To begin this "big project" for EMT 670 I'm simply writing
stream of consciousness...what I want to do and how I'm starting to implement
Santa Claus, in the form of Project Jump Start and its technology monies, delivered to my classroom in Lumpkin County 15 Macintosh computers. The lab is cramped because it is in my regular classroom. There are five LC 580s and ten 5200s; twenty eight students and one teacher; lots of cords and surge protectors, two printers and a network connection to the high school library. How can we, my students and I, use this machinery to enhance the learning of mathematics?
From the experience of EMT 668/669 I know how much I learn when I write about a particular mathematical topic. Perhaps this might be an avenue to explore with students...using the graphing capabilities of Algebra Xpressor ( or any graphing utility) and the word processing capabilities of Claris, have the students write essays. This is a dramatically different teaching strategy than I have ever employed before...so here we go!
To give the students time to absorb the mechanics necessary to operate the programs I allocate four class periods for the students to produce a document about a conic section of their choice. Technical difficulites abound. Some machines give messages about not enough memory. The printer doesn't print. Students lose what they are working on when they go from the word processor to the graphing utility. Help! Maybe this isn't worth the time and effort....Maybe I don't know enough to manage all these complications. The "On Guard" protective software locks me out of too much and, so far, the local technology specialist will not allow me the access code. Three days into this writing assignment and very few students have much to show for the time spent. Tomorrow is Monday and we'll keep on trying.
As I evaluate the process so far, I remember learning any new skill takes time and effort. Operating the software is a learned skill. Wil the final result be worth the time invested at the beginning?
The most pressing question, to me, is always, "Are students learning mathematics?" This assignment concludes chapter 10 in Merrill Advanced Mathematical Concepts entitled, "Conics". Students study the definitions (locus and eccentricity), standard and general forms of the equations, graphs of the equations, rotations and translations of the graphs for each of the classical conics, as well as systems of second degree equations. For the writing assignment I encourage students to become intimate with a conic section of their choice...to follow that particular curve from its definition through all its various forms...to show what it looks like at each stage. I intend to use this as a test grade for this chapter and will require a journal topic to help me decide if this is indeed a teaching technique that develops students as mathematical thinkers. To see what the students produced in this introductory time period click here.