Saturday, November 5, 2011

NAGC Convention in New Orleans

Thursday afternoon, Dotty Corbiere and I flew down to New Orleans to make a presentation at the convention of the National Association for Gifted Children. Dotty is the elementary math coordinator at my son's school, the Meadowbrook School in Weston. Last year, Dotty joined with English teacher Liz Pritchett to teach Lost in Lexicon to the sixth grade honors English class. They planned a five-week unit for the book, but it stretched to nearly eight weeks because they kept thinking of new creative, high-level projects for the kids to do.

Dotty and Liz really enjoyed working together. Liz taught the book from a literature perspective four days every week, exploring themes and character and setting and having the kids try their hands at metaphor and poetry. Once a week, for the Friday 90-minute block, Dotty came in and taught math enrichment. The class was heterogeneous in math skills, and only a minority identified themselves as "math kids," but they loved the explorations she gave them. They researched different ways to multiply, measured circumference and diameter of widely different circles to find pi, created Venn diagrams to use in logic and in classifying kinds of numbers, investigated the properties of tessellating shapes, and researched what's special about the number 1729.

In one project they plotted points on the Cartesian plane, connected them, took them through transformations (rotation, reflection and translation) as directed, and found they had created letters that led them to a secret message. In an ongoing project they used pattern blocks to create an image for each village of Lexicon, and toward the end of the unit they built representations of each village with Legos and had to explain the choices they had made.

For their final projects, the kids had to select a concept from the book in either English or math and carry it further, creating a lesson to teach to some other class, either younger or older. Most of the kids chose math projects, and they created powerpoints, wikis, podcasts, and interactive lessons.

This was the experience Dotty talked about at our crowded session. To illustrate, we handed out lists of some of the math and ELA concepts explored in the book. We asked teachers to pair up, select a concept from each list (or others of their choosing) and use a small collection of Legos to illustrate the integration of math and literature. The teachers plunged in with good will, and in ten minutes came up with creative answers. They compared punctuating complex sentences to building number sentences and equations. They built a balance and compared a balanced equation to an effective simile. They built a gear with two radii to illustrate the area of a circle and used the same gear to show how metaphors connect. They built a structure of mathematics and placed a person with the magic wand of storytelling on top.

The workshop was the highlight of our visit, but we also had an early-morning walk along the river and an evening visit to Bourbon Street. New Orleans was cool and breezy and clear, perfect weather for being outside. For me, it was truly fun to spend time with Dotty, who is such a creative, dedicated teacher.

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