Monday, June 27, 2011

Incredible Vermont

My son Andrew and I went for a ferry ride across lake Champlain and back today and I can't think of many better things to do on a hot, cloudless summer day in Vermont. We took the Charlotte ferry across to NY State then drove north through Ausable Falls to Plattsburg where we caught the Grand Isle ferry back to Vermont. It's a round trip of about 4 hours and the views of the Adirondaks going and the Green Mountains on the way back are breathtaking. We had planned to take the long Burlington ferry back to Vermont but it still wasn't running because of the high lake water. The zephyr breeze on the top deck of the ferry was amazing.

I always think it's a shame we don't have a full summer semester because Vermont and St. Mike's really do shine in the summer. Everything looks so green, lush and tidy and there is so much to do. Later this week, we are planning a visit to VINS where there are all kinds of nature trails to walk and exhibits to see. This will make a nice change from our annual trip to ECHO although we might go there as well later in the summer.

A little bit further afield is the incredible Montshire Science Museum in Norwich, New Hampshire. This is not like your average museum where you get to look at things. The Montshire is an interactive museum where you can interact with all kinds of scientific phenomena, watch bees making honey and ants making an entire city.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Numbers on My Stairs

When I returned from my recent trip to the UK I found that my daughter Marie and my wife Lucie had painted the back stairs with a mathematical theme. I can now learn to count in French and Maay Maay, the Somali Bantu language every time I climb the stairs. What's most impressive about this is that Marie remembered the "Triangle of Meaning" in math education she learned when she took my grad. ed. math course last year.

The Triangle of Meaning identifies three forms of number; 1) the cardinal idea of a number such as three fingers or three houses, or three dots on a domino 2) the numeral we use to show that number such as 3 or III, and 3) the spoken word we use to say that number such as "three", "trois" , "drei" or "seddih". For young children to have a good grasp of counting they need to be able to move easily and meaningfully from one to the other.

One of the really interesting things we do in my undergraduate math class, ED325 Teaching Elementary School Math and Science is to explore in depth things that on the surface appear to be very simple. The whole idea of counting and numeracy is extremely complex and worthy of deep exploration so that we fully understand how it all works. The more we understand about these complex and intriguing issues the better teachers we become. There are few more rewarding things in life than to see a kindergartner count with real meaning rather than just number naming.

Monday, June 20, 2011

New Teaching Gardens Website

Some exciting news today; the Teaching Gardens at St. Michael's College has a new website. It really is a great new resource for SMC students as well as teachers in all grades, in all schools, anywhere in the world. You can now 'meet the trees' and visit a list of activities for teaching children about trees. You can find out which books are connected to which plants on the Books in Bloom page and find out about the wonderful SMC First Year Seminar course, FY193; Digging Down to the Roots; The Meaning of Gardens, offered by professors Valerie Bang-Jensen and Mark Lubkowitz, the driving forces behind the Teaching Gardens. There's even a list of all the words in the Word Garden.

Not that I'm counting but my last post seems to have been my 100th since I started blogging last September. I always find it remarkable how our culture and lives are so interlaced with our number system. Why is 100 such as significant number? It's amazing how often it occurs; normal human temperature is just under 100 at 98.6 (or 98.4 if you live in Europe); basketball teams score around 100 points; weekend golfers score around 100; we use 100 points in most of our grading systems; 100 years is a century; 100 pennies equal a dollar (or a pound): 100 degrees Celsius is boiling; an American football field is 100 yards long, and so on.

Finally, here's a wonderful Father's day card my son Andrew made for me in his HS photography class. He had to edit four different pictures to make this one.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Summer Students at St. Mike's

One of the neat things about the summer at St. Mike's is the collaborative research projects that faculty and students engage in. Yesterday, these faculty and students involved had an opportunity at a barbecue lunch to share and discuss their summer research projects in The Teaching Gardens at St. Michael's. In fact, one student is researching and designing interpretive signs for the Gardens to inform visitors of the different types of plants and their literary connections that are included in the gardens. In the spirit of fun, students were challenged to use a word from the Word Garden to help describe their research topic, frustrations, or successes.

The research grants are funded through various sources, including Summer Research Grants from the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs and are designed to employ students during the summer recess as a form of student employment. Students receive a stipend for their living expenses as they learn a great deal about a particular topic and how to conduct research through these projects.

Another of the research projects, under the direction of Dr. Declan McCabe in the SMC Biology Department is the EPSCoR Streams Project. This project involves SMC students, students from Puerto Rico as well as a group of HS students in the exploration of the quality of stream water in Vermont. This project provides students with an opportunity to conduct authentic research in a context where they are making a significant contribution to environmental awareness.

Other summer student/faculty research projects are also taking place in the History, Psychology, Political Science, Geography, Chemistry, Physics, Computer Science, Religious Studies and Media Studies Departments. St. Mike's is a busy place in the summer months.

Monday, June 13, 2011

St. Mike's has Graduate Programs Too.

As I was leaving St. Mike's last Thursday after a long day in the TWTW workshop I bumped into Kevin, a student who was in my undergraduate Math and Science Ed. class a couple of years ago. I asked him how things were going and he said he was on his way to class in a graduate education course he was taking at St. Mike's. He also said he would be in the Math and Diversity course I will be co-teaching in a couple of weeks. It's great to see students coming back to St. Mike's to do their graduate studies. It really is good to continue the learning curve after you get your first teaching job. I often think this is the time when the learning means the most.

