Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Xtranormal – Cool Free Web-based Software

Would you like to have students debate a problem, brainstorm a solution, or teach in a creative an interactive way? Xtranormal is a great option for letting students explore their creative side and verbalizing their understanding in a middle of high school project. There is a free version of the program on the web, but like many other services they have more elaborate pay options. I have found that the free version works fine in my class. Students email me the link to their presentations for me to watch them and I’ll pick a few of the best to watch in class.
Pixar, here we come! Okay, not really.
Students are able to select from a cadre of pre-made character, animate the movements with a simple interface and write the dialogue for the characters to speak. Their lips sync right to the words.
How would I use this in a math class? Very carefully. Obviously this isn’t necessarily the most rigorous project option, but it certain can be engaging. I’d be more likely to perhaps spend one day in a computer lab and assign it as homework for over a weekend. Students will not be crunching numbers, but if you create a strong rubric it can help a student with their verbal expression of the content and help build their vocabulary.

Pose them if you dare!
Obviously without mathematical relevancy, this could end up being one fun complete waste of time. Extending beyond the math classroom, you could perhaps find it as a more relevant tool in another subject area. I have used this in my technology elective. Also at times, I like students to conclude a math project with some sort of analysis presentation whether it be a PSA or a jury trial. This can just as easily be used for those conclusions. How I use class time with this is the careful issue. It is certainly something I’m more likely to ask students to do at home.

Nonetheless, check it out. Who knows? It might help you for your next grad school class presentation or department meeting! Or you can just pass it along to other teachers in your building!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Grade Point Average -- Middle & High School Math Project

An attempt to cure the shortsightedness of underclassmen

It’s Friday. The Friday. The Friday that signals the end of the grading period. Students dig deep in their backpacks, bake a dozen cookies to schmooze a teacher and turn in as many missing assignments as possible before the final bell. The Honor Roll, the basketball team, and everyone’s cell phone privileges are decided on this day. As important as it is, some students are not sure how to calculate their GPA.Perhaps that changes in this new 
21st Century Math Project.

Name: Grade Point Average
Suggested Grade Level: 7-12 (Algebra skills)
Math Concepts: Using Formulas, Solving Equations.
Interdisciplinary Connections: Grades, Academics, Advisory
Teaching Duration: 3-4 Days (can be modified)
Cost: $5 for a 18 Page PDF (1 project and handouts) 
PDF Version: Grade Point Average @ TPT

The Product: Students will analyze transcripts of soon-to-be high school seniors and determine what their grades must be to meet their goal and make suggestions about how they can do it. 

Can I play soccer, dude?

This pains the soul of the math teacher. In this project, students are not just asked to calculate a simple GPA. They are assess the goals of fictional students and determine the grades they will need to reach them. This allows students to solve basic equations and use simple formulas. Content-wise this can be a perfect fit at the end of the first quarter of an Algebra class and could work in a Middle School or High School. However the usefulness of the assignment could assist students at all levels.

In creating the assignment, I have not used weighted grades (colleges don't either!) and I have used 90-100 A, 80-89.999 B... grading scale.

Please help kids understand this. I'm
tired of have 3 kids in our AP courses.

In this 18 page document you will be given a mapping to the Content Standards, an outline for how to implement the project, handout resources for students to use, and an answer key. In all it is three different assignments --

-- In “Grade Point Average” students use report card data to calculate GPAs and determine what grades students need to meet their goals.

-- In “The Hypothetical Game” students will determine the difference between boosting those percentages up in the last week of the quarter. What impact will it have on their overall GPA? Students will find out.

What's college?

-- In “The Transcript” students learn the difference between an “Academic” GPA and the GPA that appears on their transcript. The "Academic" GPA is the measurement that many colleges use which eliminates arts and elective classes from the equation. In this project, students will set goals for the senior years of four different characters to help them achieve their goals. Unless it’s too late.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Election -- Political Science Math Project

Romney vs. Obama vs. Colbert
And here we are by popular demand. My new readers have been pushing me to do something for the upcoming election and I have tried to fill their need with some mathematical goodness in the form of a new 21st Century Math Project. I wrote this project so that it'd fit equally well in a Middle School or High School classroom. Do it before the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

Name: The Election
Suggested Grade Level: 7-12 (Algebra skills)
Math Concepts: Percents and Data Analysis
Interdisciplinary Connections: Politics, Social Studies, Election
Teaching Duration: 2-3 Days (can be modified)
Cost: $5 for a 18 Page PDF (1 project and handouts) 
PDF Version: Election @ TPT

The Product: Students will analyze an alternative method to selecting the President. Students may propose their own alternatives.

