Monday, November 14, 2011

Global Education Conference & RWM

A unique event will be taking place this week in cyberspace. The 2011 Global Education Conference is a free online conference that will connect educators from around the globe in a series of keynotes, presentations, and discussions. The conference begins on Monday, November 14 and literally lasts around the clock until concluding Friday. You can find a schedule of the conference at the bottom of the page here.  Find your time zone and click on it to link to the session times.  Each presentation listed includes links for viewing the event or for adding to your Google calendar.  

I will be doing a presentation entitled "Connecting to Real World Problems with Google Earth" on November 17, 00:00 GMT.  Please take some time to join me.  Use the session schedule to find my presentation in your time zone or find me in the schedule.  Note that my presentation will be taking place on Wednesday afternoon on November 16 in the U.S.  This is the link to my session in Blackboard is here.

The presentations will be given using Blackboard Collaborate.  Blackboard Collaborate is easy to use but you will need to download a file to your computer for each session and have a working internet connection.  Links to each session are given in the schedule.  Each presentation typically lasts 60 minutes.  Keep in mind that some presentations may be in another language; last year's conference had presentations from 62 different countries.

The conference is a collaborative, world-wide community initiative involving students, educators, and organizations at all levels. It is designed to significantly increase opportunities for building education-related connections around the globe while supporting cultural awareness and recognition of diversity.

The conference seeks to present ideas, examples, and projects related to connecting educators and classrooms with a strong emphasis on promoting global awareness, fostering global competency, and inspiring action towards solving real–world problems. Through this event, it is our hope that attendees will challenge themselves and others to become more active citizens of the world. Let us learn, question, create, and engage in meaningful, authentic opportunities within a global context!

 - conference website

Please take one hour out of the next four days to hear what others are doing around the world.  You may find some presentations lean towards educational technology but all should address the global experience of learning.  Enjoy!

Here are a few links for more information...
Global Education Conference website
Presentation schedule
Twitter: #globaled11
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Friday, October 21, 2011

New activity - Whale Watch

amy Whale, breaching, Stellwagen Bank National...Image via WikipediaI'm happy to announce a new activity has been added to the website. Whale Watch has students analyzing the sightings data of right whales around Cape Cod.  I think data and statistics probably don't get enough attention in most math programs, so hopefully this will help with that effort. Advances in technology have allowed for a greater amount of information to be shared and studied by more people. To me, data analysis is an important 21st century skill.

You probably wouldn't be surprised to learn that I went on a whale watching cruise out of Boston last summer. There were several things I found interesting on that trip (besides the whales, that is). First, the whale watching companies promise that you will see a whale on your trip or you get a free ticket for another day. I was curious how that worked out money-wise for them but my inquiries didn't gather much information. They shared with me that the repeat visitor normally brings additional visitors so that goes to their advantage. Other than that, they were tight-lipped about the numbers.

The other thing I thought would be interesting to learn is how they find the whales.  It's a big ocean after all and even though the whales frequent some regions it isn't always easy to find them.  The Stellwagen Bank is one such area where whales can be found in Massachusetts Bay.  I started to get the idea for a lesson to find Humpback whales (like our friend in the photo above) and decided to follow up on it.  The only problem was that I wasn't able to find any data.  What I did come across was the sightings data for North Atlantic Right Whales.  I learned that they aren't as plentiful as their cousins, in fact they are one of the most endangered whale species on the planet.  Thanks to NOAA and the Northeast Fisheries Service Center I was able to find a treasure trove of data.

I had originally envisioned students plotting the sightings into Google Earth, but after I had plotted the 250+ pieces of data I realized that wasn't practical.  I went over the entire list several times making modifications with the settings and concluded that this aspect wouldn't be a positive experience for the students.  In the end, I've focused the students more on analyzing the data than plotting it in Google Earth.  One thing I like about this activity is that I state that there are no prerequisite math skills needed.  That seems odd at first but when you are viewing the data in its different forms you realize that you aren't performing any math calculations.  I'm sure statisticians could do a lot more with the numbers, but primarily you're asking the students to sort the data in different ways and look for patterns.  The data can be examined not only by the location the whales were sighted but also the month and the number of whales in the group.  These characteristics alone seem to suggest a great deal of information.  Still, mathematical concepts such as averages, range, measurement, and number theory have a place in the exercise.

Whale Watch is also an opportunity for students to participate in a truly meaningful math lesson.  The right whale is an endangered mammal and its numbers are affected by ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear.  The activity has students mirroring what researchers do in real life and I like how it is basically an open-ended question.  Protecting the whales while allowing humans to use the ocean for commercial purposes is a problem that doesn't have a clear cut answer or solution.

I hope you and your students enjoy Whale Watch.  I had planned on getting some new lessons on the website in August, so I'm sorry for the delay.  Some of my summer tasks took longer to accomplish than I had planned, but now I'm free and clear to focus more attention on the site.
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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Real World Math featured

Thanks to Jac de Haan for the opportunity to spread the message.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What she said

The interior of the Francis M. Drexel School i...Image via Wikipedia

I just read through Sylvia Martinez's four part blog post Khan Academy and the mythical math cure, and I have to say that I agree wholeheartedly.  Posted back in April on the Generation YES blog, she examines the pedagogical effectiveness of the Khan approach while presenting the constructivist viewpoint.  As the publisher of a website that promotes constructivism in the classroom, I was embarrassed to have previously posted a somewhat positive review of Salman Khan's work.
Perhaps to my defense, I did not so much as endorse his videos as I embraced the use of technology as an instructional tool.  In The Path of Khan, I wrote that the videos provide an option for individualized instruction and that their popularity could be the catalyst needed to digitize textbooks.  But while I suggested that Khan's instruction wasn't that different from a classroom lecture, Ms. Martinez astutely points out that this use of technology doesn't either.  Whether the pupil is in the classroom or watching a video at home, this approach treats the learner as a passive participant.  Again as a proponent of active learning, I regretted my previous words.  Maybe I was just glad to see another approach to math instruction gain popularity.  I could go on and try to retract my words but let me just say that I agree with what she said.

