Saturday, February 7, 2015

Snow, logic and rigor.

February is here, along with the new semester.  The weather alternates between just above the freezing mark and just below it, so every morning begins with a decision on whether to shovel out the car,  and risk finding one of the valued parking spots at school or standing on a frozen snow bank waiting for the bus to come.

I have almost mastered the bus time app.  It allows me to remove my finger from my gloves to check my cell phone repeatedly to see if the 6:47 bus will come at 6:47, 6:48, or 6:49.  The first day I tried it the bus arrived and left as I looked at the app.   I decided I wouldn't look again, but just wait and watch the street as I've done for six decades, but alas- I am addicted to the damn phone - just like everyone else.

I am back to teaching a  geometry self-contained class.  The new semester, almost surely my last semester, brought a slew of changes of our teaching schedules, so, at least for 45 minutes a day, I end my career just as I started it, teaching students with disabilities the "general" curriculum in a separate classroom. The topic I was given first -logic.

I am fairly convinced that nothing in education today has anything really to do with logic.  Otherwise I certainly wouldn't be teaching if p then q,  to high school students who are not really sure what folding your paper in half means.  (The professional small learning group community had a discussion on rigor,  and I posed the question  -was asking whether a paper that was folded down the vertical center line was an equal representation of half as one folded down the horizontal line.    I was assured it was rigorous.- by  three of the people in the group- the other four were asleep). 

But I spent the week with questions like:  If its Tuesday,  then it must by Belgium. ) Okay - not really - because that is anachronistic joke  akin, to calling out second floor ladies lingerie - when the elevator door opens and no one gets out.  But surprisingly to me at least, so was the sentence from the text book:  Jedi warriors do not use light sabers.  (One of the girls insisted I spelled it wrong- it should say light savers like the candy. (Lifesavers?)

Bernie had his head down - he was too tired to learn he told me, he had worked until 3:00 am in the convenience store by his house.  I made him pick up his head.  It sounds  so mean as I type it.  But that's how it goes- you come, you learn- with your head up.

The snow fell in spurts outside our window yet again, and in an attempt to derail the logic discussion we talked about where we came from (as in the country we used to live in versus the topic of evolution which was being hotly debated in the Teacher's lounge along with a chorus of Bob Marley songs- but again that is not the main topic- and since I have been sitting through many workshops on writing non-fiction, I am going to attempt to stick to my topic).

Five out of six of the students were from the Dominican Republic.  They talked wistfully of an Island with beaches and mountains and a climate that never required one to decide whether or not to shovel out a car or take a bus. (Of course- the economy did limit one'options which is probably why everyone was sitting in a classroom in New York- even after working until the wee hours of the morning, watching snow fall.

I wrote the sentence:  If it snows then its winter. 

Unless you live in DR Ana said.  
True- even if that wasn't what the answer the textbook said it was supposed to be.

But Bernie's head popped up and insisted it does snow in the Dominican Republic.

The class was skeptical.  I didn't know for sure, but I was once in Hawaii when there was a snowstorm on Mauna Kea.

Off topic- again.  

We went back to finding inverses and converses and contrapositives- because that's what were supposed to be doing
-  Constanza.    Bernie called out, That's the place in the DR where -it snows!

How did he know?  He texted his mother. 

Yes he's not supposed to have his cell phone out.  Yes he's not supposed to be texting- he's supposed to be folding his paper in half ( Ana gave him a sheet, he didn't have a notebook he wouldn't be paid until the evening).   But he was with us  now.

And I know where it snows in the Dominican Republic.
Rigorous?  Maybe. But its our kind of logic .

Sunday, February 1, 2015

When will I use this?

I can complete a square.  Okay, its not like finding the cure for cancer or creating world peace, but its a skill I mastered more than once.  Its like the joke about quitting smoking, it can't be all that hard - I've done it numerous times.

I've never smoked, but from time to time I find myself mired in a mathematical curriculum that defies my usually effective sense of mathematical reasoning- the mathematical acrobatics I put myself through, because it serves some purpose in my life.  For instance, Macy's had gloves on sale yesterday.  The marked price was $48, the sign said 40% off, I have a deal with Macy's I keep buying things and they keep sending me coupons, so I knew that the gloves would cost me  a number that is less than the predicted low temperature for tomorrow.

I bought the gloves.  (For the record it came to $28 with tax and the predicted low tomorrow is 14 degrees)

The Algebra I curriculum includes figuring out percentages of things and coming up with what things should cost.  Of course last week's Regents, postponed  by the prediction of a historic snowstorm that never came, included a question that gave the final price after a 20% discount and the deal was to figure out the original cost.

I'm sure I'll hear lots of complaints about that- we never practiced that scenario.

And what difference should it make- either you want the dress at the sale price or your don't.
If you have to know the original price to think its a good enough deal to buy- you don't  really need the dress. (My father used to say, if you need to ask the price, you can't afford it).

In my humble opinion.

I was watching the Big Bang theory last week.  My cousin is always amazed that a show about a bunch of brainy nerds is the most popular show on TV. Sheldon stood in front of a white board and whined about something or another in his self important life.  But behind him was a reduction of simple radicals,  another skill I mastered in my year of not the most basic concepts of high school math.  I had written something very similar on our very own white board just a few weeks back.  The joke being, that most of the viewers would have no idea that Sheldon's scratching were the mere exercises of the Algebra II curriculum and not the genius level pondering he purported

Every semester I listen to poignant posing of the same the question.
Why am I taking this math?  - I'll never use it.

True, you probably don't remember how to figure percentages that will give you  the original cost of an item in Macy's quickly either, though there's most likely an app for that in the cell phone in your pocket if you really want to.  If you need the current cost, there's a station where you can scan it quickly.

But completing the square or reducing a radical?  Other than realizing that the people who provided the props for Sheldon's whining monologue- its hard to imagine a situation where that's needed- and anyone who actually would require such calculations at work, would undoubtedly have software that would instantaneously do so.

Teacher Koi,  my carpool companion once asked me what would we do if all the computers in the world stopped working at once.

Not being able to solve a quadratic equation would be the least of my problems.  It would rank far behind not being able to get money out of the ATM and not having the digital thermostat control the central heating in our home and this February -the temperature would rapidly sink to a level where  no gloves on sale or not would suffice.

The new semester begins on Tuesday.  I will click on the Algebra II curriculum that arrived in my e-mail box yesterday and again try to learn, plan, adapt and teach the carefully constructed lists of skills and concepts listed in the course curriculum. (Hopefully in that order) Some will get it, some will try, others will whine that the don't need to put much mental energy to these abstractions, they'll never use them.  I expect they are right.   But the in the end we will pass most of them anyway.  The principal told us to.  But that's a story for another day.