My Gratitude and One Share

I sat down wanting to share a lesson I did in Algebra on Friday, but I’m weepy because it’s Veterans Day. Please allow me to share this first.

I love this country. I love the America that welcomed me and my brothers and sisters with open arms 36 years ago. I love Mrs. Schnettler for patiently teaching me English, Mr. Hoon for making me feel visible in math even though I couldn’t speak the language.

I was too young and stupid to understand the nuances of war. Can’t say I understand it now. But I knew what life was like without freedom. I understood when my mom told me I couldn’t repeat what was said at the family dinner. I heard the bombings at night. I was aware that my teachers had to teach from a curriculum laden with Communist propaganda. Fear weaved itself into my blanket of insecurity. Hunger — and the shame of it — marked my days.

For the generations of servicemen and women, on behalf of my three spoiled teenagers, I thank you with all my heart. You give me and my family this privileged life that I know was my childhood dream when I stared at the black sky in Saigon.

Above picture was taken in June 1976 when we made it alive to the refugee camp in Songkhla, Thailand. Sitting are my oldest brother Vinh and his wife Tu-Anh, me, and my brother Hien. Standing are my sister Kim and my brother Tuong. Still left behind in Vietnam were my parents and two sisters — but we were reunited 15 years later in 1991.

Okay, tears of gratitude are gone. Back to my normal bitchy self now.

Another great lesson from MARS is “Interpreting Distance-Time Graphs.” You really need to do this lesson if you want to hear kids spend full periods sharing their thinking on graphs.

The first part of the lesson was like a pre-assessment, a peek into their current knowledge. They described what may have happened in this graph.

What they wrote blew me away because I learned so much about what they know and do not know. Here are a few:

Tom walked at a constant speed for the first 50 seconds. Then he began to slow down. At 70 seconds he began to speed up. He stayed at this speed up to 100 seconds. Then he stopped.

Tom must of tooken a different road. That had more curves or he simply took the long way.

First he kept at a constant speed. Next he went back 60 m. He went at a constant rate. Finally he got to the bus stop and waited for 20 sec.

While he was walking he was speeding up so he was probly running. However when he got to 100 meters he slowed down, so he probly began walking then he sped up again, and once he reached 160 meters he traveled at a constent speed.

In the second part, they were asked to choose which story best matched the graph. Two-thirds — two-thirds! — of my 8th graders picked choice B!

We had a lot of work to do! In pairs, students worked on matching 10 graphs with 10 stories (one story was intentionally missing, so they had to write one in). After they got a good start with this, I then passed out the set of table of values for them to add to their matching. I wish you could hear all the conversations in the room!

Teaching American kids — what a privilege and an honor for me.


[Updated 11/12/13]

I have this great book called A Visual Approach to Functions that I will use to follow up the lesson above. While I can’t share the book here, I found a section of it — the section that fits perfectly with this lesson! — online that you can download here.]

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  1. Amy Zimmer
    Posted July 19, 2014 at 12:13 am | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing this touching story! Reminds me to keep perspective!
    Take care.

    • Fawn Nguyen
      Posted July 19, 2014 at 12:17 am | Permalink

      It helps me to see everything through the lens of my childhood. I don’t have to lose something to appreciate it because I feel I once had nothing to lose. Thank you, Amy.

  2. Posted July 19, 2014 at 12:14 am | Permalink

    This could be titled one GIANT share and some bit of algebra. Fawn, I appreciate hearing this and seeing this snapshot of your past. It is no small thing to share this with your readers and it is appreciated. So a giant thank you for that. Now to math. The lesson looks great and I’ve stolen it and I’m ready to modify and use in my class. Also, I have found some other goodies on MARS. Thank you on both counts.

    Fawn for the Nguyen!

    • Fawn Nguyen
      Posted July 19, 2014 at 12:17 am | Permalink

      Nico is my oldest son’s name. Short for Nicolai. I really appreciate your comment, thank you, Nico. I love MARS/Shell Centre materials.

  3. Posted July 19, 2014 at 12:14 am | Permalink

    And another lesson I can steal from Ms. Nguyen’s class! Thank you ever so much, dear, for filling my pockets with your hard work.

  4. Posted July 19, 2014 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    Having students write their own graph stories is not only a valuable opportunity to assess understanding, kids often appreciate the chance to be creative. Sometimes your quieter kids, or kids who blend into the background, shine on these tasks. My calculus colleague even does this to start off the year. He takes poster-sized graphs of different types (exponential, quadratic, sinosoidal, etc) and has students write stories which fit the function. Great stuff. Thanks for sharing!

    • Fawn Nguyen
      Posted July 19, 2014 at 12:16 am | Permalink

      So true, Bob, about the quieter kids. I have my kids write a weekly reflection, and the quieter ones are quite animated on paper. I love that you can have kids write graphing stories at any level, as you mentioned, and some are very creative and funny! Thanks, Bob, for dropping in.

  5. Posted July 19, 2014 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much for sharing your story.

    • Fawn Nguyen
      Posted July 19, 2014 at 12:16 am | Permalink

      And I thank you, Betty!

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