Algebra Technology

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!


Time to Start a Blog?

Welcome to the Math Coach Blog! I suppose on these blog-things, introductions are in order….I have been a math teacher in Pennsylvania for the past 15 years, teaching high school math for 12 years, where I taught AP Statistics, along with an introductory stat course for freshmen. My schedule was also dotted with the occasional Algebra II, Trig and SAT math course.

This past summer, my seemingly happy and anonymous high school teaching career was turned upside-down when I was asked to become secondary math coach in my district. What’s a math coach? I’m not sure I know, as the job seems to re-define itself from week to week. At least, when my family and friends ask what I do now, there’s not really a short and snappy answer. Just easier to say I’m a math teacher I suppose….

In the past few months, I have had the extordinary pleasure to have teachers from both middle and high schools in my district invite me into my classes and work on interesting, engaging lessons. I hope to share some of my experiences here, and communciate with colleagues who are interested in the coaching model.