Friday, November 30, 2012

Fantasy Teaching

An interesting thing happened on Twitter today. Dr. Chris McGee (@cmcgee200) and Josh Stumpenhorst (@stumpteacher) had conversation starter of what teaching would look like it teachers were drafted like pro-athletes. The conversation had a root in the educational practices of Finland and their great successes.

As an aside, did you know that in Finland, students do not start school until the age of 7 and receive all post high school career training for free? Pre-service teachers in Finland go through extensive internships and training and receive salaries on par with other educated professionals in the country. The training is so extensive and challenging that only 10% of the participants complete the program! You can read more here.

Once the idea of a pro-draft was discussed, the conversation took a turn to how might a fantasy teaching league look and how would the "owner" of a league might score points. The conversation started with a few people and eventually had dozens of people contributing. The conversation started around 11 AM CST and within 2 hours had over 200 contributions.

The contributions ranged from serious to silly including:
  • +2 points for giving borderline students an opportunity to publicly succeed (@wmchamberlain)
  • DQ'd for using sarcasm to put a kid down (@jmarkeyAP)
  • +2 points for admitting, out loud, in your class, that you just learned something from a kid, and being proud of it (@ktvee)
  • +1 point per hit for playing Dodgeball with 200 kids and letting them hit you (@stumpteacher)
  • -2 points for splling errrors (@jaymelinton)
The amazing thing about this conversation the contributions were all about what we want our learning environments and schools to be. These are some great tips and observations about small changes we can each make in our classrooms and schools to make it a better place for the students and the teachers. Why can't we make our fantasy a reality?

See the storyfi of the #fantasyteaching conversation below. If you want to contribute, please do by tweeting with the hashtag #fantasyteaching!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Watch out for coconuts!

I read today that the lottery is a tax for those who are bad at math. While I, too, have gotten caught up on the fevered potential of $550 million, I got to thinking about the odds of winning the Powerball lottery.

In an article from ABC, a professor of mathematics puts winning the lottery in a little perspective.

"You are three times more likely to die from a falling coconut, he says; seven times more likely to die from fireworks, "and way more likely to die from flesh-eating bacteria" (115 fatalities a year) than you are to win the Powerball lottery."

He continued that a doctor is 100 times more likely to accurately predict the day, hour, minute, and second that your baby will be born (ours could only tell us January 9, 2013) than winning the Powerball.

For those not familiar, the winning numbers are determined by drawing 5 white balls numbered from 1-59 from one drum and 1 red ball from a separate drum of balls numbered 1-35. Official site is

The overall odds in winning the 5 white balls and 1 red ball (the grand prize of $550 million) is 1 in 175,223,510. It is a simple combination problem of 59C5 *35. If you want the formula check here. With a single ticket now costing $2, it would require an investment of ~$350 million to purchase every possible combination on a ticket to guarantee a win.

While it can be fun to dream, we should combat the idea of being bad at math.

Here is where the fun can come in for your classroom...
  1. Why don't people do this in the US? What are the potential benefits? What are the potential hazards?
  2. How many minutes would it take to print all of the combinations? Is it enough time between the announcement that there was no winner until the next drawing to accomplish this?
  3. Given a ticket that can have anywhere between 1 and 10 possible entries, how long would the roll of paper be to print all of the tickets if going 1 game entry at a time? 10 at a time? How much would all of the tickets weight? How large of a room would be needed to house all of the tickets?
  4. If you wanted to gain investors, how many equivalents of your class, school, town, would be needed if everyone invested $2? Assuming the jackpot was won, how much would each equivalent earn for their investment?
  5. What could/would you do with the money? How would students budget it?
  6. Using a simple compounding interest formula, how much interest would be made at the current interest rate? Would the effect your spending plan? What if you made some large purchases first (car, house, etc)?
These are questions I came up with. Even better, what questions would your students come up with?

Lets make our students better thinkers and better at understanding mathematics and number sense. And, since you are three times as likely to die from a falling coconut as you are in winning Powerball, keep an eye out!

Monday, November 26, 2012

What is the right number to measure?

