#TheMathContest – Supporting Student Problem-Solving

My last several years in high school, I was a ‘roving’ teacher, meaning I didn’t have a classroom of my own, but switched classes just like the students. This made for a very challenging prep experience, and required me to be super-organized and self-contained on my little rolling cart. The rooms I ‘borrowed’ for my classes did allow me to keep an area for my students (to turn in homework and pick up missing work, etc.). In each class, my students had a portfolio (i.e. file folder), where they kept their work, one of which was the daily ‘warm-up’ problems.  These were basically a set of 5-6 problem-solving activities – some applications, some skills practice, some real-world scenarios, some puzzles, etc.  Students were expected to pick this up daily and work on these in the first few minutes of class, which gave me time to: a) get there; b) check homework; and c) set up for the class/lesson, etc.  It gave everyone a chance to ‘settle’. Students had a choice – they could do some or all of the problems by the end of the week, and I just checked portfolios and work at end of week. We would always discuss possible solutions the following week (and also they earned points for their efforts).

Needless to say, since I was providing these problem-solving experiences daily, I had to find lots of different resources for these problems, especially those that were more application and thought-provoking. Can’t tell you how many problem-solving books I purchased! There were other sources, such as The Math Forum P.O.W. (now no longer in existence, though their P.O.W. “s do still live on at NCTM), and even my textbooks had some great problems if you looked for them. The point is, it took a lot of effort to provide these challenges for my students. Obviously, I could have done it once a week instead, but for me, it served that duel purpose of focusing my students every day while I was en-route. My goal, and something I think all teachers should be striving for, is to provide students some challenges and problem-solving experiences on a regular basis – ones that may utilize prior knowledge or challenges them in different ways of thinking with new skills.

For those of you looking for such challenges, there is a new resource available from Ole Miss’ School of Education called #TheMathContest. It is actually a reboot of something Ole Miss did in the past, but it’s been revamped and improved, and now is sponsored by Casio Education and encourages the use of the new, FREE, online math software, Classpad.net that I talked about in my last post. Basically, new problems are posted each Monday, and each user can submit one answer per hour. Correct solutions earn points and you can view rankings on the website. Go to the link above to get more details on the contest. There are monthly rankings and annual rankings, which you can view online. How points are awarded is explained here.

This would be a great way to engage students and get them doing some challenging math, not to mention trying out the new software as well! If I were still in the classroom, I think I might add this as extra credit for students (for trying) and then maybe have a collaborative problem-solving time where we discuss possible approaches to the solutions after the previous weeks problem has ‘expired’.  Or maybe group students in ‘teams’ where they submit as a team? In any case, it would be nice to have a problem challenge already done for me each week, that’s for sure!

One thing Classpad.net is doing is posting video solutions to past P.O.W.’s which you can find on our Youtube Channel  Here is an example from May 7, 2018’s Problem of The week:

 The Problem:  Find the 1-millionth term ins the sequence {1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4, 4, 4, 5, 5, ……}

 

There is still time to try this weeks #TheMathContest Problem of the Week for May 14, 2018!  And check out the rankings – you will see students from countries all over the world who are participating.

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ClassPad.net – My Math Love-Affair Continues….

I am a lucky woman.

For my almost 30 years in education, I have loved what I do. Teaching math, helping others teach math, finding amazing tools and resources that make learning math engaging and exciting – my ‘work’ is a labor of love. My love-affair with mathematics and teaching has been influenced by many experiences and people and has led me to yet a another new adventure in my quest to help others love and appreciate the beauty of mathematics – Classpad.net,  a free, web-based software that I have been directly involved in, from conception, to development, and now, to public release and hopefully, viral usage!

Some of my Key family

It’s been a weird path of growth, with connections leading to new opportunities, and more connections, and more opportunities. As a new teacher, and also working on my masters at VCU in VA, I worked under John Van De Walle, who started me on the path of making mathematics hands-on and visual and based on problem-solving. This quest led me to look for resources and share my love of math at conferences – sparking my professional development/training itch.

DG5 Groupies!

My search for visualization and hands-on resources led me to a closet in our math department, where I found Discovering Geometry and Sketchpad. And as I used these resources to present at conferences, I got to know and LOVE Key Curriculum and become, I admit, a groupie. This led to getting to know the Key sales folks and being asked to become a Key consultant. All this PD experience led to an administrator job, where, miracle of miracle, all the Discovery books from Key were just being adopted, so I was part of this implementation, which led to meeting Key’s PD trainer, Tim Pope. As a result – lo and behold, this groupie is working for Key!

