I love my nephews and nieces. They are great fun, and there is nothing more fun then getting them to do math. I don’t know why I do this, but I love having them do little things here and there. Count this, count that, what is this plus that? At one point on my spring break my nieces were doing addition practice all on their own and showing me their work! Seriously, what’s wrong with me? I was really intrigued by my niece’s ability to add large numbers together and it has caused me to reflect on the nature of language and our ability to reason.Ones, Tens, Hundreds, Problems?
My niece is in grade 1, and she is adept at adding single digits. With little hesitation she can do her basic addition. She even showed me that she could do things like add 100 + 100. I thought this was really neat so I asked her some questions.
Me: What’s 1+1?
Niece: That’s easy it’s two.
Me: What’s 100+100?
Niece: It’s 200 duh!
Me: What’s 1000 + 1000?
Niece: 2,000 these are easy!
Me: What’s 10 + 10?
Niece: … I don’t know.
She has not learned place value, and therefore her ability to reason this was not developed. I tried to walk her through it. I got her to draw dots, but miscounting the dots led to incorrect answers. I tried having her write out the answers to see a pattern.
1 + 1 = 2
10 + 10 = ?
100 + 100 = 200
1000 + 1000 = 2000
She found the process confusing. I did not know what to do. I’ve never taught math to someone this young. This was just some fun we were having, and then I felt that her confusion might result in a math phobia that would predominate the rest of her life (I may be a bit overdramatic, but I was worried). We decided to take a break from math for the moment, and worry about that problem later, but I find myself still thinking (months past) about that moment.Language and Thought
I remember in my intro to psychology class where we talked about what came first the ability to think or the ability to talk. Can we share thought or elaborate our thought without language? How does language affect our ability to think? Can we even think without language? Are we limited in thought by the language that we are given?
My niece gave a curious example for me to ponder upon. She was able to reason, with ease, how to add hundreds and thousands together, even though she has little understanding of place value. My hypothesis is that she can do this because the language of hundreds and thousands still uses our single digit counting; she is simply counting a unit
that happens to be named hundred. One plus one equals two, one apple plus one apple equals two apples, one hundred plus one hundred equals two hundred. For my niece hundred was just another quantity that we can add together. Ten, however, did not have the single digit number in front of it. We do not call ten one-ten, or twenty two-ten, and she was thus unable to reason it in any way. Why is that? Why do the tens have this magical new way of naming numbers? Every other number that does not require a ten type number, uses single digits (i.e. 1,000,000 - one million; 100,000 - one-hundred thousand; 1,000,000,000 - one billion). Is this a fault in our language of mathematics, or just another hurdle that we must overcome? Is this language deficiency making our sense of place value more difficult to grasp?
I don’t know, but it’s interesting to ponder...
As I have been writing more and more entries I have noticed at the top of my site the ridiculous title “Welcome to Mr. Piccini’s Mathtabulous (and more) site.” First, *gag*, second, I realised that I had created this as a joke when I was first playing around with the weebly editor, and I never changed it. I realised that this title, for me at least, was the Comic Sans of blog titles. I started asking myself, “What is in a name?” This question was first famously asked by the Shakespearean character (like you didn’t already know) Juliet:
And this answer to the question, that a rose is just as fair under another name, could not be any more wrong! Sure objectively if a rose was called by another name, this fact would not change the chemical structure of the flower that produces such pleasing odours, but if we were to name them something different, something that leaves an off putting taste in your mouth when you say it, perhaps “butt demons,” the flowers would lose the sense of class and allure that the term “rose” provokes.
Those better not be butt demons, you know my favourite flowers are barfsies.
When we change the name of something, whether we like it or not, we affect our perception of it positively or negatively. It’s the same reason when I was a child I refused to eat aspic; regardless of how wonderful it tasted, I could not bring myself to try the dish.
Naming, can instill or revoke power from something. Ancient cultures named their children with purpose. If you were destined to be a warrior, you were named appropriately. In the Bible people constantly had their names changed to better represent their job description. The First Nations used names to describe spiritual or physical attributes of their people. In our culture, we choose a name because it sounds “pretty” or “nice.” It is a less profound reason for naming, but the affect of the prettiness of a name plays a role in our selection. Some names have such an emotional connection that when we hear them we have a distinct, involuntary reaction: George Bush, President Obama, Justin Bieber. These names depending on your politics, nationality, and taste in music may present joy, wonder, hate, or depression. It doesn’t matter if they are rulers of a music genre, a country, or the entire world (Bieber) we have gut reactions that these names effect in us, whether we like it or not. This is no different when it comes to the naming of a blog.
