Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Russian math class + more

Today, Tuesday, was the first day after the three-day weekend.

Our first goal of the day was for me to become registered with the local authorities. My Russian visa states that I'm here on a cultural exchange and thus I needed to officially register. We took a bus into town but got off before the center of town. We walked past many, seemingly identical apartment complexes and went into the door of one. We walked up the stairs to the fifth floor and found ourselves in a government office. Alex, fortunately, had a friend who works in this office. She examined my passport and visa carefully and gave us forms to fill out. Alex and Olga took me outside to the waiting room and asked me to sit while they filled out the forms. They needed information from my passport and information from their own files. The worked on this process for half an hour - and had go to back once to get a question asked. In the mean time, I was watching others trying to deal with the bureacracy. Folk would knock on doors and wait and wait. There was a lot of apparent confusion, but no one raised their voices. Alex and Olga later told me that a lot of people were citizens of former Soviet republics who had to come to this office to get their working papers. The good news is that I got the blue stamp! I'm not sure what would have happened otherwises.

Today was warmer, about 40 degrees fahrenheit. The snow was turning into wet slu'msh. Puddles were everywhere. We took a cab to Lyceum #86. Olga stayed in the cab which took her to the university. Alex brought me into the school. I'm getting good at understanding his German. We eventually were met by the deputy head: Ludmila Korbut who was also an English teacher. She was my interpreter for the day. Ludmilla took me to an 11th form math classroom. This is the top grade in the school and it became clear that these students were preparing for a major examination.

There were no calculators or computing devices evident at all in the classroom. Some students had their notebooks open, but few actually took notes. The teacher used an LCD projector to present the powerpoint containing problems to be solved. I sat in the rear of the classroom and photographed many of the problems. Obviously, I could read the mathematics but I couldn't always tell for sure what the instructions were. With the first batch of problems, the students were given functions and were asked to determine their domains. Some of these functions looked bizarrely complicated, but the kids (and I) were able to deal with them. While they were working on these problems, I borrowed a student's textbook. The textbook was essentially a series of problems. There was no text in the textbook. There were no "word" problems. The title was algebra and there was no evidence of statistics, for example.

The students were then given equations to solve. Students were called on to solve them. Sometimes students came to the front of the room and solved them on the black board. While the equations were complicated looking, it was clear that they all had solutions which were integers and it appeared that students were just trying small integer values for the variable until it worked. At the board, however, students were identifying the domain of the variable and using this to limit the choices for its value. One student found the derivative of one side and used it to show that the function was increasing for large values of x. Another student miscopied a problem on the board. No one noticed - not the teacher nor the classmates. After about 5 minutes the student noticed his mistake and corrected it.

The problems that were presented in class were similar to ones I've seen in Russian textbooks. One had Cos^2(x*sinx) on the left side and log base 5 squared on the right. While these problems were quite artificial, the teacher was using these as exercises - in the way a coach might use exercises to prepare her players for a big game.

The math class was followed by a physics class for sixth graders. The teacher used a smart board to present the lesson. Students came up to the front of the room and used the smart board to illustrate principles. For example, they illustrated what the shadows would look like if there were two suns and one planet.

Continued on the next post.

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