Sunday, 28 July 2013

MAT: TMC 2013 Day 3 - Enlightenment

Previously: A blurb about arriving on Day 0. Then full out postings for Day 1 and Day 2 - in same-day fashion, for those of you following after the fact. Let's keep at it. Welcome, blog readers, to Day 3 of Twitter Math Camp 2013.

I woke up about 8am, before my alarm, I don't know how to fix this. Headed out after 8:30. I'd noticed a campus coffee shop yesterday - but not that they were closed on weekends, so no breakfast. Whatever, math is my food. Got to the main room in time to see people putting finishing touches on the origami Dragon Curve.

Measure once, fold twice
I'm aware of at least the following people helping out Ashli (@Mythagon) with the specifics of it: Tina (@crstn85), Glenn (@gwaddellnvhs), Megan (@mgolding), Elizabeth (@cheesemonkeysf), Max (@maxmathforum), Edmund (@Gelada), Mary (@MaryBourassa). And of course congrats to all the people who were wing and pinwheel folders. If I missed giving someone credit, let me know.

My Favourites Session:
1) Heather Kohn (@heather_kohn) talks Texting Olympics. She gets students to bring a phone to class, two events: Sprint (straight texting) and Hurdles (includes odd syntax and punctuation). Used for scatterplots and lines of fit as students are timed. They must fix mistakes for it to count. It's a way to collect data they're invested in (and to show how including punctuation isn't a huge time difference?).

2) Megan Hayes-Golding (@mgolding) talks Global Math, which presents Tuesday at 9pm EST. Straw poll shows only about a dozen in room have never been to one. This Tuesday, plan is to recap the TMC conference, so if you found something compelling, let her know, you can talk for 5 min. Just avoid in-jokes, idea is to bring this experience out.

Jennifer's helping Sean with his
Lion King impressions.
3) Jennifer Silverman (@jensilvermath) talks Liu Hui, a third century Chinese mathematician. He split the cube, eg. one third is a Yangma, and Jen has nets for his solids. Held together with magnets, which she tossed out into the crowd. Math Munch (see also Justin yesterday) talked rhombic dodecahedrons lately, so she had solids for that too, and referenced tetrahedral numbers.

4) Greg Hitt (@sarcasymptote) talked dogs doing archery. Wait, no, he talked about playing his ukulele in class. Read his post for more details (don't be uku-lazy), but in brief, the idea is to put a psychological barrier in place. Students will be more inclined to talk to each other if Greg is "busy playing his ukulele", yet not tune out entirely as if he's on the other side of the room. Question cards also came up, the idea that you can only ask a certain number in a day or week? Anyway, in conclusion, noted that accordion music doesn't work for this.

Announcements followed about flex sessions and room changes, then we headed out for morning sessions. Ended up chatting briefly with Lisa Henry (@lmhenry9) in transit, about "making the leap" to talking with people. Which has to be on one's own terms. First, one needs a comfort level with themselves, and what they might have to offer. More on this later.


9:30-11:30am but morning sessions today weren't for subjects. I was hesitating between the High School Mathalicious session and David Wees presenting Powerful Ideas via Programming. Went to the latter for two reasons: Wees did a great 'My Favourite' yesterday, and he tweeted out a link to his slides this morning, which I had a chance to glance at, and was further intrigued. Was there with Raj Shah (@drrajshah), Cal Armstrong (@sig225), Ilana Horn (@tchmathculture), Jasmine Walker (@jaz_math) and Justin Lanier (@j_lanier).

David started with the big question of "Why do we teach mathematics?" Skills are forgotten. Moreover, supermarket math, when turned into quizzes, causes a drop in responses by 60%. He then posits eight big ideas, noting how math is to see structure, as well as to network and make connections. Referenced the image of "This is Not a Pipe" - because it's only a photo, AND because it's a single item out of a million we would classify as "pipe". (For smoking or plumbing, for instance?)

From there, an online program called Blockly. Has a turtle, sort of like Logo, but others likened it to Scratch. Noted Scratch is more object based, this is more procedural. "The algorithm is where the precision is, not the language." The first program we see - David says he has taught to kindergarden students. He walks the code out for them, and how often can a kid of that age tell an adult what to do, and the adult DOES it? Upshot: Students can code before they read.

