Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Dear President-Elect Trump - I Would Like to Apply for the Secretary of Education Position

Dear President-Elect Trump,

I have sent you two direct tweets asking for you to please consider me for the position of Secretary of Education, to which I have only received a 'form DM' response, complete with a link to buy a t-shirt to make America Great.

I already think America is Great. Which is why I am concerned about your current nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. As a person who has devoted myself to education for over 26 years, I am concerned that this choice will make the public education in the United States fall even further behind and become even more inequitable. For this reason, I am throwing my name in the hat. I feel I am a much better choice to help get our U.S. education to a better place, and I would like to outline my qualifications as compared to Ms. DeVos.

First, let me say, I am very serious. While I realize you have made an initial nomination, the approval is a ways off and I think if you had some concrete facts you might find there is a better option out there. I would like the opportunity. While I have never been politically inclined, I am passionate about teachers, students, and our great system of education, and I feel it is my civic duty to apply for this position in order to prevent a potential de-construction of some hard work that has been going on for a long time in our great education system.  Are there problems? Absolutely. Equity being one of the biggest concerns. And a concern that will only get worse under the direction of Ms. DeVos, a very public supporter of for-profit education, which directly undermines the idea of education-for-all that America stands for. The poor and under-served will only fall further behind.

Below is a quick side-by-side comparison of my qualifications for Secretary of Education compared to Ms. DeVos.

Dr. Karen M. Greenhaus Qualifications
Ms. Betsy DeVos Qualifications
Attended public schools from K-12 in Fairfax, VA
Attended private, Christian-based schools in Michigan (from what I could find in my research)
  • Attended public colleges and received three education degrees:
  • 1988 B.S. Mathematics Education, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA
  • 1993 M.A. Curriculum & Instruction, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
  • 2014 Ed.D. Curriculum and Education Technology, The College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA

  • Attended private college and received a non-education related degree:
  • 1979 B.A. Political Science and Business Administration from Calvin College, a private, Christian Reform College in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Experience in the public and higher education field:
  • 15 years - Middle School and High School math teacher and math department chair in Chesterfield, Hanover, Chesapeake Counties, public school districts in VA
  • 2 years – Secondary Math Supervisor/Specialist, overseeing 250 math teachers, curriculum, and professional development in Virginia Beach, VA
  • 6 years – worked in math publishing and technology as Director of Edtech and Professional Development for two separate publishing companies (Key Curriculum/McGraw Hill Education). Supporting public school teachers in math, technology education, curriculum, standards
  • Over 17 years as an education advocate for quality education, hands-on learning, mathematics education, education policy, professional development. Speak at local, state and national education conferences, train around the world on math and technology integration, work with the Department of Defense Education Activities to support military students and teachers on effective implementation of College and Career Ready Standards, advocate for technology education, computer science, financial literacy, equity and access in public education.
  •  Have worked in multiple public school environments around the country and world (rural, suburban, urban, military)
  • Adjunct professer, Drexel University, for online math masters program courses, since May 2016

Experience in public education field:
  • None - has not worked in or had any experience with public education

Support of Public Education:
  • Went to public schools
  • Taught in public schools
  • Work and train teachers and administrators around the country and world (military schools)
  • Own children attended public schools in VA and TX and attended public colleges in Texas.
  • Advocates and researches on education policy to support Common Core Standards (adopted by 44 states, with states controlling and modifying), ESSA, and other education initiatives
  • Supports public school teachers and schools and advocates for teachers, students and parents and improving public schools

Support of Public Education:
  • None, if any, could be found
  • Children attended private schools
  • Supports for-profit Charter School initiatives and vouchers (shown to disenfranchise poorer and minority students), which undermines public education and funnels money away from public education
  • Does not support Common Core Standards, which are STATE created standards adopted by 44 states and Department of Defense Education Activities (military schools) (many modified by the states to address state needs (by state education leaders) and showing great success).
  • Does not support public school teachers and not supported by the NEA

As you can see in my quick summary, I am far more experienced, as both a product of and a participant in, public education. I have spent my career trying to better education for students and teachers and would like the opportunity to help shape the future of public education in a way that is in fact, uniting and beneficial for all students and teachers and the country. There are definite issues and policies that need to be addressed and fixed, and I feel I could do a much better, more equitable job, than your current nominee.  

