Category Archives: Uncategorized

Student Engagement In and Out of the Classroom

On November 7, 2014, I attended the ETOM Conference at St. Clair Community College in Port Huron, MI. One of the underlying themes of this year conference was student engagement in and out of the classroom. As an instructor who hasn’t taken classes in quite some time, sometimes I forget how difficult it is to be a student in the 21st century. Between the rising cost of college, the changing nature of technology, and the demands at home, it is often a struggle to engage students in the classroom. This conference helped give me a different perspective of how I can look at my classes in a new way.

The opening session focused on Open Educational Resources and how the cost of textbooks has an impact on which classes students take and how engaged the students are with the college. The statistics are clear that higher textbook costs lead students to take fewer classes and sometimes not to take any classes at all. Although I don’t believe that textbook cost should be the only reason to use an Open Educational Resource, I believe it is an important factor to consider. Besides the cost, the idea of being able to customize the material to include videos and interactive materials to increase student engagement is also appealing.

My favorite session of the day, though, was titled, “Engaging Students With and Without Technology.” In this session, the focus was on classroom response systems. Most teachers have heard of clickers. At my college (Macomb Community College), we have Turning Point technology available for use in the classroom. All of these clickers are nice, except for the cost and the inconvenience of setting up the system correctly. At the ETOM Conference, we were introduced to KahootIT and Plickers as two free alternatives to the traditional classroom clickers. I plan to use KahooIT with my calculus class in the upcoming weeks as a way to engage students with a quick in class assessment.

One of my favorite parts of ETOM Conference was that the online students were not forgotten, either. Engaging students in the online classroom can be extremely challenging, especially with asynchronous courses. One of the sessions that I attended focused in on using individualized quizzes and individualized feedback using podcasts in order to engage students in the online environment. The idea was initially developed as a tool for teacher-to-teacher interaction, it was soon discovered that students benefited from this individualized instruction as well. This helped me to realize that how we engage with each other is often very different than how we engage with our students. If something is working for teacher-to-teacher interaction, it is worth a shot for teacher-to-student interaction as well.

Overall, the ETOM Conference was a very enriching experience and I would highly recommend that others attend future conferences. The amount of information was definitely not overwhelming and I walked away from each session that I attended with at least one idea, principle, or best practice that I could immediately apply in my classroom once I left the conference. Student engagement is a very serious matter and it was refreshing to see so many different perspectives on the idea of how to engage students from all directions. Student engagement starts from before the time students even register for a class, but student engagement needs to extend beyond the classroom as well.

A #hernia2013 Update

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write this post because I thought it might end up sounding bitter, but the fact of the matter is that I’m not bitter about anything.  I am just writing this to try to inspire those who might be struggling with issues in their life right now, especially around the Christmas season.

For those of you who don’t know, I started on a weight loss journey back in March 2013.  Since that time, I’ve lost around 60 lbs.  And since I had been on a diet before that, I’ve lost a total of about 90 lbs overall.  But this post isn’t about the weight loss, it’s actually about the side effects of the weight loss.

See, what I didn’t know about weight loss is that it can lead to a hernia.  Apparently, your intestine is held in place by a fatty membrane.  As I started to lose weight, the fat holding the intestine in place started to slowly to dissolve.  Then, one day in mid-October, my intestine fell totally out of place and dropped right into my testicles.

The good news is that I was at work when all of this happened.  The bad news is that the paramedics nor the police actually believed me when I told them I was in pain.  They told me to man up and that it was probably just a kidney stone or appendicitis and that I should just stand up and walk it off because the hospital was not going to do anything for me.

Eventually, I convinced the police to rush me to the hospital.  When I finally saw a doctor, he identified the hernia immediately and had me rushed directly into surgery.  He told me that if he had waited any longer to do the surgery that I could have at minimum lost my testicles and if it would have gotten to that point, I would have probably died.

This is the closest to dying that I have ever been.  I haven’t told anyone about this near death experience up until this point because I didn’t want to make a bigger deal out of my hernia than it actually was because the fact of the matter is that I’m alive and I didn’t die.

However, what this experience has taught me is who I can really count on in my life.  My parents rushed right up to the hospital and stayed by my side as long as they possibly could.  My co-workers sent me flowers and fruit and one co-worker even visited me at the hospital.  My students in one of my classes made me a nice card that was so nice that I even laminated it.  One of my family members called me and sent me a card in the mail.  And one of my buddies called me as well.

