Category Archives: ictcm

Summer plans

I’m still in recovery mode from this past semester, which seemed somehow to be brutal for pretty much everyone I know in this business. But something that always helps me in this phase is thinking about what I get to do with the much lighter schedule that summertime affords. Here’s a rundown.

Mostly this summer I will be spending time with my family. On Mondays and Fridays, I’ll be home with my two daughters. On Wednesdays I’ll have them plus my 16-month old son, plus my wife will have that day off. On Tuesdays it’ll be just the boy and me. So I plan lots of trips to the zoo, the various parks around here, and so on.

I still have plenty of time to work, and I have a few projects for the summer.

First, I need to get ready for my Geometry class this fall. I am making the move from Geometer’s Sketchpad to Geogebra this fall, and although I took a minicourse at the ICTCM on Geogebra, I still need to work on my skills before I teach with it. Also, I need to figure out exactly what I am going to teach. I’m going to be using Euclid’s Elements as the textbook for the course, eschewing commercial textbooks for both monetary and educational reasons. But I’m not totally sure what I’m going to have students do, exactly. So I’ll be reading through the Elements and possibly thinking out loud here on the blog about how to incorporate a 2000-year old mathematical work with modern open-source dynamic geometry software in an engaged classroom. I’m calling it “ancient-future geometry”, whatever it turns out being.

Second, I’ll be working on our dual-degree Engineering program to try and make it a little easier to schedule and complete. This is hard-core administrative stuff, interesting to nobody but a select few geeks like me.

Third, I’ll be working to further my programming skills with MATLAB and Python. I picked up a lot of MATLAB programming to get ready for the course this past semester, but that seemed only to highlight how much more I needed to learn. And I watched enough of this MIT computing course over Christmas break that I want to do the whole thing now that I have some time.

Fourth, I’ll be attending the American Society for Engineering Education conference in Louisville next month. Part of that experience is a day-long minicourse titled “Getting Started in Engineering Education Research”. I’ll be taking my participation in that minicourse as the kickoff to a concerted effort to get into the scholarship of teaching and learning. Along with the minicourse I’ll be reading through some seminal SoTL articles this summer, and probably blogging what I’m thinking.

Fifth, and finally, I’ll be mapping out some incursions of the inverted classroom model in my Calculus course this fall. More on that later as well.

For now, my family and I are heading out to Tennessee on vacation to visit family and hang out. I’ll be off the grid for a week or so. Enjoy yourselves and stay tuned!

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Filed under Education, Geogebra, Geometers Sketchpad, Geometry, Higher ed, ictcm, Inverted classroom, Math, Teaching, Technology, Textbook-free

ICTCM day 2

Euclid, Greek mathematician, 3rd century BC, a...

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[Ed. note: This post was originally written on March 13 while at the ICTCM, but I ran out of time on my $12.95 per day internet access before being able to post it and only now have had the chance to get back online. So it’s about 36 hours out of sync.]

Slower day at the ICTCM than yesterday. For one thing, I took some time out in the morning to get the MATLAB course prepped for Monday; and I needed time to finish some grading in the afternoon. But I manage to have a pretty productive day nonetheless.

The main event — one of the primary reasons I came here — was a Geogebra 3.2 minicourse this morning. I’ve been a diehard Geometers Sketchpad user for a long time, but after becoming aware of Geogebra lately, I began to wonder if it might be time for a switch. I have no problem with the usability and features of Sketchpad, but if there’s free software out there that is pretty close to the same quality, the possibility of simply installing it everywhere (like we’ve done on campus with Winplot) is pretty enticing. The question was whether Geogebra’s features and usability matches up well with Sketchpad’s.

After the minicourse, I’d say the answer to that question is definitely “yes”. Particularly impressive is Geogebra’s ability to export entire constructions to HTML as an interactive web page. I have some definitely plans for this kind of thing for the class now. There’s more to learn — unfortunately we didn’t go very deep with the software in the minicourse — but definitely Geogebra will be the software platform for the geometry course this fall. Now I have to decide on a textbook — or to go without. Hope to blog on that later.

Also today I attended a session on using clickers in mathematics courses. I’ve been following Derek Bruff on Twitter for some time (he’s an assistant director at the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching, where I used to be a Master Teaching Fellow) and have gotten interested in using clickers through his work with them. This was a general survey talk, but very well done and it definitely increased my interested in folding clickers into my teaching mix at some point.

Overall the ICTCM is one of the better conferences out there for people who are interested in math, education, technology and the intersections between these. Look for the announcement for ICTCM 2011 coming soon!

