Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Winter Classic – aftermath

Caught this little nugget while checking out one of my favorite Philly sports sites today, Crossing Broad.  Apparently, the Winter Classic did such a number on the Citizen’s Bank Park field, they are pulling it all up and starting over.


Checking out some sod-related websites, sod generally comes in slabs which are 2 feet wide by 5 feet long.

You know what to do….

UPDATE: I received a reply e-mail today from Mike Boekholder, the Phillies’ Head Groundskeeper, about the grass at the Ballpark: “We have about 101,000 square feet of grass on the field here at CPB. The rolls vary in length, but are cut 42″ wide. Typically, a roll is about 80′ long.” Thanks for the info, Mike!

Tapping Into the Addiction of Bubble Wrap

Engaging students in discussion of mathematics in applied situations is a rewarding experience. Seeing students immerse themselves in a task and offering to share their results makes a math class hum with excitement. But finding the right scenario, the right “hook” which will drive discussion can be an effort. While we hope to link math to real-life science and engineering, sometimes the silliest data collection experiments create a buzz in class.

I give you the Bubble Wrap Challenge.

The past week, I worked with a 7th grade teacher on a slope activity. By the end of the unit, students would be expected to compute the slope of a line via a formula. In my experience, students tend to understand indivdual aspects of slope,as they are often taught in pieces, but have difficulty shifting between meanings. What do we want students to understand about slope?

Slope between data points can be computed using a formula
Slope can indicate steepness
Slope can indicate a rate of change

As students entered the class, and the teacher took attendance, I was playing on a SMART Board with a Virtual Bubble Wrap Applet. You’ll need Java for it.   I challenge you to play with it for less than 10 minutes, and without calling 3 friends over to play.  Can’t be done.  Try Manic Mode for the extra-special dose of stress relief.


After some initial playing, we sought to find the Inter-Galactic Bubble Wrap Champion of period 2.  Each group was given an Ipad loaded with a similar app and 60 seconds to play the game.  While a student played, a partner wrote down the player’s score every 10 seconds.  Results were then plotted and a connected line-graph made.


Discussion then centered around finding not only the overall bubble-popping rate, but debating the 10-seconds intervals when Aiden was the most, and least successful, at bubble-popping. A second contestant was then added to the mix…


Which player was the fastest popper? Who was the best in a short period? Students were soon able to compute rates for segments, without prior knowledge of the slope formula. The teacher later introduced the formal formula. The payoff comes when students volunteer that we can identify the “best” popping rates by looking for steep segments, and lower popping rates in shallow segments.

Now back to popping some bubbles…..

Photopeach – Creating Visual Hooks

Saturday morning, I attended a few sessions of Discovery Education’s SciCon, an online convention featuring a number of leaders of the Disocvery Educators Network.  Lance Rougeux presented 10 tools for encouraging student engagement, and today I played around with PhotoPeach, a site which allows for making quick slide shows with nice-looking captions.  Of interest to teachers is the easy-to-use Quiz feature, where questions and answers can be loaded, and a countdown clock included.

I took 5 minutes looking up pictures of quadrilaterals on Google, and another 10 minutes signing up for Photopeach, figuring out the interface, and entering questions.  Definitely easy to use, fun, and something to use in the classroom:

Properties of Quadrilaterals on PhotoPeach

What a great tool for formative assessment, and not a bad way to spend a Sunday morning. Photopeach now goes on my classroom links list!

May The Best Team Win?

Driving home today, there was an interesting discussion on sports-talk radio about championship teams in various sports. The genesis of the discussion was the lingering anger/disappointment/jealousy we Phillies fans harbor over the Saint Louis Cardinals winning the World Series this year (the stereotype is true….we are generally angry people). Despite having the best regular-season record, and the best record in team history, the Phillies were out in the first round.

Part of the discussion centered around the wild-card in baseball, and how the introduction of the wild-card (and more next year), makes it far more difficult for the “best” team to win. This stands in contrast to the NBA, where the best team is not often upset early, and the NFL, where the byes give a large advantage to top teams.

