Crustacean Estimation

I’m still messing around with engaging elementary students with measurement and estimation. My own kids seem pretty interested. I don’t know if that’s a good measure at all. It has been a new experience for me to see how the different ages are able to engage with the same media. It is interesting to have your own tiered test group at hand- no matter how biased.

This particular structure was sparked by one of the elementary specialists commenting that the students would often guess similar weights for a lion and a cat. My idea is to present similar animals but of very different sizes.

I see it going something like this.

crustacean scale
Solicit comments about what kids know. Have the students guess which one is bigger. How much bigger?

crustacean scale
I may need a child sized silhouette rather than an adult- probably a good idea to mix the gender as well. I don’t know if that opens up additional areas of confusion. This is a also where I might add a zoomed in slide that breaks things down by inches. I think it’d be important to have a scale grid on the wall for students to measure themselves against. If it had the silhouettes, on it all the better.

crustacean scale
Now we have a much larger scale. What unit of measurement do you use? How big is this lobster? How can you tell?

crustacean scale
The actual statue in Shediac, New Brunswick is supposed to be 35 feet long. That seems a little off if we assume the guy is about 6 feet tall. It may be that the perspective is messing things up some. It may be that guy is very large (and with a very large woman). Troubleshooting estimation issues in photographs with students would be worthwhile I think. You could play some fun games with that especially given things like Japanese perspective photo fads.

Squirrels In My Pants

I did a presentation the other day on how one might use the Promethean software to do some interesting things with video. I don’t think the software is essential to do any of this but it did make it pretty easy and we already have it on all our computers and all our student computers. In any case, I used the video above to demo a few easy things for kids to do using screenshots from virtually any video.

Yes, it did make my kids’ day to use a Fineas and Ferb song about squirrels in someone’s pants. I’m not sure what the teachers thought of it but sometimes you have to amuse yourself.

Simplest- Visual Answers

Take video screenshots to answer questions. Easy but a different level of involvement with the video. Depending on the questions this could be low level stuff or something more sophisticated.

You could do simple things like ID the protagonist. Or you could ask harder questions like- Capture the most dramatic frame in the video.

Summarize or Cartoonize

Using simple screenshots you can add word balloons to summarize the video or just use the frame captures as fodder for comics in general. You can make it more complex by adding restrictions (see below) – things like you have to summarize the video in only four frames and 6 lines of poetry. Stuff like that. It can make things more interesting and done with the right examples it could even be at least amusing.

Scary Mary Plot Reversal

The still picture version of a Scary Mary type plot reversal. Simple stuff, I know.

Time Intervals

This is a rough and dirty way to do something similar to what Dan Meyer did with the basketball shot image (at least for the still portion). Essentially, you just hit the frame capture tool at semi-regular intervals and then lay the images over the top and mess with the transparency some. Not super, but really easy and all done in one program that we have and people use.

My example used Angry Birds. I don’t think it was the best choice. I think the basketball shot Dan uses is more interesting to most students- especially if you are the one taking the shot.


Once again, I’m just trying to find ways for teachers/students to mimic stuff Dan Meyer is doing but with as little tech knowledge as possible. I saw his use of an embedded timer in his falling rocks series. That is one nice aspect of the way the Promethean software works. I can add all sorts of useful objects from a built in library- the timer being one, grid overlays are another (it’ll default underneath objects, you can set it to the topmost level under object properties).

The main goal with all this is just to show that it doesn’t have to be hard. We can use simple software and simple ideas to do some pretty interesting things with students. All of our students have this software yet usage still tends to focus on duplicating things you might as well do in PPT.

Education Innovation in NYC

I made a 24 hour visit to NYC to check out two of the schools in their iZone project. It’s worth reading a little more about the concept at their site.

New York City has designed the iZone to free schools from the compliance-oriented culture that has inhibited real innovation in our nation’s schools. Schools within the iZone are provided the resources and support to pioneer new models that transform what schools look like, personalizing instruction to the needs of each individual student, and dramatically improving student achievement.


The following comments are based on about two hours at each school during which we toured a few classrooms and got a variety of people related to the school telling us various things. Add my own biases and other personality issues and you’ve got a fairly superficial view of things but it’s probably more than you had before. I freely admit that this is surface level and probably more reflective of my own opinions than any sort of objective reality.

