Roaming Free in the Maths – Google’s 20% Time by Accident

rolling down a hill

rolling down a hill by woodleywonderworks licensed under CC by A

It isn’t actually 20% of allotted time for Grade 8 Mathematics, more like 17%. Close enough when not dealing with NASA type accuracy.

There has been a lot of discussion about The Khan Academy. It’s made some people very happy and some people sound quite vexed. I personally like it. Is it what is fascinating and wonderful about mathematics? No. Does it help some of our kids progress with skills? Yes, it does.

My grade 8s have the joy of Mathematics five times every fortnight, every Tuesday and Friday an alternating Wednesdays. The Wednesday lessons are slightly shorter than the others. After we finished our unit on Statistics and Linear Equations we then looked at the Mathematics they had been applying to their investigations in its simplest or purest (abstract) forms. They had been successfully applying it, but it then posed a challenge for some when it lacked a context. Quite interesting to go the other way. It is at this point where I like to give students a chance to fine tune their algebraic skills so that they are ready for high school Mathematics and Science. Not just a few lessons, but a regular time in classes to work on their skills, particularly algebra. This is where Algebra on Demand came from.

Every Wednesday my Grade 8s take a break from their unit, currently Probability, and do what they need to. The original plan was the Khan Academy, but this has changed in a very exciting way. It was the students who led me there.

Now my students choose what they do:

  • Khan Academy for skill mastery. Some of my students have their parents and tutors as coaches. Some parents have even joined in.
  • Work from other schools.  Our Korean and Japanese students often have extra Mathematics, needed for entry into schools back home.
  • Interesting Student Led Investigations. These students started using Khan for Mathematics beyond our Grade 8 curriculum. This led to them asking questions which lead to investigations purely out of interest. That’s a win! I don’t ask for written reports. Sitting with them, seeing what they have found and discussing the Mathematics is feedback enough that they are pushing themselves further. Why take the fun away?
Being able to move around the room and check on progress is key. I also really push the idea that I am a resource to be used, as are their fellow students. I did not mean for this to be the Google 20%, but it happened and I love it. The students really like that they get to choose to where to focus their mathematical attention.  I love this class.
Outside of this we are doing what we do in Mathematics in this exciting time of using technology. It is not chalk and talk. It is not just Khan. It is not just textbook. It is not just investigations. It is so many things.
Can The Khan Academy replace a Mathematics curriculum and teacher? I don’t think so. Is it useful? I do think so.
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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.