Month: April 2009

Total 25 Posts

Yes We Can, Etc.

Kate Kowak is to math blogging what Barack Obama was to stump speeches:

My hope is that what we are witnessing here [with What Can You Do With This?] is a paradigm shift. At the intersection of problem-based lessons, digital projectors, blogging, and frustration with poor-quality textbooks, is blossoming a new way of bringing mathematical understanding to our kids. We don’t need to buy anything new, or anyone’s permission…just the structure, and the willingness to be observant and curious, and the humbleness to imagine that there might be a better way. I think this is just the beginning. I think this is going to spread like a fire.

What You Can’t Do With This: NLOS Cannon Challenge

This is a classic game. It’s been around in various forms longer than I’ve been alive. Choose your velocity, choose your angle, cross your fingers, and fire. Discovery has simplified the game nicely, removing some noisy variables like wind speed, which you’ll find in other versions.

I first saw Discovery’s incarnation several weeks ago and have been on-and-off obsessed ever since by the question: what can I do with this? The point of this post is to throw up my hands and report: nearly nothing. I have no idea what the students do here.

I mean, it’s far from worthless. If a student can get past level ten, then she clearly has some understanding of angle and velocity and the dialog between the two. She might even ask herself some interesting questions, like, which angle gives you the longest range? But I won’t drag the laptop cart across school for those small potatoes, for that two-step lesson plan of 1) guess and 2) check.

Here is the most rigorous, reasonable question this game can ask, a question which it is fundamentally incapable of answering: can you develop a method for hitting any target in one shot? This is a question either a) Discovery didn’t think of or b) Discovery thought of but, for whatever reason, didn’t make accessible to students.

Either way, it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating that:

  • there isn’t a grid for determining coordinates;
  • the units aren’t defined;
  • there isn’t a timer for determining parametrized equations;
  • banner advertising reloads in the middle of the projectile’s flight, making a mess of my makeshift timer.
  • you’re firing from the tip of the cannon, not the base of it, which adds mathematical noise;
  • the layouts change at random (ie. my level three isn’t the same as your level three) which crushes my one workaround here, copying level screenshots into Geogebra.
  • I think, though I can’t be sure, that you’re blowing up huts and tents in some levels, which, gross. Seriously.

All of which is frustrating. The game uses mathematical notation for angle and initial velocity. It comes packaged with its own assessment systemYou get 100 points for each unused shell. The student with the most points (likely) has the best algorithm and calculations.. This thing is so close to being useful.

Which makes it an interesting answer to Scott McLeod’s question, where are the Internet resources for your subject area? Because this game isn’t from some arcade site which I’m hopelessly trying to bang into a lesson plan. It’s from Discovery, which isn’t exactly apathetic to the needs of educators. Why didn’t the thing come with a lesson plan?

My takeaway here is that the people who know the Internet and the people who know instructional design aren’t the same people and they aren’t talking to each other enough. We are left to our own devices.

BTW: Just a little over a year later and Colleen King comes through for the team: Tactical Rescue Missions for Intergalactic Good. Great work.

Digital Time Travel

Sorry if you already caught this off my tweet but these photos, like I told my students, are some of the most eerie, gorgeous media the Internet has passed my way all year.

That was my preface, but I didn’t explain myself. I asked them to tell me what was so significant about the photo.

“Because they’re hiding.”
“Because they’re on a train.”

I asked them what the relationship was between those two girls.

“Mother and daughter.”

I told them that the photo had rattled me so much because there is only one girl in that photo. Those two girls are the same person, separated by decades. The child grew into the adult who digitally inserted herself back into childhood portraits.

Whether the results constitute “musings on the contemporary relevance of the self-portrait” or, for me, a concise visual metaphor for everything that is so wonderful and horrifying about growing up, or something else entirely, I don’t know. But they’re wonderful.


Like Littler Versions Of Us!

It was the National Day of Silence today while it was the Tax Day Tea Party two days ago. As participating students filed into my classroom, I was struck by their facial expressions. Some were appropriately solemn and reflective. Others stifled smiles, their silence just an affectation, protesting for the sake of protest. There were also provocateurs, students looking to undermine anything that gave the impression of sincerity.

Mostly, I was struck by the bijection between student protesters and adult protesters. Every fringe or mainstream character you’d find at a tea party you’d also find in my sixth period classroom, only smaller and a little more obvious about their motivations.

Will Oldham: “You’re Doing Music Wrong.”

Will Oldham, musician, actor, guy-who-takes-his-craft-extremely-seriously:

People are constantly contacting me saying, “I’ve been editing my movie, and I’ve been using your song in the editing process. What would it take to license the song?” And for me it’s like, “Regardless of what you’ve been doing, my song doesn’t belong in your movie.” [emph. mine]

A good song is a fully articulated capsule of theme and story. So is a good movie. What are the odds that the songwriter’s fully articulated capsule of theme and story aligns exactly with yours? In the event that they don’t align, whose theme/story — the professional’s or the amateur’s — do you think will override the other’s?Previously: Don’t Let Your Students Use Music In Their Video Projects.