Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Learning Module 1: The Need for Speed (Days 11-12)

Tomorrow is my scheduled day off from blogging. This means that today will be my final post of the Blaugust challenge. And here is my last Blaugust prompt:

30. Theme song for the year? like your personal fight song?

Well, I've posted several songs during Blaugust, but none of them I'd consider to be a theme song for the whole year. Actually, maybe I could call the "Dren Song" and "Count on It" theme songs for the year -- both of them reflect the main idea that the students should learn math to be successful in life, but one of those is a song I wrote myself, while the other comes from Square One TV. These aren't songs that you can hear on the radio though.

Today we finally begin in the textbook. Learning Module 1 of the Illinois State Text is called "The Need for Speed." As the title implies, this module is all about measuring speed and other rates.

I've written about the Illinois State text in numerous posts over the last few months, but now it's time to take a closer look because we're actually starting the text. Recall that the first four modules are identical for all three middle school grades, as part of "Tools for Learning," or Unit 0 of the text.

The Illinois State text uses Project-Based Learning. (If you're a traditionalist, you might wish to stop reading this post right now.) The main project for Learning Module 1 is to build a mousetrap car and perform experiments to measure its speed as it travels down an inclined plane (formed using a board and a stack of books). By the way, it's called a "mousetrap car" because the miniature car really is propelled by a rat catcher.

But there are several problems as our class begins the project. First of all, there aren't nearly enough mousetraps to go around. There are nearly 80 students in my three classes (as I said above, this project appears in all three grades) and each group of four -- maybe five -- students is supposed to have a mousetrap car. There are definitely enough kits for the eighth graders and possibly for one of the other grades. It's difficult to get more kits because we must order them from Illinois State, which in turn obtains the items from England!

Not only that, but there aren't even textbooks to go around! As of now, I have only half the texts I need for the sixth and seventh grades. An order has been placed for the missing texts, but that order has yet to arrive.

So today the eighth graders attempt to construct their mousetraps cars. The instructions provided by Illinois State are a bit confusing for us -- we are supposed to use "rubber bands" to build them, yet we see nothing like rubber bands anywhere inside the kit. Still, we are able to put something together that looks like a mousetrap car.

I don't use my cell phone camera that often, but I just have to show pictures of the cars so far. This also fulfills a promise I made to Shelli, the leader of the Blaugust challenge -- by the end of this month, I would show picture from my classroom, and here it is. In the background, you can see the "Let's Talk" graphic I got from Shelli's website:

The hope is that tomorrow, the eighth graders will finish the mousetrap cars and start rolling them down a ramp in order to measure their speed. I might allow another grade to construct the cars -- probably sixth grade, as due to our confusing Common Planning schedule, seventh graders don't have STEM class on Wednesdays.

Here is the song that I played today in class:

The Need for Speed:

Life is full of patterns.
They show us the way.
School starts at the same
Time everyday.
The need for speed
To tell us every time
We can go how far
When we build a better mousetrap...
Mousetrap car!

Life is full of patterns.
Circumference follows patterns.
We can use math
To learn about patterns.
The need for speed
To tell us just how fast
We can be a star
When we build a better mousetrap...
Mousetrap car!

Looking at this song again, perhaps in a way this really is my theme song for the year! I actually created the lyrics from the introduction to this project in the Illinois State text. But in a way, it does summarize the theme that math is about patterns -- some of which involve measuring speed, time, and distance (including the distance around a circle).

But don't let the traditionalists Barry Garelick and SteveH hear that math is about patterns! Yesterday Garelick wrote a post criticizing that idea:


Now let's wrap up Blaugust with another visit to some other math bloggers! In creating Blaugust, Shelli challenged us to blog at least ten times this month. Well, I blogged eleven times, so yes, I did one-up her goal. Of course, she also said that we should try to blog everyday. I don't believe that anyone actually blogged all 31 days, but here's one teacher who came close:


Beth Ferguson calls herself "Algebra's Friend," so it figures she's an Algebra I or II teacher. She blogged 27 times during the month (and that doesn't include August 31st, so there's a great chance she can make it to 28). In her most recent post, she includes a link to a middle school math activity called "The Magic Circle":


During Blaugust, I was able to find another middle school math teacher, Jami Danielle, a sixth grade teacher in West Virginia:


In her most recent post, Jami Danielle has her students create a foldable about the eight mathematical practices found in Common Core (or the Mountain State's current version of them, as she explains):


By the way, I haven't had the opportunity yet to use foldables in my own classroom. It's possible that I might use them when we've finished the project and are ready for traditional math problems.

Before Blaugust ends (since I brought it up earlier this month) let me congratulate the seven American middle/long distance runners who managed to win medals in Rio (most since 1984). And in Little League, Chula Vista won only one game and was eliminated early, so for them it's back to school -- which has been in session since late July!

I enjoyed posting about my first dozen days of school for the Blaugust challenge. My next post will be on Thursday, September 1st.

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