Category Archives: .H4 Honor family/community involvement in the learning process.

So close . . . and yet so far.

One of my science students, PK, recommended a game to me called Doodle God, from JoyBits Ltd.  My student said, “since we are studying chemistry, which is about combining things, check out this game, where you try to combine things.”

I was excited to give it a try and have now been playing it off-and-on for about a month.

Here’s what I like

  • Easy to learn to play.
  • Very rewarding to see two things swirl and create something new.
  • Some combinations are very creative, not immediately obvious, but logical.

Here’s what I don’t like

  • From the start, the portrayal of a monotheistic, creative deity as a grandfatherly, tinkering, bumbling, bug-eyed, wild-haired, white-bearded, tongue-protruding simpleton, seems borderline blasphemous for at least three major religious traditions of the world.  But, hey, whatever sells…
  • When I let my 8-year-old play—ignoring the 13+ rating of the game—I should not have been too surprised when certain risqué themes emerged.  Alcohol, drugs, sex, [censored], rock-n-roll are all there, and were they all necessary?  But, hey, whatever sells…
  • From the beginning I was a little peeved when I tried to combine certain things—that made logical sense to me—but they didn’t combine.  Similarly, when I saw hints which led to things that did wondrously(?) and improbably combine, I almost put the game down.  (And how was I supposed to guess that?)

Seeing that the dislikes for me seem to outweigh the likes, why am I writing this blog post?  I feel this game is *so close* to being something of real and amazing educational value.  Imagine something like “Chemistry Zeus” [any similarities between deities living or dead is purely coincidental], where students start with a few elements and either bombard them to make new elements (nuclear physics) or combine them with other elements or molecules to make compounds, or whole families of substances.  I think I would play that game, and if it taught a little science or history of science along the way, cool!

JoyBits, if you need a scientific consultant, you can contact me.  Smile

Some math fooling around

You start with 4 elements and are asked to deduce pairings that create successively more complex elements.  Since the deduction part is flawed in my opinion, I believe most successful game-players resort to trial and error.  Let me explain.

If I give you N items and tell you some of them might pair, by trial and error you would take the 1st item and try to pair it with the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. up to N.  When you are done with the 1st item you then take up the 2nd item, and try some pairings, but you don’t have to test it with the 1st item, since you already did that, so you test 2nd+3rd, and 2nd+4th, and 2nd+5th, etc.  one way to visualize this is with a grid.

  1 2 3
1 1+1 1+2 1+3
2 X 2+2 2+3
3 X X 3+3
Doodle God game with 3 elements (1-3)
Table shows all the combinations you need to check.
You do not need to check combinations marked “X”

The square with 1+1 means you are taking the 1st element in the game and trying to pair it with itself.  The 1+2 means that you are trying to pair the 1st element with the 2nd element.  Notice that the square that would be 2+1 in this example is marked with “X”.  That means you don’t need to test that combination because in the game 1+2 is the same as 2+1, the order you click on elements to pair them in the game doesn’t matter.  (If someday it did, the following analysis would be invalid.)

The formula for how many pairings you have to check for N total elements is

Total Pairs You Need to Check = N2-(1/2)(N-1)(N)
(thanks to Wolfram Alpha for helping me evaluate a sum)

We can verify that this formula is correct, by checking for N=3, plugging that into the formula and then counting in the table above to see if the results agree.  For N=3, from the table I would need to check 6 pairings to exhaust all possible combinations in the game.  The formula predicts

Total Pairs You Need to Check = N2-(1/2)(N-1)(N)

Total Pairs You Need to Check = 3*3-(1/2)(3-1)(3)=9-(1/2)(2)(3)=9-(1/2)(6)=9-3=6.

Now, the object of the game is to find successful pairings so let’s say 1+1 is successful.  But that would produce a 4th element.  That means we have to check more potential pairs.  (Note that some pairings produce two elements, that happens pretty rarely so the analysis so far and following is not invalidated.)

