Round Up of Week Four of the Math Blogging Initiation

We’re at the end. It’s been four weeks — hectic for all of us at the start of the year — and now the Math Blogging Initiation is over.

```
Even though I have never played the game Portal and this song
doesn't match up with this, it does come at the end of the game...
and I love it. So there you go.```

Some of us did all four weeks, some did just a few. And honestly, if you tried it and found out it was not for you, that’s important and you wouldn’t have known it otherwise. (There are lots of professional development things that aren’t for me.) So thanks for keeping an open mind! And if you tried it and decided it was for you: egg-celent.

For those of you who want to continue, some unsolicited advice:

1. You don’t need to blog every week. This was just a “boot camp” to get started! Sometimes I blog twice in a day and then go a couple of weeks with nothing. Normally it has to do with how much free time I have. Blog when you feel like it, blog for yourself, don’t rely on having commenters/readers. There’s something super valuable about codifying and archiving your thoughts about a worksheet, a lesson, etc.

2. Have fun with it, and let it push you as a teacher. One of the things I started realizing was that having a blog not only let me archive and reflect upon stuff, but it also made me want to take risks. I wanted to try out things I was scared to do (whether it be not grading homework, employing Standards Based Grading, including more regular groupwork in classes, etc.) because they were new. (“Why try something new when what I’m doing works pretty well?”) But knowing I have a blog to write about these things made me feel more excited about trying them (even when they didn’t work out perfectly)… I got excited to share what I was doing. It’s like we’re in a laboratory with experiments always in progress… and we each year experiment and refine and experiment and refine. Your blog can be like your lab notebook.

Finally: THANK YOU. THANK YOU. THANK YOU. It was on a lark that we decided to do this. It was a little haphazard I know. (One example of it: I tried to email all y’all that signed up, and no matter what I tried to do, the internet thought I was a spammer. That was two hours down the drain until @jreulbach stepped in to save me!) But you guys don’t even know how much this has exceeded our wildest expectations. We expected 20, maybe 30, responses, and this became something much bigger. This is all because of you. So THANK YOU. For being awesome. For taking risks. For engaging. It’s been a pleasure.

This final week we had 66 bloggers.

Now without further ado, week four bloggers.

Aaron C| Random Teaching Tangents

Aaron C. @CarpGoesMoo has a blog named Random Teaching Tangents. The fourth post for the Blogging Initiation is titled “New Blogger Initiation 4” and the author sums it up as follows: “Algebra 2 isn’t random … it’s structures (sets, matrices, vectors, etc.) and relationships (properties/identities, graphs, functions, etc.)” A memorable quotation from the post is: **(by the way, obvious is an extremely dangerous word in mathematics – I personally detest it almost as much as variations upon “the proof is left as an exercise for the reader” – thanks scumbag mathematics PhD).”

My Response: Aaron is talking about something I’ve been struggling with since I started teaching. Five years ago I started teaching Algebra II and like him, I quickly abandoned the book. But the thing that I wasn’t able to do well is come up with a common theme that could tie the class together — for me and for the kids. Aaron has an idea that could be the common reference points: structure and relationship. And building a course with those themes in mind appears, to me anyway, like it could be successful. I think the key to this is to explicitly COMPARE and CONTRAST various structures and relationships. That’s a way to tie disparate topics together.

Lisa Nussdorfer| Reflections of a Learner

Lisa Nussdorfer @nussder has a blog named Reflections of a Learner. The fourth post for the Blogging Initiation is titled “Multiplication, Take Two” and the author sums it up as follows: “I am expanding on Hard Enough Problem’s blog about visual multiplication and reflecting on my experience learning other methods of multiplication as an adult.” A memorable quotation from the post is: “I specifically remember that it was the FIRST time I had seen alternative multiplication methods in my mathematical existence.”

My Response: Lisa talks about how we tend to only remember/do one type of multiplication, but if you look a little deeper, there are tons of ways to multiply integer numbers together! And she also notes (as I have experienced) if you learn only one way, it’s hard to use another way. But precisely that’s the key to why learning other multiplication methods is important: it forces us to think about why they work. And that gets down to the underlying structure of mathematics (and what’s going on). I personally think asking a middle or high school kid who loves mathematics why the “lattice method” for multiplication works would lead to a great “a ha” moment! (We did this in math club a year or two ago!)

Kelly Berg| The M Stands for Math

Kelly Berg @kmbergie has a blog named The M Stands for Math. The fourth post for the Blogging Initiation is titled “I can’t even watch TV without thinking about school” and the author sums it up as follows: “This metaphor just hit me about teaching. It has nothing to do with math specifically, just about teaching in general. If you could classify your classroom as a TV show, which kind would it be?” A memorable quotation from the post is: “I need to interest them to come back after the commercials, keep them guessing as to how the story ends, and invite them back for more. Each day.”

My Response: Kelly has an awesome analogy to the classroom, which really resonates to me because I love love love LOVE TV. A class is about as long as an hour long TV show. How do we stay wrapped up in a TV show so long? Can we capitalize on that for our classrooms?

