Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Adventures of Cannon Man

Have you heard about Function Carnival created by Desmos, Christopher Danielson and Dan Meyer? The basic concept is this:
Students watch a video. They try to graph what they see. Then they play back the video and see how their graphical model would be represented as an animation. Does what they meant to graph about the world actually match the world?
Looking at it for the first time it appeared that the three graphing activities had very specific aims. But, for some reason, I was curious how it might play out with the elementary set.

I showed my eight year old the first activity, Cannon Man, after school on Monday and we did not stop for over 45 minutes. At first she tried to solve the graph and was working really hard, with great conversations between the two of us ('cause I'm still new to all this too, plus we're pretty good at learning stuff together sometimes). At one point she said, "Just show me the answer!" and I said, "Well, that's the point, it's you who figures out what the answer is."   


At some point the laptop touch pad made the line weird and it crossed, and all of a sudden there were two little men! Hilarity ensued as we started to move away from the script. She started drawing random lines (some crossing, some starting and stopping) just to see what would happen. 

Long story short, we spent the rest of our time (about 30 minutes) trying to make the graph do our bidding in terms of making the little guy move the way we want him too, and choreographing two, sometimes three guys at a time. (And, honestly, hundreds of him at times).

It was truly DE-lightful. 

And, even better, it's apparent she learned something.  I did my own version where I drew little bumps hopping across the bottom third of the graph.  Then I did one where the guy went up really fast and then tried to have his jumps be lower and lower. 

Frankly, my work was not subtle or effective. My girl took over the reigns, made some adjustments to my model and produced something truly sophisticated -- height, time, and speed merged to create a lovely, smooth choreography of bouncing Cannon Man who ultimately disappeared for a moment, and then glided back down. And, this is a child who spends very little time in front of the computer.  

So, the perfect tool to think with, yes? Clear goal, but open ended enough to produce unexpected learning. Intuitive and yet helpful in building skills. Accessible/meaningful to students younger and older than the target audience (MS/HS?).  Isn't the point of an "object to think with" that the student will learn how to use and think with the tool rather than simply work 'as instructed'?  It's clear there was a LOT of thinking happening 'round here this afternoon.

Go read more about their reasoning for making it and try it out for yourself!

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