What's an Election?
Bring the 2012 Election into your classroom with a few authentic challenges that will push your students citizenship and build Election vocabulary across contents! It's so authentic Obama and Romney might throw down right in the middle of your classroom. Okay not really, but it's still cool!

Students will use the skills percents and data analysis to solve authentic election problems. I have found that students actually no very little about how the President is elected. Most think it's a popular vote. Some have an inkling that the Electoral College exists. For Middle Schoolers and High Schoolers this might be the first election that they've been old enough to know kinda what's going on. Fill a need of democratic citizenship and immerse them for a couple days in Election themed mathematics. In all, it is two different assignments --

-- "Battleground States" -- students will analyze tables and graphs of recent Presidential Election to understand the difference between "safe" states, "battleground" states and the differences in funding and campaign stops between them. Why exactly does Obama and Romney practically live in Ohio and Florida? Students will discover this for themselves.

-- "The Electoral College" -- students use a hypothetical Alternative Method to decide the President! Many take issue with the Electoral College so students will compare the actual results with the Alternative to see if there is any difference in who would have been President!

I listen to my peoples! If you want a 21st Century Math Project I will make you a 21st Century Math Project. Oh yeah... and go vote and stuff. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012 -- Cool Website Spotlight

Need awesome, cool, free clipart that makes you say boomdiggy? Want to tweak it for your own liking for your own high school math project? Want to put your school’s logo on every picture you ever put on an assignment? If you read the blog on Inkscape, downloaded it and learned a little bit about node editing, you are totally ready for the next step -- Even if you aren’t ready to edit clipart, you can still get cool free clipart!

Free. Check. Awesome. Check. Boomdiggy. Check, is an active community where new, free clipart is added daily. For a number of projects, I have used this clipart. Of course, I have to put my own unique spin on it, but it certainly gives a solid base. For instance if a 21st Century Math Project needs me to draw a bonobo, I can find the best looking monkey image on the site and can use Inkscape to tweak it to make it look like my perfect swaggalicious bonobo. At least I didn’t have to draw a bonobo from scratch! 

Please stay tuned for the next bonobo focused 21st Century Math Project in development. Likely to be released in 2031. If you missed the Inkscape blog piece, check that out here: BOOMDIGGY

I might be a chimpanzee holding a wrench, but soon 
I'll look like a bonobo sans wrench.
It’s silly, but adding relevant clipart, using different text AND making a piece of paper look cooler does affect the perception of the assignment. This applies for children and adults. Now don’t get me wrong, if you add a piece of clipart, but don’t understand how to make the text fit around it (Wrap Text: Square with Justified text are my favorite options in Word).

Would you like a little more help with Inkscape? Let me know in the comments and I can get super nerdy-specific with screenshots that can help you get started making your own clipart! 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Making the Band -- High School Math Project

Math, Math, Baby

After a couple years of teaching systems and linear equations, I knew I needed to add some 21st Century Math Project kick. Fortunately, systems are a topic that lends itself well toward practical application. Students will make choices that will affect the launch of their album. Layered with literacy practice, students will make choices within a budget that will affect the cost and revenue of their album. The project builds on itself. After a day of decisions, the next day those decisions may pay depends on the linear equation.

Name: Making the Band
Suggested Grade Level: 7-12 (Algebra I and Algebra II math skills)
Math Concepts: Creating & Using Linear Equations, Systems of Equations, Multiple Representations
Interdisciplinary Connections: Music, Business
Teaching Duration: 3-5 Days (can be modified)
Cost: $6 for a 12 Page PDF (1 project with 3 components) 

The Product: A cost-revenue analysis and determination of a break-even point for a student-created mathematical album where the results can culminate in a class presentation. Performing their song is optional.

