Monthly Archives: August 2012

What I Learned at Screencast Camp 2012

During Screencast Camp 2012, I presented as part of three sessions:

·         Technology in the College Classroom

·         The Side Effects of Technology Overload

·         Whiteboarding with Wacom

I also learned a lot at Screencast Camp.  But to hear about it, you’ll have to watch my screencast –


Matching Activity using Hot Potatoes

This week I was asked about an easy way to make an interactive activity in which students would be able to match equations with graphs or descriptions with graphs.  I knew that there had to be an easy way to do this that didn’t involve having to know anything about java or any other type of code.  My first thought was to use Sharendipity.  However, that didn’t work out because I couldn’t figure out how to build a game from scratch in which I would be able to upload my own images of graphs and equations.

After a week-long search, I remembered about a program called Hot Potatoes.  The only other time I had used this program was when I was creating an online course using Moodle in graduate school.  Moodle has Hot Potatoes integration, but the integration didn’t work the way it should have worked.  Thus, I abandoned Hot Potatoes.

However, after revisiting Hot Potatoes this week, I realized that Hot Potatoes works great as a standalone program.  Of course, this means that you need to have your own space on the web to post your interactive activities once they are done.  To this end, I recommend that you do Jing your images and embed them into Hot Potatoes using the stable URL.  This way you won’t have to store the images on your own space.

This is a link to my Sample Matching Activity that I created using Hot Potatoes.  You may also want to mess around with the settings and tweak things such as whether or not the buttons at the top of the page appear or not.  Good luck!  And if you decide to use make some Interactives of your own, I would love to see them!


Teaching the Properties of Addition

Here are some fresh off the press resources that I’ve created for teaching the properties of addition.  One of them is an infographic that I created using Piktochart (I pay for the Pro Version) and the other is a new paper-based game that I’ve affectionately called ASCII for Associative Commutative Identity Inverse.  I plan to use these resources with my Pre-algebra and with my Math for Education classes.



Download this file


Traverse City Beach Bums Baseball

While at the MCTM conference in Traverse City, MI, I went to 3-game series at Wuerfel Park between the Traverse City Beach Bums and the Windy City Thunderbolts.  Before this summer, I hadn’t even heard of the Traverse City Beach Bums.  I know, it may seem a little strange, but who really follows the Frontier League anyway?


The first night at the park, I arrived about 1-hour early because I didn’t know how crowded the parking lot would be or how long I would have to wait at the Will Call window in order to pick up my tickets.  It turns out that it really wasn’t that crowded at all and 1-hour was more than enough time to find a parking spot, pick-up my tickets, walk around, get some food, and comfortably settle into my seat before the game began.  The parking is only $2 per car, but I found out later that you can park on the driveway outside the park for free if you want to save a couple of bucks.  This game wasn’t very exciting as the Beach Bums took a very early lead and never gave up the lead.

The second night at the park, I arrived about 5 minutes early.  The crowd was significantly smaller on Wednesday than it was on Tuesday (although I thought that Tuesday’s crowd was small).  I was able to get my food and get to my seat before the middle of the first inning.  This is the night that there was a very rowdy man in the crowd that was yelling things such as, “Open your good eye when you swing the bat!”  This was also the night that the Beach Bums lost 9-6 in 11 innings.  It was a very intense game, a lot more intense than what I was expecting from a Frontier League game.

The third night at the park, I arrived about 30 minutes early.  The crowd was significantly smaller on Thursday than it was on Wednesday (the crowd got smaller and smaller as the series went on).  This is the night that I decided to take pictures of the park.  It was probably the best night to take a picture since the crowd was the smallest that night.  This game was actually very exciting because the Beach Bums won after the home team had suffered such a disappointing loss the night before.  It was also the night that the Beach Bums debuted their new starting pitcher, Kurt Wunderlich.


