Play the Wikipedia Game: Get to Philosophy!

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It's no secret that I love Python and that I love Wikipedia. So when my former teacher and collaborator Michel Paul told me about this game I had to see if I could merge the two.

Take any random article on Wikipedia and click on the first link that is not within parenthesis or italicized, you will eventually end up on the Philosophy page.

Sounds simple enough. He was made aware of this by the webcomic XKCD which if you hover over the comic, you discover the Wikipedia Game. Not to be outdone, Wikipedia has its own page about the Get to Philosophy game where you learn this works with approximately 93% of the articles and the rest end up in a 2 page loop. There are variations of the game for multiple people or to see how many clicks are necessary to find Jesus, etc. I feel like this has a deeper meaning about the nature of knowledge or perhaps about our culture and perhaps that is why I am drawn to the problem.

So, I rolled up my sleeves and gave it a shot. I always want to improve my skills and this would allow me to get better at parsing data and working with HTML/Internet fetching through Python. I am not usually interested in the typical programming puzzles, there needs to be a context and this seemed to work for me.

I came up with a basic working program after an hour or so but I ran into a stumbling block when trying to get past the parenthesis like when I came across England, this page has a pronunciation key and parenthesis and my algorithm would not work. I tried to adjust it and even considered some Regular Expressions but I have to throw in the towel for the moment. I found that the XKCD wiki has a page where Ryan Elmquist has a beautiful script that will show you the jumps. I hope he will be kind enough to help me see what I am missing.

Usual disclaimer follows: I am not a professional programmer, I pick it up as I go so if you dislike my code help me make it better. I love to learn. Note if you are running Python 3.0, remove the "2" from urllib2 on lines 1 and 2.

import urllib2
opener = urllib2.build_opener()
opener.addheaders = [('User-agent', 'Mozilla/5.0')]

newURL = '' #URL for a random article
#newURL = ''

def getNextURL(newURL): #Finds the first link/title (broken when it has a country)
    infile =
    page =
    mainP = page[page.find('<p>'):page.find('<p>')+500] #Find the first <p> tag for the main body
    newPage = mainP[mainP.find('<a href="/wiki/')+15:mainP.find('"',mainP.find('<a href="/wiki/')+15)] #Find the first href for the link
    return newPage

newPage = getNextURL(newURL)

counter = 0 #Keeps track of the jumps

if newPage == 'Philosophy':
    print("The Random page chosen was the Philosophy page. Isn't the universe cool?")
    print("We begin our journey on the " + newPage + " page.")
    while newPage !='Philosophy':
        newURL = '' + newPage #Creates the next link to go to based upon the first link
        newPage = getNextURL(newURL)
        print ('Now jumping to the ' + newPage + ' page.')
        counter +=1

print ('It took %d times to get to the Philosophy page on Wikipedia. Thanks Michel for the puzzle!' % counter)  

As I said, if you run the program, it runs well enough but it will fail if it comes across a page that does not play nice with how I find the first link. Hopefully the Python/CS community will come to my rescue and teach me something and help me solve the problem! I post this for education and entertainment purposes as I hope it inspires you to keep learning and solving puzzles no matter how old you are.

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ALEKS Math Qualitative and Quantitative End of Year Follow Up

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I stand behind the technology I recommend. Anything I recommend must:
  • Support and Encourage Learning - No technology for technology's sake. Nor it can it simply be a flashy electronic version of older technology (e.g. smart boards instead of overhead projectors). If it does not help or make life easier then it isn't going to be on my list.
  • Affordable to as many as possible - There might be wonderful technology out there but if it can only be used by 1% of schools, I will hesitate to post about it. I know there are grants and resources available to purchase these things but there are often much better ways to spend that money.
That is how software makes it onto my list for classroom technology or if necessary a longer post. I wish to follow up with a previous post I made about ALEKS, software which differentiates and helps support the learning of math skills.

I want to reiterate, that ALEKS is not intended to replace math teachers and in fact will make them all the more necessary. It allows you to have one-on-one time with your students and help them each out where they need it. It has allowed me to teach the way I always wanted to. ALEKS teaches math "skills" and not necessarily the broader definition of math that many believe is necessary to create a love and/or appreciation for it. However, as you will see, this program has made it possible to accomplish my goals as a math teacher this year.

