Feb 232013


Every year in AP stats for the last 4 years I have struggled with getting my learners to understand and use the all important conditions checks in Confidence Intervals and Hypothesis tests. This year I changed up how I taught it, and it has really made an impact. In fact, I can honestly say that all of my learners are using and completing the conditions checks with consistency.

Here is what I did.

First, there are two essential assumptions / conditions:

1. Randomization – is the data collected through some sort of random process (usually given)

2. Independence – what makes the data independent? Stop and think about the context.

Okay, those two generally are not the problem, because they are the same across all types. No mess, no fuss, stop, think and read and think again and you have those two. It is the next two that requires the real thought and memorization. I changed it up this year and put my own spin on them. Instead of naming them as the book, I realized that what they are trying to set is the maximum and minimum sample size that will give you an appropriate sample:

  Z CI or HT T CI or HT
3. Max Sample Size n < 10% of population of interest n < 10% of population of interest
4. Min Sample Size np & nq >= 10 3 parts to “nearly normal”


With this kind of setup, they are thinking about the context more. Why do they have to check the 10% condition? Because that gives you a ceiling on your sample size. Why the success / fail condition? It gives you the floor to the sample size.

My learners are much more focused and they are planning better this year on this topic. I am very pleased by how fluid and easily they are incorporating the CI’s and the HT’s into their language, whereas in prior years it was a struggle to get them to memorize what they were doing.

I think the fact they understand why is making a difference.

Feb 042013

Homework, to give, nor not? How much to give? How much is too much? What purpose does it serve? What is the purpose in assigning it?

I will be honest, I don’t have answers to these questions, but I do have some research, some documents downloaded that may help you shape your own answers to these questions.

by John Dunlosky, et al.

Let’s start off with some super new research (Jan 2013) that identifies 5 very useful study skills that make up homework and 5 that do not help. While this is related to homework it is not about homework. I feel we as teachers need to think about why we are assigning homework, and to make it completely useful we should follow some best practices. I read about this article online, and then followed the links to find the free download from the Association for Psychological Science. Thank you for providing the research for free! This article could shape the homework assignments given to make them more useful to the learner; and one hint, practice testing was found to be very useful!

by Joseph Murphy, et. al.

Okay, this article is a bit dated, but when I was researching homework for a paper, I didn’t find much that wasn’t shrill and emotional. It is relevant, because I think some teachers haven’t changed much of their homework planning from 1987 when this study was done. Again, I really think about why I am assigning this or that as homework, there are different uses for homework, and what use am I using.

by Etta Kralovec, John Buell and David Skinner

This short little 9 page section out of an older edition of a book entitled Taking Sides: Clashing views on educational issues by James Wm. Noll gives a pro and a con to the question. It is short, and gives both sides of the debate. In math, I think we have to give some homework. I am firmly on the Yes side of the question, but it does come down to the purpose of it.

by Nevada’s Northwestern Regional Professional Development Program for Educators

Okay, I have said “purpose” several times in this post, because that is something that resonated with me closely when I went through the training our RPDP did for our math department a couple of years ago. It was based around Cathy Vatterott’s book “Rethinking Homework” that I found to be very useful in shaping my own ideas. The Whole Homework guide above is a 138 page document created by our school district to give blackline masters, thinking guides, and tools to our teachers to help us think about homework in a more constructive manner. All in all, I recommend both the Guide and the Rethinking Homework book.

As always, I hope something here is useful to someone.

Dec 282012

This month, Grant Wiggins wrote an article on the correlation between SES and academic achievement.  There is a strong correlation between SAT scores and the families income and there is not a single data point out of place in the table. Here is the full 2012 report.


Look at the scores climb as the family income climbs. Every educator will tell you this occurs, but as Grant points out, we have no real explanation for why. The number of lurking variables and confounding variables in this discussion is tremendous, and we don’t know how or why or what they are. We do know the correlation is strong, however. [I strongly encourage everyone to read Grant’s article. He has so many supporting links that are all very worthwhile and constructive.]

