Category Archives: Ten Best

Ten Best Math Instruction Tools

In his excellent TEDx talk, “Math Class Needs a Makeover”, Dan Meyer affirms some basic truths about math class: 1) anyone can learn to be successful in math, 2) traditional approaches to math instruction have poorly served a large number of our students, and 3) making math instruction practical is the key to making it “stick”.  He never uses the term “UDL” in his talk, but the changes he proposes are all about changing how we represent material, how we express our conclusions, and how we engage with the curriculum – the three principles of Universal Design for Learning.

Here are my ten eleven twelve favorite sites to use to support math instruction.  None of them are procedural guides or electronic worksheets.  They all involve building an environment that the student can manipulate and get immediate feedback on their efforts.  Some of them can be done quickly.  Some take longer.  But, they all make effective use of the “problem-based learning” model.

  1. NLVM
    A vast array of math manipulatives, indexed by grade band and by sub-topic (Number & Operations, Algebra, Geometry, Measurement, and Data Analysis & Probability). This is a long-time favorite of mine.  Most of the applications are built on the Java platform, which unfortunately means they will not work on a Chromebook.  If you have a teacher station with a browser that still runs Java, some of the manipulatives work extremely well with an interactive whiteboard.
  2. iSolveIt
    CAST provides two iOS apps that keep the goal of developing logic and reasoning skill at the focus, beyond simply providing a right answer.
  3. Interactivate
    Interactivate includes the standard fare of manipulative activities and stock lessons, but goes the extra step of providing ideas and material for Class Discussions.  Also has an associated iOS app.
  4. Illuminations
    The National Council on Teaching Mathematics provides this set of manipulatives, titled “Illuminations”.  Searchable by grade band and sub-topic.  Includes Common Core and NCTM standards.
  5. PhET Interactive Simulations
    Colorado University provides this set of modern HTML5-based manipulatives.  Math is the basis for some, and is a strong undercurrent for many of the science activities.  Because of the modern platform, these work well on just about any device or screen size.
  6. NRich
    Includes printable support materials for class and teachers.  And, it gives you a chance to explain to the class why the word “maths” shows up all over the place!  Don’t get thrown off by the UK terminology, the activities are indexed for US grade levels as well.
  7. SolveMe Math Mobiles
    Without using the words “equation” or “algebra”, this interactive puzzle game provides a great introduction to those concepts, while reinforcing number sense and application of basic operations.
  8. Cargo Bridge from Limex Games –
    The guy has to push the box home.  But, there’s a chasm in the way!  Build a bridge to support the guy and the box, with the limited supplies you have available.  You’ll never hear the question, “When am I ever gonna need to know about triangles in real life?”
  9. “Full Steam Ahead” game
    Math abounds in a set of physics and engineering problems based on the real-life advances designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.  As you progress through the early tasks, more types of challenges are unlocked.  Build, Test, Tweak, Repeat.
  10. Math Playground
    Somewhat limited set of resources, but the ones that are available are very useful.  Geared more for upper elementary.  Should work well with modern browsers.
  11. Desmos Graphing Calculator
    A graphing calculator for your browser!  Powerful save, overlay, and editing tools.
  12. Geogebra
    Online graphing calculator, and a host of additional tools for math instruction, including geometry, algebra, calculus, statistics, and more.  Downloadable materials as well as online activities.

My ten favorite TED/TEDx talks

Holy schlamolies.  It happened.

TEDx logo.I have previously submitted proposals to speak at TEDx events in Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, and Kalamazoo.  Every time, I have been told there was a large volume of great ideas, and my proposal happened not to be selected.

Fifth time was the charm.  My presentation proposal has been accepted for the TEDx Worthington event on Saturday, February 27, 2016.  The event will take place at the McConnell Arts Center at Worthington High School.  The theme for the event is “Resolve”.

As I prepare for this event, I thought I would put together a list of my ten favorite TED/TEDx talks, to remind me of what I like most about the format and give me some pointers on what I can do with my 12-15 minutes.

