Tips for Transitioning to the TI-Nspire

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Are you transitioning to TI-Nspire™ CX graphing calculators from TI-84 Plus family models in your classroom? The TI-Nspire CX graphing calculator is a powerful tool with many features, yet it is easy to perform familiar operations like calculating and graphing. Read my post on the TI BulleTIn Board Blog for some suggestions to get you started.

Tips for Transitioning to the TI-Nspire CX from TI-84 Plus

These tips should get you started on your transition, but there is much more to explore about the TI-Nspire CX graphing calculator. Check out the on-demand webinars, product tutorials, and free activities at education.ti.com.

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Testing Tips: Using the TI-84+ on the SAT

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The fall dates for the SAT and PSAT tests are around the corner.  The TI-84 Plus CE and the entire TI-84 Plus family of graphing calculators are approved for use on the Math–Calculator section of these College Board tests. Read my post on the TI BulleTIn Board Blog for tips on how to leverage your TI-84 Plus for success on test day…

Six tips for using the TI-84 Plus CE on the SAT®

Good luck!

Moving the Needle

I’m late to the party—the Virtual Conference on Mathematical Flavors—but I’ve been pondering for awhile the questions asked in the prompt: “How does your teaching move the needle on what your kids think about the doing of math, … what math feels like, or who can do math?”

I work one-on-one with students and while preparing for the start of the academic year I’ve reflected on what has gone well and what changes I’d like to make going forward.

In my sessions with students, my goal is to help them master skills and concepts taught in the classroom setting.  I’m remediating, coaching, explaining, test-prepping, and only a little bit extending beyond what their main teacher has taught.  I seem to get good results: students do well on their in-class assessments, grades improve or are steady, and students and parents are happy.  However, I worry that while my students are learning some mathematical skills in the short or medium term, they still view themselves as needing the support of a tutor to succeed; that they are “not good at math”.  I’m concerned that my teaching practice doesn’t push them that much farther into confidence, agency, or deep understanding as I would like, that I haven’t “moved the needle” enough.

Therefore, I have three goals for the coming year, in order to meet the needs of my students AND to better equip them to experience the mathematical flavors they encounter elsewhere in their academic careers.

1. [I will] Talk and write less.

notebookIn the past, I routinely guided students through the concepts of a math unit, making summary notes for them to keep, and doing much of the talking.  I generally avoided the “do you get it?” self-report trap that can occur in a classroom, because the individual setting necessitates that my students demonstrate their understanding by doing examples, showing me their steps, and fixing their own mistakes.

But I’ve learned from my reading in cognitive science* that if I make students write things themselves, generate their own questions and examples, reflect on their results, and practice self-explanation, their learning will be deeper and more durable.  That my students need to engage in their own processing time, in order to solidify and build their framework of math concepts and procedures.  This takes more time, but the idea is that it makes the teaching episode much more productive; instead of an hour racing through lots of topics and examples, we can study in a way that ensures each math component we discuss is synthesized with prior knowledge and able to be retrieved for future use.

In the past I’ve shared some cognitive science research with my students, particularly about spaced retrieval practice and the limits of working memory (e.g. why you should “show your work” as you do your math).  For the coming year, I will make this a key part of our curriculum, so that students learn how to build their own effective study practice.  And I’m planning to talk and write less, taking the time to have my students talk and write more, because it is their learning that is the focus of our work.

2. [They will] Stock the mathematical toolbox.

indexStudents often say to me, “I don’t know anything about” the math topic they are facing.  I typically have jumped right in, explaining the topic from the beginning, providing scaffolding and support for the learning.

But in truth, the students probably do know something about the topic, and if I insist that we begin there, I will enhance their learning in two ways.  First, by meeting them where they are in their conceptual development, I can build on what they know, expanding and strengthening their math expertise, rather than starting from nothing at all or repeating techniques they have already mastered.  Second, by having students do the cognitive work of retrieving concepts, connecting to other knowledge, and applying prior skills to new problems, they are engaging in productive struggle that will ultimately make the learning deeper and stronger.  That work might be hard work, but their active participation in doing the math is a critically important ingredient.

So I plan to explicitly help my students stock their mathematical toolbox—fill it with strategies, vocabulary, big ideas, and “things to try” when faced with a math exercise.  Things like these:

  • Draw a diagram & label what you know.
  • Use inverse operations to do and undo.
  • Try a different representation to get more information (graph, table of values, algebraic expression, etc.).
  • Look at structure to figure out how to solve or how to graph (What does this equation look like—variables, powers, coefficients, fractions, etc.).
  • Explain it in your own words (before using mathematical terms).
  • Try a simpler problem first.
  • Test out with numbers in place of the variables.
  • Think about the computation before grabbing the calculator.
  • And more…

Of course, the mathematical toolbox includes resources for help when you are really stuck: search Google, Khan Academy, or YouTube for help, or find a friend or classmate who is willing to show you how to do it, and gives you enough explanation so that you can do it yourself afterwards.