If successful, then you create a 4th element, and the table would now look like this:

  1 2 3 4
1 1+1      
2 N      
3 N N    
4 N N N  
Doodle God game with 3 elements
But the 1st element paired with 1st element produced a new 4th element.
The table of combinations thus adds a row and a column
Notice that although the 1st element paired with the 1st element made a 4th element, you haven’t tested any combinations of that 4th element yet.  You will have to test those, so we add a column to the table.
The number of total combinations we needed to check when we only had 3 elements was 6.  We tried one pairing of elements and we were successful so now we only need to check 5 plus the new pairings we potentially created.  It turns out that when you add 1 new element to an N-element game, you add N+1 more pairs to check.  In this case, i.e. N=3, we get 6-1+4=9.
Can we write a formula for how many pairs we still need to check on the 12th turn of the game?  Sure!  First let’s define a few things.
N = total number of elements in the game that you start with.
t = the turn of the game that you are on, in other words how many pairs you have tried already
s = successful matches already
u = unsuccessful matches already
Note that one relationship we can spot right away is
t = s + u
Which just says that the number of unsuccessful + successful matches you have made is equal to the number of turns you have been playing.  But the relationship we are after is “How many more matches do I need to test after t turns in the game?”  I believe this works, let’s try it out.
Potential Matches Left = (N+s)2-(1/2)(N+s-1)(N+s)-t
In the example above, N=3, t=1, s=1, u=0, the number of matches left to test, i.e. the number of blank squares in that grid is:
Notice that the function goes like a quadratic in the total number of elements, which means the game gets progressively harder as it goes along.  Even if you don’t blindly try all combinations, you still have to remember which combinations you have made and the combinations you haven’t or review all those elements you have not yet combined for “reasonable suspicion” of being able to combine to form new element.  We say the order of that comparison is O(N2), O() means “order of”.
The tradeoff that becomes important in the game is that if every turn in the game produces a new element (s=t), then the number of new combinations increases quadratically.  But that is the reward of the game, producing a new element.  The frequency of reward needs to be traded-off with the rate of increase in complexity of the game.  You can make the game less complex (s << t) by not letting any elements combine, but then who would play it?

Back to the game Doodle Farm (Free)

Meanwhile…a game that would allow players to combine things in ways that are accurate given physical laws, e.g. chemistry, would be an amazing pedagogical tool.  None of the flavors of Doodle God to date seem to represent any even remotely accurate view of the physical world.
I played Doodle Farm (Free) and used a Google Sheet to keep track of my pairings, much like the table above.  I was able to solve the game fairly systematically that way.  But what was annoying (and a deal-breaker for me, sadly) is that two of the first 4 pairings were completely illogical.  Not that the game makes any pretense of teaching accurate animal husbandry, but the whole point of this post is that the game would be used by Teachers if it were more accurate.
Doodle Farm Free initial elements and successful pairings.
How does Mouse+Mouse=Rat+Cat?
How does Worm+Mouse=Ant?

SnapChat Leak: An Educational Opportunity?

If you’re following this story, then you know that SnapChat, a super-popular App that a large number of my high school freshmen have on their phones, had a security problem that allowed a hacker to get the usernames and phone numbers of 4.6 million SnapChat users.

[Was your data leaked?  You can check using this look-up tool.]

I was eager to see if any of my students were in the set of leaked accounts.  I wanted to create conversation around why data leakers do this, and what appropriate responses would have been for the users and creators of such technology.

So I did some poking around.  I downloaded the data (46MB ZIP).  I to open it as a CSV in Excel 2013, but it couldn’t.  I opened it in Notepad+ and searched for my number.  Not found.  I searched for anything in 425 area code (Bellevue-Redmond).  Nothing.  I searched for anything in 509 area code (eastern WA).  Nothing.  So none of my students were in the leaked data.

It turns out only a select few numbers in 76 area codes were shared.

And it’s interesting that only 10,623 numbers in 206 area code (Seattle) were shared.  That’s only 1 part-per-thousand of the total numbers in 206.  Which is either a comment on the importance of SnapChat in Seattle or the underestimation of area codes to include from the hacker.

Or take a look at 815 area code in the picture above, if 215,953 numbers in 815 use SnapChat, that is 21 out of every thousand phones (or 2%)!  Not bad for a small App that doesn’t care about security.

So, can someone get me all the 509 numbers at SnapChat please?  It would help me in lessons at school next week.  Smile

[Book Review] Where the Rubber Meets the Road

I’m reading a book by Richard N. Steinberg entitled An Inquiry Into Science Education, Where the Rubber Meets the Road.