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Filed under Computer algebra systems, Education, Educational technology, Geometers Sketchpad, ictcm, Math, MATLAB, Teaching, Technology

What I learned at the ICTCM, day 1

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Busy day here at the ICTCM. I need both an extended time for brain-dumping and a full night’s sleep, and I think the latter is going to win. So here’s a brief listing, in no particular order, of some of the standout items I’ve learned today.

  • I learned first thing this morning that rigorous, scientific scholarship of teaching and learning does actually exist, and it’s being done by Dave Pritchard of MIT. Prof. Pritchard was our keynote speaker this morning. In his words, he has basically forsaken a successful career in atomic physics (in which role he mentored or taught three Nobel laureates) to devote his energies to physics education. His keynote this morning gave me enough reading material for a semester and a whole new outlook on what educational research could look like.
  • I learned (through Pritchard’s keynote) that there is a school of thought that says partial credit in math and science courses should not be given, because — and I quote — “Partial credit rewards partial understanding”. More to think about here.
  • I learned that, thanks to the research of Pritchard and his cohorts, there is a growing field of educational data mining, or one might say educational informatics, out there, designed to take data from online assessment tools and making observations about student learning. There’s even a journal.
  • I learned that the difference between novice and expert behaviors in learning pretty much describes all the issues I’ve encountered with the MATLAB course and other courses I’ve taught.
  • I learned, through Scott Franklin’s prezi on this subject this morning, that online lectures can be done that aren’t just lectures.
  • I learned that Geogebra is pretty cool, and I’ll learn more tomorrow as I take a minicourse on that software.
  • I learned there’s a whole website out there — and probably more than this one — for project-based learning ideas.
  • I learned that MATLAB has an interactive GUI…. for creating interactive GUI’s. Definitely something to play with later.
  • I learned that Gino’s East Pizza is among the best stuff I’ve ever ate, and the copious amounts of it in my stomach right now are a strong argument for sleeping over brain-dumping.

Tomorrow will be a Geogebra minicourse, as I mentioned, and more sessions which I haven’t mapped out yet. We’re getting sporadic wireless access, so I’m able to tweet a lot. More to come!

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Filed under Education, Educational technology, ictcm, Math, MATLAB, Technology, Twitter

ICTCM underway

It’s a beautiful day here on the shores of Lake Michigan as the ICTCM gets underway. It’s a busy day and — to my never-ending annoyance — there is no wireless internet in the hotel. So I won’t be blogging/tweeting as much as I’d like. But here’s my schedule for the day.

  • 8:30 – Keynote address.
  • 9:30 – Exhibits and final preparations for my 11:30 talk.
  • 10:30 – “Developing Online Video Lectures for Online and Hybrid Algebra Courses”, talk by Scott Franklin of Natural Blogarithms.
  • 11:10 – “Conjecturing with GeoGebra Animations”, talk by Garry Johns and Tom Zerger.
  • 11:30 – My talk on using spreadsheets, Winplot, and Wolfram|Alpha|Alpha in a liberal arts calculus class, with my colleague Justin Gash.
  • 12:30 – My “solo” talk on teaching MATLAB to a general audience.
  • 12:50 – “Programming for Understanding: A Case Study in Linear Algebra”, talk by Daniel Jordan.
  • 1:30 – “Over a Decade of of WeBWorK Use in Calculus and Precalculus in a Mathematics Department”, session by Mako Haruta.
  • 2:30 – Exhibit time.
  • 3:00 – “Student Projects that Assess Mathematical Critical-Thinking Skills”, session by David Graser.
  • 5:00 – “Visualizing Mathematics Concepts with User Interfaces in Maple and MATLAB”, session by David Szurley and William Richardson.

But first, breakfast and (especially) coffee.

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Filed under ictcm, Maple, MATLAB, Scholarship, Screencasts, Social software, Software, Web 2.0, Wolfram|Alpha

And now for something completely different:

This was from the blogger meetup/dinner from the ICTCM. If you look closely, Scott Franklin is in there giving, as he called it, his “into it face”. And Maria Andersen is taking some photos there on my left.

I didn’t get home till 11:00 PM last night and didn’t fall asleep until 3:00 AM, so this is pretty much all the blogging I am capable of today.

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Filed under Humor, ictcm, Music

Heading home

246654784_d8b9e4fabd_m.jpgThe ICTCM is all wrapped up, and I’ll be heading downstairs to check out of the hotel and head back home. It’s been a very good conference — one of the best I’ve attended and much better than most of the mathematics-only conferences I’ve been to. I feel in many ways like Scott Franklin does — whereas at math conferences I’ve always struggled to fit in, find a niche, and enjoy what I am doing, here at the ICTCM I feel like I’ve found some of “my own people”.

