If you are like me, your workload hasn’t exactly petered out during these recent weeks of quarantine. Within this new normal, I have found it incredibly beneficial to play. That play is freeform; you could categorize it as aimless, but it is far from mindless. The need to step away from the computer for a few precious moments has allowed me to finish up a couple math projects that have been brewing for a while. The first was the creation of Upscale Pattern Blocks. The second was really an unintended one, born from the influence of Christopher Danielson’s new Truchet Cubes. I affectionately call them QuaranTiles.
[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.
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.
On June 15th, my Grade 9 class and I hosted our second annual math fair. What started out as a small idea has grown into a capstone event of their semester. This year, we had 330 elementary school students visit our building to take part in the fair’s activities. Several people (following the hashtag #TDCMathFair2016) commented that they would like to do similar things with their student transitions. This post details the rationale behind the event, how we structured it, what stations we had, and feedback/advice from our exploits.
I always introduce linear functions with the idea of a growing pattern. Students are asked to describe growth in patterns of coloured squares, predict the values of future stages, and design their own patterns that grow linearly. Fawn’s VisualPatterns is a perfect tool for this.
While stumbling around Visual Patterns with my Grade 9s, we happened upon a pattern that was quadratic. The students asked to give it a try, but we couldn’t quite find a rule that worked at every stage. While I knew this would happen, the students showed a large amount of staying power with the task. The pattern growth was an engaging hook. After a conversation about what made this pattern ugly (the non-constant growth), we looked at the growing square.
My class always welcomes conjectures. This is made explicit on the very first day of the semester. This goes for everything from grade nine to grade twelve. As the grades advance, the topics have us venturing into increasingly abstract concepts, but conjectures are always honoured.
Certain class structures promote conjecturing more than others. Students offer questions during lectures, but they are often of a surface variety. They notice a pattern that has occurred in three straight examples, or think they have discovered a short-cut. I don’t like using tricks, but if they are “discovered” or “re-invented” (to borrow a term from Piaget and genetic epistemology), then we use them.
This semester, I’ve been attempting to infuse my courses with more opportunities for students to collaborate while solving problems. This post is designed to examine the shift in student disposition throughout the process.
I have noticed an increased conceptual understanding almost across the board and this is reflected in the differing solutions on summative assessments. It is also nice to see their marks grow on these unit tests. I do not believe that paper-and-pencil tests are the best venues for displaying conceptual understanding, but it is awesome when the two intertwine.
There is a very strong emphasis on linear relations and functions in the junior maths in my province. In Grade 9, students begin by analyzing patterns and making sense of bivariate situations. The unit–which I love–concludes with writing rules to describe patterns and working with these equations to interpolate and extrapolate.
Grade 10 students continue along this path in the light of functions. There is a large degree of abstraction that occurs in a short amount of time, and droves of students abandon the conceptual background (pattern making) in favour of memorizing numerous formulas. (Slope formula, slope-point, 2-point-slope, slope-intercept, etc.)
**Some (much prettier) quadratic patterns, which are introduced in 11th Grade, are posted here**
Dice are familiar tools in most mathematics classrooms. Their use in primary school games allows students to build preliminary notions of number and autonomy. (see Kamii) As the grades progress, dice sums become too simple and the tool is pushed into the realm of probability and chance. There, alongside decks of cards and coloured spinners, it enjoys almost godly status; it seems that there is no better way to calculate odds than to role dice and spin spinners (in outrageous cases—simultaneously).
This semester I desperately wanted to improve how I taught linear relations to Grade 9 students. I had tried some interesting activities in the past, but lost patience and ended up drilling them with notation and algorithms. I wanted to find a way to show the students that equations were just explanations of patterns. I began compiling different linear patterns and dug in for the long haul.
I stumbled upon a collection of abandoned, square tiles and decided to use them to put students in the center of the pattern making.