Monday, May 25, 2020

A (Currently) Free Resource for Teaching Online

Do you like free books? I do. How about a free, content-rich book that meets an immediate need? Heck yes! Claire Major's book Teaching Online: A Guide to Theory, Research, and Practice is currently available for download at this link. My suspicion is that this is a limited-time offer. I'm halfway through, and have found every chapter useful. I highly recommend getting it while you can.

Teaching Online presents the basics of online instruction. The focus is on teaching and not on particular technology. There are chapters on course structure, planning, instructional time, communication, and student engagement. The last three are my greatest weaknesses when teaching online. (I teach face-to-face classes to keep myself on task.)

I've been able to find useful information even in the chapters that do not address my particular situation. When I read the table of contents, the chapter "Views of Learning" is one that I planned on skimming. I teach math at a community college, which means the substantial majority of students take my course only because it is a graduation requirement. Getting students to go beyond rote learning is a battle I have fought and lost over multiple semesters. "Views of Learning" introduced me to the learning theory of connectivism. At first glance, connectivism is a framework that both my students and I can get behind.

When my college transitioned to remote instruction this spring, the administration provided resources to help us make the change. There are some professional development seminars on my schedule for this summer. Unfortunately, these resources are all aimed at how to use the available educational software at our college. This is analogous to using a bus repair manual to train a tour guide. Instead, a tour guide needs a book that covers public speaking and local history. Teaching Online, thankfully, fills this role in my professional development. I am happy I had the opportunity to get it.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Preparing for the Fall: 2020 Edition

The Spring 2020 semester is over. How was your semester? Sounds like you had it bad too.

This semester caught me completely off guard. Since I rarely teach online, I did not have material for remote instruction. Some of my coworkers used Blackboard Collaborate to continue their face-to-face classes. Unfortunately, I was not set up to do the same at home. I was able to cobble together enough material to finish the semester, but it was not a success.

In addition to the technical issues, I reacted very badly to the situation. I completely underestimated the length and severity of the pandemic. Two or three weeks was the longest I expected remote teaching to last. In addition, I discovered that I very likely have anxiety issues. I was in an emotional rough patch two times this spring. By the time I started to recover, valuable time slipped by and I played catch-up up to the moment I submitted grades.

Looking toward future, now is the time to prepare for the possibility of a repeat of the spring. This has two benefits. The most obvious is that in the case that we return to remote teaching, I will not have a repeat of the chaos of this spring. The other is that my onsite classes will be enhanced. More material allows for greater opportunities for individualization.

This summer is going to be a deep dive on online teaching. Technology is not my issue. Learning to use the technology to best guide students through an educational experience is my goal. This journey is one I will share here in the weeks to come.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Secret Number: A Short Film

I have always been concerned about the public perception of mathematics and mathematicians.  When I came across this film on io9.com, I cringed.




Once again, the mathematician is played as insane, even if he is right in the end.  However, even if there was a missing number between 3 and 4, how would that allow access to time travel and such.

Your homework assignment is to prove there is no integer between 3 and 4.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

More Middle School Robots

About a month ago, two of my colleagues and I visited the Science Camp at Mason County Middle School.  The last hour of the morning was devoted to robots.
My VEX kit.  The rolling tool box makes it easy to move, as the kit is heavy.
I was happy to be able to do the wheel size lab with students.  Speed Bot was built for this lab, but it wasn't running at the time.  The students timed the robot over five meters with two or three different wheel sizes, depending on the group.  They had to predict how the wheel size would affect the time.  It was interesting to me that some students thought the smaller wheels would make the robot faster.

The students ranges in age from 8 to 13, and were very engaged.  There were different tasks, timing, recording, and driving the robot.  With multiple trials, the students got to do each of the tasks.

In addition to teaching the students about geometry, units, and measurement, there were a few additional benefits to our Science Camp activities.  First, we got to try to sell some of the other science teachers on a robotics team.  The other is that we got to troubleshoot some of our activities for future camps.

One of the most interesting things for me today was a paper from one of the students.  She had to find the average of two numbers, and she didn't have a calculator, so she divided by two using long division.  There is something for people on both sides of the math wars, investigative learning and algorithms on the same page.
So full of win!

Robot Videos

Here are a few videos of robots working.  This is to help with the Robotics Merit Badge on which the local Boy Scout troop is working.  Enjoy.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Solar Eclipse: May 20, 2012

Today was an annular solar eclipse.  We didn't get a very good view, as the sun was setting during the eclipse.  However, I brought the family out to the college, which has a good view of the western horizon.  The physics teacher at the college pulled into the parking lot half an hour after we did, with the exact same idea.  Here are the pictures I got.

This is a projection of the Sun through my telescope.  The green circles indicate sun spots.

A close up of my viewing set-up.  You can see the Sun and my son.

This was as much of the eclipse that I could see on the cardboard.  The setting Sun grew too dim to see after this.


The setting Sun was dim enough to allow for direct photographs to be taken.  This is one of the best shots that I got.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Speed Bot

Speed Bot 1.1 with remote
I built this simple robot to bring to a middle school science class on Tuesday.  It was meant to help the students understand the effect of changing the wheel size on the speed of the robot.  Unfortunately, I didn't get to finish the robot for the class time.  That didn't work out to be a problem because the class was broken into small groups, and one group worked on finishing this robot.

The problem that the students had with this robot is that the radio control didn't work.  After a hour of researching after class, I found out that  the original VEX firmware was erased by the ROBOTC firmware, and that the robot would have to manually programmed to respond to the remote control.  The program I used can be found here.