School: Redesign Homework

2 Comments

Around this time of year, I always think about how I’m going to re-design my teaching for the fall semester.  It doesn’t matter whether I’m teaching or not, I think about it.

A recent conversation with Dave Gray of XPLANE, Inc. got me thinking about his heuristic matrix from the book Gamestorming which he wrote with Sunni Brown. A heuristic matrix looks a lot like the grid from a spreadsheet, and which I used several years ago to redesign homework.

That grid looked something like this…

Screen Shot 2017-08-08 at 8.44.24 PM

I identified a bunch of broad categories that I wanted my students to learn about.  In this example, based on the broad theme of teaching about Ancient Greece, I have categories like religion, and aspects of art history, politics, literature, philosophy, and science and technology.

I then identified a variety of styles that I wanted my students to learn to write in. These formed the individual columns of the heuristic matrix.    These included paragraphs dealing with compare and contrast writing, where the same paragraph alternates between two different viewpoints or styles. There was also descriptive writing, involving a top-to-bottom explanation of a thing or a place.  Narrative writing, the description of a beginning-to-end process, was another category. Persuasive paragraphs offer reasons for holding an opinion, and attempt to persuade the reader to accept a particular viewpoint.  Exposition attempts to define or explain a person’s ideas or opinions without forcing them on the reader.  Reading comprehension, on the other hand, asks students to engage with an actual historical text.  Self-directed research is another category — independent projects of various kinds.

I haven’t filled in the heuristic matrix completely. Some of this is left as an exercise to the reader (which is to say, perhaps, that I’m lazy or that I don’t wish to think all of this through, or maybe that I don’t wish to share all of my thought process at once).  But the overall structure should be discernible.

I tried to do something similar with a mathematics heuristic grid for a lower grade, perhaps grade 2, grade 3, or grade 4.

Screen Shot 2017-08-08 at 9.53.21 PM

I’m not a mathematics teacher, so you’ll notice that the grid isn’t completely filled in.  But you’ll see what I’m trying to do… I’m trying to come up with a variety of mathematics exercises and activities that don’t revolve exclusively around the traditional “do these 20 problems to learn a type of procedure” worksheets or homework lists.  This is about inventing new forms of assignments and identifying how these can be used to teach or refresh skills that lie outside the usual curriculum norms.

And it’s important to note that YOU don’t have to fill in a grid completely, either. You may only generate one or two useful ideas from a heuristic matrix.  Yet if a few of those ideas have the chance to reinvigorate your teaching, that may be worth i.

SaveSave

Yarn-cake Winder Step 4

Leave a comment

I am inching toward completion at this point.

Yarnwinder1.jpg Here you see the three gears — the cranking gear on the right, the central gear in the middle, and the 12P gear on the base of something that looks like a striped lawn chair.  That’s the base for the spindle.

You also see the yarn feed post, on the extreme left of the assembled machine; and the two built-in C-clamps along the bottom.  The only thing missing at this point is the arbor or pivot that connects the 12P gear to the spindle support base. A friend of mine is using his angle grinder to grind that steel pin to the right shape, this afternoon.  I hope to have it later today.

Yarnwinder2.jpgAnd here’s that spindle support base, now attached in the right place and ready for the spindle to be attached.  It looks a little like a striped lawn chair.  For this photo, I’ve put in a spare bit of steel rod for the arbor, and I’m using that to test-crank the gears, and figure out where to concentrate my sanding effort to get the gears to the right shape.

Hint? Everywhere. Everywhere needs sanding.  I am not a good scroll-saw-er yet, and the result is that my gears are wildly irregular on nearly every gear.  I have a choice at this point.  I can just keep cranking the gears until everything is worn down to the right smoothness by raw friction.  Or I can sand each tooth meticulously until every tooth meshes perfectly with every other tooth.  Or I can choose a third-option position, halfway between those two options or on either side of half-way.  The more sanding I do ahead of time, the less sawdust and sand will be in my finished yarn product.  The less sanding I do ahead of time, the more sawdust and sand will be in my finished product, and the harder it will be to wind a skein of yarn into a yarn cake.  Even so, I may go for this option.Yarnwinder3.jpg

The final picture is the completed elements of the yarn-cake winder (excepting that one arbor, and a couple of small pads for the C-clamps.  The spindle is the large wooden thing; the spindle base is the thing in the clamp, and then the machine itself.  You can see a pencil on the right for rough/approximate scale.  The spindle has a skateboard bearing inside of it, provided as a result of a trip to Cutting Edge in Berlin, CT.