The food at Wuerfel Park was not the best, but it was reasonably priced. The pulled pork nachos were definitely a unique item and I would recommend them.  The popcorn was definitely stale and had a lot of kernels in the box.  The soft pretzel was not made of your typical pretzel dough, but seemed like rolled white bread that was actually kind of doughy tasting.  And there was not any cheese or toppings available for the pretzel except for the free mustard at the condiment bar.  The chicken fingers were not the best because the chicken fingers had a fishy smell to them and they were baked, which made the breading a little soggy.  The waffle fries were baked as well, but those were overdone and somewhat burnt.  I did not have the hot dogs or the burgers, but they do have a grill area along the third baseline if you want one.

Above all, my least favorite part of the entire series was the walk-up music for the Beach Bum’s first baseman, Jeff Flagg.  Every time Jeff came up to bat, I had to hear ‘Call Me Maybe,’ which could possibly be the worst song that has ever been recorded.  There are other oddities to the park as well.  They have two annoying bears as mascots, Suntan and Sunburn.  The announcer announces the game like it is a college basketball game, not like a professional baseball game.  However, at least he announces the game, unlike the announcer at Fifth Third Park where the West Michigan Whitecaps play.

In addition, they have really strange games, prizes, and promotions between innings, such as “Meal or No Meal?”  However, if you want to be chosen to play the games, you should request a seat behind the third baseline since the people were exclusively chosen from that area.  It is also the most crowded part of the park since I think that’s where they place all of the season ticket holders.  And if you want to catch a foul ball, good luck.  Most of them get hit over the clubhouse.

So, would I recommend a trip to Wuerfel Park?  Definitely.  However, the one thing I think I want to try to do next time is sit in one of the VIP Tables rather than in the chairback seating area.

Indian Mathematicians Library Fair

Since I am new at my college, I was told that it is expected that all new faculty members are on a committee.  Apparently I found out that message a little too late because when I asked if there were any committees that were still open to join, there were none except for the college’s Multicultural Initiatives committee.

I didn’t know much about this committee except for what I had heard at department meetings.  We have some faculty in the math department who are all about integrating multicultural initiatives and service learning into the classroom and we have other faculty who could care less.  I always wanted to try integrating some sort of project into my classes, but I wasn’t sure where to start.

Joining the Multicultural Initiatives committee helped to give me a different perspective and helped me to realize that we’re not in a want-to-try situation.  We are in a do-or-die situation.  Students need to have some sort of personal connect to the material and having students examine the material from a multicultural, historical, or a service learning perspective is just one of the many ways that we can help to bring the material alive for our students.  And if we don’t do everything that we can to help enlighten our students, we are actually doing our students quite a disservice.  This is how the idea of having my students create poster presentations on Indian Mathematicians for my college’s Library Fair began. 

You can see some of my student’s poster presentations by clicking on the link.

My students loved this project.  I had it structured so that students had to turn in a proposal by the end of the second week of class giving a brief biography of the Indian Mathematician that they wanted to create their poster about.  At the end of the fifth week of class, students had to give me a sketch of their poster, including at least 10 facts about the person and 5 pictures.  And about 1 week before the posters were to be put on display in the library, the students had to submit their poster so that I could grade them and pick which ones should be sent to the library for the Library Fair.  Yes, not every student’s poster made it into the library.  My process did not weed out the students who still waited until the night before the final poster was due to create anything, but having a proposal and sketch of the poster helped most of my students.

My students told me that having a face to put to mathematics helped them to appreciate the subject matter more.  They also told me that they found it interesting to read about the mathematicians that the other students had chosen to create their posters about.  I’m sure that the learning benefits and lasting impact of this project on my students went far beyond what I will ever be able to see.

What would I do differently?  Not much.  Except for the few students who simply were not able to accept the fact that I was sticking by my grading rubric with no exception, everything went very smoothly.  I’m even planning to do this project again with my students in the fall.  This time I’m coordinating with the library to have my students create posters about Russian Mathematicians.  


MCTM Conference Wrap-Up and Evaluation

This year I went to the Michigan Council of Teachers of Mathematics (MCTM) Summer Conference and Institute in Traverse City, MI.  It was my first year attending the statewide conference and my first time ever driving to Traverse City.

