Hello, reader! If you intend to post a link to this blog on Twitter, be aware that for utterly mysterious reasons, Twitter thinks this blog is spam, and will prevent you from linking to it. Here's a workaround: change the .com in the address to .ca. I call it the "Maple Leaf Loophole." And thanks for sharing!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Review: "Mathematical World"

Full Title: Mathematical World, Exploring Mathematics through Photographic Images
by Richard Phillips, published by Key Curriculum Press, 2005

My school purchased this CD for $31.95 through

Why I ordered it: I want to use more photos and videos with my classroom projector, I really do. But I have a crappy digital camera, no camcorder, and I am usually not observant enough to take good pictures, anyway. And when I do see something promising, I never have my camera. So when I saw this CD that promised "185 full-color photographs [to] stimulate curiosity and challenge students to reflect on the mathematics at work in the world around them", I high-tailed it over to the department secretary and asked her to order it for me.

In a nutshell, the CD delivers with its sheer quantity of winning photographs that any math teacher would be able to put to good use.

When you put it in your CD drive it starts up its own little program which you use to browse, search, show a "large" version of each picture, and print pictures.

The Goods

  • You can browse thumbnails of all the photos easily.
  • Easy to print a hard copy of a single photo.

  • All the pictures are high quality and are clear when projected on my screen. What you want the learner to be able to see is easy to see.

  • Most of the photos have what I would consider an acceptable level of difficulty and interesting-ness for high school. I'm not sure it would be as useful for middle school.

  • Pictures have cultural and international flair including architecture, signage, storefronts, and measuring devices. Example:

(I know I'm breaking ToS or EULA or whatevs here, but a review without at least a few examples would be ridiculous, and I tried to copy a really small, low-quality version that wouldn't be very useful. Don't steal this. Go buy the CD. Also, if anyone yells at me to take these down, I totally will. But I hope you don't mind the free advertising.)

  • For many concepts, there are several pictures using the same concept with varying difficulty. Example:

I quickly scanned the pictures and tried to group them into categories. Some of these are overlapping, but here goes: tesselations, symmetry, rotational symmetry, proportion, solids & volume, angles, "guess what this sign in another country is trying to tell you", measuring devices & instruments, sundials, fibonacci in nature, 3dimensional packing, "find the pattern, write a rule, and extend", perspective & vanishing point, comparative measurements, estimation, slope/rate of change, circles.

The Annoyings

  • The commentary and suggested questions that come with the pictures are on the lame side. Because they are either just stupid ("How many right angles do you see?"), but mostly because they give away the store ("The bottom layer is a 16x16 square!")

  • The search functionality is limited. If you don't happen to search for the first word in the title the publisher gave the photo, you are out of luck. Photo browsing doesn't seem to be organized by concept or any other method. This just means you will have to scan the thumbnails to find what you are looking for. Not that big a deal, to me.

  • There is no easy way to copy the pictures digitally, for obvious rights-management reasons, I suppose, but it makes it hard to, say, superimpose a scale or grid. You will have to rely on some method of screen capture if you'd like to use the photos anywhere else on your computer.

  • You have to have the CD to run the program. No installing it to your hard drive or shared drive.

Worth the money. Buy it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Math Teachers at Play: February Break Edition

I had to laugh when I saw this new feature at Let's Play Math called Math Teachers at Play due to the current state of my coffee table:

Taxes done? No.
Windshield wipers replaced? No.
Snow-capped octahedron? Check.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

5 of 52

Mr. D is doing a neat little project at I Want to Teach Forever called 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons. Week 5 was provided by yours truly after sitting through a particularly frustrating presentation by a software vendor. Consider submitting something yourself!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Song for February Break

Dina, I see you a Drive and raise you a Driver 8. Get some rest, Peeps.

Yesterday Was a Good Day

  • Post-observation meeting with Administrator went very well. He thought my lesson was effective and complimented me on my relationship with the class. We spent most of the time talking about new things I am doing this year, my ideas, and my professional development plan.
  • A guidance counselor related that a student told her he was doing well in my class because he likes me and finds me easy to understand.
  • I have a not so secret edu-admirer.
Sometimes reinforcing encounters in our daily lives are rare. Seize opportunities to tell teachers that you appreciate them! It means the world.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Become a Teaching Expert


I read.