So, what does the data suggest? Coming home, I looked up the champions for the past 25 years in all 4 major (yes, hockey counts….so shut it!) sports. I also did a quick check and found the team’s regular season ranks, according to wins (or points, in hockey). Here’s what we get:


Some interesting trends here. The host on my local sports-radio channel was making a compelling argument this it is easier to win if you are a top team in the NBA, and the numbers bear that out.  Also, note how poorly the team with the best regular-season record in major league baseball fares.

Math-wise, what can we do with this data? The chart has some nice talking points for conditional probability:

  • What is the probability you win the NBA title, give that you are the top seed?
  • What is the probability you were the top team, given that you won the World Series?
  • What is the probability you were the #2-4 seed, if you won the Stanley Cup?

What else can you do with this?

Making Friends and Breaking Pringles, the Exciting Conclusion!

Yesterday was the day of reckoning for the Pringles!  Donna’s class and the kids I am working with met on Skype, awash in anticipation over the status of the mailed Pringles.  I started the proceedings by opening the two shaky-looking boxes.  The first looked quite sad and crushed, and peeling back the cardboard revealed just some rolled up bubble-wrap (bubble warp will become a theme in this blog!)….but…..can you believe it….the chip survived intact, and was quite delicious.  In the second box, the was a different outcome, as at least 20 pieces of chip were spread out all over the desk….


Next to be opened was the box my kids made. Encased in floral foam with cotton balls inside, the chip did not quite survive, with 2 main pieces. A disappointment, yes. But something to learn from for next time.

The final box to be opened was the one from out New Jersey-Giants-Yankees-trash-talking friends. Opening this box was quite a chore, with lots of masking tape, a styrafoam cup for a holder, and even a surprise pencil included for support. How did it fare? (thanks to Donna for the video coverage)

Another intact chip!

In the end, Donna’s class are the inter-galactic Pringles Chip winners, at least for one day.

Epliogue: the day after the skype chat, a 4th box from New Jersey arrived late. It too contained an intact chip, using plastic cups to serve as a Pringles cocoon. Nice job by Donn’a class.

What to do Before a Hurricaine

Perhaps the best part of my job as math coach is working with teachers of various grade levels on lessons; developing “hooks” for discussion and inquiry, and being invited into classroom to share exciting stuff.  It’s a neat feeling to have kids say hello in the hallway, and ask when I will be around to visit their class again.  This week, final exams are being held at out high school, which means that new courses begin next week.  This presents a great opportunity to challenge teachers to think differently about how they start off with their classes.  How can review of previous material be done in a way to both allow for a discussion of previously-covered concepts, but also set the table for a class culture of productive idea-sharing?

Dan Meyer’s blog, has been a great source of inspiration to me, and I shared his TED talk with my district’s secondary math staff at an inservice this year.  The talk led to an interesting discussion about the questions we ask in the classroom, and healthy debate on how we can re-think lines of questioning.  And while Dan is an advocate for all sorts of useful and productive classroom technology integration, what I appreciate most are his self-made videos and demonstrations.  One of the simplest, yet effective, videos shows a hexagonal tank being filled with water, then later emptied.  The video leads to the natural question “how long will it take for the tank to fill”, and leads to all sorts of nice math ideas like linear growth, prediction, and error.

Being a brave soul with decent, but hardly expert, tech skills, I set out to do a video on my own, in order to inspire my colleagues.  Sure, I could have just used Dan’s videos, but the “what the heck is he doing out there?” look from my neighbors is just too much to pass up.  Besaides, the “anyone can do this” factor is strong here.  Find neat stuff in your environment, and go with it.  So, with a jug from Wal-Mart, some cherry juice mix, a laptop, and my home camera (nothing too fancy), I set out in my backyard hours before hurricaine Irene.  I tried my best to emulate the best of Dan Meyer, but with my own flavor:

I first used this video as an ice-breaker in the in-service days before school, in July. Stopping the video a minute in, I asked math staff to predict how long it would take for the tank to empty, using the neat site to have teachers contribute answers via cell phone.  (To be honest, this worked well at our high school, but was problematic at our middle school, where wireless connection gremlins tripped me up).

