Weather and Integers – The Importance of Real World Connections

A lot of my math teacher friends have been posted images from weather reports on FaceBook and Twitter, like this one to the left from @seemathrun, showing the real-world application of integers due to the extreme weather conditions that are happening across the country right now. It really is a perfect opportunity to show a true application of mathematics that students can definitely relate to, especially if they are in those freezing climates. Add in the wind chill, and you have some interesting data and comparisons and a chance to talk about the relevance of math and understanding numbers.  Here’s an image to the left showing wind chill, temperature, and frost bite times someone else shared that could help explain why so many schools are closed, even though there may not be any snow on the ground, (which is usually the reason behind winter closures). I know one of my colleagues and friends, @ClassPadnut, was sharing with me yesterday that with the wind chill, it was -60 where he lives.  Yikes!!!

There is obviously a lot of different math concepts you could explore with students, dependent on grade level and questions asked. I find the wind chill graph the most interesting. Looking at the wind chill chart, the drop in temperature is almost, but not quite, constant, like you would think – i.e. You will note that there is an equation for the calculation of wind chill at the bottom of the image. I was  curious about whether students could find that connection from the data alone -something to challenge students with. How would they graph this data? Could they? Thinking of statistical tables, what would they enter and what statistical plots would be appropriate? If students are in areas where schools actually closed, you could talk about how the data supports the decisions, and what is the ‘cut-off’ temperature/wind speed that might influence the decision? Lots of things to explore.

I found another image that showed the lowest temperatures reported in each state, so you could do a comparison across states. Even Hawaii is cold!!!  Crazy.  Below is the image, which I then used to enter the data in a table in ClassPad.net, and then make two different plots to represent the data – a histogram and a box-plot. You can see from the box plot five-number summary that the median temperature in the U.S. for this day in January is -40.  Wow!!! (And boy, don’t want to be in Alaska at -80!) Again – think of the interesting class discussions about integers, about how these temperatures will impact things such as the orange crops in Florida or the tourism in Hawaii or California. (Here’s a link to the Classpad.net paper that has the image, table, and graphs shown below: https://classpad.net/classpad/papers/share/b61b70a0-0eed-47da-947a-580e1d835f8d.

As you can see, using what is actually happening right now in our country, i.e. REAL world connections of weather (temperature, wind speed, wind chill), is an amazing opportunity to help students see the relevance of integers and statistics and how this data is being used to make important decisions, such as do we close schools? Who should not venture outside? How long before you get frostbite? The visuals help students ‘see’ mathematics in action, and particularly if we focus on the integer aspect, provide a clear connection to integer addition (and subtraction, depending on the questions asked), something many students struggle with.

Whenever possible, we should be trying to connect the math concepts students are learning and using to a real-world application. Here’s a perfect opportunity, no matter the grade level, to have some great class discussions about the impact of weather on our world, about the relevance of integers, and about how statistical information is important to decision making.

 

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New Year’s Resolutions – A Chance to Explore Some Statistics

As I was at the gym this morning, noticing the increase in people that were there, I got to thinking about New Year’s Resolutions. I personally dread the month of January at the gym because inevitably, it is a lot more crowded with all the ‘new memberships’ given as gifts over the holidays, and full of new people who have decided losing weight and getting in shape are on their to-do list for this new year. As someone who hits the gym regularly, this month at the beginning of the year is a bit frustrating because machines are taken, the parking lot is crowded, and my regular routine is often interrupted due to the increase in the number of people. I admire everyone’s new-found commitment and applaud the goal of getting in shape and being healthier – however, my anecdotal evidence over the past several years is that this commitment is short-lived for many.  By February, things tend to get back to normal because, sadly, many of our ‘new years resolution’ folks lose the commitment and stop showing up, allowing the rest of us to get back to our routines.

Which brings me back to my thoughts about New Year’s Resolutions (NYR).

