Thursday, March 12, 2009

Integrating Technology

I have mixed feelings about my Instructional Technology class. On the one hand, technology is very important and I think it is a good idea to expose students to various modes of technology in the classroom. On the other hand, the technology that I am asked to work with for my Instructional Technology class is at best a mismatch for the kind of classes that I most likely will be teaching.

For example, there have been several assignments that would be more useful for an elementary or middle school age group and a subject far less abstract and exact as math. One example would be the storyboard/ visual learning tool that I blogged about here. In this particular assignment we were supposed to have at least two (apparently) hyperlinks. For a math class, I hesitate to have hyperlinks because if students are given permission to go off on the Internet, what is to stop them from merely looking up the answer to the math question rather than figure it out themselves? How would that be different than handing a student a calculator to teach them how to add, multiply, subtract, and divide?

This man starved himself to death because he was afraid of being poisoned!

We also had an assignment to create an interactive PowerPoint presentation. This was actually a fairly enjoyable exercise for me. Although, I'm not sure if it was enjoyable because I was able to go searching for photos and illustrations of famous mathematicians (click on the photo for the hyperlink to take you away!) and I got to make text spin around. It took me a long time to come up with an application for such a PowerPoint though. I created a study quiz for a group of high school students preparing to go to the OCTM Math Tournament. Because there is no way to track which questions a student would get right it couldn't be used for a regular quiz or something that the student would receive a grade for. And again I had to include hyperlinks. Did you know that you can Google most math problems and come up with an answer? So in summary, an interactive PowerPoint, while fun to create, would only be useful in limited applications.

What about excel? Excel has thousands of applications in math classes. Excel can show students how to use formulas, how to create formulas, how changing variables can affect outcomes. I was really excited to go wild with Excel. And here it should be noted that I am a fairly large geek and I have bought and played with excel formula and function books for fun. But our assignment was disappointing to say the least. We had to make a grade book and have three graphs for three different classes scores in the grade book. I have three problems with this. 1) If I am employed at a school where I will have access to computers for all of my students on an as desired basis, it would be odd that the school would not have enough funding to purchase a grade book software program. 2) For any set of data there is only one graph that will best display the data. For example, if you were going to graph the actions of the stock market based on the daily closing numbers, a trendline line graph would be best. A pie chart, or a bar graph would be odd and difficult to read. 3) Out of all the beautiful things that excel can do, a grade book is what's assigned? Excel isn't just about math. I personally used excel to keep track of the 430 guests invited to my wedding. Excel was used to track wedding expenses (which were graphed), timelines for completion of tasks, who gave what and whether thank you notes were written. I think excel is the most versatile of all the Windows functions and I was saddened that the assignment was to create something that we wouldn't need.

A right triangle inscribed in a circle!

On a more positive note, this week I learned how to use Geometer's Sketchpad. This is one computer application that I will most definitely use when I get hired to teach. Even though I'm fairly well versed in the ins and outs of Geometry, I had a revelation, an epiphany, an Oprah A-HA! moment when I had a triangle inscribed in a circle so that the two of the vertices of the triangle were on the diameter of the circle and I moved the third vertex along the arc. By theorem, the angle of the vertex formed by the point on the arc is a 90° angle. Up until I wiggled that triangle around, I have to admit it was something I memorized, but was skeptical about. Using Geometer's Sketchpad it became a concrete knowledge for me. Imagine the possibilities of incorporating such software into my classroom! I think this would be far more useful than a storyboard. Even though they both are visual learning techniques. The difference is that a storyboard is geared towards stories, and Geometer's Sketchpad is geared towards math (and maybe science).

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Wacky Adventures of Johnny Derivitive and Olivia Integral

By far the most frustrating thing about taking education classes to become a math teacher is that my classes and assignments don't have an understanding of math itself. I spoke with the math department at my school and they informed me that there are no "math people" in the education department. Why should that be a problem? English and History and Library Sciences are all important and necessary fields. Believe me I get that. The problem comes along in the assignments and unfortunately the grading.

For example, in my Content Literacy class I had to come up with a reading guide with specific types of questions on it; i.e. questions the students could look up the answer, questions that required critical thinking, etc. Now I think content literacy is very important. I think it's important that students know how to read. I think it's important that students know how to write well. I think that students today need to understand that they will use reading and writing in everything they do. With one tiny little exception. There's no reading in math class. Yeah, sorry. To be honest, I didn't even use the text book for anything in class than to have the students do homework problems. Yes, I could have the students read from some fine books about math. Or I could assign reports on great mathematicians. The problem is that there is precious little extra time in the school year and the books and reports don't meet any of the math content standards. My Content Literacy professor understood the challenge I faced and when my reading guide looked more like a quiz, she didn't complain because she saw that I had the asked for types of questions.

(When I taught the 7th graders from December through February, I did make them write to express themselves. They hated it, but I still made them do it. Because content literacy is important and should be included in teaching all subjects. Even math.)

And now, in this Instructional Technology class, I've been asked to use specific software to create a story board. What stories are there in math? The story of Pythagoras? All about Benoit Mandelbrot and his fancy fractals? So, I did what the math department suggested and I made a concept map. A concept map is a diagram that shows relationships between concepts. I used the concept map to teach my 7th grade class how to classify quadrilaterals. Believe it or not, this is a hard concept for 7th graders to get. It's also really important for the students to understand how to classify the quadrilaterals before teaching them things like area and perimeter. SO I created this concept map to teach the algorithm for how they should think when faced with a quadrilateral. It was more than three levels, included a hyperlink to a dictionary of math definitions in case the students forgot what congruent or parallel meant, and it was geared toward the appropriate age group.

Unfortunately, I had points taken off because I only covered one concept. One really fairly BIG (and important) concept. And in most classes I didn't cover an entire concept. Math is like that. Books, BIG books, have been written on the single concept of pi. But perhaps I should have paid more attention to the example we were given before we started. It was a storyboard about the conflicts in the Harry Potter series. Silly me, that's far more complicated.