Math = Love: Math Teachers' Circle Takeaways #2

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Math Teachers' Circle Takeaways #2

Originally, I'd planned to blog after each day of the math teachers' circle summer immersion workshop.  But, it turns out that driving one hour to the workshop, spending eight hours doing and talking math, and driving one hour home makes for a satisfying but exhausting day!

Here are a few more of my take-aways from our three day workshop.  If you missed the first installment, you can find it here.  

Giving Rules is Tricky  

On the second day of the workshop, we were introduced to a game known as The New Eleusis.  The game was shared by Martin Gardner in Scientific American, but he did not invent the game.  We were given an 11 page handout including rules of the game, but our facilitator said he would demonstrate how to play the game so we wouldn't have to read the rules packet.   We were invited to join around one table where we would watch a game and learn the rules of the game.

The first thing I noticed is that I get very frustrated when I'm given a bunch of rules to learn, but I don't get to practice them right away.  Trying to see over other people's heads to watch a game that was going on is NOT the same as getting to play the game myself.  How often do I do this to my students, though?  I give them steps to solve a problem, then we talk about those steps, we write those steps down, and then maybe finally they watch me do a problem following the steps.  They must feel exactly like I did while watching others play this game.  

Another thing that was great food for thought for me was the fact that group we were watching started playing the game without knowing all of the rules.  The facilitator had the first person in the group play a card without telling them what type of card they should play.  As game play progressed, more rules were given out.  Starting to play a game without knowing all of the rules made me feel very uncomfortable.  I'm still not sure how this applies to the classroom environment, though.  

The game turned out to be fun and challenging, but it took soooooooooooooo long to learn how to play the game that I'm not sure it is worth it. John Golden has created a version of Eleusis called Eleusis Express that makes the game shorter and easier to play and understand.  I haven't played this version yet.  

Don't Fill in all the Blanks

At the workshop, we were given a list of problem solving strategies in the back of our folders.  The first thing I noticed was that not all of the problem solving strategies were filled in.  In the past, I've been quick to hang up a list of problem solving strategies on the wall or on a bulletin board.  What I should really be doing is letting students develop their own list of problem solving strategies.  As students use different strategies, we should post them in the classroom as a reminder.    

Let Students Create Their Own Examples to Test Conjectures

The first activity we did with the Four Color Theorem was to try and color a map of the western United States with as few colors as possible.  I thought the use of pieces of chopped up colored card stock was brilliant with this activity!  Of course, we had to ignore the east coast since it was too small for our small pieces of paper.  Our facilitator said he uses giant posters of the entire United States when using this activity with kids so can still used the small pieces of paper.   

This was a fun activity, but the twist I really liked was when he asked us to take a ruler and draw our own maps to color.  We had to start by drawing five lines randomly from edge to edge on our paper.  Then, we figured out the fewest number of colors we could use to color the regions.  Then, we addeded a sixth line and repeated.

I think I do a lot of activities like the first map in my classroom.  I don't do enough activities were I let my students test the conjectures on their own examples as in the second map.  

Life is Better with Pi Shaped Cookies

No further explanation necessary. 


  1. Sarah, I think one of the take a ways from the portion of your post about the card game is similar to another thought you've already posted....sometimes we are quick to give students too much guidance when they problem solve. For myself, I know I need to be willing to wait and listen more, and jump in to give and rescue less. Appreciate all you've shared from your professional development experience. :)
    Stacey Sisler. (@Stacey Sisler)

  2. Love the suggestion in "Don't Fill in all of the blanks" - I have a bad habit of insisting on filling in everything so students will get all of it. But, I need to let them learn with me. Love this idea. Thanks for sharing this post!!!