Saturday, April 16, 2011

Online Flashcards

This is going to be a quick how-to post on using digital flashcards in class.  Of course, you don't need technology to use flashcards for review!  You can have students write up their own flashcards as a homework assignment or during class.

While anyone can make a flashcard using pencil and 3x5 cards, there are some benefits to using digital flashcards with your students.  You don't have to worry about the quality of the students' flashcards, since you make them yourself.  With online flashcard websites, you can set up your own flash cards and just send students a link.  Then, they have access to that resource to practice on their own time, without having to make the initial investment of making the cards.  Two, you can make them once and use them forever!  Three, some flashcard software is very advanced, with algorithms that only show the cards that students most need to work on.  Four, there are some websites and digital flashcard tools that have Andriod and iPhone apps to let students quiz themselves using their phones.

On to the websites.  My favorite flashcard site is Anki.  This is a really advanced flashcard software.  It can be installed on your computer (on Mac, PC, lots o' stuff!), used online, or used on your phone (they have Andriod and iPhone apps).  It is really great for math because it has support for the LaTeX typesetting language, which most college professors use to type up math textbooks.  Anki has a lot of options, a "spaced repetition" algorithm for serving up questions when you are just about to forget the answers, and a page that will show you charts and statistics for the questions you get right and wrong.  You can also download decks online, which is how you as a teacher would be able to share with your students.  Here is a short introductory video by the creator of Anki:

I really like Anki and think it is a fantastic tool.  However, you might think it is a bit overkill.  There are lots of flashcard websites out there that you can use to share flashcard decks with your students.  Two that I found are Flashcard Exchange and Flashcarddb, which I used a little bit to study for history of math (for instance: here).

Do you think online flashcards could be useful in your class?  Let me know in the comments!  Cheers.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


I recently did an interview with Dr. Boling as part of her study about this course.  If you haven't already talked to her, I highly recommend it for two reasons:  one, it's a good chance to give back to the GSE, and second, I think it's fun to talk about education with someone that has a lot of experience.  Anyway, in talking about this course we brought up the idea of sharing resources that were really valuable to us in our respective subjects.  So, this post represents my attempt to do that for math. 

Math specific stuff

My hands-down favorite collection of math resources is  I know many of y'all might already be familiar, but I have to pitch it just in case.  The site has lessons organized by topic and grade (click "Lessons" on the left for a search screen.)

Also highly recommended is Sam J. Shah's virtual filing cabinet (part of his Continuous Everywhere.. blog).  The virtual filing cabinet includes links to good teaching resources for algebra II and above.  Link here:

The next overall website is  This is a website created by the New Zealand Ministry of Education, so the website is organized according to New Zealand's education system.  Our 8th grade is roughly their level 4 or 5.

Different blogs are good for different grade levels, but my favorite is "I hope this old train breaks down", link here:  The author posts quite frequently and links to all sorts of great stuff.  I read it for inspiration as well as specific lessons - I like her teaching philosophy.

Also good are dy/dan, Continuous Everywhere but Differentiable Nowhere, f(t), and many others.  I highly encourage you to look at the blog links on the sides of the above blogs and bookmark/rss the ones you like depending on what classes you teach.  Links:,,  For an example of a valuable blogroll, see

There are tons of sources of good problems for your math classroom, here are two: Mathcounts (middle school) and Exeter math (high school).  Also, check out Alcumus and For the Win! from Art of Problem Solving as well as
Kuta math software has free worksheets on a big list of math subjects,which are so-so.  Site:

For those of you that have projectors or access to computers but not Geometer's Sketchpad, check out Geogebra.  It's basically the free, open-source knockoff of GS, and it's very, very similar, though it lacks the polish of Sketchpad.  Some links: for download, and has a bunch of how-to files.