Can Wees do it? Yes, we can!
Then another program, session gradually stepped up the complexity, which was good, as earlier material became procedures. The middle was just difficult enough to get me to play around with the interface, and the "cheat" documents for the harder stuff as we ran out of time were useful. Each program also related back to a "why" concept. One program calculated out the root of 200 with increasingly accurate predictions; David showed graphically why, and Raj suggested incorporating that visual too.

Jasmine brought up something she does with students. Outside of class time, she has them program a TI-83 calculator to, given four points, return the type of quadrilateral. A common bug is when the program divides by zero (on a vertical line), which she doesn't help them with. A number gain an interest in computer science.

I end up talking a bit with David after it ends, as he wonders about feedback; think I said what I just posted above. One element not raised was student ACCESS to computers; guessing it wasn't a problem for attendees as it wasn't raised, but might bear scrutiny. He also shows me how computers draw a parabola, namely using acceleration and velocity - and so how is an exponential drawn? Something to think about.

I get a message from Sean (@SweenWSweens) about song discussions, so that's where I go to talk at lunch. Only one food truck in the immediate vicinity is open, so I go there - egg and sausage sandwich works as brunch. Briefly overhear Sam Shah (@samjshah) and Chris Robinson (@absvalteaching) talking about Mathalicious lesson planning. The group starts not with the standard but with an idea, then whittle it down to a standard... hardest thing can be to "leave some elements on the table" if they don't fit. Also, saw a very brave rabbit.


1pm, My Favourites Session:
1) Peg Cagle (@pegcagle) was going to talk Origami 101 but the Michael Pershan (@mpershan) Mistakes session yesterday gave her another thought towards truly building exponential concepts. She handed out tissue paper, and did a table for #folds & #layers... but ALSO #folds & top area. The top area was defined as 1 first, then as folds occurred, modeled exponential DECAY. Peg (btw, also on the board of NCTM) demonstrated she could get folds down to 10, said student minds can be blown when they realize they're holding over 1,000 layers, and noted analogies can be done with the height.
Addendum 1: In Japan, only babies fold on surfaces.
Addendum 2: The origami Dragon Curve on the wall is related to folds, but they are 90 degree folds, not 180.

2) Anthony (@aanthonya) demonstrated a writing pad, which connects to the Smartboard. You can hand it to a student, have them write on it, and the work will appear at the front of the class. Available for $50 on Second part was mention of Remind101, a method for texting students which doesn't involve account info sharing and can post texted homework right to a website.

Warning: Graphic content
This was followed by Eli Luberoff (@eluberoff) the founder and CEO of Desmos, a graphing calculator app. He started the presentation with an ode to everyone, flashing up tweets and blog notes, saying they print those at the company to post in their office. They don't have a single sales or advertising person. They get other companies coming to talk with them since teachers are advocating their product instead of texts. He introduced others at Desmos too.

The app itself is constantly being upgraded. Eli says they never add a button to the interface unless they think really hard about it, so that newcomers don't see it as complicated. It also works even if you're not connected to the internet (with HTML5), so as long as you went to the site (and don't refresh), you're good to go.

Eli first demonstrated the problem of a $5 coupon and a 25% off coupon. If you apply each to a $36 item, order matters - but is it the item cost, or the size of the percent, or... "This actually raises way more questions than it answers." So input two functions, then demonstrate f(g(x)) and g((f(x)), which gives a couple parallel lines. Change the constants (like $5) to be slider values, and - animate! This is a feature coming before mid-August. He actually hit play then went to sit down to watch with us.

Second activity. Balloons and measuring tape, recording data for # breaths & circumference. I was in a group with John B and Judy. Once points were made, question of what model to use: Root? Log? Spoiler: f(x) turns out to be the cube root. Demonstrated how a third column could be added, y-f(x) to show the residuals of the data points. Desmos has also recently added an 'nth root' feature.

