Recorded Webinar: Teaching Math in 2020

Nov 30, 2016 by

Just realized I never shared this webinar video from 2014 (you know, back when 2020 still seemed pretty far away).

What Does Teaching Math look like in 2020?

With every new iteration of technology, we create a generation of students whose primary media “language” for learning and interacting with the world is different than the one before it. In the last 5 years, technologies like free online videos, personalized learning software, and mobile devices, have been chipping away at the corners of education and traditional teaching. Technology-enhanced learning is here to stay, and it will alter the face of education, like it or not. This webinar is your guide to navigating and thriving in this new world.

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What does Math Teaching look like in 2020?

Aug 7, 2014 by

This is from a presentation today looking at the future of teaching math from a K-12 perspective. Here are my predictions for math teaching at the K-12 level in 2020:

(1) Learning math becomes a team activity, where technology is one of the team members.

(2) Teachers shift from the role of an instructor to the role of a learning coach.

(3) We solve the mobile devices and assessment problem.

(4) Students can move seamlessly between in-person and digital experiences.

(5) Teacher planning periods shift from lesson planning to examining analytics and choosing digital / in-person learning activities.


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WolframAlpha Facebook Report

Apr 12, 2013 by

This is a delightful exercise that everyone seems to love. WolframAlpha will provide you with an extremely detailed analysis of your own Facebook data including visualizations, world clouds, graphs, and more.

Graph of Facebook Activity over time




Here’s how:

  1. Go to
  2. Type “Facebook Report” and execute the search.
  3. Allow WolframAlpha to have access to your Facebook account by clicking on “Analyze my Facebook Data” and following the directions.
  4. Wait while the data is analyzed.

Note: Sometimes the report seems to stall after 100% of the data is analyzed. If this happens, simply repeat steps 1-3. The second time, the report seems to load just fine.


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Data Sleuthing

Apr 4, 2013 by

Khan Academy Idaho is a grant-funded initiative to help K-12 teachers in Idaho integrate digital devices and the Khan Academy program into their math classrooms. Yesterday I gave a keynote there called “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” about (1) the challenges facing math educators and (2) Data Sleuthing, a way to encourage math curiosity and data literacy in students.

Resources from this presentation:

Homework from the Presentation

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Giving up Calculation by Hand

Nov 16, 2010 by

This is scary stuff for math professors, but with the arrival of amazing programs like Wolfram Alpha, we’re going to have to start paying attention to the signs of change.  I talked to Conrad Wolfram (at Wolfram Alpha Homework Day) when he was still formulating what he wanted to say at this TED Talk.  I think it’s worth 18 minutes of your time to watch Teaching kids real math with computers.

Here’s an outline of the Conrad Wolfram’s argument (which I am paraphrasing/quoting here):

What’s the point of teaching people math?

  1. Technical jobs (critical to the development of our economies)
  2. Everyday living (e.g. figuring out mortgage, being skeptical of government statistics)
  3. Logical mind training / logical thinking (math is a great way to learn logic)

What IS math?

  1. Posing the right questions.
  2. Convert from real world to mathematical formulation
  3. Computation
  4. Convert from mathematical formulation BACK to real world

The problem? In math education, we’re spending about 80% of the time teaching students to do step 3 by hand.

Math is not equal to calculating, math is a much broader subject than calculating.  In fact, math has been liberated from calculating.

Should we have to “Get the basics first”?  Are the “basics” of driving a car learning how to service or design the car?  Are the “basics” of writing learning how to sharpen a quill?

People confuse the order of the invention of the tools with the order in which they should use them in teaching. Just because paper was invented before computers, it doesn’t necessarily mean you get more to the basics of the subject by using paper instead of a computer to teach mathematics.

What about this idea that “Computer dumb math down” … that somehow, if you use a computer, it’s all mindless button-pushing.  But if you do it by hand it’s all intellectual.  This one kind of annoys me, I must say.  Do we really believe that the math that most people are actually doing in school practically today is more than applying procedures to problems they don’t really understand for reasons they don’t get? … What’s worse … what they’re learning there isn’t even practically useful anymore.  It might have been 50 years ago, but it isn’t anymore.  When they’re out of education, they do it on a computer.

Understanding procedures and processes IS important. But there’s a fantastic way to do that in the modern world … it’s called programming.

We have a unique opportunity to make math both more practical and more conceptual simultaneously.

Personally, I’m all for it.  But how?  That’s the question.  How to shift and incredibly complex and interconnected system of education? How to train tens of thousands of teachers and faculty to teach a new curriculum that they themselves never learned?  Hmmm … it seems that we might need some help, maybe a new paradigm for education itself.  It’s coming.

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Are Math Instructors the next to be outsourced?

Oct 20, 2010 by

Have I mentioned lately that math instruction will be outsourced to technology? (oh yeah, pretty much every time I find myself speaking at a conference)

See NCAT’s latest initiative “Changing the Equation” email, which I’ve copied below:

Changing the Equation Selects 38 Institutions

The National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT) is pleased to announce that 38 two-year institutions* have been selected to participate in Changing the Equation, a new program focused on redesigning remedial/developmental math supported by a $2.3 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Institutions participating in the program will improve student learning outcomes while reducing costs for both students and institutions using NCAT’s proven redesign methodology. Collectively, these 38 redesigns will impact more than 100,000 students annually.

Each participant in Changing the Equation will redesign its entire developmental math sequence-all sections of all developmental courses offered-using NCAT’s Emporium Model and commercially available instructional software (ALEKS, Carnegie Learning, Hawkes Learning Systems and MyMathLab.) Each redesign will modularize the curriculum, allowing students to progress through the developmental course sequence at a faster pace if possible or at a slower pace if necessary, spending the amount of time needed to master the course content.

You know how they are reducing costs, right? Less instructors, more technology.

I think NCAT and The Gates Foundation have their heart in the right place (they want to see improvements in student success rates in math).  However, I think this will pretty much kill any hope of engaging students in a love of mathematics. Students might pass (some question about the fact that homework counts for larger percentages of the grades in these NCAT courses), but I doubt very much that students will ever voluntarily take more math than the minimum requirements.  Why is this a problem? Because WE NEED MORE STEM GRADUATES, not less.  If students don’t have the desire to take more math, they are also cut off of careers in Chemistry, Physics, Engineering, Biology, Economics, and Computer Science.

On the one hand, I think we (math instructors) are reaping what we’ve sown. Math classes are, for the most part, pretty boring.  When there is engagement, it’s mostly between the instructor and the student (not student to student).  Classes that function in this manner (mine included) probably deserve to be replaced by technology.

But there is also another way … we could improve the classes. We could make them more engaging.  We could use play and exploration to get students interested in math again.  We could personalize the learning to the interests of each student (more on this to come).  We could use class time to let students work together to solve problems in innovative classroom environments.

This movement to the emporium model pushes colleges even more towards the “industrial model of education.”  I think this is a huge mistake.  We need to engage students in learning and wanting to learn.  We need for students to be excited about learning math.  I’m trying really hard to imagine students talking excitedly to their friends about how fun the Emporium method is for learning math.  I have a good imagination, but I’m just not seeing it.

This? This is 100,000 new students going down the math assembly line.

Come on … we have better ideas this.

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