The final component of the toolbox is for students to actively engage in their main math class: taking notes, working examples, making sketches, and thinking about why and what makes sense.  When something seems confusing, mark it to ask about later.  Come to the tutoring session prepared with some questions to ask or trouble spots to work on, so we can target our efforts together.

3. [We will] Build self-confidence and a positive outlook.

This one is a perpetual challenge, with students who haven’t consistently succeeded in their math classes, or who have only achieved with supports.  I have always begun the year asking students how they feel about math, or when did it first become difficult, or what part of it feels straightforward.  As the year goes on, we discuss what topics are “hard for everyone” (so don’t worry if it feels hard for you) or what is “easy to do” (so once I explain it, you will get it too).

But there are dangers in labeling topics as “easy” or “hard” because each individual student experiences it in a unique and nuanced way.**  That saying “this is easy” can backfire in the event that the student still feels lost, and then feel anxious because they should have been able to understand, even though my message is intended to be “you’ve got this”.  And saying that something is really tough can make it feel like an insurmountable mountain.

So I’m planning to explicitly work on promoting a growth mindset*** with my students: that anyone can be good at math, that mistakes and challenges help their learning, and their efforts and practice will strengthen their understanding.  That if they say “I’m not good at math” they need to add on “yet” to the sentence.  And that everyone experiences difficulty some of the time, they are not alone, they have to believe they can do it (and I believe they can).

images Finally, we need to approach our work with a positive attitude, tackling tough math with our full efforts.  We will find accessible entry points and break the material into manageable pieces.  We will build your self-confidence.  We want to move the needle on how you view tutoring: moving towards the view that it is a helpful opportunity and an occasional safety net, and away from the view that it is something that you can’t do without, or (worse) something that releases you from responsibility to do your work.  We’re in this together, but we’re working towards you being able to go it alone.  I believe in you!


Notes:

The Virtual Conference on Mathematical Flavors is a wonderful set of blog posts well worth your time to read and reflect upon.  Thanks to Sam Shah for hosting, compiling, and cheerleading.

*Two books discussing cognitive science research and its implications for teaching and learning are Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger & Mark A. McDaniel, (2014) and How I Wish I Taught Maths: Lessons Learned from Research, Conversations with Experts and 12 Years of Mistakes by Craig Barton (2018).  The accompanying websites are http://makeitstick.net and www.mrbartonmaths.com/teachers/ (check out Craig’s podcast page and recommended research papers list).  Two other helpful websites are www.retrievalpractice.org/ and www.learningscientists.org.

**Tracy Zager discusses the trouble with “this is easy” in this post.

***Lots about a growth mindset and how to foster it among your students from Jo Boaler and her team at www.youcubed.org/resource/growth-mindset/  and in the book Mathematical Mindsets (2016).

Table Techniques

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How might we use the graphing calculator Table feature to build conceptual understanding and support procedural knowledge?  Here are some ideas…

 

A. Dynamic Tables is one way I use the Action–Consequence–Reflection cycle in my teaching.  We generate a table so that students perform a mathematical action, observe a consequence, and reflect upon the mathematical meaning in order to build conceptual understanding.

In Algebra, when students learn to distinguish linear vs. exponential growth*, we enter the simple equations Y1 = 2x and Y2 = 2x on the TI-84+ family of calculators (TI-84+CE shown here).

To observe the growth of the functions numerically, adjust the Table Settings:  press 2nd WINDOW for [TBLSET] and set the Independent variable to AUTO and the Dependent variable to ASK (see above right).  This will allow students to generate the Y-values one at a time, rather than have them appear all at once.  Press 2nd GRAPH to view the table and press ENTER to generate each value, moving down each column.  View the video here.

How does the Y-value change as you move down each column?  Students should use mathematical language to describe what they observe.  Can you tell where the graphs would intersect?  Which equation grows faster?

Alternatively, set the Independent variable to ASK and the Dependent variable to AUTO.  In this setup, enter the X-value and both Y-values will fill in.  I use this when students are comparing two scenarios to see which grows faster.

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Another example of Dynamic Tables is to build understanding of negative and zero exponents.  Enter the following into Y1: equation (the fraction is used to force fractional results in the table; make sure Answers are set to “Auto” under MODE).  Set Independent to ASK and Dependent to AUTO, then enter X-values of 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 in the table.

  • What mathematical process is happening to the X-value in each new row?
  • Subtracting 1 each time, which means subtracting 1 from the exponent.
  • What mathematical process is happening to the Y-value?
  • Dividing by 2 each time.

Then ask, what do you predict will happen when X = 0?  When X = –1? When X = –2?  Change the base to 3 or 5 or 10 and observe.  Students can now explain what to do when a base is raised to a negative or zero exponent.

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Here is what we wrote on the board as we explored the table on the calculator.