Professor Steinberg took a sabbatical (2007-2008) from the City College of New York to teach high school physics in Harlem.  This book is a reflection on his experiences.

His themes are predictable if you’ve been following current topics in education.

  • teacher preparation
  • student apathy
  • classroom management
  • abysmal math fluency
  • standardized testing
  • teaching is a lot of work!

His more hopeful and helpful themes are around how he has stood for true inquiry in his science classrooms, and some lessons that he taught.  That plus some other references he cites as resources are worth the price of the book.

Steinberg spoke at a conference in Washington DC in May for the Robert Noyce Scholarship folks at PhysTEC, since he is also involved at that program at CCNY.  He doesn’t talk about PhysTEC in his book, but I suppose it would be out of context somewhat.

Technology Investigations / Applications / Tools

I describe below some activities or tools I have discovered during the 2011-2012 school year around technology.  I argue that if a technology or tool helps the teacher / staff person save valuable time, then it has indirectly had impact on student learning.  If a technology or tool has been used by the student, then it has directly had impact on student learning.  At least, that is the case I intend to make below.


Description Student Learning Impact Teacher / Practice Impact
Student project check-in form (Google Form).  A method was proposed whereby a teacher could review and record student progress on a project.  Goal was to facilitate the capturing of current state and next steps in a student project. No evidence that student work on projects has been increased or become more rigorous as a result of this work. Was used in April briefly by Jessica.

Samples were given to David, Angie and Steve as well, but this idea has not gained any traction yet.

Field trip calendar (Shared Google Calendar). 

NOTE:  although I didn’t create this tool, my adoption has meant that others can find the tool useful.

Students who need record of field trips to prove hours have found this invaluable.

I would also argue that the list of field trips is P2, H1, H2 and H5.

Although originally created by Megan, the calendar has been useful to both Dan and me, in the tracking of our trips, record of activities, weekly planning, and even keeping track of van usage/reservations.
Big Picture High School Transcript (PDF Form).  How I Made the PDF Transcript. Creating a durable record of student progress is useful for students, parents/guardians and teachers.  Enables quarterly progress reports, helping students know where they are at. I’ve already heard back from our office manager, from a senior advisor, and from my mentor teacher on the usefulness of this tool.
LTI Timesheet (PDF Form).  This was my first conversion of a paper form to a PDF Form. Enabling students to report their internship conveniently and accurately is a significant impact on their learning. I already cited a reply from the LTI Coordinator (Megan) about how the form has been gaining momentum.
STEAM Contact Triage (Google Form and Google Spreadsheet).  At the beginning of the year, as Dan, Jeff and I were brainstorming people and activities that would enrich our students, we decided to create a Google Form that talked to a Google Spreadsheet. By keeping track of contacts that may want to host students for tours, shadow days, informational interviews and full internships, we are having impact on their learning.  Every contact is a potential internship site, is a potential mentor for a student.

Just two examples: 

Fernwood contacts have led to significant interactions with our students.

Criminal Justice Training Center has also provided an internship for our students.

By putting a process into place whereby staff can share contacts and meet to triage new contacts and strategize next steps, I am improving the efficiency of my colleagues, I am sharing information with them and in the end I am making them more efficient at their jobs and our school’s mission.

NOTE:  I do not have proof that Dan or Jeff are using this tool actively, but I am and therefore it is an immediate resource for anyone who cares to see it.

LTI Site (Google Site).  This site is owned by Megan and is being used to store and communicate BPHS processes around LTI.

NOTE:  although I didn’t create this site, I have helped Megan edit/customize the site.

Students are impacted by easier access to LTI documents and a repository for more standardized process that they and their mentors can follow. Helping Megan be efficient at her job in the helps the entire school, staff and students effective.  By unblocking her understanding of how to edit and make the site truly her own, I have unleashed her creativity.
YouTube Videos of guest speakers at Big Picture High School. Students are obviously impacted in the live events, and by having the video available for future events, there is potential for more students to be impacted. Staff sometimes cannot make a lecture, so I have filmed the lecturer and gotten their permission to post on YouTube.  Speakers I have taped include:

Roger Fernandes, Native Storyteller.

Josh Ginzler, Licensed Mental Health Care Professional.

Adele Mitchell, Forensic Specialist / Geneticist.

