Monday, July 10, 2017

Meeting on the digital commons

It's worth expanding on my previous post and exploring a bit more the notion of Open Source and it's relation to this blog and to teaching. describes Open Source in a document called The Open Source Way. It organizes the Open Source Way around five different principles.

The first is Open Exchange. This is the idea that we all learn more when the exchange of information is open. The free exchange of current ideas is critical to the creation of new ideas.

The second is Participation. This is the idea that freedom to collaborate encourages creativity. Problems can be solved together that cannot be solved alone.

The third is Rapid Prototyping. This is the idea that rapid prototypes may lead to rapid failures but rapid failure lead more quickly to solutions that work. The Rapid Prototyping motto is "Fail early and fail often."

The fourth is Meritocracy. This is the idea that the best ideas win. When everyone has access to the same information, successful work determines which projects get input, effort, and further work from the Open Source community.

The fifth is Community. Communities form around a common purpose and bring together a broad range of ideas and share the work of the project. The community as a whole can create something greater than any one individual is capable of.

The principle that attracts me the most in the context of this blog is Open Exchange. On a face to face basis, most of the significant improvements in my classroom practice have been the result of the exchange of ideas with other teachers. A blog is a digital forum in which I can reflect on my own practice and kick around the ideas which interest me and if they merit the attention of others in my learning circle then we can learn from the exchange of ideas.

In the context of my actual teaching practice, I want to embrace Rapid Prototyping. One of the biggest challenges in improving my teaching practice and implementing new ideas is finding a path from my current practice to my desired goal. But if I embrace the ethos of Rapid Prototyping then a certain amount of failure is not only to be expected. It's to be embraced. I should just try a lot of different things and if they don't work, reflect on why, modify them and try again. I shouldn't need to be fully assured of success before proceeding.

Welcome YU17CO21!!

Hey all, this blog hasn't seen any action in all the years it's been out there but of course you're all gonna visit fellow IICTers.

I've called it Open Source Teacher and that's an explicit shout out to the Open Source Software movement which, in turn, arises out of the early(ier) days of the internet. Open Source Software is software whose source code (the actual computer language code used to create the software that the user interacts with) is openly available usually under a copyright license that allows others to study, change, and distribute it without restriction. One of the mottos of the early Internet was "Information wants to be free!" and Open Source Software explicitly adopts that ethic. Apache Open Office is an example of Open Source Software. It's a full office software suite that parallels many of the capabilities of MS Office. GIMP is a full blown open source image processing software that rivals Adobe's Photoshop in features and flexibility.

So why call this blog Open Source Teacher? Because the intent is that my/our teaching practice should follow the open source ethic. The source code (foundations, theories, reflections) should be openly available and shared with anyone to study, change, and distribute.

So there!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Incomplete Manifesto for Growth No. 1

I'm hoping to quote and then comment on each of Bruce Mau's items in his brilliant Incomplete Manifesto for Growth. Sometimes, in order to really absorb something, I just need to copy it down and repeat it to myself. Mau's manifesto is a concrete inspiration both personally and to my pedagogy.

"1.) Allow events to change you. You have to be willing to
grow. Growth is different from something that happens to you. You produce it. You live it. The prerequisites for growth: openness to experience events and the
willingness to be changed by them."

It's difficult to be open to growth. I spend a lot of time trying to keep e/thing the same. Growth is difficult and painful.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Point of Grade 9 Math...

...might not be the math. Just listened to a CBC Ideas broadcast featuring Jean Briggs, an anthropologist, talking about Inuit strategies of child rearing and teaching and, somehow out of that it occurs to me that my focus in Grade 09 math doesn't necessarily have to be the math. It's about learning to learn and about seeing the world differently. It's about the mental equivalent of what a good masseuse might do to your spine in loosening it up and allowing you to move not just more freely, but differently altogether as a result.

Just remembered a connection to the Inuit. According to Briggs, children were often asked things like "Do you (incorrectly) imagine that such and such is the case?" The method is extremely open-ended and non-prescriptive and forces/expects that the child will generate their own response. Prescriptive right and wrong responses are eschewed.

Also, according to Briggs, some variation of counter-factuals are used. An answer might be given that is intentionally wrong with the expectation that the child will know it is wrong and deduce the "correct" and opposite answer.

Imagine if, in my math class, I said to one side of the room "For this class, I want you to only give me wrong answers." And, at the same time I tried to lead/push/divert them into productively wrong answers. Maybe I could (a) make them less afraid to be wrong and (b) get some good insights out of it.

I wonder how some of my super-keen kids would take to this?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Technology whenever!

I like technology. I like the web. I like computers. But as a math teacher I'm on the blackboard all the time. When I read about all the cool stuff that other teachers are doing, I get jealous. So why don't I book some lab time and do it?

The answer is in the last sentence. I have to book lab time and that's not a trivial exercise since the horizon for available time is something like a couple of weeks. I'm a new teacher. I really don't know exactly where I'm going to be in two weeks. Plus that's not the way I work with technology. I want my technology here and now when I think of it and as I think of it. I need to be able to use it spontaneously because using technology is about creativity and I need spontaneity for that.

Until I'm in a wired classroom, I think it's the board for me. I can improvise on the board.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Figuring Things Out

About 20 minutes into a really interesting talk on Information Overload at the Web2.0 conference in New York this year (I think) Clay Shirky says something that is simultaneously so basic and so insightful about teaching that I had to put it down somewhere:

"...we've known the formula for hydrochloric acid for some time now. We're not asking the students to figure it out because we need to know it. We're asking them to figure it out because we need them to have experience figuring things out." (via BoingBoing)

It's so easy to lose sight of the fact that this is one of the, if not the fundamental goals of education. They need to have experience figuring things out.

Long after they've forgotten their last piece of trigonometry, knowing how to figure things out will be the thing that keeps carrying them forward in life.

The question is how I should conduct my practice in light of this. Clearly, I want to emphasize this attitude in class. And I want to give them lots of opportunities to figure things out. And I want to demand that they figure things out. i.e. I need to expect it of them. And I want to model figuring things out. The implication of this last thing is that I need to not have everything figured out when I go into class. They need to see me do it.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cognitive Load

Gary Davis at Republic of Mathematics (which is starting to look like a v. interesting read from the POV of mathematics education) refers to an interesting concept (apparently originating with John Sweller). The notion is "cognitive load" and it deals with the idea that some concepts or operations just require so much cognitive processing that most or many students get stumped by them. The key point here is that teachers should keep the cognitve load in mind when teaching and actively try to manage it.

The example he gives is of students trying to expand -3y^2(4y^3 - 6y + 7). It's one thing to get them to expand something like y^2(4y^3 - 6y + 7) but throw in a coefficient of 3 - not to mention a minus sign and it's just too much to process. But if we're thinking about the "cognitive load" then we can break it down into smaller chunks. First you could multiply through by the y^2 to get -3(4y^5 - 6y^3 +7y^2). Then you could "bring in" the 3 to get -(12y^5 - 18y^3 + 21y^2) and finally bring in the minus sign, switching the signs of every element within the brackets to give -12y^5 + 18y^3 -21y^2.

Many or most teachers would do this anyways but I think I too frequently overlook this and, for everyone, I think the notion of managing the cognitive load is a useful one.