What Happened on June 2?

nohomophobes.com tracks mentions of homophobic slurs used on Twitter in real-time. There are a ton of lessons about hate speech we could delve into, but that’s not the point of my post. No, I want to look at the statistics here.

First off, here are the stats for today:

Screen Shot 2013-08-29 at 3.42.12 PM

I clicked over to the All Time tab and saw the following graph. Anything stand out to you?

Screen Shot 2013-08-29 at 3.38.47 PM

You see that spike on the pink, “No homo” line? What the heck is that all about? Click on it and you learn it happened on June 2.

Screen Shot 2013-08-29 at 3.39.04 PM

What happened on June 2, 2013 to cause that huge spike in the use of “No homo” on Twitter? Thanks to a little creative Googling, my friend @park_star thinks she has the answer. You want go give it a try?

h/t Eliot, with whom I teach.

Moodle Love Letter #3: Embedding Web Pages

My Moodle journey has recently been accelerated because I took over administrative duties for my school’s Moodle server. Last year, my primary use involved the assessment engine. Now I’m branching out and upgrading (to 2.5) to use Moodle as my class website.

Here’s one feature a colleague figured out:

And how I did that effect:

Pictured is Moodle 2.5 but “Embed” has been an option for quite some time.

You’ve never heard of Socrative? It’s kinda like Poll Everywhere in that you can ask questions to your students. I’ve written twice about Socrative.

Why Aren’t More Girls Attracted to Physics?

NPR brought my attention to this great research by Catherine Riegel-Crumb from the University of Texas. The bottom line: “fewer girls may be taking courses that lead to tech careers when they don’t see female role models already in tech careers”. The reporter described it as a chicken and egg problem. Go listen to the piece (c’mon, you have 4 and a half minutes to spare…) then we’ll come back and discuss.

Why Aren’t More Girls Attracted to Physics? (NPR, 4 min 34 sec)

Maybe because of this:


Seriously, though, the NPR piece and the original research[1] suggest that girls are more likely to enroll in physics if there are a significant number of female role models working locally in STEM careers. Ok, so we need some trailblazers who are willing to go out there and be the first role models for young women. We need to encourage young women starting early that math and science are worthy of their attention, despite what the shirt says.

Wait, wait, wait, I feel like we’ve been having this conversation for 30+ years. The trailblazers in tech fields were in university in the 70s. Why are we still talking about this problem? Where are the women?

The saddest part of this problem is that I feel powerless to help because I’m not a role model.[2]

My hypothesis: a female physics teacher isn’t a role model for future physicists because the kids mentally drop the physics and see only female teacher. That’s a shame.

Case in point: I’m one of those non-role models. Female, engineer, physics teacher, robotics coach, and geek. So is my colleague, also named Meg(h)an. I think though, that the fact we hold the title of Teacher negates most of the role modeling we could be doing. We’re still working in a traditionally women’s role.

I’m left with only questions at this point.

  1. How can I become a role model for future physicists, engineers, and mathematicians?
  2. How can I encourage just a few women to be the trailblazing future role models?
  3. How can my male colleagues do the same work? Is it even possible?

[1] Ok, so I don’t actually know what the research says after the first page because it’s paywalled in an academic journal. Don’t get me started on that.

[2] Oh boy, y’all are going to jump all over this statement. Keep reading and you’ll see why.

Getting to Know You Survey

I’ve taken to surveying my students on or near the first day of school. Last year’s surveys taught me much about the kids right out of the gate — I was able to engage the Belieber about her favorite song and the Marvel fan about her favorite characters, for instance.

As I wrote my survey this year, I wanted to add a few quirky questions. Naturally, I hit up Twitter for advice.

Other ideas included favorite mythical creature, 2 truths and a lie, and favorite superhero (with justification).

And from this conversation came this gem:

That said, here’s the survey I whipped up with the help of my awesome daughter (she’s 16 going on 17) and the advice of my Tweeps, above.

