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It’s been pretty quiet around here at Casting Out Nines lately. This is mainly due to two things. First, I’m spending five days a week home with my oldest two kids — the youngest joins us on Wednesdays — and keeping the kids active and engaged doesn’t leave much time for blogging. Second, as you all know, I’m starting a new position at Grand Valley State University in the fall and our big move to Michigan takes place in two weeks. We’re totally uprooting in this move, and preparing for it consumes a lot of time and emotional energy.
I’ve decided that, in light of all this, that I might as well declare the blog to be on hiatus for a month or so until we’re settled. There are a couple of posts that might go up soon — one of them being the last entry in the How I make screencasts series — but otherwise let’s just call it summer vacation here at CO9’s, and things will resume in “back to school” mode later. (“Back to school” time always seems to happen too soon, but that’s another story.)
I do want to mention, because it’s hard to keep it in, that there are some major changes coming up for Casting Out Nines that I am very excited about. These have been brewing for almost a year now and are just about ready to go into place. I can’t really go into detail — nor do I have an exact timetable — but suffice to say that the experience you get here at CO9’s will be better than ever, and it’s more than just another change in the visual theme.
Anyway, that’s it from me for now — follow me on Twitter if you just can’t live without my content (ahem) but otherwise, get out there and enjoy your summer!
This morning as I was driving in to work, I got to thinking: Could I teach my courses without all the technology I use? As in, just me, my students, and a chalk/whiteboard with chalk/markers? As I pulled in to the college, I thought: Sure I could. It just wouldn’t be as good or fun without the tech.
Little did I know, today would be centered around living that theory out:
- I planned a Keynote presentation with clicker questions to teach the section on antiderivatives in Calculus. As soon as I tried to get the clickers going, I realized the little USB receiver wasn’t working. Turns out, updating Mac OS X to v10.6.5 breaks the software that runs the receiver. Clicker questions for this morning: Out the window. Hopefully I’ll find a useable laptop for tomorrow, when I’m using even more clicker questions.
- Also in calculus, the laptop inexplicably went into presenter mode when I tried to give the presentation without clicker questions. Most of the time when I try to get it into presenter mode, I can’t do it. This time I couldn’t make it stop.
- The Twitter client on my laptop got stuck in some kind of strange mode such that clicking on anything made it go to Expose.
- I lost the network connection to our department printer halfway through the day.
- GMail went down.
Fortunately everything I had planned could be done without any technology aside from the whiteboard. But when the technology doesn’t work, I have to improvise, and sometimes that works well and sometimes not. In calculus, I just had to revert back to what is often called the “interactive lecture”, which means just a regular lecture where you hope the students ask questions, and it was about as engaging as that sounds.
I do believe I can teach without all this technology, but the kind of teaching I do with the technology is, I think, more inherently engaging and meaningful for students. I ask better questions, interact more freely with students, and highlight the coherence and the big ideas of the material more adeptly with the technology in place. So when the tech fails on me, things seem odd and out of place and contrived. Students pick up on that. Maybe I’m simply addicted to the tech, but I don’t like teaching without it, and my classes aren’t nearly at the same level without it.
It’s been a month since I posted last, and this seems a strange way to break back into the posting habit but: You should boycott Pizza Hut.
That’s a quick screen capture from a commercial that started running on various websites this month (I stumbled across it on ESPN.com). There is apparently a 30-second version on Hulu.
Readers of this blog need no explanation as to why this is worth a boycott of Pizza Hut. It’s not really a big deal. But, rather, it’s yet another small step that a high-profile person or organization has taken towards making math, and by extension all the STEM disciplines, less likely to be taken seriously by the general public and in particular young people. And it’s another little paper cut for anti-intellectualism in general that will eventually bleed us all to death.
Big companies have no business making themselves part of the problem, and every opportunity to become part of the solution. Therefore I am asking anybody who feels like I do about this commercial to boycott Pizza Hut until they (1) pull the advertisement, (2) apologize, and (3) donate a modest but substantial sum of money — say the approximate revenue they gained from running this ad — to a nonprofit organization that supports STEM education. In particular, if you are a teacher, share this post with your colleagues and administrators and encourage a school-wide boycott of Pizza Hut for school parties, trips, etc.
I’ve been beating this to death in my Twitter stream, and I’ve set up a Facebook group for people to rally around. The YouTube video has gotten upwards of 8000 views and over 50 comments since I posted it this past Sunday, so I think there is a lot of common cause happening here. Go to it!
UPDATE: Pizza Hut responded while I was typing this post. Check the wall of the Facebook group. It’s a start.
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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!
On Twitter right now I am soliciting thoughts about calculus courses, the topics we cover in them, and the ways in which we cover them. It’s turning out that 140 characters isn’t enough space to frame my question properly, so I’m making this short post to do just that. Here it is:
Suppose that you teach a calculus course that is designed for a general audience (i.e. not just engineers, not just non-engineers, etc.). Normally the course would be structured as a 4-credit hour course, meaning four 50-minute class meetings per week for 14 weeks. Now, suppose that the decision has been made to cut this to TWO credit hours, or 100 minutes of contact time per week for 14 weeks.
Questions: What topics do you remove from the course? What topics do you keep in the course at all costs? And of those topics you keep, do you teach them the same way or differently? If differently, then how would you do it? Finally, would there be anything NEW you’d introduce in the course that would be pertinent for a 2-hour course that wouldn’t show up in a 4-hour version of that course?
Keep Twittering your comments to me at @RobertTalbert, or comment below. I’ll sum them up later.
UPDATE: I also meant to say, feel free to play with the assumptions I am making here. For example, if it’s impossible to think of a 2-hour calculus course, change that to a 3-credit course and see if you can come up with anything.
First of all, you may have noticed I am again posting after a lengthy hiatus following the birth of our third child. He’s 5 weeks old now, and we are beginning to return to some kind of routine in our lives that includes him. For the first month, as all parents know, you’re basically in survival mode, catching sleep when you can and trying to get your work done elsewhere. He’s nowhere close to sleeping through the night but at least we’re managing better than we were, and I’m on top of things enough at work that I have the time now to write some posts and at least schedule them for future posting, so I have the appearance of posting once a day. Anyhow, I just wanted to say thanks for all your well-wishes and prayers and for your continued reading of my little slice of the interwebs.
Also, you’ve probably noticed some cosmetic changes here. I’ve changed themes to the new “Vanguard” theme and resurrected the header I used to use some years ago. I’ve removed some sidebar elements that weren’t functional, and I added a link to my Twitter page, which tends to be quite active both day and night (as I often am up in the middle of the night with a baby in my left arm and Twittering with my iPod using my right arm). Also, check out the comments — comments to posts can now be threaded up to three levels deep; just use the “Reply” link to start a comment discussion thread.