We Must Do Something Different

A Nation at Risk sounded the alarm of educational mediocrity in American schools (Gardner & National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983).  American students had fallen behind other nations in math, science and literacy.  For the three decades since A Nation at Risk, this nation has engaged in a standards movement to reform its schools.  The focus on content mastery by American students was strengthened in early 2002 when President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation.  The standards based reform continues today with schools under more pressure than ever to improve student scores across standardized tests.  This nation as come to a point where high stakes testing is driving curricular decisions.  It is not working.

The most recent results for the Program for International Student Achievement (PISA) survey were released December 2010.  PISA tested 15-year-olds from sixty-five nations in three literacies: reading, mathematics and science.  In reading literacy, the United States averaged 500 (on a scale of 0 to 1,000 with a mean of 500).  The average of all nations was 493, not measurably different.  In mathematics literacy, the United States averaged 487, lower than the average of all nations of 496.  Science literacy results were similar.  The United States scored an average of 502, which is not measurably different that the total average of 501. The United States scored in the middle of the pack, right around the mean score, mediocre still (Fleischman, Hopstock, Pelczar, Shelley, & National Center for Education Statistics, 2010).  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was surprised by the results; “We have to see this as a very serious wake-up call for Americans” (Mathis, 2010).  The United State’s educational system has been doing more of the same for the past 30 years and students are standing still in terms of results compared to other counties who are progressing.  It is time to do something different.

The educational system continues to teach students the same way students have been taught since the Industrial Revolution, in factory-like settings.  Content is siloed with little regard to how subjects interact and relate to the world outside of school, the things that make learning relevant and intrinsically motivating.  Maybe American schooling has always been this way.  Perhaps the results have always been mediocre.  Maybe the big change is the stakes are higher today than generations ago.  Where, as eloquently foretold in A Nation at Risk, “Knowledge, learning, information, and skilled intelligences are the new raw materials” in today’s global society (Gardner & National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983, p. 7).  In a post digital, 21st century world, the skills and knowledge needed for success has changed.  What’s clear is the educational system today is unimaginative, uninspiring and failing for so many of America’s youth, especially children from poverty or of color.  When schools face disappointing test results, all resources shift to preparing students for standardized tests.  If a choice is between taking a class to the computer lab or prepping for the test, teachers choose test preparation (Pflaum, 2004).  Schools resort to scripted instruction, where students are expected to sit still, be quiet, and work on rote drill exercises (Kozol, 2005).  Students are not learning.

Maybe the students themselves have changed.  Perhaps the legacy educational system in place today did work for 19th and 20th century students, American youth growing up and living in a pre-digital age.  Maybe today’s young people learn differently than past generations.  According to Prensky, today’s students have grown up surrounded by digital technology, which has fundamentally changed the way students think and process information (2001).  For the past 30 years, American schools have been trying to force students into the mold of a standards-based curriculum, deeply rooted in behaviorist philosophy.  Maybe it is time to adapt the educational system to the way students learn.  One way to align education toward students’ strengths is to integrate multimedia applications into the curriculum, particularly in high school math classes.

Multimedia is using several types of digital media to communicate or present ideas.  Text, still pictures, video, audio, or animations are combined to create multimedia presentations or projects (Barabash & Kyllo, n.d.).  Although not a necessary component, interactivity, when present, is a key feature distinguishing multimedia projects from more traditional, multi-material projects.  Interactivity puts control in the user’s hands in how the multimedia project is experienced, offering greater flexibility in its value.  Examples of multimedia applications that can be used in the classroom are movies, slideshows, animated cartoons, podcasts, and video podcasts.  Multimedia can be both a means of delivering content in a more interactive, contextual manner (teacher directed) or student created as a vehicle for learning content more deeply and as evidence of understanding.  The student-created projects are the most impactful.

