Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Carnival of Education

As we approach the end of the year will we be inundated with end of the year awards, and of course not so recently we had the Nobel Prizes. Named after Alfred Nobel the inventor of TNT (Boom!). Well here at the 147th Carnival of Education we are going to have our own prizes. The Noble Prizes, these prizes will celebrate that noble avocation to which we have all taken the time to consider: Education. Education is defined by Miriam-Webster to be:

... 2 a: to develop mentally, morally, or aesthetically especially by instruction b: to provide with information : inform ...

So to all of you that have made Education your passion even for only this week, Thank You, here is a prize.

The first Noble Prize goes to one of my favorite teachers growing up, Brinda Price. She was my ninth grade English teacher. As I remember her she was about 4 feet 10 inches, and she was tough as nails. You had better get your Romeo and Juliet packet in on time or else she wasn't going to take it. On the other hand, she loved us. She loved us with a mother's love. She wanted us to grow, and live, and enjoy life. She had a passion for her subject that was only exceeded by her passion for her students. She is one of my heroes, in the sense that I want to make my students feel the way I did in her class. I want my students to see me as a force of nature that cares about them and about math and mostly about their education. I desperately, forcefully, passionately want them to develop mentally, morally, or aesthetically especially by my instruction.

So the first Noble Prize goes to Brinda Price of Columbus Alternative High School circa 1984. Thank you, and I am sure that the lack of prize money will not surprise you given your choice of profession.

The Noble Prizes are given to recognize the sacrifice that we all make to our charges, you are all working to make the future better, to make each child's lives better.

The Noble Prizes for Valiant Effort go to Henry Cate for Public schools - a Gordian Knot or a Sisyphean activity?, Mike Cruz for Losing Difficult Students - Blessing or Loss?, and Mrs. Bluebird for Playing Principal.

The Noble Prize for Growing and Becoming More Zen so that Your Students Can Have a Good Day goes to Siobhan Curious at small tasks.

The Noble Prize for Improving the Profession goes to Bill Ferriter for The PLC Mandate. . ..

The Noble Prize for Literature goes to Rebecca Wallace-Segall for Schools: Celebrate Teen Writers and Lessons from the Newest Generation of Writers (& Thinkers).

The Noble Prizes for Teaching Resource Coordination go to ms. teacher for Sharing!, Joel for 50 Classroom Management Tips I Have Learned This Month, and Ryan for Bridging the Research-Practice Gap.

The Noble Prize for Opening a Window into a Soul goes to IB a Math Teacher for The Book of Me.

The Noble Prize for Unschooling goes to Laureen for Bucket-Free.

The Noble Prizes for Elementary Education go to What It's Like on the Inside for The Sad State of Elementary Science, and Ryan for How Kindergarten Has Changed.

The Noble Prize for Anti-Telepathy goes to Mr. Pullen for Hey, Kids: Guess What I'm Thinking!.

The Noble Prizes for Public Policy go to Judy Aron for Tax Credits For Homeschoolers - Bad Idea!, EdWonk for EduDecision 2008: Obama's $18 Billion EduFix?, Joanne Jacobs for Defining dangerous down, and Dave Saba for Math: there is no substitute | American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence.

The Noble Prizes for Math go to Denise for Fraction models, and a card game, Tony Lucchese for A Letter to a Young Mathematician, and Matt (that's me!) for Lessons on Lessons While Cooking Mashed Potatoes.

The Noble Prize for Art goes to Scott Walker for Some sketches during a staff development session.

The Noble Prize for Thoughtful Homeschooling (is there any other kind?) goes to Dana at A workable solution for American education.

The Noble Prize for Film Advertising goes to Matthew K. Tabor for his highlighting of a Screening of 2 Million Minutes.

While the Noble Prizes for Film go to Larry Ferlazzo at Math Movies and More, and Adam for The Academic Schools.

The Noble Prizes for Humor go to mister teacher for Helpful or Harmful, Smellington G. Worthington III for Welcome, and Carol Richtsmeier for Lists, Parents & Paperwork.

The Noble Prize for Zoology goes to Ms. Cornelius for Wanted: One case of mouse-sized Depends Undergarments.

The Noble Prizes for NYC Education go to Norm Scott for UFT Candlelight Vigil Snuffed, Woodlass for Sacrificing the learning years — Why?, and NYC Educator for his accounting of 7.2 million dollars in What A Bargain!.

