Building (math and science) Knowledge

KevaTweet
There are different types of knowledge. To know how a square is defined is different than knowing how to identify one. These are different that knowing how to draw one with ruler and paper. Or construct one with compass and straight edge.

A square is a pretty simple example, but when it comes to ramps, bridge, exploring mass and rotation, there’s being able to answer questions about it, and then there being able to build object to create examples, non-examples, and solve challenges. And it can help to have the right tools.

My office recently got a set of Keva Planks. Now, I’ve gotten to see these blocks in action a number of times and they are pretty cool. First, there is almost no learning curve. The blocks are all exactly the same. There’s no connecting pieces or fasteners or adhesive. There’s nothing to them. But with them you can build ramps and towers, polygons and prisms. They set up easily, the clean up easily.

Full-disclosure: They aren’t free. (Cheapest place I’ve found them is Amazon… 400 blocks for $90). Ordinarily, I don’t make a point to advocate for expensive tools, but in this case I think it could be money well spent based on the needs of the location. Also, they are durable and shareable. One department or grade level team could probably make good use with one to share.

Anyway, it’s worth looking in to as they allow us to explore types of knowledge that we otherwise might not be very well equipped to explore. (Particularly with those Next Gen engineering practices that are starting to become a reality in many states.)

For another look, here’s my latest podcast: Instructional Tech in Under 3 Minutes #5 – Keva Planks.

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Capturing the engagement of the meme

So, using addtext.com, students and teachers can quite easily make memes.

Memes are one of those things… they play right into our culture’s preferences for communicating. They’ve got the visual component. Often there’s humor. There isn’t a huge time commitment to either write them or read them or share them.

math meme #1.png

The convey a ton of meaning with very few words, which is something that will appeal to our students as well.

math meme #2.png

And, like any effective tool for communication, it has some best practices and strategies and uses that are more effective than others. But because the meme is such a ubiquitous style, the students can chime in on developing and generalizing those.

Memes have something that other pictures-and-word combos don’t have. Consider this…

math meme #4.jpg

… which a student could create and is accurate.

But, could it be that we could take advantage of this medium by producing something like this?

math meme #5.JPG

No, it’s not a sure bet. TV is engaging. School on TV has not proved to be. Math class hasn’t dealt with its basic engagement struggles simply because is has put resources on the internet. And quite frankly, meme are often engaging because they are making fun of someone or sarcastically highlighting a frustration. So, by converting them into a math vocabulary tool, we will pull the shine off of them real quick.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t pay attention to the fact that pop culture has stumbled on a low-cost, highly-transferable, and easily shareable method of communication that also comes with a high degree of familiarity to both the students and teachers.

Do you use student-made memes in your class? I would like to hear how you use them.

New Podcast: Why I love this picture

So, I get the pleasure of supporting a different school community than I have been these past couple of years. As a part of that work, I have decided to start a short video podcast. (The Geogebra post was the first episode.)
Occasionally, that means I’ll be borrowing “thegeometryteacher” content and podcasting new life into it. This is one of those examples. I originally posted this last fall…

 

Here’s the picture…

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I took this picture this morning in Lansing, MI during some wonderful small group math talk. There is one device, an iPad, with an Osmo setup attached to it.

So, here’s why I love this picture.

There’s tech and…

… manipulatives and whiteboard markers and collaboration. Tech fits among the variety of tools available. It’s not the best tool unless it best supports the learning. And sometimes other tools work better. And in this case, the students were being led into learning with all the different tools.

The activity is built around the social nature of learning. 

The kids are clearly sharing their answers with each other and the teacher… there is a constant back-and-forth, sharing ideas and discussing them. They were seeing each other ideas, but…

Their strategies aren’t all the same. 

One girl is using an array. One girl is using groups of three. One girl wasn’t quite sure what to do (so it was a good thing she could see the other two girls’ work.)

The teacher’s hands are off. 

The students are doing the reaching, arranging, manipulating. Remember, the one that does the work will be the one that does the learning.

That’s why I love this picture. it captures so many wonderful things about the right kind of teaching and learning.

A long-awaited solution (featuring Geogebra)

So, a while back, I posted “Circles from Cedar Street” with an intriguing (at least to me) picture designed to kick off the conversation about rotations.

Then, I left it alone. Like, literally. I didn’t solve it. I should have solved it. I let you down.

I especially let guys like Dan down, who also found the problem intriguing. Sorry about that.

