# The Mathematics of Weight Loss

The picture below was taken in college when I was around my heaviest weight ever of 314 lbs.  I’ve always been a big person and I there is a lot that goes into why this is the case as well.  Was it the way I was raised?  Was it genetics?  Was it just me eating myself into a hole?  Well, this is not the place where I’m going to talk about that.

What I will say, though, is that this is the most recent picture of me a little over 70 lbs lighter than I was at my highest weight.  This is a blog post about math, so I’ll let you figure out my approximate current weight on your own.

With all of that out of the way, I’ll tell you what this blog post is really about.  I don’t really like talking about myself because I’m generally a very self-conscious person.  But this weekend I was thinking about what I might be able to do to share my weight loss journey with my students.  And the file below was created.  It’s a series of problems that I’ve created for my classes — one problem per class.

There’s problem for Linear Algebra, Calculus, Statistics, Beginning Algebra, and Math for Education.  The best part for me is that every problem asks a question about the same data set.  And it’s all based around the premise that I have a short-term weight loss goal that I’m trying to meet of 225 lbs by October 31, 2013.

Maybe this is a little bit over the top for what you might be willing to use with your own classroom, but it’s definitely a big step forward for me in talking about my weight loss publicly.  If I can’t talk about this with my students, what can I talk about, then?  Some of the fat jokes that I used to use in class don’t really work anymore.  Hey now!

The Mathematics of Weight Loss

# My Experience at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

Note:  This was a trip that I field trip that I took my Math For Education students on during the Winter 2012 semester.  The original reason for the visit is that we were promised that there would be a display about African American Mathematicians at the museum.  However, that display was not there.  My students were asked to leave the group, just as I was.

On Saturday, March 24, 2012, I attended the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.  I didn’t know what to expect before I attended the museum.  The only African American History that I can ever remember learning about is through textbooks, television, the Internet, and through African American History Month activities that were done in school.  I had ever been fully immersed in an entire exhibit solely dedicated to African American History.  I didn’t know if I would agree or disagree with the viewpoint of what was presented in the exhibit, I didn’t know who to expect to see at the museum – people from the city of Detroit or a lot of out-of-town visitors to the city, and I didn’t know if I would even be interested in what the exhibit had to offer.  However, I decided to attend the museum anyway, with an open mind to learning new ideas and becoming more educated about African American History that I didn’t know before.  This is why I was very disappointed when I encountered a staff member at the museum who didn’t seem as open to sharing her ideas with me as I was open to learning ideas from her.

During my trip to the museum, there was a guided tour group walking in front of me in the exhibit.  The group was so large that at certain points during the exhibit, it was impossible to see all of the wonderful displays within the exhibit because the crowd was so large.  So, I stayed back behind the tour group, and unintentionally started listening in on the tour group.  I started to become very excited because I realized that I was learning more about African American History by listening in on the guided tour than I would have learned by walking through the museum on my own.  I was impressed by the tour guide’s knowledge of the exhibit and about African American History in general, and I was intrigued by the tour guide’s unique take on the world and history as she saw it.  The tour guide was very motivational in helping me to realize that everyone is unique and special in their own way and that we all deserve to have our story heard.

However, after telling me to get lost and to separate me from the rest of the group, I’m not sure I’ll ever be as open to learning about African American History as I was the day of Saturday, March 24, 2012, ever again in my entire life.  I know it is a part of history that I still want to learn more about.  I know that there are many African American men and women who have made significant contributions to the world as we know it that I simply don’t know enough about.  But I lost something the day that I encountered someone that wasn’t as willing to share ideas with me as I was willing to listen to share her ideas with me.

# Jing and Geogebra

During the Summer 2012 semester, I decided to have my Math for Education students use Jing to send me a diagram of something that they were supposed to do using Geogebra.  If you aren’t familiar with Jing, it is a free screen-capturing and screen-casting tool from the people at Techsmith, located in Okemos, MI.  And if you aren’t familiar with Geogebra, simply put, it is a free alternative to Geometer’s Sketchpad, but it can do lots more.

First off all, I have to say that I had always wanted to use Jing and screen-capturing with my students, but I wasn’t sure from what angle I wanted to approach it.  Many instructors have students create their own screencasts (a fairly well-known example is Mathtrain.tv).  Of course, I already use screen-casting on the instructor end by creating screencasts for my students on topics they are struggling with or by providing video feedback on student assignments.  I just hadn’t ever had my students do the screen-casting.

Frankly, I was worried.  I was worried about how students who didn’t have easy access to a computer would complete the assignment and I was worried about the amount of class time it would take students to learn about Jing (some students insist on writing down every single detail).  And of course, there were a few students who struggled.  For example, A librarian told one of my students that her Geogebra file was damaged, but what actually happened was that they librarian was trying to use Quicktime to open the Geogebra file instead of Geogebra.

Overall, this was a very good exercise for me and my students.  I learned a lot about what my students actually knew about the topic based on the drawings that they submitted and so the next time we worked on something in Geogebra together in class, I was able to clarify a few of the details of what the students needed to do in the computer to get the diagram that they were supposed to get.

And of course, this was a very low-stakes assignment.  I didn’t want to put a lot of points or pressure on students for an assignment in which they could have very well had a friend or relative complete at home without me even knowing.  And I made sure to stress the importance of the fact that this is the type of software they will need to know how to use when they are teachers in the classroom.

If you are interested, here is a link to the Jing Screen Captures taken by my students.

# Learning from Ignite

If you don’t know what Ignite is, simply put, it is a format in which speakers are limited to using 20 slides and each of those slides automatically advances every 15 seconds.  Thus, a speaker must get their point across within a maximum of 5 minutes.

I learned about the Ignite format from past conferences that I have attended.  And I have attended several Ignite Events in the Detroit, MI area (they have them all around the country).

This semester, I decided to have my Math for Education students give an Ignite-style talk on the last day of class.  They had two major content goals – they were supposed to summarize what they learned during the semester and they were required to have at least 5 slides on a topic that I pre-assigned to them (e.g., hexagons, pentagons, etc.).  The other catch is that they only had 30 minutes to prepare their slides and presentation.

I learned quite a lot about my students from this activity.  I saw many of them crack under the time pressure of having only 30 minutes to prepare.  Only about half of the students actually had 20 completed slides.  I heard many of them use mathematical terminology incorrectly.  And many of them were not able to talk an entire 15 seconds about each slide and left a lot of dead air time.

Many of my students complained that they are not good at thinking fast on their feet.  Unfortunately, this is a skill that they will need as teachers.  This is a skill that cannot be taught, but I do believe that it can be learned through practice.  I thought that this was a great way for the students to practice this skill in a ‘safe’ setting.

In terms of assessment, I made it a very low pressure situation and students simply got ‘participation’ credit.  But I learned a lot about my students from this activity.  A lot of students surprised me.  Some of the students who know the content well were the worst speakers and some of the students who didn’t know the content as well were the best speakers in the class.  I had the students vote at the end of class on who was the best speaker and the top two vote-getters got prizes (one got a lesson planning book and the other got a school supplies kit).

One of my students graciously agreed to be recorded and her recorded talk and slide deck are below.  Enjoy!