Overall, the conference was a good and very profitable experience.  I learned a lot from the presenters.  The sessions that I attended include:

 ·         Why People Trust Statistics

 ·         Free Algebra II Moodle Course

 ·         Parametrics: One of the calculator’s most robust and lesser used modes

I also presented during two sessions:

·         Teaching Important Concepts through the Use of Games in the Classroom

·         College Math Curriculum – It is Changing!

And I learned a lot from the vendors and exhibitors as well.  As a college instructor, sometimes I feel as if I get more from the vendors than from the presenters.  This is because I get to hear about all of the newest books, software, and products and then I can pass that information on to my Math for Education students as well.  A few of the exhibitors were generous enough to provide free products for my entire class of students for the upcoming fall semester.

The parts that I didn’t like about the conference are the following:

·         The keynote addresses should be before lunch, not after lunch.  It’s really not the best idea to feed people a big lunch and then have them sit in a very dark room to listen to a very long and very long-winded keynote address.

 ·         Do not do the keynote address via Skype.  Skype is fine for a small audience, but not for an auditorium full of people.  By the way, when Skype failed, they used a speakerphone with a microphone put up to it.  I had a splitting headache the rest of the afternoon from the feedback.

 ·         The building needs to have air conditioning.  I know that the conference is at a high school in Traverse City, MI in the middle of the summer and so air conditioning might not be an option.  But in this case, a change of location needs to be considered.

 ·         There need to be computers available to the presenters with hard-wired Internet.  I was unable to show my website with slides and resources to the participants in my session because the wireless Internet was a fail because it logged me out every time my laptop went into sleep mode.

 ·        There was not much of a sense of community built among the conference participants.  I would have liked to have seen a few conference-organized leisure activities.  Instead, we were given a list of things to do in Traverse City with little to no guidance beyond that.

Despite my laundry list of complaints, I would definitely go to the MCTM Conference again next year.

The Search for a New Learning Management System

We use ANGEL at my college and I’m not happy about it.  I bet you’re not happy with your Learning Management System (LMS), either.   I don’t need to give you my list of grievances, but I’m going to anyway:

·         When I log-in to ANGEL, there’s a ‘What’s New’ panel that shows you what is new (e.g., any new posts by students) since the last time you logged in.  This is nice, except they won’t appear in the list the next time you log-in.  What ANGEL really needs is a ‘What’s unread’ panel that lists everything that is still unread, regardless of if it is new since the last time you logged in.  Or even better, it simply needs to list all of the activity (old or not) in a panel when you log in.

·         ANGEL is not very friendly with math.  My IT department even admitted it.  They told me that the best way to do anything with math in ANGEL is to use a pre-made, publisher-provided cartridge.  The problem is that the publisher of the textbook that my college uses doesn’t have any ANGEL resources.  After explaining this to my IT department several times, I simply gave up since they insisted that if I just called the publisher, that most publishers would have something available. Can you say, #Fail?  Although, I don’t know who’s the bigger failure – my IT department for not believing that I did my research on what my publisher provides and doesn’t provide before calling them or my publisher for not providing resources to go along with their textbooks.  In addition, this means I can’t use MAA’s WeBWorK, etc.  Remember, we are living in the 21st Century.

·         ANGEL is not an access-for-everyone platform.  In fact, it is so difficult to learn that my IT department requires students to complete an ANGEL orientation before they can even log-in to their courses for the first time.  If an LMS is so easily broken that students must complete an orientation before even being able to use the thing, then there is something wrong.  We are living in the year 2012, and we deserve to have an LMS that is intuitive to use and in which a person can choose to learn as little or as much about the LMS as they want to learn.

·         The ANGEL Gradebook sucks.  For example, I have a lot of students who miss the first class in which I give an in class assignment.  The ANGEL Gradebook has no easy way for me to exempt that student from the assignment.  I have a lot of special grading recipes, such as dropping a quiz only if another assignment has a grade higher than a specified assignment.  The ANGEL Gradebook cannot accommodate me.  I guess it’s a good thing that I’m a math teacher and that I know how to calculate my student’s grades by hand.  The major problem, though, is keeping students grades accurate throughout the semester when I know that ANGEL is showing my students incorrect grades.  On the positive side, a few students who should have dropped a class did drop when they saw a grade posted in ANGEL that was lower than their actual grade.