The Noble Prize for Statistics goes to Edwonkette at Lies, Damned Lies, and NAEP Exemptions.

The Noble Prize for Networking goes to Pat for Networking is Important for All Teachers.

The Noble Prize for Civics goes to Matt Johnston for Not Every Education Problem Begins and Ends at NCLB.

Then Noble Prize for Homework goes to michele lestage for Too Homework Much Help Can Result In Failure.

The Noble Prize for Identifying Hypocrisy goes to Right on the Left Coast for Teachers in My District Say Teachers Don't Care About Students.

The Noble Prize for Foreign Language goes to Maria Fernandez for Free Spanish online lessons on mp3.

The Noble Prize for British Education goes to oldandrew for The Two Discipline Systems.

The 148th Carnival of Education will be at So You Want to Teach. Entries are due at 5pm Central on December 4th.

Reading the submissions was a great honor. I learned a lot, and that is what is all about. Thanks to all our contributors for their thoughtfulness and their giving hearts.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Lessons on Lessons while Cooking Mashed Potatoes

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. We had a wonderful time here. We didn't go anywhere we stayed home, my Mom came, and we cooked here. As often happens, while discussing making mashed potatoes with my wife, I had a little epiphany. Maybe it isn't an earth shattering discovery, but I love a metaphor and I think this is a good one, so bear with me and I think you find a story that all teachers can use with their students.

As I said we made Thanksgiving dinner here this year. My wife picked the recipes, and it just happened that we picked all of our recipes from a cookbook we have from America's Test Kitchen. One of the things that we love about this cookbook is that it tells you their theories about "why" they do things. My wife were talking particularly about the mash potato recipe. I am sure that many of you know this, but it is important to add the butter BEFORE the milk. This has to do with "coating starches, etc., etc.", and my wife noted that it was not something she knew about. I told her that I had shared that same information, about the butter before the milk, with my wife's mother. My mother-in-law seemed to think that this was not interesting news of any sort, but something everyone knew. Of course, her own daughter didn't know it.

What does this have to do with teaching math. We often show students what to do. And often we are surprised by the ways they fail to do what we show them. But in this example my wife watched her mother make mashed potatoes many times, but because she didn't know why the butter went in before the milk she didn't know that there was any importance to the order. Since then, my wife has been mixing mashed potatoes, milk, and butter all at the same time. The Horror.

Well the mashed potatoes were great, and I believe that my classes will be improved because I have been reminded one more time that the model of teaching math where you ask students to just do what you do, and not show why is forever deeply flawed. Why is it flawed? Because it leads to lumpy mashed potatoes.

More secrets of mashed potatoes here.

Powered by ScribeFire.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Carnival coming!!!

The Carnival of Education will be hosted here next week. Can't wait for the submissions. Check back here on November 28th to be shocked, entertained and amazed by how much can go on in world's finest, absurdist institution: the school. Entries are due Nov 27 at 11:59 pm EST. Send entries to mbardoe (at) att (dot) net.

Project Redux

So my fun projects/presentations are almost all in and on the whole they are: alright. I thought about classifying them as "not bad", but that sounded too good. I thought about classifying them as shockingly medicore, but I realize now I should not be shocked. Though I tried, I did not do a good job of giving feedback and guidance along the way. So in the end I think that each student group in their own earnest way did really work hard to learn about the things that I had asked them to learn, but what they didn't do was learn it well enough to explain it to others. There explanations were on the whole subpar. I found myself sitting there wondering if this is what they experience everyday from me. I think I will delude myself with some of my student evaluations from previous years to stop that thought. As usual my students failed in planning their presentations to think about one important thing: the audience. Most talked directly to me the whole time, or to the board. They expected me to say things like "right", "wrong", "yes", and, "I see". I ended up saying some of that stuff, oh well.

So how do I feel about the experiment. I think that I have to do it again. It can be better, and they can do a better job of communicating their thoughts. If they can't they desperately need the practice. What was also interesting was how the students went about using technology. Some eschewed it completely. That didn't necessarily help their presentations. They argued while they gave a team presentation, they said "I don't really understand this". They didn't rehearse. All in all there was room for improvement. But I did help one group make a mathcast of an argument to show that the square encloses the largest area of any rectangle of a certain perimeter. And after we were done the student was so excited to see what they had made. It was pretty dry mathematics, but they were excited to see what they had done with it. Sort of made the whole thing worthwhile.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Big Idea

Check out the posting on ASCD Express of my essay about the "Big Idea" in math. I come off a little more strident than I realized at first, but I do believe in these ideas. Check it out at ASCD Express.