First some data:
Pre-Assessment: ALEKS' CA Algebra 1 class has 257 "Objectives" based upon the 25 or so California State Standards. It gives an initial assessment at the beginning of the year. My class average at the beginning of the year was 29% mastery of the objectives.

To give a more accurate description of my class, I teach a untracked class referred to as Math 1. This means we learn Algebra, Geometry, Statistics, and Number Theory in increasing complexity each year. Which means that some students enter my class having already studied Algebra. However, all of my students take the Algebra 1 State Standardized Test (CST/STAR).

The breakdown of my students initial scores were as follows:
21% of students - 0-10% of objectives
24% of students - 11-20% of objectives
31% of students - 30-40% of objectives
2% of students -  60-70% of objectives

I should also mention that this data is only for the students taking Algebra in ALEKS, so the students I have taking Geometry are not included as they would skew the data. I wanted to show as clearly as possible what has happened as a direct result of ALEKS.

After using ALEKS in my class for 20% of our total time and maintaining an at home requirement for the entire year, the class average is 61%. This would be higher but I would switch the student into Geometry once they showed they had all of the major objectives and those necessary to do well in Algebra and Geometry.

The largest individual gain by a student still in Algebra was 55% with the smallest being 9%. If you knew the specific students with 9% gains and their struggles and math history you would celebrate it as a triumph as well. I wish ALEKS allowed one to track a student from one class to another so I could share with you the gains by my 9th graders studying Geometry in ALEKS. I can share with you that one of my students in the Geometry class has essentially taught herself 80% of the Geometry curriculum. Think of the possibilities of what people can do with resources and motivation.

With a year of ALEKS for one student costing about the same as a family of four going out to eat, this is a great deal. I think it would be wonderful if parents could support their schools and purchase this for their students or at least help. While Public school is free, it is certainly easier to justify one family spending this for their own student than to have the school spend thousands when that money could be used elsewhere. The schools that could use this most need support from their communities.

My other point, is if skills could be learned primarily at home or for 20% of the class time think of what this would allow teachers to do with their time! I know it has made an incredible impact on my class both in esteem, readiness, and ability. Flipping my classroom has freed us up to do great projects and activities which could not be done in a standard classroom time frame.

Finally, I wanted to share what my students are saying now, because at the end of the day, that is what matters. Last semester, there were students who enjoyed it and were able to learn from it, but many still were frustrated at the new learning situation. I learned from discussions and feedback with the students that it was taking them time to get used to having freedom and choice in their learning and the opportunity to learn at a pace that was right for them. Many of them had never spoke up in a math class and asking questions was anathema to them.

Overwhelmingly they said in a recent survey that they feel more confident asking for help and support. Two-thirds of them said they felt confident about taking Geometry next year, and the a little more than that said they would definitely use ALEKS again. What more can you ask for? A great example of technology support learning in a way that could not be accomplished otherwise.

Has ALEKS worked for you? Have you found something else that worked equally well if not better? Let us know in the comments.

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Women Want to Change The World: STEM Can Make That Possible

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I had a great conversation with Shyno from WGBH Boston (makers of Design Squad and Fetch) about their organization's passion for increasing the involvement of women in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics). This is a personal goal for me, as I love to see the perspective and creativity that women bring to the field. She asked if I could share two links with you: Dot Diva and Engineer Your Life. Both sites are devoted to breaking down stereotypes and showing women what is possible in a STEM career.

Social pressures that we are all aware of in our culture tend to make STEM something uncool  (HA!) and the peer pressure drives women away from that. Not to mention the one sided portrayal of STEM as the lonely, male dominated, nerdy field of study. WGBH has researched what women want out of a career and overwhelmingly they want to make a difference and be a part of a bigger story. They want to create with their hands and ask why do we do what we do? So their sites and outreach events are intended to give a much needed makeover to STEM's image and show women everywhere the possibilities. The video below comes from the Dot Diva site and is intended to do just that. (By the way, I held a women-only premier for my students of the webisode and they loved it! They were so sad that there was no other episode, yet).

Wired Magazine did a great cover story about Limor Fried (aka Ladyada) and Make Magazine made an excellent observation about the negative role models women see everyday. We need more positive examples and opportunities for women to look up to.