Cindy W| findingEMU

Cindy W @finding_EMU has a blog named findingEMU. The fourth post for the Blogging Initiation is titled “msSunFun: Musical Math Partners” and the author sums it up as follows: “Well, I think I definitely cheated on this one. “Write about anything” gave me an “out” to use my game post from msSunFun this week. The description of the “game” is followed by a multitude (especially if people share more ideas in the comments section) of possible variations!” A memorable quotation from the post is: “It is quite flexible, gets kids out of their seats, and gives students an opportunity to use mental math skills”

My Response: Cindy has a great idea for a large, well-behaved middle school class! If you train the kids early on on how to play it respectfully (I can see some pushing happening if you don’t!), I think it could be a really fun and active way to engage kids. I don’t play a lot of “games” in my classroom (I see games as good for review, but I don’t have a lot of time built into my planbook for review at the high school level, except on super challenging topics), but if I did games, this is one I would put in my back pocket.

Andrew Knauft| Limsoup

Andrew Knauft @aknauft has a blog named Limsoup. The fourth post for the Blogging Initiation is titled “NBI Week 4 — Finding a Polynomial” and the author sums it up as follows: “I walk through my favorite method for finding a polynomial passing through a collection of points, with a brief interlude into my view on how many answers math problems have, and a fun clincher involving a special type of polynomaial.” A memorable quotation from the post is: “I realized today that for years I’ve been thinking “I like math because there is only one answer to every problem” — but that’s entirely untrue!”

My Response: Andrew presents a simple polynomial problem which has many solutions, and many ways of approaching the problem. He starts out the post by talking about how he used to like math because it only had one answer. But that’s not always true, and he’s enjoying the… and this is my words… creativity and generalizations and extensions of problems with more than one solution. I want kids to see kids the CREATIVITY in mathematics — as I think creativity and structural elegance goes to the heart of mathematics. I suspect, by this post, that Andrew would agree.

Tyler Borek| Real Problems

Tyler Borek @opusproblems has a blog named Real Problems. The fourth post for the Blogging Initiation is titled “Digesting “The Exeter Series”” and the author sums it up as follows: “My post is about Exeter’s math curriculum (discovered via Glenn Waddell). Exeter has an interesting take on math curriculum. They have my attention.” A memorable quotation from the post is: “Caveats aside, I think that Exeter’s curriculum is a masterpiece, and – as with many masterpieces – it sets itself apart by looking at a situation in a different way.”

My Response: Tyler is taken by the Exeter math curriculum. I too am taken by it. The two defining features of it (that Tyler notes) is that the course isn’t divided into discrete topics (no “quadratics, followed by polynomials, followed by matrices”), and that problems precede concepts. You do problems, and they build up beautifully, until you can generalize to a mathematical truism. (One example is in their Math 3 curriculum where they show where the 1/3 comes from in the formula for the volume of a pyramid.) I also have thought of how it could be used in a school that isn’t Exeter, and I have my doubts. So I’m interested to see how it has been wholesale implemented, or adapted in interesting ways, in “normal” schools.

Stephanie Macsata| High Heels in the High School

Stephanie Macsata @MsMac622 has a blog named High Heels in the High School. The fourth post for the Blogging Initiation is titled “My First Foldable” and the author sums it up as follows: “I wanted to try making a foldable and this post goes with me through the process.” A memorable quotation from the post is: “I feel like the more I create the easier it will be aaaaaaand my mind will just start thinking “in foldables” haha.”

My Response: Stephanie presents her first foldable, on slope. YES! I have heard a lot about foldables, and I meant to design some this summer but didn’t. But Stephanie has inspired me with an idea for my first foldable. It will be for precalculus. We’re learning about combinations/permutations right now. I’m going to have a foldable which has kids understand/categorize the difference between $_nP_r$, $_nC_r$, $n!$, and $n^r$ (all arise in different types of problems). Thanks for reminding me I wanted to do a foldable too!

Jeff Brenneman| Trust Me – I’m a Math Teacher

Jeff Brenneman @brennemania has a blog named Trust Me – I’m a Math Teacher. The fourth post for the Blogging Initiation is titled “A Not-At-All Comprehensive Review of Socrative” and the author sums it up as follows: “A few weeks ago, I was introduced to this awesome student clicker software called Socrative. Here, I discuss how it can be used in the classroom to inform a data-driven instructional practice through formative assessment.” A memorable quotation from the post is: “That’s not to say that questions about ninjas and ice cream aren’t important, BECAUSE THEY ARE.”

My Response: Jeff reviews (positively) Socrative. I first heard about this site this summer, and I can see myself training my class to use it for an exit task. That way I don’t have to deal with lots of slips of paper.

Haydee C.| MathyMissC

Haydee C. @mathymissc has a blog named MathyMissC. The fourth post for the Blogging Initiation is titled “Classroom Engagement?” and the author sums it up as follows: “This was a short post about giving classroom engagement a grade. What are the observable behaviors and how would they be graded? I ask more questions than actually provide answers.” A memorable quotation from the post is: “The obvious question is what do you mean by classroom engagement?”

My Response: Haydee is grappling with a question I have been grappling with: classroom engagement. I first used the term participation, then generalized it to classroom engagement. But she asks the questions: how do we assess it? If you can’t give feedback and have students improve, then it’s a fake grade. Something you arbitrarily decide. So this year in precalculus I have made “classroom engagement” part of my grade, but I am (on the fly) trying to come up with concrete ways to assess it. It’s going to be an interesting process, and I’ll see if I can’t come up with anything useful to share.

Update: Posts featuring all the others bloggers participating in the fourth week of the Math Blogging Initiation:
Julie, Fawn, Anne, Megan, Bowman, Sam, Lisa, John, Shelli, Tina, Kate, Sue