I was at the Conference for Advancing Mathematics Teaching (CAMT) in Houston, TX last week. I was there to present on Friday, but also there to attend some sessions, go to the exhibits, and see my friend Lisa Hall who flew in from Richmond, VA to speak. The conference was great – saw my friends Jimmy and Joslyn from Mus1cnotes at the exhibits, who seemed to be having some big-Texas success with their rap math videos. I went to some terrific sessions on Sketchpad, math games, and research on dynamic geometry with technology (stay tuned for a later post on that!). All in all, a good time.
Then came Friday.
For those of you who have ever presented at a conference, you know it’s almost the kiss of death to be scheduled to talk at 8 a.m. on the last day, and a half-day at that. Friday morning comes around, my session is all set to go. The title—Tinkering with Data: Engaging Data Explorations with TinkerPlots for Grades 6-12. Ten minutes to go and only three participants—all high school. Not wanting to be alone, I went into the hall to recruit folks. I ended up promising kindergarten, 2nd grade, 3rd grade and 5th grade teachers that this session was going to be great, interactive, and I promised to make it fit their grade level.
There I was with abut 15 participants, grouped into 10 elementary teachers and 3 high school teachers and then a couple math coaches (we collected the data with TinkerPlots, so I know!). With a session designed for middle and high school teachers we come to the title of my post—differentiation. How do I make this work for vastly different teaching needs, keep everyone’s interest, and have them leave having learned something and wanting to use what they learned?
Isn’t that what teachers are faced with everyday when they walk into their classroom?
I believe dynamic mathematics software like TinkerPlots, Sketchpad, or Fathom, can help.
In my session, after collecting the demographic data and having some fun with that, we then looked at some of the data resources that come with TinkerPlots, such as the Fish data used in the example above or Backpack Weight. I let my audience lead the discussion and decide on the graphs. The kindergarten teachers focused on comparing size and numbers and bar graphs, the high school teachers got more into the measures of central tendency and lines of fit. But they all generated the questions and created the graphs based on those questions, and the vertical progression from kindergarten to high school was fascinating.
We then grabbed data from the web to show how easy and relevant it was, including Olympic data and food data. The kindergarten teachers were so excited about Roller Coaster data found at the eeps Data Zoo site that we grabbed that data and did a whole impromptu data discovery lesson. At the end of the session, no one had left (whew!), everyone was excited and ready to play with the free download and resources, and I think everyone learned at least one relevant new thing about data that they could use with their students, no matter which grade. Differentiation success!
Here’s a quick video of the Roller Coaster activity, showing how it can be differentiated to address mathematics across grade levels:
As a teacher, differentiation is a given. Some days and some years it is more challenging than others. I remember one year having a 6th grade math class with 3 deaf students and their interpreter, 5 special education students, 10 “x” students (what the district determined were low achievers), 5 “gifted” and then everyone else considered “on level.” 32 students with completely different needs and learning styles. Teachers, on a regular basis, have the same question I had with my presentation—how do I make this lesson work for vastly different student needs, keep everyone’s interest, and have them leave having learned something and wanting to use what they learned?
Having tools and resources that allow you to quickly explore student questions, create a variety of situations and representations, and have everyone leave learning something is pretty powerful. Students and learning are dynamic, so why not dynamic tools to help them learn?