Geogebra in an Elementary Classroom

Today I was fortunate to have a guest in my class; Sergio from Yokohama International School.  He is a high school math teacher and came to the school to work with our high school teachers on incorporating tecnhology into the math class.  As an Elementary teacher, there was no way I was going to let an opportunity like this slip by, so I made sure he stopped into Grade 5.6 to show us a thing or two.  I have always believed that there is a strong crossover and correlation between the strategies that go on in a dynamic high school classroom and the strategies that are used in an elementary classroom.  If there is a divide in how schools operate on these two levels, it is completely artificial.  We have more in common than you think.

Anyway, I'm getting off topic again.  Back to Sergio and Geogebra.

I know what Geogebra is, mostly through twitter and blogs that I follow, but to be honest with you, programming is something I am afraid of.  I don't know anything about it, and I have never really tried to learn even the basics.  Ask me to build a house, and I will go straight to it; but ask me to program a computer to make a box and whiskers plot, and I will stare at you blankly.  Thankfully, there are great people out there who are willing to sit down with people like me and help us.  Today, I got to sit back and observe my class working with another teacher.  More importantly, I got to be a student myself.

Sergio started his lesson with a simple little activity.  He led them through a discussion about what a reaction time is.  Why is it important?  When is it used by humans?  Animals?  And finally, how can we measure it?  After a brief conversation about the difficulties of controlling variables using something like a pen, or a ruler; we got them to work on their computers on a website that times their reactions to a changing traffic light.  Each child went through with two trials, recorded their data, and then gave it to him.  Lastly, he placed all the data into the spreadsheet in Geogebra.

Next, using a simple formula, he made it all come into a visual diagram, in a box and whiskers plot.

This was my students first exposure to a box and whiskers diagram, so he asked them a bunch of probing questions to see if they could analyze the data.  The beauty of the program is that you can go into the data and manipulate it and see the changes that happen as a result of the transformation.  For example, if we change the highest number from a .56 to a 1.3, they see that the outlying point on the arm will move outwards, and the box in the middle will elongate.  This lead to a series of fascinating discussions.  He led the group through some ranking questions; which is faster?  which is slowest?  which is most consistent?  which is most inconsistent?  and then had them create their boxes using the whiteboard marker on top of the screen; show me a box that was consistently fast but got really unlucky once.

What I love about the whole thing is that it was all based on something that they did, and data that they recorded.  Through all this talk of average, outliers, consistent, data; they were really talking about who has the fastest reflexes in the class.  It was great to hear that the data has a name, rather than just a numerical symbol.

As for myself, I spent the next hour afterwards trying to figure out how to use the programming and how to remake the models he built.  I found some great resources, and build a nice box and whisker diagram, but I will need continued practice.

I think it is a powerful enough tool that I might just take the time to learn it.

On a side note; it was interesting to see how my class interacted with another teacher that they had just met.  They were very shy, and different.  Sergio had a great demeanor in the class and makes them all feel comfortable and they laughed together, but they were hesitant to make mistakes and give an incorrect answer, while with me, they will always try.  There is no hesitation.

A powerful reflection on the coherence of a classroom community, and how hard it is to find yourself embedded in a new collective.