Wednesday, December 7, 2011

New Video: Proportions

Here's the latest video on proportions.  It is over 13 minutes long, which is five minutes too long in my book. I'm planning one more video on ratios and proportions.  I have one piece of paper to find before I can finish the PowerPoint.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Mathematics and Violence

Here's a cartoon from xkcd.  Of course, proof by intimidation is more of a humanities technique.
I am always amazed by how violent some mathematicians can be.  I had one algebra professor who talked about "killing off" terms in a polynomial.  What did they ever do to him?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

New Video: Using Rates

I've produced a new video.  Justin Dean outdid himself on the editing.  I used rates to find the cheapest laundry detergent.  The surprise is that the cheapest per ounce is not the cheapest per load.

Friday, November 18, 2011

New Video: Simplifying Ratios and Rates

As a follow-up to my video Introduction to Ratios, I've produced a second on simplifying ratios and rates.  This video uses the new template for the algebra videos out of MCTC.  Justin Dean worked hard to adjust my original PowerPoint to the new template.  I think the result is clean and readable.

The additional narration is by Cari Hillyard, who is our math lab assistant.  She has been a big help to us on campus.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


I caught this video on IO9 this evening.  It's funny despite some foul language and violence.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Busy Day at KADE

The Kentucky Association for Developmental Education (KADE) had its state conference in at Maysville Community and Technical College yesterday and today.  MCTC where I teach, so I had a good chance to help out today.

The first session I went to was the Plenary Panel on the common core standards in Kentucky.  Kentucky was the first state to adopt the common core standards.  Apparently part of that decision was to help coordinate between colleges and high schools on the meaning of college readiness.  There was quite a bit of good information there.  One suggested site was, which has lots of free materials.

The second session was on Prezi by Paul Ellis of Northern Kentucky University.  The presentation was well done, but I still don't see the advantages of Prezi over programs like PowerPoint.  In fact, the first few Prezis I saw looked like very well animated PowerPoint presentations.

The third session I attended was about MyMathLab.  The presenter was, to my surprise, me.  I had asked for more of a role helping the organizers with the conference.  When Pearson needed someone to fill in on MyMathLab, my name was volunteered.  The problem is that I didn't find this out until Wednesday.  I didn't have much guidance about what was expected, so I put together a short PowerPoint presentation on how we have used MyMathLab at MCTC.  You can see the slides here (in Google Docs format.)

I gave my presentation, the end of which mentioned our course redesign, and the audience spent the remaining time discussing redesign.  We had a session later this afternoon on redesign, and I didn't want to give away too much.

After lunch, I skipped the awards presentation and rested in the math lab.  I was in the lab all day for presentations that I was watching, giving, and moderating.

After the break, I gave the presentation that I had signed up for earlier.  I copresented with two of my collegues: Paulette Sauer, a non tenure-track faculty member; and Cari Hillyard, our math lab coordinator.  We gave an overview of the redesign of the developmental algebra sequence (Prealgebra, Basic Algebra, Intermediate Algebra) from the view of students and instructors.  Cari covered the students' point of view and Paulette covered the instructors' point of view.  I covered the gritty details.  The PowerPoint for the presentation is here (in Google Docs format.)

We had a video of interviews conducted by Cari.  I'd share it on YouTube, but I doubt the Photo Release Form signed by students would extend to my YouTube account.  Before showing the video, I gave the disclaimer that there was a large amount of selection bias in the choice of interview subjects.  We interviewed the students who were working in the lab, and it is no surprise that they are the students who are doing well.

After our talk, I got to moderate a session on course redesign and video production by Jamie Foster and Eric Deaton of Somerset Community College.  They talked about integrating the videos they create into their emporium model courses.  They gave me a few ideas about making movies on entering answers into MyMathLab.

I'm glad that I got to work at this conference.  The rest of my colleagues are in Austin for AMATYC.  I think they missed out.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Golden Arches ® Exposed!

On the blog dy/dan, there was a recent discussion about the shape of a bridge.  One commenter joked about the Golden Arches of McDonald's as being the most famous parabolas in America.  As I am teaching quadratic modeling in College Algebra right now, I though I would find an equation for these parabolas.  The problem is that the Golden Arches are not parabolas.

To find the equation, I scanned the Golden Arches from a placemat that I found at McDonald's tonight.  I took the scanned picture and imported it into GeoGebra.  I picked five points on the outside of one arch, and five points inside of the arch.  The picture is below.
Ten points through the Golden Arch
For the outside of the arch, I chose the points (0,0), (3.73, 11.8), and (6.62, 7.87).  By many calculations, I got the parabola y = -0.68329x^2 + 5.71222x.  After even more calculations to get the focus and directrix, I was able to graph the parabola in GeoGebra.  I used the program Maxima to perform the calculations.  The parabola is below.
The parabola through the points on the outside of the arch
For the inside of the arch, I chose the points (1.63, 0), (3.73, 10.94), and (5.86, 0.86).  The parabola I got was y = -2.35034x^2 + 17.80732x - 22.78133.  The second parabola went much faster because I was able to reuse my Maxima worksheet from the previous parabola.  The graph is below.
The parabola through the points on the inside of the arch.
Just on a lark, I used the conic section tool in GeoGebra to draw the conic sections through the two sets of five points for each arch.  Geogebra came up with two ellipses to pass through the points.  The ellipses look like they match the boundary of the arches pretty well.
Ellipses work well to model the arches

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I'm Attempting to Summon My Inner Dan Meyer

I got to meet Dan Meyer in person two weekends ago at KCTM.  He is very greatous in person.  He was nice enough to let me take this picture.  You can see how deep the hole is in which I am standing.
Geeking out about iPad cameras.
I've been a believer in what Dan has been promoting for a while.  I developed some of the same notions independently, but Dan has taken it much farther than I would have on my own.