Powered by ScribeFire.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Fractions Quiz Redux

As a teacher, who teaches some middle school I am fascinated by this post by Denise at Let's Play Math. The questions here are tremendously important, and I don't think most of us don't have good answers to these. Every middle school teacher must have good answers to these questions.

ASCD's journal Educational Leadership has an article this month by Lynn Arthur Steen about math, with a significant section on fractions. In this article is a section about students having to estimate the sum of two fractions on a standardized test, and basically the results show that students have no idea in general. Steen then makes a very strong case for why we need this skill, even though few people will ever actually have to add unlike denominators in their "real" lives.

It is my belief that we owe every student the opportunity to learn how to think "mathematically". This is for the most part a birth right of most students. My most challenged students are the ones that try to dissociate their "natural" math from their school math when they are in the classroom. Many students will tell you that they are terrible at mental arithmetic, when they can do complex calculations with nickels, dimes, and quarters. I encourage you to test this with any one who tells you that they can't add in their head.

In speaking with a student this week we were speaking about 9/2 and how to calculate that number to some decimal. I asked what she pictured in here mind when I said the number nine. She replied that it was a picture of the numeral, "9". I asked her to picture again, and she drew for me a 3x3 grid of circles. This is a big improvement, but not as helpful (and this probably only my own perspective) to this problem, as being able to picture two rows, one with 5 circles and one with 4 circles. It is this lexicon of images, pictures, etc. That allows me to speak and think with fluency in mathematics. This is why the "Round-Food Model" that Denise at Let's Play Math talks about in her most recent post about fractions is important, and why it is important that we construct a powerful picture and story about the rest of the rules of fractions.

Monday, November 5, 2007

New courses?

Today was the deadline at my school to propose a new course for next year. I have proposed a few courses in the past and some of them have been accepted. This year I am putting my most ambitious proposal out there. I am proposing a course in mathematical modeling. This course would hopefully be able to handle students who have had Calculus AB or BC, or possibly even for students who are interested in waiting a year to take calculus. I think that there might be a lot to gain for the students who have not had calculus yet. I would help them have sense of the "why" of calculus before they learned the "how".

One of the biggest hurdles I see right now is how to get around the current course that we offer after Calculus BC, which is Multivariable Calculus. The major reason I can see for offering this course would be to reinforce the calculus skills that students have already learned. It would seem that the students would have retake this course in college if they are going to continue in mathematics. Taking a course over is not a great idea in my opinion. It definitely has to be course with enough meat to it, to be presented in a significantly different way. I am not sure that Multivariable Calculus meets that.

So we will see how my math department colleagues feel about this. I am not sure what they would think.

Also, I am looking at trying to build part of a one week course on global warming for middle schoolers. If anyone has good resources, please let me know.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Classroom Projects

So late one night last year, I had a strong desire to change the way I teach. In many ways I see myself as very traditional. Some people tell me not so much, but I think at least philosophically I am very much in the land of I have knowledge; their minds are empty; must put my knowledge in their heads. Despite this I definitely see myself as a constructivist. A bad word to many I am sure (I know the spell check doesn't like it).

So about a year later, I am doing something with my late night ponderings. In my 8th grade Algebra 2 class, we are doing a unit on quadratics with an introduction to complex numbers thrown in for good measure. I have done a few teaching to the whole class days, but mostly we have days for the kids to work on a variety of projects. Some examples you ask? Why sure

* Hardy-Weinberg Equations from Biology
* Understanding how complex numbers increase the range of quadratic functions
* Deriving the quadratic formula
* How do the a, b, c in ax^2+bx+c=y affect the graph of the function
* Real-life applications of parabolas

There are more, but you probably get the drift. Each student will have to make a "presentation" of some kind. Not every kid can make an oral presentation to the class, we don't have the time. I am hoping that technology will come to my rescue, and some kids will make little videos that I can assign for homework. Students will have to critique each other's work. These are teaching problems I haven't worked out before, but I am enjoying it so far...