Ma, Pa Kettle and Tom Lehrer do mathematics

I just love these two videos. They show just why so many people have problems with mathematics. In particular it is the way that teachers have taught pupils “quick fix” solutions and not explained why it works.

Watch the videos and then reflect on why it is that so  many people hated mathematics at school. I find, as a mathematics consultant, that the idea of “ways to do it” just causes confusion that may very well last a lifetime.

The answer, I feel, is explanation. Tell the children why it works and let them UNDERSTAND it! Otherwise we will get perfectly good explanations for why 13-7=5 or 14 X 5= 25 (because of course 4X5 =20 and we add the 5 1’s !).

A colleague of mine is always saying that the moment we get children onto division by introducing the “bus stop” algorithm is the beginning of many children’s problems… we start from the biggest number and then what’s left becomes the larger number of the next column to the right…if you are getting confused by my explanation then think how children must feel or try to remember back to your own school days and how the mist came down and how you couldn’t wait to drop mathematics forever!

I have also added two examples of children’s mathematics answers which I feel shows the sheer panic that getting an answer to something you just don’t understand can bring you to. Without understanding we will continue to see mistakes in maths which the videos and pictures show.

Digital Preservation… the questions

I enjoyed watching this video for a number of reasons.

The first reason was that it highlighted a problem to me that I hadn’t really thought about before, the problem of what we should preserve of the mass of digital information that is available in our world today.

The second reason was that it showed just how much the U.S. Library of Congress has advanced in looking at the fact that we have now entered a digital age and that the collection and preservation of digital information is a huge part of their reason for existence and, as far as I can see they are doing it very well.

The third reason was the fact that, in the video, you will see pupils from Arlington Virginia who,as the video explains, are the teenagers of today who can truly be called “Digital Natives” and who are part of the thinking about what we need to preserve the world’s stock of digital information for their future and their children’s future.The video asks big questions of these digital natives and pays them the respect of listening and broadcasting their views.I first came across the video on a website that I follow called “Weare the” and the actual site address is:

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more about “ – Home“, posted with vodpod

When the technology lets you down

As anyone who reads this blog will know, I am a great proponent of new technology and its potential for education. I am though, like everybody else a victim of when the technology lets you down.

I am a consultant in Primary Mathematics and have to give presentations as a part of my job. I don’t know how many times I have had a wonderful Powerpoint available only to see that it doesn’t load or that the link to some website or other doesn’t happen and I stand there making apologies along the lines of “the technology lets you down!”

Yesterday was another example of this. I was looking up a brilliant list of resources called “The Clearinghouse” from Century 21, an organisation that I belong to that is promoting the use of web 2.0 technology.

I came across a really interesting search application called Yolink. I went to the Yolink site and watched the videos and was really impressed by what the application could do. It could take your normal Google Search and then scan through the results for links to particular words. It could do the same for text and the results could be saved or shared.

It seemed to make searching much better and as they said in the video it meant that you could go from “search” to “find”. This really got me excited and I foresaw a blog entry coming up on the power of Yolink.

I found that there was a Mozilla Firefox application that I could download and I dutifully did. I could hardly wait to do my first search and then quickly scan for word matches and then text matches. I tried but it didn’t quite work.

I decided, since there was a “Google Chrome” version that I would download Chrome and see if this worked better. This was duly done and , no, it did not appear to work a lot better. I tried a version for Internet Explorer and it didn’t seem to work with the efficiency that the young lady in the video had promised.

I am not discouraged though, because I am sure that the programmers will eventually sort out the problems and this is a potentially powerful application. But it did bring to mind that technology can let you down at times and that it does not have all the answers. It has great potential and there are programs and applications coming out all the time that are widening its ability to develop our learning.

But there will always be the power cut, the blown light bulb in your projector, the internet crash and the little bug that sits in the program that seems to wait until you use it. It can be very frustrating, it can make you feel like screaming.. but stick with it even when your students are laughing at your ridiculous attempts to rescue yourself from this technological hell and realise that it’ll improve in time and it’s worth it in the end!

Flickr: The Commons

I have sung the praises of Twitter on numerous occasions to those who just see it is a means of passing messages. As I have said previously in this blog most of my leads to really interesting sites have come from Twitter and this morning was no exception.

I was given a link to something called “Flickr: The Commons” This turned out to be an amazing site that contained many of the photos held as a public resource from many countries and organisations throughout the world.

It started when Flickr (The Yahoo run photo sharing site) started its first connection with a site on January 16th 2008. The site concerned was nothing less than the Library of Congress! It has since added numbers of sites with photographs that have “commons” usage, i.e. that are available for use and distribution with any known copyright.

The idea behind “The Commons” was not just to allow access to the photos but to actively add information and links to them so that they can act as a resource for everyone.

