Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Edublogger: Dan Meyer

I am a fan of Dan Meyer, ever since I saw his TED talk. His opening is pretty dismal: "I teach high school math. I sell a product to a market that doesn't want it, but is forced by law to buy it. It's a losing proposition." It's good for a laugh, and we come away convinced that he nevertheless remains enthusiastic about changing that. Inquiry followed by learning to formulate problems seems so much more engaging than working through the "paint by numbers" approach in textbooks.

Dan is now working on his PhD in education from Stanford. He blogged recently about how we use abstractions in texts, and it triggered lots of connections with EDUC 402. He is a fan of S.I. Hayakawa, and references his book chapter How We Know What We Know. I like the ladder metaphor, illustrated with his example of Bessie the cow. We often get stuck at a particular rung of the ladder, far from where the student may be. Reminds me of Magritte's pipe that is not a pipe. I think we need to explicitly point out to students that math at the symbolic level is a very high level of abstraction. After the inquiry, and their problem is formulated, they need to understand they are looking at the concrete lower rungs. Now they just need to figure out how to climb the ladder.

When programmers write poetry

Kristin indicated aviary.com may not be serving educators for much longer (I see aviary education.com is no longer accepting registrations), I decided to try podcast hosting elsewhere. Evidently, it was once possible to host podcasts on Blogger, but that seems to have been discontinued.

Dropbox works. On my very much under construction teacher blog which uses WordPress, I just added a link to my podcast hosted on Dropbox, and it just worked. I use the same method (an HTML anchor) for Blogger:

What if Dr. Seuss wrote technical manuals?

BTW, here's how I created my podcast. I recorded an audio track using QuickTime Pro. I grabbed some music from ccMixter, a Creative Commons-friendly site. I installed the free Audacity app, and used it to fade in/fade out the music track from ccMixter. Then I just pasted it the music and my voice recording together in QuickTime Pro, exported to MP3 format, and dropped the MP3 into Dropbox.

Edublogger: Research that needs work

I was skimming Darren Kuropatwa's A Difference, which led me to Do The Math, which led me to this devastating (IMO) article by the late Herf Wilf. Below is Wilf's abstract. This is a cautionary tale about education research.

We examine a number of papers and a book, all of which have been cited, by people who are knowledgeable in the field, as being good examples of “research in mathematics education.” We find specific serious flaws, indeed fatal flaws, in all of them, so that no conclusions of any interest follow as a result of any of the “research” that is reported in these works. We have found no evidence that the research paradigm, involving test and control groups, randomized trials, etc., which is invaluable in the life sciences, is of any use whatever in studying mathematics education and we urge that it be abandoned, in favor of human-to-human discourse about how we can improve curricula and teaching.

Wilf isn't doing this just to skewer papers for the fun of it. And his arguments are not complex: "In fact, the shortcomings of these papers are colossal, and no mathematical or statistical training is prerequisite to perceiving them."

He begins by examining three papers that summarize research indicating that "students in reform-based classes do have significantly better achievement in mathematics than those in traditional instruction." This quote is from the NTCM's Research in Mathematics Education, and the summarized research supports the NTCM curriculum and pedagogy proposals. He dispatches the three articles quickly and succinctly. The first is based on the findings of a group of volunteer teachers. Not randomly selected! Unfortunately, reforms will be adopted by non-volunteers. One down. The second article, using randomized teachers found no statistical difference in achievement. But that was what we were trying to show. You third article makes no claim, and does not address achievement at all.

There's more. But I'll let you read it! When I someday write educational research, I will imagine Wilf looking over my shoulder.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Organizing a busy life

Coincidentally, I was already using Dropbox, Skype, and Evernote. But I found the class was a great reminder of how we overlook or forget features of applications after we have fallen into habits of use, and how it is good to discuss with others how they are using these information organization apps.

I was new to Diigo, and am looking forward to trying its collaboration features. The document annotation features are reminiscent of what's available in Word or Preview/Acrobat.

I think this highlights some major changes in how we access data in the next couple of years. Local storage will become just a cache to allow you to continue to work offline as everything becomes cloud-based. You won't turn in Word docs in the MAC program in a couple of years. Rather, you will post a URI. That in turn tells me that the notion of hierarchical storage in directories will go away, as hierarchies just junk up the URI, and nobody can agree on a good hierarchy. This was already happening on the Mac, as I can find my annotated MAC benchmarks much faster using Spotlight versus navigating a hierarchy. And since we will be looking at cloud documents anyway, we will shift away from documents that look like books reproduced on a screen, and become more like web pages. Hence, Diigo for annotating that web page you'll be turning in for your final "paper."