This powerpoint came from the Dot Diva Resources Page

Some of WGBH's effective outreach has involved: role models, STEM + Art, using computers for storytelling, and generally being able to be creative and express their ideas. Keep in mind this is good for guys as well! The links throughout this post are great for sharing and using with your students. I did for mine and the women loved the videos and resources.

If you need ideas on getting started with programming, robotics, Arduino, Alice, and more, you can check out the BrokenAirplane programming resources pageDot Diva, and Engineer Your Life. Discuss your successes or struggles in the comments and lets encourage women to join STEM fields, the World will be better for it!

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What Does Your Music Say About You? Python Music Experiment Part 1

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I love the last project of the year. I have spent an entire year with these students learning about their interests and  helping them become proficient in math, science, and programming. I like to experiement with the last project and try something new that hopefully will go well but at least can be refined for next year. I was pleasantly surprised about how this final project went and so I thought I would share it with you.

I am always on the lookout for inspiration for projects and this one began 3 years ago with a fascinating article about Pandora (sorry I don't have it anymore). I was so interested in the way the system learned what you like and don't based upon more than just genre. In fact it was based upon over 400 different factors according to the Music Genome Project on which Pandora is based. I thought this year I would have the students analyze music based upon one of those factors, lyrics.

I asked the students to find 20 song lyrics and paste them into a Google Doc. What was interesting is how often I was asked if they could use songs with profanity, violence, etc. I simply responded that I wanted them to choose their all time favorite songs or the ones they listened to the most and if they didn't then the project wouldn't work.

Next we generated some Pseudocode. I asked them if you were to sit a small child down and tell him to write down how many times a certain word came up in a song what would you tell them?

This took about ten minutes of silent thinking, erasures, and debates so don't get the impression that they got it the first time (but who does).  Eventually the class came up with this.

Go through the song.
Each time you come to a word, check to see if that word has come up before.
If it has not, write the word down and a one next to it.
If it has, add one to the count/tally.

Next, we began to translate that into Python script. It gave me an opportunity to talk about data and dictionaries which is always a plus but when we were done, they had a big smile on their face as they realized how similar their pseudocode was to the actual code. To test the code as they were building it, we used Michael Jackson's Smooth Criminal as almost everyone knows it and in my opinion it has the most epic music video of all time. It also has some funky lyrics and punctuation that allows for refining the translate function.

The quick tutorial I gave them to learn about strings can be found here, but as I said this project will be refined as will the tutorial.

from string import *
song = '''Insert Lyrics Here'''

cleanString = song.translate(None,',.:;!?') #removes these characters
cleanList = cleanString.split() #splits it into a list
songDict = {}
for word in cleanList:
    if word not in songDict:
            songDict[word] = 1 #if not already in the dictionary, add it
            songDict[word]+=1 #if already in the dictionary, add 1 to it
print word, songDict[word] #option 1

for word in songDict: #option 2
    if songDict[word] > 1:
        print songDict[word]

The first option will print out the entire dictionary without any filtering. The second option was devised by the students after seeing how many times a word came up only once and will create a threshold to only print words that show up more than once (or more if they want). I love it when they come up with a solution like that!

After they saw the output, I asked them to reflect upon what significant words came up the most for them. For some it was "I, me, you, my" etc. which they saw as an indicator of songs about love and intimacy. Others were surprised how often a curse, violent, or derogatory word came up. Since their humanities teacher is teaching them how to write Sonnets and going through Romeo and Juliet, we ran those words through the code as well. Not surprisingly, the words were very intimate since they are both romantic literature.

Feel free to use the code to analyze your own songs and if you have any thoughts for next year's version of this I would love to hear about it in the comments. I hope to incorporate more of Pandora into the next iteration as I was informed that the software uses a form of the distance formula to decide which song to play next. Ha! Take that those who think Algebra is irrelevant.

Code formatting was made possible via There are other great options out there but this was the quickest for me. It also made it easy for you to copy and paste the code for your own use. If you have a recommendation of how to do it better, please let me know.

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BitCoin: Dangerous or The Next Logical Evolution for Society?

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While reading Slashdot a couple of days ago, I came across an article describing BitCoin and referring to it as "The Most Dangerous Open Source Project Ever". Of course being subversive by nature, I had to read more and I realized that this could be very useful for classrooms to discuss finances, government policy, logarithms, Capitalism, and the list could go on for the whole semester. Here is an overview video courtesy of WeUseCoins.

