Trying to find math inside everything else

Archive for July, 2011

Crimes and Mathdemeanors

I’ve made a post about history and science, I guess now it’s time for ELA. I think ELA is, in a way, the easiest to connect to math, but that might just be my background at Bard and working with the Algebra Project. But I wanted to talk about a book I used this past year that fits the bill.

This is a book of mysteries akin to Encyclopedia Brown. but with a more mathematical twist. The protagonist, Ravi, is a 14-year-old math whiz, athlete, and son of the Chicago DA. He often runs across mysteries that he can help solve and the reader gets a change to solve, as well.

I used this book in class to, I think, great effect. Most students enjoyed the prospect of the mysteries and got into attempting solutions. It allowed them in guess at a solution (such as who the murderer is from three suspects) without necessarily having to first grasp the math involved, which worked as a hook. Some students did not get into it but that was from rejecting the very premise of reading a story in math class. Many of those students eventually got past their misgivings.

For each story (I used the book about 6 times throughout the year) I asked the students to underline or circle anything they thought might be relevant to the mystery as we read it out loud. Then we compiled what we knew as a class and discussed what we still needed to know to solve the mystery, and then they worked in groups to come up with a solution, often with some prodding (but occasionally with none, which was nice).

I’m thinking of starting with the stories earlier next year (I didn’t this year because I only received the book in December for my birthday) to set it as normal when we use it. I also hope I can find some other books that might act similarly. If anyone reads this and has suggestions, let me know.

Partnership for Global Learning – Final Day

Today was a fairly brief day to wrap up the conference, but it did have a few noteworthy elements.

The Power of Simulation – MUNSA Secretariat
Run by those same students as the Model U.N. Panel, they once again made us marvel at how they were so well spoken and prepared, sometimes more so than some adult presenters. We went through a simulation on the effects of land mines. Silently we walked from the conference room and down the hall to the atrium. Once there, we stopped and lined up horizontally. We were silently brought forward in waves to cross the atrium, but as we did, we had to pick up a card. If the card said we were alive, we crossed. If dead, we had to lie down on the floor. If maimed, we could sit or choose to crawl on to another card. If maimed twice, we had to sit as we were too injured. The imagery of the bodies sprawled across the floor was powerful, the silence was eerie, and the whole event was motivating for all of us to want to do more.

Maya Soetoro-Ng was supposed to be at the conference to speak but couldn’t make it. Instead she sent us a video message/lecture. To me it just underscored two things: video lectures are the lowest of the low in terms of engagement factor, and technical difficulties can make your lose a class and make it hard to get it back.

Partnership for Global Learning Conference – Day 2

Today was the second, main day of the PGL conference. There was a lot going on, a non-stop day of events. Let me try to break it down.

Curriculum Development for Global CompetenceHeidi Hayes Jacobs
This talk was…agitating. The speaker was sarcastic. She seems to have not adjusted her talk at all for her audience, railing against us for not doing things that we are, in fact, doing at that very conference, such as watching a film about the schools in Finland. She asked the question “Why aren’t students doing TED talks?” when they, in fact, are. It’s what TED Youth Day is all about, and we had a session about it in the ISSN conference. Her pleas for Web 2.0 tools often seemed superficial in their application (Wordle), and she seemed to have a point of view that tech was better just because it was tech. (Later in the day I had a conversation with my co-worker about how an abacus would be a great tool for improving place value numeracy.) The Clearinghouse at Curriculum 21 does seem like a great resource, though.

What’s Global in the Common Core Standards?
A good question that wasn’t really answered. This session seemed to be about how they are answering that question, but not really working on it ourselves or providing an answer.

Light-Speed Technology for the Global ClassroomAlan November
Excellent talk. While perhaps not as mind-blowing as Andreas Schleicher, I felt like Alan really had an idea of the complexity of not just using technology but knowing how to use it. He informed a lot of people of the dangers of things like the Google/Facebook filter bubble and had some lessons on how to really circumvent it. It’s important that our students learn, and thus we learn ourselves first, how to search more specifically. (His example, in trying to find how UK schools teach the American Revolution, was to focus the search only on .uk sites, specifically their version of .edu, which I forget at the moment.) Our students also need to know how to check the veracity of a site (the example of was given, but searching for academic .edu sites that link to it reveals its insidiousness). His talk also really had a much more global focus, and how we can find those different perspectives online if we know how to look.

Game Design and Gaming for Students
Great session, I came away with a lot of resources, contacts, and ideas. I think I’ll have a whole future post on gaming in the classroom, so I won’t elucidate too much. But I hadn’t really considered game design as an educational tool. Think about it, though: when you think about game design, you don’t need to just know the rules of a game, you need to know WHY those rules are the way they are. A much deeper understanding.

Teaching about the UN: Model United Nations as a Tool for Global Learning
This session was run by students and they were all really impressive. We ran through a practice MUN session ourselves, I got to ask them about how their school runs it, and I got really excited for the possibilities of our embassies in our school this year.

Tme to collapse now, one day left!

ISSN Summer Institute – Day 2

Day 2 of the ISSN Summer Institute came to an end, and it was quite a full day. Some good sessions, some poor sessions, and a really amazing keynote speaker.

TEDx –
This session was moderately useful in introducing the ideas of having TEDx talks in our schools. I learned about the TEDx Youth Day, which seemed like a great opportunity, though it being in November seems like it would be hard to get ready for in time. It got me excited for the possibility for hosting one, or even a viewing party, with our schools, though.