Creating multimedia projects are fun and interesting.  They infuse creativity into the learning process.  Students are generally highly motivated to bring digital tools into their projects, but multimedia projects should not be used solely as a way of engaging students for engagement sake or using technology for technology sake as often happens (Pflaum, 2005).  Pedagogy drives lessons; technology is a vehicle by which learning can be enhanced. “Filmmaking broadens the way kids look at a topic… They think like scientists instead of science students” (Shorr, 2005, p. 33).  For example, backward design is a common educational planning methodology.  Creating podcasts require beginning with an end in mind and using research, editing, and revision to achieve that end.  Students have fun making the podcast, but the important outcome is the internalization and deeper understanding of the content arising out of the podcast creation process (Villano, 2008).

Why multimedia applications?  Multimedia projects offer many benefits as a pedagogical tool.  This paper limits itself to just two reasons: constructivism and democratic learning.

Contrasting the predominant practice in today’s schools of treating students as ‘empty vessels’ by which teachers ‘fill students up’ with facts, skills, and discrete pieces of data, constructivism requires the learner to create their own meaning.  Students learn by creating structures or schema based on prior experiences, and evaluating new information against these constructs (Bollinger, 2004).  Memorization of facts does not lead to true understanding nor does it help students transfer learning from one domain to another.  Relying upon strict memorization does not help students learn to think critically or to problem solve.  It also does not help students test well on national, standardized tests.  Teaching for understanding is the process where students are able to evaluate what they learn and interpret meaning from it (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005).

Multimedia projects are naturally aligned to the constructivist learning theory because students are working with content as they are creating the project.  They are not simply cutting and pasting information.  Multimedia projects are complex and iterative, requiring visualizing, planning, researching, writing, creating, editing, re-writing before the project is finished (Villano, 2008).  Applied critical thinking is crucial in creating high quality multimedia projects because information is integrated across multiple subjects such as math, language arts, science, and technology (Steelman, 2005).

Multimedia projects lend themselves to democratic learning in several ways. “An inquiry-based approach leading to a product emphasizing analysis and synthesis of information should be our highest educational goal. With this methodology we are teaching students to be creative, productive citizens in a democratic society” (Steelman, 2005, p. 19).  Generally, students are able to choose their topic within the framework of the learning objectives.  Students are able to tailor their project to a learning area they are most interested in or find most relevant to their life (Steelman, 2005).  Often projects are collaborative and students are able to work toward their strengths.  Working together allows students to value each other’s contribution and facilitates learning to be effective team players (Steelman, 2005).

Why does this author believe multimedia projects should be used in high school math classes specifically?  Algebra is a required course for graduation in California.  Students who struggle with passing Algebra become frustrated with school overall and become at risk for dropping out entirely.  This author believes part of the difficulty is in the abstractness of algebra and it is generally not taught in a relevant way.  Students simply do not understand why they should learn algebra and how it fits in real life.  Multimedia projects are a way of contextualizing and applying math skills and concepts, making it more concrete.  Multimedia projects begin with topics relevant to students or identifiable to real world problems and have students apply mathematical learning in the creation of the projects.

Lastly, a great deal of math education is in the form of teachers lecturing, working out a few problems as examples, and students completing redundant problems as homework.  Math concepts are rarely integrated or learned in real world context.  The audience for student work is the teacher and no meaning for student work exists outside of the class.  Multimedia projects, on the other hand, require integration of concepts and skills.  They are not redundant but require students to use and think of what they learned in new ways, to apply concepts to problems.  Multimedia projects are appropriate for authentic audiences.  Students create their projects with the expectation of peer or community consumption of their work, which motivates them to do their best work.


Barabash, C. V. & Kyllo, J. A. (n.d.). The history And Development Of Multimedia: A Story Of Invention, Ingenuity And Vision. Retrieved from http://people.ucalgary.ca/~edtech/688/hist.htm

Bolliger, D. (2004). Investigating Student Learning in a Constructivist Multimedia-Rich Learning Environment. Association for Educational Communications and Technology, Retrieved from ERIC database.

