I started out my little experiment with computer programming in math class. It shows a lot of promise, but there is still a lot to consider!
The purposes of the first activity were threefold: To construct and classify geometric shapes, to plot points on a four-quadrant grid, and to use variables in expressions.
On Day 1, I gave students some direct instruction on variables and coordinate graphing, and I gave them a sample program to type in and modify.
For day 2, I tasked the kids with creating an interesting drawing with these constraints:
– It had to use the translate(200,200); function first, so it would move the origin to the center of the screen and thus make a four-quadrant graph.
– It had to plot shapes in all four quadrants.
– It had to use variables in some way.
I suggested that the drawing could be symmetrical and beautiful, but did not require any symmetry. I let them play.
I wanted to see evidence that the students understood variables and graphing, mostly. Classifying shapes was sort of a bonus. I found that it was very hard to assess. I didn’t have enough computers for each student to have one individually, so most students partnered up. I hope to get my own class set of netbooks very soon, so I can evaluate kids individually! Even though it was hard to see on an individual level who understood what, I could see some broad trends. One student created this beautiful drawing.
Isn’t it gorgeous? And, she was clearly purposeful about the placement and size of her circles. She used variables beautifully and could definitely see patterns with the coordinates in the different quadrants of the graph. I feel I could tell her to place a circle in a certain position of the screen, and she would know what coordinates she needed to get it there.
I got many, many drawings like this:
One student made this drawing, which is extremely cool but very hard to assess. The code demonstrates a good understanding of variables. But I don’t know if the student was purposefully graphing the shapes, or tweaking the numbers until the shape looked okay. I think I’ve decided even if he or she wasn’t purposeful, through trial-and-error this kiddo probably developed a good understanding of graphing. But I will need to check.
That said, it’s coming along. Usually, when we work with variables and equations, there are more than a few kids that ask “What is that x?” several weeks into the unit! But they are coming along faster with understanding the use of variables in their programs. They attacked their programming tasks and were excited about doing it. There was energy you just don’t see when you have students graph on paper.
Due to technology and scheduling restrictions, I need to back off the computers for a couple of days, but we’ll pick it up again next week. In the meantime this is my plan:
– Demo to students some of the work their peers did and evaluate their own understanding of variables and graphing
– Quiz on integers and rational numbers, on a number line and on a coordinate grid
– Start on addition and subtraction of rational numbers
– Plan for studying animation next week, which will build on the themes of variables and graphing, while adding in a target of understanding addition and subtraction of signed numbers.