Days 5 and 6: Daily Blogging Is Harder Than I Expected

It is Day 12 of our trip, and yet there are only four days worth of posts from our travels so far. It turns out that when you’re on the road and exploring all day, you’re pretty tired at night and it can be hard to get stuff done. I’m going to cheat a little by combining two days worth of activities into a single post. We’re going to be in  Washington and Oregon for a couple weeks now, and while we’re more settled I think I should be able to get caught up.

We kicked off Day 5 with a drive from south central Minnesota to Sioux Falls, SD, where we stopped for lunch and supplies before heading north to De Smet, SD. I had never heard of De Smet until a few months ago, but this is where the Ingalls family of Little House on the Prairie fame eventually settled. None of us had ever read any of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, but we listened to the first two on CD during the first couple days of our drive in preparation for this visit. It turns out that you can visit the land the family homesteaded, participate in various period activities, and see the land largely unchanged from almost 200 years ago. You can also camp on the land or stay in a cabin there, which we did. I have to say that there was something pretty magical about seeing and experiencing this land that the characters in the book experienced. I don’t have any great math take-aways from the day, but the experiential piece of it will stick with me for a while and I’ll keep thinking about how to make use of it in the future. In the meantime, here are a couple pictures from the homestead.

  

The next morning, we drove across South Dakota to visit Badlands National Park. I’ve always wanted to visit the park, if for no other reason then because the name sparks curiosity. Here’s one of the many pictures I took:

 
While the picture should give you some sense of what the land looks, the Badlands is one of those places that only really makes sense when you experience it in relation to the land around it. This in itself is analagous to mathematical ideas whose beauty only becomes clear in comparison to other concepts or relationships. That’s not really where I want to go with this, though.

I’ve written a lot about developing students’ ability to ask questions, and more recently I wrote about scaffolding their proof writing skills by first having them learn to write other things using precise, technical language. As we drove and hiked through the Badlands it occurred to me that I could start scaffolding students’ questioning skills by giving them interesting things to look at and wonder about. This picture is an example of that. What if I projected this picture in class one day, told them where it was from, and asked them what questions they had? Given 5-10 minutes on their own, followed by sharing in small groups and then as a class, this might be a good way for me to learn where they are as observers and questioners, and it would certainly benefit them to hear from each other. 

After doing this kind of exercise two or three times over a couple of months, we could move on to asking what kinds of math questions they have, or in some other way focusing our efforts. I think by building this up over the course of a year, we’d have students who were ready to start asking deeper, more focused questions that motivated mathematical investigations. As you’ll see in the coming days, this idea has begun to shape the way I look at the things I’ve seen so far on this trip.

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