A Geometric Adventure

Last Friday, a day designated for test review, I decided to liven things up a bit. Instead of the traditional questions and answers in the classroom, I brought our class outside to the courtyard for a geometric scavenger hunt. (This is a class of 5 students so I thought it would be very easy to manage)

Each group was given a tape measure to use as needed. They used a flip video camera to videotape their clear explanation of each of the tasks. Each member of the group needed to explain at least ONE of the tasks. All calculations needed to be agreed upon by all members.

The groups needed to complete and videotape all 5 tasks and return to “home base”  (a.k.a. ME).  Groups were awarded points based on speed, accuracy, creativity and clarity of explanation. Each group member also received points for posting his/her reaction on our blog.

Here were the tasks:
TASK #1: Find an example of parallel lines. Explain how you know, for sure, that the lines are parallel.
TASK #2: Find an example of concentric circles. Explain what concentric circles are.

TASK #3: Find a rectangle. Calculate its area and its perimeter. Be sure to explain how you measured and your units.

TASK #4: Find an example of one of the four postulates we have studied thus far.
Postulate 1: Two points determine a unique line.
Postulate 2: If two distinct lines intersect, then their intersection is a point.
Postulate 3: Three noncollinear points determine a unique plane.
Postulate 4: If two distinct planes intersect, then their intersection is a line.

TASK #5: Act out an example of a conditional statement.
What is the hypothesis? What is the conclusion? Explain the statement in another way. Is it a true statement? What is it’s converse?

It was a beautiful day and the students were very excited! They set out to begin their mission.
The students started out well but, after about 10 minutes, I noticed one group having some trouble staying on task. One of the members of the group was distracted by the other students outside who were not in class. It was a problem I really didn’t plan on and I encouraged the group to continue working and spent time keeping other students away from them. Unfortunately, that group lost too much time and they were only able to complete 2 of the 5 tasks. Even still, group still thought the scavenger hunt was a positive experience and all expressed a desire to try it again.
Here are two of the videos:

Task #4  (Demonstration of Postulate 1: Two points determine a unique line.)

and Task #5 (Acting out a conditional statement)

When I viewed all videos, I was really excited. Even with a few issues and some frustration on the part of one group, the entire experience seemed very beneficial to all. (and a lot more exciting than sitting in class!) I also appreciated the feedback I got from student in the blog. I will definitely do this again!

Commitment to Relevance

The start of school is always a magical time for me. Faculty are happy and refreshed, students have grown so much and are quick to give hugs and smiles, and everyone has a chance for a fresh start. For me, it is a time to set new goals, try new things and approach my 21st year of teaching with renewed enthusiasm.

This year, I am teaching two courses- Algebra 1 and Geometry and, while my curriculum includes some specific technology projects to support and enhance the curriculum (a blog shared by both classes, glogs, student produced videos and fake Facebook pages of mathematicians), my primary goal for this year is RELEVANCE. How can I make the math I am teaching relevant and meaningful to my students?  How can I answer the question they ask so often: “when am I going to use this?”

I began both classes with this video and we had a great discussion surrounding it. Who needs math? Why? Careers you wouldn’t think of…  I am armed and ready with real-world examples solving algebraic equations, simultaneous equations, graphing systems, etc. Many of the examples are coming from a new book I am exploring for next year. I will supplement with math in the news, nature, music, art and careers.

Critics of the NYTimes article, “How to Fix Our Math Education” believe that Math = Practical + Beautiful. I don’t disagree with that completely, but how can students be “harmed” by providing examples or connections? Isn’t that what we do in literature or in history or in science?  Isn’t that what pulls it all together? Rare are the 9th and 10th grade students who see the value behind studying a quadratic function for its own sake.

So, with three days under my belt, I am on my way! I am hoping that putting it in writing keeps me honest and forces me to do the best I possibly can. I’ll update you along the way…