Archive | May, 2013

Just Do It, Even if You Really, Really, Don’t Want To

18 May


This article, titled The To Motivation: Giving Up, by Olive Burkman, a writer for New York’s The Guardian, resonated with me.  The basic idea is that the key to being motivated isn’t psyching yourself up to be motivated, it’s just taking action–even if in you’re head you’re saying things like, “I hate this.  This sucks.  I’d rather be anywhere but here.”  The idea is twofold: the process of taking action will lift you out of your doldrums, and that often what stops us from moving forward is the idea that we can’t do something until we feel like doing it.  Somehow, the need to feel “passionate” about what we’re doing (which was originally inspired by the idea that feeling strongly will get you through hard times) has become a barricade.

This need for emotional engagement before action connects to the American style of praise and happiness.  We’re very concerned that children feel good about themselves.  Praise=confidence=feeling good and being productive=success=happiness in the American equation of life.  But what if we reversed the formula?  What if being productive=feeling good=happiness?  How many times have we said, “I really didn’t want to do that, but I feel really good now that it’s done” ?


Equity and Mathematics

17 May

Dan Meyer put together this talk from Uri Treisman at the NCTM conference in Denver.  Treisman puts together a series of statistics showing the US’s math performance relative to other countries, but he goes on to disaggregate the numbers by poverty level, and then by poverty level and state.   His message: poverty is important, and we don’t control poverty, but access to learning is also important, and we can influence that.  His talk is a call to math educators, and educators everywhere, to focus on what we can control.

Treisman manages to point out the incredible growth the US has made in mathematics education, and at the same time sound a call to arms to take control and do more.  Along the way he slips in stories of Boeing and the NYC police department, quips about Texas vs. California, and more.  It’s a great talk.

Perspective Taking: Internment Final Project

12 May

To wrap up our unit on the Internment Camps, I wanted students to write a diary from the perspective of a Japanese American child living during the WWII period.  The diary had four main events: the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when notices of relocation went up, life in the camps, and coming home.  We spent almost a month delving into what life was like during that period, and I wanted students to be able to take all they knew and put it into the final project.  At the same time, I recognize that any writing assignment adds an additional layer of challenge to students, and an assignment like this one requires students to use narrative skills, historical thinking and writing skills, and editing skills.  It’s a tall order.  How to support them?

We ended up brainstorming as a class for each section.  Students first talked in small groups about how a Japanese American might feel after an event like the Pearl Harbor bombing.  Then they shared out, and we created a group list of words such as, “Devastated, afraid, sad, uncertain.”  Working together, they then came up with thoughts someone might have, and finally they brainstormed facts they knew about Pearl Harbor, such as the fact that it was a military base and that it was in Hawaii.

The final notes looked something like this.

photo 1 copy

Armed with these brainstorming notes, students then wrote their entries independently.  Students shared their favorite parts each day, so they could hear each other’s work and get inspired.  It was fun to see ideas zoom through a classroom.  One student had the idea to quote from the radio announcer for the Pearl Harbor entry, “This just in, we have reports that Pearl Harbor has been bombed,” and I saw the impact reverberate through the room.  Quotes from radio announcers began to appear in other entries, followed by quotes from Roosevelt, quotes from parents, and so on.  Each piece was unique, but I could see how the group brainstorming and sharing sessions had supported them in including as much detail as possible.  Here are a few final products!

photo-30           photo 2   photo 4photo 5

photo 3

Building Perimeter

5 May

Area and perimeter have always been a doozy to teach, not because the concepts are so difficult but because students tend to mix them up.  When we get into problems like “keep the perimeter the same, but create the smallest and largest areas you can,” their heads really spin.

Enter the popsicle sticks.  It turns out that popsicle sticks are the perfect perimeter building material.  They could take the number of sticks they needed to represent a given perimeter (like 12) and create different rectangles.  Then they would count the squares inside and find the area.  You know an activity is a success when your strongest mathematicians want to build, and your struggling students are successful.



Afterwards, students transferred their work to graph paper and wrote about which perimeter made the largest area.


photo 4

We had a discussion afterwards about what kinds of shapes made the largest areas (fat ones–the closer to a square, the better)and what kinds of shapes created the smallest area (long and skinny.)  Some students also came up with mathematical ways to create create shapes with a certain perimeter besides guess and check.  They discovered that for a perimeter of 14, for example, you need to create a shape with two sides that add up to 7, which then doubles for the opposite 2 sides.  Not all students were ready for that logic, but it spread through about half of the class.  Area and perimeter really lend themselves to building, we’ll have to do more in the future!

Some inspiration for May…

3 May

Rita Pierson says it well in this Ted Talk, Every Child Needs a Champion.


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