exits stage left

wow

It’s the end of my nine years at my school in Ha Noi, Viet Nam. It’s also only a few months until I leave this city that I love so much to explore other continents.

When I arrived in Viet Nam the plan was to come for one month, ten years later the backpacking pause button is released with Central and South America on the horizon.

Last week was my final one at my school, it was emotional. On Thursday I said goodbye to the kids and on Friday my school and my colleagues. Even though I am incredibly excited about the adventures ahead I will miss this place and teaching Mathematics.

When I applied for a job at my school, I wanted the EAL (ESL) position and was employed as a teacher of Mathematics, Technology and Humanities instead. The Humanities class had all the EAL kids in it. Challenge accepted! I hadn’t taught much Mathematics prior to teaching in Ha Noi because everyone wanted technology teachers when I popped out of university. My degree was a double major in Mathematics and Technology in Education.  I didn’t love Mathematics, I was just good at it. I liked being good at it. I had some good teachers at school but they never inspired a love of the actual discipline and they liked me because I got the answers correct. Now I can look back and see that I was an accurate Mathematician, but I rarely knew the why and what for.  I was simply a computer. That’s how it was done.

At the end of my days at my school I love teaching Mathematics. I developed my craft at my school, where they were always ready to let me try new things.  This is important to model in front of kids too, not everything works and when it doesn’t you just look for better ways.

I suppose I should wrap up how gamefication and Casino night panned out, but I’ll keep it short. It was so cool. Everyone in the room was impressed – the kids with themselves and each other, the parents, the Maths department and people from across the school community. My friend’s son tried to pay for their taxi home with his fake Casino Buck$. Students were astonished by the intensity of the crowd.

Is Gambling a Social Evil? It was our unit question and it is legally defined as a Social Evil in Viet Nam. Kids felt that they won’t be taken for a ride by a Casino because they now know how the Mathematics works behind the scenes. At the end of a previous investigative task on a two dice game a student reflected “I am now a better poker player, when my family plays”. Perhaps this wasn’t my goal, to make better card players, but this kid understood the Mathematical risks she held in every hand she played and that is a success. This particular kid really struggled at the beginning and has left Grade 8 Mathematics truly fascinated and ready to learn more.

We have lots of goal setting, or should I say had, at my school. All very valid, but so many. My goal was simple, to always to make Mathematics an inviting place to be in a school day and for some the best part of the day. I tried many things over the years so I needed to learn some technology or find out about gamefication or collaborate with other subjects, but all the things I tried, they were just small parts for my main goal.

In my “About Me” tab I speak about the awful Ms. Dendle I had for PE in HK when I was a kid.  Boy oh boy could she make me feel like a  loser. I know some of my friends felt that way in Mathematics. I didn’t try for Ms. Dendle, I hid from her.  So, even though she was one of the worst teachers I have ever encountered as a student and a teacher I learnt from her, I learnt what not to do. I guess I should thank the mean-hearted lady or my kids should.

Will I return to teaching after my gap year? I can’t imagine a better job. When the kids work  through breaks because they are so interested and excited by what they are doing, it doesn’t get much better.  Am I too old to call a year off (if the money lasts) a gap year? Possibly, I am not a teenager, but sabbatical sounds far too serious for the fun ahead.

Will I still blog? I love blogging and the pause to reflect. Perhaps it won’t be so much about teaching. If you are one of the small reading circle, stay tuned for a travel and musings blog. If I stop to earn some bucks to cover food and shelter, it will probably be in a school, somewhere in South America.

Will I return to Ha Noi? I can’t imagine leaving it for good. It’s been my home for over a decade. I felt quite with it and worldy when I arrived as a 31 year old. Looking back, I didn’t know much, not really. I feel like I grew up here.

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

Don’t Eat the Beans!

Rearrangement proof for Pythagoras' theorem. P...
Image via Wikipedia

If you read this blog from time to time and don’t like too much maths in your eyes, read on, it will be okay. I won’t go into proofs, this is more about how the kids would be introduced to the revolutionary blasphemous mathematics that got Pythagoras in all sorts of bother. For the record there are many stories about how he may have died. For the class I have ignored the less interesting ones.  But was it his theorem?

One of the things that didn’t work so well in #AoD, mostly with pacing, was letting kids do a summative MYP assessment task when they were ready. They were all working on different things, so were ready at different times. Not that I’m saying they should when they aren’t ready, but it would have been better to get my classes to do the Gradient Task at the same time, perhaps even take them to the water park to photograph more interesting surrounds.