I've been playing around with developing my own materials in the same vein as Dan.  My target audience is different than his, as I mostly teach Intermediate Algebra/Algebra II and higher.  Here's a sample of what I've been working on.  I'm rebooting remaking Dan's basketball video with a slightly different take.  I've got a few sequels planned as well.  My week-old YMCA membership has already payed off.
Built with Adobe Premier Elements and GeoGebra 4
A cleaner version with just the data
(Actually, Dan is leaning down in that picture.)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bye-bye to my iPad

I returned my iPad to the college yesterday.  However, it wasn't a sad day because it was replaced by an iPad 2.
Out with the old, in with the new.
I wasn't too impressed with the first generation iPad.  My biggest complaint is that you cannot duplicate the screen to a projector through the VGA adapter for every app.  There were a few apps that would allow it, but not enough.  The iPad 2 does duplicate the screen, so the whole class can see what I am looking at on my iPad 2.

The new iPad is lighter and thinner than the first generation.  It's not much of a different, but it is still noticeable.  My one concern is that I'll forget that I'm carrying it, put it down, and walk away without it.

I'm still not sure how I'm going to use it in the classroom, but I'm looking forward to figuring out how.  One of the advantages over our SmartBoard is that I can switch between apps quickly.  The disadvantage over the SmartBoard is that I can't record what was shared with the students to post on the class BlackBoard site.  In addition, one of our experiments will be using FaceTime or Skype for virtual office hours.

My old iPad was handed down to one of my colleagues.  According to his Facebook account, he is very happy with it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

New Video: Rational Expressions Introduction

This is a video I made for our Intermediate Algebra course at MCTC.  We've been making videos covering material from the algebra sequence, and this year we are adding rational expressions to our intermediate algebra class.  Thus, we need new videos.

I'm going to put the future videos on hold for the moment because we need some prealgebra videos.  So, the next few videos will be on ratios and proportions.

I had a hard time thinking of a good example of rational expressions that was not full of pseudocontext.  Rational expressions is the area of algebra that has the most contrived word problems.  That is the reason that we haven't covered them in the past.  Please suggest some useful examples if you have any.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pearson MyMathLab Problems

Our students had to use temporary codes at the start of the semester and then they upgraded their licenses to full licenses when their textbooks came in.  This week, the students who upgraded have lost their access.  We have to contact customer support for each student.

Is anyone else having this problem with their students who use temporary codes for MyMathLab? 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A New Semester Begins

I've got seven sections this semester. Four of those classes are combined sections of MAT 55/MAT 65, so it's really five sections. In addition, I have one section each of Intermediate Algebra, College Algebra, and Calculus II.

For the fourth year in a row, I have a College Algebra section full of high school students. The hard part is keeping them motivated because they have had Precalculus at the high school. Since our College Algebra is modeling based, I can keep them busy with projects.

For the second year in a row, I have a high school student in Calculus II. The parents of this student asked me about enrolling her in Calculus I two summers ago. She got a 31 ACT in math as an eighth-grader. If you are feeling dumb right now, don't worry. I got over the feeling in a couple of months.

And yes, I did say "her". I suspect she'll be getting pressure to go into medicine, her father's a cardiologist, but I'll try to steer her to the "noble profession" of mathematics. While speaking of women in mathematics, one of my high school College Algebra students is in Maysville for her first semester. Her plan is to get a Ph. D. in mathematics.

The Summer in Review

I only taught Differential Equations this summer. The students managed to solve a differential equation with GNU Octave. That's an improvement over the last summer. I've been teaching Intermediate Algebra in the summers as well, but this summer it didn't make. It was hard to stay home for just one class, as we like to take the family on road trips during the summer.

In addition to teaching, the other math faculty (four of them) and I worked on our redesign of the developmental algebra sequence. We planned all of Prealgebra (MAT 55) and Basic Algebra (MAT 65). We worked out most of Intermediate Algebra (MAT 120). Intermediate Algebra is not considered developmental at KCTCS, but it is treated as a developmental course at Maysville. We wrote MyMathLab test, homework, and quizzes for each class. In addition, we wrote pencil and paper test, homework, and quizzes for each class.

Mike Pemberton and Paulette Sauer piloted the computer assisted sections of MAT 55 and MAT 65 this summer during an eight week session. We actually had a few students finish the courses. The courses are "minimally paced", which means the students work at their own pace. By dividing the courses into five units each, and tracking students' progress through a database, the students who did not pass this summer are not starting from scratch. The unit grades will carry over to the fall.

At the end of the summer, the college lost one adjunct faculty member and the physics faculty member, who also taught math. That left five math sections uncovered. I was able to pick up two sections, but I lost my Math for Elementary Teachers course that I was looking forward to.

At the end of July, we drove across county to Denver for a family reunion. We managed to have fun even though there were four of us in a Chevy Cobalt for two weeks. We managed to visit seven National Park Units on the trip. We were rushing because the budget negotiations were in progress, and we weren't sure if there if there would be National Parks in August.

Back to the Blog

I've been away from the blog for a while. At the end of the spring, I realized that the blog was focused more on other people's teaching, and not my own. don't want to be a blowhard, so I gave the blogging a break. I was going to shutdown the blog, but then I realized that I could still share about my teaching without trying to reshape American Education. So, with that out of the way, I'll get back to it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

My New Area of Teaching

We were playing with editing videos with Windows Live Movie Maker and Camtasia today.  This is what we produced.  Enjoy.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

I have an iPad. So, now what?

I got an iPad from the college yesterday. I'm still trying to figure it out. I've found that it works well for viewing media and is OK for surfing the web. However, I still find it lacking in a few areas.

It does not have have some of the tools that I used on my Palm Tungsten E2. There is not a built-in todo list. There is not an SD card reader, so syncing with iTunes is the only way to get data onto the iPad. The on-screen keyboard is easier than my Palm, but still not as good as a real keyboard. I miss the ability to right-click with my mouse.

