Saturday, January 11, 2014

There's an App for That

The other day, I was going through the curriculum expectations for my grade 10 applied math course for next semester, trying to see them through new eyes - BYOD eyes - and trying to create student learning goals (see previous post), when I got stuck on one expectation in particular.

I should mention that I love the planning part of the teaching process. Endless possibilities - what can I try with the students this year? Which projects have worked well in the past? How should I set up my units and build up the big ideas? It's a blank slate at this point, and the classroom is my oyster.

The expectation that bothered me was a fairly simple one on the surface:

From the curriculum document:
"By the end of the course, the student will perform everyday conversions between the imperial system and the metric system (e.g., millilitres to cups, centimetres to inches) and within these systems (e.g., cubic metres to cubic centimetres, square feet to square yards), as necessary to solve problems involving measurement."

My student-centred learning goal:
I can convert between the imperial system and the metric system.

My initial reaction (and yes, I ramble in my own head):
Conversions. Okay. Students struggle enough with conversion within the metric system (centimetres to metres to kilometres), how can I teach them how the imperial (non base 10) system works and then get them to create fractions (they never like fractions, and they bared touched them in grade 9), maybe decimals; I'll have to give them a table of conversions (inches to cm, miles to km, feet to metres, ounces to cups, etc.), maybe an anchor chart, they'll struggle with when to multiply and when to divide; or maybe I should go over cross-multiplication... and then we'll have to do compounded units (cubic metres); I know they're going to struggle with this, and it will likely take the better part of a week, which is ridiculous because in real life, all they'll have to do is...

...use a conversion app.

My second reaction:
Can I not just have them research and find a GOOD conversion app, and then make sure they get practice using the app?
     ... it would be easier to engage them on their devices than it would be to engage them at the chalkboard;
     ... it would reinforce research skills, evaluating skills (as they pick the best app), and allow them to tailor their tools to what they need (and like);
     ... it would allow us to spend less time on the tedious math of the conversions, so we can spend more time on problem-solving and creating (other apps/software for designing, building, testing?);
     ... it would be SO MUCH MORE like real life. In fact, it's just like real life. I can take this from something they will hate to something they can actually see themselves using. 

My students won't remember that to convert from feet to metres they need to multiply by 0.3048 (which, I admit, I had to look up), but they WILL remember that "there's an app for that," and they will remember that they CAN do it. They're not going to get flustered at the hardware store, at some unknown point in the future, when they need to make a conversion to get the right amount of materials. Empowering, no? Isn't this what we're supposed to be teaching students??

Will we still do fraction work? Yes. Will we still do cross-multiplication? Yes. Will my students be able to convert between imperial and metric? YES. And with BYOD I'm hoping it's something they actually enjoy.


  1. Love that you are using BOYD to reinforce skills that they are asked to demonstrate in other subjects. I also appreciate that they will find success by using the app for that.

    1. Thanks, Joy! I find this grade/level the hardest to motivate and engage. I'm hoping that by giving them something practical, and that they're seeing in places other than math class, they'll enjoy the learning process a little more :)


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