Algebra on Demand is HERE – The Khan Academy

Many moons ago myself and Clint Hamada, @chamada, discussed how we could better prepare our middle school students for high school mathematics and other lucky disciplines that use it.  The Algebra unit was finished and we were moving on, as you do, to the next unit. However, you know deep inside as you move on that some had not mastered the skills or the understanding, that more time would have really helped. Pacing and the differentiation of mixed ability classrooms has many challenges. We wanted to reach all the kids and ensure that they felt they had the mathematical muscles for high school.

The key, I believe, is algebra, the language we use to solve problems. Not so much being able to do a ton of problems, but to understand how it works, why the notation is helpful and not actually awful. If kids can do some algebra and apply some correct notation, then problem solving becomes easier. The different strands of mathematics also become more approachable. Those wily letters confuse students and have for an eternity. The little letter x can cause early heart disease.

Salman Khan explains it best, in his TEDtalk, with his bicycle anedote. This is the problem we were trying to fix, the Swiss cheese gaps of maths:

Salman Khan talks about Algebra (and more) on Demand at TED

Salman: “… imagine learning to ride a bicycle, and maybe I give you a lecture ahead of time, and I give you that bicycle for two weeks. And then I come back after two weeks, and I say, “Well, let’s see. You’re having trouble taking left turns. You can’t quite stop. You’re an 80 percent bicyclist. “So I put a big C stamp on your forehead and then I say, “Here’s a unicycle.” But as ridiculous as that sounds, that’s exactly what’s happening in our classrooms right now. And the idea is you fast forward and good students start failing algebra all of a sudden and start failing calculus all of a sudden, despite being smart, despite having good teachers, and it’s usually because they have these Swiss cheese gaps that kept building throughout their foundation. So our model is learn math the way you’d learn anything, like the way you would learn a bicycle. Stay on that bicycle. Fall off that bicycle. Do it as long as necessary until you have mastery. The traditional model, it penalizes you for experimentation and failure, but it does not expect mastery. We encourage you to experiment. We encourage you to failure. But we do expect mastery.”

Watch the TEDtalk to see that The Khan Academy is  now so much more than video tutorials. It has interactive exercises including hints and teachers get detailed data on their students. It’s like the worksheets, tutorials and thatquiz.org that was used to create the Algebra on Demand wiki, that my blog is named after, but slicker, prettier, better. It’s really exciting to see it come to life. Salman Khan says that games are coming too, which is all that Algebra on Demand tried to deliver. Clint has set up Google accounts for all of our Grade 8 students and I am using it with my IB Diploma Mathematical Studies students too.

The kids log in with a Google or Facebook account and then nominate a coach. My Diploma kids were first, before our Christmas break, so they have nominated myself and Clint so we can both follow them.  They can nominate their parents and tutors as coaches too.  When our kids move on to the next grade and teacher, they nominate them and the data follows them. Can it move from one Google account to another? I don’t know. This is a question for Salman and Bill Gates and Googlers. When international kids move on, they lose their old school email, so how they keep their data? These emails are the user names we use for Khan Academy Google accounts.

Homework for Grade 8 this week: watch the TEDtalk with their parents.

At first when my Grade 8 kids went on I wanted them to do the exercises on linear equations, but most started at addition, right at the beginning and then followed the concept map routes. Now I am very happy they did that. The Swiss cheese gaps are being filled. An all too common problem in international schools. I went to a lot of schools as a kid across hemispheres and continents. Having a birthday right in the middle of the year meant that changing schools was rarely linear with grade level progression. Grade four was a lot of fun, but there was no maths, grade five didn’t really happen and I missed half of grade six. I still HATE my eight times tables and don’t mind telling my students that. Perhaps I can utilise the Khan Academy too. My boyfriend does. I’ve told other mates about it studying post-graduate courses facing what they believe is the horror of mathematics again. I’ve been a fan of The Khan Academy for some time, but now it’s supersonic with more on the way. Free self paced education for those with access to a computer. Hooray for Salman Khan.  And he used to do evil maths – hedge funds.

