Thursday, December 11, 2008

Added an Equation Editor to my Blog

If you scroll to the very bottom of the page you should see an equation editor that I found via the Charlotte Area Math Teacher's Wiki (recommended by Vic in the comments to the previous post).

You can generate mathematical text visually or using Latex and save the resulting image as a .png. The Latex code is also useful in various other equation editors or for embedding mathematical text in blogs or wikis.

How cool is that!

Web 2.0 for Grade 7-12 Mathematics Leaders and Teachers

Jeff, Greg, Frank and I are presenting Web 2.0 to a group of Mathematics Leaders for a full day in February. We have been thinking about how to introduce them to the Web 2.0 world and make connections to their personal learning (easy) and their classroom practice (harder).

Here is a test of the strength of my professional network:

What topics, concepts, exercises, or messages would you see as vital for such a day? What pitfalls should be avoided? What is the elevator pitch for Web 2.0 to Math teachers?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Absolutely Bone Chilling

I have been casually following the case of Julie Amero, a computer-illiterate supply teacher, who fell into the hands of the law after a disturbing run-in with pornographic pop-ups.

Now, from Ars Technica,

"It's over," said Julie Amero. "I feel wonderful."

This is not, to be sure, how most people would react upon being slapped with a $100 fine and having their professional credentials revoked. But after a four-year ordeal, during which the unassuming substitute teacher was decried as "disgusting" in the local press and convicted of felonies carrying a 40-year prison term, the plea agreement she reached with Connecticut prosecutors Friday must have come as a relief—even though a forensic report made public today shows she probably did nothing wrong.

The whole story is worth reading, even if it gives pause to anyone involved with using the internet with children in an ignorant and self-protective bureaucracy.

Friday, November 21, 2008

I laughed out loud!

From Doug Peterson's stream:

Let me google that for you
This is for all those people that find it more convenient to bother you with their question rather than google it for themselves.
(tags: weird web utilities useful tools share)

I visited the site, typed my favorite search term ("Ubersketch") and laughed out loud when I saw the result. Now, will I be brave enough to send that to a querier (that is someone who poses a query - which reminds me of an off-colour joke about the effeminate English teacher...)?

Geoff Day told me again that there is no such thing as a dumb question, but in my heart of hearts, I tend to disagree.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Myers-Briggs for a Blog

Just last week a colleague explained how I am a ENTJ.
The Typealyzer site, via Web Tools for Teachers, indicates that my blog is not:

The analysis indicates that the author of
is of the type:
ESTP - The Doers

The active and playful type. They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities.

The Doers are happiest with action-filled work which craves their full attention and focus. They might be very impulsive and more keen on starting something new than following it through. They might have a problem with sitting still or remaining inactive for any period of time.

Makes you wonder if I am creating an alternate persona for general consumption.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Nomination for the 2008 Edublog Awards

Here are my nominations for the 2008 Edublog Awards:

1. Best individual blog: Doug Peterson Off the Record

4. Best resource sharing blog: Jane's e-Learning Pick of the Day

5. Most influential blog post: The Time is Now - Bob Sprankle

6. Best teacher blog: Teaching College Math - Maria H. Andersen

9. Best elearning / corporate education blog: Presentation Zen - Garr Reynolds

11. Best educational use of video / visual: dy/av series - Dan Meyer

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Interfaces, Topology and Magic

I saw this at the Teaching College Math blog some time ago , but thought that Doug Peterson might blog about it, since he is fond of quoting Arthur C. Clarke:
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

This interface uses an "inspired hack" inspired by topology. It is fun to hear such a bright person talk unassumingly about his work too.

I think students should see and hear stuff like this.

What is your dream interface?

I have often thought how much I would like a computer to be more like a large drafting table where I could move and manipulate a bunch of Windows. The keyboard might just be one of those moving windows.

Now, SMART seems to be marketing something like this for primary students.

Do you think this will gain traction?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Make your own saccharine posters

In an earlier post, I featured's hilarious versions of the pervasive motivational poster.

Now you can create your own online at AutoMotivator. It may not motivate anyone, but it might be an interesting student task. I did this one in about 10 seconds. I think it shows.

The Parody Motivator Generator at is also a lot of fun. Here is the description from their site.

The War Against Motivation Continues.

For over two decades, the multi-billion dollar motivation industry has unleashed untold suffering upon the workplaces, schools and civil institutions of the world- in the insidious form of the motivational poster. By the millions they have been sold and displayed- these dark instruments of corporate propaganda. While promising to stimulate "Hope", "Success" and "Teamwork", instead these tools of coercion and intimidation have inspired only grief, anger and nausea.

In 1998, one company dared to fight back, as Despair, Inc. introduced Demotivators®, satirical products reverse-engineered from the most powerful motivational posters ever inflicted upon mankind. And now, with the Parody Motivator Generator, we place those very same tools in your less-capable hands- giving you a chance to join us in the battle against an opponent as ubiquitous as it is idiotic. The chance to not only create your very own motivational parodies online, but also to purchase beautiful 11"x14" prints of your designs.

Now, Join The Battle and Make Your Design.

The question designed to elicit the never-appearing comments intentionally left blank.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Is cromulence something you should embiggen?

While watching a slideshow of my Flickr favorites, I noticed that one of the options is to "Embiggen small things to fill screen". I wondered if someone was transliterating from Japanese.

A quick search led me to a wikipedia article devoted to one particular Simpson's episode that uses the words embiggen and cromulent.

So do you think Flickr is hip or ignorant?

Friday, October 24, 2008

A year of blogging

It seems de rigeur in the blogosphere to celebrate the anniversary of your first post.

It has been a fun year of learning about all kinds of Web2.0 tools for me.

