Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Inception of a Blog (ED504)

I originally set out to read Mr. Meyer's Blog "dy/dan". However, while reading through his blog I came across a link to a blog he had read (A Function of Time). So, this is a blog post about a blog post about a blog post (I think this is some how related to the movie "Inception", but I never saw the movie, only Southpark/Hoarding episode).

Strangely enough, both Dan's blog and the "f(t)" blog were talking about 1:1 initiatives and the inclusion of technology into the math classroom. I was struct by Dan's observation that most digital technology does not lend itself to communicating mathematical language. As a grad student I have noticed how often we submit papers and assignment via e-mail, DropBox or CTools. I thought that this was novel, but I never thought about how I would do this for a math class. As an undergrad, I typed up my math homework for a couple of my classes (I think I was the only one in the class who did that). However, because of my rudimentary knowledge of Microsoft Equation Editor, typing the math homework wasn't easy. Furthermore, it was not something that I could have turned in exactly as it came out of the printer. I always had to draw a sketch or add in an integral sign, an epsilon or some other symbol to complete the work.

Consider the following:

f(x) = (x^2 - 1)/(x - 2)

The image is how one would write the function on a piece of paper. The text is how you have to type out the same expression on a computer. Which one is easier to read? At a glance of the image, a student can recognize the equation as a rational function, that there is a discontinuity at x=2 and that the degree of the numerator is higher than the degree of the denominator. Even as an experience mathematician, those same facts don't jump out at me when looking at the computer-text. In the image, the little two floating in the air is clearly an exponent and the full size two in the denominator is clearly another term. Those distinctions are harder to pick out in the text. Keyboards are designed for writing blogs, not for writing math.

Transitioning to "f(t)", the blogger bemoans the transition from one 1:1 initiative to another. I can't imagine a school where they changed the textbooks every year three or four years. On the other hand, I can't imagine a school using the same software/hardware for a 1:1 program for three or four years. How do you help teachers transition plans from one resource to a completely different resource? In ED 511, in our discussion about backwards design, we've mentioned that we should avoid planning around a beloved activity or strictly following a textbook's layout. Still, as a teacher it is important to understand the resources that are available to you. We always want to be looking to improve our instruction, but learning how to run a program in a different operating system if hardly the sort of learning that will improve our practice.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

From Russia with Love #hashtag

I have been checking out the stats for my page under the dashboard. I am confused. I understand why people from China might visit my website. There are a billion people there. One or two are bound to accidentally stumble through Great Firewall and find my page. The fact that the plurality of my visitors come from Russia, well, that is a riddle wrapped inside of a mystery inside of an enigma.

Luckily, all is not lost. Я изучал Русский язык. (I did that from memory!). Sorry ED504 folks, from here on out, all blog posts will be written in Russian to better meet the needs of my growing international audience. Unfortunately, aside from saying 'Hi', 'Bye" and telling people my name, I don't remember much else from Russian class. The only two phrases that come to mind are Я люблю тебя and Она/Ты красивия. Mind you, those are the two most important things to be able tell someone, but they are hardly something to build a blog around.
Google Translate

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Can you hear me now #hashtag

I'm taking a break from my ED 695 summary to ramble about ED 695. We'll see how this works.
[T]he proportion of teachers who report that they sometimes yell in anger at misbehaving students is 37%, with 45% saying they use sarcasm to the same extent. The equivalent data for students who claim that teachers are angry and sarcastic was 64% and 50% respectively.
Quoted from this Article
This article article was one of the more interesting things we've read yet this semester. (That's my endorsement)

So students and teachers mostly agree on when they use sarcasm, but there is a chasm between between students and teachers perceptions about the teacher being angry. How do we bridge this chasm? I have Swiftly designed a Modest Proposal to solve this problem: Get rid of talking.
Think about all the trouble that talking gets us into. How many of us have said something that we regret? We still have to communicate but we now have a way to do it without talking: text. With the proliferation of digital devices, we can move into a world of truly 21st century communication (Noddings would be proud). Now, one might think that texting is a poor substitute for conversation. It is hard to tell someone's tone in a written e-mail. Luckily, we don't live in the 1980's. We've moved beyond the world of monochrome screens. I have already devised a simple color-coded system for typing in emotions.
I'm really happy for you (Happiness, in this case authentic)
I'm really happy for you (Anger, in this case sarcasm)
I'm really happy for you (Sadness, in this case envy)
I'm really happy for you (Conflicted between happiness and sadness)
We would have to create a program that makes it easier to type when we experience conflicted emotions, but I am sure that someone wiser than I could make an app for that. It is also possible that there exists emotions other than Happiness, Sadness, Anger or the three blends of conflicted emotion; I just don't know what they are.
I have laid out the framework. If we can get this system running, before long, every time you go into a public place, all you will see is people gazing intently at their phones and effectively communicating their emotions to the person next to them. That reminds me, I should have added a color for apathy.