Constructivism is the belief that learning is best achieved when the individual uses his/her previous experiences to create new meaning, or as Sylvia puts it, "People learn by reorganizing what they already have in their head and adding new information that makes sense to them.  No doubt this is at odds with teacher-dominated instruction, but is there room for both?  Can a learner take an active and passive role?  Ms. Martinez seems to believe that it can't be both and I'm not sure I agree.  I think meaningful learning is a personalized process but I don't discount the value of teacher instruction altogether.  Would she presume that we can't learn anything from reading a book, watching a movie, or listening to a lecture?  To be fair, her points are directed at math learning which leads to a lengthy discussion in itself.  I'm referring to the question of what is necessary in a math education, but I won't go down that path right now.

I will recommend her post as a must-read for math instructors (instruction?).  Like Dan Meyer's work, I found it further developed beliefs I already had (constructivism?) and provided inspiration for my future efforts.  I won't discount Khan's work altogether; his intention is to individualize learning which is a worthy goal.  Perhaps what the path of Khan shows us is that pedagogy isn't changed just by using technology.  It's going to take more than technology to reform education.  I'm just glad we are moving forward. 
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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What does it take to teach with technology?

After spending the last 5 months training teachers on how to use technology in the classroom, I've been able to come to some conclusions on the subject.  I'm not the first to say it, but it really is true that it isn't about the technology.  It's about the teacher.

Teachers have gotten by just fine with a single piece of chalk for a long time.  That's because it wasn't the chalk that was teaching.  Sure, there are those book things also, but with technology we can provide instruction in ways we weren't previously able to.  Think of it as going from a standard box of crayons with 5 colors to a jumbo box of 64 with a sharpener.  Wow, think of the possibilities!  Problem is, even though you have a palette of the rainbow before you, it still depends on how good you can color.

So what does it take to teach with technology?  It takes effort on the teacher's part.  You need to educate yourself on what resources are available and how to use them.  Your goal shouldn't be to plug a computer into a student.  Each tool and resource have their own benefits and limits, so get acquainted with them.  Decide if you want to color the sky with Cerulean or Blue Gray.  You have your standards to guide you, but you don't have to stay in between the lines.  You have infinite resources and solutions to choose from so you better get started.

You have a lot of ways to present the information, but you still need to think about the information itself.  If a lesson is composed poorly, technology isn't going to save it.  Think about your instructional goals and then choose the best resource to accomplish it.  You shouldn't be using technology for the sake of technology alone.  On the other hand, why do you have that beautiful box of crayons if you're not going to take it out?  Is that interactive whiteboard collecting dust in the corner because it isn't useful or because you haven't found a use for it?

Be prepared for class.  Sometimes you find a crayon in the box that is broken.  You need to have a back up plan for those times when the Internet is down or a bulb is blown.  If you have trouble, you can always ask for help from the teacher across the hall, only now you have thousands of teachers across the hall of cyberspace to get advice.  Become active in a social network to build upon your professional development.  This is where you'll get ideas and perhaps you can help others as well.

If we are asking our students to be creative and innovative, then it makes sense that we should expect the same from the teachers.  Unlike your coloring artwork, this doesn't come naturally.  You need to look for the resources to use and assemble them into your instruction.  The possibilities are countless so the more informed you are the easier it will be to find the right crayon for your creation.

There are very few limits.  If you were restricting yourself to teaching from a textbook before, then you had confined your students to that material.  Would you want to go through school with just 5 colors of crayon?  Google the words "water cycle" and you get over 23 million choices to explore.  Look it up in the back of the book and it will say "p.54".  Furthermore, an additional benefit of ed tech is that a wider scope of thinking skills can be addressed more easily.  Collaboration, improved problem solving skills, and creativity are common byproducts.  Most textbooks aim low in Bloom's Taxonomy, but then again, this depends on the teacher.

If this sounds like a lifestyle change then I guess it is.  You can get by with what you've been doing and save yourself the additional time and effort this requires.  But if you're like me, you'll find a renewed sense of purpose and energy in your instruction.  The common thread to all of this was that it wasn't the piece of chalk or the crayon or even the bulk of technology making the decisions.  It isn't the technology that improves instruction, it's what the teacher does with it.

Photos by stuartpilbrow and Ben Sparks
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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Path of Khan

The Future of EducationImage by jurvetson via FlickrOne math resource that has gotten an increasing amount of attention in the past year is the Khan Academy.  Created by MIT grad Salman Khan, the Khan Academy currently boasts a collection of nearly 2,500 Math and Science video tutorials.   His videos have been viewed on YouTube over 73 million times and are used by students, tutors, and math instructors around the World.  Khan Academy has been featured on NPR, CNN, and PBS to name a few, and Bill Gates uses the videos with his kids.  This is quite a mark made by a nonprofit led by one individual, but what is it about Khan Academy that leads to this kind of attention?

