# Mathelicious

cross-posted at the Waynflete TLC Blog

It seems like it is a pretty good time to be a math teacher.  Every week, I see several new resources for math problems, math projects, and real world math applications on Twitter and various websites.  These resources along with the potential for programming online and game access at the click of a mouse could produce a much-improved, more relevant math class.  Ahhh – if it were only that easy!  I’ll save that for another post.

I thought I’d share a few resources that I’ve seen in the last few weeks:

• Bedtime Math - http://bedtimemathproblem.org/ - I read to my two boys before bed.  We cuddle up and read a few pages from a book before bedding down for the night.  But, being a math geek myself, I have also added something additional –  just before I leave their room, my son prompts, “Math problem please…”  Music to my ears – I give him a quick multiplication (or now, we are moving on to division) problem for him to figure out before I leave.  The site, Bedtime Math, picks up on the idea that we don’t just have bedtime stories but we can throw some math in there too.  The site provides a math word problem everyday broken into different age levels, like this:

Wee ones (counting on fingers): If 2 cars, 2 trucks and 1 bicycle drive past your home, how many vehicles is that?

Little kids: If 32 cars and trucks drive by in an hour, and 12 are trucks, how many are cars?  Bonus: If half the cars have a dog riding along, and half of those dogs are sticking their heads out the window, how many dogs are hanging out the window?

Big kids: If 47 cars, 15 motorcycles, 4 buses and 2 ice-cream trucks drive by, how many vehicles is that?  Bonus: How many wheels is that in total? (Assume the trucks and buses are 4-wheeled like the cars.)

•  NCTM Twitter Feed - http://twitter.com/#!/nctm - While we are on the subject of daily mathematics problems, check out the Twitter feed from NCTM (the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics).  The provide a challenging problem everyday (except for Mondays, I think).  What a great way to start off class or challenge those students who seem to always finish before the rest of the class.  Here’s a sample:

• Finally, you can now touch algebra.  Algebra Touch is an app for the iPad/iPhone and it allows you to interact with algebra equations.  The app takes advantage of the “touch” of the iPad and you can swipe, tap, slide, and move terms and equations around the screen.  I know there are some students who will be relieved to use this app.

# EdCampME

It’s official – there will be an EdCampME (Maine) this March and Waynflete will be hosting!  Our TLC (Technology & Learning Cohort) came up with the idea after a bunch of us attended EdCampKeene in August.  We all enjoyed the “camp” and came back thinking that it would be a great thing to put on at Waynflete.  That enthusiasm did not die so we began laying some groundwork to bring EdCampME to Waynflete.

I had several initial conversations with the Head of School and Director of Finance and Operations and they both gave me the go ahead to find a date.  Finding an open date was a little tricky as our facilities are used a lot on the weekends for Admission events, athletics, and arts.  I found a few options in March which is a good month overall because it is between sport seasons, it is just before the “end of the year” craziness begins, and stress levels seem to be in check.

After a few more conversations, I found a date that would work and got full approval for a weekend in March and reserved the space.  Before I left for the weekend, I decided to post the date on the main EdCamp website and reserve a website wiki - EdCampME.wikispaces.com.  (Seem to make it even more official). On Saturday morning I woke up and checked my twitter feed and found that the “edcamp guy” (@dancallahan) had tweeted that he was looking forward to EdCampME in March (yay – instant press). Then he followed up that tweet a little later telling me to check in with @jaimesteward who (along with @alicebarr) was also planning an EdCampME. I checked the edcamp site and sure enough, she had put an entry in for EdCamp Maine for March 17th.  What are the chances?

So I tweeted @jaimesteward and @alicebarr to see what they had planned and asked if they wanted to team up. They said they were working on reserving a space. We all thought it would be silly to have two edcamps so we teamed up.  Not only that, but in the course of the twitter conversation we had about 3 or 4 other Maine educators volunteer to help us – yay Maine.  Here’s the shortened twitter conversation:

Now we have 10 teachers from Waynflete plus an additional 5 or 6 educators from the whole state working together to plan this EdCamp for March 31st.  Now the fun begins.  To get things started I created a Google Doc to share with everyone to begin brainstorming some ideas for the day.  Once we get the big picture down, we can begin to assign jobs.

We don’t have the details worked out yet but stay tuned to twitter (#edcampme) and to our website (http://edcampme.wikispaces.com) for more information on:

EdCampME

Saturday, March 31

Waynflete School, Portland ME

# TLC – Day 2 & 3

We hit the ground running on day 2 – I think we had some good momentum coming out of Day 1.  After we got our fill of fruit, muffins, and coffee we got right to work.  I began by showing them a demo of Syncpad:

Cool, right?  Then we all installed both Syncpad and Pages for the iPad.  I bought licenses through Apple’s Volume Purchasing Program – which seems to work pretty well.

