Sunday, March 3, 2013

Posting Irritants

Quick rant this morning:

As I explore the social media regarding things mathematical, I am disappointed by those that post things in an attempt to be funny but fall flat.

Take this post from "Top Math Movies 2012":
Clever right?


Dividing is not "the reciprocal of multiplying", but the inverse operator of multiplying.

We try to be clever and witty and it's a real bummer when we fail. Recently, I read about the "Math Police" that functions much the same as the "Grammar Police" on social media (you know at least one of these types). We do need to hold each other accountable for precision in our language and uses of mathematics.

The math police is a needed part of society and I implore those with skills to help out those without.

Thank you. That is all.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Simplifying Radicals: Super Mario Bros. Results (Yup, I took it.)

Simplifying Radicals: Super Mario Bros. Results: I finally got the reaction from a 3-act math task that I've been waiting for.  One of my students (who hardly says boo in class) threw his p...

This is an activity that I am shamelessly stealing from . While this is not something that I can use immediately, it is definitely something that will be in my classroom at some point.

Thank you!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Most recent Test Results...

The results are in... WOW! Could they be worse? I suppose the answer is yes, they can. This is also the second exam that is significantly lower than I would like.

This post is about 11th grade IB Maths SL (Year 1).

score percent curve
22     43         55
18         35         48
32      63     70
18      35      48
9      18      34
21      41      53
44      86      89
4      8      26
34      67      73

Mean 44      55
SD     24.53 19.63

Looking at these scores something is wrong in my classroom. Not just my classroom, my colleagues as well. Here is the breakdown from his classes at the same level, with the curve applied.
A – 4
B – 6
C – 16
D – 9
F – 15

He put it nicely when he said "We Suck".

We have 59 students collectively and only 19% of those are where I would like them to be. Sure, some kids are going to score C's on exams, but to have 81% C or worse, "We Suck". I use we to talk about myself, my colleague and our students. The job simply is not getting done, something is missing.

First, the curve; some of your might wonder.... (%)(80)+20, we apply this to all IB exams we give. It appears to do a decent job of mirroring what IB does with their score. This is not to say that we write exams that are as good.

We intended the exam to be long, that was something we warned them about going into the exam. Our thought here is it is good for them to experience what it is like to be challenged to show as much as possible, but still maybe leave a bit more...or to challenge everyone in all classes.

  • Maybe it is the "flipped model", my gut tells me no on this. I have had tremendous over the past years, though maybe something in this model needs to change.  
  • Maybe it is the students. I had 0, zero, nada, zippo students come in to ask for help. What gives?? Am I really that scary and unapproachable? Do I make it seem like they should be able to do it all on their own? I hope not.
  • Is it me? What can I change in my day to day classroom stuff that could raise their comprehension?
  • Maybe it is an blue monster that resides just outside our visible spectrum...he feeds on the waves of understanding and steals all our knowledge and happiness. If you see the guy at the left, please let me know.
This place that I find myself in, is one that most educators land in at least once. What do we do? How do we change? How do we get different results? Hmmm.....the thoughts cometh.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Mobius Strip and Valentines Day

Here's an activity that I got turned onto at one of the MCTM workshops in Duluth, MN:

Hopefully any math teacher can tell you what a Mobius Strip is. Essentially this object has only one side and one edge. A diagram of this is shown below.

The creation starts with a strip of paper as shown, I like to put lines on one side to show that the strip starts with two sides.

If you simply put the two short ends together you get a cylinder (with two edges and two sides).  If you put the ends together but then add a half twist, VOILA, you have your mobius strip.

First, take a mobius strip that has two lines down its length. Cut along those lines until your scissors reach their starting point...what will happen? No really, try it out!! Be careful that all seams are taped completely.

Second, take the mobuis strip and the cylinder pictured above and tape them together perpendicularly, again, making sure they are taped well.
Now cut along the lines that you drew. Once you cut along them completely, something really neat happens.

Third, take two mobius strips. These need to be twisted in opposite directions, if not, this part will lead to a broken heart and will not work quite right. Again take two strips and tape them perpendicularly.

 Cut them both down the lines drawn and you will not be disappointed. Happy Valentines Day!!

For those that are impatient and just want to see someone else do this....

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Using Estimation...