I got into knitting in part because of Deb Castellano of the blog Charmed Finishing School (and her store, the Mermaid and the Crow/La Sirene et Le Corbeau).  It pleases me no end to create a piece of machinery using my newfound carpentry skills, that will allow me to practice more effectively the art that she connected me to in the first place.

But once again, why knitting? Why machinery? Why include textiles and knitting and yarn-work at all in a MakerSpace? I would hope at this point, after three prior separate discussions of the building of this machine, that this would be obvious. Even with someone else’s plans in my hands, I’ve had to work through design problems, study drawings, make sketches, and drive my way through the tool use necessary to build this machine (and the yarn-swift that accompanies it).  Without these machines, I’d have a much harder time working with skeins of yarn. With them, I have a much easier time making my own yarn, dyeing my own yarn, winding and knitting (or crocheting, or braiding) my own yarn. This device is a critical piece of the technology set for string and yarn-arts.

What is a technology set?  A technology set is all of the technical equipment necessary to oversee a process of construction from raw materials (or raw-er materials) to finished product.  For yarn, that set looks something like this:

  • Carding combs
  • drop spindle or spinning wheel or great wheel
  • yarn swift
  • dyeing vats and dyes and mordants
  • yarn-cake winder (this device)
  • knitting needles
  • braiding disk
  • lucet
  • crocheting hook
  • naalbinding needle

With these ten tools, it’s possible to take a bundle of raw wool and turn it into a scarf or a hat or a length of rope akin to paracord, or a colored braid.  The technology set teaches ten different skills, and helps students understand ten different processes. None of the technology is difficult to understand; the technical processes are open and transparent; and they are hand-skills which can be replicated (much faster but much more opaquely) by machine.  They take carpentry skills to make objects that are used for working with string, they demonstrate the principle that Tools Make Tools Make Things, and they demonstrate to students a skill-set that allows them to extrapolate and develop an understanding of how any raw material is turned into a finished product.

 

Twenty-Three Things: Activity 15 — Wiki Sandbox

7 Comments

I’ve challenged some of my colleagues to take the 23 Things challenge to become more invested in online learning this summer. This website includes a 10-week game plan for learning some online learning and presenting methods that are useful for teachers, and that are appropriate activities for the age group we teach.  There are other 23 Things lists out there, I know, but this is the one that we’ve chosen to work with, and that I’ve decided to complete.

The previous entries in this series are here:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Discovery
  3. Setting Up a Blog
  4. Starting with Flickr
  5. Find some Flickr Toys and Tools
  6. Blog about the role of tech in your classroom
  7. Initial experiment with RSS Readers
  8. RSS Readers continued
  9. Cloud Computing
  10. Web 2.0 Activty
  11. YouTube & Video
  12. Podcasts
  13. eBooks
  14. Wikis (a disaster story)

Activity 15: Wiki Sandbox

 This activity is about going and trying out some wiki maneuvers.  I’ve done this.  I’ve edited articles on Wikipedia, I ran my own wiki for a while (see Activity 14), and I’m not wild about them, alas.  I wish that I could think of something different to do with them besides run an encyclopedia.

But, I did do some new experimenting over the weekend.  And I’m not happy with the results.  Delete, delete, delete.

OK, but one of the things which may be useful is setting up a Makers’ Grimoire using a Wiki page rather than a Blog page.  So I did that, and I’ll try it. Does anyone think such a thing will be useful? Will anyone use that, or contribute to that, rather than simply adapt my existing blog list to their own purposes?

Let me know.

Twenty-Three Things: Activity 13 — eBooks

7 Comments

I’ve challenged some of my colleagues to take the 23 Things challenge to become more invested in online learning this summer. This website includes a 10-week game plan for learning some online learning and presenting methods that are useful for teachers, and that are appropriate activities for the age group we teach. There are other 23 Things lists out there, I know, but this is the one that we’ve chosen to work with, and that I’ve decided to complete.

