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Week 5: YOUR tech week revolutions

Part 1

Name the topic you will lead for a week, based on the discussions of previous two weeks: If someone picked the topic you wanted, you can:

  • Devote two or more weeks to the topic and explore it in-depth, each of you focusing on a different aspect of it, or
  • Talk among you in comments to this task, and pick alternative topics

If you find it hard to pick a topic, remember: you can actively help as many people as you want with planning their weeks! And of course, you get to do all the tasks in all the weeks.

Part 2

Find a controversy, a dilemma, a long-standing conflict or a recent scandal related to your topic. Briefly explain the nature of the conflict. What are the sides saying? Why?

There are usually intellectually honest, smart and dedicated people on all sides of interesting controversies. I am yet to see a conflict between "the good guys and the bad guys." But people have different research frameworks, philosophies, or beliefs about learning. There are also political and economic conflicts of interests that underlie some dilemmas of mathematics education. Explore these deeper research- or practice-related reasons for the issue you pick. 

Task Discussion

  • Katherine Hanisco   Feb. 17, 2013, 10:19 p.m.

    Part 1: For my week, I really want to focus on math related to space exploration. I have a ton of thoughts and ideas, but I’m a little worried that the focus is too much on the science and not enough on the math, so any feedback on whether this is too much science and not enough math is welcome! As I mentioned in the original post about our topic ideas and one of our group meetings, I really love how NASA and other space related organizations/individuals are using social media to connect with young people in their language. One example is this recent tweet by the official Curiosity Rover twitter about how to take selfies on Mars, which I think is both hilarious and very smart.

    One of my thoughts that I mentioned in week three was to somehow use current space missions as a source of learning opportunities for math and physics. The New Horizons spacecraft (which also has a twitter) is scheduled to reach Pluto in 2015, and this website is a rich source of information and data about the mission. In response to my original post, Dr. Droujkova talked about how NASA is very dedicated to openness and even provides raw data to the public, so I think there are many ways to create math activities and projects that are not only related to space exploration in general but are also related to real-life current space missions.

    Part 2: An ongoing controversy related to space travel is whether or not it is important enough to warrant public funding. There is a constant fight for funding of curiosity driven science because the benefits are not easily quantified or immediately realized. Just yesterday, I read this article about the Large Hadron Collider and how understanding quantum physics is related to understanding the universe, and I was completely blown away by all the comments on the article talking about what a waste of money this project is.

    I don’t know if anyone is familiar with Brian Cox, but he’s a particle physicist who works on the Large Hadron Collider and an outspoken proponent of the importance of science funding, in particular, curiosity driven science. Here is a video of him giving a TedTalk about the importance of space exploration. My husband and I are both fans of Brian Cox (he’s hosted a couple documentaries that we really enjoyed about space and the world around us – Wonders of the Universe, Wonders of the Solar System, and the currently airing Wonders of Life) and after reading that article and all the negative comments yesterday, we had a long talk about the general public’s disconnect between funding for something like the LHC and real benefits to humanity, when the reality is that that kind of research could quite literally change the world in ways we haven’t conceived of yet.

    The controversy of funding for space programs and other curiosity driven science is related to both public interest and politics, which is why I think the way NASA gets into kids’ spaces and speaks their language is so smart since those kids are the general public and politicians of tomorrow. A lot of kids love space when they’re little (how many five-year-olds want to be an astronaut when they grown up?) but that interest seems to fade over time. But if NASA can sustain that interest as kids get older and help instill a lifelong interest in space exploration, those kids will be a lot more likely to support funding for space programs when they become adults. I love the idea of incorporating space exploration in my math and physics classes because not only does it help sustain interest in space, but by connecting projects to real data and current missions, it makes math and science relevant and useful.

    I’m going to be teaching both math and physics, so I love the idea of projects and activities related to space exploration since there are so many opportunities for both subjects. For math classes, I would want to keep the context of current real-life space exploration, but the activities could be tailored in such a way that the learning is focused on math topics.

  • Maria Droujkova   Feb. 18, 2013, 8 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Katherine Hanisco   Feb. 17, 2013, 10:19 p.m.

    I see your worry, but I think this topic works. Space exploration is very relevant to math ed, and quite appropriate and interesting for this class, on top of being aligned well with your personal teaching goals. I first thought you may find it challenging to relate the issue you picked (public funding of space projects) to math ed. But I see you already found the direct link, through public literacy and its influence on decision-making.

  • Gina Mulranen   Feb. 17, 2013, 7:51 p.m.

