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The Virtual Mentor 2010-2011

Late May 2011

As the lilacs and tulips are blooming and our weather is finally getting spring-like, I know your students are thinking mainly of summer vacation. (You might be, too!) Are you thinking about what you can interest them in so they can keep up their skills over their time off? If so, I have a recommendation.

It is Arcademic Skill Builders at http://www.arcademicskillbuilders.com . I know you are probably thinking that just hearing the name of the site will turn your students off. If you can get them to access this site, they will find it is full of fun games. They can play by themselves or with others. The games are standards-aligned and designed to motivate and engage students. I think they will. They cover operations of whole numbers, decimals, fractions and integers. There is a section of the site devoted to "Teacher Success" that has testimonials from teachers who have used these games in their classrooms. There are also manuals available to help you implement their use. We know that students love playing video and online games. I think this is a great way to get them playing and practicing at the same time.

To those of you who are graduating and moving on, congratulations. To all of you who may be changing jobs or just changing email addresses, be sure to let me know about the change if you'd like to stay on the Virtual Mentoring list.

Have a wonderful summer. I'll be back in Sept.
Ann

Ann Sweeney
MCTM Virtual Math Mentor
St. Catherine University

Early May 2011

Welcome to all of the new mentees who attended the CONNECT session last week in Duluth. I enjoyed meeting you and the other mentees who introduced themselves while at the MCTM Conference. Welcome, too, to those of you who asked me to put your names on the list. I hope you find my messages helpful. Never hesitate to send comments, questions, and suggestions.

Some of you already know about today's topic since I mentioned it at both lunch and dinner to those I was sitting with last Friday.

A couple of weeks ago, I offered my students an extra credit opportunity. They could attend the showing of "Top Secret Rosies" and write about it. Since it was being shown here on campus and was free and open to the public, I encouraged them to bring their friends and significant others. The response from my students and their guests was very positive. They raved about it so much that I had students who couldn't attend renting and viewing it on Netflixs at their own expense.

"Top Secret Rosies" is a documentary about the women who were recruited by the Army during World War II to do all of the computing (by hand!) necessary to compile the ballistic tables that the Army was using to fight the war overseas. Some of these same women went on to be the programmers of the first computer, ENIAC. Luckily, the documentary was filmed before all of the women died, so their story is told in their own words. The story is fascinating and amazing. Since the work that these women were doing was top secret, their story has never been told publicly until this documentary. The film and story take us back to a time when women were not recognized for some of their contributions (none of those involved was even invited to the celebratory dinner held after ENIAC proved its worth) and when there were no computers to do all of our work for us. But it also shows what a determined group can do when working together for a common purpose.

One of the future projects of the film maker is to write a set of worksheets and a teacher's guide based on the film for middle school students. I think that will be a wonderful way to get teachers to incorporate this story and its lessons into their classrooms. If you are looking for a way to introduce some history, more modern that the history of mathematics that we usually teach, "Top Secret Rosies" is an excellent way to do so. It would be a very worthwhile video to show any 6 - 12 grade class. For more information, see http://www.topsecretrosies.com.

Happy viewing,
Ann

Ann Sweeney
MCTM Virtual Math Mentor
St. Catherine University

Mid April 2011

Did you know that "jiffy" is an actual unit of time? It is .01 second. I learned that in the "Did You Know?" section of http://www.weusemath.org. This interesting site is sponsored by Brigham Young University's Dept. of Mathematics with funding from the Mathematical Association of America (MAA). BYU's Dept. of Math is working to inspire young people to study math and think of it as a career. Any student checking it out will be impressed. There are sections on "Math in the Movies", Careers, "How to Succeed", Resources for teachers and under the "Did You Know?" section, Math in Real Life, New Discoveries, Unsolved Problems and Tidbits (where I found out about jiffy.)

According to The Wall Street Journal, math is considered the best of all jobs! (But, of course!!!) You can read about that on the BYU site, too.