Monday, July 23, 2012

I'm flippin' busy

The Woodrow Wilson conference in Columbus featured some inspiring sessions. My favorite was presented by David Johnson, a Fellow teaching a flipped classroom near Indianapolis. In its purest implementation, a flipped classroom has students watching instruction at home, and doing homework at school. The teacher is then able to circulate among the students. To make this happen, you need a way to deliver instructional material at home. YouTube is convenient, but since internet access may not be available for all of your students, you could distribute DVDs. Typically, the classroom will also have some means for showing the instructional material.

Katie Gimbar has a nice presentation describing the process. If you've heard of the flipped classroom before, then you've likely also heard that it's a great way to use content like Khan Academy, with the teacher providing the missing personal link. However, Katie says that the content must be produced by the teacher (in short segments) to convince the student that they need to listen. While this places an upfront burden on the teacher, consider this: while the video is being replayed for some students, you are helping others. And considering that you likely have multiple classes with the same prep, the content is reused. This eliminates the "did I already show you this?" dilemma. If you are teaching four sections of Algebra 1, it would be nice to turn the discussion over to YouTube. Imagine being able to carefully observe your students while your digital self is presenting a short lesson.

These two chemistry teachers have several videos showing how they flipped their classroom. They have polished their content, and as one of them says, "we have not lectured in six years."

There is a very active Twitter hashtag, #flippedclass. If you have a Mac, you can get the Twitter app for free from the App Store app.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

I'm busy…playing a game

I really liked James Gee's Good Games and Good Learning article, particularly his enumeration of the principles that can be practiced and learned through game playing. And many of the 16 points map to principles we've been learning about in other classes. For example, point #6 (Agency) sounds like student-centered learning. Leveling in a game (in point #7) maps cleanly to Zones of Proximal Development. A lower level player not only is underpowered in a higher level environment, but even if given a higher level without working their way up, they would not know how to use it. I also liked Gee's inside-out notion of incorporating lessons from the gaming world in the classroom. Educational software vendors are focused on pushing the real world into the virtual. But it should work both ways. 

brb...  Running a dungeon with my guildies, gotta gear up my pally so I can respec from tank to healer…kk,  I'm back.

Jane McGonigal's TED talk is fun. I can imagine the bulk of non-gamers would find it hard to believe that increasing game-playing time 7-fold would solve the world's problems. But I agree that well-designed games with an agenda (reducing oil consumption, teaching students algebra, etc) will become increasingly part of our lives. My daughter learned her multiplication/division facts using a dungeon-based game distributed through Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS). If you can make rote drills engaging, that can address fluency issues in the classroom. But adding more elements of the dimensions of learning is inevitable. A soon-to-be 5th grader, she is playing DragonBox and without knowing it, is learning algebra. Multiplayer games have great potential for building the student-student and student-teacher connections. An important caveat: multi-player gaming has some of the same issues as the real world, including bullying. WoW provides guilds, which might provide a safer environment, but a good guild requires a good leader (teacher).

David Niguidula's article "Digital Portfolios and Curriculum Maps: Linking Teacher and Student Work" from the book by Curriculum 21 discusses how students can build a digital record of their work. Teachers can create curriculum maps that show students what the teachers expects the student to accomplish. A revelation was the idea of letting the students see the curriculum map, see how their portfolio work connects to the curriculum, and then provide feedback to the teacher about the curriculum. Adding systematic student feedback at the curriculum level (at any level for most teachers) seems pretty revolutionary. Why don't we incorporate students into our reflections more frequently? How would van Es & Sherin's video club be different if students participated? Here's an idea: create a Future Teacher's club at a school, and have them participate in some of the curriculum reflections.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

This is Only A Test!

I wanted to see if I can typeset a formula. For example, the area of a circle is given by:

$A=\pi r^2$
So, it works! That means we can be even fancier:
$x = \frac{-b \pm \sqrt{b^2-4ac}}{2a}$
How about a continued fraction?
$1 + \frac{1}{1 + \frac{1}{1 + \frac{1}{1 + ...}}}$
And here is a definition of $e$:
$e = \displaystyle \lim_{h \to 0} (1+h)^{1/h}$
or equivalently
$e = \displaystyle \lim_{x \to \infty} \left(1+\frac{1}{x}\right)^x$
This was pretty easy if you know $\LaTeX$. I just pasted come code on the first line of my posting, thanks to Ms. Nardini. If you don't know $\LaTeX$ but would like to, let me know. Happy to give a tutorial.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Soda Ban, Lesson Plan, History group not a fan

It was good to see the Scarlett students trooping into the School of Education. Putting myself in their shoes (that was me less than forty years ago! ),  I can imagine they were pretty excited. One of the students I have helped, L, was ready to be heard. He sounded more confident than most of us would addressing the entire SECMAC crowd plus librarians, teachers, and UM faculty. He encouraged us to be creative. We should bring them to class more often.

The math folks, minus Mr. Gilmartin who was lost in history, got together with Laurie Olmsted, media specialist in Birmingham Public Schools to discuss a possible lesson plan we could build around the "soda ban." I was struck by how different the projects were. The pure mathematician in me was intrigued with Kathlyen's rolling cup geometry problem. Half of us had statistical problems in mind: gathering the views of consumers, lexical analysis of the respected sources on the web, and a two-week clinical trial examining the actual effect on soda consumption if  large sodas are banned. 

