Year: 2008

Total 265 Posts

Asilomar #6: Infrastructure Investments

Session Title

Students Take Charge Of Their Learning And Raise Test Scores

Better Title

Ensure That Homework Is Placed Just-So On The Front-Right Corner Of Every Student’s Desk Exactly Four Minutes Into The Period Every Day

Presenter

Kate Reed, Professor, CSU East Bay

Narrative

My companion was unhappy with this one. I was apathetic and caught up on my RSS reader, but I recognized, anyway, that two very different schools of thought competed for space in that small room that day.

Essentially, if your journey has a teacher has led you, as it has led me, to the idea that content and management are functionally the same (ie. engaging activities prevent most discipline problems) you are called to develop engaging activities.

If, on the other hand, you separate management and content, you may be led, as Kate Reed has been led, to develop them separately. Over an hour and a half, Reed never discussed content. She described, instead, her classroom’s opening procedures, every detail from how students would pass up papers, to how they would resolve homework questions, to the multiple-choice bubbles she copied onto student warm-ups, to how she grades those warm-ups.

I have no doubt this is an effective strategy for certain populations, especially those that experience meaningful routine only at school, but I would have to alter the course of my career at least 170° to even consider her approach.

Visuals

Overhead transparencies.

Handouts

A copy of her opener sheet, multiple-choice bubbles and all, for the teachers who couldn’t make one on their own.

Homeless

  • None. Let’s move on. Consider the benefits and liabilities of both approaches, why don’t you?

Asilomar #5: Michael Serra

Session Title

Games And Puzzles That Develop Sequential Reasoning

Better Title

OMG MICHAEL SERRA!!1!

Presenter

MICHAEL SERRA!!1!

Narrative

A structure not dissimilar to Megan Taylor’s yesterday, where Serra debuted games and puzzles and gave us time to tease them out.

I sat with two former colleagues in the back – all of us now at different schools. One teacher enthused over Sudoku puzzles. They challenge kids. Kids like them. It gets them comfortable with numbers. The other enjoys Serra’s games and puzzles, like Lunar Lockout. Both cite improved student disposition toward math and improved deductive reasoning.

I disagreed with them. In general, I find it dangerous to put too much distance between “fun time” and “math time” preferring, instead, to have that cake and eat it too, creating as many challenges as I can that are both fun and mathematically rigorous. (Which Sudoko, to put it plainly, isn’t.) My task is harder, I think, and I know I fail at it more, but I’m more satisfied on balance.

It was a good conversation. Feel free to interrupt us.

Serra’s best offering for my money was Racetrack Math:

It’s like this:

  1. Draw a racetrack on graph paper, however crude.
  2. You and your opponent start anywhere on the starting line.
  3. You travel along vectors. You may increase or decrease either the x-value, the y-value, or both, but only by one unit per turn.
  4. First person to the finish line wins.
  5. (P.S. No crashing.)

This gets very interesting very quickly. You start out with tiny vectors which lengthen by one unit every turn. If you fail to notice the side of the track off in the distance, though, and fail to slow down in time, you crash. (Which I did in the example above.)

I hereby toss all of my battleship exercises in the recycling bin. This is a much more straightforward introduction to positive/negative coordinates since each new turn is relative to the last turn rather than relative to this strange coordinate axis thing.

Plus, your students can create racetracks of their own, of infinite complexity, within seconds. Serra cited some kids who created a pit lane, which you had to enter on your second lap, and oil slicks, on which you could not adjust your vector at all. I’m impressed.

Visuals

PowerPoint. Which is tough when you’re asking people to solve a puzzle. If someone suggests an alternative route to the one you have programmed into your slide, you have to dodge their answer a bit.

Handouts

Blank puzzles and games to draw on. Again, paper is not dead. How do you do this digitally? Load each picture one at a time into Skitch and pass a stylus back and forth? Moderation, please.

Homeless

  • “There is no research that demonstrates these games improve outcomes in other mathematical procedures like two-column proofs,” Serra admitted reluctantly. “It has to be there. I know it is.

Asilomar #4: PowerPoint — Do No Harm

Session Title

PowerPoint: Do No Harm

Better Title

Something Provocative To Compensate For My Total Anonymity At This Conference

Presenter

Dan Meyer

Narrative

Nothing I haven’t already inflicted on my regular readers, though the structure here fell along the following lines:

  1. general benefits of storing curriculum digitally (easy, cheap access; portability; better classroom management)
  2. very easy ways to kill your kids with PowerPoint (lousy graphic design, cheap solutions for visual engagement)
  3. very easy ways to counteract the very easy ways to kill your kids with PowerPoint (simple, sound graphic design)
  4. lesson plans built from a single compelling image and a single compelling question (if you have paid even a little attention to our What Can You Do With This? segment, you know where this went)

The room was set for 30. I printed 54 handouts, which sounds optimistic under any circumstance and downright delusional if you’ll recall the turnout to my last presentation. Still, I passed them all out and people sat on the floor.

