Category: Blog

My New Book

Our education model is broken.

Despite the economic promise of and documented need for a bachelor’s degree: graduation rates are stagnant, achievement gaps are widening, and costs are bankrupting our kids. While Digital-technology has transformed work, our schools retain their 19th century form and function defined by medieval paper-technology. The problems confronting our schools are caused by this new technology and requires it to solve them.

Despite my long career as a STEM educator and digital learning entrepreneur, I only very recently discovered the unique role technology plays in not just how we learn but in what we learn. I found it in the table of contents of a math book written in the year 1202. This has reshaped my work and will reinvent education. In my new book Make it Real, I tell the story of building a new foundation for learning math on spreadsheets, asking “What would math education look like if it were reinvented for the 21st century.” In its 6 chapters you will learn to use the content and digital tools of the Web to reimagine and redesign schools for the digital age.

1.  “Lord Knows it Needs Something”
The role of technology in both what and how we learn
2. The Aims of Education
The need for a college degree for a thriving middle class
3.  Make Room for the Future
Subtracting paper-age skills and adding digital-age skills
4.  The Idea that Changed the World
Functions and functional thinking for problem solving
5.  Learning Math as an Experimental Science
Lessons for learning math using spreadsheets
6.  What if…
Revolutionizing education by making it real and Open-Web

You will learn about the power of technology to transform, to make people more effective, efficient, and relevant learners. You will learn how Open-Web schools will reinvent education, turn teachers into students and students into teachers, integrate disciplines, and use the business world to redesign schools, redefine intelligence, and reevaluate progress. And you will learn how digital learning can prepare our kids for their future, not our past, and enable us to set an audacious goal: Double the number of college degrees at half the cost within the next decade.

My Favorite Teacher

Walt Hunter was a quiet man, slight and balding with a Great Plains accent. You might mark him as a teacher, but likely not the dynamic personality with a certain brashness that you would think of as a “favorite” teacher. He did not convince me to change my major from physics to chemistry even though he made me his chemistry lab assistant and spent untold hours talking with me about chemistry and teaching in his small office off my high school Chem lab. He did not convince me even though I learned to blow glass and enough chemistry to place out of two quarters of the first course at the University of Chicago. He did convince me to become a teacher.

I came across his name recently while searching my house for old letters, pictures, and documents. He had sent me a letter, while I was then a new teacher at our old high school, inviting me to come to Missouri to see him at Meramec Community College where he had become a dean of instruction. I never went. Instead I headed to Fort Lauderdale to stay in high school teaching and to my great good fortune to meet the woman who I would spend most of my life with.

So as our digital world calls us to do, I looked him up and found an article he published in 1971 called Self-Directed Learning at Meramec Community College. It was a short report on a program he had initiated. It was written in his plain style and tells an amazing story, for this program he developed some 50 years ago reverberates in our time. He argues for Universal Higher Education and for a system of education under the heading Modern Challenge in which:

“…college departments need to develop more learning modes, leading to individualized achievement of well defined objectives. Thus, the student can, with guidance, select objectives which are appropriate to his needs and learning modes which fit his learning style.”

He calls for “A New Kind of College”

“a college based on a new philosophy of student learning and achievement.” “…colleges will be able to make significant gains in the efficient and effective utilization of available talents, spaces and facilities. Students would be freed to pursue learning individually via the most appropriate pathway…colleges would become learning centers…”

You can see why I now think him my favorite teacher. Teach as he taught. I learned so much from him including the vision of learning as a laboratory science. I wonder what he would have imagined if he had the technology we have today. I wish I could tell him that his student is continuing to carry on his mission.

The Math Guys

Our good friend Larry Myatt, one of the great thinkers and leaders on the future of education, recently sent out a New Years greeting that featured What if Math. We are partnering with Larry on a number of exciting projects in 2020 that we will keep you informed of. Meanwhile, I want to introduce you to Larry via his post and our new nickname. We, too, hope 2020 will be a good year for us all and for helping our kids learn math.

ERC: The Future of Math Education: What If?
“Happy New Year 2020. We at ERC are excited to share news about a new partnership for our Innovation and Redesign Network. This one with What If Math, folks with big ideas, with huge potential to change the way we look at math. Read on!

Black Hole

This picture made the front page of the New York Times this morning. It is not very often that a science experiment makes the headlines in a great newspaper, particularly above the fold. It is a thrilling discovery. “The First Image of a Black Hole.”

The concept of black holes, hundred years old, came out of Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity equations. Gravity, the primary force in the universe depends upon mass and distance. If enough matter is squeezed together tightly enough then any light emitted by the object will not be able to escape. All light and all matter will stay in this black hole.

This black hole in the center of the galaxy M87 was captured by a unique array of telescopes two years ago. Most galaxies have black holes at their center. This one in M87 is larger than the black hole in our own galaxy, The Milky Way. The black hole in M87 is nearly the diameter of our solar system and has is several billion times more massive than our sun.

  1. To begin to get some idea about the size of this black hole, I suggest you go to the Solar System Lab and explore the size of this black hole and the size of our sun.
  2. If the black hole is the size of our solar system, can you build a model that will calculate the number of suns it would take to make it.
    Make a new table of black hole data like the Solar System table.

  3. How far away are we from the M87 black hole compared with our distance to the sun?


Math is Hard

In a magazine published for college trustees, a recent short article captured the latest statistics from the ACT and SAT tests. The downward trend was notable especially in math. For example, “Forty-nine percent of the class of 2018 that took the SAT (2 million students) showed a strong chance of getting at least a C grade in a college-level math test, much lower than the 70 percent who reached the same benchmark for reading and writing, according to the Washington Post.” Math is preventing our kids from getting a college degree.
But what really broke my heart was this number: “The share of ACT test takers who showed readiness for college math fell to 40 percent–the lowest level in 14 years.” They go on “‘The negative trend in math readiness is a red flag for our country, given the growing importance of math and science skills in the increasingly tech-driven U.S. and global job market,’ said Marten Roorda, ACT chief executive officer. ‘It is vital that we turn this trend around for the next generation and make sure students are learning the math skills they need for success in college and career.’”This is a great ad for What if Math, where math for the digital age is not hard.