    Part 1

    I plan to explore how to integrate computer programming into the middle school math classrooms. I want to focus my Tech Week on this topic because I am interested in starting computer programming with my Math Counts students after they have competed in the Math Counts competition. After talking with the other teacher who runs Math Counts with me, we are very interested in piloting this with our students, but need more resources and practice with the different softwares. We are also looking for ideas on how to teach and plan projects that fit the students interests and relate to math. I can already see the benefits these students will get in problem solving and the excitement they will have with their own creations. I would enjoy the opportunity to explore this topic in more depth so I can be a good resource for my students when they are working on the software in school.

    Part 2

    A big controversy that I have heard with computer programming is the amount of time students spend troubleshooting with the software. Parents have a tendency to view this as too much time focusing on non-math related skills. Should middle school students be completing worksheets to practice their fraction skills or should they be spending time figuring out how to get the Sprite to calculate a fraction problem? What are the benefits of computer programming, especially at the younger age level? What type/level of projects can we expect them to produce? These are the types of questions I hope to explore in more depth during my tech week.

  • Maria Droujkova   Feb. 18, 2013, 6:02 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Gina Mulranen   Feb. 17, 2013, 7:51 p.m.

    Programming - a strong tech topic any day! You can even extend it somewhat into doing computer science and algorithms with kids, with or without computers - as in this project we discussed last Monday: The reason I am linking it again now is that it has some food for thought about your controversy - the "why" question behind linking math and programming.

    One person you will probably want to bring in is Seymour Papert. He is the founder of constructionism (not to confuse with similarly-sounding constructivism). Constructionists believe that modeling and building (constructing) things, such as sprites that calculate fraction algorithms, help learners look deeper into structures underlying mathematics. His book "The children's machine" is twenty years old and still very fresh in ideas.

  • Gina Mulranen   Feb. 18, 2013, 11:29 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Maria Droujkova   Feb. 18, 2013, 6:02 p.m.

    I do remember you showing me the link to the website you mentioned last Monday. I think having the option to create algorithms without computers are a great way to work around the problem that some schools may have with the number of computers available for classroom use. However, I do think that working with computer programming on the computer is essential for students to problem solve. In order to make sure they have accomodated for all the different responses a user could input or that their program produces the right results, they need to be able to test it using the computer programming software. This was the best way I learned computer programming too! Trial and error can really be a learning experience.

    I am interested in reading up on Seymour Papert and his work with modeling and building. I do think there are so many benefits to computer programming with middle school students and I think his work is exactly what I am looking for to help back up my beliefs on this topic so far. Thank you for the great resources!

  • Lisa Ritt   Feb. 17, 2013, 4:06 p.m.

    I plan to explore Smart Boards and how to best utilize it with middle school students. Also, there are so many negative comments I've read on smart boards. I want to explore why this is the case. 

    I'd also like to research the most common problems with smart boards and come up with a good trouble shooting shortcut list.

    Above here is a link on a recent article regarding tablets being the future "smart" in classrooms. There is a comment to this article that speaks to the lack of SmartBoard training & why that is really why people tend to speak negatively on SmartBoards...which I tend to agree with!

  • Maria Droujkova   Feb. 18, 2013, 6:09 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Lisa Ritt   Feb. 17, 2013, 4:06 p.m.

    I appreciate that you picked a particular piece of technology for your week. This allows to focus on multiple issues within the same context - that is, to dig deep! 

    I would love it to see some exploration of what sort of training would make a difference. I work in teacher education, not only as a professor but also in other roles. One issue is that training does not get implemented - maybe it does not match realities of particular teachers, or maybe content gets lost between the workshop and the classroom, or maybe - ? SMART Board company spends a lot of resources on training and implementation, but clearly, there's still an issue. I am looking forward to your investigation!

  • SueSullivan   Feb. 16, 2013, 8:06 p.m.

    I want to learn more about how mathematics is taught in other 'Westernized' countries (i.e. tech or not, standardized testing or no) and how these students compare to those in the US.

    There's often a lot of press about how US students lag behind; I'd like to try and understand how tech (or lack thereof) contributes to this.

    I do not want to include Eastern/Asian countries in this discussion because I feel that our social and cultural differences influence our educational systems, and that discussion alone could probably take up an entire course.   I do realize that there are cultural differences between the US and other 'Western' countries, but these are not as pronounced as the differences between the US and 'Eastern' countries.  

    Arcadia recently had a faculty forum about the achievement differences between US and Asian students.  Arcadia students weren't allowed to attend, but I emailed one of the co-presenters and he said he'd be glad to discuss the issue with me (I need to schedule the discussion).  

