25 January 2007

Mandatory blog post on blogging

Everyone does it – write in our blog about why we are blogging.

I promise not to do it too often but I feel that I need to explain why I have recently joined this community of teachers who blog. This is mostly a post for myself – to clarify my reasons for committing regular time to this activity when I could be preparing lessons, marking maths tests, maintaining relationships with family and friends or walking the dog.

As a visual person, I created a basic mind map using FreeMind and went through a SWOT analysis to crystallise my thoughts.

Of course, the strengths section is most important. After three years in the teaching profession, I realised that blogging was an opportunity for me to reflect on my work in the classroom and to clarify my thoughts. As my friend the scientist explained over coffee last week, writing things down can be a great motivator for thinking through an issue and coming to a conclusion.

Documenting discoveries also seems important to me now. How many great insights or useful resources have I encountered over the last three years, only to be forgotten or untraceable when I needed them? I see this blog as a place I can store these ideas and resources in a form I can use them later.

There is a chance that others will find the ideas useful, so sharing my experience in a public place presents the opportunity to assist others, get feedback and make links to others in similar situations.

My hopes are tempered by the fears of going public. Do I have enough worth saying? Can I find the time to put my ideas out there? Vicki Davis quotes the statistic that 55% of bloggers are still posting regularly after three months. That is a big drop-out rate and I recognise the risk.

My fear that “no-one is listening” has been easily dispelled after a couple of posts. A few supportive or appreciative comments is enough to encourage persistence.

None of this is new. Many people have expressed these ideas in different ways. I was pleased to read John Pearce's page on Why teachers blog. The response from HappyHippy at I should be marking provided me with the right words to describe my hopes and plans:
Introspective Reflection – A chance to put my own thoughts in order
Decision Making – An opportunity to argue with myself in the hope of reaching a conclusion.
Professional Journal – A method of documenting my changing opinions.

So, in the end, it is mostly about me – reflecting, clarifying, documenting – with the hope that some of my experience and insights will be of use to others.

Time will tell.

20 January 2007

Digital Images in the Mathematics Class

Using digital images as the subject of mathematical analysis can bring interest and focus to high school students.

Last October, I attended many valuable sessions at the Australian Computers in Education Conference, ACEC 2006.

One of my favourites was Jim Lowe's workshop on “Using digital images in the Maths and Science classroom”. Jim is the Project Director at the Centre for Excellence in Maths, Science & Technology located at Redcliffe State High School in the northern suburbs of Brisbane, Queensland.

Here is the abstract for his ACEC presentation:
Digital images (both still and video) provide a way of bringing the real world into the maths and science classroom. A range of freely available resources enable valuable data to be extracted from digital media to be analysed in the maths and science classroom. This session is focussed on high school curriculum. Still images provide a wealth of material for maths classes in years 8-10 and beyond while video clips provide data for both maths and physics students to analyse real life motion.

During the workshop, Jim demonstrated many ways that digital images could be used as an introduction or as the basis of a mathematical investigation. Many of the resources we tried are available or described on the resources page of the RITEMATHS Project.

I particularly liked GridPic, free software running on Windows XP that allows students to experiment with fitting different functions over a digital image. As Jim mentioned in his presentation, you can tell that it was developed by a teacher because there is no button that finds the solution automatically. The students have to work it out for themselves.

The RITEMATHS paper presented at the 2004 MAV Conference contains references to many resources including Adrian Oldknow’s excellent collection.

In the last few years, even more visual tools have become freely available including the measurement tool in Google Earth and the Travel Planner from NRMA. Now we just need the imagination to build them into our lessons.

The item that got me thinking about Jim's workshop again was the wonderful Flickr assignment developed by Darren Kuropatwa.

The public image storage website, Flickr now allows you to annotate a photograph by adding a “note” or hot spot. When I saw the annotations about Curtain Trigonometry by one of Darren's students, I was amazed. It is the perfect example of the slogan I often use with my students - "Maths is Everywhere".

That photograph alone convinces me I have to try using images with my own classes this year.

14 January 2007

Teaching is like show business

My brother is in show business so I talked to him about my plan to become a teacher.

I knew that teaching young people involved entertaining as a part of educating so I thought he might have some tips that could help me as I embarked on a new career.

It turns out that teaching is like show business but there are differences as well as similarities.

During the times that my brother is employed on a show, he might have one or two performances each day, sometimes three. He works two or three days a week. Six days a week at most.

Altogether, an actor or entertainer like my brother might perform as many as ten times a week. Every show is the same and this can become boring after a time but you may have the opportunity to adjust the script to account for the audience reaction.

Teaching teenagers is like performing for a small but tough audience. The script has to be continuously adjusted to deal with audience reaction. You have to deal with hecklers.

In this regard, it is more like stand up comedy. The way you deal with the hecklers can make or break the performance and how the rest of the audience responds to it.

In stand up comedy, you still use the same basic script for each performance although you have to be flexible.

In teaching, you write your own one-hour script for a tough audience of thirty. At the end of the performance you immediately are faced with a new tough audience of thirty and have to present a completely new show.

This happens three, four or five times a day. New script. New audience. New hecklers.

It's a tough gig.

I asked my brother how he copes with a performance that is going off the rails – for example, if he is not feeling well or if the audience is reacting in a different way than expected.

He said that the main thing is to know where you wanted the performance to go. If you have a plan, then you are able to see how to get back on track even when you have been seriously distracted by a new thread of conversation with the audience.

That sounded familiar! A well prepared lesson plan will usually produce an effective lesson. It does not necessarily follow the script exactly but it allows you to find your way back to the punchline you want to leave them with.