From my own very unscientific observations at the gym, those that made NYR to get in shape, lose weight, etc. usually last about a month – and this is based solely on the increase in people during January, and then the slow decrease in people as the month progresses, to the return to the regular crowd by February (with, granted, a few new ‘regulars’ who stick it out). I wondered, as I was cycling, are there any statistics out there that actually show the follow-through on New Year’s Resolutions – i.e. what were the resolutions made at the beginning of the year, and what was the actual end result at the end of the year?

I was able to find statistics on the most popular NYR made last year (2018)  However, I couldn’t find any follow-up statistics to see how many people in the survey actually stuck to their resolutions, which is what I think would be interesting to explore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I then found another source that listed the 10 most popular NYR’s made for this year (2019).  A lot of the same resolutions, though maybe different priority. Some different ones as well, which could be a factor of many things – i.e. the economy, the political climate, the source of the survey, who was surveyed, etc.

I am curious why there is no follow-up from those that conducted the surveys at the end of the year. It would be fascinating to see what the graphs look like at the end of the year compared to the beginning and why or why not some people dropped off their NYR and some stayed true.  I couldn’t find any ‘proof’ for claims such as “80% of all NYR’s fail by February“, though again, going back to my personal observations, I would agree with this claim. There are definitely a lot of articles about how to ‘keep’ your resolutions, and plenty on why people don’t stick to their resolutions, but no statistics that actually support this claim that I could find. But it would be nice to have some data or evidence that supports observations – which leads me to my final thought on a fun ‘real world’ statistical study that teachers might explore with their students for the remainder of this school year.

During this short week, where school has started up again but students tend to still be in vacation-mode, why not start a long-term study to see if we can get some statistical data about NYR’s? Have students in your class make a list of 3 NYR’s – so some goals they really plan/want to accomplish by the end of the school year. Better yet, pick a specific month and/or date (so May 30 for example). Then, compile the class data to create categories and percentages, similar to the charts above. (My guess is students will have some different things on their top 10 list, which would be interesting in itself). Have students keep a record of their progress towards their goals, and maybe on a monthly basis, do a quick survey on students progress/commitment to their NYR’s.  Then at the proposed deadline, do another survey on the success/failure to see who is still working on their goals and who is not. Obviously it is going to be self-reporting, but it would be interesting, as time goes on, to see who is staying committed, who is not, and more importantly, WHY they are not staying committed if that is the case. Do the class results verify that 80% drop off by February? Is there a common theme for those that do not follow-through on their NYR’s?

I wanted to share this as an idea for teachers who might have made their own NYR to be more creative in their math class. The only NYR I ever made each year was to try at least one new thing in my math classes every month – for me a pretty easy resolution to stick to. I would imagine many teachers do something similar. For those of you who have made NYR, good luck and Happy New Year!

 

Systems of Equations – Sample Lessons and Resources

For this months lesson feature, I am going to focus on Systems of Equations. I chose this topic because I just did a workshop with Algebra 1 teachers in NJ, and this is where they were in their pacing guide, so I am making an assumption that many algebra teachers might also be focusing on this content as well this time of year. I am using a problem from Fostering Algebraic Thinking with Casio Technology in order to provide a real-world problem-solving experience (and I have the resource), but I have altered the problem so that I can utilize the all-in-one capabilities of Classpad.net (tables, graphs, equations, geometry, text).

The Problem

In 2010, there were approximately 950,000 doctors in the United States, and approximately 350,000 of them were primary care doctors. It was estimated that more than 45,000 new primary care doctors will be needed by 2020, but the number of medical school students entering family practice decreased by more than 25 percent from 2002 to 2007. With laws reforming health care, many more people will be insured in the United States. 

For many reasons, including a growing and aging population, the demand for doctors will likely increase in future years. The number of doctors available is also expected to increase. But, due to the high cost of insurance and the fear of malpractice lawsuits, many have predicted that the increase in the number of practicing doctors will not keep up with the increase in demand for doctors.

The table to the right provides data from a study conducted in the state of Michigan. These data approximate the number of doctors that were or will actually be licensed and practicing in Michigan, called the supply, and the number of doctors that were or will be needed by the people of Michigan, called demand.

The question is, will there be enough doctors to provide all the services? The shortage of doctors is a problem that challenges the entire country, not just Michigan.