After that, we dove into the Google Calendar – syncing it with the iPad and using it for our classes.  We can bring in our Faculty calendar (from our website) right to Google – a nice feature for all.  It took some time to get everyone synced up – especially those with personal Google accounts – but we did it.

We then took an electronics break and went outside for another discussion.  For homework, we watched the PBS video -

### Digital Media – New Learners Of The 21st Century

http://www-tc.pbs.org/video/media/swf/PBSPlayer.swf

Watch the full episode. See more Digital Media – New Learners Of The 21st Century.

We had a good conversation ranging from

- how do we assess this type of learning?

- how do we get the kids/parents to learn that process is more important than the goal?

- how do we incorporate project-based learning, gaming, constructive learning in a “college-prep” school where parents want their kids to get into good colleges?

- needing to become more a facilitator of learning, rather than the “leader”

The conversation was a refreshing – we all struggle with similar thoughts about adopting new pedagogies in class in a school where many teachers and parents still embrace traditional learning.  I think it is a theme we will come back to again and again but it’s good that we know we can struggle through this tension together rather than alone in our classrooms.

After a yummy lunch of leftovers, we returned to Google and worked with GoogleDocs and Google Sites.  Again, it was good to give everyone a baseline knowledge of Google Docs and its sharing capabilities.  We worked through spreadsheets and Google Forms – which was really good for those math teachers in the room.  Google Sites emerged as a good website for class pages – we have class pages on our website but they are fairly static and boring.  Google sites allows for more customization and its ability to pull together all things Google is unbeatable.

Day 3

We had covered a lot of details and tools in Day 2 and so we all came into Day 3 a little tired and a little maxed out.  I started the morning of with a TED talk from Sir Ken Robinson – Bring on the Learning Revolution:

More good conversation followed including much around “how do we get there from here”?  A great question to ask in this group because we are trying to adopt an attitude/pedagogy/curriculum which conflicts with the norm – we still have 50 minute class periods, we still have kids taking college board tests, we work on a team where other members may not be ready to move forward with us – there are all sorts of hurdle (or obstacles).  What are the small steps that we need to take in order to get us closer to our goals?  I think that is a question we hope to answer as we go this year.

The rest of Day 3 we devoted to individual/group work time.  We took some time-outs to play with Polleverywhere.com and Voicethread.  For the most part our brains were full and we just needed time to sort through the tools, experiment with website, and talk to others about the year and its possibilities.

It was a satisfying three days.  We became a good working group, got to know each other, and had a good handle on what each person brought to the group.   In order to facilitate continued communication and sharing as we moved into the school year, I set up a “dashboard” – http://www.netvibes.com/privatepage/1#TLC-Dashboard. The dashboard includes a twitter feed – we agreed on the hashtag #wayntlc.  We have a Diigo group and that feed in on the dashboard.  I also set up a group blog -http://waynfletetlc.blogspot.com/ – a place where we could share resources and share thoughts and experiences and we try new things.  One member decided to begin her own blog -http://techforayear.wordpress.com/ - with a goal of posting (almost) every day.

It will be a challenge finding times for the group to meet face-to-face throughout the year but we will do that as well as use our technology to fill the gaps.  I am really looking forward to growing with this group this year – they are terrific colleagues with a passion for teaching and learning.

# Launching TLC

There have been some exciting developments in my world lately. The entire K-12 faculty has started a collective professional development focus on learning and the brain; our summer program, SOS, will be piloting the ipad 2; and we have officially launched our TLC program.

After several years of chasing my tail, I have successfully pitched and developed a new course of professional development at my school. This spring we will launch TLC, Technology & Learning Cohort, a group made up of six teachers (two from each division of the school). Here’s part of the description from the invitation sent to faculty:

The Technology & Learning Cohort (TLC) will be a group of teachers who will read about the research, play with new tools, and experiment with curriculum in order to better understand pedagogical implications for classrooms. TLC team members will be charged with exploring and experimenting with ways to apply information technology tools in their teaching, with particular focus on the implications of neuro-developmental research and understanding for effective classroom practice.

We will determine the group from interested faculty later this spring.  We will meet once before the end of school to talk about the expectations and to give out some summer homework (reading, writing).  I am working on a summer reading/watching list for them and, right now, I am thinking about these books: Mindset (Dweck), Brain-Based Teaching in the Digital Age (Sprenger), and Five Minds of the Future (Gardner). There are a lot out there and I need to brainstorm some more.

