Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Reading in Math Class

Something that I think is important (but that I struggle with) is providing opportunities for reading in my math class. I've mentioned this before, but I want to formalize a way for implementing this more regularly.

From time to time kids would ask me interesting questions that I cannot answer on the spot, or that are not immediately relevant to the lesson aim. For example, one student asked me during the Measurement Unit how scientists could measure the volume of the oceans. I told her that we'd table it and maybe come back to it in a different class. I went home and did some research, and to my surprise found some interesting bits about how satellite photos are used to approximate the shape of the ocean floor, because -- believe it or not! -- our oceans bulge out in areas where there are ridges underneath. Instead of just quickly sharing the interesting tidbits that I found on the internet, I had decided to pull together a reading that I thought would be interesting to my students. (I was pretty sure they're not aware of sonar-mapping and how it works, so I threw that in there as well.)

Last week, when a couple of history teachers mentioned to me the significance of the sextant / inclinometer, I made a mental note to go home and read up about it. Most of the links on the internet were a little too dense for my 9th-graders, so as usual, I had to write up my own kid-friendly version of the reading summary. But, I think it's very worth it (and I believe these readings contribute to multiple modes of learning AND they add real-world relevance to math). Check it out!

I'm not sure if you have language-learning kids like mine (...who doesn't have language-learners these days??), but I definitely go over the reading in details after they read it, to make sure that kids are practicing extracting important information. I ask them key questions and if they can't get it as a class, I wait patiently for them to go back to skim through the article in order to pull out that information. (And I also draw diagrams on the board as we summarize the readings, to help the visual learners put together the meanings of the articles.)

PS. I still have a cool reading about the importance of ratios from my middle-school teaching days. Here is an example for how I scaffold middle-school readers a bit more than my high-schoolers, even before they get to the whole-group discussion part. They would have had to fill out the column with notes as they read along...

PPS. Something that I still struggle mightily with is how to get my upperclassmen to read the math textbook, in all its denseness (density?)! I force them to do it in class once in a blue moon -- like, maybe 3 days so far this school year. But, A.) our textbook is kind of crap and gives them algorithms in lieu of justifications and skips steps and doesn't provide a lot of explanation between steps, B.) they get mentally lazy knowing that I'd just go over the material anyway, in a more intuitive manner -- WHICH I TOTALLY GET, SINCE THAT'S HOW LAZY I WAS IN HIGH SCHOOL!! I guess until I am willing to re-write the entire textbook in kid-friendly explanation, I'm not going to likely experience real success with my efforts on this front...

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