Screen Shot 2013-08-03 at 10.52.09 PM Screen Shot 2013-08-03 at 10.52.27 PM

Anyone else want to share their fall surveys? I’d love to see what you ask your kids. Drop the links in the comments.

Relationships ARE Twitter Math Camp ’13

I don’t think of myself as great at reflecting or describing emotional reactions to situations, but I’m going to try because TMC ’13 is totally worth me stretching outside my comfort zone.

See these people here? There are four of the best friends I made at #TMC12 last summer.

bowman cheesemonkey julie sam

Last year, I was honored to share a car with Bowman (@bowmanimal), Elizabeth (@cheesemonkeysf), Julie (@jreulbach), and Sam (@samjshah), all folks I now consider dear friends. Folks I feel totally comfortable asking a favor of or brainstorming with. I’ve said to several folks this last week that Twitter Math Camp is all about the relationships I form. Sessions are great, guest speakers are awesome, and the locations have been totally wonderful. The highest points, though, have all been about the people I met.

This year, I think I made three new best friends at TMC (shhh, they don’t know about each other).
sophie Anne (@sophgermain) and I bonded over differences between public & private schooling and issues of privilege. We’ve committed to reading & discussing Privileged: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School by SR Khan.

tina Tina (@crstn85) and I bonded over feminism in the classroom, expanding the mathtwitterblogosphere (#MTBoS) humanely, as well as living room decor. I know that we’ll be collaborating on something really powerful this year because that’s just how she rolls and I want to get in on that action.

captainbadidea@approx_normal and I were already bonded like sisters but after her statistics boot camp, I have renewed my bond with her. That woman is a force of nature and an amazing teacher. We should all get to experience statistics through one of her lessons if only to appreciate the beauty of this course.

dancing zebra gif

MRW a tweep is more awesome in person than online.

I also want to shout out to Summer (@mathdiva77), Nik (@nik_d_maths), Sadie (@wahedahbug), Anna (@borschtwithanna), Adrienne (@shlagteach), Ashli (@mythagon), Chris (@absvalteaching), and Fawn (@fawnpnguyen) for being cooler in person than you are online, if that’s even possible.

Anecdote because I think it’s cute: my wife kids me about y’all, calling you my internet friends or my little friends inside the computer. I was so happy she got to meet a few of you in person. Also, thanks to @approx_normal for holding back on giving a flying tackle of a hug upon introduction.

Relationships matter. At what other conference have you found so many friendly folks? Folks who ask you to join them for lunch, who ask you to fold origami with them in the hotel lobby, and folks who roast you at a dueling piano bar. We bond tighter as a community when we spend time together off the clock.

Where else do we hug it out, indeed.

I hope that a few of you don’t mind me calling in on our friendships during the school year. Amy (@sqrt_1), Steph (@reilly1041), Leah (@elbee818) and the other math/physics teachers are definitely targets of mine for some Google Hangout planning sessions. I have this dream of writing labs with y’all.

Speaking of the physics crossover, how cool was it that Frank (@fnoschese) and Fran (@Ms_Poodry) made it to Math Camp, even if just a little while? I just want to put out there that their influence on my craft as a physics teacher can’t be understated.

One of my favorite conversations has been about how bring more people into the mathtwitterblogosphere community while maintaining the tight-knit family-like culture that makes it awesome. Tina (@crstn85), Sam (@samjshah), and Julie’s (@jreulbach) session on this topic is the start of lots of great relationship-building projects. I can’t wait to see them all happen, at least partly because these three have such an amazing track record of collaborative work.

YOU can contribute to the mathtwitterblogosphere and I hope you will.

TL;DR Megan loves all the people at #TMC13.