Which is why I am really annoyed at my local newspaper, the Reno Gazette Journal. They are running a series of articles on the “Smartest Seniors”. Guess what they are using to determine this. Yup, you guessed it, SAT scores.

So where do these seniors come from? 2 private (and very expensive) schools and 3 public schools that are all in the highest of income brackets in the county are the home schools of the 5 featured seniors. And don’t get me wrong, they all are very awesome kids who deserve the write up in the newspaper.

I am just frustrated because I don’t know how to push my learners to this level. What am I doing wrong that I don’t have any of my learners on the local lists? I don’t teach at a high SES school, in fact approximately 40% of my school is on free and reduced lunch. But correlation does not mean causation, and I should be able to get some of my learners in the top.

How? I just feel like I have way more questions than answers right now, and it is frustrating the heck out of me.

Dec 162012

I have been thinking and struggling with these ideas for a week now. I read Dave’s post summarizing the study about repeating Algebra 1 and the lack of success in CA, and I really felt I needed to dive deeper in this topic.

So I read many link and downloaded almost every article that was linked in the following pages.

EdSource: Many math students are failing, repeating courses without success

Which leads to the Center for Teaching & Learning’s report: College Bound in Middle & High School.

As well as WestEd’s complete list of Reports (didn’t read all of these for this article) which features the above report. November 2012 is the date on it, so it doesn’t get more recent that that.

There is also this brief from EdSource on Math Readiness in CA.

Dave said something that caught my eye in my Google Reader, and started me down this road of thinking and stressing.

From my limited time in the classroom, too many students seem to have given up on their chance to go to college well before they even get to algebra I, much less algebra II, at least in terms of their effort towards improving their performance or achievement in mathematics.  Yet, if you ask these students, they nearly unanimously say they want to go to college.

It was as if he taught in my department at my school!

Let me backup and tell a story of my department and school.

For the last six years we have had essentially one red cell at my school, SPED Math. Sometimes we have had ELL Math in addition, and one time we had Math as a red cell across the board. We have an extended learning period that meets 4 days per week, and the Math Department has been on the Remediation Roller Coaster teaching proficiency classes 3 of the 4 days for the last 6 years.

No other department at my school teaches during this time, but the math department has stepped up and has voluntarily rode the coaster.

Finally, we said enough this year, and we jumped off that coaster (and have caught some huge flack for it from some in our admin) and focused on freshmen. Now we each have a freshman class of Alg 1 learners who are struggling, and we work with them 45 min per day on math support and skills.

And some of them are choosing to continue to fail, and some are failing because they don’t know how to do middle school math.

Some of them can’t add –11 to 5 to get –6.

The “negative times a negative” is confused with the “negative plus a negative” so some are saying –4 + –5 is + 9.

Yes, these learners are struggling in Alg 1. These learners are the “Can’ts” I mentioned above. They are trying, they are struggling, working, and learning and they will turn into “Cans” by the end of the school year because of this one on one support.

But will they earn credit? I don’t know. They have 2 weeks left in the semester and that time is ticking away quickly for them.

How do we take these learners and get them Algebra 1 Semester 1 credit? According to the report by WestEd it looks bleak. But I have confidence from working with my classes that if we continue to give these Cant’s the constant support they will be able to earn both semester of credits.

Then there is the other group in my support class, the Wont’s. I have 5 learners that just won’t try at all. I am there one on one, I have mentors who are sophomores working with them, and nothing works. They are completely shut down.

These learners have hopes, dreams; they all say they want to go to college and do something with their lives, but they won’t do anything to make those dreams come to pass. How do we remediate this group?

According to WestED, making them retake Algebra 1 will not work. My anecdotal evidence supports the research as well. The Wont’s have made a decision, whether consciously or not, that they will not try. And they will not go to college, let alone graduate from high school without the Alg 1 credit.