Will it replace what we do in the classroom? Impossible. Investigations and projects need a different structure, but I don’t see why we can’t provide a regular time slot to help prepare middle schoolers for high school and beyond.  My work is done and I didn’t even do it. Nice!

Here is the wiki that came about from the early days of Algebra on Demand: http://algebraondemand.wikispaces.com/ 

Now I need a new name for my blog.

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Patterns and Prediction

“This was really useful for our last lab in science”.

That was a win. In mathematics this year I wanted to address a problem I saw when proofing reports last year. In a nutshell I was proofing middle school reports and there was a glaring area requiring assistance. Processing data needed attention. I delved further as mathematical assistance would probably help.

IB DP Question: Obvious Pattern. Dubious Data. Getting kids to observe and analyse

Bivariate data analysis. Kids weren’t choosing scatter graphs and were asking technology to find trend lines without much work at how that happens.

I think teaching this is in a scientific context is the best way. Teaching in context just makes sense. In our curriculum the mathematics came at the end of the grade 8 year, so this year it is combined with algebra. We’ve called it Patterns and Prediction. Science likes it so much that we are planning to kick off next year with this unit.

One of my goals for my students is for them to be able to converse with anyone. I have a few things I do for this, but talking about the weather, it’s handy. To prepare students for their Interdisciplinary Unit (IDU – MYP term) we used data banks of Latitudes and Temperatures. Each class had to form a hypothesis and then we used Google docs to collaborate when collecting data.

Using the science departments guidelines we took grade 8 students on a journey that included:

  • Data collection – Google Docs
  • Data storage – Google Docs, Excel
  • Data Manipulation – Excel and Autograph
  • Scatter Graphs – Excel and Autograph
  • The Language of Analysis – using the wonderful 100 People website (see page 23 of PDF)
  • Trend Lines (Lines of best fit)
  • By eye using the shape of the data and the centroid. Find the y-intercept via extrapolation, then find the equation in slope intercept form
  • Using technology – Excel and Autograph.
  • Presentation of a report – fonts, layout, hard page, table headers, table formatting and labeling

They are now forming their own hypotheses and hunting for data (we have set up a Diigo group to get them started) so they run their own lab. Students will be using all of their mathematics and science classes this week and will be assessed in both classes.

Have a look at the graph above that I included for practice. Can you see the problem? It’s not with pattern spotting. It’s what the pattern predicts. Glad I am not  a bunny.

tweetless in cyberspace (#4284208 Twitter Support reference number)

@lissgriffin I tweet, therefore I am (a better teacher).  That’s my twitter bio. Evil? Non.

Now I don’t tweet. I am not allowed. I am tweetless in Cyberspace as @lissgriffin.

#freelissgriffin

It’s been a bit more than a year since I became a tweep, @lissgriffin was what they called me. Now I float suspended in Cyberspace wondering when I’ll be allowed back in.

Why I was suspended? I think it was about the mathematics.

A tale of sharing, perhaps too much, but spammer quantities? I think not. Was it the five shortened links in two tweets?

My friend over in the UK has a yound child, who digs maths. She refers to such joy as #alien, but wants to support his quest for more. I sent five links. Five links in two shortened tweets. I read the rules and regulations of the #twitterverse, and I just don’t see what else it could have been. My last tweet referenced #KevinSmith. Not uncommon in the #twitterverse.

Mangahigh, PBS Kids Cyberchase, BBC Bitesize and their Maths Channel and Ri (an independent charity dedicated to connecting people with the world of science) with this terrific site.

The above? I think it is what got Twitter‘s knickers in a knot and then they suspended my account.

Issues with mathematics? I’m your gal, your tweep, your pal and I’m only a couple of clicks away. Suspending me doesn’t stop the maths being everywhere. It’s a glitch, a mistake but I am getting no love, no response, not a peep, not a tweet from twitter themselves.

Online feedback, to quicken the process of appeal, have all been taken advantage of. “A few days” is now four. Numbers I am good at, it won’t be a few days tomorrow.

#freelissgriffin campaign – love my tweeps

While I may not be a #megatweep or get sponsorship for tweeting out that I like stuff, it is a large part of my professional working life and fun stuff too. It’s become a part of my day.