Sessions I Attended

Dan Goldner’s A Map of Problem-Based Class Designs. The big takeaway we were supposed to get here was that Dan’s figured out how to center a math class on Exeter-like problem solving. If you want to do similar, talk with Dan. That piece wasn’t so applicable in my classes, however. I know it wasn’t the main point of his presentation, but I really got into how we examined how six different classes are using a problem-based design. We first thought about decisions the teachers had to make to design their classes. Then we described how each case study made those decisions. I loved his case study approach and discussion that my class decisions express my values.

Julie, Sam, and Tina’s Breaking Out of Ourselves. This was probably the single most important session at TMC13. Lots of great initiatives brainstormed will start showing up throughout the school year. This is a one of the most powerfully creative group of teachers I’ve ever been around.

Elizabeth’s Math Teaching That Sticks. Not gonna lie, I attended this because I have followed Elizabeth around like a little duckling since last summer. She says meaningful things. She makes me think. I liked this session because we brainstormed rather than listened to a lecture. But then, I think just about everything at TMC worked that way. Elizabeth had us play a game to get to the brainstorming how to get ideas to stick with kids. Her version of Life on the Number Line  for our session was an excellent way to get each group talking.

Hedge’s Statistics Bootcamp (seems to have no link). I said it before, and I’ll say it again: she’s a force of nature in and out of the classroom. My takeaway here was that statistics is a course rich in interesting problems for kids to work through. Even kids who hate math. I just wish more math teachers were more comfortable with teaching the content.

Now for my Superlative Awards

  • Best Organizer for Two Years Running: Lisa (@lmhenry9) put so much time and talent into this year’s conference. She has my eternal gratitude. She assembled an amazing conference staff and pulled off the most amazing conference we’ve ever attended.
  • Most Surprising Talent: @mpershan‘s rendition of “99 Problems” at karaoke
  • Most Inspired Quote: “Students ask three types of questions: stop thinking, proximity, and start thinking. You shouldn’t answer the first two.” That is to say, kids will ask you ask you “is this right?” (don’t answer that), ask you questions because you’re nearby (don’t answer that, either), and questions to get started (clarifying the assignment for example — do it, answer it!). @davidwees
  • Coolest Item Thrown: @jensilvermath‘s blocks held together with magnets.
  • Best Vendors Ever: Desmos and Mathalicious. These guys see us not as a revenue stream but as collaborators in bringing math to the world. I like that and hope they stay just as cool forever.
  • Best Session I Wish I’d Attended: @fourkatie‘s on Assessment and the Special Education Student (good thing she’s gonna re-share it at an upcoming #globalmath meeting!)
  • Best Group Effort: The Math Forum‘s logo in origami pinwheels and birds, thanks to @mythagon‘s vision.
origami logo for the Math Forum

Origami installation at #TMC13.

Every student has pencil & paper every day

made4math_smallTired of taking up a left shoe in exchange for a pencil [1]? Or attaching various non-pencil accessories to your pencils [2] so they don’t walk out on you? If you have kids unprepared for class on a regular AND you don’t like methods you’ve already tried, I have a system that worked for me.

First, a description of the environment: a majority of my students regularly entered class empty-handed.

Ingredients: gallon size zipper bags, composition books, pencils, storage crates.


Gallon size zipper seal bags. I bought the “storage” rather than “freezer” bags, they’re cheaper. Yeah, they’re less durable, but I found them ok for a semester. Composition books. Found notebooks for $0.50 at back-to-school sales then resold them to students at cost. Benefit: everyone has the notebook on the first day. Even if you wind up paying for these out of pocket, it’s worth it: $0.50 for a whole semester of paper you NEVER have to provide.

My students kept their interactive notebooks in a gallon-size resealable storage bag along with a few other supplies. Because these kids have no problem walking into class empty-handed, I decided to store all they needed for class in the room. No one took anything home, or even to their lockers [3]. Ok, so we took care of paper above. How about pencil? Keep reading, dear friends.


At the beginning of each month, I gave each student two #2 pencils (purchased in massive quantities at back to school sales). At the end of each class, the bags got closed up and stored in one of these guys staged around the room.