The battery life of the iPad is good. I've been on it now for a few hours and still have 69% of the battery left. The media playing is exceptional.

I've been able to get some apps for playing around, but not many for work. The NASA app has some stunning pictures, and the Weather Channel app was good for tracking the tornado warning back home. (I am in Cincinnati for Easter.) I haven't found any apps that will help with my teaching. I was really hoping to use the iPad to help with course management.

I'm still on the fence whether this will help me be a better teacher. I'll keep updating my progress.

Monday, April 11, 2011

American Pennies are Biased? My Students' Contributions

Inspired by Dr. James Tanton's Video, posted below, I asked my students to do a few experiments with pennies. 

The first was to flip a penny twenty times and count the number of heads.  The second was to flip three pennies twenty times, and record the number of heads for each trial.  I am leading to Bernoulli trials, and I'll be using their data when we get there.  The raw data can be found at this link.  Using the probability calculated in the first experiment gives good predictions for the distribution in the second experiment.  Our experiment shows that the probability of flipping heads with a penny is around 0.54.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Course Redesign: Who's Behind It?

Photo Credit:
I'm not about to go on a long, conspiracy-filled rant about who is attempting to take over American Education.  I won't even mention George Saros.  However, there are a few organizations behind the current trends in course redesign that I would like to highlight.

The National Center for Academic Transformation
The NCAT is a non-profit organization that:
... provides leadership in using information technology to redesign learning environments to produce better learning outcomes for students at a reduced cost to the institution.
That quote is from their website.  Two of my coworkers went to a workshop hosted by the NCAT this February in Orlando.  One coworker said that the information in the workshops was already available from their workshops.  The emporium model was featured heavily.

In my opinion the NCAT mentions cost savings too much.  Often class sizes or teaching loads are increased.  My concern is that the academic support/pressure for course redesign is motivated more by cost savings than student learning.

The student learning improvement statistics that are sited are usually about course pass rates.  Many redesigns incorporate mastery learning, which means that students must pass every unit with a given percentage to move to the next unit.  Mastery learning muddies the pass rate measurement for self-paced classes, making them an inaccurate measure of long term learning.  Unfortunately, testing true mastery takes more time than is available during one semester.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
The Gates Foundation is the philanthropic organization run by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.  The Gates Foundation partners with the NCAT, and the Gates Foundation funded the NCAT's Changing the Equation Program.

My concern with Bill Gates is that he has a world view that computer technology can solve all of the world's problems.  The emporium model may (or may not) work with adults, but the natural progression will be to incorporate it into classrooms for younger and younger students, where it is no longer developmentally appropriate.  Gates has shown his support for the Khan Academy, which is aiming for an audience younger than adults.  I like the Khan Academy videos as a resource, but not as an entire curriculum.

Textbook Publishers
Textbook publishers are becoming to teachers what the pharmaceutical industry is to doctors.  I like our textbook publishing representative, but I would like to have a redesign meeting without him.  The emporium model makes heavy use of computer homework systems, like MyMathLab by Pearson and MathZone by McGraw-Hill.  That means that a textbook publisher will get a licencing fee from every student enrolled in a redesign course.

I realize that textbook publishers are fulfilling an need, and I have no problem with that.  Unfortunately, they are starting to drive academic policies instead of serving the needs of students and educators.

These are the players in the course redesign trend that I feel deserve some attention.  My advice to departments who are considering course redesign is to look at the needs of your student bodies, and remember that the solution that worked for one college may not work for your students.

P.S.  Glenn, I would have used "Youth Movements" to get the "Y" you needed for "OLIGARCHY".  You're on your own for the "C".

Another Step in the Slow Slog to Tenure

That's me at the bottom.
Go me!  (I think.)  I'm in my fourth year at MCTC, which means I've got tenure on my mind everyday.  Being elected as chair of the CRC means that I'm on the KCTCS CRC as well.  That's going to look good on my promotion portfolio in two years.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Course Redesign: The Emporium Model

In my last post on course redesign, I mentioned that the emporium model is the most common model used for course redesign.  The emporium model uses computer-delivered instruction with computer-assisted homework to evaluate the students.  Work is performed in a computer lab with the instructors helping the students as tutors.

My experience with teaching the emporium model is limited.  I taught with it once in graduate school in the fall of 2006.  I had two sections of College Algebra.  The course used ALEKS and the students worked in the lab three days each week.  I had only ten of forty students pass the course.  There were many reasons for a low pass rate, including an impossible final.  (Which I did not write.  It took me a full two hours to complete.)  Also, the course automatically failed students after nine absences.  (Again, not my idea.)

Benefits of the Emporium Model

There are several benefits to the students.  Students are forced to do the work.  The amount of time on task for each student can be recorded by the homework system.  Mastery learning is incorporated into the emporium model in most cases.  That means that the students must show proficiency in each part of the class to pass.  The emporium model is often self-paced minimally-paced.  That means that students can finish more than one course in a semester, or that students can carry their work from one semester to the next if they make enough progress. It is often possible for students to test out of part of a course, allowing them to spend time on the parts where they have difficulty.

The benefits for the instructors is that there is no prep time or grading.  Once the course is set to go, the students do the prepared assignments and watch the prepared videos.  The grading is done by the computer.  Instructors can wander around the computer lab helping students on specific topics, without having to guess on the student's level of understanding.

The benefits for the administration are that more students can be placed in the class, as only one instructor can be in the lab with several tutors to assist.  This means more students can be taught with the same number of faculty.  I've heard of one person teaching nine courses in a semester.  Also, the with self-paced classes, students will have a sense of accomplishment even though they didn't finish the entire course, which leads to higher retention.  With more students eventually passing math, that means that more students will finish their programs and graduation rates will increase.