This is meant to be a blend of the reality television craze with systems of equations. I've never had a student not engaged in this project. Competition never has been higher. Students attempt to break-even with their record and become profitable in the least amount of time.

Students don't want choice! They want
to do exactly what I tell them to do!
This 21st Century Math Project might work as a Middle or High School math project depending on if you students have experience with modeling linear equations and solving basic systems. Here is the challenge math teachers… student choice and chance is at the fulcrum of this exercise so it is likely that no two students will have the same results. Thus, there is no answer key. The genesis of this project was from my childhood enjoyment from Choose Your Own Adventure Books.

In terms of structure, this assignment will likely be different than anything a student has done before. A teacher will likely need to be very clear with directions and possibly guide students through a hypothetical example before each part of the assignment.

Greeeaaat... another write a song assignment.
Oh wait, you want me to actually do math
and calculate stuff? Okay that might actually
help me on the ACT.
The assignment will start with students coming up with the name of a mathematical song and sketch an album cover (I give this as homework the night before). Based on the awesomeness, of their song name and album, you will give students different start-up costs. Awesome songs cost less to get started. Kind-a-sucky songs cost more.

In the “Financial Document”, students will then make a number of decisions based on descriptions and determine which are monthly and one-time start-up costs and with a little work they will have a linear cost equation.

In “Did They Pay Off”, get the dice ready because chance will play a role. Based on the decisions the day before, there is a revenue benefit but this varies greatly on luck. Wiser decisions will likely lead to higher revenues. Students will use this revenue equation to determine when they will break-even on their project.

This might push me to actually record
my album -- Math Swagg. Aight, that's
actually kinda dope. 
I have included an option “Change of Plans” assignment, because of course things don’t always turn out according to plan. Students will have a random multiplier applied to their slope and will rework their equations to find a new break-even point.

To conclude the project, I have done this differently. I have simply ended it after the assignment was complete and on another occasion I added a presentation component. Student definitely enjoyed presenting their information. If I were to do it again I would have small groups present to each other, nominate a top presenter and then have them present to the whole class. Presenting could also be offered as extra credit.

EXTENSION: Taking this another step could be to encourage your students to actually record the music (Audacity is great and free). Perhaps have a class album.  

21st Century Math Projects can be funky too. Extra funky. Many teachers have students write and perform math songs, and often this might be fun, but not very mathematically rigorous. Why not actually make them do some relevant math too?! 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

CSI: Algebra -- the Complete eBook

The best mathematical eBook with funny
pictures published in the last 6 months.

Nothing like a good criminal investigation to liven up number sense!

CSI: Algebra -- the Complete eBook is a collection of nine different algebraically inspired mathematical puzzles with a little international pizazz. The nine puzzles intend to target specific Algebra 1 units and add a little flair to the ordinary challenge question. 

Name: CSI: Algebra the Complete eBook
Suggested Grade Level: 7-12 (Algebra I and Algebra II math skills)
Math Concepts: Algebra 1 content (listed below)
Interdisciplinary Connections: Too many to list
Teaching Duration: 27-45 Days (or there ‘bouts)
Cost: $25 for an eBook with 9 separate CSI themed puzzles 

I know which butts need kissed
and how hard to kiss them.
The Product: Student conduct an investigation to determine who the criminal is in each case. Teachers have an option of having student present their evidence in front of a jury of their peers.

So I didn’t get a summer school job. Apparently this a political-butt-kiss-person-and-then-butt-kiss-this-other-person type of thing. I am totally above kissing two butts! One I’ll do… but two?! That’s just outrageous. Nevertheless, I realized it was my opportunity to confront the largest elephant waiting in my closet – finishing my CSI eBook. I had three of these puzzles under my belt. My students really dug them. Teachers who bought them really dug them.

They’d say things like:

“Love the activity !!!! Keep up the great work!

“My students love the format of these lessons. Thank you

“I think you're my favorite ever. These are fantastic!

