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The Virtual Mentor 2012-2013

Late May

As summer approaches and you have a bit more time for these things (I hope), there is a wonderful site designed to help you become an excellent teacher.

The Annenberg Foundation was founded in 1989 to "advance public wellbeing through improved communications." The part of their work seeks to advance excellence in teaching by using media and telecommunication. They do this by providing resources for professional development of K - 12 teachers by funding and distributing video programs on the web. has hours of videos showing excellent teachers with their students and talking about their teaching. This library of math videos is quite extensive covering many topics, both for your professional development as well as for use in and by your classes. Web and print materials are coordinated to go with the videos. Their lesson plans are quite extensive and have interactive activities to help the students be engaged with the material.

Part of this site, the "Learner Log" blog, describes itself as "a place to explore teaching and learning." The blog entries are archived back to Jan. 2012 and cover many aspects of teaching and learning. At the "Learner Express" part of their site, there are video clips - both for your viewing and for showing in class. True to its mission, the Annenberg Foundation gives you permission to use their materials with your own classes. Only a college or university using these materials in a course for which students pay tuition must seek permission and pay for their use.

Have a wonderful summer and a relaxing time learning more about being an excellent math teacher.

Ann Sweeney
MCTM Virtual Math Mentor
St. Catherine University




We know that our students who have thought about and used math outside of the classroom are better prepared to learn new concepts and become better problem solvers than those who have had no other exposure to math. There is a web site whose mission is to help children, and adults, gain confidence and competence in math by building on math that can be found in everyday life.

Mixing in Math (MiM) does this by supplying free games, projects, activities, etc. There are some in English, Spanish and French. Their resources blend math with fitness, nature, cooking, geography, and many other daily routines, like cleaning up. They have suggestions for getting children to think about ratios, for keeping children occupied while waiting, for celebrating holidays, and for multicultural activities. Research shows that these ideas bring tangible results.

MiM was originally created using NSF funds to bring more math into after school programs. Now, their resources are also used by teachers, parents, and librarians. Not all of their activities are free, but so many are, it is hard to imagine needing to purchase their materials. For example, the monthly calendars are available to download. Each month has a different theme. January's was physical fitness. May's is outdoors and nature (for when spring finally really arrives!) Next September's is countries.

MiM also provides workshops, webinars, and videos on the use of their resources. This is a wonderful site to suggest to parents to use with their children over the summer. The activities will keep them all thinking about math. Something everyone should do!

Happy Spring,

Ann Sweeney
MCTM Virtual Math Mentor
St. Catherine University




Welcome to Math Awareness Month (MAM). This year's theme is Sustainability Counts! How fitting given that the United States celebrates Earth Day in April, too. Earth Day is older than MAM. It was first suggested by John McDonnell in 1969 at a UNESCO Conference on the Environment and the United Nations started celebrating Earth Day on the March Equinox.

In 1970 Sen. Gaylord Nelson, from WI, called for an environmental teach-in on April 22. The teach-in involved over 2000 colleges and universities and approximately 10,000 elementary and secondary schools that year. April 22 became the celebrated day for the United States, but many countries still celebrate Earth Day on the March Equinox.

MAM was started in 1986. It is sponsored by a consortium of the American Mathematical Society, the American Statistical Association, the Mathematical Association of America and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. Each year the consortium picks a theme, publicizes it, solicits ideas and lesson plans, and offers speakers. You can find lessons plans for elementary levels through calculus and above and this years' Energy Challenges (one for K - 12 and another for higher education) at the MAM website.

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has lesson plans for Earth Day at its Illuminations website. There are four lessons; Classroom Paper, Aluminum Cans, How to Bag it, and Plastic Packaging. The NCTM has teacher tips for celebrating Earth Day at its website.

Have a wonderful spring raising your students' awareness about math, sustainability and the earth.

Happy Spring,

Ann Sweeney
MCTM Virtual Math Mentor
St. Catherine University



Late February

Time is running short. It's only 2 months away. Have you registered? Do you have your room reservation? I'm talking about the 2013 MCTM Spring Conference in Duluth. The theme is "Teaching and Learning Mathematics in the Age of Innovation." The conference starts on Friday, April 26, and continues on Saturday, April 27.

The annual CONNECT gathering for new and future teachers is the day before the conference, Thursday, April 25, from 7:00 - 9:00 PM at the DECC. Come and enjoy soup and sandwiches while getting an overview of the conference, finding out the best sessions, learning the "ins" and "outs" of making it a great conference. If that isn't enough of a reason to attend, there will be free teaching materials and ideas, fun activities and great people to network with.