We will have our first official meetings in August before our week of faculty meetings.  We will have three days set aside for some intensive experimenting with various tools and software, each member will set up a PLN; and we will begin our conversations about the school year. During the year, we will be meeting once a month as a group and probably some one-on-one sessions.  I will be encouraging each member to visit a few schools during the year and making some contacts beyond our school walls.

As you can see, I’m still sketching out this group, its scope and schedule; but I am excited to have some energy and support behind a professional development initiative like this. I hope each member will emerge with some confidence about the tools and the choices they have made; gain some knowledge and first-hand understanding about the transformative power of technology; and I hope each member will serve as a mentor for their department, grade level, and division in the coming years.

If you had a captive audience of teachers for a year, what would you do?

# More Distracted or Just Different?

I read Sunday’s New York Times article “Grown Up Digital, Wired for Distraction” by Matt Richtel and I had a reaction similar to other EdTech folks around my PLN.  As I read it, I thought of all the parents reading it and getting over-excited about their children’s technology use.  In the article (read it, if you haven’t already), the author tells the story of a high school senior that cannot finish his summer reading because he would rather spend time on his computer making and editing his own films and conversing with his friends.  The author goes on to present a dilemma: are we raising a generation that is unable to concentrate because of these distractions (cell phones, video games, computers)?  Are the brains of these students different?  Should schools embrace technology or become a haven without technology?

I do believe there are kids who spend too much time in front of a screen, but I don’t blame the technology, I blame parents and educators.  Students are growing up in a vastly different world than we did.  Notice I used the word “different” not better or worse, just different. Today kids are drawn into these devices for several reasons – they are social tools and our brains crave social learning; they provide instant feedback which is so satisfying; and there is always something new out there (continually changing screens, software updates, etc).  Our brains, especially young growing brains, crave all of these things.  And our brains also crave exercise, art, and social interactions.  We all need to balance all of these activities in our daily life.  Adults need to model and teach students when and where to use or not use technology; help them determine how long is too long on the computer or cell phone; and how to put the distractions away and get to work.  Adults are just as guilty: some parents answer cell phones or text at the dinner table or in the car.  I don’t blame it on the cell phone, I blame it on the adult.

The answer, of course, is not to turn off all of the technology in schools.  We need to create schools that use technology as the powerful learning tool that it is when used correctly.  We need to model appropriate use.  We need schools that use technology to prepare our kids for the future.  I like Cathy Davidson’s response to the article, “Why doesn’t anyone pay attention anymore“, in which she says:

Our attention is shaped by all we do, and reshaped by all we do.  That is what learning is. The best we can do as educators is find ways to improve our institutions of learning to help our kids be prepared for their future–not for our past.

and

The problem is not in the students. It is in the mismatch between the way they are being taught and what they need to learn.

I like a lot of what Cathy Davidson says in her post probably because I have been reading her recent contributions in The Future of Thinking (a MacArthur Foundation report) that does a nice job framing a lot of what technology people have been talking about for years about the power of technology in the classroom.

Both of these posts (as well as other response posts) will be good framework to engage parents in a discussion about technology use at home and at school.  I think it is beyond time that school communities talk about the responsibility that comes with giving students these tools and it should be shared by both the school, the teachers, and the parents.

# Professional Development When You Want It

Time, time, time. That is the word that comes up most often when talking about how to bring more technology professional development to teachers. During the school year, teachers just don’t have enough time to learn about new technology, get comfortable with it, and figure out if it fits into their curriculum. And we, as schools, are not good about making enough time for it.  Educators therefore have to make their own time and fit in their learning where they can.

The K12 Online Conference is a nice way to get professional development when and where you want it.  I just loaded up my iPhone with 10 podcasts downloaded from the K12 Online site on iTunesU.  The K12 Online Conference is a collection of podcasts given by educators and, this year, students from around the world.  Each podcast is a presentation on teaching and tools and how they help improve learning.  This year’s conference, that went live during the last two weeks of October, had two themes – “Leading the Change” and, for the second week, “Kicking it up a Notch”.  Among the podcast presenters are well known names like Dean Shareski, David Warlick, and Darren Kuropotwa as well as students like Ben & Ben from Yarmouth High School who talk about their own podcast show, and middle school student, Nicolas Gutkowski, who talks about “Learning on my Own”.

No matter what level or subject you teach, you can find a podcast that will fit your needs at the K12 Online Conference. I have just started to listen to these presentations and there are many good ones to choose from.  I enjoy that I can access them when I am at work or as I make my commute home.  This is just one way that you can make professional development fit into your busy life.  Check out the offerings from the K12 Online Conference; they are most easily accessible on the Schedule page or from iTunesU.

