Why I am Switching to Middle School

 

As of the next academic year I will be teaching middle school mathematics. I will be sad to leave my current school but am very excited about the prospect of teaching younger minds.  Here’s why:

  • I am looking forward to (hopefully) ‘catching’ middle school students with the wonder of mathematics before they reach high school. The most upsetting thing I hear is when students enjoyed math at elementary level but then got completely put off before they reached high school. I hope to do something to make sure this doesn’t happen for my students.
  • I am looking forward to teaching just ‘Math.’ I have enjoyed focusing on Algebra and Probability & Statistics but have missed having the time to make connections between the disciplines. My aim will be to blur the lines between algebra and geometry so that students have a very strong sense of the link between them.
  • Experience tells me that middle school math lends itself to Project Based Learning (#PBL) fairly well. This is something close to my heart and I look forward to modelling what it means to be a mathematician to my students.
  • I get to chat and share great ideas with #msmathchat peeps on Twitter

I am truly grateful to Herron High School for trusting me to teach their students for the last two years.

Summer Reading 2014

Summer is rapidly approaching. A great time to reflect and decide what I want the next 12 months to look like. Time is precious and I want to read books that will not just improve my philosophy but that will help on a day to day basis. I am currently looking forward to devouring these two books:

I’ve been thinking a lot this year about how to teach my students how to learn, how to think for themselves and direct their own learning. I’ve skim read ‘Making Thinking Visible’ before but I’ve been looking forward to going through this with a fine toothed comb and extracting every word of worth from its pages. The philosophy statements in the first couple of chapters is worth a read all on its own. It seems clear that students who can name and show their thinking processes do a lot better than those that just go with the flow. I would like my classroom to foster the former. Thoughts to be blogged/tweeted as I go along.

This is the other book I’m really looking forward to going through. It has come highly recommended and anything that is going to help me become better at asking questions and promoting debate and discussion is worth a look. I haven’t even opened this yet so watch this space for highlights online and in my classroom.

Because LeCarre is amazing.

What will you be reading this summer? Any recommendations?

 

MathEd Out Podcast – Ep 3 feat. Lynne McClure (Director of NRich)

The MathEd Out Podcast

Click Here to subscribe to MathEd Out on iTunes

This Episode we are joined by director of Nrich, Lynne McClure.

NRich is an organization dedicated to the use of rich mathematics in the classroom. In 15 years, they have built up a strong global following and now get over 500,000 hits on the website nrich.maths.org every month.

Lynne has been director at NRich for the last 4 years and is president elect of the UK’s Mathematical Association. She talks to us about the best way to use NRich activites in the classroom as well as recent developments in mathematics education.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/82726094/MathEdOut/05-01-2014%20Lynne%20McClure%20-%20Rich%20Activities%20in%20the%20Mathematics%20Classroom.mp3]

Episode Links:

Nrich

Mathematical Association (UK)

NRich Curriculum Maps

Common Core Standards (US)

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Number Sense, Log Tables and Population Growth

I took base-10 for granted during all of my schooling. This makes me sad. It was only when my math ed professor gave a lesson on various bases throughout history that I felt I had grasped a strong sense of what numbers actually are (although this ended when I saw this numberphile video).

But more to the point, when we think it is important to build number sense, it is very useful to see multiple ways of representing one number. Introducing binary, for example, is not only interesting to students but immediately applicable in the digital age.

This week I enjoyed talking about logs, introducing my students to how their parents (although more likely grandparents) did long multiplication problems using log tables, such as the one shown here:

Despite being slightly horrified at how long it took for one problem, the students still were fascinated with how the tables worked. After doing a lesson on exponents and logs, they were even able to get a good sense of how the tables worked, building up their number sense in the process.

When I was taught logs, I was shown a set of rules and informed how to use them. This is missing something of the power that logs have to deal with exponents. Comparing these rules to laws of indices that they already know is essential to get the idea across.

In other news, when I think of exponential growth I start by showing what an exponential graph looks like and ask them to come up with some real world situations that may follow this trend. Investment usually comes up as does population growth. This gives a great opportunity to discuss whether or not a pattern will continue just because that is they way it has been so far. Here are some video clips that go nicely with this topic:

 

 

 

Virtual Filing Cabinet 1.0

I trawled, I tweeted, I tried to find the best of what was out there. I have posted the first draft of my virtual filing cabinet here and in the process, learned the following:

  • There are so so many great lessons and activities out there!
  • There are far too many to include them all
  • It is hard to choose which ones to include
  • There are some incredible teachers who I would like to be more like
  • I’m really excited about trying just a handful of things I found
  • I want to do a lot more project based lessons
  • This is a working document and will evolve with my teaching

If you haven’t already I highly recommend you trawl some websites and create one of these yourself. Chances are, it will be unique to you and your teaching style and philosophy. Here is a list of websites to get you started. 