My ten eleven twelve favorite TED/TEDx talks (in alphabetical order by the speaker’s last name):


Ten Movie Clips Any Teacher Can Relate To

My twitter-colleague Matthew Lynch is a professor, editor of The Edvocate and a blogger for the Huffington Post, Education Week, and Diverse.

He has an exceptionally thought-provoking two-part article about some movies that expressly speak to the situation teachers in America find themselves in.

I have routinely used video clips from movies (and other sources) in the workshops I do with teachers.  Dr. Lynch’s post prodded me to get about the work of putting together my ten favorite movie clips any teacher can relate to.  Each of them gives an example (or maybe a non-example!) of how to structure the learning environment to reach all kids.  In somewhat random order, here they are!

Patch Adams, “The Walkthrough” – If someone, even an administrator, walked past your classroom door at just the right (or wrong?) moment, what would they think about what is going on?  Administrative walkthroughs are quite the rage in some evaluation systems, which I suppose is all well and good.  But whoever is doing the observing needs to know exactly what they are looking for and looking at without jumping to any unwarranted conclusions based on personal preferences or preconceived notions about what constitutes effectiveness.

Miracle, “I wanna see that kid in the net who wouldn’t take the test.” – You know the kid.  He’s good.  He knows he’s good.  You know he’s good.  But he doesn’t always do well.  Sometimes, he doesn’t do anything.  He’s bored.  He’s disengaged.  He might even be smarter than you.  You still have to find a way to reach him.  And you don’t have to crush his spirit to do it.

The Blind Side, “You should get to know your players, Bert.” – Take advantage of their strengths.  That means you have to take the time to get to know them and find out their strengths.  A very real-life example of “if they don’t learn the way I teach, I need to learn to teach the way they learn.”

Remember the Titans, “Attitude reflects leadership, Captain – What teacher wouldn’t love to have a “can-do” team attitude in their classroom?  However, high functioning teams do not just happen.  The process can be difficult, and it requires a level of honesty and trust in interactions that just does not seem to come naturally in traditional expectations for classroom management.

We Are Marshall, “Now, I am going to bet that you didn’t propose over the phone….
Engaging students (and their families!) takes much more than mass communication.  General newsletters, form letters, and announcements are fine, but they do nothing to cultivate a relationship.  Before you need some very special favor, cultivate the relationship that makes it likely for someone to want to do something nice for you.

Mr. Holland’s Opus, “Lou finds the beat –  If you know a teacher who is still confused about what Tier III instruction in a Multi-Tiered System of Support (or “Response to Intervention (RtI)” model is supposed to look like, show them this clip.  Individual, specialized assistance, with the task broken down into successive approximations, within the student’s Zone of Proximal Development, with the end goal of having the student perform the task proficiently alongside their peers.  Simple as banging on a drum.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, “Anyone? – Informal formative assessment and checking for understanding are all the rage these days.  And well they should be.  They are a great way for a teacher to make sure their instruction is doing what it is supposed to do.  Here’s the key, though… if you aren’t using the data from your formative assessment to actually change the way you teach, it’s absolutely pointless to perform the assessment and collect the data.

We Bought a Zoo, “Twenty seconds of insane courage – What if we gave kids a safe place to try?  What if we gave kids a place where they could see what happens when they come up with twenty seconds of insane courage, with no fear of rejection or ridicule if they get it a little bit wrong?  For far too many of our students, school has taught them that the shame of failure is to be feared far more than the joy of accomplishment is to be pursued.

A Christmas Story, “I want you to write a theme! – Why haven’t there been more statues commemorating students who wrote magnificent themes?  Is it possibly because they never made it further than the teacher’s inbox, then the gradebook, then the wastebasket?  What can you do to get the great work your students do in front of more people?  [Consider something like Project TWIMA (The World Is My Audience)!]

Kindergarten Cop, Fire Drill – Every new teacher dreads their first fire drill.  Every veteran teacher can’t help themselves but look to see how the newbie does.  But seriously, when do you see people walking in neat, straight rows like that when there’s a REAL fire?

