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.

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