I learned from the MAA Careers site (http://www.maa.org/careers) that the 15 highest earning careers all require college degrees that include math in their requirements.

The American Mathematical Society isn't left out in this move to inspire our students. Their Math Moments site (http://www.ams.org/samplings/mathmoments/mathmoments) has a series of downloadable posters that promote the appreciation and understanding of the role mathematics plays in science, nature, technology and human culture. There are posters about snowboarding jumps, health care, seating in the U.S. House of Representatives, rogue waves, creating 3-D images among many, many other topics. They have podcasts and related resources links with them.

We all know that math is an important part of our lives, but we sometimes don't let our students in our our big secret. I hope these sites help you inspire your students to keep their options open and continue studying math.

Ann

Ann Sweeney
MCTM Virtual Math Mentor
St. Catherine University

April 2011

Many years ago, a very wise man heard me complaining about having to file an income tax return (and pay income taxes) and suggested to me that I ought to think about all of the good things that I get for the taxes I pay. With April here and Tax Day looming, I decided I'd follow that advice today and see what resources the government provides for classroom teachers. It turns out that there are quite a few and all are free -- since you've already paid for them with your taxes.

The first site I explored is Disaster Math at http://www.fema.gov/kids/dizmath.htm . There are online problems for elementary students to do while learning about earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, wild fires, winter storms and floods. The students can submit their answers to see how they've done on the math problems. This is certainly a way to bring the headlines into your classrooms.

The next site I explored is sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics from the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Educational Sciences. At http://www.nces.ed.gov/nceskids/grabbag/Mathquiz your students (and you!) can complete and submit a quiz to learn which famous mathematician shares your interests. What a great way to bring famous mathematicians and some math history into your classrooms.

The NCES Grabbag has a couple of other activities that you and your students will enjoy. There is a monthly teaser at http://www.nces.ed.gov/nceskids/grabbag/math_teasers/challenge.asp and an archive of their previous teasers, complete with solutions. At http://nces.ed.gov/nceskids/eyk/index.asp , there is a "Dare to Compare" challenge with 4th and 8th grade questions. The students pick their subject and submit answers to the questions given to see how they compare with students from around the world or nationwide.

I hope you enjoy these sites that your tax dollars are making possible for all of us.

Ann

Ann Sweeney
MCTM Virtual Math Mentor
St. Catherine University

Late March 2011

With the temperatures the last few days and our fast disappearing snow, it is easy to believe that spring must be just around the corner. With it comes the MCTM Annual Spring Conference in Duluth. I know I've written about it earlier this semester, but I want to make sure that you know about the CONNECT session that we have for all of you who are just beginning your career, haven't yet started it, or are only into it a couple of years. The CONNECT session is Thursday evening, April 28, the evening before the conference starts. It is in the DECC, just like the conference.

The evening kicks off at 7:00 with soup, sandwiches, pop and dessert. There are lots of free give-aways -- teaching materials and ideas that will come in handy in your classroom.

It is a great time to network, greet old friends, and meet new colleagues. While having a fun time, you'll get an overview of the conference to learn which sessions would be especially good for you and which you might want to pass on.

The best part is that the CONNECT session is free. All you have to do is RSVP to me -- just hit that reply button! What could be easier. Please, include your name, where you are teaching and what level or where you attend school and what level you want to teach. I"ll pass your info on to the CONNECT planners so there will be plenty of good food and items for you.

I hope to see you there.

Ann

Ann Sweeney
MCTM Virtual Math Mentor
St. Catherine University

March 2011

How old are you in days, hours, minutes, and seconds? Or how old will you be (or, if you are of a certain age, were you) when you celebrated your 1 billionth second on earth? If you have ever pondered these questions but just never wanted to take the time to determine the answers, Math Cats has just what you need -- age and elapsed time calculators. You'll find them at http://www.mathcats.org , a site that Wendy Petti created. It promotes open-ended and playful exploration of important math concepts. There are online applets to help solve problems and create math art. There are instructions for creating math crafts with pictures to show some children's projects. On the homepage, there is a "magic" blackboard that asks questions and, when you scroll over the floating letters and numbers, gives the answer. Do you know how many web sites there are? Checkout Math Cats blackboard to find out.