Start a new account? It took over a year to build my network of about 400. I don’t have my tweeps listed anywhere (as in backed up). And and and… if you follow too many people too quickly, you get suspended. And and and… if you get followed by too many people quickly, you get suspended.

My tweeps have rallied and I have my very own hashtag #freelissgriffin. Join in and tweet right at the tippy top of twitter @jack

Check him out here https://twitter.com/jack, Jack Dorsey. He cofounded the twitter universe, he left and is back again. Fascinating reading.

My friend and tweep Jabiz @intrepidteacher, who was one of my original tweeps, has dedicated a blogpost to #freelissgriffin to try and help me. Jabiz is known world wide, so a glimmer of hope has reignited.

If you can spare a moment and a tweet, help a tweep out #freelissgriffin @jack @twitter @support… @lissgriffin uses her tweets and not evil.

#techwoo

Screen shot of the UNIS Portal for #techwoo

Every now and then UNIS asks teachers to run workshops to show how they are using technology to enhance learning in the classroom. I was approached, said yes. Finding the time to put together something worthwhile was going to be difficult with all of the current demands so I teamed up with Emma Collins from the English department. Emma’s Grade 12 students have indvidual blogs. A nice contrast in what was going to be a blogging workshop from my class blog that is teacher managed (for now).

Due to time constraints but also excitement about what we could share our blurb to entice people into our workshop went like this:

Literacy and Numeracy join forces with Bite Size chunks of tech woo. We will  explore how to make independent learning through online woo more effective (or not?).  Numeracy chomps on reflection – a new class blog and Wallwisher with Youtube. If you are interested in improving student writing or want to explore ways to go about digital publishing, then chew on WordPress, and Youblisher (or not?). Want to see folks willing to take risks and make mistakes right in front of your faces (or not?) – we’re the workshop for you.

The (or not?) meant we’d try our best to get through it. To support our colleagues who attend I put together our resources on the school portal. This is a lockdown type of place, so I’ll post some of it here. We didn’t get through everything, but that was due to some excellent questions from our participants.

Some people believe the art of conversation is dying as we dive further into our tech gadgets. I am still talking ’til the cows come home and I dig my tech, but I can see some truth in this. In my middle school classes we play NBF, New Best Friend. Seating is random every lesson and students have to begin by making small talk or discussing their current investigation. My lovely classroom assistant has been sticking questions to the table. Funnily enough I was about to shoosh my class the other day and then I heard many of the students using the conversation starters. I wanted to start #techwoo with NBF, but this didn’t happen as we lost about ten minutes, but the idea was shared and everyone could see the conversation starters on the tables.

Then Learning to Learn, or using resources independently.

Teachers  experienced a Readers Digest version of what I do with the kids in my class. Here is a previous blog post about multiplication tricks and origami foxes.

 

Class Blog

Screen shots of the #techwoo wiki at UNIS

The class blog has been loads of fun as well as a great way to share information and work, kick off collaborative projects and for kids to reflect in one place. Click Click Click and I can sort the comments and see who has been participating. They know it will count towards their final score for Reflection.  There is a communal understanding that this is a new thing and we’ll get better at it together. Some are ready to be guest bloggers.

Individual Blogs and Digital Publishing

Emma (@collins_emma) showed what her kids have been up to in DP English Literature. Here is one of her student’s blogs. It was cool for me to read some of them as I teach the same students mathematics. She also showed them the world of ISSUU and youblisher. These are groovy, but I am wondering about how to kindle something…all I need is time…

Some examples: ispliterarymagazine (wonderful), fonts (from when we used to print more things at school), the leech (a quickly made example for a grade 7 class)

The last bitesize chunk of #techwoo was wallwisher with youtube videos. 

