The grocery store is a brain workout for the mathematically inclined. Not only do the varying metric and imperial conversions tease out the micro-savings of bulk, but neon yellow discount signs encourage percentages and good ole’ multiplication tables. Often you find adults transfixed in a complex division trying to figure out which ham will be cheaper. Once that calculation is complete, they turn their attention to making sure the portion will be enough to feed their whole family. The sheer volume of available estimations overloads me; coupons just complicate the matter–significantly.
My thoughts have begun to turn to the new school year that will occur in August. This may be jumping the gun, but I like to enter prepared. This is partly due to the possibility of job action, and the surety of football, in the fall. I like to spend the first couple days of school working on basic numeracy skills with my grade 9s and 10s. I find a nice task is much more effective than a few worksheets. I do, however, keep a supply of worksheets on hand to offer to kids who just want the assignment. This idea came to me while I was reading an old edition of “The Hockey News” earlier this year. It has been taking up space on my desk, so I figured blogging about it would allow me to file it away for the beginning of next year.
I have always been drawn to probability because of its mysterious qualities. Maybe it is the result of the online poker fad that swept through my high school during the NHL lockout, but the calculation of odds still grasps my attention to this day. What fascinates me the most is how simple rules such as “AND” and “OR” can quickly create a mess of a situation. What begins in high school (or earlier) as a simple fraction that predicts the toss of a coin, soon balloons into factorials, combinations, Pascal’s Triangle, and Probability Density Functions. Despite the complexity of such calculations, they are still only theoretical; anything could still happen. This is a point that I stress to my students whenever we embark on a study of a game of chance.
There has been plenty of recent twitter talk about the process of moving the focus of mathematics education away from the “how” and toward the “why”. Traditionally, students have been trained to approach a question–usually given to them by an outside source like a teacher, textbook, or test–with the express intent to show the grader “how” it is answered. Such responses often include the use of algorithms, formulae, or memorized facts we know to be true. (These facts are in no way axiomatic, but constant repetition reduces them to that state. Students have answered them so often, the process loses meaning. Take 2×2 for example.)
There is widespread turmoil among teachers and students when it comes to the practicality of mathematics. School mathematics, at the middle and high school levels, has moved out of the elementary niche of rudimentary skills, but has yet to make it into the realm of complexity necessary to apply it back into the world. Our happy compromise, as teachers, is to go with a two-pronged attack:
Teachers in Saskatchewan, Canada have had a lot to deal with lately in the classroom. The ongoing political battle has effected hours of direct instruction in a very real way. I quickly noticed my classes becoming disjointed with large amounts of time between each encounter with the mathematics. Needless to say, I entered today’s lesson in Math 9 with a little apprehension. A Friday morning after 2 days of job action and a long weekend didn’t sound like the most nurturing of environments. I decided that the time was ripe to attempt a lesson that has been in my mind for a couple of months; the following account is the story of the task, presentation, student reaction, and important learnings.
This week marked my baptism by fire into the twitter world. It was not long until I was neck deep in tweets, favourites, re-tweets, and followers. The eternal nerd awoke inside me when I was confronted with my first NCTM “Problem of the Day”. A simple, yet dangerously deep, question was posed. Wanting to cement my reputation as a responsible twit, I sat down and began to tinker with the theory.