Thursday, September 7, 2017

The World's Greatest Collaborative Project: Replicating Eratosthenes' Measurement

Measuring shadows in Passic, NJ (2006)
Back in 2010 John Burk wrote about this measurement in his blog:
"I’ve wanted to do this experiment ever since I was a sophomore in high school, and heard of how Eratosthenes was able to measure the circumference of the earth just by looking down a well in a couple of towns in Egypt 2000 years ago. A few years ago, when I was at a boarding school, I even got up on stage and challenged the students to come with me to measure the earth with a stick, but somehow, I never followed through. This year, I had the equinox marked on my calendar, and contacted my reliable, physics partner in crime, Frank Noschese. [...] We thought it would be great to give skype a shot, and try reproduce the Eratosthenes measurement between our two classrooms." (Read John’s entire blog.)
I too was inspired to recreate the measurement way back in 1972. Here’s what I wrote about it iin my book “The Wannado Curriculum” starting on page 100:
"In 1972, I came across an article in an issue of NCTM’s The Mathematics Teacher that described one teacher’s effort to collaborate with another school in an attempt to duplicate the astonishing experiment in which Eratosthenes successfully measured the circumference of the earth from Alexandria, Egypt, in approximately 200 BCE. I was inspired to try the activity with my second-year algebra class. I attempted to involve two schools—one in Michigan and the other in Florida—but sadly, nothing materialized.
Fast forward to 1995. While creeping along the Internet (surfing was in its infancy), I read that a high school mathematics teacher in Illinois was hosting something that she called the Noon Observation Project. It turned out to be a worldwide collaboration among schools that sought to recreate what Eratosthenes had done so long before. Because the experiment required participants to measure shadows at about the same time (when the sun was at its highest point in the sky), “real-time” communication was extremely important."

Fast Forward to today. You too can recreate the measurement! It's a great way to kick off the school year with your students. The easiest way to do this is to participate in the World Wide Noon Day Observation Project starting this week.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Tech Use in Math Classes Continues to be Minimal

This year's edition of the "Technology Counts" survey from Education Week found 74% of eighth-grade math students "never or hardly ever" use computers in class, and just 1% of students say they use computers in math class daily, according to EdTech: Focus on K-12. (more)

While the percentage of students who use a computer in math class at least once every few weeks has been steadily increasing over the past few years, 74 percent of eighth-grade math students report they never or hardly ever use computers in class. (more)

Every once in a while I come across articles like this that remind me that we still have a long way to go in order to get school districts to get their teachers to use computers in teaching math. When teachers are asked why they don't, they usually come up with at least one of these reasons:
  • Lack of of necessary equipment and/or software
  • Not enough teacher training
  • Preperation for testing doesn't allow for time to "explore" with computers
And thus the beat continues.

I recently got a copy of NCTM's Taking Action: Implementing Effective Mathematics Teaching Practices for Grades 6-8 hoping to see how the guiding principle of "technology as a tool" would be highlighted especially in this grade band where using technology can be so effective. But alas there was almost no mention of technology until the last chapter (which has the same name as the title of the book). There they indicated that technology should be used appropriately. Even in the video vignettes there were no computers involved only graphing calculators mostly sitting on tables and not used by the students. Clearly the focus of Taking Action (6-8) is about effective mathematics teaching practices without computers.

I can see value for using this book with teachers involved in lesson study or at the university level. I don't think very many teachers will use it as a guide for teaching because it's too much like a textbook for teachers learning how to teach math. Anyone agree or disagree with me? Let's have a "conversation" at #climetech.


Monday, August 14, 2017

Remembering Sharon Dugdale & Don Cohen

Sharon Dugdale & Don Cohen
I've been amiss in not sharing earlier the passing of two wonderful educators (here and here) both of whom were influential in my thinking about teaching math (Don) and using technology (Sharon) to empower my students.  In the 1970's both Sharon and Don worked with Plato an early prototype of a computer-assisted instruction system that ran educational software. Don shared an example of software that was a part of the Madison Math curriculum with me at a conference in 1977. Sharon worked earlier on the Plato system to develop a fractions curriculum (including Darts and Green Globs - 2 of my all time favorites) which are still available today. Don went on to work with students (ages 3 to 73) for 38 years teaching them a variety of math topics including Calculus for 4th graders. My condolences to both their families.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Top Education Researchers Jump Ship to Join Digital Promise

Dr. Jeremy Roschelle and Dr. Barbara Means
"Education research is about to pick up its clock speed.

When people talk about the “gold standard” of research, the name SRI International often comes up. Now they will have to add Digital Promise to that list.

Nonprofit Digital Promise said today that two of education’s leading researchers, Dr. Barbara Means and Dr. Jeremy Roschelle, who had co-directed the Center for Technology in Learning at SRI, are joining Digital Promise. Means and Roschelle plan to create a new research center at Digital Promise that will help scientists look for ways to better tie research to practice in the classroom."

So begins the article (title of this post) about two outstanding researchers in the area of technology and education. Jeremy has been a long time friend of CLIME and his research in technology and math have forwarded CLIME's thinking in how technology can be used effectively in the math classroom. Their new plans at Digital Promise sound exciting and we at CLIME look forward to following their progress. Here's the link to the article noted in the title. Also a link to some of their their planned work at Digital Promise.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

ALC brings Equity & Advocacy to the Forefront

Figure 1.
I attended the ALC (Affiliates Leadership Conference) last week in Baltimore where the theme was “Intent to Impact: Addressing Access, Equity, and Advocacy in your Affiliate” (1).  One of the goals of the conference was for each affiliate to come up with a game plan to forward the action on this theme in their affiliate group. CLIME had already considered what to do about contributing to NCTM's advocacy positions (2) on this topic. CLIME will collect stories about how districts are making sure that ALL their students have access to computer devices and appropriate resources to ensure powerful learning. This will hopefully contribute to inspiring districts to pursue the vision of liberation (see figure 1) in the way they structure their school environments and curriculum.

