Math Stories or “There’s More Than One Way to Solve a Problem”

Maybe I have been watching a little too much TV with G,  my 4 year old, but I am absolutely LOVING Peg + Cat on PBS. It is the perfect mix of math concepts, problem solving strategies, songs, stories, and all around silliness. All of this stuffed into a cute little girl named Peg and her “AMAZZZINNNNGGG”, talking pet cat. One of the best parts of the show is when they finish every challenge with this song…

I am so inspired by all that G is learning from Peg and Cat that I thought I might share some Math inspiration for your kiddos in your classrooms. The Three Acts Of A Mathematical Story from Dan Myer is very similar to Peg+Cat in that teachers create a story built around real-life math.

Here’s the idea :

  • Act 1 – “Introduce the central conflict of your story/task clearly, visually, viscerally, using as few words as possible.” (check his site for examples)
  • Act 2 – “The protagonist/student overcomes obstacles, looks for resources, and develops new tools.”
  • Act 3 – “Resolve the conflict and set up a sequel/extension.”

Here is an Example - The Slow Forty

(eMINTS teachers….seeing any connections to the Instructional Procedures unit expectation?)

Check out Dan’s Three Act Math Tasks Spreadsheet and his 3-part blog series with videos and instructions.

This blog post is from 2011, but Dan is not a one hit wonder. I encourage you to explore his recent blog posts and see what he’s been up to….hint hint – he is quite an active presenter and does so much more than Three-Act Math Stories.

Brooke Higgins, occasional blogger, is an eIS for the eMINTS National Center working with eMINTS teachers, trainers, and administrators. All of her posts, including this one, can be found at The Higgins Helps blog.

Comedians and Life Lesson’s

Life lessons and aha moments come at unexpected times. Yesterday, as I ate lunch, I watched the first episode in Jerry Seinfeld’s newest project called Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. I loved the Seinfeld show and continue to try and see Jerry Seinfeld in action.

Click image for source.

Click image for source.

The gist of this new show is that Jerry selects a car based on his “guest”, picks them up, they travel around catching up, and eventually stop for coffee. In this episode, he was catching up with his Seinfeld show friend, Michael Richards. As I listened, they began talking about the success of the show and their craft. At that point in the conversation Michael started to cut himself down saying he studied too hard and should have been more relaxed about preparing. He implied that others had fun and he didn’t because he felt that preparing took so much practice. Immediately, Jerry stopped him and said, “I don’t accept the judging of process.” He continued by stating, “we are all trying to get to the same island.” He then finished with, “what matters is when the red light comes on” … “our job is to make sure they enjoy it”. Jerry and Michael go on to talk about how it’s about working selflessly not selfishly and the importance in remembering that.

That is teaching in a nutshell…selfless not selfish. Our goal, as teachers, is to leave kids in a better place than when we get them. Each teacher has to prepare in the way that makes him or her feel ready to “perform”, to put on the best show possible. As I have reflected back on what I heard them say, I have wondered…in what ways might we support our-self and others in doing just that? And more importantly, how can we build each other up and not tear each other down with judgment as we all work to achieve that same goal? How can we be a positive influence and not a negative influence?

What I choose to take from this conversation is this: we each have to do what we feel we have to do to prepare, we must respect that in ourselves and others, and we must presume positive intentions of others, because we all have the same audience and the same goal. That audience, those kids, deserve our very best. Parents, communities, and the world are depending on us. We are all here for the same reason doing what we can. As Maya Angelou said, “When we know better we do better.” We are all doing best we know how.

So as many of you, my friends, go back to begin a new year with students, my hope is that you take care of yourself, you take care of each other, and give the kids the best experience possible. Make sure they enjoy the journey you get to share with them.

*Coincidentally, I heard about Comedians in Cars Having Coffee on NPR as I drove home from some class visits last spring, and yes, it took me this long to get back to it. I will be watching the rest of the episodes. Who knows what else I might learn.

Brooke Higgins, occasional blogger, is an eIS for the eMINTS National Center working with eMINTS teachers. All of her posts, including this one, can be found at The Higgins Helps blog.

