## Language and Meaning

I ran across this site while trying to remember what the HTML entity code was for an “em dash”—I incorrectly tried “&emdash;” when it was actually “&mdash;”.  In the same search, I first came across this site.  It looks like Penn State’s Teaching and Learning with Technology group has put together a very nice resource on developing non-English websites.  To summarize:

Collectively, they reminded me that not all students come from English-speaking backgrounds and that a good way to model valuing diversity is by featuring it when the chance arises.  In mathematics, I like to borrow funny variables from other cultures or mention the etymology of certain symbols, like $\mathbb{Z}$ for the German word “zahlen” or “Zahl”.

When we talk about notation, I can mention that there are multiple ways to denote something.  In English we don’t know if a sentence is a question until the end, do we?  ¿However, in Spanish did you know that they have a different method?  A lot of math is just finding a good notation for thinking about the world.

And now I am brought back to the idea of stories.  Stories have always been and continue to be—witness digital storytelling—an important part of being human.  Any way that we can inject narrative into learning benefits students.  The desire to know the end of the story crops up in the success of Project Based Learning as well, and in it we ask students to learn and retell stories.  The difference from regular didacticism is that our normal stories are short, boring, and artificial.  Try telling a kindergarten class the story of the “Little Red Hen” by telling them that one day she got up and realized the value of cooperation and a system of punishment whereby noncooperation could be disincentivized.  Follow that up by expecting them to practice cooperating at passing a stick around in a circle, and you have some idea why the theory+practice cycle must die.