Adventures in Aesthetic Computing

I’m teaching three algebra 1 classes this year and I wanted to start the year off with some art projects to fill my classroom. I stumbled upon this idea  developed by Paul Fishwick, while scouring the internet over the summer. It’s called aesthetic computing and it is a great way to turn math into art.  Basically it works like this: You start with an algebraic expression or formula such as the iconic:


You then rewrite the formula in explicit notation, like you would for an excel spread sheet formula: E = m*c^2. Next, create an expression diagram: Continue reading

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Bare Bones Lessons: Human Graph Photo Shoot

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On my bike ride to work today I was thinking about the quote by Bob Dylan, “A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.” So then I asked myself, “What do I want to do today?” I decided that what I didn’t want was to spend all day inside.  Continue reading

Weird Geometry

Warning, this post contains a large amount of links that are intended to open student’s minds and then blow them away. Use at your own discretion.

I started my geometry class this year with some weird geometry activities. The first was this task from the Harvard project, Balanced Assessments in Mathematics. It asks them to imagine life on a cubical planet. Then after looking more at scale, measurement, and the distance and midpoint formulas, we dove into some taxicab geometry with these problems. We then spent time learning about proofs of angles and segments until we could start talking about Euclid’s Parallel Postulate. I started off talking about proofs by looking at Elon Musk arguing that we are living in a game. We analyzed the argument, wrote two column “proofs” to synthesize it. It has been a wild ride and we are wrapping it all up with the lesson we did the other day, and the project we are finishing now. The lesson comes from this one I wrote a while ago where they blow up balloons and do some geometry on them. Here are the questions they needed to answer for this. Continue reading

Wrapping up With Some Social Justice

After doing our project on the X Games, and then doing some statistics lessons like our paper airplane competition, I had my students do a final project on whatever they wanted. I asked them to pick a topic and create a survey. We talked about topics related to social issues, topics for changing the school, fun topics, whatever. But giving freedom to algebra students isn’t always easy. My students have had a hard time with math, and school in general and when they are given the chance to say what they really think, it can get a little unruly. Many of them wanted to talk about immigration issues and I had to listen to some loud rants about racism, which is not normal ground for classroom discussions in math, and can be pretty dicey. Continue reading

Bare Bones Lessons: Paper Airplane Competition

We have three weeks left and my three Algebra 1 classes and I are working on a statistics project to finish off the year. More on that here. To learn about some of the stats concepts, I decided we would hold a paper airplane competition. The idea was that they would make planes that fly straight and far, we would take them outside, and throw them along a given line. It was to be a competition between my three classes. The first problem was to figure out how to make and throw the best airplanes for the competition, the second problem was to figure out which class won. Simple right? Continue reading

I’m Fried. Here’s Some Circles.

It’s the middle of May and I feel fried to a crisp. Like bacon, or fakon, or sopapillas, or beignets, or churros. I have done some research and have found that I am not the only teacher who feels this way. My students, most of whom hated school to begin with, are right there with me, and sometimes against me. I could go on and on about this but that’s what happy hour is for. Instead, I need to write about something that reminds me why I am teaching. I could talk about in-roads I am making with kids in really tough, sometimes dark situations, but let’s keep it light-hearted today and talk about something less important but fun. Here’s a math lesson: Continue reading

Ramping Up the Inquiry

Is real inquiry-based learning possible in a ninth grade algebra class full of struggling learners? If so, what does it look like? Is it rigorous? Can you cover the content?

Here are my quick answers to the respective questions: Of course it is; See below; Yes and schools don’t understand the meaning of rigor (more on that in a future post); Don’t care.

For the past 5 or 6 weeks my algebra 1 kids and I have been working on a project about the X-Games. Specifically we have looked at skateboarding and mega ramps. I chose this project because I currently teach in a school that has a set curriculum and I have to teach quadratics right now. Since the real world application for quadratics has to do with things being launched in the air, I thought the kids could explore ramps and think about what it would mean to bring the X-Games to our town. Continue reading