Here are the stats:

Google Reader reports that I have 25 subscribers and make 0.5 posts per week - I didn't notice that stat improving from 0.0 posts per week until I just checked it.

Google Analytics, which I turned on in January, reports that I have had 2,608 absolute unique visitors and 6,781 pageviews. Interestingly, more people have visited using Firefox than IE. There were even 17 visits using Chrome, but of course those might have all been from me.

A few of my favorite posts:

  1. See Knowledge being created and negotiated in real time which builds on my fascination with Wikipedia. I think it should be one of the wonders of the modern world. I have made edits to the entries on the UberSketch, Calculator, Cartesian Coordinates, Virtual manipulatives for mathematics, among others.
  2. When is the time for digital education, which is undoubtedly my longest post.
  3. The Un-Read Web? which is in the category of geeky stuff that doesn't seem to attract many pageviews, but which I find hilarious and which tweaked my interest in Javascript.
  4. What is Mathematics? What is Multiplication? which attracted the most august and vigorous commenters but which unfortunately happened at a time that I was least engaged in the web world.
Actually, as I look through the 88 posts, I realize that there is something I love in each one.

The traffic indicates that there are some other posts that Google sends a lot of traffic from. Notably,
  1. Fibonacci Gauge and Fibonacci Gauge - 2
  2. Graphing inequations and inequalities in Sketchpad
  3. Prove that you are human
  4. Math Wars, The Pre-eminence of Algebra and the Presidential Math Panel
There are more than a few posts that try to promote some of my work, like the wiki page of online calculators, the wiki page of resources for the Geometer's Sketchpad and the CLIPS collection of mathematical learning objects.

Of course, my blog has been peppered with things that tickle my odd sense of humour.

I would have given up long ago based on the number of comments I receive without the Live traffic feed from Feedjit which I still find fascinating.

Lately, I have had more ideas for blog posts than the inclination to actually write them, so I doubt that there will be 88 posts this year, but I also doubt that there will be zero.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The CLIPS uberCalculator launched!

I have had the privilege of working on the development of a set of learning objects supporting an instructional trajectory in Fractions, Periodic Functions and Linear Patterns, called CLIPS.

There has been a lot of effort to design a wrapper to complement these activities. One of the elements of this wrapper has been a simple calculator. Recently, Greg Clarke completely overhauled the CLIPS calculator to support four modes: Basic, Scientific, Graphing and Conversion. Greg was able to take advantage of the work of others who have freely shared their code in the opensource spirit. The calculator is available inside CLIPS by clicking its icon at the top right. It is also available standalone at The URL can be appended with ?mode=basic or ?mode=sci or ?mode=graphing or ?mode=conv as above to jump directly to one of the versions. A drop-down list is used to switch between modes, open the calculator in another window (which makes it resizeable) and to download the .swf locally for offline use, perhaps on an interactive white board.

The CLIPS calculator is now prominently catalogued at the Mathfest wiki page of online calculators, which has lots of other interesting online tools listed.

One nice, inobtrusive feature is that when the equals sign is pressed, the answer is copied to the user's clipboard, ready to be pasted into an answer text field in CLIPS or wherever it might be required. I now have the CLIPS calculator as a link in my quick launch bar.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Virtual PC for the PC

I remember the first time I saw Virtual PC for the Mac - probably 10 years ago. An Apple rep came to the Board Office, plugged his Mac into our network and ran several Microsoft Office applications simultaneously and snappily. He even found one of our network printers and fired off a document to it. All this in a rabidly Windows environment. Magic!

I had a similarly satisfying experience this afternoon, downloading Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 onto my PC and running the disk image with Internet Explorer 6 bundled with it. When launched, I get a window with Windows in it and its own virtual hard drive with its own Program Files and plug-ins. The only non-authentic part of the experience is that the default desktop is not teletubby land. I am using it to test the CLIPS website on IE6, while I have IE7 installed on my non-virtual machine. I have been using javascript to allow CLIPS to have a draggable screen resizing widget and getting familiar with some of the cross-browser compatibility issues that that entails. It should go live shortly.

I wonder whether it would be safer to surf the web with the virtual copy of Windows, avoiding any viruses or nasties that way.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

How does Flash Pass Control as it gotoAndPlays frames?

One of the pleasures of working on CLIPS is the chance to work with some top-notch Ontario educators, like Greg Rodrigo of Georgian College. As part of this summer's work, we we trying to figure out how actionscript is executed as control is passed to different frames and the onEnterFrame method is called. Greg created a little test file similar to the following:

Create seven keyframes and put the following code in each frame:
  1. onEnterFrame = function() {
    trace("I am on frame " + _currentframe);
    trace("Frame 1");

  2. gotoAndPlay(4);
    trace("Frame 2");

  3. trace("Frame 3");

  4. trace("Frame 4");

  5. trace("Frame 5");

  6. trace("Frame 6");
    delete onEnterFrame;

  7. stop();
    trace("Frame 7");
So here is what the teacher would ask you to do:
Determine what Flash's output window will contain when this file is tested.
We learned a lot about how Flash operates by trying to make this prediction.

STOP: Try it yourself now.

If that question is too hard or open-ended, here are some other questions that might be simpler:
  1. What will the output be the first time the onEnterFrame method is executed?
  2. Will the first output "Frame 2" occur before or after the first output "Frame 4"?
  3. Why does "I am on frame 5" not appear in the output window? (I am not sure what the answer to this question is, so perhaps it is not simpler.)
Please feel free to leave a comment about the last question.

If you don't feel like typing this in yourself, I have posted the .fla source file.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Some Nuggets from my Reader

Summer has not been a great time to absorb the material being fed to my Google Reader account. In fact, I have been practicing marking items read that aren't and unsubscribing from feeds.

I found four recent things quite interesting though.