Fleischman, H. L., Hopstock, P. J., Pelczar, M. P., Shelley, B. E., & National Center for Education Statistics (ED). (2010). Highlights from PISA 2009: Performance of U.S. 15-Year-Old Students in Reading, Mathematics, and Science Literacy in an International Context. NCES 2011-004. National Center for Education Statistics, Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2011/2011004.pdf

Gardner, D. & National Commission on Excellence in Education (ED). (1983). A Nation At Risk: The Imperative For Educational Reform. An Open Letter to the American People. A Report to the Nation and the Secretary of Education.

Kozol, Jonathan. (2005). The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America. New York: Three Rivers Press.

Mathis, W. J. (2010 Dec 12). What international test scores really tell us: Lessons buried in PISA report. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/guest-bloggers/what-international-test-scores.html

Pflaum, W. (2004). The Technology Fix: The promise and Reality of Computers in Our Schools. Alexandria, VA: Association for Curriculum Development.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-6.

Shorr, P. (2005). Seven Surprising Things about Award-Winning Schools. Instructor, 115(3), 30-33. Retrieved from ERIC database.

Steelman, J. (2005). Multimedia Makes Its Mark. Learning & Leading with Technology, 33(1), 16-18. Retrieved from ERIC database.

Villano, M. (2008). Building a Better Podcast. T.H.E. Journal, 35(1), 31-33. Retrieved from ERIC database.

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Response to Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project.

I believe digital media has a role in education, but I am not convinced because of the 2-page summary.  I need to read the entire report and likely will.  But on the summary, my feeling is “hey kids are using mobile phones to communicate directly and through social networking sites all the time, educators need to get on board with that”.  Either right or wrong, it is what I picked up from reading the summary.  I do not think education should try to integrate into the curriculum the latest fad teenagers are into just because that is what’s going on in teenager’s lives.  For example, when I was in high school, I was on the telephone (land line in today’s lexicon) for hours on end.  It was my line of communication to my friends and was my way of staying in touch.  Really, it was because I had nothing else to do and neither did my friend on the other end of the line.   Does that mean schools should have incorporated telephones into the curriculum when I was in high school?  Seems ridiculous but that is what I am getting from the 2-page summary.

I currently live with my niece, a 21-year-old college student.  She is going to school in Chico, CA but is from Stockton, CA, just a 2½-hour drive away.  She is in her 3rd year at Chico and she drives home every weekend.  She has made no friends, no contacts, no connections to the area where she attends college.  Instead, she relies on text messaging, the instant ‘walkie talkie’ function on her phone (which she thought was the absolute coolest thing ever and what I think the article is referring to when it says, “develop technical skills” (Ito et al., 2008, p. 1)), and Facebook to stay in touch with her friends back home.  Because she has such immediate communications with her friends, she has had very little incentive to connect with the students at school.  I think this is an example of digital media becoming an obstacle to forming and nurturing live relationships.  But, it seems to work for her.

After saying that, I do believe digital media has a place in education.  Not because it is what the students are already doing but because it can enhance the classroom experience in any number of ways.  For example, digital media in terms of improved communications over distance (like what my niece does) can connect students to other students in other locations to share experiences or to learn about different locations, cultures from someone directly.  These communications can open up audiences for students so that materials students develop are presented outside of the traditional classroom and are for peer or community groups.  Authentic audiences lend credibility to projects and students are motivated to do their best work.  Communications enabled via digital media connect students with real world experts in the topics they are studying.  This is just one example, but digital media opens up the classroom.  My point here is that digital media has a place in school but needs to be driven by educational objectives, not necessarily because it is the ‘in thing’ with teenagers.