Pay It Forward, Your assignment for the school year – change the world. – When did a year-long assignment challenging students to come up with an idea that would change the world for the better become such a pie-in-the-sky fantasy world idea?  If we spend all of our time in the curriculum laboratory coming up with not-real assignments about not-real topics to help kids achieve not-real standards demonstrated on not-real assessments, why should we surprised that kids ask why they should bother spending their time on it?  Do they want to change things?  Great!  Channel that drive, don’t squelch it and then wonder why the kids seem so apathetic these days.  What type of work would be considered “weird”, “crazy”, or “hard” in your classroom?  If it’s worth doing, if it could change the world, why not think of it as “possible” and see what happens?




The Ten Best Technology Movies of All Time

Some movies rely heavily on some aspect of technology (and its development, and the ramifications when things go awry) to advance their plot.  These are my ten favorite tech films of all time!

10) The Fly (1958) – Teleporters would be awesome, right? What Movie poster for The Fly, 1958.could possibly go wrong? The original 1958 classic does a great job of staying on the edge of “plausible deniability” in scaring the bejabbers out of the viewer! I didn’t think the Jeff Goldblum / Geena Davis remake was terrible.  In some ways, it was definitely better than the original.  For this list, I have to go with the 1958 version because the ending is so much better.  “Help me! Please, help meeee!”

9) WALL-E (2008) – Yes, I have kids.  Yes, I watch Disney movies. Wall-E character Occasionally, I even watch one when the kids aren’t around (Mary Poppins is still one of my all-time favorites).  This one took a movie plot that is generally only reserved for trying to unsettle adult audiences, and made it accessible and fun for all ages.  It still provokes the question of “what would happen if all the people were gone”, but without the cataclysmic darkness that puts most films like this into the “after the kids go to bed” time slot.

8)  Apollo 13 (1995) – When the original mission (landing on the Scene from Apollo 13.moon) of the Apollo 13 crew has to be scrubbed, a new mission takes its place (saving the astronauts’ lives as they return to Earth).  Can you design something to rescue three imperiled astronauts using things like the flight plan cover, duct tape, and socks, before the CO2 levels in the capsule overtake them? How did it actually work?

7) The Terminator (1984) – C’mon.  It’s The Terminator.  Do you really need to know any more?

6) Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) – Why did this make my list?

Ferris Bueller sitting in front of his monochrome amber monitor.
“I asked for a car. I got a computer. How’s that for being born under a bad sign?”

The whole thing couldn’t have been possible without Ferris using a room full of outrageously geeky (for its time) technology to hack the house intercom system, provide medical sound effects, and even hack into the school computer system to eliminate an overabundance of absences.  All that, and he couldn’t figure out how to make the odometer go backwards on a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder?

5) Office Space (1999) – The premise of the central plot element in Office workers ready to destroy the laser printer.this movie makes you think, “Well, yeah, what DOES happen to the fraction of a cent that gets dropped off of all those financial transactions?”  The rest of the movie is built on the positive and negative interactions between the personalities of the characters, but the thoroughly believable idea of siphoning minuscule amounts of money to create a multi-million dollar bank account, and sticking it to the man, practically dares us not to identify with the cubicle dwellers getting screwed at every turn.  And who hasn’t wanted to hand out a little street justice by curb-stomping a laser printer that spouted “PC LOAD LETTER” just once too often?

4) Minority Report (2002) – Smart move, setting this movie just far

Spatial Operating Interface from the movie Minority Report.
Admit it, you want a pair of these gloves.

enough into the future that I can imagine myself being still alive should the world turn into something like this.  A blend of humans with special abilities (“Precogs”) and technology has allowed law enforcement to detect when someone is going to commit a crime.  Using this technology, they preempt the crimes from occurring and arrest the would-be perpetrator just as if they had committed the crime.  We were awed by the “spatial operating environment interface” that John Anderton used when he slipped on the special gloves.  Little did we know that only a few years later, multi-touch surfaces and devices like the Xbox Kinect would make those science fiction morsels become a tasty reality long before 2054!

