Trying to find math inside everything else

Archive for the ‘ela’ Category

Math Needs to Be the Spark

At Twitter Math Camp I gave the following talk. The abstract from the program said:

When planning interdisciplinary projects, math teachers need to take the lead in order to create cohesive and authentic projects, and to ensure that the project doesn’t just become psuedocontext for their math goals. Uses two major interdisciplinary projects developed at my school as examples of how to bring all the subjects together, so math isn’t left out in the cold.

Here’s the talk:

Math Needs to Be the Spark from James Cleveland on Vimeo.

After that I opened to questions. The one that I remember was asked by @JamiDanielle: “How can you get other teachers who might not be on board for these types of projects to join in?” And I think this process is actually how. If you go to a teacher with an idea and just dump on them to figure out how to connect it to their class, it’s not going to end well. It’s easier and less work to just not take part. But if you go to them with an idea already half-formed of how they can implement it, it is much easier to build off of that idea and will make teachers more willing to work together.

The Projects

High Line Field Guide v5 – This is the High Line field guide project mentioned in the video, and first mentioned in this blog post, “The Start of the New Year.”

Intersession Project Requirements – It would be difficult to post everything we did in the Intersession project, but the overview from the video and this packet of requirements for the product should be useful. Anyone interested in more can ask.

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Which Is Bigger?

I was going through some old stuff and dug out this gem:

It caused some disagreement when I first posted it, and my students jumped right in, arguing with each other and demanding to know who was right.

It’s a good way to show how mathematical language is precise, and it’s important to choose your words carefully.

Writing by Design

Though I’m a math teacher, I also consider myself to be a writer. Unfortunately, my more prolific days were pre-teaching, mostly because of the time. But as I was going to bed tonight, I realized that thinking like a teacher (in particular using the Understanding by Design framework) would help me get past a block I’ve been having.

Back when I was in undergrad I wrote a novella that, for the most part, was pretty good. But the story only really picked up from chapter 2 onwards: my prologue and first chapter were muddled, confusing, and needed a lot of work. I’ve opened it up every once and a while since then to try to fix them, but I just didn’t know where to start.

That’s where thinking like a teacher helps me. I just had to think, well, what exactly is my goal in having those chapters? (Establishing the main character’s relationship with his aunt, his tendency towards flights of fancy, etc.) With those goals clearly established, it becomes easier to envision what I need to do.

But there’s another part. I then asked myself, why was I only trying to change things in the prologue, instead of rewriting a new chapter that meets my goals? It’s because that prologue was originally a short story that then spawned the whole book. In teaching, that would be the same thing as already having a great activity and basing a whole lesson or unit around it. Everyone knows that is a terrible way to lesson plan. Turns out it’ll hold back your writing, too.

Now that I’ve realized these things, I’ll let them simmer in the back of my mind while I sleep, and maybe the morning will look brand new.

Crimes and Mathdemeanors

I’ve made a post about history and science, I guess now it’s time for ELA. I think ELA is, in a way, the easiest to connect to math, but that might just be my background at Bard and working with the Algebra Project. But I wanted to talk about a book I used this past year that fits the bill.

This is a book of mysteries akin to Encyclopedia Brown. but with a more mathematical twist. The protagonist, Ravi, is a 14-year-old math whiz, athlete, and son of the Chicago DA. He often runs across mysteries that he can help solve and the reader gets a change to solve, as well.

I used this book in class to, I think, great effect. Most students enjoyed the prospect of the mysteries and got into attempting solutions. It allowed them in guess at a solution (such as who the murderer is from three suspects) without necessarily having to first grasp the math involved, which worked as a hook. Some students did not get into it but that was from rejecting the very premise of reading a story in math class. Many of those students eventually got past their misgivings.

For each story (I used the book about 6 times throughout the year) I asked the students to underline or circle anything they thought might be relevant to the mystery as we read it out loud. Then we compiled what we knew as a class and discussed what we still needed to know to solve the mystery, and then they worked in groups to come up with a solution, often with some prodding (but occasionally with none, which was nice).

I’m thinking of starting with the stories earlier next year (I didn’t this year because I only received the book in December for my birthday) to set it as normal when we use it. I also hope I can find some other books that might act similarly. If anyone reads this and has suggestions, let me know.