your Evals. Check with an
administrator to make sure you know the little quirks of this year's
evaluation format -- it changes every year, sometimes between
sessions. Encourage new instructors to go to the how-to session that
someone (probably the academic dean) will offer. Distribute sample
math evals. Get your own done early so you can worry about other
Phone calls to families
- In the middle of the second week, ask all the instructors to review
their students' progress and identify those kids who are unlikely to
reach whatever goal they've set -- e.g., they've signed up for Algebra
II in the fall and aren't going to finish Algebra I. Each instructor
should call the families of these students and explain the situation,
being very careful to emphasize that the purpose of the call is to
allow the family to start making plans for the fall ASAP, not a
disciplinary action or an indicator of failure.
- Anyone who calls a student's family must keep a record of what was
said during the conversation. This is helpful not only if problems
come up later, but also in making your evaluations and
parent-conference conversations more specific.
Extra Problems sessions
- There are a large number of interesting math problems (and computer
science, and physics, and chemistry, and ...) which the students will
enjoy tackling in their spare time and discussing in class. To many
students, this is the best part of the day, so it's well worth a
little of the instructors' time to prepare activities. The workload
can be kept to a minimum if the staff take turns writing problems. CTY
has a collection of suggested problems, but everyone on the math staff
is strongly encouraged to bring their own as well.
- Usually, the problems are handed out one day and discussed the
next. The logistics of the discussion group vary from site to site,
but the most common set-ups (with pros & cons) are: During the
second hour of study hall -- this will require instructor's
permission, otherwise kids will go to Extra Problems just to get out
of study hall. However, it avoids most of the problems of the other
two plans. During an afternoon activity period -- doesn't interfere
with class time, but not many kids are going to give up Ultimate to
do more math. Even if they're really interested in the problem. On
the other hand, kids from other classes might show up. At the end
of the afternoon class -- it's tricky to do this in a way that
allows kids from different math classrooms to interact. More often,
this is done in each classroom separately. Unfortunately, class
discussions disrupt those kids who would rather keep working.
Tailoring the CTY curriculum
- Many students in the upper pre-calc classes (those using the Brown
Advanced Math book) are trying to place out of a class back home
that involves pieces of several CTY courses. If you're lucky,
they've brought curricula and/or textbooks from back home so that
you'll know what their schools expect. More likely, you'll have to
ask them to call home and have information sent (or you may have to
make the calls yourself). The best way to handle the
curriculum-matching problem is to have the student complete one CTY
course (so that he/she will have certified in something), followed
by piece-wise study to complete the home-school curriculum.
HSST's, scantrons, scoring keys, and testing procedure
- The tests etc. should be at hand in the coordinator's classroom or
some other convenient place. Make sure the instructors and TAs know
how and where to administer the tests, and how to score them -- red
or green Flair pens only! Also, see that the tests and keys are
returned promptly so that they can remain secure.
- The instructions included with the tests pretty much explain what to
do. The two most important things for everyone to remember are: keep
an eye on the clock, and have someone else double-check your scoring.
End of session
Student program evaluations (SPE's)
- Allow time for these to be filled out on the last or next-to-last
day. The last study hall might be a good time. Make sure that the
students know this is coming, so that they're not counting on this
class time in order to study for or take a final exam.
- Hassle the other instructors as necessary to get their student evals
finished on time. Yes, it's possible to drag out first session evals
into second session, but this is a bad idea since there's so much
stuff going on for session II. Encourage TA involvement in writing
the evals. This doesn't just mean asking the TAs to type up the
instructors' scribbled notes, although it's okay to ask for this
type of help too. Often the TA gets to know some of the students
better than the instructor does, and can give the instructor
descriptions of these students' strengths, weaknesses, study habits,
etc. This information makes an evaluation more personalized and
- You may be expected to pre-read the other instructors' evals before
they go to an administrator. Don't worry about making them perfect,
since your style is almost guaranteed to be slightly different from
that of the official reader -- but you can filter out the obvious
grammatical, punctuation, and content errors.
- Write one for your TA. This will be kept on file for him/her in case
of later job-reference requests. You may also be expected to write
evals of the other instructors and of the other TAs, or of your math
staff in general. There may be examples available. The time limits
on writing these are a bit looser, but try to have them done before
you leave the site.
Progress records, checklists, certification forms
- Make sure everyone fills out the checklists and cert forms according
to whatever directions Baltimore has sent out this year. Don't
assume it's the same as last year. It rarely is.
- TAs are not required to attend, but encourage them to do so. It's
good practice if they're thinking of being an instructor. Most of
them want to go to the conferences anyhow, so this isn't really an
- Parents will ask you what courses their children should take next,
in regular school or at CTY. Try to have suggestions in
mind. However, recognize that some parents will take what you say as
gospel instead of discussing it with anyone else. Emphasize the
necessity of talking to their home schools, and of considering the
- Most likely, the other instructors can handle all their parents'
questions, but let them know that they can send tough ones your
way. The same rules apply here as at the beginning of the session:
answer what you can, don't make unnecessary promises or apologies,
and don't feel compelled to deal with the really far-out cases (send
them to an administrator and move along to the next family).
- Make sure that staff members who are leaving or switching jobs after
first session get all their paperwork done and approved before they
go. Find out where they have left classroom keys and teaching
materials. Also, see that they've left an address which is valid for
the remainder of the summer.
Incoming staff members
- Try to be on hand to greet math staff members arriving between
sessions. If you know during first session that people already on site
will be joining the math staff during second session, try to meet them
and introduce them to other math staffers before Intersession. They
may want to borrow books to brush up on their math during first
session; if you have books to spare, fire away. It may also be
possible to get in touch with session II staff members who are not
already on site, especially if they're at another CTY site for session
I. This is rarely necessary, but in some cases (e.g., someone won't be
arriving until just before placement testing) it becomes reasonable.
End of summer
- Make sure all the textbooks, curriculum spirals, Regents books,
etc. make their way back to Baltimore (or wherever they're going to
spend the winter). Baltimore needs an inventory of what's staying on
site, if anything.
Evals, checklists, cert forms, diskettes, ...
- Don't leave until everyone has handed in all their paperwork.
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Last modified: Thu Oct 17 20:56:45 EDT 1996