    The most general question regarding US math student performance vs. other 'Western' nation math student performance is usually some variant of  'why do US students often lag behind' ?  

    The reasons for the 'lag behind' is what generates the controversy.  Is it our culture?  The public school structure of the K-12 system?  Standardized testing?  Or lack of technology (or overuse of it) in schools?

    I don't think there's any one perfect answer, but I'm curious to learn about  how educators in other countries feel about using technology to teach math, and if it works for them or not.


  • Maria Droujkova   Feb. 18, 2013, 6:29 p.m.
    In Reply To:   SueSullivan   Feb. 16, 2013, 8:06 p.m.

    Sue, I would like to applaud the bravery of taking on an issue of this magnitude. The heat of "math wars" surrounding this topic is like a thousand suns. It does make sense to focus on countries with similar sociopolitical and cultural situations. 

    I'd like to recommend, in addition to what you already started exploring, two threads in these ongoing conversations. First, US students are no worse off than students in other Western countries, if you match results by socioeconomic status: However, the US has the largest population of low socioeconomic status students, among the Western countries, hence the low averages. Overall, the socioeconomic status of the family is the best predictor of school success, including math success, among all known variables. Good breakfast in the morning comes as a close second.

    Second, many people are looking at Finland's education system as an innovative example. There have been many discussions about it in math ed circles, recently. Check it out. For example, here's an essay about it:


  • SueSullivan   Feb. 20, 2013, 5:40 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Maria Droujkova   Feb. 18, 2013, 6:29 p.m.

    Thank you for the articles, they will be a great help in preparing for my tech week!

  • Maria Droujkova   Feb. 24, 2013, 7:07 a.m.
    In Reply To:   SueSullivan   Feb. 16, 2013, 8:06 p.m.

    Sue, another article for you. I've been trying to track it, and it came up in a discussion (about communities), finally. Here:

  • MgnLeas   Feb. 15, 2013, 10:59 p.m.

    I would like to do my week on blended learning. I know some other mentioned it as well, but I am not sure if they are going with other topics they have chosen. After looking into it more, it is something that really has sparked my interest.

    One controversy I have come across is the fact that kids may not get enough social interaction.  By allowing them to work online from home they are missing out on the classroom interaction and teacher motivation. On the flip side, some say since our world has become email, webchat, online college degree, geared that teaching children these skills young is vital to their future success. Another issue is what happens to educators. As more classes become available through online sources less teachers are needed. One person can teach an online class with many more students than they could fit in a traditional classroom.

  • SueSullivan   Feb. 16, 2013, 7:30 p.m.
    In Reply To:   MgnLeas   Feb. 15, 2013, 10:59 p.m.

    Excellent topic choice!

    I too am curious about how the lack of face-to-face interaction affects students and educators and look forward to exploring this further.


  • Gina Mulranen   Feb. 17, 2013, 11 a.m.
    In Reply To:   MgnLeas   Feb. 15, 2013, 10:59 p.m.

    I am also really interested in your topic choice! I do teach a cyber course and have a virtual classroom that allows my students to interact. I also incorporate online forums to allow the students to interact. Let me know if you have any questions for me and I would be glad to offer any help with your tech week topic! =)

  • MgnLeas   Feb. 17, 2013, 10:46 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Gina Mulranen   Feb. 17, 2013, 11 a.m.

    Thanks I would appreciate the help.

  • Maria Droujkova   Feb. 18, 2013, 6:39 p.m.
    In Reply To:   MgnLeas   Feb. 15, 2013, 10:59 p.m.

    Promising topic! I think the theme of social interaction has many direct links to mathematics education, through topics such as group learning, project-based learning, constructivist theories of learning, etc. 

    Here is some food for thought. Online interaction can be done in parallel (many to many, at once, such as many people commenting on the same article). Online interaction can be done asynchronously, as in, people contributing content to conversations whenever they have time (and have thoughts), not just during live meetings. Online interaction can happen in different mediums, and use text, voice and visuals (no smell, taste or touch yet). So, some people argue, they get more social interaction in online groups than they get in real-time meetings. This is especially true for people who are shy, or have more serious issues like autism. 

    How do you design blended learning activities specifically in mathematics to promote appropriate social interaction? Is it even doable?

  • MgnLeas   Feb. 23, 2013, 9:09 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Maria Droujkova   Feb. 18, 2013, 6:39 p.m.

    Great questions! I look forward to investigating.