Laurie had good suggestions for where we could data for our project (e.g. MeL), and helped us with the scope. Google Docs is pretty amusing to use when there are six people editing simultaneously, but after the giggling died down, it became apparent we were connecting in a way that is better than conversation (which devolves quickly in a small space if there is more than channel open), or chat (where you are focused on the tip of the discussion). I can imagine some interesting classroom activities built around parallel development of a document.  But I digress.

After the class merged, we discussed our project with the history group. They observed that our chosen project (the clinical trials) didn't seem to be answering the right question. Don't we want to know whether the ban will reduce obesity? That's true. It's also a very difficult problem. Observing changes in obesity would take, at a minimum, months. This in turn would make it more difficult to get participants.  However, the effect of soda consumption on obesity has already been studied. So if the students can determine the link from the ban to soda consumption, then they can make inferences about the effect of the ban on obesity. The debate helped refine our thinking.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Constructing Knowledge from Soft Drinks

We know from class that the NYT Soda Ban article touches on provocative subjects. As an aspiring (math) teacher, it also provides an opportunity for a student to really see how to go beyond textbooks, beyond the vast web, to construct new knowledge. 

From a backward design standpoint, my goals are for the students are:

  1. developer their ability to attack an open problem by conducting quantitative research
  2. learn how to apply certain mathematical concepts (determined by grade level)

To reach those goals, I would like to pose an inquiry-based question in the spirit of Dan Meyer's TED talk "Math Class needs a Makeover." What is a simply stated question that can lead to meeting the goals?

Initially, I had ideas around modeling the relation between soda consumption and obesity, hoping to predict the actual impact of the ban. There are at least a couple of problems with that. For one thing, I am not sure there is adequate data for constructing such a model. The well known Nurses' Health Study shows trends, but consumption is bucketed into broad ranges (see, e.g., Journal of AMA). Secondly, I have a suspicion there is no credible evidence whatsoever showing the soda ban will have a measurable effect on consumption. Drink size evidently has no effect on beer consumption. However, this second question does not require an intensive, long term longitudinal study. So here's a simple, yet inquiry-rich question I think Dan Meyer might ask:
If enacted, how will the soda ban change the amount of soda people drink?
The teacher will provide enough guidance to ensure the students remain aligned with the goals. Where might the students go with this?

Perhaps the students track soda consumption, with and without a mock ban in place, and gather the data. Now we can brainstorm all manner of questions:
    • How do they construct a study? This requires research, perhaps interviewing a statistician who could be invited to the class. 
    • Who is studied? How long do you track them?
    • The presumption of Mayor Bloomberg is that changing the size will reduce consumption. Do people believe this? How do their beliefs before the study square with the study outcomes and their beliefs after the study? This stirs in some psychology.
    • Doing this with just one class is not a big dataset. What if we got other schools in the district to do this problem, and pooled the data? Do the results vary significantly by school? This involves community organizing. 
    • Maybe we could create a website where any school can join the study. We could provide downloadable lesson plans to motivate involvement. The merged data would be available for free download for use in classroom activities. Do the results vary according to other variables? Should we be capturing more information about the people surveyed? This involves learning how to use technology to enrich what you can do. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Learning from Sharing, and Shared Learning

Reflections, June 29th, University of Michigan, EDUC 504, Teaching with Technology.

Learning from Sharing
For discussion, we read Bill Sheskey's article "Creating Learning Connections with Today's Tech-Savvy Student", excerpted from Curriculum 21. The article is from 2002, but it still resonated with everyone. Capsule version: Teacher brings digital camera to class to document students working on their projects, and on a whim starts a slideshow during the last ten minutes of class. The students abruptly come alive, commenting, critiquing, even asking for extra time to polish their work now that it is being documented. Light bulb comes on for teacher.

For me, I am most captivated by the impression that the students now want to take their work to a higher level. Instead of being graded one-on-one with their teacher, students recognize that everyone sees their work, and there will be recognition, positive or negative. This broadens the lesson from learning science, to preparing for adulthood. As adults, we are rarely judged only by an immediate supervisor. Why not start early?

It struck me that students often hold themselves to a higher standard when they are in sport, band, orchestra, choir, theatre, and I think it stems from the inherent public nature of their performance. Why not make the classroom a more public performance?

Shared Learning
We also read the NYT article New York Plans to Ban Sale of Big Sizes of Sugary Drinks. The article itself is so controversial that the class couldn't resist debating pros and cons. That's half the message of the exercise: like Bill Sheskey's slideshow, this is the baited hook.

This suggests the NYT article is a great opportunity to collaborate with our fellow teachers, and develop lessons that build literacy across subjects.