Friday, February 28, 2014

[Confab] Circle-Square by Dy/Dan

Dan Meyer had posed a great problem on his blog

[Confab] Circle-Square

believe it originates from The Stanford Mathematics Problem Book, though I've seen it elsewhere in other forms.
Given an arbitrary point P on a line segment AB, let AP form the perimeter of a square and PB form the circumference of a circle. Find P such that the area of the square and circle are equal. 

 In it he posted one comment from Peter Boon (my emphasis added):
Off the ISDDE mailing list, Freudenthal Institute curriculum designer Peter Boon had some useful comments on the use of interactives and videos:
I would like to investigate the possibility of giving students tools that enable them to create those videos or something similar themselves. As a designer of technology-rich materials I often betray myself by keeping the nice math (necessary for constructing these interactive animations) for myself and leaving student with only the play button or sliders. I can imagine logo-like tools that enable students to create something like this and by doing so play with the concept variable as tools (and actually create a need for these tools).

Well for me Etoys is the tool of choice (not perfect, could be better, but a great choice).  Etoys is an educational tool for teaching children powerful ideas in compelling ways and a media-rich authoring environment and visual programming system for kids to create.  Besides logo like programming it hashas GeoGebra like functionality built in with DrGeo. But for this problem you don't even need Dr. Geo.

Below are the simple steps for kids to create a model of the problem.

1) Create a "Square" using the rectangle object. Below is a screen shot where I added one variable and a simple two line script.

2) Create a "Circle" using the Ellipse Object. Below is a screen shot again adding one variable and a simple two line script.
3) Now we need to create the line segment and showing the different segments.  Below is a screen shot of two Rectangle Objects and three simple scripts. Two to have the widths match the square's side and the circle's diameter and one to keep them aligned.

Plus kids can use Etoys to construct Multiplication Models, Explore Fractions and much much more. (See EtoysIllinois from the Office for Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education (MSTE) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a great resource)

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Haiti Trip

My son and I will be going to Haiti on a mission trip with Foundation For Peace March 16-24.  We will be going down to help at the school and we will be bringing down computers and laptops with educational software from OLPC (One Laptop Per Child), a school version of Wikipedia (they have no internet access, so we will have a local copy, projects from Etoys Illinois and The Colombus School for Girls.

According to the Human Development Index, Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas, and so especially after their seismic earthquake in 2010, Haiti has had difficulty in recovering as a nation and as a people. While much aid has been promised, not all has been delivered or well used and there is still much work to be done. My team and I will be working through an organization called Foundation for Peace (FFP) who has been aiding those in Haiti since the devastating earthquake.  FFP has local leaders in Haiti and is sending down mission teams about twice a month to continue to support the community and help them to support themselves. They initially built Camp Hope, a tent community of internally displaced persons who fled there for medical care and housing. After Camp Hope, they extended their building projects to include schools where elementary and high school students could learn…and they are learning! Many students are passing their standardized exams. My team will be assisting in the building an even bigger school, one where both academics and vocational trades will be taught, so people of all ages can learn in order to earn good jobs and provide for their families.  

That being said, our team needs your help! Each member of our team needs to raise about $1,800 ($3,600 for the two of us) and I am certain we will be able to raise the funds.  Please consider making a tax deductible donation to help support us.  What is most important in my opinion is your thoughts and prayers.  For the people of Haiti and for son and myself.

If you do feel called to support the team financially, all gifts toward the trip are tax deductible. Checks can be made payable to Westerly Road Church, with the memo line reading my name and the location of the trip. Checks can be mailed to 25 Westerly Road Church, ATTN: Director of Global Outreach; Princeton, NJ 08540.

Thank you again for your thoughts and prayers.


P.S. If you are in the NJ area and have any old computers, laptops, monitors, wireless routers, ethernet hubs, power strips, etc  and would like to see them re-purposed to help the children of Haiti.  Please let me know I will wipe hard drives and put educational software on them.

