Friday, November 18, 2011

Pilot Recap, Week 13: Winding down

We're making our way toward the end of the course now.  Next week we have our last unit test.  After Thanksgiving, we plan to test a few additional lessons that hadn't made their way into the current units yet but will in the future.  The last week, we have a big project planned to pull the entire course together.  It will be an in-class, open-ended problem that students solve together as a group.  They will also have an individual component to turn in to ensure accountability.

I was out of town for AMATYC last week and sick at the beginning of this week, so there's less to report.  Still, it was a good week.  We explored viral marketing with students, building exponential growth models and exploring social networking.  The statistics are amazing in terms of how much time is spent worldwide on social sites.  A few years ago, it was a fun past time.  Now, it's a major means of marketing and sales for companies.  Analyzing that was interesting mathematically and context-wise.  Students definitely liked discussing it.

Today we talked about order of magnitude, pH, and the Richter scale.  It was really interesting showing students how some contexts have really large and really small numbers in them simultaneously.  Making sense of them and graphing them can be very difficult.  Going to new scales based on order of magnitude makes the process accessible.  It's interesting to show students the human side of mathematics, how we take numeric truths and use techniques to make them easier to deal with.

Heather and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  A great deal of learning occurred this semester for our students and us.  We've got lots of ideas for the spring to make things even better in terms of grading, testing, and helping them adapt to the level of work.  The content and lessons have really worked well and those that haven't are in the process of revision.  I believe we'll get this course to an even better place than it already is, which is pretty good so far. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

AMATYC Workshop Handouts

Below is the packet we used during our workshop on MLCS.  It contains the course description as it is being used in Illinois, topics in each unit, implementation options, and a sample lesson.  Based on your state or needs, some topics and lessons can be omitted without a negative impact.  We are using a big version of this course (6 credit hours) but it is easily scaled down to a fewer objectives and credit hours.

One of the things we talked about during the workshop was the trouble Heather and I had when choosing a sample lesson.  We can't pick just one lesson that encompasses all the great facets of this course.  So this lesson does not contain theory that is being developed.  It comes after a lesson with theory.  But it does showcase the relevance, difficulty, and multiple approach process we use when developing the content.  Also, the homework with the lesson looks brief.  However, it isn't if the student works all the problems as intended.  Also, there are other components to the homework not shown here such as online homework.

Keep in mind that the lessons are still being edited and are not in their final forms.  But they still give you a taste of our approach.  Looking at the presentation below will also give you more snapshots of how we approach the content.

MLCS AMATYC 2011 Workshop

Saturday, November 12, 2011

AMATYC Presentation

Below is a link to the slides used in the presentation.  They're not the zooming variety since that takes a special app (pptPlex) in PowerPoint to see.  But all content shown today is included below. 

If you are interested in seeing more lessons and/or class testing, please email me

AMATYC 2011 Presentation

For more information on the MLCS pilot, including video and weekly updates, please keep reading below.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Pilot Recap, Week 11: Intentional development

I feel like we got back on track this week after the test.  Basically, Heather and I sat them down said, "it's time to work."  We gave them specific strategies for learning the material each class, after class, before tests, and after tests.  Not all that advice was new but it was repeated and elaborated on so students could use it to their advantage.  We built in some small incentives but the main incentive is passing gets them into a college level class next semester.  We reminded them that had they taken beginning algebra this semester, they would have had 3 semesters before college math (beg. algebra, geometry, intermediate algebra).  Illinois requires geometry but this course satisfies that so it really shortens the sequence if they will work.  Otherwise, it doesn't.  Right away, I saw a huge improvement in terms of work, questions in class, and questions between classes.  I think it being this point in the semester wakes them up too.  Time is running out to raise their grade.

On another up note, the lessons for this week worked excellently.  Debate was lively, students were engaged, and progress is being made mathematically and in terms of student success.  This week we saw a recurring theme that is good to see, especially in the midst of the constant mistakes lessons learned this semester.  Our development of content has worked incredibly well.  Our approach has been go slow in terms of how long it takes to accomplish all facets of a topic.  Also, start with numbers and learn them well before attempting algebra.  For example, with equations and proportions, we started solving numerically for a while and then eventually solved equations with algebra.  But we stayed with proportions using numerical techniques for quite a while.  This week we got a proportion that couldn't be solved with numerical scaling, so we used algebra.  Eventually, cross products being equal came out of it.  And they were easy.  But what was great was that students had no difficulty setting up proportions or using units by this point.  And cross products are easy to find and solve.  Building a good foundation proved incredibly helpful.  By the time we got to something that required more theory, that was easy.  Also, they saw value in both techniques (using proportional reasoning and using algebra).

Same with dimensional analysis.  That topic is usually forced on students and they resist.  They just want to multiply or divide.  Plus, we do it once and rarely do it again.  Our entire semester has had problems with conversions.  So we started the semester learning how to do them just in terms of multiplying and dividing as well as judging which operation is appropriate and if our result makes sense.  This week, we got some conversions that were very involved but asked them to use that technique (multiplying or dividing) to answer the question.  And it was very frustrating.  So we offered dimensional analysis and it was very welcomed.  Not only did they use it, they understood it, and have continued to go to it since. 

Again, as a math teacher, that is music to my ears.

We closed today with a lesson that integrates lots of content.  That's something we do constantly as well.  We wanted to know if the reduction in plastic made by water bottle manufacturers amounts to much and if so, how much?  We couldn't find the volume of a water bottle cap so we had to use its density and weight.  We weren't given the original amount of plastic, just the new amount and the fact that it's 30% less.  Once they found the original amount, they found the amount saved for one bottle and then all the bottles in the U.S. for a year.  That number is large so we converted it from cubic centimeters to cubic yards (still too big) to Olympic swimming pools (9, by the way).  Not trivial, interesting, and integrated.  I'll take that every day.

Heather and I will be AMATYC next week presenting a workshop on the course.  We hope to see you there!