Archive for February, 2013

Math II need a new direction or I am going to get the kids lost

February 22, 2013

Besides being a CS teacher I also teach math.  I typically have a senior stats course and a sophomore Geometry course.  My school has two sophomore math tracks, honors and regular.  Most kids are in the honors track while the regular track ends up with kids that often have math learning issues.  Fairly normal kids that just do not think the way math requires.  I teach the regular track and I am terrible at it.  Math geeks should not teach those that just do not get it.  Those that claim “set expectations high and the students will achieve them” are used to teaching students that want to achieve a certain level of proficiency in a subject.  If you have trouble understanding ½ is the same as 2/4 proficiency is not your personal goal, survival is.  The textbook we use for regular sophomore math is a new Geometry book, supposedly a very good one.  Lovely pictures, very multicultural, lots of very fake applied problems and long drawn out explanations that no student is ever going to read.  Maybe it is a great Geometry text but I think it could be half as thick, half the price and twice as good.  If a math teacher needs their hand held because they do not know any math or are afraid to teach then it is probably a great book.  The methodology is simple and traditional.  Discuss how to do the assignment with the relevant theorems and etc., do some examples, and then have the students do a bunch of problems.  Textbooks have been doing it this way for a long time.  It is almost like textbook time stands still.  There are computer related exercises in the text but they are sort of incidental and optional.  Euclid could probably understand a good percentage of this book, and most books of its type.

My average student is ADD/ADHD/OHI or some other letters issue.  Traditional is not a good route for them and it like watching toast cook for me.  (I probably meet some of those alphabet issues.)  So today I decided I am going to try my own thing.  Remember, I teach at a private school, I can try things to make the results for my students better.  I am going to try basing everything I teach this group on an inquiry based approach.  Today I told them to find an app to compute the surface area and volume of a regular right prism.  I gave them a rough definition of regular right prism and let them loose.  I want to target a concept then have them dig up the math on the internet.  The idea is undoubtedly totally original as are my usual ideas.  Yeah, whatever.  I have got to do something.

I am a very traditional teacher, I like the security of a good textbook and I like deriving solutions to tradition problems.  As a result I ignore a whole 20 or 30 years of computer technology and little inventions like Google.  Math teachers have been teaching the same stuff for ever.  Look in an Algebra II textbook.  Except for some minor add-ons the concepts are the same in a book published in 1913 or 2013.  It is the exact same stuff I did in high school in almost the exact same way.  I even remember some of the problems being the same.  “Math does not change.”  Play with Wolframalpha and say that again.  Maybe the math did not change but the method of looking at it sure has.  “But the students will not understand the underlying fundamentals.”  These students struggle with adding fractions.  Underlying fundamentals are not their need.  Being able to find a method to solve a new problem is a need.

I want to teach these kids to be able to find the math to find the answers to problems.  These kids do not “find” things in books, they use the internet.  Heck, so do I.  When I wanted to find the area of a regular polygon it was Google to the rescue.  There was even a link to the steps to deriving the formula.  How many people even know what a CRC handbook is anymore?  The difficulty to my new wonder method is that strong traditional streak in me.  One reason people become math teachers is they enjoy teaching things that interest them and are therefore easy.  Traditional math is “easy”, something new is difficult.  There is also the little detail of building relevant exercises that will direct the kids in the direction I think I want them to go.  I do believe that the majority of the concepts covered in a traditional textbook are relevant; I just want to approach them from a totally different direction.  The status quo is just so nice and warm and comfortable.  Too bad I do not like it.

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Corona mini assignments

February 13, 2013

I have started making the students do a daily programming assignment using Corona.  I typically give a larger assignment, lecture a little and then turn them loose to work on it at their own speed.  Kind of like the assignments seen at the end of the chapter; read the chapter, do the assignments.  The problem is I am getting two out of nine with the focus to read through the chapter (or watch the videos) and the other seven asking what they did and pretty much copying it.  The daily assignments are maybe 10 lines of code but it builds on or uses the previous assignment.  I am using the Crash Course videos at the moment and the assignments target a concept from one or two videos.  I take what the video taught them and tweak the assignment so the kids have to do something semi-original using that concept.  They will end up building a game similar to the one in the videos but it will be their art, logo and so on.  They really do not want it to look like someone elses game and they are trying to outdo each other to some extent.  I did this mini-assignment business last year  with the textbook I was using but in my infinite wisdom I did not write anything down.  I am taking notes this time.  What an original idea.  The tricky part is making the assignments easy enough to do in a period or two yet not so easy they do not have to figure things out.  There is a side effect problem involved.  The kids will get wrapped up in the “art” aspect (finding a cooler spaceship object to move) instead of working on getting the thing to move.  They will spend an hour looking through Google Images and then cannot figure why the assignment is late.  Win some, lose some.

I have also gotten them off the computer lab machines.  My computer lab is a very unique mixture of computers, a couple are even less than 5 years old, so we were having graphic  card issues with some of the not so new machines.  We got a very nice technology grant this year so I bought the kids in the class that did not have them a laptop.  No more problems in that area.  I am also employing Google Drive to manage assignments.  It is easy to share the assignments and I am going to have the kids turn in their programs in shared folders.  The school is transitioning to Google Apps and this will get me a core of Google trained kids.  Two birds with one stone.  I am also supposed to train the teachers how to do this so this is my major test run.  More dead birds.