According to the WestED report, the reason why is they were pushed into mathematics at a higher level then they were probably ready for. Since they were working far higher then their cognitive skills allowed, they just gave up.

How do we get a learner who has given up to re-engage? This is a struggle I face daily in my support class and as a department chair. I need to come up with a plan to help them, but no research I have seen gives me any confidence in how to approach this.

All I know is I can’t just say “retake the class.” That is a path towards failure on top of failure. It is also what our district considers “Accepted Practice.” (see number 16).

If anyone has any ideas, research, articles, or any other thoughts, please send them along. I need them. Badly.

Aug 132012

This is a post that can not be written without a better understanding of how Exeter structures its school year. First off, they are on a 3 term schedule; 3 ten week (approx) terms per year. This is a FABULOUS schedule, and I can speak from experience. It is a similar schedule to what Knox College (where I attended college) uses .

The benefits of the 3 term schedule are many, but some of the best are the sense of urgency it places on the learner and the ability to be more flexible in scheduling. The sense of urgency is terrific. You have 10 weeks in your class, and you are counting down right from week 1; “9 weeks left, 8 weeks left … oh crap, finals are next week.” You are never allowed to kick back and think, “nah, I have time, I don’t need to worry about that project / assignment / test yet.”

The second benefit, flexibility, is the one thing that truly is what I want to discuss here. I asked our instructor how many new learners Exeter gets each year. I was thinking that they probably didn’t have many transfers in after the first year, but that was not true. The Freshman class starts around 250 each year. Then, each year, approximately 50 learners are added to the class until the Senior class graduates with around 400 learners. [Of course, these numbers are not set in stone, they were given as an example only.]

That means that Exeter has a huge problem each year. The Freshman class is coming in with a wide range of ability levels, and then every year after that they get more learners who should be at one level, but in reality may be way way below that level or even above that level. This then is their dilemma, how to place the learners in the correct course for their level of ability.

First off, they have a strong system of placement exams for the learners. Wow. Imagine that, a learner placed into the class they should be instead of the class that all Freshman or all Sophomores should be in. Of course, given Exeter’s commitment to sharing what works, they have put some old placement exams online for everyone to see and use. Sweet! [Turns out, they weren’t old placement exams, but an internal site that was made public on their end.]

Secondly, they teach all three of the Math1 and Math2 classes each term. If Math1 is broken into 3 pieces, which I will call 1a, 1b, and 1c, then during term 1 of the Freshman year, all three classes, Math1a, Math1b and Math1c AND Math2a, Math2b and Math2c are taught all 3 terms. Wow.

This means a learner might be placed into Math1c as a freshman during Term 1, not every learner is required to start with the first Math1a class. This is HUGE! Now you don’t have to worry about the bored learner sitting in class causing problems waiting for the material to catch up to them.

Okay, can this be used in the public schools? After all isn’t that the point of this? I am not sure.

This kind of system works for a private school (and Knox is a private school as well).  because the system is not set up to provide an education for farm laborers. You do know that is why we have long summers off, right? Because the kids in school were needed to work in the fields during the summer. That hasn’t been true for 30 years, but we still have that long summer break. Sue provided a link to the myth of the summer break below in the comments. It is worth reading and following up on.

It certainly could not be adopted because of the extremely underfunded nature of public schools. We are lucky to have 1 math teacher per 30 learners, while a private school can charge as much as they need to in order to cover the extra teachers to teach the same course every semester and hold the ratio down to 1:12.

So the short answer is no, we can’t do it like Exeter can. That is a cop out though. How can we do something similar?

How can we personalize the instruction so learners who are advanced can forge ahead?

How can we implement and use placement exams to tailor the instruction?

Kahn Academy is getting some traction on this, even though the videos contain mathematical errors and mistakes because it is a way to personalize instruction. Can we, as innovative, driven math teachers figure out a way to do it better?

