How Long Now

Plans For Us dug for traction, found none, and fell. Bill Fitzgerald seems to have sacrificed his infant lesson aggregation service at the altar of paid work. tteach has featured the same landing page for a year to diminishing returns. I guess I should console myself that I Love Math! is still around, such as it is.

But seriously.

Isn’t it a colossal joke that in this [flat, spikey, curly, whatever] world we live in, your best learning experiences and mine are still separated by geography?

Somebody please.

About 
I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. More here.

24 Comments

  1. ReadWriteThink (http://www.readwritethink.org/) with Thinkfinity with NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) still has lessons plans, and nice interactive mind maps to go with them.

    There are lesson plans and sharing on Discovery Education.

    Oh, Matthew Needleman has lesson and resources for the Open Court reading series on his site Open Court Resources (http://opencourtresources.com/)and Blog, Creating Lifelong Learners (http://www.needleworkspictures.com/ocr/blog/). He might be a little shy about bringing that up considering what happened the last time he posted about his site, but the resources on the blog are really good, and yes, they do include some things I’ve done, in the interest of disclosure.

    I’m not seeing a lot of Math lessons here, also the first is commercial sponsored (but free), and the second requires that you pay for some form of Discovery Education (streaming, Science, etc.) The best quality materials I’ve seen so far are the AFI video lessons for classrooms at Discovery. Good stuff if you can get it.

    I’m sure someone will pipe in with some math resources.

  2. I work for a fairly large district that’s supported by Msoft money to develop a curriculum web. Teachers collaborate, develop lesson plans, and post these as well as all supplemental materials (teacher guides, worksheets, videos, homework) to a parent/teacher/student accessible website. In the two years that I’ve been facilitating teacher collaboration and providing tech support (for just chemistry) I’ve noticed that what initially sounds like a great opportunity (teachers can make an extra $5k a year to produce better lessons and assessments with their colleagues) has actually become something most teachers want little to do with. Working in isolation, having little (or no) accountability is preferred – mostly for the public argument that a ‘collaborative curriculum’ isn’t what is best for my individual students. I’ve been amazed that when time and money are no longer barriers, we (our district teachers) still aren’t excited about collaboration. Interesting article (science focused, but still applies to math) from Pinky Nelson talks about curriculum reform and the need for teachers to share responsibility for all student success through PLC’s – thought it might be worth reading as the 4th generation of instructional materials seems to be what the post was about: http://www3.nsta.org/main/news/stories/nsta_story.php?news_story_ID=52532

  3. Bill, I think that’s a separate, but very critical point. I think I tend not to use online lessons in structured sites because even if the whole lesson is mapped out, because either due to my students or my arrogance (I’m betting on the later), I usually pretty much rewrite the lesson. I like to hear about and idea of a lesson, or objective, and some key points and riff off of that. Does that mean I’m not playing well with the other children? Not necessarily.
    I think the point you bring up is not about our lesson planning, but how we do things like set longer term goals, etc. I recently attended the academic planning session for my schools upper grade. All the 4th-6th grade teachers and most of the “resource” teachers (special education, open court, eld, and me) were there. I think the resource teachers (with the exception of Open Court cause her task is just primary focused–which I disagree with), are all trying to collaborate on what we are doing so it fits in with what the classroom teachers are doing, and what we have to focus on (since we’re in program improvement). The only question I have is how responsible the teachers feel for students in other classes. I see signs they are concerned and are helping, which is minor miracle compared to most schools. That is very rare to find. I’m guessing it’s even worse in High School where the classes/kids are sliced and diced into small discrete boxes.

  4. My main issue with mathematics and lesson aggregator sites is they always have the “easy” lessons. Look, (nearly) anyone can write a probability lesson and make it fun — I want to see the completing the squares lessons, the manipulating rational exponents lessons.

    Or at the very least, if it’s a probability lesson, make it something wildly creative I haven’t seen before.