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B. Noticing Invariants

Tables can also be used to notice Invariants—quantities, shapes or locations that do not change even though other things are changing.  Set up the table starting at 0 with an increment of 15, AUTO-AUTO and use Degree mode.  Examine the table for Y1 = sin(x) and Y2 = cos(x).  What do you notice?  Are any values equal?  Why does this occur?

My students and I don’t just examine the table, we also look at a geometric figure of a right triangle with side lengths that are easy to compute with, such as 3, 4, and 5.  Determine the sine and cosine of each angle and discuss how this relates to the table values.

right tri

Next, add another expression into Y3 as shown below left: use (Y1)2 = (Y2)2 to represent sin2x + cos2x, pressing ALPHA TRACE to access the Y-variables.  What does the table display?  Why is this so?  Again, refer to the right triangle figure—can you explain why this property is known as the “Pythagorean Identity”?

 

C. Aids for Factoring and Simplifying

So far we’ve used the table as a tool for inquiry; now we turn to using it as an aid for computation, number sense, and procedural fluency.  For factoring trinomials and simplifying radicals, students need to determine the numerical factors of a number.  When the number is large, or the student needs some scaffolding support, enter into Y1 the number divided by X and view the table (TblStart=1, ΔTbl=1).

For example, Y1 = 72/X  and the table clearly shows which numbers are factors and which are not, depending on whether a decimal remainder results (note that the “slash” version of the fraction bar forces decimal results).

For students needing assistance remembering perfect squares, cubes, or other powers, enter those functions into Y= and view the table.

When simplifying radicals into exact form, combine the two techniques to find perfect squares, cubes, etc. that are factors of the radicand value.‡

Of course, in both of these examples, students could simply enter calculations on the home screen until they hit upon the “right” divisor.  The table has the advantage of systematically presenting the information in one place.

 

D. Generating Sequences

If an explicit formula for a sequence is known, simply enter it into Y= and set the table to start at 1 with an increment of 1.  For example, the sequence 2, 5, 8, 11, … has explicit formula an = 2 + 3(n – 1).  In function mode, x is used in place of n.

This can also be accomplished in Sequence Mode.  nMin is the starting term number, u(n) is the explicit formula for term un, and u(nMin) is the value of the first term u1.  Note that the symbol n is found on the  x theta t n  key in sequence mode.  Here is the same sequence as above.

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Although Sequence mode isn’t necessary for explicit formulas, it is very useful to generate a sequence recursively**.  This time, express u(n) in terms of the previous term u(n–1).  The u(n–1) variable is found by pressing ALPHA TRACE (or type it directly with the u above the 7 key).

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Back in Function mode, I’ve also discovered that helpful sequences can be created with the Table.  When Precalculus students studied the Binomial Theorem, they often wrote out several rows of Pascal’s Triangle rather than use the nCr values for the appropriate power.  The table comes to the rescue: enter nCx into Y1, with the numerical value of the power for n.  Begin the table at 0 and increment by 1, and the appropriate row of Pascal’s Triangle is displayed.

Whether you use the table to enable investigation and inquiry, or use it to support numerical and procedural fluency, take these Table Techniques to your classroom!


Notes and Resources:

*The complete activity using Dynamic Tables to explore Linear and Exponential Growth is here.

**Recursive sequences can also be generated directly on the Home screen of the TI-84+ family, as an alternative to Sequence Mode.  Simply enter the value of the first term, then perform the recursive operation on the ANS, and press enter for the second term.  Finally, press ENTER as many times as desired to generate the sequence.  Below left is the same sequence discussed above; below right is the sequence based on paying off a $500 credit card bill with 24% annual interest and monthly payment of $75.

‡Thanks to Fred Decovsky for this suggestion.

Conference Conversations…

Last month, at the T3 International Conference* #T3IC, I was one of the speakers at the “Seven for Seven” session**.  In an Ignite-style setup, each of us seven speakers spoke for seven minutes on topics that we were passionate about.

I spoke on “The Power of the Action–Consequence–Reflection Cycle”, in which

  • Students perform a mathematical action
  • Observe a mathematical consequence
  • Reflect on the result and reason about the underlying mathematical concepts

I believe that the REFLECTION piece is the most important component of the process.  I talked about strategies for questioning and how to make reflection part of your classroom practice.

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The video of my talk is here. In the alloted seven minutes, there wasn’t time to fully discuss classroom examples, but these activities fall into several categories:

  1. Graphs and Sliders (Transformation of Functions)
  2. Visualizers
  3. Understanding Structure
  4. Looking for Invariants
  5. Dynamic Tables, Lists & Spreadsheets
  6. CAS Capability

I wrote about two examples in this post that made use of graphs/sliders and invariants.  Some examples of dynamic tables are described in this post.

