Posts Tagged ‘Technology’

What toys would you buy?

March 6, 2017

Let’s suppose you had $1000 to spend to help you become a better teacher. What would you purchase? Please answer in the comments—your numbers do not need to total $1000, but nothing should cost more than $1000.

Here is my short list (as usual, no one paid me to mention these):

What else do you recommend? You can either list things that you have already purchased or things that you wish you could purchase.


Scheduling Large and Small

October 30, 2014

I have always known that I kind of like scheduling things. I will be department chair relatively soon, and I am looking forward to making making the teaching schedules for people. When I was a kid, I would schedule fake professional basketball and baseball seasons for fun. This is a sort of macro-scheduling, and I enjoy doing it.

What I have recently learned about myself, though, is that I hate micro-scheduling. I don’t like emailing back-and-forth to find a time that works for all people. I have embraced tools like Doodle to some extent, but I usually have to schedule one-on-one appointments, and Doodle seems like too much work for that.

I have a lot of appointments right now with my advisees to choose classes for next semester. I decided to use the Google Appointments replacement, which I have written about before. This has worked ridiculously well, and it has saved me a lot of stress (Note: Neither Google nor has contacted me, and I am not getting paid to write about this. I am just a simple user).

For the last several years, I have not scheduled office hours. I stopped doing this because it actually made it harder for me to meet with students. Regardless of when I schedule office hours, most of my students cannot attend. This means that I have to make individual appointments with them and still attend my regular office hours. Because I need to attend my office hours, I cannot schedule meetings during this time. So I have to schedule the meetings during times when I could have been meeting with students, which means I cannot meet with students during those times.

So I have just been scheduling “office hours” individually as students need them (which is getting to be less and less), and I hate schedule this stuff (although I like meeting with students).

So my plan is to schedule “open hours” when I plan my work day. I will use, which I will post on my website and Moodle page. Students can sign up whenever they want, and I don’t need to do the scheduling, save for the random student who absolutely cannot meet with any of my preferred times. I think that this is going to greatly increase my quality of life.

Two things: Each morning, I am going to remove options to sign up for that day. This is because I don’t always re-check my calendar, and I don’t want any surprises. Also, I am going to start doing this after advising is done, since I don’t have any time between now and then anyway.

Does anyone have any experience with this? Any tips?

Chromebooks, Videos, and Group Quizzes

February 12, 2014

We are four weeks into the semester at this point, and I am hoping to come out of the early semester sprint to prepare for the entire semester. This will happen by the end of the week, and may happen as early as tomorrow. Mainly, I need to finish creating video solutions for the quizzes for the entire semester; I may also write the weekly clicker questions for the remainder of the semester, but I may intentionally decide to do those week-by-week.

Here are some random things that are too short for their own entry:

  • I am starting to schedule research time into my schedule now. This is part of a larger effort to schedule time blocks into my semester. First up: re-write a paper on SBG to resubmit to a journal.
  • I recently got a Chromebook. This has saved me a ton of time already. I bring it to my classes that feature student presentations, and it allows me to put my notes directly into the computer. I underestimated how much time this took, and I appreciate having this time back now (any laptop would have helped here, but my Chromebook is a great combination of affordable and compact).
  • I am doing a new type of group quiz for the first time tomorrow in linear algebra. I am going to give the students four multiple choice questions. First, students answer individually the four questions and submit their answers to me. Then students get in teams of four to answer the questions as a team on our Moodle. Each team my keep answering problems on Moodle as many times as they like, although answering incorrectly counts against you. Students get credit if they get at most one problem wrong in both the individual and team portions (so if a student gets all four correct on the individual portion, they get a second try at a problem if their team gets an answer wrong).
  • There is good stuff on SBG at Kate Owens’s blog and Evelyn Lamb’s post on the Blog on Math Blogs blog (the last bit may include some self-promotion).

Once I am reasonably prepared for the rest of the semester, I think that I will try blogging more regularly again. I just really like having a huge head start on the semester.

RIP Jing Pro

March 22, 2013

I am very sad to report that my favorite screencasting software, Jing Pro, has been discontinued as of February 28, 2013 (The non-Pro version of Jing is still availble, though).

Jing Pro was my favorite tool for making quick and dirty screencasts. I liked that it was easy to use, uploaded to YouTube with a click of a button, and had no advertising (it cost me $15 per year to upload to YouTube for the last two features; the regular version of Jing has advertising and does not upload to YouTube).

(Edit: Andy Rundquist let me know that I was mistaken about Jing having advertising).