Study break is over. Back to work.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Old Stuff #hashtag

Today we took a field trip to the Natural History Museum and Michigan Stadium.
During our tour at the history museum, the guide referenced "the Velocirpators that you see in 'Jurassic Park.'" The thing is, the original 'Jurassic Park' was released in 1993. That was twenty years ago. I wonder if the guide knew how dated the reference was.
It is highly probably that there are students on the field trip whose parents weren't alive during the Ford Administration (Those who are 35 and younger).

I'll finish off this study break by watching a bit of "Matlock" and maybe a quick game of pinochle before returning to ED695 homework.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Level up for Rory (ED504) & #hashtag

If you want to add some dimension of game play to your class, you might introduce the idea of levels. Student who complete tasks "Level Up" to a different rank. With each rank, students would earn new tools and new powers (Right). Here are some ideas worth considering:

Leader-board: It is my understanding that you can't post grades, but if the levels are built around what tasks are turned in, then it might be okay to post that. In college, my three roommates and I completed in a challenge of "Who could skip class the least often?" one semester. We kept a tally of who missed the most classes on the door. Our attendance dramatically improved that semester, just by adding a small level of competition to the matter.

Possible Rewards (Depending on School Policy):
When a student attains Level [X] she can wear a hat in class or eat something in class. (Some sort of new freedom granted to them).
When a student attains Level [Y] she can turn in an assignment late for full credit (But she gets knocked down a level so that she can't do this with every assignment).
When a student attains Level [Z] she can redo an assignment for full credit.

Just a thought

Level 28: Write the great American novel (ED504)

Today in class we continued the discussion of how learning is related to games. Jeff pulled out the same quote that I featured in the previous ED504 blog.
A science like biology is not a set of facts. In reality, it is a “game” certain types of people “play”. These people engage in characteristic sorts of activities, use characteristic sorts of tools and language, and hold certain values; that is, they play by a certain set of “rules”. The[y] do biology. 
Math is not only like a game, math is game. Each problem is another enemy. Sometimes one algorithm will defeat them (Just jump on them). Sometimes that same algorithm won’t work (I can’t jump on them because they have spikey shells). Each class is its own level. You’ll occasionally come across old villains, but then you’ll come across something completely new (Random guys who throw hammers or boomerangs at you). Math, like Tetris more than Mario, never ends. It just keeps going to ever higher levels.

Along the ideas of levels, we recognize that we are not just looking at different skills in each level, but successively more advanced skills. For the Game of English, Level 1 requires someone to learn the letters to spell her name. Level 8 involves writing in complete sentences. If you want to get to Level 28, you are going to have to master a whole host of foundational skills.

Any subject matter is like a game in the understanding of the rules. There is a level or execution involved. I have the rules to chess memorized. I can set up the board and tell someone how each piece moves. I still lose slightly more than half of the games that I play. I know how to play chess, but I am not a chess –player. In the same way, a student might be able to recite a formula but have no idea how to use it. Knowing the rules is a necessary condition, but math is about doing something. The same is true or knowing the parts of speech in English. I know the difference between nouns and adverbs, but I still don't write particularly well.

Finally, there is a suspension of reality in the world of gaming and in the world of learning. In science, you can see it in the way they dress. Scientists dress up when they go into a lab. It is like they become a new character in this virtual world. In math, we don’t wear costumes. Anytime we do a calculation about real world phenomenon, a mathematician suspends reality. We turn the real world from the complex and blurry watercolor into a 8-bit colored image (i.e. "For this problem, we will ignore drag, wind resistance, friction and the fact that the earth is round.")

