Be careful this is a reflective post and I ramble quite a bit.

The month of October is about three quarters finished. It has been filled with highs and lows. With much anticipation I awaited the presentation by Stephen Downes. I have been reading a lot more of his work in the last several months and seen one of his presentations and it has really impressed. Unfortunately he was sick and had to cancel at the last moment and then our schedules did not work out for later in the month. Talk about moving from a high to a low. We muddled our way through in #OOE13 and I think we did well.

created by navaneethks

created by navaneethks

Not only am I leading a MOOC, but I’m also a participant in several more. though to call it participation is sometimes stretching the word to its breaking point. Mostly I flit in and out, missing most of the synchronous meetings and wondering what I’m supposed to be doing. I suppose I still sometimes think that learning is like it was in highschool, I just show up to class on a regular (or semi regular) basis and the knowledge falls into my head.

Open Online Experience (#OOE13) and Exploring Personal Learning Networks (#XPLRPLN) are the two MOOCs I been trying to stick with and actively participate. One of course is mine and the other is coming out of my old Alma mater. That isn’t the entire reason of course, they are both also focused on creating and maintaining connections.

Which brings us back to the point of the post, connections, networking, personal learning networks, PLCs, or whatever you call them. (There are differences, but in the end if we focus on the process over the goals we lose the point).

I learn a lot online, I have since practically the first day I started connecting with people. Learning online is like drinking from a firehose, we need some method of organizing our learning before if becomes useful. Harold Jarche’s post on personal knowledge management (PKM) was a nice refresher. Bookmark, aggregate, and connect, the basis of learning online. I would go even further and share a bit of advice heard during one of our #OOE13 sessions, “summarize before keeping.” I guess if something looks interesting but you don’t have time to read it, use Pocket or a similar service. Since then I have been more deliberate about my bookmarks.

I find it amazing that many of the connections I made way back when are not only still around, but are popping up in seemingly unrelated activities.

I am an introvert and I am exceedingly bad at reaching out to people. (I’m a bit better online, but not much) I am even worse at developing and maintaining relationships over time. So in 2013 when I am in a course #xplrpln and they suggest reading a paper by Alec Couros about his course EC&I 831 it is I think to myself, “what kind of audacity did I have way back then to offer to be a mentor to his students during that course.” In 2008 I was new at this online community thing and spent most of my time learning from others so when Alec asked his PLN if anyone would like to volunteer to help in his class I jumped at the chance. For the first time I was able to give something back to my community. It didn’t do much, just read and comment on a few blogs, it really impressed on me the importance of feedback when we are first starting out.

Dr. Couros and I have had a few interactions online since then, but I doubt he would recognize my name if you mentioned me. I wonder sometimes, not just with this one connection but with many, if I had spent more time developing and cultivating these possible mentors early on what a difference that could have made. I also wonder if I had spent more time developing and cultivating my knowledge what might be different.

Not that I would like to moan about my lack of direction and disappointment in work place promotions (though I just did), what I would really like to say is, again referring back to Harold Jarche’s post, “Structure the essential 10% and leave the rest unstructured, but networked, …” In other words, to see growth we do need to find a focus and cultivate that, but also allow the rest to develop organically. Or as has been pointed out in almost every cMOOC I participate in Orient, Declare, Network, Cluster,and Focus.

So consider developing deeper, stronger relationships with my PLN my focus for the next few months.

Comment on Commenting

Sue Waters, she seems to be everywhere in #etmooc, wrote a post on commenting. I think it deserves some genuine thought. (And a few more comments) (A like button on some of the comments would be nice also)

I’m not a very good writer, but I sure like to try. In an effort to get better I joined a writing group a few years ago.

Critters is a member of the family of on-line workshops/critique groups, and is for serious writers of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. You get your work critiqued in exchange for critiquing the work of others, both of which are invaluable ways to improve your writing. It’s run by Andrew Burt, former vice-president of SFWA and his army of software minions. Critters is free (except for the work of doing critiques!) and funded by donations; if you find Critters useful, donations are appreciated .

As an active member of Critters, authors are expected to critique stories every week. If they do so they can submit a story into the queue and wait until its turn to be critiqued, thus guaranteeing several critiques per story for each author. (I took a leave of absence while doing some graduate work, I need to get active again)

It is my firm belief that my blog posts have made me a better teacher. I hate to admit it, especially as a math teacher, but a cadre of English teachers and counselors were correct. A reflective journal will help you learn and grow. However, that is just the beginning.