Kirk: Khan... Khan, you've got Genesis, but you don't have me. You were going to kill me, Khan. You're going to have to come down here. You're going to have to come down here! Khan: I've done far worse than kill you, Admiral. I've hurt you. And I wish to go on hurting you. I shall leave you as you left me, as you left her; marooned for all eternity in the center of a dead planet... buried alive! Buried alive...! 

Perhaps it isn't quite this dramatic, but while some math educators embrace Khan Academy - others discount its influence.  Of all the disciplines, I think math instructors are known as the most traditional.  Upon closer look, Salman Khan's instructional approach isn't that different from what you would find in the classroom setting.  Instead of a chalk or whiteboard, he uses a Smooth Draw writing pad with a black background.  His diagrams and notes are all done by hand in different fluorescent colors.  There are presentation tools available that are much better than his crude script.  He is clearly a remarkably intelligent individual but what is it that makes his work stand out?

It's the technology - or rather, how it is used.  The origin of Khan's tutorials came from his desire to help relatives and friends more efficiently, so he posted them on YouTube.  Now he could create the tutorials when he had the time and his students could view them when they wanted.  The online distribution alone provides an individualized instruction through its convenience.

Online videos can not only be shared, but they can be paused, downloaded, and linked to.  Perhaps the college professor doesn't have the freshman's full attention in math class.  The student may be tired, doodling cartoons, or thinking about the girl across the room.  With Khan as his instructor, he can watch the video later.  He can stop it to answer the phone, and he can replay it as many times as he needs to until he understands the epsilon delta limit.

The other thing that Salman Khan provides with technology is a vast catalog of topics in different subject areas.  Enter a search term and you should find a video or several videos on the concept.  Having the familiarity of the same instructor helps as well, I think, or perhaps he provides a different instructional viewpoint from what is found in the classroom.  He has said that he envisions his teachings as a 1:1 experience and this comes through in the videos also.  Technology has provided millions of students their own personal tutor.

What I hope Khan's greatest legacy is that he has created the influence necessary to force textbook publishers to digitize.  Some math professors have decided to go without textbooks, and rely on Khan Academy to supplement their instruction.  The technology has existed for some time, so perhaps it is only the profit margin that has prevented a widespread adoption of this.  Khan Academy proves that valuable instruction can be provided globally in a cost efficient manner, conveniently with technology.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Stormy Weather

Typhoon Paka on December 15 at approximately 0...Image via WikipediaI've been following the news of the hurricane traveling up the eastern seaboard.  Hurricane Irene's intensity seems to have peaked long ago and it is starting to deteriorate into what we call around here a "banana bender".  It sounds like a wet storm so I suppose flooding is the worst concern.
Living on Guam for the past 22 years has exposed me to over 15 major typhoons- as they're called in this part of the world.  I've been through three Super Typhoons: Yuri, Paka, and Pongsonga.  A super typhoon has maximum sustained winds of 150mph or greater, comparable to a category 5 hurricane. 
It's been almost 10 years since we had our last typhoon.  I don't know how long our luck will last but we'll be ready for it.  Guam is situated in a convergence region so it has seen many typhoons in its history.  Most of our structures are built out of concrete because anything less gets torn apart.  Guam doesn't have many tall trees for the same reason.  But with the extended lull in activity the island's vegetation has had a long holiday.  I'm sure the next typhoon that comes along will cause a big mess in this regard.
The first lesson I made for Real World Math was the Typhoon Project.  Using Google Earth as a typhoon tracker was an obvious choice when I first saw it.  I saw it as an interactive map of a weather event.  I'm sure I wasn't the first person to use a mapping graphic in that way, but it seemed original to me back in 2007.  Now I see similar graphics for Hurricane Irene in all of the news' sites I've been reading.  The National Weather Service has a kmz generator which, as I understand it, can create radar overlays for Google Earth.  I haven't tried it yet so let me know what you think.
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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Great tip for editing placemarks

Thank you Aaron Slutsky for this gem.  This is a quick and easy way to format images, videos, and text for your Google Earth placemarks.  Can't wait to see how it handles text and color formatting.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Professor Morris Kline revisited

A mathematics lecture, apparently about linear...Image via WikipediaAs I was researching material to form the ideology of Real World Math, I tried to find sources that would support the best methods of math instruction. There exists a great number of studies that present the failures of math education, but a disproportionate amount that provide the answers.  One only needs to visit their library to find that the section on mathematics takes up the least shelf space.  And so it happened that I was in a university library that I found a publication of Professor Morris Kline's Why Johnny Can't Add, literally gathering dust.  Although it was written several decades earlier, I had found an influential voice in my view on mathematics.

Kline was professor of mathematics at NYU, and from the 1950's-70's he was a rebellious voice in higher education.  He expressed strong beliefs that the math curricula was misguided and ineffectual, taking particular aim at the New Math of his time.  What I found so striking about his words was that his criticisms seemed just as relevant today as they did half a century ago. There are many of his views I could share with you but for this post I will select one.

Professor Kline believed that perhaps the greatest failing in math education occurred when it was divorced from the physical sciences.  The date of this event may be hard to determine, but it probably occurred when a publisher created a textbook entitled Algebra and another Chemistry.  He observed that many of the great mathematical minds of history were individuals who studied science; Descartes, Newton, and Gauss, to name a few.  Throughout history, mathematics was the means in which scientific observations and deductions were made, but somewhere along the way formal education separated them into distinct subjects of study.  Mathematics became a separate field of inquiry.

