The STEM Around Us

NCTM Innov8, the new team-based conference that NCTM is sponsoring, is going on right now in St. Louis, Missouri. Our team is there of hqdefaultcourse, supporting math teachers with our technology and a great team-building session based on the Wheel of Fortune and the probabilities of winning (session is Friday, November 18 at 10:45 am in Room 265/266). St. Louis brings to mind the very famous St. Louis Gateway Arch, something math teachers attending will probably be exploring and trying to mathematically represent – is it a parabola? (In fact, it is NOT a parabola, but rather a flattened catenary). (Cool 3D mathematical model here).

This idea of looking at real objects and connecting mathematics to them is something math teachers do often. It makes complete sense, and, as I have been teaching a geometry course for Drexel these last several weeks, I have really deepened my appreciation for this idea of looking at our constructed world to find the mathematical connections and relationships. What I think we tend not to do with students, and what we should do much more of, is go beyond the obvious “shape” explorations and function fitting to explore the STEM connections.

What I mean is after we identify the inherent shapes and/or functions in ‘real-world’ objects, start asking questions that get students thinking about the why behind those shapes. The why questions lead to investigation and research by students into science, technology, engineering, and math applications that would take them much deeper into understanding the world around them. And, I wager, this type of questioning will engage students in learning and applying what they learn in a much more relevant and interesting way.  Giving them purpose for learning. And, as a result, we might have more students going into STEM fields.

Some examples:

2016-11-17_15-32-11    download     images

Why, for example, are most buildings polygon shapes, particularly triangles and rectangles? Why don’t we see more circular or cylindrical shapes for buildings, besides the grain silos or water towers? Is there a reason? This is where engineering would come into play – are certain shapes stronger from an engineering perspective?

science-test-tubes-all-the-ladies-in-washington-zsrurj-clipart

 

Why are science and medical tubes cylindrical? Is their a scientific reason for these shapes/containers? Why not use a prism shape, so then you could set the vials down on a table versus having to store them in special holders so they don’t roll away? Is the shape somehow connected to the way molecules or blood cells behave – i.e. science factors that might determine the tools used.  2791136-image-of-the-motherboard-without-a-pc-processor-closeup

Look at all the different shapes on a computer motherboard – there are cylinders, rectangles, squares, networks of curves/lines of wires, prisms…so many things going on. Students could ask whether certain shapes provide better conductivity? Or heat control? How does the height of a component impact it (notice the different heights of the cylindrical components). I don’t even know the questions to ask here, but this is a great example of where technology comes into play.

I feel that if we allowed students to explore beyond simple things like fitting a function to a curve or identifying shapes in a picture, and really focused on STEM applications and reasons behind the use of those specific shapes, we would be encouraging students creativity, curiosity, and developing research capabilities in order to find solutions. It would be so engaging and really get students interested in those STEM careers, but more importantly, a better understanding of the STEM around them.

 

Advertisements

New Year’s Resolutions for the Classroom

I hope everyone has had a nice holiday season and are planning to do something fun for New Yearsstock-illustration-80478039-happy-new-year-2016-background-for-your-christmas Eve. I myself am planning to have a potluck dinner with many of my neighbors and spend time talking, laughing and ringing in the new year. We have built a “New Years Eve Ball” out of chicken wire, lights, and 2×4, and are planning to do our own small-town ball drop from our friends apartment, which happens to be in the center of town. Hopefully we won’t get in trouble – I will be sure to post a picture!

Anyway, as the year draws to an end, and as all of you who are teachers see the end of your winter break draw to an end, I thought it would be good to share something I would do while I was teaching in the classroom. It’s so easy to get ‘tired’ this time of year – the school year is not quite half-way through, you might be going back to face midterm exams, and after a lovely vacation, the thought of going back and facing your 30 *(or your 150 students or more) seems exhausting. But, this is a time to think of ways to rejuvenate not only yourself, but your students and your classroom. Look upon the new year as a way to make some small changes in how you teach or structure your classroom, and you will find that it keeps the energy and relaxed feeling you had during vacation going.

I always made myself some New Year’s Resolutions for my math class.  Usually only about 3-4 things I wanted to start doing differently or more often in my classroom starting that first week back after winter break. It was a challenge to myself and I found it made me more excited about facing the next semester.

What do I mean by math classroom resolutions? It can be something very simple – like adding a different question into your teaching, or incorporating technology into class twice a week if you haven’t before.  The key here is to choose some things that you don’t do currently, or know you don’t do well, and focus on doing these things on a daily/weekly basis.  Little things that can make big changes.

Here is a list of some things I use to do:

  1. Use different, thought provoking questions in each class at least two times each day (questioning is a skill I still work on, so deliberately focusing on it helps make it become a habit) (just a few example below):
    • Ask “why do you think?”
    • Ask “what if”
    • Ask “what do you wonder?”
    • Ask “why?”
    • Ask “can anyone show a different way?
  2. Incorporate technology into a lesson at least twice a week as an EXPLORATION tool (not an answer tool)(if you already do it that often, then every day…something different).  This can mean calculators, software, apps, smartphones, videos – something that provides students with a chance to explore and ask questions that expand their learning/understanding and leads to more discoveries.
  3. Have students work in pairs 2-3 times a week (more if you are already doing this).
  4. Use exit passes every day.
  5. Start each class with a real-world application.

Obviously, you need to gear your resolutions to you – what is it you don’t do now or don’t do often enough that would increase student engagement and/or student understanding. And focus on 2-3 things that you are going to do regularly. Changing a little bit consistently makes it become natural, and once you have those in your repertoire, then you can add on some more. The key here – change something.

Hope you all have a wonderful New Year’s Eve.  Be safe. Be happy. And be motivated to make small changes that will help your students and you achieve great things in the new year.

Happy New Years!