School of One

The School of One

To organize this type of learning, each student receives a unique daily schedule based on his or her academic strengths and needs. As a result, students within the same school or even the same classroom can receive profoundly different instruction as each student’s schedule is tailored to the skills they need and the ways they best learn. Teachers acquire data about student achievement each day and then adapt their live instructional lessons accordingly.

My one sentence description: A math curriculum that tries to use software and algorithms to create daily differentiated schedules and experiences based on student performance on task based activities.

That’s a convoluted sentence, no doubt. To make it more plain, they have students doing a fair amount of work within a LMS type system where they can track “mastery” of concepts through multiple choice quizzes. They take those data, combine it with self reporting on preferred learning styles and start to build schedules for students that take those things into account.

What I liked-
It makes sense to-

  • change instruction for individuals based on demonstrated results and preference.
  • use computers to help students efficiently memorize basic content and master basic skills.
  • offload some of the work of differentiation onto computers.
  • offload a chunk of low level grading to computers where the data can be tracked and broken down in more useful ways that actually change how and what students are taught.

Expanded Notes

The learning is done in one large long room- think giant shoe box shape. I believe they had to tear down walls to create it. The rationale is that having one giant room will result in teachers holding each other accountable and that it saves time (extends the school year was the way it was stated) by eliminating time lost by moving to different rooms. I’m not sure how that works as it seems like the students would still have to move, although the distance would be less.

The focal point on entering the room is a large monitor displaying student names indicating where that student should be (see image above- names blurred out of paranoia). There are various rough sections with signs. You have students involved in direct instruction, doing 1:1 online tutoring, participating in various online activities with a guide circulating to help if needed.

It is fairly loud due to the fact that there are numerous teacher led direct instruction sessions going on at once. Teacher instruction looked traditional in form and manner while we were present. “Class” sizes were smaller than the 30 or so you’d see in most classrooms (10 on average?) but some seemed to be in the high teens if not twenties. Whiteboards were in use and seemed to act as impromptu walls in many cases.

It seems like it’d be hard for students to make connections to teachers in this situation because of the way kids move from teacher to teacher. This was brought up as well, citing the importance of the teacher-student relationship and learning. The reply was essentially- “Students don’t get stuck with bad teachers all year either.” I’m not a fan of that reply.

Another aspect which had me thinking some was that teachers had core lessons they taught. Like, I might be the “multiplying fractions” guy or the “area of quadrilaterals” guy. In order to deal with the way students shift, teachers needed to cut down on prep time so they became “experts” in certain specific lessons. There are some positive aspects to teaching the same content to a bunch of different students, multiple times in a day/week/year if you are breaking it down and really learning from it as a teacher. I, as an individual, might also go crazy. I like some variety and feeling of linear progression in how I teach students. I’m not sure I’d get that in this system. It’s hard to tell.

They are trying new things. They are new things that seem to be custom made for the kind of multiple choice tests that are currently in vogue. There are pieces that are worth thinking about but I’m not sure how this system, as a whole, would fare under different testing conditions.

Anyway, that ought to break up the parade of #ds106 posts. I’ll save the second school for another post, as I’m rapidly approaching 900 words here.

Questioning – Elementary Math

Dan’s post on math questioning reminded me of the video below and how impressed I was by this teacher’s questioning skills. She ran the whole class like this and made it work well. It really was so much fun to watch.

This is an elementary math classroom but I promise it’s worth watching for any teacher.

I filmed this a while back. Sadly, it’s too easy to do these projects and put them in the heavily fortified garden a lot of our school video lives in and forget about them.

Here is a Word document that was related to this series and adds some context.

Here’s the question the students are trying to solve. Although I think she had the questions more clearly delineated. I would suggest heavy reformatting before using it with students.

more good teacher questions

Observation Video – Elementary Math

Elementary Math Classroom Observation from Tom Woodward on Vimeo.

This is a fairly straight forward classroom observation video aimed at helping teach our admins about gathering data. The focus of this particular video was engagement. I’ll be posting the pre-observation interview later.

This is part of our revamped professional growth process. It’s pretty interesting if you’re into that kind of stuff. If you are that kind of person, there’s a lot more information about what we’re doing here.

Simple Definitions, Complex Thoughts


Get them here or make up your own.

You’ve got two ways to play this game.