The previous entries in this series are here:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Discovery
  3. Setting Up a Blog
  4. Starting with Flickr
  5. Find some Flickr Toys and Tools
  6. Blog about the role of tech in your classroom
  7. Initial experiment with RSS Readers
  8. RSS Readers continued
  9. Cloud Computing
  10. Web 2.0 Activty
  11. YouTube & Video
  12. Podcasts

Activity 13: eBooks

I’ve now been using eBooks and PDFs for quite a while, and they’re so important to me, personally, that I hardly know what to say about them from an educational perspective. The notion that I’m supposed to “try to find some eBooks you want to read” for this activity is laughable. Back when the 23 Things list was composed at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Library system, eBooks were this new and alien thing that hardly anyone knew about. Nowadays, I’m using Apple’s iBook Author to compose my own eBooks, and Calibre to alter books from PDFs to .mobi files, and Pages to create PDF files for both myself and colleagues. There’s even a website that converts PDF files to Kindle files, so you can take a PDF and turn it into a book.

As far as resources: I have a library of early English and American authors on my iPad as Kindle files, PDF files, or .mobi files. I’ve been siphoning up resources for years, if not a decade.

Yikes.

So. Back to the activity. “Find a Free eBook”? That’s the challenge this week…?

All right.

Look, anybody can find stuff. My dad was amazed. He’s a pretty conservative guy, but he was (and is) angry about all this NSA spy business and Edward Snowden, and so on. He wanted this recent amendment HCV #412) to pass, and shut down this NSA’s process of spying and collecting all the metadata on every phone call in America.

I whipped out my phone, dialed up thomas.loc.gov, and found out what he wanted to know: which Connecticut representatives voted for the amendment (which would have shut down the NSA’s spying program), and which representatives voted against it (which keeps it active). Behold, his representative voted against the bill, and mine (I live elsewhere) voted for it. Mom was able to name three Republicans from other states, and they had split their votes: Issa had voted against it, Stockman voted for defunding the NSA, and Michele Bachman voted against the bill (keeping the NSA). Complicated.

The question is, what do you do with the information? One of those weird things I’ve picked up in my digital hoovering is a photostatted PDF of a 1690s manual on astrology. Of this 125-page document, maybe 65 pages is immediately useful (if you want to learn classical astrology which maybe you don’t), although difficult to read; the rest is ephemeris charts from the late 17th century. In order to be genuinely useful, someone is likely going to have to do an OCR (optical character recognition) job on this text, and further re-transcribe all the charts and diagrams. Me? Maybe. Probably not. I have other fish to fry. Like reading the 500+ eBooks I already have.

Along those lines — one of the things I’m doing these days is buying reference books in Kindle format when I need them. They reside on my iPad, I can download them to my phone, and I don’t have to be standing in my library to look something up that’s of interest to me right then and there. This is one of the key skills of the digital immigrant generation, I think — those folks who grew up in a world without computers, who now live in a world with them. We have the ability to look things up and the mental habits that there are things which must be looked up, and the knowledge of keywords and subject searches to find first the right general class of information, before searching for the more specific information. And this is a powerful benefit.

I can’t help but feel that this activity’s ship has already sailed. If you don’t know how to use or find eBooks, particularly eBooks of the classics that you already read for your students, then you’re in real trouble.

Excuse me. I have some reading to do.

Twenty-Three Things: Activity 12 — Podcasts

7 Comments

I’ve challenged some of my colleagues to take the 23 Things challenge to become more invested in online learning this summer. This website includes a 10-week game plan for learning some online learning and presenting methods that are useful for teachers, and that are appropriate activities for the age group we teach.  There are other 23 Things lists out there, I know, but this is the one that we’ve chosen to work with, and that I’ve decided to complete.

The previous entries in this series are here:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Discovery
  3. Setting Up a Blog
  4. Starting with Flickr
  5. Find some Flickr Toys and Tools
  6. Blog about the role of tech in your classroom
  7. Initial experiment with RSS Readers
  8. RSS Readers continued
  9. Cloud Computing
  10. Web 2.0 Activty
  11. YouTube & Video

Activity 12: Podcasts

So, the purpose of this activity is to find some podcasts that are worth listening to, and experiment with podcasts — that is, audio files in a series or sequence designed to do something: read a book, teach a skill (like a language), or help someone understand a subject without the use of pictures.