Without some good quality feedback we can only grow so far. We are social learners so it is to our benefit to make comments on other people blogs. I’ve found that if I take the time to make a couple of comments, I at least get higher traffic to my blog and occasionally some good comments.

On the other hand a good comment on my blog, especially one that critiques my thoughts, forces me to rethink my reflection. I grow about 10 times as much.

I suppose that is why I have been on Facebook so much more this past year. The arguments have been mostly political ones with old friends from high school I hardly remember, but they have forced me to reexamine some beliefs. The changes in me are subtle and probably not noticed by anyone, but myself, but there are changes.

I hate writing anything but a positive comment on a person’s blog, but if they are like me then any decent comment is better than nothing. And sometimes a quality critique or question is the best comment of all.

Reflections #etmooc week 2 and Rhizomatic Learning

Some reflections from week 2. How it is easy to be a Rhizomatic learner, but a bit more difficult to be a deep learner.

Reflections from week 2

A great example of using Rhizomatic Learning in the classroom

The key to moving from the mile wide inch deep learning that Rhizomatic Learning tends to lead us (me) is to create our own constraints. Sue Waters does a great job of exploring that topic here.

Some further reading

Seeing Rhizomatic Learning and Moocs Through the Lens of the Cynefin Framework Blog post by Dave Cormier

Mendeley group  – I need to find some time to read some papers here

ETMOOC session
– by Dave Cormier


Effective learning in a cMOOC

Quote from Alec Couros on


For many people, even the more experienced networked learners, MOOCs can be overwhelming. In fact, some posit that complexity is an essential part of the experience. However, I am hoping to provide a bit of guidance and encouragement here to assure you that feelings of ‘being lost’ are common, but through persistence, sense-making, and personal connections, the vast majority of learners can persevere and make great gains through the dissonance and complexity.


I’ve said for years that my online network has been a huge boon in my learning. I’ve even been known to say that twitter has taught me more about teaching than my years in college (though perhaps not my time in the classroom). Of course blogging (reflecting) has been as important.

I’ve also been known to say that learning online has been like trying to drink from a firehose. This is my fourth MOOC and the first that I have helped to organize. The experience is still the same, when you gather this many smart people in one place I think it is inevitable that there be too much learning and teaching going on for any single person to keep up with. The cMOOCs make it even worse because the curriculum is more open, we expect people to take a variety of paths.


'I am SO full'

‘I am SO full’ (Photo credit: Ben McLeod)


The most important lesson I’ve learned from these MOOCs is to focus. Do I want to learn how to use the hundreds of web tools that will be introduced? Do I want to be strongly familiar with just a few? Do I want to learn how these tools are used in classrooms? Do I want to learn how these tools relate to the pedagogy in the classroom? Do I want to read some research papers? Do i want to test some of these ideas on my own classroom? The trick is to kind of pick your own essential question.

The point is; the time is now to pick a question or two and keep it as a focus. It is alright to get off track, but always return to the main point of focus that is important to you. I think most people drop out of MOOC after the halfway point because they feel like they have worked hard and have nothing to show for it. A pinch of self-restraint now will pay off huge down the road.


I just wanted to add this cool video that I think sums up the idea nicely

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The Problem with Standards

Some people suggest that the medium in which we present mathematics is the problem. And I think that is true. However, as with all things that is only one part of the problem.

The Department of Education sees a lack of high standards in schools as the main problem in education.

Politicians, parents, schools boards, and millions of other people see unified standards as a method of solving this problem.

It certainly is tempting. The idea that if everyone would just teach that same stuff then at least we all have a base of knowledge to build upon, to depend on.

If we raise standards by requiring schools to teach specific standards how do we make sure this is being done? The obvious answer of course to raising standards in the quality of education is to set standards and then measure whether we are meeting those standards.


Let’s follow the logic:

When people think that a test is the way to measure a students mastery of a standard we think it is a good idea to develop a better test.

When we try to develop a better test that measures specific standards we spend a lot of time looking at those standards.

We write questions with those standards in mind.

It is very hard to write a question that meets a specific standard and only that standard.

We modify the question so that it only includes information or questions for that specific standard.

These modifications change the question from a fair description of real life into some mutant cyborg that scare little children.

Mutant Cyborg Costume front

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I had the occasion to clean out the storage space under the stairs today. No I didn’t find Harry Potter’s wand, but I found a poster I made for a project in grad school. Some quotes from interviews with professors, TA’s, principals, and teachers along with some graphs from surveys I sent to parents.


All right my poster was almost nothing but words. I’m sure I would get some Presentation Zen going if I were to do this today, but as I did this in 1999 we will have to let it go.

