Friday, May 29, 2009

Five for Friday: "How Many Weeks Left?!?!" Edition

Growing up in New Jersey, school typically ended in early to mid June. In college and the Rio Grande Valley alike, school was over by mid to late May. Now here in Boston, school isn't over until the very end of June, and I'm just plain confused. How many weeks are left? Where am I? What's going on? Help!!! Here's some links to help keep you slightly more sane than me:
  1. Math Teachers at Play #8 - The math-tastic blog carnival continues at Let's Play Math.
  2. [via Lifehacker] - Create simple, interactive charts online.
  3. My Reflections: The Master List - Footsteps of Aristotle is featuring a series of mid-year reflections from Australian teacher/blogger Mrs. D. She asks herself what she needs to improve, and what she already does well. It's similar to my March series On Failure and On Success, and absolutely worth the read.
  4. Holy Craps! How a Gambling Grandma Broke the Record [from] - I've been covering probability the last two weeks, and this is the perfect story at the perfect time. I'll be showing this CNN video in class on Monday!
  5. Does Scholastic Deserve a Failing Grade? - Wired's GeekDad blog questions whether the publishing powerhouse is providing an invaluable service, or just taking advantage of their unbridled access to kids in order to sell them lots of non-educational crap. I tend to believe it's the latter.
Share any great links you've found this week (or that you've been saving for just such an occasion) in the comments.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Finding Life in Death

My uncle passed away just a few days ago, and I took off from work today to attend his funeral. This was my father's only brother; the two of them emigrated from Sicily in the 1950s with my grandparents, both hoping to take advantage of the opportunity to make a better life. He lived to see his two sons grow into successful adults and start families of their own.

It's my nature to take stock of own my life after an event like this (as I'm sure it is for most people). Have I been a good son, brother, friend, and boyfriend? Have I made the most of what I've been given, or taken things for granted? What have I really accomplished? Perhaps most importantly, I ask myself: Am I happy with my life?

What probably stood out to anyone attending the services the past two days was the sheer number of people who came to pay their respects. I've never seen anything like it. This man touched so many people in his life. As a teacher, I wonder if I've touched any of my students' lives in the way they've touched mine. In the broader sense, I wonder if I've done the same with family, friends or even my blog's readers. My mind starts to imagine who might show up to my funeral if I were to die right now. What stories would people tell about me? I certainly heard some great stories about my uncle that I won't soon forget. Then I start to think about the future, assuming a long life ahead, and questioning whether I will have mattered as much to as many people as my uncle clearly did.

My cousin, his son, gave a eulogy that brought me to tears (which, despite the grim circumstances, is not something that happens to me very often). He talked about how much my uncle really loved life, finding happiness in his friends and family rather than any material goods or wealth. He spoke lovingly of his father's sacrifices and hard work over the years, and how he strived to follow in his footsteps so that his family might thrive just as he and his brother had.

Everyone has their own way of making sense of events like this. What I took away from today was a resolve to make the changes in my life I need to make:
  • I will try to live my life to the fullest.
  • I will work harder to spend time with my family and friends, and make sure to tell them how much I appreciate them.
  • I will try to be happy.
  • I will continue teaching, and try to help as many young people as I can to fulfill their dreams.

Thank you, Uncle Frank, for teaching me about life. I'll miss you.

Monday, May 25, 2009

No 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons This Week

The well of entries for the 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons Project has dried up for the moment. I hope we can pick up again next week! Please email your submissions to teachforever AT gmail DOT com.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Five for Friday: Memorial Day Edition