I have been using Andrew Stadel's Estimation 101 with my 10th grade classes. They LOVE it! So the way that this works is there is a progression of photos that students must estimate how many things are there or how big something is and often the next day will build on the previous, see the photos below:

I didn't know how my students would take to something as mundane as estimating the numbers of staples. The get up to look closer, they argue with each other and cheer when they get close. I use the TI-Navigator system to collect their responses and display all the estimates to the class. The students are getting much better at identifying what they thing are values from those list that they think are way to high or way to low, sometimes they are still surprised though.

The thing that amazes me is that there are no grades tied to this daily activity, no is there any sort of extrinsic reward for doing "well", yet despite this, my students are most definitely eager to get the correct answer and use good reasoning. Why can't they apply this same mentality to other math lessons?

It seems to me that working through complex problems and arriving at a solution that we know to be correct would be much more satisfying than correctly estimating the number of staples in a strip. Maybe it's just because they have never known a grade to be associated with this activity and it has not been engrained in them to expect it. Hopefully this natural satisfaction can start to spill over into their daily work and I would see that as easing our shift to SBG in the coming school years.

Thank you @Mr_Stadel for the work you have done with this project!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

FETC: Day 3

Today opened with a less than stellar keynote, which was a disappointment as the others have been great! For those that might be interested she is part of the Institute of Play...but her talk really was not for me. There were 4 things that she tossed out in the last 3 minutes that might have some value for me though.

  • Minecraft
  • PlayForce - an online forum for any people to state the things that they learn in any game on the market. Could be interesting to peruse to see what skills kids are learning from COD or whatever else is hot these days. Please be careful if you search this topic and type "PlayForce" not "Play Force", it looks like bad things come up with the latter.

  • SimCity EDU - it looks like this will be an area for folks to share how they use one of my all time favorites, SIMCITY, to teach. Dunno if it's going to be good or not or if I will ever use it, but it's definitely worth a mention here.
Session #1: Nigel Nisbet from MIND Research Institute.

With their little penguin Jiji, students can play games that really get at the understanding of mathematical topics. From what Nigel showed us, there is very little instruction given in these games and it is up to discovery with the students to reach the content. From what I saw, it is Fa-Nom-In-Al!! 

Unfortunately, there are two big flaws for me: it costs money for the program and it is targeted at K-5 or middle school remediation. Don't get me wrong, the remediation and discovery of fractions and positives and negatives would be AWESOME for most high school students, the program might be more than a high school educator needs. They are currently working on HS curriculum but it is at least 2 years out. "Good online interactive learning is HARD."

There are two free apps for iPad that they put out, I haven't had a chance to play yet: Kickbox and Bigseed. We shall see what they are...

A big thing that I am taking away from this session, and I do agree with it, is that much of online practice is for procedural skills and this does not make for a good use of the potential held in a mobile device. Good mathematics like the work that MIND is doing is really the sort of thing that developers should be working towards. Our teaching can start off in Quadrant A but it should be driven into Quadrant D.

Session #2: Adam Bellow, founder of eduTeacher
Adam presented a very fast paced session that gave a lot to talk about. Here are some of the things that jumped out at me.
  • does not like Kahn Academy, not be cause he thinks "Sal is not the devil, but he's not superman either." The media and a lot of educators think that K.A. is the answer to all.
  • Don't have students look up answers, but find questions
  • The GAC factor - Give a Crap factor. Raise this, and they will want to learn.
  • Innovation does not equal iteration. We cannot try the same thing in a different way and call it innovation.
  • We cannot pretend that the world is a steril place with out things like Facebook. We need to no try to force students away from these things but teach them how to use them effectively and appropriately.
  • Try one new thing at a time. Forget what Yoda said, it's ok to try and fail, it's how we learn what works.
 A lot of this spoke to me in that although I am using a flipped classroom, making videos or using KA is not innovative, it is how class time is used where I am trying to innovate.

The last session from the conference was the app shootout. I, however, don't have any notes from this as the materials were supposed to be put on to Edmodo. When I locate them, I will start to share.