Where does one start?
I love the names that I see around me. They are short, to the point, and they usually show an amount of introspection and humour that I appreciate. Function of Time, Action Reaction, A Recursive Process, just to name a few, reflect the connection to these teachers’ passions as well as their philosophy of the vocation of teacher. I get the sense that these are teachers who are forming themselves as people, as well as professionals. They recognise the ongoing process of becoming great teachers without using buzzwords like “life-long learner” (no offense to anyone that has chosen that as their blog name), and that is what I wanted out of my new name.
I wanted my name to say “I am a math teacher and I am clever,” because well you know, that’s important right? Being clever? (Past Timon didn’t read the first part of this blog) I tossed out some ideas like “Guess and Check: An anthology of my problems and solutions” and gave them to Twitter to see the reaction. As soon as I posted them I realised that I had put no heart in them, they were just goofy puns that I thought were clever. I decided to add the nearly self-deprecating tweet:
I waited for responses from Twitter, and it seemed like one person liked each of my suggestions, and then I got this tweet.
David is usually fond of being a smart donkey, so I assumed this was cheekiness and I discounted this tweet (sorry). Then another person chimed in by agreeing with David. I replied to them essentially with, “Really?! That’s a crazy blog name.” David brilliantly said how it was more indicative of what I try to do on this blog and I had to agree. It stuck to me, and I realised that this is where I needed to go.
I struggled with the image. What did I want it to say for my blog? Returning to the drawing board felt like I am constantly failing (it can feel like that at times), and I did not want to destine myself to constantly re-writing everything that I have (Mr. Sisyphus? No thanks). I realised what I want to do in my career is to stay at the drawing board. Re-writing has this feel of once you get it right you are done, but staying at the drawing board seems much more organic, and creative. Coming back to the drawing board implies a lack of creativity when away, staying at the drawing board means creativity is continual and growing. Returning to the drawing board implies that planning and teaching are two distinct processes, but staying at the drawing board means that my entire being as a teacher is looking towards growth at all times. I realised that in my name I wanted to encourage the drawing board; I wanted to symbolise the realisation of what the drawing board should mean for a person: not a place wear we mourn our failures and start over, but where we create our masterpieces. I thus hereby declare that henceforth my blog will be named...Embrace the Drawing Board
It’s not a math pun. It’s not “clever” in the vain sense that I had originally wanted to be. What it represents, however, is a symbol of who I want to be as a teacher, and who I want my students to be as persons. I am not now nor will I ever be perfect. I learn from my mistakes, which means I learn a lot. I do not want to be afraid of those falls and I want my students to see this as a model. The name also acts as a reminder to myself. When I wish to avoid the drawing board, I need to see that only when actively building myself as a person and as a teacher will I find satisfaction and fulfillment in this crazy world of education. Finally, I hope it can be an encouragement for you. May you be able to go to the drawing board not as a punishment or as a reminder of your failures, but as a springboard to your potential. Completely Nonsensical Epilogue
There was some awesome ridiculousness as awesome people were helping me think through these steps and here they are.
- Between the Drawing Board and the Waterboard
- f(drawing board)
- Continuously at the Drawing Board, But Drawing Nothing (honestly how I feel most times)
- Drawing everywhere, and Board Nowhere
- Action-Drawing Board
- Lost in the Drawing Board
- A Recursive Drawing Board
And the winner...
Dan Meyer opened his site 101qs.com some time ago now, and I have to say it has been rather engaging to see what the results have been. You enter the site thinking you have some pretty top notch photo or video prompts that are bound to produce wonder and amazement, and yet somehow you find your perplexity score slowly going the way of the buffalo. At first it was disheartening. You think to yourself how could my amazing collection of gumballs stacked on dominoes in the shape of a sierpinski triangle at the burning man festival not provoke the question, “How can we derive the gravitational constant?” The question now becomes, "Is that the point of 101qs?" What do we want out of these videos and pictures? Do we want everyone to be on the same page or do we want multiples questions to stem from each video? Do we want both? Is 101qs giving us what we want?Clash of the Titans
Over at Dan’s site people have been discussing these last set of questions
and we find, naturally, Dan promoting his brand of “Make the prompt scream the question you are looking for
” and Karim Ani saying, “There are more interesting questions that go beyond a one minute clip or picture
When I read debates from guys like these I imagine this, but with better vocabulary.
