Etcetera, etc….

I love it when students figure stuff out.

I love it even more when:

A.  Students figure out things that, as a teacher, I didn’t  notice myself.

B.  Students who are labeled as “not good at figuring stuff out” figure stuff out.

Here’s what we did today in Algebra 2:

number pyramids

This is a SMILE resource from the National STEM Centre.  The problem I thought I would encounter is the word “etc.”  Kids don’t do well with “etc.” Etcetera is vague, non-committal, and easily dismissed.  To a student, etcetera usually means “I’ll ignore this and see if no one notices.”

It is helpful for me to be more specific with my expectations of students, especially when their mathematical well being is at stake.  But today, I was feeling a little vague and non-committal myself, so I handed out the sheet, explained what was going on and let them go…etc.

There are no words I love to hear more in my classroom than “Mrs. Schmidt, look what I figured out.”  And today was chock FULL of those statements.  Here are a few:

  • The triangles are always as wide as they are tall.
  • The sum of the base of triangles 3-wide is 3/4 of the top number.
  • As the triangles get larger, the percentage of the peak number gets smaller.
  • The percentage decrease is related to the size of the triangle
  • If the triangle has an odd numbered base, then the center number in the base is always related to the peak number.

There were lots more.  I was very proud of this class’s resolve in addressing the Etcetera.

 

#TBT Math Style – SMILE Cards

While perusing UK’s National Stem Centre website recently, I came across something called SMILE.  Here’s what the website has to say about them:

SMILE (Secondary Mathematics Individualised Learning Experiment) was initially developed as a series of practical activities for secondary school students by practising teachers in the 1970’s. These mathematics books are intended to be not only a source of ideas but to be a flexible resource that can be adapted to different circumstances and ability groups. 

Not that it takes much to ignite my mathematical excitement, but the 1970’s got my blood moving.  I was sold.

Here’s a sample:

photo

 

It sort of shocks me when I use these kinds of resources and kids ask, “why is color spelled wrong?” I wonder what they’d say if they knew the rest of the world says “maths” instead of “math.”

Anyway, I could spend about a day looking through the National Stem Centre.  If you’re going to check it out, make sure you have Evernote ready!

 

If you’re decently competent in the area of probability, you might know that your chances of winning fall below things like “death from a vending machine” and “having identical quadruplets.”  This doesn’t stop many people from playing.  I think playing the lottery is more about the chance to dream of what our lives would be like with that much money rather than actually believing we could win.

In the UK, the lottery consists of picking 6 numbers between 1 and 49.  Any player to match all 6 numbers is the grand prize winner.  The chances of this are certainly astronomically low.  A fun question to ask a class of students:  If we bought a lottery ticket for every different combination of 6 numbers to ensure we’d win, how high would that stack of tickets reach?

In the task Do You Feel Lucky, Nrich tackles the idea of evaluating advice given on raising your chances of winning this seemingly impossible lottery. Students are asked to comment on the validity of the advice given and one in particular caught my eye:

When picking lottery numbers, choose numbers that sum between 100 and 200 because the total is rarely outside this range.  

Whoa.  There are so many ways we could evaluate the validity of that claim.  So I sent my students off to the races. Most of them wanted to use a random integer selector and then gather the data from the class’s trials.

IMG_5135

GeoGebra Results:

Lottery

Lots for them to talk about here.  Lots of questions for them to ask as well.  Does the range seem too wide?  Do we have enough trials?  What do we make of the dip in the middle?  Should we change the bar graph to have different class sizes?  Would a box plot have been more appropriate?  What about the descriptive statistics?  Would those help us out?

I’m hoping next year to extend this into more of a class activity rather than an impromptu discussion.

 

My #MCTM Sub Stuff

Today my students will have a sub since I am attending our state’s math teacher conference (#mctm). Given the overall success of our Desmos Carnival activity from Monday, I decided that a computer lab activity might be fitting. Since we are starting a unit on probability, I took the opportunity to use some Nrich probability simulations.
I’m also attempting something new with Google Forms. I’ve observed my colleague, Dianna Hazelton, incorporate Google Forms, Sheets, and Docs quite seamlessly into her trigonometry and prob/stat classes. Her success with these apps made me eager to try them out as well. I like that I’m able to “see” what they did via the google form responses right away rather than have a pile of papers waiting for me on Monday.