Google Cloud Connect (Google Docs Toolbar for Word PowerPoint Excel) Since our school relies heavily on Google Docs, this tool that allows native uploading, downloading and sharing of Office Documents has been essential.  Not very many students have discovered it. However, certain staff (Ed first) have been very enthusiastic for the tool and I believe it has changed his whole workflow.
MailChimp (bulk e-mail tool for students, staff and parents involved with SAT Prep course).  Here is an archive of recent e-mails sent for the SAT Prep course. When a parent of a student in the SAT Prep course wanted to be kept aware of what was going on, I created a MailChimp Account Since this tool allows you to track when e-mails are opened, read, forwarded, and *not* read, they would be invaluable anytime an advisor/staff person is sending out bulk e-mails.
BPHS SAT Google Site This was a web site used to communicate between the staff and the students for coordination of the SAT Prep course. By keeping a calendar of activities in the course, I kept students informed of what was happening when, what we had covered, lesson materials, and links to YouTube Videos of class sessions. This web site enabled better collaboration with staff. (SMS Polling Tool)  By creating an account on this service and using in the SAT Prep course, I was able to engage students in learning activities. Initial results from an Action Research paper that I am producing for EDU6173 is that students rated their mathematics self-efficacy higher on days that we did SAT sample problems (from a sample test) higher if there were engaged via SMS/Cell Phone polling. General opinion of staff is that this service in general and my application on SAT Prep in particular has been beneficial / fun. (Bulk SMS Sending and Polling Tool)  Used in the SAT Prep course. Similar to PollEverywhere but different, this tool allowed for students to register their mobile device in a virtual course.  Once they did that I could send them messages or take quick polls related to content / activities in the SAT Prep course. When I realized that students were not reading the class e-mails that I was sending, I was able to get them to register their mobile devices and thus have a more direct means of communicating to each of them en masse or individually.
YouTube Videos of me solving SAT QOTD (Questions of the Day) Similar to Khan Academy (person talking while solving a problem on a virtual blackboard / whiteboard), I created 20-30 videos of me solving some SAT Questions of Day, which the College Board puts out daily basis via e-mail. Making the videos was fun.  It gave some insight into Khan’s style and some of the technical challenges which he has solved to create his massive library of videos. for shortening URLs  
Fluid Math from Fluidity Software tool I used to create the YouTube videos for SAT QOTD. Let’s you do math on an interactive whiteboard or laptop projection by using a tablet.
Vimeo This is another video sharing site and one which I had used extensively for my CSI Middle School Elective until I realized that YouTube had more space and no weekly upload limits. I am big on archiving instruction.  I think I have video for almost every classroom + teacher session that I have engaged in, except the Video Game elective I did in the High School.

Internship Reflection Week of 2012-02-06 [24] (301 and 401 Exhibitions)

You may recall that the juniors and seniors at our high school are called the 301s and 401s, respectively.  This week was their chance to display their portfolios, learning plans, and describe projects that they are working on.  Next week we will give the 101s and 201s a chance to do the same.

There are two teachers (advisors) at each grade level, which means 4 teachers were coordinating exhibitions for their students this week.  Each advisor has approximately 17 students.  This week Mr. H., Mr. M. were holding exhibitions for their 301 students, while Mr. R. and Mr. K. were holding exhibitions for their 401 students.

The February exhibition cycle is the second of three cycles that occurs in each school year.  If students are on track to graduate (or level up from 301 to 401) then this exhibition has an easy message, however, if students are not on track to graduate, then this exhibition is a chance to issue a corrective message and put a procedure in place to come around that student and address the deficits well before the May exhibitions are upon us.

As I reflect on my skills at giving useful feedback and grades in student exhibitions, I am reminded that there is basically a rubric, which we are asked to follow.  Using concepts learned from EDU6172 at SPU, I ought to be able to augment the given rubric and help build some uniformity in the grades I have been giving.  Thinking deeply about the rubric we are using, and then adding to that rubric as I observe others giving scores will be very helpful for me next time around.  My key value in it all is to be fair to all the students on whose panels I sit.  My other value is to give a score that reinforces the key message which advisor, parent, and other staff are giving to the student.  I find that if my score is widely disparate from that of others on the panel, that I need to have concrete reasons for that, so that the student understands the message we are sending about the effort and work they have put forward.