Next week, I will be presenting a workshop on the same theme at the NCTM 2018 Annual Meeting in Washington DC.  If you are attending #NCTMannual, join me at Session 36, Thursday April 26 in Convention Center 207A from 9:45 to 11 am for “Action–Consequence–Reflection Activities: Using Technology to Make Math Stick!”.  We will explore dynamic activities using TI Graphing Calculators, GeoGebra, or Desmos that leverage the Action–Consequence–Reflection Cycle to promote conceptual understanding and enable student success.  I will post some additional lesson ideas here after the conference is over.

 

 


Notes and Resources:

*All of the video highlights of the Teachers Teaching with Technology T3 International Conference are here.  The other six speakers were wonderful and inspiring—check them out to see what they had to say.  Next year, T3 will take place in Baltimore March 8–10, 2019, so save the date!

**Jill Gough’s summary sketchnote from the 7 for 7 session is here.  Thanks, Jill!

Looking Below the Surface

icebergThis week, I came across the treasure trove of problems available at ssddproblems.com, created and curated by Craig Barton.  SSDD stands for “Same Surface, Different Deep” and each set of problems contains four questions that have a similar presentation (a common image, shape, or context) but where the deep mathematical structures of the problems are very different¹.

SSDD problems are the essence of “Interleaving Different Practice”, one of the techniques that enhances learning from the book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning². Page 85 explains how interleaving fosters conceptual understanding:

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The trouble with interleaving is that it can actually impede initial learning, which is one reason teachers might not gravitate to the technique; however, the research “shows unequivocally that mastery and long-term retention are much better if you interleave practice than if you mass it.” (p. 50) [massed practice is focused, repetitive practice of one thing at a time.]

Craig’s SSDD problems are based on extensive cognitive science research showing that this strategy of interleaved practice is beneficial to learning by helping students discriminate between problem types and choose appropriate strategies to solve based on the underlying deep structure.  He says this is in contrast to the “auto-pilot” approach that can be common with students: they see a right triangle and jump right to the Pythagorean Theorem, whether or not it is useful.  Here is one of his question sets involving right triangles:

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Students working on “auto-pilot” is one consequence of how we often teach math topics: practicing similar types of problems in a given lesson, then moving on to another type, then another.  When students are faced with cumulative tests or spiral review problems, they might not remember what they had “mastered” earlier.

Of course, I wanted to get in on the fun!  Craig tweeted yesterday that in the prior 5 days, his website grew from 80 question sets to 200 sets.  He has a helpful template available for creating an SSDD powerpoint slide. I scanned the list of topics on the website, looking for something fruitful that could also capitalize on technology and connect various representations, and didn’t yet have several sets posted.  I developed this question set on Quadratic Graphs:

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My process was this: I first brainstormed the types of questions that could get asked about a quadratic graph. By the time Algebra 1 or Algebra 2 students are done with a unit on quadratics, they have covered a lot of ground, and can be confused by different forms of quadratic functions or when to use various solving techniques.

I decided that my focus would be on examining features of the graph to write different forms of the quadratic function, or use the graph’s features to solve equations and real-context problems.

It was challenging to choose one graph that could work for all these purposes:

  1. Determine Vertex Form from a graph (and with a ≠ 0 to increase cognitive demand)
  2. Determine Factored Form from a graph (required relating zeros of the function to its factors, again with a ≠ 0)
  3. Use a graph to Solve an Equation (either find points of intersection with technology, or solve using quadratic formula; including simplifying radicals to exact form or finding decimal approximations)
  4. Interpret a Graph in a Real Context (with different scales on horizontal and vertical axes)

I took screenshots from TI-84+CE SmartView Emulator software³.  The color and graph grid makes it possible for students to gather information by inspection and not have to rely on the calculator to analyze the graph’s features.  I’m pleased with how the problems turned out; any feedback is welcome.

You can find my set on ssddproblems.com under the topic “Equation of a Quadratic Curve” or this direct link and the original powerpoint is here.  One caveat to keep in mind about the problem sets on the SSDD site is that Craig works in England; there are some differences in vocabulary between American math and British maths, with both represented on the site.

I am excited about diving in to the rich resource at ssddproblems.com and looking below the surface for deeper learning!  Join me…


Notes and Resources:

1. There is much more background explanation about the SSDD problems and their research base on Craig’s website. They were introduced in his book “How I Wish I Taught Maths: Lessons Learned from Research, Conversations with Experts and 12 Years of Mistakes” (2018).

2. The book “Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning” by Brown, Roediger & McDaniel (2014) has a companion website MakeItStick.net.  The authors advocate for the strategies of spaced and interleaved retrieval practice, elaboration, generation, reflection, and calibration in order to optimize learning.  Another helpful blog post by Debbie Morrison about using these techniques in your teaching is here.

3. More information about the TI-SmartView CE Emulator Software for the entire TI-84+ family can be found on the TI Website here.  Currently there is a 90-day free trial available.  Take advantage of color demonstrations for your class, save work in progress, and insert screenshots and keystrokes in your handouts and assessments.