Drawbacks of the Emporium Model

One of the drawbacks for the students is that they don't know how to adapt to the course structure.  Some students believe that the course is an online course, which means that attendance is a problem.  I had attendance issues when I taught with the emporium, and so have other instructors.  Students also have a hard time transferring math from the computer to paper and back.  When students are in front of the computer, they feel they have to do all the work on the computer.  They don't realize that they need to work on paper as well.  Also, not every student works well in a computer lab.  They need to take the initiative to get the instructors attention, which can be difficult when competing with fifty other students.  

There are also some doubts about how well students learn from computers.  Sylvia Martinez raised this issue today on her blog.  She is writing specifically about the Khan Academy, but her comments are appropriate to the emporium model.

The drawbacks to the instructors is that they have to learn to manage the chaos of the lab.  This may not be a problem for elementary school teachers, but college instructors have less experience with this type of learning environment.  Also, instructors can easily overwhelmed by increased numbers of students.  Even though there is less grading and prep time, there are still student questions to be answered.  Answering e-mail takes up a larger proportion of the instructor's time.  Also, it is difficult for an instructor to judge the comprehension of a student based solely on the feedback from a computer homework system.  There are many different aids built into the software that gives the student and instructor an inflated sense of comprehension.

The drawbacks to administrators is that there may be more students who are entering programs with an inflated sense of preparation.  It is possible for students to fail their next physics or HVAC class because they cannot transfer their math skills outside of the math classroom.  That will lead to lead to lower pass rates in other classes.  (Of course the students passed my class, so it's not my fault.)  Also, there is additional record keeping as students continue classes from one semester to the next, or enroll in classes during the middle of the semester.

Does the Emporium Model Do More Harm than Good?

One of the points that John Squires made during our meeting in Louisville is that course redesigns at different colleges have different results.  If the faculty buy into the redesign and make use of its strengths, than improvements in pass rates can occur.  It is not uncommon for pass rates to stay the same or decrease for a few semesters before increasing.  So, the amount of harm or good done by the emporium model depends on the instructors using the model.  (Of course, the same thing can be said about lectures.)

One aspect of our course redesign at MCTC is to collect data on the learning of our students.  Pass rates get most of the attention when course redesign is discussed, but little is said about student learning.  Our college is only using the emporium model for half of our sections of developmental mathematics in the coming fall.  The other half will have lecture with assignments similar to those in the emporium sections.  We will be able to test the affect of the emporium model on student learning.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Senate Bill 5 Passes in Ohio

Yesterday, Senate Bill 5 was signed into law in Ohio.  My wife was told by one of her coworkers that factoring in the pay cut and the increase in payments to health insurance, a starting teacher in Ohio with a family of four will be above poverty level by $200.  Based off the pay scale, our family is looking at a $20,00 loss in income.  My wife missed getting her continuing contract (their version of tenure) by a month.

Course Redesign: What is it?

This spring, my college, Maysville Community and Technical College, is working on our course redesign plan for mathematics.  Course redesign means adding multimedia and internet to a course to improve student learning.

A summary of course redesign is posted on the Pearson website.
Course redesign is the process of restructuring the way the content of a course is delivered. It generally involves the redesign of an entire course (rather than individual classes or sections) to achieve better learning outcomes—often at a lower cost. This is most often done by taking advantage of the capabilities of technology to deliver effective online teaching and learning experiences.
The leader in course redesign is The National Center for Academic Transformation or NCAT.  The NCAT offers six different models of course redesign.  The models are listed below, with my thoughts on each.

The Supplemental Model

From the NCAT Website:
The supplemental model retains the basic structure of the traditional course and a) supplements lectures and textbooks with technology-based, out-of-class activities, or b) also changes what goes on in the class by creating an active learning environment within a large lecture hall setting.
More info:  The Supplemental Model

My thoughts:  The phrase "large lecture hall setting" is very telling of some of the implicit bias.  Our developmental classes have an enrollment cap of 22 students.

This appears to boil down to keeping things the same with addition of videos, similar to those of the Khan Academy, or computer-based homework, like MyMathLab.

The Replacement Model
From the NCAT Website:
The replacement model reduces the number of in-class meetings and a) replaces some in-class time with out-of-class, online, interactive learning activities, or b) also makes significant changes in remaining in-class meetings.
More infoThe Replacement Model

My thoughts:  This is my favorite of the redesign models.  It allows the most flexibility in curriculum as well as use of time.  Students can work outside of class on the computationally based material, while class time can be used for higher level work and applications.  We've been using the replacement model for a while at our college for some college level classes.

The Emporium Model
From The NCAT Website:
The emporium model replaces lectures with a learning resource center model featuring interactive computer software and on-demand personalized assistance.
More info:  The Emporium Model

My thoughts:  This is the most common redesign model to be implemented.  It is so popular, that most people don't remember the other five models.  Last week, John Squires told a gathering of KCTCS mathematics faculty that the emporium model is the only successful model.  It is being implemented at most of the KCTCS colleges, including Maysville.  I'll say more on the emporium model in a future post.

The Fully Online Model
From the NCAT Website:
The fully online model eliminates all in-class meetings and moves all learning experiences online, using Web-based, multi-media resources, commercial software, automatically evaluated assessments with guided feedback and alternative staffing models.
More infoThe Fully Online Model

My thoughts:  I'm not a fan of teaching mathematics online, especially for developmental mathematics.  I only send my advisees to online math classes if all of our sections are full.  I believe that this can work well for other disciplines.

The Buffet Model
From the NCAT Website:
The buffet model customizes the learning environment for each student based on background, learning preference, and academic/professional goals and offers students an assortment of individualized paths to reach the same learning outcomes.
More info: The Buffet Model

My thoughts:  This would work well for students who are intimately familiar with their own learning.  However, very few developmental students would fit in this category.

The Linked Workshop Model
From the NCAT Website:
The Linked Workshop model provides remedial/developmental instruction by linking workshops that offer students just-in-time supplemental academic support to core college-level courses.
More infoThe Linked Workshop Model

My thoughts:  There is not enough here to have any thoughts about.