If you clicked through and looked closely at the graphs you would find that the parents, teachers, and students all thought the integration of computers into the school was going just grand. It was very interesting that there was such a positive vibe, not just about computers, but the way they were being used. It wasn’t like most of the teachers in the school knew what they were doing on a computer. And if you remember the standard educational software back in 1999 left a lot to be desired. I think there was this general idea that this was the tool of the future and we will learn to use it in the classroom together.

That was the school I student taught in anyway. A small parochial school in the suburbs. As you can see from some of the quotes from the principal they had a visionary leader.

I fell that we have an obligation to prepare children to face their future, not our future, their future, and what they are going  to have to know in the business world or jobs or wherever they go.”

Their future not ours.

“We hope that by the time they graduate they also realise they are a social being and they need to operate in the world as part of a team.”

Remember pre-facebook pre-cell phones in everyone’s hands.

“My hope is that I will at least open their minds a little bit to the possibility.”

I’m not sure whose minds needed to be opened but I think it was the teachers and the fact that computers were going to be playing a large role in the future of education.

“Teachers just have to remember that computers are another tool for them to use.”

Just another tool in the old toolbelt.

“I do believe however that technology is not the end all and be all, that it’s a tool or resource,

There was also some stuff that wasn’t so visionary, but heck it was over 12 years ago, back then Mark Zuckerberg still couldn’t drive.

I also spent some serious time interviewing an education technology professor and his teaching assistants. See if you can determine who is who.

“Engagement isn’t everything”

Ten years later and we will haven’t figured this out.

“I don’t think you can just take a million dollars worth of software and not know what to do with it.”

But they do

“Software games like glorified storybooks, I really have my reservations about that. It’s crazy the way they’re coming up with software that just stinks.”

And we still keep buying it. I still liked Oregon Trail if only for the journaling aspect.

“Doing technology right is a very big investment.”

And not in just money.

“To … mandate it doesn’t help … A lot of gentle support or training and education know-how for teachers by themselves before they do anything with their students can help.”

Ten years later and we still can’t get the training we need.

“For me the role of computers and education is to help achieve other important learning objectives that have to do with the subjects being taught rather than the computers themselves.”

Why do we still debate this fact a decade later?

“If I had to choose right now, which would be a terrible thing to do, I would probably still choose hands-on experience.”

Will anything ever beat hands-on experiences?

“If your aim in your school is to make the kids behave, the way you use computers is going to be very different from the way you would use computers if your aim is to teach the students to think very critically.”

Read that one again, then go read Howard Rheingold.

“A computer program used by a skilled teacher can expand the way learning happens in a classroom.”

Don’t forget the part about the skilled teacher.

“the best thing .. is when their own children go away to college and start using e-mail to communicate. Often times that serves as the icebreaker, teachers overcome resistance because they see computers as something that can have a positive influence on their life.”

Just like our students we could care less until it become important to us.

“For my own personal view of what effective use of technology is, it is being used to enable students to engage in open-ended activities… Engaging in meaningful activities where they are creating…”

open-ended, meaningful, and creating…..

“Computer literacy is a prerequisite not a goal.”

I think computer literacy has changed a lot in the last decade, but knowing how to get the computer to do what you want it to do is very important.

“I think contrary to what most people think kids find thinking extremely motivating, if you can get them to do it.”

Imagine that, kids don’t tune you out because its difficult, they tune you out because they are bored to tears.

“I found I had to know my stuff in terms of pedagogy and content, but the kids were perfectly happy to be experts on the computer.”

My 4 year-old teaches me stuff all the time. It’s one way to learn. It also keeps him from destroying the house.

“With this information explosion you have to proceed with more caution…the encyclopaedia, of course, you would think has a good editorial board, though some books aren’t very good.”

This was pre-wikipedia, but yeah some books just aren’t very good. We can’t even rust highly paid editors to give us THE right answers.

If you were trying to figure out which quotes were from the professor and which were from the TA. The second set of three quotes and the fourth set of three quotes were from the professor


I think my favorite quote was “I think if you have a computer teacher that person better be really good or it will lead up to teaching keyboarding, because I think the use of the computer just like the use of the pencil, this needs to be integrated into the curriculum as a whole.”

If we just had a #pencilchat tag it would be perfect.


So what does this all mean? Simply, that as much as the world has changed in the last 10 or 12 years in reality it hasn’t.


Material-less math and questions

Playing Piano

As a support person I often find myself with a class for a day, or a period, or even just a few minutes while the teacher is gone. I need something to keep the students occupied with something other than gossip. So when the question came up “Need games children can play without any material to improve mathematical skills for thousands of slum area’s children.” I paid attention.

