Thursday, August 30, 2012

HELP! (or, be careful what you wish for)

You know how there's that saying, "be careful what you ask for - you might just get it?"

It just happened to me.

School starts on Tuesday, and my block algebra 2 class just got moved to the Mac lab. Every day. Instead of teaching in a normal, boring math classroom with 28 deskchairs, four off-white walls, and some corny math posters, I am going to be in a room with 30 gigantic iMacs, along with with a side room that has a half dozen circular tables with chair. I couldn't ask for a much better setup.

I have five days to figure out some kind of rough plan for how I'm going to approach and teach this class differently. Feel free to skip the next section if you don't care about what led to this.

The backstory

I was frustrated last year with the limited access to technology that my classes I had, and it didn't look like it was going to get any better. So I decided to take matters into my own hands, and I started collecting old computers from friends and family. I cleaned them up, installed Ubuntu or lubuntu, along with GeoGebra, Scratch, and matplotlib for Python.

That project is coming along. It would be great to have one or two more, but I should enough functional computers in my classroom for groups of four to be able to share a computer with GeoGebra, Scratch, and Python.

Then our tech person came into my classroom today. She asked a polite question about how my mini-lab was coming, and then said, "I don't want you to have to do this. I mean it's great that you are, but you shouldn't have to. The Mac lab is open block D - what class do you have then? Algebra 2? Ok, you're teaching that class in the Mac lab."

Umm, what? Really? This is going to take a day or two to sink in.

I want to underscore, I am ecstatic about this. I'm not complaining. It's just that school starts in five days, and I don't want to squander this. There is so much that I could do - I just don't know what that is yet, or how I'm going to do it.


I don't want to just list the specific tools that I'm going to use. I want to develop a picture of what I want my students doing that is different than the standard paper-and-pencil based algebra 2. Then I'll figure out what programs, services, whatever that will help us accomplish that.

So, my list:
  • Work with large data sets
  • Programming
  • Researching real problems
  • Presenting with digital resources
  • Writing
  • Learning to become self-directed learners
  • Live backchanneling
  • Doing all of the above collaboratively
I could probably add more, but I think that's a decent set of ideas. I'll certainly try to give computational thinking a central role in the class.

Where I need help is making this happen in algebra 2. How can I adapt our unit on polynomials to a classroom with this kind of access to technology? What can I do with solving radical equations?

If you have any ideas, please comment, tweet, Google+, or email me. I promise to share what I do and give credit where it's due. The six units we teach are polynomials, rational functions, radical functions, exponential & logarithmic functions, trigonometric functions, and statistics.

Seriously. Whether it's just an idea you have or a lesson you've taught ten times, if you're reading this, please share. I've been given the blessing/curse of what I wanted, and I want to make sure I actually take advantage of it.



  1. I would love to have this problem (so to speak) ... I'm trying to change an Algebra 1.5 (we need a transition for sophomores to be ready for Common Core - or at least I think so, plead the case and had it last year, this year, and maybe next) - I'm trying to do a blended/hybrid model ... I'm trying flipped lessons, ALEKS (which costs $ but the Khan Academy 'practice'/'coach' features are similar and free if this program would be cost prohibitive for you) ... I'd love to include more GeoGebra as well (not there yet though) - I'll be watching you closely for things to steal ... feel free to reciprocate, and I'll try to remember to keep you in mind!

    1. just read your 'about me' sounds like you're perfect for this opportunity!

    2. Thanks for the vote of encouragement. It's a wonderful "problem" to have - I'll keep an eye on what you're doing.

      As for GeoGebra, you *can* do it! Really, just play it, and maybe take a quick glance at a tutorial or two. It's an incredibly rich, and mostly intuitive, environment.

  2. I have a list of (free) math tools here which may give you some ideas.

    I'd add to the list:

    Solving computational problems - ie Project Euler (
    Creating video tutorials for other students (see
    Creative video word problems (see for a description).

    Hope this helps.

  3. That's incredible! It's awesome that you were getting so many computers by yourself--I never thought of that! I like that you were installing Linux on them to run just the programs you want.

    Here are two activities I created last year concerning translation and dilation of functions (not sure if it fits in with any of your units), but here ya go:

    1. I know, I can hardly believe my good fortune!
      And thanks for sharing the links to your posts - I have some thoughts on them, but I'll leave them in your blog.