Friday, June 27, 2008

US Calculus Summit

I was privileged to be a part of a "meeting of the minds" in Dallas, Texas these past couple of days. A dozen leading calculus educators from around the country were invited to gather to discuss the future of technology and how it can be best used as a learning and teaching tool. The combined number of years of experience in calculus education represented by those present in the room, I estimated to be nearing 500 years. This is a longer period of time than the subject itself has been a discipline of study. The two men recognized to be the co-discovers of calculus (although independent of each other), Newton and Leibniz, were born in the 1640s. (See my website for more history of calculus. UPDATE: My school is doing some server maintenance, so that site will be down from 5/30 to about 6/3)

Despite our combined experience, it was a diverse group. There were a few of us who primarily consider ourselves high school teachers, and there were community college, university and ivy league professors. Several had authored textbooks or are facing a publishing deadline. One introduced himself as being unsuccessfully retired. Many in the group consult for College Board's AP Calculus, head important committees, and contribute regularly to electronic discussion groups.

As the summit was hosted by Texas Instruments Education Technology division, they explained some of what they were working on to continue to improve the TI-Nspire family of products. There will be substantial operating system updates twice a year for the foreseeable future. I know I'll be watching for new releases and the impressive new features to keep my TI-Nspire updated (version 1.4 is coming soon).

We gave feedback about the TI-Nspire's pedagogical usefulness, explored the methods and benefits of teaching with CAS, and discussed professional development best practices. TI also gave us demonstrations about data collection and formative assessment capabilities for the not too distance future releases of TI-Nspire.

I think everyone involved found that our time was well spent.

Now, I'm up in Chicagoland speaking at a couple of conferences to better equip, train and inspire math and science teachers.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Last chance Florida activities

We had a great last full day in the Cape Canaveral area. 1st stop was Kennedy Space Center to hear from the astronaut of the week at Astronaut Encounter. After some final shopping in the Space Shop we went up to Titusville and had lunch at the World Famous Dixie Crossroads. (Check out their recipes.) I had some delicious Indian River mullet, like I had seen jumping out of the river on my kayak trip, and Rock shrimp. We felt like we were having desert before (and after) the meal when they brought out their 'bread.' It was really the delicious Dixie Crossroads Corn Fritters. When we left they gave us each a small container of fish food. We stood out on the bridge and were amazed at the number of fish and turtles in their pond who loved going after the food.

Then we did our last visit to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge to watch the 20 minute introductory video, walk the little trail again and get some things at the gift shop. The kids got to pet a live snake, wash their hands, and the park ranger also gave them some activity books.

Our last stop was the Astronaut Hall of Fame to check out the exhibits and ride the simulators and play the games one last time.

We beat the storm home, but didn't have too much time on the beach before the clouds become too threatening. Over 4000 lightning strikes in less then an hour is pretty impressive to me.

On the way out of Florida we stopped by Lego Imagination Center. This Lego store has more pieces and sets then any other. The kids enjoyed the play/build area. Elizabeth used pieces to tell the 3 Little Pigs story. A great feature about this Lego store is that you can build your own mini Lego person: three for $10. It included head, torso, legs (with springs - something I had never seen), hair/hat and an accessory. Our accessories include things like a veterinarian bag, small green frog, flaming thing, etc. While driving home after leaving Lego World there was an unusual request from the youngsters in the back to turn off the music. They were using their Lego people to play and tell stories.

Here is a link to an interesting connection between building with Legos and and the Kennedy Space Center.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Day at Disney

Well, we made it there. We did not plan on being able to afford the $75 for each of the 4 of us who are over 9 years old, and the $65 per child over two years old for 4 of our children. In addition to that, if we planned to eat or buy anything at the Disney park, that could potentially cost as much as our monthly food budget. But thanks to a new calculus friend, we were able to get the oldest three of our family in for free to what we like to call the ‘Character Kingdom’ (since we aren’t fans of magic - Rev 21:8; Rev 22:15; Lev 19:30-31; Acts 19:18-20 - although, I have seen a good Christian illusionist). Here during our last week in Florida, the theme has been ‘no regrets.’ If there was something that you are going to wish you did while here, you better get it done.