To close, there were some quickies, such as making draggable points on a curve, (a, f(a)); parametric graphs like (sin t, cos t); and the favourite graphs section as made by users at In questions, Geogebra and GeoSketchpad were raised... for now, those apps create equations given a drawing, while Desmos creates drawings given equations, though lines could be blurred in future.

After things wrapped up, talked to John Berray (@johnberray) a bit more about some things I'd tweeted previous night. Kind of agreed that atmosphere is very Give and Take, which can lead one to worry "what did I bring?" and not wanting to be all take. But what does the individual offer? I know unless I'm addressed individually, I rarely step forwards, just stand there awkwardly. Part of the "leap" referred to with Lisa above.

There may be more introverts here than anyone realizes. If you're one, particularly one who has concerns, and maybe isn't comfortable speaking up given the atmosphere of OMG YAY, feel free to use me your voice, anonymous or otherwise. Just mail.


On to the next session, and like the morning, I was waffling between a couple of them. (Curiously, didn't do much of this previous days, one always felt ahead of others.) I decided on "Copernican Mathematics" by Sandra Miller (@sandramiller_tx) mostly because a lot of people already seemed to be going to "Effective Group Tasks". Hence I figured I could ask those others about it later.

And then I was the only person in this session.

Yes, in a stunning reversal of my situation from Thursday, I was Sandra's entire audience. Which prompts two reactions. First, enlightenment as to the fact that this can happen to anyone. And second, concern over whether other tweeps would even have been aware of these couple instances if it weren't for me blogging about them. I think there's an issue here. Personally, I believe that if you're passionate about something, and the appearance is that 100 other like-minded people aren't, it's a bit soul crushing.

That's just me though, back to Copernicus. I got to do an activity that Sandra runs in her Geometry class in the last few weeks of school after testing concludes. She often scaffolds it a lot, and had removed that element to see what could be figured out without it. It involves finding distances using old school (and circular) methods. Quick pre-test for you: Which planet is roughly halfway between the Earth and "Pluto", aka the limits of the solar system? Probably not what you think.

Two key things struck me here, the first is that there's a lot of proportional reasoning involved, and second that tracking units turns out to be really important. Both elements that seem straightforward when you know what you're doing, but I didn't, and was having trouble parsing Earth days and Mars days. (I blame lack of sleep, but students also suffer from that.) Sandra was very patient with me. Overall it was cool, and quadrature is a fun phenomenon.

We wrapped it up at the end with a brief mention of escape velocity, and I learned that astronomy isn't in the US curriculum. I'm trying to remember if they kept it in the Ontario Grade 9 when it was switched over several years back. Sandra also mentioned there is a southern conference in February, the SEEC (Space Exploration Educators Conference). She has been to it, and it tends to be more science and middle school teachers, despite the fact that you get to go to NASA and see things like them detonating explosive bolts. Needs more math! I found an article here. And did you know there was an all astronaut band, the MAX Q? Yeah.

Can anyone drive standards?
The last session of the day was a "flex session", only generated during the conference. I attended Jasmine Walker's talk on Standards Based Grading (SBG). It apparently blossomed out of the talk "Using Google to Manage your SBG workflow" with Jamie Ryske and Ashli Black on Thursday... the idea of Hybrid Plans. This session also served to enlighten the Canadian on what goes on in the US. When I asked, "What constitutes a pass?" I got answers ranging from 60% to 67% to 70%: It's not consistent!

Jasmine started by having everyone answer three questions, 'What do you do now?'; 'What works well?'; 'What would you like to improve?'. The main issues that came out of the first half were: 1) Spiraling how; 2) Overwhelmed by number of options/systems; 3) Creation of retakes and tests vs skills; 4) Too much grading; 5) How to communicate system to kids/parents; 6) External constraints; 7) How to align to common core; 8) Students who don't retest or count on the system.

These were addressed in the second part. Bowman Dickson (@bowmanimal) apparently has a good Prezi explaining things. (Someone want to link that in comments?) Was thought Daniel (@MathyMcMatherso) had some discussion of synthesis. The "I'll just retake" attitude often not a problem once it's realized it's more work, or can make 10% of mark pegged to it and unchangeable. Retesting can be tracked easily with mark of 70.1 then 75.2 instead of 65. When an Online Gradebook is required, can keep two books. ActiveGrade is a good SBG markbook (behind a small paywall).