There is no cost for the CONNECT session. Grab a partner or two or three and RSVP (to make sure we have enough food -- but we won't turn you away at the door if you haven't) to me. Just let me know the following:
  Your name
  Email address
  Current position (teacher or student)
  Level (k -6, 5 - 8, 9 - 12)

If you haven't registered for the conference, be sure to do so. There is an online registration form at MCTM's website. There is also information about lodging in Duluth.

While you are at MCTM's site, look at the scholarships that are available, as well as the many resources the MCTM offers to you, as a math teacher, free of charge. Be sure to bookmark the site. You will find yourself returning to it often.

I know you'll leave the conference renewed and refreshed with lots of wonderful ideas for your classroom.

Ann Sweeney
MCTM Virtual Math Mentor
St. Catherine University




I was hooked by the statement, "This site is not about making mathematics easy because it isn't. It is about making it make sense because it does." I have used this idea as a teaching mantra for years. To see it in print resonated within me - and I hope with you, too. It is the mission of Math4Teaching, a blog by Erlina Ronda, who also has two other blogs, K-12 Math Problems (for students) and Math Ed Studies. There are links for both on her Math4Teaching site.

She has practice problems, activity ideas, challenge problems, etc. for K through calculus, including combinatorics and statistics. There are also some interesting sounding videos. Her postings are also archived.

What sent me to her site in the first place was a reference that she had posted about George Polya's "Ten Commandments for Teachers" and the "Four Freedoms in the Classroom." They are wonderful things to keep in mind and, if practiced, will make you a better math teacher.

George Polya's Ten Commandments for Teachers
[Posted by Erlina Ronda on

  1. Be interested in your subject.
  2. Know your subject.
  3. Know about the ways of learning: The best way to learn anything is to discover it by yourself.
  4. Try to read the faces of your students, try to see their expectations and difficulties, put yourself in their place.
  5. Give them not only information, but "know-how", attitudes of mind, the habit of methodical work.
  6. Let them learn guessing.
  7. Let them learn proving.
  8. Look out for such features of the problem at hand as may be useful in solving the problems to come - try to disclose the general pattern that lies behind the present concrete situation.
  9. Do not give away your whole secret at once-let the students guess before you tell it-let them find out by themselves as much as feasible.
  10. Suggest it; do not force it down your throats.

The Four Freedoms in the Classroom

You will find that by providing the following freedoms in your classroom an improved learning environment will be created.

  • The Freedom to Make Mistakes
  • The Freedom to Ask Questions
  • The Freedom to Think for Oneself
  • The Freedom to Choose their Own Method of Solution

I hope you find using these ideas in your classroom benefits you and your students as much as I feel it has benefitted me and mine.

Ann Sweeney
MCTM Virtual Math Mentor
St. Catherine University




Happy 2013 to all of you mathematically-minded, puzzle-loving, problem-solving teachers and learners.

Mathematicians have always loved setting up problems for others (and themselves) to puzzle over and be challenged by. The Math Forum has just such a problem for you and your students for the year 2013. Using only the digits in 2013, write all the numbers from 1 to 100. You can use these 4 digits in any order (although the order 2, 0, 1, 3 is preferred) with the operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, as well as raising to a power, finding the square root, using the factorial and double factorial. Symbols must be grouped so there is an expression that is equal to the number desired. Since they feel that doing this problem with the digits 2, 0, 1, and 3, may be very difficult, they are allowing other usages of the digits that they usually don't in this type of a problem. Multi-digit numbers and decimals will also be allowed.

Follow the link above to read all about this challenge. You will also find a student worksheet, a submission form and a worksheet of manipulatives that can all be downloaded and copied for your classes -- or for you! You can submit answers that are found using the Math Forum rules on the submission form for posting on the website.

Have fun puzzling this out.

Ann Sweeney
MCTM Virtual Math Mentor
St. Catherine University




Now's the time to start planning. The 2012 celebration of Computer Science Education Week is Dec. 9 - 15, 2012. The week is designed to celebrate the impact of computer science on our lives and to publicize the need for computer science education for all. It is held every year during the week of Grace Hopper's birthday (Dec. 9).

Computer science is important. It touches our lives daily, plays a critical role in society, drives innovation and economic growth, and offers rewarding job opportunities. In addition, computer science education exposes students to critical thinking and problem solving.