I suppose with all this in mind, I can walk into my first day of class with students and ask them, "Would you like to play a game?" It will only take the rest of your life to win it.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Income Distribution #hastag

I pulled this chart out one of the "books" from ED695. It was interesting. I expected the numbers to be worse. The statement that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer is only partially true. The rich seem to stay rich. The children of those in the top 20% are likely to stay in that income bracket. However, for someone that is born into poverty, chances are their children will move up in the world. The 45% who seem stuck in second (or more) generation poverty seems high, but it is important to remember that a random redistribution of income would lead to 20% across the board. The 9% who go from the bottom fifth to the top fifth is much more than I expected. It's not a one-in-thousand or a one-in-a-hundred story. It turns out that it is closer to one-in-eleven.

For middle income families, the distribution is almost perfectly spread. There is a 35% chance that their children will end up in the same income bracket, a 31% chance they will end up poorer than their parents and a 34% chance that they will end up richer than their parents.

Using the 2011 income distribution, here is what living in each fifth looks like: 
Lowest: 0 - $20,262
2nd Lowest: $20,262 - $38,520 {Ave. MIPS teacher starts  $34,724**}
Middle: $38,520 - $62,434
2nd Highest: $62,434 - $101,582
Highest: $101,582+
from Census.gov

If you are working in a large district suburban district, the superintendent pay may pass the $186,000 mark for the top 5%.

**This is the average in Michigan for all first year public school teachers, regardless of education, resume, or location.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Things we always knew #hashtag

The "Close Door" button in an elevator doesn't do anything. I used a stopwatch on the elevator in the SOE. I timed the normal amount of time it takes for the doors to close (15 seconds) and compared it to the time it took the doors to close after hitting the "Close Door" button repeatedly (Also 15 seconds). I will try again later to confirm these results.

Because some (small amount) of the lotto winnings go to fund schools, I've heard the lotto described as "a tax on people who are bad at math." Is it always a bad idea to play the lotto? It depends on the jackpot.
Here is a table of values examining the possibilities of buying one ticket (and no ticket being sold twice). If you are only going to buy 1 ticket, the Jackpot needs to be over $317 million before it makes sense to buy a ticket. At this dollar amount for the jackpot, the game is 'fair'. If you played the game many times, you would tend to break even. (The math gets tricky if you buy two tickets in the same lottery. Why? Because they both can't be the jackpot-winning ticket among other things.)
If you are struggling with the idea of a 'fair' game, think of a simpler (and in this case 'unfair') game. You pay me a dollar. I flip a coin. If it comes up heads, I win. If it comes up tails, I give you $2.01. You would want to play this game, as often as possible. There is a 50% chance that you will end up with nothing after the first game and a 25% chance that you will end up with nothing after the second game. By the time we get to the fourth game, there is a 68% chance that you are ahead. The odds keep moving in your favor from there. Strange as it sounds, you would be much better off playing this game a million times than buying a Powerball ticket in the next million Powerball drawings.
What was the point of this discussion of lottery tickets?
Why do we try something when we know will almost certainly fail? It's because the prize is so great. We'll go out there expecting to lose, but hoping to win. It gives us a moment to dream, even if it is a foolish dream. Losing doesn't hurt so bad, because we were expecting it. So, sometimes we buy lotto tickets and sometimes we push the "Close Door" button on the elevator. We do things that probably don't make a difference, but just might.
(If this was the 511 blog, I'd be writing about the perceived difficulty being low and the perceived value as unknown)
This fifteen minute study break is over. Back to thinking about restorative justice. (If you're reading this on Sunday night, you should probably stop and read go read the Lambert reading for 511)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Insufficient Vespene Gas (ED504)

Today's ramblings were prompted by two articles:
Video Games and Good Learning (Gee)
Not your Grandmother's Library (Perez)

Given the chance to discuss video games or libraries, I think we would all choose to start off with video games. The author's original statement was about getting students to engage in "long and complex" activities. When I look back at my final years as an undergrad, I can see the clear connection between playing video games and learning. Three days before an assignment for Real Analysis was due, I would walk to my room, close the door and disappear. I might take a break for dinner, on some days, but there was a laser-like focus on grinding through the task. I play video games much the same way. I am not the type to play video games for an hour and then move on. When I used to play video games, it was an all day activity.