Over the long Thanksgiving weekend, I had the chance to watch the movie Moneyball again. If you haven't seen it, the trailer is below:

The movie is based on a book by Michael Lewis, which was based on real events of the Oakland Athletics who took an obscure 1964 book (Percentage Baseball by Earnshaw Cook) written about baseball statistics to "change the way the game is played". Essentially, the A's wanted to look at statistics and data that would directly result in winning more games by scoring more runs by getting more players on base...didn't matter how it happened.

It wasn't until this morning, when I received a tweet from Brenda Colby to check out an article  written by Michael Brick, titled "When 'Grading' Is Degrading". As usual, something from my tweeps got me thinking. :)

NCLB, for better or worse, has radically altered the way that the public views its schools and the ways that schools are being measured as successful (or not). Schools now take a look at their results from previous years and with their practice testing try to accurately predict how students will perform and what 'grade' the school will receive. I read the article, which mirrors multiple conversations I have had online and face to face about the meaning of the test scores, and thought to myself, "What is the right number to measure?"

If you watched the trailer, you heard one of the scouts actually equate the beautiful-ness of a baseball player's girlfriend to his idea of self-confidence and whether that player will make a positive addition to the organization. This seems to be a bit of a stretch of logic to me, but the scout, who brings the 150 years of past practice, states that this way of doing things is valid and works. It also seems to me that measuring a school's success on set of test scores seems just as illogical. So again, "What is the right number to measure"?

As I was exploring the Brick article, I came across an older article on with a powerful statement right at the beginning of it:

"Data itself has no meaning, until it is organized and displayed in charts or graphs that can be interpreted, usually in multiple ways. These interpretations may usefully inform our dialogue, decisions and subsequent actions so data definitely can be valuable, but it often seems to be granted undue reverence simply because it is numerical. Although insight can derive from analysis of data, equally it can arise out of intuition and, in fact, I wonder if some analyses are not actually rationalizations subconsciously imposed on data to justify intuitive speculations." (Beairsto, 2010) (Taken from

As someone who is trying to move from autopsy data to predictive data, are we just seeing what we want to see or what past experience has told us? I completely agree with Beairsto that we need to triangulate data points to get more meaning and that we must value a qualitative research paradigm to get at the underlying meaning of what the numbers say. Especially as teacher evaluations, under Race to the Top, will bring in elements of student achievement to a teacher's rating, we need to be able to triangulate our numbers to derive meaning. But, just as FOX and MSNBC can look at data and come to completely different conclusions, what will happen when teacher unions and administrators differ on the conclusions from the data?

As we look globally, to the success of schools, school districts, and the American education system, What are the right numbers to measure?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A winter application of symmetry
This is just geeky awesomeness! Star Wars paper snowflakes

When I see something that makes me think to myself "HOW COOL IS THIS" I try to find a way that this could be done by students as a learning project. It did not take me long to find a way for this one...

A concept in math and science is the idea of symmetry. In biology, there are discussions of radial and bilateral symmetry. Chemistry could even make a discussion of chirality as a non-example to symmetry. In mathematics, there is the symmetry of geometric shapes and even the reflections, rotations, and translations of functions on the coordinate plane. Teachers could even bring in the unit circle for the angles of the axes of symmetry from the x and y axes.

Here is a chance to have students discuss and apply their understanding of symmetry and relate it to the impending weather that comes with winter. Students would have a chance to design, evaluate, and go back to the drawing board to express their creativity. Even better, students have the chance to document their process in the creation of something that is expressly their own!

Students could use a template like this (modified from and start creating! Print out the template and have students start sketching a symmetrical picture using 2 adjacent segments of the template (or half of a picture using only 1 segment). Cut out the circle and fold it and start cutting!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Put a mouth on a polygon!

Blabberize is one of those resources that you come across and immediately think "This could be amusing for kids to use, but I don't see an educational value". This thinking needs to be reexamined.

Blabberize is a free resource that allows the user to upload a picture, draw an interactive mouth, and then put their voice to the picture. It is similar to Voki, but with out the avatar creating. I find blabberize more versatile because I have found the need to expand the anthropomorphic paradigm. (I think I just coined a phrase!)

Anthropomorphism (or personification) is the attribution of human characteristics to non-human things. A fuller description and definition can be found here.

When people first begin exploring Blabberize, they know that they need to draw an interactive mouth on their image and when they speak, the mouth will move. You can see an example that I created here:

In their early uses, users tend to use images of people and even animals (which be an attribution of anthropomorphism). What I mean by the need to expand on the anthropomorphic paradigm is that first time users fall into the trap that they can only use photos and pictures that have a mouth!