My friend works at Disney on the weekends, but she had a meeting on Saturday morning until 11. What we did was drive the hour to Orlando for an all-you-can-eat breakfast at the Golden Corral. Disney was a surprise for most of them, we told them we were going out for breakfast. With this brunch, water bottles, and some trail mix, somehow everyone lasted until after 9 p.m. with great attitudes. We had a fabulous meal at the Starlight Cafe. The 'live' audio-animatronic singer had some great jokes and we particularly enjoyed the Planetary Boogie. About quarter till 10, Joseph wanted to lay down in a booth. He got a second wind when the 10 p.m. fireworks started and he got to drive the Indy cars with Mom, do the Buzz Lightyear ride two more times, see an illuminated parade, take a Jungle Cruise, and ride a carpet three times until the park closed. Our oldest daughter did buy a cool 2008 Disney postcard as we were leaving down Main Street. After the fairy boat ride across Seven Seas Lagoon, since our youngest two had been sleeping for over two hours in the blessed double stroller that we borrowed from a family from the Orlando church, I decided not to wake them up for the tram ride. I was surprised to discover that the parking lots are within walking distance. I got to Minnie 42 with the two sleepy heads before the rest of the family who rode the tram. There weren’t too many cars left in the parking lot around 1 a.m. The rest of the children were asleep before we got out of the parking lot.

It was a great day. The entire family got to do almost everything together. We did do the ‘baby swap’ for Splash Mountain, which the baby and I went and got the Fast Pass for while everyone else was doing their first ride of the day, Aladdin’s Carpet ride. The middle of the day rain didn’t slow us down or dampen our spirits. We were glad it wasn’t too hot. We enjoyed the dry and cool wait and show for a 3D philharmonic show presented by Mickey. Well, actually Donald got in trouble because he was messing with things who shouldn’t.

We loved Fast Passes. We got them for Peter Pan, while we rode Small World, went to Belle’s Storytime and watched a live show in front of the castle staring Princesses, and many other characters. We also got Fast Passes for Winnie the Pooh, Buzz, and Space Mountain. While we waited to redeem those, we visited Mickey & Minnie’s home, road the Walt Disney Train around the park, flew the elephant Dumbo, rode/watched/sang along to the Carousel of Progress, and toured Tomorrowland in their Transit Authority. Actually only myself, my 8 and 11 year old, were interested and brave enough to ride Space Mountain. Since we got 5 passes for that, those two kids were delighted to by-pass the 50 minute line for the second time at 10:30 at night.

All in all, we had an excellent day at a theme park that exemplifies excellence. (Philippians 4:8)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Canaveral National Seashore

For the past 3 evenings we have seen a rainbow. James Nickel is working on a new book. He does an excellent job explaining the mathematics and Christian Worldview regarding rainbows. Check it out and you may learn something you never knew. I love his book "Mathematics: Is God Silent?"

On Wednesday we went up to Canaveral National Seashore, part of NASA's property. NASA has about 140,000 acres along the Space Coast, 95% of which is undeveloped. This provides a safety zone and allows for any future expansion according to page 25-26 of Environmental Assessment of KSC for the Constellation Project.

As we drove we saw a flock of roseate spoonbills on the Kennedy Space Center property. We enjoyed the Visitor Center with its gift shop, exhibits, and shows. We walked some trails and collected trash and treasures as part of requirements to earn Junior Ranger patches. All of the National Parks that we have been to have some sort of Junior Ranger patch or badge program. We've done this at the St. Louis Arch, Mammoth Cave, Gulf Islands National Seashore, Lincoln's Boyhood home in Southern Indiana, and the National Mall.

We saw lots of wildlife, including spiders, armadillos and dolphins.

The dolphins particularly a treat as they were enjoyed while relaxing and having lunch on the porch of a historic house.

The fun with wildlife doesn't end . The next morning, my second oldest daughter saved a tree frog that was stuck in the swimming pool. She did enjoy playing with it before freeing it.

I almost forgot to mention that this protected area around NASA is also home to about 23 species of mosquitoes. If one type doesn't like how you taste then another might. My wife took the oldest girls on to a turtle watch. She told me the story of a lady who put organic bug 'repellent' on here face. It could have been a scene in a horror show ... within seconds the lady's face was attacked by bugs.