The technology workshop I took last week really was a good experience. As a result I have set up a new web-page at iPAD2, Math and Special Education as well as a new Facebook group. The goal of the web-site is to provide a center for collecting all kinds of information about using the iPAD2 as an adaptive device for teaching students with special needs. My goal for the Facebook page is to collect information about Apps that are available. There are so many and it takes so long to go through them to find out which ones are useful and which ones are not.

The picture is of my son and daughter, Andrew and Marie, performing at the recent Vermont Family Network conference in Stowe, Vermont.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

It's a Mobile World

As a child I remember riding on trains like this. I can remember getting a face full of smuts (smoke and soot) if you put your head too far out of the window; the clickety-clack that we no longer have because of continuous rail and the ticket collectors who always said "cue" after they had inspected your ticket.

I mention this because it seems so far removed from what I have been learning in the technology workshop at St. Mike's this week. We've been told we have "sand-box" time tomorrow when we can use the "clouds" we have signed up for or 'tweet' until our hearts are content. The world of technology seems to thrive on metaphor; there are very few tech-derived words that I can think of after I get past 'byte'. Even the most famous tech-word of them all, windows, is surely a metaphor taken from the world of house construction.

However, even though I am not a "digital native" I think I can hold my own. My students next semester clearly will be digital natives so I must meet them at a point that is comfortable for all of us. I always ask my upper class-men to become connoisseurs of the digital world as it applies to education. In other words I want them to develop the skills so that they can make informed judgements as to what are the most effective forms and uses of technology at their disposal. They need to be able to sift through the junk to find the nuggets (ah, more metaphor!) which will be effective in helping children learn.

I find that I am doing what I say this week in that I am trying to determine which of all the different forms of technology we have been introduced to will enhance my teaching in my particular field of teacher education. There are a few that I don't think will but there are many that I can see have great potential. Setting up Facebook Groups for my classes and using the iPAD2 are two things that I plan to incorporate.

"Cue" by the way was a short version of "thank you", a piece of railway language that has been around for probably more than 150 years.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

I Can Tweet

I can now tweet, use Tegrity, store things in clouds, download apps and create groups on Facebook. At least I think I can. I've tweeted once but am still not sure how it works or why I should tweet.

What I have discovered is that I need to make sure that I can set up groups on Facebook for my classes next semester since this is the way students prefer to communicate; e-mail being somewhat passe.

This is the third time I have taken part in one of these TWTW sessions and I'm always amazed at how much I learn. The interesting thing is overcoming the cognitive dissonance that usually precedes the understanding of a new topic or form of technology. I have been through at least three Tegrity workshops but only today did I realize that I don't have to use it for every class. I will start using it when I have speakers or guests in class so that the students can watch and listen later and ask questions they might not have thought of at the time.

The whole idea of Apps is overwhelming right now but once I have a good grasp of where to look and what criteria to use when making a selection I can see real potential. I must make a note not to become an app-addict.

Kudos to the IT team of Kellie, Sue, Jim, Cynthia, Jerome, Eric and Melinda for their patience, enthusiasm and incredible depth of knowledge of everything technological. My iPAD2 is quite remarkable too.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

An IPAD2 4 Me 2

Next week I'll be taking part in my third TWTW; that's a Teaching With Technology Workshop offered by the IT department at St. Mike's every summer. As an incentive to take part (not that we really need one) participating faculty members get a techno gadget of some sort such as a digital camera or flipcam. This year, the eight of us taking part are getting IPAD2s.

The technical support at St. Mikes for faculty is quite remarkable given the size of the college and the constant need to keeep up by updating. Last week I got my brand new HP laptop complete with large monitor and all sorts of exciting software that I'm going to have to learn how to use this summer. The most important one will be coming to terms with the new Microsoft Expressions web-creating program which replaces the Frontpage program I have been using for the past ten years. I do a lot of web-page construction on the Department Pages so I'm going to have to get up to speed quickly.

The IPAD2 is going to be something else all together. I've not really embraced mobile technology to the extent that the younger generation has; I can't even text and rarely use my cell phone. But, I have a fairly clear summer so my goal is to really learn how to use the IPAD2 as an instructional tool in my classes. I'm particularly interested in its use with children with special needs as I think the simplicity of operation will have a profound effect upon how effectively children with special needs can learn specific skills. My son Andrew will be using one as part of his High School experience next year so I'll be able to practice with him.

My recent experience in the UK is beginning to fade into the past especially with the 80 degree wall-to-wall blue skies we have today.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Study the Food Abroad

I arrived safely back on US soil yesterday, or was it the day before, with a recharged English accent and a renewed love of British food. During my two weeks in the UK I sampled such delights as black pudding, haggis, steak and kidney pie and several examples of the remarkable array of British sweets (candies) that are available everywhere. The British eat more candies per person than any other nation on Earth so the choice is not only immense but regionally defined too.

British food is one of the most maligned products in the world. I have never thought it 'bland' although I can now understand how the US palate might find it so with it's need for spiced or highly seasoned food. So, when in the UK make sure that you get over any preconceived ideas you may have about the native food and at least sample something of everything.

One way that eating out in the UK has changed in recent years is the amazing increase on the variety and diversity of restaurants. In the late 60's the British fish and chip shop was joined by Chinese take-aways or 'carry-outs' as they are called. Indian cuisine was the next to become really popular while now you can sample the delights of many different nations on just about any high street of a decent sized town.

I still think, however, that you can't beat a good British pie or sausage when it comes to real taste and goodness. The pics above were taken in Cranston's a really good butcher's shop in Penrith in the north of England.