Going Old School, not quite clay tablets but close

I am going to be teaching Math II again next year.  The course is some Algebra, some Geometry and some of whatever comes to mind as I go along.  The students are a good group, just not mathematically oriented.   I do have a major problem when I teach this course, I get bored.  And if I am bored then the kids have to be beyond bored.  If I start progressing through the book page by page and chapter by chapter then we all go into a vegetative state.  High school math textbooks are not designed to teach math, they are designed to force math down the throats of unwilling students and to give the teacher a lazy way of doing it.  OK, a bit of an exaggeration but textbooks put me to sleep so they have to kill the kids.  I need to start digging up some interesting stuff that will still get some real math taught.  I think I am going to approach this two ways, no-tech and high-tech (sort of).

No-tech.  Most of my math students have zip for estimating skills, no ability to do simple math in their head, think Satan brought fractions to Man and that using the WAG method to start solving a math problem is a cardinal sin.  (Catholic school, we can think things like that.)  (What is the WAG method you may ask?  I was taught this method in one of my calculus courses many years ago.  It has held up to the advancement of technology well.  It is still one of my favorite problem solving strategies.  So what is it?  Well you start with a wild assed guess (WAG) and go from there.  Clever huh?  What do you want?  I have spent the last two days troubleshooting laptops and reimaging computers so I am just a bit giddy and more than a bit brain fried.)  So in an effort to address some of these student handicaps (I think they are handicaps) I am going old school.  No calculators.  There will be tears and protests.  I expect picketing.  But that is OK, we are not going completely “device” free.  I collect slide rules.  Yup, we are going really old school.  I am going to reintroduce the slide rule to a math class in 2017.  Those of you that have used a slide rule remember the lesson when using a slide rule (other than knowing how to work the thing), you have to have an idea what the answer should look like.  If multiplying 23 X 562 you have to know the answer is somewhere in the 10,000 to 12,000 range.  It is all about place value and being able to do some simple math in your head.  Slide rules also lead into addition as multiplication.  (Adding exponents.)  It should be interesting.

High-tech (sort of).  I want to do a lot more with Excel.  Build some number crunching spreadsheets.   I was considering doing some turtle geometry but that may be a bit to tech intensive.  Teaching them a language and some geometry might be more than this group can handle.  I will have to think about this more.  Using tech with student often brings in a level of complication that these kids have problems with.  The problem is more often than not a focus issue.  Cruising the internet is a lot more interesting than doing a geometry problem on the computer.  These are not the kids that get interested in what math can do for them and why it is interesting.  These are the kids that find school an inconvenience to their social life.  One thing I am going to de-tech is phones.  Last time I taught this course I allowed the use of phones as a calculator.  Not a good idea.  At this age the kids are simply not mature enough to not get distracted by cat videos.

I have to be somewhat careful what I do with these kids.  The course is pretty algebra intensive in order to get them ready for a pre-calculus course.  The teacher they will get for Math 3 and pre-calc is big into old school hand algebra methods.  Me, I am more into WolframAlpha and just solving problems.  If I point out to the kids that factoring polynomials by hand can be done on only on a special set of polynomials so do not bother learning how to factor polynomials their Math 3 teacher would not be happy with me.  So I cannot abandon this ancient math.  Standardized tests seem to like this stuff.  I rather like to do this stuff too but then I think Project Euler is a fun website.  And I collect slide rules.


One Response to “Going Old School, not quite clay tablets but close”

  1. Mrs.Pollard Says:

    I have my dad’s slide rule, though I don’t know how to use it. I showed it to my daughter. She was less than impressed.
    WAG is a 4th grader’s go to strategy for the Math Forum problems I give them. What to do with the results of a WAG is good to know, too.

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