I would love the opportunity to discuss this with you.


Dr. Karen Greenhaus

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Student Engagement & Learning - Connected to Teaching Intentionality

I read an article this morning from Nira Dale entitled "Why Instructional Design Must Focus on Learning Outcomes, Not Learning Activities". While the article was focused on edtech tools and making sure the games, devices and activities used to engage students also focused on learning goals, the message actually pertains to all education activities, whether technology is involved or not.

It reminded me of when I was working in Virginia Beach, where the whole district was working with creating lessons using the Understanding By Design framework from Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins.  The key message, that I have continued to utilize in all my work, is that engaging activities for the sake of having a 'fun' thing to do with students does NOT enhance student learning unless the activity chosen connects directly to the learning goals and desired student outcomes. Seems obvious of course - but, you would be surprised at how many teachers create wonderful, fun, engaging experiences for their students, with and without the use of technology, that don't connect to a learning goal.

The key point is intentionality in your choice of activities/resources/tools. Which of course requires deliberate planning and knowing your standards and desired learning outcomes.

I've been working as an International Fellow for the Charles A. Dana Center at UT Austin for the past two summers and as part of this work, we really focus on this idea of Alignment and Intentionality. Basically, understanding your standards for the grade/content you are teaching, really looking at what students should have learned and been able to do prior (previous grade), what the learning goals/expectations are for what you are teaching, and what they should be able to know and be able to do for the next grade. Aligning the standards vertically so that you can see the learning progression, which then informs your choice of activities.

Understanding the learning progression and standards informs what you as a teacher need to do to help students learn and reach those learning goals/objectives. This clear understanding of the learning goals forces you to be very deliberate and intentional in how you teach - what you do to review skills from previous grades, how you introduce new skills and concepts, what engaging activities you choose or resources/tools you use to support students learning of the concepts. Activities chosen for students to engage in should not be because it would be 'fun' and 'engaging', but because they would directly enhance and support the learning goals.

To sum up:
1) Understand the standards and the learning progression (vertical alignment)

  • Know and understand the standards you are going to teach
  • Look at the related standards from grade/course before and after so you understand what students should already know and be able to do and where they are going after they leave you 
2) Based on the learning objectives you have defined and aligned from step 1:

  • Choose activities that will support the content and skills you have determined need some review - be specific, make sure activities align directly to the content and skills you are focusing on
  • Choose learning activities that will introduce, teach, and enhance student understanding of your current grade/content standards. Look for engaging activities that support your specific learning objectives directly. Be deliberate in the activities you choose - if you can't directly align them to the learning goals, then don't choose.
3) Build in deliberate formative assessment so you can assess students progress and keep learning objectives at the forefront

  • Activities you choose should allow for formative assessment - questioning, student discussion, student collaboration - so that you can continually assess student progress 
  • Activities chosen should provide evidence of student understanding related directly to the learning objectives.
Basically - make your classroom an engaging learning environment but choose those engaging activities deliberately and intentionally so that your students are engaged in productive learning that helps them reach the learning goals. Learning goals should guide all your instructional decisions - from the tools you use to the activities your students engage in. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Lifelong Learning - It's About Finding Pathways and New Adventures

Wow - can't believe I haven't posted since May.  Crazy.  Of course, I do post weekly on my other blog, so I am going to plead busy!!

It has been busy these last few months.  I have been doing some very diverse things, all related to math education. It's one of the benefits of going out on my own and being "independent" - I get to try new things and do a variety of math and technology related activities which keeps me interested and on my toes.  Here's just a few things I have been doing since May:

1) Working for Casio - so blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking and doing research on technology, BYOD, testing etc.
2) Working for the Dana Center at UT, Texas and DoDEA (Department of Defense Education Activities) as an International Fellow supporting their adoption of College and Career Ready Standards. I went to Austin, Tx for some training and just got back from England, doing training at LakenHeath Air Force Base.  Such a marvelous experience! Heading to Austin again next week and then to SC for training in August.
3) Creating storyboards/video tutorials for OER Commons, so brushing up on my video-making skills and voice-over.  That's been a blast.
4) Teaching an online Sketchpad course for Drexel University - we are in week 2 and I love it!  Sketchpad is my all-time favorite edtech dynamic math tool so any chance I get to work with this is a bonus.
5) Heading to Hamburg, Germany end of July to support Casio R&D and attend ICME (International Congress on Mathematical Education) that happens only once every 4 years - THAT is super exciting!!