Lastly, our professors are really smart people and they do a lot of great research into teaching and learning.  Here is a good research-based primer for math teachers: 

General resources

Get dropbox or use google docs.  Dropbox is cool because you can share your lesson plans and files with all your GSE friends, and that can become a hugely valuable resource.  This year's math kids didn't do it, but the English kids did.   

If you use google docs you might as well set up a google reader for all your math blogs - which you read religiously, every day, right after flossing!  I set up categories in my google reader for "functions" "graphing" "statistics" "awesome" etc and whenever I read an inspiring article I tag it for future use.  Set up some sort of system for organizing cool things you find.

Check out the Khan Academy:  You might as well get familiar with this site, which has around 2,100 videos that explain math, physics, chemistry, history, finance and some other stuff, as well as a growing library of computer-checked problems to go along with each topic.  I used this a couple of times to email videos to my students who missed class, and I think its a great resource! 

For videos, see also:  Additionally, you get tons of hits for videos on a given math topic by typing something like "mixture problems" into youtube.

Odds and ends

Math for Primates is a great podcast by two professors from Portland:  They went on hiatus since one of them is writing a book called Punk Mathematics (!) here:

There are some really great science simulations and applets created by the University of Colorado here:  Also science-y, check out, which is a math/physics based look at sustainable energy.  Lastly, check out, who explains how things work and the engineering behind them.  Awesome! 

Your turn

Hopefully this post has been helpful to you.  I'd really like to hear what resources you have found most useful in your teaching practice.  If you have a great resource, post it to the comments, or put it on your blog and send me a link.  Cheers!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Privacy issues

I think privacy is one of the most important issues out there on the internet.  This week's readings/viewings included some really disturbing clips that show how easy it is to find people's identity on the web.  Specifically, I'm thinking about the video showing how easy it is to look up someone's real name, address, telephone number based only on information from a public chat room (it was called "How hard is it to target kids online").  I think this video should have also addressed Facebook, because with a Facebook account the stalker might have been able to find pictures of their victim as well.  That is some really creepy stuff, and I think one good reason why perhaps schools are hesitant to embrace the use of web 2.0 technologies for the classroom.

Many of the recommendations we learned this week about access control to class internet resources stem from dealing with this problem (though hopefully in a less extreme case).  We need to be sure we can control the internet environment for our class, just as we expect to be able to control who enters our school building and who enters our class.  Also, we need to be clear about communicating our rules and expectations for using technology, just like we communicate rules and expectations in the classroom.

I'd like to change gears a little bit, away from the stalking phenomenon, to a more subtle privacy topic.  Aside from the possibility that anonymous stalkers are targeting you individually over the internet, there is the very real possibility that you are being tracked by companies.  Part of the reason the internet has so much awesome free stuff is that we get to access the services from the web in exchange for losing some privacy.  I don't think people know just how much information is available, however.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a series on internet privacy.  It turns out companies have invented lots of ways to track their users, beyond simple cookies.  Here is an excerpt from the article "On Web's Cutting Edge, Anonymity in Name Only" about the tracking technology developed by [x+1], a data tracking firm:

From a single click on a web site, [x+1] correctly identified Carrie Isaac as a young Colorado Springs parent who lives on about $50,000 a year, shops at Wal-Mart and rents kids' videos. The company deduced that Paul Boulifard, a Nashville architect, is childless, likes to travel and buys used cars. And [x+1] determined that Thomas Burney, a Colorado building contractor, is a skier with a college degree and looks like he has good credit.

The company didn't get every detail correct. But its ability to make snap assessments of individuals is accurate enough that Capital One Financial Corp. uses [x+1]'s calculations to instantly decide which credit cards to show first-time visitors to its website.

This is profoundly creepy!  It turns out that [x+1] uses many databases to make these predictions.  Here is the WSJ again (because I think this stuff is really cool):

By contrast, firms like [x+1] tap into vast databases of people's online behavior—mainly gathered surreptitiously by tracking technologies that have become ubiquitous on websites across the Internet. They don't have people's names, but cross-reference that data with records of home ownership, family income, marital status and favorite restaurants, among other things. Then, using statistical analysis, they start to make assumptions about the proclivities of individual Web surfers.