We shared some wallwishers, like my Grade 8 percentage poems and we had one ready for our session. Due to time lost our participants didn’t have time to post, but I think they really enjoyed that part.  I learnt about wallwisher with youtube through David Miller’s Making the Most of Online Tools through the Scottish Book Trust

I’d like to give big thanks to:

Emma Collins, my #techwoo partner (tweet at her if you’d like to participate in Literary blogs – Hamlet is currently being discussed). If you are here because you are more mathematically inclined, then perhaps you would know someone in your school teaching literature and even, coincidently, Hamlet.  @collins_emma

Clint Hamada, my #techwoo guru and UNIS’ technology facilitator for teaching me many of my tech tricks and his patience  @chamada

David Miller, for our new favourite #techwoo the wallwisher David Miller’s Making the Most of Online Tools @DavidMiller_UK

…and all my tweeps, whether they follow me or not, I get a lot out of them.

There is no way that #techwoo could have run without them

Music was fun

The kids seemed to enjoy the music and mathematics lesson.  No comments on the blog, but it was our last day of classes before UN Day and our Spring break and we are new to blogging. Must try to keep it moving even though I fear I will struggle to catch my breath as we head towards one of our four reporting sessions of the school year.

The feedback received though was from parents the next day at our UN celebrations. One very excited parent told me about her son asking if she’d like to hear some music he’d composed. Then he showed her the sheet music and played some more. It was then he revealed that it had happened in mathematics. My schools arts department is fantastic and so we were supported by a range of them. For me I saw three different ways to compose and all of them had mathematics in them whether that was obvious to the composer or not. The first lesson was a little shakey as I was forgotten and stumbled through. We did compose, so it was a success, but I was a little dizzy due to fighting the flu and medicated. Youtube didn’t want to cooperate, but then students know all sorts of tricks and everything clicked if not in the predetermined order. Mathematics isn’t linear. Life isn’t linear and I am more than prepared to take risks and make some mistakes, some, mistakes in front of my students if it’s what I ask them to be prepared to do.

Before I began each lesson I told them I had never read a note of music before putting the lesson together but wanted to show them order of operations in the real world and music just made sense. My hunch was right so off we went. Our 85 minute long lessons were perfect for the one off lesson.

More than anything it was fun. I still have a handful of kids who dread mathematics, but I am going to win them over. Might be time for another TEDtalk.

They all just sat their first unit test. Questions were written by them in small groups in an attempt to prepare them for mathematics in unfamiliar contexts and also helping them think about how to prepare for a test. It’s not a trick, they should be able to predict content. After about three hours of marking 60+ tests I am pleased to say there was a lot of very good mathematics and thinking on the paper. Poor little things looked stressed leaving, so I emailed them to tell them well done.

Our next unit is data, patterns, averages and predictions. Weather will feature. Perhaps they won’t be so cross when the weather forecast isn’t all that accurate afterwards.

Can you match the graphs to the cities. Wonderful activity from Maths300.

Been Busy Elsewhere

Our class blog for grade 8 mathematics
It’s been quite a while since I blogged and I feel guilty about the work I am not doing right now. The pace of the year has not lessened, feels busier than ever before. I may not have blogged here, but I’ve been setting up the class blog. Yesterday it was unveiled to the students with three posts and some pages ready for them to read and comment on. Most commented on MangaHigh because they love it.

For them to enjoy I posted their poems on wallwisher and there is a page on TEDtalks. TED is new to most of the students and many of their parents. Homework from time to time will be to watch these and do so with their parents.

Tomorrow I will attempt the music lesson. I’ve never read a note let alone written or played any music properly. Banged on a few drums, was passed the triangle. My voice is nothing to write home about either. Mathematics is a key player in composition and making it all sound so pleasing. I figured it would make sense to look at it when we are covering fractions and order of operations. The latest blog for the class blog (for grade eight) has some extra music links for students. Hopefully they will comment on that post. We need to discuss writing comments and replies a little bit more. Most said they don’t ever read blogs.

Little bit nervous about the lesson due to my lack of musical knowledge, but all in all it should be fun and the kids should see how mathematics isn’t just in a textbook. This being one of my main goals of the year, oh, and making the mathematics class fun and inviting. Is this an assessment? No, just a one off lesson with links for kids to pursue the theme if they so wish. The blog being the perfect medium for such things.

Hopefully by the end of the year the kids will be posting and myself and my teaching partner will be only commenting.

And maybe just maybe things will settle down somewhat. I’d like to get back to my blog a bit more often so I can reflect on things.

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