Basketball, mountain biking, magic cards, hackeysacks, alternative music: these are some of the important elements in the lives of adolescents at St. Paul's School in St. John's, Newfoundland in 1996. Are these interests similar to or different from the interests of other teens elsewhere in Newfoundland or the world? Finding an answer to this question was one of the aims of a project entitled Math Radicals.
The project involved a group of grade nine math students from St. Paul's writing math story problems based on their own adolescent culture. As parents and teachers we can sometimes be unaccepting of adolescent culture. We often view teen's music and fashions as being radical. It's not surprising we do. Their culture most often is radical! As a teacher of these students, as a former rather radical teenager and as the parent of a soon-to-be teenager I felt a need to validate this culture. I wanted to give these teens a chance to discuss their culture and I wanted it to become a theme in their school learning experiences.
What does this all have to do with Math? Another important aim of the project was to get the students to have some fun with math, to get them to see how it could relate to their own lives, to lead them to make connections between their lives and math and to use math to communicate with other teens.
Math textbooks have improved greatly in terms of the meaningfulness of their content. Publishers do aim increasingly to focus on students' interests. Still, often story problems in text books are not meaningful for students and do not even use vocabulary familiar to them. No wonder many students are not motivated to put a lot of effort into problem solving. No wonder as teachers we frequently have to schedule in problem solving to make sure we do it on a regular basis.
Through the help of a School Rings Project., I was able to get 30 hours of online time for student use for this project. I submitted a brief description of the project's aims to Intercultural E-mail Classroom Connections and found some partner classrooms in Florida, Newfoundland, Finland and elsewhere in Canada who were willing to participate.
We have one computer with modem/phoneline for student use. Students type problems offline using Eudora and then send them off using Tcpman and a slip connection. To date we have not received a lot of responses to our problems nor have we received many problems from the other participants. However, St. Paul's students are enjoying talking about their culture, writing story problems and being generally radical. As a teacher I'm having fun too because, just like the students, I'm learning something new.