Preparation and Making Educated Decisions on November 8

I watched the Presidential Debate this past Monday. My brain still hurts.

I obviously could talk about a lot of things I heard, but instead I want to bring up two things that stood out for me.

  1. Hillary Clinton’s reply to Donald Trump when he accused her of being “over prepared” for the debate. Her response: “I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And, yes, I did. You know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president. And I think that’s a good thing,” 
  2. Education – not really mentioned in the ‘debate’ (yes, let’s use that term very loosely!), except in passing, and in all honesty, sort of missing in this whole election process.

As an educator, these two things struck me as sort of key components – we need a president that is prepared and we need to get this country focused on education, because, as is very evident in this political climate we are in right now, lack of education is clearly resulting in a lot of inaccuracies, belief in “hype” and poor decision making. Education is so crucial, and we need a President who is going to help address issues like equity, ESSA, funding, ELL….so many things.

Let’s talk about preparedness. Can you imagine, as a teacher, walking into a classroom of students unprepared? Unthinkable! Teachers study the content they are going to teach, anticipate student misconceptions, prepare for alternate ways of presenting information, prepare questions to guide and encourage student discourse and investigation. They know their stuff.  They have a strategy. Because of that preparation, they can make educated decisions and changes during a class, based on student questions, misunderstandings, tangent trains of thought, etc. The plan may change when execution begins – as any teacher knows, the lesson you planned can go in lots of directions – BUT – the preparation for that lesson leads you and the students in relevant directions focused on the original content. Preparedness matters when important decisions are at stake and, in the case of students, when learning needs to happen – so…being prepared matters every day?!!

I would like a prepared President who knows his/her ‘content’ (about our country, policy, government, treaties,  and world affairs, etc.). One who can use that preparation to make decisions, big and small, and be flexible for those times when tangent trains of thought or questions or disagreements arise.

This leads me to my second focus, education in this country. The next President will have a huge impact on shaping education policy – and its not mentioned much and we don’t really hear about the candidates take on education except for sound bites. ESSA is just coming into play, so that’s huge. The next Supreme Court Justice appointment could impact education policy -also huge. The next Presidents’ take on the Department of Education, on Pre-school Education, on higher-education, teacher pay, funding, technology, etc- all those really important things we educators think about on a regular basis, this matters a great deal to the future of education in this country. The next President should understand education policy – how the federal, state and local governments interact, what issues and policies are important and needed, how changes impact students access and equity in education. If we don’t educate ourselves on what all the Presidential Candidates believe about education, and instead make decisions based on personal feelings, ‘hype’, showmanship, he said/she said, then we are NOT PREPARED and our vote on November 8 is NOT an educated one, and could drastically hurt the state of education in our country.

So please – as educators interested in the future of education, prepare for this November 8 election. Read the actual policies on education that each candidate proposes. Find out what they know (or don’t know). Prepare, compare, and make an educated decision.

Here’s a nice quick visual summary of the four candidates positions (from BallotPedia):


Here are some good resources for comparing the candidates views on education . I’ve also included some links that compare the candidates on many of their policy stands, not just education. But, as an educator, education is rather crucial to me, so it is the one I focus on.

  • This link has a nice summary and then a run-down of each candidates stance and things they have said about education.
  • This is an interactive comparison on different education related topics (just Clinton vs Trump)
  • A higher-ed comparison of the candidates (just Clinton vs Trump)
  • List of some key education ideas and how candidates compare
  • Strong Public Schools (NEA) comparison
  • In their own words comparisons of the 4 candidates (Ask yourself – who knows what they are talking about, who doesn’t?)
  • 20 Questions/Answers (on more than just education) from All 4 candidates. Eye opening – again, ask yourself, who is prepared, who isn’t?

Let’s do what we as educators do best – prepare, plan and make educated decisions. It matters.


Solving Equations with A Scientific Calculator

Solving  equations is a skill that students are expected to be able to do in pre-algebra and beyond. If we look at the Common Core State Standards, these skills actually come into play starting as early as 6th grade, with students expected to solve one-step equations and progressing to systems of equations by 8th grade. An important aspect of solving equations is connecting a real-world context to these and understanding what the ‘solution (s)’ mean in terms of that context.

The use of calculators or technology to help students solve equations is a controversial one at best, and as a math teacher, I do believe that students need to know the processes to solving equations without the use of technology first. But – when we get down to real-world application and problem-solving, the technology becomes a tool that allows students to go beyond just “getting the solution” and to making meaning out of those solutions, and using their solutions to make decisions – which is the ultimate purpose of finding those solutions, right? In these cases, I firmly believe that the use of technology, (more often than not a calculator), is a necessary tool so that students deepen their understanding and are not bogged down in the process of the calculation. Part of the practices – “use appropriate tools strategically”. 

As an example, let’s consider a simple real-world context that involves solving a system of equations, something required by the time students reach 8th grade (see Common Core Standards). Let’s say a scientist is mixing a saline solution and has one solutions that is 10% saline and the other 25%. He needs to make a 85 ml bottle that is 15% saline. How much of each of the two solutions should he mix to create the 85 ml bottle of 15% saline? This requires our two equations, with x = the amount of 10% solution and y= the amount of 25% solution.

