Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

Day: August 17, 2011 (page 1 of 1)

Ineffective professional development

I tweeted out the following yesterday during the #edchat discussion. So far 72 people have retweeted it (4 more since I took that screen-shot).

Ineffective professional development


Every teacher is very likely to have been part of ineffective professional development at some point in their career, either as the organizer, the presenter, or the recipient of the professional development. Bad professional development, while fortunately not the norm, is very common.

I’ve been in professional development sessions were totally inappropriate for me as a math teacher, and sessions where I already knew everything that was being presented. I’ve presented sessions where I had participants literally falling asleep (although not recently!) and I’ve fallen asleep (nearly) in a presentation. I attended virtually the same algebra tiles session at least 3 times while working in NYC.

There are a few reasons I can think of why this happens.

  • The professional development content is inappropriate for teachers because it is not at related to their practice.
  • There is either expertise or a lack of expertise assumed of the participants by the presenter when presenting, which means the presentation is not developmentally appropriate.
  • The style of the professional development doesn’t meet the teachers’ learning needs.
  • The teachers have been coerced or forced into the professional development.
  • The presenter does not develop a positive relationship with the teachers.
  • There is little opportunity to interact with the material and discuss the ideas being presented.
  • There is little to no follow up after the session.
  • Much professional development lacks feedback for the teachers as to whether they have learned anything.
  • The teachers in the session have personal problems or concerns which interfere with their ability to learn during the professional development.

(Do these reasons remind you of the reasons why students sometimes struggle with school?)

What can we do to ensure that we develop and participate in meaningful professional development? What can we do to convert professional development into professional learning?

Math in the real world: Roller coasters

This is another post in a series I’m doing on math in the real world.


When my son and I were on the roller coaster, I was again in awe about how quickly even a small roller coaster like this travels, and how it doesn’t drive right off the tracks.

Roller coasters have to be constructed fairly carefully, and follow some mathematical rules in their construction. They need to first be concerned about how to make the roller coaster safe. They need to calculate exactly how fast it will travel through the loops and turns, and how much of an angle they will need to prevent the roller coaster from taking a dive during those turns. They need to watch out that they don’t cause the participants of the roller coaster to pass out during a turn as they experience additional forces on their bodies!

The various costs associated with a roller coaster need to be calculated as well. There’s the cost to build, maintain, and operate the roller coaster. There’s an additional cost to pay for insurance for the roller coaster, which means an actuary needs to examine the probability of a problem occurring for any given roller coaster. The operator of the roller coaster needs to determine, given the cost to operate the roller coaster, etc… what they should charge to make a return on their investment, and attempt to maximize their profits.

While you could use a roller coaster simulator to explore some of this math, it’s a lot more fun to experience it in person…

Google’s Pierre de Fermat Doodle

 Google Doodle

Pierre de Fermat was a mathematician in the 17th century who often doodled and wrote down mathematical ideas in the margins of his notebooks. Once he wrote down the theorem that bears his name, Fermat’s Last Theorem, shown in the Google Doodle above.

The doodle itself has a flaw I wish to point out. You see, Fermat never wrote down his theorem on a chalkboard. He couldn’t have since a chalkboard wasn’t invented until about 200 years after he had his insight and wrote down his theorem. He wrote his theorem in a notebook.

The reason a chalkboard is depicted in the doodle is that mathematics today is seen as an activity done on a chalkboard, probably by a professor or a teacher, and not something that students do.

I’d like to change that.