The WSJ did a whole series of articles about this issue, you can find it here:

There is a moral dimension to this story.  I'm a really big fan of math and pretty happy with my undergraduate education.  However, it saddens me to see math (statistics) being used in this way.  The people being tracked by this technology most likely wouldn't approve if they knew it was being done.

Of course, there are two sides of every story.  Here are some counter-arguments to that position: First, people aren't being identified by name, according to [x+1] (I suspect that this is not always true, however.)  Secondly, this type of tracking technology allows companies to market to specific users who might like their product, which should arguably give consumers a better experience since they would then end up looking at ads for things they might actually want.  So this technology isn't malicious, but rather designed to better sell you widgets or something.  Lastly, advertising sustains the internet!  It's the reason Facebook is free.  And I don't see myself giving up Facebook anytime soon...

I don't mean to quote all these scary blurbs and then leave it at that.  There are some precautionary browser add-ons you can install that might help protect you.  The WSJ recommends Ghostery, which blocks a lot of the tracking technologies featured in the article.  You can find it here:  Also, if you are on wifi networks and use Firefox, look into HTTPS Everywhere,, which makes encrypted connections with websites the default setting where available.  HTTPS Everywhere won't stop these companies tracking you (Ghostery does that), but it will foil people if they are snooping around on your wireless network.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Blogging is definitely an awesome tool.  First of all, its hard to censor blogs.  There is no requirement that you post your real name or tell your boss that you are starting a blog.  You can express your opinion and adopt an alter-ego.  You can write almost anything, but hopefully you are writing something cool.  As the saying goes, "On the internet, no one knows that you are a dog."

Next, blogging is free.  One of the stranger things about the internet is that all this awesome stuff is provided free of charge - Thinkfinity, free, Blogger, free, wikispaces, free.  Hmm, maybe someone should tell Rutgers about this trend...

Blogging is dependable.  It's made by Google, so there are probably like 8 digital copies of everything you ever typed, stored in 4 different locations.  If your computer crashes and you lose everything, all your emails and blog posts and pictures live on in someone else's computer.  Someone way tech-savvier whose job it is to protect your stuff.  Excellent, and did I mention this is free?

Sometimes I think the internet is a giant pyramid scheme.

Anway, how does this all relate to education?  In the article "Conditions for Classroom Technology Innovations," the authors discuss potential pitfalls that were experienced by the teachers in their survey.  On page 409 there was a little nifty circle graph with arrows and whatnot that highlights the forces at work:

So we see that the teacher (aka innovator, we are not being shy,) makes up only one part of a project's success.  There are two other factors that are beyond the teacher's direct control.

Now, teachers have the knowledge and ability to influence and work with these other groups to get stuff done.  My point is that, looking at the benefits of blogging above, it seems like there will be educational stuff posted on blogs that is way cooler than any official, school-sanctioned workshop.

First off, all those factors in the "Contex" box basically go away.  The internet is pretty much magic - super awesome stuff, always works, and free.  So bloggers won't get held back by technological issues.  The most successful teachers in the Classroom Conditions article were the ones who had: 1. The most technological know-how and 2. The most independence.

Blogs lower the technological barriers to entry, and plus, they offer the ultimate in independence.  As Flight of the Conchords would say, "Conditions are perfect."

To summarize: Blogs and other internet tools really sidestep the "context" that held some teachers back from creating the projects they had in mind.  Blogging can (and does) open people up to new ideas and new resources.  This technology be a powerful tool for finding new resources and modifying pedagogies.  There are tons of ideas out there.  It's more than worth a shot. 

Now, I admit, some of those new ideas on the internet are all about putting captions on pictures of cats.  But then again, you never really know who is behind the screen...