Let's Talk Turkey!

Many of you are probably on your way back home for the holiday weekend. I will also be spending time with my family. However, just because there is a holiday I don’t stop doing mathematics. And neither should you!

Last weekend I was looking a turkeys at Safeway and I became fascinated by the labels. I posted this analysis of Butterball Turkey cooking times in my College Algebra blog to encourage students to look at everyday objects in a mathematical perspective.

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Put Money Where Your Mouth Is

Last week I wrote about using relevant examples in Relevance and Meaning Before Details. In this post, I suggested that the meaning of concepts need to be presented before the details. This sounds like a great idea, however I have to admit that I am as guilty as the next instructor when it comes to skipping the meaning in the face of huge amounts of content.

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Relevance and Meaning Before Details

In Peg + Cat, preschoolers learn the details about math through engaging examples.

My son has been watching the new PBS Kids series Peg + Cat. It is essentially a math learning tool in which preschoolers learn about mathematics by discovering the meaning of the math and why it is needed. This easily keeps his attention for a half hour…not an easy task with a three-year old.

In Brain Rules, John Medina suggests that presenting the meaning of a concept before the details helps keep the attention of learners.

If the instructor presents a concept without telling the audience where the concept fits into the rest of the presentation, the audience is forced to simultaneously listen to the instructor and attempt to divine where it fits into the rest of what the instructor is saying. This is the pedagogical equivalent of trying to drive while talking on a cell phone. Because it is impossible to pay attention to ANY two things at once, this will cause a series of millisecond delays throughout the presentation. The linkages must be clearly and repetitively explained.

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How Do You Flip A Zombie?

It is almost Halloween and I can forgive you if the title makes you think about this type of flipping zombie.

I want to talk about flipping the zombie learner. Since about 2000, I have been implementing various techniques to engage students in the classroom. Initially I used a great number of relevant problems…modeling data to solve real world problems. This evolved into full blown project-based learning and eventually the happy place I now live and teaching in. The projects helped to add relevancy to the course and counter the “When am I ever going to use this?” question. The problem was that I was still lecturing on very basic algebra and calculus problems. And I had to lecture to cover the amount of material required by the syllabus. In my mind, the content had to come out of my mouth for me to hold them responsible for it and to assess them on it. When I look back on this, I realize that students were often absent or not paying attention. Even though it was coming out of my mouth, they were not tuned in. In effect, it was not coming out of my mouth for a large number of students.
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As I described before, John Medina plans his lectures around four principles.

  1. Emotions get our attention.
  2. Meaning before details.
  3. The brain cannot multitask.
  4. The brain needs a break.

With these in mind, he plans each class meeting in ten minute segments. That is about the maximum amount of time that the brain can pay attention before it wanders off on its own. This ten minute segment covers one core concept. The core concept is chosen so that it can be fully explained in one minute. Then the other nine minutes in the segment may be used to explain how the detail relates to the core concept in simple, direct way.
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