Oct 292015

I am in year two of my PhD program, and am enjoying the process, learning, and exploration so far. Yes, I am only a little over half way with the coursework, but that is a great place. I was thinking, however, about what advice I would give to someone just starting his / her PhD. What books/resources would I recommend?

I came the realization that I would not recommend any books of content at this point, but two books on process. The first book is one that I have used heavily and it has saved me hours (literally, not figuratively) on formatting APA papers. The book is, “Doing your dissertation with Microsoft Word.


Why do I recommend this book to anyone starting a PhD? Because it walks you through step by step on how to create a template in Word that will contain every single element of APA formatting. Have a Header 1? Write the text and click the style for Header 1. It is that easy. It took me several hours and much tweaking to get it finally right, but when I go to write a paper now, I load the template, and BOOM! I am ready to write. I have all the APA formatting done in Styles, I have a page (that I delete before printing) that has definitions of the Styles, and all settings are done. All I worry about is text. This book has saved me so much time over the last three semesters.

The next book I would recommend is “Stylish academic writing” by Helen Sword.


This is a quantitative and qualitative (a mixed methods design) study of good and very bad academic writing made me take a hard look at my own writing, but also not fall into the trap of jargon and technical writing. Write with style, write with intent, and write so other people will want to read your writing.

Finally, I offer one piece of software to use: Zotero.


You can use Mendeley, or Endnote, or any one of the other packages, but use a citation manager ASAP in your studies. I started using Zotero right away, and it has made such a difference in the ease of writing, the ease of citations, and the management of my PDF’s and notes. Best of all, installing and using Zotero is free (unless you use the online storage option and exceed 300 megs of storage. More on that below.)

You can have folders and subfolders for your citations and PDF’s, and a citation can be in many folders at once, or in no folder. It can be tagged, categorized, searched, and using the Word add-in inserted into the inline and bibliographic citation with one click.

zotero2 (click to see full size)

The PDF’s are attached, notes are kept together with the citation (and the notes are searchable as well) and it takes one click to add most citations to the database.

This little piece of software has saved me hours as well. It is not perfect, you have to double check to make sure the Sentence case vs. Title case was done correctly. You have to double check to make sure the PDF was downloaded (sometimes it doesn’t download and you need to save and drag and drop it to be included.)

I ended up paying for the the 2 gig option. This was $20 for 1 year. 6 gigs is $60 and unlimited storage is $120. To give you some idea, I had 330ish citations in my database, probably 300 of them with PDF’s attached when I ran out of room on the free account. I end up hoarding the PDF’s and the citations, so if you are not a digital hoarder, you could probably go longer before needing to pay.

These three items have made being a PhD student enjoyable, fun, and much less work than the first or second time I was a grad student. I don’t stress over citations, I just double check them. I don’t stress over formatting, because I know the Styles I created are correct to the APA version I need.

I DO stress over writing. But isn’t that what I am supposed to stress over?

Sep 172014


One thing I am really working on in AP Stats is the amount of notes, the lack of notes, and the engagement of my learners. AP Stats is one of those courses where the amount of vocab to assimilate is so huge, that it cannot all be done by activities. I have found that a mixture of activities and notes, and assignments and cycling back again helps tremendously.

I have the one slide from my notes today above. The literal, not figurative, brick wall between the two ideas of mean & standard deviation and median & IQR was very well communicated this year. The learners told me they understood. The formative checks I did supported that.

I still am not confident. Too many learners mess up this idea every year for me to take the face value word on it. I will be giving some questions over the next couple of days to make sure.

The re-writing of my slides to be word minimal, picture heavy, and discussion focused has changed how the class goes when I am doing notes, at least. I am happy with that aspect, and the learners I have asked directly about the notes have told me they are very useful and not boring.

That is something at least!


PhD spillover

As an aside, the class on non-parametric statistics has taught me one thing that has impacted my AP Class. The structure I used last year as far as how I teach the content is right on the money.

2014-09-16 16.08.00

In the PhD level class, we look at every problem first from the perspective of “is it categorical or quantitative” and then “how many variables”. So far, we have limited the decision to just categorical, non-normal problems (hence the non-parametric! label of the course.)

For Inference section, the course will be divided up into a. quantitative 1 sample, a1. confidence interval, a2 hypothesis testing; b. quantitative 2 sample b1. confidence interval, b2. hypothesis testing, etc. I think this structure leads better to the advanced level stats if they take a next class.

It is also the exact opposite of what our textbook does. Oh well. I didn’t use the textbook structure for 2nd semester anyway for the last 3 years. This just reinforces that decision as a good one.


Finally, some lesson ideas I am working on.

2014-09-16 16.09.51 2014-09-16 16.09.01

That’s right. Funky dice!

On the left we have odd shaped, non-standard dice. Awesome. Are they fair? Not sure. On the right we have, yes, for reals, 5 sided, 7 sided and up dice. No joke. I once argued that a 5 sided fair die could not exist. Is it fair? Not sure. I am writing some lessons for expected value to take advantage of both of these.

I also received word from Robert at http://thedicelab.com/ that my order of weighted dice is coming soon.

Heh heh heh. That’s right. Real, honest to goodness (well, dishonest to goodness) weighted dice.

Expected value here we come! More later on this idea.

Sep 082014

One of my classes is “Qualitative Research in Education” taught by Dr. Diane Barone. She is a pretty amazing professor so far, and I am really looking forward to the actually doing the research project in this class.

Which brings me to the idea I had for the research. Dan Meyer, in his Keynote at TMC14 was asking “Who is the #MTBoS? Dan was doing a quantitative study on the #MTBoS, and I think he created more questions than he answered.

One advantage to qualitative research over quantitative research is it is more focused on the Who and the Why questions. In tonight’s class we had to present our potential questions, and mine was accepted with no revisions or modifications.

“How are K-12 math teachers using Twitter in their Personal Learning Networks?”

This is just a pilot study, I am not going to go through the IRB to get approval for publication. I think there is absolutely some worthwhile research that can be published, but not in this first class.

I have found research about Library Information Specialists and their use of Twitter, I have found research about technology specialists and their use of Twitter, but nothing about classroom teachers, let alone math teachers.

What do you think? Are you interested in the answer too?

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