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Upscale Pattern Blocks

[Updated April 9th, 2020]

First off, I hope you are well. This post represents a portion of my attempt to remain “well enough” in the midst of tremendous uncertainty. Most of my time is spent talking about the teaching and learning of mathematics, something that seems to have ground to a necessary halt in recent days. Given our collective circumstance, the time feels as good as ever to talk about a little project I’ve been working on, and ask for a smidge of help.

The Blocks

Recent access to a laser cutter and a kindergartener got me wondering. I began to play with a few possibilities. One of the fun things that fell out was a set of scaled pattern blocks I’m calling, “Upscale Pattern Blocks”. Essentially, they are pattern blocks scaled in three different sizes. The sizes interacted in some very interesting ways, and after some test cutting and multiple trips to the craft supply store, I ended up with a really fun result.

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A Viral Area Task

Exactly one month ago, fellow Saskatchewan mathematics teacher Ilona Vashchyshyn tweeted about an area task that she used in her class. Long story short, it captured the imagination of Math Ed Twitter like elegant tasks have a tendency of doing.

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The progression followed by most teachers and resources during the study of surface area and volume is identical. Like a intravenous drip, concepts are released gradually to the patients so as to not overdose them with complexity. Begin with the calculation of 2-dimensional areas, and then proceed to the calculation of surface area of familiar prisms. (I say prisms, so a parallel can be drawn to the common structure for finding the volume of said prisms. That is, [area of base x height]). In this way, surface area is conceptualized as nothing more than a dissection of 3-dimensional solids into the now familiar 2-dimensional shapes.

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The other day, a future teacher asked what one piece of advice I would give to a soon-to-be mathematics teacher. I immediately had several. I settled on one that I felt encapsulated my belief both in and out of class:

Honour curiosity

In class, this finds me wandering through student suggestions and constantly posing new problems that create relevant challenges. Curiosity (both student and teacher) keeps a vibrant ecology going, and I would argue that the intellectual tension so often provided through curiosity is necessary for a positive ecology to thrive.
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Stations in High School Math

One of the coolest experiences in my university training was the opportunity to invite a kindergarten class into our mathematics methods class for a mathematical field trip. Our class was divided into groups of three or four and were given the task of designing a mathematical activity that the students would try. The afternoon was a hit. Each group set up shop around the room and the kids freely moved from station to station as they mastered each activity.

Somewhere along the way, mathematics becomes formalized and stationary. I imagine it is around the time of fractions. I assume this for no better reason than teachers and students alike seem to blame most of their problems on fractions. That is until Grade 10, when polynomial factoring squeezes out fractions as the most hated mathematical procedure.

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