Lets All Share Our Awesome Math

So as I said in a previous post, Spring Break is my chance to take a moment to reflect and see what I can do better. Thanks to all of you sending me articles and my network of resources, I have had no shortage!

One theme that mysteriously keeps coming to my attention is the lack of richness in our curriculum. In one of BrokenAirplane's earliest posts, I encouraged all of us to aim for the highest level of application as the end result of our student's learning. Now in the last couple of weeks, I am seeing great posts from thoughtful writers about how shallow our textbooks and assignments are.

In this one, Frank speaks about how the Khan Academy is actually reinforcing our shallow model of education. I agree with his point if teachers are allowing these "tools" to be the complete math curriculum. It would be like going to a cooking class and spending weeks learning about the mixer, the oven, baking soda, etc. and never actually making a cake.

While on the other hand, I teach at a school which does not track and I have 9th grade students who are ready for Trigonometry and others who never understood Elementary Math. Using ALEKS and Khan Academy occasionally (<20% of class) has dramatically improved their confidence in their skills and participation in class discussions.

Another source of this mathematical meme came from Republic of Math and describes the difference between contrived and real problems. Contrived problems are a poor attempt to compel the student to care when the only purpose of the word problem was to wrap a story around a calculation problem. Kirby Urner has said before that we need to tell better and bigger stories and we will find that math is a part of that bigger story without having to make some contrived reason up, and just a couple of days ago, Dan Meyer spoke about the need for strong narrative to drive critical thinking.

The other part that keeps rattling off in my mind comes from my "Is Calculating Math?" post about Conrad Wolfram's exhortation that we stop the trend of 80% class time teaching/learning to calculate. I agree 100% and yet I am now finding myself overwhelmed. I am asking you out there for help at getting better at mathematical modeling. If you haven't watched the TED Talk, check it out here.

According to the Mathematics for Teaching Blog, mathematical modeling breaks down into 4 categories:

Empirical modeling involves examining data related to the problem with a view of formulating or constructing a mathematical relationship between the variables in the problem using the available data.
Simulation modeling involve the use of a computer program or some technological tool to generate a scenario based on a set of rules. These rules arise from an interpretation of how a certain process is supposed to evolve or progress.
Deterministic modeling in general involve the use of equation or set of equations to model or predict the outcome of an event or the value of a quantity.
Stochastic modeling takes deterministic modeling one further step. In stochastic models, randomness and probabilities of events happening are taken into account when the equations are formulated. The reason behind this is the fact that events take place with some probability rather than with certainty. This kind of modeling is very popular in business and marketing.
All of these are applications of mathematical knowledge and I want my students to do it more than they are. The Internet is based upon the idea of sharing and not reinventing the wheel so if you have had success in your classroom with Challenge Problemsprojects, or any other application of these ideas that you think would be suitable for 9th grade math students I would greatly appreciate it.
I am aware of the great resources out there from Dan Meyer, Ben Rimes, ASU's modeling instruction and the like. As I said, I am not so much concerned about the pedagogy as the questions. At my school we have teams of humanities/math teachers and I yearn for my students to talk about math class the way they do after leaving my partner's class. Sure they talk about the cool thing they just did with Arduino or Python but I want to help them see the bigger picture and allow puzzles and math to be a source of fun and thought for them not just frustration.

I am tired of looking through textbooks and sifting through websites hoping for great math. There is nothing I like more than walking around and having a great idea for a project or problem come to me, but I would love more. Basically, I am asking for your "Awesome Awesomeness" as one of my colleague put it. Please share it in the comments or tweet it using the hashtag #AwesomeMath.

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