Think Globally and Locally, Mathematically

Student Explorations in Mathematics, formerly known as Student Math Notes, is an official publication of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and is intended as a resource for grades 5-10 students, teachers, and teacher educators. Each issue develops a single mathematical theme or concept in such a way that fifth grade students can understand the first one or two pages and high school students will be challenged by the last page. The content and style of the notes are intended to interest students in the power and beauty of mathematics and to introduce teachers to some of the challenging areas of mathematics that are within the reach of their students.

The teacher version includes additional information on world poverty as well as instructional ideas to facilitate classroom discourse. The student guides are available for free download (see below) but the teacher’s guides are only available with NCTM membership.

In the following activities from the May 2011 and September 2011 issues of the magazine, students use histograms and make comparisons between different country groups, then create graphs that compare these differences in many ways and consider how each of these displays might be used. In part 2, students consider important information about world poverty by using measures of central tendency and box plots. Students analyze data and use a hands-on manipulative to interpret and understand box plots, including the connection between percentiles and quartiles.

Part 1: Hunger at Home and Abroad (May 2011)
World Poverty Data can be downloaded here.

Part 2: Poverty at Home and Abroad (September 2011)
World Poverty Data can be downloaded here.


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So You’re Teaching Algebra Next Year?

The prospect can sound daunting. You may even feel the need for a refresher in algebra content. If so, you may find these sites helpful.

Patterns, Functions, and Algebra
This college-level math course explores the “big ideas” in algebraic thinking. Created for elementary and middle school teachers, the online workshop consists of 10 two-and-a-half hour sessions. You begin with a session on algebraic thinking and go on to sessions on such topics as proportional reasoning, solving equations, and nonlinear functions. Each workshop meeting includes video of teachers working together on problems, interactive Web activities, homework exercises, and discussion questions. The final session explores ways to apply the algebraic concepts you’ve learned to your own K-8 classrooms. Graduate-level semester credits are available through registration at Colorado State University, or the sessions can be completed for free by any interested group of teachers.

Algebra in Simplest Terms
If you want a basic algebra review, take a look at this video series. Intended for high school classrooms and adult learners, the course offers 26 half-hour video programs and coordinated books—online and free. Offered by Annenberg/CPB: Teacher Professional Development.

Navigating through Algebra for Grades 6-8.
Written for the middle school teacher, this book outlines the main concepts to be covered in these critical years and presents full activities as teaching samples.

Finally, a general resource of ideas for the classroom is Algebraic Thinking: A Basic Skill.Topics range from algebraic expressions to solving equations to understanding graphs. Here you can find online activities at a click.

I hope you will find these sites helpful and enjoy next year’s class!

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/18/2012.

Pandemics and Their Numbers

Everywhere our students are hearing about the HINI influenza. Their interest offers an opportunity to co-teach with a science teacher in an investigation of what we know and don’t know about this pandemic. The New York Times has created an interdisciplinary lesson Pandemic Panic: Researching the 2009 Influenza A (H1N1) Pandemic that asks students to inquire into the current influenza as advisers from multiple perspectives and to share factual information they learn with their classmates and school communities.

The lesson opens with students considering “what we know” and “what we want to know.” The investigation begins as student groups take on such roles as “health advisers” or “economic advisers” or “historical advisers.” “Statistics advisers” could be added, in my opinion. What do the numbers tell us? FluView from the CDC 2008-2009 Influenza Season Week 38 ending September 26, 2009, gives great graphs of several types, some with an over-abundance of information that students will have to sort, select, and make sense of for themselves and their classmates. Statistics and percentages are topics that take on real meaning here.

If the class becomes interested in other diseases that have affected the world, they could research such epidemics as yellow fever. To get them into the story, look into Yellow Fever and the Reed Commission. They could research the number of victims over time and create a timeline from when the disease first reached the present United States up to the discovery of how to control it. A google search on “number of victims from yellow fever” brings up a few good sources, such as an August 10, 1879, article from The New York Times and another from September 24, 1897. Fascinating! But students will need to find other resources as well—encyclopedias and other books, offline as well as online. 

