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Great Classroom Action


Joe Schwartz hosts a pie-eating contest:

The game consists of two circles (the pies) and a set of Angle Race cards. Partners take turns drawing a card and then using a protractor to measure off the right sized piece. Keep going until you've eaten your entire pie. Whoever finishes the pie first is the winner!

Joe improvises his lesson plan in two very interesting ways and he explains his thinking. That's great blogging.

Matthew Jones gives us a nice picture of modeling in the elementary grades when he asks his students to help him put a new roof on the school gym:

Will any of them have to do this in the “real-world?” Who knows? Maybe, maybe not. But the pictures and slides set into motion a new enthusiasm about solving it because it was their school, it was their gym. It was something they know like the back of their hand. Maybe next time they’ll look up at the ceiling and remember how they figured out the area.

Kaleb Allinson and Sarah Hagan offer different but useful approaches to probability.

Here's Sarah:

My students instantly wanted to play again. I had anticipated this, hence the double-sided bingo cards. Based on our first round of bingo, my students set out to create a better bingo card. One of my students decided to calculate the probability like I had. She accidentally left the BB combination off of her card. She was not happy about this!

And Kaleb:

I will have students make their own boards using geometric shapes that will convince someone to think they can win but that odds are still in the game owners favor. As an extension students can include winning different amounts of money depending on where you land so a player is more enticed to play.

Public Relations

I'm quoted this week in a piece by Vox's Libby Nelson on the Common Core State Standards. This reminded me to empty out my collection of podcasts, vodcasts, and press clippings, for the benefit of my doting mother if nobody else.

Motion Math: Pizza!

I caught Motion Math's latest game at their booth at NCTM. It's pretty irresistible. Kids are in the pizza business. They get to name their pizzas whatever they want, create them with whatever ingredients they want, and sell them for whatever price they want. Then the game goes all Sim-like on the kid. Customers come in and start buying up pizzas. The student practices multiplication at the cash register. Eventually the day is done and the student tallies up her profit or loss.

The game builds in just enough market behavior to make it a fun introduction to running your own business but not so much market behavior you're collecting W-9s from your employees or dealing with health inspectors. Customers get annoyed if you price your pizzas too high. You run out of pizzas if you price them too low. They request new ingredients, which you can go buy at the market.

It's great math and great gameplay from one of my favorite game designers in math education. Highly recommended.

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Bowen Kerins:

This game is terrific, with plenty of variety and thoughtful math. There’s even work on unit rates available when a second vendor opens, and one is offering 20 sardines for $4 while the other offers 90 sardines for $20.

tl;dr – This is about a new digital lesson I made with Christopher Danielson and our friends at Desmos. It's called Waterline and its best feature is that it shares data from student to student rather than just from student to teacher. I'll show you what I mean while simultaneously badgering publishers of digital textbooks. (As I do.)

Think about the stretches of time when your smartphone or tablet is in airplane mode.

Without any connection to the Internet, you can read articles you've saved but you can't visit any links inside those articles. You can't text your friends. You can't share photos of cats wearing mittens or tweet your funny thoughts to anybody.

In airplane mode, your phone is worth less. You paid for the wireless antenna in your tablet. Perhaps you're paying for an extra data plan. Airplane mode shuts both of them down and dials the return on those investments down to zero.

Airplane mode sucks.

Most digital textbooks are in airplane mode:

  • Textbooks authored in Apple's iBooks Author don't send data from the student's iPad anywhere else. Not to her teacher and not to other students.
  • HMH Fuse includes some basic student response functionality, sending data from the student to the teacher, but not between students.
  • In the Los Angeles Unified iPad rollout, administrators were surprised to find that "300 students at three high schools almost immediately removed security filters so they could freely browse the Internet." Well of course they did. Airplane mode sucks.

The prize I'm chasing is curriculum where students share with other students, where I see your thoughts and you see mine and we both become smarter and life becomes more interesting because of that interaction. That's how the rest of the Internet works because the Internet is out of airplane mode.

Here's one example. In Waterline we ask students first to draw the height of the water in a glass against time. We echo their graph back to them in the same way we did in Function Carnival.


But then we ask the students to create their own glass.


Once they successfully draw the graph of their own glass, they get to put it in the class cupboard.


Now they see their glass in a cupboard right alongside glasses invented by their friends. They can click on those new glasses and graph them. The teacher sees all of this from her dashboard. Everyone can see which glasses are harder to graph and which are easier, setting up a useful conversation later about why.

We piloted this lesson in a local school and asked them what their favorite part of the lesson was. This creating and sharing feature was the consensus winner.

A selection:

  • Making my own because it was my own.
  • Trying to create your own glass because you can make it into any size you want.
  • Designing my own glass because I was able to experiment and see how different shapes of the glass affects how fast the glass filled up.
  • My favorite part of the activity was making my own glass and making my other peers and try and estimate my glass.
  • My favorite part of the activity was solving other people's glasses because some were weird shapes and I wanted to challenge myself.

Jere Confrey claimed in her NCSM session that "students are our most underutilized resource in schools." I'd like to know exactly what she meant by that very tweetable quotation, but I think I see it in the student who said, "I also liked trying out other's glasses because we could see other's glasses and see how other people solved the problem."

I know we aren't suffering from too many interactions like that in our digital curricula. They're hard to create and they're hard to find. I also know we won't get more of them until teachers and administrators like you ask publishers more often to take their textbooks out of airplane mode.

Bob Lochel, responding to commenter Jenni who wondered how, when, and where to integrate tasks into a unit:

In my years as math coach, the most efficient piece of advice I would give to teachers is this: think about your favorite problem from a unit, the problem you look forward to, or that problem which is number 158 in the last section which you know will generate all kinds of discussion. Without fail, this problem is often done last, as the summary of all ideas in the unit. Okay, why not do it first? Keep it simmering in the background, flesh it out as ideas are developed and pratice occurs. It often doesn't take a sledgehammer to make a good unit great.

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