My favorite show of all time with no question about it is Friends. I have watched those episodes probably an unhealthy amount of times, and they're somehow still funny to me! This is a math blog though, so how does Friends have anything to do with math? Well, Friends itself doesn't at all, but as I was exploring teacher.desmos.com for various classroom learning activities, I stumbled across one called "Central Park" (https://teacher.desmos.com/centralpark), which led me to think about New York City, which led me to start thinking about Friends. So, as much of a stretch as that probably is, I likely have your attention now if you're still reading, don't I?Desmos, for those of you readers who don't know, is a combination of many things: a website, an online classroom activity source, a place to turn in work, or in other words, a math teacher's heaven. What I'm setting out to achieve as you read this today is not only to help you explore what a specific teacher.desmos.com activity would look like to use with students, but hopefully in the process, convince you to integrate Desmos or another technological source in your teaching as well. "Central Park" is a Desmos activity that has students "use their knowledge of computation to inform their algebra understanding, and...see that representing their ideas with algebra can save a lot of computation time," or in other words, convince students of their need for algebra to do arithmetic more efficiently. Through the activity, they will be designing parking lots for various cars, first only visually, then slowly integrating numbers and mathematic concepts to help them understand the transition. Almost every Desmos activity will have a "how the activity works" section, or something similar (as pictured below). So let's go through the activity, and try to experience it as students would. First, we simply guess what the spaces should look like, no numbers included. This allows students to develop a practical understanding of a situation before adding numbers, which may be overwhelming before they understand why the numbers are there.Students can then "try it" to see if they were successful in their setup or not! Next up: adding numbers. This is where you take the basis of understanding these students have for a hypothetical situation, and apply mathematics practically, thus demolishing the ever present student question "when am I ever going to use this?" The order of these is integral: helping them understand the need, then giving them the solution. The students now get a chance to calculate how wide the spaces need to be to fit the cars instead of just guessing. They will see through this that we are giving them a much more efficient method, even though it is not what they are used to! Below are some examples of this in the activity. We have them in our grip, now! They love the numbers! Now, we transition into variables, help them understand how those will help, then tell them they have begun doing algebra. Before they know it, algebra has become something they are excited to use instead of such a daunting word! Below are a couple more pictures of how "Central Park" transitions this in the activity.Then dive in and experiment with even more variables... Almost as if by magic, just 45 minutes later, you have a full classroom of students excited about algebra. Unheard of! Although this obviously isn't foolproof in every single classroom, hopefully I have convinced you that it will at least help, and definitely not hurt students' learning. If you have any thoughts on this activity, or Desmos in general, please feel free to comment below and let me know! I'm open to thoughts, and I'd love to hear what has worked (or not worked) for you. And as always, be on the lookout for what comes next from my thoughts outside the glass tank.
5 Comments
9/25/2016 01:25:26 pm
Good review of the activity that really lets the teacher/reader know what it's about. What is the mathematical goal of the activity, and how did the designer of the activity get there?
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Michiah Arguello
9/26/2016 06:05:05 pm
I really liked this post! I loved how you included step-by-step explanations of how you would use this activity and what this activity entailed, and I loved the pictures. I think this activity sounds like a fun, engaging way to introduce students to algebraic expressions. I want to ask, though: What kind of unit would you teach this with? What age group? And when in the unit? I would love to hear your thoughts on that! :)
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Lauren Grimes
9/27/2016 03:04:27 pm
Okay, great introduction. I was looking through all the different blogs to comment on and I stopped at this one because who doesn't love Friends? I really liked your paragraph describing what Desmos is and the features that would be beneficial. I think a strong point of your post was the step by step walk through of the "Central Park" example. The pictures with the example gave a really strong foundation of your post. The only improvement I would suggest is how could you use different types of problems similar to this to give students options? If your students had an interest in let's say, shopping. Is there a way to give options to your students as far as what might catch their interest? Just some food for thought. Great post!
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Jared Noorman
9/27/2016 08:13:03 pm
Ok Tanner, well done on the intro. You got me hooked.
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Bryan Myerscough
10/8/2016 08:26:21 am
Tanner, I loved the way you started this post off. It got me interested in it before you even started talking about the meat of your post. As for the actual math involved, I thought this was a great choice of activity. Algebra is something that students, like you said, see as a daunting word and are scared of doing math because it looks hard. But I loved the way you put the argument by saying that students first develop the need for it, then satiate that need by using the algebra. It's just like that statement our professor uses in class "If algebra is the solution, what is the headache?" And you found a headache for students that can be solved by algebra, which I think is a great tool to get students excited to use this tool that is sometimes really scary
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