Ito, M., Horst, H., Bittanti, M., boyd, d., Herr-Stephenson, B., Lange, … C., Pascoe, C. J. (2008) Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project. Digital Youth Research. MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved from http://digitalyouth.ischool.berkeley.edu/files/report/digitalyouth-TwoPageSummary.pdf

FusionCharts – Visual Data Presentation Made Easy

The Web 2.0 Cool Tools for Schools website is an amazing resource for teachers.  I decided to focus on the graphing tools section because I thought it would be a good category for math students and incorporating multimedia projects into the curriculum.   I poked around in the category looking for tools students could use to easily create a variety of graphic displays to illustrate content mastery in a flexible, student-directed way.  The output needed to be easily integrated into various multimedia applications.  I was also looking for charts that were interactive.  If you clicked on a bar or piece of pie, you could be redirected for more information.

My problem with most of the websites was how hard it was to understand what they offered.  I could see examples, but I could not understand how to use the tools before signing up.  I was nearly impossible to evaluate the tools against my two criteria, interactivity and ease of integration into other media applications, without signing up. Another problem is the sites are mostly free and rely on advertising, which complicates navigating the site to learn what it offers.  On several occasions I ended up clicking out of the website to another and getting lost.

Quite a few of the websites in the category were not appropriate for K-12 students.  Many of the examples, charts you would view as soon as you visit the website to register, are adult-themed.  One site in particular, Crappy Graphs, had many comments attached to the example graphs and they were definitely not appropriate for school.

After some time of clicking through each of the available options, I settled on FusionCharts to take for a ‘test drive’, which means register to be able to play with it.


I settled on FusionCharts primarily because of the professionalism of its website.  It had the look and feel of other websites I have downloaded tools, whereas most of the others were amateurish.  Of course they offer a free version and version to buy (the personal license is $199).  I chose to ‘test drive’ the free version.  However, I do not mind paying for software that I use.  I like the ability to try out a watered-down version of software to really appreciate how I will use it before I do buy it, but I will not avoid software products because they are not free.  Additionally, FusionCharts presented tutorials that showed how the product is used in detail, something missing from the other websites I perused.

FusonCharts, more specifically, FusionCharts suite of products, offers a wide-arrray of graph types, from typical bar, line and pie graphs but also maps and gauges as well.  The purpose of the product is to create visual displays that can be added to websites, blogs, and presentations.  The tool is robust.  It offers features that attract business users and offers more than a typical student creating a multimedia presentation would use.  For example, FusionCharts can link directly to a databases to automatically update data to a chart.  A feature not likely to be used in the classroom, but who know?  If a database is part of the project, then this tool is that much more valuable.

The features I liked about FusionCharts are they can be animated, interactive, use 3D visuals, and are cross-platform compatible (website code).  The charts an also be real-time, meaning they can update themselves periodically (i.e., every 10 seconds).

How can FusionCharts be used in an educational setting?  I envision using it in an Algebra class.  Obviously, graphing is a learning element in its own right, but I would use the product beyond just understanding how to graph.  I would use the graphs as a way of understanding or analyzing the underlying data.  The underlying data may be some sort of lesson where probabilities are studied.  The students would collect data on some random outcome over time and add the data to a database and use FusionCharts to present the results.  The project would require students to learn about probabilities, create a simple database and then learn about graphs and presentation methods.

The Technology Fix by William Pflaum

I just finished reading The Technology Fix by William Pflaum.  The author takes the reader on a journey of 20 different schools, spanning the country and the K-12 spectrum.  He set off on this journey to answer this question he posed to himself, “Why, with all the resources that have been invested in technology, do the measureable results appear to be so meager”(Pflaum, 2004, p. 5)?  Indeed, he asked every school he visited if the technology has improved student achievement.  The answers were mixed and even when a teacher, principal, or technology coordinator believed technology has made a difference, it was a gut feel, not something they could prove.  The book ends with a different question, one posed to the author by a stranger who had listened to one of his talks.  “’Are you doing anything different since finishing your study?’” (p. 197) was the question the author pondered in developing his recommendations at the end of the book.  Pflaum had immersed himself in different schools to ascertain what the current state of affairs of technology use in schools, but “so what?” (p. 209) is the age-old question and one that I must consider now after reading the stories of the 20 different schools.

