Saturday, May 7, 2016

What I Learned This Semester

I always have the privilege of writing the last blog post of the semester for Math 371, Technology for Math Educators.  I like to use this opportunity to reflect on what went well during the semester and what I need to improve. 

Things that went well:
  • Desmos Art Project:  I couldn’t be more proud of the work they did on their Desmos art projects.  Several students spent lots of hours working on their project, and it was only worth 15 points. They didn’t work hard because of the points involved, they worked hard because they took pride in their work. It didn’t hurt that there was an online vote for the best project.  The top three students received gift cards to Jimmy Johns and a pair of Desmos socks.  Special thanks to Desmos for getting the socks to me so quickly!
  • Videotaping Lessons:  Recently our department acquired a Swivl so we could use that to record our students’ teaching lessons.  My colleague, Dr. Chris Larson, has always recorded their lessons in Math Methods and then had the students watch the video and critique themselves.  I decided that if we did this earlier in our methods courses, it would be better for the students.  I have asked them to watch their videos and look for ways to improve and for quirky habits they may have.  I am not requiring it as part of their grade, but I think I will consider doing that next year.
  • Class Dynamics: Most of these students were in my Geometry for Teachers course in the Fall 2015 semester. This led them to be very comfortable as a group sharing their thoughts and working together on projects.  Sometimes they may have been too comfortable with each other—but class was always fun and there was never a dull moment.  I am actually sad about the class being over because I am going to miss all of them. 
Things that need improvement: 
  • Teaching Lessons: Since I know that our students struggle a bit with statistics and probability, I have them select a Common Core Stats & Prob standards to teach as their main teaching lesson. After reviewing their lesson plans, I have realized that I need to work with them more on preparing for their teaching lesson.  In addition, I need to watch their selections more closely as three people had similar activities because their topics were very close in content.I will fix these issues by having them post not only their standard but also the activity they plan to do.  In addition, I will meet with them about their lesson a week before they teach so that they are more comfortable with the content and their activity. 
  • Using Twitter: I tweeted interesting math technology related articles all semester using #Math371.  I realized that many of the students were not reading my tweets so I created a weekly Twitter discussion. This required the students to look at all of the #Math371 tweets from that week, write about one of them on the discussion board and then respond to someone else’s post.  This activity started out well, but then their discussion posts seem to be lacking in depth so we stopped the weekly Twitter discussions.I am still debating how to fix this issue, but some ideas I have are to: have the discussion every 2 weeks instead of every week; require them to find something about math technology and tweet it to #Math371; have a weekly Twitter monitor (similar to having a blogger for that week) that does the tweeting for #Math371 that week. 
Special thanks to our guest bloggers this semester: Andy Ott, Mark Kreie, and Jessica DeNeui.  I always love getting another teacher’s perspective on things as it helps me gauge whether or not I am doing what I need to do in this class. 

This will be the last #Math371 blog post until January 2017.  Have a great summer!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Math 371: How the class prepared me for teaching and how it didn't

For those of you who don't know me, my name is Jessica DeNeui, and I'm a senior at SDSU. Today I'm guest-blogging about how Math 371 did and didn't help in the classroom. This semester I student taught at the Brookings High School. The school is one-to-one: every student has a two-in-one tablet computer. Access to technology was no problem (unless the internet crashed). I was pretty excited to see what we could accomplish with the computers.

 One resource that I frequently found myself going to was Desmos. I was really glad we'd played around with Desmos in Math 371 so that I was up to speed. One really cool aspect of Desmos I hadn't known about before is that teachers can create an activity that takes students step by step through a process and it records their answers. It was amazingly helpful to be able to look back at my students' answers after they left class and see what they understood and what they didn't.

Another way I felt Math 371 prepared me for teaching was just giving me activity resources. At the time, I don't think I always saw the value of the all the resources we discussed and activity portfolio we put together. Now that I'm in the classroom, I'm always looking for different ideas and places to pull material from. All those resources we'd put together are really coming in handy now, and I'm really glad I had this class to help me get those resources together.