I am willing to bet yes. Once we are willing to throw away the books and embrace the standards, then we can simply say, Johnny knows standard 1, 2, and 3, so an A on those, but he needs to work on standards 4, 5, and 6.

Next we need a way to assess well, and finally we need a way to locate those standards out all of the standards that are part of the problem sets.

Once we have these elements, then we can at least try to individualize.

Aug 112012

In this post I want to show Exeter’s problem solving strategy. This is important, because it is SO different from how a problem like this is typically approached.

First off, the problem I am going to model is M1:21:11 [Math 1, page 21, problem 11]

11. Alex was hired to unpack and clean 576 very small items of glassware, at five cents per piece successfully unpacked. For every item broken during the process, however, Alex had to pay $1.98. At the end of the job, Alex received $22.71. How many items did Alex break?

In a typical Algebra 1 class we would try to get the learner to see the equation is:

.05(576-x) + 1.98x = 22.71

In fact we try to get the learner to jump directly to the equation from the problem by deconstructing the sentences, and then solve the equation. x = 3, by the way.

Now, let’s see how Exeter expects and demands that ALL of the modeling problems are handled.

First off, we will be making a table. The headings in this table are mandatory and can not be short cut. The learners must label the table thoroughly so that it makes sense. Remember, this is the same problem as above. I am going to paste in my table all filled out, and then explain the essential elements.

Guess: # of broken bottles

# of unbroken

$ Paid for unbroken

$ subtracted for broken

Amount paid




























.05(576-B)-1.98B =




Okay, there we have. A decent example of what a modeling, problem solving solution would look like. At the beginning stages of Math 1, they would not demand the last row, the equation row. But quickly they would ask the learners to start generalizing their solution.

The guesses column are not set in stone. The guesses are going to be the learners guesses. They are going to guess whatever they want. I started with 0, because maybe he didn’t break any. Then I saw that was too high to my goal, so I figured Alex broke a few. Then I was too low, so I picked one in the middle.

Now, let’s examine what the columns mean. It is clear from the headings that each column has a very specific purpose and is clearly labeled. What are we guessing? We are guessing the number of glasses he broke. If he breaks 5, then he didn’t break 571. How do we get that, we subtract. Each column must have in it HOW they get the number, not just what the number is. And so on.

Notice that by the time the learner reaches the answer, they have worked several times the process, they know the multiplications, the subtractions, and they have the solution worked out. Where does the variable go? It goes into the spot where numbers change. What do we call the variable? Don’t care, use a letter that makes sense to the problem.

How do they start this process? The first problem that is a modeling / problem solving problem is M1:9:4. It looks like this:


Notice that they start by giving the table and even filling out the first row. The problem I worked above, didn’t have that level of detail. The learner had to provide it. That is the point.


Yea, I shouted that. We have this impression that Exeter is so fabulous, that they don’t have to ladder or work with learners. We think that the learners just will magically go *poof* and be able to do all these things that we struggle with.

Guess, what, they struggle with similar things there as we do in our schools. It might be easier because of smaller class sizes, but the root problems are the same.

Okay, off my soap box.

The Algebra 1 activities have some problem solving activities, and they even are sneaky by giving a blank table with fewer columns than the learners need! The learner is pushed to make the table for themselves.

Think about this type of problem solving for special ed, or EL Learners. They have the numbers set up, they can see where the Letter for the Unknown goes, because it is the only number that changes when they are doing the problems. Wouldn’t this method help them out so much?!

Think about your average learner who struggles with parsing the language of the problem. If they work 10 or 20 of these as starters, as homework, as in class activities, do you really think they are going to stress about a word problem?

Nope, they are going to say, “Mr. Waddell, these are easy, can we move on to something harder?” And you know they will.

Think about the really advanced learner. They are going to resent the table after a short time, but they will go to the generalization much faster because of it.

