Thursday, September 29, 2011

Doodling As A Learning Tool

Those of you out there who are doodlers or who are frustrated with students who doodle during class, take heart - doodling is actually a tool for learning so we need to embrace it.

This is a very interesting Ted talk by Sunni Brown about how Doodling is an ally to intellectual thought and should be a part of classrooms, board rooms and war rooms.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Is an online degree valued?

Here I go again - reading articles.  This one struck me as it is totally what I am a firm believer in - online learning for adults, which includes online degrees and professional development courses. The article, Technology's Continuing Struggle to Disrupt Higher Education, basically says that online learning has the great potential of providing higher education degrees to more students, but these degrees do not earn the respect they deserve. Because "consumers of higher education use prestige as the signal of higher quality because commonly accepted measures of actual student learning do not exist" online learning is not considered as prestigious or worthy as learning from a 'brick and morter' institution.

I completely agree that this IS the stigma that online institutions suffer.  Unfairly so I think.  Hopefully this will change.  Online learning is the wave of the future and, as someone who would not be finishing my doctorate degree from a 'brick and mortar' institution (The College of William and Mary) without the ability and opportunity (thanks to my professors!) to do much of my final course work online, I certainly think we need to come up with a better system of evaluating the worthiness of online higher education.  From personal experience, most of my online courses were as challenging, if not more so, than my face-to-face institutional courses, so it seems an unfair assumption that just because it's online it's not worthy.  If online learning allows MORE people to get advanced degrees, then we need to reevaluate our idea of what determines a prestigious institution.

Shout out to Emily Dickinson

I have had Emily's Dickinson's poem in my head for a couple weeks now - ever since starting this blog.  It's a lonely venture at this point.... Since I am writing to myself mostly, it just kept running through my head, so I wanted to get it out there. Has nothing to do with math - just my shout out to Emily...seems aprapos at the moment.

This is my letter to the world by Emily Dickinson
This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me,--
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty.
Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Problem with Algorithms

This is an old clip but pretty funny - kind of hits the nail on the head when we wonder why students are often confused by algorithms.  It's why teaching skill-only without context makes math a mystery!

The Math of Moving

Didn't think I would have a chance to write today. I am sitting in my parents house, surrounded by 42 years of 'stuff', as I help them pack up for their move to a retirement community.  Two days left to finish cleaning out years of accumulation. Emotional, stressful, and overwhelming to think about the amount of things we acquire over time. And as you sort through it, what do you take and what do you throw away? (If my mother has her way, NOTHING will be thrown away!)

So - my contribution for the day is a  'real-world' problem related to moving. Just a few thoughts as I gather my sanity before the next closet clean out.

If you saved every National Geographic magazine since 1969, how many magazines is that and how many pounds would it weigh? And, if you now have to take this to the recycling bin, how many trips will this take? You might ask your students what additional information might be needed (see list below):
  •  How many magazines are printed in a year?
  • What does a typical magazine weigh?
  • What kind of car are we driving?

Monday, September 26, 2011

NCLB - Dummying down standards- New Bar Being set for flexibility

Well, I have to give a shout out to closed-captions at the gym.  In the midst of my morning cardio I caught Arne Duncan's interview on Morning Joe and was really pleased to at least "see" what he said - it looks like a promising change in policy.  Whether it comes to fruition is another story, but as a long-time proponent for doing away with NCLB since it began, it's nice to see that there may be some hope. 

Here are a couple of my favorite Arne Duncan quotes from the interview:
1) "We are encouraging states to raise standards, not dummy them down like we did for NCLB"
2) "Give them a high bar, but give them a lot of flexibility to hit that high bar"
3) "What we are much more focused on rather than absolute test scores is growth and gain, progress.  How much are individual students getting better each year?

Mr. Duncan gives a nice example of this growth - you are a great teacher if a student comes to you three grade levels behind and leaves only one grade level behind.  Under NCLB this teacher and this student would be labeled as failures, but under the new flexibility, this 2-grade level jump shows tremendous growth and hard work and is NOT a failure.

Let's hope this truly becomes the focus for demonstrating success in schools.  It gives teachers and students something realistic to strive for rather than those arbitrary test scores.