The author more specifically relates learning and gaming.
A science like biology is not a set of facts. In reality, it is a “game” certain types of people “play”. These people engage in characteristic sorts of activities, use characteristic sorts of tools and language, and hold certain values; that is, they play by a certain set of “rules”. The[y] do biology.
The author then goes on to describe the key ways in which video games relate to good learning. I've selected a few of his points on which to offer commentary (Mostly related to my playing of the original StarCraft and the Brood War Expansion).
IdentityGames give students the opportunity to think like someone else. It is not so much self-awareness, but the ability to create a new identity. I think this is one of the few areas where the original StarCraft failed. Players didn't get to create their own character.
Interaction: In video games, the feedback loop is shortened. Every touch on the keyboard has an immediate result. We can test and try new strategies at a rapid pace. All my siege tanks got toasted by Guardians, better send in some Wraiths next time. Also, upgraded Goliaths are effective against Guardians, too, particularly if you have a Science Vessel to increase the sight, offer shielding or to simply irradiate the Guardian.
Production: With the level editor, I always enjoyed making my own maps. Furthermore, there was a basic level of event-based programing. So, I could make solving the game a series of required steps and offer changing goals as time when on. I could make the story about surviving a siege or rescuing me (Or more likely rescuing Kerrigan, the damsel in distress; my apologizes for propagating that gender norm). Also, I could modify the characters. This ties back into the issue of identity. It was enjoyable to see myself in the game (as a renamed, slightly improved version of Alexei Stukov).
Risk Taking: "Good video games lower the consequences of failure; players can start from the last saved game when they fail." The most important thing anyone can ever learn in a math class is how to fail. Failure is what we do in math. We try something. We fail. We try something different. We fail again. We try one more time and realize that the castle has fallen into the swamp. In the end, after numerous attempts, we ended up with the strongest castle in all these isles [We how we transitioned from a conversation about math problems to a "Monty Python & the Holy Grail" reference]. Video games are great at letter students repeatedly fail and try again. I don't remember how many times I got five minutes into a StarCraft game, realized that I was heading in the wrong direction and just restarted the level.
Well-Order Problems: This is something that we do well in math. We build from small problems to larger and more complex multi-level problems. In StarCraft, the gameplay seemed to mimic this layout. You didn't get to use Ghosts in the first level, but you weren't matched up against Siege Tanks, either.
Challenge and Consolidation: "This cycle has been called the 'Cycle of Expertise'" As soon as you've learned that Firebats and bunkers are effective at battling zerglings, the game matches you up against Protoss Reavers, against which Firebats and bunkers are completely ineffective. You move from mastering one task to the next.
Explore, Think Laterally, Rethink Goals/Performance before Competence: "My schooling taught me, as it did many other Baby Boomers, that being smart is moving as fast and efficiently to your goal as possible. Games encourage a different attitude." There is a great deal of freedom in playing the game. I can set my own goals. I might want the highest score, the quickest win or to mine the most resources. For me, it was about losing the fewest number of troops possible. The kill ratio was key for me. (This is why I played almost exclusively as the Terran while making use of medics, and I hated playing as the zerg). Gaming let's us set differing goals, even while doing the same task. To steal an idea from Dewey, video games let us learn by doing. Most video games have a low barrier to entry.

What the author didn't discuss, was related to the undesirable behaviors that we can learn from video gaming.
Conflict Resolution: Have you ever played a video game with a teammate who was really bad? In that case, how likely were you to take the time to teach them to be better compared with how likely were you to tell them not to play with you? No one likes noobs. It's very easy to quit on other people, particularly when playing online with strangers. If I have a co-worker who does a terrible job, I can't kick them off the team.
Focus on scores/Illusion of perfection: Most video games have some sort of scoring system. Often there is an end of the game or a perfect score. I'm not entirely sure if this is helpful. There is no scoring system for being a good friend. As much as we talk about teacher evaluation, there is no scoring system for being a good teacher. Does playing video games teach us to fixate on measurable data to an unhealthy degree?
Risk Taking: Taking a risk implies both the possibility of reward and damage. If video games encourage risk taking, is that necessarily a good thing? We want students to take a chance in the classroom without being 100% confident of their success. Simultaneously, we want them to avoid unnecessary risks while driving. Life has no reset button.  
Related: NatGeo: Risk and the Teenage Brain

Now I will seamlessly transition to the piece about libraries. Instead of focusing on the content, I am going to talk about the formatting. I think that too often people confuse digital text with
"things that we haven't yet printed".