This last posting has taken me forever to put up, once I got back in the classroom after the conference it seemed that I just never had any time. I am sure that most other teachers are thinking the same things regarding their time, I would challenge everyone that reads this to simply pick one thing that looks cool, or fun or maybe it would help with instruction, and give it a try. Take risks, challenge the way that things have been done and unless you are the perfect teacher, you can always tweak something that you are doing in the classroom.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Day 2 of FETC

Session 0.5
Today opened with an "Eyeopener" session with coffee and delicious fresh smoothies! Google Education put on this session and it was good, speaker was Jamie Casap. The presenter stated that we already have digital citizens. Over the years I have heard from all involved with technology education that we need to create these "citizens", an important distinction here is that our students were born into this technological age and thus are already digital citizens. They don't view tech the same way that us old folks do. What we need to focus our energies on is creating the distinction in our own students that we want digital leaders not just citizens.

Another point that he made is that collaborative assessments are not a bad thing and should become an essential thing. He stated that if he took a project to his bosses and said that he was the only person that developed it, he would probably not last long. In "real" post high school life our students will be more often than not be working collaboratively with others, yet, our educational process puts them into their own box and teaches them to work independently. Our teaching paradigm must change. How? That's the question for the ages.

Here's a couple cool other tidbits he dropped:
-Duolingo: helps students learn a new language while having students create actual digital content on the web in that language. Two birds, one stone. This really isn't up my alley, but I need to make sure to pass it on to my colleagues in the languages department.

-Knewton: this appears to be something like the formative assessment that Kahn Academy has been building in to their lessons. A big difference is that this is touted as an adaptive platform. This is something that I have been reading on Dan Meyer's blog dy/dan and Fawn Nguyen's (and agree with) that is something that is majorly lacking on K.A. This sort of platform, if it can adapt to the learning ability of each student, would be a pivotal part of any Flipped Classroom, such as mine. I would love to hear if anyone out there has more information about it.

-Googles World Wonders Project: for my history folks, this is AWESOME!! I think....i'm, unfortunately, not much of a history freak.

-Google Science Fair: this is a global affair and is something that any science teacher should look into.

Session 1: Keynote
Dr David Sousa
Designing Brain-Friendly Schools in the Age of Accountability
Here's what I took away from this talk, which again was very good.

  • in a 50 min period the lesson should be subdivided into at least 2 smaller lessons. The brain cannot sustain more than 20 minutes or so. Building in novelty and unexpected tasks can help break things up. My first instinct was that this goes against what so many administrators preach...have an expected schedule that kids can predict. It does make sense though.
  • Use movement, games, music, humor to break things up and don't do the same thing every time.
  • Give students dedicated time to talk to each other about what they are learning.
  • Research shows that brains are designed to focus on one thing at a time. Proposed idea is that multi-tasking is a myth and what we really do is task-shifting. What is noticed is that as soon as we shift, we lose from the first as we gain info on the second
  • (This is one that I am definitely experiencing now) Too much info will cause the frontal lobe to actually start shutting down and allows emotions to take over. I know that I have reached the point of overload and I am know spewing it all on this blog.
  • It is now shown that short term memory can only hold 4 packets (not 7+/-2 as found 10+ yrs ago). We need to "Satisfice". That is take in enough information to meet a specific need and ignore the rest.
  • Our curriculum is focused on memorizing stuff. The reality of the digital age is that we now only need to remember where to look things up (see
  • A last parting though was to keep it relevant, less is more.

I also attended two sessions today. Overall, they were pretty dismal. I was able to take a couple small things away worth noting.
1.  Classroom physical models mostly have all chairs facing the front implying that is the most important place in the classroom.
 I think this is a bad thing, but very often the case. The most important place in the classroom is wherever students are doing the work that leads to their knowledge. Why does that have to be where the teacher received their lectured content.

2. People that speak about flipped classes, don't always have much idea of what they are. The second session I went to spoke about what they were not, but not what she thought they were. The session then went on to talk about how K.A. can be used in a flip...but this was exactly what she stated flipped classrooms should not look like. ARGH!

I had a brief chance to attend the exhibit hall today too.
WOW! this place was huge. At least 10x the size of the hall at the TIES conference in MN. All the vendors were doing their own sessions. Hopefully tomorrow I will be able to take advantage of some of these, I especially hope to sit in and talk with the folks from Edmodo.

Despite the frustration with the concurrent sessions I have attended, the keynotes have been worth their weight in gold to me. I have gained so many ideas and tips to pass on to colleagues. Sorry for the length of these posts, it sort of feels like information vomit on a webpage....don't really know a better way to keep track of it all though.