My personal experience with being able to work for many different folks is that I am constantly
learning, relearning or refining skills and knowledge. The work with DoDEA is really helping me focus on the Common Core Standards, which is then going to serve me well when I work with New Jersey teachers in August. Making videos/tutorials has forced me to dive deep into sound mixing and video clip editing and mixing, which is so helpful for making Sketchpad videos for the online course I am teaching or my blog, as well as the calculator videos I make to support Casio. All these different experiences force me to be on top of the latest education, edtech information/research and hone my math and technology skills. This "life-long" learning approach is exciting and helps me consider other avenues and possibilities for my career.

Looking back at my summers when I was in the K-12 public teaching arena, I realize that I've always been engaged in life-long learning and searching for new pathways & adventures.  I took classes or looked for new strategies, lessons and projects ideas to use in my classroom. Every learning experience led me to that next adventure - i.e. teaching to administration to running the PD for a publishing company to getting my doctorate to starting my own business to now.

I often get asked how I ended up becoming an independent consultant - and I would have to say I just kept looking for opportunities, learning whenever I could, researching and reaching out. Make connections with folks at conferences or representatives from publishing companies, take some courses and explore new pathways. Challenge yourself. Don't just sit back and let the summer go by - be sure to learn one new thing because that one new thing could open a door to the next adventure.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Poor Math Questions and Misunderstandings

My daughter sent me this article, Parents are Freaking Out Because They Can't Answer a 7-year Olds Exam Question, the other day concerning a Twitter posting about a math problem that was frustrating students, parents, and lots of people on Twitter obviously. Here's the problem:

The issue is there are two answers that could be correct: 65, if you use the 'work backwards' method, subtracting out the 17 that just got on from the 63 and then adding back the 19 that got off.  The other answer is 46, which results from simply subtracting out the 17 that just got on from the 63 currently on the train.  The teachers exam rubric/'test key" stated the correct answer as 46.  Hence - all the confusion, because that would mean the 19 was an unneeded number.

The real problem here, and it is NOT an isolated situation, is that this question is very poorly worded, and thus open to both interpretations. The work-backwards approach assumes that the question is asking for how many people were on the train at the beginning of the trip BEFORE the 19 people got off the train.  The second interpretation assumes the question is asking for how many people were on the train before the 17 got on but AFTER the 19 got off.  Both interpretations are right because the question is so vague - but, as the student obviously found out, the 'test key' accepts only one interpretation.

Poorly worded questions or problems on math tests or in math books are very common and a cause of much frustration and angst on the part of students, parents, and teachers. As a teacher I experienced it often in the textbooks and assessments my students had to use/take. Having worked in the math publishing arena for several years, when creating math lessons, assessments, etc. it is VERY easy to word things in a confusing way, making them subject to multiple interpretations.  Without "vetting" and piloting questions, this can become a huge issue, thus where the problem lies - the creators of today's assessments and textbooks - i.e. the publishing companies - do not always invest in proper editing and piloting of problems to ensure that there is no confusion, misunderstandings, multiple interpretations, etc. That is time and cost prohibitive. 

Poorly worded questions wouldn't be that big a deal if in fact, as this problem asks, the students worked actually counted for something. If their showing of work included their method and interpretation,  and based on their method, the teacher was able to say that yes, in fact, your answer is correct based on your interpretation of the question asked, regardless of the key, then the poorly worded question would just be a minor issue.  But - as this is more than likely a standardized exam with only one acceptable answer, the students' explaining and justifying of their interpretation and work has no bearing on the actual expected outcome.  A true disservice to our students.

Ideally - students won't be exposed to these ambiguous types of questions. But - in a perfect world, even if these types of questions slip through the cracks, a students' explanation of what they interpreted the question to be asking, and the proof of their method to support their interpretation, would be counted as correct - i.e. 65 is a correct solution, even if the "key" says it's 46 because the student was able to explain and justify their answer to support their interpretation.  That's a true assessment of student understanding - not an "set answer" to a crap question.  So - first, let's push for better assessments, but more importantly, let's accept logical, well-reasoned explanations to poorly asked questions because there-in lies true learning.

