Monday, 3 March 2014

Nov PD2: Subject

November 2013 was a good month for Professional Development. I attended four sessions, each with different audiences. Finally, I'm getting to blogging about them.


The Ottawa-Carleton Public Board has one PD day during the year designated for subject-specific PD. All math teachers meet at one school, all science teachers at another, et cetera... or all history teachers visit the War Museum, whatever the subject council has pulled together. Normally that day is in February, after the insanity of semester turnaround. With the province forcing "unpaid PD days" on teachers this year, the day was shifted to Friday November 15th.

Given the change, there was an earlier than normal call for presenters. I offered to repeat my "Musical Mathematics" 75 minute workshop from last year. I checked off both sessions 1 and 2, noting I'd be fine to present in either... resulting in me presenting for both. Which is fine - just didn't think there would be that much interest, and you won't see as much in this post about other sessions.


We were at Glebe high school, where things started with Bruce McLaurin making welcoming remarks. Then my first session. 6 people were signed up; 2 showed. A 100% increase from when I did this last time, at TMC! Then for the second session, 5 were signed up and all 5 came. Neat.

Pic of Bruce from later that day
If you want the music links and things I went into, just send me a message. What follows is a few random thoughts. (Which actually held up this post for two months. I'm not good at random thoughts.)

1) Creation time. I gave them time to try to create a few couplets or verses of their own. This went better in the first session, as the two people were more interactive than the five. There was some resistance to trying it, but in the end one remarked "This is ridiculously entertaining. I may have to get them to do it." So groups and pairs is probably a good thing to integrate.

2) Staying topical. I had a few videos showing rhyming (from Whose Line) or misheard lyrics (cdza) connected to songwriting. Someone remarked that they weren't necessary, seemed like I was "filling time". I see the point. Part of the reason I didn't show as many math videos this time was that I had created a 10 minute clip show version. That may have been an error in judgement.

3) Student elements. Last time (before TMC) that I did this, there'd been the valid question of what students got from it. I brought along one student rap this time, and (if memory serves) mentioned that the June feedback hadn't included anyone who found it detrimental - though that could be due to how I phrased the question. I need to jot down more of the anecdotal things, I tend to forget them.

Anyway, people seemed to enjoy it and found me enthusiastic. Was also the first time I taught the same thing twice in one day since... I don't remember when. Incidentally, someone mentioned "Calculus: The Musical", anyone heard of that?

Between the sessions, I also learned that, at the Data Management session, there was an attempt to get a network going of the teachers - made a note to sign in with that. Some of the other sessions were also posted to the Math folder in our Board Mail program (which is where I got one of John Katic's handouts "More Gems and Insights").


Lunch was a chance to connect up with math teachers from around the board. I remember chatting with Mary Bourassa (@MaryBourassa) about Twitter Math Camp (and my uncertainty about going, which I later blogged about). There were a few others (like Sofya?), but of course I didn't think to write this stuff down at the time, so, oops, apologies.

Then at 12:50 there were then three "rapid-fire" sessions... 15 minute sessions run by various teachers who were just showing an interesting aspect of what they were doing. (For instance, @JPBrichta talked about Desmos.) I went first to Bruce McLaurin's session (@BDMcLaurin) on "Letting Go of Units". I had seen some of this idea back at OAME (and last month posted about my first attempts at it in the 3U course).

Bruce questioned: "Why do we stick with units?" Structure. Routine. To test related topics. New question: "What's the advantages of letting go?" Using current events. Connecting across strands. More opportunities for problem solving. (Versus "I will use an exponential model, because this is the exponential unit.") Also apparently can create more time; less stalling for everyone to be on board, lends itself to differentiated learning.

Evaluation becomes more activity based - which, I admit, is where I have difficulty, because activities are well outside my comfort zone. The cycles aren't planned in advance either, it's more "I'm getting nervous that it's been almost four weeks with no trig". That said, I was trying to mess around with the underlying principle in 3U, as I said.

Alex highlights some discoveries
Second session I went to was "Questioning" with Al Overwijk (@AlexOverwijk). Central to the presentation was an activity whereby a number of objects were presented to the class. Groups were made, given their own coloured pens, and they came up with questions related to the various items. (For instance, empty timbit boxes from Tim Hortons, where a question might be "Why are there no timbits?") Then they placed checkmarks next to what they thought were the BEST three questions, and WHY.

A few things came out of this.
1) There was difficulty articulating the WHY. What MAKES a good question - what are the criteria? For instance, having it relate to the subject matter is only one aspect. The idea that "we don't know what to do right away" connects, though does a good question need to be something that can definitively be solved?
2) The fact that students ask great questions - but don't necessarily rank them highly. For instance, with a starfish toy that grows in water, a great question was seen to be "What's the volume of the starfish?" as opposed to whether it's actually 600% larger.

Students also struggled with some of the collaboration, and listening aspects. A suggestion was to get the next student to paraphrase what someone else said before talking. In the end, better questions were asked later in the course, and there was definitely the idea that questioning is a skill that takes work.

Andrew discusses equality
The third and last session I went to was "Mathematics and Science can coexist!" with Andrew Cumberland. He presented us with a handout containing a set of questions as "a starting point for future and enduring questions" about the nature and applications of numbers. It was framed as whether you saw certain equalities as True or False. For instance: "a = A"; "1 = 1.00000"; "1.0 m = 1.00000 m"; "-1.0 m < 1.0 m".

We were given time to come up with our own thoughts, then share with our neighbours. Needless to say, we didn't always have the same answers. Obviously the idea of significant digits comes in, but if -100 is less than 1, physics is a problem... the negative merely describes direction! One could also argue that 'm' is a variable, as opposed to being a unit of measurement - or at least I brought that up, being contrary.

Andrew addressed us at the end, asking us what is the nature of measurement, and abstraction. He said that one teaching method is: Come in with a prompt. Let students talk it out. It evolves into discussions. Things are never just true or false. Even "equal" may not mean what we think in some contexts. Things here could have become psychological or philosophical, but that was the end of the fifteen minutes.


That was also the end of the PD Day, evaluations were filled out and we went on our way. So, given it's just over three months later, what still resonates?

What I mostly remembered (before actually checking my scribbled notes) was that cycling is good, good questioning is hard, and decimals (to me) remain a more scientific measure. I should also possibly find a new thing; while I'm enthusiastic about math and music, I'm not sure it's a draw beyond my enthusiasm. That said, I'll be presenting a variant of it with Michael Lieff at OAME 2014 in May.

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