But here’s the problem, they are super-duper time consuming to make. I pick a chapter of topics from a textbook, find a world region that fits the themes from that chapter, research that world region for interesting authentic problem, create cool, interesting authentic problems (and my soul doesn’t allow me to duplicate problem types! They all have to be different), the puzzles have to solve to a cryptic text message, I have to draw funny faces and necessary sketches and then I have to write attempt-at-an-amusing criminal narrative to tie it all together and add swagg. BAAAAH!
Don't you have better things to do?
(Answer --Apparently not).

So there I was with a choice. To be or not to be. Nonetheless, I did it. And honestly, they kept getting cooler and cooler. So then the super anal part of me had to go back to my original 3 and fix them up to equal the cool factor of my new 6.

I mapped the puzzles to the curriculum in the widely used Glencoe Algebra 1, although in my experience most Algebra 1 books line up pretty much the same. The way these projects work is that each puzzle has 6 “scenes” which will uncover a mystery variable. These six mystery variables will be used to decode a cryptic text message and if everything is correct, the result will match one of the six suspects.

Meh... I thought they were aight. A little
hard though...
Based on the experience in my own classroom, students are actively engaged in the puzzle solving element in my CSI assignments. Top students brighten up because it is “something different” and hard to motivate students will pick the pencil to give it a crack. These assignments are designed to be “math-first” projects. By that I mean, the Algebra 1 skill is explicitly what the students are doing, the rest works as window dressing. In my career, I’ve found most math projects I’ve attempted from books are typically not mathematically rigorous enough and the math concept I intended to teach was lost. In my experience, students will complete interesting assignments and I’ve put a lot of sweat into making each of these puzzles interesting and fun.

Depending on the puzzle, you’ll find that some of the problems are hard. Some puzzles may depend on students doing 5-6 problems correct in a row. Lots of word problems. By design, I use a variety of levels of problems to keep a variety of learners engaged and challenged. If you use any of these assignments I strongly such that you help and hint, as you desire.

In this product you will receive ALL NINE different puzzles. I have created these puzzles to map the curriculum to nine different chapters of most Algebra 1 textbooks.

Unit 1 (Australia): Order of Operations, Translating Verbal and Algebraic Expressions, Open Sentences, Distributing, Combining Like Terms 

Unit 2 (Latin America): Square root approximation, Decimal-fraction-percent conversion, Scientific Notation, The Real Number System, Perfect Squares 

Unit 3 (Middle East): Translating Verbal & Algebraic Equations, Solving different equation types, Using Formulas 

Unit 4 (Europe): Coordinate Planes, Domain & Range, Inverses, Patterns & Arithmetic Sequences 

Unit 5 (China): Slope & Rates of Change, Calculating, graphing and interpreting lines, Parallel and Perpendicular lines 

Unit 6 (Scandinavia): Solving & Graphing Inequalities, Compound Inequalities, Solving Absolute Value Equations 

Unit 7 (Africa): Solving Systems with Elimination, Substitution and Graphing, Graphing Systems of Inequalities 

Unit 8 (Japan): Operations on Monomials, Operations with Polynomials, Scientific Notation 

Unit 9 (United States): Factoring (GCF, Distributive Property, trinomials), Quadratic Formula, Graphing and interpreting parabolic graphs 

If you are teaching Algebra 1 and are looking for fun review activities and enrichment problems, I have you covered. Student Satisfaction Guaranteed or I'll give you your money back. 

I have used these puzzles with much success with a variety of students. My own Algebra 1 classes. Enrichment for advanced students. Review for state graduation exams. The puzzle solving hook engages many different students in solving traditionally mundane problems. Be the cool teacher :-)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Tiki-Toki Timelines – Cool Free Web-based Software

Want to hook up that teacher friend with a super awesome resource? Tiki-Toki just might be it. It is my goal that no child ever brings a posterboard with cutout printed Googled pictures to class again. Join me! For a history or English teacher Tiki-Toki Timelines might be perfect solution to your next high school project.
The Time is Now
Using this software, students are able to add events to a timeline that may span the Roman Empire or the Odyssey. Through adding media such as picture of video, students are able to bring their project to life in software that is fully interactive. This software is very easy for assessment. Students can simply email the link to their timeline and you can see it.

What made Alexander so Great?
How does this fit in the math classroom? If you are that teacher that has to do some history of math or that uber cool partly schizophrenic mathematician project – This might be perfect for you. Although I’m not exactly sure if that’s mathematically rigorous or real world relevant it’s so mathematically nerdy that if you can work it – work it.