Minecraft in the Classroom: A Real-world Example

You may have seen the above video floating around from the PBS Idea Channel, posing the question of whether the video game Minecraft is the “Ultimate Education tool“. With over 200,000 views and over 6500 likes, it got me wondering how many of these viewers have actually seen Minecraft being used in the classroom? Before last week, I hadn’t — which made a recent opportunity even more exciting.  Part of our e-Learning for Educators team was invited to visit a local elementary school to see how they’ve been using Minecraft — and what I saw was pretty inspiring.

To give you an idea of what it is like to play Minecraft, it has been described as “first person legos” mixed with “The Sims” (and maybe with a few other games thrown in). The game is considered a “sandbox” game with an open world, giving players a large amount of freedom when it comes to playing the game.  In the standard version of Minecraft, there are four different modes to the game: survival, creative, adventure, and hardcore. While not all of the modes of the standard version are ideal for educational use, there is an educational version of the game called MinecraftEdu that was created for teachers by teachers.

During our visit, we observed a second grade class using the standard Minecraft‘s “creative mode” to collaboratively build an interactive world. The students were divided into four groups, with each group being assigned a time period to create within Minecraft together — but each at their own computer. When creating their worlds, they had to think about what to include and what to build, making sure to justify why they included what they did.

Students can leave signs for other players.

Players have the ability to leave signs throughout their worlds. In this project, students used signs to ask questions or to clarify what they were building.

Here’s a little rundown of the time periods and what I saw:

  • 1850: I learned from a couple students that they were currently reading the Little House on the Prairie books, which I believe was the inspiration for this time period. This world was complete with a dry goods store, pigs (and other farm animals) and other period appropriate creations. One student in this group was building a “dugout” house and confidently explained to me what it was and why it was there! :)
  • 1950: The school we visited was built around1950, so students had to think about how their city was different in 1950. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see much of this time period.
  • 2013: Students had to recreate Columbia in the present. I was given a “tour” of the school as it is today (in Minecraft, of course) and the local grocery store (I think it was a Gerbes). I believe I even spotted the local mall!
  • Future: I didn’t get an exact date for this time period, but I think it may have been  around 50 years in the future. According to their teacher, this was the time period the students had the hardest time with. I did see buildings equipped with “solar panels” (while Minecraft doesn’t have solar panels yet within the game, they designated materials to stand in for solar panels) and other evidence of a future of renewable energy, giving you an idea of how this project is getting their mental wheels turning.
future

Future: The glass ceiling of this building was meant to represent solar panels.

Watching the engagement in this classroom was amazing — the students enjoyed what they were doing and, based on my conversations with them, they were definitely practicing some higher-level thinking. This doesn’t mean there were no hitches. At times, it seemed difficult to get them to stop building in their worlds. Despite these minor issues, I could really see the future of this software having a place in education. While I’m not sure about it being the “ultimate tool”, Minecraft is proving to be a unique and rewarding addition to the classroom.

This is just one way of how Minecraft is being used with students. Check out MinecraftEdu‘s Real-world Example page to see more great ways this software is already being used in the classroom.

What are your thoughts on Minecraft as the “Ultimate Education Tool”? In what ways do you see yourself using Minecraft with your students?

[This post was provided by Zoë Hyatt, an instructional developer for the eMINTS National Center and eLearning for Educators.]

If Something Bores You, Dig Deeper

I caught a bit of inspiration at the tail end of the following TEDEd video, “The Wacky History of Cell Theory.”

The video conclude with the following quote:

If something bores you, dig deeper. It’s probably got a really weird story behind it somewhere.

Of course, as professionals who have chosen to teach our favorite subject(s), little about these subjects bore us. However, that doesn’t often apply to our students. Many topics bore them. While the message in the video could apply to students taking some initiative to dig deeper for those “weird” stories behind “boring” content, the responsibility also lies with teachers to find and share these stories.

Storytelling is vastly overlooked in a standards-driven educational environment. However, just because standards and curriculum direct what we should teach it doesn’t mean that we can’t find new and interesting ways to deliver said content. Imagine how much more engaged students would be if there were stories like the one above for every content strand and state standard.

