What are Our Kids Doing Online @ CJOB

Chris Harbeck and I will be guests tomorrow morning on the Richard Cloutier Reports show at our local radio station, CJOB.

The topic is "What are our kids doing online?" but I can see us talking about adults as well as how some sites are changing the way we connect socially, personally, and professionally at all ages.

You can listen live, streamed over the internet, but we'd rather have folks participate in the chat room we've created or via twitter. We're using the hash tag #cjob.

Chris has a much more detailed post up than I do. Head over there and check it out.

Hope to see you online and on the radio. ;-) The fun starts at about 9am central time in North America.

What's the Value Added?

Cross posted from a ning community I'm in.

Watch this first:

OK, so this is going to sound weird coming from a math teacher — I'm liable to be run out of the club for saying it — but, in most subjects, does every kid have to learn exactly the same stuff?

Here's what I'm thinking (and I don't think it's an original thought):

Don't send them home to read and listen to the lecture, send them home to take in a short (10-15 min video) or even a micro lecture. Then change the classroom into more of a lab or studio environment. Each kid produces a paper or other artifact of what they've learned and shares it with the rest of the class either face-to-face or online; they become expert in the area they've chosen to explore and at the same time develop the research skills to learn related content when needed.

The question I try to ask myself is: What is the value added for my students by being in the same room with me? If I recorded my lecture (video or audio) and they watched it at home, did the assignments and handed them in, would they be missing something by not being here physically?

I do think my students gain value by being in the same room with me, but most often when I speak very little. I let them work through the problem(s), debate and defend their work with each other, and only towards the end, when they've collectively sucked the marrow from the bones of the problem do I either ask another question that fires them all up again or draw their attention to the finer points of how best to share their thinking on paper.

This is what the video I embedded above suggests to me. I know I'm not there yet, but man! I'd like to be.

Thought Provoking Images ...

... not all, but many of them. What I really like about this set is that the fellow who puts them together often references and links to the source articles or research where the snippets are taken from.

If one of these images (all cc, I asked) strikes you in some way, follow the link back and copy it to the comments here maybe sharing what struck you. I'll start it off below.

I'm not sure if images will embed in the comments here (I'm testing this with my first comment below) but I've got apture installed on my blog so linking to the image should create a popup view of it when you hover over the link; like this.

David After 5 Years

One of my students came into class today and wanted to share a funny video with the class. I had already seen it and I laughed too; at first. Then I got to thinking.

This video has gone viral; over 15 million views to date.

Searching YouTube for David After Dentist reveals over 1800 results. In classic YouTube fashion, the video has been remixed and parodied. You'll also find that since the video went viral there is now a blog collating all the remixes, parodies, other humourous and viral videos, an Amazon store, various other ways of monetizing the video of a 7 year old boy who went to the dentist, was medicated, and took a while to fully recover his senses.

I wonder how young David is going to feel about all this in five years; when he's in high school. As he struggles to establish his own identity and "fit in," how will he feel if (when?) this video resurfaces and spreads throughout the school?

I wonder if David's parents have fully thought through the future ramifications for David; from the point of view of his future self.

It's cliché; the internet changes everything. That includes our perception of time. I think this is a really important thing to get our heads around: digital footprints can last a lifetime.

It used the be the foolish things kids did faded with people's memories. The internet has a better memory. I think kids today need to learn not only to "think before you post", but to think, from the perspective of ALL your future selves, before you post.

What Do We HAVE To Memorize?

I've had the same comment surface in several, unrelated conversations I've had with colleagues lately. All math teachers. In each case we were discussing some aspect of the curriculum and at one point they invariably say: "Y'know, you just have to memorize that."


Driving my son and a friend of his home yesterday we were talking. They started talking about tests they have coming up in various classes. They listed those classes where "you just have to memorize that stuff." Again, math was one of those classes.

So really, what do we absolutely have to memorize in math? I do not teach memorization, although I too have told my students that they have to commit certain things to memory. In each case I emphasize they should not memorize individual facts, rather, they should identify patterns and recall the patterns. I teach mnemonics. (Is that splitting hairs?) For example, how many patterns can you find in these two columns of numbers?


So really, what do we HAVE to memorize in math?

Photo Credit: day.304: Big-O by flickr user Mad African!

Sharpening The Saw

I've been using a SMARTboard in my class for a little more than two years now. I know I've seen dramatic growth in the way I teach and present information to my students in no small part because of it.