  5. Oh, Dan,

    RE: “Bill Fitzgerald seems to have sacrificed his infant lesson aggregation service at the altar of paid work.” — While it is true that we have been working (and I see that as a *good* thing, as me, my family, and the other primates at the Monkey all appreciate having a roof over our respective heads), the notion that we have abandoned development is a mistaken one.

    We do this development on our time, at our expense. I would *love* to have a client/foundation/kind-hearted-soul step up and fund this, but I’m not holding my breath. It makes the development slower than we would like, but it is proceeding.

    The good news: the technology needed to put this together already exists. It’s not hard, but it requires some dedicated time to put the pieces together.

    The bad news: most of the open repositories balk at putting something as basic as an rss feed on their sites, which complicates reusing content, even content that has been published under an open license. ReadWriteThink is a prime example: nary an RSS feed on the entire site, let alone the lesson plans. This is equally true of many of the university and foundation sponsored repositories.

    The resistance to open content is more than just technological. Textbook companies have a lot invested in the notion of selling canned content, and they are not going to loose that cash teat without a serious fight. Add in a fear of failure in an atmosphere dominated by high stakes testing, and we’re starting to melt the tip of this iceberg.

    But, as I put in my twitter-feed today (was going to blog it, but didn’t have time): http://twitter.com/funnymonkey/statuses/772918022

    Cheers,

    Bill

  6. @Jason: re “I want to see the completing the squares lessons, the manipulating rational exponents lessons.”

    Write the lesson. Create a blog category that you will use for all of your lessons. Post it on your blog, and then tag it with that category. License it with a CC-NC-SA license, just like Dan!

    That way, any one who wants to reuse your lesson can just subscribe to feeds of your lessons.

    This also simplifies the process of creating better lesson sites, as lessons can be aggregated from disparate sources.

  7. Bill, glad to know the thing hasn’t stalled for lack of interest. Your angle ā€” giving people more or less complete control over form ā€” gives me some hope.

  8. @Tom — thanks for adding these to the list of tricks —

    For the more technically inclined, Yahoo! pipes and Grazr can also be used — Tony Hirst, at http://blogs.open.ac.uk/Maths/ajh59/ , has some great writeups involving these tools.

    Another resource I’m looking forward to checking out is Mediawiki’s Send2Wiki extension — http://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/Extension:Send2Wiki — this tools converts a web page into wiki format.

    The key, as I see it, is to simplify the process of republishing in a way that permits and simplifies editing and remixing. As A Mercer says, above, “I like to hear about and idea of a lesson, or objective, and some key points and riff off of that.” — given how easy it is to aggregate content, and how easy it is to generate an rss/atom feed from content, there really is no valid technological reason why the large repositories are not exposing their content via rss. And that’s why, although I’m not above using gimmickry to aggregate open content published under a CC license, it’s a little galling that any gimmickry is necessary.

    Which gets me to my point, and (I think, anyways) one of Dan’s points: we can do this ourselves. If teachers who blog made a commitment to post one strong lesson a month, we could create a repository of easily re-publishable content. Teachers could work from the comfort of their own blog space — it would mean, of course, not using companies like feedburner, as they don’t respect the tags of the originating blog, and the ability to aggregate based on specific tags is critical to making this work.

    If a critical mass of teachers (lets say, for the sake of pulling an arbitrary number, 40) start creating lesson plans on a sufficiently regular basis, I’ll commit to setting up and hosting a site that collects and republishes the content. Heck, I’ll even commit to writing up some best practices to make sure your lessons can be peeled off and aggregated separately from your other content.

    And, at the risk of stating the obvious, this site will be ad-free, and yes, it will run on open source code.

    So whaddaya say? Will 40 people commit to writing and tagging lessons that allow them to be easily reused and republished?