Pflaum used five criteria to organize his thoughts on technology use in schools: Computer as teaching machine, computer as productivity tool, computer as internet portal, computer as test giver, and computer as data processor (Pflaum, 2004, pp. 189-195).  I think his framework is invaluable in creating a clear way of addressing whether technology use improves student learning.  It is the first category, computer as teaching machine, that promised the transformative effects in teaching that prompted billions invested has been the least to transpire.  In fact, of the four recommendations the author offers, only one is related to the computer as a teaching machine and in that recommendation, Pflaum is essentially advocating to focus the technology on just the students who need it most, “don’t dilute the value of computers by insisting that all students have equal access” (p. 198).  The other three recommendations are related to the computer as a productivity tool and as a test giver.  But, it is this first recommendation that I had trouble with.  The author believes the computer is best leveraged with underperforming students but computer use is limited.  Therefore, he advocates targeting computer use for those lower performing students.  I am reminded by an instructor of a ‘special populations class I took.  The definition of equity is not to give everyone equal but to ensure all get what they need.  This took sometime for me to grasp, as well as the rest of the class.  We are so accustomed to fair being everyone gets the same.  The idea that equity means some students get more is not intuitive.  But this is the case that Pflaum is making in terms of use of technology.  It is something I need to sit with.

The question I need to answer is “What recommendations for change with technology can you give yourself as an educator after reading and discussing this text?”  First, I need to take to heart this concept that equity is providing to each what they need.  I am not sure what it means specifically, but I understand that if a lesson calls for technology use, I need to think the use more fully than a one-size-fits-all approach.  For me, I think the danger or the wasted resource happens when a teacher uses technology for technology sake.  Related to this is when a teacher uses content to teach computer skills but the focus is on style and not content or on skills and not content area.  Teachers need to challenge themselves when they do incorporate technology into a lesson and ask themselves if they technology is essential to the lesson or can it be taught equally as well (if not better) without the technology?

Technology can be brilliant in education when learning opportunities that did not exist without the technology are now possible.  But that takes creativity and lots of thought, research, and planning on the part of the teacher.  Throughout the book, the author heard comments such as computers do not replace teachers   I think this is true.  The technology is just a tool the teacher has to make lessons more meaningful, more engaging, more useful.  It is the teacher and how he or she uses the tool.

Technology used well takes leadership, commitment, and focus on well-defined objectives (Pflaum, 2004, p. 6).  So what is my takeaway?  Ensure the technology is used to advance the lesson, not add glitz.  Do not get overly complicated.  Make sure that the content is driving the lesson and not the technology.  Ensure that learning objectives are clearly defined, measured and consistent with the lesson plan.


Pflaum, W. (2004). The Technology Fix: The promise and Reality of Computers in Our Schools. Alexandria, VA: Association for Curriculum Development.

Exploring Education Blogs

I am new to blogging.  I visited several educational-related blogs recently, hoping to find two I would find helpful.  My first foray into this wide-open world of blogging was both overwhelming and humbling.  The first blog I visited was related to eLearning.  It had a short ‘about’ section.  I did all right reading about the author’s educational background but when she delved into her areas of experience, I had no clue about the things she listed.  Her blog was quite extensive and I decided to keep looking.  My preference is to not take a crash course in eLearning when I am just beginning to explore blogging.  However, I know I have my work cut out for me if I truly believe in leveraging technology in education. The two blogs I chose to dig deeper into were Open Thinking authored by Dr. Alec Couros and Let’s Play Math authored by Denise Gaskins.

Open Thinking captured my interest because Dr. Alec Couros, a professor of educational technology and media, created the blog while he explored the educational uses with blogging and podcasting, much as I am now.  In the About section, Dr. Couros explains his purpose for his blog, “This space is a growing collection of personal reflections and resources related to teaching and learning, democratic media, critical media literacy, digital citizenship, openness, and social justice” (Couros, n.d.).  I read a few blog entries focused on a concept Dr. Couros calls ‘open teaching’, a timely encounter for me because my class (in education technology) has been discussing many of the same issues he addresses in his blog and in his practice.