By the way - a better worded question, if the answer was to be 46, would have been: "How many people were on the train AFTER the 19 left and BEFORE the 17 people got on?  Or - even, "How many people were on the train RIGHT BEFORE the 17 people got on?  

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Algorithms and Losing Control

On my way to the gym this morning I listened to yet another story on NPR about the FBI/Apple controversy surrounding accessing the iPhone of the San Bernardino terrorists. Quick synopsis - Apple refused, FBI found a 3rd party who was able to create their own algorithm to hack into the phone, FBI dropped case against Apple. But - everyone is worried.  Will the FBI share this code-breaking algorithm with other law enforcement? Will we all be vulnerable now to some outside person accessing the privacy of our smartphones?!

Legal issues aside, what I find interesting is the fact that an algorithm unlocked the information. Or algorithms created the 'locked phone' in the first place. As a math person, it's always  fascinating to think about how algorithms create so much of what is around us, and while I don't understand it myself, there are people out there who do.  People who can create a code to break into a locked phone. Or an algorithm to pick stocks or predict weather.  It's really incredible. A little mind boggling.

With this on my mind, I was excited to actually find a Ted Talk specifically on algorithms and the world around us. Seemed sort of ironic - though, it was probably a Google algorithm that matched my search of the NPR story to other stories and resources that contain algorithms.  Spooky!! In fact - the talk, by Kevin Slavin, addresses this very fact - that algorithms and coding are responsible for some of our decisions (or many).  So - are we in control or are the algorithms controlling us?

Watch the Ted Talk and freak yourself out too!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Common Core is NOT the same as Standardized Testing

I have read a couple articles of late that have kind of pissed me off.  Mainly because they perpetuate the ideas that 1) The Common Core State Standards are handed down from the Federal Government, and 2) that the CCSS are the driving force behind Standardized Testing.  While there are connections, both claims are a complete disservice to the purpose behind and the reason for The Common Core State Standards. And they completely ignore the fact that Standardized Testing is actually controlled by testing companies and publishing companies.

I've already posted on this before - "What People Think Is Common Core ISN'T" and "Common Core, It's NOT the Devil" so I apologize now for being repetitive. One article I read last night, entitled "What's the largest number you can represent with 3 digits? Nope. It's not 999."  is a great article. I agree with everything the author said and applaud his sticking by his daughter, the second teacher, and the fact that he forced the standardized testing company to change their answers.  Awesome.  Then I saw the last line: "don't let common core stand in the way of  your own children's education".  Sigh.  IT"S NOT THE COMMON CORE that's doing this - it's publishing companies, it's testing companies, it's misunderstanding and lack of training of teachers.

As I've written before, the Common Core actually represents problem solving, critical thinking, perseverance, multiple solutions (as this author was demonstrating his daughter was showing), communication, multiple pathways.  It's all about unique minds and coming to mathematical understanding from different perspectives.  Read the standards.  Especially the Standards for Mathematical Practice.  What the above article was demonstrating was the fact that the teacher was NOT following Common Core Practices, whether through ignorance or more likely, through the pressure of textbooks publishers and standardized testing companies to "standardized" the Common Core, and thus in fact become something completely different than what the Common Core represents. Let's go back to my two previous postings....what people think is Common Core ISN'T - it comes back to our testing culture and a need to standardize so we can "assess" students quickly, and in the process, take out all the problem-solving, uniqueness, critical thinking that is the essence of the common core.

Here are some facts about the Common Core:

  1. State education chiefs and governors in 48 states came together to develop the Common Core, a set of clear college- and career-ready standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts/literacy and mathematics. Today, 42 states and the District of Columbia have voluntarily adopted and are working to implement the standards, which are designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to take credit bearing introductory courses in two- or four-year college programs or enter the workforce.
  2. States led the development of the Common Core State Standards. In 2009, state leaders, including governors and state commissioners of education from 48 states, two territories and the District of Columbia, came together and decided to develop common, college- and career-ready standards in mathematics and English language arts. They worked through their membership organizations – the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) –  to accomplish this. The development process included defining expectations for what every child should know and be able to do when they graduate from high school and then creating content standards for grades K-12 aligned with these expectations. States relied on workgroups of educators, representatives of higher education and other experts to write the standards with significant input from the public in 2009 and 2010. States then appointed a validation committee to review the final standards. The federal government was not involved in the development of the standards. The final standards were published in June 2010 and available for each state to review, consider and voluntarily adopt. 
  3. Adoption of the standards is voluntary. It is up to each state and territory to decide if they choose to adopt the Common Core State Standards as their state educational standards in English language arts and mathematics. States can tailor the standards to address their needs. Here is a map showing the states that have adopted the standards.
The standards are voluntary, with the idea that if all states had the same standards it would be easier for students to be compared state-to-state and to ensure that all students, no matter where they live, were getting an equal and rigorous education. Notice - nothing about the Federal Government.  The Federal Government did encourage adoption and funding with Race-to-the-Top money if states adopted the Common Core, but not required. And NCLB did require standardized testing of all students, which is the 'standardization' push of the Common Core Standards, which are difficult to assess in a standardized test.  Standardized tests are NOT Common Core.