1. Tim Hawes' post about Willingham's contention that learning styles don't exist. Have a look at the video posted at Tim's site and some of the references quoted in my comment. I will look forward to reading your musings on Tim's post.

2. Geoff Day, another commun-it blogger, pointed me to an interesting study about how counting is not dependent on having language to name numbers. It made me think of the EQAO tests.

3. At the recent GAINS-CAMPPP, I subscribed to a news feed about Keith Devlin, who commented on my recent post. There I found a long and interesting article from the San Francisco Chronicle about what algebra should be taught in schools. It also has some interesting quotes. My favorite was:
"Algebra ... the intensive study of the last three letters of the alphabet."

4. A post by Gary Stager suggesting ways to better the teaching of geometry (including use Sketchpad, use Logo (but not Scratch)).

Sunday, August 17, 2008

What is Mathematics? What is Multiplication?

The Text Savvy blog has an interview with Keith Devlin that is worth reading.

Two quotes stood out for me. The first is about the nature of "doing" mathematics:
I think many students give up on mathematics because they don’t see how they could possibly come up with the solutions to problems they see in their textbook, or which the teacher gives on the board, or which some of their classmates produce. What they don’t understand is that the clever argument they have just been presented with was not arrived at by deliberate, rational thought. It was constructed after-the-fact. And so the student misses the crucial lesson that the secret to doing mathematics is not an unusual brain but sheer persistence, trying one thing after another and failing each time until eventually the light comes on.

and the second about the "multiplication as repeated addition" furor:
Using a brittle metaphor (multiplication is repeated addition, for example) inevitably leads to problems later, when the metaphor no longer holds but gets in the way of a better understanding of the concept. It’s hard enough grasping the abstractions of mathematics without compounding the issue with brittle metaphors. One problem is that metaphors inevitably lead to natural inferences. For instance, thinking of multiplication as repeated addition leads to the belief that multiplication makes things bigger. This false belief often persists throughout people’s lives. It’s particularly hard to eradicate since it is often something the child observes him or herself, and as we all know, knowledge we generate ourselves tends to stick like glue. When it comes to mathematics, I think it is probably always unwise to use metaphors as “interim definitions”, which is what often seems to be done, since they all break sooner or later. Rather we should present the student the same instances, but as motivational and illustrative examples of, not metaphors for. Mathematics is abstract. It does students no good in the long term to present it as something concrete. Moreover, there is no need to do so. There is plenty of evidence that children can handle abstraction, particularly when the learning is scaffolded by a range of concrete examples.

Do you think that we make math too tidy for students? Do you have a favourite example of a "brittle metaphor"?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Strangest Search used to find this Blog

Let's Play Math challenged readers to the following:

Search term meme

I don’t often participate in blog memes, but this was fun to play with. Now I’m throwing it out to you, my fellow bloggers. If you enjoy this sort of thing, consider yourself tagged:

What are the most popular, or the weirdest, search terms that lead people to your blog?

For this blog, the weirdest search phrase has had to have been "what is dropball of the computer?".

Like what was the searcher after?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Squashing the Bugs in Education

vlorbik sent me to LeftoverPi where it is argued that the Number 1 bug in Education is that it is done by force.

What do you think the biggest bug in K-12 education is?

BTW, there are some interesting posts on LeftoverPi about topics that I have touched on, like the Math Wars and Lockhart's Lament. I love the description of the Number 1 bug in Ubuntu!

On his main page he asks:

If March 14th is Pi Day, what's the 15th?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Turning bookmarks into blog posts

Have you noticed that more and more bloggers are doing this?

I am not sure that I like it. If I wanted to subscribe to a blogger's bookmarks, I could add them to my network and subscribe to their feed as I do for dougpete, brightideasguru and beekeeper. Isn't it just enough to let your readers know you tag under a certain name somewhere?

BTW, I tag under the name rossisen.

Maybe, I am just feeling cranky because I have subscribed to more feeds than I seem to be able to handle (I saw the >1000 descriptor this week).

What do you think?

Friday, June 13, 2008

What are students like in a Web 2.0 world?

Doug Peterson introduced me to Michael Wesch's video about Web 2.0 at the RCAC Symposium last year where it was used to introduce Will Richardson. Incidentally, I have heard that Will will be a featured speaker at the Ontario Association for Mathematics Education Annual Conference next May.

Wesch's videos explore mediated culture, seeking to merge the ideas of Media Ecology and Cultural Anthropology. He is currently working on an ethnography of YouTube.

Today, I was the two millionth person to see this video about what post-secondary students are like:

Here is the original video that I mentioned. It is a fantastic introduction to what Web 2.0 is (much better that Wikipedia's technical talk about CSS and APIs).

Monday, June 9, 2008

Math Manipulatives

In April of 2005, a group of teachers from North East Ontario got together for a regional Leading Math Success working session and created introductory videos and powerpoints for six Math manipulatives. These were then used in local training events. When I let the participants know that they had been posted to a popular video sharing site, I got lots of replies and recollections about how worthwhile a professional development experience people thought it was - fodder for Judy's resume! The full collection of files has been posted for a while.

Algebra Tiles

Colour Tiles

Connecting Cubes

Fraction Circles

My contribution was a Geometer's Sketchpad sketch - a Fraction Circle tool and virtual manipulative.


Pattern Blocks

Friday, May 30, 2008

Do you ever feel that you are working on the fly?

Here are two Friday funnies:

The first is a great ad.

Not that great for someone who finds the Ivy Lea Bridge or even the Burlington Skyway scary! Click on the image to see it at full size for the full effect.

The second is an older video taken from Will Richardson's favorites:

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Tickling my odd sense of humour

In a Pair-a-dimes post, David Truss embedded this cartoon:

I thought it was sly, so I looked for some more. I laughed out loud at this one:

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A large scale GPS art project

My blogsearch for Sketchpad bubbled this beauty to the top of my Reader.

