Recent Popular Posts

June 24, 2014

Learning math through programming

Trying to teach math and logic through programming seems to be getting the results. The kids are thinking of the concepts they want to display (through a project) and at the same time learning to keep things simple and manageable and at the same time learning the nuances of programming in scratch (e.g. using stamp instead of a new sprite each time).

The fraction function I created was used by a couple of students at Isai Ambalam to create a small project in which the result of addition with numerator and numerator and denominator and denominator was shown to be incorrect graphically and then corrected.

I felt it was pretty neat and worth sharing:

I have decided that this year with the 7th graders its really worth spending the time upfront to teach them the basics of programming to reap in the benefits later. With the kids at @ Udavi we worked on getting a handle of handling integer addition (with positive and negative numbers) by moving the sprite with as many steps (in x direction) and displaying the current location. This gave quite a few children a visual picture of the negative steps.
Interestingly, one of the children found the limitation that an object when asked to move by steps will refuse to exit from the stage. This placed a lower and upper bound on the numbers that could be dealt with in this fashion in scratch (-268, 267). Here is a slightly modified one in which you can type in inputs instead of changing the numbers each time.

The trick I guess is to keep coming up with a challenge that can be interesting and be useful to learn a concept. It also helps to remember your primary responsibility is to help learn the concept and the secondary responsibility it to help learn programming, so you know when to intervene. 

Here is one that I made up with the 5th grade (I did most of the programming) to give some variety for them to talk about the multiplication and two division stories.

June 21, 2014

Experience with Davis Method of alignment for Dyslexia

Dyslexia is associated with a cognitive disorder related to reading and speech. One of the children I worked with last year appeared to have a form of Dyslexia. Ron Davis who himself had dyslexia has written a book called "The Gift of Dyslexia". He also offers a Davis Dyslexia Correction kit, that is pretty much in line with the book and has additional videos. Ron argues that Dyslexia is a form of disorientation and that it is possible to correct the disorder by creating an orientation framework that the person can knowingly switch to when they feel disoriented or confused.

S is an intelligent and responsible child. He, however, found himself struggling with reading writing and even the simplest algebraic equations. In such situations he either froze or made up his own situation/words, etc. His writing skills were quite weak and he often mixes up letters and their orientation even though he is in 7th grade. He was, however, able to type much quicker and with fewer mistakes than his peers. He took significant time to understand abstract equations, but was able to repeat procedures accurately once he has mastered them. He displayed great patience in what he did.

He noticed that he found himself in a state of confusion sometimes, especially when he felt under stress e.g. during examinations, or encountering large words.

Due to the factors mentioned above his teachers felt that S could have some form of disorientation/dyslexia. The school received materials related to the Dyslexia correction kit and Sanjeev with observation from Kavitha followed the Davis Orientation/Alignment procedure in the kit.

Sanjeev took permission from S to try out a procedure that might help him get clarity when he feels confused or stuck.

Sanjeev then along with S went over the feeling of release (fist closing exercise) to help him be at ease and be capable of remembering what a calm feeling feels like.
To assess which orientation procedure is to be used Sanjeev used the Perceptual Ability Assessment. This was done by visualization of a piece of cake in S hand, giving it characteristics and then viewing it from different vantage points. Sanjeev realized that S was very creative and added much detail to his cake, but the description of shape and cross section from different points of view were not consistent with what is normally expected.

This prompted the use of the Alignment by visualizing yourself standing behind when you are sitting down and creating a mind’s eye that looked from beyond and above you. This process is supposed to help to orient things from the traditional point of view and avoids confusion. Sha seemed comfortable with the process though he mentioned that everything seemed normal like before.

This followed an instruction on responsibility. Sanjeev clarified to S that no one can see that S has hands on his shoulders. In fact if Sanjeev was not in the room he would not even know that these exist. No one can knock them off or even move them an inch. Sanjeev can move S's real hands and that's not in S's control, but not his imaginary hands. Hence, S has sole control and sole responsibility of using his hands when needed. 