Standardized testing - states realized they needed to assess and that they needed some help with
standardized testing aligned to The Common Core. States got together to create consortiums, such as PARCC and Smarter Balance Assessments.  These were led by Pearson (PARCC) and a "public agency" (Smarter Balance Assessment) and state leaders who opted to join the consortiums.  These assessments are voluntary and there have been issues with both. There are currently only 15 states still in Smarter Balance and only 11 left in PARCC.  Many states have dropped out. 

With the adoption of ESSA, where states have more control over assessments, there is going to be a change in which standardized tests are used to assess students. But they are not "Common Core".  ACT, SAT, NAEP - the most commonly used now, are definitely NOT Common Core. In fact - true assessment of Common Core should not be standardized, especially when keeping the mathematical practices in check.  There-in lies the problem. We are trying to standardized standards that are meant to help students become problem-solvers, critical thinkers, and communicators. You can't demonstrate that on multiple-choice tests where one correct answer is the norm.  So - rather than blaming Common Core, blame the 'standardized' way of thinking that forces teachers to teach to a standardized test, accept only "one" answer, or force ways of thinking on students when they should be encouraging uniqueness and multiple pathways. In order to change the way students learn, we need to change the way we assess or we are always going to be forcing students into one or two ways of thinking so they can 'pass the test'. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

What is the "Math Path" We Should Encourage Students to Take?

I read this article the other day by Dana Goldstein, "Down with Algebra II!", which describes professor Andrew Hackers views on mathematics, and how the push for STEM, higher math like Algebra II, is actually creating a the failure and dropout rates we are seeing because it is pushing students into mathematics that is not necessary for their future endeavors and "destroying a tremendous amount of talent". The math requirements in high school and college are "highly irrational".

And then my friend sent me the same exact article via Facebook and asked my opinion. (This is what happens when your friends know you are a math person!). So - what is my opinion? I have to say, I completely agree with Andrew Hacker. In fact - I have written about it before a few times: Math Curriculum - What should we be teaching?; Financial Literacy - Real-world math, REALLY; Let's teach probability & Statistics - We need it! 

Don't get me wrong - I think Algebra II and higher level math is important.  I believe in the Common Core Standards, which recommend higher mathematical concepts.  However - NOT for everyone. My friend who sent me the FB link, has a student with a learning disability who completely struggles in math. She was concerned because if Algebra II is a requirement, she knows her son will struggle, probably not get the grade needed, which will then hurt his chances of getting into a college of his choice. He is NOT planning to go into a field where he would need Algebra II, or Calculus.  Which is true for many students. But - in our traditional curriculum, even with the Common Core, we push students along the following path: Algebra, Geometry, Algebra II, Pre-Calculus, Calculus.  Maybe some Trig.  Rarely do we push them into Probability & Statistics, and since Computer Science is usually NOT allowed as a math credit, we don't push them there either.  And Personal Finance? Not even an offering in most places.

I will use my daughters as examples.  The oldest is an art person - lives, eats, breaths art.  If she could
Example Oldest Daughters Art - Acrylic 
draw all day (which she does), she would be happy and satisfied, with the occasional break to eat. The younger - well, she is still a conundrum, but she is brilliant with math and science.  She just gets it.  She thinks different. When it came to what to take after Algebra II (required), it was a no brainer for the younger one to go into precalculus and calculus. She needed the challenge.  However I told my older daughter she should take statistics.  It would be more relevant to her more artsy/business direction (advdertising). Let me tell you - her counselor was NOT happy.  Kept trying to push her towards Pre-calculus instead so she would get into "college". NO.  This daughter would have done horrible in Pre-calculus - she was not interested in it, was not planning to use this mathematics in her future endeavors, so why should she be forced down this path?  Well - we went against counselors wishes and took statistics, which she absolutely loved (great teacher) and totally excelled in.  It was relevant, real-world, hands-on and - pertinent to what she does now.  Perfect match.  But - it was NOT on the recommended path so we had to fight for her right to take it.  My point - two very different daughters, two very different personalities and interests, and therefore they should have two very different pathways.

