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!