Although computer science is critical to our society, the teaching of computer science has declined. Computer Science Education Week strives to raise awareness and help teachers, students, parents and other educators. The website Computer Science Education Week has links for K - 12 teachers and students.

There are classroom ideas including, "What would you invent?" as well as activities both online and offline. Some of the activities have YouTube videos demonstrating their use.

There are links to events that are being planned and an event planning toolkit for those of you who want to participate in a big way. Since NCTM is one of the many sponsors, you know that you are in good company.

There is even a pledge you can sign promising to participate in and be a supporter of Computer Science Education Week.

I hope you and your students have fun with Computer Science Education Week.

Ann Sweeney
MCTM Virtual Math Mentor
St. Catherine University




If you are looking for some help finding ideas, or activities to use with your class, go to the "Home of Rich Mathematics" at NRICH sponsored by the University of Cambridge.

Started in 1996 as an online math club for students it has grown and evolved into a full service site for students, teachers, and parents. NRICH describes itself as "... a team of qualified teachers who are also practitioners in RICH mathematical thinking."

Their goals have changed as the site's mission has changed. They aim to enrich mathematics curriculum by using challenging activities that are engaging to develop critical thinking and problem solving strategies while showing math in meaningful settings. I know this sounds very ambitious but they are doing what they say.

There are both student and teacher pages. The teacher pages are divided into Early Years (equivalent to kindergarten in the US), Primary (our grades 1 - 4) and Secondary (our grades 5 - 12).

You are able to search by topics, of which there are many. the available resources are plentiful (ranging from 10 to over 2000 for different topics.)

The time you spend exploring the site will be well worth it. You will find many things to take into your classroom to entice and engage your students. Have fun.

Ann Sweeney
MCTM Virtual Math Mentor
St. Catherine University




It is hard to believe that Sept. is almost over. Before we know it the school year will be gone.

I got a message from our Career Development Office that reminded me of how important it is for those of you who will be graduating and looking for a job to really start thinking about how to go about your job search in a very thoughtful and efficient way. I have been on the hiring end of many searches for faculty and have learned a lot about what makes an applicant stand out. I thought I'd share that with you today. If you aren't ready to think about searching for a job, file this so you can find it when you need it. For those of you who have jobs, I invite you to send me your helpful hints, so I can pass them on to everyone. Thanks, in advance, for doing so.

The very first thing that I read from an applicant is his/her cover letter. The cover letter should introduce you to your prospective employer. It has to attract the attention of the search committee. It has to sell them on you. It is hard to write a letter that tells the reader about your accomplishments, aspirations, and character and how well they equip you for the job opening. It feels like you are boasting and many people do not like to do that or feel uncomfortable doing it. However, if you don't tell the prospective employer about these things, who will? Maybe, your references will, but the problem is that if your cover letter doesn't make you seem like the perfect (or, at least, a good) employee, your references never get called.

Your cover letter should address the responsibilities (if they are listed) for the job opening. If the ad for the opening lists qualifications required or preferred, you need to address how well you meet those. If there is a gap in your meeting them, you need to address that, too, and talk about how you intend to overcome it. Don't lie. Be truthful about what you are saying.

Your cover letter should be upbeat. It should make me want to meet and talk to you. It should excite me about the prospect of your teaching in one of my classrooms. It doesn't have to tell me about when you graduated, where you went, what degree you got, or your work history. All of that is in your resume. Your cover letter can tell me the "whys" for these things, if that is pertinent.

Your resume should tell me about you but in a different way. It gives me the facts. Your cover letter gives me a feeling for who you are. Your resume should tell me things like: where and when you went to school; your extra curricular activities; the honors and awards you've won; and your work history. You should include other facts that help you stand out (extra classes you've taken for the purpose of becoming a better math teacher, summer math programs you participated in, research programs, internships, etc.).

It should list your references. I should be able to look at your references and connect them to something else in your resume - a former employer, a teacher or an advisor, etc. If the person isn't connected to something easily identifiable in your resume, you need to explain how/why this person will be able to tell me about you and what type of teacher you will be.

There is a lot of help out there for resume writing. Many colleges have an office that helps students do things like write resumes, learn how to look for a job, and start the process of looking. If you are lucky enough to have this type of help on your campus, use it. They are professionals.

I hope those of you searching, or getting ready to search, find these and the other tips I pass on from other mentees helpful.

Good luck,

Ann Sweeney
MCTM Virtual Math Mentor
St. Catherine University