S knowingly uses the release technique, but does not seem to knowingly utilize the reorientation procedure that went with the release as often. All S's teachers, however, have seen a marked improvement in his reading and abstraction skills. He seems to have developed a knack of being able to catch himself when he is about to make a mistake and his ability to grasp new procedures is significantly faster. These have also resulted in improved academic achievement in the last year. It is, of course, a question even to us how much the alignment technique contributed to this improvement. 

This was last year. This year we were planning to document various techniques used with S and I was asked to retake the video. I asked S for permission to repeat the steps.

We added two steps after the discussion about responsibility:
1) We added a technique called Fine tuning. In this technique S closed his eyes and balanced on one foot while using his imaginary hands to maintain his balance. This helped fine tune how the hands feel on his shoulders.
2) This time around we put the orientation to test, by reading a text. Initially S only used release as he does and then also used orientation. The reading got significantly better by the third time (though familiarity with the text could also be argued, if we didn't see that he would get stuck at different places each time he read the text). S also felt that this time we did something different and he felt more in control. Interesting.

I'm sharing this video with his permission, in case it helps others with a similar condition.

Note: Much of the video is in Tamil.

June 17, 2014

BigShot @ Udavi 6th-7th grade

Udavi has started and I decided to give the bigshot camera a spin in the fist class for the 6th graders. Many children have had difficulty reading the technical instructions by themselves so for the first assembly I made a two groups of children one that would be reading and guiding their class teacher (Sudhir) and the other group who would be reading the instructions and guiding me.
Like always the spoils of finishing the camera first is that you get to photograph the other group still working on it. Fact is I just wanted the process of building the camera to be photographed on one of the cameras.
We took turns to give all children a chance to read, some of the children can read the instructions quite easily, other have a lot of difficulty. Most were able to figure out what needed to be done from the images in the instructions. The only place they had an issue was when fine parts were involved and they could not quite get the handle on the zoom in the images changing.
Here is a link to some (of the better) images taken that day with the two cameras (can you figure out which camera took which?)
The indoor pictures were extremely hard to take as the classrooms are well ventilated from all sides and the photographs come against the light. This makes many of the indoor pics blur. It was interesting that one child quickly noticed that there was no zoom as they would have liked :). Nonetheless, once outdoors the images were great and the children had fun taking them.

I transferred the pictures to a pendrive and charged both the cameras for the next day. The second day the 6th graders watched the photos and looked at the instructions and worked backwards on how to disassemble the camera. As we kept taking turns and going backwards in the book a few had a little difficulty keeping track of what we had removed (as there were sometimes more than one instruction for fixing an object - placing it, screwing it in place) however, as you unscrewed some things they just came apart. Also the idea of going Japanese on a book was a little confusing, but as Manga comics tell you good for your brain to read backwards.

The cameras got disassembled without loosing any components and within a couple of hours reassembled by the 7th graders. We followed a similar process of two groups in the Math class. Though the Math teacher was a little concerned with the new activity initially he went along and really seemed to have enjoyed himself. There is a joy of taking an effort and putting something together and seeing it come to life.

Introductions done, we now get to work on making the camera relevant to learn math and science concepts.

A scratch program for fractions

As part of getting the kids to program with scratch I realized that it was not all that trivial to draw circles and create different fractions by cutting the circle into many parts. I  created a function to draw any proper fraction within the constraints of something that students could understand. I then made it flexible for them to be able to use it at different locations and different radii.

I also used it with the younger children (5th grade) to get a handle on how to draw different fractions. They could pick a fraction at random and get a handle on how big or small it is on their own.

I'm looking forward to what kind of project will come from the children using these fractions and hoping other teachers also find it useful.

June 15, 2014

It begins again :)

The 5th - 7th grade I worked with at Isai Ambalam has become the 6th - 8th grade this year. The 8th graders will join another school after the first term and I decided use their presence to to continue the gains of a multi-grade classroom.

We had done a few things the previous week, but the admissions had happened that week and it was only this week that we had the full strength in the class with many new students. My goal was to provide a context to mathematics and get the children to start engaging in class.

We had started an EBD (Education By Design) project the previous week that would demonstrate what the most common mistake in addition of fractions of adding the numerators and the denominators together meant in real life. The 8th graders had an handle on programming through the summer camp and we decided to take up this project in scratch.
As part of EBD we derived the quality criteria and formed groups centered around the 8th graders so the children could quickly learn from each other.