The Lesson

A shared paper has been created in ClassPad.net called Systems of Equations Help! Not Enough Doctors, which you can access by clicking on the title. The idea behind this problem is to provide a real-world context where students can use tables, graphs, and equations (along with calculations) to create a system of equations. They can solve these using methods such as substitution, elimination, and graphing. Students will also be practicing how to model with mathematics, applying what they know about relationships and being able to create a system of equations that fits the context of the situation in order to find a reasonable solution.

In the activity, there is obviously some focus first on getting students to really understand the problem and what the numbers represent, and then the idea is to have them look for patterns and relationships as they look for a solution. First in the table, then by looking at a scatter plot of the data, where they again try to determine a solution based on a visual. Continuing to look for trends, they use prior knowledge to recognize linear relationships, create equations that model the data, and then graph those equations to find a more precise solution. Then, as a check, they solve their system of equations algebraically. It’s all about multiple representations and helping students see the connections between all the representations, and depending on whether you want a specific, precise answer or just a generalized answer, you might choose a different representation.

ClassPad.net – Lesson In Action

The video below shows the activity and does a brief walk through of some of the components and what it would be like doing the activity from a student perspective. I am a big believer in the think-pair-share approach, so I would suggest having students do the Notice and Wonder individually first, then pair up, then share so that you can make sure that any misunderstandings about the context, and clarification about the numbers is figured out before students start solving. Then I would suggest small groups for working on the problem itself.

Other System of Equation Activities and/or video links

 

Pee In the Pool and Other Summer Problems – Problem Solving Resources

As part of my daily brush-up-on education news, I read over my Twitter feed to see what interesting articles or problems the many great educators and educational resource companies I follow might have shared. I laughed so hard when I saw the Tweet from @YummyMath asking how much pee was in the water, with a picture of a large pool and many people in it. Come on – let’s admit it, we have all asked that question at one time or another (especially if you are a parent!!)  It’s a great question. And now I am curious. Where to start? My thoughts are I’d probably need to do some research on the average amount of pee found in a pool and then go from there. The great thing here – Brian Marks from @YummyMath has done that work for me, and even has an engaging ‘lesson starter’ video to go along with the lesson (link to the lesson). So – this would be a really fun problem to start out with that first day of school – funny, lots to notice and wonder about, getting ideas from students on where to begin, what information they might need, etc.

In an early post this summer, Summer Vacation – Use Your Experiences to Create Engaging Lesson Ideas, I talked about how your own summer experiences could raise questions and interesting problem-solving experiences to bring back to the classroom. But – as the tweet from Brian Marks @yummyMath reminded me, there are other amazing educators and resources out there who are already thinking of these questions and even creating the lessons for you. No need to reinvent the wheel, as they say – if there are some interesting questions and resources already being posed and shared, then use them. Saves time, maybe provides some ideas you hadn’t thought of before, or maybe it takes something you did think of and provides some questions or links that you hadn’t found yourself. As educators, we need to really learn to collaborate and share our expertise so that we are not individuals trying to support just our students, but we are educators trying to work together to improve instructional practices and student achievement. Isn’t that what we try to stress within our own classrooms – i.e. working together, communicating, and sharing ideas because this leads to better understandings and new approaches? Same goes for our teaching practices and strategies.

Here are some fun problem-solving resources, with lots of different types of problems, but definitely some ‘summer-related’ things already started for you!

  1. YummyMath – (check out the ‘costco-size’ beach towel activity….that’s funny!)
  2. Mathalicious – (Check out the ‘License to Ill’ lesson – relevant to todays’ debate on Health Care & Insurance)
  3. Tuva|Data Literacy (Check out their lessons and their technology for graphing and analyzing data, and their data sets – so much here!)
  4. RealWorldMath
  5. TheMathForum
  6. Illuminations 
  7. Center of Math
  8. MakeMathMore.com
  9. MashUpMath

 

Numeracy – Skills for Life

I just watched this very interesting, and slightly alarming, TedX talk by Alan Smith. It drew my interest because of the title: Why You Should Love Statistics. Statistics is one of those math topics that I really believe all students in high school should take, yet it is often considered secondary in importance to pre-calculus or Algebra 2. My feelings about Statistics is that it is more important for the majority of students (and adults) because statistics are used daily and without an understanding of statistics, it is possible to be continuously deceived or misled. I think our present day political climate is a clear indication of this.  It all comes back to numeracy and understanding numbers and what those numbers, or data, are telling us about the world around us.

