Wizard math… day 2

November 5, 2009 at 10:42 pm Leave a comment

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WE’D LOOKED at the sequence generated when you take a hexagon and steadily add more hexagons. It gives a linear rule. Some students got this easily, others found it challenging.

For 20 minutes the task was to work through a handful of similar problems in the textbook.

The issue was how to give an extension challenge for those who could easily do this sort of problem. Jo Boaler in her What’s Math Got to Do with It?: How Parents and Teachers Can Help Children Learn to Love Their Least Favorite Subject advises open-ended problems are one solution. She also argues that so-called low-ability students benefit from doing hard problems, or, at least listening and eventually participating in finding solutions in mixed-ability group discussion. Talking math is learning maths. The higher ability students benefit by explaining their thinking to other students.

challenge_diagonalsOn the board I drew a square with diagonals drawn in red, a pentagon with diagonals drawn in red, a hexagon with diagonals, a heptagon and octagon, also with diagonals drawn in red. I also put up an incomplete polygon labelled n. I numbered the polygons 1, 2, 3…

I also wrote: Challenge question, spot patterns, how many red lines?

Breanna was out of her seat immediately counting the lines. Within seconds she announced the number of lines coming from each vertex was the same as the number above the polygon. Then she sat down. So? I asked.

“I can’t do any more,” she replied. I explained she needed to write down her discovery so she had something new to look at and work on to get the next step. No, she said.

Shane was busy counting lines. Rebecca stared at the diagonals in the heptagon and octagon and said it was too complicated. “What about this one,” I said pointing at the pentagon “start here… what you find out here will work for those.”

Breanna had started to build a table. “Breanna,” I said, “tell the others about how you counted the diagonals.”

Shane spotted the number of sides of each polygon was 3 more than the number above the polygon. Breanna explained the number of diagonals was the number of vertices multiplied by the number of lines coming out of one vertex. “And the polygon labelled n?” I coaxed. “The number of sides is n + 3,” said Jonathan from the other side of the room.

Robert who had earlier struggled with the basic exercises, sat watching the board and listening intently to the discussion on Breanna’s table .

As others finished the textbook exercises I drew on the board a 4x4x4 cube made up of 64 small cubes. Next to it I wrote, “if the cube is painted, what proportion of the small cubes have paint on them?”

Stopping the class, I focused everyone on the new problem. On our wall we have a list of Polya’s problem-solving strategies. I pointed to the list with my hand next to “Make it simpler”.

Shane was walking from desk to desk debating with other students the number of cubes. Rebecca asked, “you paint the back too?”

Jonathan and Nick were back and forth at each other, Jonathan slicing out invisible cubes in the air with flattened hands. Nick drew out the net of cube and cut it out: “Look,” he announced, beaming, “I’ve made a cube.”

Jonathan just wanted to explain how he had worked it out, how he got the total number of cubes, how he excluded the cubes inside the large cube, how he decided to not to double count cubes with paint on more than one side… all the time his hands slicing out cubes in the air.

What are the dimensions of the cube? I asked Jonathan. 4 he responded. 4 what? 4 times 4 times 4. How would you write that? 4 to the power three… 4 cubed… Oh! he exclaimed as a giant lightbulb flashed in his brain.

As the students left, Jonathan and Shane were still telling each other about how to solve the problem.

“Do you want to see my work?” said Robert showing me the textbook problem he had completed. “I saw you watching and listening Robert,” I said. Robert smiled.

The Calculus class tries the polygon problem to relax after an intense hour wrestling with implicit differentiation. OK, I say, tell me the number of lines in the 99th polygon.

Becci runs to the board closely followed by Jared. Megan is shouting how to count the lines, but Becci and Jared are engrossed in mathematical disagreement about how to move forward. Josh, Jordan, Jesse and Nicole sketch out the pentagon and hexagon.

Soon the room of nearly 20 students is loudly split between those insisting the rule includes (n −3) and those who say it is (n + 3). As agreement settles on (n + 3), good-natured boasting and mocking ensue.

But, everyone was talking math. And talking math is learning math.

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Entry filed under: Pedagogy, Thoughts from the classroom, What's on the PiFactory blog.... Tags: , , , , , , , .

Wizard math Lakatos, the Jack Kerouac of math

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