Project-Based Learning
This double session was pretty great. We walked right into a project, the presenters stepping into their roles, pushing us into our roles as engineers, that I think got the session off to a great start. The presenters modeled the group roles, the material management, the rubrics, and how to start with the problem and provide the information we need to know only once we’ve determined that we need to know it, and different strengths worked on different things (engineering, budgets,marketing), but all the groups naturally had to work together. An excellent example.

This session was…not very useful. I found the New York Region session to be more useful in terms of networking.

Then the ISSN Summer Institute officially ended and we transitioned into the larger Partnership for Global Learning conference. We had a lovely dance performance before dinner, but our keynote speaker Andreas Schliecher was amazing. He presented data from the PISA assessment on what really affects student learning, what acts as a predictor of student success more than just grades, the relationship of equity and success. I really liked how lateral accountability is one of e keys of success, because it makes students professional without removing accountability. And all of his claims had data to support it.

Because, as he said, “without data, you are just another person with an opinion.”

ISSN Summer Institute – Day 1

Day 1 was fairly interesting. We started off with a speech by principal Salome Thomas-El, which was a pretty good motivational tool to get us started. Then our GPS session started. It’s always great to be able to talk to other math teachers, and we had a good discussion on what is definitely the hardest part of the ISSN Outcomes: the Take Action phase. Figuring out what having students take action looks like, and how we can fit it into our classroom when it always seems like this key important phase takes away time from our overpacked curricula is still a work in progress, but progress was made. Finding a way to weave the standards into the action, such as learning about graphical representations of mathematics at that time, seems like one way to go.

Then the Learning Expeditions were finally revealed. We were given a variety of choices of exhibits, museums, and memorials to visit, but we could only choose one, and only 12 people could go on each exhibition at most. My number was chosen towards the end, so I didn’t get my top choices of expedition, but my trip to the Hirshhorn was still fairly enlightening, and doing it as a learning expedition reminded me how having an assignment at a museum can make it much deeper and force people to look at an exhibit closer.

Now we’re talking about kicking off the year with an expedition. We yearn for the day that we can have one as self-guided with our students as these were.

ISSN Summer Institute

I’m writing from Washington DC now. Well, technically Rockville, MD, since that’s were the hotel and conference is, but we’ll be in DC itself for parts of it, and that’s where the Amtrak dropped me off. I’m at a conference run by the Asia Society along with my principal and four of my co-workers (Mandarin, Special Ed, ELA, and Earth Science). I was willing to go because it was funded, a trip is better than staying home, and I might get something out of it, but now I’m fairly excited for some of the sessions I’ve signed up for after looking through the itinerary. Here’s a breakdown of what I’ll be doing. I’ll try to have write-ups on at least the more interesting sessions, if not all of them.

10:15 – 11:30 – GPS Performance Outcomes and Global Leadership – Math
1:00 – ??? – Learning Expedition (I have no idea what this is, but it should be good.)

8:30 – 10:10 – TEDx at Your School: Innovate and Integrate
10:20 – 12:50 – Using Project-Based Learning for Unit Development
1:40 – 2:50 – Networking: Learning from Colleagues by Sharing Lessons from the Field – Math
7:00 – 9:00 – Learning with the World: PISA Results and Preparing All Students for a Global Future

8:30 – 10:15 – Curriculum Development for Global Competence
10:30 – 11:45 – What’s Global in the Common Core Standards?
11:45 – 1:30 – Light-Speed Technology for the Global Classroom
1:45 – 3:00 – Game Design and Gaming for Students
3:15 – 4:30 – Teaching about the UN: Model United Nations as a Tool for Global Learning
5:00 – 6:30 – Partnership for Afterschool Education Reception

9:45 – 11:15 – The Power of Simulations
11:45 – 1:00 – Teaching the Interconnectedness of Global Understanding

This is vacation?

I can’t stop thinking about school. What I did this year, what I’ll do next year, how to change my assessment, my curriculum, good problems…a recipe for burnout? Or a dedication to the profession? I dunno, but it’s hard to get into the spirit of vacation. Maybe it’s because I still went into work on Wed and Fri (to interview new teachers) and I know Tuesday is the 4-day conference in DC, so it’s not really vacation yet.


Today’s Unshelved gave me an idea for a possible Living Environment-connected lesson I can do in the new year. Surprisingly, though most people think Math and Science go hand in hand, I have a much harder time connecting Living Environment to math than with ELA or History. (Maybe this XKCD comic explains why I have an easier time with Physics and Chemistry.)

During my statistics unit this past year I did a lesson on scaling and how area and volume scale proportionally to the square and cube of the length. I did it during the statistics unit because it was based on how improper scaling is used to mislead people. (My unit was based on the book “How to Lie with Statistics.”) Of course, where the lesson lies may change based on the curriculum overhaul I do this summer, but I imagine the basics will be the same.

I ran the lesson as a lab, with students building letters out of blocks and then scaling them upwards by factors of 2, 3, 4, and seeing what happens to the area of a trace and the volume (number of 1 cm^3 blocks needed). It was a fine lesson, but I wonder if I can’t improve it with a little more…wonder.

I want to see if I can find a good picture or video of a giant creature like mentioned in the Unshelved post and see if I can get students to wonder if it can exist. That sort of question can give purpose to the scaling exploration in the lab. If you read this and can offer assistance, great. Expect a post in the future based on what I find.