Saturday, July 4, 2015

Week 21 - OMCA with Mathalicious

As a mathematics educator I am always looking for ways to show math in an authentic light. It often feels like curriculum limits these opportunities as we feel forced to cover certain topics in a fairly short time-line and we get sucked into it easily. As they say, we often resort to methods and ideas that we were taught with. It takes effort to find new ideas and make changes in education.

So when I heard about the OMCA conference this year and heard that it was featuring the Mathalicious website I wanted to jump on it. Their website has one goal - to use real-life problems to show how math is used as a tool to solve them. Textbooks generally used what is referred to as "canned" math - that is to say that questions are created for the sole purpose of using a specific math tool. What Mathalicious does is take something that is a problem first, and narrate it in a way that allows math to clearly be used as a tool - and generally the end result is something the students will not expect. This can be anything from taking a scene from a play, to looking at pizza to crust ratios, to deciding if a university education is worth the money.

The conference turned out to go as well as we had hoped (I went with a colleague) as the presenter was engaging and sold his product well. We got to try out a bunch of the activities on their site and experience a bunch as an audience. I must say that I don't know that I will ever do the site justice as a presenter myself, but I am still excited to try things out - we got a 6 month subscription with our conference fee. I think what really hit home about the whole experience was that he really forced you to reflect and recall why you had become a math teacher to begin with. We were forced to look at the core of math education and decide what was important - and that is exactly what we did.

By the end of the two days we were ready to head back to work to try something new! The timing of the conference was both terrible (leaving our classes for 2 days in the very first week of he semester was difficult, routines are yet to be established) and perfect - we were able to head back to immediately start using what we had learned. We intend to make use of the website this semester to test out how it might work, where things can be used, gauge student engagement and try to master the art of presenting these well-planned, authentic problems.

First goal is to use one to introduce a topic and to just see how it goes! Basically, to throw ourselves into the deep end - and either sink or swim! (probably a bit of both).

Looking forward I can also see how this has the potential for authentic assessment, great opportunities for collaboration, and the hopes for observation and conversation! It will take me some time to get there (and I can only hope that I will get to teach this course again in the near future - not 5 years down the road again). The excitement of having access to a well-planned, thoughtful resource is invigorating and a great opportunity. I am hopeful that the time they put into these lessons (literally a team putting in at least a week into ONE lesson - time I could never hope to have for one lesson) will only add to my students' experience.

If you have had the chance to try one of the Mathalicious lessons I would appreciate you sharing your story :)

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