Specifically, Dr. Couros advocates an “open knowledge society” where “learning experiences are open, transparent, collaborative, and social” (2009).  The concept of open teaching leads headfirst into the issues around copyright material and fair use.  Indeed, many of the web comments to his blog post were around the piracy and creative commons licensing.  As a practitioner of open teaching, Dr. Couros licenses his educational creations through Creative Commons using the non commercial, attribution, share alike designation so that his work may be shared.  Although he shares his creations freely, he feels he can because as a university professor he is paid to create and publish, Dr. Couros also respects copyright protection for those creators who create to earn a living.  Some of the web comments challenge Dr. Couros’ respect for copyright and advocate a system where all material created can be used as public domain, freely and without restriction.  The discourse around public good and private interest related to creative materials is interesting and paralleled a very similar discussion my education technology class engaged in just last week.

In another web post, Dr. Couros shows himself as a practitioner of open teaching (2010).   The blog was a call to his readers to become mentors for his students in a course on social media and open teaching.  The mentors would follow the students on various eLearning tools (i.e., blogs, tweets, Skype) and provide critical feedback on entries and offer guidance on how to use various tools.  This particular blog was useful to me because he included many resources for online collaboration.  Also, his blog posting is an excellent template for any teacher hoping to leverage experienced users with students in a collaborative endeavor.  Dr. Couros also provides links to explain critical terms or links to instructions about specific, online tools.

The final section of Dr. Couros’ blog posting (2010) discusses communication.  Dr. Couros class communications are distributed, meaning he had not planned to offer a central location or repository of class communications.  This approach is purposeful in that Dr. Couros envisioned students choosing the forum they felt fit them best resulting in multiple forums for learning and discussing.  The class began in early September and now that it is late October, my question is how the distributed communications is working out?  Dr. Couros noted that if students needed a centralized forum, he would consider setting something up.  I wonder if that has happened.

The second blogging site I explored was Let’s Play Math.  Interestingly, the site had a short blurb regarding copyright and the author’s request that her copyrighted material be respected.  But that is not what interested me in the site.  I navigated to Let’s Play Math because, well, it is about ‘learning, teaching, and playing aourd with K-12 mathematics” (Gaskin, 2008).  Although the site is oriented towards homeschooling, I think the resources she provides are wonderful tools for any teacher.

One particularly useful blog was about teaching math to a student that hates math.  The blog posting provides several books to use rather than the ‘big name’ textbook suggested by others, links to online workbook resources, and links to various math games.  All of these tools can easily be incorporated into any curriculum to vary the materials used in teaching basic arithmetic.

I found Let’s Play Math to be full of resources for teaching math, all levels of math, including hundreds of links to various other sites.  I was thinking about what question I might have to reflect on relative to the site and found it difficult since the site was such a useful resource.  I gravitated back to the copyright notice on the about page.  The author wants her materials to be used in the classroom and to be mentioned to other people, yet respect the her copyrights.  What isn’t as clear to me is how to offer that ‘respect’.  Is it just a matter of not redistributing the materials or pretending that you created them?  Or is there more to it?


Couros, A. (n.d.). About. [Blog about section]. Retrieved from http://educationaltechnology.ca/couros/about.

Couros, A. (2009, February 19). Visualizing Open/Networked Teaching. Retrieved from http://educationaltechnology.ca/couros/1335.

Couros, A. (2010, September 27). Call for Network Mentors – Follow-Up. Retrieved from http://educationaltechnology.ca/couros/.

Gaskins, D. (2008, May 6). How to Teach Math to a Struggling Student. Retrieved from http://letsplaymath.net/2008/05/06/struggling-math-student/

Exploring Podcasts to Teach Math

In class, I spent about a half hour perusing the general podcast area of iTunes to see what caught my eye.  I first went to the technology section.  I started to listen to a few different podcasts but none interested me within the first minute so I moved on.  They seem to be chatty without diving into their topic and I found myself impatient with them.  I moved on to TED because I have seen some entertaining and interesting talks in that forum before.  My first link to a TED podcast was audio only but the announcer indicated that a video version existed.  I decided to filter my searching by video podcasts to take advantage of the fact I was sitting at a computer while investigating.