The article was not a good piece of digital media [The link listed in this blog is not the same copy that we were assigned]. The layout was such that the blurb that started at the top of the first page continued onto the top of the second page. Meanwhile the section that started on the bottom of the first page began in the middle of the second page. The pages were designed to be printed out and placed side-by-side, in which case the text would correctly flow from one box to another. Webpages is a misleading description. We don't really want webpages. We should be making Webscrolls. Pages are made to go side-by-side. Scrolls are set up in a vertical-linear fashion. That is the way we interact with digital text.

I kind of want to go play video games right now.
If only there was some way to gamify writing about my educational philosophy.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Poetry 2 #hashtag

The art fair is stupid, but not all artistic expression is a bad thing.

From "The Expanding Unicurse" by 'Blanche Descartes' (1930-ish)

Some citizens of Königsberg
Were walking on the strand
Beside the river Pregel
With its seven bridges spanned.

"O Euler, come and walk with us,"
Those burghers did beseech.
"We’ll roam the seven bridges o’er,
And pass but once by each."

"It can’t be done," thus Euler cried.
"Here comes the Q. E. D.
Your islands are but vertices
And four have odd degree."

From Königsberg to König’s book
So runs the graphic tale
And still it grows more colorful
In Michigan, and Yale.



You just walked away
while I still had cards to play.
Now I'm here in my defeat
The result of your retreat

The game started off real quick
with me picking up the trick.
Unsure of what to read,
I fumbled my next lead.

From there I panicked yet
and much to my regret,
burnt another trump or two
while chasing after you.

Still I had little doubt
that I could stop this rout.
The pair of hearts I could wield;
there was no need to yield.

But next I was dealt
an unexpected welt
when you left without a look,
but with the two cards you took.

Were you ever into this game?
Or was it just your aim
not to play, but to cheat
or just to occupy a seat.

Another chair in your sight?
My table wasn't right,
So you moved on somewhere
to form a better pair.

Or vexed by my mistakes,
you pulled up your stakes,
Giving up because you guessed
that you had seen my best.

I suppose that you would say
it is better not to play
than to painfully lose,
given the option to choose.

But I am stuck at this table
being to completely unable
to start another game anew
with the cards that you withdrew.

You still hold this hand
but I just don't understand
why you just walked away
when I still had cards to play.

Noticed and Wondered #hashtag

Has anyone else noticed the "temporary structure used to support people and material in the construction or repair of buildings and other large structures" that is surrounding the building across the walk from the SOE? I wonder if in the future, members of the 2063 MAC Cohort will have assignments where they (telepathically) discuss the important of creating cognitive hover boards for students.

Has anyone noticed that on Friday afternoon, three people forgot water bottles and one person left her lunch in Shari's class. Personally I noticed another sign of the cognitive wear and tear on my brain when I misspelled the word "the" on one of my facilitators evaluations. (I had "te", wait a second, there is supposed to be an "h" in there). I wonder if anyone else has noticed that we don't smile as much in class, but we laugh a lot more (When you get tired, you just jump from exhaustion to silliness).

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The truth is out there (ED504)

We played a game called “Twenty Questions and Two Lies” in class the other day. It was standard game of Twenty Questions, with the caveat that the answerer was allowed to tell two lies. There were some other rules, but we wouldn’t go too far into the details. The game was thought provoking.

I wonder what the best strategy is. I was thinking from that start that it would be worthwhile to ask each question twice. If we asked ten questions (twice) it would just be a matter of determining the one case where he lied or possibility dealing with two ambiguous cases. Another thought would be to use conjunctions to speed up the process of error checking. We could have asked if the person was alive. Question two would have been about if the person was born in the twentieth century. Then we could have asked if the person was alive and born in the twentieth century. While we couldn’t ask “Are you telling the truth?” we could have effectively gotten the answer just by the creative use of conjunctions. If P is true and Q is true, then the P (triangle) Q has to be true.
Aside from the exercise in logic, the game did relate to the internet. The key difference is that people on the internet are not limited to two lies. I can write whatever I want to up here. Maybe we didn’t play a game called “Twenty Questions and Two Lies”. It is up to you to figure out a method for verifying what I say. How would you verify that? The short answer is sources. The more sources we can find that agree, the more confident that we can be in our answers unless. . . .it turns out that truth isn’t probabilistic. So, while we can find multiple sources, analyze their credibility and make a judgment call, we could still be wrong.
That leads us the decision to be skeptical. Unlike the cynic, the skeptic believes in truth. It is just a matter of understanding the difficulty of finding that truth. “. . . now we see in a mirror, dimly. . .”

