Physical representation of a record breaking month of rain

AHPSMaypptdiffAccording to NOAA, this past May was the wettest month on record for the the US. The distribution of rain was not uniform. Parts of the central US received 2 to 3 times as much rain as usual while precipitation on the most of the East and West coasts was below average. Continue reading


Visualization pyramid scheme

The Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom (DIKW) pyramid is often invoked to describe the value of information visualization. The suggestion is that by properly processing, sorting, and encoding ‘data’, it can move up a value pyramid from mere data to information (which is data made useful). Then, through some additional magical processes this information can become knowledge and ultimately contribute to wisdom.

While this description of the process of creating value from data has rhetorical charm, it does not stand up to close inspection. The problems comes from the fact that the meaning of the terms data, information, knowledge and wisdom are not consistent with their usage in this pyramid scheme. Continue reading


Visual sense making

Over the past few years I’ve spend a part of my free time developing content for my science education site SciencePrimer.com. I was actively teaching when I launched the site and I used it to host material I created for my students. The motivation for the site came from the strong positive feedback I got (and continue to get) from students. The site contains short video lectures, problem sets, and calculators, but the interactive illustrations are at the heart of my efforts. Continue reading


Putting Scratch in perspective

scratchShotScratch is a programing platform developed by Mitch Resnik and his group at MIT. The program has a simple, intuitive interface that allows children to create interactive documents. It has great potential as a creative outlet and I’ve introduced it to both of my children. The program can be used to teach coding concepts and syntax. The conceptual underpinnings of Scratch are robust enough that, if used properly, it can even be used to teach object oriented programing.
Continue reading


I do not trust DreamBox

As a parent who watched DreamBox fail to teach my daughter simple mathematical concepts I don’t trust DreamBox. I have not given the program much thought recently, but reading this teacher’s description of DreamBox on edsurge brought the memory of my experience back to the forefront of my mind:

The more help a teacher gives the student, the less the program is able to identify what the student truly knows. So, although teachers may be inclined to explain activities to students, this somewhat diminishes the functionality of the program.

Can an algorithm identify what a student really knows? No software should make a teach feel like they need to get out of the way and let the program do its job. This is not appropriate use of technology. Especially in early grades. The comment resonates because is matches exactly how I felt watching my own daughter work with DreamBox. Any help I offered, moved her through the exercises too quickly and was not welcomed by her.

My final, sincere effort to give DreamBox a chance involved packing boxes. Packing boxes is the abstraction they chose to illustrate base 10 notation. In the activity, students click and drag individual objects to pack them into a box. Once a box is filled, the box moves to another area of the screen, leaving the remaining objects to be packed into another box. Each box holds 10 items. If you have three full boxes plus four items left over, you have 3 in the tens place and 4 in the ones place: 34 items.

Sounds great, BUT it did not work. My daughter got the abstraction right away. She could pack boxes like no ones business. Click-drag, click-drag, click-drag, click-drag, click-drag, click-drag, click-drag, click-drag, click-drag, click-drag. Full box. Move it over. Repeat until you get a star. The problem was that she never recognized the importance of a full box holding exactly 10 items. The assessment was ineffective, her ability to pack boxes allowed her to pass on to the next level without understanding base 10 notation.

Of course, without actually learning what she was supposed to learn she was completely unable to do the next level of activities. After watching her struggle for a while, I did some adaptive teaching. I turned off the computer and found a different way to make sure she understood base 10 notation.

Abstractions are ubiquitous in education. I use many in my own teaching. When they work, they work well. However, they can also get in the way. I see this all the time. As an instructor, part of my job is to gauge student understanding, recognize when a particular abstraction is not working and be ready with an alternative.

This is what I did two years ago when DreamBox could not and did not adapt to my daughters situation. Younger students do not need adaptive learning, they need adaptive teaching.

Who is working on that?


A question for the Ed Startup 101 participants

I took part in the Mooc about Mooc’s earlier this month. It was only one week long, but in that short time the facilitators managed to create a strong sense of community among the participants.