Kline felt that the failure of math education was not the fault of the student but of the material they were learning.  Without science, or a connection to the physical world, math had lost its purpose.  Learning mathematics for the "beauty of math" or the goal of learning more purposeless material would not benefit the majority of students.

What should we teach? We want material that will provide motivation, sustain the interest of the student, exhibit the methods of the operation peculiar to mathematics, and demonstrate the chief values of mathematics. I believe that the answer is to tie mathematics closely to the study of the physical world. I do not mean that mathematics should be buried in some corner of a physical science course but rather that we should motivate interpret, and apply mathematics through fundamental physical problems and of course include wherever possible the broader implications, largely cultural, of what mathematics has accomplished. Mathematics derives from the study of nature and is valuable mainly because of what it returns to nature. - Kline 1955

If you are familiar with my site, then you can see how I took Professor Kline's words to heart.  I have tried make connections from math to the physical world so that students can see how concepts are applied.  Many of RWM's activities are suggested as cross-curricular content for science; perhaps there should be more.  What I would suggest to you is that you find a way to reunite the disciplines this year in some way.  Talk to your fellow teachers and try to make correlations in your instruction.  Show the students how ideas and knowledge are related so that they can realize their learning has purpose.

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Monday, August 1, 2011

New school year...

Back to SchoolImage via WikipediaHope your summer was restful and you are ready to start a new school year.  Although I haven't posted any new lessons for a while, it doesn't mean that I haven't kept myself busy.  I've had a number of projects I've been working on in the past months but I'm eager to add some fresh content to the site.  I'll insert my usual plea for lesson suggestions here.  Please email if you have something you'd like to see on the site (

Truth be told, I have a large PBL activity that I'm currently working on; I'm still researching and collecting resources.  Once I get over the hump of obstacles, the work will go much more quickly.  I have a few ideas for Primary age lessons and I'd like to get to Mars this year.  I'd like to add a Problem of the Day feature; I've been collecting material for that throughout the summer.  So try out the lessons that are available and keep an eye out for new content coming this year.  Announcements are also made via Twitter (

If you are just getting your feet wet with Real World Math lessons or if you have a new group of students that will be using Google Earth for the first time, then I will direct you to a previous post: Back to School.  You'll find some tips and suggestions on which RWM lessons to use to start out the year.

Finally, I've created an contact page (  This should make it easy for you to recommend RealWorldMath to other teachers - so why don't you?

Check out my profile!

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Moby and Me

As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the best things about ISTE conferences is you get a chance to meet face to face with the people whom you've only had a cyber connection with.  I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the individual that I was most anxious to meet - Moby.  Yes, that's right; Moby from BrainPop was the first person I sought out when I got to the convention hall.  My two girls are big fans and so I wanted to make sure I got a photo op and few trinkets.  BrainPop seems to keep growing and growing.  Every time I view the site it seems to have more content and it continues to win award for excellence.  BrainPop's explains concepts in a very concise manner with animations designed for children ages 3 and up,  If you have students in grades K-8, then you will want to take a look at what the site has to offer for educators.  See you next year, Moby.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

ISTE 2011: Looking back

It's taken awhile, but I'm ready to share my thoughts on this year's ISTE conference.  I've been traveling for the past 3 weeks so I have a lot of sorting out to do.  As usual, I've come away with new ideas for the upcoming year, made some great contacts, and gained a sense of validity to the work I do.

The majority of my time was spent in Boston but the train ride to Philadelphia was a highlight.  I've never seen that stretch of New England before so I enjoyed that portion of the trip.  Traveling by train was much more enjoyable than traveling by plane!  Philadelphia proved to be a great host city.  I don't think I have ever seen such a concentration of places to eat with a tremendous variety to choose from.  As expected, the conference center was huge so that gave an opportunity to work off some calories.

The conference is pretty overwhelming.  On any given day, you have hundreds of choices to follow.  I like going to the Exposition Hall and seeing all of the vendors and their products.  I like to think that I gain a better sense of what tools are out there and what the coming trends are going to be.  As far as the latter, I think you'll see interactive projector systems in place of the whiteboards, and an even greater increase in shared resource learning systems.  Safari Montage is still my dream application.  A lot of systems now have social networking as a component.  Instead of hearing how all of the States' standards are addressed in learning systems, this year the word was "Core".

I found it harder to follow the program this year.  I attended a disappointing BYOL session (in large part because of the lack of Internet connection) and I browsed some of the Poster sessions.  It's always great to see the passion that people bring with their work.  I noticed a large increase in the amount of math related content this year which is encouraging.  The second day was a bust for me.  Because of a morning keynote, the sessions didn't start until 10am.  Add to this a 3 hour stint of volunteering in the afternoon and most of my day was gone.  There's always conflicts in your schedule.  If I go next year, I would like to connect more with the special interest groups and the informal sessions that spring up throughout the day.

The Real World Math poster session went well enough.  I was prepared with my materials, but 125 pamphlets proved to be not enough.  The poster sessions were tucked away on the side of the conference hall.  This was disappointing because they didn't get the same amount of traffic as they did in Denver.  My session was on the last day around lunchtime so the attendance was lower than what I had hoped for.  I was able to share my site with many who were unaware of it.  I'll have to hope that exponential power of networks will help spread the word further.

