Lions, Tigers, Math, Biology, World Geography, English, and DIM, oh my!

Okay, I know that title is cheesy…

We took our freshmen students to the zoo last week for their first class field trip and I loved how it wasn’t just a field trip related to one content area, but in our planning we managed to relate it to every class. Here is the link to the assignment: Zoo Student Handout and the explanation is below…just in case you’re going to the zoo anytime soon with students and want to do a similar activity. 🙂

To begin the zoo experience, the biology teacher asked students to research one animal that is at our local zoo and find out how much land area and resources the animal needs to live a healthy life (they have been studying health and wellness recently in biology). Then, in math I had students do this Estimation 180 as a warm up to review how we could estimate lengths and sizes. I explained that at the zoo, they will be using their estimation skills and area calculations to confirm or deny that their chosen animal has enough space. When we got to the zoo, students split up into groups to explore the zoo with the land and resources in mind. The math part of the assignment at the zoo also had students draw the enclosure using points, lines, planes, rays, and line segments if they were in geometry, and write/solve a linear equation about their day at the zoo if they were in Algebra. For the WorldEng (World Geography and English) portion, students were asked to reflect about borders and responsibility of the zoo to protect animal’s habitats. When we returned to school, students read an article about the city’s limitations of our zoo and the historical implications of the area. The next day in their Digital Interactive Media class (DIM), students wrote a blog post about their experience. They were asked to summarize the experience, discuss the area calculations and findings, and respond to some challenging questions about the zoo which forced them to consider multiple perspectives.

I’m looking forward to more opportunities that we can create interdisciplinary learning for students.

Conditional Statements in Geometry and Computer Programming

While planning for the logic unit in geometry a few weeks ago, I wanted to increase the rigor and apply a more meaningful experience to the topic than I had in previous years. In the past, I have had kids do a project in which they found ads in magazines that used (or could be rewritten to use) conditional if-then statements. Then they rewrote the ads to include the converse, inverse, and contrapositive statements. I think this is a fun activity and it is a really great way to have students recognize if-then statements in the real world, however, I began to think that this experience might not be project worthy. I found that asking students to rewrite the statements did not have a lot of meaning to them and some of the mathematical logic got lost when they simply repeated a statement about shampoo or men’s deodorant.

So this year instead, I planned to use the ads as just a warm up by showing students an Allstate commercial and asking them to identify the if-then statements. Then, I started thinking about what else in our world uses conditional statements and how I could make a more meaningful and rigorous project. I realized computer science uses if statements for a program to do something if a condition is met. Several years ago I worked for a company where I used coding, but I knew I needed to brush up on my understanding before I could teach it to kids. In my search to make this project of relating conditional statements in geometry to computer programming, I stumbled upon two helpful resources: Pearson and Khan Academy.

In our Pearson textbook, there are enrichment activities and coincidentally, the textbook had a similar idea to mine for the logic unit. They gave students some code and asked them to identify the hypothesis and conclusion in it. However, they used GOTO which is a bit outdated and not used a lot anymore. So, I held on to their idea about dissecting code and rewriting the hypothesis and conclusion, but searched around for a more relevant platform.

In my mind I wanted students to actually write code, manipulate it, and see it work with this project. I soon found Khan Academy’s tutorials on if statements and as I was working through them, I found that it was the perfect match to what I wanted. The tutorials teach students how to edit code with different scenarios and then students do a similar challenge to try to master the code. In the first challenge that I had students do, they were shown a ball that drops off the screen and they had to use if statements to make it go back the other way, displaying a bouncy ball effect on the screen.