4. Michael Pershan wrote this blog post with his thoughts on the SSDD problem sets. He focused on geometry diagrams, for which I think the SSDD sets are extremely well suited.

 

 

Great Thinking!

light bulbOne of the bonuses of working with students one-on-one is that I can get a window into their mathematical thinking by asking questions and having them “narrate” their work as they proceed.  Several of my recent conversations demonstrate unique and flexible thinking that helped my students work through computations effectively.

How might we enable this type of visible thinking in our classrooms?  I tried these prompts:

  • Tell me what you were thinking.
  • What would you do to compute this if you didn’t have a calculator?
  • What math operation did you do first?
  • Can you explain the steps you did in your mind?

What follows are some observations of “great thinking” by my students, who used flexible number sense for success.

A. Using number sense for easier multiplying or dividing

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B. Fantastic Fraction Flexibility

Here, noticing the multiplier is easier than solving the proportion directly:IMG_7207

In this question about slope, the student noticed that the first denominator must be 2 if the fractions are to be equal.IMG_7210

C. Simplifying with Radicals

It is hard to find perfect square factors of large numbers; this strategy employs factors and the student never found the original product.IMG_7208

Here, the student used an alternative to the traditional process of rationalizing the denominator.IMG_7213

D. Factors and Multiples

Rather than set up proportions, this student noticed multiplesIMG_7205

I’ve avoided the term “cancel” for some time, so here we talked about “dividing away common factors”. IMG_7206

E. Other interesting choices for computation and order of operations

The formula for area of a trapezoid can be thought of as “height * average of the bases”.  This student also applied binomial multiplication to compute without a calculator.IMG_7215

Here the typical order of operations would do the distributive property first.  Instead, the student saved a step.IMG_7211


Also on my mind as I write this are three things I have read this week.  First, James Tanton addresses a multiplication mistake made by an education official in this blog post, forgetting what 7 x 8 is.  Tanton suggests that the “best answer” in this case would have been “This is a tricky one. But I do have in my head that 7×7 is 49, so 7×8 is seven more than this: 56” because it highlights the thought process and downplays the memorization aspect of number facts.  His discussion is thought provoking (and he applies the same idea to trig identities too!).

The second item I was contemplating was in Sarah Carter’s Monday Must Reads post; she and I both liked David Sladkey’s “No eraser allowed” technique of insisting students leave their mathematical thinking available for the teacher to see.

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The third concept informing my thinking is the book study I’ve been doing with colleagues from Teachers Teaching with Technology (#T3Learns) on “Visible Learning for Mathematics” (2017) by Hattie et al.  Hattie describes a spiral relationship between surface learning, deep learning, and transfer learning that enables students to achieve.  He notes that surface learning is NOT shallow learning (p 29) but is instead “made up of both conceptual exploration and learning vocabulary and procedural skills that give structure to ideas” (p 104) that “sets the necessary foundation for the deepening knowledge” (P 131) on the path to understanding. Techniques such as number talks, guided questioning, worked examples (including accurate work and work with mistakes), and highlighting metacognitive strategies all enhance the process of surface learning for students, according to Hattie.

I constantly remind students to “Show Your Mathematical Thinking”—which is the updated version of “Show Your Work.” By asking them to “narrate” their thinking, I am focusing on my students’ surface learning to build their foundation of skills and tools on their learning journey.

 

 

Action-Consequence Advantage!

Using Technology to Make Math Stick

How might we enable students to grasp mathematical concepts and make their learning durable?  One approach is to use the sequence of Action-Consequence-Reflection in lesson activities:

  • Students perform a mathematical action
  • Observe a mathematical consequence
  • Reflect on the result and reason about the underlying mathematical concepts

The ACTION can be on a graph, geometric figure, symbolic algebra expression, list of numbers or physical model.  Technology can be used in order to have a quick and accurate result or CONSEQUENCE for students to observe.

The REFLECTION component is the most important part of this sequence; without this, students might not pay attention to the important math learnings we intended for the lesson.  They might remember using calculators, computers, ipads, or smartboards, but not recall what the tech activity was about.  And if they did learn the concept in the first place, the process of reflection helps make the learning stick—it is one of the cognitive techniques shown to make learning more successful.*

Students can reflect in many ways: record results, answer questions, discuss implications with classmates, make predictions, communicate their thinking orally or in writing, develop proofs and construct arguments.  The intended (or unexpected) learnings should be summarized either individually or as a class in order to solidify the concepts, preferably in a written form.**

In my one-on-one work with students, we often fall into the “procedural trap” in which my students just want to know “what to do” and don’t feel that the “why it works” is all that important (I’ve written about this before here). Also, our time is limited with many topics to cover.  But this past week, I was able to sneak in some Action-Consequence-Reflection with two students because they had mastered the prior material and were getting ahead on a new unit. It was a great opportunity to have them discover a concept or pattern for themselves, far better than simply being told it is true.

For each of these, I used a simple REFLECTION prompt:  What do you observe?  What changes?  What stays the same?