They did this, in part, by giving a relatively open ended assignment on Monday then breaking us into groups of 50 to work collaboratively on shared google docs. The submission of the documents was followed by a lively twitter social hour.

It was fast, chaotic and disorganized, but it created a sense of community and resulted in some nice collaborative artifacts in the form of the google documents.

Next weeks assignment for the Ed tech 101 class offers an opportunity to explore The Ed Tech Startup Space as a group. Working in groups will give us the opportunity build some connections and gain a better feel for where each of us are coming from.

One idea would be to follow the MOOCMOOC model: break into groups and address an open ended question such as “what is an ed tech startup?”

Alternatively we could form groups to look at some or all of the nine companies listed in the space page through the filters we are going to use on our own ideas later in the course (idea, pain, solution etc).

Anyone interested in doing this? Leave a comment here or on the Ed Start up site.


My #moocmooc twitter saga

I have been trying to participate in the MOOC MOOC on and off all week.  They are relying heavily on twitter as a mechanism to stimulate group interaction and to aggregate information.  This is common practice and is done by including a hashtag such as #moocmooc in all of the tweets you want seen by the group.

I noticed early in the week that some of the tweets I tagged with #moocmooc were not showing up in the stream. As the week progressed, more and more of my tweets failed to show up.  In order to find out why, I submitted the following support ticket:

Regarding: Search and trends
Subject: Tweets on home page but missing in search
Description of problem: My tweets are being posted and are visible on my home page but are not showing up when I search by hashtag or use “from:andrewstaroscik”

This makes it very difficult to participate in group interactions that are dependent on aggregation by hashtag
Full name: Andrew Staroscik
Twitter username: @andrewstaroscik

Notice, it is not just #moocmooc, my tweets don’t even show up in a search of tweets based on my own username.

After a few less than helpful email exchanges, I received this rather dismissive message earlier today:

a_nace, Aug 16 10:16 am (PDT):
Hi andrewstaroscik,

Thanks so much for your email. This article covers common reasons why some Tweets might not be found in search: http://support.twitter.com/articles/66018-i-m-missing-from-search

Please note that to provide the best possible search experience for all users, as well as due to resource constraints, not every Tweet will display in search results. We’re striving to include as many Tweets as possible while keeping search quality high.

Rest assured that your followers will still see all your Tweets and @mentions. The best course of action is to continue tweeting, retweeting and mentioning others to gain resonance amongst your followers so that search results are up to date for your account.

We really appreciate your feedback and I’ve reported it to our team for review.



Twitter Support

I am sharing this partly out of frustration and partly as a cautionary tale to educators enamored with the potential of twitter to promote connectivity. Twitter has great promise, but it is not perfect.  When I figured out that my tweets were not going to show up in the #moocmooc stream, I felt less connected to the community and stopped following the thread.  Not a big deal for me, but it is something educators might what to keep in mind if they are going to rely on hashtags in distance learning. Novice twitterers may be especially vulnerable to exclusion.

For some reason, the twitter filter algorithm has deemed my use of the #moocmooc hashtag as inappropriate.

Funny that the spammers are not having any trouble getting through.

And… none of this explains why “from:andrewstaroscik” gives flawed results.






#moocmooc first three days of activity based on tweet abundance

Here is an update of yesterday’s graph containing the first three days of activity binned in 15 minute intervals.

Spam started appearing in the thread midday yesterday and accounts for some of the increased traffic in day’s 2 and 3, but I have not tried to figure out how much.

Interesting that the 10 pm (est) video discussion replaced the the 6 pm social hour on day three.

click image to enlarge

Stats for the first three days:

  • 865 tweets on day one (Sunday)
  • 1100 tweets on day two (Monday)
  • 1084 tweets on day three (tuesday)
  • As of 4 pm EST on day four there were over 100 more tweets than there were at the same time on either of the previous two days.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Spamming is increasing traffic
  • There is an bug in the twitter search system that is preventing some tweets (including most of mine) from showing up in the #moocmooc data.