While Math 371 was helpful, but I'm not sure it fully prepared me to decide when to use technology and when to not use technology. Desmos and other interactive software and technology are really helpful and definitely have a place in the classroom, but there are limits to what technology can do. I often see students get into a plug-and-chug kind of mode when it comes to technology - they don't really think about what they are doing. I've found that making students do things by hand forces them to think about what's going on. A fine balance comes with using technology. It's a great tool and can help students explore or apply a topic, but I've found that it has to be used with a specific purpose in mind or it won't have any impact at all.

Thanks for letting me be a guest blogger, and I hope the rest of the semester goes well for everyone!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Why it is an Exciting Time to be a Mathematics Teacher

Greetings students of Math 371!

I first want to mention how honored I am to be a guest blogger.  I am envious of you being students of this class.  I wish my undergraduate degree would have included a course title “Technology for Math Educators”.  I hope that you are enjoying this class.

When I started to brainstorm what I wanted to blog about, a number of topics came to mind:
·         Things a person heading into the teaching profession should know.
·         What technologies I frequently use my classroom.
·         How much technology is too much?
None of these topics were quite right.  This blog deserves better.  So here we go…

Why it is an exciting time to be a mathematics teacher.
There is a revolution sweeping across the nation.  A mathematics revolution.  A mathematics teaching revolution.  A growing number of mathematics teachers are breaking away from traditional, teacher-centered instructional methods.  Instead, these teachers are implementing inquiry based, student-centered strategies.  These innovative strategies and techniques are re-defining “best practice” and giving a makeover to what a mathematics classroom should look and sound like.
It is difficult to pinpoint one specific event that triggered the revolution.  Dan Meyer’s 2010 TED talk was what pulled me into the battle.  If you have not seen the video, your first homework assignment from me is to watch it.
Not only did Dan call for mathematics teachers to change the way they conducted business in their classrooms, he also began to share free resources to all who wanted them.  His popular 3-ACT tasks provide teachers with ammunition for change.
Around the same time as Dan’s TED talk, a little something called the Common Core State Standards were being adopted by 46 states across the nation.  Whether you love or hate the CCSS, three very important consequences have ensued…
First, the CCSS included the eight Standards of Mathematical Practice.  The SMP are at the heart of the revolution.  Read about them here if you haven’t heard of them.  Know them; they are critical.  Second, mathematics teachers across the nation are all focused on the same set of standards.  Because of this, I’m much more likely to be interested in what Dan from California is talking about because we are expected to teach the same standards.  Which leads to number three: Mathematics teachers across the nation are collaborating at a much higher rate than prior to the CCSS. 
Technology and social media are playing a huge role in the collaboration.  Twitter (#MTBoS), blogging, and websites provide environments where mathematics teachers can freely share resources and ideas, provide and collect feedback, and stay up to date on the latest technology. 
Dan has since taken his talents to a little place called Desmos, where he helps create some of the coolest math resources I have experienced.  He, along with other extremely talented mathematics teachers such as AndrewStadel, Fawn Nguyen, Michael Fenton, among others continue to create and share excellent resources.  But the crazy thing about Desmos is that there are now thousands of mathematics teachers creating and sharing activities via the activity builder tool.
Just two weeks ago, NCTM held their annual conference in San Francisco.  Over 1,500 mathematics teachers from across the nation attended; over 25,000 were unable to attend.  A couple of hours ago, Dan posted his presentation on his blog.  It already has 147 views.  Within a month, I’m guessing that number will be closer to 1,000.  Dan has also already responded to a few of the blog post comments as well as to the following tweet. 

My second assignment for you is to watch the video.  I’m certain you haven’t seen it yet.  It is excellent and is a must see for all mathematics teachers.  The unfortunate news is that there is a faction of mathematics teachers who will never see that video.  These teachers are unwilling or unable to implement changes in their classrooms.  Maybe they won’t change because they are too set in their ways and only have a few years to go before retirement; maybe they are not comfortable with technology; maybe they are not sure where or how to begin.  Whatever the reason may be, they have not yet joined the revolution.

