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Posts from the ‘education’ Category


Rubik’s cubes, Probabilities, and Patterns

One of the most interesting things to study is the question of “what are the chances of that happening?”  We hear about “an infinite number of monkeys could type up Shakespeare’s Hamlet, given enough time”… but teachers are unlikely to be able to buy up an infinite number of monkeys and typewriters (not to mention an infinite number of editors to look for the patterns of letters that are words in the play, “Hamlet”) on a teachers’ salary.

Understanding and using patterns is an important part of scientific inquiry and research.  The human brain tends to see patterns in all sorts of things (shapes in clouds, for instance, or star patterns) — some of which is just coincidence or culture and some of which is meaningful.   One of the most important activities in science is separating out patterns that are coincidence from patterns that are meaningful.  One of the simplest ways of teaching this is by using something that a teacher can easily purchase for a few dollars — a Rubik’s cube.

Show the cube to the kids and define the “solved” puzzle as the “scientific answer.”  Ask them what the odds are of having any one color (say, blue) land face up — and you can easily answer that it’s one chance in six.  Ask them to count the number of squares on each face (this will vary depending on what kind of cube you have.)

From this point you can:
* demonstrate percentage of color on surfaces and compare to the percentage of the “solved” cube
* have a number of students scramble cubes (have them all take the same number of “scrambling turns”) and graph the number of colors on each face and look for patterns
* talk about processes and patterns to solve cubes
* figure out how to make patterns (such as checkerboards or cube-within-cubes) on each face (this one takes a long time)

Some challenge patterns here:

An introductory video by Mr. Buffington (math teacher) on Rubik Cube probability is here:


Turning Classrooms Into Video Games

2013-05-19 10.23.03

One thing that teachers continually explore is “how do I make my classroom even better for the students.”  Teaching can be a very frustrating but very rewarding profession, IF you are prepared to deal with change.  Students have many different learning styles, students have many different abilities, AND our society changes how we learn and what we prefer as time goes on.  You (as a teacher) also have your own style, and learning “what works for me as a teacher” is all part of the training process for teachers.

The preferred way of teaching when I was little was similar to the first teaching methods:  make the kid sit still and repeat, punish them if they don’t do it right.  It’s brutal, but the result of this kind of teaching is that my generation is one of the best educated generations ever.

And it’s not going to work in today’s society.

So teachers, like Paul Anderson, are trying new strategies that work better in today’s schools

His TED talk covers a method being tried by a number of teachers across the nation: turning the classroom into a video game by going from teacher-centric to student-centric types of learning.  It isn’t a “magic bullet”, though, and he’s careful to point this out.  It requires a lot of planning on the part of the teacher and an understanding that reading sophistication may be a barrier to some of it.  He doesn’t mention it, but another consequence can be loss of control in the classroom (and other teachers and administrators getting on you because your classroom is noisy and disrupts other teachers so that they can’t teach.)

If you’re interested in trying this, here’s some links to get you started:

Things to think about:

Report from a teacher

Article on revitalizing education with games

A game using Algebra.  (Okay, all you Algebra-terrified people… come play.  Yes, even if you’re an adult.)

Using gaming to engage girls (I can go along with this.  I’m female.  I game.  Works for me!) Gaming can be used to revitalize girls’ interests