Month: October 2011

Total 10 Posts

Hot Links

There has been a surplus of interesting, provocative, and useful material running across my desk recently:

  • Christopher Danielson takes a break from his relentless obsession with Hung-Hsi Wu to drop some knowledge on our standards-based grading community. “No, you need to change your thinking about that rubric. That 0-4 grading scale? It’s not made up of numbers, my friend. It’s made up of categories.”
  • Zac Shiner and Dave a/k/a Mr. Math Teacher are both graduates of Stanford’s teacher education program and both of them are taking on water in their first year teaching, writing thoughtfully on the challenge of being a human being and a math teacher both.
  • Matthew McCrea, David T. Jones, Alex Eckert, and Daniel Schneider are all on my reading list and they all have a special fondness for Khan Academy. As I try to figure out Khan Academy, I find it helpful to read these pieces and ask myself, “What need do these teachers have that Khan Academy serves? Is the need legitimate (skill practice, let’s say) or not (classroom management)? Is there a better way to serve that need?”
  • Speaking of Khan Academy, here’s how to cheat the badge system. [via @fnoschese]
  • Mike Konczal, whose high-quality economics blogging has already been covered on this blog, ran a script to parse and analyze the data on the We Are 99% Tumblr. Age distribution, keywords, etc. This would not be the worst assignment for a statistics class right now.
  • Best in show goes to Freddie deBoer who writes a piece I commend to the attention of all my techno-utopian blog buddies. In short: the transition from high school to college to career is a status contest for kids. Will Richardson’s been ringing this bell for a long while, but where Richardson sees the Internet as our best means for bypassing that contest, deBoer makes a persuasive case that the Internet, for our twentysomethings, is only extending it. Read it twice.
  • I’m off the path now, but deBoer’s later piece on the Occupy Wall Street movement is the most interesting I’ve read.

Comments closed. I’ll check in with you at each of the blogs above.

BTW: Matthew McCrea responds. So does Alex Eckert.

[3ACTS] Shower V. Bath

At a certain point you say to yourself, “Hell, I was never gonna run for city council anyway,” and you put on a pink shower cap and you make a math problem.

That’s the first act. The volume and concentration of responses on Twitter were promising. The entire task is available for free download at the depot. If you decide to try this out with your students, I’d love to hear about it.

Workshops & Presentations 2011-2012

I may add to or subtract from this post, but this is basically final. Between this, grad school, and my work with Pearson Foundation, I’m spent. Whenever an event is open for registration, I’ve included a link. I tossed on the other events in case an opportunity arises to help out in the same area at the same time.

  • 10/08/11 — KSMC — Bowling Green, KY
  • 10/20/11 — MCATA Fall Symposium — Enoch, AB
  • 10/22/11 — MCATA Fall Conference — Enoch, AB
  • 10/31/11 — AIMS — Baltimore, MD
  • 11/04/11 — CMC South — Palm Springs, CA
  • 12/02/11 — CMC North — Monterey, CA
  • 01/03/12 — Blue Valley School District — Overland Park, KS
  • 01/04/12 — Olathe District Schools — Olathe, KS
  • 01/20/12 — Beaufort County School Districts — Beaufort, SC
  • 02/03/12 — Greater San Diego Math Council — San Diego, CA
  • 02/06/12 — ESSDACK — Hutchison, KS
  • 02/19/12 — OETC — Portland, OR
  • 03/27/12 — Hawaii DOE — Honolulu, HI
  • 04/25/12 — NCTM — Philadelphia, PA
  • 05/10/12 — OAME — Kingston, ON

Five Lessons On Teaching From Angry Birds That Have Nothing Whatsoever To Do With Parabolas

I’m extremely happy for all the buzz my blogging brethren have received for their work integrating Angry Birds into the math and science curriculum. No doubt there are intriguing applications of engineering and parabolic motion all over the game. But we’re in the Sistine Chapel here, marveling at the refrigerator magnets on sale in the gift shop. We’re standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon as the sun sets, eager to get to a hotel and find out what’s on pay-per-view. We’re focusing on the applications of parabolic motion to Angry Birds, missing the fact that it’s a marvel of task design. An utter marvel.

Here are five observations about Angry Birds which are immediately applicable to the tasks you assign your students, though the applications will vary from class to class and concept to concept. If you want to kick those around in the comments, or add your own observations, I’m game.

1. Make it easy to start the task.

There’s a huge button that says “Play.” By contrast, how often do your students point to their assignment and say, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing.”

2. Show, don’t tell.

Angry Birds was designed in Finland. It’s sold around the world. That’s an enormous design challenge.

Similarly, there were thirty languages spoken at my first school. The difference is that I was guaranteed a market for my product. Kids had to take my class. No one has to download an app they don’t like or understand. Even free apps get ignored. But how many millions of people around the world have paid a dollar for Angry Birds?

So imagine your math class was an elective. Imagine you had to make math clear to students who didn’t speak your language. How many students would take your class?

Now imagine they had to pay a dollar first.

3. Give useful and immediate feedback.

This, not parabolic motion, is what we should learn from the trails the birds leave behind. When you miss, you can easily re-adjust. The trails help you quickly learn the power of the slingshot and the mass of the birds.

What kind of feedback do we offer students while they’re learning math? Is it useful and immediate, or blunt and delayed. (PS. In this regard, Sal Khan’s analogy is spot-on.)

4. Make it easy to recover from failure.

After your birds get defeated, you have to wallow in your failure only as long as it takes you to press the huge undo arrow. Once you’re successful, that’s all the game remembers. Your losses aren’t stored anywhere. They aren’t weighted against your successes when the game tallies your final score.

5. Complicate the task gradually.

You’re always flinging birds at pigs. As you master one kind of bird, though, you get new ones with different capabilities. The levels get harder. You can get away with a lot of imprecision in early levels but later on you have to be accurate down to a few pixels. This all happens gradually, with enough overlap that you head into each new task with a sense of confidence and determination.

I realize I have readers for whom any connection between games and education simply won’t scan. To them, I’m debasing a discipline that’s older than the pyramids, pandering to students with entertainment and titillation. Look closer. Consider how silly and un-titillating the premise sounds: “How do you help some birds knock down some pigs?” It isn’t much more titillating than “what’s the least I can tell you about two triangles before you know they’re the same triangle?”

Certainly, the metaphor is too complicated for a single blog post. The path between games and education is fraught with all kinds of danger. (There’s a reason I haven’t gone near points or badges.) Please consider this my initial contribution, then, and an invitation for your contribution in the comments.

Featured Comments

Hemant Mehta:

There’s also more than one approach to solve every level — but there may be one particular approach that is the simplest/fastest way to solve the problem. Doesn’t make the other ones wrong, though.

Chris Brownell:

However there is something from Angry Birds that ought not to be emulated in schooling. And that is the way in which you can become stuck at a level and not moved forward.