I remain convinced that these weeks are central to the Big Picture model of education.  It is in these exhibitions that students show their true colors, and get feedback from supportive adults on next steps.

Rough Timeline (No need to evaluate)

Monday 2/6/2012:  Exhibitions for 4 students, results from my HOPE reflections, sent a copy of Video release form to Mr. H.

Tuesday 2/7/2012:  Exhibitions for 3 students.

Wednesday 2/8/2012: Exhibitions for 3.5 students, Dr. Algera visits Big Picture

Thursday 2/9/2012:  Exhibitions for 2 students.  Contacted CJTC chef.  Contacted a teacher familiar with Washington State Arts Commission grants. 

Friday 2/10/2012:  Exhibitions for 2 students.  CleanHarbors contact made.

ARC Program Requirement: “Observe a Minimum of 6 Extracurricular Activities”

I propose using student field trips that I have organized, chaperoned, drove or led as my Extra-Curricular Activities.  As I pull together reflections on each, I will put the links to the reflections below.

Past Field Trips:

To Microsoft Museum and Company Store, Redmond: October 20, 2011

To Criminal Justice Training Center, Burien: October 25, 2011

To DigiPen Institute, Redmond: December 1, 2011

To Seattle Police Department, Latent Print Unit, Seattle: December 8, 2011

To Bellevue College and Valve Software, Bellevue: December 15, 2011

To Pacific Science Center, Discovery Corps, Seattle: January 12, 2012

To Academy for Interactive Entertainment, Seattle: January 31, 2012

To The Evergreen State College, Olympia: February 1, 2012

Upcoming Field Trips:

To NOAA, Seattle: March 8, 2012

To Advanced Broadcast Solutions, Burien: March 29, 2012

Note: there is also a Spring Formal / Tolo / Dance coming up and I have volunteered to be a chaperone.

Internship Reflection Week of 2012-01-02 [19] (Prensky)

Classes resumed on Wednesday (1/4) of this week after the long holiday break.  Since I didn’t continue the CSI (Crime Scene Investigators) elective for the Middle Schoolers, my thoughts over the break were mostly on the new High School Elective that I am planning on starting in January, and the SAT Review course that starts at the end of February.

Also, although it is in the distance yet, the prospect of doing the TPA (Teacher Proficiency Assessment) for my certification requirements at SPU for the State of Washington is at the forefront of my mind.  It will continue to be there, and rightly so, until it is finished at the end of March.

But let me talk a moment about the topic of the High School elective that I will be running on the topic of computer games, game design and 3D tools.  To help crystallize some of my thinking on the topic, I read the book “Don’t Bother Me Mom – I’m Learning” by Marc Prensky.  The main thesis of the book is that computer games can teach and much can be learned from computer games.  The title alludes to the reservations that many parents have about their children playing computer games, and the text of the book seeks to engage that tension creatively.

In particular—the point that most resonated with me is that—parents need to spend more time with their children, and especially in pursuits that both find recreationally interesting.  On that foundation much understanding can be built and many conversations can be had about what is in those games and what young adults are taking from those games.

As I look forward to engaging students at my school on the topic.  I realize there are skeptics.  I realize it looks like time-wasting.  I realize there are risks of exposing kids to ideas and themes which they may not be old enough to handle.  However, as Prensky coined the terms “digital native” and “digital immigrant”, I’d like to coin the term “digital ally” which means that I am on the side of the student and want to help guide them into the appropriate and responsible use of technology, but especially for the cause of increasing interest in and access to STEM education.

That’s the theme of the school where I am teaching, start with interests and take kids onward and upward from there.  As I look forward at this year, there are not a lot of formal opportunities to give lectures and stand up in front of classrooms.  That’s never been a pre-requisite for real learning, so hold on tight as I continue on this internship and lets see what kind of excitement I can build in students as I engage them on what to them is very familiar territory, the video game.


Prensky, M. (2006).  Don’t Bother Me Mom – I’m Learning.  Paragon House.

Twitter as Log of What I’m Reading

A little while ago I started using Twitter as a log of what I was reading on the web.  Most of what I am reading has to do with education, and although it is intriguing to think about how to solve all of education’s problems, I should focus my reading primarily on getting certified and stuff I need for my classes at SPU.