I wasn’t actually even supposed to return to work for 6 to 8 weeks and I actually returned to work after 4 days.  So, I’m pretty sure that there are a lot of people who didn’t even really realize that I even was out of work for a life-threatening surgery of any sort at all.  However, that does not excuse the fact that the majority of the people that I know didn’t even ask how I was feeling after my surgery.  I don’t even mean about the physical pain.  I mean about how I was feeling about the fact that I could have been a dead man.

It’s been several weeks after the surgery now and I’m still not really sure about how I feel about it.  I know there are certain things I want to do now that I didn’t necessarily want to do before.  I know that I am probably even more in a hurry now to find a girlfriend and be in a relationship than I was before.  I know, life isn’t all about rainbows and butterflies and all of that crap.

The most important thing I’ve learned through this whole experience, though, is exactly who I can count on in life and who I can’t count on in life.  I will never forget the people who took a moment out of their busy lives to actually acknowledge the fact that I had something happened to me that could have caused me to die.  I will never forget that they actually do love me and care about me.

On the other hand, I will never forget all of those people didn’t even acknowledge my near death experience.  Yeah, I’ve been in car accidents and what not, but that’s not the same.  My hernia didn’t come with a cast or a visible scar or something that would signify to people that I had been through an experience that warrants them acknowledging me.

There are certain people now that I thought were my friends who I probably will never talk to ever again in my life.  For example, right after my surgery, I started talking to someone who I thought was my friend more than usual.  Instead of asking me why I felt like talking more, he told me he was tired of talking to me and that I should leave him alone.  The fact of the matter is that I just wanted someone to talk to ask me how I was feeling about almost dying.  Needless to say I really don’t consider this person a friend anymore.

In fact, I can’t even tell people the story of my hernia because it’s generally not socially acceptable to talk about intestines falling into one’s testicles in a public setting.  I have mentioned to people that I’ve had a hernia and I occasionally get someone who makes a sly comment about lifting something too heavy, which is especially annoying since that’s not at all how my hernia occurred.

So, in conclusion, again, this post isn’t about being bitter in anyway.  However, it is about the side effects of the hernia.  The fact is that as a result of my whole near death experience I have found out exactly who I can count on in life and who I can’t count on in life.

My advice to anyone reading this is to realize who your true compadres are in life before it’s too late.  Because if a near death experience happens to you, you are going to need someone to talk to and you will definitely want to know who you can trust in life and who you can’t trust in life.  As I always like to put it, sometimes you have to kick the riffraff to the curb.

SCORM Objects and Camtasia Quizzes in Instructure Canvas

So, what exactly is SCORM?

Yeah, I don’t know, either.  I can tell you that SCORM stands for Shareable Content Object Reference Model, but other than that, I really have no idea.

Why would someone want to use SCORM?

Many textbooks these days have publisher-provided SCORM content.  So, if you want to import pre-made content into a Learning Management System, such as Instructure Canvas, SCORM is one way to go about doing that.

However, the reason that I wanted to learn about SCORM is because I wanted to create quizzes in Camtasia and have grades read to the Instructure Canvas Gradebook.

So, can Instructure Canvas do what you want it to do?

Absolutely not!  Instructure Canvas will allow for importing of certain SCORM objects, but not all.  In addition, there are security problems with allowing SCORM content to write to the Instructure Canvas Gradebook.

Oh well.  Better luck next time.

The Problem with Math is English

There have been several separate occasions in my math classes this semester where a student has asked me a question about a vocabulary word and I simply just didn’t know the answer.  I took 3 years of Latin in high school and I was an English teacher at one point, so I generally can guess the meaning of a word from the root word.  However, some words just have me stumped.   My new ‘go to’ tool in class is  Let me give you a few examples of some words that I have looked up during class this semester.

Linear Algebra

In linear algebra, we were talking about inverse matrices and a student asked me what it means to be an inverse.  I explained to him that it means that the inverse matrix, if it exists, is the matrix that when multiplied by the original matrix yields the identity matrix.  Although that explained what the inverse is mathematically speaking, that really didn’t give any insight into why we call it an inverse matrix.  It turns out that the word inverse comes from the Latin word meaning ‘to turn upside down or inside out.’  So, conceptually, the inverse matrix can actually be thought of as the matrix that is used to turn a matrix inside out in order to get the identity matrix.  I thought that this was a very interesting way to think about inverse matrices.