So, how to use this as an opener for a course, perhaps Algebra II?  I found today that if the video is shown on a whiteboard, then drawing a vertical guideline on the side of the jug and placing tic marks can allow for some nice data collection as the water level decreases.  Importing the video into a SMART notebook could allow for a nice scale to be drawn on the jug.  Either I’d like to find a way to super-impose a line on the video, or I may go the low-tech route and place tape on the side of the jug and reshoot.

What directions can a discussion of this video take?

  • Independent vs Dependent variables (is the water level dependent on the time, or vice versa?)
  • Differentiating linear and non-linear models
  • Using technology to analyze data and develop regression models
  • Making predictions based on models

Any other thoughts or ideas?

Making Friends and Breaking Pringles

This past summer, I had the unique and fantastic opportunity to participate in the Siemen’s STEM Academy, held at Discovery HQ in Silver Spring, MD.  It was an exhilarating, whirlwind week, featuring guests speakers like Dan Meyer, Danny Forster and Carl Wieman, and trips to a number a Washington DC STEM-related locations.  Having Newt Gingrich pass in front of me to enter an elevator at C-SPAN HQ seems more significant now…maybe something other than the “what’s up” head-bob was appropriate.  The STEM academy website is filled with great resources for the classroom teacher: links, lessons, podcasts, videos.  Info to apply for the 2012 program is there as well:

Despite the high-profile speakers and great surroundings, the highlight of the week was the opportunity to talk with creative, enthusiastic colleagues from around the country and share experiences.  Sometimes I get a bit jealous of my science colleagues.  They get to do all the neat stuff like blood splatter labs and building rockets and blowing things up.  Us math folk, despite our best intentions, often relax back to our comfortable habits.  “Sure, I’d like to build a slingshot and explore parabolic motion….but there’s just no time….”, my math brethren often say.  In other words, while we understand that inquiry-based learning, that which connects to students, gives them a reason to WANT to learn, and also makes math fun and memorable is necessarily and lacking in our curriculum….I still have to get through section 5.2 of the book by Friday, or risk the life failure of our students.  Yes, how will they get by in life without point-slope form…..OK, so maybe things aren’t that bad, but old habits die hard.

At Discovery, I teamed with a group of teachers interested in exposing students to the many, rich resources out there which encourage students to pursue careers in math and science.  We called it the STEM-awareness wiki, and had the ambition to populate it with great ideas, and communicate during the year with our classes to share stories.  Like many great ideas, ours ended up on the back burner.  On my end, my new job of math coach was presented to me just as I came back from Maryland.  All the great ideas developed during that week, doing podcasts with Stat experts, flipping my classroom, plugging my classes into Edmodo, all ended up on the shelf as I adjusted to my new job.

But Donna kept pushing….

Donna is an 8th-grade teacher in New Jersey, who teaches neat stuff like forensic science to middle school students.  We had planned to Skype with our classes, and hoped to find a fun, worthwhile activity to do together…but since I no longer had students of my own, we had a bit of a problem.  But Donna kept pushing, and I promised to find a group of kids we could work with.  I was starting to lose faith that we would ever be able to work together again, until Donna e-mailed me with a simple concept:

The Pringles Challenge.

The Pringles Challenge is a national competition with a simple premise: design a package to mail a single Pringle (cheap rhyme un-intentional) from one school to another.  This piqued my interest for a number of reasons.  I like salty snacks, I like to win, and kids like salty snacks.  The project started slowly, as we had trouble getting finding a convenient time to “meet” on skype.  An Edmodo group was formed to allow for an appropriate amount of introduction / trash-talking.  But after weeks of back and forth, the challenge was on, and boxes designed.  The kids on my team asked for floral foam and cotton, which was eventually shaped into their entry:

box 1

In initial testing of this design, the chip did not survive.  Hopefully the kids made some adjustments.

Donna’s class had 3 entries, which have all been received at my school.  The first is a nice-looking design, though the NY sports trash-talking was not appreciated by the secretaries in the main office:

box 2

The other two boxes received could have some issues:

box 3

On Thursday, the groups will meet on Skype for the openings, and the winner will be crowned!  A fun project, and the start of a number of nice collaborations.

Thanks for pushing, Donna!