The artist drew a self-portrait on the world and recorded the results at the Biggest Drawing in the World site.

The first thing I wondered about was putting the lat/long data into Fathom!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Applied 3D Geometry

Isn't the internet a fascinating phenomenon? Today, the posting at one of my early favorite blogs is about square watermelons from Japan - oops cubical watermelons. I felt a twinge of incredulity, but found a hoax site that indicates that it is true and a video of a news clip at a popular video sharing site which means it is most certainly true. Apparently, there are also spherical carrots.

Over at my page, I have recently bookmarked several interesting 3D tools, including the one that my buddy Greg used to create the rotating model of an engine's pistons, called Sandy.

Incidently, the link above to the piston's example uses a new feature in CLIPS - the ability to link directly to a scene within an activity. It uses a fairly straightforward javascript technique which communicates to the flash object, but we were excited to be able to make it work. There is a link at the top of the scene to a sequence that describes how the engine works that is worth the trip.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Do we love it enough to take care of it?

The world, I am writing of.

How long will it take for you to get that song out of your head? Is it only my Canadian sensibility that thinks the missile is out of place?

And if that is too heavy an issue for you, try this Friday Funny from my new favorite New Zealand folk duo parody band, the Flight of the Conchords.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Graphing inequations and inequalities in Sketchpad

cclancy asked the following question in the Physics forum:

Does anyone know how to graph x > 7 with Geometer's Sketchpad? Is it possible?

I consulted the chief Ontario Sketchpad guru, Shawn Godin and then replied:

It is possible to graph inequalities on a number line or in the plane.

Shawn Godin supplied the first sketch and I am not sure where I picked up the other.

I have been collecting resources for Sketchpad, including the mathforum discussion group where questions like this are routinely and professionally answered. If you need any help deconstructing the methods used in either sketch above, you can contact me through my blog.

Hope this helps,


Update (May 16): The inequalities in the plane sketch was sent to me by Paul Kunkel in response to a question on the Math forum. Scott Steketee is offering a similar sketch with custom tools to generate the inequations from the mathforum discussion group.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Dummy Tax

When I taught computers, the site administrator was not too keen on wasting his valuable time resetting students' passwords, so we instituted a "dummy tax" of $2 (this was a decade or more ago - when two dollars bought stuff). Students who needed a password reset, maybe in January after vacation, paid $2 that went into a fund to buy treats at the end of the year. I only remember one student having to pay and just how incensed he was.

(I created this dummy at a South Park character site, though I am no fan of South Park)

Those of you who are considered technophiles by your friends will relate to my experience this weekend when a tower was dropped off at home for attention. The sixteen year old owner had forgotten his Windows password and needed back in to his system. I haven't had too much hardware experience but gave it the old college try. If it were easy to boot a system for which you don't have the password, there wouldn't be much point in having passwords, would there?

In the end, I installed a second copy of Windows on the box and created two new users (one for me and one for him). I then accessed his documents using a bootable Linux System Rescue CD (Gentoo, I think). The Linux experience that I have gained using the XO and the quick hints on the CD allowed me to mount an NTFS drive, and use Midnight Commander (reminds me of Michael Martchenko) to transfer the documents from the locked copy of Windows to the new copy of Windows. I then deleted the old Windows directory and the locked My Documents directory. A little messy (I deleted a bunch of drivers in the process, I think) but the end result was satisfactory. I don't know if I am brave enough to try booting Linux from the CD on my everyday laptop yet, but soon, I think.

My brother sent me a link to software that will allow an Intel-based Mac to run Windows or Linux.

Are you running Linux on a Windows box for any compelling reason? Can you tip your Fedora gentooly or your red hat ubuntuly towards a distribution that you particularly like?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Resources for The Geometer's Sketchpad

I have been keeping a list of resources for the Geometer's Sketchpad that I have been giving out at workshops and have posted to the OSAPAC Learning Objects Repository (where it is currently in the top 10 downloads). There are two problems with it:
  • it goes out of date
  • I am the only person who adds to it
To solve this, I have posted the document as a wiki page. Please feel free to edit it and add your favorite resources.

The Alladin Factor

A while back, my father-in-law lent me the audio book series called The Alladin Factor. It talks about the power of just asking for what you want. Good leaders ask the right people to do the right things, for example.

As an application of the idea, I heard Eddie Greenspan, QC on Sounds Like Canada a while back.

Edward Greenspan is one of Canada's most prominent lawyers and recently represented Conrad Black. He was talking about the Peter Demeter trial and the book By Persons Unknown by George Jonas and Barbara Amiel. Anyway, I got it into my head that I should write him and ask for a signed copy. What do you know - upon returning from the OAME conference, there was a package with a signed copy made out to me. Now to read the gruesome details! Maybe I should have asked for three wishes...

Is there something that you got just by asking that surprised you?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Math on a SMART, I mean Interactive White, Board

In a shout out to someone he calls the Northern Mathman, Geoff Day drew my attention to this incredible Java application for doing mathematics that is particularly well-suited to an IWB or tablet. Although it doesn't work quite as well for me as it does in this introductory video, with a little practice it could change the way I think about equations and mathematical calculations.

You can download it or use it directly on the web.

The Cognitive Surplus

This video via Will Richardson's blog links gin and sitcoms and makes a compelling argument about how the culture is dealing with the rapid changes of industrial and now post-industrial economies. It is one of the most compelling talks that I have heard in a while - and that without a single slide or image or gimmick. Alan November talked about levering students free time for learning. Clay Shirky talks about levering all learners' time:

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Good News on the Video behind the Firewall Front!