·         The ANGEL Communication system is broken.  If a student sends you an internal e-mail through ANGEL, you have to log-in to ANGEL to reply to that student’s internal e-mail.  First of all, it should be set-up so that if you reply to the notification, it would get sent back to the internal e-mail system.  Second of all, ANGEL is not mobile friendly, so you can’t access it easily on your iPad or other mobile device.  So, if a student sends you an internal e-mail, you have to take the time and effort to log back into ANGEL from an actual computer or laptop in order to respond to the student.

·         Students simply don’t like using ANGEL.  It just looks old and outdated.  And about 50% of my students don’t even know how to spell ANGEL.  They spell it A-N-G-L-E.

This brings me to today.  My college was considering switching to a new LMS, but recently decided to stay with ANGEL indefinitely.  I just wasn’t going to take it anymore.  I felt like I was in a trapped room being beaten by ANGEL.  This isn’t one of those friendly ANGELs with a halo like you might meet in heaven. 

Anyway, one day I was told about Instructure Canvas and the fact that instructors can sign-up for their own individual accounts for free.  I started using Canvas with my students during the summer semester and not only do I love it, but my students love it as well.  The majority of the problems that I listed above are no longer and there are other features available that I would have never dreamed of asking for.  For example:

·         The Recent Activity stream lists all of the new activity on the home screen as it comes in so that you don’t have to worry about checking a special panel every time you log-in.  In addition, the communication system is very friendly, as you can respond to discussion posts and internal e-mail all from the Recent Activity stream.

·         If you leave a grade blank, the Canvas Gradebook is smart enough to exempt that student from the assignment.  And the Gradebook knows how to weight grades properly.

·         There’s a Collaborations tab in Canvas in which EtherPad is already integrated with Canvas.  One day I had my students collaborate in class to make documents on resources for operations with integers, ordering of integers, etc.  At first my students didn’t understand the concept that they were all supposed to be working from separate computers simultaneously.  But after they started using EtherPad, they understood how it could be used as a very powerful tool.

·         The Equation Editor is so intuitive to use that I required my students to use it whenever they posted a mathematical expression or equation on the discussion board.  There were actually not any complaints once I showed the students where the Equation Editor is located.  The only problem was that I had to occasionally remind students that they needed to use the Equation Editor.  Having a pop-up window that asks, “Are you sure you don’t want to use the Equation Editor?” might be a nice feature.  But now I know that I’m pushing it.

The long story short is that Canvas is intuitive and easy enough to use that my students were using it all the time to ask me questions, to ask each other questions, and to form study groups.  And all of this occurred without my students having to complete any special ANGEL Certification Training offered by my IT Department.

Of course I didn’t use every feature that Canvas has to offer.  If I were teaching an online course (or a full-semester course rather than a condensed summer course), I might use the Chat and the Conferences features to hold online office hours.  But it was the summer semester and I was already seeing my students in class 4 days a week.

And that is where I am at in the search for a new LMS.  Until my college switches to something other than ANGEL, I’m going to use Instructure Canvas instead.


My Experience at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

Note:  This was a trip that I field trip that I took my Math For Education students on during the Winter 2012 semester.  The original reason for the visit is that we were promised that there would be a display about African American Mathematicians at the museum.  However, that display was not there.  My students were asked to leave the group, just as I was.

On Saturday, March 24, 2012, I attended the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.  I didn’t know what to expect before I attended the museum.  The only African American History that I can ever remember learning about is through textbooks, television, the Internet, and through African American History Month activities that were done in school.  I had ever been fully immersed in an entire exhibit solely dedicated to African American History.  I didn’t know if I would agree or disagree with the viewpoint of what was presented in the exhibit, I didn’t know who to expect to see at the museum – people from the city of Detroit or a lot of out-of-town visitors to the city, and I didn’t know if I would even be interested in what the exhibit had to offer.  However, I decided to attend the museum anyway, with an open mind to learning new ideas and becoming more educated about African American History that I didn’t know before.  This is why I was very disappointed when I encountered a staff member at the museum who didn’t seem as open to sharing her ideas with me as I was open to learning ideas from her.

During my trip to the museum, there was a guided tour group walking in front of me in the exhibit.  The group was so large that at certain points during the exhibit, it was impossible to see all of the wonderful displays within the exhibit because the crowd was so large.  So, I stayed back behind the tour group, and unintentionally started listening in on the tour group.  I started to become very excited because I realized that I was learning more about African American History by listening in on the guided tour than I would have learned by walking through the museum on my own.  I was impressed by the tour guide’s knowledge of the exhibit and about African American History in general, and I was intrigued by the tour guide’s unique take on the world and history as she saw it.  The tour guide was very motivational in helping me to realize that everyone is unique and special in their own way and that we all deserve to have our story heard.

The unfortunate part, though, is that about a quarter of the way through the exhibit, the tour guide asked me to separate myself from the group and to go ahead of the group because I was no longer welcome to listen in on the tour, intentional or unintentional, because I had not paid for the guided tour.  In all honestly, I would have been more than willing to pay for the guided tour of the exhibit, but it was never given to me as an option.  I would have been more than willing to quietly remain at the back of the group, as I had been the entire time, to listen and learn more about African American History.  As I already mentioned, I learned more about African American History from the few minutes that I spent listening to this tour guide than I have ever learned in my entire life and this tour guide had me energized me enough to want to learn even more.

However, after telling me to get lost and to separate me from the rest of the group, I’m not sure I’ll ever be as open to learning about African American History as I was the day of Saturday, March 24, 2012, ever again in my entire life.  I know it is a part of history that I still want to learn more about.  I know that there are many African American men and women who have made significant contributions to the world as we know it that I simply don’t know enough about.  But I lost something the day that I encountered someone that wasn’t as willing to share ideas with me as I was willing to listen to share her ideas with me.


Link to Photos that I took at the Museum

Supplemental Instruction Update

This semester I piloted supplemental instruction (SI) sessions for my 2 sections of statistics.  If you’re not familiar with the idea of SI, it is essentially 1 free hour of free help for the students before every class.  There was an SI leader assigned to each of my classes that sat in on the class and then assisted the students during the sessions.  The leaders answered any questions that the students had and encouraged the students to work together to solve the problems.

The results of the sessions were staggering and I have summarized them in the infographic below.  The most interesting to me was that 76% of the students who attended the sessions responded that the sessions helped them feel more connected to the college.  Even on this basis alone, if you’re not using some form of SI at your college, you really need to consider using it.  My college seems to agree with me, as I was recently green-lighted to extend the pilot into the fall semester and I was given assistance from the college’s grant office to help find long-term funding for the program.

By the way, I met a high school teacher last weekend whose school is doing something similar to SI without even realizing it.  The high school is giving students the option to take a class in which they ‘pre-teach’ the material that the student is going to learn in the class later in the day.  This gets at the essence of what SI does, it gives students that 1 extra hour of help that they need to be as successful as they possibly can.  If high schools are doing this, when the students come to college, they are going to come to expect this extra help to be available with every class that they take at the college.



The Side Effects of Technology Overload

I am co-presenting a presentation on “The Side Effects of Technology Overload” with another participant at Screencast Camp 2012.  Below is a list of some articles on the topic that are meant to spark discussion within the group.  I will share some notes on the discussion once the session is over.

WebMD: When Technology Overtakes Your Life

Consumer Reports: Therapists Sees Signs of ‘Technology Overload’

The Culture Connection: Technology Overload? Five Steps to break Free

Harvard Business Review: Death by Information Overload

Side Effects of the E-Society

Kevin Shaw: Why I Don’t Want To Ever Buy a Smartphone

Reuters: Technology Overload Can Ruin Relationships

Seattle Times: Beware of Digital Overload and Technology Failure

Delta Dental: Technology Overload May Benefit Your Health