Math for Elementary Teachers

In my math for elementary teachers class, we were talking about subtracting whole numbers.  When I learned about subtraction, I was taught that the first number in the subtraction problem is called the minuend, the second number is called the subtrahend, and the result is the difference.  Apparently, minuend and subtrahend are not words that are taught to most students these days, or they have simply forgotten the terms over the years.  Anyway, during class, a student asked me why we use the words minuend and subtrahend.  We looked it up on, and it turns out that subtrahend comes from the Latin word meaning ‘to be subtracted from another number’ and minuend comes from the Latin word meaning ‘to be diminished or made smaller.’  So, after looking at the definitions of the words together in class, I feel as if my students got a better understanding for why it is so important to teach children the proper math vocabulary.

Everyday Math (Liberal Arts Math)

In my everyday math class, we were talking about discrete and continuous random variables.  A student asked me why I was defining a discrete random variable as being a random variable that as one that can only take on countable values.  The student said that it was confusing because discrete generally means to do something carefully or quietly.  I immediately brought up on the computer and showed the class that the words discrete and discreet are two different words.  The majority of the class was shocked and several students even mentioned that these types of problems with the English language aren’t even being addressed in the English classes that they are taking this semester.  I’m not an English teacher, but I would think that if students don’t know some basic vocabulary words, they aren’t going to be turning out very high quality papers for their classes, either.

In summary, my whole point is that using a tool as simple as during my classes has helped spark some discussion in my classes and has helped to bring a new perspective to some of the mathematical vocabulary that is used in the courses.

Nevermind is a Very Rude Word

I would like to make the case that the word ‘nevermind’ is quite possibly one of the rudest words in the English language  In fact, if you check the dictionary, the definition of the word actually states that nevermind is a word that is usually used in negative contexts.

So, why am I ranting and rambling on about this word? Well, last week I was in my office helping a student on a problem on a take home quiz. I know, I’m nicer than I should be, as I shouldn’t have been helping the student on a take home quiz to begin with. However, I knew it was a hard problem and I had given other several other students who had come into my office earlier that day a hint, so I thought that I should give this student a hint as well. But that’s beside the point right now.

Anyway, what happened next really made me angry: I gave the student the hint and the student kept on asking for more and kept on asking how I got a certain number in the problem. So, I decided that I would elaborate a little bit on the situation to try to provide insight into how the problem might be solved. And half-way through my explanation, the student utters the word, ‘nevermind’ and starts stomping off the other way. I started to say something nice like, ‘Well, what don’t you understand at this point?,’ but then I stopped myself and started yelling back at the student, ‘Yeah, you’re right. Nevermind. I tried to help you and if you’re going to be rude and interrupt me while I’m trying to help you, then nevermind. I’m not going to help you!”

The worst part of all is that all of this happened with less than 15 minutes left before class started and I really didn’t have time to calm down before class started. Obviously I’m still alive and made it through the class. However, it made me think long and hard about what exactly made me so angry. It couldn’t have just been that the student kept on asking me for help on a take home quiz even after I had already given a hint. It couldn’t have just been that the student interrupted me while I wasn’t explaining something. And it couldn’t have just been that the student waited until 15 minutes before class to come to my office to ask a question about the quiz. No, I realized it was the word ‘nevermind’ that is what made me so angry.

Let me put it this way: Suppose you are a talking to someone who is hard of hearing. You ask them a question and they don’t hear you the first time. So, you ask them the question again and they still don’t hear you. Then, they say, ‘Could you please repeat that again?,’ and you since you’re getting frustrated and don’t want to repeat the question a third time, you say, ‘nevermind.’ Think about how small and degraded the hard of hearing person must feel at that point.

Another one of my students told me that she was at work last week and she was working a department at her store that she usually doesn’t work in. She was just filling in for someone who was sick. A customer asked her where something was and she said that she thought that they didn’t have the item anymore, but if they did, it would be down a certain aisle. The customer yelled at her, ‘Nevermind. You don’t know.’ Again, think about how the word ‘nevermind’ made my student feel, even though all she was doing was trying to help this customer.

We all need to be careful about what we say. Just the smallest word can really set the trigger off for someone. And one of those words for me is the word ‘nevermind.’