Although its application might not be great in the math classroom, it could be great for a math department. If you map out yearly plans of units, assessments and all that good stuff, it might be a simple to use alternative for important dates and deadlines.

So check it out and be that cool “here’s an awesome resource idea” person in your building!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Calorie Cruncher -- Diet & Exercise Math Project

Hiking vs. Pizza Hut the epic showdown

Count the calories, make a fitness plan, watch weight, and practice linear inequalities in this fun and relevant 21st Century Math Project. Students will use authentic calorie data from common foods, popular fast food restaurants and also use calorie burning measurements for a variety of activities. In this middle or high school math project, students will look at meals and exercise in a completely different way as they help a cast of characters make dietary choices, plan meals and choose physical activities to remain fit.

Name: Calorie Cruncher
Suggested Grade Level: 7-12 (primarily Algebra 1 math skills)
Math Concepts: Creating and Solving Linear Inequalities
Interdisciplinary Connections: Nutrition, Exercise, Health, Physical Education
Teaching Duration: 3-5 Days (can be modified)
Cost: $5 for a 27 Page PDF (3 assignments, 1 project and Answer Key)

The Product: Using the data provided in the assignment, students will create diet plans and fitness regiments tailored to the needs for five celebrities – all with very different demands.

I didn't know food gave you energy.
As a math teacher, I am use to seeing a wide range of clueless looks. The “kinda-clueless”, the “not sure if I’m clueless-clueless”, the “how did I get to school today clueless”, and on and on… If you really want to get some clueless looks visit the cafeteria and ask questions about their lunch. They can answer “What are you eating?” with great accuracy, but if you follow that up with “What are you really eating?” You get your first clueless look. Someone is bound to remember that the ingredients are on the label. May start to list them. Then you follow that up with a “What is bioforestationoxidefructoseacetaminefine? ( or whatever long scientific ingredient that you feel like pronouncing).  Not to pick on students, you’d get the same clueless look from adults. Heck, you’d get the same clueless look from me.
I hope McDonald's is in the common core.

Again, as is the case with most 21st Century Math Project  the challenge is choosing, appropriate and rigorous math content. When thinking about developing a project around this, I conceptualized it the same way one would think of a budget assignment. Money made, money spent. This thinking led me to developing this with inequalities. To build different skills relevant to inequalities I developed assignments where students are analyzing the choices of others, and then allow them the freedom to make choices themselves.

Although this could be a middle or high school math project (depending on the level of your students), I have grabbed a few appropriate common core standards from High School Algebra

-        --  Solve linear equations and inequalities in one variable, including equations with coefficients represented by letters.
-         -- Create equations and inequalities in one variable and use them to solve problems.
-         -- Represent constraints by equations or inequalities, and interpret solutions as viable or nonviable options in a modeling context.

You know I've got this overhead slide
with three types of inequality problems.
It's kinda dingy, I'll clean it and get it
over to ya.
The final project, creating diet and fitness plans for celebrities is an abstract application that needs some scaffolding. Thus I have included three assignments leading up to it that will help understand the task.

“Fast Food Calorie Count” – Using menus of Fast Food restaurants, students will help five people write inequalities to determine if their lunch is within their daily caloric limit, but the catch is they only eat a steady diet of fast food.

In this assignment, students will understand how many calories people consume and how it rarely fits into a plan that is watching their diet.

“Fitness Guru” – Using data of physical activity, students help five people write inequalities to determine if they will burn enough calories to reach their personal fitness goals.

In this assignment, students will see how much work it takes to burn calories. Most people operate under a misconception of how much exercise they need to maintain weight.

“Weight Watchers” – Using both sets of data, students will help five people write inequalities to determine if they will burn enough calories to reach their weight loss or weight gain goals.

In this assignment, students try to find the balance between diet and exercise to hit goals.
Certainly weight can be a touchy issue with young people on both ends of the spectrum. I’ve intentional written assignments and characters to subliminally go against stereotypes and keep the task focused on the math. 

EXTENSION: An easy extension would be for students to keep their own food journal and exercise log over a course of a week.  

