Honors Geometry at Berkeley High School
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Honors Geometry at Berkeley High School
I've read previous posts about honors geo at BHS but I'm looking for another
level of detail. Given a teacher who is famous for putting questions on
that are harder than those in the homework and book, and who is known to
be rigid, how can I help my child succeed? My child is smart, good in math,
doing the homework and doing miserably on the tests. He has a tutor. We're
not after the A, we're just after avoiding this overwhelmingly frustrating
experience which leads to discouragement and will turn him off from future
honors classes. Where can we find some harder questions that he can use to
prepare for the tests? Are there other approaches? Any other advice that has
helped kids in honors geo with this teacher? We believe this teacher's
approach is unnecessary and that high standards can be had without this cost
-educators should assure that hard work in a hard class results in success.
We pulled our freshman son out of the honors geometry class
after about a month. Our son also had tutoring (Harvey
Garn), but it wasn't enough. After witnessing his difficulty
with the material and getting a sense for how unhelpful the
teacher was, it seemed senseless to continue. We hear that
there are three teachers this year, only one of whom is
really making the material work for her class.
The geometry curriculum looks irrelevant to the later
''useful'' math - algebra, trig, calculus, statistics. It
seems like a tradition, and directed more at teaching ''how
math is done by mathematicians'' (axioms, proofs) than at how
math can serve other pursuits. So we decided to go with a
less challenging class now and try again next year.
This is a very timely message! My daughter just got a D on
her first honors geometry test at Palo Alto High and she's
really upset. Like your kid, she's smart and studies very
hard, but the test included many questions that weren't in
the homework or on the review sheets. She feels angry about
the ''ambush'' but has also lost a lot of confidence in her
math ability. She's already talking about dropping the
honors class in order to avoid a bad final grade. I try to
reassure her that grades don't matter at this level and it's
more important to learn the material, but she just gives me
that deadly teenage ''You just don't understand'' glare. Given
this hypercompetitive college entrance environment that I
never had to face, I'm inclined to agree with her. I also
agree with you that this type of teaching seems to reward
only the very few who are truly gifted in math while
frustrating and turning off a lot of smart kids who could
benefit from a system that was rigorous but not ''tricky''.
I'll also add that it's a shock to see that her textbook is
21 years old. It's truly shameful how we've underfunded
public education in this country.
My son and I are torn about whether he should take Honors
Geometry as an incoming 9th grader at Berkeley High this
fall. He has passed the test for it. I've been told that
the test is very difficult to pass and that he should take
Honors in order to be challenged by geometry. The problem
is that every one he knows who has taken it has had Mr.
Henri, who has a reputation for being excessively and
ridiculously hard. The only students who get to take the
other, more reasonable, teacher are the accelerated 8th
graders who come in from middle school and take it 0
period. We hear stories of kids studying for hours every
day only to barely pass and then getting turned off to math
and not taking any other honors or AP math classes in high
school. One person we know who is now a senior in college,
majoring in astrophysics and taking lots of hard math
classes, barely got a C in Mr. Henri's class after lots of
hard work and is one of the ones who never took other
honors math classes at BHS because of that experience.
My question: is this the norm? Are there lots of other kids
out there who took this class and enjoyed it and/or managed
to cope without an inordinate struggle ending with a
negative outcome? Do people feel that on balance it was
worth taking it, or is it better to take regular geometry
and then test for later Honors/AP classes? Right now, my
son doesn't know any one who has signed up for this class --
for the reasons outlined above.
Thanks for any advice--we'd particularly like to hear from
any one who had a positive experience.
My son just completed his freshman year having taken honors
goemetry with Mr. Henri. First let me preface by saying that my son
is a very good math student , somewhere between better than
average and the ''elite'' level. My intuition is that Mr. Henri pushes
bright kids, walking a fine line between challenge and frustration. I
have met and spoken to parents of kids that felt both appreciative
and traumatized. The main advice I can give is to keep the
communication lines open between you and your son which is no
small task given the anxieties inherent in this class with this
particular teacher. Fortunately, I don't believe my son was
permanently traumatized by his experience though he sweated to
get a C. As a previously straight A student, the experience gave
him pause to realize that there are some classes that he will have
to work much harder than average in, even asking for help which
he has been loathe to do in the past.I put this definfitely in the
positive column. We (my husband is a public school teacher)
believe that students can be challenged without alienating them.
