Wednesday, April 23, 2008

NCTM National Meeting-Salt Lake City

For the first time in my memory, the entire middle school math department attended a national conference together. For myself, it was the most productive and worthwhile conference I have attended. I concentrated on three areas. First, a new (free) piece of software called Geogebra that is modeled after the Geometer’s Sketchpad. It is dynamic algebra software meaning that changes are made dynamically to functions, graphs, constructions, and other mathematical representations. And, currently, Steve has put it on both labs and I have had students download it at home. They now can explore assignments using Geogebra and submit their work online.

The second thing I focused on was the Smart Board and new ways to use it. I learned a lot and found myself agreeing with this quote regarding the use of this great technology, “Engage, not entertain.” In the end, learning is the goal. If it is entertaining as well as engaging, that is good.

The third area that I concentrated on was the adoption of a new algebra book. I spent a lot of time with the people at Key Curriculum Press. I talked to the owner of the company, who did a workshop at their booth about a new product they are going to offer where their sketches from the Geometer’s Sketchpad are linked to the textbook that is being used. They have correlated their software with most textbooks that I know of. This software is not free. I also talked to the author of the book that I have adopted for next year. He gave me some insight into how the book was developed and some of the content of the text. I spent a lot of time there-I felt like a groupie!

I would like to end with a quote that was used by the gentleman who developed the Geogebra software. This is not his quote, but it is from a study where they looked at the science of instruction:

“What we have learned from all the media comparison research is that it’s not the medium but rather the instructional methods that cause learning. When instructional methods remain essentially the same, so does the learning, no matter how the instruction is delivered.” (Clark and Mayer, Learning and the science of instruction, 2007)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Francine, Laurie B. and I attended a workshop put on by the Bureau of Education and Research ( on Thursday, April 10th. It focused on the best new books for young adults. Although it was a bit heavy on titles that may appeal more to girls than boys, we were very pleased that the presenter was so very up to date. Many of the books had not even come out yet. We took copious notes and came away with lists and lists of books to read and recommend to our students and colleagues. It was extremely exhilarating to listen to hours of "book-talks" like that. Two titles that stuck out to me and that I can not wait to devour are Schooled by Gordon Korman and Deadline by Chris Crutcher.

What Booklist says about Schooled: *Starred Review* Homeschooled on an isolated "alternate farm commune" that has dwindled since the 1960s to 2 members, 13-year-old Cap has always lived with his grandmother, Rain. When she is hospitalized, Cap is taken in by a social worker and sent—like a lamb to slaughter—to middle school. Smart and capable, innocent and inexperienced (he learned to drive on the farm, but he has never watched television), long-haired Cap soon becomes the butt of pranks. He reacts in unexpected ways and, in the end, elevates those around him to higher ground. From chapter to chapter, the first-person narrative shifts among certain characters: Cap, a social worker (who takes him into her home), her daughter (who resents his presence there), an A-list bully, a Z-list victim, a popular girl, the school principal, and a football player (who unintentionally decks Cap twice in one day). Korman capably manages the shifting points of view of characters who begin by scorning or resenting Cap and end up on his side. From the eye-catching jacket art to the scene in which Cap says good-bye to his 1,100 fellow students, individually and by name, this rewarding novel features an engaging main character and some memorable moments of comedy, tenderness, and reflection. Pair this with Jerry Spinelli's 2000 Stargirl (the sequel is reviewed in this issue) for a discussion of the stifling effects of conformity within school culture or just read it for the fun of it. Phelan, Carolyn

What Booklist says about Deadline: Just before his senior year, Ben Wolf is diagnosed with a rare, incurable leukemia. At 18, he has the legal right to keep the news to himself until he's ready to reveal it. With only his doctor and therapist in on his secret, Ben sets out to live an entire lifetime in a year: There are insects that pack it all into a day, he reasons. His goals are to join his brother on the football team; learn everything he can; and ask out gorgeous Dallas Suzuki. Crutcher fits far too much into this ambitious novel, which includes subplots about incest, pedophilia, manic depression, and intellectual freedom, as well as a Jesus-like character who appears in visions. And readers may feel distanced from Ben, whose first-person voice and reactions never quite feel authentic. But, as usual, Crutcher writes vivid sports action scenes, and teens' interest will be held by the story's dramatic premise, Ben's unlikely turn as a football hero, love scenes with Dallas (including some mildly explicit sex), and Ben's high-gear pursuit of life's biggest questions. Engberg, Gillian