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Math in China Again?

27 Sep 2017 7:18 PM | Anonymous

I never thought I would get to GO BACK to China, but I did!  So, I experienced the same surprise this summer when students did not know what "HL" stood for when proving right triangles congruent...but at least I was prepared for it.  When I explained, I got to hear the cool "Ohhhhhhhh" sound from about 28 students all at once.  Two periods in a row!   This year, there were 2 classes of about 29 kids each, which my colleague and I taught back to back periods.  Some days, we taught from 8 to 9:20 and 9:30 to 10:50, and other days it was afternoon sessions.  We seem to always stumble into our classes a few hours after we arrive in the country, usually on a weekend day.  This year, we taught from Saturday to Saturday without a day off.  Phew!  I explain that our American students probably couldn't handle that.   (maybe American teachers couldn't handle it, either?)  

I decided to make the lessons a little more interactive this year, to display the "American style" of teaching and learning.  I felt that I had to prepare some materials ahead and take them with me, in addition to packing supplies that could be used for activities "on the fly".

My first activity was the Box Volume problem from Algebra 2.  Every pair of students was given a piece of centimeter grid paper, and asked to cut out a specific square from each corner.   (of course, I left the pretty neon paper at home and had to settle for local, recycled paper!)  Each pair then folded up the sides to create the open box, and calculated the dimensions and the volume.  We put all of the class data on the board, and then I also entered it into my Ti-nspire calculator on the projected touch screen.  (sort of a Smartboard) We all agreed which box seemed to have the greatest volume, but they didn't know how to answer more specifically what the dimensions would be of the absolute MAXimum volume.  Using scientific calculators, I imagine they would do some guess and check for a while until their teacher was satisfied that they had gotten close enough.  I used the technology to show them how the graph can be analyzed to find a very accurate maximum ordered pair.   We had fun discussing the quite different shapes of the boxes, and how certain boxes would only be good for storage of certain items such as pencils or erasers.  The very flattest box was called a tray.  Students were working on their English conversation skills at this point which was very engaging for them all.

One other activity we did involved the Parent Functions, as I call them, and Even and Odd Symmetry.  In each case, I had graphs glued onto sticky notes, and had students come to the board to arrange the graphs properly according to the names or categories in which they belonged.  Each time we did this activity, there were not enough graphs to go around, so I asked some students to be the teachers and find mistakes that were made by their classmates.  Mistakes would be anonymous, of course, because many stickies were up on the board

at that time.  No one was embarrassed by putting a linear graph with the word quadratic by mistake.  After one iteration of students correcting the work, both classes were at 100% accuracy.  The students learned many new vocabulary words through these lessons, including the names of some basic functions (quadratic, cubic and so on) and also using Even and Odd to speak of rotational symmetry or reflective symmetry.  Over the brief 8 day series of my lessons, many words were repeatedly used, and so students began to use the words more rapidly when I posed questions to them.  (You see, repetition does work!)  

Perhaps the most rewarding "lessons" were the lessons taught to me and my colleague by the students themselves.  Have your students ever taken YOU on a field trip?  Well, on our last official teaching day, class ended in the morning, and after lunch the students, all dressed in their new uniforms, boarded a bus and took us to the Hebei Provincial Museum.  We had both been to the museum for a brief visit last summer, but this was going to be quite different.  Some pairs of students were assigned to be docents of a particular treasure of their history.  They rehearsed (secretly) all week with prepared speeches in English about each sculpture, piece of artwork, or other type of artifact.  This event even drew a news team to come and follow us around the museum with cameras for the local news!  Our pride in the students blossomed with each eloquent speech, and we supported them in their nervous moments to help them continue on with their words.  Their smiles and enthusiasm were worth a lifetime of teaching all in one short day!    Of course, we couldn't say goodbye to them without buying them frozen treats from a nearby stand when we got back to the school gates...not an easy task!   One thing that we didn't get to see was how each pair of students stood the entire time at their one assigned treasure, and they likely acted as docents to any other visitors who came by as well.  With their bright
red sashes on their crisp white shirts, they certainly stood out as important people that day. So important, as a matter of fact, that a local television crew followed us around and recorded a short comment from each of us at the end of the day.  (I have no idea if it ever aired!)

OCTM is an affiliate of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

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