Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Zombies, Logs, Noticing, Wondering, Precalculus, and #TMC13

I attended the precalculus morning sessions at twitter math camp. Among other things, we made a list of topics that can typically be problematic when teaching precalculus. Then we each signed up to work on one of these topics and produce something useful.

I ended up working on logarithms with Summer (@mathdiva77) and her adorable southern drawl. I am not sure that she would appreciate the adorable adjective, but it's my blog.

We agreed that we both felt pretty comfortable with the procedural part of teaching logs, but we were missing some pizazz. We were missing a hook.

Our fearless leaders, Sam and David, had suggested that we start by trying to focus on our topic's big idea. We decided that logs, being the inverse of exponents, allow us to find an unknown exponent. Check.

So . . . How could we get our students wondering about exponents? We started talking about Max's session on noticing and wondering (one of my favorites!) and then Summer started talking about zombies because they're all the rage right now and we started getting super excited.

Zombies! We needed pictures of zombies! More importantly, we needed pictures of zombies multiplying exponentially. It took some effort to find some classroom appropriate, mild-looking zombies in groups of one, two, four, and eight. We pasted them onto a page in that order.

Then we typed the words "What do you notice?" and "What do you wonder?" at the top of the page and we were done. We basked in the glory of our creation. We envisioned our students noticing the number of zombies and wondering when there would be 1000 zombies, or when zombies would outnumber people. They would be putty in our hands. They would be begging us to tell them about this thing called a logarithm.

Next Sam said that it was time to share what we'd created. At this point I started to have doubts because, hey, did we seriously just paste four pictures into a word document and call that a project? The group offered some helpful suggestions, like attaching the pics to a timeline. We might let our students wonder about that, too, but we would ultimately have to provide that information in order for the questions to be answerable.

The more I think about it, being simple is kind of the beauty of it. Maybe it isn't that hard to bait students to ask the questions we want them to ask. Maybe the chasm between being teacher-centered and student-centered is much smaller than we think. Maybe all you have to do is start with a carefully selected picture, and then get out of the way.

We'll let you know how it goes. Stay tuned.


  1. We did a zombie apocalypse project with our 8th graders last year where one of the scenarios had the zombies growing exponentially. The students had to figure out when they would take over the state, US, world. We were accepting estimates, but a few of my algebra students wanted to know how to solve the equations they created so I thought those select few about logs. It was so cool to see them wondering and pushing the project beyond what was expected because they were so hooked!

  2. oh yeah, and there's an app for your phone where you can snap a picture of anyone and zombie-fie them. The kids loved seeing all their teachers turned into zombies. SO much fun.

    1. Oh my goodness! This is why I LOVE blogging! It never ceases to amaze me when I post something that is "just okay" and then lovely folks like you tell me how to make it even more fun. Thanks a bunch. :)

  3. Amy - great idea - I love it (and may very well steal it for Algebra 2)! Did you attend @cheesemonkeysf's presentation on Stickiness? If not, it is available on the TMC13 wiki, and the first principle of creating ideas that stick is that they are Simple - there you go with your growing zombie population. Sticky ideas also create a 'curiosity gap' as well - when will those ghoulish guys take over? And the whole idea of zombies 'hits you in the gut' and taps into an emotional state. So this simple idea is actually brilliant!

    1. I did go to the stickiness presentation, but I hadn't made that connection. Thank you for the encouragement!