But my son was pragmatic enough to understand that his struggle,
though a combination of shock AND enlightenment, was a wake-
up call. He has enrolled in honors algebra 2 which even Mr. Henri
professes to being a bit less challenging than honors geometry.
I've been told that honors geometry (with Mr. Henri in particular) is
the hardest class that some of these students will ever take at BHS.
Overall I am glad that the experience occurred in 9th grade and
not later. Hopefully, what he takes away from all of this is that his
coasting for A's days are over.
We feel it was worth it Relax and enjoy your summer and most
importantly try not to telegraph your anxieties to your child.
Please feel free to e-mail me.
I'm so glad you raised this issue as I having been wanting
to discuss this for some time. My son did well in his Honors
Algebra class at Willard and readily passed the test to get
in H. Geom. at BHS, although he could have done it based on
his grade in H. Algebra alone. This is a kid who really
liked math. Unfortunately, after 9 months with Mr. Henri,
he no longer likes it, barely squeaked by with a C, and will
probably never take another honors math class at BHS. We saw
in the first week that it wasn't going to work for him (Mr.
Henri is as you describe), but try as I might I could not
get him out of the class. I was on the point of recommending
that the form they have parents sign to request the class be
signed in blood, just to give people the idea of the
permanence of the thing. Oddly, I met a woman in the spring
who's daughter had had a similarly negative experience at
first, but they were able to get her out with no problem. I
guess they knew the right people to talk to about this. And
I'm afraid I can't help feeling bitterly resentful about
I would strongly advise against your son taking this class
if you have any doubts at all. The students that I know of
who did well all seem to have used a certain tutor who used
to teach the class himself and who knew what (perhaps
exactly) was going to be on the tests.
Hopefully you will get some positive responses to your query
to counterbalance this negative one. Good luck on making
My son, who just finished his junior year, did have a
positive experience in Mr. Henri's geometry class. He
received A's and has proceeded through the Honors and AP
Math offerings at BHS. He enjoyed Mr Henri and they had a
Geometry is challenging to many students because it
introduces math concepts they have never seen before.
Ultimately, I think the answer to your question lies in
your assessment of your child:
-How will he respond to the new environment at BHS? If you
expect the transition to be difficult, will the added
challenge of Honors Geometry be too much?
-Is he self-motivated and does he rise to a challenge? I
think these qualities are important for a freshman to
succeed in this class.
-Will he be willing to seek extra help outside the
classroom? There are plenty of tutoring options available
-Some students start the class, then later elect to
transfer down to regular Geometry. This can be a hassle,
but if he is willing to consider this option, it is there.
And a general observation --We have found the BHS
experience to be positive and dynamic. It teaches the
students lots more than academics - including how to rise
to challenges of all kinds. Your child can fly at BHS if
you let him!
12th grade parent
I think if your son enjoys math and wants to take a
challenging class he should not hesitate to take Mr.Henri's
honors geometry class. He will need to work hard and may
not get an ''A''. My daughter (just graduated BHS) took Mr.
Henri's class in the 9th grade. She's a solid math
student,but no future math major. She worked hard and did
fine. I was told by a recent Stanford graduate (engineering
major) that he learned more in Mr. Henri's honors geometry
class than any other class he took at BHS. I suspect that
some of the grousing you may hear about Mr.Henri has to do
with his tough grading. My experience with many
students/families in the academic ''fast track'' at BHS is
they expect teachers to give their students ''A'' grades.
When they don't.....they end up running the teacher into
the ground. Your son will learn a great deal and need to
work hard, but he may not get an ''A''. You need to decide
what's more important.....an easy ''A'' or a challenging
hi -- my son had Mr. Henri two years ago for honors
geometry. At first, he did find the class very hard.
however, he wound up learning an enormous amount, really
enjoying the class (in which he had many friends), and
really liking and appreciating Mr. Henri. so there are
definitely very positive honors geometry stories out here.
best wishes to your son in his decision.
anonymous, to respect my son's privacy
My son was one of those who did miserably in Honors
Geometry with Mr. Henri. Mr. Henri announces on Back to
School Night, that his class is ''the hardest'' class at
BHS. I have never gotten an explanation from Mr. Henri or
the math department as to why this is beneficial to kids,
but what my son relayed to me, is that homework is assigned
before the material is covered in class. So, it seems that
honors geometry is for students who can learn the material
on their own by reading the book. If you have a student
who needs help in learning it, then you're out of luck.
