## Saturday, May 1, 2010

### A Coffee Can, an Oatmeal Box, and a Smart Board: What are the Odds?

Last Friday about twenty-five 7th graders at Patrick Marsh Middle School (and I) learned a significant mathematics lesson about probability. The experience inspirED me because I experienced this with a teacher, Mr. Nate Rosin, who brilliantly connected and powerfully leveraged “old” technology and “new”.

The lesson started with Mr. Rosin challenging various students to beat him in a “game” by strategically placing different combinations of colored marbles in either a coffee can or an oatmeal box. Nothing engages the attention and energy of adolescents like an adult’s challenge, and this was no exception. After Mr. Rosin had hooked them with this hands on application, he transferred what they experienced, their data, onto the classroom Smart Board. Students were then skillfully led through opportunities to explore and manipulate the data in a hands on/minds on way. What’s great about the Smart Board is that it allows this "digitally doing/deeply thinking" connection that resonates in the language of our students who are digital natives.

Mr. Rosin worked the Smart Board like a fine musical instrument: quite amazing to observe and almost impossible to describe in text. Students' data and thinking models (they of course might not call it that) are saved, made smaller, pushed aside momentarily, enlarged, and then reexamined. In the days of chalk or white boards, a student's work had to be erased so other student's ideas could be added. Today, Mr. Rosin saved, shrank (student sighs) and moved aside student work; just to bring it back later (student exclamations). Back and forth: new ideas - - students' data and previous thinking.  Multiple ways of getting to the correct answer could be examined and connected to various conceptual models.  Literally, it felt like a mathematical symphony of ideas leading to the crescendo when Mr. Rosin nailed the lesson objective of how to figure the probability of something happening given certain parameters. That’s the rigorous curriculum objective these 7th graders (and I) learned in a relevant way. We went from concrete and digital manipulation of objects, to abstract thinking about concepts, to the “aha” moment of understanding in about 40 minutes; and enjoyed doing it. It rarely gets better than this.

Bravo, Mr. Rosin, and all teachers who are developing their use of instructional technology to take our young people higher and farther than ever before in ways that are relevant to them.

Hope you find your inspiration today, too!

Tim Culver