For the project, I created a worksheet for students to use while they watched the tutorials, practiced the code, and performed challenges to see that their code actually worked. It asks the student to rewrite the if statements as a hypothesis and conclusion (similar to Pearson), decide if there is a biconditional phrase, and then also use the inverse code to manipulate it again. (The worksheet is below and a Googledoc is linked here). Then after completing their code, I planned to have them reflect on their work by writing a blog post with two key aspects in mind: Connections: The student can recognize, explain and use connections among mathematical ideas and Problem Solving: The student can apply mathematical algorithms (series of steps), tools, and/or representations to accurately solve problems.

prog 1prog 2
prog 3
prog 4

Finally, I showed my ideas to one of the deans at our school who is much more knowledgeable in computer programming than me to get some of his insights on the activity. He helped me create a short piece after students finish the challenges that helped them pre-write before their blog post. It also helped me create a rubric (below) to guide students as to how I would grade them including accuracy of conditional statements, problem solving throughout the activity, and the written expression of their blog post.

rubric pic

Overall this project went great…it has now become one of my new favorites!! Every student was engaged in the tutorials and the challenges; I saw them have a sense of ownership in their learning because they could self direct and work at their own pace. When students got the code, several of them got so excited and called me over showing off their successes. I also had a lot of really interesting conversations during and after the project…one student said they can now imagine how complex creating a video game would be with all the coding involved. Several students said they understood why their program needed both the if and the then components to make it work and really liked seeing their work actually do something. I am excited to read their blog posts soon (they’re due on Tuesday) and hear how they summarize the project and learning objectives!

Back to School Night: Two of My Favorite Things To Do

We just had back to school night last night with the parents and I wanted to share two of my favorite things that I always enjoy doing. It’s always quick night having to rush through so much information such as briefly explaining about myself as a teacher, the class, expectations, class trips, and so much more, all in about 8 minutes! But no matter what, I will always make time for these two things.

  1. IMG_7198Good News Post Cards: I started this last year and thanks to our bookkeeper, she helped design and print the post cards for me. The picture to the left is the front…yes, our mascot is a globe :)…and on the back is our school’s return address and a space for parents to write their name and address. As parents walk into my class on back to school night, I have them write their name and address on the postcards. Then, before presenting my class information, I explain that I think parents don’t hear enough good things about their students. So, throughout the year we, as a team, will be hand writing them little post cards when their student does something great. I love doing this because I think we all get caught up in some of the craziness of the year, but taking a moment to reflect on the good our students are doing really helps refocus our energy. We plan to write one each during team meetings and sign them from all the teachers.
  2. Parent Note Cards: At the end of my presentation, I pass out note cards and ask parents to write one thing about their student that I might not know, or that they want me to know. I love reading the proud things parents say, the insightful comments they say about their child as a learner, and the interesting facts they share about their kids. In a night of speedy conversations and lots of information, it helps to give parents a voice.

World Geometry

While planning for geometry last week I began thinking about how I could amp up midpoint and distance formulas. After learning the formulas, my students practiced with very abstract points. However, I knew I wanted them to see examples that had meaning. With the help of the English and World Geography teacher, I developed my students first interdisciplinary activity of the year which they named their World Geo-metry assignment.

In WorldEng (their combined World Geography and English class) my students had been learning about Burma. So, I gave them a map of the region with questions where they had to find coordinate points of key locations they had been studying such as Dhaka, Naypyidaw, Bangkok, and Yangon (I learned a lot just from the start of this!!) After finding the coordinates, I asked them to find the midpoint and distance between these locations and draw conclusions based on the map. To make it more complex and meaningful, I added some questions about the scale in miles for students to understand the actual distance it would be to travel from one place to another. The final question asked students to compare the size of the border of Burma and Thailand to other borders of Burma and justify why refugees might be immigrating along this region (something they had been discussing in WorldEng).

IMG_7139I really liked the discussion I heard between students as they worked through the activity. I decided to give each student a worksheet, but make each pair share a map and I think this helped students talk through the locations, make connections, and agree upon their answers. I also really liked how the answers for distance were not exact integer answers. They had to work with tricky numbers and understand if their answers really made sense. Finally, I knew this activity was successful after students commented on how they were combining three classes to do their calculations.