Dropbox it like it's Hot - Organizing my online Life (ED504)

For this week's assignment, we tried to organize our online life using a variety of tools. I was assigned Dropbox. Coming into this project I had heard of Dropbox, but I was only vaguely aware of what it did.

Dropbox is a cloud-based storage service. Once you sign up for your account, you can start storing files at Dropbox.com. It comes with a application that you can install on your computer (or phone, if your phone is smarter than mine). The Dropbox application greatly simplifies things. You don't have to sign in every time you use the service. Instead, a magical folder appears on your computer. Anything that you put into the folder is mystically synced with your account.

I installed the Dropbox folder on my computer and on my mom's laptop. Because both applications are signed in to my account I can easily share files with my mom. This seems like a great way to share files with the elderly. I remember having unpleasantly long phone conversations guiding people through the process of downloading or sending e-mail attachments. With Dropbox, sending a file across the world is just a matter of copying and pasting into the magic folder.

As a teacher, Dropbox offers an easy way to keep documents accessible while on the go. There was some thought about using Dropbox as a way for students to turn in homework, but there are still some bugs with that idea. When using the free or 'cheap' version, users can't share folders with limited file rights. If you share a folder with students so they can turn in their homework, they can also delete each others homework. For collaborative projects, I still think that GoogleDocs with its building in Document/Spreadsheet editor is a quicker and easier way.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Poetry #hashtag

"An Economist"
Economists study how society produces and distributes its scarce resources.

An economist pretends to know
Why things are made and how they flow.
He studies men’s biggest woe,
He wants it all, what to forego.

Like a machine with unseen gears
Through greed a solution appears.
By making what men hold most dear
Profits are earned by serving peers.

To boost theirs and the common's gain
Become experts in their domains.
To make one thing well they attain,
Through trade the rest they obtain.

But their profits diverge by much.
Those with great tools earn a whole bunch.
Tools like machines, schooling and such
Boost production so very much.

EconRhymes @ Amazon

I should also give credit to Mankiw's Blog for introducing the poem to me.

That Shy Guys is one Bewitching character (ED504)

After seeing the teaser footage of ‘Shy Guy’ (1947), I had to see the rest of the film. I pulled out my favorite quotes:
  • "Maybe school is like your radio. This oscillator will do it's work well, but as you said, you still have to fit in so it will work with all the other parts."
  • "Pick out the most popular boys and girls in school and keep an eye on them. Try to figure out why people like them."
  • "Maybe there is something in this business of being a good listener?"
  • Advice with women? "Be polite. . . Seat them and give the waiter their order."
After I was done laughing off the anachronisms, the video got me thinking about the social life. Much of our focus lately has been on the social aspect of school. School exists to educate people. There is no way to divorce schooling for the student. We may love Shakespeare or we may love the math, but we’re in the business of human improvement. There must be a social side. While we should tune out the “Golly” and the “Gee Whiz” quips from the film (along with the conformist overtones), it comes back to being a good listener. The key to helping students develop as social beings is getting them to listen to one another. It is when we spend time trying to understand one another that we really become social beings.

How does technology help us in this matter? That is still a mystery. Too often it seems like the internet poorly equips us to socialize. Has anyone ever read a constructive comment following a news story? Too often the internet becomes a village of shouters. Friends become a number or something to be collected. We get into the habit of clicking ‘like’, whether it means “I’m so sorry for your struggle, for the pain I feel with you as we walk on together” or it means “That’s an awesome picture of a cat.” We can send messages that arrive in a matter of seconds so that we can ignore them for weeks. Technology has sped up what we can say, but has it given us anything else to say?

But I suppose there is some hope. It is just a matter of taking our hands off the keyboard and moving over to the mouse. It’s time to read someone else’s blog. It’s time to go understand how they see the world. Right after I finishing posting this other things that I just found. . .

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Free** Tuition #hashtag

I heard about this story on NPR on my drive home tonight. In Oregon, they are considering making college tuition free*. Students would pay nothing* for tuition. Free* college? Awesome.

(brief) Pay it Forward Article

You may have noticed the asterisk. What is the catch? In exchange for not having to pay tuition to earn a bachelor's degree, students would have to give 3% of their earnings for 20-25 years of their life. Also, only tuition and fees would be covered. If you need a place to sleep or food to eat, that still has to come out of your own pocket (or your parents' pockets or from student loans). Money for laptops, books and beverages* also has to come out of students' pockets.