Nrich’s Digit Doozy

If you are a math teacher who hasn’t taken some time to get lost in the problems on Nrich, stop reading this and go there  right now.  You’ll need to finish reading this post tomorrow because that’s how long you will be immersed in its seemingly endless array of engaging problems.

Today, my intention was to do a little starter activity with my 9th graders to help support their number sense.

Here’s the basis of the problem:

american billions C

For two out of three of my classes, it turned into a whole-class period problem-solving extravaganza.  Seriously.  30 minutes later, the brain sweat is still palpable in the room.  There were so many calculators in use, I think the smartphones were starting to get jelous.

Some chose to use whiteboards, some choose numbered cards 0 – 9 while some wanted to use paper.  It was so interesting to me to see them figure things out that must be true about the different number places.  A few remembered the divisibility rules for 3 and shared them.  Then they were able to put the divisibility rules for 2 and 3 together to get divisibility for 6.  I didn’t even know that there was a divisibility rule for 4 and 8!

Some student observations:

  • The 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 8th numbers need to be even.
  • The last number must be 0.
  • The 5th number must be five, since the last number must be 0.
  • The first three numbers have to add up to a multiple of 3.
  • The first 9 numbers need to add up to a multiple of 9.

I even had a student say, “How much longer do we get to play this game?”  Music to my ears.

It’s difficult to give students a task that you know most of them won’t solve which is why I’ve shied away from this one in the past.  I made sure to praise the efforts of those that were able to get their numbers to work for all except one of the digits.   (For example, their 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, and 10 digit numbers worked, but their 7 digit number didn’t).

Nrich gives another variation on this task by making it a game.  Basically, students take turns creating 1, 2, 3…digit numbers by choosing from the 0 – 9 digit cards until someone can’t use any more of the cards.  I think having them play this activity as a game would help alleviate some of the discontent of feeling like this problem was too difficult to solve.

 

It’s probability time in my 9th grade prob and stats class.  Call me crazy for giving 9th graders dice and pennies with a month left of school, but it’s how I roll.  (Ha! I’m cracking up over here!)

I like to start with the Game of Pig, similar to the game used in the IMP curriculum.  I adapted it a little to have kids compare strategies for when playing with their own dice (or separate from their partner) to playing with the same dice as their partner.

It’s interesting to see their strategies develop here.  Some use very solid ideas like “I stopped when my round score reached 20.”  But I also get to see misconceptions like believing that a “one” will be rolled relatively soon after a “two” is rolled.  Having them share their strategies helps me to see where these misconceptions lie and deal with them before we start calculating any concrete probability.

Tomorrow, we’ll start by discussing which of these are legitimate strategies and which of them are not.

photo 1 (3) photo 1photophoto 4 (1)photo 2

A Desmosian Gem

I finally had a chance to do the Function Carnival with my classes.  Thank you to Desmos, Christopher Danielson, and Dan Meyer for their work on this project.

As David Cox captured in his blog previously, the real power of this activity is the immediate feedback.

 

When the graph looks like the one below and 8+ rocket men burst out of the cannon, the students see that right away and adjust for it.

Rocketman

 

Dan had mentioned in a blog post a while back that “this stuff is really difficult to do well.”  After seeing students work through this activity today, I can appreciate the difficulty in creating an online math activity that gives both students and teachers detailed feedback in real time.

Some observations:

  • Students don’t realize at first that you can see their work live.  I allowed them to “play” for a minute, but some may need more encouragement.
  • A tool to allow you to communicate digitally with the class would be nice.  Google chat, for example?
  • Some students don’t realize that the bumper car SHOULD crash and make their graph to avoid it.
  • A student or two misunderstood the graph misconception questions and went back and changed their graphs to look like the misconception graphs.
  • It was interesting to see which students wanted their graphs to be perfect versus which ones said there’s was “good enough.”  It would be interesting to have a discussion about which is appropriate in the particular situation.

Bravo, Dan, Christopher and the Desmosians.  Thank you for creating an online math activity that gives me some faith in online math activities for the future.