It was a dream come true! The Key family, one full of former math educators all trying to share the love of mathematics and create inquiry-based, engaging math through great problem-solving and dynamic math technology tools, was amazing. Then – the dream burst, the family split up, and the books went to Kendall Hunt (with Tim), and the technology to MHE (with me).

Heartbreak.

Casio Family

Time to open a new door: I decided to finish my doctorate and branch into the unknown world of education consulting. And that Key family? They are still there – sending connections and opportunities, which is why I now teach at Drexel, work with Casio, travel the world for The Dana Center and Department of Defense Education Activities, among many other experiences.

At this moment in time, my worlds have collided. My Casio family, which is a group of math educators trying to share the love of math and teaching and learning math through dynamic visualization, is inspirational. We’ve worked as a collaborative team, with Casio‘s incredible R&D team in Japan, to create a tool that is going to revolutionize mathematics. It’s everything math teachers want on one page, and it’s just in it’s baby-phase right now with potential for growth that is exciting.

The guys behind booth magic!

Classpad.net has a partnership with Kendall Hunt just recently announced. Those very Discovering Mathematics books I so love will be adding to their power of inquiry by providing our tool as the discovery math tool embedded in the ebooks. My new family is joining with my old family….(and Tim and I are reunited) (and we have a podcast too – 180days Podcast)(shameless plug)!

Right now? It feels like I’ve connected many parts of my life – where many of my previous ‘experiences’ and worlds have joined together. Not sure if this is the circle of life, or a Mobius strip, or maybe an example of a network with many nodes. But whatever it is, it feels right, it feels exciting and it feels limitless.

So, what is Classpad.net?

It is something that makes me proud to be a part of because it is a web-based software, freely available to teachers and students, that encompasses all the things I wished for as a teacher, and it’s all in one place instead of several different tools that don’t communicate with each other. My doctorate dissertation was on edtech, and how teachers have so many technology tools forced upon them (hardware, software, apps, tablets, PC’s, interactive whiteboards, student response systems, etc) and none of them talk to each other, and each require separate training and support. Instead of using any of these tools effectively, teachers use the ones they are comfortable with, and often not the tool that makes the most sense for helping students learn. Or worse, no tools at all.

Classpad.net solves that problem by being a tool where you never have to leave the page – you can do geometry on the same page you are doing statistics. You can add a calculation, you can make a graph – all from one place. You can dynamically show mathematics and students can explore math and make their own discoveries on a table or a laptop or a phone – with the touch of a finger. There is a complete CAS (computer algebra system) engine behind this software, so it’s capabilities and functionality are incredibly robust. We are just in the ‘beta’ stage of release, which is even more exciting because we are really seeking input and feedback from users – what’s not working for you? what do you want? And, just like a start-up tech company, our team is responding quickly and changing based on what teachers and students want and need. The possibilities are endless because we have Casio’s 60 years of worldwide technology expertise and the experiences and input of math teachers building something that can be what teachers and students really need, want, and use – all in one place.

We have a Classpad.net Youtube Channel that we are just starting to build out, but here’s a quick overview of Classpad.net

It’s only the beginning – so check it out. But, as someone who has had a long-standing love affair with math and math technology, this is going to be a fun ride with so much more to come!! Join the fun and start creating with math and sharing your love of math as well on Twitter and Facebook!

Stephen Hawking – Understanding the Universe

Pi Day is a day math and science enthusiasts love, not only for all the fun Pi Day activities, but also because it was Albert Einstein’s birthday, one of the most iconic mathematicians/scientists/physicists, who developed the theory of relativity. This year’s Pi Day, ironically, the world lost another renowned physicist, Stephen Hawking. Whether you never heard of Stephen Hawking until the movie The Theory of Everything (2014) or whether you only know him from his voice on the Simpsons or Star Trek, The Next Generation or The Big Bang Theory, his death is a loss to the world of science and math.

It seems silly for me to list all that Mr. Hawking contributed, when his website does such a terrific job of that already. Here is the link to his site, where you can read about Stephen Hawking, see the many publications of his, the books he wrote, the lectures he gave (transcripts), the movies about him and with him, and videos he made. This is a great resource for teachers and students to explore.

I want to leave you with a video of Stephen Hawking talking about his love of science and as he said “I did my work because I wanted to understand the universe”.

