29 May, 2015
Volume 20 No. 22
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In This Issue

The Other Half

STEM Behind Health

Building Thinking Classrooms


Online PD

Orientation Sessions

Problem Based Learning Courses

Graduate Credit:
Mathematics Teaching and Learning Certificate

Master's Degree


The Other Half


A podcast begun earlier this month promises to explore "the other half of math — the fun half you might be missing when you learn math in school, the half that helps you makes sense of your own life."

Anna Haensch and Annie Rorem first met while pursuing advanced degrees in mathematics. As they shared an office on their university campus, they discovered a mutual affinity for that subject as well as for the social issues of the day ... and for talking!

Beyond responding to the perennial student protest that begins "When am I ever going to use this ...," the two women aim to bring "much needed lady voices" to discuss everyday scenarios that can be better understood by thinking like a mathematician.

PoW taking place: math problem-solving moment of the week

"But also because there was an extra side length of the triangle added to the bottom, we have to subtract 12.85 from 16.18. After subtracting the side lengths, I am left with 3.33 inches. What the 3.33 inches stands for is the side length of the right side of the smaller triangle. From this information, I can continue to find the bottom length by using cosine...."
- Pauline, highlighted in the Geometry PoW's Latest Solution

STEM Behind Health


A recent collaboration between Texas Instruments (TI) and The Sanford Project seeks to dispel disease myths as it advances science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Freely download the activity files for STEM Behind Health — as well as trials of TI-Nspire™ for Macintosh and PC platforms — by scrolling down TI's education technology page:


The collaboration's inaugural activity, "Type 1 Diabetes: Managing a Critical Ratio," provides interactive simulations that promote concepts and practices such as

  • engaging in ratios and proportional thinking
  • analyzing biological control mechanisms
  • planning and carrying out investigations
  • using computational thinking

TI and The Sanford Project have already planned subsequent topics for similar treatment, including Type 2 diabetes, rare genetic diseases, and — in time for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October — breast cancer.

Now taking place: math education conversation of the day

"I am going to weigh in on the other side of the debate.... I have watched our Algebra and Geometry teacher struggle the past two years as she tried to teach two curriculums during the same year, and she was constantly worried that she was not doing a good enough job with either. Now that I know that my students will be tested on the Common Core next year, I can devote myself to completely understanding the new curriculum without trying to save some parts of my old curriculum."
- Frank, posted to the secondary (grades 9-12) discussion group of the Association of Math Teachers of New York State

Building Thinking Classrooms


A math education professor has identified nine elements that foster student persistence, discussion, participation, and other indicators of what he calls a "thinking classroom."

"Building Thinking Classrooms: Conditions For Problem Solving" opens with a story of the failure that came from Peter Liljedahl's attempt to plug "a-ha!" problems into a seventh grade classroom. It goes on to present the research behind two of the elements that emerged after the Simon Fraser University (British Columbia) professor persevered in observing the class that got stuck on those "a-ha!" problems and repeatedly abandoned them.

Liljedahl's decade-long study of over 150 high school students and 300 in-service teachers across all levels revealed that task adoption and productivity differed significantly depending on the common writing surface that students shared. Even the orientation of that work space mattered. The method teachers used to assign students to group (for educational goals rather than social ones) also made a significant difference in cultivating what Liljedahl defines as a place where students and teachers alike "think collectively, learn together, and construct knowledge and understanding through activity and discussion."

Forthcoming as a chapter of a book currently in press, "Building Thinking Classrooms" lists seven more elements conducive to thinking classrooms, further rating them chronologically for impact and ease of implemention.

An early version of Liljedahl's original research into "a-ha!" moments — what they share in common and what sets them apart from other mathematical experiences — appears in the article "The AHA! Experience: Mathematical Contexts, Pedagogical Implications." It begins on page 141 of the Proceedings of the 2004 Annual Meeting of the Canadian Mathematics Education Study Group, freely available from the Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC):


Hat tip to Henri Picciotto for bringing Liljedahl's work to our attention. Picciotto, regularly featured in these pages, has blogged about and linked to "Building Thinking Classrooms" as well as another essay by Liljedahl:


Explore Liljedahl's site for more of his publications, presentations, and teacher resources such as numeracy tasks, videos of card tricks to explain, and problems of the week:



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