These are the six models for course redesign.  The emporium model has gotten all of the attention.  The replacement model is my favorite.  Tune in next time for more information.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Day in Louisville

I was in Louisville today at Jefferson Community and Technical College to discuss developmental mathematics course redesign in KCTCS.  I was not too surprised that each of the sixteen colleges are in different places in the  process.

I was expecting some arm-twisting at this meeting, but there was none.  There was some application of peer pressure.

My college is in the planning phase of redesigning our Basic Math, Elementary Algebra, and Intermediate Algebra classes.  We will be piloting the program this summer, and implementing it in the fall for half of our classes.

I've got some thoughts about course redesign floating around in my head.  I hope to get them down in the blog next week.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My Opinion of Everyday Mathematics

Jason Buell writes:
If you find the time, I'm curious about your opinion of Everyday Math. Everybody that encounters it seems to either love it or hate it. It is amazing how polarizing. But I guess, I'm often amazed at how strongly people feel about how math should be taught. (Full disclosure, my oldest is off to kinder next year and EDM is their series)
Well, it's not called the Math Wars for nothing.  In fact, the Sears household is a bit divided over Everyday Mathematics ourselves.

First, I should offer a disclaimer, I am only familiar with Everyday Mathematics from a parent's perspective.  I see the worksheets that my son brings home, but I have not reviewed any of the other materials.  I don't work with my son much with math, as he does pretty well without me.  (We spend most of our time on spelling.  That's my boy.)
A worksheet from Everyday Mathematics, Second Grade
My wife, an elementary school teacher most years, does not like Everyday Mathematics as much as other mathematics series.  She thinks that it introduces too many topics during each grade, and does not give enough time for mastery of topics.  That does not mean that she hates Everyday Mathematics.

I like the applications.  One worksheet had Connor looking around the house for objects that were approximately the size of his arm span.  I have warmed up to a spiral curriculum, where topics are repeated from one grade to the next with increasing depth.  I know that there are some topics in mathematics that you don't grasp the first time through.  Infinite series is one topic that I needed to see twice before I understood it.  Also, I think that the spiral curriculum can fill in some gaps in the students knowledge that would be propagated throughout the student's educations.

I think the polarization caused by Everyday Mathematics comes from the fact that it was one of the first reform series (as far as I can tell), and thus was subject to all of the misconceptions of mathematics reform.  I found this video early on in my YouTube explorations.

If you watch this video, you will see that the woman speaking has a limited understanding of what is mathematics and how people do mathematics in "real life".  If you see mathematics as little more than arithmetic performed by strict algorithms, then you will agree with this speaker.  (By the way, I really like the method of multiplication of whole numbers that the speaker criticizes.  I'm glad that she showed it to us.)

The response that I liked was from fellow Kentuckian James Blackburn-Lynch.  He got a copy of two of the books from Everyday Mathematics, and he gives a good explanation of what the series is trying to accomplish.

I have no reservations about Everyday Mathematics at all.  I know that my son will do well with the program.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why Teachers Like Me Support Unions

Today, is collecting blog posts from educators expressing their support for unions.  I recently wrote a few of posts about unions and collective bargaining.
I was reminded by Sue VanHattum's post of a story about a teacher at my wife's school.  This teacher was belligerent to other teachers, and not much better to students.  The school tried to fire the teacher, but the Union backed the teacher because due process was not followed.  Now, you are probably saying to yourself, "I saw Waiting for Superman, I know how this story ends."  Actually, the teacher was placed on probation for a year, did not improve, and then was fired.
[Edited to correct the time line of events.]

I support unions because America was built on the principle of fairness.  Fairness has expanded since America's founding, as slavery has been abolished, women have gained the right to vote, and more recently, gays have been allowed to serve in the military openly (sort of, we'll see).  Unions help preserve fairness by making sure that teachers, like Sue, who are fired unfairly are protected.  That also means that teachers who have no business being in a classroom are given due process before being fired.

Teacher unions help preserve the fairness inherent in the relationship between teachers and the communities they serve.  Teachers have little opportunity for advancement throughout their career, and only if you count department head as advancement.  Teachers are compensated for this lack of advancement by receiving benefits after their careers are over.  However, since the community, usually at the state level, is paying for those benefits, teachers become targets once the other politically convenient avenues of budget balancing are exhausted.  Unions give teachers the strength to demand that communities hold up their end of the bargain.

Teachers need a collective voice to keep the public discourse fair.  Corporations and billionaires have media outlets at their disposal, but no individual teacher in America has enough money to get Fox News at their beck and call.  A single teachers does not have a large audience for 24 hours each day.  (Although larger class sizes will help grow our audience.)  Unions provide a collective voice to teachers and other workers.

Teachers of today are asked to solve problems that we did not create.  Teachers are held accountable for the performance of students who are coming to school hungry.  Teachers have to attempt to undo in eight hours the damage that is done to children in the other sixteen hours by broken families.  Teachers are only asking in return for the support of the communities that they are asked to build.  Unions are there to make sure that teachers get that support.  After all, it's only fair.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

New Video: Pairwise Comparisons

Here is my fourth video on voting methods.  I did finish it before midnight, so I am still on schedule.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

How My Son Gets Out of Cleaning

It's cleaning day at my house, and my son was supposed to be cleaning his room.  Instead, I found him working on this.  (He's in second grade.)
So far, so good.
This is the first page of our first skills exam for Prealgebra, the lowest level math class that we teach at the college.  The skills exams are used to test mastery.  The students take it without a calculator, and they must get 70% on all four skills exams to pass the class.  I've had lower scores than this on exams before.

We usually keep the tests secure, so that is why I don't keep the extras in my office.  I let my kids use the backs as drawing paper.  However, we are dropping the skills exams this summer when our course redesign is implemented.