# More to Share

I have some more things to share as leftovers from my “tab clean up”.  This one is a great video of a homemade science project.  Now this is project-based learning at it best. Now, can we work something like this into our classrooms?  Think of the questions that can be asked, the hypotheses that can be stated, the stories that can be written, and the calculations that could be run?  Wow.

# Playing Catch Up

I have been a bit behind the eight-ball since the start of school. There is no way around it – there is lots to do between troubleshooting network troubles (or in our case dealing with a network outage), databases to update, getting teachers ready to print grades and comments, the list is endless. But as I was finding myself with a little time in between projects, I began to clean up my browser window. I am one of those users who has a gillion different tabs open with the hope of going back to read each of the websites that I was referred to by Twitter, or listsservs, or Facebook, or email. In my little bit of time I began going through those tabs and bookmarking the sites, or reading and deleting the sites, to get my browser down to a neat and tidy 10 open tabs.

I came across a few that I didn’t know what to do with. I wanted to share them, but I didn’t feel the need to book mark them, so I thought I’d share them here, on my blog, which has been woefully under used lately.

The first site is this – Ten Things Teachers Should Unlearn – this is a post that I came across right at the end of summer and I thought a good reminder of assumptions that many teachers come to class with:

10 things I think teachers should unlearn…

1. Teachers know all the answers.

2. Teachers have to be in control of the class.

3. Teachers are responsible for the learning.

4.  Students are obliged to respect teachers.

5.  Learning can be measured by a letter or a number.

6.  Teachers should plan activities and then assessments.

7. Learners need to sit quietly and listen.

8. Technology integration is optional.

9.  Worksheets support learning.

10.  Homework is an essential part of learning.

I think most teachers know these things, but I think that when school becomes crazy and busy we often forget the fundamentals and we rely on old habits and may resort back to some of these things.  It’s an important list to keep in mind (or maybe inside your gradebook, if you still have one).

# “It is incredibly empowering”

This morning, this blog article by Gary Hamel of the WSJ, “The Facebook Generation vs. the Fortune 500“, caught my attention.  Even though he wrote this list in with a focus on the management of companies in the coming years, one could easily adapt this list for education. Laura Blankenship had the same thought and posted her take on Hamel’s list in the context of education.  It’s a good list, I’ve pasted in below.  Item #8 is one that is rattling around my head this morning: 8. Power comes from sharing information, not hoarding it. As far as teachers go, I think they are not necessarily hoarders but if they aren’t connected to other teachers online, they haven’t seen and experieinced the power of sharing content and ideas – it’s fast, it’s easy, and it works.  Read this great post by one pre-service teacher who experienced sharing through her blogging and twitter – here’s a great quote:

I have never learned so much in my entire life until taking this class, and it was through sharing. Just like teaching, learning needs to be wide open and full of networking. Instead of handing in that assignment to one teacher, I am handing it in to the world and saying, “Take a look at me and what I think”. It is incredibly empowering when you think about it.

In addition to encouraging our teachers and students to share, schools, specifically independent schools, need to become more transparent to parents, faculty, and the community.  In the past, schools have tried to limit parent contact with teachers and administrators to certain times and certain avenues of “appropriate” communication.  (It took our school a long time to agree to post faculty email addresses on the school website).  Reasons for these limitations were to prevent the “helicopter parenting” syndrome, to help the students become self-advocates, and to prevent parents from questioning the ways and means of the school.  These are valid reasons but limiting communication and sharing is not the only way to achieve these goals.  If schools provide parents with more information and ask for more input, they become more transparent and provide parents less opportunity to question because the answers are all there.  Schools should provide more forums for parents to share and connect (this will help build and sustain the school community); they should have a informative website that is easy to navigate; and they should provide curriculum descriptions and assignments so parents can keep up with what their kids are doing at school.   The communciation needs to be “wide open” and I think schools will find that “it is incredible empowering”.

Here’s Laura Blankenship’s list and comments – see which ones resonate for you:

1. All ideas compete on an equal footing.

Instructors should value what students bring to the class and try to create an environment where the teacher isn’t the only expert in the room.  Both student and teacher bring value to the class on equal footing.  I try to point out when someone posts something interesting on our class blog that I didn’t know about or has an idea that didn’t occur to me in order to encourage the idea that student ideas are as important as mine.