Rest in Peace and thank you for all your contributions that have helped the rest of us understand our universe a little better.

 

Pi Day 2018

I know there are many math teachers prepping for Pi Day (March 14, 2018), so I wanted to provide some links to resources that might help support your efforts.

One thing I use to do with my students – middle and high school alike – was have everyone bring in ’round’ food – i.e. Moon Pies, Little Debbie Snack, pies, cookies, etc.  We would verify ‘pi’ by using string to measure the circumference, and rulers to measure the diameters of all the items brought in before anyone was allowed to eat. We’d have a contest on who could recite the most digits of pi – that was always a hoot. There was always some history about pi and I would where one of my Pi t-shirts (hey, math teacher – so yes, I have Pi T-shirts!!) – my favorite being the pi symbol made of skittles that said ‘Sweety Pi”.

Below are some links to activities and historical facts about Pi for those of you searching for things to do with students on Pi Day.

  1. Did you know Albert Einstein was born on Pi Day? This article provides some history about Pi, such as how it got its name. It wasn’t from the Greeks, surprisingly!! http://time.com/4699479/pi-day-2017-history-origins/
  2. The Exploratorium has a bunch of resources, from history, to activities, to the numbers of Pi, and if you live in San Francisco, admission is free on Pi Day – https://www.exploratorium.edu/pi  and the Pi Day event http://sf.funcheap.com/annual-pi-day-exploratorium/
  3. There is an actual PiDay website – all things pi for March 14.  Tons of ideas and resources here http://www.piday.org/
  4. Did you know some stores and restaurants have Pi Day specials? (Whole Foods, Blaze Pizza) – http://www.wral.com/pi-day-deals-wednesday-march-14/17396508/
  5. This link has some history, some activity suggestions https://www.wincalendar.com/Pi-Day
  6. Another site with activity ideas and fun facts about Pi – including the Pi song (see below) and a Pi video http://www.chiff.com/home_life/holiday/pi-day.htm
  7. If you live in NYC, the Museum of Math has free admission on Pi Day and are serving pie! https://momath.org/about/upcoming-events/
  8. If you live in or near Princeton, NJ, the entire town celebrates Pi Day – probably because Einstein lived there. https://princetontourcompany.com/activities/pi-day/
  9. NASA’s Pi In the Sky challenges for Pi Day https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?feature=7074
  10. 25 Ways to celebrate Pi Day https://holidappy.com/holidays/25-Best-Ways-to-Celebrate-Pi-Day-314

There’s a Pi Song?!!!

Enjoy you Pi-day preparations!!!

Applying Prior Knowledge Is About Precise Mathematical Language

In the course I am currently teaching at Drexel University, we have been focused on the importance of addition and multiplication properties as students progress through mathematics. Particularly the idea of inverse numbers (additive inverses and multiplicative inverses),the additive and multiplicative identities, and the commutative and associative properties of addition and multiplication. A strong foundation in these concepts, which starts in elementary school and builds as students progress to more abstract and complex math concepts such as proportional reasoning, solving equations, composition of functions, and working with matrices, is really important. In fact, if we spent more time using precise language and justifying our reasoning with properties consistently, as we model and help students learn and discover, there would be a lot less confusion and much more connection of prior knowledge to ‘new’ concepts. Instead, we often provide a short-cut, or a ‘trick’ (with a cute acronym like KSP (keep, switch, flip) or ‘Cross-multiply-divide’ with no basis in the true mathematics. Students focus on memorizing isolated rules versus connecting new concepts and seeing learning as just an extension of prior knowledge.

Let me try to explain what I mean by providing a sense of prior knowledge and how it connects to more abstract concepts:

Prior knowledge:

  • Additive identity: 0 and the Additive Identity Property:  a + 0 = a (5th/6th grade)
  • Additive inverses create the additive identity – so -b + b = 0 or -c + c = 0 (5th/6th grade)
  • Multiplicative identity: 1 and the Multiplicative Identity Property: b*1=b or 1*b=b (5th/6th grade)
  • Multiplicative inverses create the multiplicative identity (i.e. a 1) = d * 1/d = 1 or -1/f *-f = 1 (5th/6th grade)
  • Addition and multiplication are commutative (switch the order and you get the same solution) (1st/2nd grade) and associative (switch the grouping and you get the same solution) (3rd grade)(this explains why we want to change subtraction to addition of the additive inverse number, and why we change division to multiplication of the multiplicative inverse (reciprocal) – so we can USE THE PROPERTIES!!!