I challenged a room of teachers to find a use for Blabberize in a math class. It was an English teacher who said that she would have had a better time in geometry if the polygons described their physical properties to her. Some teachers around her asked her what she meant and she profoundly said "Put a mouth on a polygon"! Once she exclaimed this, teachers started thinking about how to expand the paradigm (or think outside of the box).

What is great about Blabberize is that it can give students a voice in class. They have the chance express themselves without having to stand in front of the class and make a mistake in front of their peers. Blabberize will allow the students to do multiple takes and it helps eliminate some of the pressure. Students get motivated and can be creative!

How great could this tool be for a world language class? Students can practice their speaking (and writing to prepare what they will say) and improve their listening skills to the world language. Students can help bring history to life by providing a voice to a historical figure. Imagine how a "book report" could be changed by having the protagonist or antagonist speak from their own perspective about the events of a novel!

How can you have your students use it in class? Add a comment with your ideas! Have you used it in your classes? Share a link to the student creations!

Friday, November 16, 2012

The need for Connected Educators

I came across this comic in my daily Dilbert calendar, but the original publish date was 11/16/2009. If you have read Dilbert before, you know how eeirily prophetic it can be.
Assume that the Pointy-Haired Boss is a Superintendent that is unaware of the current best practices in technology integration to improve instruction, but knows that technology is a new buzzword in education and makes a large purchase in hardware and software. Now assume that there is a building principal who will be require to actually implement and realizes the need for some assistance. Is it safe to make the connection that a superintendent who would make this sort of purchase without doing any research might make the same statement to that building principal? What is the principal to do?
This is a perfect illustration as to why we need more educators and leaders connected. If you are looking for a place to jump in, here is a great place to start: You can also follow the hashtags of #edchat or #cpchat to find great educators and discussions.
There has been the trend to note what people are thankful for every day in the month of November. I think that for December, people need to give the gift of connection. Here are some options:
There are too many changing expectations in the world of education to try and do this alone. We need to come together.
Please feel free to connect with me through any and all of these methods. I would love the chance to learn from you!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Picking the right tool

When I present a digital tool to a group of teachers, I inevitably get the question of "Oooh, that is cool! How can I use this for [enter name here] project"? After that question is asked, I then use my kitchen remodelling analogy. It goes something like this:

If you are remodelling your kitchen and you want make new cabinets, would you pick up a hammer and say how can I make this work?

The concepts found in Understanding by Design that are commonly applied to unit and lesson design should still be applied to the integration of technology. Begin with the end in mind. When doing the kitchen remodel, you assess what your goals are and then check your toolbox. It is great to be familiar with a large number of technology resources...this increases the number of tools in your toolbox. It is more important to know what you are expecting in terms of a final performance outcome for the project/unit. From there, you can help students select appropriate tools to accomplish the goals and objectives of the project. (As a side note, it is important for the teacher to not have a specific product in mind because this might limit the creativity of the students in demonstrating what they have learned. Rubrics written based on learning objectives and goals, as opposed to a digital checklist, will help)

With that in mind, I want to share a resource that I have developed. This resource provides over 35 online tools and resources that can be used in the classroom. But, just as this post indicates, it also matches the tools with themes that might be found in a class project.

When this was shared with teachers, it seemed to bridge the inevitable question with a better way of thinking about integrating technology into their instruction to get students demonstrating what they have learned and what they can do.

If you know of more resources/project pairings, please share in the comment for this post!

Full link to the resource is here:

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Living like George Costanza

"If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right" -- Jerry Seinfeld when encouraging George to fight his natural instincts.

I was extremely surprised to read the ISTE Update and see myself quoted from my Twitter feed:

From Bob Abrams: When creating a tech vision, impulse is to grab the early adopters. Flip your thinking. Involve the late adopters to minimize fear

Seeing this quote tweet again got me thinking as I was presenting yesterday at the T21 Conference at Illinois State University. If you don't know about it, T21 is a free conference put on by ISU and is intended for pre-service teachers to learn about current practices and future trends about technology integration in instruction. This year was slightly different as the conference has expanded dramatically from 1 room in 2010 to taking over multiple rooms and floors of the Bone Student Center and having a great keynote by Jonathan Bergmann.

