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.


  1. First, let me say that Petr Beckman's "History of Pi" is an AWESOME book! I love it.

    Second, let me recommend "The Number Devil" by Hans Magnus Enzensberger. I think you could use it with 7th graders.

  2. I say we just follow the instructions of the traffic signs around here and forget it

  3. ugh! How frustrating. No wonder there aren't enough math teachers.

    "History of Pi" looks pretty interesting... mmm... number theory! I'm such a geek.

  4. Could you use story problems as examples of different forms of reasoning.I am not exactly sure what I mean but certainly set theory could be used as different form of reasoning.

  5. Gretel- There are tons of very interesting math stories on many levels (and I will be borrowing your History of Pi), but the problem with standards based teaching is that I am not sure when there would be time to introduce reading them into the curriculum.

    Anonymous- hee hee hee!

    Sara- If you go to and search for pi a ton of interesting math books come up (well and The Life of Pi, which isn't a math book, but is also a pretty fun book to read!)

    Mom- yes you could use story problems and set theory as different ways of reasoning, but I'm not sure how you would go about making a storyboard for different types of reasoning. Or even if I did come up with that storyboard if I would run into the same trouble. Because I'm not sure classifying or showcasing different types of reasoning would be one concept as well...


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