Have You Played Packman in Your Neighborhood?

No, seriously – you gotta play Packman on your local streets.

I stumbled onto this while looking for a store to sell my friend’s CDs. You can actually turn streets on Google Maps into the iconic arcade game. Just click the icon on your google map and it will highlight the area for your game. Big cities make for some of the most entertaining games but even small towns can be fun. I chased ghosts around the Eiffel Tower in Paris.PacMan Google If I get a chance I plan to see how mad Times Square can get and experience the Autobahn as a yellow mouth. There are also some famous traffic circles I plan to pilot. Some, like the Super Round-About, should be extremely interesting.


I tried to play where I grew up but there weren’t enough streets in the extreme rural landscape. In trying to play there I was surprised at the amount of development in the region. Still, the road situation made for an unplayable Packman game according to Google Maps.

PacMan in Time Square

If I were teaching in a computer lab I might take the last fifteen minutes to have students explore far off places. Talk about a fun geography day. Someone out there is probably planning to sabotage this natural and exciting learning environment by requiring students to play and report their findings or fill in a worksheet. Please do not. Let them take what they can and simply enjoy the ways everyday technologies can be made joyful. If they happen to have excellent skills in navigating traffic in Rome as a result – well – tap them as your navigator next time you end up chaperoning on an international band trip.



Explore Social Media – Non-Educationally

Thinking in text today.Recently I have begun encouraging my students and consultancy to explore social media tools for fun. To use them for the same purposes they imagine their students using social media. One of the major benefits of this exercise is that folks tend to delve more deeply into the features of a tool. Already I am hearing back from individuals about affordances that they did not realize were available. Youtube is a prime example. Now that I have a few students using it socially they are seeing how they might leverage a simple YouTube channel and Google Plus page as their entire portfolio. Sure there are more sophisticated and professional ways to package this material but at this point they are still developing the content. That is another thing, content developed in one form of media can often be easily converted and shared in another format.

I think this all goes back to one of my main tenants regarding using technology. Technology education must be approached with a playful mindset. If the goal is all business you miss the frivolous yet revolutionary possibilities.

Teach Math? Oh No!

I felt as stiff as these dolls with regard to math concepts during my exam.

I Found One of My Limits: Math

I try to challenge myself to explore the depth and breadth of my practice. Somewhere there is a saying about knowing your limits only when you try to go beyond them – I found one.

Math. I know that math frustrates me. Not because I struggle with the concepts. Instead I become frustrated due to a lack of patience. For some reason I have no tolerance for inaccurate or poorly designed math lessons and even less for the actual teaching of mathematical concepts unless I have something tangible to tie it to. I think this is why I love science. All the math has an application. In traditional math classes this connection to the real world can become tenuous. A month ago I decided this would make a great challenge for myself and I decided to see if I could add a math endorsement at the middle-grade level.

The results. I failed. For the first time in quite a log time I failed at an exam. Last week I took the social studies for the middle level exam and passed extremely well. This week I took the math exam and twenty minutes into the exam became so disgusted with the presentation of math that I started doing what I worry my students do when they are frustrated; I started clicking random answers. (If any of my past or future students read this – yes – I totally get why you guess on exams).

Before the exam I had talked myself into exploring math as a worthwhile project in curriculum development. Ten minutes into the exam I was reconsidering. At the twenty minute mark (when I started clicking randomly) I knew that putting someone with my “math” personality in the role of math teacher might lead some students to open revolt. I will give it another go – preferably after spending some time observing a great math teacher in action.

For the record – taking an exam and considering your teaching personality simultaneously leads to considerable insights regarding past effectiveness.

In the end I can say with certainty that I love teaching science, computers, robotics, language arts, and have considerable affinity for (though untested) teaching social sciences. Still not sure why I feel comfortable sharing computer languages and programming ideas but have such a strange block with regard to mathematics? Perhaps the XKCD comic below explains my paradox well enough.

Go math teachers! You have my undying respect and wonderment.

Classroom Management Series: Use Humor to Diffuse a Conflict

Kids building a fantastic contraption.

Working with students we occasionally encounter defensiveness for one reason or another. Perhaps they did not realize that their behavior was disruptive and now they are denying their involvement. Maybe they think the failed a quiz. If a teacher was unwise enough (or tired – honestly this is the only time it happens to me) to become involved in a power struggle with a student this sort of deconstructive behavior can set in.