And since I have a kid who is turned off by teachers who he
feels is not interested in helping students learn, my kid
basically turned off to math. A truly lousy experience.
My son had Mr. Henri for Honors Geometry as a Freshman.
He worked pretty hard, but not excessively so (an hour or
so of math regularly and more time right before a test)
and got a B. The expectations regarding homework and
testing are very clear and Mr. Henri makes himself
available for tutoring and extra help. I asked my son and
another boy who had Mr. Henri a few years previous to my
son what they thought of him compared to other honors
track math teachers and heard ''hard, but fair'', ''he's a
good teacher - he really teaches you stuff'', ''It's
challenging but certainly not impossible to get a good
grade.'', ''any honors class is going to be hard and Henri's
class is not a huge amount harder than any other honors
class''. Both of these boys went on to other honors math
classes and did fine.
my daughter had mr.henri last year. she is a great math
student although not one who wants to do alot of homework.
she complained about the challenging work expected by
mr.henri however thought the class was great and that she
was very stimulated. she has just completed her sophomore
year where the math was mediocre.she looks back on mr.
henri's class as one of the best math courses she ever
took. its very hard to find truly challenging coursework at
BHS especially in the first two years. I would recommend
that your son take the class. her friends who didn't test
into the class and took nonhonors math were very bored.
I asked my son to write a response to this post--it follows
From my perspective (as one of the two parents helping with
homework) it was stimulating, and yes, something of a
burden, to relearn all the geometry I had learned in high
school in order to give support to my very smart, good in
math, somewhat spacey son. My partner and I were called on
throughout the year to help with the most challenging
problems. I don't have a sense how kids succeed in this
class without some of that help, though it's my
understanding that Mr. Henri does make himself available
ouside of class. Along with the homework help, we also had
to help buttress his self esteem when he got Ds on tests (Cs
and Ds were the norm; he only occasionally got better).
There's no question it's a very demanding class, with very
specifically high performance standards. But he's a GREAT
teacher, and my son was very glad to be in his class.
From my son:
I was a student in Mr. Henri's honors geometry class just
this last year, the 03-04 school year. Although his class
was extreamly challenging I loved it all the same. He is one
of the most passionate teachers I have ever had. I think
what makes his class seem so hard is that he weighs his
tests heavily and the homework not as heavily. The work load
in his class was big. If you can stay on top of things, you
can do fine in his class. I had the most trouble with his
tests. Even to get into the class I had to rely on a teacher
recomendation because I was in the grey area for the test.
But if your son passed the test to get in fairly easily I
think he would do fine in Mr. Henri's class. Even though at
the end of the year I came out with a C his class was still
a positive experiance for me. And if you can get through
that class the rest of high school won't seem so hard.
glad we went through it and glad it's done!
Honors Geometry is very challenging; the tests are probably over
the top for this age group. That said, it was a terrific experience for
my daughter who passed with flying colors and continues to take
the honors math classes at BHS. (Which, BTW, are not as
challenging). Kids need to be challenged! In Mr. Henri's defence,
athough he enjoys creating these fiendinsh tests, he offers extra
credit to help bring up grades and is always available to help kids.
Howerver, your kid has to want to take advantage of these offers!
My daughter and her friends pretty much camped out in his room
at lunch to get extra help - and a lovely safe place for lunch it was.
Both of my sons had Mr. Henri for honors geometry and
although they did work hard, they both managed A's and
thought he was a terrific teacher (not the most popular
opinion of him!)
Our daughter's experience last year in Mr. Henri's Honors
Geometry class was not as grueling or gruesome as suggested
by the parent who queried. It WAS among the few challenging
9th grade courses she took -- important because the 9th
grade year can be rather pedestrian. Homework did not seem
excessive or unreasonable -- particularly for a well-
prepared new 9th grader. Yes, Mr. Henri was no pushover, and
if you're looking for something easy, this is not the right
class. He did have high standards, which was nice to see,
and students had to earn their grades. But we thought that
was rather refreshing during the otherwise
less-than-rigorous 9th grade year.