But I realized today that it’s never too late to make it right. So, using Geogebra, here’s is one possible solution to the Circles from Cedar Street problem from back in August of 2013.

Kitchen Science: A glass bottle, an oven, and some ice water

So, today I did a little science in my kitchen. I learned some stuff and I wanted to try it out. And I’ve got a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old who are very willing to be perplexed.

Before I get into the story, I have a question for you.

Imagine you heated a glass bottle (maybe the 12-16 ounce variety) in the oven at 450 for 10 minutes or so. Then you took it out, turned it upside down and placed it quickly about an inch or so deep in a sink of ice water.

What do you think would happen?

Leave your prediction in the comments or e-mail them to andrew.shauver@gmail.com.

We did this exploration in the kitchen. It led to some good perplexity and some great wonderings.

In my next post, I’ll share what happened.

A word about fractions

This story begins with a tweet that I read.

This tweet poses a nice engaging situation where addition of fractions would be a very useful tools. But, addition of fractions involves common denominators. And, then I began to remember my students attitudes toward fractions, which can be summed up by the following…

FractionNorris.jpg

… clearly fractions are so difficult that it requires someone with the reputation of Chuck Norris to be able to deal with them effectively.

Except, they aren’t. Or maybe they are, but they certainly don’t need to be. The logic that says that 2 min + 31 sec doesn’t equal 33 of anything is perfectly understandable to most. It’s the exact same premise as requiring common denominators to complete a fraction addition problem. And THAT is confounding to many. It seems like an arbitrary rule that math teachers invented to trick students.

And the teaching of it carries with it some strong opinions, too. I remember during my undergrad, one of my professors asked this:

HalfPlusHalf

One of my classmates changed his major that day. He got so angry that it we would be discussing the possibility that a student could write that equation and could be thinking something mathematically accurate. Dude literally stormed out of class and I never saw him again.

It is possible, by the way:

About the same time I was reading the IES Practice Guide for teaching Fractions. Are you familiar with the IES Practice Guides for mathematics? The Institute for Educational Studies gathers high quality research studies on educational and catalogs them in the What Works Clearinghouse.

The Practice Guides are documents that synthesize the multiple research studies that exists on a certain subject and operationalize the findings. Recently, I explored the IES Practice Guide for Fraction Instruction K-8.

I’d encourage you to check it out. To summarize, making fractions and conversations about portioning and sharing things a common part of math conversation from the beginning can help take the natural understanding that kids have and build fractions into that context. That will give us a chance to use math talk as a tool for students to need more exact language. My preschool son right now uses “half” extremely loosely at the moment. (I’ve drank “half” my water could really mean anything quantitatively.) In order for him to effectively communicate, he’s going to need to develop a more precise definition of “half”. That will require him adding additional fraction vocab to his toolbox.

As teachers, this gives us a chance to build in some more effective language, clearly defining the fractions as numbers. As such, encouraging a lot of conceptual sense-making about the different operational quirks that are required to effectively compute when fractions are involved. (If fractions aren’t numbers, but instead are just made-up, goofy ways of writing numbers, then the rules for computing them are goofy and made-up, too.)

The practice guide provides some tangible steps to achieve this. I’d encourage you to check it out. Lots of steps forward to take in the area of student comfort and effectiveness with fractions.

Physics, a helicopter and cameras

First watch this (and be amazed… well, if you’re anything like I am.)

So, when the students can get past the idea that there is some foul play involved, then it becomes a wonderful opportunities to discuss the idea of frequency.

Frequency is an odd discussion because it’s got a strange unit. The “per time” can be a little challenging for students to wrap their heads around.

And the opportunity that this video provides is that here, we don’t need to immediately concern ourselves with the quantitative value of the frequency (maybe 300 RPM for the helicopter rotor, for example, or 5 frames per second on the camera), but we can begin with the qualitative value of the frequency (that the frequencies, whatever they are, are the same.)

And then it opens the door for them discussing some quantitative issues. For example, the fact that the standard unit of frequency (the “per unit time”), obviously isn’t constant. So, the helicopter rotor is RPM and the camera shudder is typically in frames per second (at least, I think. Not a photographer…) So, you’ve got some nice dimensional analysis opportunities.

Where could you take this next?

One thing’s for sure, I’d hate to waste a video like this. Fully captivating, and it only costs your 30 seconds of class time.

Source: I owe TwistedSifter credit for blogging about this video first.