Overall, it's hard to justify the costs of travel to events like these.  Even harder to quantify the gains you take away.  Ironically, the same technology that we are promoting enables us to connect year-round outside of conference halls.  Still there's something special about the opportunity to meet face-to-face with over ten thousand like minded people.
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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Heading for ISTE2011

There's a train at the station waiting to take me to the 2011 ISTE Conference in Philadelphia.  This year's event will be different, mainly because I'll be presenting, but also because I've changed my game plan from a year ago.

If you haven't had the opportunity to attend one of these conventions, suffice to say it is the grand-daddy of ed tech events.  I believe they're expecting roughly 20,000 attendees and exhibitors this year.  The convention kicks off on Sunday and lasts until Wednesday afternoon.  There are over 700 sessions scheduled, ranging from formal lectures to roundtable discussions, and 500 companies will be showing off their products at the Exposition Hall.  Personally, I'm not going to try to make it to all of these this year.  Besides being impossible, you end up missing more than you see when you're rushing about.  I hope to take a more relaxed approach this year and focus on quality rather than quantity.  If you are unable to attend, fret not; many of the events are available online as streaming webcasts or in recorded form here

Real World Math has a Learning Station session on Wednesday, June 29, from 11-1pm.  You can find an overview here and participate in the session's discussion here.  If you are attending the conference, I hope you find the time to stop by and say hello.  I'll try not to disappoint.  I think I can promise you a unique giveaway to add to your pile of swag.  You'll have to come to find out what it is, but suffice to say that it is entirely appropriate.

I would like to thank all of those who helped me get to this point.  Thank you to the professors at the University of Guam who helped me get this website off the ground and online. With over 120,000 visits to the RWM site, I think they can consider that a successful Master's project.  Thank you Amanda for providing the silky-voiced narration to the RWM promotional movie (which will debut at the session).  Thank you Emily for the expert design work and advice you have given me.  She is responsible for the new look of Real World Math seen above.  You can find examples of her beautiful work at, including gift cards and calendars that are available for ordering online.  I hear she also does emergency calligraphy work if you're in a bind.  And finally, thank you to my wife for putting up with the time and expense of my efforts.  At times it can be hard to justify what RWM is worth, but she always seems to understand.

I'd like to think that Real World Math is at a turning point right now.  Which direction that takes, we'll have to see in the year to come.  I always have ideas for new things and I hope I provide lessons you find useful.  Thank you for your support of Real World Math.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Accessibility to Technology

This is the internationally recognized symbol ...Image via Wikipedia

Now that you've finally made it to the summer, it's time to get to that list of things you want to do.   If you're like me, you have a number of ideas and projects for education that have been sitting on the back burner.  One topic I'll be pursuing is the accessibility of technology for people with disabilities.

I have to admit that this is an area I haven't considered in my fervor to integrate technology.  It is, however, an issue that I've noticed more and more in the material I come across.  Like this article in Campus Technology entitled "Department of Ed Expands on Accessibility Issue in Ed Tech",  most point out that education is meant to be provided to everyone no matter what form it takes.  Web content providers, such as myself, need to take this into account as we publish our material for use in the classroom.  W3C, the World Wide Web Consortium lists some areas to consider:
  • alternative text for images
  • keyboard input
  • transcripts for podcasts
I believe the first item is most relevant to what I provide with  I have embraced the visual content of Google Earth as a prime feature of my work, but I haven't considered how someone who is visually impaired would be able to complete the tasks.  I could be wrong.  There could be more issues that I need to address and so that is why I plan on learning more.  The W3C site seems to be a good place to start.

Please share your thoughts or send me resources to accomplish this.  If you like, I can post a follow up entry in the future.

On a different topic, I am gearing up for the ISTE 2011 convention in Philadelphia.  I have a poster session on Wednesday, June 29 from 11am-1pm.  If you're attending the convention I hope you take time to stop by and say hi.
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Sunday, May 15, 2011

President Obama, what's next?

President Barack Obama speaks at Cairo Univers...Image via Wikipedia
Dear Mr. President,

Now that you have caught the world's most wanted man, what's next?  You've proven yourself as someone who is not afraid to tackle tough issues and insurmountable tasks, so may I suggest education?  I can imagine the look on your face right now.  Although education is a popular cornerstone in politics, getting two people to agree on what should be done is about as popular as ... well, healthcare.  I'm sure you have many gray hairs to blame on that battle, but don't despair.

Let me remind you of what you said in Cairo on June 4, 2009:
"I know there are many – Muslim and non-Muslim – who question whether we can forge this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division, and to stand in the way of progress. Some suggest that it isn't worth the effort – that we are fated to disagree, and civilizations are doomed to clash. Many more are simply skeptical that real change can occur. There is so much fear, so much mistrust. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward. And I want to particularly say this to young people of every faith, in every country – you, more than anyone, have the ability to remake this world."
That went over pretty well didn't it?  From Tunisia to Syria, people are rising up in popular protests and, although it may be premature to judge how this will turn out, I think most feel it is a good thing.  A number of countries are shedding dictatorships and hoping for an equal distribution of wealth and opportunity.  So let's start another revolution---one in this country that affects us all.  Let's talk about public education.