  9. Bill, trying to put on the peer pressure, eh?

    What I was meaning I was trying to write these lessons, failing to come up with anything interesting, roaming the Internet for ideas, and getting frustrated. For an aggregator to be fully effective there needs to be some pointer to where the gaps are, so we don’t get just 40 ways of rolling dice in class.

    Having said all that, I am attempting and making some headway on The Ultimate Completing the Square. I’ll post (and CC it like you suggest) if it ends up fit for public consumption.

  10. @Jason, re peer pressure: who, me? :)

    All kidding aside, the technology to support a distributed, teacher-driven lesson repository that doesn’t suck is here —

    There are several key elements here, but the main point is not requiring teachers to join yet another site, and not requiring teachers to do anything above and beyond their existing workload.

    So, if teachers who are already blogging about their lessons started tagging lessons with distinct tags, it would be relatively straightforward to collect these lessons up in one site.

    As I see it, the point is less to make every lesson a gem than to share the lessons of which we are proud — if we include a narrative component that covers how the lesson went off, so much the better, but if enough teachers do this, we could, over time, create a valuable resource.

  11. So, if teachers who are already blogging about their lessons started tagging lessons with distinct tags, it would be relatively straightforward to collect these lessons up in one site.

    i do that already.

    I’m not sure they stand up so well out of context. I know that a part of reading Dan’s lessons here is having a sense for how he teaches, and being able to fill in somea lot of the details that he leaves out in a lesson, but has communicated throughout the history of his blog.

  12. I think Jason made a good point, “…if it ends up fit for public consumption.” This year, nothing I’ve made during this first year is something I would even use again. Let alone suggest that others use.

    How long before one is happy with their lessons?

  13. Amen, Jackie.

    Stuff from this year is rough. (Which is why being able to remind myself what good lessons are is important.) Not that I’m ignoring Druin’s encouragement to share, just that so much of this seems like junk that I don’t want to use again, much less share with someone else.

    I am looking forward to improving plans and being better next year. Happy? I can only hope.

  14. What Jackie and Sarah are saying. And the side note that the first 40 teachers confident enough to sign up, and the first 40 teachers competent enough to write stuff really fit for wide distribution, those sets might not be entirely coextensive.

    At I Love Math, outstanding stuff and materials that could use some cleaning up are side by side, and you need to sift through a good deal to find the real gems (what distinguishes I Love Math is, of course, that there is enough of the latter to make it more than worth the time it takes. Most lesson plan sites are a mess – ILM is the only one I’ve continued to use.)

    So, what kind of quality control? What about some rating system where, instead of just voting a lesson up for its looking cool, teachers rate lessons by indicating that they have actually used [elements of] the lessons successfully? Or, if some 50 of us (or whatever) wrote something every month, some kind of voting system could determine the best 30 (or so) entries? The rest could be made available too, but somehow in a separate pile.

  15. @JackieB & @Sarah … I’ve just started training, so I don’t even have a single lesson plan yet, let alone one fit for public consumption.

    However, I would say there’s no reason to be concerned that you’ve not produced a perfect gem. What you have created may well be something that others can help you to polish.

    Building up a corpus of lesson plans, that can be refined over time, is definitely better than everyone backing off because they don’t feel what they have is worth contributing and, as a consequence, all of us ending up with such a sparse catalogue that it’s next to useless.

    Further, no matter how raw you feel they are, I’ll bet there are other teachers out there who would welcome your plans as starting points.

    Give yourselves some credit, take a risk, and I’ll bet you discover you’ve contributed much more than you think.

    Good luck to you both.

  16. I’m there with HarryO. Throw them out there. I think a lot of us would love to see what some of you go-getters think are your weakest ideas.

    Every time I see someone sticking their curricular neck out in earnest, I can’t help but internalize something positive. Even if the idea sucks, the passion behind it remains, which never ceases to provide a seed of thought that can usually blossom into a slightly less crappy idea of my very own.

