Prelude: Zipper to Zipline

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If you’ve been in education for any length of time, you’ve no doubt heard the buzz around terms and ideas like “hands-on activities”, “student engagement”, and “real life problem solving”.  In my opinion, these descriptors are often used to categorize the magical moment of learning that sometimes happens in classrooms.  If you’re lucky, you know this moment.  It’s a beautiful thing to see and an even more wonderful one to experience personally.  This moment is often characterized by smiles, energy, focus, conversation, and “ah ha” types of exclamations.  It doesn’t happen as much as we’d like though.  Just walk into a typical math classroom and you’ll see that, often, students seem apathetic, teachers seem harried, and learning seems scarce.  The inordinate amount of time and effort spent on testing and remediation for re-testing has made this scene all too typical in the United States of late.  Don’t get me wrong, I know there are exceptions and I know that sweeping generalizations serve a limited purpose.  However, I also know that I’ve walked in many math classrooms over the last several months and I see this unfortunate scenario played out more often than I’d like.  So, what’s a teacher to do about this problem?

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I’ve written before about my love of “maker math” -- my own term for a fantastic combination of math content, problem solving, and making.  I could cite all the research supporting the efficacy of problem-based learning, inquiry, and student-centered design but I’d rather just say, “I’m a teacher and it works for me and my students.  Why don’t you try it and see if it works for you too?

Today’s blog will describe another “maker math” activity that you can use to create a classroom environment where your students are excited, interested, and learning.  Like most maker tasks, this one involves a bit of preparation and planning on your part, a collection of (low cost) materials for your students to work with, and a willingness to “trust the process” (flashbacks to therapy anyone? *grin*).  No, seriously, though, you do have to trust that, even if your students do not complete worksheets 1-4 on Standard 8.9, 8.10, 8.11a, and 8.11b, that they ARE learning.  

Real, honest to goodness learning about important skills like communication, verification, attention to detail, precision, and meeting conditional requirements.  Not to mention REAL problem solving.  You know the kind, where there’s a, uh, problem, and you have to solve it.  Like when you’re out camping and the zipper breaks on your tent flap and all you have to fix it is an old paperclip from the bottom of your backpack and a pocketknife.  Just take a moment to note the important differences between that, a true example of “real-life problem solving”, and what passes for the same in the math classroom.  

Did anyone appear in your tent to tell you the first step in solving this problem?  

Did you have a handy formula or chart to utilize?  

Is there only one acceptable method of zipper repair available to you?  

Will you be evaluated on the process you utilized or on whether you fixed the zipper?

But I digress.  :-)

No, actually, I’ve decided this is an important point.  So much so, I’ve created this “prelude” blog to the post I originally sat down to write.  (Hello, creative process, nice to see you again.)

Awesome quote:

As my students worked with me to invent our own version of student-centred learning, we realized that the three questions every student in our classroom had to answer were: What are you going to learn? How are you going to learn it? How are you going to show me your learning? This became our mantra — our framework for learning.  This is what it means to give students “control over their education.”

http://shelleywright.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/the-flip-end-of-a-love-affair/

LOVE this post about the struggle & being tired:

http://shelleywright.wordpress.com/2013/02/18/i-struggle-lessons-ive-learned-from-being-an-inquiry-teacher/

As always, I'd love to hear from you.  

References:

Student Engagement blog:  http://shelleywright.wordpress.com/2013/01/11/the-problem-of-student-engagement/

Beautiful example of reflective practice & the changes that can result:  http://shelleywright.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/i-used-to-think/

It’s ok to be tired:  http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/3677

History of PhotoVoice:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photovoice

PhotoVoice site:  http://www.photovoice.org/

Rimwe's Math Board on Pinterest

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The Solver Blog

Author:  Dr. Diana S. Perdue

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