This news via the Using ICT in Further Education blog (you may notice that Patricia is number 1 in the International Edublogger directory and that I am eight times better than that!):

RealPlayer 11 (the basic, free edition) allows you to download video from popular video sites to your RealPlayer library.

Try it from my favorites...

Now, looking at the details in the RealPlayer Library shows that the downloaded file is an FLV. There are other players that you can use beside RealPlayer to show these. I use FLV Player. You may not have as many conversion options using RealPlayer, but you can avoid the pop-ups, ads and general worry that comes from using Zamzar.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Podcasting the Easy Way

Sure, you could record something of pith and merit every week and post it up on iTunes, but I have been doing two easier things:

  1. Posting the sermons from my church up on iTunes using FeedForAll.
  2. Getting CBC to do all the heavy lifting for me. I am the host of this week's Listener 's Choice podcast (direct link). Here is the intro that I wrote (with a little help from the producer!):

Hello, this is the listener's choice podcast, I'm Ross Isenegger in North Bay, Ontario. I would like to hear Shelagh Rogers' interview with Dr. Jane Philpott. Jane is a family doctor and mother of four. Having worked for nearly a decade in Africa, Jane wants to engage as many Canadians as she can in understanding the intolerable reality of the AIDS pandemic. She also has been involved in some creative, practical ways to make change happen. Jane had a daughter who died while she was in Niger but she is adamant that this is no more tragic that what is happening to millions of African mothers and grandmothers who are losing their children to preventable disease.

I have two personal connections to this story. First, I went to Glebe Collegiate Institute in Ottawa with Jane’s husband, Pep in the late seventies and was privileged to meet his remarkable family. As Jane and Pep worked in Niger, my wife and I followed their regular updates and were deeply moved by their sacrifice. Second, my daughter has been involved in AIDS awareness through two local initiatives: Patrick for Life and Youth4Youth. In fact, this month two thousand school children are walking a marathon over 10 weeks while increasing their awareness of AIDS and its local and international impact, culminating in a rally at the North Bay waterfront.

I was very happy to hear about Jane’s work since being in Africa on Sounds Like Canada and to learn of the website that outlines some of Jane’s efforts at

This interview originally aired on December 13th, 2007.

CLOSER: This is the listener's choice podcast, selected by me, the listener. If you ever hear something on the radio that you want to hear again, email You can program, and host, your own CBC podcast.

I'm Ross Isenegger, and you're listening to The Choice on CBC Radio One.
You're listening to The Choice on CBC Radio Sirius 137. I'm Ross Isenegger.

I hope you enjoyed my listener pick today on The Choice.
You, too, can request your favourite piece of radio. Contact The Choice through the website

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Forrest Gump of Presentations

If you are reading the same kind of blogs that I do, you have been seeing a lot of embedded Slideshares showing up. Today, at their blog, I read "Everything You Need to Know About Presentations from Forrest Gump (by Scott Schwertly)"

He lists five presentation lessons that you can learn from Forrest:

1. Understand that Presentations are Like a Box of Chocolates

2. Run, Forrest! Run.

3. Repetition is the Fruit of the Sea

4. Become a Presentation General

5. Know What Passion Is

Number 2 would be qualified by Bob Garmston, I imagine, since he is quite worried about extraneous movement. However, a presenter like Scott, uses motion to really good effect.

Are you reluctant to be a twit?

I know I am.

But Rodd Lucier's latest video has pushed me a little closer to trying Twitter.

Some of the add-on tools especially appeal to me. Who knows, maybe I will be buying a second car and subscribing to cable TV next.

What do you think about Twitter? Can a easily distracted fellow like me really handle it without becoming more of a twit?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Developing the Sine Function for the First Time

This activity will be part of a much larger 'cluster' of activities in CLIPS. I would be very happy to receive any comments about its effectiveness or suggestions for improvement.

(If your screen isn't wide enough to see this, you can also access it directly)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Monty Hall Probability Problem in the News

It is not every day that a famous probability problem is in the news. John Tierney of the New York Times has written a piece about the economist, Dr. M. Keith Chen's challenge to the traditional interpretation of a cognitive dissonance experiment with monkeys. The graphics in this article are especially good. I had to go looking for this piece since Dr. Chen was not given enough time on CBC's "As it Happens" to actually finish explaining his work. Dr. Chen asserts that the researchers made an error analogous to the one that many people make when faced with the Monty Hall problem.

The long-running game show "Let's Make a Deal" debuted in December 1963 and ran until 1977. The famous Canadian host, Monty Hall, played one game in which the contestant was presented with three doors, numbered 1, 2 and 3.

Behind one of the doors was a fantastic prize, like a car, and behind the other two were booby prizes, like goats. After the contestant chose a door, but before the door was opened, Monty sometimes would have another door opened to expose a booby prize. Although Monty never allowed it, people have speculated about what a contestant should do if they were permitted to switch their choice to the other unopened door. In fact, thousands of letters were received by Parade magazine, including some from professional mathematicians, denouncing the assertion in the "Ask Marilyn" column that the contestant would be better off to switch. This probability problem has become known as the “Monty Hall problem”.

There are lots of simulations and explanations on the web. If you buy the book I co-authored, you can even create a simulation in Fathom.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Prove that you are human

From the Top 10 Worst Captchas via Jane's E-Learning Pick of the Day:

It reminds me of the aerobics in hell cartoon.

If it is on that popular video sharing site, it must be true

Here is the video from the highly reputable BBC used to launch its iPlayer.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Web 3.0 - A kindler and gentler web experience

This video found at the Inside CBC blog is droll, if not ROFL funny.

I could see using this is workshops with folks, like me, who don't really get social networking that much - being an anti-social fascist bastard and all.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Are you feeling competent?