P.P.S Thanks to the folks at Poisson Rouge who have graciously donated their wonderful educational software to our cause.  If you have never seen it I highly recommend you visit (  I have been recording their software to everyone with kids even before they made this wonderful donation.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Balance Scale Test


1) Click the Green Flag to start.
2) Then drag the orange triangle to a spot where you think the items will be balanced.
3) Then press to see the last 10 answers from other players

Once you have played please answer the questions below in the comments:

  • Why did the others guess that way?
  • Can you come up with a logical reason as to why the other kids may have placed it in a different position?
  • Explain what mistakes in thinking you or others made, that caused different answers?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Scratch and Etoys perfect together

A way to make make multi-player games and build your own Game Consoles.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

PETS - People for the Ethical Treatment of Studends

Hello,  I am from PETS (People for the Ethical Treatment of Studends),  PETS is the largest students rights organization in the world, with myself as a member and supporter.

Like PETA, PETS focuses its attention on the four areas in which the largest numbers of students suffer the most intensely for the longest periods of time: on tortured obfuscated word problems, in the computation classes (under the benign name mathematics classes), and in what is commonly called "drill and kill" problems. We also work on a variety of other issues, including the cruel killing of enthusiasm, the spirit of inquiry, the question "why" and other "inappropriate classroom behavior" as well as cruelty to beautiful and powerful ideas. 

PETS works through public education, cruelty investigations, research, student rescue, legislation, special events, celebrity involvement, and protest campaigns.

(Idea spark from Dy/Dan and his post  These People With Their Dogs Wearing Bandanas unfortunately he was more concerned with the dogs, rather than the students, must be one of those PETA people.

Well we'd like to do all these things, but right now its only me.  Please join me and show your support by commenting below?
If you can add a link for an idea that can help protect our students.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Scratch Draft Curricullum Guide (Session 3 - Programmed to Dance)

 I used Session #3 from Scratch Curriculum Guide Draft in my class with kids ages 10-16.   This is where kids program other kids to Dance.    The "Bosses" watch a short video of someone dancing and then program the "Bossed" to Dance.  The video's provided by the Scratch team are really well done and thought through.

When I first showed the "Bosses" the videos, the reaction was no way, this is going to be hard.  I must admit I had the same reaction.  I (and I think the kids) figured that the video with Mitch would be possible, but some of the later ones would be too challenging.  Well I was wrong (love when that happens, I learn something new :)

The kids did great and were able to program each other in a relatively short time.
One thing I changed from the Draft is I had the  bosses and bossed switch.  Show I would show the first video and A would program B, then I would have B program A.  So they all got an opportunity to see both sides.

I asked the question, "How is this like programming?"  Which is similar to "How does this activity relate to Scratch?"   Below are some of the comments from the students:
  1. We didn't know what was in the mind of the programmer.  
  2. We had no idea what they wanted us to do.  
  3. We had no "insight" (Note: I also have them taking the Coursera CS101 course on their own in a "flipped classroom" type approach.  One of the early comments in the course was that the computer, unlike a human has know insight into what you mean).
  4. We can only use words.
After class I realized one of the questions I should have asked is "How is this NOT like programming?"  I will try this next time.

I also used this a second time and noticed how some of the moves are symmetrical (especially in Dance1).  I pointed this out to the kids (tried to do so through questions) and asked how are these moves the same and different.  Which led to the realization its the same basic move once with the right hand and once with the left hand.  This then lead to a short discussion on how we can have a common set of instructions used by different body parts/costumes/objects.  In a future version of the class I would like to try and point this out immediately after Dance 1 and see how many kids "get the idea" and use it for Dances 2 and 4. Dance 3 doesn't really lend itself to this idea.
For homework, I am having them create a "Dance" program, where they take pictures of themselves in different dance positions, "green screen" their bodies out of the pictures and then program each other to dance.  I am also using Scratch connect and Etoys so they can create a "game controller" in Etoys to control the Dancers and can have a dance party on one screen projected on the wall, each student controlling their own dancer using Etoys (via Remote Sensor Protocol).  Can't wait until Makey Makey comes out so I can try incorporating that.