Here's the clip if you want to watch it yourself:

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Education Technology - Research direction

I have been embedded in my research reviews all weekend, so I apologize now for the focus of this post...research.  But, I will say, I am feeling better about the direction I plan to head in for my dissertation - that of determining what and how teachers are actually using technology in the classroom.  Especially after I just read this article: On Ed Tech, We're Asking the Wrong Question by Dennis Pierce.  Basically, he reemphasizes what I have been finding - that we need to ask 1) what are the conditions that make ed-technology effective learning tools and 2) why are schools that have adopted/invested in ed-technology not showing success?  It's definitely related to how the tools are being implemented. What are the instructional decisions being made around technology use in the classroom and are these decisions really the best use of the technology if the goal is to improve student achievement?

Just my thoughts for the day on this late Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cell Phones in the classroom

(Okay - this is me procrastinating on my research and writing for my doctorate class.....)

Let's admit it - most high school/college students have a cell phone and they DON'T put it in their locker during school or leave it in their dorm room.  If my own children are any indication, that cell phone is glued to their body in some way or another so that there can be instant texting at any moment. I myself have become an avid texter in part because I know I will get an immediate response from my daughters.

Clearly, cell phones are a problem in school - cheating, inattention - lots of issues.  But I read this article by Audrey Waters entitled Texting in the Classroom: Not Just a DistractionWaters offers some great resources for using cell phones in the classroom as a teaching tool.  There are a couple she lists, but one in particular caught my attention because I know how much 'clicker's' are used in classrooms for polling, review, etc. and I also know how expensive these devices are.  In this educational era of no funding, why not get the same ability to poll students using a tool they all have (cell phones)?  Poll Everywhere seems like a great alternative.  Anyway, read the article - it has a couple of other good suggestions for getting those cell phones to be an educational tool.

Alright - procrastination over - back to reading research and writing.  Sigh.....

Friday, September 23, 2011

YouTube for teachers

There is now apparently a community site for teachers on YouTube, designed to help teachers integrate videos into classroom instruction.  The tech integration part of me is really excited by the idea - it sounds like YouTube is putting some thought behind the site as well, by including tips on organizing and using the videos to help students and spark discussion and providing ways for teachers to create their own page and identify specific videos for learing. I couldn't find information on where these videos are coming from, so I am a bit skepticle about the quality, but I see this as pretty promising support for teachers, especially as there is the inclusion of a community forum where folks can post teaching ideas and ask questions.

Being curious, I had to check out the site I just did a quick look - will have to explore later, but it has a way to search and organize videos, crand offers suggestions for use in your room, let's you create your own channel.  I definitely see potential - kind of fits in to that idea I had in a previous post that we should be modeling appropriate use of social media.  Anyway, I will explore more, but hopefully some of you still in the classroom will also explore and send in some feedback.

I will just share the video clip they have right on the landing page because it's cool and it's Ellen!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Online Schools - A good thing or a bad thing?

As a person who believes in the integration of technology in instruction, my thoughts about online learning/schooling are mixed.  I read this article "Online Grade Schools Becoming a Popular Alternative" by Mark MacLaughlin about parents having their elementary children enrolled in an online grade school and it just got me wondering about what might be some disadvantages to this approach.

While I completely agree that it gives children more choice in what and how they learn, does it impact other important aspects of actual brick and mortar schools?  These other aspects include interacting with peers, learning 'rules' and limits (expectations of the real world), learning respect for differences and how to deal appropriately with those differences (in other students, in teachers, etc.)?  I am a proponent of online learning, don't get me wrong, but I just wonder if a mixed approach is better.  I know from my own personal experience with my doctorate course work, where I have taken several of my courses online and as independent study online that a classroom of one is a lonely place.  And, without the voices of others to help clarify your thoughts, construct arguments, try out ideas and get feedback, I know I felt often times that I may not have learned what I should have been learning. 

Just something to consider as we push more and more for online options to education.

Live Stream Conferences

It's early here in CA and I can't sleep, so doing my morning education reading.  Found this live feed link to a very interesting panel discussion/conference going on right now.  The topic is technology in education.  I am providing the link, though it may not be live if you click on it - think it has a couple more hours today.

Anyway, first time I have attended a 'live stream' conference and it is a pretty interesting experience. Different than a webinar.  I rather like it and might have to search out more or consider attending conferences I can't get to in person this way.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tips for modeling technology with students

I read to interesting postings this morning - one discussing the possible limiting of students 'freedom of speech rights' when using social media and the other giving 20 tips on how to modeling appropriate technology usage in the classroom for students.  The first article by Neil UngerLeider entitled Teens and Their Teachers at Odds Over Social Media, First Amendment Rights talks about the possibility of government control of students social media postings.  The second, a blog posting by Heather Wolport-Gawron entitled Twenty Ways to Model Technology Use for Students suggests different ways teachers can model appropriate use of technology in their every day classroom practice.

