18 December 2014

Big Macs are NOT Commutative

I went to a St. Louis Blues game with a friend recently and the team scored 4 or more goals, so everyone with a ticket stub got a free McDonald's Big Mac the next day!

When I got my Big Mac back to the math office for lunch, I opened the carton to discover that on top of my sandwich was two consecutive pieces of bread. It looked a lot like this:

source: smosh.com
Besides relevance in assembling nearly anything, many creative processes, and computer programming, order of operations is even important in our branded food products. Who wants that much bread? :)

I showed it to my friend who had stayed behind and his reply was inspiring.
"Big Macs are NOT commutative."
This image will be posted in my classroom as a playful reminder to always be considerate of those operation rules.

17 December 2014

Bowling in the Living Room

The older my daughter gets, the more I continue to be amazed at what she's capable of doing (and inspired by what my wife comes up to do with her) during home-school time.

On a random week-day this past September, my 4 year old tracked and generated her own color-coded data chart. This is especially profound for me today because I just got back my semester evals in AP Stats and a couple kids said that the times I sent them out to collect (and then use) their own data were some of the very best, most relevant lessons.

So, my wife could have picked up some colored balls or marbles and counted them in some repeated fashion that my daughter then notated on the chart she was given, but instead, they went bowling in the living room.

A simple toy bowling set we bought a couple of years ago, set up in the living room.

That face... LOL

Which pins did you knock down?

Counting the number of pins after all the trials, then drawing an illustration in her science notebook
This post probably isn't actually for teachers in an early ed or primary classroom. From all of my interactions observing my son's classroom and others in the district I teach, no one has to tell early ed and primary teachers that physical activity and tangible, concrete objects and experiences are critical to students' engagement in and memory of the content they are responsible for learning.

If you are an early ed/primary classroom teacher, let me just continue to encourage you in all of your work encouraging and promoting numerical literacy. Creating and interpreting charts to track, present, and understand data becomes more important year after year as companies increasingly use computers to track data on customer's preferences and habits, waste or excess in financial statements, student achievement on state tests (and how/why they are rising/falling), just to name a few.

If you're a part of my usual audience of middle school and high school teachers, my hope is that you'll take the same lesson I often take myself when I observe my daughter's learning - kids always start out eager to learn. They start out eager to take experiences from play and translate them into a different medium to make sense of what they just did. When everything is new, few things are "boring."

Here's my lesson from today, courtesy of Hey, Beth Baker:

  1. Involve your students in creating as often as possible.
  2. Take some time out of class to do something. 
  3. Keep pushing and seeking exactly what your students are capable of. If its something their passionate about, they'll probably surprise you.
  4. Use the normal or mundane things around you in a new way to surprise your students and bring them in.

16 December 2014

Algebra on a Chromebook: Coding with Bootstrap

Have you ever wanted to code in the classroom to integrate more STEM projects, but felt tied into making sure you hit all your required curriculum?

Bootstrap (www.bootstrapworld.org) is a complete curricular resource for math teachers who want to integrate coding into their algebra instruction and computer science teachers who want to integrate and support their students' math learning.  Students learn the logic and spatial reasoning necessary to translate into "real" coding languages while working with operations, functions, and the coordinate plane. It's a real two-for-one!

What Will I Find?
The Bootstrap website has everything you will need to implement the Bootstrap curriculum in your Algebra 1 class (except for the technology hardware, of course)
  1. Student workbook (and teacher edition)
  2. Unit pages for students to follow through and fill in their workbook
  3. WeScheme online coding environment (this is called an IDE, for "integrated development environment," which just means, "this is where you write the code for your website or webapp.")
  4. Alignment to common core standards
  5. Teacher notes (displayed on the same page students use to read instructional content)
  6. Professional development videos to help you understand coding-specific words or processes before you have to share with your class.
How Will My Students Do This on Their Chromebooks?
Some of the work in the Bootstrap units will take place in the online modules, some will be handwritten on paper or whiteboards, and some will be in an IDE like WeScheme (when kids are building their projects)

In other words, students will use their Chromebooks for viewing lesson content, collaborating, and writing their code. 

Why Should I Do This Instead of Focusing on Raising Tests Scores? Accreditation is Very Important for Us.
I believe this question can be answered with three more. How's your more traditional curriculum working for all of your student? Is everyone mastering the Algebra content? Are your students learning content for a test, or are you giving them a vision for something more?

In my personal experience, the number of students that come into my Algebra 1 class that are being successful in "normal" classes continues to fall. We still have students that can excel in those environments and can play the school game, but I see a growing divide between those and the others. Going through the laundry list of things our district is trying to target, the bootstrap curriculum gives me opportunity to still do plenty in reading technical content, writing for assessment and understanding, and providing engaging, relevant work.

How Else Could I Sell This to My Administrator and My Colleagues?
Here are some talking points that should cover most of your bases-
  • "The units are aligned to the common core."
  • "Students will have an end product to demonstrate their learning at the end of the semester."
  • "They provide a pre and post test to gather data on the curriculum's effectiveness."
  • "Coding is a highly relevant and marketable skill for getting our students college and career-ready."
  • "Feel free to come visit and ask my kids about their work at any time. :)"

Is the Bootstrap curriculum for everyone? Maybe not - if you have no interest in coding yourself, then I think you would have a hard time getting your students passionate about learning themselves. Some students are just as averse to "new" or "different" in education as your teaching colleagues, so you'll need to be sold on the idea yourself to get them on board. That's not to say you already need to know everything about coding. The teacher notes are very helpful, and I went from totally confused to amazed at the idea of "circles of evaluation" and how they can help increase my students' UNDERSTANDING of the process and necessity of order of operations.