I decided to do a search on “Stoke Newington”   in London which is where I happen to have been born and raised. There was only one photograph… strangely from the Library of Congress… but it was a fascinating one….

The  photograph is the funeral in Stoke Newington of General  William Booth, who was the founder of The Salvation Army. It turned out when looking on the site at that he was buried at Abney Park Cemetery in StokeNewington, not very far from the actual place that I was born. There was also a photograph uploaded by someone of his  grave!

I did a Google search and discovered details about Abney Park Cemetery which was really interesting in that there are a number of famous personalities from music hall artists to Joanna Vassa, daughter of the black author and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano buried there. For further details see 

My journey into learning about all this came from one link in one Tweet! I think that this shows the power of Twitter as well as the power of the internet as a resource for learning. Some of you reading this may have more details or photographs that you can add to the Flickr: Commons site about General Booth!

The Tiny Mouse

I belong to a really good organisation involved in Primary computer education called Ictopus Every month I receive a new e-newsletter which usually has a theme. This month it is related to health education.

The start of the newsletter though was different from the monthly theme and was all about a little girl’s problems in using a computer program teaching her about time because of the physical size of the mouse! Below is the entry in the newsletter:

Dawn’s Small Mouse

Our local library has a computer in the children’s section, which invariably attracts

more attention than the books. It has about 30 programs on it, designed to help

young children with various disciplines, including ICT. Some of the programs

require the children to use drag and drop techniques, for example, or clicking in

precise places.

Dawn enjoys learning time with Percy (Percy Learns

Time available from Neptune Software

hard to control. For a start, the mouse pointer moved

far too fast for her to be able to make any precise

movements. She had to move the mouse left, right,

left, right, forwards and backwards, gradually getting

closer to what she was aiming for but always

overshooting. It was very frustrating. Then when the

pointer was finally in the right place, she couldn’t just

click like adults can because of the size of the mouse.

Her finger was nowhere near the button, and in

reaching for it, she just pushed the mouse and the

pointer went whizzing off again. It was very

frustrating, because she found using the mouse much

harder than telling the time, which was supposed to

be the purpose of the exercise.

We managed to solve both problems. We set up her own account on our Windows

computer at home, in which we’ve slowed the mouse pointer down, and we bought

her a small mouse which fits under her hand. In no time at all she was using the

mouse with confidence, and with a bit of practice on it, she found she was more

competent on the library mouse too. We asked them to consider replacing their

mouse, which they did – with an even bigger one!

Now this got me thinking about a number of things…. do we actually think about the logistics of use when we get our children onto a computer? I was also interested if there were other designs of computer mouse that could be bought for home or school use that would help the children’s motor skills as well as I.C.T. awareness and development.

Doing the inevitable Google Search I came across a really good mouse called  “The Tiny Mouse” which I then looked up on Amazon.

This mouse is small enough for a little child to use but has the added advantage of having very clear colour buttons for left and right use.

I have to admit that I was impressed by the design and would certainly think that it would be something that educators as well as parents can think about when they seek to get technology use by very young children (which I personally think is a very good thing in the development of our digital citizens of the future).

I would welcome your comments and opinion on this.










Why teaching is not like making motorcars

Yet another short but brilliant video by Sir Ken Robinson. He says it all very succinctly. Those who follow this blog will know that I have already saved two Ken Robinson videos, one from a TED Talk and another, slightly longer from his talk at NYSCATE in 2009.I would strongly recommend that you try and see the longer videos if you have been moved or interested by his words in this short video. I would also try and get hold of his book “The Element” which is one of the best books on education that I have read in a very long time.I loved the analogy he uses of children to plants and the statement he makes about the best teachers being those who provide the environment for growth. Perhaps the more we think of children as plants that need to be nurtured and less as things (like motor cars) to be produced for future use the better we might become in our quest to create an education system that will really allow our children to fulfil their true potential (in whatever field that may happen to be).I was glad that he mentioned the pressures that we put our children under with constant testing and exams.. he is so right…. no education system should create such tension that our children feel ill and sometimes commit suicide… this must be stopped!

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Microsoft Pivot

I have just seen another fascinating video from TED 2010. Dr. Gary Flake, who is Director of Microsoft Live Labs gives a demonstration of Pivot,a groundbreaking program that looks at the sea of data as an opportunity to look for patterns.

I found this as mindblowing as I found Pranav Mistry’s talk on “Sixth Sense” technology (which I have written about in an earlier post). The interesting thing is that Flake states on Microsoft’s site that this kind of technology would not have been possible just a few years ago.

Like Sixth Sense it uses technology to look at the world in a different way. I can only look forward to the many changes that are ahead for us with the pioneering work of M.I.T. and Microsoft and the many other centres for research in the U.S. and around the world. Who knows what might be demonstrated at TED 2011?