Friday, March 18, 2011

New Video: Borda Count Method

I'm keeping pace with my goal of one new video each day.  This one took a while because I was tripping over my tongue as well as tracking down typos at each step.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Meeting With Robert King

Last Thursday, our college was visited by Robert L. King, President of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.  The CPE oversees the programs at all of Kentucky's institutions of higher education, including KCTCS.  Dr. King addressed the faculty and staff of the college.  I was impressed by what he had to say.

One of the initiatives for the CPE is on improving K12 education in Kentucky.  K12 education is not part of the CPE's mandate, but the CPE can work to improve teacher education in Kentucky as well as offer meaningful professional development to current teachers.

I met him in the hallway after the meeting, and we talked briefly.  One of his previous jobs was as Chancellor of the State University of New York.  I was raised in Upstate New York, and many of my family has attended SUNY schools.

It was a good meeting, and I have good reason to be optimistic about the future of higher education in Kentucky.

New Video: Plurality Method

This is the first video on the first voting method for my Liberal Art Mathematics class. 

I am hoping to get at least one video done each day.  The challenge will be to continue this pace after spring break.

For this video, I got better audio because I figured out that I had to select the recording device in Camtasia.  The last video used the microphone built into my laptop, even thought it was not the default recording device.  This video finally uses my Logitech microphone.  I was holding it too close to my mouth, and I have a few percussive P's.

I bought my Logitech microphone used GameStop for $10.  It is for the video game Rock Band, but it also works on a PC.  The audio is nice, but it still smells like what I hope it tobacco.

Happy St. Patrick's Day from NASA

Here is a view of the Emerald Isle that only NASA could provide.
Photo Courtesy of NASA
If only they could detect leprechauns from space.

New Video: Preference Voting

I just finished a video giving the background for preference voting.  You've come across voting methods if and only if you've taught liberal arts math.  It's a fun topic.  The video is posted below.
I tried to let go of some of my perfectionist tendencies with this video.  There is one place when I say "restaurant" when I mean "office".  You can hear the clicks of the keys as I go through the PowerPoint.

The music was provided by Kevin McCloud on his website  He has a good selection of royalty free music.  Just be sure to give him credit if you use it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Parents' Crib Sheet for Fractions

My son, who is in second grade, brought home the following page from his math workbook.
Everyday Mathematics Worksheet

The page is from Everyday Mathematics, Second Grade.  It contains all the answers for the worksheets in Chapter 8 on fractions.

I cried a little inside that parents would need help getting answers to second grade math problems.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Now There is Even Less Time to Get Things Done

I just came across this article explaining how the day got shorter from the earthquake in Japan.  The difference it not noticeable, it's only 1.8 microseconds shorter. NASA has some amazing satellite pictures of the flooding.  Of course, it does not show the true devastation.  Our thoughts go out to the people affected by this disaster.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Happy Pi Day!

I was working late in the office last night.  I had to get my Pi Day decorations up.  Have a happy Pi Day.  Our college is on spring break, so I will be having a good day with my daughter at home.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

What's Wrong with This Picture

I took this screen capture from The Daily Show from March 3rd.  It compares the average worker's salary nationwide to the average teacher salary in Wisconsin.  The graphic was originally broadcast on Fox News.
A Fox News Graphic via The Daily Show

Why is this not a correct comparison?  Whose salaries should we compare to teachers?

The links to the video clips are below.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


I just got back from the annual meeting of KYMATYC (Kentucky Mathematical Association of Two Year Colleges).  KYMATYC is a regional affiliate of AMATYC.  The meeting was held at General Butler State Park in Carrollton, KY.

I rode down to the conference with my colleagues Dana and Mike on Friday.  Marty met us at the conference.  The talks I attended were:
  1.  Leslie and Gary Wash a Car... and Use the Tau Function - Gary Goodaker
    Gary started with a classic algebra problem and then developed it to include some number theory.
  2. Patterns and Connections in Developmental Mathematics - Pat McKeague
    Pat demonstrated some teasers that he uses in his basic algebra classes to introduce his students to topics in higher mathematics.
  3. Curriculum Spin Session - Jason Taylor
    This was an informative talk about how KCTCS got two calculus sequences.  All of the community colleges in Kentucky are under the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.  Some of the colleges have different opinions of how many credits each Calculus class should have.  Somehow, the directive to eliminate duplicate courses in the catalog lead to an updating of the courses inherited from the University of Kentucky and placing them side by side with the KCTCS developed courses.  More to follow.
  4. Online Spin Session - Gail Stringer
    This was a discussion session about teaching online classes.
  5. Let's Talk About Course Redesign - April Joy Spears and Jamie Foster
    KCTCS is moving all of its colleges toward teaching developmental mathematics with the Emporium Model.  This was one of three talks about the Emporium Model.  More on that in another post.
  6. The Human Cannonball, Ferris Wheels, and Trigonometry - Pat McKeague
    Pat gave the keynote speech at the conference.  He gave a good talk about applications of trigonometry.
The "After Math" part was after dinner.  I went for a while, but left because I was getting tired.

I have a tradition of waking up early on the Saturday of the conference to go geocaching.  I tried this morning, but the rain and dark kept me from getting too far down the trail.  I turned back and got a few more minutes of sleep before going to breakfast.  Here is some video of the Ohio River I shot on Friday to show you how wet it was.

