Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

Tag: edtech (page 1 of 2)

Disguising flash cards as a game is deceptive

I’m reading The Connected Family by Seymour Papert, and ran into a quote which I found appropriate.

"…learning multiplication facts by putting flash cards on the screen is not a new way of learning math. It is a polished-up version of the old ways and promotes to greater heights their worst and most mechanical features. Moreover it is often done in a spirit which I see as dangerously dishonest: Disguising [emphasis mine] flash cards as a game introduces an element of deception that undermines two fundamental educational principles.

First, learning works best when the learner is a willing and conscious participant. Second, deception and dishonesty in the teaching process make a mockery of the idea that schools should develop moral values as well as knowledge of math or history." ~ Seymour Papert, p19, The Connected Family, 1996

It was timely, because just this morning, I saw this tweet from Jason Klein:

Most Education category apps (iOS, ChromeOS, Android) are low-level, fact-based. Just give me Internet & Creation apps.

Just searching now on my iPhone for math in the App Store, these apps showed up.

Top five math apps on the iPhone

All five of these applications are based on learning math facts and arithmetic, and two of them even have the word "flash" in their name. Of the top twenty five math applications that I saw, 23 of them are essentially flash cards disguised as games. Two of them aren’t, one is called "Equation Genius" (it solves algebra equations), the other is called "Motion Math" (which lets students learn the relationship between fraction as symbols and visual representations of those fractions).

Could we please get more educators programming these apps? (If someone would donate me a Mac to work on, I’ll happily do it myself.) 

Heading to the Computer Based Math conference in London, England

So I just got confirmation (and have paid for registration and my airfare AND found a place to stay – mostly) that I get to attend the Computer Based Math conference happening London, England on November 10th and 11th. I’m very excited about it!

I’m flying out of Vancouver on Tuesday, November 8th (after being in workshops all day with my colleagues), and arriving in London midday on the 9th. I’m at the conference on the 10th and 11th, and flying to Toronto on Sunday, November 13th, where I’ll be attending the Mindshare Learning Canadian Edtech conference on Monday, November 14th.

I have a place to stay arranged for my time in London (actually many offers of places to stay) but I could use a place to stay for the Sunday night I’ll be in Toronto. I’m trying to make this trip more economical for my school (since they are footing the bill) by staying with friends.

My hope is to find out more about how different people are using technology in math education specifically at the Computer Based Math conference, and to be part of the team trying to build a curriculum for math based on the assumption that students have computation devices with them whenever they need them. The big questions I have are, what does that kind of curriculum look like, and would it be effective for teaching math?

It will be strange to be at these conferences as it will be the first time in 2 years that I’ve attended a conference, and not presented. Maybe I’ll find a way to get to talk about some of what I do at one of these conferences anyway… even if I’m not officially on the schedule to present.

I’m posting this to let the people in my PLN know, and I’d love to connect with anyone else heading to these conferences that I’ve met via Twitter.

Am I failing at social media?

I can't unfollow you
(Image credit: docpopular)

When I first got started with Twitter, I set up a filter so that whenever I got a notification from Twitter that someone followed me, it was sent to a special folder in my Gmail inbox.

That folder now has 9581 emails in it. So 9581 times, I’ve gotten a notification that I was just followed by someone. There are a couple of people that follow and unfollow me repeatedly, trying to get me to follow them (while never engaging in me in dialog at all, I might add), but almost all of those notification emails are from new people. 

However, I don’t have 9500 followers, I actually have about 6600 followers.

Some quick subtraction shows that of the 9500 or so people that followed me at some stage during the past three years, nearly 3000 of them have unfollowed me. To put it another way, nearly a third of the people who follow me eventually unfollow me. Are these 3000 lost opportunities to connect with people? 

Why do these people unfollow me?

  • My friend told me that she unfollowed me because I was tweeting too much and overwhelming everyone else in her network.
  • Some of the "people" who unfollowed me were actually spam bots and eventually got blocked by Twitter.
  • Some of them unfollow me because the information I post doesn’t meet their needs.

The key thing is, most of the people who unfollowed me because of their needs, not because of what I’m doing or not doing. It’s easy to take being unfollowed or blocked personally, but I really try hard not to. After all, the whole point of a personal learning network is that it is personal, and that you need to meet your needs.

New York Times article misses the point

Matt Richtel, of the New York Times, has recently written a piece on the use of technology in schools which should be read carefully. He writes:

Since 2005, scores in reading and math have stagnated in Kyrene [emphasis mine], even as statewide scores have risen.

To be sure, test scores can go up or down for many reasons. But to many education experts, something is not adding up — here and across the country. In a nutshell: schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.

This conundrum calls into question one of the most significant contemporary educational movements. Advocates for giving schools a major technological upgrade — which include powerful educators, Silicon Valley titans and White House appointees — say digital devices let students learn at their own pace, teach skills needed in a modern economy and hold the attention of a generation weaned on gadgets.

He has assumed that the purpose of education is to improve test scores, or at the very least that these are a good measure of learning. He has also generalized about the use of technology in classrooms across the US from two examples; a single school district, and the state of Maine. He is right that many schools are spending money unwisely on unproven technologies, and have not put into place practices to either support these technologies, or examine their effectiveness.

Aviva Dunsiger has written a response to this article based on the results of a direct reading assessment (DRA) she’s done during the course of the year. She doesn’t attribute the phenomenal gains on the DRAs to the use of technology in her classroom, she attributes it to the change in her teaching practices that resulted from the technology being available in her classroom.