Only your son (and you) can decide whether he is well
prepared enough -- and motivated enough -- to do well and
enjoy this class. But, for our daughter, the experience was
completely worthwhile (and she earned an A).
Re: Geometry at BHS
If your entering 9th grader is thinking about Honors
Geometry, please note that the honors programs is not
intended to be user friendly. My soon to get sophmore, who
is a decent student, had Mr.Henri last year and hated
math. Apparently, Mr. Henri hands out the homework
assignments first, and then reviews the material....
My child who gets top grades
in math, just plainly states that the math teachers at BHS
aren't interested in teaching.
I feel compelled to respond to the anonymous parent who
quoted her son as saying that Berkeley High math teachers
aren't interested in teaching. That is so far from my
son's experience with the BHS teachers that I don't know
how we could be talking about the same school.
My son's teachers (OK, he's never experienced the infamous
Mr. Henri) have all offered tutoring during their own lunch
hour for any students who need it, have responded to my
questions promptly, and have always issued regular updates
of student progress. Our family feels that the math
teachers at Berkeley High have offered much more than one
would expect, both in their classroom explanations and in
extra help offered, despite the frequently difficult
situations they experience such as angry parents,
disaffected students, and an unsupportive administration.
Just another view.
I mentioned some of the recent discussion about
Honors Geometry at BHS --and in particular-- some
comments about Mr. Henri with my rising 10th grader.
My child, who had him last year, shared these
comments and said I could share them with PoT:
''Mr Henri is a very nice person who has a love for math
and really enjoys teaching it. The thing that makes
many students struggle in his class and dislike him is
his incredibly hard tests. I don't think Mr. Henri thought
they were hard -- rather he choose what he thought
were good questions that were based on problems
from previous quizes or homework problems. For me ,
personally, it was sometimes hard to see the
connections between the tests questions and class
My student earned a B in the course, didn't particularly
like the subject of Geometry and is looking forward to
being in Honors Algebra II next year.
Parent of a BHS student
Parts of the homework were challenging -- but that is
the book they used. Mr Henri always reviewed a new
concept before assigning homework and then the next
day reviewed the difficult problems so that student
scould understand them.
Key to success in Mr. Henri's class was asking for help.
He was there every lunch time --all you had to do was
ask for help and he would gladly help.''
This is about the Honors Geometry class at BHS that was
mentioned in the last newsletter. The Honors vs regular geometry
was a big issue for me when my child enterd BHS last year
because of its reputation for being such a difficult class. It was, but
students willing to do the work did well, and it was a bit of a badge
of honor for very dedicated students to pass. However, it was no
more difficult than the geometry class I took in nith grade over thirty
years ago (how do I know? Same book!) and the instruction was
excellent, but the pace was brutal. All three teachers - my kid had
all three, due to reassignments throughout the school year (this
point I must complain about) offered lots of direct instruction,
making optimal use of class time (no videos and mercifully little
sub time, other BHS teachers take note!) and all were available
during lunch for help. Lots of kids took advantage of this and spent
lunch catching up. And according to the kids, even though they
were tough teachers, they were nice and approachable. What
more can you ask? Berkely parents want challenging courses, and
when they get it....Anyway, I felt bad about Mr. Henri getting
slammed in that last post. Yes, the tests could have been less
gruelling, but the kids really learned good mathmatics and
problem solving skills, and everyone says that Honors Algebra will
be a breeze after Geometry! The other thing I've heard from
parents is that the regular geometry class is too easy...something
the BHS math department might like to look at.
BTW, thanks to Ms. Cheung and Bodenhausen for their
responses...it's good to see that administrators ARE respnsive.
My daughter,who is now a senior, took Honors Geometry from
Mr. Henri as a freshman. It's true that it is a very
difficult class and Mr. Henri boasts about how hard it is.
This can be confidence destroying. On the other hand, my
daughter used to eat lunch with other kids in Mr.Henri's
classroom and ask him questions. When she got a bad teacher
the next year for Algebra II she continued to go back to Mr.
Henri to ask math questions! Like anything at Berkeley High
you have to make it happen.