The Saturday talks were:
  1. Emporium Model of Instruction - Fostering Student Success Through Independent Learning - Dawn Chumley, Stacie Gary, and Mark Hawkins
    This was another talk on the Emporium Model.  Most of the talks on course redesign follow the same format, give details about the grading, show a picture of the lab, and give the stats on the improved pass rate.  This talk was no different.
  2. Math Anxiety - Maranda Miller
    This was a good talk about fostering student confidence in mathematics.  Maranda has a personal touch in her teaching that came through in her talk.  I got a few good leads to follow up on her ideas.
  3. The Digital Age: Natives vs. Aliens - Nancy Sattler
    Nancy talked about the difference in how teaches use technology and how our students use technology.  I think that we should be focused on helping our students use technology in the correct ways as well as learning from them.
The weekend was good, as always.  The people in KYMATYC are a level-headed bunch who are out to do the best for their students.  I always feel better about teaching after the conference.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Pack 6201 Pinewood Derby 2011

This past Saturday was the pinewood derby for my son's cub scout pack.  There where twenty-nine scouts and one sister of a scout participating.  The event was very well run, and the participants were excellent sports.  It was a good example of what scouting is supposed to be about.

For those of you who are not familiar with the pinewood derby, the scouts (and their parents) build a car that is raced down a track that starts with a decline.  The only power to the cars is provided by gravity.  Our track used an electronic timing system that measured the times to one hundredth of a second.

The cars are supposed to weight less than five ounces, measure less than seven inches long, and use the official axles and wheels.  Other than that, there are very few rules about car construction.  Here is a picture of pinewood derby cars on the internet.  (I don't have a picture of my son's car on me right now.)
Pinewood Derby Cars
I was lucky enough to volunteer to record the times for the cars.  Most people would see that as work, but I got to collect all of the data on the cars and bring it back home with me.  Outside of the times, the weight of each car was recorded to the ten thousandth of an ounce.  There are more variables that control the performance of the car, but this at least gave me one independent variable to work with.

In addition to recording the times, I plugged a webcam into my laptop.  We had a projector hooked into my laptop to display the results, and when the cars were racing, I was able to display the image from the webcam on the wall.  (That's how I recorded the video.)  I called it the "redneck jumbotron".  One of the interesting aspects of the day was that parents wanted me to display the results on the screen so they could take a picture of the display.  The kids would get close to the webcam during their race, and would rather watch themselves on the wall than watch their race.
A proud parent
I've begun to analyze the data that I collected.  I have been working between two Excel spreadsheets, and the organization is slowly appearing.  I'll give the breakdown of the data soon.

P. S.  If you are wondering how Team Sears did, we were dead last.  I would be OK with last, but we were between two and three standard deviations slower than the mean time.  I'll be spending the next twelve months figuring out why.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

In the Thick of It

In my last post on Thursday, I talked about the protests in Wisconsin over the teachers maintaining the right to collective bargaining.  I mentioned that my wife teaches in Ohio, where Senate Bill 5 would also remove collective bargaining right for state employees.  Thursday afternoon, my wife came home with this sign.
Both sides of the sign

She had an emergency union meeting after school.  According to a tentative pay scale, if Senate Bill 5 does not pass, then Governor Kasich's budget will lower my wife's salary by $20,000.

This situation has me asking a few questions.
  1. How many experienced teachers will stay in the profession?  My wife pointed out that people will stay in teaching until they can get a higher paying job.
  2. How can we "fix" education when we are not supporting teachers?  In Wisconsin, the teachers gave into the wage reductions, and the Governor is still trying to remove collective bargaining rights.  It's bad enough that teachers are held accountable for their students' activities outside of school through test scores.
  3. Why does paying more to attract talent only work for investment bank CEO's?  Remember the corporate bonuses that were payed after bailing out the banks.  The justification for the bonuses was that they were necessary for keeping the best executives at the banks.
I'm too worked up to keep typing, so I'll let Jon Stewart finish for me.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Timely Word Problem

I was talking about word problems and percents in my Intermediate Algebra class, and I came across this slide.  These notes are three years old.  (I found an old version.)
One slide from today's class
The timeliness of the problem relates to the protests in Madison, WI and other states over the collective bargaining rights of the government employees.  The fate of public employee unions in Ohio is much more relevant to me, as my wife teaches in Ohio.  I am a member of the AFT, and have been since I was in graduate school in Milwaukee, WI.

I usually don't like to discuss politics, but I think that Gov. Scott Walker has grossly misread the mood of Wisconsin.  Wisconsin is a very pro-union state, and attacking the unions will not win as much political support as it would in other states.  Unfortunately, the debate about balancing budgets (which I fully support) has been about scoring political points by going after the small programs supported by the opposite party.  Unfortunately, the real discussion of how to live within our collective means has yet to begin.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Getting Prepped in Augusta

Augusta High School Parking Lot
Last Thursday, I traveled down to Augusta High School in Augusta, KY to lead a preparation class for the math ACT.  There were 25 out of the 26 Juniors in attendance.  The session was only 90 minutes, as the Principal wanted to meet with the students afterward.  I met with the student in the library, which means that there wasn't a whiteboard to work with.  Fortunately, I had planned ahead and brought my tablet PC and a projector.

I covered roughly the same material as in the other sessions this year.  I started with an overview of test taking strategies.  The book we are using, KAPLAN ACT 2011, is more precise on its test taking strategies, and I improved my talk accordingly. Then, the students work on problems for 20 minutes.  I broke the work into two periods of 15 minutes and five minutes.  The book suggests working through the test in two passes with the same proportion of time. Finally, I highlighted a few of the problems that illustrated the mindset that the ACT requires.  I usually spend an hour on this part, but I only had 30 minutes due to the shorter time frame.

There was one teacher and a guidance counselor in the room with me.  I am always a bit nervous teaching in front of high school teachers.  They have had years of preparation and experience in teaching.  My teacher training in graduate school consisted of one handout, a sample syllabus, and instructions not to date the students.  At least one of the students said I was "cooler than the last woman."

