Monday, 25 March 2013

The Web Serial: Where

This is a multi part blog series. Excuse me, a serial.
1- The History (What)
2- *Teaching Now (Where)
3- My Contributions (Who)
4- Writing One (How)

As for the why, read. As to when: The time is now. Jump on board.


If you're involved in math teaching, you probably already know Dan Meyer (and/or his TED Talk). But for those who don't, here's his blog entry that I'm going to refer to: The Three Acts of a Mathematical Story.

Dan clarifies how storytelling is the framework for certain mathematical tasks. Act One: Visual Introduction. Act Two: Develop Tools. Act Three: Set up the Sequel. Hey, it's just like a serial! Right down to my pull quote from last episode:
HYPER: "Damn it, ArcTan, why am I still
going on about visuals?! I mean, really!"
"Illustrations were also an important feature of serial novels and Victorian artists, like John Everett Millais, were well known for their illustrations for serial fiction."

What's old is new again, and many educators out there are already nodding their heads and saying "tell me something I don't know". Here's the thing. I was seeing the 3-act format as an entire novel, an entire movie. Or perhaps that we start with the real world in Act One, hook in the maths for Act Two, then release back to the real world for Act Three. Except, I'm pitiful at real world applications, I'm so much better at the pure maths. Second, I feel now a single 3-act is only one piece of the novel.

To start with, it doesn't seem like it HAS to be applications. (Possibly it's better if it is, but we're not all at that level.) It's with this realization that I discover, in my own small way, I'm incorporating it. Or... maybe I just like to think I am? But here's one scenario: I'm wrapping up a unit on exponents. Traditionally, I start this with some models, shift to the exponent laws, then representations, then consolidate back with more application questions. (Kind of a three act, if a sucky one, since it lacks investment.)

This time, I motivated the negative exponent by asking what happened before the first model began. I didn't have a keen Act One visual, but I think it's something. It led to division, and the idea of exponential models going into the past, with negative exponents, involving division. THEN we go into exponent laws, and the idea of starting with 1 and dividing, making a fraction, rather than multiplying. Staring with 1 because, in the pattern, that's the zero exponent, that's what we have right now. Better than before? Maybe?


So, yes, as I said, the actual 3-act is a serial. While the math course itself is the novel. (The next grade level is the next in the series, if you bought in. Though you really need to understand the characters in THIS course, in order to understand the sequel, or you'll be all "what do you mean the Expona/Logan relationship is like Parabola/Root?") Of course, I realize here we're forcing all the students to read this math book series until at least age 15. Because Shakespeare! Anyway.

My point is, because teachers are faced with the challenge of curriculum, and they HAVE to get through this novel... they're faced with the decision of which serials to present and investigate, and which ones to summarize owing to time constraints. Not only does everyone have their own opinion about that ("You can skip over this bit about the Time Turner, it's cool but not relevant to any of the later books"), a good 3-act serial itself can fit somehow into the broader context - not just of the real world, but of the course itself.

As such, I think it's the individual teachers that provide the course throughput there, and that arbitrarily tossing in a 3-act could be as confusing and damaging as suddenly reading a chapter about a gruesome murder in the middle of your romance novel. There's a finesse here I'm still trying to grasp.

Now, I'm hardly the first math teacher to make storytelling connections (and maybe the analogy works better with history), but... I suddenly think I'm less inclined to get down on myself for what I'm (not?) doing. A quote that often comes to mind when I see what everyone else is putting together out there is Picard to Crusher, in the TNG episode ETHICS:

"Beverly, he can't make the journey you're asking of him. You want him to go from contemplating suicide to accepting his condition and living with the disability, but it's too far! The road between covers a lifetime of values, beliefs. He can't do it, Beverly. But perhaps he can come part of the way."

Of course, if you decide I'm off base here, tell me. Change my story.


The other facet of education that's getting bigger and bigger involves collaboration. In my previous post about History, I noted how blogging is effectively an autobiography in progress, one that others can weigh in on. This is the culture of today.

But other websites are taking this further, they're creating a serial that involves different authors writing subsequent "chapters". You don't even necessarily have to have read all the previous parts in order to contribute. Look at what's happened in just the last six months.

Exhibit 1: Estimation 180. The site went up in October 2012.

Exhibit 2: Visual Patterns. The site began in December 2012.

Exhibit 3: Productive Struggle. The first post was January 2013.

Exhibit 4: Daily Desmos. The first graph was March 2013.

Exhibit 5: Infinite Tangents. The first podcast was March 2013. A recent show there mentions other initiatives, like global math.

At this point, I think I'll let the sites speak for themselves, but there's probably some elements of those "ongoing novels" that I should be using for my own purposes. (Possibly even contributing to.) As to what's next, there's currently talk of some sort of database for assessments and evaluations. I might have my own contribution there too, serial style, but to end on a cliffhanger, I'm saving it for my next entry! See you in two days.

Do you see this sort of thing happening in your career as well? Because as I've said, I think there's an entire cultural shift going on here. We're on the brink.

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