I sympathize with the parent whose son had a miserable time in Honors
Geometry, but it is possible that with another teacher, he may have
flourished. My son had Gen Kogure for Honors Geometry, and it was a
Mr. Kogure really does know how to teach which is a good thing,
because not only is Honors Geometry hard, it is at 7:30 am. I hope this
year's math teacher is as motivating and supportive as Mr.Kogure;
otherwise, I am not sure how my son will do, and after such a positive
beginning, it would be a shame for him to lose his momentum.
I had intended to reply last week to the post of the mother
whose son had an bad experience in BHS Honors Geometry, by
relating my daughter's positive experience with the same
teacher. I didn't get around to it, but was glad others
posted similar replies. These shouldn't be taken as
discounting or invalidating the first student's unhappy
I seems to me that when there is an unsucessful educational
experience, people too often assume it must be due to
a ''bad'' teacher or a ''bad'' student. I believe it is more
often just a bad match of teaching style and learning
I also wanted to respond to the poster's description of BHS
and BUSD as ''not child centered'' and ''not user friendly''.
That is lumping a lot of people into one category. As an
active parent in Berkeley schools, I have met many teachers
and administrators who are passionately devoted to the
success of individual students. I do think that recent BHS
administrations, in their efforts to counteract many valid
criticisms of disorganization and dysfunction, created the
perception that efficiency, not the welfare of the
individual student, was their highest priority. But let's
not forget there is a new administration at BHS. New
principal Jim Slemp has told parents that students and
success for every student are his highest priority. Let's
give him--and other staff members--a chance. I hate to
sound like Pollyanna, but I see nothing to be gained by
adopting a negative attitude about our children's school.
Currently 8th graders in Berkeley are registering for 9th grade at BHS.
9th graders don't have many choices but one of them (assuming they have
taken Honors Algebra in middle school with an A or place into the course
by test to be given in April) is whether to take Honors Geometry. We
parents have been advised not to "push our students" in to Honors
Geometry. We have also been told that if our student enrolls in Honors
Geometry and it isn't right for them they WILL NOT have the option to
I would be interested to hear from BHS families who students did or did
not Honors Geometry --- and how you feel about that decision now.
My son attended a private school through 8th grade and tested into
Honors Geometry. He is in Mr. Henri's class and has found the class to
be interesting and challenging. He particularly liked making a replica
of a household object that is smaller or larger than the original
object. The class uses an old textbook, but how much does geometry
change over time? They are also studying trigonometry.--Joan S.
My daughter took Honors Geometry 3 years ago. There was a serious
problem with her teacher, and we had heard some rather bad things about
one of the other two teachers. At that time, the only way out was for
her to switch to regular Geometry, which she did. If that has changed,
(i,e, if students are not allowed to switch out of Honors into regular
Geometry), I would be very careful about taking Honors. Only take it if
you really expect to love math or science and want to go headlong into
it. In addition, there are things I would be happy to discuss with you
about the Honors Geometry teachers.
There seems to be a concerted effort to discourage 8th graders in honors
algebra classes from signing up for 9th grade honors geometry. What's up
with this? I'd be interested in hearing experiences with 9th grade honors
There IS an effort to keep students and families from thinking that they
HAVE to sign up for Honors Geometry. MANY parents have phoned or written
me about their concerns with the pressure middle school students feel they
are under to take the Honors Geometry. There are misconceptions that a)
it is better to get a "C" in Honors than an "A" in regular, b) that you
can't go to Honors Algebra II, A.P. Calculus, or A.P. Science if you
haven't taken Honors Geometry, c) that there is an extra point for Honors
Geometry, and d) that just because you did well in Honors Algebra, Honors
Geometry will be a breeze. Students have been doing pre-Algebra material
for several years before they hit Algebra whereas many of the topics in
Honors Geometry are completely new.
We encourage you and your child to talk to others who have taken Honors
Geometry about the experience. We want students to make an educated
choice and realize that it will be a lot of work. If they don't LOVE Math
they shouldn't sign up for a course which will require a labor of love!