During the conference I reminded teachers to just be willing to try something new and from someone on my Twitter feed, I was reminded that the questions that we ask matter.

" @misterabrams It really is all about the questions we ask!: Ask, "What did we learn?" NOT "What went wrong?" "

The power of our language is almost immeasurable...until you use the wrong language. As leaders in education and technology, we need to constantly be aware of the language we use and COACH teachers by working with them and letting them discover what might work and what might not. Funny, the same holds true for working with students...

But I digress, there are many times that we need to fight our natural instincts. Whenever we introduce a new technology product or concept, we often want to run to the people we know are early adopters to show them how cool, useful, and productive this tool can be...FIGHT THIS INSTINCT! The early adopters are going to do this anyway. The people we should approach first, with the coaching approach and language, are those people who say that they are not proficient in technology. If we bring in the late adopters first, we can help minimize their fear and apprehension and provide them with the most time to play and explore! How awesome would it be to have someone who says that they are not good with technology to show off their creation to the rest of the staff?!

Between the early and late adopters of technology, we will be able to create that critical core of people needed to initiate the change. In many of our approaches, we continue to follow past practices and get similar results. Take that all important step of reflection and metacognition. When possible and optimal, flip your thinking and look at the situation from a new perspective. You never know what you might be able to see...

Thursday, November 08, 2012

What letter always comes after "Q"?

So we are driving in the car, taking my kids home from school (daycare), and my 4 year old is telling me about the letter of the week: Q. He is describing how the letter q is simply a circle with a small line going through part of it. He then tells me words that he is learning that begin with the letter q: Queen and quilt were the examples he told. I figured that I would ask him a question that has been asked many times in the world of pre-k and elementary education to student who are learning to read, write, and spell...What letter ALWAYS comes after the letter "q"?

His response got me thinking about the questions we ask in school, the preconceived answers that we expect, and how we react when ne'er the twain shall meet.

When I was in the classroom, I tried to ask questions that challenged my students to think and evaluate options...even on my multiple choice questions. Students called them trick questions when they got them incorrect, but I always gave students a chance to appeal a question by explaining their thinking and why their answer/response was better than mine. While I only granted 2 appeals, students did try to explain their reasoning and they were given a chance to reflect on their answers.

Nowadays, I would hope that teachers in the classroom would avoid asking questions that can merely be googled and require students to demonstrate their thinking by creating a product/project that does not have a final product in mind, but a clear set of expectations at the onset. Many times, I see teachers asking questions and having a predetermined answer in their head and when a student does not provide it, the student is told that they are wrong. What does this do to the student? How does this help the student improve, learn, grow?

So I ask the question to you...what letter always comes after q?

Instead of telling my son that he was wrong, I am thankful that praised him for his thinking.

He answered "R".

Wordle can be a great tool!

In response to my title, many (the 18 of you reading this -- BTW THANKS!!!) will be saying duh.

In case you are not familiar with the tool, creates word clouds based on text input into the website. It will take your text and make words that are repeated larger. You can then alter the formatting and color to make it visually appealing to you.

While it is true that some students will write a "naughty" word into the website, just to see it in large print and then giggle, I have used wordle to being a qualitative analysis from interview participants in a research project. The larger words allowed me to begin to identify some themes that were emerging and common among the participants.

Not everyone has the enjoyment of qualitative analysis, like I did, so how can teachers use this?

You can use it to compare and contrast pieces of text. Take a look at the examples below, what do you see as the major themes within the speeches from Tuesday night?

Mitt Romney's concession speech:

Barrack Obama's Victory Speech:

How do the above speeches compare to 2008?

John McCain's concession speech:

Barack Obama's acceptance speech:

Want to engage students in a classic novel? Find the full text online and make a wordle of it... Based on this wordle, students might begin the reading with some questions and engage them in the reading by seeking out the answers to their own questions!

Students can take their own essay texts to begin a peer review process. Does the wordle that gets created represent the main ideas of their essay?

Each of these wordles took less than 5 minutes to make and save to the gallery. When using as a class activity, make sure that you create a unique username so it can be found in the gallery. One caveat: The gallery is public and students might run across some of the naughty wordles mentioned above.

Have fun with is and have students create with it!