As noted on the MathNotations blog and several other outlets including the New York Times, Benoit Mandelbrot passed away last week. Dr. Mandelbrot’s ideas about geometry and repeated processes changed the way mathematicians look at the world.
Think about how a graph of stock market levels look. If you look at a graph showing stock market data, but don’t see the scale, you can’t tell if it is a graph for a day or a decade. Similarly, when you look at turbulent water, it’s hard to tell if you’re looking at something the width of the Mississippi or the width of a canoe. Dr. Mandelbrot studied all these things and saw that these phenomena had a self-similar nature: as you zoom in, the tiniest little area looks a whole lot like the big picture.
What a summer! Back in March, Dianne, Steph and I were tasked with a challenge to find a way to make it easier for K¹² parents to connect with each other. While we currently have the private online community called thebigthinK, because of the presence of students we are constrained by the communication features that "TBT" can provide. We thought of a bunch of ways around that and finally settled on something rather bold--creating an entirely new community built especially for parents.
We spent months planning, building and testing--and had the help of 75 fantastic K¹² parents who volunteered to be "Founding Members." The result is the new Parent's Lounge, which officially launched this week.
A new feature here on the thinktanK blog! Each Monday, I will post a new video and introduce you to a new member of the K¹² team who will share with you some of the things going on here.
This week, Marketing Director James Dale sat down with me to talk about the online High School xPos that are kicking off this week. These online sessions are open to all--both current K¹² families with a student going into the 9th grade, as well as families new to K¹² who want to see what our high school program, and virtual education in general, is all about.
Last year at a professional development seminar, I was asked to train teachers in using a new type of software. The software took our online lessons and made them into video or mp3 files. As I explained how to use this software, I was asked questions about technology that I could not answer. I realized that teaching about video and .mp3 files when I don’t personally own an .mp3 player, or even a cell phone, was problematic. I don’t think I’ve ever said “I don’t know” so much in an instructional setting before in my life. I really needed more experiences to better relate to my target audience.
Have you seen the video titled "Did You Know?" It's been around for a while, but I started thinking about it again recently, because it really has some valuable messages about the world population, technology, and education in the future. The concept that really struck home with me is that,
“the top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010 didn’t exist in 2004… We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist… Using technologies that haven’t been invented… In order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”
What a daunting task educators and parents have in such a quickly changing world!
In my mind, the best way to prepare students and children to solve problems that don’t yet exist is to help them gain the knowledge that is needed, teach some problem solving strategies, foster critical thinking skills, and practice practice, practice. I took a good look at my teaching, my curriculum, my courses, my live sessions, personal interactions with students, and the way I teach my children at home and asked some hard questions...
Is what I’m teaching or showing going to help them to think more critically?
Do I allow them to discover?
Have I let them learn from their mistakes?
Have I let them make mistakes?
Will a particular session help my students to be better at solving problems?
Am I preparing them for a test or for the future?
Admittedly, there is some math that doesn’t directly apply to real life. Some skills students learn in many subjects do not directly correlate to problem solving, critical thinking or their future jobs. It is also true that many of the seemingly unimportant lessons are a foundation for learning the content that does directly apply to life. It is also true that learning something challenging to the point of mastery will help students to develop the tenacity, thinking, and drive that will be a great asset in solving the problems of the future.
Check out the video and let me know what you think.
A large number of the students who come to cyber schools are coming because they are looking for a way to be more successful in school. It makes sense that if they were finding success and thriving in a traditional school they would probably not look for another educational option. For some people, a challenge to being successful may come in the form of a learning disability. For others, it can be a physical challenge. And for many people, it comes as both. As I have never had a physical or learning disability, it is impossible for me to fully understand what they have to go through to get through their day--not to mention learn challenging content. Although I have not personally gone through their struggles, I have a very good friend, Alex, who inspires me and helps me better understand what it means to overcome challenges.
I have shared this video of Alex with students and teachers in hopes that we can gain from his determination a drive of our own to never let challenges get in our way.
To get this video uploaded and the blog posted, I had to overcome some challenges with editing, copyrights of music and successfully escaping the house with our family video camera without having my wife find out that I intended to take it skiing with me. Due to some of these challenges, this ski video blog is being sent out right when the weather is starting to get a little nicer in my area of the world. Sorry for sending a snowy video now, but I didn’t want to wait until next winter to share this inspiring example with you.
When I was teaching in a regular "brick and mortar" school, I liked the lesson about Probability because it always talks about dice or numbered cubes, coins and cards. One of the reasons I like this lesson is because the lesson demands that teachers use manipulatives. I would bring in my Rubik’s cube, and we could roll it and change it and learn about theoretical and experimental probability. When I first started working in an online school I put my Rubik’s cube on the shelf as I was not in the classroom with the students anymore.
After a year of teaching, I saw a video by another K¹² teacher, Chad Donohue, where he taught a fun lesson to students. At that point, the wheels in my head started turning, and I dusted off old Rubik and went to work. I was able to not only teach a concept, but also show it to students all across the State and it has even been shared with teachers across the country. This video has now been viewed in Canada, England, Germany, Sweden, Australia, the Philippines and other countries across the world. This is one of the reasons I love working as an online teacher. I can take the fun I had in the classroom and share that fun way of learning across the world.
Submitted by Ben Blair on Fri, 05/14/2010 - 11:07am
I thought this video on the NYC Innovation Zone was inspiring. It’s about City Poly in NYC (http://www.nycizone.org/city-poly.html )—a hybrid school that uses PowerspeaK¹² courses. I love hearing the perspective of Chris Aguirre (the principal), Allegra Felter (the language facilitator), and students of this innovative model. I think you would be hard pressed to find more enthusiastic educators and students. And, I may be biased, but I think this video showcases quite a compelling online language program. What do you think?
When I was doing my student teaching in Wilkes-Barre, a teacher related her experience to me about a prep session for a state test. The students were gathered to take the test, and one question seemed to stump them completely. They were supposed to write a narrative piece about life on a farm. For many of the students, their exposure to farm life was limited to Old MacDonald’s Farm.
I thought of that as I made a math video or two about my chickens. I thought that I would be getting the most responses from students who lived or worked on farms, but I was dead wrong. The students who lived on farms didn’t think my four-hen “farm” should even qualify as an actual farm, and the students from the cities were very excited to see chickens in action. The biggest let down was that the chickens stole the show and nobody asked me about the math.
Either way, I saw an important principle through the responses to these videos. That is to make the resources available to everyone and let them choose which ones they like and use according to their preferences and individual needs.
The lesson I learned—that I think all teachers should learn—is that there is tremendous value in providing differentiation of instruction.
As a teacher, I have had students, and sometimes parents, tell me that they will never use Algebra. In all my attempts to explain why they will need it I forgot something very important:
I’m a math teacher, I have to say you’ll need math!
It’s like a mom telling her child that he or she is cute, or an insurance salesman telling you that you should get more coverage.
In an attempt to try to have someone else tell my students that what I’m saying is true, I hit the road armed with a video camera and two questions: “What do you do?” and “How do you use Math in your Job?”
The resulting conversations that I had with folks showed that—even more than I previously thought—there is a huge requirement for at least a high school math education. This video is different from anything else I have ever done, not only because you don’t see me in the video, but also because it answers a question that has probably been posed by hundreds of thousands of students across this country and around the world. I feel that this is a message that all high school students should have: Your education is important, and you will use it.