Can you think of any downside to this method of problem solving? I can’t. I have done Algebraic Thinking’s “SOLVE” method, and other methods. None of them are as straightforward and easy to put together as this method. We could spend THOUSANDS of dollars on professional development on problem solving, and none of that money would come close to the success of just creating a table, labeling, and working it out step by step.

Guess and Check. That is what Exeter calls it. I call it just downright successful for every level of learner.

Aug 102012

I am planning several posts on this week’s time I spent with a math teacher from Phillips Exeter Academy. This first one, though, will be radically different from the others, and it is because I have to vent a little and lay out a difficulty I had today.

Today was the last day of the Exeter training, and it started with me staring at my computer at 6:45 am this morning thinking about the day ahead and looking at my notes from yesterday. Then I looked at my Google Reader and I read a post on Common Core that brought me to a realization.

As public school math teachers … we are screwed.

Let me explain how I reached this epiphany.

It is impossible to work on the Exeter math problems and not realize how carefully they are constructed and well developed the curriculum. After spending time with an Exeter math teacher and developing a deeper understanding of the Harkness Method they use (never once did this phrase come up, but the methods used by the instructor were clearly modeling the method) a person can’t help but really develop a strong affinity for their curriculum, which they GIVE away for FREE!

Okay, I really like their curriculum. It is rigorous, models real life situations constantly, allows learners to develop strong understandings without memorization, has multiple entry points for learners to develop strengths and and is completely free.  Point one to my depression today.

My state, like 44 other states (Utah backed out this week) is adopting the Common Core State Standards. This fact is point two to my depression. You see, when those two points are combined we are in a heap of trouble. Pearson and McDougal-Littel (among others) are developing many programs they are chomping at the bit to sell to our admins, and we all know they have a direct line through media and other means to our principals and curriculum directors.

And what does Exeter have? A curriculum that is fabulous, and is not aligned to any Common Core standards. They have the experience to build what is hands down the best math curriculum we could possibly use, and they give it away for free. They are not going to be lined up at our Admin Retreats pumping their product (but all the publishers had a booth at our local Admin Retreat this week, I looked.)

The next time textbooks are adopted who is going to be at the table? Pearson? Yes. McDougal? Yes. Exeter? No. Who has the better curriculum that will BEST meet the requirements of CCSS? Hands down, Exeter.  Are our admins going to even consider a curriculum that isn’t handed to them pre-aligned and packaged for the CCSS? No.

Who are our admins going to listen to; the missing voice of Exeter, or the loud and well funded voices of the textbook companies? Right.

And the worst thing is that this is NOT Exeter’s problem. They just write the problems. They write them for their own use and then make them available. They can not and SHOULD NOT be expected to advocate for their curriculum in public schools.

But, Exeter, WE have a problem.*


*I think I have a solution that I will write about after I detail some great stuff from this week. I am not sure my solution is achievable, but I don’t think we have a choice.

Jul 182011

It is time to start thinking about such things!

First, room arrangement. This year I am expecting to have between 30 and 37 learners in each class. In the past, I have had my room arranged in a large, double sided U. This allowed for maximum conversation and collaboration, as well as random number usage for picking learners. Six ‘rows’, 5 to 6 desks per row, leads to a perfect random dice throw to pick a learner for answers, boardwork, victim, etc.  For this year, I will have to make sure I can shoe-horn 6 in each row for sure.

Class rules on wall. My rules are simple:

  1. Your behavior should contribute to the learning of all people in the room.
  2. Don’t stop trying and participate every day.
  3. All school rules will be followed in the classroom.

That’s it. Just those three rules. They have worked for me well over the last 3 years, so I will keep them.

The rest of the room: I have very little math on my walls. It is all philosophy (go figure! I love philosophy) and these statistics posters. I love these posters because they look like history teacher posters, but are really math. Love it.

Okay, so the stage is set. Room is not arranged as a typical math teacher room. check

Room does not have math all over the walls, but quotes from philosophers and mathematicians, and colorful, focused posters. check

Now, we come to the first day when learners walk in.