If the information found is sufficient, they could calculate rates of change over the course of different decades. Were there times when the disease rates rose more quickly? When they did not change at all? You could explore with them the concept of the slope of a line, what it actually tells us. Your students will find that numbers tell interesting stories! 


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What
would you like to know more about? What questions have your
students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers
by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest
posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what
you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate
your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2
publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post
updated 12/07/2011.

Reading and Writing Mathematics

Reading the math textbook or handouts or extended response problems presents built-in challenges. The vocabulary of mathematics can be confusing, with some words meaning one thing in a mathematical context and another in everyday settings. Symbols can look alike, and different symbols can represent the same operation (for example, *, x, and • for multiplication). Graphs vary in format, even when representing the same data. Writing is valued as a way of communication in most school subjects, yet rarely in math. If students can learn to explain their thinking in solving a math problem (using drawings or tables or graphs as well as words), they acquire a means of setting out their work logically and refining their thinking as they communicate their understandings.

Far from expecting teachers to stretch their class time to include yet more content, a new Explore in Depth publication from the Middle School Portal, Reading and Writing Mathematics, offers resources that can enrich math instruction as teachers help their students better understand the content they are already tackling. Each section of the publication contains articles, many by teachers, who share their experiences, rationale, and classroom methods. Each section also offers lesson plans or activities appropriate for middle school students. Enjoy the challenge of opening your students to mathematical communication!

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/14/2012.

Math Games – Part II

You probably already incorporate games in your teaching. Games are a great way to focus students’ attention as few other teaching strategies can. The ones selected here deal directly with the math content covered in the middle grades. Each has a learning objective; each could be embedded in a lesson plan. Here are a few more games that you can add to your store of games that teach.

Fraction Game
For work on fractions, this applet is a winner! It allows students to individually practice working with relationships among fractions and ways of combining fractions. It helps them visualize what is meant by equivalence of fractions. A link to an applet for two-person play is also given here.

Polygon Capture
This excellent lesson uses a game to review and stimulate conversation about properties of polygons. A player draws two cards, one about the sides of a polygon, such as “All sides are equal,” and one about the angles, such as “Two angles are acute.” The player then captures all the polygons on the table that fit both of the properties. Provided here are handouts of the game cards, the polygons, and the rules of the game.

The Factor Game
A two-player game that immerses students in factors! To play, one person circles a number from 1 to 30 on a gameboard. The second person circles (in a different color) all the proper factors of that number. The roles are switched and play continues until there are no numbers remaining with uncircled factors. The person with the largest total wins. A lesson plan outlines how to help students analyze the best first move in the game, which leads to class discussion of primes and squares as well as abundant and deficient numbers.

Planet Hop
In this online one-person computer game, four planets are shown on a coordinate grid. A player must pass through each on a journey through space. The player must find the coordinates of the four planets and, finally, the equation of the line connecting them. Three levels of difficulty are available. This is one of 12 interactive games created by the Maths File Games Show.

Towers of Hanoi: Algebra (Grades 6-8)
This online version of the Towers of Hanoi puzzle features three spindles and a graduated stack of two to eight discs, a number decided by the player, with the largest disc on the bottom. The player must move all discs from the original spindle to a new spindle in the smallest number of moves possible, while never placing a larger disc on a smaller one. The algebra learning occurs as the player observes the pattern of number of discs to number of moves needed. Generalizing from this pattern, students can answer the question: What if you had 100 discs? The final step is expressing the pattern as a function.

Traffic Jam Activity
Why the jam? There are seven stepping stones and six people. Three stand on the left-hand stones and three on the right-hand; all face center. Everyone must move so that the people on the right and the people on the left pass each other, eventually standing on the side opposite from where they started. But no two people may stand on the same stone at the same time! This problem requires reasoning, but its solution also reveals a pattern that leads to an algebraic expression. A lesson plan is provided.

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/05/2012.