When the Answer is E: He Falls Off the Roof and Breaks His Neck

Our annual state testing season is almost here. The juniors will partake in the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments in Mathematics a week from Tuesday. Our department decided issuing a practice test to all of our juniors would help re-familiarize them with long lost skills. After distributing copies during our monthly staff meeting, I’m always curious if any teachers in other disciplines look at the practice materials. Much to my delight, the choir director approached me at lunch on Friday, test in hand.

Mr. Warren: Is this test just like the MCAs?
Me: Most likely similar. Why?
Mr. Warren: Ok, well look at this one.

 

Mr. Warren: I think the answer is E, Xai s going to fall and break his neck.

The conversation went on for another few minutes, with me agreeing  that what’s been called “math education” includes ignoring the context of situations and focusing on a procedure.  In fact, I was curious how many juniors who completed this practice test even noticed that the situation was outrageous.

Since we were running on a 2-hr delay schedule Friday, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to present the problem to my algebra class. They are mostly juniors who have been continually frustrated with a mathematics curriculum that doesn’t make any sense in the real world.

Me: Read through this problem. Does it make sense?

Student: ok, it looks like 32.

I didn’t expect any of them to apply any trigonometry, so I thought we needed to approach the problem differently.  In fact, I wasn’t even concerned about the angle measure.  I wanted them to look at the scenario itself.

Me: Imagine this scenario. We’ve done a lot of estimating in here. We need to envision a 20-foot ladder, three feet away from a house. Does this seem reasonable?

Unfortunately, it did seem reasonable to most of them. I needed another approach.

Me: ok, how could we simulate this in classroom-scaled size?

Student: Get a ruler.

Me: Perfect. How close does it need to be to the wall?

Students: (a chorus of answers)

After exploring multiple methods of calculating exactly how far, we arrived at 1.8 inches.  With as much drama as possible, I set the ruler against the wall, exactly 1.8 inches away.

Me:  Does this look like a ladder that any of you would want to stand on? (of course, a few did).  Keep in mind, this is a TWENTY foot ladder, not a 12 inch ruler.

Student:  Yea, I don’t think anyone is climbing up that ladder and coming down in one piece.

Another Student:  What if they had a spotter?

A spotter!  Now we’re talking.  To be honest, I have no idea if a spotter could hold a 20-foot ladder so that it could be placed three feet from the wall.  But now I’m interested to find out!

I know Mathalicious investigated a similar scenario using a claim from Governor Janet Napolitano.

In my mind, these are the questions that should be circulating Facebook and aggravating parents.  This is the kind of math that should rile up Glenn Beck and company.  Our state of Minnesota opted not to adopt the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics, but requiring this kind of math instead is what is actually dumbing down the curriculum.  It assumes that the real world doesn’t apply, only rote procedure does.  “Just figure out the answer, don’t question the situation,” is what kids read and do over and over when problems like this are solved without real context.  A richer classroom experience for both teachers and students comes when we ask students to assess the reasonableness of situations, create new scenarios that are more appropriate, and solve the new problems they develop.  The CCSS Standards for Mathematical Practice tell students that it’s vital that they “construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.”  I don’t think “critique the reasoning of others” should be reserved for only reasoning created in the classroom.  I’d like my students to critique the reasoning of the creator of these types of problems and others like it that have been deemed a necessary component of high school math success.

Thank you, Mr. Warren for igniting the exciting conversation in my classroom.

 

A Speedy Makeover for the Intermediate Value Theorem

As a college algebra teacher, I was not satisfied with the way I presented the intermediate value theorem last trimester.  I felt the lesson was somewhat isolated from other concepts we had studied and definitely was disconnected from the real world.  My approach lacked a hook and was laddened with procedure.   Committed to teaching the concept better this trimester, I recorded the following video while (someone else) was driving:

I know, not a high quality masterpiece, but I think I captured what I needed to illustrate the theorem.