Combat obesity and laziness with 21st Century Math Projects!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sunday Night Scramble -- Special Offer

It's Sunday night, I just made my sandwich. The 49ers offense is really disappointing me. I'm already dreading making the copies tomorrow morning that I should have stayed later on Friday to do. Need a cool STEM project? A relevant International project? Are you teaching 5 preps from Pre-Algebra to Pre-Calculus? Are you dreading these questions because questions only remind you your weekend is pretty much over?

To make this less painful -- I'm offering a special deal. $5 off my 2012 Collection of Lessons. This makes it a round $20 for 10 engaging projects.

Included in this set:

Box Car Derby: STEM Project   Algebra/Algebra 2

Calorie Cruncher: Integrated Health Project  Pre Algebra / Algebra

Combating Poverty & Microloans: International Project  Pre Algebra / Algebra

CSI Number Theory – Unit 8 – Polynomials: STEM Project Algebra / Algebra 2

Facebook, Twitter & the Arab Spring: International Project Algebra 2 / Precalculus

Seven Billion and Counting… Algebra / Algebra 2 / PreCalculus

The Mile Run: Integrated Sports Project Algebra 2 / PreCalculus

Theme Park Tycoon: Integrated Business Project Pre Algebra / Algebra

Wiffleball: Integrated Sports Project Statistics

World Traveler: International Project Algebra (I'm using this one this week!)

Happy Sunday Mathemagicians!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Cost of Smoking -- STEM-based Health Project

Kick Butts, Teachers! Kick Butts Hard.

Utilize tobacco use in an investigation of number sense, linear functions, and scatterplot in this 21st Century Math Project. Students will find out the startling truth behind the amount of cigarettes a smoker may use in their lifetime, the financial cost of the habit (including inflation), as well as the foretold effect on their health. I’ve never had students more engaged calculating math problems! The results of this project can have a lifelong impact on a learner (I’ve seen it)… the best part is they are discovering this on their own.

Name: Cost of Smoking – STEM-based Health Project
Suggested Grade Level: 7-12 (Algebra 1 skills)
Math Concepts: Patterns, Linear Equations, Percents, Operations and Scatterplot
Interdisciplinary Connections: Health, Personal Finance
Teaching Duration: 3-5 Days (can be modified)
Cost: $6 for a 24 page PDF (1 project with answer key) 
PDF Version: Cost of Smoking @ TPT

The Product: A PSA in which students use data they have calculated in their packet to persuade a target audience (elementary kids, smokers, Latinos, etc.) to stop or avoid smoking. 

How am I supposed to quit smoking,
have you seen my 7th Period?
Kick butts with the 21st Century Math Project that started it all. My parents were smokers. When I got to middle school I realized how much money they were actually spending on those stupid little cigarettes. They’d each burn through a pack a day without blinking. Money was tight, I didn’t understand it. Learning about the impacts on their health made me completely astonished. Why would anyone spend some much money to do this to themselves? I convinced myself my best chance to get them to quit was to not just tell them they were bad for them, surely they knew, but I thought I’d point out how much money they would save and showed them what other things we could use the money for. Eventually, they did decide to quit. Why, I’ll never know.

Now as a sixth-year high school teacher, I can better empathize with things like “stress”, I still was at a loss as to the amount of money people spent on the things. In college, project-based learning was emphasized heavily. I pitched an early idea of this project to a class. Developed an idea and took it with me into my first year. While that draft of this project was rough, I still distinctly remember kids being floored by the numbers. Kids want to show their moms. Perhaps a few decided to avoid smoking. Nobody will ever know.

I have used this project in pretty much every class. I can see it being done as a 6th grade enrichment project. I have used it in the first week of Pre-Calculus to assess skills and encourage a take action approach to mathematics. Chances are EVERY student you have, knows someone who smokes. Who knows what affect this project may have on them.

What about weed?
I set up the project to up for a student to calculate data for two states. When I do it, every student does our state, Ohio. This way, when I model difficult problems, we can all work on a problem that is assigned. In many cases, students will do the same problem type twice, increasing repetition and practice. It will also allow students to do a side-by-side comparison. Why are tobacco prices in Virginia so much cheaper than in Massachusetts? This leads to some impromptu discussion.