Smith begins his talk with some information about numeracy in the UK and then shows some data from the OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAACX2012) comparing the numeracy rates from 12 countries, shown below.

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There is a clear problem numeracy in several countries.

Smith goes on to talk about statistics and how statistics are about us – “the science of dealing with data about the state, or the community that we live in….it’s about us as a group, not us as individuals”. He goes on to show how the way people perceive statistics is remarkably different than the reality of those statistics. It’s much more interesting to actually listen and watch Smith as he talks and shows results, so here’s the talk:

His basic message is we need to be more excited about numbers and statistics in general because it gives information about us. And if we are excited about numbers, we become more engaged in looking at numbers and data which can only improve our understanding of numeracy rates and more importantly, an understanding of us. Something much needed in this day and age.

Global Warming? Let’s Look at Some Data

I realize that I am most likely among the minority of folks when I say I miss snow. I have lived in the Philadelphia area going on 3 1/2 years now, and this ‘winter’ has to be one of the most disappointing ones so far.  I think we’ve seen maybe 3 days of snow – less than 3 inches, and all gone in a couple hours.  I haven’t even had to shovel or scrape the car but one time…. There has been a lot of rain. It’s raining today, and suppose to get to 60. Yep – sounds like spring to me, NOT winter! Where’s my snow? Where’s the sledding?

I grew up in Virginia and spent most of my life in Virginia, where we got a lot of snow – I remember some pretty amazing snow storms and tobogganing down the driveway with my brothers and sister. I then moved to Houston, TX for five years back in 2008 and basically lost any hope of seeing snow or even seasons. There is no real winter….no real spring…definitely no change of seasons in Houston, though it is definitely as hot as people say. When we moved back east to the Philly area 3 1/2 years ago, I was so excited to experience a fall again, and my first winter here we had so much snow, we were actually tunneling our way out.  It was great! Sledding at the castle, power outages forcing us to hunker down at the local bars – snowstorms were fun – even the shoveling brought out the neighborhood and a lot of goodwill!

 

The lack of snow this year, and the weird warm temperatures this winter, where it has felt more like spring than winter, has me thinking about whether this is a normal pattern for the area or is it ‘global warming'(which according to our illustrious leader is a hoax), or is it something else? I think it would be an interesting and relevant real-world investigation for students to look at and analyze and make some conclusions and even some predictions, no matter where they live. My guess is lots of you are experiencing some weird weather patterns this ‘winter’ – i.e. Utah & California for example.  I know the kids around here are disappointed there have been no snow days, so they’d probably love the chance to study the numbers and see if this is an expected pattern and hopefully find a chance of snow still exists.

No matter where you live, weather patterns are a great way to analyze data and apply mathematical concepts. Most countries, states, cities and town keep a historical record of weather data – by year, by month, by day.  There are lots of different measures taken into account – temperature (lows & highs), precipitation (rain and snow), barometer pressure, wind, etc. This data is relatively easy to find as well just by doing a simple internet search. Many sites provide customization, where you can specify month, year and other data that you are interested in looking at. I did a relatively simple search for Philadelphia historical data, and compared the month of January from 2013 to 2017 – here are the numbers:

Granted, a little hard to see, but just in a quick glance, students might note that this past January 2017 we had about 5.59 inches of snow fall compared to 19.41 inches in 2016 (all in one day?!!), 3.9 in 2015, 25.86 in 2014, and 3.75 in 2013. Based on this, maybe it’s every other year that we get a lot of snow? Maybe this has nothing to do with global warming? Is there enough data to make these conclusions? Should we be looking at more months or more years? What about the average high or the average lows for each month? Does that make a difference? There are so many interesting questions and comparisons that students could explore with weather data. As a teacher, you could be applying a lot of things like ratio, proportion, measures of central tendency, different types graphical displays, fractions, decimals, algebra.  It’s a font of real-world data that could be used in so many different ways and in so many different math courses. And students would be interested, especially if you are using data from where they live.  Maybe compare the data to other similar cities or other very dissimilar cities. Do a cross-curriculum investigation – i.e. science, language arts, history.