At first glance, seemingly unrelated yet, perhaps Wolport-Gawron is on to something here.  If we, as parents and instructional leaders model appropriate use of technology, INCLUDING social media, then perhaps the seemingly inappropriate comments and use of social media by students might become appropriate expressions of their first amendment rights without having to involve 'government control'.  Just a thought...


Edible Math and Really Cool Math Modeling

I saw a tweet by Dan Meyer this morning that referenced mathcandy - i.e. modeling mathematics with candy.  Naturally, had to check that out and it's pretty cool.  Reminded me of how when I was teaching middle and high school, I used Skittles to model bar graphs, or 'tagged' Starbursts when doing random sampling, or used gum drops and tooth picks to model two and three dimensional objects.

MathCandy had another link to Vi Hart: Mathematical Food which has amazing math done with food, balloons, math doodling and so many other great 'tools' to model mathematics.  Just wanted to share this as it is so interesting and if any of you teachers out there are struggling with how to motivate your students, these are some great sites with great ideas and pictures.  And let's face it - if you can involve food with anything, students are in!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Changing the math classroom - computers first, then the teacher

Gareth Cook's article "From desktop to desk: A compelling way to teach math - flipping the classroom" caught my eye as it mentions Khan Academy and how the approach of using the computer to 'lecture and teach' and then using the classroom with a teacher to help students might be an alternative way to improve math achievement.  I have been reading about the Khan Academy lately, so this forced me to delve a bit further this morning.

I have looked at a couple of the videos and they seem to be mostly how-to type videos, though Khan's voice and the way he talks is very compelling - definitely kid friendly. .You get the sense that he 'gets where you are coming from' and he explains things in a very conversational way and at their level. The practice problems are based on a gaming principal of earning 'badges' as you progress and get correct answers, even though the problems themselves are very much just skill based (at least from the ones I sampled). Students can track their own progress, teachers can track students progress.  And it's free.

So, I get it - it's on-demand teaching, albeit direct teaching, that can help students with math skills (and actually it's not just math - there are other subjects as well).  The video library is vast. In this age of standardized testing this is a great resource, and the fact that it's free makes it even more attractive. It's very thoughtfully done and clearly well thought out. As a student or parent or teacher, this is a great resource and clearly the Khan Academy is having an impact in the educational market.

But, there is a part of me that wants to just rebel against this - it seems to simply be taking the traditional lecture and putting it in digital format.  Students are still relatively passive - watching, rewatching if necessary, practicing and getting rewarded if they perform well.  They practice problems, get instant feedback, have goals that motivate them to succeed, have support if they get stuck. Very much a traditional classroom experience but on the computer.

However....the constructivist in me wants to scream and shout and say STOP!!!!  I want kids with their hands-on the math - using technology to discover, not sit and get the information. 

Rather than a video that tells them what slope is and how to calculate it, why not a dynamic software activity that relates a real-context situation to slope and gives meaning to the term and what the calculation of slope actually means to the situation? Maybe what I really want is a happy medium - a combination of this lecture format with the ability for students to do the math (and not skill just skill practice)....hands on technology that lets students play and explore the math concepts and their meaning, versus just their algorithm.

There must be a better use for technology than just taking our traditional classroom lecture and moving it to a digital format.  Unfortunately, I think until we get away from the push for standardized testing as the only measure of student achievement, this type of technology usage is what will permeate the educational market.

Monday, September 19, 2011

This is not class warfare - it's math

Gotta admit - I love the line. I only hope it works. Shared sacrifice and debits equal credits.....math matters.

Plane Math - Sketchpad & Images

I am going to be honest - I have been in a meeting all day and struggling with something to write about today.  Brain melt I think.  Since much of what I have been focusing on today has been about math teachers and what they lookfor when they search the web, I thought maybe I would just share a YouTube video I created for another blog I was writing previously (I can plagiarize myself, right?!)