  1. Seating chart projected on wall. They find their seats based on seating chart.
  2. I have warmup page on desk for them. (only time I do this all year!)
  3. Once bell rings, hit remote and ppt moves to warmup. I am still at door greeting the slowpokes, and they have to see me to find their seat.
  4. After warmup is done (I don’t give the answer, they can argue about it, but I won’t give the correct answer,) then we move on to introductions. I think this is important. They want to know they can trust me and that I know what I am talking about. If they wonder who I am, they will not buy in.
  5. My introduction of myself to them the last two years has been a video I have made of my motorcycle trips. I find mathematical problems along the way and I present those to them via a personal video. (I have had learners remember these to the end of the year, and they always ask me if I am going to do it for next year. They appear to like them.)
  6. Notice that to this point, I still have not spoken very much. Even telling them about me, I didn’t have to talk or lecture to them about me!
  7. Okay, we are 15 – 20 minutes into a 70 minute class. Now I go over class expectations. I have
    done this in previous years. They get a page with the blanks, I have a page with the answers, they fill it in. In week 2, I give the the full syllabus with all the details. That sets me apart from the rest of the teachers who hand a multipage syllabus on the first day of class.
  8. Now we are up to 30 to 40 minutes into 70 minute class. 40 minutes left. Next thing I do is required by school sometime in first two weeks and we take a walk to the outside and see where we meet for fire drills. I have a Google Earth / Google street view walk through I do with seniors and juniors, freshman and sophomores we actually walk out side. Again, this sets me apart from the other teachers.
  9. Okay, 30 minutes left in class. Now we do a project / lesson. In AP Stats I hand out a questionnaire and start data collection. In Algebra 2, I will handout the beginning project for the first month of class.

And then the bell rings. We have accomplished a great deal. First assignment / project given. They know a lot about me. They know this won’t be a class with tons of personal stories and time spent off track. They know I am passionate about math. So much so, that I ride around for 2600 miles and look for math! They also know I have some very diverse and broad interests, and this class will not be the boring, rest your head on your hand and take notes class!

And that is a successful first day.

Jul 172011

It was the best of conversations, it was the worst of conversations, but in the end, it was an educational conversation for my cousins and I.

Okay, enough with the Dickens reference. During the summer I take a little motorcycle trip. Okay, not so little. I do around 2500 miles from Nevada to Montana and back to see family and some beautiful country. During the trip this summer, I attended a family reunion north of Missoula, MT, and a family picnic in Helena, MT. During each family event, I met with a very bright and talented young girl who was going into the 5th grade. I will call the first one C1 (for Cousin 1, they are actually my cousin’s daughter, but cousin is close enough) and the second one C2. These two bright young girls have some amazing similarities.

Both C1 and C2 come from very supportive families with several siblings. They both have college graduates either as parents and / or grandparents. Both C1 and C2 are entering the 5th grade next school year, and they both are encouraged to do well and school and are given any resource or opportunity they need to succeed in school.

And then the similarities end. There are some irrelevant differences. They each live in a different state (Utah and Montana), but the school districts are similar sized (I looked them up.) Because of this, and because I don’t know any different, I will assume that both C1 and C2 are given similar opportunities in the school for success. [Okay, this might be a deal killer of an assumption, but I have to make it in order to not be angry at what is to come.]

There are also some amazingly important differences. I asked C1 what she likes best about school. Her answer was “Lunch” and then “Recess” and then “Friends”. Even after all that, I couldn’t get her to name an academic subject. When I asked her about math, her reply made my die a little inside. She said, “Math is icky. Math is where you do this.”  The ‘this’ was put her head on her left hand, a thoroughly bored expression on her face, she looked up at the imaginary board, and then with her right hand she mimicked taking notes and writing numbers.