It was exhilarating, really. I would say something I thought was pretty insightful or smart or whatever and someone from the audience would offer something which made my thing smarter and more insightful.

I was shocked that 100% of the times I asked the audience to journal their thoughts or share them with a neighbor they obliged. This is because I teach freshmen.

I would like to deliver this presentation to other audiences, particularly to new and preservice teachers. My e-mail address, if you’re interested, is dan@mrmeyer.com.

Special Guest Star

  1. OMG Michael Serra!

Visuals

Handouts

I tossed the handouts from my last conference and built them from scratch, guiding my design by The Rule of Least Power. I’m happy with the result and they functioned, more or less, exactly as I intended


PowerPoint: Do No Harm – Handouts from Dan Meyer on Vimeo.

Homeless

  • This may be impossible to determine but I wonder about the difference between a) how one of my session attendees experienced this content (ie. in one ninety-minute burst) and b) how one of my readers has experienced this content (ie. distributed over many posts and many months with many revisions along the way). If you have experienced the content both ways, please weigh in. Otherwise, you’re welcome to speculate.
  • One laptop in the crowd. No wireless. So much for that wiki.

Asilomar #3: 30 Excellent Math Problems

Session Title

From Tsuruda To Sicherman: 30 Of The Best Math Problems Ever

Better Title

Math Problems That Will Make You Feel Inadequate, With Your Host, Megan Taylor!

Presenter

Megan Taylor, Ph.D. student, Stanford [site]

Narrative

This one played out pretty schematically. We bounced from one problem to the next like some 90-minute National Geographic special on countries in Africa. If you came with a buddy, which I did, this kind of schema was perfect. Taylor was an engaging tour guide. She put one interesting problem up after another – some modern, others ancient; some canonical, others something her 7th-grade math teacher conjured up. She explained just enough of the set-up to establish constraints and pique our interest, and then got out of the way.

She gave very few answers to her own problems, which was confounding but effective. I closed my eyes last night and saw a broomstick broken in two places.

Visuals

PowerPoint. Probably the canniest use of the software I saw all conference. Few transitions or animations, if any. Large visuals, which, from slide-to-slide changed only by degrees. An arrow drawn here. A square filled in there, changes which were so subtle I’m positive that 90% of the crowd forgot she was using PowerPoint, which, for my money, oughtta be the goal of anyone using PowerPoint.

Handouts

Slide printouts, offering us ample room to work on problems. I have no idea how Will Richardson expects this kind of engagement using digital media. LaTeX? Maybe if we re-titled the session “One Of The Best Math Problems Of All Time [And One More If We Have Time].”

Homeless

  • Thanks, Rich! She pulled out the truncated tetrahedron activity at one point, which was really easy if, uh, you knew the solution in advanceWhat do you do in that situation, where you know the answer to a difficult problem, and don’t want to look like that know-it-all kid who knows that the only country in the world that starts with an “o” is “Oman.” I have no idea..
  • Forgot to snap a photo at this session so instead you get Asilomar’s State Beach. Gorgeous. Where did you say you do professional development, again?

Asilomar #2: Geogebra

Session Title

Visualize Algebra & Geometry Concepts With The Greatest Of Ease

Better Title

Geogebra Geogebra & Geogebra Geogebra With The Geogebra Of Geogebra

Presenter

Bill Lombard, Teacher [site & PowerPoint presentation]

Narrative

I downloaded Geogebra a million years ago and recognized immediately its value as a free alternative to Geometer’s Sketchpad but I shelved it in my Applications folder and didn’t touch it after that. Like I tweeted during the session, I’m probably the last person in the fifty states to get with this killer program, which lets you create geometric figures, intersect them, drag them, and watch the system change on the fly. This session served one invaluable purpose:

Bill Lombard sat me down for 90 minutes and forced me to play. He demoed the program and I just followed along.

This was a presentation, not a workshop, though, which put Bill Lombard in a difficult position. How do you convey the power of dynamic software when you’re just one guy using it at the front of the Asilomar chapel.

His solution was to ask for audience input and query at every turn.

“What color do you want this line?”

“What shape should we draw next?”

“What would be a good variable for this slope slider?”

Etc.

It was great. People gasped at various intervals, and I’m 99% sure I heard someone muffle a sob somewhere behind me, the software is just that beautiful.

Visuals

Combination PowerPoint & software demonstration.

Handouts

A tri-fold paper (not the only time I saw this format) useful mostly as a link to his personal site.

Homeless

  • A tall gangly guy walked in late and Lombard called him out in front of the entire crowd, “Hey, Guy! Hey, everybody, this is Guy Foresman.” Lombard continued with an oddly passive-aggressive introduction and the awkwardness of the moment was so overwhelming I seem to have repressed the memory. I vaguely recall Lombard telling everyone that Foresman is trying to turn this awesome, free, open source software into a lame, proprietary, end-user product. Foresman sat down, chagrined. It was like I was six and my parents were fighting.