I think many of us, including Dan and Karim, find ourselves right in the middle of these two conflicting axioms. On one hand we desire that students seek for themselves. We desire that they personally invest in interesting questions that provoke grand thoughts about life the universe and everything. Yet we also recognize that they are young whippersnappers who have little experience beyond their hometown, school, and even neighbourhood; they may not have the capacity to think beyond the world of their home. We then as teachers must make the hard decision of how to lead them to these wonderings.How many “how many” questions can we put up with?
One of the biggest critiques of 101qs right now is that the questions are too simple.
- How many dominoes?
- How many combinations are possible?
- How many tickets?
- How many gumballs?
These questions have all been taken from the top of our list of most perplexing images. Sure they represent different math (in this selection alone we have rates, combinations, volume, and area covered!), but the depth of questioning is shallow to say the least, and this is coming from teachers, who have
experienced this world and are confronted with questions that affect our humanity and interactions with the world at large. “How many dominoes?” just doesn’t cut it when we live in a world that is torn apart by famine, poverty, super-consumption, and an economy that seems to be hanging over us like the sword of Damocles. We the teachers need to see how we can bridge this gap. Students are certainly engaged by these problems, but how do we turn them, and mathematics as a whole, into more than a daily puzzler? If our subject, and this website, is turned into only a collection of neat little brain teasers, then we have missed the point of our roles as teachers.
Sadly, the interactive iPad version comes out next year.
Finding the Middle Ground
Just looking at the top of my site you will see clearly that I have drunk Dan’s Kool-Aid. I love anyqs, and the whole three act process. I know Dan's framework has directly made me a better teacher, and helped me to focus on more engaging class discussion, but I am beginning to find myself wanting more out of it. In my comment on Dan’s blog
I express that my main answer for this question is that we must understand that 101qs.com, in its infancy, is only presenting the first act of a fuller narrative. We must use these videos as starters to the greater questions. Students want to experience mastery of concepts, they want to feel positive about their abilities, and we can enter these students much easier into this subject that we love so much with a question like “How many gumballs are in that dang machine?” It is fun, it’s nice, and students say to themselves, “I can do this!” Then they take to the math, and they realize, “I need to know a lot of information to solve this. What shape is that thing? Is it a prism? No, it’s a ball shape! What is the volume of a ball?” We enter with our sequels to these stories to propel their thinking, “How many gumballs could fit into this room? Into this whole school?” Students start adapting their thought to new situations, and they begin to see that this one little problem can extend far beyond just this picture.Going for the Home Run
Once we have given students these chances to use their knowledge in differing situations we unload the brain busters. We ask the hard questions, we develop projects from here. After seeing so many of these “How many little things can fit inside one big thing (gummy bears, tickets, dominoes, gumballs, teacups...) the question that has been arriving in my mind is this, “Why do we measure things in g, mL, etc. and not gummy bears, or gumballs?” Get students to debate, and then create their own measurement systems. Have them create conversion charts, and think about how to create a system that measures mass, volume, as well as linear measurement. Have them reflect on the advantages and disadvantages of having their own measurement system. Have them present their measurement systems to the class, have them create lessons about the Billy-Standard-System. Then show them why the metric system is so awesome! They started their journey in the “How many?” river, but they are now swimming in the “What if?” ocean.Where to Now?
Have I pulled this stuff off? Not yet, I’m still young, but I know that this whole 101qs thing is Dan Meyer’s attempt to pull the stunt on us as I want to do with my students. “Take some pictures,” he says, but underneath it all is the possibility to go wherever we want. So yes, if we discount these “How many?” questions as paltry, then that is all they will ever be, but if we keep pushing, we can turn these low floor questions into high ceiling discussions and projects. So grab your camera, grab your phone, and get some first acts loaded. We’ll work on the rest together later.