I completely agree we need more students interested in STEM careers, however, not every student needs to be pushed here, especially if their interests lie in arts, history, business, computer gaming, etc.  All students need math - and I am a big believer of math every year through grade 12. But - just different math. What I think, especially in this age of "personalized learning", is there needs to be choice in mathematics, and not the constant push to force all students down the same path, a path that for many is unnecessary and a road to failure. I definitely want students to learn math - and I truly believe in the Common Core State Standards - which emphasize problem solving, real-world application, critical thinking and conceptual understanding.  All of these goals can be accomplished with other math choices. If we had other pathways for mathematics, we might actually find students developing an interest in math and pursuing higher level courses of their own free will.

A lot of districts will say they don't have the funding to offer more math choices. With online
Andres Marti Teaching Statistics w/TinkerPlots
learning that is not an excuse, as long as districts are willing to accept credits students take online from other places. Additionally, districts/states need to rethink the math requirements and what courses count towards a math credit.  Thankfully, this seems to be coming up more and more, but courses like computer science should count as math credit (to replace Algebra II or Calculus), Personal Finance courses should be offered first of all, and should also count as a math credit. How does this work with Common Core State Standards and other standards? It shouldn't impact those at all - if students do take Algebra, Algebra II , Statistics, then the content standards should be followed. The Mathematical Practices should be followed no matter what courses you take. But - what is 'required' for math credit - THAT's what should be rethought. Let's make learning about what is going to help a student acquire the skills they need to pursue the career path they want and be productive members of society. Personal Finance would go a lot further towards that goal for all students than Algebra II, don't you think?

What is my ideal math menu?

1) Students should have at least 4 math credits to graduate high school.  Math is important!
2) What are some required courses?

  • Basic Algebra (abstract thinking is important and useful to everyone)
  • Geometry (this helps with logic, spatial reasoning, etc.)
  • Personal Finance (yes - EVERYONE)
3) What are some optional courses that count as MATH credit? (not exhaustive)
  • Computer Science - all kinds (coding, robotics, gaming, etc.)
  • Probability & Statistics (voting, sampling, etc...important for being a functioning person in todays' society)
  • Advanced Algebra (Algebra II?)
  • PreCalculus
  • Calculus (A&B)
  • Trigonometry
  • Math for Medicine (i.e. for those interested in nursing or doctors)
  • Accounting
There are more that could be added to the optional courses list obviously - this is just a smattering. But - what matters here is there is choice. And based on a students interests, they should be given the choice. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Sketchpad & TinkerPlots - Still Out There, Still Awesome!

NCTM is coming up in April and is in San Francisco, which has me very excited because I get to have a Key Curriculum reunion (i.e. my colleagues from my years working for Key Curriculum mostly live in the SF area).  It's hard to describe the amazing connection those of us who worked with Key, (Keysters, as we fondly refer to ourselves) have, and I have yet to find another place or another group of people that I so deeply connect to on both a professional and personal level.

With this math conference and potential to see so many of my former colleagues, I have been a bit nostalgic about some of the things I loved from Key - i.e. Sketchpad and TinkerPlots to name a couple. Sketchpad, now owned by McGraw-Hill, is still around thank goodness, but without the support and push in math education it deserves.  Thankfully, some former Key folks are still out there making a difference with Sketchpad - check out Daniel Scher and Scott Steketee's most recent article in The Mathematics Teacher, Connecting Functions in Geometry and Algebra, where they use Web Sketchpad to create dynamic, in-article representations. Having worked with Web Sketchpad myself, it's amazing, and a great addition to desktop Sketchpad, and hopefully McGraw-Hill will at some point provide access to this tool for everyone.  Meanwhile - Sketchpad is still out there, and of course still better than Geogebra for many aspects of math (I have done extensive work with both).  (Shameless plug - if you need any Sketchpad training/support for your teachers, please reach out to me, as I do that as often as I get the opportunity!).