My children have discovered how painful After Bite. My wife actually went back to the store to get some more anti-itch medicine and try the kids non-stinging version of After Bite.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

"Cape Canaveral: Then & Now" tour from KSC

I was pretty much in the dark about Cape Canaveral before this trip. And until Tuesday, the picture to the left shows about as close as I was able to get. (This is a picture of the Delta II, America's workhorse rocket, the night before it was launched last week.)

What is today called Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is where the US has launched just about everything into space except for the manned launches beginning with Apollo 8. The Shuttle and Saturn V were launched from Kennedy Space Station launch complex 39 A and B. B is now being converted over to support the Constellation Program. (I just found a virtual tour of CCAFS. You actually get to see some things closer up, then what I got to see on my 2+ hour tour.) The first stop was the United States Air Force Space & Missile Museum. Here I am pretending that I am pressing the launch button for the still active launch pad 17 that sent up the Delta II rocket and GLAST satellite last Wednesday.

It was really cool driving by and walking on the launch sites where history was made!

I've been reading "Go for Launch: An illustrated history of Cape Canaveral".
So, this week I took that tour starting at the Kennedy Space Center called "Cape Canaveral: Then and Now" where I actually got to see the old block houses, launch pads, and the current gantries and facilities where we send objects into space. When I went back to reading the book today, it all meant so much more and it made more sense. I had more context.

The reason I bring this up, is because it is similarly true regarding reading mathematics textbooks. If students are lead on a tour of the actual math, allowed to explore hand-on, or lead in exploring the patterns (perhaps even using CAS technology like TI-Nspire CAS), then when they are instructed to read, it will be more satisfying, fulfilling, and less frustrating.

Yes, we need to keep encouraging young people to read challenging material, but I know my students have a lot of homework in their other classes. If I expected them to understand the material thoroughly by reading before coming to class in addition to the problems I want them to do, I would have some overwhelmed students.

An idea for when we do want them to read ahead is to give them a goal, a focus. For example, say something like, "after doing the assigned reading tonight you should come to class with an understand of how to .... (or you should be able to)". With this direction, they might not get lost thinking they had to memorize and understand everything. They may actually allow themselves to enjoy some of the icing that comes with the cake that was assigned.

Food for thought, especially for fellow math teachers.

On another note: It sure is a privilege to have a copy of the Bible and to be able to read and study it. Deuteronomy 17:18-20 reminds me that for most of history, precious few had the opportunity to have a copy of Scripture for daily reading. Ezra set his heart to study the Bible, to do what it says and to teach others. An excellent illustration of the value of hearing, reading, studying, memorizing and meditation of the Word of God is the hand illustration.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Kayak Adventure

The Banana River turned into a high adventure kayaking voyage today. We rented the tandem kayak for the day from Calema. It was a great location. We took shifts. Some paddled while others waded, or waited.

Near the bridge (in the above picture) that connects Merritt Island and Cape Canaveral we saw several dolphins all around us coming out of the water. That was also where I saw my first manatees while paddle boarding the other day.

Today I kayaked with my 7 & 8 year old 2 miles up the river to a little park. We got out on the outside of a little cove that provides protection for docked boats. While we waited for the rest of the family to show up and get another another permutation in the boat, we looked around and saw at least 10 manatees in the cove. They were frolicking around. I took the kayak around to try to get some pictures with the water camera. When my wife showed up, I sent her out there with our oldest. It was, come to find out, an alligator area too. One of the manatees bumped me while I was in the kayak, but I wasn't flipped. A nearby security guard told me he has seen canoes get dumped by a startled manatee.

Despite the intense wind, and then the rain, I had a thoroughly delightful time paddling into the waves and elements with Lydia. We had to traverse the 2 miles South to return the canoe. Once we got out of the cove there wasn't much wildlife. Well, we did see a number of fish jumping out of the water and a roseate spoonbill. The distant thunder gave us additional reason to pray and ask God for deliverance. Seriously, the calculus minimum path problem came to mind as I mentally calculated the direction to aim the kayak to reach the due west shore in the shortest time while being buffeted by wind and waves coming primarily from the south (If you have SMART notebook or the viewer, check out Sec10_5.notebook). I don't know if I was a Math Hero, but we did make it to shore and rested while it poured on us and thundered in our vicinity.

By the time we reached Kelly Park, where the Calema rental place is, it had stopped raining. I called the family using the cell phone I had kept in a zip locked bag. When they arrived several of them went out for a few more short rides. Wow, this adventure was such a blessing!