Depending where you live, you can use weather to help students relate mathematics to their own world and explore their environment while doing math. In CA, as an example, you’ve received a tremendous amount of rain this winter – is it enough to end the drought? How long would that take and how much rain? Interesting and relevant questions students would love to investigate. In Utah, how has all the snow impacted the skiing and tourist dollars coming into the state? In Louisiana, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida – how common are tornadoes in ‘winter’?

Lot’s of questions. Lot’s of data out there ready to explore.

One last question – will there be a big snow storm in the Philly area in the next few weeks? I hope the answer is yes…I need a snow day!

Basketball Math

It seems appropriate to focus a little bit on basketball since we are in the midst of “March Madness” and the final four looming this Saturday, April 2.  I myself 2016-03-29_14-33-42have a difficult time staying excited when my team, Virginia Tech, was not even in the tournament, though, our arch rival, Virginia, did make it to the Elite Eight. So – home-state pride and all!!  As a math teacher, events like the NCAA Basketball tournament, provide opportunities to connect mathematics to real-world happenings. Students tend to be excited to learn and use the mathematics in context because they are either watching the games or at the very least, aware of them so there is a connection. With these types of current events going on, it provides an opportunity to research and collect relevant data and explore numbers in a variety of ways.

Statistical measures and comparisons are the obvious mathematical focus here, though not the only one.  You could explore some physics, such as what’s the ideal arc and location to make a 3-pointer (or a foul shot), or some geometry, such as what’s the ideal volume of a basketball to create the perfect bounce (if there is such a thing).  Having your students come up with their own questions and then do some research and get their own data would be a fun exercise all by itself. Here are just a few sites with NCAA 2016 statistics you could use to support your students questions:

2016-03-29_15-26-59Obviously, you could use these statistics in several ways, but for me, the easiest, and most efficient way to get students asking questions and then use the data they find to help answer those questions is to a) provide them access to data; 2) provide them with technology tools to explore the data; 3) allow them to explore and make conjectures; 4) have them share out their findings and justify their conclusions.  (Very Common Core!) If you are like me, where access to technology in the classroom consisted of a projector screen and computer, and then calculators, getting the data becomes the biggest hurdle.Printing out data from sites (like those above) is one way around that, though a bit cumbersome and it does not allow for student-driven questions, since the data you print may not be what they are questioning. You could have students in groups, and give each group time to formulate some questions first, and then provide each group some time on the computer to search for data that will help support their questions. Some of you may be lucky enough to have a few tablets or computers in your classroom for students, or allow students to access their smartphones/internet to do searches.  In that case, each group can do their own searches on devices within their group, which will make the search process easier.  No matter how students search for and gather data, having calculators for each student would be important, since they can then enter the data and explore quickly and make conjectures.  Yes, yes, you are right – you could just have them do everything by hand. But – what is the point of all this research and data collection? Is it just to find measures of central tendency?  Is it just to plot a histogram? No – it’s to use the data to answer interesting questions, make comparisons, and explore. The use of the calculator (or other technology if you have it) opens the door for students to explore.  They can compare multiple teams or players or test out ideas, or plot points to come up with equations, show multiple graphs from different teams on one grid. Lots of things that ‘by hand’ become cumbersome and tedious and defeat the purpose of this type of mathematical activity. I personally loved using a graphing calculator mainly because every student had access to one. This allowed everyone to be involved and they could work on separate, but related questions or they could work together to verify their conclusions.

Hopefully this gives you some things to think about and maybe try with your students while the NCAA is still going on. Happy calculating and if you have entered one of those work-pools for predicting the winner, hope you are beating the odds and your brackets are paying off!