Jan 242010

I attended the Southern NV Math and Science Conference  over the weekend. I presented part of the Advanced Algebra Applications course, but more on that in another post.

I also attended a session given by one of the major textbook publishers on 21st Century learning with their products. I was told by my boss to be quiet and let the guy speak because I was interrupting him so much. I have 3 main problems with what this publisher rep was telling / showing us about the upcoming editions of the math textbooks.

  1. The rep was really excited about the 21st Century tools his books will have. I mean they will have VIDEO to teach the problems. Video featuring actual high school age learners, CREATED by actual high school learners. And avatars to explain the math. You can’t get more 21st century than that, right?
  2. The problems are all going to be “relevant” to today’s learners. Really. They are going to re-write all the problems and they will be relevant and therefore more interesting. Honest.
  3. Finally, the research shows that learners are not reading the explanations because the math comes first. If the words came first, then the learners read the words, and they learn more of the math. (Think 2 column explanations, where traditionally, the math is on the left and the explanations on the right.)

Those are my observations. Here are the problems I had with them.

  1. The video they showed was of 2 high school age learners discussing exponential growth of sharks. Right, they made the video with no help, no script writing by adults, no props brought in by a major company. Bullcrap. It was so obviously staged, the language was directly out of a textbook, stilted and lame, and the average HS learner would spot it as a joke immediately. As to the avatar, having a 4th grader explaining exponential functions is very disconcerting. The voice was horrible, and the graphics were even more lame.
  2. Is taking a problem like this:
    • “John goes into the store to buy garden hose for his cousin. John spends $85 total for 4 hoses and 1 spigot. The spigot cost $15. How much did John spend?“ and re-writing it to say:
    • “John went to a concert and spent $85. He bought 4 shirts and 1 cd. The cd cost $15, how much were the shirts?” really relevant?
    • No, seriously. He went on for 10 minutes as to how this is so much better because the kids actually go to concerts. 
    • Like the kids wouldn’t just say, “Dude look at the sign posted on the shirts! If they don’t have a sign, don’t buy them!” How incredibly lame.
  3. Finally, and this one really upset me, he said the research shows the kids need to read the explanations first. Research has shown they do better when they can read the words first, then the math. And that makes TOTAL sense to me. BUT, they will only do this to the LOW LEVEL TEXTBOOKS! Yup, it is good for all learners, but they won’t do it for all  learners, just the books focused on Special education and ESL.

What total crap. I asked him why, if the research shows it is advantageous, they won’t do it for all their books. The answer was, teachers won’t buy the books because they want them to be traditional.

Yup, teachers want what is best for them, not their learners, so the textbook company caves and follows research only for the low level books. Even though the research shows it is good for all learners. I would like to see the research, but I have no reason to doubt it.

And this is a company I like. They have the better online resources out of the 3 books I use. Their software is better, and they are trying more than the other companies. That does not bode well for our ability to get change in the textbooks we use.

Jan 202010

I like my school district, I really do. I think they try to focus on the learning of kids more than other districts (granted, I haven’t taught in other districts but my district doesn’t do some silly things I have heard from other teachers).

But, and this is giant, big but, they use some really restrictive software for their filtering. And before you think this is a rant against filtering YouTube or other sites, read on.

Our district’s filtering modifies the SSL certificates of all sites. That means every time they upgrade or update their filters, every teacher who uses Gmail, Google Docs, Google Reader, myYahoo, or any other site that uses SSL for the login has to re-download the SSL certificates.

No big deal right?  Unless you happen to use Firefox. Then you can not do it. Firefox doesn’t let you just re-download the certificates. You have to go to Tools, Options, Advanced button, Encryption tab, and then hit the “view certificates” button, then the Servers tab.

6 clicks to get there, and then FIND all relevant Google certificates and delete them. THEN go to the site and re-download the certificate which is clicking yes to several prompts that say things like “This site is not trusted” “It is trying to steal your data” “Are you sure you want to accept this, it will steal your babies and eat your heart!”

Well, okay, slight exaggeration.

And yet, after doing this 5 times today, Firefox still won’t let me into Gmail because the certificate is invalid. Chrome just yells at me, Explorer says it is not trusted, but goes there, but Firefox is a no-go entirely. Thank you school district for keeping me safe from … nothing? You just blocked my email, the one every one of my learners uses to communicate with me. And you did this during finals, no less.

But it gets worse. Probably the most useful and depended on piece of software I use is Dropbox, which uses SSL to send the files back and forth.  Yup, you guessed it, it is severely broken now as well. Crap.

Is it really necessary to do block sites at all? It really does make me think of Tom Johnson’s Pencil Integration site. This posting says it all. We want to teach our learners to think, but we don’t dare let them think too much. And we don’t dare let our teachers actually use judgment. Imagine the chaos!

Jan 122010

As if I needed any more reasons to use Google Docs besides the sharing, the collaboration, the fact it is free, the folders, the sharing of folders, and the fact that it is free; Google has given me one more reason.

A big, gigantic reason, actually.

I can now upload ANY type of file to Google Docs. I am no longer limited to only Word, Excel, PDF’s and PowerPoint docs like before!  Any type of document can be uploaded and stored on Google Docs, as long as the file is smaller than 250 megs.

That means most video files can be stored there. Images, RAW files, anything! But, Google only gives us 1 gig for free for files not converted to Google Docs format (and 10 gigs for files that are) . Aw shucks. Only 10 gigs :-(. I just checked the folder size on my Algebra 3-4, AP Stats, and Advanced Algebra Applications courses. All three folders, with all the support docs peaked at 7 gigs. The 10 gigs would be plenty for a significant time in the future.

But, when I run out of space, Google will sell me space (they are a business after all) for the exorbitant cost of 25 cents per year per gig.

Let me put that in perspective. I just purchased a 4 gig flash drive over Christmas break. I got it on sale for $9.99.  If I purchased that same 4 gigs from Google, it would cost me $1.00 per year. In 10 years I would spend the same amount.

The only difference is, with Google Docs, I would have access to my files 24/7, anywhere in the world, and I would never need to worry about losing the flash drive.

There is a reason why Google is so powerful, they are giving away awesome tools for free.

Jan 072010

“Tom Johnson” has a blog about the introduction of some nasty piece of technology into the schools in our country. It is horrible, disruptive technology that is changing the learning and teaching that is taking place in schools in a dramatic manner.

This tech is that horrible and dreaded No. 2 pencil. Yikes!  Can you imagine how disruptive it was? Imagine all those teachers who had entire curriculums built around slates and chalk. They had to ditch all that work and adapt to pencils. Oh, the horror!

Yes, this is entirely in sarcasm, but the blog is real.  Head towards http://pencilintegration.blogspot.com/ right now and subscribe.


Do it. You won’t regret it. It is so sad, funny and true that you will laugh and cry at the same time. And then find teachers you know in the descriptions (which will make you cry again!)