Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Creativity in School

Remember about TED? I stumbled across Thomas Dolby's blog recently (I was a geek in the 80s, of course I like Dolby), and have been reading through back posts. He posted this link from TED that I thought was unreal. Ken Robinson is an expert on creativity, and funny besides. If Ricky Gervais had become an academic...

His point is about how we are born creative and educated out of it. An outside observer would think "The whole purpose of public education is to produce university professors." But he goes on to describe how we have convinced the majority of people that the things they are good at and interested in are not valued or even stigmatized.

So... what to do about it? I'm going to show this to my Calc 2 students on Monday and see what they think.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Good Problems

Where do you get good problems for your students?

One source is that problem-of-the-day widget at the bottom of the blog. A couple times a week, I'm copying those, put them into a Word document, and then save them for a good opportunity.

But my all time favrite source is from the English (or British?) parallel to the NCTM: Nrich. Problems are sorted by content, tagged, by grade band (stage) and challenge level (number of stars). Some are unsolved, but accessible. Almost all are clever and/or interesting. Soooo nice! Give them a try. Here's an account of a teacher and how they use Nrich.

Here's one that I gave on a math for middle school final this semester:
Do you notice anything about the solutions when you add and/or subtract consecutive negative numbers?

Take, for example, four consecutive negative numbers, say
−7, −6, −5, −4
Now place + and/or − signs between them. e.g.
−7− −6+−5− −4
There are other possibilities. Try to list all of them. Now work out the solutions to the various calculations. e.g.
−7− −6+−5− −4=−2
Choose a different set of four consecutive negative numbers and repeat the process. Take a look at both sets of solutions. Notice anything? Can you explain any similarities? Can you predict some of the solutions you will get when you start with a different set of four consecutive negative numbers? Test out any conjectures you may have. Try to explain and justify your findings.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Inspirational Videos

If you haven't been there, you should try TED. (Technology, Entertainment, Design.)

While math is not their greatest area of stength, they do have a few insightful talks. Try these. Also or alternatively how we learn, especially Stuart Brown on play. Although somehow they missed Nate Silver. Get more Nate at his excellent blog, which covers the intersection of statistics and politics.

My favorite is about the nature of genius and creativity, though I think she's off by a smidgen. (Needs God/Holy Spirit in there. But who doesn't?)

It's basically impossible to watch everything on there that's worth watching. So if you see something worth it, let me know!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Math for Parents

One of my students from a looong time ago at Penn State surprised me with a phone call recently. He sked what might be a good resource for parents who want their children to grow up with a better attitude about math than they had. Great question, and there are surprisingly few resources for it. My top few are below:

1) NCTM: A Family's Guide: Fostering Your Child's Success in School Mathematics
(link leads to pdf of the full text). An overview of what content should be addressed and some tips for supporting your student.

2) David Whitin (et al), Living and Learning Mathematics: Stories and Strategies for Supporting Mathematical Learning (link goes to Amazon). For young elementary, helps you think about problem solving for that age child. The Whitin's spoke at this years Math in Action and received rave reviews from the teachers in attendance. See also their book on inquiry for young science learners and using literature in math classes.

3) Susan O'Connell,
Now I Get It: Strategies for Building Confident and Competent Mathematicians, K-6 (link leads to Amazon). Really for teachers, so there's some whole classroom stuff that won't be relevant, but the majority is about real instruction that would be repeatable at home.

Making Sense: Teaching and Learning Mathematics with Understanding by all the leading elementary math researchers (link leads to Amazon). This book is very teacher oriented, but portrays such a nice sense of what is possible in the elementary math classroom, that you'll wonder why we're not moving towards this vision more convincingly. Parents reading this could develop very nice, high expectations of what their children's math education should look like. My pre-service elementary teacher students this summer will be reading this.

What resources do you like for parents? I'd be very interested to hear.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Math Blog

A Math Blog that I check each day is: Let's Play Math at

Denise is a homeschooler that connects to other math sources, comments on issues, or connects to other math teaching on the web sites. She's somewhat the inspiration for me finally starting this instead of thinking I should.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Portions of 100

Excellent graphical portrayals of percentage at this site:
The World of 100.

I'm imagining using them both to have students think about comparisons with their own community, and looking at the designs as mathematical representations to see if they represent or how they represent the numerical information.