As I see it, there are three points of view in this debate: politicians, school administrators, and teachers.  All three purport to have the students' best interests in mind.  The main difference is that the first two depend on statistics to make their points and the last has actual contact with the students.  I'm not against the use of statistics in making policy decisions, but here's the problem: statistics require data, and data needs to be something you can quantify or measure.  This brings us to a sheet of paper with an array of bubbles marked A, B, C, & D.  As most teachers can tell you, standardized testing is a convenient way to give a test, but the results only give you a glimpse of a child's mind.  Most of these tests measure the lowest levels of thinking: recall, comprehension, and application.  It isn't easy to formulate an assessment that measures critical thinking, problem solving, and innovative use of knowledge; attributes you have valued in your education plan.  Clearly, something was wrong when test taking skills became the priority for school districts and parents, rather than the students' intellectual growth, and so I am glad to read your recent comments on this.

In March, you urged Congress to come up with a new plan for education.  It seems the No Child Left Behind plan of your predecessor isn't quite working out as it was thought it would.  According to the Huffington Post, " The Education Department estimated last week that the percentage of schools labeled as 'failing' under the law could more than double this year, jumping from 37 percent to 82 percent as states boost standards to try to satisfy the law's mandates."  You said, "In the 21st century, it's not enough to leave no child behind.  We need to help every child get ahead. We need to get every child on a path to academic excellence."  I don't mean to put any more pressure on you, but you have to know that it starts at the top and works its way down.  Administrators will do what the politicians tell them, the teachers will do what the administrators tell them, and the students will do what the teachers tell them.  Why is it that teachers seem to be the focal point on whether or not these plans are successful?  Yes, there are some bad teachers just as there are bad doctors or bad brick layers; all should be held accountable.  But a growing sentiment among teachers is 'don't blame the soldiers for losing the war.'

No one becomes a teacher because it's a glamorous job.  It isn't high paying and for those who are quick to point out the summers off as a luxury, let me ask you this:  How many occupations require a person to work a full day's work, and then to go home and work several more hours each night?  I don't see airline pilots taking a 747 home with them, or a nurse with a car full of patients.  How many occupations necessitate that hours of work are done every weekend?  I'm sure there are some, lawyers working on briefs, or accountants balancing numbers in their after hours, but how does their pay compare to that of a teacher?  Teachers aren't only grading papers, but planning, creating, and researching for their work as well.  Beyond the children they are in charge of, they also coordinate with their peers, administrators, and parents.  A teacher's day doesn't end with the final bell.  I'm not against year-round schooling or extending the school day, but I am keenly aware of time dedicated teachers put in outside of the classroom.

So where should you start?  If you truly want 21st century learning, then take a hard look at the 20th century approaches we cling to.  There is enough course material to fill any textbook or standardized test at any grade level many times over.  This coverage is referred to as "a mile wide and an inch deep."  So what is the absolute knowledge required for today?  Is it the same as the previous century?  This is a formidable examination to pursue, but one that is decades overdue.

Next, ask yourself how much weight do you want to give this content knowledge.  Do you think it is more important that students are knowledgeable, or that they know how to find the information they need and how to use it?  Remember those bubble tests; what are they measuring?  Content knowledge is important, but not as much as it used to be.  My smart phone can provide me with the answers to a million questions.  Even still, I think it was Jefferson's mind rather than his library that made him a great thinker.

The next aspect to examine is whether there is a model of education that is flexible enough to meet each student's needs.  For a long time it was 'one size fits all',  It isn't easy to adapt lessons or assessments for every individual.  Not impossible, but not easy.  Your course material and testing needs to be fluid if you truly want to meet each students' needs.  The good news here is that technology will enable us to to accommodate, challenge, and assess a wider range of students more easily.

These are just some of the tenets that need to be addressed.  I don't mean to discourage you, but education reform is much more complicated than the revision of health care.  As usual, there will be a chorus of dissenting voices, but I feel politicians need to understand that true change isn't going to occur just by raising test standards.  This isn't an issue that lasts one news cycle or a 6 month re-election period.  You need to filter out that noise and listen to the people whose passion is education year after year.  I've found the most progressive minds in education today are those educators involved with technology.  They are innovative.  They are problem solvers.  They are what you want the students of tomorrow to be.  I am encouraged by what I've been hearing lately on the DOE's efforts.  I wish you luck and will support your efforts for true reform in education.  

Test Problems: Seven Reasons Why Standardized Tests Are Not Working
  National Education Technology Plan 2010
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New lesson posted: Crop Circles 2

Center Pivot IrrigationImage by eutrophication&hypoxia via FlickrIf you're reading this then you're probably already aware that I've added a new lesson to the site:  Crop Circles 2.  Apart from what you can find on the lesson's page, I thought I'd add some more background on the process of creating these activities. 

First of all, I'm not a farmer; although I have to admit there's something about it that I find appealing.  Central-pivot irrigation systems have proven to be a gold mine of content for my site.  They are literally dripping with math (pun intended).  This is the second lesson where they are the topic and I have two more in mind for them as well.  I may try to toss out Crop Circles 3 in the next few weeks since I already have some locations scouted in Google Earth.  The content for that was going to be in Crop Circles 2 but I thought it would be too large.  Number 4 will probably go under a different title.  That one is an ambitious project-based learning activity that I will probably work on over the summer.

A key criteria for topics in Real World Math is that they be visually appealing in Google Earth.  I think most people who have viewed central-pivot irrigation from an airplane are a bit fascinated by them.  Once I have the topic in mind, I need to cruise Google Earth for some good locations.  There are thousands of these fields across the U.S., but there are large concentrations in Washington, Nebraska, Kansas, and Texas.  Once I find some with clear views at different altitudes I begin to drop some placemarks.

