Thursday, September 9, 2010

Smart at Math is the Turtle, For Each One will Love Figuring out a Wordle

The other day for my statistics class I gave a warm-up, which actually worked out to be a really good lesson on its own. Before I get into exactly what I did, it is important to know what a little bit about wordles. From, a "Wordle is a toy for generating 'word clouds' from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends."

At the beginning of the semester, I gave a survey to all my students. One of the questions asked the students to list one word that they feel best represents math. I then took these words, compiled them, and copied and pasted (since they were originally in a Google Document) them into the Wordle website.

I then created another document that included a table. In the first column, I included every word that was included on the Wordle and if some were on the list multiple times, I made sure to only include it once. The second column was labeled "Number of People" and the third column was labeled "Percentage"; both of these columns were then left blank, so that the students could fill them in.

Each student was given a sheet of paper, where on one side they were given the Wordle and on the other side they were given the table. Using only the fact that 72 students were polled, their job was to figure out the percentage of people that gave each word.

At first, some students pulled the lazy card and made comments like, "This is too hard," "Can you give us any hints," or "Are you trying to make us feel stupid, because you're doing a good job at it." As I walked around, I saw a few kids writing 1% for the smallest words, so at this point I brought everybody together and asked them if it would be possible for the smallest words to be considered 1%. I had to show them that x/72=0.01 would give them a fraction of a person.

After this, most of the students were able to figure it out on their own, although a few students still needed an additional hint. The hint that I gave was for them to use the entire table when trying to figure out the percentage of students, and not just the column marked for "percentage."

Overall, I loved using this website for my class. It provided an activity that made them think and helped them to grasp the idea of percentages on tables and graphs.

On a side note, when I was first browsing the wordle site I came upon the FAQ. The one that made me chuckle the most is:

Could you remove or change the name of the “Sexsmith” font? I don't want my students to see it.

Yes, with pleasure. First, please write to the musician Ron Sexsmith, after whom the font is named, and get him to change his name. You may also want to write to Sexsmith, Alberta, Canada, and see if you can get them to change their name before any of your students inadvertently consult a map. Christian rocker Paula Sexsmith ought to be in your sights as well; don't let her feel left out. Take a slapshot at goalie Tyson Sexsmith, while you're at it.

“Sexsmith” is a common surname and placename, especially in Canada. It's analogous to “Shoemaker”, “Fletcher”, or just plain “Smith”; it's a profession. A “seax smith” was someone who made seaxes.

The place-names Middlesex, Essex, Sussex, etc., all derive their names from the seax.

If the children of Boston and its suburbs can grow up in Middlesex county, perhaps giggling occasionally at the mention of the sheriff or courthouse thereof in local news broadcasts or 5th-grade geography lessons, then I believe that the children of the world can weather the mere sight of those letters, in that context. Good luck!

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