This post is a brief complaint

I haven’t written in the past couple of weeks because I had nothing to write. I’ve returned to the capital from my hometown, and decided to enjoy the remaining days in recess. Also because I’ve returned without the fifth grade math book I was using for my aunt’s work, so I needed to wait for it to arrive by mail.

For the last two weeks I’ve been going out, chilling at home, checking in at some friends, doing anything except mathematics. Actually, I’ve done some progress on group cohomology: the first 7 pages from Lang’s Algebra chapter 3. Now that the math book arrived, I’m back to my (possibly unhealthy) pace of work and started gathering classroom material and teacher’s resources for the chapter 2.

The book’s name is Vontade de Aprender Matem√°tica. That translates to Desire to Learn Mathematics, for those across the continent. I became quite fond of the title, for motivation is the core of all the material I’m gathering. Sadly, I was less satisfied by the amount of motivation provided by the book itself. But the exercises are generally good – there are not too many of them, and they do provoke interest. Anyway, the book is more of a schedule to me – my aunt’s teachers are using it in class chapter by chapter, two weeks for each, in order. One week in advance, and there’s my deadline.

The thing is, all I’m trying to do is to relieve the school from it’s isolation. Almost all the material they have available to the teachers is supplied by the government. It isn’t much, just a handful of the same textbook, and a few guideline booklets. There’s plenty of good material available on the web, but technology and language are barriers for such a small town.

I’m not only including classroom material I find on-line, such as suggestions for activities with the students, but also some meta educational material, to serve as sources of various informations that could be useful to the teachers. Now, when I decide to include a translation of a small article by Edward Begle (yeah, the New Math. But Begle was sensible and reasonable. He recognized the problems in his movement and had good suggestions for what was to come), every single person reading it tells me not to.

`Teachers are not very favorable to your material yet. They could use Begle’s arguments (in the article he states that there is no evidence in the 70’s of a `superior’ method of teaching) to refute you.’ Not favorable to the material? Refute me? All I’m doing is the work of a search engine and a translator. All I want is to connect the school to what’s happening outside it. Very little of what’s in there are my words. And even in those passages, I only speak of suggestions and possibilities. I’m not trying to convince them of nothing, let the teachers choose what they think it would be useful.

My point in including Begle’s article was to illustrate the thought that attention and devotion to small bits of one’s class and procedures can be more effective than following blindly a major, innovative, shining new method of teaching. I try to make the activities neutral in the sense that they could be adapted to various methods of teaching.

If the teachers think I’m trying to lecture them on how to do their job, then I could be doing a terrible job on my writing style. Or maybe I’m not being so neutral as I hoped to. I’m still waiting for their feedback on the first chapter that I sent last month. My aunt called and said they were going to e-mail me. This was almost a week ago.

I can’t hide that I’m a bit frustrated. And a bit sad. And a bit mad. And a bit down. But I’m hoping that this is all a misunderstanding, that me and the teachers would exchange our e-mails explaining ourselves and then both life and work would go on. I have to say, this work is becoming addictive.


Writing is easy, but prototyping is hard

I did it! I spent four days without writing a word.

That’s not exactly good though. I’ve not only written nothing on the blogs, but I’ve also written nothing on my researches, on my e-mails and to my girlfriend. But I’m getting it all together, I guess. Today, I’ve sent all the e-mails that needed sending, finished a section on my aunt’s class material, and took my girlfriend to eat frozen yogurt with lots of litchi topping. I mean, lots.

I’m not that big fan of litchi. Actually, I do not like litchi at all. But she freaking loves it. I mean, we go to the counter, she asks for a medium size apple-flavored frozen yogurt with three toppings. The¬† lady on the counter asks, ‘your first topping?’. My girlfriend answers: ‘litchi’. After the lady puts the litchi, my girlfriend asks ‘can you put some of the broth?’ (non-native speaker strikes again! Is ‘broth’ the word for the water/oil stuff that canned fruits go in? Wikipedia didn’t saved me here). The lady puts the broth and asks: ‘your second topping?’. My girlfriend answers simply: ‘litchi’. The lady finds it funny and puts the litchi. My girlfriend then asks again ‘can you put some of the broth?’

At that point, the lady is not finding it so funny anymore. She anticipates the third topping. ‘Your third topping?’ – and my girlfriend always answers peanut candy.

My story today is somewhat similar to litchi-spammed frozen yogurt. I was finishing the core of the first section of my aunt’s classroom material. It was about solid geometry, naming the geometric forms and describing the elements that make them different – vertices, edges and faces. I’m trying the make a material with lots of supplements, so that the teacher won’t suffer when looking for references or ideas.

There is this board game. Concept. It is awesome. You should check it out. I first played it on a board game bar and loved it. Drunk college students act pretty much like children, so I thought the children would like it too.

Not only that, but I also think it makes for outstanding classroom activities, with some adaptation. It’s a guessing game using cards and a board full of icons. Pairs take turns trying to make each other guess a word from the cards by marking the icons. I think it really makes you give value to language.

Considering the first section about three-dimensional geometric forms and their elements is all about language, I suggested this as a candidate for motivational activity. The problem is: here in Brazil, this game is expensive as frozen yogurt. It goes on sale for R$139.90, something like $35 in U.S. dollars. It may not seem much there, overseas (or it does?), but this represents roughly 10% of the teacher’s monthly income. 100% of their income pays for *almost* all of their life costs, so what teacher would be able to buy 3-6 of these for their classes? And the public schools don’t have budget available for this either.

My eyes gleamed and I thought to myself: ‘supplement material’. I devised a similar game (if not a rough and ugly copy) of Concept that could be crafted with material worth $8.10. I’ve written instructions to it, and designed the icon board using free icons from the web. I’ve elaborated 40 cards with 3 words each, focusing on objects that could be described by it’s form to narrow the game’s possibilities to the ones useful for class. Then, I’ve tried prototyping it.

This story is about the prototype. It is a lot like litchi-spammed yogurt. At first, I thought it would be fun and interesting, but I became tiring and repetitive after time only to finish with frustration. The result was not bad, some people liked it – like my girlfriend and my aunt, for instance – but I didn’t liked at all.

First, I’m really bad with handcrafting and paper. My hands sweat a lot the whole time, so normally I have around a box of surgeon gloves for when I need them. Except that when I needed them, they were inside that box on my house 900km from where I were. So overall quality didn’t ended up that good. I’ve made a game board with greyboard only to discover that it doesn’t react well to folding in certain ways that needed folding. I’ve also struggled with vinyl paper, but let’s face it, who doesn’t? At least my mom (again!) and my dad (novelty!) gave me a hand, so I’ve finished it in around four hours. Here are some pictures of the experiment:

Now, at least it was fun to play. I haven’t played the prototype, but once the rules and the board are a blatant copy of Concept, I label it ‘fun’ by a isomorphism theorem.

Though I would like to see it crafted and used in the classroom, my guess is that they’ll go with other motivational activities suggested on my notes. I would like to discuss one of them later, based on something I saw Oliver Lovell implementing, but let’s leave it for another day.

For today, what does the Math Blogo-non-polytope-object thinks about the game Concept? Do you think it has it’s place on the classroom? Could it be effective in motivating children to learn the language of mathematics as a language to visually describe the world around them?

Also, gluing printing paper on card stock makes a huge mess.