Those who do love Math find the class to be challenging and rewarding,
though frustrating at times. But they don't mind the frustration because
there is a payoff - the satisfaction of getting the answer, seeing the
light, etc. Those who don't love Math see it as a big pain, complain the
whole time, don't enjoy the struggle, and sometimes end up demoralized or
HATING Math. We would like to avoid this! Weigh the options, talk to
friends who have taken the class or have siblings who have, then make an
educated decision. Good luck! - Laura Leventer Math Department
Re: Honors Geometry at BHS. My son is currently taking that class,
though since he only got a B in Honors Algebra at Willard, he had to
score well on a placement test. It is by far his most difficult and
challenging class, but I think he's finding it worth the effort. His
friends who took Honors Algebra and went into regular Geometry are
finding it too easy and not challenging at all. The courses are
entirely different. The Honors course is similar to the class I took 40
some odd years ago - with lots of proofs and twisting your brain around
concepts that are difficult to grasp. The non-Honors is a CPM class and
pretty routine (so I hear). I think it is a good idea for freshmen to
get the idea of working hard and striving to do difficult work. Most of
the other classes taken by Freshmen (unless they take Latin) don't tend
to be very burdensome. The current math department chair takes the
position that kids should not take highly challenging math classes
unless they are prepared to do a lot of work. I think perhaps she goes
a little overboard in discouraging kids from taking the class. Liz
The biggest problem with Honors Geometry at BHS is the teachers. In my
OPINION, only one of the three teachers who teach Honors Geometry is
good. One, which my daughter had, is a very poor teacher and then
blames the students when they ask questions to try to understand him.
The other, from what I hear from other students and one parent who sat
in on the class, is very degrading toward the girls. The problem is
that it is impossible to CHOOSE the teacher. I would be happy to
discuss this further in private.
The head geometry teacher is one of the most accomplished in his field. I
had him many years ago and he was difficult but was very knowledgeable in
The other geometry teacher is a little newer and works with many of the
middle school students.
The third geometry teacher seems to be very popular with his students. I
hear his room is packed with students during lunch.
I think the real question is whether your child really needs to take honors
geometry. I found it to be one of the most challenging classes I have ever
taken. It doesn't help your GPA and the amount of work may not be
appropriate for your child if they are involved in many activities or
My son has heard that Honors Geometry at BHS is basically a lot more
work for not much different learning over all. Though he qualifies for
the honors level of Geometry he is insisting on taking regular
Geometry. Any ideas?
My daughter's honors geometry teacher told us at open house that the
main difference between regular and honors geometry was proofs. In
regular Geometry the formulas are given and the students apply them
the equations to get results. In honors geometry students and
teachers do the mathematical proofs. In other words, the students
discover WHY the formulas and equations work. Math is pretty dry
stuff. But there is something appealing about retracing the steps
used by Euclid to prove that sides of certain trianges are equal.
Just knowing how to do proofs is a valuable tool for learning.
"regular or honors geometry?"
I would recommend Honors Geometry over regular Geometry anyday. Why?
(1) the students are more ambitious and want to be challenged,
(2) it'll look better on his transcript to college admissions offices to
have taken as many AP/Honors courses, especially if he's qualified and
makes the grades (you can bet college admissions officers will look
carefully at how many AP/Honors courses are taken overall in a student's
four years in high school),
(3) slacking is a mistake freshman often make (I've heard kids actually
say, "freshman grades don't count for college admissions"--not true), and
it's better to learn to work hard now, make the grades now--you can relax
and enjoy your senior year more. Remember, your past grades are set in
stone during your senior year when you start filing college applications.
Getting on college track is where you want your son to be, and it does
begin in the freshman year, not later (as parents, you have to provide
advice and guidance so you've got to do your own homework on education and
make standards for your child to meet that will provide him or her a way
into college and a higher education, if he wants to go there, and what
makes parenting a teenager difficult and tough, you can't just be his
friend all the time).
Anyway, the Math Dept. has a website worth looking at:
(sometimes you can't get through quickly, so you'll have to be patient,
probably early morning or late evening is the best time. The home page for
BUSD (http://www.berkeley.k12.ca.us/) , and linking from the "site index"
to BHS, will also get you in to other departments at BHS.
My son felt there was a huge difference between the amount learned in
Honors Geometry (which he took) compared to the amount learned in the
regular geometry class (which his friend took). In the regular class, they
spent so much time reviewing algebra and other math that they didn't even
start the geometry curriculum until a few months after the beginning of the
school year. Thus they weren't able to cover as much material in the
regular class and his friend was very bored by the slow pace. His friend
resented being in a class where so little was being covered.
Having taken Honors Geometry also helped my son do well on the SAT I. I
would say your son would probably be bored by regular geometry and would
miss a lot if he chose that path.
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