Student #1: Polynomial Function End Behavior, Algebra 2 (or PreCalculus)End Behav QWe used a TI-84+CE to investigate the polynomials.  We began with the even powers on a Zoom Decimal window, and my student noticed that higher powers had “steeper sides”.  I asked “what are the y-values doing to make this happen?” and we noticed the y-values were “getting bigger faster”.  We then used the Zoom In command to investigate what was going on between x = –1 and x = 1, and noticed that higher powers were “flatter” close to the origin because their y-values were lower.

 

Why did this happen? Take x = 2 and raise it to successive powers, and it gets bigger. Take x = ½ and raise it to successive powers and it gets smaller. We confirmed this with the table:

Setting the Table features to “Ask” for the Independent variable but “Auto” for the Dependent made the table populate only with the values we wanted to view. Fractions can be used in the table, and we used the decimal value 0.5 for number sense clarity. Another observation was that the graphs coincided at three points: (1, 1), (0, 0) and (–1, 1).

In fact, none of this was what I “intended” to teach with the lesson, but it was mathematically interesting nonetheless, and my student already had a deeper appreciation for the graph’s properties. We moved on to the odd powers, and the same “steep” vs. “flat” properties were observed:

AC end beh 6

 

Then I asked my student to consider what made the graph of the even powers different from the graph of the odd powers, and what about them was the same, finally getting around to my “lesson”.  He noticed that even powers had a pattern of starting “high” on the left and ending “high” on the right, while odd powers started “low” on the left but ended “high” on the right.  We made predictions about the graphs of x11 and x12, to apply our understanding to new cases.† Then we moved on to the sign of the leading coefficient: when it is negative, our pattern changed to even powers “low” on the left and “low” on the right, with odd powers “high” on the left and “low” on the right.

All of this took just a few minutes, including the detour at the beginning that I wasn’t “intending” to teach.

Student #2: Interior and Exterior Angles of a Triangle, Geometry

Int Ext 1

We began with a dynamic geometry figure of a triangle which displayed the measurements of the three interior angles and one exterior angle.  I asked my student: “What do you notice?” and “what do you want to know about this figure?”  We dragged point B around to make different types of triangles.

This motivated my student to wonder about the angle measures; he was familiar with Linear Pair Angles, so he noticed that ∠ACB and ∠BCD made a linear pair and stated they would add up to 180°.  I then revealed some calculations of the angle measures, which dynamically update as we changed the triangle’s shape (the 180° in the upper right is the sum of the 3 interior angles).  What changes? What stays the same?

Int Ext 6

We noticed that both sums of 180° were constant‡ no matter how the triangle was transformed, but the sum of the 2 remote interior angles kept changing, and in fact, matched the measure of the exterior angle.  My student recorded his findings in his notebook, and then I asked, “can we prove it?”.  It was easy for us to prove the Exterior Angle Theorem based on his previous knowledge of the sum of the interior angles and the concept of supplementary linear pairs.  This student loved that he had “discovered” a new idea for himself, without me just telling him.

Even though these concepts are relatively simple, I feel that using a technology Action-Consequence activity made the learning more impactful and durable for my students, and I believe it was more effective than just telling them the property I wanted to teach. It took us a few more minutes to explore the context with technology than it would have to simply copy the theorems out of the book, but it was worth it!

 


Notes and Resources:

*For a full elaboration of cognitive science strategies for becoming a productive learner (or designing your teaching to enhance learning), see Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger & Mark A. McDaniel, 2014.  Website: http://makeitstick.net .

**Written summaries allow students to Elaborate and Reflect on the learning, two more of the cognitive strategies.  In addition, by insisting that students record the results of the work, the teacher sends the message that the technology investigation comprises important knowledge for the class.

†Making predictions is a way to formatively assess my students’ understanding.  It also is a form of Generation, another cognitive strategy that makes the learning more durable.

‡This is an example of an invariant, a value or sum that doesn’t change, which are often important mathematical/geometric results.

Here are the two activities discussed in the post. Note that the Geogebra file for Power functions has the advantage of having a dynamic slider, but students won’t view the graphs at the same time, so won’t notice the common points or the graph properties between –1 and 1.

Searching for Structure

Recently, I read on Twitter some teachers’ frustration with students who just want to know the quick procedures to do the math at hand and don’t have much interest in the meaning of the underlying concepts.  I often come across this dilemma in my one-on-one work with students; in this tutoring role I especially feel the pressure to teach the “how-to” for an upcoming test and don’t always have the time to explore the “why” with the student.  I wrote a bit about this tension before in this post.

Another conversation on Twitter was specific to Algebra 2, about how to build on past knowledge even when some/all of the students seem not to remember that past knowledge.  How might we deepen students’ understanding and not simply retread the procedures?

I was faced with these dual dilemmas when I worked with a student this week reviewing Complex Numbers and Quadratic Equations for an upcoming test.  My approach: pay attention to mathematical structure.

