13 July 2007

Learning at the Smorgasbord – AAMT 2007

Professional conferences have always been a convenient way for me to learn. I am away from the distractions of the home and work environment and I have a magnificent choice of topics from the many sessions offered by colleagues and other knowledgeable people.

The 21st biennial conference of the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers was held in Hobart at the beginning of July. The theme was “Mathematics: Essential for learning, essential for life” and many sessions discussed the interlinking of mathematical topics with each other and with the real world.

Unfortunately my end-of-semester exhaustion combined with a winter virus to provide a bad head cold and I spent the second day in my hotel bed trying to recover my health. I probably missed half the available session times and am still trawling through the proceedings to find some more gems.

During my time in the information technology industry, I adopted a gem-prospecting attitude to conferences and training in general. If I discovered one new, useful idea and also rediscovered one other great piece of knowledge that I had forgotten about, I felt I had “got my money's worth” from any half day training course.

On this measure of success, I am satisfied with my conference experience. I will mention just a few of the gems I have identified so far.

  • Michael Cavanagh from Macquarie University presented his investigation of “Year 7 students' understanding of area measurement” that served to remind me how often we do not appreciate the understanding (and misunderstanding) that is happening in students' minds as we teach.
  • Ken Smith from St Joseph's College, Toowoomba demonstrated how an enthusiast can take today's technology of podcasting, digital video production and interactive web-based tutorials to create effective resources to support the “digital natives” in his classroom.
  • Merrilyn Goos from the University of Queensland talked about the value in teaching across strands, across topics and across subject areas. Reminding me of the Barbie doll physical dimensions activity, Merrilyn highlighted the opportunities in starting with a big question or a big issue.
  • Susie Groves from Deakin University spoke of her personal experience with Hanna Neumann and encouraged us to put more stories into our lessons.
  • Steve Thornton and Noemi Reynolds exposed the meta-narratives hidden in our work and suggested ways to allow students to have ownership of and power over their own mathematics.
After the conference I spent a wonderful couple of days visiting friends and experiencing the beauty of south east Tasmania. I am gradually recharging for the second semester.

24 March 2007

Spaghetti Statistics

Getting Year 9 students engaged in Mathematics can be a challenge!

This year the first unit was statistics and we began the year with an experiment involving spaghetti and half-inch nuts. (Thanks to Matt Skoss and the AAMT mailing list. See below.)

The class was broken into groups and each team was given spaghetti, nuts and a set of counters in their own colour.

The instructions were:

Make a gap of 15 cm between two desks. Stretch a piece of spaghetti across the gap, and hang a plastic cup underneath using two large paperclips. Add half-inch nuts into the cup until the spaghetti breaks.

Place a coloured counter on the cardboard graph at the front of the room to represent the number of nuts needed to break the spaghetti. Repeat the process with 2, 3 and 4 pieces of spaghetti.

To add interest, some students were still and video photographers for the event and the results were shown on the interactive whiteboard in the following lesson.

The one-minute video is on YouTube.

The data was analysed by each group and then as a class collection with the opportunity to discuss possible reasons for data variability, measures of central tendency, spreadsheet analysis of data and graphical representation of statistics.

The students seemed to enjoy it and the activity was a positive start with a new group. The use of the interactive whiteboard has been a real bonus this year but more about that later.

aamt-l is fantastic. The mailing list of the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers allows sharing of ideas and questions on any aspect of teaching Maths.

As Ray Peck says,
The AAMT list is a brilliant resource for Australian teachers - it enables teachers young and old to tap into a wealth of knowledge and experience and receive instantaneous feedback - not just from within all Australian states but also from member teachers from other countries. The depth and breadth of knowledge of those 'lurking on the list' is incredible.

At the end of January, Elizabeth Stone, put a challenge to the list. She wanted to start the term with a bang and was looking for ideas. A number of great suggestions came from list members and I particular liked the spaghetti experiment from Matt Skoss. He said it had been shared at a TI Cubed Conference. As he explained,
I have found lots of kids willing to make conjectures, displaying a wide range of mathematical skills. There is scope to bring in graphical calculators and spreadsheets to do some mathematical modelling. Lots of scope for statistics and ongoing discussion.

Thanks to Matt and Elizabeth and the AAMT list for helping me start the term with a bang!

Time Bandits

“There's no time,” I wrote when considering the threats to maintaining a regular blog.

“Time will tell,” I said in the tabloid sign-off.

It has only been a couple of months but already my writing output has evaporated. The time bandits include the predicted and the predictable - lesson preparation, marking tests, walking the dog – just living and working.

Then there are the things that steal my energy rather than my time – performing in front of classes, managing difficult student behaviour, working in hot classrooms on the top floor of a school without air-conditioning.

Waiting to take advantage of the lack of time and energy are the lurking enemies – procrastination and demotivation.

But now, having reread the positive reasons for starting this, I will resume the process of reflecting on my teaching and sharing my experience.