A New School Year, New Ideas and a Promise

At our information night when parents get to put a face to a name of their children’s teachers many of the grade 8 parents were assembled, so I asked them to make me a promise. As Dan Meyer says we have one of the toughest sales jobs in the world. We sell mathematics. The negative responses to the word math/maths/mathematics is a daily grind. I told the parents that they add to the battle, and asked them to promise me to stop making it more difficult:

Can you help me with my maths homework?

Oh I hated maths.

I can’t do maths.

Ask your mother/father.

I pleaded with them to at least look interested, even excited when their child spoke about their mathematics or asked them questions. Their children could explain it and they would be able to follow and might learn too. We shall see…

When Sea Levels Attack!

When Sea Levels Attack! by David McCandless licensed under CC by A NC

Infographics is an area that tickles me and it’s how more and more people are deciding to share information. Data Visualisation, or Visualization depending on where you are from, is the other buzz phrase.

Part of the problem with how mathematics has been traditionally taught is that it has little reflection on what real mathematicians do. They certainly don’t grind out twenty problems, check them and call it a day. Skill building is important, but kids need to see why. The only application of mathematics that I ever saw in class, before university, was buying a car (as if that was going to happen when I was in school, two years younger than the legal age to drive). Now I love mathematics.

Distracted Driving by  Christensen & Hymas licensed under CC by NC

Distracted Driving by Christensen & Hymas licensed under CC by NC

When you come from that kind of mathematical education, it can be hard to change. I’ve been at this teaching game for a long time and I shudder at some of my early attempts, though they felt quite good at the time.

Back to infographics. My grade 8s, all three classes, are going to create an infographic about themselves. My colleague, from the Design Technology department, lent me a limited edition copy of Feltron’s 2010 Annual Report to show the kids a personal infographic. Very nice of him. Very trusting. I think we’ll borrow some gloves from the science department or the nurse before 80+ kids touch it.

The goals are simple:

Include data about themselves clearly and in an eye catching way. Eye catching as in wow that’s cool, not dear god what is that?

Show a range of number and operation skills. How do you show an operation or order of operations? That’s pretty open ended, isn’t it? How do you show different types of numbers? Think of percentages, fractions, negatives, scientific numbers.

This year got off to a crazily busy start, which doesn’t look like slowing in pace any time soon, so this blog post sat in draft for a week. When the kids saw all the infographics online and some in print to hold in their hands and discuss with other they were buzzed. Some students need to work on multiplying fractions and some other number skills so the 85 minute lessons will be broken up with targeted workshops instead of making all of them sit through it again. I created a Google survey to see where the needs are and will use http://thatquiz.org so kids can self assess when they feel they have mastered a problem.

We are also hoping to use www.mangahigh.com to help kids improve their mathematics. Lots and lots of ideas. Linear equations, the coordinate plane and statistics will hopefully use data collected in their science classes. MYP science has an entire criterion on these skills. Perhaps together in context, we can teach this a little better – context and reason. A new year, new ideas and a promise.

Here are some wonderful sites with infographics. Be careful they’re addictive:

http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/

http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog

http://flowingdata.com/

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/01/29/us/20110130mixedrace.html

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2 thoughts on “A New School Year, New Ideas and a Promise

  1. As an 8th grade English teacher, I love infographics for the visual way they display information, allowing one to take in as much or as little as one wants or needs. What a wonderful beginning lesson to introduce your students to the world of mathematics. My father, a physicist and engineer, use to say “mathematics is beautiful” and even I have to agree. If it doesn’t cross the lines of privacy, it would be wonderful to see what your students come up with! Good luck this year!

    • Hi there,
      Thanks so much for your comments. It’s always nice to get feedback. I blog to reflect and get ideas from others. I forgot to mention that we kicked it off with percentage poems. Sarah Holbrook http://saraholbrook.blogspot.com and Michael Salinger http://www.michaelsalinger.com came to our school last year and ran poetry workshops across the curriculum from D to 12. I thought why not and let them into my Grade 8 mathematics classes, but not my final year kids. I was so impressed with how the kids were using the language of mathematics naturally that I asked them to come into my grade 11s and grade 12s. It was wonderful, even for calculus.
      From that experience I kicked off the unit with percentage poems, which are very basic, but really reminded kids what percentages are for and what they considered important about themselves. All this before they knew they were going to make infographics. Dan Meyer has a great infographic to use called WHO I AM to help kids get started. If you aren’t aware of Dan, check him out http://blog.mrmeyer.com. He is who I’d like to be in the maths classroom.
      Glad you enjoyed my idea. We are about to dive right in. Fingers crossed.

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