Maybe some of our work or even casual reading choices this summer could be re-purposed for digging up these stories. Let’s find ways to tell the stories behind the topics that bore our students most. Better yet, let’s have our students dig up these stories and tell each other.

The key is to remember that all the content we cover in school has an interesting story or collection of stories behind it. This is what connects this content to the real world. Knowing that an idea learned in school has a story involving real people with common obstacles makes that content even more authentic in its origins. Plus, a really engaging story can be something to which students can connect.

How have you used storytelling to further your students’ understanding of a topic? Which topics lend themselves best to storytelling? In what ways could you imagine storytelling helping your students understand various concepts?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger with the eMINTS National Center.

Networks in Teaching & Learning

The “Networked” in Networked Teaching & Learning was a purposeful choice. Not only does it represent the “N” in eMINTS (enhancing Missouri’s Instructional Networked Teaching Strategies), but the idea of networked teaching and learning is a contemporary one that has many applications outside of education.

Most educators see the networked teacher as one who uses modern technology and Web 2.0 skills. However, to truly be networked, one has to think beyond a Twitter account or a classroom web page. The networked era of education is more than just the tools we use.

Networked Teacher Diagram - Update

Networks or networking are new ways to look at the organization of knowledge. Topics or don’t simply connect or lead to just one other topic or set of topics. Ideas, things, and phenomena connect to multiple topics, creating a complex system more closely resembling a web than a tree.

For those of you steeped in theory as you take graduate courses, the idea of networks is a familiar one. No longer are things or ideas divided into dichotomous keys. Now we look at our world through a networked lens. Let’s have Manuel Lima explain…

How does this apply to schooling? On a very basic level, we have to look at our traditional structure of dividing disciplines into separate classes. A networked approach would result in interdisciplinary lessons that would incorporate multiple perspectives on one problem or issue instead of continuing to work on individual islands within traditional constraints. The same can be said for exploring the networks between grade levels, genres, schools, sectors, etc.

Recognizing networks allows us to see the real-world applications of what we do in school and to make those connections available for our students to discover. When students discover those networked connections, they begin to see the real world value in what they learn at school. In other words, authentic learning happens in the network.

How do you use a networked approach to better relate content to your students? How does networking knowledge alter your perspective on teaching and learning? How does technology make networked teaching and learning possible?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger for the eMINTS National Center.

How We Make Meaning

How does this baby learn about his world? For the most part, this child is constructing his own meanings and ideas about how things work. While some of the parental guidance has been edited out of the video, there’s still four hours of footage (condensed into two minutes) of a baby simply exploring his world and making sense of it all.

Why can’t this be the same approach we take with students? Students can explore, inquire, and investigate the world around them in order to create their own meaning just as this baby is doing in the video. Of course, there are key elements that make this exploration possible.

The baby has some limitations. There is a limitation of space where the baby is learning. He is generally contained in this one room, not permitted to roam throughout the house. Part of this limitation is due to his lack of mobility, but it’s a limitation nonetheless. Similar limitations can be set for student inquiries. Identifying essential, guiding, and content questions can help with focusing the inquiry. Also, hooking them with engaging examples of the phenomena to be studies will provide parameters.

Another thing the baby has that encourages his inquiry is the ample supply and variety of resources. No matter where the baby turns or what he decides to do, there are toys (or sometimes other household objects) with which he can experiment. Providing resources can be challenge for cash-strapped schools, but the internet more than makes up for these shortcomings in the form of limitless literature, multimedia, and simulations.

Finally, the baby’s inquiry goes so well because there is a skilled, caring adult providing an opportunity to actively explore his world. Much of the child’s interaction with adults has been edited out, but one can tell by the way toys have been laid out and the simple fact that his entire play session has been recorded that this baby has adults who are looking out for his well-being. The same can be said for students with teachers who care enough about their learning that they sacrifice their time and financial gain in order to help their students grow intellectually.

With these support systems in place, students, like the baby in the video, will succeed in their efforts to inquire about the inner-workings of their world. Of course, this inquiry can’t take place in an environment that is too restrictive or encourages passivity. Structure, access to resources, and caring and thoughtful facilitation are musts for inquiry to succeed.

What lessons about learning do you glean from the above video? How might these lessons inform your teaching? What can you do better in providing opportunities of inquiry for your students?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger with the eMINTS National Center. A special hat tip is given to eMINTS staff members Carla Chaffin and Carmen Marty for pointing out this video in connection with inquiry.

Caine’s Arcade

The following video made the rounds this week. It’s the inspiring story of young Caine who builds his own arcade out of cardboard and other spare parts as a way to pass the time. A filmmaker discovers Caine’s arcade and decides to organize a flash mob, filming the whole thing as they go.

What’s interesting is the amount of ingenuity this boy demonstrates in building his arcade. Creativity, problem-solving, persistence, attention to detail, among other skills were developed as Caine realized his vision.

Caine didn’t learn how to build his own arcade in school. He used tools he already had within him to think outside the box, so to speak. We can only hope that his teachers also see the potential in Caine by encouraging and supporting his creativity.

Let this video be an inspiration as you try to find ways to support your own students’ creativity. Maybe they won’t create an arcade, but they may build a model of a city, write a song, or take on some other creative endeavor that allows them to realize their potential and opens the possibility for their dreams to come true.

What message do you pull from this video? How have you allowed your students’ creativity to shine through? When have you had to make due with the materials around you in order to make something great?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger for the eMINTS National Center.

Stop Motion Animation Made Easy – Part 1

Click for source.

Have you ever watched a movie like Wallace and Grommit  or The Nightmare Before Christmas or even films like Toy Story or Up and wished that you were good enough to do that? Have you ever marveled in amazement in what it takes to animate and the frames and frames of footage that have to be created and put in place to produce even one minute of video. The intricacies of this kind of project have to be mind-boggling, right?

Well, I’ve got good news! Animation and creating animated projects is easier that one might think. In fact, not only is it easy to do for one person….but better yet, it’s even easier if you use a team approach with interdependent roles! In fact, it is proving to be, in our district, one of the most engaging ways for students to create a culminating project. They can create movies fast and they love it so much they can’t STOP!!

Stop-motion animation is essentially collecting a series of photographs and rendering them together at a rate of anywhere from 8 frames a second to 30 frames a second. Thanks to some amazing web 2.0 tools, kids (even our youngest) can do this with ease.

At the most basic level, for stop-motion animation projects to be created, you need a storyboard/script, camera, some props, and software that “sticks” all the photographs together. If you are using a PC, a good option is Jellycam. Jellycam has a quick and simple tutorial that will walk a learner through the specifics of the software in just a couple of minutes. It allows the user to easily capture and manipulate the pictures taken with a web cam within the program. Users determine how many images per second and can play back the video as it is being created. It also allows for adding credits and music within the software. JellyCam is a completely free download.

Creating a stop-motion animation project can also be easily created on an iPad2. One favorite App for doing this is StoMo. In this App, you capture images directly into your iPad using the capture button. You can set the rate of pictures being seen per second, arrange and re-arrange the images captured, playback projects as you work on them and use either the front or rear camera. When you export the project to the library, the images are rendered together and the “film” is put in the iPhotos library to be viewed. StoMo does not allow users to add music, voice over, or text to the film but once a project is finished it can be exported to iMovie, Moviemaker, or some other movie editing software to add music, voice over, or text.

Click for source.

Both of these applications have a key feature that is critical for stop motion creators – onion skinning. If you think about the skin of an onion, it is somewhat transparent. In stop-motion animation it is critical to be able to see the last image taken and be able to compare it to the one about to be taken. Onion skinning allows for the creator to move objects in the films as much or little as desired. Another classroom benefit of onion skinning allows for students, who’s “filming” schedule is often interrupted by the bell, to come back the next day and pick up where left off. They can see the last image captured and begin from there on a new day.