Diversity in Mathematics

Diversity in Mathematics

Diversity is a topic that is near and dear to my heart.  As a Korean kid in a primarily white neighborhood and surrounded by primarily white family and friends, I was often bullied.  Although, I’m sure it didn’t help that I was overweight as a child, but that’s a different story.  I know my parents tried their best to make sure that I felt included and whatnot, but I always felt racism and racial undertones a lot as kid, in school, in church, and pretty much everywhere I went on a daily basis.  To me, that’s not how America is supposed to be.  In my America, diversity is supposed to be a good thing.  In my America, diversity is supposed to be appreciated and welcomed.  To that end, I’m trying to do my part by integrating diversity in mathematics topics into my classroom and into my department.  Here are some of the things that I’ve done recently:

1.  Create a bulletin board celebrating the International Year of Statistics

I found out that 2013 is the International Year of Statistics and so I had my work study students create this bulletin board in my department using the posters printed from the event website.  Everyone who has walked by has been really intrigued by the word statistics written in so many languages.  I’ve heard many discussions about what languages they think are represented on the poster.  I’ve also heard many discussions about the world map with all of the uses of statistics in countries around the world.  Although this was just a small bulletin board, it ended up being such a great discussion starter!

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2.  Discuss books on teaching Mathematics as a Language with my Math for Education Students

In my Math for Education class we talk about communicating mathematics.  I always mention books that I think would be helpful for my students to read as resources for making sure that they can reach out to all of their students.  I remind them that they will be working with a diverse group and that not every child that they will be teaching will speak English as their first language and not every child they will be teaching will see the world the same way that they do.  Some of the books that I recommend to them are Teaching Math as a Language, ESL through Content-Area Instruction, and The Problem with Math is English.  This summer I actually attended the Midwest Institute for International/Intercultural Education and created an entire module to accompany topics of cultural diversity, human rights, and social justice into my Math for Education classes.  I highly encourage everyone to attend the Midwest Institute at least once!  Once the module has been published and approved, I’ll let everyone know.

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3.  Library Fair participation by my classes

Every semester for about 2 years now, I have had my students participate in my college’s library fair.  At the beginning of every semester the students are given a topic and are asked to create a tri-fold poster display that is hung up in the library for a week.  In the past our topics have been Indian, Russian, and Chinese Mathematicians and Statisticians.  This semester our topic is Polish Mathematicians and Statisticians.  Several of my students have already told me that they are very excited about participating in the project because they are of Polish decent and this is going to give them a good opportunity to learn more about their own culture!

The library fair is open to the entire community and anyone who attends the fair and answers questions about the displays that my students have created get MMII Credit, which is essentially credit toward a free cultural competency certificate that the college offers.  I always encourage all of my classes to get the certificate because I truly believe that diversity and cultural awareness is truly something that my students need to know more about.  Besides that, though, I remind my students that this certificate is something that will definitely look good on their resume when they are applying to transfer to a university in the future or applying for a job.

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4.  Other MMII Events

In addition to the Library Fair mentioned above, I have also arranged for my students to participate in other events as well, such as:

  • An “Innovation in Mathematics” Poster display at the college library
  • A talk on “Women in Mathematics” by a local female graduate student
  • A viewing of “Stand and Deliver” with a discussion session of diversity issues after the film

I know that what I’m doing isn’t necessarily for everyone.  Some people might argue that I need to just stick to teaching mathematics and not deal with anything else at all.  Honestly, I must say that most of my students have told me that they appreciate that I’m helping them to become more aware of the world around them.  For example, when my students were creating the Chinese Mathematicians posters, one student found out that there was a Chinese Mathematician at the university that was thinking about applying to and she actually went to the university and interviewed him for the poster.  She said that talking to the professor at the university was great confirmation for her that it was the university that she actually wanted to attend.  So, you never know what type of impact these projects will have on your students.  I highly encourage to incorporate diversity into your classes, whether in a big way or a small way.  I know you won’t regret it!

See you at #MichMATYC13

As part of MichMATYC’s Fall 2013 Conference coming up on Friday, October 4 – Saturday, October 5, I was asked to create gift basket to be used as a raffle prize during the conference.  I gladly agreed to help out by making a donation!  A picture of the basket and a description of what’s all inside it is below.  I hope to see you at the conference and good luck winning the raffle prize!

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Jon Oaks’ Favorite Things Basket

This raffle prize is quite unique and includes the following items:

  • Really Useful Boxes 16 Box Organizer
  • Targus Back-Up Battery for Smartphones
  • PNY 16 GB Flash Drive
  • Pentel Twist Erase 9.0 mm Pencils
  • A Gift Certificate for a 2 hour professional development consultation with Jon Oaks*

*Offer must be redeemed with Jon Oaks before October 11, 2014.  Jon Oaks is a math instructor at Macomb Community College in Warren, MI, and the Professional Development Coordinator for AMATYC (The American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges).  The topics and format (in-person or on-line) of the consultation are negotiable.  Please contact Jon Oaks directly to schedule the consultation.

