Saturday, March 29, 2014

Learning in "Passion Communities"

This video by James Paul Gee is an absolute gem. One idea I want to discuss here is his vision of people learning in what he calls "passion communities". Passion communities form around video games, popular books and hobbies. Fans of Harry Potter go on sites where they write their own fiction stories in that genre. World of Warcraft gamers develop the skill of solving problems in groups.

So, what are the features of a "passion community" (ideas taken from the video):
  1. They solve problems collaboratively: The group is smarter than the individual.
  2. Learning happens on demand: In a game, progressive levels introduce you to the skills and language you need to succeed. You don't acquire knowledge in a vacuum and expect to apply it later.
  3. They are not age-graded. People of different ages can contribute and learn.
  4. The same teacher can mentor one time and be mentored at another time.
  5. The community sets high standards and provides honest feedback to help its members reach them.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Seymour Papert, a Roman Temple and EdTech today!

In 2009, I lived a childhood dream by visiting the Roman temple of Jupiter in Baalbek, Lebanon. The temple was built by many generations of Roman engineers, artisans and slaves. The stones used could not be found in that valley location, so the Romans brought them by sea, used elephants and slaves to drag them up a mountain and then down to the right location. There, they would be carved and set in place. The grandeur of the pillars and the intricate work still visible today spoke of the glory that the Romans wanted the place to have. I remember thinking that we had the technology to execute such grand projects in a much shorter time. It was the ambition we lacked.
Some time later, I came across this video by Seymour Papert . In it, Papert shows the use of the Logo programming language to control a "turtle" either on the screen or on a physical surface. By manipulating the turtle, students can create shapes, animations or music that are personally meaningful. While doing this, they use mathematical concepts and discover some of their own maths.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Watching students grow: A week in the life of this teacher

In this, my 100th post, I want to reflect on some of the things that make me grateful to teach at Avila College. The last week was exhausting and energising at the same time. I believe a summary of that week will suffice in explaining why I love working at Avila. Here is a snapshot:

World Integrated Unit
For three days, groups of Year 7 students formed their own countries. They learnt about preferential voting, designed a national flag, dance, anthem, sandwich and animal! Each country had to conduct a campaign to host the Olympic games and use social media to their advantage.
Treasurer, financial adviser and head of state deciding their country's investment priorities
My role was to look after the treasury and guide and the individual country treasurers through foreign exchanges and a financial report.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Why use algebra when you can use arithmetic?

This post was jointly written with my colleague, Steven Francis. It follows from my earlier post, Welcome to Maths class: Leave your common sense at the door. In this post, we provide examples that highlight the importance of allowing students to solve problems from first principle. At times, insisting on specific formal methods can diminish students' ability to solve problems.

In the video above, the renowned physicist Richard Feynman relates how he could solve linear equations early but was told "You did it with arithmetic. You have to do it with algebra."
Feynman then reflects with visible annoyance:
There's no such a thing as you don't do it by arithmetic, you do it by algebra. It's a false thing that they had invented in school so that the children who have to study algebra can all pass it. They had invented a set of rules which you follow them (sic) without thinking to produce the answer.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Should kids learn times tables?

Knowing that I teach year seven mathematics, people often ask me my opinion on whether kids should learn their times tables (or multiplication tables if you prefer). In this post, I argue that times tables should be learned at some stage of the child's education, but only as part of many ideas related to multiplication.

Firstly, multiplication tables should not be learned too early. My kids' primary school holds off till kids reach grade 3. A kid who "knows the answer" to 3x8 will not feel the need to group objects in threes or in eights and will miss discovering a few things about multiplication:

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

My reflections on Day 2 of the VITTA conference

This year, like the previous two years, three students and I ran a workshop on mobile APP development using Corona SDK at the annual conference of the Victorian IT Teachers Association. In this post, I will reflect on the workshop itself, the keynote given by Adam Eliot and other happenings at the conference.

I started the day early and was in front of the school by 7:10am. I was waiting to drive with three students to the Caulfield Racecourse, where we were to attend the annual VITTA conference. The girls were punctual and we left Avila at 7:30am.

Upon arrival, we parked and registered. There were tags and show bags for each of us. The girls loved the freebies. As soon as we checked out the room we were to present in, we went down to the expo and they moved around the exhibits, collecting highlighters, pens and stress balls!

We then moved on to the keynote which was given by Oscar-winning animator Adam Eliot. It was a very entertaining speech and we had time to ask questions. Here are some take aways from the keynote:

  • Adam won the Oscar despite being up against some big studios with big budgets. He had filmed "Harvey Krumpet" in his dad's storage unit, which was far from an ideal environment. He stated that "creativity comes from the person, not the technology".

Friday, July 26, 2013

Welcome to Maths. Please leave your common sense at the door

I come across many students who feel that it is unacceptable to solve a Maths problem on first principles. They always go searching for a formula and, when none can be found, give up on the problem. In this blog post, I give two examples to illustrate this phenomenon.

What is five percent of 100?
Last term, I put a question to my year 7 class which involved calculating 5% of $250? We had not covered percentages yet and I wanted to see how they would approach this. Some students had little difficulty with the calculation although the majority decided they couldn't do percentages. Some tried to remembered a formula they had learnt earlier.
Mr Baroudi, do you multiply by 100 over 1 or do you divide by 100 over 1?

I told them not to worry about any formal methods for the time being. Instead, I asked them, "What does 'per cent' mean?" Everyone seemed to know it meant "out of 100".
I drew the diagram below, one step at a time, asking them, "How much will we take out of this $100 (or $50)"?
What is 5% of $250?