Beware, it may be a sign of incompetence. I have always suspected that the people who are dreadful communicators consider themselves skilled. I have come across some research to support this view.

Here is a quick sample:

Incompetent People Really Have No Clue, Studies Find
They're blind to own failings, others' skills

Erica Goode, New York Times

Tuesday, January 18

There are many incompetent people in the world. Dr. David A. Dunning is haunted by the fear that he might be one of them.

Dunning, a professor of psychology at Cornell, worries about this because, according to his research, most incompetent people do not know that they are incompetent.

On the contrary. People who do things badly, Dunning has found in studies conducted with a graduate student, Justin Kruger, are usually supremely confident of their abilities -- more confident, in fact, than people who do things well.

``I began to think that there were probably lots of things that I was bad at, and I didn't know it,'' Dunning said.

One reason that the ignorant also tend to be the blissfully self-assured, the researchers believe, is that the skills required for competence often are the same skills necessary to recognize competence.

The incompetent, therefore, suffer doubly, they suggested in a paper appearing in the December issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

``Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it,'' wrote Kruger, now an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, and Dunning.

This deficiency in ``self-monitoring skills,'' the researchers said, helps explain the tendency of the humor-impaired to persist in telling jokes that are not funny, of day traders to repeatedly jump into the market -- and repeatedly lose out -- and of the politically clueless to continue holding forth at dinner parties on the fine points of campaign strategy.

See the full article at the San Francisco Chronicle.

This agrees with some of the research done at the Kawartha Pine Ridge DSB by OISE/UT. Struggling math students were shown fractions questions just long enough to form a judgment about whether they could get the correct solution. Generally, they were much more confident about their abilities to do fractions questions than their performance on such questions indicated. Boys were especially prone to over-estimate their competence (this comes as no surprise to my fifteen year-old daughter).

What do you think you are good at? Blogging? Presenting? Communicating? Problem-Solving? It may be evidence that you are hopeless.

Allegories about Arid Mathematics Teaching

How is current mathematics teaching like teaching music without instruments or teaching art without using blank canvas? Find out by reading Paul Lockhart's Lament.

I found this on Vlorbik on Math Ed, where one of my posts was featured recently. You can also get a sense of how well it resonates with the Kitchen Table Math crowd. It also explains many of the challenges, including teacher content knowledge, that are being explored there.

Friday, March 21, 2008

A little shameless self-promotion

Now that has accepted my edit, adding me as an author (yup - that's my name at the bottom), it is a good time to let you know that a book that I helped to write is available at the Key Press site.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What is number sense?

I have been participating in an interesting discussion about number sense, the nature of Mathematics, the role of rote learning as a result of a post at the Kitchen Table Math blog.

Perhaps you would like to add your two cents worth? There seems to me to be a remarkably large chasm created by the so-called 'Math wars'. I have been taking Will Richardson's advice and subscribing to some blogs that I don't necessarily agree with.

Presentation Zen: Whitespace

Garr Reynolds, in a guest blog posting at the Slideshare blog, discusses the use of whitespace and then shares the following slides as examples:

It reminds me of the spoof on how Microsoft would package the iPod:

I wonder if the idea of whitespace is connected to teacher wait time in questioning - our classrooms could use more auditory whitespace.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Everyone for Glebe stand up and holler!

Here is a viral movie that missed infecting me until recently:

Currently, over 4 million people have looked at this video recorded in the hallowed halls of my alma mater, Glebe Collegiate Institute.

My informant in the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, tells me that the champion, Alexander Overwijk, Math head at Glebe, was flown to the Czech Republic for a cameo appearance in a movie recently. Makes you believe Guy Kawasaki's contention that web success ("cewebrity") is mainly luck.

Math Wars, The Pre-eminence of Algebra and the Presidential Math Panel

The blogosphere has been abuzz with opinions about the Presidential Math Panel report. Five good ones are found at the Pulse blog. Gary Stager's opinion includes the following:

Not only is the progression from arithmetic manipulation of fractions to Algebra tenuous, but neither of the assumptions underlying the value of teaching fractions or Algebra are ever questioned. The President’s Math Panel, like most of the math education community maintains a Kabbalah-like belief in an antiquated scope and sequence. Such curricular superstition fuels a multigenerational feud in which educators fight over who has the best trick for forcing kids to learn something useless, irrelevant or unpleasant.


The Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel
does not dispute that teachers spend lots of time teaching fractions. The report merely urges that teachers do even more of the same while hoping for a different result. A definition of insanity comes to mind.

I wonder if Math teachers are so unwilling to question the supremacy of algebra because they are worried that they will lose market share in the high school curriculum and lose sections at summer school.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Funnies for the Friday before March Break

From the MathNotations blog:

From Savage Research, Humor...

Math Knowledge

Two mathematicians were having dinner in a restaurant, arguing about the average mathematical knowledge of the American public. One mathematician claimed that this average was woefully inadequate, the other maintained that it was surprisingly high.

"I'll tell you what," said the cynic. "Ask that waitress a simple math question. If she gets it right, I'll pick up dinner. If not, you do." He then excused himself to visit the men's room, and the other called the waitress over.

"When my friend comes back," he told her, "I'm going to ask you a question, and I want you to respond `one-third x cubed.' There's twenty bucks in it for you." She agreed.

The cynic returned from the bathroom and called the waitress over. "The food was wonderful, thank you," the mathematician started. "Incidentally, do you know what the integral of x squared is?"

The waitress looked pensive; almost pained. She looked around the room, at her feet, made gurgling noises, and finally said, "Um, one-third x cubed?"
So the cynic paid the check. The waitress wheeled around, walked a few paces away, looked back at the two men, and muttered under her breath, " a constant."