Have a great Pi Day,

Ann

Ann Sweeney
MCTM Virtual Math Mentor
St. Catherine University

Late February 2011

The count down has started. If you go to http://www.piday.org , you'll see just how many days, minutes and hours remain until Pi Day. I've recommended this web site before but feel compelled to mention it again because it has been redone and is an amazing site filled with more activities, trivia, videos, ideas, and testimonials than you will even have time to consider. You can listen to compositions for a piano or violin based on pi; find out why Pi Day 2015 will be more accurate; find out how to knit a pi beret or make pi jewelry; listen to pi songs and raps; send Pi Day ecards to all of your friends; and even buy a book based on pi. If you haven't had a birthday contest with your students to see whose birthday occurs earliest in the pi digits be sure to follow that link for a fun Pi Day activity. Pi Day is a great way to get your students excited about math and have a great time learning about pi and its importance in math. This is a day that any age or level can appreciate and enjoy.

Have a fun Pi Day,

Ann

Ann Sweeney
MCTM Virtual Math Mentor
St. Catherine University

February 2011

Many of us find it very helpful to have a concrete way to look at abstract concepts in math. We often draw pictures, or diagrams or use objects to manipulate while working on a problem. To help us in this, there is an online resource from Utah State University filled with virtual manipulatives that I'm sure you and your students will find very helpful. (I thought it was pretty appropriate that I, as your virtual mentor, should recommend virtual manipulatives.) You can access the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives at http://nlvm.usu.edu . Utah State University has been working on this project since 1999 when they were first awarded an NSF grant to develop interactive web-based virtual manipulatives and/or concept tutorials for mathematics instruction with a K - 12 emphasis.

The opening page has a wonderful grid, so you can focus on the grade band (Pre-K - 2, 3 - 5, 6 - 8, 9 - 12) and the topic (numbers & operations, algebra, geometry, measurement and data analysis and probability) that you are interested in. You click on the cell of interest and will be rewarded with the list of virtual manipulatives applicable to that topic and grade band. Scroll down and click on a manipulative to get a feel for what's available. Each manipulative has a set of instructions, some problems/activities to use the manipulative with, and a parent/teacher set of notes to help you help your students.

Have fun playing with all of the virtual manipulatives. I'm sure you will find them helpful for your students.

Ann

Ann Sweeney
MCTM Virtual Math Mentor
St. Catherine University

Late January 2011

Did you know that "All creatures seem to be born with brains that have a predisposition for math"? Or that recreational math (riddles, rhymes, puzzles and games) goes back as far as the ancient Egyptians? Or there is a mathematician named Neil Sloane who has been collecting integer sequences since 1963 and now has over 160,000 which he has cataloged on his website, Online Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences? Or that it is possible to crochet a piece that looks like the hyperbolic plane?

These are just a few of the facts and stories that I learned while reading Here's Looking at Euclid; A Surprising Excursion through the Astonishing World of Math by Alex Bellos. It is published by Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc, copyrighted 2010. I don't think I've ever recommended a book before but this is a wonderfully well written book that is very easy to read and is full of historical facts, oddities, stories and the real people involved with them. In the introduction, Bellos says, "When writing this book, my motivation was at all times to communicate the excitement and wonder of mathematical discovery. I also wanted to show that mathematicians can be funny. They are the kings of logic, which gives them an extremely discriminating sense of the illogical. Math suffers from a reputation that it is dry and difficult. Often it is. Yet, math can also be inspiring, accessible and, above all, brilliantly creative. Abstract mathematical thought is one of the great achievements of the human race, and arguably the foundation of all human progress." Bellos has accomplished his goal with this book.

There is much in this book that you will enjoy sharing with your students. I find mine always enjoy the stories that go along with the topic or the legend connected with a certain problem. It helps bring the magic that is math alive for them. Except for the chapter on the history of numbers, most of this book is really not about topics covered in the primary grades.

