cheesemonkey wonders

cheesemonkey wonders

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

"Find What You Love; Do More of It"— #MTBoS Edition, a report from the field

While my friend @TrianglemanCSD Christopher Danielson is holding down the fort at the Minnesota State Fair and the Math On A Stick exhibit, I'm in my third full week of school avec students, and I realized I needed to peel off another layer of my persona and take his advice from his keynote address at #TMC15:
Find what you love; do more of it.
I love storytelling and stories. I come from a family of storytellers, where dinnertime was always a time of sharing stories.

I also love history — ancient history — and I know more about it than I usually give myself credit for.

So I did more of both of those things today. In my Algebra 1 class, no less.

It felt like a huge risk. But I decided to feel the fear and do it anyway.

So I told them what I have long known about the origins of algebra and equations. In its earliest uses, "algebra" means "balance." An equation is a metaphor for what everyone in the ancient world knew and understood with their own inherent sense-making and mathematical reasoning: just as a vendor at a market weighs out what a customer wants to buy — weighs it out with standards-based measures that are sanctioned by governments and universally accepted — so too is an equation a representation of these scales... and our goal is to balance out abstract or concrete quantities using that familiar structure from daily life.

I asked students what they knew about weighing and measuring and they told me honestly what their experiences have been at the farmer's markets all over our city.

We investigated what we knew about what happens when you place a known amount of weights on one side of a balance, and we imagined — and in some cases, acted out — what happens as you pour a continuous quantity of something onto the other side of the balance.

We talked about what it means to bring a scale into balance and we applied what we knew — the best we had — to the ideas at hand.

We talked about national and international standards bodies and about how even a perfect model degrades over time, which is why it needs to be monitored and occasionally replenished.

And so, by the time we got to the addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division properties of equality, we were already deep into our own connections with the metaphor and with the human history of algebra and with our own active and vivid imaginations.

By the end of class, nobody even complained about having to do the 2-2 homework. I am hoping that's because it was a little more deeply connected to their humanness than it ever had been before.

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