Don't allow granularity, just assign 3 (on 0-4 scale), since retakes will happen anyway. Don't allow "tutor" on a topic the same day as an evaluation. Create a bank of quizzes on the standards (use random index cards?) then a culminating project or task. To ensure reassessment, make 90% the highest grade until second evaluation. Build in "quiz time" and each student can just take whatever quiz they're ready for at that time. Other tweeps with posts about this: Frank Noschese (@fnoschese), Shawn Cornally (@ThinkThankThunk) and Kelly O'Shea, who teaches physics but has a good explanation.

That wrapped up, from there, back to the hotel - and a fire alarm that apparently went off about 5:30pm, just before I arrived to hang out in the lobby. Once firemen had wandered about and given an all clear, I headed out for dinner with tweeps who were there.


Dinner was at "Salento" as recommended by Max Ray; in fact of the 11 of us, me and him were the only guys. Though in Jasmine's session, Matt Owen had also been the only other guy in the room, so - par for the course? I learned the meaning of the "double factorial!!", some behind the scenes on "Infinite Tangents" and "Global Math", and I posit that approaching a group of a few people in person is harder than just tweeting something. Artichokes were had, and plates were served semi-symmetrically.

Elizabeth also had a thought about the diversity problem I mentioned in my blog yesterday. Perhaps some sort of kickstarter, to raise money to ensure that people can come to TMC who might not otherwise be able to. One other item that came up is how the hour long afternoon kickoff slot seemed to be a "promoted" one, as it was filled by: Our host, then Mathalicious, and then Desmos, but this vibe was probably not intentional.

Spent most of my cash this evening. Chatted with Max a bit about writing on the walk back. Then, back in the hotel lobby, from Glenn and Raj, heard the story of math tweeps who ate at a pizza place, were advised by a server there to have their gelatos at a place where his girlfriend worked, and then who proceeded to do some singing telegrams back and forth. Sweet?

Came up to my room about 9:30pm or something, and started in on this post. Which has taken me four hours. Derp. Sooo, has this been useful to anyone who couldn't attend? Or for that matter, who could?

New business cards reciprocated:
David Wees, Raj Shah


  1. You know I'm enjoying your blog updates of a conference that I would enjoy if I was on the other side of the pond. Maybe you could take a carboard cut out of me around with you all day to give me the #TMC2013 feel (and let's be honest, you wouldn't need that much cardboard as I'm a midget!).

    Keep it up, man!

    1. Chris! Great to hear it, thanks. Don't know about the midget thing, but then I suppose you're sitting down in the videos I've seen. Comment readers, if you are a maths geek, you should be following him, his twitter handle is his blogger profile ID there!

  2. One thing I like about this, in addition to the helpful reminders about what actually happened each day (math camp was such a blur for me!) and learning about sessions I wanted to attend but couldn't/didn't, was the introvert perspective. Being on the planning committee made me part of a lot more conversations than I might otherwise have been, and I tried to be available for conversations, but you might have noticed my natural inclination is in the hanging-back direction. One thing I value about online communication is that it's easier for me to take the leap and join at Twitter conversation or comment on a blog; I think that's true for many of us and wonder how TMC would be different if the planning committee contained a higher (more representative?) proportion of folks who lean introverted.

    1. Yeah, the main reason I did it was for the reminders (for me!) followed very closely by trying to bring the conference out to those who could not be there. It wasn't something I planned to do either, I just found myself with time where I felt more comfortable in my room and thought it would be the most productive use of that time.

      As to introversion, I almost want to do a full post on that... I guess it's coming through in the writing, I have no idea? I am certain that online communication is easier - because it's implied public, while a group of a few people talking in person is (to me) implied private. Even in the context of a setting such as this. And while I did pick up on your inclination, it's more in retrospect - with so much stuff going on, you don't really notice the guy in the corner, even if you're a guy in the opposite corner. Funny thing, life. An interesting question there about planning too - I don't know, would it be different? I certainly appreciated having over an hour for lunch to decompress, whomever's idea that was.