And I am coming away with almost too many ideas and provoked thoughts. You can tell from the output of this blog over the last few days that I am actually struggling to brain-dump fast enough to process the next idea coming in, like a basement sump pump in the middle of monsoon season. And I consider that a good thing. Certainly at most conferences I attend, I tend to come away at the end wondering if it was worth the expense of attending. When I set out a year or so ago to find conferences other than MAA or AMS conferences that were smaller and more targeted towards specific interests of mine, the ICTCM was the first one to come up, and it’s been everything I’d hoped it would be.

I believe I still owe everyone a couple of blog posts. That’s the danger of putting “…but I’ll write more about that later” in the middle of a post. But since there’s no free wifi in either the hotel (grrr…) or the San Antonio airport (grrrrr….) or the Memphis airport (gggrrrRRRRRrr….), I’ll most likely be resuming blogging tomorrow after work is over. However, thanks to the magic of Twitter I may occasionally be micro-blogging from my cell phone in between flights, so do check in there.

[photo by ChaosInJune via Flickr.]

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Encountering the NSpire; or, My calculator can beat up your calculator

One of the biggest conversation pieces here at the ICTCM is the Texas Instruments NSpire, their most recent entry in a long line of calculators. Here’s a firsthand look at it; click to enlarge, and then just take your time to look at the thing and think about it:

nspire-3.jpg

On the right there is a normal-sized TI-30-something scientific calculator. That should give you an idea of the scale. Here’s another shot with me holding it, which should also give an idea of the size of this thing; and another shot which gives a better view of the screen.

nspire-2.jpgnspire-1.jpg

But let’s go back to that first photo. First of all, yes, the NSpire does actually have not one but two keyboards. They snap in and out; the one that’s un-snapped is just a duplicate of the TI-84’s keyboard. The one that’s snapped in is, well, let’s just say “busy”.  The first thing you notice is that there are buttons between the buttons. The little rounded buttons are a kind of alphanumeric keyboard. Well, really the first thing you notice is that this thing is big. Really big. It’s hard to get past the big-ness of the thing. How can the massive size not be a factor in getting kids to use the thing? Would you want to whip this out on the bus to do your homework, knowing that doing so clearly identifies you as the kid that needs to get beaten up?

From what I can tell, the NSpire is supposed to be a full-featured computer algebra system in a handheld device. If that’s so, then it certainly wouldn’t be the first time TI has tried to market such a thing. That honor would go to the TI-92 graphing calculator, which I owned about 10 years ago and, honestly, I really liked it, even though apparently I was the only person who did, because it was a marketing disaster and got banned by the AP Calculus exam to boot. (It was banned from the AP not because people didn’t like it but because it had a QWERTY keyboard.)

I am not sure what the NSpire brings to the table in terms of CAS functionality that isn’t already available in industry-standard CAS computer software like Maple or Mathematica. I overheard one person giving a rave review because it treats functions as geometric objects, whatever that might mean. I don’t think that a function is a geometric object — the graph of one certainly is — so I’m a little in the dark here.  I believe it means that you can enter in a function and view it dynamically in multiple representations, so if you have a graph of a function with the tangent line drawn at a point, for instance, you can go to a split-screen view and set up a spreadsheet that shows all this data, and then if you move the point of tangency the stuff in the spreadsheet changes as well. More here (complete with annoying music).

There is also a computer software-only version of the NSpire, so you can use the CAS without owning the calculator. That sounds more likely to be useful. The downside is that, according to the TI rep with whom I spoke at the vendor booth this morning, TI is ditching Derive — its simple and very serviceable CAS that has been around since forever — to focus solely on the NSpire line of products. They have already quit producing Derive and will cease tech support for it in 2010. I think this is a huge mistake, and TI will end up paying for it in the end. But that’s the subject of another post.

Isn’t the NSpire just really, really over the top here? I think so. After a certain point, you simply cannot cram more and more stuff onto a proprietary device. You will either make the device too expensive, too bulky, too confusing to use, or too proprietary in the sense that the device is trying to reinvent software applications that already exist in a simple, affordable, and ubiquitous way. (Think MS Excel, versus the proprietary spreadsheet on the NSpire.) I think TI crossed all four of those boundaries years ago, and the NSpire is just a step further — several steps further — in a direction that is really just a dead end.

The thing doesn’t even have a touch screen, for goodness sake, which is so easy and cheap to implement that it’s unfathomable why you wouldn’t build one into the calculator instead of having hot-swappable keyboards. Swapping keyboards, for gosh’s sake. What kind of user interface is that? Are students — who are used to iPhones and, at worst, the 12-15-button interface of a cell phone — supposed to see the NSpire as a device they will actually adopt and use?

The session I attended this morning went into this issue, regarding just how far can you possibly push the technology of the graphing calculator before you simply must abandon the format and move through a paradigm shift. More on that later, though.

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Filed under Calculators, Computer algebra systems, Education, Educational technology, ictcm, Technology