2. Contribution counts for more than credentials.

The teacher at the front of the room obviously has more credentials than the students in the class, but teachers can work to encourage contribution from the students so that that is what’s valued in the class.  This is similar to #1 above, but  can be harder to overcome since students often look at credentials as a way of authenticating that the teacher’s contribution is more important.

3. Hierarchies are natural, not prescribed.

Again, because of the received dynamic of the teacher as the expert, this is a hard one to aspire to, but it is true that certain students seem to rise to the top of in-class or online discussion.   The thing to watch out for is that the ones who don’t get an opportunity to contribute.  I think in a classroom, one actually wants to eliminate hierarchies as much as possible.

4. Leaders serve rather than preside.

Approaching teaching as something your doing for the students rather than as some kind of power mongering (I’ve seen this very rarely anyway) can really make your classroom a thriving place for your students.  Offer articles for papers, offer to meet to discuss ideas, and come to the classroom expecting to learn something rather than teaching something.  There’s a balance to be struck, of course, in that you have a limited amount of time, but being generous with what time you do have can go a long way.

5. Tasks are chosen, not assigned.

I actually try to do this in most of my classes.  I don’t give topics for papers and sometimes give rather vague directives about page length, about image inclusion, etc.  I simply ask that it be argumentative and lean toward the academic rather than the casual.  This is very difficult for most students.  They’re used to doing what they’re told.  While assignments are generally necessary, giving students as much freedom within those assignments can help them learn how to choose tasks for themselves.

6. Groups are self-defining and -organizing.

Anyone who teaches has watched groups of students form–those who sit together every class, who comment on each other’s posts or in-class comments.  One can capitalize on this by assigning those students to group projects.  I’ve heard feedback from my students about our small groups that they like to choose their groups.  Sometimes it may be necessary to organize groups for a particular kind of experience, but consider at least trying to let groups form on their own.

7. Resources get attracted, not allocated.

In a classroom, this probably doesn’t apply, but in the larger context of an institution, it would be nice if resource allocation were open to an extent that allows people to gravitate toward interesting ideas.  Instead, there’s still a top-down allocation process.

8. Power comes from sharing information, not hoarding it.

In the classroom, I always try to be as open as possible and I encourage my students to be as well.  That’s why we blog in public.  I think it’s important for students to see each other’s work and ideas.  At the institutional level, it would certainly be good to have that kind of sharing of information.  Technology could help with this process, but most institutions I know of haven’t yet gotten to the point of being able or willing to share information across the institution.

9. Opinions compound and decisions are peer-reviewed.

I’ve done this in many classes, posted potential readings and assignments and let students choose.  I’ve also allowed them to change the direction of the course by voting on it.

10. Users can veto most policy decisions.

I’ve done this in class too.  It’s great when the students feel some ownership over the class.

11. Intrinsic rewards matter most.

This is a value I try to impart, but it’s very hard since many students are used to external rewards such as grades.  I, myself, like external rewards, but those can be very simple and usually I receive the greatest external rewards for projects that have had an instrinsic value for me.  I don’t have grades on individual assignments and I have students evaluate themselves, mostly focusing on what they learned from the class.

12. Hackers are heroes.

I celebrate the student who presents a contrary view–as long as they do so without hurting someone.  Class and blog discussions are most interesting when someone says, “I disagree and here’s why.”

# Social networking is…a good thing

A MacArthur funded study was just released regarding the activities kids are involved in online.  It’s an interesting read for all educators and parents.  They conclude that the “hanging out”, “messing around”, and “geeking out” that kids do online helps students gain media literacies and skills they will need to fully participate in the 21st Century society.  Here’s a quote from the summary of the report:

New media allow for a degree of freedom and autonomy for youth that is less apparent in a classroom setting. Youth respect one another’s authority online, and they are often more motivated to learn from peers than from adults. Their efforts are also largely self-directed, and the outcome emerges through exploration, in contrast to classroom learning that is oriented by set, predefined goals.

In the conclusion, the report goes on to say, that schools (and parents) should not see social networking as a waste of time:

Rather than seeing socializing and play as hostile to learning, educational programs could be positioned to step in and support moments when youth are motivated to move from friendship-driven to more interest-driven forms of new media use.

Another point made in the conclusion is that kids find learning from their peers highly motivating:

Peer-based learning is characterized by a context of reciprocity, where participants feel they can both produce and evaluate knowledge and culture. Whether it is comments on MySpace or on a fan fiction forum, participants both contribute their own content and comment on the content of others. More expert participants provide models and leadership but do not have authority over fellow participants.

And finally, the report concludes with this (among other) question:

what would it mean to think of education as a process of guiding kids’ participation in public life more generally, a public life that includes social, recreational, and civic engagement?