The first suggestions were games of NIM, which is a game played with stones. Any sort of counter will do and they don’t have to be uniform. Basically the game is played by making a pile of stones then picking up a number of stones in turn eventually forcing your opponent to pick up the last stone. Rules can include putting the stones in various sized groups and picking from one group at a time. Having a minimum and maximum number of stones that can be picked up, or really anything you can think of.

The second suggestion was playing “20 questions”. The answer can be as simple as a number and increase in difficulty such as rules or functions, to equations of lines, or just about any sort of concept in math. Imagine guessing a number but not being allowed to ask if it is higher or lower.

When I teach 8th grade math I basically like to make sure my students can recognize each function from the graph, the equations, and the table. So this fits in nicely. Actually anything we define in terms of properties should, theoretically, be a good answer for a 20 questions game. The game can and should be a vehicle for teaching students how to think critically about the properties of an object.

The last suggestion was Bizz Buzz. I’ve played Buzz a lot, which is a simple game. The rules are: students line up or sit in a circle and count up saying Buzz when they reach the number or its multiple. Bizz Buzz is a variation using two numbers and their multiples. Too add even more difficulty try using numbers from different bases. After playing this in the classroom a few times I increased the difficulty one my time by asking students to say Bang when they reach a number that is a common multiple. Playing with factors and common factors should also work.

I might also recommend ideas such as which I think is a great method to learn math. Creating patterns of dance or stomps with your feet.

I was also talking to a music teacher a few weeks ago. He was trying to teach his students the relationship between fractions and notes using the old pizza method. I suggested he stay with what is natural and use the timing of the notes. Whole notes, half notes, quarter and eights are fractions of time not pizza. Sustained notes are simply adding fractions. Students would obviously practice with their instruments, but drums can be easily created. I would assume that difficulty could be increased with various time measures.

If you have any other suggestions please add them to the comments below.


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Videos for Inspiration

I started reading this blog post – well watching the videos and I didn’t get through the first one before I had something to say.

Lessons for teaching:
Good teaching then becomes the ability to give students time to slow think, but to be there when they need help.
More importantly we need to understand our subject well enough so that when students come up to us with half formed ideas we need to recognize the path that they are traveling on so that we can guide them further along the right path – not our path.
Well right path isn’t necessarily the right term because sometimes the wrong path is more important to travel first.
Sometimes students come up to me with questions and my best response is not an answer, but a question. Why did you do this? What were you thinking when you did this? What did you want to happen? Why don’t you and Joe work together I think you two are working on similar ideas?

Videos for Inspiration

I started reading this blog post – well watching the videos and I didn’t get through the first one before I had something to say.

Lessons for teaching:
Good teaching then becomes the ability to give students time to slow think, but to be there when they need help.
More importantly we need to understand our subject well enough so that when students come up to us with half formed ideas we need to recognize the path that they are traveling on so that we can guide them further along the right path – not our path.
Well right path isn’t necessarily the right term because sometimes the wrong path is more important to travel first.
Sometimes students come up to me with questions and my best response is not an answer, but a question. Why did you do this? What were you thinking when you did this? What did you want to happen? Why don’t you and Joe work together I think you two are working on similar ideas?

It Takes a Village School

2nd half of 14th centuryImage via Wikipedia

It takes a village to raise a child was a book based on an African proverb.
The school is one of the parts of the village that is community owned. When the conventional wisdom of the village decides that all children should receive the same services often the school is asked to provide. Students need immunizations, let it be a requirement for school. Children need to eat healthier, let the school serve lunch, and breakfast. Students aren’t entering school ready to read, start school younger. Field trips to farms, museums, and even bowling alleys all become common background experiences for students to share. Some may feel that schools are asked to do too much and some think they should do more, but that is a question of detail. Like it or not schools, even home-schools and virtual schools, are an integral part of what it means to grow up in America, and most of the world.
I don’t think it is wrong to tie the common needs of students to school. I think it is wrong when we expect everything to be done by the school when we still think of school just a place to learn stuff.
Schools are the place where learning occurs. Specifically schools teach the basic building blocks for higher-level learning and discussion that will be expected of students later in life. For many this means learning to read, write, some history, and arithmetic.
In a village school students learn these basic when they learn the one most important skill the ability to think. Students in a village school don’t learn to read because there are letters and words to memorize, reading is learned because that is the best way to share experiences and convey information. History, Math, Science all become tools to use to explore and share the world and bring value back to the village.
In the end schools have two related purposes: to nourish the desire to learn and give students the tools to continue learning on their own.
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