I'm sorry, but that did make me smile! Reminds me of when I was teaching calc, I would tell my students that if they forgot the +C in an indefinite integral, their grade would be C+! Actually, I wasn't kidding...

BTW, there are many more of these at the above web site. Many are one-liners with that twisted sense of humor characteristic of Steven Wright or Jackie Vernon. I will not apologize for laughing!

Here are a few more...

1) Save the Whales -- collect the whole set.

2) If you believe in telekinesis, raise my hand...

3) The early bird may catch the worm, but it's the 2nd mouse that gets the cheese.

Ok, enuf' already (for now)...

I was once told about a job interview for a high school Math teacher position where the applicant was shown two ways to get an integral which yielded two apparently different results:
ln(2x)+ c, and
ln(x) + c ,
and was asked to explain what the issue was.

Do you have any good Math teacher interview stories?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Large Numbers

I have come across three resources on this topic lately:

The first is a swf from an Australian e-card company. I believe this was the song sung to convince a woman to give up her liver in Monty Python's Meaning of Life.

The second is a fascinating set of images meant to give perspective to numbers like
one million plastic cups; the number used on airline flights in the US every six hours.

The third is the Power of 10 video, which many of us remember watching in Science class. The field of view expands out to the universe and then back in to the atomic level.

Do you have any favorite resources to give students a sense of scale?

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Does Microsoft have a sense of humour?

This video about the Office Developer Guy may be evidence that they do.

Where do I get a whiteboard for the shower?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Stand-up Economist is coming to Ontario

I loved the video above so much that I signed up for notification at Dr. Yoram Bauman's website and he sent me the following e-mail recently: (BTW, there is also a link there to an opensource microeconomics text).

Hello comedy/economics friends:

* Comedy in Toronto and Hamilton March 25 and 26! As part of my Supply Side World Tour, I'm thrilled to be performing at Ryerson University in Toronto on Tuesday March 25 at 8pm ($10 for the general public, for details and tickets email Mike at ) and at McMaster University in Hamilton on Wednesday March 26 at lunchtime (for details and ticket info email ). Fun!!!

* PS. I'll probably be returning to the Toronto area in mid-April and mid-September. (But so far I have no shows that are open to the public.) Please email me if you want to hire me to do comedy at your college, company, or Jewish Community Center! I also give a mean talk about climate change---despite appearances to the contrary, I travel infrequently, and when I do travel I am eager to do penance by giving engaging and inspiring talks on how carbon taxes can save the planet!

* Email list administration: I send out messages no more than a few times a year. If you don't want to be on this list, just email me and I'll take you off. (Please let me know if you want off, period, or if you're in a different city and want me to let you know if and when I'm in your area.) And, in case you're wondering how you got on this list, it's probably because you signed up on . (PS. "Mankiw's Principles of Economics, Translated" is heading for 350,000 hits on YouTube!)

yoram bauman, "the world's first and only stand-up economist"

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Teacher Effectiveness

The Kitchen Table Math Blog summarizes some fascinating data about the effect of a Grade One teacher on success in adulthood. A humbling, yet inspiring read.

Minimizing Ridicule

Another fine post at Presentation Zen led me to this interesting quadratic relationship from the Indexed blog. There is something here akin to the Mathematical Poetry that I wrote about previously. Can you imagine asking students to create graphs like these?

Friday, February 22, 2008

The importance of external numbers

There has been an interesting comment thread at my cross-listed site about why people might need external validation based on measurements.

Today I realized that quite a few people are visiting this blog via There an "editor" (or is it a 'bot?) has rated my blog as "Good" - which I always thought was a sub-standard descriptor as a school child, preferring superlatives like "Very Good" or "Excellent". I suppose "Good" beats the 0.0 posts per week measurement from Google Reader.

The XO Laptop in the Third World

A presentation with fascinating photos and arguments about the benefit of bring the laptops to remote third world schools.

Do Programmers have a sense of humour?

Why yes they do! Is it too arcane for anyone else to be able to determine? Maybe. Here are some funny puzzles from a great post and a long list of comments. Can you guess what the idiom, song or movie is?

// idiom 3
injury += insult;
// idiom 6
a = getThickness('blood');
b = getThickness('water');
assert(a > b);
// idiom 9
prey = 'worm';
time = getCurrentTime();
if (time >= 4 && time <= 8) {

// idiom 19
return || way.high;

// idiom from comments

if (!fire) {
smoke = null;

// song 1
sleep = false;

// song 3;
var tiger[i];

// song 5
var it = now || never;

// song 10
compare(null, u);

// song 14 = 'jude';

// song 16
var s1 = 'tutti';
var s2 = s1.replace('tu', 'fru');
print(s1 + ' ' + s2);

// song 20
var country = new Array('UK', 'Italy', 'USA', 'Spain');

// movie 1
while (i < infinity) {
tomorrow = dies;

// movie 2
int numerator = 1;
int denominator = 0;
int mission = numerator / denominator;

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Tribute to a Teacher

Dean Shareski's personal story about the impact of one teacher on his daughter and her poignant musical tribute embody so much about what is humanizing in the whole Web 2.0 world.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Fibonacci Gauge - part 2

The feedjit widget on my blog allows me to see where the readers come from, what page they are reading and to what page they leave. I find it interesting and encouraging. I noticed that a lot of readers are coming to my earlier post on the Fibonacci gauge, so I thought that I would outline a Geometer's Sketchpad construction of such a gauge.

Here are the steps that I followed:

Download the Sketchpad file.

Perhaps someone has a suggestion for an improved procedure or has a Cabri or Geogebra version.

0.0 Posts per Week

As a new blogger, I feel a little put out when technorati or blogger statistics rate my output as somehow unsatisfactory. If you add a subscription in Google Reader and search for "mathfest" you get the statistic that inspired the title of this post. However, it has been a while since the last post. I have just finished a few days away at the "Making GAINS" symposium.