A. Fractions involving imaginary numbers:

imag numbers

These three examples, examined together, allowed us to explore how to handle a negative value in the radicand (“inside the house”) and also how to handle a two-part numerator* with a one-part denominator.  Once the imaginary  i  was extracted and the radical simplified as much as possible, we took a look at when we could and couldn’t “simplify” the denominator.

I wanted to help my student avoid the common mistake of trying to “cancel”** when you can’t.  We used structure to explain.  When there is a two-part numerator and a one-part denominator, you can do one of 3 things:

“Distribute the denominator” to make two separate fractions.  I find this is the most reliable routine to avoid mistakes.

distribute-denominator-e1507861388968.jpg

Divide “all parts” by a common factor.

Divide all

Factor a common factor (if any) in the number, then simplify with the denominator.

factor-common.jpg

{*I wasn’t sure if the numerators qualify as “binomials” since they are numeric values, but my student and I discussed how they have two terms on top and one term on bottom, which can be challenging to simplify.  This structure will be encountered later when solving equations using the quadratic formula.}

{**I have avoided the use of “cancel” since I became more familiar with the “Nix the Tricks” philosophy of using precise mathematical language and avoiding tricks and “rules that expire”.  See resources below for more on this.}

B. Operations with complex numbers:

Again, we looked at a set of three problems to examine structure, which leads us to the appropriate procedures:

operations2

What is the same and different about #10 and #11?  What operation is needed in each?  Which is easier for you?

What is the same and different about #11 and #12?  What do you call these expressions:  4 – 5i and 4 + 5i ?  If you notice this structure, how does the problem become easier?

This led to a fruitful discussion of combining “like terms”, what is a “conjugate”, and whether it mattered if the multiplication was done in any particular order.  My student had been taught to always list answers for polynomials in order of decreasing degree, as in x2 – 2x + 1, so he was writing any  i2  terms first.  This isn’t wrong, but the rearranging of the order of the multiplication could have caused a mistake, so we talked about whether  is a variable or not, and when might it be helpful to treat it like a variable.

By noticing the structure of conjugates and why they are used, we got away from merely memorizing math terminology and instead added to conceptual understanding.

C. Using the discriminant

The discriminant is one of my favorite parts of the quadratic equations unit!  Students must pay attention to the structure of a quadratic equation (is it in the standard form ax2 + bx + c = 0 ?) before using the discriminant to give clues about the number and type of solutions.

discriminant

Rather than memorize what the discriminant means, look at where it “lives” in the quadratic formula.  It is in the radicand, which is why a positive value yields real solutions and a negative value does not.  The radical follows the ± , which is why nonzero discriminants give two solutions (either a real pair or a complex pair).  And the two solutions are conjugates of each other, something that I hadn’t really thought about when I got real solutions using the quadratic formula.  (And there is a nice surprise when you examine the two parts of the “numerical conjugates” and relate them to the graph of the quadratic. See note below for more on this.)

conjugates

I recently read this post about one teacher’s success having students evaluate the discriminant first, then tackle the rest of the quadratic formula.  Her strategy integrates the use of the discriminant with quadratic formula solving, instead of making it a stand-alone procedure.


Calculator Note: when evaluating the Quadratic formula on the TI-84+ family of calculators, use the fraction template  Untitled  to make the calculator input match the written arithmetic.  Press ALPHA then Y= for the fraction template, or get it from the MATH menu.  Then edit the previous entry for the second solution (use the UP arrow to highlight the previous entry and press ENTER to edit).  Here is #26 from above:

Capture 1

Another Calculator Note: the TI-84+ family in a+bi mode can handle the addition and multiplication questions #10-12, so if you are assessing student proficiency on these skills, have them do it without using the calculator.  The color TI-84 Plus CE can operate with an imaginary number within the fraction template, such as questions #4-6 and anything with the quadratic formula.  You can use either the  i  symbol (found above the decimal point) or a square root of a negative number.

Capture 2 arrow

However the B&W TI-84+ can’t use an imaginary number within the fraction template.  Use a set of parentheses and the division “slash” for this to work:

Capture 1 BW


Notes and Resources:

Nix the Tricks website and book: nixthetricks.com.  And lest you think that “Distribute the denominator” is yet another trick, consider this:  The fraction bar is a type of grouping symbol (like parentheses) and it indicates division.  Dividing is equivalent to multiplying by the reciprocal.  So the “distribute the denominator” work for #4 above is also this: Capture

Three articles about “Rules That Expire” have been published in the NCTM journals.  Currently all three are available as “FREE PREVIEWS” on the website.

“Look for and make use of structure” is one of the Standards for Mathematical Practice (SMP #7) in the Common Core State Standards found here: http://www.corestandards.org/Math/Practice/

The “nice surprise” about the solutions to a quadratic equation written as “numerical conjugates” and their relationship to the quadratic graph was pointed out to me by Marc Garneau.  His post here gives more detail and a student activity to go with it.