After browsing through the various categories, I eventually landed on photography related video podcasts.   I watched “The Naked Photo” by Riaan de Beer (2010) and found it very interesting.  Photography is an interest of mine but I haven’t studied it or have learned about the artistic qualities that make photographs interesting.  It is on my list of things to do.  When I stumbled across “The Naked Photo, I was hooked.  The program is not about technology or what kind of camera should be used or whether black and white or color is preferable.  Instead, the series is about what makes a great photo great.  The author analyzes well-known photographs and explains why they are great, “to strip down photos to their bare essence” (de Beer, 2010, Epsiode 1).  In class, I watched the introduction and the beginning of the first installment, a piece on Ansel Adam’s “Monolith” (de Beer, 2010, Episode 2).   I chose not to watch the entire program because I wanted to explore the iTunes University section and I could watch it later when I had time to focus on the program and the photo.  However, when I came back to the video podcast at home, that particular episode would not load or play.  I was disappointed I did not get to listen to the show.

Coming back to the assignment to subscribe and watch/listen to an entire podcast, I decided to explore the general area some more.  A series titled, “A Brief History of Mathematics” by BBC Radio (2010) caught my attention and I listened to its introduction and to the first installment on Newton and Leibniz.  I found the podcast really interesting. I subscribed to the 15 podcast series and look forward to listening to all of them.

Professor Marcus du Sautoy tells a brief history of the rival between Newton and Leibniz over who originated the calculus.  What I really liked about the podcast, though, was the context for calculus and the ways in which is used in science and beyond.  Per Professor Sautoy, “In my view, Mathematics is the language of the universe.  Mathematics is the queen of science” (du Sautoy, 2010).  He explains how calculus is important in many scientific endeavors from mechanics, to electricity to magnetism, to the solar system.

Professor du Sautoy declares, “Space Travel depends on it” (du Sautoy, 2010).  The podcast plays an interview with Astronaut Jeff Hoffman, “The basic rocket equation which tells how rockets work uses the calculus.” “Space travel without Newton and his calculus would just be inconceivable.”  But, calculus is not just science.  Professor du Sautory interviews a hedge fund analyst who, through sophisticated financial models, uses calculus to predict financial markets to make bets.  The formulas used are based on an idea formulized over 300 years ago.

Interestingly, I wanted to find some video podcasts to take advantage of the screen I have on my home Mac but also on my iPhone.  But, after listing to “A Brief History of Mathematics” (du Sautoy, 2010), I liked that it is audio only.  I can see downloading podcast series and listening to them in the car.  I think the series can help stimulate lesson plan ideas on how to connect mathematics to the real life, concrete ways in which the math is used.

In the University section, I listened to MIT’s OpenCourseWare series on calculus.  Per Professor Strang, he wanted to present a course on the highlights of calculus because the video podcasts he found were “very serious, too mathy” and he wanted to create a series that would be “a little help or second look at calculus” for high school and college students (Strang, 2010, Episode 1).

Professor Strang’s video podcast was not much different than if you were in the class with him (Strang, 2010, Episode 2).  The technology is not used in any manner that enhances the lesson but is used purely to gain access to the lecture and to that particular instructor.  I have watched other video podcasts targeted at teaching some particular math concept, and they were the same way.  The technology was used to record a lesson and open the content up to anyone who cared to watch it.  I am not discounting the importance of extending accessibility.  Video podcasts allow students unable to enroll in a particular math class to be able to study topics independently.  But the video podcasts are also helpful to students in a math class.  Many students struggle to learn math but sometimes students are able to connect with one instructor where they could not with another.  The video podcasts give students access to multiple instructors and teaching styles.  As a math teacher, video podcasts can be part of a intervention strategy for students having trouble.