They still got some enjoyable and valid mathematical experiences out of it, but as with all new things tried it won’t necessarily be right first off. I am already looking forward to fine tuning the program next year. Three weeks after the winter break we had a week off for Tet (Vietnamese New Year – chuc mung nam moi!). We also churned out set two of the four sets of reports for the year, so my tippy tapping blogging fingers were a bit distracted. It didn’t mean I wasn’t thinking about mathematics and blogging. I found time to read some blogs and comment on blogs. Must try harder. I’ve also been very distracted by Africa.

Puzzling over the not so perfect fit

Our latest adventure is all about Pythagoras and his famous theorem. I looked at what worked and what didn’t last year. This included how much and what students had learnt, but also what was ineffective or dull or both. Pythagoras’ Theorem features in mathematics curriculum all over the world, but I never did anything interesting with it when I was kid and I never take the time to apply it to see just how much distance or time I could save by cutting through rather than follow a path. Amazingly I can see it is shorter and that is enough. What I think is so cool about the theorem are the stories around it, the history and the impact it had on mathematics and the beliefs of the people at the time. And the murders. 

It was time to throw out the construction of squares on the sides of right angle triangles to help kids ‘discover’ the relationship all by themselves, using calculations and analysing data. We, maths type folk, are very into nutting out patterns, it’s in our nature, but that has been done to death with Pythagoras. It’s rumoured that he was killed, along with his apostles, for unearthing irrational numbers. Why beat him to death again?

The angle taken (you see what I did there?) is with Criterion D: Reflection and C: Communication and getting the students to show that his theorem does work, rather than find it. Not all students are ready for algebraic proofs so we are using geometry and data. If a student feels the urge to present an algebraic proof, they will be most welcome to do so.

Today, The Geometric Proof It was so much fun.

Kids like “make and do” (so do I) and even though I LOVE teaching with 1:1 tablets, it’s nice to touch things again – blocks, scissors, tape measures, paper. Finding the right balance is so important.

Each pair had some coloured paper and some white paper. They had to make squares. Two coloured with sides of 15cm and 20cm and the white one with sides of 25cm. Fluoro paper everywhere, short stubby ruler owners were challenged  moreso than those who had remembered their 30cm rulers. I gave them 5 minutes to get their squares ready, then asked them to clear their tables of everything except for their beautiful squares, and to sit back and just admire them.

Then I asked them to imagine they represented something wonderful, like gold or chocolate or…

My favourite commodity were the “squares of love”. That student had been one the singing telegrams for Valentine’s Day not so long before.

Once chosen I then said they had to choose between them. One member got the two coloured squares and the other member of the group got the white square. It was important not to use any adjectives meaning big or small. There was some friendly banter and in under a minute happy and resigned faces placed their squares in front of them.

“Who got the white square?” lots of whooping and shouting of victory about scoring the big square.

I praised those who decided to forego the big white square for the smaller colourful ones, then told them they were equal. The confusion about the lack of victory was amusing.

The task of showing me they were equal was then assigned. Confused faces. “Show me, any way you’d like to, that the area of the white square is the same as the coloured squares”. One voice pipes up: “Can we use scissors?”. And they were off. No mention of the right angle triangle at this point, though, some students were talking about it.

The girls prove it. Step one in getting closer to the deadly numbers

 One pair found it didn’t work, but their 25cm sides were actually 30cm. Problem fixed, mostly.

Time to reveal the right angled triangle and where the squares fit. Story telling time begins too.

We then discussed the famous rule, which many had seen before. We looked at the diagram of the squares  sitting on their right triangle and then in their pairs they discussed the accuracy of their geometric proofs

It was a fun hands on, no tablet lesson. My next post will show the groovy technology we use to show this theorem at work.

Here is a preview

Mathsnet has a great section on Pythagoras and his theorem. Proofs 2 and 11 are accessible to any student, and proof 11 is pretty groovy in its simplicity. One of my kids then found this online version of number 11..

Braining Camp is new to me, so it has been added to this task too, for practice.

I haven’t told the kids why Pythagoras and his followers did not eat beans and I won’t tell you yet. We have one lesson for the history and the numbers that led to his death. Would you die for mathematics?

Trees for the wood…

Today I had a different kind of “I want to do better” meeting with a student after school. Yesterday a student emailed me asking if she could take a test again. This stems from the handful of students who decided to go back and review work they decided needed some more practice. When a feeling of mastery takes over their mathematical souls, they would take another version of the first test. To me, this is fair and the MYP is about progress, not averaging scores.

Head in Hands

Head in Hands by Alex E. Proimos licenced under CC by A

This however was a request to go from a 7 to an 8, out of 8.

She had scored in the highest band of the criterion.

She had displayed a thorough understanding.

She took her test home.

She showed her parents.

Not good enough. You are so careless.

Look at these mistakes.

These mistakes you shouldn’t make.

So she (they) asked for a retest, because her fantastic test was a disappointment to her parents.

Continue reading