Thanks as always to the #MTBoS and #iTeachMath community on Twitter for great conversations!

Fun Features of the TI-84+ Family

Recently, I was a panelist for a TI Calculators Webinar that happened to follow a new Operating System release for the TI-84+CE color calculator and its accompanying Apps and computer software.  The new calculator features were not our primary focus, but since OS 5.3 was just released, we tried to highlight them when appropriate. This post summarizes a few features of the new OS version 5.3; I want to share in more detail these fun features that will help my teaching and my students.

1.New shortcut key for the fraction template. I use the fraction template  Fraction template2  to make the calculator inputs match the math notation.  It has been available for the entire TI-84+family for several operating systems.  Press ALPHA-Y1 to access the shortcut menu for the fraction and mixed number templates. On the color versions of the TI-84+, it is also found in the MATH>FRAC menu.

Fraction template

And now, there is an even faster way on the TI-84+CE: press alpha x

2. Piecewise Function Graphing now allows entry that looks like the textbook! Press MATH and select B. piecewise. Choose the number of pieces and then enter them using the inequality operators in the TEST menu (2nd MATH) or the CONDITIONS submenu.  Discuss with students whether it matters which piece comes first in the piecewise definition.

You might notice that in Y= the viewable area is limited when entering a piecewise function.  If desired, you can enter the piecewise function on the Home Screen and store it to one of the graphing function variables.  You will need to start and end the piecewise function with the quotation symbol (press ALPHA and the PLUS button).

 

Don’t have a CE but want to graph piecewise functions?  Instructions are found HERE and this method can prompt a rich discussion of how to use a logical operator in a math expression (the inequality statement will represent 1 if it is TRUE and 0 if it is FALSE).  Try TRACING the piecewise graph.  Where does the Y-value exist and not exist?

I like using piecewise functions on the calculator: it enables a graphical confirmation of a complicated algebraic expression, and that helps my students build their understanding.  It also gives us access to many real contexts for problem-solving.

3. Updated Transformation Graphing App. The newest Transformation Graphing App allows TWO transformable functions in Y1 and Y2 plus you can graph other static functions in Y3 to Y0 and up to three StatPlots.  You still use the four parameters A, B, C, D and you can now access several stored parent functions for lines, quadratics, cubics and trigonometry.

I like to challenge students to “Match the Graph” with a static function graph whose equation I haven’t shared (see below left, can you transform the blue graph to match the pink one?).  Or put data in a StatList and transform a function for a best fit curve.

It is now easier to move back and forth between the graph and the SETUP screen, and the “TrailOn” feature has moved to this more logical location [it was available in prior versions of Transformation Graphing, accessed from the FORMAT menu by pressing 2nd ZOOM.] See above right for the trail of quadratics.

And the entire Transformation Graphing process is faster than it was before (be patient if the calculator seems slow to respond and check for the “busy” indicator in the upper right corner of the color calculator screens).  HERE is a “How To” file for the Transformation Graphing App.

4. Easy storage of a Tangent Equation. When drawing a Tangent line to a graph, a MENU can be accessed using the GRAPH button (before entering a point of tangency) to store the equation directly to Y=.  This makes it easier to examine the equation of the tangent line in relation to the equation of the original function.

Entering the X-value for the point of tangency can be done by entering a value with the numeric keypad, or tracing to the desired point.  I prefer using the ZOOM DECIMAL window for “friendly” trace increments.

5. Finally: updating to a new OS is easy. You need a USB-calculator cable or a calculator-to-calculator cable.  Instructions are HERE and the OS is a free download from the TI WEBSITE.  Use the (free) TI-Connect™ CE Software or link to an already updated calculator.  For the new OS 5.3 for the CE calculator, there is a “Bundle” file that updates the OS and the Apps at the same time.

*Keep in mind that all the feature enhancements have alternatives for older OS versions. And even if your classroom has a mix of TI-84+ family devices, the TI-SmartView™ emulator computer software displays 3 distinct environments, so you can demonstrate in the CE emulator to take advantage of the features for the whole class.

6. Save Emulator State is back!! (I almost forgot to mention this) The TI-SmartView™ CE software NOW has the ability to “Save Emulator State” so the teacher can save work where you are when the bell rings at the end of the period and you can open it back up when that class returns the next day.  Or you can prepare your SmartView calculator in advance with your functions, lists, programs, etc. so that everything is loaded efficiently when you need it.  Instructions are HERE for using Emulator States.

Enjoy the new and old fun features! Reach out to me if you have any questions.


Resources:

The  “Making Math Stick” Webinar On-Demand is HERE and the activities discussed are HERE.  The new calculator features were not our primary focus, but since OS 5.3 was just released, we tried to highlight them when appropriate.

A great summary of some not-so-new features of the TI-84+ Family was written by my webinar co-panelist John LaMaster and is found HERE.