a math blog in the NY Times!

Tuesday 16 February 2010

I’ve had a lot of web pages opened and saved on my computer for a few weeks I’ve wanted to share with people but just haven’t gotten around to it, but I want to try and use these next few days to share.  I hope you can keep up!

First, two weeks ago I stumbled upon the creation of a weekly featured blog entry in the NY Times related to Mathematics!  I was so excited to see it and read it and share it (so now I’m doing part 3).

There have been 3 posts so far, with 15 total planned, and while the idea was exciting first — with the declared goal “to give you a better feeling for what math is all about and why it’s so enthralling to those who get it.” — I’ve felt a little underwhelmed with the results thus far.  While the topics thus far have been somewhat interesting for me, I don’t know if they’ve done a good job sparking a “better feeling” for math itself for those so inclined.  However, I also am probably not the best judge of that.

So, three weeks in, my excitement and joy of sharing this with you is a little muted, but maybe I’m selling it short, too.  I do enjoy work by the author, Steven Strogatz (also often featured on a favorite radio program of mine, RadioLab), so there’s no telling where it can go and I continue to keep reading.

Whether you’re a math person or not, check out the first three entries (links below) and see what you think.  Maybe I’m totally off and they’re much more accessible and enjoyable to non-math people than I realize — or maybe not.  Either way, at least now you know about it and can decide for yourself!

From Fish to Infinity (about the idea of counting and why numbers exist — includes a Sesame Street video clip!)
Rock Groups (dealing with adding and patterns)
The Enemy of My Enemy (a bit on subtraction and the idea of negative numbers)

List of all blogs on NY Times by Steven Strogatz


a special day in the math class

Monday 2 March 2009

Greetings all!  I’ve been out of town the past two weeks, thus the lack of posts!  However, I have a few thoughts from that time that I’m hoping to get down on computer in the coming days, so watch out for that!

In the mean time, to get back into the grove of things, a quick note that Tuesday, 3/3/09 is apparently Square Root Day!  I found a few articles/posts describing a bit of the day:
AP story
Wikipedia article
Comment board from last SRD, in ’04

I don’t think I ever would have picked that out myself, but it’s kind of fun.  And then next weekend, right after Friday the 13th, we get to celebrate Pi Day. We should really all be preparing for a huge bash in 2015 — that will be a once in a lifetime opportunity; mark your calendars now!  And, of course, a should out to all you Science people celebrating Mole Day this October.  (And guess what I just saw — one of the “Pi Approximation Day” dates falls usually on my 1/2 birthday, 10 November, the 314th day of the year — I was destined to love that number and math itself, it would seem!)

And for those committed blog readers out there who know me personally, this is a heads up that I’ll finally be cutting my hair Tuesday (there has to be some hair/square root pun to be had, but I’m not finding it… the root of the problem maybe?), so I hope you weren’t wanting to say goodbye to it!


The “sub” way (i’m so clever, right?)

Thursday 5 February 2009

So now that I’ve been in a few different classrooms, at a few different schools, in a few different situations, I thought it might finally be time to talk a little bit about my experiences as a substitute teacher.  When I moved back home after Thanksgiving, the hope to earn a little money and still have some flexibility in my schedule made substitute teaching seem like a pretty good deal.  Plus, with a few years of actual teaching experience, I thought it could be a good way to use some of my skills and reconnect with the teaching profession as I ponder the possibility of returning to “formal education” at some point in the future.  (I mention “formal” education there because I think I’ve decided that I’m called to be an educator, it’s just the idea of what area/subject it might be in: math, special education, social justice, systemic racism, etc.)

FYI as you read along: Thus far, I’ve subbed for a HS Science teacher, a MS Special Ed. teacher, and lastly an 8th Grade Math teacher.

One thing my substituting experience has taught me thus far is the realities of how I, as a teacher, treated my subs, and just the general expectation a teacher has of a substitute.  When I was a teacher, I never gave the sub too much credit, especially if I didn’t know who it might be.  Maybe because of the subject material (HS Math), or maybe just because that’s the way it is, when I was preparing in advance for being away, I’d often schedule tests or quizzes for the day I was out, to make it “easy” for the sub (in my mind): it doesn’t matter how much a sub knows about the material, they can still proctor a test (hopefully!).  They very well may have taken Algebra II or Geometry in HS, but who’s to say they would be able to help a student calculate the value of an interior angle of a regular octagon, or better yet to teach them how to do such a thing?  There were times when I would give out WSs or bookwork (especially if the absence was unplanned, i.e. I was sick), but I think sub as proctor was probably the norm for me.  So that fact that  as Science (Anatomy, Biology, Physics) sub I monitored WSs and bookwork came as little surprise to me — and really, I don’t think I would have done much of a job teaching the students the muscles of the leg, thigh, and groin area anyway.  It wasn’t surprising, but at the end of the day, not too rewarding.