Note: I had a class before this where we did "How to Train Your Robot"  using Dr. Techniko's hand out and having them program their parents.  Not sure how much this impacted how quickly/easily they were able to program each other.

I really like your approach of having kids "step away from the computer and no one gets hurt" approach.  I try to do this a lot, partly so they can get in touch and reflect upon the knowledge they have in their own bodies and also to give them different context for experiening the same/similar concepts and ideas,

Friday, June 1, 2012

What do I want kids to learn?

Great, talk on Assessing Computational Thinking by the Scratch Ed team. 
I was sorry I missed the live version, but Memorex is just as good
(okay I'm dating myself, see video below if you don't get the reference)

Here are some of my initial notes and thoughts:

How do you Assess? 
Damn good question and I LOVED Karen's line: 
"Some of the things that are easiest to evaluate are not the things we care about."  
The problem is that the things that are easy (ie: quick and inexpensive) and "fair" (standarizable across a wide population) to assess are not what I care about.

What do I want kids to learn:
  • Certain Habits of Mind that will serve them well in life and make them better citizens.
    • Confidence that they can create things they care about.
    • Help others
    • How to work with others and build a team
    • Explore different ways of Knowing/expressing something
      • Write it in Scratch, JavaScript, programming another person, etc.
    • Balancing Churchill and Twain
      • Never, Never, Never Give Up. - Winston Churchill
      • Try, Try again, then give up. There no sense making a damn fool of yourself - Mark Twain
      • NOTE: I like giving kids conflicting suggestions.  First it forces them to think.  Second, It requires them to look for appropriate balances and realize things are not always black and white.
    • Try understanding “Why it works” (especially after "hunting and pecking" until you get an answer)
    • Look for connections
  • Things I look for and questions/comments I ask/make toward this end.
    • How is these two things the same and how are they different?
    • How else could you do this?
    • Do the simplest thing possible to make it work. Then you can refine later.
    • Its okay to make mistakes.
      • I expect mistakes. In fact if you aren’t making mistakes you aren’t trying hard enough.
      • What can you learn from that mistake?
      • Learn from the mistakes of others. You don't have time to make them all yourself.
    • Wow that’s cool, how did you do that?
    • How did you come up with that idea?
    • What did you try that didn’t work?
    • If a student finishes early, ask them to help someone else. Part of this is training them to help in a way, that builds up the other students and tries to question them toward an answer, or provide examples or small pieces of code they can look at and try and figure out. That said, sometimes, doing it for them is appropriate.
    • Make mistakes on purpose and see what happens.
      • Done with text based languages so they can see the error the compiler produces and get a better understanding and appreciation of the error messages.
    • Give them: Wheres the bug problems.
    • Read their code out loud to themselves and imagine/visulize/kineticize (move your hands/body to mimic what the code is doing, good for drawing shapes projects).
      • I tell them reading it out loud helps you slow down and see what your code is really doing, which is often NOT what you want it to do.  (“Do what I meant, Not what I said”)
    • Its okay to copy (re-use and hopefully re-mix)
    • Can you make this a re-usable compoment that you can use in other projects? Should you?
    • How is this like (fill in the blank) and How is it NOT like (fill in the blank)
      • Example 1: Scratch Draft Curricullum comparing programming each other how to Dance with how its like programming in Scratch.
      • Example 2: How are these programs, which all do the same thing, but are written in different languages (one in Scratch, one in Java Script and one in Squeak) similar and different?

I also want to comment on the question that came up towards the end
How do you encourage kids to be bold? (and not afraid to ask questions or make mistakes)
But that's another post.