...a companion blog to "Math-Frolic," specifically for interviews, book reviews, weekly-linkfests, and longer posts or commentary than usually found at the Math-Frolic site.

"Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty – a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show." ---Bertrand Russell (1907) Rob Gluck

"I have come to believe, though very reluctantly, that it [mathematics] consists of tautologies. I fear that, to a mind of sufficient intellectual power, the whole of mathematics would appear trivial, as trivial as the statement that a four-legged animal is an animal." ---Bertrand Russell (1957)

******************************************************************** Rob Gluck

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Flipped Classrooms, MOOCs, and Having a Blast

Timing is everything....

Well, this was great… I was planning to write a post musing a bit more about math education in regards to both "flipped classrooms" and MOOCs… but then discovered Keith Devlin has just put up a new (longish) post on his MOOC blog saying most of what I wanted to say, and with more authority than I could say it. So please read it:


Do note that I think his title may be a bit misleading so follow carefully all he has to say. I was afraid his long lapse in blogposts might mean that the 2nd rendition of his 'mathematical thinking' MOOC hadn't proceeded well (though his insanely busy schedule could also account for it), and luckily it doesn't sound like that was the case… though he does still write with caution about MOOCs, and will have more to say in the future about this last go-around.

Here are a few of the most trenchant comments he makes (I've added some emphasis):
"the vast majority of people under twenty now interact far more using social media than in person.
We could, of course, spend (I would say “waste”) our time debating whether or not this transition from physical space to cyberspace is a good thing. Personally, however, I think it is more productive to take steps to make sure it is – or at least ends up – a good thing. That means we need to take good education online, and we need to do so for the same reason that it’s important to embed good learning into video games…
"The media of any age are the ones through which we must pass on our culture and our cumulative learning."

"Something else that digital technologies and the Web make possible is rapid iteration guided by huge amounts of user feedback data – data obtained with great ease in almost real time."
The one place where I think Keith sounds a little too negative is when he writes:
"Experimentation and rapid prototyping are fine in their place, but only when we all have more experience with them and have hard evidence of their efficacy (assuming they have such), should we start to think about giving them any critical significance in an educational system which (when executed properly) has served humankind well for several hundred years. Anyone who claims otherwise is probably trying to sell you something."
Actually, I think "experimentation and rapid prototyping" may now be an integral part of our quickly evolving world and education system… more than ever before change can happen with such speed that we may try 4 failed experiments and still succeed at #5 in an acceptable/practical amount of time (even before the "hard evidence of efficacy" is fully in or agreed upon. Just the speed with which the MOOC movement has grown is a testament to that, and as Keith implies, the time is ripe for us to "make sure" they [MOOCs] work in some form.

So much for MOOCs…
What actually got me thinking again about education was a recent Twitter tweet that led me to this blog I was previously unfamiliar with:


Despite the uk URL appendage it's from a California high school math teacher (Crystal Kirch) focused on the "flipped classroom" concept. Just scanning over it, it looks interesting and impressive to me, but as someone not in the loop of secondary education I don't want to assume too much. What definitely caught my attention though (and those of you in secondary education likely already knew this) was the sheer number of other blogs with a similar focus on flipped instruction (as well as a network of teachers with this interest) that Mrs. Kirch links to. The "flipped classroom" has been around long enough that LOTS of teachers are trying it, tweaking it, playing/experimenting with it, blogging about it, and just generally sharing their experiences (good and bad) with their peers. What a great collaborative endeavor!!… and not brought on by some agency-directed-commissioned group-on-high, but by the spontaneous interest of those who share similar goals. Again, before the internet this sort of rapid cross-communication effort wasn't possible.

The term "flipped classroom" came about, so far as I'm aware, from early uses of Khan Academy videos (and Khan Academy still has many vocal critics), but of course there are now MANY internet resources available to choose from, and Khan itself constantly evolves. (Some have noted that the 'idea' of the flipped classroom, though not the term itself, actually long precedes Khan Academy.)

It is fascinating to me how both "flipped classrooms" and MOOCs, which in some ways share little in common, and operate on different levels of education, have simultaneously sprouted up like mushrooms in the cyber landscape, both controversial and rapidly-evolving, yet giving tremendous promise.

As Keith writes so aptly at the end:
"Those of us in education are fortunate to be living in a time where there is so much potential for change. The last time anything happened on this scale in the world of education was the invention of the printing press in the Fifteenth Century. As you can probably tell, I am having a blast."
And some of us are just having a blast... watching those of you who are in the trenches having a blast.
To Keith, and Mrs. Kirch, and all others doing the nitty-gritty work that will shape the education of future generations... THANK YOU!

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