Let me know if you think there are any glaring emissions.

Gapminder is Awesome

photo (9)

I wanted something that would open up the world of scatterplots to my statistics students; something where they could really get a sense of correlation and causality. I decided to do a project based around the fantastic GapMinder World and it payed off.

First I showed this video of the master Hans Rosling at work with the graphs his foundation came up with.

I then gave these instructions to my students:

You (and max one other person) are to prepare a 3 minute presentation on a GapMinder graph of your choice.

Instructions:

  • On a computer go to the gapminder website by clicking here
  • Play around with the explanatory and response variables until you find two that you think show some sort of relationship
    • If you are struggling to find variables with a link, click ‘Open Graph Menu’ and play around with graphs that have already been created.
  • Your presentation must include answers to the following questions
    • What are your explanatory and response variables?
    • What is the link between variables at the start (before you click play)?
    • What do you notice happens over time?
    • Are all the countries close together or more spread out? What does this mean?
    • Are there changes to any particular country that are of interest to you?
    • What if you isolate by continent? Are there any changes that are of interest to you?
    • Is there anything else that stands out with your graph?
    • Are there any outliers to the trend?
    • Does this graph bring up any other questions that you would want to investigate further? What information would you need to answer these questions? Is this information available?

Your presentation must include the time series animation (when you press play) as well as PowerPoint slides using screen shots of points of interest.

You will be graded on:

  • Content (out of 6)
  • Presentation (out of 4)
What went well
  • This was a great way to get across a sense of scatter graphs and will be awesome to segway into taking about correlation and causality.
  • This was enjoyed by the students and really got them thinking about statistics and global affairs
  • It was good to give specific questions for the students to answer. In my experience just saying ‘present for 3 minutes on a graph of your choice does not give great results’
Even Better If

Next time I do this, I think it would be good to model what an excellent presentation looks like. I missed a good opportunity to teach this skill.

Building my Virtual Filing Cabinet

The challenge was given 3 months ago, on the ‘Exlpore the Math-Twittershpere-Bloggosphere’ website to create your own virtual fling cabinet: a place where all of your favorite activities are listed in one place and is easily accessible. With all the snow days we have had I have finally got round to at least writing a list of websites I am excited to trawl in the name of finding the best, most useful and inspiring activities, out there.

Here is the list:

3-acts, Dan Meyer

Nrich

Sam Shah’s Virtual Filing Cabinet

Mr. Kraft’s Virtual Filing Cabinet

Visual Patterns

Robert Kaplinsky Lessons

Graphing Stories

Math Mistakes

Gapminder

Function Carnival

I’m sure there are many more great sites out there that I am missing. What would you add?

MathEd Out Indy 2014

Image

The idea is simple. Get a group of pioneering Math teachers in a room to share what works in their classroom. Add coffee and breakfast and you have a recipe for great teaching and learning.

I am proud to be co-organizer of MathEd Out Indy 2014 which will be held on the morning of Saturday 8th February 9-12am at Herron High School in downtown Indianapolis. There will be no presentations or talks, just a place to share and hear from years of experience around the table.

Topics of discussion at this event will include:

  • How to relate content to real world scenarios
  • Strategies for challenging high ability students
  • Skills Based Grading (SBG)
  • Preparing students for college

I’m excited and hope you can make it. Reserve your place soon to avoid disappointment. 

For more information and to register, go to: indy.mathedout.org

Popcorn and the Normal Distribution

If there is one thing Indiana is famous for, it’s corn. I saw this lesson from STatistics Education Web (STEW) on popping corn and introducing the normal distribution and loved the idea.

The basic idea is:

  • Make some popcorn in a microwave
  • Have students tally the popping count in 5 second intervals and record the frequencies
  • Have some students mark where they think certain points on the normal distribution point were reached.
  • Discuss the results

What went well:

  • All students were engaged the whole time
  • It certainly gave a sense of why the curve had a bell shape, thinking about and discussing not only direction of slope, but whether the slope was increasing or decreasing as time went by. I think this will really help with students’ understanding.
  • We got to eat some yummy popcorn

Even better if:

  • This would be great as the first lesson to introduce the normal distribution. We had already discussed the shape and real world example so some of the impact was lost
  • I would like to make more of predictions and pre experiment ideas next time.
  • There needs to be more extension questions that link to other distributions and different shapes to contrast and compare
  • Check with the schools facilities before using the microwave. Ours blew a fuse on the second run through.