OK.

My favorite podcast of all time is the 12 Byzantine Rulers Podcast by Lars Brownworth.  He’s got an exciting reading voice, his podcast is well-scripted, and he had a clear sense of what he wanted to teach — beginning, middle, and END. That’s most important.  But, I’ve already listened to this one.  So I’ve decided to beef up my Latin skills by including this podcast in my regular program:

Latinum: the Latin Language Learning podcast: http://latinum.mypodcast.com/rss.xml

I’ve downloaded them to my iPhone, and I’ll try listening to them when I’m driving places, and see if it helps me become a better Latin teacher.  I found a couple of others, but the first few episodes are sufficiently odd that I’m not sure I’m going to recommend them on my blog.

Twenty-Three Things: Activity 11: YouTube

11 Comments

I’ve challenged some of my colleagues to take the 23 Things challenge to become more invested in online learning this summer. This website includes a 10-week game plan for learning some online learning and presenting methods that are useful for teachers, and that are appropriate activities for the age group we teach.  There are other 23 Things lists out there, I know, but this is the one that we’ve chosen to work with, and that I’ve decided to complete.

The previous entries in this series are here:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Discovery
  3. Setting Up a Blog
  4. Starting with Flickr
  5. Find some Flickr Toys and Tools
  6. Blog about the role of tech in your classroom
  7. Initial experiment with RSS Readers
  8. RSS Readers continued
  9. Cloud Computing
  10. Web 2.0 Activty

Activity 11: YouTube

For this week’s entry, we’re supposed to find, and learn to embed, a video that we think is useful from YouTube.  Oh, dear.  Because a) I already know how to do this, and b) I have already made some videos on YouTube, and posted them, (some on history, and some on writing skills, and some on how-to)and c) I’ve gotten quite a bit of negative feedback on some of them because they’re wrong from the point of view of people who live there, but right from the perspective of the textbook I used to make them [and it also turns out that the recording is out of synch with what the video is doing — hence Seoul in Japan rather than Korea. Argh!] and d) increasingly I don’t watch YouTube videos to be inspired about digital things, but to learn how to do things, like bind off a knitting project.

Here’s the video that taught me how to bind off a knitting project:

I think the underlying message about YouTube is that if you’re not using it as a teacher, you should be.  You can use it to create review videos for concepts you teach often; how-to videos for specific grammatical or writing concepts you teach; and for finding alternate explanations of the material you teach for kids who don’t quite ‘get’ how you teach.

And for that, I go to Sugata Mitra:

Look — We live in a world in which we have increasing access to the vast storehouses of the world’s knowledge. You can learn tai chi or yoga from a video online for free.  To get really quality instruction requires a teacher face-to-face in the same room with you, but you can learn the basics from a piece of film.  But that places enormous pressures on local school systems — public AND private — to deliver top-notch, quality instruction all the time, at every level, from kindergarten through high school.  And to do so in a safe way, so that kids feel helped and guided and protected… yikes.

Meanwhile, here’s this vast library of video instruction that’s growing all the time, getting better all the time.  Here’s Vi Hart talking about cutting space-time and mathematics and music [or actually mostly playing different kinds of music that’s really cool]

This is future shock.

I mean, this is definitive future shock.  If you’re not doing something in your teaching which is radically different than what other teachers are doing, then why are they coming to your class? What is the point of teaching the same old thing that everyone else is teaching, if there are people who are providing amazing quality, high-level instruction way above your pay grade?

“Well, Kids need to learn the basics.”

Yes. Yes, they do. They must learn the basics.  But it’s getting easier and easier to learn the basics from someone else by watching the right videos… the right videos FOR THEM.  And that means that the purpose of our individual instruction is not to teach the basics, but to teach the basics in a new way.  Because if we don’t provide better instruction in school than a video can provide out of school… then why have schools?

