Tuesday, June 20, 2006



I taught my last lesson of the summer today, and while I’m glad to be done, I do enjoy teaching. The topic was absolute value, something I had done well during the year. I tried to plan for it last night, but was more or less useless when it came to doing any work, so I gave up until this morning. (I also didn’t blog last night, so this post is a bit late. Did you highlight my name, Ben?)

Dave Molina let me borrow Radical Equations, a book by Bob Moses, describing the Algebra Project – a movement akin to the Civil Rights Movement pushing for mathematical fluency among minorities. To summarize, algebra is the new enfranchisement. Anyway, Moses’ whole idea is to teach algebra on field trips, specifically, on the T in Boston. There are obvious links to distance, displacement, direction, and the like.

This morning I decided we would take a trip down the halls. Our “field trip” consisted of three stops. First we stopped at a poster with the word “equality” written on it. My students discussed the idea of equality in mathematical terms. We then jumped off to the more general meaning of equality. They came up with examples, counterexamples, and explanations of various situations in which equality a central issue. Next, we walked to the trophy case and talked about the many ways in which basketball relates to math. They had to read some old newspaper clippings to ask questions of mine and, of course, we talked about the Dallas-Miami game that is on tonight. Our last stop was a poster with the word “inequality.” We had the same discussion about inequality that we did about equality.

One student was asked to write down anything interesting he saw or heard, while another student was counting the number of steps we took in each direction. Other than these two students, nobody else was required to do anything but take part in the discussions.

When we came back to the room, I drew a one-dimensional (line) picture of the trip we took. I labeled each stop on the trip and we briefly summarized what we talked about at each one. The step-counter filled in the number of steps in each direction on the picture, and I proceeded to ask a few questions leading in to absolute value.

How far was our end point from our starting point?
What was the distance we all walked during the trip?
Why are these answers not the same?

In all, the trip idea was successful. Math students need to move around and do things, even if the teacher is a good lecturer. And this got them thinking about distances in very real terms. After that, the link to absolute value was easy.

You dirt bag...not really I just wanted to say that. Maybe you'll look at the comments on you blog and read this, but probably it will be hard to do that while leaving rubber tracks across highway six on your way out of MS. ANyway I don't have your email, but you need to see this site http://www.wikihow.com/Calculate-Pi-by-Throwing-Frozen-Hot-Dogs it will feed your obsession with pi. Further more email me so I'll have your utterly complex email address.
pjblount @ gmail
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