Friday, June 20, 2014

Playing with Math

I just finished a nonfictional Romance Book called "Playing with Math", edited by Sue VanHattum. It's filled with passion (for math), joy (of games and puzzles), good-looking heroes and heroines (math makes you sexy), conflict and tension (hello math haters and standardized tests), and a warm and fuzzy resolution (math conquers all). Okay, it's not really a romance novel, but the passion about math is threaded throughout the whole book. There's basically something for everyone, whether you are a math teacher of any sort, a parent, or a math enthusiast.

I teach in a public school to goofy high school students, so I can only give my perspective as a non-mother, non-math-circle-participant, non-unschooler, non-homeschooler. But just like in math, where you see patterns in one problem and can then extrapolate to solve OTHER problems, in this book, I could read about the variety of settings, and always find something that I can either take back to my classroom or take back to my mind to work on. 

Every other chapter is a math problem of some sort. These range in levels of difficulty and variety of math concepts. Many times I found myself putting the book down and pondering the cool problems and figuring them out. There are also a ton of resources listed, from books, to online options, to people you could e-mail and start a discussion with. This wealth of goodies in itself is a reason to read "Playing with Math".

Before I read this book, I only had my biased, public-school-teacher opinion of homeschooling and had never heard of unschooling. Through the various sections and vignettes shown, my opinions were swayed with an understanding of how such situations could be in the best interest of different students, and how kids could thrive. And even if I won't rush out and un-enroll my non-existent offspring and start unschooling their imaginary selves, I did find myself taking notes on each chapter to remember great quotes and philosophies and teaching techniques that I'd like to remember and adapt to my classroom.

I also enjoyed to peek into things I didn't know existed. There is a section on taking a math circle to a prison, and the nonthreatening and successful way the teachers engaged with the men. There is a section about the nonlinearity of learning math, written in a nonlinear and creative fashion, and it's filled with words I want to mull over and process. And these are just a few examples.

Whether you want to have a new source of good math puzzles, or find out how to start a math circle, or re-engage your love of math, or find more things/thoughts/techniques to bring back to your class this coming fall, or simply to stay awhile in the company of others that love math as much as you do, I think you can't go wrong with this book.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Binary Addition

I would like to move towards SBG for various basic topics in my Digital Electronics class next year. To that end, I will spend this summer creating and/or finding online practice tools for my students to hone their skills. 

One of the topics they learn is Binary Addition. After searching for "just the thing" online and coming up short, I created a Scratch program for them:

I think I'll leave it as such, but if you have any suggestions for improvement that can easily be done by a summer teacher, thanks for sharing.

Also, I had originally created this program with Java with the intention of making an applet to put on our school website. This turned out to be a pain full of "security issues" ... "bad!" .... "don't even think you can open or share this applet". Don't know if I'm doing something wrong, or if that's the way of applets these days, and I have to pay money or some such to be able to have that message not come up. Does anyone know?

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Viva La "Inflated Sense of Self"

And by the way, Viva La End of the School Year.

This week our school got together as a team and discussed children and things that may benefit them next year and what resources they may need that we should provide. Threaded through the conversation a handful of times was that so-and-so had an "inflated sense of self" with the meaning that the kid may be in for some wake up call in terms of college applications and acceptances. I nodded my head in agreement because I knew the kid(s), but then later I started to wonder if we have it all wrong.

I think back to my childhood, and alternately absent and alcoholic and human and goofy as my parents were, they ALWAYS made us feel like we could do anything and why shouldn't we and of course it's possible. Maybe we were living in a (champagne) bubble and other adults were going around tsking and shaking their heads and wondering when our big fall would come. I know my 6th grade teacher despised me and thought I scraped the bottom of the barrel, and I know a few HS teachers and college professors that would scrunch their faces if they knew what I accomplished, but being "bubble girl" (and I now realize "inflated sense of self girl") I still plowed on. 

Maybe that's one of the important things we can provide for the kids we teach, "of course you can do it" ... "why not you" ... "don't be silly, it's totally within your reach". This, obviously, has to be sprinkled with lessons on hard work and persistence and grit and the power of failing and getting back up and such. But how sad the alternative would be, a kid looking at you and your shaking head and attitude of "bless your heart" and taking that to heart and giving up on whatever before they even put out their whole effort into the endeavor.

There are students I have who I don't know if they'll "do it", but who am I to decide. And mostly, I hope what comes out of my mouth and heart is, "DO IT" "you can do it" "obviously it's within your reach". I just do this without thinking all year long, but I'm reminded of the power of this when I get a smattering of end-of-the-year cards that state, "thank you for believing in my and not giving up on me". I am also reminded of this when a student, just by happenstance, gets put into a position to shine, and they soar way beyond what we've seen of them before. These may not necessarily be the kids that think they are all that, but whatever "that" is, hopefully I don't, as a teacher, contribute to snuffing it out before it has a chance.