So check out my Twitter feed to the left here on my blog, and if you want to follow me, click here

Book Review: Kaplan R. & Kaplan E. (2007). Out of the labyrinth: Setting mathematics free. Oxford University Press.

During Winter Quarter 2011 in EDMA 6357, I wrote the following book review.

Internship Reflection Week of 2011-11-21 [13] (Exhibition Form, AG Essay)

Before we could leave for Thanksgiving break last week, we had a few more exhibitions to do.  Recall that these conferences are run by students and give them a chance to demonstrate the progress which they have made on their learning plans.  The invitees to these meetings are the student’s advisor, other staff from the school, students and any family or friends that the students wishes to have in attendance.  All attendees to an exhibition fill out a feedback form.

I have to say that the exhibitions are quite informational and often emotional.  It is clear when students have prepared, and when they have not.  It is clear when they have pushed themselves in the past quarter, and when they have not.  Questions frequently asked of students are:  "what part of the portfolio that you have shown us today do you consider your best work?",  "how long have you been doing activity ‘x’ and what new skills have your learned (or what new things about yourself have you learned)?", etc.  Some have compared an exhibition to a legal proceeding where discovery and evaluation of evidence of learning is the main agenda item.

A most powerful part of the exhibition lies in the ability for the student to rank herself or himself (on a scale of 1 to 4, 4 being A+) and then for the family members, other students, other staff and advisor(s) to also suggest a grade or score.  Some advisors use an average of all scores suggested during the exhibition and some use a consensus score for the final exhibition score for their student.  Either way the conversation about the score can be uncomfortable or can be quite laudatory.  Students often under-rate their presentations, just as parents often over-rate their child.  These are both understandable as the learner does not always see all the learning they are really achieving, and parents see a side of their student and their work habits outside of school.  The conversations around

Some of the more powerful exhibitions are moving because of the depth of experience and self-expression that students achieve.  Recall that they are writing autobiographies (across all four years) and must have an accumulated length of 100 pages—after  4 years—in  order to graduate.  The reflections generated along that journey can be quite profound.  Some students weave together learnings from internships, with their academic discoveries, and their personal journeys.  What results is some incredible writing.  I close this post with an essay from a student, which they read at the end of their exhibition.  (With permission from the author.)


What happens after you’re finished spiraling to nothingness? After you feel like there’s nowhere else to fall? What happens then? You hit bottom. There is no lower to go, the whole world pressing down on you all around you. You feel there’s nothing you can do to escape what the world says. You’re lost, you are nothing, nobody. Too weak to face the challenges, you collapse to an innocent ball and retreat to a place mixed with wonders and horrors, this limbo coma where nothing is real but the past.

All memories is what it comes down to, years of falling down, years of being stepped on, stepped over. This becomes your hard, cold, faceless reality. You live here for a long time, going through the days which blend together. Memories blurring, life in a whirl, the world in a hurry to go nowhere, and it seems you’re here in the center watching as all the people continue to meet an endless deadline. As you sit and watch, the people of the world cry over a loss. They die a hard death. People of the world rejoice in the death of another; people of the world rejoice in a new life. People of the world tear at each other, then come together to be there for one another. People of the world do not care for anything; people of the world live in drama. People of the world end up forgetting the good and embracing the bad, resorting to living with hate, disrespect, and an absence of liberty – of pride, of joy – of all the goodness humanity could achieve.

Here, in this pressured, dark state, this observant state, I rise from the cold earth on which I’ve sat for so long, breaking through the weakness that bound me, that held me to the ground. Then this light from above, from the heavens shines down on me, and through the darkness so long and deep a figure is awaiting me, a voice that speaks “I have waited, and now you have risen, your life is truly yours, now live it through me, live with the light, live with love.” As I step out of the shadow of the darkness, I am shaken, revived with an energy to face the world, the goodness of humanity is out there. I am here to bring it together. This is a place where people have fallen into a hate, a rush, a horrible place. To bring them out is a challenge I stand and face, but one to take for I have already been to the bottom, I can only go one way. People of the world let this warmth awaken you, this light shine on you, see the goodness you can achieve. Be awake and live, love holds the key to all the gates, you must walk through now.

%d bloggers like this: