Thursday, March 29, 2012

Katie Salen

Katie Salen is a professor at DePaul in Design, and director of the non-profit Institute of Play, which runs two public game-centered schools in Chicago and New York called Quest to Learn. I have a fantasy of getting to work with these schools at some point, or being part of a similar project here.

She spoke this year at SXSW in Austin, and they put up the audio of her presentation. I was so interested and engaged I started taking notes. That led me to do some rewinding (so to speak) to get some of it right and listen with intent.  Finally I decided to share them, in the hopes that it might support others in going to listen to the talk. If you're interested in applying lessons from other areas to teaching, this is for you. You do not have to be interested in games to get a lot out of her talk.

I was not so focused on whom she was quoting and missed some of the companies or games they made. Sorry!

Notes:  Dr. Salen says...
Make learning irresistible now.
  • Not about preparation for the future
  • Not about efficiency and productivity of education (i.e. teaching more kids more quickly or for less money)
  • About engagement, present potential of people including children.
Play is rooted in the now.

Design principles: the idea is to take theory to forge design principles that synthesize and apply the theory.

Sometimes listening to a presentation, there’s a single sentence as a takeaway that helps. As she has listened to game designers, she's noted 'what do game designers think about that resonates with design for learning.' (This talk is her overview of the best takeaways she's found.)
  • how to engage people
  • structure for challenge, motivation, feedback, and to incentivize

Portal: Trying to move someone through a level, to hit the beats. There was an early level that players couldn’t get through. They can’t see the door directly in front of them, if there’s too much drama.  What they learned was “Don’t shoot the player while they’re learning.” Create a safe-space when people are trying to learn.

Shift from design for learning to design for engagement.

Little Big Planet: created a badge for building levels so players built spam levels. Never incentivize things you expect players to do. Instead incentivize the unexpected and original.

Failure: practice as repeated failure. Musicians know bad practice and good practice. Take the thing you’re failing at, and keep hammering at it. Make it hard for yourself. This turns failure into a positive act of creativity. You make decisions about the things you need to fail at vs. failure as a thing to avoid at all costs.  So start with state standards, but design classroom experiences that do not look like taking tests.

Media Molecule: in the original Little Big Planet there were not enough tutorials, because of the push to publish. But players chipped in. Now for Little Big Planet 2 they intentionally left space for contribution. They expected codesign. Supported it by having the “Elite Creators Group” in Little Big Planet 2 who designed great levels, but also tutorials at the same time. Leaving a gap. Applying to teaching, consider what can young people teach each other? Value peer to peer exchange. Design community. It’s not the product, that’s their material. If social interaction matters, you have to design the community for interaction. What do cemetery rows of desks support? Communication of one to many.

Valve: developing levels and puzzles, and how they are playtested. Single player puzzles were designable, but they couldn’t make the collaborative puzzles hard enough. Fundamentally different design problem. Most challenges today in classroom only deal with individual problem solving, fueled by individual assessments. Assessment people can’t solve the free rider problem, how do you know someone is not participating and letting others solve the problems. So they make assessments individual, secretive affairs.

LBP: share, communicate and collaborate is opposed to the idea of sorting and classifying, which is common in school, primarily because of assessment.  The problems in design for community belong to design for interaction. (In general she kept referring to the design space for x belonging to the design space for y. I want to think some more about how this applies to teaching teachers, and how common teacher problems generalize.)

Design Principles
1)    Create a need to know. (Games do this well.)
2)    Create a need to share. (Opportunities and need.)
3)    Create an infrastructure to enable sharing. (Designing mechanics.)

There were several comments that relate to assessment:
  • Valve: new feature allowing players to playtest each other’s levels. Game design isn’t theoretical, you have to build it and try it. Whole curricula are designed and distributed before testing.
  • John Beech: value of feedback to the designer. “A computer can’t say if art is amazing.”
  • Games are rich data spaces. The danger of moving to stat-driven models is focusing on what machines are good at assessing.
Alex: bias towards and emphasis on jamming. Jamming is a common game-design culture, but less common in education. Put in constraints. The original LBP had infinite depth, but the final version only had 3 levels, because the restriction pushed designers. Game designers understand the importance of rules. Rules are so natural they are unseen, or they push the players to develop excellence. Might go from a lot of rules to less; constraining how many things are possible. This increases challenge, laying the groundwork for jamming. (A problem worth solving. Lord knows that in education we have plenty of these.)

Some games work on the 3 Pass Rule for learning outcomes for players:
1)    Learning one thing.
2)    Practicing that thing and learning another.
3)    Synthesizing what you’ve learned.

Are schools putting in constraints that push creativity or shut students down?

Design for collaboration is linked to design for play. Students feel imaginative, are hard working and collaborative. We want them thriving now, not being prepared to thrive.

Lonely Planet: Empowerment. Giving people the ability to make something. I remember making my first computer game in Basic on my first computer. Made copies and sold them at the playground for 1 lb a piece. That feeling for me is what I mean by empowerment.

Not about stuffing content in games, or games as a substitute for textbooks, but that feeling.

Takeaways. These are here big points gleaned from all these game designers.
1)    Design for friendliness. Environments that are well and healthy. Interactions are reciprocal and positive. This doesn’t mean they are noncompetitive. (Starcraft 2)
2)    Enable good practice. Students are skilled at finding out what’s on the test, which
3)    Qualitative feedback.
4)    Keep challenge constant.
5)    Make sharing a gift.
6)    Minding the gap. Design opportunities with holes that give students opportunities to fill the gap. Don’t make gaps around the wrong things.
7)    Don’t shoot the player while they’re learning.

In the questions and comments, two particularly education relevant points were raised.
  • This is what Dewey was advocating at turn of the 20th century without the infrastructure to make it realizable.
  • Higher ed? Grad school has a lot of these features. Baccalaureate? Not so much.
Just having listened to this, it came up multiple times in response to an observation today. Some of the ideas are powerful, especially as relate to engagement. I encourage all teachers to give it a listen, as your students love the games these designers have made. But if you are also a fan of games or game design, or game use in education, it becomes a must listen.

Need video to pique your interest? Here's a couple year old clip of Dr. Salen from Edutopia.

Photo credits: Portal - hunterseekerhk, Sack Boy - Simon Owen Design, StarCraft - Kim Pierro; from Flickr.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

GeoGebra Stars is one of the great things about GeoGebra 4. Easy to store your sketches, distribute to students, access from anywhere, etc. It's searchable like YouTube, and has been an amazing resource for getting teachers started with the program. They can find what is useful to them, rather than feel like they have to be able to make it themselves. But they see enough to help them want to be able to do it for themselves. Here's a short list of recommended sketches from a recent group of beginners. (Here's our current Intro to GeoGebra workshop, which has a Guide to Getting Around GeoGebraTube. If you're in driving distance, I give that workshop for free.)

But one of the things I love about it is that sketches have a link to the author's profile, which is really just a list of all the sketches they have uploaded.  So I thought I'd introduce you to my favorite authors. These guys are not doing things for beginners to emulate (in most cases) but do showcase the possibilities of the program. I'd be very interested in knowing your favorite GeoGebra authors. The linked name goes to their GeoGebra profile

Daniel Mentrard - extremely prolific. Has a website, too. (French) Investigates neat problems and seems to push the limits of the program.
Starter sketch: Check out his Polar Coordinates game.

Anthony Or - so creative. Has a YouTube channel and is on twitter. Seems to design for curricular use and has very practical sketches for student use, in English and Chinese.
Starter sketch: one of his neat dissections.

yuri1969 - creates a wide variety of sketches, mostly in Polish. (I think.) But useable for many because math is such a universal language, of course.
Starter sketch: Balance, also his neat 3D models.

Micky Bullock - relatively new to me, with an awesome sense of design. Has a website and is on twitter. Attacks very cool problems.
Starter sketch: ultimate projectiles applet.

The problem with any list like this is that you leave off so many worthy names. I love work by Dan Anderson, Guillermo Bautista, Nicholas Erdich, David Obrador, Dave Radcliffe, and more. I wish benice and Marc Renault shared on the tube - both are amazing.  Please leave any suggestions you have for GeoGebra authors in the comments - I probably have just not found them yet!  For completeness, I guess I can link my profile. I'm not in these guys' class, but I do take requests!

Saturday, March 17, 2012


While I'm less intentional about literally following the cycle around multiple times with our preservice Teacher Assistants, the teaching-learning cycle is still formative to how I think about teaching about teaching.

This past week we were focusing on instruction. We started by skimming two of my favorite Carol Ann Tomlinson articles on differentiation. (Instructor hope: they will read more when they have time.)

Then came the videos. We watched five bits of video on instruction as discussion fodder, and to think about just what instruction is. (I've been thinking a lot about this lately, too, spurred on by Dave Coffey as he thinks about renaming the instruction phase on the cycle.)

Week 10 Agenda

Objective: TLW synthesize thoughts and observations on instruction.

15 Skim Differentiation Articles

  • "Grading and Differentiation: Paradox or Good Practice," Carol Ann Tomlinson, Theory Into Practice, 44(3), 262-269
  • "Reconcilable Differences? Standards-Based Teaching and Differentiation," Carol Ann Tomlinson,  Educational Leadership, September 2000

60 Instruction: watch (or watch parts)
The famous geometry lesson from The Teaching Gap. I always feel bad showing it, because it is awful, but the teacher seems like a nice fellow that I would like, and very well intentioned.  
The first five minutes is plenty, although there is a spectacular bit in minutes 37 and 38 where he tries to give a hint.

Preservice teachers noticed a lot of things that they wanted to avoid, but also acknowledged how familiar this looks. And recognized this in their own practices.
One of the many excellent videos available from Annenberg's  Teachers responded positively to this video, found things to emulate, and particularly like his connections and his use of manipulatives.

Fisher and Frey are the authors (or popularizers) of the Gradual Release of Responsibility framework, which is very constructive.The TA response to this video was surprising to me. They like a lot of the lesson design and teacher practice here, especially the thought behind the poster project, but found the teacher off-putting and disengaging. Possibly because she's mellow? (Definitely be interested in your thoughts in the comments.)

Caution: not sure of what to warn you, but watch out. OK? You've been warned.

Wow! This evokes a huge reaction from any audience. I admire it for being the logical extreme of the direction in which they are going. PST are torn between the "obvious engagement" of the students and the obvious fact that they're being trained "like dogs." Interesting because they see many things that they like but it's in a context that they hate. And an excellent point for discussing the difference betweeen obedience and engagement.

This came the closest to how the students thought of themselves as teachers. They liked the way she used manipulatives and made connections to multiple representations, but also thought about the transition away from the manipulative.

The discussion was really cooking. But I had wanted to do a sample 3 act lesson also... they were really synthesizing, making connections... keep with the discussion.

OMITTED: 30 3-Act: A ticket to ride

During the discussion one of the TAs mentioned the idea of "well, I wouldn't want to be that teacher, but..." which prompted me asking them that about all the teachers.  After we had discussed a lot, I asked them to try and make a whole class concept map for instruction. Guided by the question, how can these radically different things we watched all fall under the category 'instruction'  In particular, I asked them to think about criteria that we used to evaluate instruction, features that we use to describe instruction, beliefs and questions they have about it. This is what they assembled: (click for full size)

5 Class Concerns (That's when we discuss what's to do the following week and clear up any remaining questions.) I asked for some quick, informal feedback from them about the lesson, and the mean and median were 4 fingers (out of 5) for usefulness.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Mr Slope Guy

OK. I was mildly obsessed over meeting Mr Slope Guy for the first time.

I was observing two novice teachers, and they were using Mr Slope Guy as a mnemonic for students in analyzing slope. But I think he could be fated for bigger and better adventures.  Since my son Xavier is a budding comic book artist, we put together the following (PDF of the whole comic), with some inking support from Ysabela.

The problem was whether MSG was a hero or villain, and he wound up needing to be defeated. He is a personification of algebra.

Be interested in your feedback.  Only one more thing to say: Marvel, please don't sue! Spider-man is a wholly owned trademark of Marvel, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, and starring in a major motion picture this summer.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Math Memoirs

There's one of my favorite math teaching videos up in Keith Devlin's most recent blogpost.  (Thrilled that it's now on YouTube with several other of her interviews.) It's from the wonderful Marilyn Burns, who has really done more for math education than anyone in recent decades. Her stuff was good enough to get word of mouth sharing before there was an internet. (Dan Meyer is quite reminiscent of her in several ways.) Devlin uses the video to make the point that apparent understanding is not proof. A better assessment can uncover the truth, and Burns is excellent at questioning to get an accurate picture.

As a novice teacher I quickly found that the students giving an answer did not tell me whether they understood or not, and I moved to asking for how they got it. It took me years, however, to get to understand that how is better, but also does not get at understanding. It's their thinking that I want to hear. Then I should ask for it! Unfortunately, even spoiled university teachers don't have time to sit down and interview students over all of our major objectives. I can, however, ask questions to which I really

Dave Coffey found this excellent solution by Carl Barnard, a high school student, to the painted cube problem that crossed the line to be a memoir. We often introduce the idea of a memoir by having our students read it and comment on it. (Here's my most recent version of the workshop; Dave was almost certainly the original writer of it.) It's a start to learning how to communicate your thinking. While it's important and beneficial for any math student to do this, it is unbelievably crucial for math teachers, and a big part of pedagogical content knowledge to me.  Most students on end of term evaluations comment that this is an area where they grew significantly.

I wanted to experiment with what this looked like in elementary school, so I asked my daughter to give it a go. These are from the summer between her 4th and 5th grade. She was a bit precocious with her writing, but had had pretty traditional math instruction. (And not interested in talking with me about to a large extent.)

Just writing the method. A first attempt at memoir. I supported with a kind of questioning framework.

She was game enough to try twice more.

This is the sort of information that I want from an assessment. I get so much more an image of what ideas she has about number and operation. And it is far more interesting reading than traditional assignments where I'm looking for what I expect or not.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Two Teacher Tech Topics

It's just a week for thinking about technology. I asked for feedback from student teachers on the effectiveness of blogging (feedback below), those same novice teachers asked for a chance to debate calculator use (and we did so), Dave Coffey and I are presenting Teacher Twitter at Michigan Association of Computer Users for Learning (MACUL) 2012 tomorrow, and when I walked in for parent teacher conferences at the middle school, a teacher and principal stopped me for a impromptu 25 min chat about calculators.  The twitter chat topic is practical wisdom for teacher use of technology. In a sideways approach, this post is about some of my use of technology.

The student teachers were polled on calculator use, 0 (calculators only when teachers specify use for specific tasks) to 10 (calculators are always assessible to learners at their own instigation and for whatever purposes.) The range was 5 to 9, perhaps not promising for debate, but two of the 9s volunteered to take a 0-1 position. They were asked to make a short 60-90 second YouTube statement on calculator use. So the video below contains 4 position pieces. The low tech guys take a bit more - but everything takes them longer, so no worries.

Afterwards, they discussed the statements, mostly spurred on by the low tech group.  Eventually, Alex brought up that what really mattered was conceptual understanding, and that this was what he really wanted to address.  My main contribution to the discussion was asking "would you really want to live in a world without crutches?" I think that most teachers who use that as a negative characterization feel like what's missing is a strategy to support the students in getting away from it. I also think that it's obvious to someone using crutches that life is better if they don't need them, we don't always make that so clear to students about life without a calculator.  I did try to make clear that there are teachers that have a different view than I do (I'm at 10 on the survey) that I respect tremendously, and all teachers' opinions on this topic are based on what they feel is best for the students.

Blogging Midterm Feedback
I ask the student teachers for one blogpost a week. They can have a literal blog or email it to me, and all but one chose a blog this semester. (Shame, as he has written some interesting things.) Here's the of all of them.  Each week I ask them to review the week, with an optional theme. After 8 weeks of writing, I asked them to email me feedback on how it is working for them. I was pleasantly surprised by the results.
  • I would say that they have not been helpful for me. I feel like I am already ALWAYS talking about what's going on in my placement to everyone. So writing in my blog seems very redundant for me.
  • I was thinking about the notions of reflection and consolidation. These types of concepts seem to be enforced in a way that is in a sense "Always On." There seems to be something that detracts from a lesson when it is not an additional component.
      Say for example a reflective learner would spend 1 hour doing a work shop and then reflect upon it for 5 minutes. When the workshop has a reflection built in, the learner spends 55 minutes on the work shop and 5 minutes of reflection. The reflection becomes locked into the lesson learned. Quantitatively there is a loss of about 7.7% time spent thinking about the subject right away. Then the closure that exercise essentially creates a psychological cue to stop thinking about the subject.
      Teaching a student to be reflective once, then allowing them to be naturally reflective will create a better lesson. This is my opinion and a reflection of my own work habits.
  • I feel that doing the blog is a good way to reflect on my teaching for the week and try to make my thoughts and feelings more concrete. I would say that it is helpful for me.
  • Overall, I think that writing the blog has been one of the most helpful things.  I do think, however, that I would be more open and honest about my opinion if I was not posting my reflections on the internet for everyone to see.
  • Blogging has been extremely beneficial to me while teacher assisting.  This helps me reflect on my, reminding me of what went well that week or what I can work on.  I have enjoyed writing my blog, and am glad I can keep a journal of my experience to look back on in the future.  Blogging is also a great way to share your journey with others. I did not think I would enjoy blogging, but it turned out that I really enjoy it and find myself blogging more than needed.
  •  I feel like it has been helpful. I've always liked the idea of blogging and writing my thoughts down, so this came natural to me. I like that it's very informal and nothing too structured. Because of that it doesn't feel like a task or an assignment to me. However, I do have to be honest in saying that the Twitter and Facebook posts seem a little much for me. I don't have access to the web on my phone and my days are often filled with school, class, or/and work, so getting to a computer just to post a tweet is a little time consuming for me each day. 

  • So before starting this class I thought for sure we would have to reflect in some way, I can see the main way we do that is through a blog.  At first I thought it was pointless and tedious and a waste of time, and frankly I didn't think anyone would ever read it.  But recently I have caught myself going back and looking at some of the past blogs I have put up.  I have begun to really see the use of them, to help reflect and give any advice to other people who may potentially read them.  I think they are a good idea and should be continued.  It is much easier than reflecting everyday, and typing is easier than handwriting as well.  Even though at times it may seem troublesome to take the time to make one I think we should continue.  If you have any other questions just let me know!
  • Initially, I really did not like writing on my blog. I thought that I could be using my time more beneficially doing other work. However, I have now realized that I would not be reflecting hardly at all if I was not required to do this blog. I think that reflection is a great thing, especially with this being our first semester teaching in a classroom. I feel like the blog is also a good way to keep you updated on what is going on in our classrooms. So, while I sometimes don't like writing on my blog, I am still glad that you require us to do it.
  • Up until this semester I have never been a journal writer, blogger, or anything of that nature.  I would never reflect on any aspect of my life and until recently would have found it pointless and a waste of time.  However, since I have been keeping this blog to reflect on my experiences I have seen how useful it can really be.  Writing in this blog has helped me to organize my thoughts with my experience in the classroom.  There is so much information being poured into me from so many different angles it's hard to keep track of it all, and blogging has really helped with that.  As well, I find that it is a great way to vent out any frustrations I have, or on the flip side, share exciting moments.  I have found that since I have been sharing my experiences I am extremely interested in others as well and find myself reading other teachers blogs for hours on end, gaining valuable insight into their classroom.  I have learned so much from keeping a blog, so yeah, it has been extremely helpful to me.
  • I think that the weekly writing has been very helpful. I have a lot of thoughts throughout the week and there are some things I want to remember and hang on to, to remind myself of later. The blog helps me organize those thoughts and really think about why I’m thinking about them and what is important. I have so many reflections and writings I have to do for my various classes, so it seems to get tedious and annoying frequently (daily reflection for/with my CT, 3+ weekly journals for 310, this writing, reflections on reading for 321 and this class etc), but I feel like I really enjoy the writing I do here. I think I really take what I write for this class seriously and use it as a way to reflect on the whole week on what I feel is important, rather than what other people want me to write about. Overall I feel that reflection is very important, however EVERY professor thinks the same and feels like we will not be doing reflections for other classes, and wants us to do some. This results in an overflow of reflections and kind of strips away the real value, leaving them as busy work rather than a chance to look back, improve, grow, change and learn.
While I believe it's useful, it's nice to hear that they think so, too. A few of the comments point at some of the reasons why it's nice for these reflections to be in a blog. A sense of permanence and sharing - although that does have its downsides as pointed out.

Friday, March 2, 2012


Greatest game ever? UNC vs Kansas and Wilt, 1957
Quick little post on one idea.  Observed two very good novice teachers today who are doing a great job at team teaching. Their focus for the observation was making math meaningful, aside from real world connections. (Focus? See Dave Coffey's account of our use of Action Plans.) In our discussion, they really focused on the processes of connections and problem solving being key to making the subject meaningful, especially with an emphasis on making sense.

Driving home from the observation today, I heard one of those short family advice radio spots. (One of the signs of advancing age is listening to talking on the radio. Mostly NPR, but today I wandered.) The speaker commented how he loves a good overtime game, almost regardless of sport. It's tense, the teams are evenly matched, the end is in doubt. These are often the most remembered games. His advice was to create similar moments in family life.  If the kids are really into something, let them stay up for another half hour.  If there's a moment happening, encourage it. (I'm not being coy here, I'd link the guy if I knew who it was.)

It didn't take me too long to connect it to the topic of the day. In dealing with slope, there was a problem about a roof. There's a chance there for a question: "why would the slope of a roof matter?" In an observation earlier this week there was deep engagement from students in an activity modeling Black Rhino population with exponential decay. The teacher asked "what could have caused this?" and the atmosphere turned on a dime.  They had done an investigation on the school staircase's the day before and a student really clicked with it. I think as teachers we often have an agenda, and are well determined on where class is going and what we've got to get done. And we miss those moments that deserve an overtime.

Do you have a story about an overtime moment that became a memorable class occasion? Two that come to mind for me are a #mathchat-inspired discussion with preservice secondary math teachers last fall, and a triangle geometry activity with preservice teachers that literally turned into overtime as students stayed 25 min past the end of class to discuss the triangles.

Bring on the Math Madness!