Understanding the above, then makes solving equations easier – and we don’t need to avoid equations with fractions or decimals, because the properties apply to these rational numbers as well.

Example:  -5 = (1/3) x – 8

  1. Change the problem to addition of the additive inverse: -5 = (1/3)x + (-8)
  2. Add 8 to both sides (commutative property – can add in any order) because adding additive inverses (8 and -8) make zero (additive identity property)  -5 + 8 = (1/3)x + (-8) + 8
  3.  Group the inverses (associative property) and solve:  -5 + 8 = (1/3)x + (-8 + 8) which is equivalent to 3 = (1/3)x + 0  equivalent to 3 = (1/3)x
  4. Use the multiplicative inverse property (multiplying by the reciprocal will create a 1) and multiply by 3/1 on both sides:  (3/1)*3 = (3/1) *(1/3)x (commutative property allows us to multiply in either order on both sides).
  5. The multiplicative identity property says 1 times any number is itself, so we end up with 9/1 = 1 *x or 9 = x

*Note – we did not use subtraction or division at all – we used the understanding of inverses, identities, and addition/multiplication properties to explain. No tricks, and working with actual numbers (so fractions and integers) with justification for all steps.

Example: Solve the proportion  3/16 = x/20

  1. This is really an equation where the quantity x is being multiplied by 1/20. Understanding that I can use the multiplicative inverse to multiply by the reciprocal to make a 1, I multiply both sides by 20/1:
    • 20/1 * 11/12 = x/20 * 20/1 (commutative property lets me multiply in either order on both sides)
    • I can even decompose my multiplication and think about making ones through the same understanding: 4*5*3 /4*4= 1*x
    • 15/4 = x/1 or x = 3.75 (multiplicative identity)
  2. Note – the trick we often tell students to memorize is ‘cross-multiply and divide’, but if instead we focused on just applying their understanding of multiplicative inverse and making those 1 pairs, there would be less confusion, less forgetting the ‘trick’, and less applying that trick to other problems where it is in appropriate. 

Obviously I can’t demonstrate a whole course of study in one blog post – what I am really emphasizing here is how important consistent mathematical vocabulary and use of properties is, instead of acronyms, short-cuts, tricks, mnemonics, etc. that we often give students with no basis in understanding. Instead of seeing math as a connected whole, building on to prior knowledge as they move through the grades and topics, we treat it as isolated topics with no connection. It’s no wonder students think every year they are learning something new. If last year when they worked with division of fractions their teacher taught them to “Keep, Change, Flip”, and this year the teacher is talking about Ketchup Covers Fries or KSF….no wonder they are confused. None of these are grounded in the properties and vocabulary of mathematics.

What we should be doing instead is focus on applying properties and using the mathematical language/vocabulary/properties right from the very beginning and ALL THE TIME. So instead of disconnected acronyms of KSF or KCF,  they focus on extending their understanding of additive inverse, inverse operations with the inverse number and division of fractions ends up being just an extension of what they did with subtraction of integers – i.e. use your inverse operation with the inverse number. So dividing with rational numbers is just multiplication (inverse operation) by the multiplicative inverse (i.e. reciprocal), similar to subtraction being addition (inverse operations) with the additive inverse (opposite signed number) – same general idea, same vocabulary, and just building on prior knowledge.

Let’s stop dumbing down mathematics and use the words and properties that truly allow students to connect and look for those patterns and develop their own understandings and rules. Let’s get away from tricks and mnemonics as our ‘teaching’ method – instead, let students figure that out themselves through the use of precise math language and application of properties. Let’s start in elementary school. Use precise mathematical language (along with clarifying words of course, but always with (not instead of) proper mathematical language/vocabulary/properties).

Think about it – we wouldn’t change the Spanish word for grandmother (abuela) or the French word for bread (pain) to other words, because then how would we communicate and be understood by others speaking those languages? Why is it okay to change the words or use different words or tricks, instead of the using the math language and properties? No wonder students are often so confused or why teachers think they have to ‘reteach’ things every year – if we are not consistent with students in using mathematical language, we are in fact talking a different language to them. No wonder they so often seem lost and frustrated.