I'd like to publish a series of posts transparently sharing how I use the SMARTboard to teach math and encourage anyone who reads/hears it to leave me suggetsions on how I might better use the affordances offered by the SB. Please share your critiques, comments, concerns, questions, complaints, confusions, uncertainties, anxieties, and suggestions for improvement with me by leaving a comment on this post or directly in the VoiceThread I've created to share my process.

I'd encourage other teachers to do the same; we could learn a lot from each other this way.


Teaching Slides
Student Authoured Scribe Post


My Class Blogs: Part 2

Here's Part 1 if you missed it.

The first 7 to 10 days of the semester are busy, particularly the first 2 or 3. I ask each student to email me and mention the class they are taking with me and what period it's in. (Each class has their own blog.) This allows me to "capture" their email addresses in my gmail account so I can communicate with them as needed later. I copy and paste their email addresses (I hate typing long lists) into the appropriates space on the blog and invite them to be contributors to our blog. (In Blogger go to: SETTINGS > PERMISSIONS > scroll down and click on ADD AUTHOURS) I use a group blog model; each class has their own blog which will serve as the social and academic hub of our time learning together.

In our first class I discuss the same things you do: class expectations (mine of them and theirs of me), give a quick overview of the course, and something I call The Critical Path to Success. I also discuss the class blog, how scribe posts work (their contributions), and how I post the daily lesson slides to the blog and occasionally share "links for learning" (my contributions). One of the best descriptions of scribe posts I've ever read I discovered yesterday on one of the class blogs. It was in the chatbox (more about this in my next post); written by one student to another explaining what they were supposed to do when it was their turn to be scribe. PJ said:

A scribe post is basically like you are teaching the class again, but this time in your words in a way that other people can understand it. You can also recap other important things that we talk about in class (like Pi Day) so that if someone was away in our class, they would know what they missed. Also don't forget that when you scribe, you get the power to choose the next scribe.

I thought it kind of cool that he described choosing the next scribe as a "power".

The way I present information, and consequently they way I teach, has undergone dramatic growth in the last few years. I decided that I owed it to my students to develop an opening presentation that was similar to the sort of thing I do when giving a workshop. This is what my opening day talk looked like in the Fall of 2007. I podcasted this particular class so you can listen to me if you like, but I warn you, it's not compelling listening. ;-)

I updated it a bit for the Fall of 2008. This is what the latest incarnation of my opening day talk looks like:

There is no scribe for my first class which has no real mathematical content. There are also no scribes for tests days. Recently, some students have taken to publishing a personal reflection of how they felt the test went, inviting the rest of the class to share their thoughts in the comments. I love the spontaneous incidental learning and thinking that comes of students habitually publishing their thinking.

By the next morning I'll have a small handful of students signed up as contributors to the class blog. I ask for one of them to volunteer to be the scribe for that first class and remind them that they must finish their scribe by choosing the next scribe, which can be anyone in the class, and by labeling (other blog platforms call this "categories") their scribe post properly ("First Name", "Unit Title", Scribe Post). This kicks off the students beginning to take responsibility for their own learning and each other. I never choose a scribe; they do. If the scribe is absent for class one day I tell the students that they have to figure out who will cover for the absent student and decide how they want to manage this. Sometimes I lean back against the board at the front of the room and wait several minutes until they start talking and get it all sorted. I'm consistently clear that this is their responsibility; not mine.

I also begin discussing ethical online behaviour, alerting students to some of the things that can happen when we publish content online. At the end of the day I publish a post to the blog called Digital Ethics which is required reading for everyone.

In my next post in this series I'll talk a little more about the follow up to the Digital Ethics post and The Scribe List which I post to the blog as we continue getting organized for the semester. I'll also touch on how the blog evolves as a learning ecology and how I deal with certain pitfalls like students that don't have computers, email accounts, hit technical snags, or don't register for the blog. (I know I'd said I'd do that this time, but next time a really will. ;-) )

Photo Credit: Farewell February by flickr user Cayusa

Problem Solving

For two years now I've been thinking that the solutions to the world's present and future problems will be found in the interstices between the disciplines rather than any one discipline. I foresee a time when Nobel Prizes will be shared by people who work in the arts and the sciences; a musician and a biologist or an artist and a mathematician. So along comes these two TED talks given by two different scientists from two geographically distant places exploring incredibly complex and difficult problems and finding solutions in the interstices between their own field of study and a host of others.

Like William Gibson said: "The future is here. It's just not evenly distributed." Yet.

A powerful argument for the importance of learning collaboration.