As a teacher, the best part of stop-motion animation projects is that the students REALLY need each other to complete a quality project quickly! In a group of four students each has a vital role. One person serves as the project manager, or director of the project. That person focuses on the vision and directs the project as it progresses. One person needs to focus completely on the software. That person knows exactly how the software works, captures images, and keeps the program running. The other two members of a group are moving manipulatives (characters and props) to create the animated sequences. It takes everyone in the group doing their parts to be successful.

Check out some examples of student stop-motion animation projects below and start planning a project for your students. Stay tuned for the next Stop Motion Animation installment sharing more classroom examples, how-to’s, tips, and resources for classroom stop motion projects.

How might your students express what they have learned with a stop motion animation project in your classroom?

Allison Byford is the Instructional Technology Coordinator with the Springdale Public Schools in Arkansas and is an eMINTS PD4ETS graduate.

Introducing TED-Ed: Lessons worth sharing

With the success of sites such as the Khan Academy and the plethora of university lectures available online, teachers and students are on the lookout for the best in classroom lessons accessible throughout the internet. Now, the leading online lecture series, TED, has created a YouTube channel of the best teachers giving the best lectures one will find anywhere. To amplify these lectures, TED is recruiting inventive animators to bring the talks to life.

Check out their promotional video. There are links at the end of the presentation to nominate an educator, suggest a lesson, or nominate an animator. Watch…

TED-Ed‘s description for the series:

TED-Ed’s mission is to capture and amplify the voices of great educators around the world. We do this by pairing extraordinary educators with talented animators to produce a new library of curiosity-igniting videos.

The collection is just starting to accumulate topics, but some impressive talks are already available. Categories currently available include Awesome Nature, How Things Work, Playing with Language, Questions No One (Yet) Knows the Answers To, and Inventions that Shaped History. The cross-curricular nature of the videos are a great starting point for any teacher looking to design an interdisciplinary unit.

Of course, one could always submit their own lecture for the series at TED-Ed’s website. TED sends a kit for recording your lesson. Animators then make the lesson come to life. The result, as one can see from the videos already available, are pretty engaging, even entertaining.

How do you see the TED-Ed video series fitting in with your teaching? Which topics would you like to see in the series? How are these videos more useful to teachers than the normal TED talk series?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger for the eMINTS National Center.

Friday 4ALL: Looking Backward to Build the Future

One-room schoolhouse

Click for source.

Besides my daily duties as an eMINTS Instructional Specialist (eIS), I have hobbies and interests outside education. It’s a rare day when one of these interests actually intersects my work. One such hobby that has crossed my work desk has to do with my interest in craft beer. Yes, that’s correct. I’m trying to make a connection with beer and education.

Before you skip this blog post, hear me out.

Below is a TED talk from craft brewer Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Brewery. Caligione, besides founding one of the most inventive breweries in craft beer, is an accomplished writer and industry advocate. He’s a self-made success, something we all hope for our students. His talk focuses on the idea of looking backward to build the future. Watch the video (20 minutes) and scroll below to see how I’ll relate this to education.

Basically, what I’m getting at is that we can find many solutions to current issues in education by looking backward. As Caligione explains, he had to look back and then look back even further to find a model that spelled success for him and Dogfish Head. Consider the following ways we can look backward to build the future:

  • When classrooms were more teacher-centered, direct instruction was used with more frequency. Direct instruction is still an important approach when a specific process must be used to complete a task.
  • In the one-room schoolhouses of yesteryear, learning was a community effort. Older students helped younger students to the point that these students often grew into their own teaching positions. How can older or more capable students help those who struggle?
  • Many children would learn their trade working as an apprentice to a skilled craftsman. Are there ways we can creat apprenticeships for our students or find them mentors to help guide them in meeting their goals?
  • Since the beginning of time, people have learned by doing, experimenting. Finding a way to feed off this natural inclination we have to learn by doing could be the key to new understandings among our students.

All of the answers to our educational quandaries are not always found in new approaches. Sometimes, we have to look back to move forward. How have you looked to the past in order to build for the future with your students?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center and is an avid craft beer enthusiast and home-brewer.