I picked this one mainly because it ties in to the whole relevancy of mathematics I spoke about last week, but also because I think it's a quick example of what I think teachers are looking for when they search the web - quick, ready to use lessons or video clips or ideas to use easily in a lesson. I know from personal experience with lesson planning and trying to come up with an engaging launch for my lesson or an idea, I searched the web for technology ideas, videos - something quick, engaging, and real world.

So....mainly because I was on a plane yet again, I chose a Sketchpad snippet I did about using real-world images to do math.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Does technology improve education?

I am reading Education and Technology by Neil Selwyn (International Publishing Group, 2011) for my doctoral research seminar class.  It's an interesting critical look at the role of technology in education.  While I am only on Chapter 4 at this point, it has raised some questions in my mind that I just wanted to throw out there to hopefully hear some others points of view.  I myself am still not quite sure of my own answers to these questions, which is part of this whole journey I am on with my doctoral research and my work with teachers.

Here are just a few questions:
1) Does technology improve education?  I think before reading this, I would have said unequivocally yes, however, now, I am not sure - I think it depends is a better answer, and I think it depends on who and how.

2) Are we doomed to repeat the pattern of technology integration in education (think radio, tv, computers, etc.) i.e. - great expectations yet little, if any, real impact? How do we break this cycle?

3) Should the impact of technology on education be judged by learning outcomes or should we be looking elsewhere to determine the value of technology in education? 

There are lots of other questions - these are just a few I am pondering myself. If you have the time, check out the book or check out Neil's twitter.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Atrophied Educational Progress

Listening to NPR again on the way home from the gym this morning and another story related to education.  John Ydstie's report, Why Some Men Earn Less Than They Did 40 Years Ago, basically talks about how blue collar working men earn less now than in 1973, in part because they have the same level of education as they had back then - no college, just high school diploma. 

What startled me was the statistic that just over 30% of men attend college.  Really? That's pretty low, and surprising to me with all the push you hear for college readiness.  I may have to find actual research and data related to this...

Anyway, interesting story - yet more evidence we need to change something about WHAT we teach in our educational system.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Why Teach Math?

Clearly, I am harping on a theme this week!  Found another great Ted Talk that ties in very nicely with my theme about providing relevant math.  It's a little long, but really interesting, and Conrad Wolfram is talking about using technology as part of teaching math, so I am a big fan of that.  He makes some great points, one of which "math does not equal calculating".

Maybe we are on to something - signs everywhere!

My blog yesterday regarding math curriculum being too abstract got a comment from Milo's Mama, who passed along an article on the racial wealth gap.  Her point was that there were more practical things we could be teaching in math, such as finance, taxes, etc. that might address this problem.  So we are back to the relevancy of what we teach.  And as I drove home from the gym this morning, I hear yet another story on NPR about the racial wealth gap (turns out it's a two parter!).  I took this as a sign that I should perhaps do a follow up!

This second part of the story talked about breaking the cycle of poverty, and mentions several programs designed to help low-income families save money, invest and basically teach them about using money wisely.  One of these programs starts with kindergarten because, as the City Treasure Jose Cisnero's says  '"It's all about building aspirations in that child's mind."

I am not going to go into details about the programs - you can read the article yourself.  You will notice, a lot of the programs focus on financial skills - something I think is sorely missing in our math curriculum, and this just provides a bit of evidence. I think, as Milo's Mama said and as I suggested yesterday, we need to provide more practical options for students to support their reality. We need to look at things like our wealth gap and realize that we aren't helping the situation if our sights are always set towards achieving some arbitrary score on a standardized test rather than providing practical skills that can provide some understanding of reality and some hope.  With that hope comes aspirations to achieve and learn more and get that passing score on the standardized test.  I see it as all connected.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Magic and Ipod's - Just a cool video!!

My last posting was a bit deep so thought I would share something fun.  We watched this in my doctoral research seminar class a couple weeks ago as we were discussing what it means to be 'scholarly'.  It is just an amazing visual talk and some pretty cool technology....

Math Curriculum - What should we be teaching?

This article I read this morning by Audrey Watters titled "Is Math Education Too Abstract" hit home for me.  Yes...I think math education is too abstract.  I taught math at both middle and high school for over 17 years, and the majority of that time, with struggling students.  I have to admit, I couldn't see the point of teaching how to solve a quadratic equation to a senior in Algebra for the third time who's future plan was to work in his dad's auto shop. What this boy needed was to have math that was relevant - like how to balance a check book, determine what sale price really gives the best deal, or how to make investments - things he was going to actually do in his future. 