Now for the Math.  I already used these for word problems with circle area and circumference in the original Crop Circle's lesson.  At that time I had the idea of finding the area of each ring in the field but that seemed too tedious of a calculation.  That's basically how I decided the new lesson would use spreadsheets.  I needed to find some relevant math content and so I began probing the internet for more information.  There are a few sites and pdf files available but I couldn't find exactly what I wanted to know:  how do they regulate the flow for each ring?  I wanted some specific numbers because I always try to base my material on, well...,  real world math.  In the end I tried emailing some of the manufacturers of these irrigation systems.  To my delight, I received prompt replies from Reinke, T-L Irrigation, and Roberts Irrigation, some of the top producers in the country.  Most of the numbers they supplied me with are incorporated into the lesson.

In the end, I spend the most time creating and formatting the material for teachers.  I try to check my work very carefully because I don't want to put out incorrect information or mistakes.  It's quite fulfilling when I've finished and get to share it with you.  Even more so if I get feedback.  Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any problems or questions.  Let me know if you'd like me to target a particular grade level or subject.  As always, I hope you find this useful.

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Monday, April 25, 2011


SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 14:  Artwork of th...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Just returned from the Google Teacher Academy in Sydney and I am completely begoogled. They say you only use 10% of your brain; I'd say the same thing about my use of Google.  I thought I had a good handle on most of Google's tools, but I found I hadn't come close.

There really isn't any big secret.  It's all there in front of you whenever you use any Google application: Docs, Calendar, Gmail, Sites, Groups, etc. etc.  Just pick your way through any one of these carefully and follow the  links on the periphery.  What you'll find is that the application you have grown accustomed to can do so much more.  One common theme that you shouldn't overlook is the connectedness of all of the tools.  You can embed a calendar in a doc and get a gmail notification if an event is added.   I guess I'd say that I had all the dots laid out before me and connected in a way I hadn't seen before.  It's a lot of dots.

As far as Real World Math is concerned, let's just say that I filled a notebook with ideas on the plane ride home.  If you liked the recent Crop Circles' lesson, I started working on a part 2 that evolved into a part 3.  Part 3 I think could be the best activity I've produced for the site yet.  I'm anxious to put these new ideas out there for you.

Sydney was a fantastic city to visit; of course, it didn't hurt that the weather was perfect.  The Academy lasted 1 1/2 days and was led by a great team of presenters.  The participants came from around Australia, New Zealand, and surprisingly quite a few from the States.  If you're interested in attending one of these events, my best advice for you is to set a Google Alert for "next Google Teacher Academy".  You'll get Gmail notifications whenever similar results are posted on the Internet.  These aren't planned too far in advance and so you have to stay on your toes.  You might want to check this page also from time to time.  I'll send out a tweet if I hear of one.

Side notes:
  • If you haven't noticed RWM is now on Twitter.  I'd have to say I'm not a huge fan of it yet, but I joined so that I can notify you whenever new material is posted on my site or blog.
  • If you are attending ISTE 2011 in Philadelphia, I have a Poster session scheduled for Wednesday 6/29 from 11-1pm.  I hope to meet you there!
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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Brilliant Prezi by Alison Blank

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Sure it's stupid, but...

Kudos to you if you made it past the 2 minute mark; it's not that hilarious or entertaining.  Sure it's stupid, but think about what the kids are trying to do: use a computer to order a pizza.  They know the sequence of questions typical in a pizza order: where do you live, what is your phone number, what would you like, etc.  I'm assuming they've set up some of these text-to-speech phrases in advance and are playing them at times in the appropriate moment.  How stupid would they be if they set up an actual working system where people can use a computer to order a pizza in a city?

Well guess what; it's already been done.  In some cities there already exists online ordering systems for restaurants, grocery stores, movie tickets, and yes, pizza.  So what's my point?  Mark Zuckerberg started off by creating an online beauty ranking program.  His social network, Facebook, is now estimated to be worth $50 billion.  The ability to "think outside of the box" is considered to be a great asset in today's rapidly changing world.  So don't be so quick to dismiss students' ideas on how to use technology.  Of course there are boundaries of decency and what not, but we should encourage creative thinking and not be so particular on one true solution.

The trick would be trying to harness the kid's prank into something productive.  He's halfway there already.  He has the idea.  He knows the questions used in pizza ordering.  So how does he put it in a usable format?  What if the order is from outside of the delivery area?  What are the pathways the system uses when there are different options?  Can he draw a diagram of this system?  Can he express it in a spreadsheet?  Do you see where I'm going here?  Teachers also need to think outside the box and devise thoughtful lessons that stimulate young minds.  The prankster of today could be tomorrow's billionaire.
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Saturday, March 26, 2011

5 Tech Verbs

Personas utilizando multiterminalImage via WikipediaI've been giving this some thought lately and I've decided our interaction with popular technology can be summed up with five verbs. By popular technology I mean in large part that which has to do with personal computers, and by stating five verbs I'm sure that means there are more I haven't considered. Nevertheless, the verbs I've decided on are commonly used with many applications and are associated with other similar actions. They are as follows: Enter, Copy, Format, Share, and Search. Consider these the "parts of tech speech" in their basic essence in all that you do on your computer or mobile device and all of their applications.

