Spring Semester Paper

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Timm Ringhofer Spring Semester Paper for Contracted Grade

On Friday, March 31, 2000, I attended, along with the rest of the teachers in the math department at Falls High School, the Minnesota Council of Teachers of Mathematics Conference (MCTM) at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center (DECC) in Duluth, Minnesota.

We arrived on Thursday night and had an impromptu department meeting discussing a variety of topics. These topics included new textbooks for next year, how we were going to get the money for those textbooks, how our department was going to deal with the severe cuts in the number of sections of math, problem students, and a variety of non-mathematics topics. These type of meetings where we are not in the school and enjoying our favorite beverage are usually the most productive. I retired to bed early, around 12:30 a.m., and received a large amount of harassment for being a wimp. My philosophy on conference like this is if I am going to miss school and not be teaching my students, then I need to get at least one productive item from the discussions. I think I can do a better job of that with a clear head, plus I was driving back to International Falls alone the next evening for my daughters skating show.

I have never been to the DECC for a conference and soon found I was lost and walked right into the middle of a session. It was quite embarrassing! Finally, I found the room where the teachers got their nametags and other information. With about 30 minutes to waste, I took in the vendors and tried to find some stuff I could take back to my students. No luck, so off to the first session on differential equations.

The first session I attended was called Integrated or Sequential High School CoursesSuccesses and Pitfalls presented by Sharon Stenglein of the Minnesota Department of Children, Families, and Learning. Currently at Falls High School, we have sequential course books with the exception of class. Integrated textbooks put algebra and geometry into the same text and try to connect them in as many ways as possible. I was educated on sequential books and believe that they are the best for students to learn. However, I felt that I owed it to my students to listen to what Sharon had to say. Sharon definitely is a backer of integrated textbooks and probably makes a little money on the side to sell these types of books. By the time the session was over, I was even more convinced that the sequential types of books are better. The same old argument in which students need to learn to apply their knowledge to other aspects was given for the reason for using integrated series. However have taught out of an integrated textbook, I know that this causes more confusion than learning. The students never learn the algebra or geometry separately, so they dont believe that they can do them separately. All of these connections can be made when they get into more advanced classes.

The second session I attend was one that I didnt want to miss. I teach Advanced Placement Calculus, and at the time I was attending this conference, we were discussing solving differential equations and using slope fields to do this task. The title of the second session was The Dramatic Changes Occurring in the Modern Differential Equations Course by Robert Devaney from Boston University. The description of the session included how computers are being used to solve differential equations. We use the Texas Instrument TI-82 to graph slope fields and I hoped that this would come up. I was not disappointed. Exactly what I needed to teach my students about differential equations and why was discussed. This occurred in about the first fifteen minutes of the session. Then he talked over my head for the next forty-five minutes. Of the 100 people attending this session, only 4 of us were not college teachers or professors. So the session was directed more towards these people. However, that one thing that I want to take from any conference I had found. I now felt confident to go back and teach differential equations to my calculus students.

The third session of the morning was titled Activities and Modeling Problems for Calculus by Rose Gundacker from Rosemount High School. Most of the session was spent using the graphing calculator and calculator-based laboratory (CBL) to show many of the basic ideas in calculus. These basic ideas would include functions and derivatives and how they apply to position, velocity, and acceleration. She also showed how the graphing calculator could be used to select random numbers. This is a little quicker method rather than rolling a die or drawing a number out of the hat. Rose only got three problems done in an hour, but the few things that were shown I will find a way to use.

The only afternoon session that I attended was titled Applications and Modeling in Pre-calculus Mathematics by Gary K. Rockswold of Minnesota State University, Mankato. Gary had put together a nice packet of the information on which he was going to present. These areas included: transformations of graphs; interpreting asymptotes of rational functions; arithmetic operations and composition of functions; digital photography and matrices; models, data, and trigonometric functions; and modeling music with trigonometric functions. The first, second, and last areas covered in the packet were the ones I know that I can apply in my classroom. Teaching algebra 2 and math analysis allow me to use these as examples in my lectures and demonstrations.

Unfortunately due to family commitments, those were the only sessions I was able to attend. Conferences can be beneficial or conferences can be a waste of time. I can truly say without a doubt that this conference was beneficial to making me a better teacher. I cannot wait until next year to see what else will come along to advance my teaching abilities.

-- Anonymous, June 21, 2000

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