TinkerPlots, which McGraw-Hill gave back to it's creators, is available again as well. If you haven't ever explored it, I highly recommend you do so.  TinkerPlots is dynamic statistical software that allows incredible visualization and exploration of data, quickly and easily just by dragging and dropping.  It's so fun!!  Better than anything out there, hands down.  The website on TinkerPlots has great resources so be sure to check it out. I use to do workshops and webinars with TinkerPlots when I was with Key, and wish more folks would discover the power of it, as it is especially helpful when working with students just beginning to explore data and connections. Especially helpful for those of you working with the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, which has a huge emphasis on data analysis. (Another Shameless Plug - if you need TinkerPlots training/support I am available!)

In my reminiscing about my favorite math software and Key, there is another group I should let you know about, a group that also fell in love with TinkerPlots, but wanted a web-based version for their data site.  Tuva Labs - a data literacy site that has really expanded over the last couple of years, has created an online version of TinkerPlots and has lessons and data sets that can be used, for free, in classrooms.  Here's a link that lets you see the data tool. The site has data sets, lessons in addition to the online dynamic data tool. It is exciting to me to see a web-version of TinkerPlots out there that teachers and students can access, as it makes data come alive and available for students to explore and analyze data. Data literacy is such a need in our world.

Anyway - it warms my heart to know that dynamic math tools, like Sketchpad and TinkerPlots, are still out there, still available, and still being used.  And better yet, there are web-based versions out there, though not necessarily readily available for all (Web Sketchpad). They are both evolving to meet the demands of a web-based society, which is exciting.  There are many other math tools and apps out there, but in my humble opinion, having worked with so many, these two are some of the best and easiest to access and use, with and by students.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

OER Commons - A Good Place for Common Core Aligned Resources

There are a lot of Open Educational Resources out there, which is exciting if you are a teacher, as you can find myriad of lessons and ideas.  The big issue with OER is of course the quality of what you find, does it really align to your instructional goals, and naturally, do you have the time to search through possibly hundreds of resources to find that perfect fit.

In my recent work, I have been exploring The OER Commons website, which is a digital library and network of Open Educational Resources. It allows you to search, with a search feature that really lets you refine down to exactly what you are looking for - whether that be full lesson plans, videos, full units of study, online courses, etc. You can also review and comment on resources, which is a nice feedback feature that allows for others to gain from those who have used a resource. You can create your own content to share or link to others and collaborate.

Fig 1
What I particularly like, as a certified Common Core advocate, is the Common Core Hub, where the OER Commons digital librarians have organized thousands of resources so that they are specifically aligned to the Common Core Standards, even the Instructional Shifts for ELA and Math.  There are also some CC Online Courses and other supports for educators. The search within the Common Core Hub allows you to find resources down to a specific content standard in the Common Core.Including the Grade, Domain, and standard. In Fig 1, you can see where I have narrowed my math search down 5 resources (from over 3000).

Once you narrowed down the search, you can look at your results, click on them for more
Fig 2
information,where you will see the standards written out, be able to view the resource in full detail.  If the resource has been rated by others (there are some that have, many that haven't yet, since this is still relatively new), you can see a rubric of how well the resource supports the standards (Fig 2). This will be a really powerful support for teachers, since finding OER resources that are of quality and actually support your instructional goals can be a challenge.  It will of course require those who use these resources to take the time to write a review and provide feedback, but that is part of the collaborative environment the OER Commons is trying to foster.

Again, there are many places to go to find OER but I like what I have explored so far on the OER Commons website, in particular the ability to find Common Core Aligned lessons, resources and educator support.  Worth exploring.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Parlez Vous HTML? Coding as a Foreign Language

Yes, there is some thinking-differently going on, at least in Florida. There is a bill in the Florida House of Representatives to make in-person and virtual computer-science classes count as Foreign Language credits towards graduation.  THAT. IS. AWESOME!

I am all for changing the way we teach and what we teach and where we teach in this country. I would love for us to break out of our traditional classrooms of desks in rows and teachers as sages, and let students have more choice in subjects they, and have more options of courses.  For example, not every student needs calculus, but EVERYONE needs Personal Finance - and yet, it is not an option in most school districts, or if it is, it is often an add on. (See my previous posts on Financial Literacy if interested....1) Math Curriculum - What Should We Be Teaching 2) Financial Literacy - Bring It Back to School! and  3) Financial Literacy - 
Real-World Math, Really!)