Enter - the most primary of all interactions. In the beginning of computers I'm sure this would have been phrased as Input for its insertion of punch cards or stream of 0's and 1's but today this means much more. We enter whenever we touch the keyboard or click our mouse. We may enter text into a document or enter a formula into a spreadsheet. Selecting a tab, highlighting text, playing a movie or music file, or any other click (or double-click) we make is a form of entering a command. To enter is the origin of which all else follows. You may think that compute is a verb that belongs on this list, but I think that action is done by the computer and not the owner. For it to compute - we must enter its commands. Enter is our communication to the machine to tell it what to do.

Copy - a verb of convenience. To copy is to make an imitation of an original and so copy is the action in which our actions are made easier or more efficient. Besides the obvious print, fax, or scan, we copy portions of our work to complete other tasks within the same document. Copy and paste is used most often with text in word processing but it may also involve transferring images or other elements about the page. We copy links, code, files, text, images, and more in many applications we use.

Format - is the organization of our interaction. Formatting is where we put our personal input on how we want something to appear. Formatting a document includes everything from tabs and fonts to color and spacing. Formatting may involve pasting, deleting, or adding a table. The very documents themselves can be saved in a variety of formats for intended uses. We format when we switch to full-screen views or arrange the homepage on our browser. Blogs such as this one allow the author to choose color schemes and backgrounds. HTML, or Hyper Text Markup Language, enables programmers to format the elements on Web documents. Formatting allows us to decide on the composition of our views.

Share - is how our efforts are communicated. We share with others and ourselves, be it in the form of emails or saving a file to our desktops. It is the way we save what we have done or communicate it to a larger audience. This blog post is a form of sharing, as are adding comments in forums, or communicating via FaceBook, Twittter, or Skype. In its personal form, we share with ourselves when we add bookmarks, print a document, or add events to a calendar. Sharing enables our work to become productive.

Search - is how we find what we desire. We may search for help on how to use an application or we may search for that perfect apple pie recipe. Most of our browser experiences are derived from searches for websites, videos, articles, or images. We search when we are looking for something that someone else has produced.

Well there you have it. Feel free to point out all of the flaws in my logic or blatant omissions you may see. Enter, Copy, Format, Share, and Search. It would have been nice to wrap them in a convenient acronym but you'll just have to find another mnemonic device.
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Friday, March 18, 2011

How do you quantify a disaster?

OTSUCHI, JAPAN - MARCH 14:  In this handout im...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeI'm sure like many of you, I have been watching the news coverage of the crisis in Japan. Perhaps because I am a math teacher, I have been more aware of the amount of numbers in the reports. From earthquake scales to radiation values, we seem to need numerical values to understand or quantify just how severe the disaster has been. How high were the tsunami waves? How far did they travel? How much stronger is a 9.0 quake than a 7.9? What is the safe distance from radiation fallout? etc. etc. The worst question of all: How many people died?
Numbers are the universal language. One lesson for your students from all of this is that people understand numerical values. Numbers may be pronounced differently in other languages but they are worth the same no matter where you are. The color blue has a variety of interpretations but the number two is the same for all. And so, although it is difficult for us to comprehend a disaster like this, numbers are a way for all of us to understand the severity of the event.

The Google Earth Blog has posted links to Google Earth material that covers the earthquake in Japan. This includes before and after overlays of the eastern coast of Japan. Here is a link to their post.
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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Japan earthquake & tsunami

A picture of the 2004 tsunami in Ao Nang, Krab...Image via WikipediaI am very saddened by the news out of Japan. I've visited it often and always enjoyed my time there. I even experienced an earthquake there several years ago. What's astonishing about the destruction is that Japan is more prepared for earthquakes and tsunamis than anywhere else in the world. Their warning systems and disaster drills are very thorough and Japan has some of the best tsunami experts.
After the quake, we had the tsunami warning on Guam. I was staying by the coast and so I participated in the evacuations we had here. I learned a lot about tsunamis when I developed the Tsunami Warning activity for Real World Math so I knew there was a potential for destruction across the Pacific. Tsunami Warning is a measurement lesson where students examine the 2004 Indian Ocean disaster and calculate the speed of tsunami waves. As I developed that activity I scoured the Internet for tsunami information and photos. If you want to address the Japan disaster and educate your students on tsunamis, then I recommend you take a look at that lesson.
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Thursday, February 10, 2011

RWM tops 100,000

Today, I was quite pleased to see that has topped 100,000 visitors. This by far surpasses my expectations of what the site would accomplish. RWM will be 3 years old in April and with this amount of interest I am encouraged to do more.

I came across some research that states that the use of technology in the U.S. classrooms has increased so much that the schools can't keep up. This is both encouraging and alarming. The report, entitled "Deepening Commitment: Teachers Increasingly Rely on Media and Technology" was done by PBS and Grunwald Associates, and was released at the 2011 FETC convention. Among the relevations is that "97 percent of K-12 teachers use digital media in classroom instruction. Sixty-two percent report using it frequently, and 24 percent report using it daily." I am not surprised at the students' appetite for digital media and technology but I am surprised that teachers have become more earnest in its use. Perhaps the tide is finally turning for more meaningful and contemporary curriculum. Unfortunately, it would seem that the schools' budgets can not keep up. Like the rest of us, they are trying to stay abreast of current technology systems and bandwidth. Interactive whiteboards are cited as the most used and sought after device.

Perhaps this report and Real World Math's success are linked. Einstein said, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." I believe that technology and not standardized testing is the key to meaningful school reform. I hope RWM offers a more modern and meaningful approach to math instruction. It may not relate directly to a bubble-test but I do believe that it presents mathematics in a way that stimulates thought processes and enables students' comprehension on a more personal level.
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