I've only been to Augusta twice since moving to Kentucky. It is just a few miles closer to Cincinnati than Maysville along the Ohio River. Both Maysville and Augusta are similar in their histories and populations.  Here is a picture I took of the river.  It is the best I could do with my cell phone while illegally parked.
A view of the Ohio River
If you are curious about Augusta High School's famous graduate, whom I mentioned a few posts ago, his yearbook photo (according to the New York Post) is below.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Student Checklist #1 - Reading A Section of Your Textbook

Our college is going full steam on our QEP on critical reading.  As part of our course redesign, I wrote a draft of a checklist for reading a section of a math textbook.  I'll be discussing it with my coworkers, so a revision may be on the way shortly.  The Microsoft Publisher 2010 version is here, and the PDF version is here.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Teaching Checklist #1: In the Classroom

I've been thinking about checklists, and as it is the end of the week, I don't have enough energy to do real work.  So here is a checklist that I developed for use inside of the classroom.  The PDF version is here.  The Microsoft Publisher 2010 version is here.

I followed the checklist making checklist from The Checklist Manifesto.  The last part of the checklist is to validate the list that I just wrote.  I'll be testing it in my classes next week.

The main focus of the checklist is communicating with the students about the details of the course.  I find that I like to charge ahead with the course material, and I forget about reviewing and giving the feedback that the students need.  Another teacher may need a different set of checks.

This is designed for a face-to-face classes.  I do not teach on-line, so I wouldn't be able to develop a checklist for on-line classes.  We are working on developing computer mediated sections of our developmental classes, so I will be making one for those classes soon.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Food For Thought: The Checklist Manifesto

This weekend I finished reading The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande.  It was a very interesting book.  The thesis is that there are some tasks in any profession that are simple and routine, but often overlooked.  These tasks can have disastrous consequences if neglected.  The examples range from surgery, construction, aviation, and finance.

The question I have after reading this book is what routine tasks in education are often neglected and could lead to disaster for our students if they are overlooked.  I know there are some, but they escape me at the moment.  Please share your thoughts.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

ACT Prep Number 3 is Out of the Way

I lead my third ACT prep class of the year tonight.  I had a smaller class tonight, eight students.  I got to talk to the students more than usual.  One was a home schooled sophomore who was trying to get to MIT.  He was worried about paying the tuition.  Another was trying to get into Johns Hopkins for radiology.  Most of the high school students I teach have much less ambition.  This group reminded me why I went into education.

My last, hopefully, ACT prep class will be at nearby Augusta High School.  I'm shamefully excited to go there because they have one famous alumni.  I'll leave it to you to guess who.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Maybe We Can Know the Source of Pseudocontext After All

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post asking if we could know the sources of pseudocontext.  I came to the conclusion that there are too many people involved in writing a textbook to point a finger.  I am currently reading Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius, written by Angeline Stoll Lillard and published by Oxford University Press in 2005.  I may finally have someone to point at for pseudocontext, Edward Lee Thorndike.

Edward Lee Thorndike was  a Professor of Psychology at Columbia University's Teachers College.  He started at Teachers College in 1899, when our modern educational system was forming. 

According to Lillard (p. 11):
Thorndikes's textbooks are classic illustrations of the decontextualized material common in American textbooks today.  For example, one Thorndike textbook problem is: "Tom had six cents in his bank and put in three cents more.  How many cents were in the bank then?"  (Thorndike, 1917, p. 18)  The reader knows nothing about Tom or his bank, and so must process disembodied information.  In contrast, the problems one regularly encounters outside of school tend to have a meaningful context.
 Lillard then starts the next paragraph with:
Thorndike believed that children could not transfer learning from one context to another unless elements of the situation were identical, so supplying context was useless.
I was so excited by locating someone else calling out pseudocontext, although not by name, that I couldn't finish reading until I got back to my computer.  I can't wait to dig up more information soon.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The First Python Project for Contemporary College Mathematics

I just finished my first Python project for my Contemporary College Mathematics class.  The goal of the project is to have the students download Python and run one script.  The script takes there name and adds the ASCII values of the characters in their name.  The sum is my way of checking if they did the work.  You can find the instructions on Google Docs here.  The directions are a Microsoft 2010 document that was converted to Google Docs format. 

The script is below.  You can download it here, or cut and paste it from this page.

def string_to_sum(in_string):
    sum = 0
    for a in in_string:
        sum = sum + ord(a)
    return sum

in_string = raw_input('Please type your name. ')
sum = string_to_sum(in_string)
print 'Thank you,', in_string, '.  Your output number is', sum

temp = raw_input('Press Enter to exit.')

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Now, Where Did I Put That Blog?

Oh!  Here it is.

I've been away for quite a while.  I was happy to not worry about math or teaching for two weeks.  I always need a break to recharge the batteries before the new semester.

The college started back with registration on Monday.  I've been busy with advising and preparing for teaching.  Now that I've got a bit of spare time, I'll share a few projects for this semester of which will be interesting to the mathematically and scientifically minded:
  1. Course redesign for developmental mathematics.  The phrase "course redesign" sends the same chills down college faculty's back in the same way as the phrase "education reform" does for public school teachers.  Fortunately for our college, the local administration has been willing to meet the faculty half-way on redesign.  I'll share more on this as the semester progresses.
  2. Introducing computer projects in Contemporary College Mathematics.  I like liberal arts math because it has fun topics for me, and the students are not too stressed about math.  Once they realize that I'm not out to kill them (in this class) then they relax and are ready to learn.  My goal is to use Python with logic, voting theory, and statistics.  This is an experiment for me, so I won't be too worried if it fails.  Don't worry, I won't let the students suffer if it does fail.
  3. Find something interesting to talk about at KYMATYC.  I gave a good talk last year, and I would like to do it again.  The KYMATYC conference is fun to attend.  It's usually before Spring break, so the weather is nice.  It is held at a state park, which means hiking.  Also, the people in KYMATYC are nice, so I look forward to seeing them each year.
  4. A super-secret project that I won't talk about until later.  I'm afraid to jinx it.  I will say that if it pans out, my community college will go where no community college has gone before.
 It's going to be a busy semester.  Good luck to those of you who are starting your own semester.