This is my reason for promoting the use of technologies in schools. The introduction of computers in the classroom has the ability to be a disruptive force, and transform the pedagogy that is used in the classroom. This doesn’t mean that it will transform pedagogy, it just has the possibility to do so. In 50 years of attempts to change the classroom, nothing has come as close as this current driving force from technology.

In 1993, Seymour Papert wrote,

"Video games teach children what computers are beginning to teach adults–that some forms of learning are fast-paced, immensely compelling, and rewarding. The fact that they are enormously demanding of one’s time and require new ways of thinking remains a small price to pay (and is perhaps even an advantage) to be vaulted into the future. Not surprisingly, by comparison School strikes many young people as slow, boring, and frankly out of touch."

While it is possible to teach in ways which are compelling and rewarding, many schools do not do so. Technology in the classroom can be a lever through which we effect real change in our schools in a positive and fundamental way.

Password Strength

I’m using the following xkcd comic to help the teachers at my school with their password selection.

Password strength


There is also a very useful script, created by Steve Gibson, available to test how long it would take a brute force attack to figure out your password with a computer. While I don’t recommend entering any actual passwords you intend to use into an password strength checker (there aren’t that many websites out there, so an hacker could easily steal the passwords you enter into their "password" checker and try them all over the place, thanks to @drdouggreen for the reminder), this can be an excellent way to experiment with different types of passwords.

I also recommend reading this post I wrote about how to change your password for every service you use, without having to memorize a new password for each of them.

As suggested above, we’ve spent many years training people to use complicated passwords which are actually not all that secure, when instead, you can use a longer, much easier to remember, password that is much more secure.

Conference planners are obselete

ISTE Conference planner


I just thought I’d share some numbers around just the conference planner, which I’m picking on because it is easy to quantify, but believe me there are plenty of other examples of waste here at ISTE. The ISTE conference planner is about 110 pieces of paper. Each book is about 30 cm long by 20 cm wide. There are about 13,000 people at ISTE. Each of them received a planner.

If you lined up the pages from the conference planners end on end, they would be about 429km long, about the distance from Cleveland to Philadelphia.

If all of the conference planners were put on a scale, they would weigh just over 6 metric tonnes (6000kg).

15 adult trees were chopped down to make all of the conference planners for this conference.


ISTE appNow let’s compare these numbers to the fairly good conference planner App that ISTE released.

0 trees cut down.

The weight of the apps themselves is 0.

You can’t line up apps.

You do need everyone to have a mobile electronic device of some sort, which raises other environmental questions, but at least those devices have multiple uses, and can replace many, many other paper resources.

The conference planner app includes my own personal schedule, it is searchable, it automatically updates itself every time I open it up. I don’t have to go through the conference planner app page by page to find information. It tells me what sessions are coming up. None of these functions is possible with the paper version of the conference planner.

Let’s try a different system for next year. Why don’t we use an opt-in system for the conference planners?

How many people would have turned down the conference planner if they had the choice? 




The Hidden Danger of Google

Reprinted with permission from my school’s magazine, the Imprint

I watched an interesting, but disturbing, video about a recent phenomena in the online world. You can watch the same video here.

In the video, Eli Pariser makes the point that the recent trend of search engines, like Google (and Facebook) to present information for us based on our past searches and who our friends are, is resulting in our society being divided into “Internet search bubbles.” For example, let’s suppose I do a search on “Canadian education” from inside Canada, and outside Canada. Even an innocuous search like this leads to different results.

In Canada:
Canadian search results

In the United States:
US search for Canadian education

Apparently Google thinks that US citizens who search for Canadian education want to study here, and Canadian citizens want to do research.

What the video points out is that for more politically charged searches, the search results themselves can be radically different, rather than just a bit different, as these two screen-shots show. Two people searching for the same information will be shown very different perspectives. The situation is even worse if you use Facebook to find out about the news, as only news that your friends think is important and which you click on more often will be shown to you.

In the video, Eli describes how he had a good mixture of liberal and conservative friends in his Facebook stream, but he noticed that as he tended to click more on the links in stories of his liberal friends that over time his conservative friends began to disappear from his stream. In other words, Facebook figured out that Eli was a liberal, and decided for him what information would be relevant to him.

What is going on is that Google, Facebook, and other search engines are using a friend recommendation and personal history system to decide what your perspective is, and to deliver you the content that they feel is more relevant to your perspective. This is the same recommendation engine that is part of Netflix. As a result, you are less likely to become exposed to ideas from outside of your friend and family groups. You are now less likely to learn that there are perspectives on the world other than your own.

This speaks to the need to discuss media literacy, as someone who does not know the perspectives of others is less equipped to deal with the challenges of the world. Imagine if you grew up not knowing that there were multiple perspectives on any issue: How would that change your worldview?

While we have always had our worldviews limited by who our friends are, we currently have easy access to resources like newspapers and television to help us find out about alternative perspectives. As television stations and newspapers fail, our students will be facing a world where their primary source of information is filtered. Already more people get their news online than through traditional media, so the failure of television and newspapers is imminent.

The leaders in information literacy at Stratford Hall are aware of this issue, and will introduce students to this issue as we develop their information literacy skills. It is critical that our students know that they are being subtly given a distorted view of the world through their web browsers, and that they must seek out other sources of information.