However, I also have a book to recommend for those of you teaching math in the lower grades. Unlike Bellos's book, this one has been around since 1995 but deserves another look if you haven't read it for awhile. It is Math Curse by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, published by Viking, a division of Penguin USA. The problems for the narrator start when his teacher, Mrs. Fibonacci, says, "You know, you can think of almost everything as a math problem." The cover says it is for ages "> 6 and < 99", which is certainly true. When I read it on the first day of class to my Math for Elementary Education Majors, they loved it. There is a problem in this book for everyone and all of the answers are on the back (although, they are upside down and mixed up!)

Happy reading,

Ann

Ann Sweeney
MCTM Virtual Math Mentor
St. Catherine University

January 2011

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and New Year's break and are ready to start challenging your students to learn in 2011.

Do you know that 2011 is a prime number and is equal to the sum of 11 consecutive primes? It is the latter fact that got me to thinking about this Virtual Mentoring message. I heard it on the NPR show Car Talk last weekend. In fact, it was Car Talk's Puzzler of the Week. Ray and Tom, the Car Talk guys, were challenging their listeners to find the 11 consecutive primes. Since I was driving, I didn't work on it but I did started thinking about Car Talk and its Puzzler Archive. I hadn't visited the site at http://www.cartalk.com/content/puzzler/ for a long time. I used to visit fairly regularly when I was looking for a puzzle to give to a class, because they had such a wide variety of puzzles. They still do. If you are looking for some different types of puzzles for your classes, check out the Car Talk Puzzlers. Their archive is at the bottom of the page and cataloged by years.

If the Car Talk Puzzles seem a bit difficult or just not right for your classes, there are other online math puzzle sources, too. Syvum has online brain teasers and math puzzles at http://www.syvum.com/teasers that range from easy to medium to challenging. They are interactive and the solver can choose between two links. The first link, "Solve Puzzle", gives the solver access to hints and a link to the scoring. The second, "View Puzzle", gives the solver the statement of the puzzle and a link to the answer. Both the score and answer links give complete explanations of the answer and ask a "Food for Thought" question to extend the thinking that the solver did to complete the puzzle.

We all know that Math is Fun, but your students will also agree when they go to http://www.mathisfun.com/puzzles/index.html and click on one of the index links that takes them to a variety of puzzles. There are puzzles for everyone from measuring ones to logic puzzles to card puzzles to number and algebra ones. There are also sections of puzzles written by Einstein and Sam Loyd (perhaps America's greatest puzzle maker).

I think doing puzzles is an excellent way to get students (and teachers) thinking in different ways and more broadly. Have fun with the puzzles on these sites.

Oh, if you haven't figured out the 11 consecutive primes whose sum is 2011, you'll find the answer on MAA's Number A Day site at http://maanumberaday.blogspot.com . 2011 was the number featured on Dec. 23, 2010.

Happy solving,

Ann

Ann Sweeney
MCTM Virtual Math Mentor
St. Catherine University

December 2010

Even though we are all gearing up for Christmas and break, I want to make sure another important event isn't lost in all of the excitement. Next week, Dec. 5 - 11 is Computer Science Education Week (CSEDWeek). It was begun last year by a group of interested organizations to raise awareness of the role Computer Science has in preparing our students for 21st Century careers.

It is purposely scheduled for the second week in Dec. to honor Adm. Grace Hopper for her extraordinary contributions to the field. Grace was a visionary in the world of Computer Science and the anniversary of her birth is Dec. 9.

CSEDWeek has a website (http://www.csedweek.org) with information on activities around the country, information on careers, and resources. Once of the resources, Unplugged, (http://www.ncwit.org/unplugged) has some excellent activities. These activities are designed to allow your students to understand the fundamental building blocks of Computer Science without a computer.