  • x + y = 90 ml
  • .1x + .25y = 12.75 (15% of the 85 mL saline)

Perhaps students are actually in science class doing a lab and creating this new solution. While it would be reasonable to do this by hand using substitution, if this is part of an experiment, then using a calculator to get the answer quickly and therefore get on with the experiment might be a more logical step, especially when time is of the essence in classes. I am going to demonstrate on the fx-991Ex how to solve this problem.  I am using a scientific calculator because in middle school, students are more than likely going to have access to these versus a graphing calculator. This video shows how you can quickly solve the simultaneous equations, and also, with the QR code capabilities, also see a graphical representation of the solution.

If a scientific calculator is all your students have access to, remember that they can do a lot more than you might think.  I will explore more features of the ClassWiz in later posts as we continue to explore mathematics and using technology to support learning.

Casio Graphing Calculators – Which One’s For You?

It being the start of the school year where everyone is getting their school supplies, one question that gets asked by parents and students seeking to get a graphing calculator is which one should I buy? I’ve already done several posts comparing Casio graphing calculators to TI graphing calculators, so there’s no question when comparing these – buy Casio!  So….now that you’ve made the smart choice to go with Casio, which of the models is the right one for you? What’s the difference, aside from the cost? If you go with the most affordable version, the fx-9750GII, will you be able to do all the things you need to do in your math and/or science courses? What’s the advantage of the fx-CasioPrizm model, that costs a bit more, over the other two?

Great questions – questions we get frequently, especially when we are out at workshops and conferences. The short answer is they will all do what you need in all K-12 courses and on standardized tests (ACT, SAT to name a couple), so you wouldn’t go wrong purchasing any of the three. And, they all follow the same keystrokes, so knowing one means you know the others. But, there are some differences, which might matter to you, depending on your preferences. You can see a complete comparison of all our graphing calculators to each other and to the TI graphing calculators in our program book, pg 16-17.

What I have done in this post is compile a short list of the major differences between the three Casio calculators (Casio Prizm, fx-9860GII, fx-9750GII) and made a quick video so you can see both their similarities and their differences.

Short-List Comparison  (for all the features, refer to our program book, pg 16-17):

Feature Casio Prizm fx – 9860GII Fx – 9750GII
Display 384×216 128×64 128×64
LCD Color High Color Monochrome Monochrome
Storage Memory (Flash Memory) 16MB 1.5MB
Rechargeable Battery Available Yes No No
Exam Mode Yes Yes No
Natural Textbook Display – input/output Yes Yes No
Simultaneous/Polygon Results Yes Yes No
Irrational Number Natural Display Yes Yes No
Modify Yes No No

This is just a few of the features that differ. The obvious one being color in the Prizm, the size of the display, the Flash Memory capabilities. But for the most part, if you check out the complete list of features, you will see that all three they have comparable functionality and many features/functionality that the TI calculators do not. So – if you like color, want more flash memory (for pictures, movies) and the ability to modify one variable at a time, then the Prizm is your choice. If color is not important, but you like the natural display, then go with the fx-9860GII. If your school requires exam mode capabilities for standardized testing, then the Prizm or the fx-9860GII would be your choice. But – the fx-9750GII, for its lower cost, is going to meet most of your functionality needs, so if the extra features aren’t necessary for you, go with that calculator. You won’t go wrong with any of them.

Here’s a quick video showing some of the differences:


Online Training for Casio Prizm – Get Free Emulator Software!

One of the most frequently asked questions I remember at the NCTM Regionals and NCTM Annual Conventions from teachers was “do you have any training to help me learn to use the the Casio calculators because I have so many students in my math classroom using them and I want to be able to support them?”  The short answer is yes, we do!

2016-09-06_15-57-07There are a couple of free options available on-demand now.  One is the Quick-Start guide that will help both teachers and students navigate and learn some of the basic functionality. We have quick-start guides for several of our calculators which you can find at this link: Quick-Start Calculator Guides. The other option, specific to the Prizm, is a free, self-paced, online course for teachers that let’s you learn about the calculator and specific features by working through modules. The great thing about this course, besides the fact that it’s free, is when you complete it you get the emulator software free for use on your computer for use with your classroom instruction. Can’t beat that deal!  There are of course several other free resources, but these two are a terrific way to get started.

Additionally, we will be offering some upcoming, regionally based workshops where you spend a few hours doing content-specific math activities while familiarizing yourself with the calculator. You leave with a free calculator and read-to-use lessons. All for only $35, so that’s a pretty amazing deal as well, plus you get some professional development hours and collaboration with other mathematics educators.  Stay tuned for those.

Just like with students, starting the new year for teachers means learning new things and finding supports for your own learning and teaching. Take advantage of both free and inexpensive ways to develop new skills and get some great hardware & software to enhance your classroom instruction. Don’t forget we have a Youtube channel of free videos as well.