I ask the students to draw a graph of the speed of the car with respect to time.  After playing the video a number of times, I had them share their graphs with their seat partner.  As I circulated the room, I noticed their results fell into one of these three categories:

Graph A

Graph A

 

Graph B

Graph B

 

Graph C

Graph C

After examining the options, I had them choose which graph they felt represented the situation most accurately.  Spoiler Alert:  The overwhelming majority of them chose Graph B.  Their reasoning:  it’s unclear what happened to the speed between seconds 10 and 15 therefore, there should be a space in the graph.  Those vying for Graph C cleverly argued that there was no audible “revving of the engine,” indicating that the car continued to slow.  Others supporting C claimed that even though we could not see the speed, they know how a speedometer works and can make a reasonable assumption about what happened in that time frame.

Enter this student’s graph and the Intermediate Value Theorem (trumpets):

IVT graph

I liked this students “shading” through unknown speed region, so I projected it for everyone to discuss.  They were able to determine the value of the function at ten seconds, f(10), was approximately 45 miles per hour and the value of the function at fifteen seconds, f(15), was approximately 35 miles per hour.  They also knew that the car must have reached 40 miles per hour sometime in between 10 and 15 seconds.  “How do you know that?” I pryed.  Gem response of the day:  “Well, speed is continuous and I can’t go from 45 mph to 35 mph without going through 44, 43, 42, 41, 40 mph, and so on.”  Bingo.  Intermediate Value Theorem.  No boring procedural explanation necessary.

We applied this “new” knowledge to a polynomial function so that they could get a handle on some of the algebra and notation used.   And as a bonus, they also seemed to grasp that this theorem does not only apply to crossing the x-axis, a common misconception students had last trimester.

Moving forward, I’ll definitely work on creating a better video!

Surgery for Function Operations

My college algebra course boasts one of the driest textbooks on the planet. It’s one of those versions that has exercises from 1 to 99 for each section…brutal.   Can you relate?
The topics for college algebra are very standard and cover little more than what students should have encountered recently in their algebra 2 course. I therefore decided that this class would lend itself quite nicely testing out the theory that a high-level, rich question questioning can be facilitated from a traditional, drill-and-kill style textbook.

Previously, I recall that Operations on Functions was a particularly awful topic for both me and my students.  The textbook presents this concept in exactly the way you might think:

f(x) = [expression involving x]  and g(x) = [similar expression involving x]

Find f(x) + g(x), f(x) – g(x), f(g(x), f(x) *g(x), f(x)/g(x)…f(snoozefest)…you get the point.  It’s boring, they’ve done it before, and there’s not much high-level thinking involved.

Fortunately, it’s fixable by asking new questions from the same problems.  For example, have students choose a pair of functions from the book.  We have 99 choices after all!  For example, something quadratic and something linear,  like f(x) = x^2 + 1 and g(x) = 2x+4.

Here come the questions:

  • Which of these function operations are commutative and which are not?  How do you know this?
  • Does this work for all functions, or just the ones that you chose?
  • For what values of x are the non-commutative function operations equal?
  • What do you notice about those values of x for the different operations?
  • Can you prove any of your results?
  • How do the graphs of these new functions compare to the original graphs?

Compositions of functions are the most fun!  Here come some more:

  • For which values of x is f(g(x)) > g(f(x)) for your specific functions?
  •  Do your results hold true if both functions are quadratic?
  • Both linear?
  • How are the graphs of f(g(x)) and g(f(x)) related to both f(x) and g(x)?
  • Don’t forget about f(f(x)) or g(g(x))! How do those relate to our original functions?
  • What about g(g(g(x))) and g(g(g(g(x))))?
  • What do you notice happening each time we compose the function with itself again?
  • Can you generalize your conclusions based on the number of compositions and tell me what g(g(g…g(x)…)) would look like?
  • What do you notice about each of these compositions?
  • What do you notice about their graphs?

A personal favorite of mine is:  If 4x^2 + 16x + 17  =  f(g(x)), what could f(x) and g(x) have been?  This works really well with whiteboards and partners.

I might have students throw out any questions that they find interesting.  In fact, I’ll bet we can come up with at least 99 questions more intriguing than the ones given in the textbook.  Then let them choose which one(s) pique their curiosity.   Now hopefully we’ve taken the time that they would have spend doing 1-99 from a book and turned it into time better spent.