We'll consider the average college student. He earns $45,000 a year upon graduation. He gets an annual 3% raise (mostly due to inflation, but a little bit of it has to do with seniority/increases in productivity). In one case, he follows the Oregon plan and has no student loan debt (he/parents covered living expenses with cash on hand and a part-time job working at Jimmy Johns). In scenario 2 he graduates with $28,000 in student loan debt carrying an interest rate of 6.8%. In which case is he better off?
The total for the Oregon plan for 25 years is $50,696.61. If he went the traditional way and paid off student loans over a 20-year period it would cost $51,537.60.

(This is the back of the envelope calculation. In real life students under the Oregon plan would likely still accrue some debt. On the other hand, the average student loan debt for students today likely includes costs beyond tuition).

On a related note, the Federal Government will make approximately $50 billion on student loans this year The government borrows via T-bonds (10-year) with a 2.59% interest rate, and then loans out money at a higher interest rate of 3.4% to 6.8%.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Motivation #hashtag

In the candle experiment, participants were given a task that had one creative solution. When they were given an external reward, they performed more slowly. The speaker concluded that this was a worse performance, but was he right?

Is moving slowly such a bad thing? What happens when we are faced with a problem that has multiple solutions and takes time to figure it out? Can external rewards keep us from giving up or can external rewards encourage us to reexamine what we have already done? Can external rewards move us from taking the first solution to finding the best solution?

Dewey: Beyond Blue Ducks (ED504)

Before we drive into a dissection of the John Dewey readings, I think it is important to clarify Dewey. When someone mentions Dewey, it's Melville Dewey who first comes to mind. He's the Dewey decimal system creator. If you wanted to read a book about John Dewey, you would look in 040 for biographies thanks to Melville. One could also look in section 370 for topics related to education. The second Dewey that comes to mind has brothers Huey and Louie. Dewey wears blue. This discussion is to go beyond blue ducks and dusty stacks to talk about educational reformer and philosopher John Dewey.

Beginning with the educational creed, the first thought that jumped to me came from the section talking about children learning to speak. He observes "...through the response which is made to the child's instinctive babblings the child comes to know what those babblings mean; they are transformed into articulate language and thus the child is introduced into the consolidated wealth of ideas and emotions which are now summed up in language." Having seen children learn to speak, the point strikes home. Nowhere is the social aspect of learning more present than that related to speech. Even as adults, it matters little what we say compared to what meaning it conveys to the listener. Learning to effectively communicate is inherently a social task. It's a troubling issue. How do I know if she understands what I am saying? How do I know if you understand what I am writing? Feedback.

"[I]t is impossible to foretell definitely just what civilization will be twenty years from now. Hence it is impossible to prepare the child for any precise set of conditions. To prepare him for the future life means to give him command of himself..." It struck me that even in 1897, Dewey was marveled by the rapid pace of change in the world. When I started high school, Google did not yet exist. I googled a picture of a duck, then I used one Gmail account to e-mail my Dewey notes to another Gmail account so that I could post them on Blogger. I am using learning tools now that were still nascent during my secondary education. I wonder what technology students will be taking for granted ten years from now. Twenty years in inconceivable.

It's ironic that later in the text, Dewey recommends "cooking, sewing, manual training, etc., in the school." What exactly he means by manual training, I don't know. It is funny to think of sewing as a life skill.

Dewey's benediction to his education creed also struck me. "I believe, finally, that the teacher is engaged, not simply in the training of individuals, but in the formation of the proper social life. I believe that every teacher should realize the dignity of his calling; that he is a social servant set apart for the maintenance of proper social order and the securing of the right social growth. I believe that in this way the teacher always is the prophet of the true God and the usherer in of the true kingdom of God." Here, Dewey asserts that the teacher is not teaching skills [training], but helping to create full human beings. The kingdom of God reference gave me a better understand of phrase "social life" that Dewey used so frequently earlier in the text. The social life isn't just about getting along; it is not just about existing. It is a unity in love and service to one another. It is a life of giving.

Moving onto the second reading, two things stuck out.

The first was Dewey's quote: "Now such a method is really stupid." The bluntness made me chuckle; he wrote this later in his life. He was talking about the unguided discovery activities that we've all suffered through. We all remember those mindless group activities that lead us to questions "What are we doing?" or "Have we done enough to stop now?"