Therefore, I challenge you to join the revolution.  According to my crude calculations, most of you attended high school prior to 2014.  I’m willing to bet that 95% of your high school mathematics teachers weren’t integrating 3-ACT tasks or focused on the 8SMP.  I’m certain they weren’t using the Desmos Teacher activities before then because they weren’t created yet!  Chances are likely that you didn’t learn in a student-centered, inquiry-based classroom.  Therefore, you must unlearn what you have learned.  (Luckily for you, Dr. Vestal can serve as your Jedi Master.)  It is an exciting time to be a mathematics teacher.  The revolution has begun!

Please feel free to contact me if you ever have a question or need resources.  Thank you once again for allowing me to be your guest blogger.

I would strongly recommend signing up for a account while it still remains free.  Rumor has it that there will soon be a fee to create an account, but those that already have accounts will be grandfathered in.

Mark Kreie
Brookings HS Mathematics Teacher

Friday, April 15, 2016

Context - Do people understand the message how you want it to be understood?

            Have you ever joined a conversation at an awkward moment? People interpret messages in different ways based on how they understand the words that are being used. Anything that is said or written can be taken out of context.  Context is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as 1) the words that are used with a certain word or phrase and that help to explain its meaning, or 2) the situation in which something happens: the group of conditions that exist where and when something happens. 
Right now of the little news that I look at, the majority of it is politics. It is important to be well informed on each candidate and what they plan to do if they are elected. For example one of Donald Trump’s statements pertains to building a wall on the United States-Mexico Border. This is a link to his site and his stand on the topic: Skimming through this often times you just look for the headings, words that are bolded or italicized, and highlighted words. Mexico will pay for the wall. That is one of the first things that I noticed when I was perusing the site. When I was watching footage of one of Trump’s rallies I noticed people holding signs that had Mexico will pay written on them. What comes to my mind when I see signs is: 1) Why will Mexico be paying for the wall? 2) How are we going to make them pay for the wall? I want to know the context of Mexico will pay. Reading through the article I only didn’t really see anything on how we are going to make Mexico pay only reasons why they should. Another to think about is whether or not all the facts are true or are they only telling me this to gain my vote in the upcoming election.
            Studying has a different context when you are talking to a college student versus talking to a high school student. When I was in high school I could very simply look over my notes the day of the test during a study hall or right before we took the test. For homework I would usually finish them during a study hall. That was my definition of studying when I was in high school. That type of studying doesn’t work for many people in college. When I got to college I was told that you should study about three hours for every hour that you are in class. I have found that statement about studying to be fairly accurate the hard way. Being ill-prepared for an exam is never a good situation.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Frustrations With Technology? Let's limit those in the classroom


This is a phrase often repeated (in my head or even out loud) when I’m working with technology. Whether I’m using my laptop, email, smartphone, iPad, etc., I frequently find myself sitting in a state of frustration. My computer freezes, emails get “lost,” text messages get delayed, apps don’t download or function properly, and those are just to name a few. I grew up exposed to an exponentially greater amount of technology than my teachers, though I’m afraid I’m already falling behind my future students and the amount of technologies to which they are/will be exposed.

It is obvious that to be a developmentally responsive teacher, integrating technology into the classroom is a must. When I chose to become a teacher, I chose to be a lifelong learner. I am fully aware that tons of information I have yet to learn will come from my students, especially regarding technology. Even if I have my class explore a technology, such as a math game app, that I am already familiar with, chances are that at least one of my students will discover something new to teach me. More than likely, they will make a connection between the technology in the classroom and one that they have used elsewhere in their lives. To me, this is exciting because it encourages students to discover things on their own and not simply rely on or be satisfied with the information I give them.  

Yes, frustrations will come with nearly all things in life, and many aspects of teaching, but if I can limit these frustrations…why wouldn’t I? A way to do this is to choose technologies and apps that I am extremely familiar with and already know the ins and outs. I especially want to be mindful of this in my first few years of teaching. That way, I can anticipate questions and problems beforehand and be prepared to solve them. This will help the lesson run more smoothly and will help with classroom management. No teacher wants to have a classroom of students groaning and getting fussy because they’re behind as a result of a technological malfunction, especially one that their teacher can’t fix.

