Monthly Archives: February 2018

2/24/18: Critical Issues in Math Education Part 1: What’s your math story?

I typed up 20 pages of notes at MSRI’s Critical Issues in Math Education conference (Access to mathematics by opening doors for students currently excluded from mathematics), so rather than putting it all on one blog post, I’ll separate them into little blog posts.

The point of this conference is to talk about math equity. How can we make our math classroom more equitable?

One of the first things we talked about was “Who are the gatekeepers?” Who is standing in the way of having a fair math education? Was it the teachers? Peer pressure? Counselors? The system?

We then had an activity to write and share our math story in hopes of getting to these questions:

  1. What social, structural/institutional, and individual forces have helped you to be successful in your experience with learning mathematics?
  2. What social, structural/institutional, and individual forces has served as obstacles in your experiences with learning mathematics?
  3. What values of the mathematics community resonate with you and that you uphold in your professional work? What values of the mathematics community trouble you and are possible sites for change in your professional work?

Robin Wilson gave his story, saying that in Pre-algebra, he got an “A” the first semester and a “C” the second semester, yet his counselor made him retake Pre-algebra the following year. To him, his counselor was a gatekeeper. In our group, someone was mentioning that her teacher started to track in 5th grade which determined who would take the higher-level math and who wouldn’t. To her, teachers were the gatekeeper.

Here is my math story:

My first memory of doing math was in Kindergarten rolling dice to see how many base-10 blocks we would receive. We would exchange ones with tens, tens with hundreds. I loved it. My next memory would be in 2nd grade, doing a timed test. For me, I LOVED timed tests. I loved the competition. I remember breathing really loudly as if that made me go faster and the class would tell me to be quiet (understandably so). I had the same high school math teacher all 4 years, Mr. Trejo, and he made me really enjoy math. He would post grades on the wall in order from highest to lowest (only showing ID number) and I would always want to be at the top.

I came to Fresno State as a Biology major because I wanted to be a doctor. After realizing that I couldn’t see myself being happy as a doctor, coupled with wanting to take Calc 2 just for fun just because I wanted to see where math kept going, I decided to change my major to math.

Unfortunately, throughout college, I saw math as something to memorize. I thought that to be successful at math, you just need to memorize formulas, definitions, and theorems. Even though I did well, I didn’t really appreciate math for what it was.

It wasn’t until I co-taught with Diana Herrington where I fell in love with math and math education. She showed me that there’s a different way of teaching and that math should be creative.

A struggle that I had throughout my mathematical journey was that everyone expected me to do well simply because I was Asian. Even getting a master’s I had a couple people shrug it off, saying that it was obvious that I was going to get one, or that I didn’t have to work hard for it. I know I’m not alone. I have had several Asian Americans come to me during office hours prefacing their talk with “I know I’m Asian but I struggle with math.”

I have told 4 of my classes to write their math stories in hopes that I can see their struggles and talk about what we can do to make math a more equitable classroom. I know there are some that believe that math should just be about cold hard facts, but the cold hard fact is that some students feel like they do not belong in the math community, or they feel like they were marginalized because of who they are and/or what they look like.

Thank you for reading.

2/15/18: My Students Love Fraction Tiles

Fraction tiles is my favorite investment in terms of manipulatives. My future teachers generally feel very uncomfortable with the concept of fractions and already in two days students are feeling more confident with the concepts.

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1st day:

With any manipulatives, I give them a minute or two to just play around with them and almost every group immediately starts to assort them as the picture above, as if it’s the natural thing to do. I give them three tasks:

  1. Find 4 equivalent fractions using the fraction tiles.
  2. Find 4 number sentences that equal 1.
  3. Find 4 number sentences that equal something other than 1.

Then I have them share their results and have the entire class verify with their tiles.

For fun, I have students pick their favorite fraction tile (can’t be 1) and put the rest away. They are to walk around until they find a group where all their tiles add up to 1.

2nd day:

I started with clothesline math with 0, ⅓, 5/11, ½, ⅚, ⅞, ¾, 1, an idea that I originally got from Jamie Garner (@mavenofmath). They really liked it. I had students go up to the clothesline and pretend that they were on The Price is Right where they would look at the audience and tell them where to go. Not only do I want them to order them correctly, but space them precisely as well. Then I brought back fraction tiles and had them verify our spacing, especially with ⅚, ⅞, and ¾.

I then showed addition and subtraction with fraction tiles and the need for getting common denominators. Sure, we can add ½+⅓, but we don’t know where that lands. That’s why it is important to get a common denominator so we know exactly where we are on the number line.

I bought a set of 15 for about $70 on hand2mind.com. It’s pretty expensive but I have not had a bad lesson using them. A lot of the students are grateful and after 1-2 days, they already feel MUCH more comfortable with fractions which is more than I can ask for.

One negative comment that I have about fraction tiles though, is that they do not have 7th’s, 9th’s, or 11th’s. I understand the reason as it’s hard to get common denominators, but it would be helpful for comparing fractions, such as 5/7 vs. 7/9. It also sets up the idea that these denominators are scary, since even companies won’t make them. For me, I HATE the number 7 not only because it’s hard to determine if a number is divisible by 7, but it’s hard to draw 7th’s as well.

I feel bad that I can only think of 2 days worth of fraction tile activities for my students because I think it’s an awesome and necessary teaching tool. If anyone has any other fraction tile activity, please let me know!

Thank you for reading.

2/13/18: Valentine’s Day Topology Activity

If you want a quick 15-20 minute easy activity for your students, try creating intertwined hearts using topology!

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Topology is a branch of math that basically studies what happens to objects/space if deformed in a certain way.

Here is how you make your intertwined hearts:

Step 1: Grab a piece of printer paper, a pair of scissors, and one-sided tape.

Step 2: Cut out two strips of paper (width can be 1-2″) longways.

Step 3: For one of the strips, pretend you are going to make a loop, but twist halfway to the RIGHT and tape the ends together. Make sure the tape goes all the way across! (P.S. This is a mobius strip, which only has one side!)

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Step 4: For the other strip, do the same thing but twist halfway to the LEFT.

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Step 5: Tape the two mobius strips together perpendicularly as seen below. Tape it really well!

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Step 6: Cut each of the mobius strips in half longways and you end up with intertwined hearts!

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Easy as that! To extend this activity, you could have students write on the hearts, color, use it as a present for their parents, etc.

Thank you for reading! Let me know how it goes!

2/2/18: Fibonacci Lab

Diana Herrington and I created this lab for two reasons: 1. Math is the study of patterns and students need to practice finding patterns and 2. Students need to start seeing math outside of the classroom. So with these two things considered, why not let students explore patterns found outside of class? For this lab, I brought pinecones, pineapples, flowers, and shells for students to see Fibonacci in them.

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At the beginning, I introduced what the Fibonacci sequence is, then had them divide a latter term by the former term to get to the Golden Ratio. Afterwards, I showed them how to create a Golden Spiral.

For the rest of the period, students worked in groups of 4 to investigate two items in class and two items that they find online. I gave them some topics to look up like galaxies, waves, trees, and basically any plant.

Students are to use Google Slides collaboratively to showcase what patterns they saw in their items. Just as a tip, I recommend that students use the Snapchat app to take a picture of the item because it’s really easy to draw directly on the picture as seen below.

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I don’t know about my students, but ever since I have done this project with my students, I always think about Fibonacci whenever I see a pinecone. I hope they do too.

Thank you for reading.