3) Tron (1982) – We didn’t even know what a “hacker” was in 1982,

Action figures from the original movie
I had these when I was a kid. So cool!

but the concept of getting trapped inside a virtual video game world was fertile ground for Disney’s second entry in my list.  See, kids, back in the 80s, we had to go to a mall to a place called an “arcade” to play video games.  And the guy who ran the arcade had the coolest job in the world.  There is a bit of cognitive dissonance that still goes on in my head – I refuse to believe that the Jeff Bridges from this movie is the same Jeff Bridges from any of his other movies.  Nuh-uh, no way, nohow.

Open the pod bay doors, HAL.2) 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – Stanley Kubrick just has a way of making “poison ivy” movies.  They get under your skin and itch until you have to scratch it, and it just makes the itch worse.  “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dave.”

1) WarGames (1983) – Matthew Broderick makes another appearance on my list, this time with the quintessential tech-based

You can’t read it without hearing it in the computer voice, can you?

movie of all time.  When you’re working on a text-based terminal, how do you know what’s “real”, and what’s just a construct of artificial intelligence? I was already a burgeoning computer nerd at the time, having written my own Casino and Horse Racing programs in Applesoft Basic on a VTech Laser 128 during a snowstorm-lengthened winter break from school, and this movie put dreams in my head of one day doing things with a computer that would go beyond my own house. “Shall we play a game?”

Obviously, I’ve chosen several movies that bridge a gap between implementing technology (“can we do it?”) and philosophy (“should we do it?”), which has long provided a foundational element for plots in movies, literature, etc.  What movies did I miss that I should have included?  Which one of these movies doesn’t deserve to be in the list? Go ahead, have at it!

A Video Is Worth A Thousand Words

– originally posted December 19, 2013 at

I was recently asked for a list of some videos that I have used to illustrate the importance and effectiveness of assistive technology for students.  Here is (in no particular order) my “top ten list” of videos I use to inform others about the possibilities with assistive technology and get them excited about what they can do!

1) Cheryl and Morgan: Learning Independence – Google produced this video of a high school student named Morgan, and her use of some built-in features of Google Search and Google Drive.  I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Cheryl and Morgan via Google Hangout, and the impact was superb!

2) One Thumb to Rule Them All – Mike Phillips doesn’t let his SMA prevent him from playing online games and working as a freelance tech writer.

3) A Pivotal Role in the Household – ALS doesn’t prevent Marie-France from researching, writing, and helping manage the house, all by only moving her jaw muscles!

4) Fun Theory: Piano Staircase – Tech doesn’t have to make things easier, simpler, or quicker.  Sometimes, the point of technology is to make tasks more engaging.

5) the MaKey MaKey – Part of the allure of this device is the endless possibilities for alternate input devices.  Another important part of the allure of this device is kids coming up with their own creative and inventive uses for it!

6) The Marshmallow Challenge – The system is there to support the student, not the other way around.  This video highlights the importance of keeping focus in any project, and the need for constant evaluation and revision of the structures we put in place to make sure they are still providing the necessary support.

7) Episodes of “Curb Cuts” – “Curb Cuts” is a local-access television show produced by the Central Coast AT Center of United Cerebral Palsy in San Luis Obispo, in California.  These 15-to-30-minute long episodes spotlight individuals using assistive technology to live and work independently.  Cassandra Province and her eyegaze system in Episode #1 is exceptionally inspirational!
Episode 1 – Hands-free Computer Access []
Episode 2 – Blind AT []
Episode 3 – Deaf & Hard-of-Hearing AT []
Episode 4 – Vehicle Modifications []
Episode 5 – AT for Low Vision []
Episode 6 – Adaptive Recreation []
Episode 7  -Home Modifications []

8) Tatum’s Garden – The playground shouldn’t be a place where inclusion stops.

9) Encourage the Runner – Even if you’re not the runner, you can encourage the one who is running his own race.  Side note, this happened at Colonial Hills Elementary in Ohio, where a friend of mine has a son attending.

10) We’ll Always Need Paper – Yep, this one is pretty much just comic relief.  But, I do think it helps drive home the point that the technology should not drive the goal.  The goal should drive the choice and implementation of technology.