Monday, September 3, 2012

Trying to Get Students to Understand Why Math is Important

                I have an Algebra Extended class where algebra is taught over the course of two years rather than one. It makes for a slower pace math class for the students who may need a slower pace type of math atmosphere. The student that normally takes this particular course, let’s just say tends to ask the question “Why do I need to know this?” Not in the nice-polite way, more in the I am asking because I am certain I don't need to know this way.
                I am trying to show my students that you never know when math will help you prove a point or help you make a decision. I have a theme going on in all of my classes this year: “Is it sustainable?” The use of ethanol, the decision to go with one phone plan vs. another, the consumption of energy the school goes through- is it sustainable socially, economically, ecologically?
 I make it clear that they will be responsible for making real decisions and I will be giving them room to form opinions around all of the information I will be bringing into the course. I want them in turn to see the importance of having factual evidence behind what they say.  When they make arguments, math can often times be the tool that serves as fact. If they make financial decisions, doing some calculations can justify their final choice of action. I am trying to establish this theme of thinking critically and not just saying things when really they do not have the knowledge to back up what they say.
                To try to win them over that math can play an essential role in winning arguments, we start the year off with a debate. It is a bit abnormal. On the first day of school, I have students brainstorm some strong beliefs they have or controversial issues they can think of.  Here are a list of some of the things they came up with:
                The war in Iraq                                   Year-round schooling    
                The healthy kids’ act                           Raising corn-prices (This one turned out great!)
                The health care act                              Which car is better Dodge or GMC
             I assign random partners. These partners decide on a topic. They then become enemies, for one person in this pair will be FOR "Year-round schooling" and the other partner will be AGAINST "Year-round schooling."
             The actual assignment is quite simple. I have done this for the last two years, and what I see is some students really fly with it, and other students really just do not take it seriously. I think it is well worth seeing the students who make a great learning opportunity out of it. They learn not just about a topic they are interested in, but they also see the force of using math to form facts and backbone to an argument. The outcome of the debates do portray to the students, that good research and factual information does clearly win. I can continually refer to this project throughout the year to make the point that math can really come in handy to justify decisions and hopefully help prove an answer to the theme of "Is it sustainable?"
                All students are to do is come up with a strong argument sentence. I tell them this can be opinion. But, they are to find 4 statistical or numerical facts. I have the “Outline” worksheet with an example paper I made for an argument and the rubric down below.
Outline for Argument Papers

                 For some reason, Excel is not opening for me at the moment. I will be posting the rubric I grade them on. The presentations are in the form of a low key debate where they two conflicting arguments stand up together and read their arguments. I have the pro side go, and then the con side. I fill out the rubric as they present. (I will post this rubric as soon as I figure out what is up with Excel...)

Students in the audience fill out the following evaluation forms as the debates occur.
                Tomorrow I hear the last of the presentations. Then, we shall see if I made an impact with them...

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