Our first story is about Kerease Epps "Using Math To Multiply Access For All Students" a blogpost on the LEE (Leadership for Educational Equality) website.

Chicago native Kerease Epps (TFA Detroit ’13) knew growing up that the system she was a part of as a Chicago Public Schools student wasn’t one that gave all students a fair chance. Now as a recruitment manager for an education nonprofit dedicated to closing the achievement gap in mathematics, she’s working to ensure that students get the support they need to succeed.

Explain what led you to care deeply about educational equity. What personal values, experiences or beliefs inform this?
I was born and raised on the Southside of Chicago and attended Chicago Public Schools (CPS) for my entire academic career prior to college. (more)

For more stories about math, technology and minorities see link.

Footnotes:

(1) Affiliates are organized by geographic area or a specific topic in mathematics education. The topical groups - 11 in all - are called Affiliates-at-Large. CLIME with their focus on technology is an affiliate-at-large group. (See the directory of all affiliate groups.)

(2) Access, Equity and Empowerment: Advance knowledge about, and infuse in every aspect of mathematics education a culture of equity where each and every person has access to and is empowered by the opportunities mathematics affords.
Advocacy: Engage in public and political advocacy to focus policymakers and decision makers on improving learning and teaching mathematics.
Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment: Provide guidance and resources for developing and implementing mathematics curriculum, instruction and assessment that are coherent, focused well articulated and consistent with research in the field, and focused on increasing student learning.
Professional development: Provide professional development to all stakeholders to help ensure each and every student receives the highest quality mathematics education.
Research: Ensure that sound research in integrated into all activities of the Council.
Technology: Promote strategic use of technology to advance mathematical reasoning, sense making, problem solving and communication.

(Approved by the NCTM board of Directors, October 20, 2012.)

Friday, July 28, 2017

Let's Retire #MTBoS?

In his latest blog Dan Meyer calls for retiring the hashtag MTBoS and replace it with #iteachmath. Dan writes:
"I’m not asking us to retire the #MTBoS (unabbreviated: the Math Twitterblogosphere) the collection of people, ideas, and relationships that has provided the most satisfying professional development and community of my life. I’m asking us to stop referring to it as “the MTBoS” and to stop using the hashtag “#MTBoS” in online conversations.
That’s because this community is only as good as the people we invite into it. We currently represent only the tiniest fraction of the math teachers in the world, which means we (and I’d like to believe they also) are missing out.
That fraction will stay tiny so long as our name alienates people. And it alienates people. [...] So I’m going to stop referring to my participation in “the MTBoS” and instead talk about how much I love “Math Teacher Twitter.” I’m going to stop tweeting using “#MTBoS” and instead tweet using “#iteachmath.” (more of his blogpost)
 I'm not quite sure what to make of it.

 I'm a little confused. :-) I agree with Dan that MTBoS is a little off-putting and another, better name would improve things. But not #iteachmath which is too general and misses the point of MTBoS which is a group of math educators that tweet and/or blog and those folks need to continue to share their empowerment in using those tools.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Youtube's Take on the Future of Education

I’ve been spending some time looking at Youtube videos about math education and education in general and came up with two  interesting ones with contrasting points of view. First there is “This Will Revolutionize Education” (7:06/1,558,501 views) where the speaker's main conclusion is: "For as transformative as technology seems to be (…) what really matters is what happens inside the learner's head and making a learner think seems best achieved in a social environment with other learners and a caring teacher.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Not terribly earth shattering. Hard to disagree with that one. But a revolution? I don’t think so. We have had great teachers for ever. (You can find out what it takes to be one with a simple google search.)  In other words, the speaker in the video still believes that this low tech approach will spurn a revolution. Unfortunately the great teachers live on the high end of the bell curve and in all of the years of school reform movements the bell curve hasn’t shifted all that much so I have little confidence that just focusing on improving teachers will make the revolution happen any time soon.

On the other hand CGP Grey in "Digital Aristole: Thoughts on the Future of Education” (5:43/1,511,488 views) doesn’t claim that a revolution in high tech tools will alter the teacher performance bell curve, but rather will send the average teacher from their central position at the front of the class to being a guide on the side. And if the curriculum materials are more engaging for students they may actually learn more than the average student in a more traditional setting. What the author suggests is that every student be given a “digital Aristotle” since having a real Aristotle
available for 1-1 tutoring is not humanly possible, too expensive and not as gifted a teacher as Aristotle was. The Internet has opened up the possibility for great learning. But this doesn’t mean teaching the same old curriculum with shiny new things. Also having personal tutors like Salman Khan available doesn’t guarantee effective personalized learning. What Grey does envision is adaptive technology that will personalize learning in a way that will motivate, inspire and empower students to learn things they are interested in. His vision of a digital Aristotle for everyone will tutor students individually and adapt appropriately over time to produce the most effective resources for each individual student to determine scientifically what works best. He uses Khan Academy as an example of where we are now, but in the future the software will result in a more personalized and effective learning modality that is better than what the average teacher can do with students today.

Being the president of a technology oriented organization you might suspect that I would lean towards Grey’s vision and less towards the human revolution promoted by the previous video. But I’m inspired by both visions. The problem is that we pundits take sides and that doesn’t help in creating a future for our students and teachers that is better than what we have now. What we need is a future where students are pursuing learning things that they are interested in in a deep way. And the teachers job is to guide their students to achieve not only their goals, but also their dreams.