Friday, August 13, 2010

Time to congratulate this term's' grads

I am struggling with a laptop keyboard that isn't cooperating entirely. For some reason the key strokes hold back and the space bar isn't reliable. Did I say "For some reason?" Actually, the sound system of my laptop had stopped working perfectly and rather than settle for 80% function, I decided to invoke my extended warranty and get if fixed. Two mother boards later and I'm not quite back to the 80% I originally felt cheated by because in the process of opening and closing and fiddling and fitting, the space bar has begun to stick unless I hit it dead center with my thumb and sometimes there's a time lag between hitting the keys and seeing the letters on the screen. Do I dare call the serviceman again and this time ask for a new keyboard? I guess I'll give it a couple of weeks to see if it settles down a bit, but this is driving me nuts!!!!!!


The real purpose of this post is to say congratulations to all of the people who are finishing EDIM everything tonight. I know about Rod Murray (Canadian!!!) and Emma Haygood, but I suspect there are others of you our there, and I'm issuing an invitation to all EDIM alums to create a slide for our new Google Doc.

What should you put there? Something about your best take-away from the program, a link to your best project, a note about how doing this program has transformed you or the way you think or feel about your work, or your best advice to other students to come, grad photos (at home or in Philly) or ??????

Here's the link: I still have one course to go, so I'll start with a title page and some guidelines.

I hope this document will grow and inspire other teachers to try the program and stick with it when the dark moments hit and you feel all alone on your side of the computer. Meanwhile -- congratulations on your return to a life without "Post by Tuesday and respond by Friday" deadlines.

(Image source:


And finally to Karena our advisor -- congratulations to you too. If I'm not mistaken, you've finished your own degree this week as well!!!!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Writer's Drought Begone

As the title suggests, the past few weeks have been low ones for me when it comes to thinking of ideas to for this blog. I've been working my way through Digital Storytelling (DST) -- but even that was in a singularly uninspired way. I've had to dredge up ideas from the depths to complete the assignments, and I have no one but myself to blame. The course is a good one and Joe Brennan is a great instructor, but I just haven't felt that my story ideas have been particularly inspired.

In retrospect I think I let the good ship DST sail without me. I could have used the course as a arena for exploring how to breathe more life into math teaching (my current crusade and passion) by giving students alternatives to the endless piles of questions we think will ensure they learn and that their learning lasts, but I didn't. As a result, I've gained a lot of knowledge about storytelling techniques, but I let the struggles I have with cameras and picture-taking bog me down and stayed with safe topics. I made several nice pieces, but I didn't really push myself to test how DST could have helped me be a better math teacher.

Last night in the final discussion forum I found an interesting problem posed by Dianne Clowes, one of the women in the course:
"Next year, due to budget constraints, I will have to teach some math classes. I have already considered ways to incorporate DS in my math classes but maybe someone can give me some suggestions as to how I can do it with this objective: Solve multi-step linear equations with one variable with the variable on one and two sides of the equation. I have an idea of what I could do but would enjoy hearing some ideas."
Here is my response:
I think that part of the problem with trying to use digital resources in math is that we have such 'crappy' big ideas to work with and that is a perfect example. To help students develop more personal connections to this kind of learning I think it's important to step back from the math and see if there is a larger understanding that overarches the particular objective or standard. I wonder if in this case the bigger learning is that an equals sign in an equation is like the balance point of a teeter totter and that whatever you do on one side, you must do the same way to the other side to maintain the balance. Perhaps it's that when you know all the elements of a problem except one, you can rearrange the elements you know to find the one you don't know. Can you think of a related science concept [she normally teaches science] you might use to illustrate this bigger idea? If so you could make the digital story for them as a sort of mystery to be solved. (Please share if one comes to mind. I'd love an example to use when I work with math teachers this fall.)
I went on with an explanation of what Dan Meyer (my math teaching hero) might say:
I think Dan might advise us to pose the students a real problem and let them struggle with how how to solve it before we even give them the math terms and tools. (Sample problems: How can you figure out what mark you need on the next test to maintain your average? How can you figure out how much money you need to earn from your after school job next month to have enough to buy an iPhone?) He'd have them use stories (digital or otherwise) to explain and illustrate how they came up with their solutions and why their method works. He might talk about what the students' solutions had in common and which offered methods that could be applied in other situations. Only after would he explain that math substitutes a letter for the unknown (to make it easier to talk about) and then offers a reliable process people can use to take a lot of the guesswork out of these kinds of tasks. Once the students have a deeper appreciation of what equation solving is used for, it will seem less disconnected from their lives and the learning of the process (which is what your standard is expressing) will be embedded in an experience they have shared and that is based in a real life situation.
And then of course this morning I came across what Dan actually wrote a couple of months ago about Storytelling and what he calls WCYDWT (What Can You Do With This). Dan's point is that the best stories don't give all the answers but lead us to them and let us drink ourselves. They entice, allude to, and reveal just enough to enable the viewer to make the connections. They aren't 'tell-all' exposés. He asks teachers to use stories to "perplex" and then to help the students create stories which will recreate the experience of their own exhilaration about learning inside the viewer. [Note: this assumes that students in math classes experience that kind of excitement in the first place.]

There's the challenge then -- to teach in such a way that more learnable moments become exciting -- not just to us and to the math-loving students in our classes -- but to all the kids and then to give our students opportunities to capture their learning and all the feelings that went with it in stories of their own. If we can get students to package their math learning inside meaningful stories their recall of the story-creating event will open the door to the content we wanted them to learn. They will not be storing their math learning in some impenetrable vault deep in their longterm memory. Instead, every time the visions of their stories sparkle and dance in they will be rehearsing the embedded math. What a way to engage their subconscious in keeping their math learning fresh!

Here's the Math Promo I did as an assignment for the 504 course. It needs work, but perhaps I'm on the right track.