Each crate could hold about half of a class’ bags. I rounded up (or is it down?) and bought three crates per class, spread out all over my room. Students kept their bags in whichever of the three crates for their class. I spread the crates out to avoid traffic jams at the beginning and end of class. This worked well.

How do you make sure students are prepared for class daily?

[1] There seems to be a lot of precedent for the shoe-for-pencil exchange. I never liked it because, hello, puberty –> stinky feet.

[2] Though I do love the idea and not just because the creator is my very own roommate at #TMC13.

[3] That’s a lie. In practice, some more responsible students often took their materials out of class to do homework or to study. The default remained “keep your materials in class”.

Moodle Love Letter #2: Targeted Feedback

Ok, so you want to give kids customized hints or feedback based on the mistake they made in solving the problem. Dudes, Moodle to the rescue! Just a little note: my love letters are intended to show you what Moodle can do, now how to do it. Don’t wanna drown you in detail at this point!

First, a super-simple example of feedback. Here’s one of my questions:

1st: This is the Moodle view your students will see when working a problem set.

1st: This is the Moodle view your students will see when working a problem set.

Moodle calls these calculated questions because the software uses variables to calculate answers. You set parameters for those variables and Moodle determines if the student’s answer matches the formula used to calculate the correct answer. Want to know more? Watch a tutorial on how to write calculated questions.

The student submits an answer, which Moodle deems as wrong (holy cow, I have a lot of customization options here — a future post!), so the student gets this image:

2nd: Student submitted an incorrect answer and gets this feedback.

2nd: Student submitted an incorrect answer and gets a full solution as feedback.

See how Moodle marked the answer as incorrect then displayed a scanned image I made? Ok, that’s kinda cool. You can provide solutions to your homework problem sets, for example, on a problem-by-problem basis and only after the student tries the question at least once.

Yeah, I agree, that’s a little yawn-worthy. I could’ve distributed a PDF of the solutions to every problem if all I wanted was for students to see a correct way to solve the problem. Where’s the beef? I figured you were looking for something a little more…advanced.

All right, here’s the scenario: kid makes a silly mistake in solving a problem. Say she forgets to take a square root. She did everything else right. What kind of feedback would you give in person? “Hey, I think you made an algebra error,” is the way I’d go. Let’s do that in Moodle.

1st: Write your question here. Note the variables surrounded by curly braces. They'll get some details later.

1st: Write your question here. Note the variables surrounded by curly braces. They’ll get some details later.

2nd: Define the formula for a correct solution. The syntax is well-documented on Moodle.org.

2nd: Define the formula for a correct solution. The syntax is well-documented on Moodle.org.

Here’s where it gets interesting. I’ve provided the correct solution above. Now, I may choose to write additional solutions worth anywhere from none to full credit. I’ve written at least one wrong solution below.

4th: OR, provide feedback for specific wrong answers.

3rd: Write feedback for specific wrong answers.

Compare the “Correct answer formula” in the 2nd (correct answer) and 3rd (incorrect) pictures here. In this case “Correct answer formula” means the match Moodle is looking for, not the right answer to your problem. You may write as many of these formulas as you like.

  • Note that in the last one, I left out the square root (Moodle treats square roots as raising an expression to the 1/2 power) step.
  • The 3rd picture has a “Grade” of “None” meaning no credit is awarded for this answer. Off topic but worth mentioning — this is how I write my test questions so they automatically and fairly award partial credit.
  • I like to use scanned images of my handwriting because it’s faster to create. You may also use TeX notation.

Documenting student mistakes is a huge task — even for those with well-established question banks. To relieve the stress, I add these mistakes after I see students making them. I write out a hint on paper, scan it, and add the mistake to the question in Moodle. Future students (even just 5 minutes in the future) will get the feedback.

Bottom line: if you can write an algorithm/equation/formula to describe a mistake, you can write targeted feedback in your Moodle questions.