Most of us have a long holiday weekend coming up, and I hope you enjoy it fully. I urge you to also take a few moments to honor the brave men and women who died serving their country. Consider donating to a charity--visit Charity Navigator to find one that you're interested in.
  1. Taking the $ATs [via Freakonomics] - It continues to disturb and anger me how certain people at "nonprofit" testing services (like the College Board) are cleaning up.
  2. See Amazing Kids and their Mind-Blowing Projects at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, 2009 [from Wired: GeekDad] - Be inspired!
  3. Use Windows Live Search to do your Algebra! [via Lifehacker] - Great, now our kids will never know how to solve equations on their own!
  4. The Best Places to Find Good Education Blogs [from Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day]
  5. LearningZen - I learned about this new e-learning community via email, and the concept is pretty interesting: basically anyone can design and teach a course, or take one offered by someone else for free. I haven't had a chance to fully explore it yet, so if you do, please email me or leave a comment.
On a side note, I am always seeking more submissions for the 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons community project! There are many areas of the education world that haven't been explored yet, so don't hestitate to contribute. Read more about the project, write your brilliant entry, then email me at teachforever AT gmail DOT com.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Rap With a Positive Message: Read a Book!

A colleague shared this with me this week. I thought some of you might enjoy it.

You can watch the uncensored version here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons #18: Just Answer The Question

This week's entry comes from Sandra Kee, who describes herself as an "unschooling mom of two (now aged 12 and 10), former Montessori teacher former Waldorf and Enki teacher trainer."

Just answer the question.

Don't tell them what you think they should know. Don't tell them more than they want to know. Don't answer some question you suppose they are asking.

Observe them deeply and answer what they are burning to know. That is the lesson they will remember.

Read more about this project here or add the 52 teachers 52 lessons tag to your favorites. Email your entries to teachforeverATgmailDOTcom. Week 19 will be posted next Monday, May 25th (Memorial Day).

Friday, May 15, 2009

Five (Plus Five) for Friday: Back from the Dead Edition!

The last few weeks have been particularly rough, and one of the victims has been my Five for Friday link sharing series. So this week, I'm giving you ten (5+5) hand-picked resources and articles:
  1. Free Web Browser-Based Teleprompter [from Technology Education Know-How]
  2. The Blue Man Group Opens a School [from Inc. magazine, May 2009] - Did you hear about this? It sounds like they're following a lot of the ideals that homeschoolers and unschoolers subscribe to, except for the whole having a school thing (not to mention the tuition). [BONUS! More on the school from Time magazine]
  3. Review: "Mathematical World" [from f(t)] - Kate reviews a CD full of high quality math-related images that teachers could use to better illustrate a wide range of concepts. It makes me want to go out and take more pictures myself, as well as search on photo-sharing sites to make some kind of free math image list.
  4. Math Meets Meteorology: New TV Show for Kids on Climate Change [from Wired: GeekDad]
  5. Reconsider Your Reality [from Education Innovation] - An interesting slideshow to get you thinking over weekend.
  6. Do You Analyze Student Work to Improve Your Teaching? [from TLN Teacher Voices] - The summer is quickly approaching, and this article reminds me of how important it is to reflect and take notes on what worked and didn't work while things are still fresh in my mind!
  7. 9 Reasons To Quit Teaching (And 10 Reasons to Stick) [from So You Want To Teach?] - Joel recently started revisiting some of his best posts, and considering the time of year, it's worth reading (or rereading).
  8. Brazen Luther King [from This Brazen Teacher] - In March, Brazen's art class faced the kind of treatment that so many teachers face when schools are overcome by testing madness. Here, she takes a cue from Dr. King and talks about her dream for herself and her students.
  9. Chris Brown and Rihanna: What The Survey Really Means [from Ghetto Uprising via Universal Hub] - When this incident first happened, a survey of Boston teenagers showed a disturbing percentage of students thought Rihanna was at fault for getting beat up. Harold Clemens, a local teacher, discusses what these young people may have been thinking.
  10. This is why we don't use Wikipedia [from School of Blog] - A cautionary tale.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The First Teacher Commandment?

Thou shalt get a good night's sleep as often as possible.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What 21st Century Skills Should Mean

Last week, my school had a presentation during professional development by Promethean, one of many companies specializing in educational technology.