The children found it easy to create 1/2 and 1/4 based fractions, but difficult to do for 1/8, 1/6 etc. One group created one 1/8 unit and rotated it by 45 degree to complete the circle.

I had been hoping to find something they knew that would connect what we were doing now (some 6th graders didn't know fraction addition) and I found this in the circle.

We started talking about what we knew about circles. The children knew that a circle is created by keeping the center at one place taking a certain length (with a thread) and moving it around. I asked what would happen if we were spinning an object in a circle and the thread snapped at the highest point. The children gave interesting answers - still along the circle, going down because of gravity and even one that went up before it went down. I then switched the question to something that was spinning horizontally and this really confused children as they knew that something was happening in two dimensions. It didn't help even when I talked about spinning on a table or on the floor where the vertical dimension is not important.

At this point they really wanted to know what happens and I introduced tangents and how small tangents (90' with the line from center to the point) when rotated by appropriate angles can give rise to regular polygons. We also saw that as the angle of rotation becomes really small the number of sides becomes really large and looks like a circle. This is the easiest way to build a circle that doesn't use trigonometry (it will come later).

A tree that had fallen in a recent storm was pulled out by a tractor and it twisted and broke another tree it had fallen on. We talked about why the second tree had broken and them more interesting how it had broken. After taking out the first guesses, the weight had increased - had it really? One student remembered that the second tree had in fact twisted, not snapped. We put two chalks on top of each other and noticed that as top one is moved away (tangentially) over the lower the lower chalk twists. Now the kids started to recall tangents and one example was that motor cars stuck in the dirt throw back dirt when they rotate.

We spent some time on angles as the younger children didn't seem to quite have a handle of it. What is an angle? The (guess) history of 360 degrees being a full angle and what different angles of objects in class including the door would be. We also looked at the number of angles in a shape and differentiated between internal and external angles.

We wrapped the week with a class where the younger children were learning scratch from the older kids and we talking about why we learn mathematics and how we can see and apply it in real life. This conversation took us to estimations like how much water does the school use and how math can help us find the volume of a cylindrical tank on campus or help us find out how much water overflows from the tank if the motor is switched off 5 minutes after the tank filled up.

We of course continued with putting the bigshot cameras together. This time the students who had participated in building it the first time took lead and others helped them. Us teachers also made a camera and the game was afoot. The first person to finish the camera would take pics of the others who were still working on their cameras. Here are the pics of the other two groups at work (what did you expect :)).


June 06, 2014

Bigshot camera: the DIY digital camera

Bigshot is a neat DIY digital camera that children can put together and brings to life many principles in math and science for children.

I have this blog to thank for getting the work with the children across to Shree Nayar the inventor of the camera who gifted 10 to see what the kids from a rural setting would take to it.

I am hoping that this is an opportunity to engage with teachers I have not had a chance to work with at school and also engage the teachers in the classes that I am involved in.

The first step was to make the cameras myself, fortunately, I have not had the time and while Udavi is still to open a few kids in Isai Ambalam had started coming even though admissions are ongoing. This gave me a chance to build the camera along with kids who would be interested. I took a bunch of games to class and after we played a few rounds suggested that I would build it and anyone interested could sit and watch. As I started to assemble the camera and the kids saw that I was only following instructions they first started to help me with the instructions identifying the 30 odd components. Before I knew it one of them was screwing some of the screws in and then the other. Three kids remained with me through the 20-25 minutes it needed to put the camera together. We had a bit of a bug with the switch initially and then with the LED in the front that would not lock, but otherwise it worked like a charm. 

The kids took over the camera and went in a group around the sparsely populated school (its admission time, but children interested can come in this week) and took some pics (132 of them). They also tried out the different modes including the 3D photographs, they still need to figure out the lighting, etc as only 80 odd pics were usable.

The kids are now keen to put the camera together and I sat in the next class and disassembled the camera to allow for a second round of re-assembly. It took me a little less time to take it apart (why is it that it always takes longer to build something than to take it apart) while the children were busy assessing what they remembered from last year. 

Here is the picassa album with some of the photos. Note a few pics in the end are 3D pictures.