The iTunes U episodes were more than 2 months old, but I decided to use them because math is not really a time sensitive subject.  Plus I thought the MIT OpenCourseWare series is a valuable, free resource for students.


de Beer, Riaan (Producer). (2010, August 22) The Naked Photo [Episode 1]. The Naked Photo – Introduction. Retrieved October 4, 2010, from iTunes > Podcasts > Arts > Visual Arts > Riaan de Beer.

de Beer, Riaan (Producer). (2010, August 22) The Naked Photo [Episode 2]. 1-Aug 2010 – Ansel Adams – Monotlith. Retrieved October 4, 2010, from iTunes > Podcasts > Arts > Visual Arts > Riaan de Beer.

du Sautoy, Marcus (Professor). (2010, September 27) A Brief History of Mathematics [Episode 1]. Maths: 01 Newton and Leibniz. London: BBC. Retrieved October 8, 2010, from iTunes > Podcasts > Science & Medicine > Natural Sciences > BBC.

Strang, Gilbert (Professor). (2010, April 20) Highlights of Calculus [Episode 1].  Gil Strang’s Introduction to Highlights of Calculus. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare. Retrieved October 9, 2010, from iTunes U > MIT.

Strang, Gilbert (Professor). (2010, April 20) Highlights of Calculus [Episode 2].  Big Picture of Calculus. Cambridge MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare. Retrieved October 9, 2010, from iTunes U > MIT.

Virtual Learning

I recently saw a television commercial for a 6-12 grade online, public school.  This online academy is a wholesale alternative to the traditional brick and mortar schooling most of us grew up with, not just a compliment to the curriculum.  Recently, the opportunities of e-learning, virtual classrooms, or distance learning have exploded.  The demand for online courses has grown so much so that for-profit companies are now creating this content for public schools.  In some cases, the delivery of the courses has also been outsourced to non-profits.  Online learning can be both good and bad.

K12 Inc. grew by 40% over last year and Connections Academy grew by 35%.  Both companies are in the e-learning industry and provide online courses as well as running virtual schools.  But most of the growth opportunity is in a hybrid model where online learning is coupled with attending a physical location  (Gustke, 2010).  These companies blur the line between public and private education when they run virtual schools for public school districts. This trend of for-profit companies entering into the business of educational delivery concerns me.  I see it as a beginning to the privatization of education.  Once education is removed from the public realm and administered by for-profit companies, the fundamental objective of educating our citizenry will be replaced wtih profits.

Virtual learning can be great if it opens up educational possibilities to students, not simply replaces them.  For example, offering an AP calculus class to rural students where a district cannot afford to offer such a class locally.  Online classes also offer more flexibility in scheduling that some students require, especially those at risk of not graduating (Podoll & Randall, 2005).

My fear is that as states, such as California, grapple with budget shortfalls and chronic underfunding of its schools, online courses and virtual schools may be seen as a way to deliver education cheaply. Indeed, Watson (2008) found that some states set a different funding level for online schools and the funding is set at the low end of the range compared to brick and mortar schools.  I think the bad of virtual schools is when it is used solely as a way to cut costs and when opportunities for brick and mortar education are cut and replaced with only on-line courses.  Quality content costs money to create and virtual schools require highly trained, effective teachers.  Ideally, parents and students should have a choice in how they receive education.  Virtual learning environments should compliment and enhance educational opportunities, not diminish them.


Gustke, C. (2010). Virtual Ed. Biz Seeks Mainstream. Education Week, 29(36), 1,. Retrieved from ERIC database.

Podoll, S., & Randle, D. (2005). Building a Virtual High School…Click by Click. T.H.E. Journal, 33(2), 14-19. Retrieved from ERIC database.

Watson, J. (2008). Online Learning: The National Landscape. Threshold Magazine, Fall 2008, 4-9. Retrieved from http://www.ciconline.org/c/document_library/get_file?folderId=117&name=THFall08TheNationalLandscape.pdf