My second experience, this past Monday, was in a MS Special Ed. classroom.  I had a student teacher, which was nice, since the environment wasn’t familiar to me, and the small number of students during any given period was also quite enjoyable.  Since there was a student teacher who had report with the students, I didn’t do as much “teaching” or working with the students as I might have done if I was alone, but I was still able to work directly, both one-on-one and in small groups, with students during the day, so it felt much more rewarding than my first experience, which, really, left me kind of depressed.  It was a good sign for me, as I’ve thought about maybe switching to work as a Special Ed. teacher if I return to the classroom, so this was a nice introduction to one of the possibilities such a career could afford me.

My third experience continued the trend of feeling more valued and gaining more reward in my work — and that shouldn’t be too surprising, as it so happened that I found myself returned in a Math classroom.  While the “emergency sub plans” (every teacher has these, just in case) called for me to proctor general diagnostic tests all day, that soon went by the wayside when the teacher, who had meetings in the school, showed up to get me some actual lesson plans.  I mentioned that I was a math teacher by trade, so she looked at what she would have done and decided to just have me carry on with that plan of action!  Victory!  I would finally be “teaching” again, like the “good old days!”

It was a pretty good day.  Some of my general past shortcomings as a teacher came out (classroom management, motivation to learn), some of them possibly because I was a sub, universally required to gain less respect than one’s “normal” teacher, but it still felt good.  It took a few classes to recognize the general abilities and challenges students had with the material, but I caught on and adapted my teaching style and examples — four classes had the same material, and that fourth class was the most well behaved and did the best, as a whole, on their assignment, which I would claim to be a good sign of success (at least in part — let’s not oversell this, as I’m sure there will be much supplementing of anything I did in future classes).  There was even a funny fiasco where I thought I had destroyed the dry erase board with a permanent marker thrown in for good measure — even with the challenges of the day, it made me c:

And then today I got a call from the principal of the HS I attended (though he wasn’t there when I went to school), seeing if I was available tomorrow to substitute for the math teacher I had from grades 8-12, at his request.  In the words of the principal, “That way they can at least still do some math.”

So I’ll likely have to take the good with the bad, but maybe things are going to turn out OK after all c:


teaching math

Tuesday 25 November 2008

So it looks like I shouldn’t worry about job security, at least not if I decide to get back into teaching math!

Study: Math Teachers 1 Chapter Ahead of Students


for those who like algorithms…

Friday 21 November 2008

If you like math or movies or human psychology, among other things, I’d highly recommend this particularly interesting article of the NY Times, titled If You Liked This, Sure to Love That.   It details at Netflix contest for individuals to improve upon their current program of movie recommendations such that it works 10% better than it already does (in the sense that it can predict 10% more closely how a viewer will like or rate a particular movie).  The article is nice, descriptive, in depth look at many ideas, so it might take you 15-20 minutes to read, but I wanted to delve into a few of the issues it brings out that I was intrigued by.

The article starts off describing the “Napoleon Dynomite” problem — basically that it’s extremely challenging to predict based on movie taste and past movie ratings whether or not a person will like this movie.  I, myself, still have yet to see this movie, but I definitely know people who loved and hated it, and as the article mentions that the ratings for “Napoleon Dynomite” are disproportionately 1 or 5 stars (the highest and lowest possible for the Netfilx scale).

This issue couples with another idea question brought up of whether a computer can do better at making recommendations than a human.  While the computer has tons and tons of data at it’s “hard drive” tips, to mangle a phrase, there is something about the human perception that does a pretty good job at discerning likes and dislikes of another person, even if the person doing the perceiving is the clerk at the local DVD store (we’re past video stores now, yes?).  The article mentions, too, that a computer is more likely to play it safe while a person draws upon their own likes and dislikes as well and may go a bit more on a limb that could be much more accurate than a computer, but may also come up short more regularly.  So the question becomes, “Can anyone’s enjoyment level truly be determined based on their previous levels of enjoyment of similar and dissimilar events?”  And if so, would we be doing ourselves a disservice to never experience things that might actually cause us dis-enjoyment?  Isn’t it good to experience both?

The other piece of the article I liked was the math – and it’s one of the reasons I might recommend it to someone :)  It was interesting to read how different algorithms were used and combined to do the math of movie suggestions.  Even more interesting was reading that as things got more or more complex, even those writing the computer programs no longer really recognized what the program they had written exactly was doing, but just knew that it seemed to be working than the one that preceded it!  To me, it’s curious that we throw in some data to an algorithm we really don’t understand and receive back a satisfactory answer that then can be tested for accuracy and reliability, but in between we’ve lost sight of what’s happening.

Is an answer worth getting if you don’t know how you got it?  The math teacher in me says no, but the movie lover in me doesn’t care as much.  If you’re able to take me love for “Hoop Dreams,” “A Clockwork Orange,” and “10 Things I Hate About You” and provide me with an enjoyable way to spend a Saturday evening that I wouldn’t have found on my own, I just might take it.  Or maybe instead I’ll just take it up with my friends.