But I have found an alternative that I like as much: Screencast-O-Matic (note: I have not been paid by the makers of Jing nor Screencast-O-Matic; I am just a happy customer). Here is what I like about Screencast-O-Matic:

  1. It is easy to use.
  2. It is easy to upload videos to YouTube.
  3. There is no download required! (an improvement over Jing)
  4. There are ads in the free version (a banner advertising Screencast-O-Matic at the bottom of the screen), but not in the premium version (like Jing Pro, this costs $15 per year).

One difference between Jing/Jing Pro and Screencast-O-Matic: the former has a 5 minute limit, and the latter has a 15 minute limit.

The main drawback: Screencast-O-Matic seems to take much longer to upload to YouTube than Jing/Jing Pro does—probably by a factor of 4.

I will eventually get a premium version of Screencast-O-Matic, but I will not have enough screencasts to do in the near future to justify getting it now.

One final note: I tried to use Camtasia. Camtasia would be great if you want screencasts that are not quick and/or not dirty. It was way too much for me, and I did not want to pay the price of really long upload times for higher quality video.

Students demand: “More clicker questions!”

May 3, 2012

In my IBL-flipped hybrid complex analysis class, we finished the “flipped” portion (and the entire textbook) in half of the semester. We spent the next quarter of the semester finishing IBL presentations.

I asked what they wanted to do for the remainder of the semester. They said “more clicker questions” (they also requested time to work on problems in class, including application problems). This is what we have been doing.

After starting class working through some of their homework problems, I asked how the class wanted to spend the last 30 minutes of class—I had both clicker questions and some new problems to work on. We found that 79% of the students wanted clicker questions (clickers are nice for a variety of reasons). We did a couple, and the remaining questions start a new theme, so I decided to stop with clicker questions for the day so we could work on some of the problems.

That was a mistake. They were mad. Okay, not mad, but they really wanted more questions. So we did them for the remainder of class.

I asked why they had such a preference for clicker questions, they gave two answers:

  1. It is too easy to get stuck on the problems that I have been giving (I have been giving them trickier proofs, since this is their third time through the material).
  2. The clicker questions really help them learn.

I was really happy to hear that.

Screencasting is surprisingly easy to do (if you do not care about about making beautiful screencasts)

January 12, 2012

I am in the middle of finalizing my plans for next semester, but I am not quite ready to blog about them yet. In the meantime, I recently sent an email to several people on screencasting, and I am re-posting it here. This is nothing groundbreaking—other people have said it better elsewhere. But I’ll describe what I do anyway.

I started screencasting last semester, and it is surprisingly easy as long as you do not want too polished of a project. Here is what I did:

  1. I bought a Bamboo tablet.

    There were some screencasts that I wanted to look nice, in which case I created a Beamer presentation for the text. Most of the screencasts, though, were of the quick-and-dirty variety (which take less than half of the time of a Beamer screencast to create). A tablet works great for this.

    So you do not need this, but it can save you a lot of time.

  2. Get a free account for Jing and download it to your computer. This is the actual tool that creates the screencast. It is ridiculously easy to use (you need to click on roughly three buttons). You can store the screencasts easily on This is an online storage site that makes it really easy to store screencasts and get links to the screencasts. It is by the same people who created Jing (Techsmith), so your Jing account doubles as your account.

    One potential drawback is that you can only create five minute presentations. However, I actually l like this, since it does not cause me to worry about planning the screencasts too much (in particular, it is really not worth editing them, even if you wanted to) AND it matches with the attention spans of anyone who might watch the screencast.

  3. If your computer does not have a built in microphone, get one of those, too.

If you are interested in screencasting, I urge you to download Jing right now, play around with it for five minutes, and see how easy it is.

Extra credit: If you get Jing Pro ($15 per year), you can upload the screencasts to YouTube (again, one click). I just started this, and I imagine that it will make things a little easier for some students. It is easy to watch YouTube videos on a smart phone; it is less easy to watch them on Moodle, which is where I put the screencasts last year.

Here are several examples of screencasts. The first was done in Beamer, and the last two were done in Microsoft Paint with a Bamboo tablet I use . Note: it looks like I write like a second grader in those. This is because it is difficult to write neatly with the tablet. I normally write like a fourth grader.

The first example is to show you what it looks like with Beamer. The second example is a standard “whiteboard” screencast (note the use of different colors). The third example is to show you an example where I use a Java applet to supplement my whiteboard work. The last two examples are to show you a possible drawback of Jing: if you go over five minutes, you need to split it into two screencasts. Again, I don’t think that this is much of a problem, since I think students would probably prefer two 5 minute screencasts over one 10 minute one.

