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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Productive Struggle

For my few followers, please excuse my absence.  My dad passed within the last 2 weeks of school letting out; and I had to travel across the country and have been dealing with a 'caregiver' committing mass fraud, so much so that my mom nearly was kicked from her nursing facility.

Not what I wanted to post about.....

Letter to my students next year....


        We are here, together, for the purpose of learning math.  But there is a problem with that statement.  Anyone care to point out what it is?  (all options should be discussed)

        I don't seem to be doing any of the learning, at least not observably so.   To me this is a problem.  How can I expect you to be learners, when it doesn't appear that I am one myself?  I promise to put myself in the same position, that of learner, right beside you.  I will ask questions I find interesting, and would love suggestions from the class, without knowing the answers.  Please do not expect that I will always just explain things, for I don't know everything.    My goal is for us to collectively struggle at times.

       Learning about math is a struggle.  No one ALWAYS finds it easy, not really understanding 100% of it.  I learn something new about the content which I teach, every single year.  There are things which I will show you, primarily because they important or in a couple cases just cool, but I want more class discussion.  To this end I will eventually restrict how much speaking I will do in a class.  Students should at times struggle as well as be led.

       The skills of mathematics, especially Algebra are important. List them:  (I'm thinking properties of equality, distribution and composition)  Anyone, play soccer or baseball or football?  Make me a list of the rules of each of these games - who knows I might need one in time. Do you like the game? --if you're going to do this, don't read ahead yet --  (************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************** Are the rules the game?  What purpose do the rules have?  What SHOULD happen when someone breaks the rules?

      A mistake that many smart people make is not looking for the creativity in math.  It is undefinable that there is math in art Donald in Math Magic Land .  Soon enough I will show you that there is wonderful art in math.  (I've got 2-3 art projects in functions)

      Lastly, I have a challenge to you.  (Commence with Bionic Bee.)

      ((I have a great problem which I know 5th graders can solve in about 5-10 minutes, high school students, alg2 and above, usually take at least the class period and benefit from completing it as homework, and the one time I gave it to college calculus students I had phone calls begging for might make a good task here))

The Bionic Bee  (I play a clip from Wild,Wild West with Will Smith)
(my apologies, I can't really draw it out here and honestly drawing it out is important)

Two trains have managed to find themselves, though unaware, on the same track-heading towards each other.  You're a spy, and while you cannot stop the trains, you do have one trick up your sleeve.  The Bionic Bee!  You launch it down the track, speeding toward the other train.

It is capable of travelling 560 miles per hour, in a straight line, and also capable of instantaneously changing its direction 180 degrees (I do give the high school-ers and college students the angle as pi if I'm feeling mischievous).  It has a full array of sensors, but it also has a programming flaw - once it does a 180 it will continue making that same degree change.

The two trains are 980 miles apart (I've thrown Km in from time to time, but only on the 5th graders and guess what?  It doesn't hurt their time....)  One train is a new, green-energy steam train.  It cruises along at 170 mph.  The older diesel train barely manages 110 mph.  Neither train knows the destiny that fate has in store for them.

It is now 2:15 pm.  What questions do you have at this point?  (I normally just ask at what time do the trains collide and how far will each have traveled to get there?).

Sadly, though this isn't a lesson which I don't already know.  I'm thinking for the 1st week of precalc it might make a good challenge.  I just need to be on the lookout for content and level (to borrow from mostly every video game) appropriate, and definitely nontrivial.

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