Sloan Award

sloan award 2011I am very proud to be a 2010 recipient of the Sloan Award for Excellence in Teaching Science and Mathematics.

The awards are given out by the Fund for the City of New York, and are sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

This award is particularly meaningful as selection is based on testimonials from current and former students, colleagues, and administrators.  It is a true honor, and the award ceremony was an uplifting and humbling experience.

As many speakers mentioned–both invited guests and award winners–if more organizations like FCNY and the Sloan Foundation can celebrate teaching, perhaps that will change public discourse on education for the better.

A brief writeup of all the award winners can be found in today’s Cityroom Blog at the New York Times.

Paddling Upstream

canoeThe Canoe in the River problem is an algebra classic.  You know how it goes:  “Paddling upstream, it takes Betty Boater 6 hours to travel up the river to Point Apex.  It takes only 3 hours for the return trip downstream to Point Bellows.  If the distance between Point A. and Point B. is 15 miles, what would Betty Boater’s speed be in still water?” 

Below is wonderful retelling of the Canoe in the River problem created by Dan Meyer.  Using a video camera, an ipod, a quiet morning in a mall, and some great editing, this problem is brought new life in this modern and engaging context.

dmeyer -- boat in river

Check it out at  Meyer seems to be focused on modernizing mathematics curricula, and the more stuff he does like this, the better.

And for Betty Boater’s speed, click here.

Math Lesson: Predicting the Vote

newspaperI am very excited to have my first Lesson Plan published by the New York Times Learning Network.  I wrote a mathematics lesson built around profiling the upcoming presidenital election, using data and analysis from Nate Silver’s 538 Blog at the Times.

The lesson is titled “Predicting the Vote: Analyzing Election Data”, and can be found here:

Trying to write a lesson plan for general use was much more challenging than I imagined, but it was an interesting and educational experience for me.  Hopefully it will produce some interesting educational experiences for others.

The First Word Calculator

word calculatorThis is a pretty awesome widget from the folks at Wolfram Alpha:  a word calculator!

It does the basic things you’d expect, like give you definitions, pronunciations, synonyms, and the like.  But it also gives you cool things like word frequency (“frequency” is the 3209th most common word) and hyphenations (me-di-e-val has 8 letters and 4 syllables)

And, when I typed my name in, I learned that 599,125 people are named Patrick, and our most common age is 46.

WolframAlpha’s mission is to make the world’s information computable–not just searchable.   I guess the lesson here is that everything is computable in some way.

An Impossible Construction

I enjoy offering impossible problems to students as extra credit, although I usually don’t tell them the problems are impossible.  Such tasks usually engage them, confuse them, and make them suspicious of me.  It’s a win-win-win.

While discussing some three-dimensional geometry, I offered extra credit to anyone who could build a model of a Klein bottle.  The Klein bottle is a hard-to-imagine surface that has neither an inside nor an outside.  It’s like a tube where one end meets the other and makes a seal, but somehow got turned inside out in the process.  If you are familiar with the Mobius strip, the Klein bottle is basically a higher-dimensional Mobius strip.

One reason that the Klein bottle is hard to visualize is that it can’t be observed in three dimensions:  it needs a fourth dimension in order to see it turn itself inside-out.  This is analogous to the standard construction of the Mobius strip:  we take a long strip of paper, give one end a half-twist, and tape the ends together.  We think of the paper itself as being 2-dimensional, but we need that third dimension to twist through.

So, I was pretty impressed with the student who made this.

Klein Bottle
Not bad at all, for someone who is dimensionally challenged.  Here’s a nice representation for comparison, although it’s still a cheat.  The Klein bottle doesn’t really intersect itself.

Klein bottle graph

A nice example of impossibly creative student work!


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