I died. Seriously. I wanted to cry right in front of her. C1 thinks that math is the time when you are bored stiff, quietly taking notes on something on the board. Later, just to make sure I was not imagining that she was as bright as I thought, we walked down to the railroad tracks about a 1/2 mile away. I challenged her to give me an estimate on how many steps it would take. She said 200 the first time. We started walking, and she counted to 100 before she looked up and said she was too far off. I asked her to revise her estimate. She squared the number to 4000 (in her head, as a 4th grader!). Then she said that 4000 was too big, and she cut the number in half to 2000. Then she said that she guessed, based on the 100 steps she counted already, that the number of steps it would take would be between 1500 and 2000.

Yea, she is bored in math class. Go figure.

Then I visit with C2 in another city. C2 and I have met once a year for the last 2 years. Last year, we talked about mathematical patterns in oven hot pads she was making, then had a discussion of 9’s, adding, multiplying, and dividing, and the neat patterns that are present when doing math with 9’s. That was when she was just finished with the 3rd grade, and entering the 4th grade.

This year, that was old hat. She wanted to know some addition “fun math tricks”. (her words) I asked her if she remembered the things we discussed last year, figuring that she would have forgotten some things and I could re-cover them. No. She had expanded on them. She went on to explain to me the difference between prime numbers and composite numbers, and factoring and dividing.

Long story short, we ended up doing modular arithmetic, in mod 5, 7, and 9. She, on her own, continued to do tables for the multiplicative inverses in mod 11 and 12. Why 11 and 12? 11 is prime, so they all work, while 12 is composite, so there are numbers that don’t have inverses. AS A 5TH GRADER!

I found out that C2 will be taken to the middle school and doing 7th grade math while in 5th grade. C1 will be doing 5th grade math in 5th grade, but could be doing so much more. The best of conversations, the worst of conversations, all rolled up in one week.

What did I learn? I learned that some learners are being driven away from math. Whipped, beaten, and driven away, even though they are smart and very capable. I learned that WE are teaching some learners that math is a subject to be feared and avoided, not because they can’t do it, but because WE have not given them a REASON to do it.

Why are we doing this?

Jun 272011

I admit it, I read the funny pages first thing on Sunday morning. Okay, maybe I should first admit that I have a daily subscription to the newspaper and read it cover to cover every day. But, on Sundays, I read the comics first.

Yesterday’s Doonesbury was an instant classic in my mind, worthy of my comics wall. Here is a link to it. I will wait while you read the whole thing. … … …

I know, right! They nailed the problem with memorizing random facts in only 5 panels. The other 3 are there just to be funny and set the mood, but panel 3 and 7 are the set up and punch lines.


The three panels in between show Zip’s friend asking some random questions on science, philosophy  and history, along with the fractional seconds it took Google to spit back the correct answer.

I took an informal poll last year in my class year, and around 50% of the class had smartphones that could access the internet. The rest of my learners could text questions to Google and get answers back (they had texting, most of them did not know they could do that) and all of them knew about Cha-Cha.

So what are the “Profound questions about what it means to be a student?” Here is my weak attempt at listing some.

  1. In an era where every learner has never known a time when information was not immediately findable, why do we (teachers) spend so much time asking learners to memorize formulas and facts?
  2. The comic makes an implicit assumption that faster is better. Is that correct? Is it important that a learner memorizes a fact and can recall it on demand, even if that means more time?
  3. The other assumption Zip makes is that Google or Cha-Cha are more accurate than his own brain, memory, understanding. Is that correct? I know I have asked questions in my classes and some learner says, “Why should I do that, I will just Cha-Cha the answer.” My response was, “Go for it, get your phone out and do it.” [That shocked the heck out of him, but he did it, and Cha-Cha failed!]
  4. Is there a middle ground? Can there be vital things they need to memorize, important things they don’t, and less important info they can look up?
  5. Is the goal of the lesson understanding (in the context of UbD) or rote memorization?
  6. Finally, what evidence is necessary for demonstrating the difference between the two in 5?

I think Doonesbury fit very nicely in my current PLN content discussions. Now it is time to do something about it.