I have seen many presentations about smartboards and classroom response systems (commonly known as "clickers") over the years, and I'm happy to report this is the first time I wasn't the only person in the room who wasn't at all impressed by what I saw. In short, they're gimmicks. As my colleagues were quick to point out, the presenter used it as little more than a glorified PowerPoint presentation; it was completely teacher-centered. Of course, in practice you could have students do a lot more with it, but is it really any better than having them go up to the board, or write something on the overhead, or participate in a well-designed lesson?

Now, I'm willing to admit that in the right hands, this could be a powerful tool to not only keep students' attention and keep them on task but actually help them learn. Unfortunately, I get the impression that most proponents seem to think the former is as important as the latter. This month's Instructor magazine happens to have a cover story about smartboards, and both the author and the teachers interviewed seemed to agree with that as well. Everything they mention doing in class could be done quite easily with just an LCD projector, or no technology at all. I know getting students engaged is essential to teach them anything, but one doesn't automatically result in the other.

I'm reading more and more about how our students need "21st century skills," without any consensus about what that means. The presenter seemed to believe that smartboards were the answer, but is manipulating a touchscreen the essential technological skill every occupation will soon require? If so, aren't iPhone-style smartphones or cutting-edge mp3 players more powerful, flexible and cost-effective tools that students should be mastering instead?

Much of the educational technology sold to us as the solution to these problems are not authentic to what students often learn on their own outside of school and what they actually need in the real world. Students need to learn about using software efficiently and effectively on multiple platforms, basic programming, and learning to fix and avoid security issues for many jobs now, and especially jobs in the future. More importantly, students will continue to need the ability to create and collaborate on projects using an ever-evolving set of web-based applications. We should be figuring out how to have students learning with iPods, smartphones, digital audio and video equipment--these are the technologies they'll need to know in the near future.

The focus of all of these efforts should be on the one thing that engages most of our students already, the one thing every 21st century career will require now and forever: creating powerful content, no matter the medium.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What Can I Do With...? Volume 1

This year has been a turning point in my relationship with stuff.

You could chalk it up to living in a small apartment in one of the most expensive cities in the country, the stress of moving all of my stuff annually for the last six years, or simply realizing that very little of it makes me happy. So this year I've sold, swapped, donated, recycled or thrown away more of my stuff than I ever thought possible.

In what I hope to become a regular feature, I have a list of stuff I've kept solely for classroom use but that I'm not sure what to do with. I've been trying to come up with academic or culture-building purposes for these things, but unfortunately they're just taking up space.

So I'm reaching out for ideas, as well as providing a forum for others to solicit ideas for their potentially useful stuff. What can I do with...
  1. ...a disco ball? - I think I used this once in class, but I can't remember the reason. This is the sort of novelty lighting you buy at Spencer's in the mall. I've always had this vision of roller-skating around the classroom with disco ball going, and what a memorable moment that would be, but I haven't been able to come up with any legitimate reason for doing so. (Never mind that I don't have skates.)
  2. ...Trivial Pursuit? - I've always loved this game, even when I was too young to know any of the answers, but I've never found an opportunity to use this in school. I think it might work well for those long hours after standardized testing or benchmarking when we're just sitting around, but I wonder if there's a better academic use for this.
  3. ...Clue: The Simpsons Edition? Do today's kids even play Clue anymore?
  4. ...Miniature foam footballs? I have a half dozen of these from a car insurance company giveaway that I've been saving. Does anyone have a fun, simple football-themed review game or math lesson I could use these with
  5. ...paper sandwich bags? I have used some of these for separating out decks for card games, but I feel like there's untapped potential here. Is it time to start an algebra puppet show?
Your ideas and suggestions will help me decide whether to hold on to this stuff or find a better place for it. As I said, feel free to share your own stuff in need of a good idea in the comments as well. Thank you!

Monday, May 11, 2009

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons #17: Integrate Visual Arts

This week's entry comes from This Brazen Teacher, art teacher and blogger extraordinaire.