Every year a student stands to ask about data from other countries. I’d be happy to do it, but it’s difficult to pin down these numbers. That and the prices around the world are also typically much LOWER than in the United States. It’s just something I’ve avoided. I don’t want students to think they should go buy cigarettes from Mexico instead of not smoking at all! 21st Century Math Project Mind Control! A student will also likely ask about marijuana. Sometimes I bring up Starbucks and other daily wasteful purchases. No offense Starbuckers.

How might our class leverage this
information to help the global community?
While it certainly is optional, I have always had interesting PSAs for this project. I have the students choose a specific target audience. Either an age group, ethnic group, etc. And it needs to be relevant to the state that they have chosen. It’s a great opportunity for students to use mathematics to take action. Often I have used this project as a before Winter Break thing so students could create their PSAs over break.

EXTENSION: The wonderful thing about asking your students to create PSAs is that in many cases this is web-based and (depending on your school district, image rights, etc) you may be able to share these PSA with the community. Nonetheless perhaps there will be some bold students to speak out against tobacco!

Mathematical Rigor, Real World Relevancy, and 21st Century Swagg. The three keys to math project success!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Inkscape -- Cool Software Spotlight

Drawing for the artistically skill-less
Can you not color inside the lines? Does pottery melt in your fingertips? Does the word watercolor make your skin crawl? If you answer yes to any of these questions you are just like Mr. 21st Century Math Projects. The Inkscape is for you and may help you create your next high school math project! Well maybe not, but… maybe. If you have ever toyed with a Photoshop program, Inkscape may be intuitive enough for you to pick up. It’s a free open-source software that creates vector art.

As far as I understand it, there are two main image types: rasters and vectors. Most people have experience drawing with rasters. This is like doodling on a digital picture of your ex-boyfriend's face. “Cutting” you out of a picture and putting you in front of the Grand Canyon although you’ve never been there. The major difference is that when you “stretch” raster images the quality of the picture will deteriorate and look blurry mess. Vector art (mathematics!) is created with lines, shapes and data so when you stretch it, everything is proportionally increased. This allows you to make things as big or as small as you like!

Creating a logo, no problem. You draw it once and make it as large or small you like.

Blast off!
So how does this help with 21st Century Math Projects? Pretty much everything in my projects I draw. From the silly faces to application problems to graphs is done on Inkscape. You don’t need to be a professional artist, but you will need to devote some time to learning how to get around the software (although anything that you’ll likely need is pretty easy to do). There are a fair amount of shortcut tricks using some previously created free vector images that can save you some time such as which I will share on the blog later.

Want to become Inkscape buddies? Holler in the comments. If you want some tips or images, let me know. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Facebook, Twitter & the Arab Spring -- International STEM Project

Join the Revolution!

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Globalization in a high school math project? Toss in a scoop of inquiry and that's what you have here. Patterns, algebra and functions get a facelift to the 21st century in this integrated international math project. Through mathematical modeling and regression, students are able to use authentic real world data to consider its real world implications. This project would fit well in an Algebra 1 class (with guidance) or an Algebra II / Precalculus class. 

Name: Facebook, Twitter & the Arab Spring
Suggested Grade Level: 7-12 (Algebra I and Algebra II math skills)
Math Concepts: Creating Functions from Patterns, Rate of Change, Creating and Applying Regression Functions
Interdisciplinary Connections: World Studies, Globalization, Social Media, Current Events
Teaching Duration: 4-5 Days (can be modified)
Cost: $5 for a 22 Page PDF (2 assignments, 1 project and Answer Key) 

The Product: An interactive web-based timeline (or hand drawn if no computer access) which details Twitter data during the Egyptian Revolution along with the timeline of historical events.

What is more relevant than a social media revolution that topples governments one by one? As governments fell, I kept asking myself “Did Facebook and Twitter cause this revolution?” While this is a question I’m sure professors are wrestling with, it certainly can be adapted to my high school math class.