What do we do?

First off we avoid the aforementioned power struggle. The discussions of who is right and in control does nothing to help and focus students on their learning. Sometimes we can talk to students privately but with larger and larger class sizes and more requirements for out time this can sometimes be prohibitive. Often we send the student to the hall to gain some privacy but that action has its own onus. I always try to be ready to apologize – sometimes I inadvertently wrong or offend a student. Often times other students provoke the incident and I can impose consequences for uncivilized behavior on them which results in lowered defensiveness in the student I am working with. All these work well including planned ignoring but my favorite – the silver bullet to tense stressfull situations in my class room – is humor.


Intervening Through Humor

Using humor gives the teacher a powerful and positive tool to change disruptive behaviors. Getting a student (or class) to laugh during a tense situation breaks the cycle of the behavior and helps reset the stage of the classroom as a safe, fun place to learn. My one caveat for using humor as an intervention is that it should NEVER be directed at a student. Never use humor at the expense of a student. This not only fails to build a positive climate and destroys any chance of an effective intervention – using humor at a students expense  means the teacher bullied that student. The biggest bully in a classroom could easily become the teacher.

How does humor work? I interviewed a colleague, Mrs Sarha, who use humor to diffuse almost all ill-behavior in her classroom. Each use built upon other structures for managing her classroom.

She, like many teachers, uses a sound prompt to get her students attention. In her case she own a beautifully cartoonish bell in the shape of a turtle. She calls her bell Myrtle the Turtle. Early in the year she starts her high school students off by explaining to them that they must “Respect the Turtle!” What results from this is a bit of hilarity and anytime someone goes off task during a discussion another classmate with yell out, “Hey! Respect the turtle.” By turning her attention prompt into something entertaining and easily remembered she removed the focus from herself as the person desiring respect and, through Myrtle, turned the focus back onto the learning regardless of the source for an activity or information.

She also deals with disruptive student behavior in an entertaining fashion. Every teacher has a pet peeve. Sometimes it is the tapping of a pencil during discussion (something that immediately tells me I have a kinesthetic or  possibly auditory learner in the room) or something else that disrupts the teacher. Mrs Sarha had a screamer this year. Yes – a student who felt compelled to scream. To distract from the tension that built due to these behaviors she announced one day that, “Each scream means a multiple choice questions becomes an essay question.” By this time she had already established a caring environment and impressed upon her students that it was important that they all help each other overcome difficulties in class. They also knew her well enough to realize that she was unlikely to carry out this threat. What it did was show that the behavior was not acceptable and induced the entire classroom – including the screamer – to laugh. Occasionally the screamer will still blurt out but now the class groans and someone says, “Not another essay question.”

She also has a stock of directional phrases she uses that keep directions light-hearted but serious:

“Be nice or leave.”

“Respect the turtle.”

“Make a mess – clean it up.” – she uses this when feelings are hurt as well. Making a mess of someone’s feelings requires clean up as well.

Some of what she does may seem like sarcasm and she admits that she had a difficult time with that at first. Sarcasm does not help; especially if students do not understand the intent. I find that students respond best when I use humor where I make fun of my own actions or perform a bit of physical humor.

How do you intervene through humor? Feel free to comment.

Geek vs Non-Geek: A Chart

Chart humorously showing how geeks will invest time at one point and then exceed a normal person in free time after creating a script.

At first I cheered…and then I became critical.

At first I cheered this graphic. It is entertaining and mostly true. Then I began to have doubts about the chart and what it was representing and found my doubts echoed in recent comments.

  • While it is true that a geek will invest a significant amount of time into developing a way to reduce the size of a task – typically we end up sharing this tool with a non-geek and it ends up becoming a win-win.
  • Also – time should be on the x-axis. I just finished warning my students off writing time on the y-axis so this bugs me a bit.
  • The above solves my other issue where it seems like once the geek runs the script time stops. I am not sure I have met a geek yet that could resist tweaking something that worked well. Tinkering is part of the geek manifesto – right?

Graduate School: My Future Help Sheet

Doctorate School Looms

My doctoral program looms this fall and in order to prepare myself I am collecting several motivational artifacts. Below I have pasted and linked one (PHD Comic). When I think about school I hope my students can take a humorous look at their own situation as I do. Developing an in class comic strip might help all my students actually…future plans…

Until then I will read some more Surviving Your Stupid Decision to Go Back to Grad School.