Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Application Application

My high school calculus teacher frequently used names of students in our class on tests. It was an easy way of personalizing the test, except the scenarios were always a little bizarre. “Matt has built a hot air balloon with x amount of fabric. Given that the hot air balloon is a sphere, what is its optimal volume?” I’m not saying I wouldn’t enjoy the fantastical whimsy of the construction and aviation of hot air balloons. I’m just saying there may have been more applicable scenarios, which may have better illustrated the application of calculus in the world.

Being a teacher, I now realize finding practical applications can be difficult—particularly when there are cultural barriers. Even teaching in Oakland it was difficult to find practical applications of sixth grade math, in part because despite all the training and workshop sessions, West Oakland still felt like another world. And it’s just about as difficult here in Samoa.

It’s almost always difficult to work backwards from an abstract concept to a practical application. I can figure out the Excel functions I need based on what the situation requires, but turning that around and finding a situation in which my students would need to use the IF function gets a little weird.

On one hand, I don’t want to be the condescending palagi who makes references to coconut plantations and eating papaya. On the other hand, I don’t want to be the assuming palagi who makes references to snooty aspects of American culture that will be lost on my kids. I could bring up my apartment’s Nintendo 64 Mario Soccer tournament, but why?

Sports does make for an easy go-to; particularly athletics. With all the events at a track and field meet, the organization by heat, the rank by time, it’s easy to find lots of different applications for Excel and Access. It’s easy to justify the use of databases and the basic statistical functions like MIN, MAX, MEDIAN, AVERAGE, COUNT, and COUNTA.

And figuring out who won the game is an easy basic use for an IF function. Make those scores rugby scores, and the kids are right there with me. Seki ā.

Also I figure any work I’ve done since I got here is inherently practical for them. Since Blakey and I have been working on automating the way our school does grades, I’ve found it to be a good source of material. SUM and PRODUCT. Pass/Fail is an easy IF function to setup.

But today in my 11.4 class, I got to the end of the lesson and asked if there were questions. A girl raised her hand and asked if we could do another example. Oof.

I vaguely remembered that you can tell a person’s cell phone carrier in Samoa by looking at the digits of their phone number. So I asked the kids to clarify. 72X-XXXX is a Digicel number, 75X-XXXX is a GoMobile number. On the spot IF application! I’m awesome! Also, the class brimmed with hormones as when we wrote out pretend phone numbers for pretend people on the board. They were dying to do real phone numbers for real people… Hmmm… Nah.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Class with grades and rugby scores on the board.

Rainy afternoon today.

These ladies were standing outside the bank discussing exchange rates.

1 comment:

Arseneault Family said...

i bet the conversation these ladies were having was great!