Twenty-Three Things: Activity 10: Web 2.0

12 Comments

I’ve challenged some of my colleagues to take the 23 Things challenge to become more invested in online learning this summer. This website includes a 10-week game plan for learning some online learning and presenting methods that are useful for teachers, and that are appropriate activities for the age group we teach.  There are other 23 Things lists out there, I know, but this is the one that we’ve chosen to work with, and that I’ve decided to complete.

The previous entries in this series are here:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Discovery
  3. Setting Up a Blog
  4. Starting with Flickr
  5. Find some Flickr Toys and Tools
  6. Blog about the role of tech in your classroom
  7. Initial experiment with RSS Readers
  8. RSS Readers continued
  9. Cloud Computing

Activity 10: Web 2.0 Awards

And…. here we hit another roadblock.  For activity 10 in this 23 Things list, we’re supposed to select a Web 2.0 tool from the list maintained by SEOMoz.com for their Web 2.0 Awards.  Trouble is, SEOMoz isn’t in business any more. They’ve morphed into something else, called Moz.com, which does cloud-computing analytics.  So, we need a different list, or at least a definition to start from to find Web 2.0 apps, before I can try out a Web 2.0 tool.

Wikipedia, itself a Web 2.0 tool, defines Web 2.0 based on a definition from an O’Reilly conference in 2004, which focused on web-page based computing, rather than desktop based computing.  Some of the key concepts of Web 2.0 are the rich user experience, user-generated content, emphasis on keywords and search terms, and the ability to ‘talk back’ to the developers/owners.  Web 2.0 is a peer-to-peer environment, rather than an authority-to-audience environment.

And I think I see a real challenge to teaching here. Because the biggest, most 2.0-iest app of them all, of course, is Facebook.  I mean, when I am asked to join a project or attend an event or plan a program outside of school, I’m asked to do it through Facebook. When I’m asked to share an article or a petition, when I’m encouraged to donate to a charity, when I’m greeted by name to assist in a game, it’s through Facebook.  It’s the 525-pound gorilla in the Web 2.0 world, and I wonder what we teachers — who are definitely not supposed to use Facebook-y things for school or in class, should make of that.

Also, I found this list.  http://edutechwiki.unige.ch/en/List_of_web_2.0_applications

It’s a list of Web 2.0 websites, tools, services and programs, and it was begun in 2007.  In February 2013, the creator and maintainer of the site basically gave up.  He says, in effect, that the Web 2.0 world has grown larger, and faster than he could have imagined, and he’s not willing to give his time any more to the creation of links to other people’s work.

Here’s another list: http://www.educatorstechnology.com/2012/12/the-best-of-teachers-web-tools.html

So based on this list, I decided to try out Prezi.com.  It’s free, the sign-up process seems minimally invasive, I’ve tried it before, and  — if there’s one thing that I think we teachers could do better, it’s make presentations to our students that are repeatable, embeddable, and reviewable for future reference and study.

Dear me.  It crashed my browser.

My physical computer was built in mid-2008.  It’s passed its 6-year anniversary a few days ago, and it’s long out of warranty.  I’ve had it serviced and refurbished a few time since then, but it’s nearing the end of its useful life, especially for Web 2.0 apps that use some of my memory and capacity, but rely on web-based resources to run.

With some finagling, I was able to put together a VERY RAW Prezi about Palace of Memory.  This isn’t a polished thing at all; but it’s a sense of what I could build with extra time and attention.  I think that’s kind of the point — extra time and attention is critical to the success of any Web 2.0 program — because rich, user-generated content is key to the success of the experience.

Other Tools

I like the tool.  But it’s not as valuable as the tools I find on SlideShare.net, where I can embed a presentation that I build offline, and then have the capacity to embed that presentation in this webpage, or a page on my school’s website.

Of course, that capacity to build offline presentations requires that one have bandwidth, and time to build those presentations, neither of which is completely available to teachers; and one has to have a fully working computer, which at the moment, I don’t really.

So, I think there’s a lot of complicated problems overlapping. This teacher doesn’t really have enough computing power to take advantage of the new Web 2.0 tools, and doesn’t have enough for the old 2.0 tools he’d already been using. But there’s some real potential here, overall… assuming I can figure out how to use it.

Older Entries