Stephen Colbert “Teachers are Destroying America”

A great clip from this week’s Colbert Report profiles Dawn Quarles, a Florida high school teacher, who faces voter fraud fines for registering her students to vote. Quarles, a teacher at Pace High School in the Panhandle, could receive a $1,000 fine for violating Florida’s new law which places strict limits on the voter registration process.

For more in this occasional series, see my post Jon Stewart “Teachers are Destroying America”

Mental Mapping: Video Game Maps Drawn From Memory

Games are interaction with rules. They mimic the scientific method – hypothesis tested to overcome obstacles and achieve goal while operating inside prescribed system of boundaries. Video games provide failure based learning – brief, surmountable, exciting. While failure in school is depressing,
in a video game, it’s aspirational.

Super Mario World world map by fliptaco
Super Mario World world map by fliptaco

Josh Millard recently began curating a growing collection of video game maps drawn from memory at his site Mapstalgia. He writes,

We spend time in video game worlds, learning our way around the constructed environments.  We make mental maps of these places as part of the process of trying to progress through them.  We learn where the good bits are hidden, remember the hard bits that got us killed every damn time.  The worlds may be fictional but our mental maps of them are as real as anything else we remember.  And they’re shared experiences: my experience in Super Mario Bros. was a lot like yours, and even if we never played it together, it’s a space we have in common.  And the way our memories overlap, and the ways they differ — the commonalities and contrasts of our individual recalls of these shared spaces — is a really interesting and as far as I’ve seen mostly undocumented emergent result of decades of videogaming experiences. So let’s draw these remembered maps.  Let’s put it down on graph paper or napkins or MS Paint. 

The Legend of Zelda world map by themadjuggler
The Legend of Zelda world map by themadjuggler

Submissions range from detailed renderings to simple sketches. They all demonstrate a great way to teach mental mapping skills – spatial relationships, sequence, causation, scale, location, and measurement. Use Mapstalgia to inspire your students. Then give them a chance to have fun while demonstrating their ability to translate gaming worlds into two dimensional representations. Let them compare maps of the same game to design their own mapping rubric. Explore different representations of game elements for clarity and design.

 
Super Mario 64 Peachs Castle by GNM
Super Mario 64 Peachs Castle by GNM

Get students hooked working with something they know intimately - video games. Then transfer those visual literacy skills to more traditional mapping instruction as well as exploration of symbolic representations of all kinds.

Sonic Adventure 2 City Escape by cubeybooby
Sonic Adventure 2 City Escape by cubeybooby
Zork excerpts by ErWenn
Zork excerpts by ErWenn

Image credits: Mapstalgia

Finding Math in Nature’s Patterns

Succulent spiral
Succulent spiral

As I recently wrote in Don’t Teach Them Facts – Let Student Discover Patterns 

It’s unfortunate that student don’t get to use their innate perceptual skills more often in the classroom. Instead of discovering patterns on their own, students are “taught” to memorize patterns developed by someone else. Rather than do the messy work of having to figure out what’s going on, students are saddled with graphic organizers which take all the thinking out of the exercise. 

“Doodling in Math Class: Spirals, Fibonacci, and Being a Plant” captures the fascination of patterns in nature. Discover more patterns from Vi Hart – Mathemusician

Image credit: flickr/Duff Axsom

Texting While Walking: Video Guide for Safety and Etiquette

Here’s a clever video by Casey Neistat. Using an novel combination of live action and animation, he tell the story of the dangers of texting while walking. Casey notes, 

By mastering the etiquette of texting, I hope we can gain more control over our increasingly electronic lives.  Let’s stop acting like hollowed-out zombies, with BlackBerrys and iPhones replacing eye contact, handshakes and face-to-face conversations.  It’s time to live once again in the present and simply be where we are. More

As someone who lives in downtown Portland Ore (without a car), I’m always trying to improve my pedestrian etiquette. It might be nice if the drivers stopped texting, as well.

This video is part of the New York Times Op-Docs series – short, opinionated documentaries. 

Texting While Walking
Texting While Walking

Solve the Problem

Solve the problem
Solve the problem

This problem was inspired by an advertisement I saw in Wired Magazine. (Modified for this blog post). When I first saw the page, I realized I was looking at a puzzle, but I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. Then I “got” what was going on and I figured it out.

The key to solving a problem often lies with finding a pattern. That’s a very human skill. Even newborns can soon recognize faces. As Jon Medina has said “We…are terrific pattern matchers, constantly assessing our environment for similarities, and we tend to remember things if we think we have seen them before.”

It’s a pity we don’t do a better job of teaching pattern recognition in school. Uncovering an underlying pattern is essential to constructing meaning. In school we typically “teach” patterns to students as “facts,” rather than ask students to discover the pattern for themselves. Of course this strips the activity of its real value as a learning strategy, and turns into just another thing to memorize. Asking students to file some pre-selected information into a graphic organizer isn’t analysis – it’s just moving stuff around. True analysis involves doing the challenging work of trying to make sense of information. Powerful learning occurs when students have to answer questions like - Is this a sequence? Is it cause and effect? How would I organize this material into categories? Could I explain my system to someone else?   Exactly the type of skills that are demanded by the new Common Core standards.

Enough commentary, have you solved the problem yet?

Credit: Inspired by CenturyLink ad in Wired Magazine, October 2011 p. 148

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