Thursday, April 29, 2010

Transparent Algebra: In-Class Part 2 of TBD (When are we ever going to use this Wednesdays)

Does this sound familiar?
Student: Mr. Fisch?

Me: Yes?

Student: When are we ever going to have to use this?
Math teachers get this question a lot.



In the past my answer was typically one of the following:
You’ll need this in [fill in the name of the next math course they have to take].

If you go into a career in math, science or engineering, you’re really going to need this.

It teaches you reasoning and problem solving, and that will help you in whatever you do.

I really don’t know.
Yeah, I don’t like those answers much. The problem is, I often really don’t know, other than a vague sense of particular careers, careers that many of my students may not have an interest in. I’m hoping to do a better job of answering that question this time around, and I have a couple of tools at my disposal that I didn’t have last time.

First up, obviously, is the Internet itself, as well as various communication mediums like my blog and Twitter where I can reach out and ask those kinds of questions. While I certainly intend to do that (or, better yet, have the students do that), this post is more about my second option: Skype.

In my previous incarnation as a math teacher, it was certainly possible to try to find guest speakers that could come in and talk to my classes about how they use math. But it certainly wasn’t convenient (especially since my one class next year starts at 7:21 am), and the speaker had to be local, willing, and available. Often if you tried to bring a speaker in, you had to make it more of a big deal in order to justify the event, especially if it involved getting students out of class in order to have the speaker speak once to a large group.

This time I’d like to make it be not such a big deal, but more of a semi-regular occurrence in my class, just part of what we do. So my plan is to fairly regularly invite folks in via Skype to talk with my students (not saying I wouldn’t take a speaker in person, but remember the 7:21 am start time, as well as having to be local and available). Despite the title of this post, this may not always be on Wednesdays (although I like the alliteration of it), and I’m not sure how often to shoot for. My current thinking is that I want this to be often enough that it’s part of what we do, but not so often that it just becomes routine, so perhaps once every 4-5 weeks (still thinking about that).

I’m going to reach out to folks in a variety of places, including universities, companies and my PLN, and try to get folks from many different fields with multiple interests to Skype into my class for perhaps 20-25 minutes or so (depending on the speaker – if they want more time, then I’d provide that, but I don’t want it to be such a commitment that it discourages folks). I’d provide a little bit of background information ahead of time on the speaker and/or their field of work, and then the students will be responsible for researching a little bit more and generating questions they’d like to ask.

While I’m still thinking this part through, I’m considering having the students submit their questions via Google Moderator (part of our Google Apps installation) and then the class can vote up the questions they think are the best. Then when our guest Skypes in they can spend perhaps 8-10 minutes talking about what they do and their use of/thoughts on mathematics, and then the students would ask their questions.
What do you think? Give the voted-up questions to the speaker ahead of time and have them just address it after their intro? Or have the speaker just answer on the fly as the students ask the questions?
I’d also record the Skype call and post that to our class web page for further review by the students, or for their parents or other students who might be interested. I toyed with the idea of ustreaming it to try to allow parents to watch it live to get them more involved, but am worried that I’m taking on too much all at once (second computer, second webcam - adds complexity and stress).
What do you think? Is it worth the added time and hassle to ustream it out to parents?
So, I’d love feedback on this idea in the comments, but I’d also like your help generating a list of folks to contact. I’d appreciate that if you know someone that might be appropriate and willing to participate, or if you are someone who is appropriate and willing to participate, that you fill out this Google Form (also embedded below) and give me a brief description and some contact information. Please note that the results of this are public (and embedded below the form itself) so that others can use this information as well. If you’re interested, but don’t want the info you give to be public, please email me directly instead. I have no idea if this will generate much response here, but I figured it was worth a shot – thanks in advance if you’re willing to share.

The Form

The Results


  1. This sounds great and would love to listen to your results. I was thinking that this would be great as a voicethread also. Each question could be put on a different page and you can invite people to answer the question on the voicethread.

  2. This is a wonderful idea. I have posted videos to sites, but never Skype "sessions".
    I like the idea of not having a set time...but perhaps at the beginning of each unit..or major topic...or maybe just when you find that a person you know "fits" into the curriculum. Please keep us updated as to your progress and critics.

  3. Love the idea, I will volunteer my husband Bern Levesque he is an engineer and crunches numbers all day (and loves it).

    I like the idea of questions ahead of time. I know this may sound odd, but many adults are a little nervous about what a high schooler might ask them. I think it gives your presenter some time to reflect, and even the option to focus their introduction of themselves more closely to the concerns/questions the students asked.

  4. As a past and current hater of math, I very much appreciate some of the explanations of its usefulness and would have really appreciated it back when I was in high school asking teachers those very questions. I knew I was never going to be an engineer, or a nurse, or any other profession that required any more than the daily amount of basic math. As a reading teacher and a student finishing my secondary certification in social studies, I still hate math and cringe to think about those painful classes and the teachers that only passed me to see me graduate. I love the idea that it teaches you to reason, helps develop your growing brain, and is an area worth studying. Some of us are good at it and some, like me, are just terrible. All I ever got for an answer was "because you have to do it in high school. Don't ask if you'll ever use it or not, it doesn't matter, you have to do it now." Not a good enough answer! Kids ask the same thing about social studies and studying history when it's not their cup of tea...we have to be able to justify to students why what we are teaching them is worthwhile to their lives, or all teaching is lost. If there's no value in it, why should they do it? Good for you for going above and beyond. It's worth it!

  5. This idea sounds wonderful! I agree with giving speaker the questions ahead of time. They will feel more prepared and won't feel attacked by all the students and their questions. This will also help the students grasp a more hands on true understanding of Why Math???