When adult-folk discover I teach Elementary Art- virtually all will say: “Oh, kids must love you… all kids love Art.” Which is true, children DO love art. In many subjects rules and correct answers prevail, but in Art students are encouraged to make judgments between qualitative relationships, which is a welcome escape. Kiddos continue to love Art until a limited instruction schedule inhibits further growth (one hour a week ain’t cutting it), a poor Art Instructor discourages them, or a sensitive ego causes many to give up. If it were up to me, all children would get Art instruction everyday. That’s a bone to chew another day. The reason I get steamed, is that often these kids grow into adults who say things like: “Yeah, I used to love Art when I was little, but I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler…”

Which explains why most teachers shy away from using Visual Arts to enhance their curriculum. This would be fine if it weren’t untrue. Being an Artist is less about “drawing pretty pictures,” and more about using visual media to express ideas, personal feelings, or send a message. Check that term “VISUAL MEDIA” because it can mean: photography, collage, video/ multi-media, type design, found object sculpture… You don’t need to be “Vincent Van Gogh Reincarnate” to incorporate the Arts into your curriculum.

An example:

Instead of assigning a report on Famous Americans, study American Artist Aminah Robinson and have students create their own Unwritten Love Letter. This lesson requires equivalent amounts of research, yet stimulates students to use creative thinking skills, rather than “regurgitating-facts-for-a-grade-skills.” If certain students are drawing challenged, adapt the lesson by integrating photography, lettering, and collage.

If all kids love creating and expressing themselves visually- shouldn’t you jump on this bandwagon? Here are a few Internet resources to help integrate the Visual Arts into your classroom:
Read more about this project here or add the 52 teachers 52 lessons tag to your favorites. Email your entries to teachforeverATgmailDOTcom. Week 18 will be posted next Monday, May 18th.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Book That Made Me Love Math Again (And The Class It Inspired)

For the final quarter of school, a colleague and I decided to teach a 50 minute, twice-a-week elective course called "Advanced Math and Logic". Several students had approached us, some looking for something different and others looking to challenge themselves before attempting college math next year, so we set off to design something that would introduce them to high-level concepts while focusing on logic and problem solving that they could use in any course.

I wasn't sure exactly what shape the course was going to take, but then I started reading What's Math Got to Do with It? by Jo Boaler over my April vacation two weeks ago. Boaler, a math professor at Stanford, tries to get to the bottom of what's wrong (and right) with math education in America (a topic dear to my heart). It was the project-based, problem solving approach used by successful schools she profiled that set me off on the task of creating the most exciting math class possible.

One problem she observed a school using was the Four-Color Theorem, which became one of the first concepts we explored in my class. It set me off on a search for more books with interesting math challenges that connected to theories and ideas we normally didn't cover in high school.

When I hosted the Math Teachers at Play carnival recently, I mentioned how a book I read over my April vacation had me rethinking everything from my classroom structure to my future. The more I think about it, the more I realize that this book has made me love math again. I can't remember the last time I could say that.

The book is Professor Stewart's Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities by Ian Stewart, prolific math and science author and Professor of Mathematics at the University of Warwick in England. With deadpan humor and dead simple prose, Professor Stewart breaks down exciting areas of mathematics that we rarely get to touch in algebra, geometry or even calculus.

A portion of the book deals with classic and original math puzzles, while the rest is split between interesting anecdotes about famous mathematicians and stories behind solved and unsolved problems. After reading the book, I decided to divide each class in half: the first part working on logic puzzles and problems, and the second connecting those problems to the theories behind them. This would keep the class engaging and set it distinctly apart from our regular math classes.

In the last two weeks we've had four successful classes, covering different areas of topology, including knot theory (and its important uses), Mobius strips, and the Konigsberg Bridge Problem. This week we'll start discussing cellular automata, such as Conway's Game of Life.

This whole process is probably more exciting for me than even the students (who seem to be very engaged in what we're doing), mostly because I've never really been able to teach any of these topics in my Algebra I or II classes. More importantly, I'm imagining an entirely new first day of school, where we start the year off with mind-blowing Mobius strip activities or classic math puzzles. I'm imagining ways to integrate pretty much everything we're doing into my classes on a regular basis, which would help me get closer to the kind of can't-miss, what-are-we-going-to-learn-today anticipation that I've always wanted my classroom to have.