What I Learned at #BloggyCon13

This weekend I attended my first blogging conference ever: Bloggy Conference 2013. My intent for attending was as follows:

  • I wanted to get tips for becoming a better blogger myself.
  • I am considering having my students write blogs themselves (similar to this idea), as I truly believe that if my students write about what they are learning, then they are more likely to retain the information long-term.
  • I have a few students this semester who are homeschooling their kids at home and have asked me for suggestions for teaching their children mathematics and I heard there were some home school bloggers coming to the conference and I thought that I might be able to network and get some ideas from them.

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The conference was at Cedar Point, a place that seems to primarily be known for its great Roller coasters. Cedar Point was a great place for the conference. The hospitality was great and I learned that there is so much more to Cedar Point. I enjoyed my time on the beach, walking on the boardwalk, the entertainment, and the really good food at all of the restaurants (they have a Perkins, which was a real treat for me since the ones in Michigan have all closed). Despite all of wonderful distractions, I did learn some things, the biggest takeaways being:

  • In terms of being a better blogger myself, I learned that I need to have a Facebook Page for my website. I feel like I could definitely reach more people with all of the great ideas that I use in the classroom if I have a Facebook Page were I can share things that don’t necessarily fit onto this website. Right now I am doing this using Twitter by sharing links that I like and so forth, but the general public isn’t on Twitter– most of them are on Facebook.
  • I was part of a home school blogging discussion in which I learned that I need to have a regular blogging schedule. I was given several tips for setting up these schedules – from very simple to very extreme. The plan I liked the best is just to set-up a schedule of topics at the beginning of each month that you want to write about in the next month. I can definitely relate to this as it is very similar to what I do in writing lesson plans for my classes.
  • Most importantly, though, was all of the networking that I was able to do during the conference. I heard a talk by Honda on #HondaLove about the Top 10 Tips for Making a Perfect Pitch. All of the tips were very helpful for me in terms of the type of checklist of information that I want to create to give my students to help them as they are creating their blogs so that they will have the information that they need if it’s ever requested of them in the future.

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Although I was one of the few males there (I felt the need to mention this), I still learned a lot and I met a lot of great people who I hope that I will be able to work with in the future. I would highly recommend that anyone interested in blogging or using blogs in the classroom attend Bloggy Conference or some similar conference in the future.

Resources for Teaching Integers

I was recently contacted about whether or not I had any resources for teaching about Integers.  Of course, my answer was a resounding, “yes!”  But I was actually a little embarrassed when I had to admit to the person that I had never taken the time to organize them all into one easy-to-find place on the Internet.  So, that’s what this post is all about.  I hope that you enjoy the resources that I’ve collected for teaching integers.

Card Games

  • Zero Sum Card Game – This is a card game in which students need to collect cards in order to reach the sum closest to zero.

Integer Bingo

  • Bingo Master Template – This is an easy to use Bingo Master Template in which all you have to do is enter the clues and the answers.  The only limitation I’ve found is that it only prints 25 cards.  So, if you have more than 25 students in your class, you’re going to have a problem.
  • EDU Bakery Bingo Cards – Here is a Bingo game that is ready to be printed out.  However, if you want to be able to edit the cards from what is on the website, you’ll have to pay the fee (except that there does appear to be a trial version available).
  • Commercialized Bingo Game – This wouldn’t be my first choice for a Bingo game, but I can understand why someone would want to just buy the Bingo game since you wouldn’t have to take the time to print out the Bingo cards and the game probably would be reusable well into the future.

Integer Relay Races

I’ve used the files below in the past as ‘relay races’ in class.  You simply cut the sheets into strips and then have the students compete against each other.  Most students really seem to enjoy this!

Other Games and Activities

  • Operation Integers – Maria Andersen has this ‘Operation Integers’ game over on her website in which seems to be a spin on a “target number” kind of game.
  • Integer 500 – This is an integer game that involves putting a spinner together and things like that and seems like it would be pretty cool if you ever decide to try it (I haven’t).
  • Integer Football – Apparently Integer Football is a popular integer game these days.  I haven’t tried this one, either.

Puzzles and Worksheets

  • Math OPS Worksheets – MathOPS has some free puzzles available that can be printed out where the answer to every puzzle is the name of a “Famous Old Guy” in history.
  • Integer Crossword Puzzle from NASA – I love taking advantage of all of the ‘Space Math’ resources over on the NASA website and this is just one of them that just happens to involve integer operations.

OK, well good luck teaching your students about integers!  🙂