In other words, I need to set myself up for success. As I gain more experience and become more confident with managing a classroom, I could challenge my students to investigate technologies I am not as familiar with. This would be a great way to spice up the routine and give them more control over what they get out of the technology. Technology, while exciting and fairly new, does have its drawbacks. But, if we plan ahead and prepare ourselves, we, as educators, can make a great impact on our students’ academics and the future of education.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Expectations vs Reality – A Changed Mindset

Brandon Whitmyre

I have learned many lessons in college but I think the most important one is that your expectations are almost never what reality is.  Coming into college I knew that I wanted to be a civil engineer, I was sure of it and that was what I wanted to do.  But my third semester into it I realized that that wasn’t at all what I wanted to do because the reality of the job is not what I expected.  Even though I was told what the job would be and it sounded good at the time it wasn’t right for me.  After I learned this lesson I knew that it would also change my approach to teaching.

In class we are always being told how teaching is going to be and what to expect but regardless of how much we are told we won’t be ready for the real work.  We will be very well prepared and know how to teach the material and how to prepare lessons but until we actually have that class in front of us and they are OUR students we won’t know the reality.  Now understanding this concept will help keep us from getting stressed our first year because if teaching isn’t exactly what we expect (which it won’t be) we won’t panic, we will adapt and put in the extra effort because that is our job as teachers.  Student teaching is the best way to really understand what teaching will be like, but even then there are other teachers and they aren’t completely “our” students.  Understanding this concept has helped me when I get stress and will help when it comes time to actually teach.

Going along with this is the idea of constantly adapting.  As technology is constantly changing we need to change along with it to teach to the best of our ability.  More than anything this requires an open mind, I’m sure everyone reading this can think of a teacher who has been teaching the same way for their whole career.  But we owe it to the students to change in order to help them get the best education that they possibly can.  This usually means more work for us but that’s the job. 

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t know it well enough” – Albert Einstein

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Belize Service Learning: Slim Technology

By: McKale Bakken

My time spent in Belize over spring break fits perfectly with the title of this blog “Slim technology.” During this service learning experience, I was able to get into the classroom in Belize. With little communication through SDSU and the school in Belize, it was tough knowing what to expect in the school. I was told that I’d be co-teaching a fifteen-minute lesson on insecticide, three different periods.  I was also told that I would be able to observe the mathematics teacher in their school. I was looking forward to this experience and ready to see the school in Belize!

The first day in the school we held a teacher in-service day for the teachers in the Belize school. This was a full day of school in Belize, from 8am to 3pm. During this in-service we were able to understand their school and teach them a few things about our schooling back in South Dakota. The Belize teachers had many questions based on the technology and the lesson plans that we create.  Their questions arose because their use of technology is very slim. During the in-service we presented our co-teaching lessons to the teachers.

When we presented our lesson plan on insecticide, the teacher’s faces lit up with excitement. The reasoning behind this is because the school had planted cabbage with their students and it had gone horribly wrong with cabbageworms. The teachers decided to change our original fifteen-minute lesson into an eighty-minute lesson. Yes, this means we went from teaching a total of forty-five minutes to teaching four hours! The reasoning behind the teachers changing it to an eighty-minute lesson was because they thought the students would enjoy the lesson. However, this brought up a few complications.

The lesson we had put together was very vague and it definitely didn’t have enough information within to make it an eighty-minute lesson. The teachers suggested that we should add different pictures of crops that had been infected by different pests. These teachers thought we had hotspots running for our own good, however this wasn’t the case.  Without Internet, we weren’t able to pull together pictures for our presentation.  Thankfully, we were able to add to the lesson we had put together and make our time in the classroom worthwhile.

In America, finding the faults of technology is pretty easy. Sometimes we need to sit back and relax, be thankful for the technology and the Internet were able to use daily. These are two pictures are of a video that was played in the school, the thirty-minute video was presented sideways on a whiteboard with very poor quality and the students in Belize didn’t think anything of it.