    It’s like examining one of ya’lls CM scenarios. I may not choose to act like you did it, but that doesn’t mean your experience doesn’t help me figure out my own style. So, consider this a plea from the uninitiated: please, give us your almost-OK lessons. Submit yourself to the court of public opinion with the knowledge that many (if any) of us don’t know any better than you do. I’m certain that I, for one, can’t help but become a better teacher for it.

    FWIW

  17. HarryO and Neal, you’re so nice. Makes me want to write more myself. I just know that some large lesson plan sites have made me more tired than inspired, there’s just so. much. unsorted stuff, it’s like getting crates full of old materials from a senior teacher and knowing that some of it might be just great… sometime…

    Is there any way of balancing the need for making us all feel we can and should contribute with the need all of us have for limiting the time we spend wading through only marginally useful material?

  18. @H … I was literally discussing this issue with a friend of mine yesterday.

    I’m not sure how things work in the US, but here in New South Wales, Australia there is a precisely defined curriculum, broken down in great detail.

    For example, you can find the Year 7-10 curriculum at

    http://www.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/syllabus_sc/#mathematics

    Obviously, different school systems will break things down in different ways, but I would imagine most of the content would overlap significantly.

    My suggestion was to simply have an index for each jurisdiction. So, if adding fractions was designated 3.1 in one curriculum and 4.3 in another, the corresponding entries in the two indices would simply point to the same resource in the corpus.

    This way, a teacher would just go to the index that corresponds to the jurisdiction within which they teach and there should then be a one-to-one correspondence between what they’re supposed to be teaching and the items in that index.

    Hence, finding resources is a simple matter of going to the corresponding index entry for the curriculum topic they are about to teach. No real searching involved.

    Regarding the varying quality of material, I would think one could use some kind of voting system (a la digg) to order the resources for each topic.

    Of course, this might need to be slightly more complex than I make it sound, since the precise specification of different curricula may mean there are multiple definitions of “best” even within a single topic.

    However, all up, this seems like the most useful way to approach the presentation of the information.

  19. @Bill: Regarding “not using … Feedburner,” I’m pretty sure that bloggers (at least, those using WordPress) can have a Feedburner feed, and even have that as the default feed for the site (through the header tag), but still generate tag-specific feeds. A Feedburner plugin, on the other hand, might screw all that up.

    Also, if I knew there was a resource like the one you’re proposing here (and particularly if you were involved in developing that resource), I’d happily go back through my old lessons and post the best of what I could find. I haven’t done that so far because I wasn’t sure the effort would be worth the benefit to others if they just sat on my little blog. If they were thrown into a big mix of lesson plans from other teachers, though, then perhaps one or two would be helpful to a few teachers, making all the effort worth it.

    So my hand’s in the air.

  20. By “fit for public consumption” I mean “able to be understood by others so they can actually use the thing”, not “high quality”.

    I’ve already posted about a less than stellar lesson which I based off of one of Dan’s which he admitted also didn’t so well. I think after a few more rounds (nobody has taken me up on it) it might turn out smashing.

  21. Ah yes, the old inevitable pile of garbage resulting from collective internet projects paradox…

    Well, I for one was speaking largely to those posting on their little old individual blogs. I’m not saying go crazy with the lessons, but one or two a month would be wonderfully useful, at least for someone like me. I suspect most of you would not produce many poor examples that didn’t at least hold a few redeeming qualities.

    If we were to create some kind of comprehensive resource, quality control would indeed become more of an issue. A voting system actually could work quite well in my opinion, although it would probably polarize the community at least a little and could lend itself to abuse. An alternative might be to form another group blog a la The Faculty Room or TLN that has a fixed pool of contributors and/or a strict peer review process for any submitted posts, with the topic being 100% curriculum.

    For now, I resubmit that all you solo bloggers would be providing a valuable public service to post even just one of your very best lessons. Heck, let’s make it a meme. And you’re all tagged! (I ain’t teaching yet, so I’m exempt, suckers)