In one of the downloadable activities, they will learn how 0's and 1's are used to represent information. Others teach logic and algorithms. In case you are concerned about your preparation to facilitate these activities, there are videos available to help you get ready to use them with your classes. All answers are provided. Each activity ends with a "What's it all about?" section explaining the relevance of the activity.

Have fun helping your students learn all about Computer Science.

Ann

Ann Sweeney
MCTM Virtual Math Mentor
St. Catherine University

November 2010

As the dark days of winter start to close in on us, I know everyone is looking for a way to keep our students engaged with our classes and material. One of the mentees made a suggestion to me at the Fall Conference that might be just what you need to keep your students on task.

Pat asked if I knew of any resources for interactive whiteboards. I didn't off the top of my head, but said I'd look into it. Of course, there are lots of downloadable resources available on the web. There are downloads that you'll want to use as is. Some that you'll want to modify, some that are templates, and others that will give you good ideas for you to develop on your own.

Some of these resources are from districts that maintain sites for their faculty to post what they've developed and want to share with others. Some are from the companies that sell the boards. All will give you a great many ideas to develop, modify and use for your own class. Have fun with your interactive whiteboard.

Resources (in no particular order):

1) http://www.hardin.k12.ky.us/res_techn/countyjeopardygames.htm

2) http://www.deafed.net/PageText.asp?hdnPageID=217#middle

3) http://www.rockingham.k12.va.us/howto/smartboard/lessons.htm#math

4) http://staff.argyll.epsb.ca/jreed/Default.htm

5) Whiteboard tools from the Natiuonal Numeracy Strategy

6) http://exchange.smarttech.com/search.html?m=01&q=&sbj=math

7) http://rmtc.fsdb.k12.fl.us/tutorials/whiteboards.html#resources

Thanks for the suggestion, Pat.

Ann

Ann Sweeney
MCTM Virtual Math Mentor
St. Catherine University

Halloween, 2010

Thanks to all of you who attended last week's MCTM Fall Conference making it a great success. Thanks, too, to those of you who recognized me and stopped to say hi. I appreciate your feedback and suggestions.

If you missed the conference you missed a wonderful keynote given by Tom Cody, a math teacher at Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul (as well as many other interesting and useful sessions.) Everything that Tom talked about can be applied to any level math class, actually any class. He urged us all to become better teachers by being explicit about the star qualities that we teach along with our subject matter. In every class we are teaching our students to be self-confident, risk-takers, self-motivated, empowered, responsible, self-disciplined, flexible, tough, time managers, proactive, focused, persistent, patient, organized, logical, etc. At the beginning of his course, Tom has his students circle the five star qualities that they will work on and, then, reexamine them at the end to see their progress.

We all know that we teach our students these qualities, but do we ever tell them what they are learning besides the math we want them to know or congratulate them for learning these star qualities? This holistic approach should make all of us better teachers and our students better learners.

It's not too early to start thinking about the MCTM Spring Conference April 28 - 30 in Duluth. See you there,

Ann

Ann Sweeney
MCTM Virtual Math Mentor
St. Catherine University


October, 2010

Did you know that 474 = 2 x 3 x 79? Or that it is a nonagonal number as well as a member of the Fibonacci Sequence? Or that it is equal to 3344 in Base 5? And is the sum of 8 consecutive primes (43 + 47 + 53 + 59 + 61 + 67 + 71 + 73)? If that isn't enough, it is also the year that mathematician and architect Anthemius of Tralles was born.

All of these facts about 474 come to you courtesy of the Mathematical Association of America's (MAA) Number a Day page. You, too, can dazzle your students with similar facts about a different number everyday just by going to http://maanumberaday.blogspot.com.

If you are worried that your students will ask you about some of those descriptions -- like what is a nonagonal number or who is Anthemius -- the MAA is thoughtful enough to provide links to those explanations. There is also an archive of their past numbers of the day. So, if a particular number seems too difficult to explain to your students, you can find an easier one from the previous numbers.

Have fun with different number facts everyday.