Math itself is a foreign language, so the idea to make coding officially designated as a foreign language is just brilliant. Now, granted, it's just at the higher ed level - public colleges and universities, but it's a start.  I think K-12 schools should adopt a similar approach.  Computer-science is such a vital skill these days, and so few students actually take computer-science in large part because it doesn't fit in the path of required courses for graduation.  I look at my own daughter, a recent graduate with a degree in Advertising, who has had a difficult job finding work because she was lacking coding skills, which were NOT part of her advertising/marketing curriculum. And yet -
every job out there for an entry-level marketing/graphic designer requires the ability to code for websites, emails, etc. She is thankfully employed now, and is learning to code on the company' time, so she will be gaining some needed skills for future endeavors.  But the fact that she spent four years in college, and before that, four years in high school without the opportunity or the push/requirement to take computer science is ludicrous. Especially when she is in a field that REQUIRES this skill.  How can it NOT BE TAUGHT in the very program she graduated from (and she was at a very prestigious school in a very prestigious program - Creative Advertising at UT in Austin).

My point here - lets rethink the requirements for students as they go through high school and college. What skills do they need in the careers they want to pursue? They should have choice to choose subjects that will benefit them in the future so they are, as the popular lingo these days goes, "college and career ready". Let them take computer-science as either one of their math requirements (instead of say Algebra II or PreCalculus) or as Florida proposes, a foreign language requirement. I know my daughter would have been a lot better off with a couple semesters of computer science instead of the required two-semesters of Spanish, for the career she has chosen. The same goes for Personal Finance - a very needed course for all students.  It should be an option and count towards graduation. Not everyone needs the traditional path of Algebra, Geometry, Algebra II, Trig, PreCalculus, Calculus. If a student plans to be a business major, Personal Finance is going to be a much bigger benefit than Trig.

Let's rethink our curriculum.  Let's making learning relevant, useful, and personal. Coding as a Foreign Language? Hell yes!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Libraries, BookBots and Algorithms

I was listening to NPR this morning, as usual, during my workout. The Pulse did their entire hour on the Rebirth of the Library.  As an avid reader, this was of great interest to me. I love books. I have a crazy collection of books, all down in my basement now since I live in a tiny house with little room for my shelves and shelves of books. But - I don't have the heart to get rid of them, and I do reread them - it's like coming home to old friends.In fact, I just reread over the holidays The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (an annual tradition)...which can only be done correctly with a the actual book that allows me to flip back to the maps a million times.

NPR's many stories related to the library included many things about how libraries of today are still relevant, and how many libraries are changing. I would suggest reading/listening to the different stories. The one that really sparked my mathematical interest however was the one by Peter Crimmins entitled Will BookBots be the revolutions libraries are looking for? I'd never heard of a BookBot, but basically it's a robot that finds books that have been stored in metal bins in large warehouse spaces. The bins are arrayed in a matrix (math!) and a searchable database is used to identify a book and send an algorithm to the BookBot, which then finds and retrieves the bin and brings it to the librarian to get the ordered book. It's a space-saving method of storing thousands of books, allowing for libraries to provide more space for meeting rooms, makerspaces, wifi, social gathering areas, etc. But - what fascinates me is the math.

The BookBot works on algorithms to find the books. The books are not arranged in a typical Dewey-
decimal system, but based on an algorithm. When books are returned, they don't go back to the bin they came from, but go to the closest bin to the crane.  Storage is based on efficiency and proximity, not what we typically associate libraries with - alphabetical, chronological, genre. Fascinating. And clearly an amazing amount of programming and mathematics goes into this system. Naturally, this just made me think about students and the never ending questions "when are we ever going to use this". Here is yet another example of math at work....and in the library!!

I love finding examples of math in places you don't really think of as "mathy". Apparently this BookBot technology comes from similar technology used in the automotive and textile industries. It's fascinating to consider the mathematics needed to store up to two-million books and be able to deliver a single item within five minutes of clicking the online catalog. Yet another example to provide students where math and technology are used on a regular basis.

I found this video of the BookBot in action at the Hunt Library in NCSU. Very cool.