msmi 2010: Institute on Fractions is now history. YAY!
I'll leave Catherine and any others to talk about their take on it. I'll have some future posts on what I think are the biggest lessons parents and teachers need to help their students understand fractions, but this is just a roundup.
In the course of 5 days, we covered: definition of a fraction, equivalent fractions, decimals, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, decimals again, and percent. We had more to do, but we couldn't get to it.
Based on the reaction of the teachers, it was a success. I have NEVER had a class of students where so many students worked so hard. No matter what their background, everyone tried to do the problems. Their effort meant that as the week went on, the students were more engaged and more knowledgeable. The teachers also built up their camaraderie with each other.
Based on their personal comments to me and the anonymous survey I gave at the end, their overall impression was quite high. Several teachers told me that this course was the first time anyone had ever explained how to think about fractions. One told me it was "a revelation" to them, another told me this was the first time they'd see a way to visualize multiplication of fractions. Most responded to our survey saying that this material had changed how they would teach permanently. Several teachers had a different kind of revelation, too: that other people in other schools/cities/states knew and felt as they did. They were connecting the dots not only on fractions, but on the state of math education.
Not that everything was perfect. I was terribly out of practice for being a teacher--bad board technique, bad handwriting, bad short hand in my own thoughts and words, instead of being clear, specific and slow.
I made several errors in sizing up my audience too. I assumed that since I had told the principals what to expect, that they had told their teachers. I assumed that teachers, given a pointer to a web site that had, e.g. Wu's CV on it, would have read such.
The biggest complaint was that it was too much material/days too long, and not enough worked out examples. One solution to the latter is to strongly encourage the teachers to read the textbook a day ahead of time. But part of that is the nature of the beast: there is an enormous deficit of knowledge to overcome. Elementary math teachers didn't go into that field because of their stength in fractions. The breadth of math inexperience-experience even for teachers of the same grade was very large, yet being math experienced didn't quite help, because while those teachers probably followed Wu's proofs more easily, applying his ideas to actual math problems was still a new universe to them, and their skill was sometimes a hindrance, because he was asking them to think an entirely different way than they were used to.
Lastly, I'm thrilled to have met all the people involved. Wu is a delight to work with/for, and I'd do this again with him wherever we can. He was personable and charming as well as brilliant. His wife was just as delightful. CassyT, KTMer, is an exemplary woman. She's a brilliant teacher and student of human nature, and her insights into teachers saved me countless mistakes. She shared her expertise with me in countless ways, and the whole thing would have fallen apart if not for her.
So, where to go from here? First, more Wu institutes! Let's bring MSMI to your locale! Second, the really big thing is to help teachers turn what they learned here into changes in their school. That's no small undertaking. I'll talk about that more in the next post. Last, more documents for everyone: condensing of Wu for parents and teachers. I'm sure you'll see work product of that around here shortly...