Ann

Ann Sweeney
MCTM Virtual Math Mentor
St. Catherine University


Late September, 2010

Once classes start in Sept., time just flies. Oct. and the Annual MCTM Fall Conference will be here before we know it.

This year's conference will be on Friday, Oct. 22 at Maple Grove Senior High School. The title is "Helping all Students Make Sense of Mathematics." You can expect to hear presentations on Differentiating Instruction, Keeping Equity in the Forefront, Responding to Diversity and Creating Opportunities for all. Soon the list of speakers and topics will be available on MCTM's website's Fall Conference page, where you'll also find the online registration form. If you prefer to download the form and mail it in, you can do that, too.

MCTM Conference planners try to keep the cost down so it is affordable for all. If you register before Oct. 8, you can pay the discount rates:
MCTM Member, $35; Nonmember, $60; Student Member, $20; Student Nonmember, $32.50 and Lead Speaker, $20. That's right, if you are a solo speaker, or the lead of two or more speakers, you only pay $20. (Since that includes access to lots of great talks and coffee, rolls and lunch, it is a good deal.) So, grab a partner (or not) and put on your thinking cap to come up with a presentation of an activity, topic, or method that you love to use. Offer it to the planners as consideration for a presentation. You'll find the speaker proposal form on the same page as the registration form at MCTM's web site.

After that word from our sponsor, I'd like to share a list I recently came across -- "The Top Ten Things I Wish I'd Known When I Started Teaching". This list comes from Empowering Beginning Teachers in Mathematics by Cynthia Thomas.

10. Not every student will be interested every minute.

9. If a lesson is going badly, stop.

8. Teaching will get easier.

7. You do not have to volunteer for everything.

6. Not every student or parent will love you and you will not love every one of them.

5. You cannot be creative in every lesson.

4. No one can manage portfolios, projects, journals, creative writing and student self-assessment all at the same time and stay sane!

3. Some days you will cry, but the good news is, some days you will laugh!

2. You will make mistakes.

1. This is the best job on earth!!!

I hope to see you on the 22nd.


Ann

Ann Sweeney
MCTM Virtual Math Mentor
St. Catherine University


September, 2010

Are you looking for a way to help your students visualize the concepts you are teaching? Or a way to help parents use better visual imagery when helping their students? Then, you should check out Visual Math Learning at http://www.visualmathlearning.com a web site whose mission is to provide parents and teachers the means to better employ visual imagery with lessons, exercises, games, and puzzles in both prealgebra and algebra.

The Shortest Route puzzle challenges the user to find the shortest route to get from the marked start to the marked finish. Once the user has completed a route, it is very interesting to watch the computer work to find the shortest as it compares routes against each other and the one the user marked.

There are mazes and tangram-like shape puzzles. Some of the instructions get a bit long for children to read. But, the user gets applause every time the answer is correct.

The lessons also have quite a bit of reading but also have an audio of the explanations to go along with the written one.

Play around with some of the offerings. You will probably find at least one that will help with that student who just can't get the topic you are teaching.

I hope your new year is off to a great start.
Ann

Ann Sweeney
MCTM Virtual Math Mentor
St. Catherine University


August, 2010

Welcome to a new academic year. I know that some of you are already working hard in your classrooms while the rest of us are working hard to get into our classrooms and get started. Which ever your circumstances, the beginning of the year is always a good time to pause and step back and think about what we are doing and why we are doing it.

This summer Terry Wyberg, our MCTM president, brought a video to my attention that I think all math teachers should see and think about. You can find it at http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/dan_meyer_math_curriculum_makeover.html . It is a bit over 11 min. long but worthwhile.

Did you know that MCTM is now on Facebook? You can access it easily through MCTM's web site, http://www.mctm.org , where you will find a link on the front page.

On both the MCTM Facebook site and the web site you'll find information about the annual MCTM Fall Conference. Be sure to mark your calendars now for Friday, Oct. 22.

Have a great year,
Ann

Ann Sweeney
MCTM Virtual Math Mentor
St. Catherine University