1. Give these to your students as warm ups at various times but with one of the words blocked out and have them decide what it should be.

2. When they’ve got the hang of guessing, they start making their own based on terms you’re studying. Should work for just about any subject and is far better than the standard “write a sentence using this term” vocabulary exercises. Don’t limit yourself (or them) to vocabulary words- think historical events, novels etc1.

1 In a way it reminds me of the “its the * meets the *” style of music/movie descriptions which would be another great way to get students thinking describing novels in interesting ways that draw connections to things they know. I swear I have something about this bookmarked in delicious somewhere.

Breaking into houses with Dan Meyer

Dan’s got another What Can You Do With This1 challenge up. This time it’s dealing with a numeric keypad. Basically, it’s what can you do (in a more lesson plan focused format this time) with an image he’s posted of a numeric door key pad2.

I’m not helping much with Dan’s lesson plan but I’d actually have the challenge be to break the combination. I’d take bets on how long it’d take to break into this door if it had a one digit code, a two digit code, a three digit code and a four digit code (maybe go higher?). I’d write down the bet times- maybe graph them.

Then I’d give them a chance to try it and I’d record the times when they did break in.

If people had computers this would be an easy thing to do. Here’s the Excel spreadsheet I’d use (not very pretty – just a proof of concept). I’d lock the one I gave the kids with a password of course. It’s pretty simple stuff. It amused me though. Might be garbage for math class but maybe someone will get some other use out of it.

Here’s a video if you’d like more explanation on the construction. It’s nothing fancy but it might inspire some other better ideas3.

Excel as a lock

1 I love this concept and find it one of the best ideas for staffdev I’ve ever seen. I’m going to attempt to steal it and use it as part of a class I’m teaching this summer on instructional technology.

2 It’s far more engaging than it sounds. Go check it out.

3 I actually built a self-checking crossword puzzle in Excel one time. I have no idea why.

Pop Culture and Education Omnibus

A few odd educational goodies from today’s RSS soup. I lay them out here for your dining pleasure.

Mental Floss serves up Monte Python clips referencing all sorts of classic literature. References include- Proust, Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Dickens and others. A great way to start of a class or provide a little levity when things are rough reading.
They’re linked through on YouTube for your use but if that’s blocked don’t forget about to download them.

Napping’s “How to Nap” infographic
would be a great way to re-think a project or report. Check out just how much information is crammed in there. You want some deep processing? Get your students creating something this dense in a way that’s visually pleasing and doesn’t feel oppressive.

Crop Circle
The Pi Crop Circle via the Uri’s Eso Garden Blog
makes for some really interesting math related conversations and possible activities. Give them the image and tell them it is a code for pi and see who can figure it out. You could make one about pi or any other significant number or date. There would be lots of hands on measurement (angles, lines etc.) and thought involved (use chalk on the parking lot if you’re fresh out of local barley fields or maybe you’ve got a local field of tall grass).

Stats, Math, Data and Sociology


Want some really interesting and topical statistics to use? Of course you do. This is a great site for math, stats, and sociology.

Seems like Zubin Jelveh is writing things that’d mix into Dan Meyer’s class pretty well.

He’s got everything from Pete Rose’s betting stats to the cost of pennies and the economic ramifications of their removal. I thought the stats dealing with the NY prostitution ring were really interesting as well but probably not suitable for most k12 classrooms. The things that’s good about these posts is that they’re all about numbers and stats but they have a real solid tie to our lives and culture. It makes room for some really passionate and interesting conversations and as a result a lot more interest in the numbers.

I can’t recall how I ended up here so apologies to whoever I stole the link from.

More Money, More Problems

Mo Money, Mo Problems

I know it’s been done but I couldn’t resist. I really need gold $ signs instead of pluses and I’m not thrilled overall but it’s better than nothing. Maybe there will be a version 2.0- depends on how much life intervenes.

What would make this a project, something you could use to teach as opposed to just another poster, would be to get your kids making things like these based on the concepts your covering but they choose what pop culture elements to use. They’re then thinking more deeply about the concept in order to figure out the link and they’d be doing it far more frequently (and away from school). It’s like installing a secret little education ninja in their head.

I’m working on a poster that ties together Nietzsche’s ideas regarding “eternal return” and TuPac’s “my only fear of death is reincarnation” quote. But I have to re-read Nietzsche in order to make sure I’ve got it right.