YAY!

aquarell

aquarell by Rafakoy licenced under CC by A

 So, the tests were ready, we needed a few different ones. Some students had mastered the first lot of skills long before, but that didn’t matter I told them. There were so many other things happening in #AoD, that the tests were put on the long finger for a little while. I told them if you can do it now, you can still do it later, just review – wake up and use those brain cells.  There are different versions of the test, as some students weren’t ready and so they will sit their first test later.

Nervous? Yes, myself and my teaching partner were. #AoD, it’s felt really good. They look like they are learning. They sound like they are learning. It’s a wonderful working atmosphere in the classroom, but when push comes to shove would they be able to pull that mathematics out under test conditions. First time reading this blog? Thinking what is this #AoD? What has worked? Read the first post, not too far down, or click here.

Boy oh boy oh boy did they learn! I am so proud of them I could burst. There were a couple of kids that I feared were moving too quickly, to keep up with their friends. The results showed some gaps, but that enabled me to have a chat with them about appropriate pace and not worrying about everyone else. Do what you do really well and then move up the ladder.

Algebra say what?
Algebra say what? by demandaj licenced under CC by A SA NC

We are an MYP school, so we assess with criteria and most students scored in the top band. The mistakes that were being made were what we refer to as “whoopses” not a lack of understanding of the content or skills.Things that NASA worries about. I don’t think tests are the be all end all, and I’ve said this before. When universities and others at the top change their approach to the selection of students, then they won’t be as pervasive in our schooling systems. We have cut down on them, and students let us know when they feel ready to take them.

Delighted faces arrived at my room to pick up their tests to take them home for their parents to sign. Seeing smiles in mathsland is such a reward.

Last week we broke up the #AoD with a visiting professor of mathematics from The USA, Dan Canada. He was interested to see what was happening at UNIS, he has a relative at UNIS, and dropped in on some of the UNIS classes to have a looksee. I want as many people to know about #AoD as possible for input. I know it is not a perfect system and can be improved, so that’s why I blog and have it on a public wiki. Now we might get even more feedback or even get other schools using it.

Dan also ran some probability sessions with my classes to think about theory versus reality. Incredibly interesting, fun and I let him at my 8s, 11s and 12s. More in another post.

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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