I read ALOT.

I read novels, non-fiction books, news articles, journal articles, Salon, blogs, and horror shows masquerading as mathematics textbooks.

This paragraph by Peter Norvig, first read, I don't know, a couple years ago, has stuck with me. I have it tagged and revisit it every time I feel like I suck at teaching math, to remind myself that four years is not long enough. Freaking Mozart: age 4 to 17. The mother-flippin Beatles: 10 years between clubs in Liverpool and Sgt Pepper. etc. The lesson, besides TEN YEARS, is PRACTICE WITH QUANTITY.
Researchers (Bloom (1985), Bryan & Harter (1899), Hayes (1989), Simmon & Chase (1973)) have shown it takes about ten years to develop expertise in any of a wide variety of areas, including chess playing, music composition, telegraph operation, painting, piano playing, swimming, tennis, and research in neuropsychology and topology. The key is deliberative practice: not just doing it again and again, but challenging yourself with a task that is just beyond your current ability, trying it, analyzing your performance while and after doing it, and correcting any mistakes. Then repeat. And repeat again. There appear to be no real shortcuts: even Mozart, who was a musical prodigy at age 4, took 13 more years before he began to produce world-class music. In another genre, the Beatles seemed to burst onto the scene with a string of #1 hits and an appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964. But they had been playing small clubs in Liverpool and Hamburg since 1957, and while they had mass appeal early on, their first great critical success, Sgt. Peppers, was released in 1967.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Why I Can't Get the 9th Graders to Stay After School

Apparently, at the middle school, if your average in any class is a D or F, you get assigned to "Extended Day". These students have to stay after school in a particular room for tutoring from teachers. There is a huge stigma around it. No one wants to even be seen near the extended day classroom at the end of the day. The kids are getting a message that "staying after school" = "you are stupid". This is probably the same reason we can't get kids to come to the Learning Support Center. They are afraid of being perceived as needing help. I wonder if any other schools have found a way around this problem. Maybe we should change the name of Extended Day to "Basketball Practice" and start calling the Learning Support Center the "Auxiliary Library".

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

What I Did Today

Don't blame me, it was Sam's idea. Was kind of fun, actually.

My Workday
Tuesday February 3, 2009

1st (planning period)
1. polished smart notebook file for algebra 2 lesson
2. wrote algebra 2 test for friday
3. edited students' warm up sheet so that it would waste less paper
4. sent both to printer and picked up. graphs printed weird.
5. edited test file and re-printed.
6. walked both upstairs to office to sent out for copies.

2nd & 3rd - 7. taught algebra 2 classes how to graph y = a*sin(bx) + c and y = a*cos(bx) + c

4th (while precalc class was taking a test)
8. talked to new student about what she had already done in her previous math class, worked out plan for her to catch up to new class
9. sent smart notebook printouts, calendar, and review sheet for next precalc unit to printer
10. end of period: showed substitute using my room 5th & 6th how to open the files he needed on smartboard laptop computer

11. ate lunch, chatted with colleagues
12. picked up precalc unit packet from printer and walked upstairs to send copies

6th (learning support center duty)
13. polished smart notebook file for algebra 1 lesson
14. asked around if anyone needed help with math
15. left early due to overwhelming cafeteria food smell/loud chewing noises.
16. wish that they weren't allowed to eat in there.

7th & 8th - 17. taught algebra 1 classes how to factor ax^2 + bx + c where a > 1

After School
18. Supervised 5 students working on MathNotations contest
19. Simultaneously typed calendar and worksheets for next Algebra 2 unit
20. Sent work for student on Out of School Suspension to counseling office
21. Wrote an administrative referral for a girl who cut 7th period
22. Talked to colleague about faculty meeting about budget that I missed
23. Graded some quick-checks from today and makeup tests
24. Started grading precalc tests
25. Stayed until 5:00 with group still working on contest problems (even though contest ended at 3:45)

All I can say is thank goodness I don't have to stand around and make copies. Also, my as-yet-unrealized ultimate plans for ultimate organization would make some of this take less time.