Dealing with the fear of being a boring teacher.


Release the Kraken: My Summer at ThThTh Industries LLC

I just like the word “Kraken”; my summer really has had nothing to do with squid, giant or otherwise. Well, I suppose I read this book, but, well, Mieville is just so… Mieville. As far as productivity goes, I did set this to be my ring tone…

Here’s the rundown of Summer 2011:

(June) Modeling is Legit:

I wouldn’t dare to disagree, because I’m pretty sure that Frank is partial owner of twitter (by sheer volume), but modeling was touted as the best pedagogy for physics, and boy howdy were they right.

First off, get some whiteboards. I don’t care who you are. Go to Lowe’s, find the giant pieces of showerboard, and have them cut into sixths. Then have kids write anything and everything on them.

At my workshop, we broke the boards into four quadrants (redundant math vocab alert alert!):

Classic whiteboard

Each group makes one of these. The teacher is a psychopath about units. We interpret everything. It’s awesome.

I’m going to follow this up with having the students design experiments to break the models and suggest new ones. For instance, the relationship between pirates and temperature in the above image can be modeled with a line, but doesn’t it look like something else?

We then linearize the data in Logger Pro to see if it really is a better fit (read: create a calculated column so that we can see things like Temp vs. Pirate^2, or Temp vs. Exp[-Pirate]).

(June) The Ignite Talk:

I was fortunate enough to be able to give an epilogue to my TEDx talk. This time, in the Ignite format. I really wanted to be clear about how I think assessment can be used to teach students to self-assess, which is a skill that will help them be better at anything (tacit goal of school):

  • Assessment shouldn’t be so good at creating a mathematical grave that students have to crawl out of at the beginning of a reporting term.
  • The formative process is almost all that matters in a time when information is cheap and analysis is getting fuzzy.
  • The talk spurred the creation of BlueHarvest, my gradebook without grades.

(July) The Square Dartboard:

Infinigons is a blog written by a lady named Allison, and it’s awesome. She doesn’t write enough, but when she does, it’ll make you think. She posted about a square dartboard. The problem goes through the following evolution:

  1. The Psssssh-I-got-this: What’s the probability that a randomly thrown dart will hit closer to the center than the edges of a square dartboard?
  2. The Uh-Oh-this-is-mathier-that-I-thought: You start to draw a lot of pictures.
  3. The Aww-hell-just-program-a-computer-to-do-it: Cheating.
  4. The Realization: When someone says the one correct word that makes you realize you’ve already learned the answer but are just too stupid to know when to apply it. (Thanks, Alemi)

I can’t wait to give this problem to my calculus students. cannotwaitatall. See list item 4.

(August) BlueHarvest:

And then it came. He had an idea. He started coding it. Several hundred hours later, things got out of control. He hired employees. He started a company. The rise of ThThTh Industries will know no peers.

My goal here is to help all of us organize feedback in such a way that it’s clear, persistent, and useful to the student beyond the walls of school. Check it out.

If you want a free account, you can just buy me this.

(August) Getting Ready to Teach College:

In what will surely end in a vaudevillian hooked-exit, I’m going to be teaching a course informatively titled “Exploring Teaching.” I can’t wait. We get to read things like Kozol and Delpit. We’re going to spend weeks talking about assessment, NCLB, and the concept of learning. They’re going to teach, a lot.

This class is super, ultra, kamayamaya fun because it’s not about training teachers. It really is an exploration class: “do you have a future in education?” is the central question, and they’re goal is to answer that and support it with reasons for or against by the end.

Here’s my half-baked syllabus/website. I’m going to tweet out some of the posts my students will be working on in an effort to prove the  power of twitter and blogging from a professional stand point. Please be nice or they may end up as lawyers.

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Shawn Cornally • August 11, 2011

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