One of the plenary speakers was Will Richardson. We interviewed him afterwards and the seventeen-minute video nicely summarizes his message about how the Read/Write Web changes education.

We also have set up a wiki to record feedback. One of the pages has the collection of brilliant Common Craft videos that introduce RSS, blogging, wikis and social bookmarking.

How does 39 posts over 4 months work out to 0.0 per week?

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Un-Read Web?

Why is Firefox so popular among Web 2.0 enthusiasts? It starts with being one or two clicks away from subscribing to RSS feeds. But it doesn't end there. Firefox has useful add-ons, like FireFTP. Recently, I have been reading about GreaseMonkey but had no idea what it was. Then the Cool Cat Teacher blog featured the humorous, short video below.

Now this is Web 2.0! Adjusting the web to your own preferences and tastes.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Wanted Mathematical Words

CBC Radio ran a highly entertaining radio spot called Wanted Words, in which listeners submitted suggestioned new words to describe things:
  • What do you call the long, cold, dark Canadian period between New Year's and Good Friday? Forevuary.
  • What do you call someone whose plants always die prematurely? Hortikillturist.
  • What do you call @? Atpersand, ampersend, Circle-A (from a rancher in B.C.)
  • What do you call the warmth left behind when you sit in a recently occupied seat? Bumcano.
In working on CLIPS, we have come up with a few surprising wanted Mathematical words:
  • What do you call the superclass of transformations that take (x,y) and map it to (x,ay)? For some values of a we call it a stretch, for others a compression, for still others the composition of a reflection and a stretch/compression. Some sites seem to allow for a vertical stretch of factor 1/2, but would you allow one of factor -3?
  • What do you call the line in the middle of a sinusoidal? Medial axis, median line, mid-range, mean level (like mean sea level)...
Don't you think it is wild that there doesn't seem to be a least one word around for these things? I would be happy to hear any suggestions that you might have - maybe CLIPS will use your suggestion. How about the Isenegger-Clarke line? A compstretchion?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The poetry of presentation

If you drilled down at the Presentation Zen blog to the entry on the art of repetition, you might have watched Barack Obama's "concession" speech in New Hampshire, embedded here. My thirteen year-old was captivated by it.

Now, this morning on Larry Lessig's blog, which has been full of pro-Obama messages of late, we have this incredible remixing of that poetic speech into an inspirational music video. Not an example of the culture of amateurs, but still a powerful example of the power of words and imagination to inspire and convict.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

My biggest weakness

Perhaps it shows my age, but when I started preparing for job interviews, one of the favourite questions of employers was "What is your biggest weakness?". My answer, which I got a kick out of, was that sometimes I am too task-committed.

In a conversation with Greg this week, I formulated a different answer: "My biggest weakness is that I find too many things interesting." There has been a lot written lately about getting control of the time spent on Blackberry-like devices, with an RSS reader, using Twitter, Facebook or whatever. The trick must be that the time should be spent in a way that reflects our values, improves our character and connects us with folks we care about or can learn something from.

Which brings me to the quote that is the byline to McGee's Musings:

The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.
Dorothy Parker, (attributed)
US author, humorist, poet, & wit (1893 - 1967)

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Posters that I find compelling

The Mission Minded Management blog featured for the Friday funny. I heard an interview with the CEO of several years ago. He said that people neither read nor get inspiration from the posters that are found in businesses and schools. There sure are a lot of them in my kid's schools. Imagine if someone posted one of these in a classroom and someone else actually did read it!

Just Fix the System Please - A Friday Funny

By Michelle Malay Carter on January 31, 2008

I’ve been called irreverent. Sometimes I use sarcasm to get a point across, but Despair, Inc. has found a way to turn cynicism into cash-flow with an entire line of products for people interested in responding to the lame motivational words and techniques that organizations attempt. Just fix the system please!

Below are my personal favorites. They are from the Demotivator Poster line and they are available for $15.95.

If you were to create a Demotivator poster, what would it say?



Here are some more from their site:

Clearly the shirt is not for me - check my feedjit widget! Maybe if it said "More people have read this shirt than have posted a comment to your blog"...

This next poster was one that the CEO described on the radio show. Hilarious!

I wonder what it says about me that I find this much more compelling than the saccharine version?

Design, Logos, KidPix in a great post

If you didn't subscribe to Bob Sprankle's "bit by bit" blog or podcast after my previous post, you might want to do so now.

In his post "Mama, Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Designers", he describes how Dan Pink's book, "A Whole New Mind", influenced a Grade 3 activity with design and logos. It is a great example of reflective practice.

Do you have other examples of this sort? I think a collection of these stories could do more to convince teachers of the power of ICT than cartons of standards documents or pretty worksheets.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sky High XOs?

I don't know what to make of this photo. Do you sometimes feel like you have come out of a bomb shelter, like in Blast from the Past, and are attracted by strange and inexplicable phenomena?

The full article is chock-full of interesting information, but does not explain why you would use XOs strapped to the ceiling...

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Lively e-learning, Compelling presentation

Cathy Moore has posted her "Dump the Drone - Steps to livelier courses" presentation on Slideshare. It is well worth a quick run through.

Another example of Read/Write Culture?

In a previous post, I reflected on Larry's Lessig's talk at TED on Read/Write culture. He gave three examples of what people are creating. The second one being a very disturbing video of a Jesus character.

Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame, challenged readers to come up with nonsense lyrics according to some rules in a recent post. Readers responded. Then a band created the song. Then it was posted to a popular video sharing site with images added. Much of this is likely illegal, but I do think it is illustrative of what Lessig was trying to get across. Think about the various literacies involved in the production of the work and the collaboration that was involved and the fun that the various players had.