  1. Beamer Example
  2. Standard “whiteboard” Example (note the use of different colors)
  3. Java Applet Example (you can do more than just draw in Microsoft Paint)
  4. Two Part Example (Part I, which demonstrates a potential drawback with Jing—there is a five minute limit)
  5. Two Part Example (Part II)
  6. Intro to \LaTeX Example (Part I) (screencasts are great for these non-content things that the students need to know)
  7. Intro to \LaTeX Example (Part II)

Semester Prep: Internet Control

August 29, 2011

My semester starts on Wednesday, which is coincidentally the due date of my second (also known as “my last”) child. Certainly, this means that things will get very busy very soon for me. My goal is to carve out more time in my day so that I can teach well, do research, and spend as much time with my expanding family as possible.

Looking at my work routine, I feel that one area where I can stand to save some time is my time on the internet. Not being a member of Congress, I am actually going to develop a plan so that I cut back on my internet time. I am going to start with a realistic goal of two one-hour internet sessions each day (once in the morning, once in before I come home). This may seem like a lot, but a huge portion of my day is responding to email from students, colleagues, co-authors, and administrators. If I can limit my email to those two one-hour sessions, I will consider it a win; I also think that it is very do-able.

One of the great boons of my professional career is the blogosphere/Twitterverse. I have learned two metric tons of how to become a better teacher from my internet colleagues. However, this is also a time intensive process. In order to have a chance of fitting all of my internet time into two hours, I needed to cut back. I am now following 25% fewer people on Twitter, and I am now reading 50% fewer blogs. These were difficult cutbacks, but I also feel that I am approaching the asymptote for how much I can learn from my PLN (that being said, I am still planning on learning a lot—I am still following over 30 Twitterers and 50 weblogs).

So please do not be offended if I stopped following you; all it means is that I am choosing my son, daughter, and wife over your internet rantings.

Using Google Calendar to Schedule Student Meetings

August 26, 2011

One thing that I have been neglecting to do in recent years is meet with all of my students at the beginning of the semester. These were short meetings—roughly 10 minutes each—but were a nice way of getting to know the students quickly.

I am reviving the practice this semester, and I have a great online tool to help with scheduling these appointments. I found out from Matt Leingang’s tweet that Google Calendar now has an Appointments feature. Since I already use Google Calendar, this seems like a ridiculously easy way to schedule these. I used to pass around a sheet of paper, but now I simply create the slots on Google Calendar, post the URL to the course Moodle site, and do nothing else.

I hope this ends up being as easy as it seems.

Area professor introduces students to Python

February 25, 2011

After a couple of years of building up the courage to try, I finally attempted to incorporate computer programming in my mathematics classes. The reasons for doing so are two-fold:

  1. Computers are everywhere, and it seems like an educated person should have some experience in programming them.
  2. Programming is a fantastic tool for getting students to understand algorithms.

In particular, I am teaching elementary education majors this semester, and I am starting by having them code the standard addition algorithm for base six numbers. Here is how I set up the exercise:

  1. I reserved a classroom set of laptop computers for the day.
  2. I decided to use Python. This is because it is a useful language, the syntax is relatively minimal, and it is relatively easy to read.
  3. My students were to input numbers as lists; furthermore, I made the requirement that their program only work with four digit numbers. That is, 1234+45 would be inputted as [1,2,3,4]+[0,0,4,5]. These were both done to eliminate the coding that would not help them understand the algorithm better.
  4. I coded up a similar base six subtraction algorithm. I gave them a copy of my code to help them get started on the addition algorithm (the addition algorithm is substantially easier to code). (I also gave them a copy of a program that will take a sum of numbers of arbitrary length—not just four-digit numbers. I still, however, kept the inputs as lists).
  5. My school does not have a Python interpreter on its network, and I cannot request one until the summer (there are only two times per year that I can request software—before each semester). Instead, I decided to use Sage Online as my interpreter.

I explained this plan to my students, and they seemed game. However, there was a serious problem with using Sage Online. For some reason—perhaps because all of the computers were being funnelled through the same wireless router—one student could see everyone else’s worksheets on Sage, and no one else could see any worksheet.

At this point, I decided to delay the programming project until Monday. Then, I will attempt the same process, only using codepage instead of Sage Online.

Does anyone have a suggestion for how to improve this?

Library of Virtual Manipulatives

February 5, 2011

I am teaching mathematics for elementary education majors this semester, and we are currently discussing number systems. In discussing our base ten number system, I found the Library of Virtual Manipulative’s section on base blocks to be extremely useful. It turns out that it takes much less time to click on a button to create a virtual 10-by-10-by-10 cube than it does to build an actual 10-by-10-by-10 cube. This allowed me to run through many examples in class.