Tuesday, May 21, 2013

6th Annual Math Circle Summer Teacher Training Institute at Notre Dame

This is the most math fun I've ever had. I went three years in a row, and then decided I had to branch out, and do something else with my summer. (I went to Maria Andersen's fabulous tech training that year.) I missed the Institute so much I found a way to go back the next summer. And I am now officially going this summer! I can't wait to meet all the new people who will be there. My buddy JD2718, for one.

Why come?

  • Math - There will be at least one problem you never saw before, I betcha.
  • Very good food (I don't think it's organic, but it's amazingly good, and there's so much to choose from!)
  • Math - Morning math circles will get your brain humming, and introduce you to a style of teaching and learning that makes me smile all over.
  • Walking all over Notre Dame's huge campus - You'll be tired, but happy.
  • Math - Amanda brings lots of cool books and math toys. I'll be once again trying to make the origami thing that takes 30 or so sonobe units.
  • Great companions - besides our fearless leaders, there's me and JD2718, and Dan Goldner. And you'll meet other great people there, I just don't know who they'll be yet.
  • Math - You'll get to (have to?) run your own math circle session with local kids. I'm a slow learner, and didn't feel like I got it right until my fourth attempt, last year. You also get to watch other people run theirs. It makes it all real.
  • Swimming pools and other gym stuff - I love swimming in the early morning, when I'm still half asleep, because it's 4am here in California. Oh yeah.
  • Math - You can even do math in the evening. We've had some great problem sessions in our dorm in the evenings.
  • Here's what I had to say about the previous years: (I hadn't started my blog yet for the first year), year two, year three, year four, year five.

Are you dying to know the details?

  • Sunday, July 7 to Saturday, July 13
  • $850 includes accommodations and food
  • To apply, email Bob and Ellen Kaplan (kaplan@math.harvard.edu)
  • Official Info on The Math Circle Site

Here's something that bears repeating:
The participants range from folks whose math skills had me intimidated (I am so over that now!) to people who are just beginning to discover the joys of math. We all worked together, and no one expected you to know things you didn't.

Please join us.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

My First App Review: Dragonbox

I just got my very first smartphone. First app I bought was DragonBox. I've heard lots of good things about it, and I think I played around with a free online version a while back (although it doesn't seem to exist now).

It is fun to play with, even though I know my algebra. I still need to test it with kids who haven't learned algebra yet, to see how much sense it makes to them, and how well it transfers to paper-and-pen(cil) algebra.

I did find a few bugs, and I hope the makers will set up some sort of program to get users to report bugs, so they can fix them.

Bug #1 (minor):

Here's the screen. I wanted to subtract a/5 from both sides, but that's not possible. I had to multiply both sides by 5, subtract a, and then divide both sides by 5.

Bug #2 (minor):
I was penalized for changing c+c to 2c. Not sure why.

Bug #3 (bigger):

I divided both sides by x, and got x = 1/3. Dreambox said that was right. But that leaves out the other possible answer, which is x = 0. Yikes! I think dividing by x needs to be a wrong step in the game.

I bought the version for age 5 and up ($5.99) by mistake. I'm looking forward to checking out the version for age 12 and up ($9.99), too.

Even with bugs, this game is great. I'm impressed.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Book Review: Measurement, by Paul Lockhart

In 2002, Paul Lockhart wrote A Mathematican's Lament, a 25-page exploration of much that is wrong with math education. I liked it, but I'd rather explore how to do math education right. Last year he came out with Measurement, a 398-page exploration of mathematics itself. It is delightful, and I want to recommend it to all my students in pre-calculus, calc I, and calc II. I think anyone who has some experience with geometric and algebraic reasoning can enjoy this book.

His publisher, Harvard University Press, put out a short video of Lockhart explaining the difference between math and science questions and why he thinks of math as one of the arts, with the help of a nice geometry problem. The video will give you a small taste of what's in store for you in the book.

If you watch the whole video, you'll notice that he never offers an answer for the puzzle he poses (though he suggests that there are many answers). That would be like telling the surprises from the end of a movie. He doesn't give many answers in the book either.  He does give lots of hints, and shows lots of strategies and techniques. He knows that the joy of math comes from figuring things out for yourself, so he shows us some of his favorite problems and asks us if we'd like to solve them. But he went beyond a mere compendium of puzzles, and connected the problems he shows, taking his readers on a delightful journey though size and shape (part one) and time and space (part two).

Many of the problems posed are familiar to those who study math, like this one:

And many are less familiar, like this one:

All of them are presented in the context of the larger story Lockhart tells.

You'll find the book enjoyable, even if you're not feeling up to solving these puzzles. But the more often you put down the book and pick up your pen or pencil and paper, the more fun you'll have. I only did a fraction of the problems he posed, so I'm looking forward to lots more fun the second time I read it.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Calculus Teacher Extraordinaire: Bowman Dickson

I don't usually do this, and maybe everyone who reads my blog (and cares about calculus) already reads Bowman's blog, and knows how amazing he is. But I've been quietly filing away about half of his posts, and today I just had to tell the world - Bowman Dickson rocks!

I don't save the posts about using whiteboards, even though that's cool, or the ones about review strategies, though you might find something great there. I save the projects (I already do one like this, but am eager to compare to Bowman's experience), models (I want to build these), and cool problems (I used this last week).

I can't find years on his blog, but he's been posting good stuff for at least four years now. You could play around in his archives for hours. His main blog is Bowman in Arabia (he teaches at a boarding school in Jordan). He started a new blog, Bowmanimal180, in September, on which he posts "a picture and a few sentences about every day of class for a whole year." Both are fabulous repositories of great ideas.

I cannot do his blogs justice (got to get on to grading and prep), so do yourself a favor and check them out.

Bowman, I wish my high school math teachers would have been more like you!

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