Casio Scientific Calculator QR Code – The Power of Visualization

I was recently asked on my YouTube video channel if Casio’s graphing calculators also have QR code capabilities like the Casio FX991 ClassWiz Scientific Calculator. It was a great question – and my response was the graphing calculators don’t need that QR code because they already have the power of visualization. The purpose of a QR (Quick Response) code is to get information quickly, whether that’s an audio or a visual or data (usually on your mobile device). With graphing calculators, that is part of the calculator – we can enter data in many forms and see multiple representations of that data very quickly – a graph, a table, a function, specific points, etc.within the graphing calculator itself, making a QR code unnecessary. And, if you are using the graphing software/emulators, you can put these graphs and multiple representations up very quickly.

Why does the Classwiz then have a QR code? This is a scientific calculator, which is incredibly inexpensive (from $15-19), so what’s the reasoning behind including QR code capabilities? The answer – to add the power of visualization and make this calculator have ‘graphing’ capabilities at a fraction of the cost. You can enter data in the form of functions, tables, spreadsheets, and then have the ability to see graphical representations of this data with the QR code.

Here’s a short video that talks about the differences in the graphing calculator versus the scientific calculator and demonstrates the QR code. You will also see a comparison of the tables and graphs represented on both calculators.

Creativity of Students – Provide Opportunities for Expression

I was straightening up my office – something I realized I do not do enough. I found a file of student projects from when I was teaching Geometry over 15 years ago. We had done some geometry poems for Valentines day – i.e. write a poem that utilizes mathematics vocabulary (getting that ELA and creativity flowing in my students), and I had clearly saved a few of my favorites.  There were other files of student projects – scale drawings of bedrooms and furniture (so students could ‘rearrange’ their rooms using a scale model), dilation pictures, transformation sketches from Sketchpad, problem-solving portfolios, and designing an aerial view of a city using geometric shapes and properties. As I walked through memory lane, looking at student work from years ago and remembering specific students, it really made me miss those classroom experiences. And what I had forgotten is how incredibly creative and thoughtful students are when given the chance to express themselves – you learn so much about them if you let them, what they know about mathematics, what they think, and what they don’t know if you provide opportunities to approach mathematics creatively.

I’d completely forgotten about the problem-solving portfolios I did with both middle and high school students in all my courses. They were given a choice of problems connected in some way to the math content we were learning or applications of prior knowledge, etc., and they were to choose from several. They had to complete one per unit and put it in their portfolio as examples of their problem-solving and learning/application of mathematics. This was way before the ‘Common Core’, but as I look at my expectations, it was very Common Core like. The idea behind was really very much centered around helping students to persevere and think critically about problems, use problem-solving strategies, and explain their interpretation of a problem, plan out a solution path, justifying their thinking, and showing multiple ways to approach a problem, and analyze their solutions to see if they made sense.  Here are the ‘steps’ they needed to go through and demonstrate in their problem-solving:

  1. Restate the problem in your own words, writing out any questions or wondering you have about the problem.
  2. Create a solution plan – what do you think about the problem  and why (is it hard, easy, does it seem similar to something you have seen or done before), what math might be needed, what problem-solving approach will you start with and why do you think this might be a good approach? What do you think might be the solution, before you begin?
  3. Work through the problem – include everything, especially if you changed your original plan and why. Write down everything that comes to mind and what you did to think through things.
  4. What is your solution and why do you think this is a reasonable solution?
  5. Analysis of your problem solving – What did you think of the problem after working through it? What did you learn from doing the problem, either about yourself or about math, or both!?

In reading through some of these (I’ve posted some samples below from several different portfolios), you can ‘hear’ students personalities coming out, you can immediately see if they might have a misconception about what the problem is asking or an interesting approach to a solution, or identify those who really needed some extra support because their art work was more substantial then their mathematical work! It gives great insight into who might need some extra support or who might warrant some extra challenges. But mostly – the freedom to choose, think on their own and be creative and work through their problems provided students and ability to express their learning in a different way than an answer on a test. I remember at the time I was considered a rather eccentric MS/HS teacher because I did all these ‘strange’ things like keep math portfolios and journals, use manipulatives, used technology (Sketchpad) and projects instead of tests to demonstrate learning. But – in looking back on the past, and looking at what we want from students today in mathematics, with College and Career Ready Standards and Mathematical Practices, I think it’s the right path. Provide students opportunities to think, choose, be creative, find multiple solutions, justify their answers and question their results. It brings out their creativity and they learn to express themselves as mathematicians.