Let the blogging begin

It’s time to blog and to unveil the first look of Algebra on Demand or #AoD to its friends. #AoD doesn’t have many friends yet, but I hope that will soon change. #AoD needs friends to help it grow and become what it wants to be. It also wants to be a friend to educators and students of all ages. This blog and the wiki isn’t just for mathematics. Well, it is in its current form, but I believe the model can be used in other disciplines too.

If you are not a mathematics teacher, please keep reading as I think #AoD has something more than just mathematics to offer.  ‘Just mathematics’ isn’t  an appropriate pairing of words anyway. It is also most certainly about using technology in education. I also want feedback, advice, guidance. I am excited about the opportunities technology provides, but I am, as some of my tweeps in twitter put it, in my #rookiehour. By the way, if you don’t tweet, you should. It’s the most amazing professional development at your fingertips. Twitter’s #mathchat daily online newspaper grabs some of the best tweets in the #mathchat world. I’m @lissgriffin, see you there.

#AoD was made in wikispaces so that it sits in a public space for any teacher or student of algebra to access. It is also a wiki so that others, including my first guinea pigs the grade 8 algebra classes at UNIS Hanoi 2010-11, can add to it. It is still undergoing some construction.

#AoD began a few years ago when myself and my teaching partner, Clint Hamada, were discussing the frustration of the mathematical leak over the summer breaks.  I think most educators have experienced the “But I KNOW you know this. I saw you using it, doing it, applying it last year or the year before…” or the review unit that becomes a normal unit of work. The thing is, and I tell my students this, it isn’t a leak. The knowledge and skills aren’t gone, they are hibernating in cave somewhere in our grey matter. I know that ten years without calculus or the cosine rule meant that when it came time to teach it, I didn’t actually remember all of it. Shocking, I know. What I had to do was review the content and practice a little and I had it again, ready to teach.

So do we need the mathematics we learn in school? I coped very well without calculus and more during the wilderness years. That’s a whole other blog post, but it gives me food for thought when I am in the mathematics classroom. It is also something that helped me develop this unit of middle school algebra. I want the students to learn and apply the skills, but I also want them to enjoy learning this wonderful language and to see the mathematics in the world all around them. 

Back to how it began… A few years ago Clint and I decided to keep algebra running once a week after the unit had ‘finished’.  Making the mathematics classroom a positive experience can be a tall order. We get bad press from all sorts of sources, so it’s a challenge from the get go. If students can master some solid algebraic skills, those feelings of dread and nausea can be left at the door. Problems, patterns and applications become possible.  Me, I love the challenge of making mathematics accessible to all that come into my classroom.

Once a week we would interupt the unit we were working on and every student consolidated or added to their algebraic skill set. The huge range of skills meant that every student could be working on something different. My school, UNIS Hanoi, is now a one to one tablet school and so we have the technology to maybe, hopefully, successfully try this approach from the very beginning. Students will be learning middle school algebra at their own pace from the start.

The process used is sometimes referred to as reverse learning and some are referring to it as the Fisch Flip. Karl Fisch pays respect to these two pioneers Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams. I have just found a link to a workshop they are running in June 23-25, 2010 – oooh… I am such a newbie to this, so I might get some of the jargon wrong, don’t hate me.

My model is based on what they have been doing, but not nearly as organised. I expect some initial chaos, okay quite a bit, as we settle into the groove of working on things all over the place. Chaos is okay, there is mathematics in chaos too. And this blog is where I will scream for help or just scream for the sake of screaming. Maybe I’ll be screaming and noone will be there, in my own private blog. I can scream at the little red dot highlighting Viet Nam on my widget map thingie showing me who reads by blog (I want one), then realise I am screaming at myself. It’s like that if scream in a forest and noone can hear you question. Hopefully I will also jump and down excitedly, and virtually, when things feel fine and groovy.

To keep this learning groove grooving #AoD has different facets to keep students engaged, I hope. There are video tutorials from a variety of sources on the internet, games (you should check out www.mangahigh.com), interactive online activities, movies and fun videos, brain breaks and even online quizzes that send the results straight to me as well as the students from www.thatquiz.org.

The goals of #AoD are:

  • students in my classes learn algebra at their own pace
  • students ENJOY learning mathematics
  • students see, hear, smell, touch and taste the mathematics all around them
  • students becomes better at being independent learners
  • students help to teach the world mathematics

Big dreams, I know, and kind of bold, but definitely exciting too in  mathsy techy geeky kind of way. We want our students to be risk takers and think outside the box, so here I go…

Am I nervous? A little, yes. Am I ready? I hope so…

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”  Pablo Picasso

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6 thoughts on “Let the blogging begin

  1. This is a fabulous idea. A colleague of mine at work tried something similar for exponential functions and he found it worked great.

    When possible, group the students together, or let them form their own groups. Now each group is 1 place for you to go check in with and they have each other to ask questions.

    Assess for understanding lots. Students should be able to online quizzes over and over again (through http://thatquiz.org, http://assistment.org or various others) until they are sure they understand how to do a topic, then they can move on. Think of this as formative assessment, and I’d make sure never to count any of these quizzes in a final grade. Once a student indicates that they have mastered a topic, then you can move on.
    Ideally at the end of the semester/course, you indicate what the student has mastered rather than a percentage for a grade.

    This can be an isolating experience. Pause often and find collaborative projects for the students to work on together. This might be creating their own videos to explain the topics, or working on extension problems in algebra (like the frogs jumping over each other in the lily pad examples) together.

    I also think that a lot of good can come from the students constructing their own wiki of the various video resources out there. I had my students create a Google site and then sort the curriculum we have to cover into various pages, and then find appropriate videos on the Khan Academy website to use for their learning.

    I’ll be following this project to see how it turns out.

    • Thanks for the feedback. It’s really appreciated. I’d love to see the exponential functions one.
      I think we can gather once a week for a maths movie too. Ask students to find and present them as we get further into the course. We will be doing the frog assignment, also in wikispaces and two more assessments as a group. I am still refining these.
      One of my concerns was how isolating it could be, so I hope these and your ideas help. I think students will also provide some good ideas.
      thatquiz.org is formative and we discussed that in our classes today. It’s there for when they feel they have mastered a skill, to check if their feeling is correct. We used the analogy of someone thinking they are a really good dancer, then they see themselves on video – hmmmm.
      No percentages as we are an MYP school.

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