Does this have something to do
with Aladdin?
The challenge is finding appropriate mathematically rigorous content that matches the cool project idea. In this 21st Century Math Project might find its way into a Middle or High School classroom depending on the skills and abilities of your young people. Do not be intimidated math teachers! Learning a little about the Arab Spring is probably good for you too, but I have built the mathematics in such a way that while the task is authentic, it’s independent. In other words that math is still very mathy.

Now the final project is a challenge and probably unlike any math assignment the student has ever done before. Compare data to narrative history? What kind of crazy person would ever think about this? In order to build up these skills, I created a pair of equally social media friendly assignments that are included in this project. I have written introductions to help cement the authenticity of the assignment and provide necessary background information (for you and them)

You mean, like, countries were, like,
protesting for their freedom on Twitter?
I gotta know some more about this.
"Facebook Friend Challenge" -- which focuses on finding patterns, comparing rates of change and projecting into the future.

and "Kony 2012" -- this focuses on the mathematics behind a viral video. Providing a little background on the Kony 2012 video can give your math classroom an international, multi-disciplinary flair. In this assignment, students will analyze a pattern, consider the rates of change, plot the function and make predictions about the future. 

And this leads to the granddaddy: "Did Egypt Tweet Its Way to Freedom" -- focuses on a data analysis of Twitter tweets surrounding the Egyptian Revolution inside the 2011 world shaping Arab Spring. Students will analyze patterns, rates of change and consider the inquiry question. "Did Twitter play a role in the liberation of Egypt during the Arab Spring?" In this assignment students will compare mathematical rates of change with real world rates of change in international conflict. Students will produce a timeline project that provides their stance on the inquiry question and uses mathematical evidence as support.

They won't care about the Middle East.
They can't even find it on a map!
Honestly, of all the projects I wanted to take on this past summer, I really wanted this one to work and I was happy to find the right mix of skills to make it mathematically rigorous enough.

The Copy Machine Diva Teacher points out the legitimate concern. What if my students don’t know what the Arab Spring is? Much less why it’s relevant. My response is two-fold… 1) what in the world have they been taught the last two year? 2) this is a great opportunity for a cross curriculum collaboration. If reaching out to other teachers isn’t in your wheelhouse (give it a try sometime, it’s fun!), I have never been shy about teaching a little social studies, science or health to make my math problem more relevant and authentic. If you are commitment to being a 21st century teacher, I think this is necessary and an area we all can grow. And trust me I’m growing too. Fortunately I have worked in two different schools where I HAD to grow in this way.

EXTENSION: Taking on an academic inquiry question like this lends itself well to connecting with a local university. Professors may be willing to step in for a guest round table or may be willing to watch your best presentation.

Join the 21st Century Math Projects revolution! Authentic. Engaging. Relevant. Sounds like the makings of a solid Justin Bieber song. 

Wolfram Alpha -- Cool Website Spotlight

There's no better example of a  21st Century Math Project than an awesome site, the mathematically famous Wolfram Alpha. Yes, sure Wolfram Alpha will do your class’s homework for them, but the reality is that that only emphasizes the need for higher order thinking. Computers can solve linear equations, but as of today they still struggle with word problem and application. One day. One day.

Until then the human brain has value!
On its way to growing a real brain!

Well okay, not really. When I decide to create a new middle or high school project, Wolfram Alpha is one of my first stops. In particular when I’m attempting to use global data, I’m able to compare countries very quickly. This is particularly helpful when trying to find interesting mathematical problems and it turns into my own personal inquiry project. For instance if I’m trying to build an assign around GDP and exponential functions, if I choose two countries that do not intersect, it makes for a less mathematically interesting exercise. Of course using one problem built around this case, is worthwhile, but if I built the entire assignment where nothing intersects, it’s weird and useless.

Using Wolfram Alpha in cooperation with one of many Online Regression calculators helps rounds ideas into more precise problems.

There is a pay subscription that would make using this tool infinitely more useful, but I have yet to use it. For anyone with a familiar with vector graphics (like the open source Inkscape; more on this in another post) there is a way to get vector exports of graphs on Wolfram Alpha. In order to make it more usuable in an assignment, you may need to tweak the graphic so using a vector program works well.

Nonetheless, Wolfram Alpha is super duper at helping with answer keys!

If you aren’t using Wolfram Alpha, check it out!