With this age of testing and the push for 'algebra for all students', I think we have lost sight that not all students need it. I am NOT saying we shouldn't be aiming high and encouraging students to excel in mathematics, but what I think we should stop doing is forcing all students on the traditional path of algebra, geometry, algebra 2, precalculus, calculus.  What happened to statistics?  Where is Personal Finance? Think about our economy right now - we are totally messed up because the US can't balance a check book....maybe because the politicians never took Personal Finance?!! 

Clearly, the path we are on in mathematics is not going to change soon, especially in light of the Common Core.  But...we do need to get away from the reliance on memorizing formulas to pass standardized tests because that is NOT engaging, is abstract and is a reason students are not getting math!  Thankfully, the Common Core does emphasize engaging students, modeling real world problems, helping students communicate, etc.  Hopefully, if implemented correctly, we will get away from the uninteresting way mathematics tends to be structured and taught.  Hopefully more math teachers will embrace engaging curriculum that uses inquiry learning versus rote memorization and drill and kill.  Hopefully there will be more use of dynamic mathematics software like Sketchpad, TinkerPlots or Fathom (shameless plug!) used in the classroom to allow students to engage rather than be passive listeners.

What do I really think would help math education?  Stop standardized testing. But...since that's not going to happen, maybe offer math classes that give students more options, such as personal finance or statistics (not AP Stats).  If a student is taking algebra for the third time, perhaps it would be nice for there to be another option - one that makes sense.  There's a lot of math out there that's needed -how many foreclosures could we have prevented if homeowners understood more about borrowing rates?  I say we not only focus on standards, but focus on needs of the students in the world they have to survive in.  Once that test they pass (or don't) is over...what then?

Read the article - it'll make you think.  And, check out Dan Meyer's Ted Talk on the same topic, especially if you are a math teacher.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Integrating technology into instruction

I spent a large part of today trying to map out a PD plan for implementing Sketchpad into math class.  It's a long-term hybrid PD with face-to-face and online components.  The idea of course is to support a slow implementation process for the teachers, with lots of support, collaboration, etc. as this is really important if you want change or implement new things so they actually become a part of instructional practice.  The school district I am working with is doing it right - giving teachers the time to slowly change their practice.  Let's face it...there's a lot of great technology out in the schools that never gets used because it is just so overwhelming, and the expectations to use it come usually with little support or training.

Since this was foremost on my mind today, I was pretty excited when I ran across this article in my daily perusal of blogs and education news.   Adam Bellow (@adambellow on Twitter) gives a really nice synopsis of how to support technology integration in the classroom, so just passing this article along to anyone who is immersed in trying to integrate or is planning for integrating technology.  My personal favorite, and the one I recommend first to teachers I work with, happens to be Adam's number 1 in the article, which is to Start Small.  I like to tell teachers pick one thing, just one, that you are going to change/add using technology.  So maybe your warm-up, or your launch or your review.  The idea being to get comfortable and then add more to your repertoire slowly till it becomes a habit.  Don't they say it takes 2 weeks to create or break a habit?  Anyway, Adam sums my thinking up perfectly, so no need to reinvent the wheel!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

And so it begins.....

I admit - was never much of a journaler/diary keeper as a child, so this is not something that comes naturally to me.  However....I spend so much time reading about education and how schools are failing our kids and yet I am out, traveling the country on a weekly basis, working with teachers who are doing phenomenal work.  So, I have toyed around with the idea of sharing some of the things I experience around teachers and their learning and what they are doing to help their students learn. I wanted to start sharing some of the hard work and great ideas that I get the chance to see and hear - there's a lot of amazing stuff going on out there.

I am also immersed in working on my doctoral dissertation.  It's taking me FOREVER, but here I am, finally knocking on that door. And it's a struggle - working full time, having a family, traveling all the time, and trying to write and research on top of that.  No wonder my hair is falling out!  Anyway, the great thing is that what I do for a living, providing professional development in technology integration for math teachers, directly relates to my doctoral research.  As part of my constant search for information, I find so many things that are interesting that I wanted to also start sharing some of these things. 

I am hoping this blog becomes a kind of 'hey, guess what I saw or heard or read today' type of thing.  It is just my own personal reflections and experiences, as I don't want to 'name' names of the great teachers I am working with (to protect the innocent and all that), but hopefully some of the things will be interesting. it goes....