The second point was the mention of Dale's cone of experience. During my previous existence as a tutor, the ideas behind Dale's cone were reinforced at every bi-weekly group meeting and every start-up meeting. My boss has a truncated cone on her door. Now I have know what it is called.

[The result is that I will likely remember 70% of my thoughts on Dewey, since I have written about it]

Finally we come to the connection. Dale and Dewey tell us that we learn by doing. How does technology help us do something? A couple thoughts come to mind. The first case is time management. If I can use technology to make the mundane tasks of schooling easier to do, I can spend less time taking attendance and more time engaging students. The second thing is that technology helps translate math into visuals. If I have a white board or a graphing calculator, I can show students what a parabola looks like. As we moving from talking to seeing, we've moved deeper into the cone. Still, I struggle with how technology helps us do more. That is something that I am still trying to wrap my head around.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Data #hashtag

Data Point 1 => 1 to 16,800,000
If you search for "gregnmath blogspot" not only does my blog show up, but it is the only result. I took the screen shot because I've never seen that happen before. I've never looked something up on Google and gotten one result. It didn't last very long. This evening I tried to repeat the trick and found two results: the main page and the link to the first posting. Sadly, by posting this, I will likely find that a search reveals three results by tomorrow.
If you search for "greg math blogspot" there are slightly more results. By changing an "n" into a space you get sixteen million more results. Luckily, one of them is Greg Mankiw's blog. If you have taken an economics class, there is a thirty-three percent chance that your economics text was written by Mankiw (there are only three intro to macro/micro books in the world). I haven't followed his blog lately, but it is usually pretty interesting.

Data Point 2 => $0.34
I took about ten minutes today during a study break to examine the schedule. With a little help from Excel, I added up all the hours of class, orientation, meetings, brown bag-lunches and field trips. I didn't try to subtract away break time nor add the extra time we get anytime we read an e-mail from faculty or get a question answered after class. The results: the cost of tuition is roughly 34 cents per minute.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

My dream classroom (ED504)

When prompted to imagine my ideal classroom with particular respect to the technology, I found myself lacking creativity. While others were imaging holograms and 3-D goggles, my requests tended to be much more basic. In terms of technology, my thoughts went to architecture and interior design rather than the latest and greatest gadgets. The first thing I drew in was the outside layout of my room. I wanted windows. Not just windows, but windows that could open and close. It wasn’t just about letting in the breeze on a nice day or reducing the lighting costs. It was also about safety.
While I spent most of the time thinking building around instruction, one of the last things I thought about while finishing the exercise was school-shootings. I guess there are some things that just stick with us. Aside from having windows to provide an easy escape, I found that I had unintentionally set up the room so that the doorway was in a narrow indentation. I thought of myself using the narrow space to barricade my students in our class while we waited for help. It’s amazing how the brain jumps from sunny windows to dark memories.
From skimming the Wikipedia article, I’ve discovered that glass windows are a two thousand year old technology. From that comparatively modern invention, I moved further back in time to the wheel. I want tables with wheels on them. They can’t have just simple wheels. They need to be able to lock in place so that students can lean against them, but easy enough that we can unlock the tables and we can reconfigure the room quickly. It’s not the fanciest technology, but it makes a difference. Having sat at the awful tables in Room 2346 and constantly bumping my legs up against the support, one really begins to appreciate the simple power of a useful table.
I did eventually come across some more modern technology. I love white boards. Dry erase boards are among mankind’s greatest inventions. People can keep their Smartboards, just give me lots and lots of whiteboard space. Electricity is surprisingly useful. While I didn’t build many computers in my classroom, I had a grid with a half dozen electrical outlets laid into the floor. A document camera and a projector might be useful to have in a classroom, too. I’d much rather use my beloved whiteboard to work out problems, but there might come a time when I need to post instructions or less dynamic material on the document camera.
Final thoughts: I remembered to draw a table with a bunch of calculators on it; I did not draw any chairs (Looks like we'll be standing, class). I suppose that comes from years math teachers drilling us to remember out calculator. Ancient Babylonians could solve (some) quadratic equations and they didn't even have whiteboards.
PostScript: If you're wondering about the random circular shape in the lower-right corner, that's my globe. If it's going to be my ideal classroom, then it's going to have a globe. The random circular shape outside the room is the sun (not drawn to scale).