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The Teaching Muscle I Want to Strengthen in 2018.

It’s the muscle that connects my capacity for noticing the world to my capacity for creating mathematical experiences for children. (I should also take some time in 2018 to learn how muscles work.)

By way of illustration, this was my favorite tweet of 2017.

Right there you have an image created by Brittany Wright, a chef, and shared with the 200,000 people who follow her on Instagram. Loads of people before Ilona had noticed it, but she connected that noticing to her capacity for creating mathematical experiences for children. She surveyed her Twitter followers, asking them to name their favorite banana, receiving over one thousand responses. Then on her blog she posed all kinds of avenues for her students’ investigation â€“Â distributions, probability, survey design, factor analysis, etc.

That skill â€“Â taking an interesting thing and turning it into a challenging thing â€“Â is one of teaching’s “unnatural acts.” Who does that? Not civilians. Teachers do. And I want to get awesome at it.

But Ilona ran a marathon and I want to run some wind sprints. I need quick exercises for strengthening that muscle. So here are my exercises for 2018:

I’m going to pause when I notice mathematical structures in the world. Like flying out of the United terminal in San Antonio at last year’s NCTM where I (and I’m sure a bunch of other math teachers) noticed this “Suitcase Circle.”

Then I’ll capture my question in a picture or a video. Kind of like the one above, except pictures like that one exist in abundance online.

Civilians capture scenes in order to preserve as much information as possible. That’s natural. But I’ll excerpt the scene, removing some information in order to provoke curiosity. Perhaps this photo, which makes me wonder, “How many suitcases are there?”

In order to gauge the curiosity potential of the image, I’ll share the media I captured with my community. Maybe with my question attached, like Ilona did. Maybe without a question so I can see the interesting questions other people wonder. You may find my photos on Twitter. You may find them at my pet website, 101questions.

I want to get to a place where that muscle is so strong that I’m hyper-observant of math in the world around me, and turning those observations into curious mathematical experiences for children is like a reflexive twitch.

(Plus, that muscle will be more fun to strengthen in 2018 than literally any other muscle in my body.)

BTW. Check out the 3-Act Task I created for the Suitcase Circle. It includes the following reveal, which I’m pretty proud of.

BTW. The suitcase circle later turned into Complete the Arch, a Desmos activity, which has some really nice math going on.

[Suitcase Circle photo by Scott Ball]

Featured Comment

I would just add that we shouldn’t forget that the classroom is a world within a world for us to notice, and that while many great, unforgettable tasks are based on interesting phenomena that we’ve observed or collected outside of school, on a day-to-day basis, high-impact tasks are probably more likely to be rooted in our observations and interactions with our students (in fact, even the banana tweet and post were sparked by a conversation with a student who was eating what was, to me, an exceptionally green banana). They tend not to be as flashy, but can have just as much impact because they’re tailored to the kids, norms, relationships, and histories in our classrooms.

Any Questions?

My mother made me a scientist without ever intending to. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: So? Did you learn anything today? But not my mother. â€œIzzy,â€ she would say, â€œdid you ask a good question today?â€ That difference â€” asking good questions â€” made me become a scientist.

[cross-posted to the 101questions blog]

The big changes:

• You can upload files now. No more pasting links to external content. You no longer have to upload your image to Dropbox or ImageShack or anywhere else (an incredibly cumbersome step for a lot of people) just to get material onto 101questions. We’re no longer restricted to YouTube’s hardline interpretation of Fair Use either.
• You can get more responses more quickly by sending your link around. It bummed people out that they’d link to a first act and other people couldn’t add a question unless they saw it randomly come up on the homepage. “You should be able to add a question to the page itself,” they said. I resisted but I was wrong and now you can.

The small changes:

• A pile of corrections to aspects of the UI that annoyed me, Amazon S3 integration, automatic comment subscription, a lot ground laid for the winter update.

[cross-posted to the 101questions blog]

Here are the top-level updates for 101questions:

1. You have better quality control rankings. I’m no longer listing the top ten most perplexing people on the site. We can bring that list back if we miss it, but my sense from conversations on this blog and at Stanford is that it was ultimately more divisive than useful. I’ve also split the top ten lists for photos and videos and added a “right now” option alongside the “all time” rankings, so we can see what’s recently perplexing.
2. You can bookmark questions now. Maybe your first act received eighty questions, but those eighty questions are really only composed of four or five distinct questions. You can now click a bookmark icon and put them in order from most common to least. You’ll help other people (and yourself) get a better sense of the questions people asked about your first act. (See what I mean with US Bank.)
4. You can delete your own first acts now. Maybe someone’s comment gave you a better idea for your timelapse video of grass growing on your lawn. Now you can delete the old one before you upload the new one.
5. You have better access to the feedback on all your first acts. I’m really happy with the new “latest” tab in your profile. It has more information â€” you’ll see questions and skips like before but also comments and bookmarks â€” in a cleaner layout.
6. You won’t be able to upload itty-bitty images anymore. The uploader makes sure your pictures are at least the size of the viewing window.
7. I got rid of Facebook, Twitter, and G+ sharing. No one used them and Twitter uses them to stalk you around the web. So I got rid of them and replaced them with a “Copy Link” option that puts the shortlink on your clipboard. You decide what you want to do with it.
8. Animated GIFs are now supported.
9. You can search the site. Something that’s a little fun is that even though you haven’t tagged your first acts in any particular way, other users have. They’re asking questions about your photos and videos and our search engine finds in those questions the semantic goodness it craves. (ie. “Everyone is asking questions about a basketball?” says our genial and dimwitted search engine. “Maybe this first act is about a basketball!”) I’ll be messing with the algorithm over time but ideally, at some point in the near future, you’ll come to the site saying to yourself, “I’d love to motivate completing the square with a video of Australian rugby” (or something equally unlikely) and the site will deliver.

Add in a slew of of performance tweaks and other odds and ends and you have a site update that’s been a long time in the making. If you see anything fun or funny, don’t hesitate to let me know.

Five Favorites â€” 101Questions [6/2/12]

1. San Francisco House, Scott Farrar.
2. Costco TV, Megan Hayes-Golding.
3. Bill Roll, Joe Kremer.
4. Good Tip / Bad Tip, Joe.
5. Little Boy Counting, David Wees.

My Own Listing:

Data Dump:

I’m obliged to Phil Wagner for helping me parse 30,000+ questions:

Most Common First Word

49%: How
18%: What
5%: Is
4%: Why
3%: Which

Most Common First Two Words

20%: How many
10%: What is
10%: How much
6%: How long
2%: How big

Most Common First Three Words

8%: What is the
2%: How long will
1%: What are the
1%: How big is
1%: How many people

Most Common First Four Words

2%: How long will it
1%: How big is the
1%: How tall is the
1%: How long is the
1%: How long does it