These are some of the topics we've covered or will cover for these last few weeks of school:
  • Topology (Mobius strips, Klein bottles, knot theory, etc)
  • Cellular automata and complex systems
  • Chaos Theory
  • Game Theory
  • Probability and statistics
  • Maybe economics (from the Freakonomics point of view) or cryptography
The list of topics is still evolving as I study more and gauge what the students are most interested in. Stewart's book, as well as a personal interest in creating educational games, inspired me to seek out a book on game theory. I've been thoroughly enthralled with Len Fisher's Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life, which breaks down the essential dilemmas in a way that I think my students will appreciate when we start to explore it. I also have realized that game theory is the reason many of the strategies and systems in my classroom work, because I was applying the principles without even knowing it!

Stewart's book is the best starting point for teachers looking to keep students interested as the school year winds down, as it has many ready-to-use puzzles you can start with. I think the other ideas he covers will then get you off and running, as it did for me, into other areas you can explore with your kids.

Remember, the best benefit of all of this is investing your students in the idea that math is fun, everywhere around us, and encompasses so much more than preparing for multiple-choice tests!

Stay tuned over the next few weeks for more specific lesson ideas and resources to make these concepts come to life in the classroom! I also look forward to seeing what others have to share in the comments.

Monday, May 4, 2009

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons #16: On Homeschooling

This week's entry comes from Jim Jenkins, a homeschooler from the southeast US:

If you and your child are not suited to home-schooling, then don't.

We successfully home-schooled two daughters. They are both home-schooling their children today.

Our third daughter did not want home-schooling. All our attempts to build an environment that she could accept for home-schooling failed. In her teens, she insisted on formal schooling. Now she is the mother of a bright child, but she refuses to even consider home-schooling.

I hope you can do better with _all_ of your children, but - if you can't - please do not try to force it.

Read more about this project here or add the 52 teachers 52 lessons tag to your favorites. Email your entries to teachforeverATgmailDOTcom. Week 17 will be posted next Monday, May 11th.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Math Teachers At Play #6

Welcome to the May 1, 2009 edition of math teachers at play. I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to host this carnival, as it has helped me reflect on how much I actually try to have fun with and really explore the possibilities of mathematics. I had the week off last week, and spent much of the time delving into the puzzles, stories and jokes in the wonderful book Professor Stewart's Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities.

This book is so enthralling that I'm not only reexamining what I can do in my classroom but makes me want to do some graduate study in areas like topology, game theory and cellular automata. I'm covering some of these topics in an elective course at school, and whether you're a first time visitor or long time reader, you'll want to stop by next week to read more about my adventures in mathematics!

Let's kick off the carnival with a little poetry, by Vlorbik on Math Ed: MT@P posted at Community College Calculus.

Algebra & geometry

Maria Miller presents Zero Exponent - with a Pattern! posted at Homeschool Math Blog, saying, "Do you want to 'announce' mathematics to your students - or provide justifications, proofs, and explanations of the 'whys' behind it? Check how we can teach the zero exponent with a pattern."

John Cook presents Converting miles to degrees longitude or latitude posted at The Endeavour.


Jason Dyer presents Hot Dogs and Buns (Least Common Multiple) posted at The Number Warrior, saying, "Using an incongruous detail from daily life to teach least common multiple."

Jimmie presents Living Math with Area and Perimeter posted at One Child Policy Homeschool, saying, "Teaching my daughter (homeschool) area and perimeter from a hands-on approach."

Denise presents Kids? Project: More Math Calendars? posted at Let's play math!, saying, "Would your students like to submit puzzles for our next Math Calendar? You can use arithmetic, algebra, geometry, story problems, etc. — but remember that it has to fit inside a calendar square."

That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of math teachers at play using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

Technorati tags: , .