Additionally, this takes very confusing topics (Banking/Global Monetary Policy and Logarithms) and places it in terms that every teenager knows well. Peer to Peer (P2P) is the same process by which many download music, movies, software, etc. So the implications of BitCoins being untraceable and unable to shut down are already understood.

I imagine a math or humanities class could have a long term project regarding the effects this program could have on society, while discussing the pros and cons of such a currency, and having a tangible discussion about the reasoning behind a logarithmic non-inflationary growth curve. While the number of companies and organizations that take BitCoins is relatively few, there is enough to make it a discussion worth having. Not to mention the fact that students can enter the BitCoin market and sell their cognitive surplus and apply their skills right away.

More info about BitCoins can be found here:
BitCoin Wiki
Organizations that Currently Accept BitCoin
WeUseCoins - Overview

If nothing else it makes for excellent discussion. I hope you and your students do some great things with this information and if you do use it, please share how it went in the comments!

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Google ChromeBooks for Education and Business

Last week there were some exciting announcements made at Google I/O and while it should be interesting to see how some of these projects will turn out, ChromeBooks is finally making its debut. The ChromeBook is the commercially available version of the Cr-48 Laptop I received a few months ago.

If you have not heard about this hardware yet, the basics are:
  • 7 second boot time and instant on from sleep mode
  • 8 hour battery life with wifi
  • Designed for cloud storage, very little if any local storage
  • Can be leased for about $20/month to schools and businesses or purchased for a few hundred dollars.

When I have worked with teachers on implementing technology in their classrooms the number one complaint is how long the computers take to start and the second problem encountered with laptop powered classrooms is battery life. Both of these cease to be concerns with ChromeBooks

You might ask how is it to work without a hard drive and all of your favorite programs? I would honestly say that I only miss it about 20% of the time. Which means for all of my basic needs: Internet, Email, Blogging, Calendar, Editing Lesson Plans/Documents the Chromebook is great. I appreciate that I can have an idea during a meeting and quickly jot it down. Not to mention all of the time where a task requires more than a phone's small keyboard.

Now walk with caution. There are a couple of caveats that one should consider before plunging in.
  • If you use a software like Photoshop or Premier you will not find an alternative in the ChromeBook (yet). There are many applications added to the Chrome Web Store each day to replace one of your installed programs. However, evaluate your needs and see if it the ChromeBook works for your situation.
  • If you wish to purchase a ChromeBook rather than lease it, the initial machines are retailing for a few hundred dollars. I am sure like any other technology, after the initial excitement dies down the price will drop dramatically.
  • I see these Chromebooks not replacing laptops but supporting alongside them. I would imagine a small computer to student ratio where some students are working on the ChromeBooks on an assignment that can be completed via cloud tools like Google Apps while other students might be editing a video on a standard laptop. This divide might go away as more developers start creating web based alternative programs.If you are interested in developing for the Chrome OS, you will greatly help out this process. 
The Market will show whether or not this will change the world or be considered ahead of its time. There are so many examples of technology that simply didn't catch on and we will have to see where the ChromeBook stands. Unfortunately it will likely come down to price, marketing and support.

Learning Opportunities Come From Passion - A Student's Perspective

Victor was in my Freshman Math/Physics class. I was much more traditional then than I am now and although he did well in my class he was extremely bored. This plus other factors led me to deeply question my classroom and curriculum practices. Although he is a Junior now, his accomplishments dwarf that of many adults. He has embraced what Patrick and I talk about in terms of learning potential and is an amazing example of what is possible. He leaves for his Junior Internship tomorrow and I asked him before he left to share his thoughts with us:

Hello, I am Victor and I am a Junior. I am part of the school’s robotics team led by Phil which many of you probably know as the writer of this blog, you probably also know Patrick Yurick as a contributor to the Broken Airplane, but to me he is my mentor/publisher for the Graphic Novel Project. The things you learn through these courses are things that some people have to wait until their Senior year in college to learn. 

I have done a crazy variety of things ranging from creating a virtual world, to taking part in the San Diego Comic-Con as a professional. Both of these courses are amazing in their own ways, sometimes even in the same ways, but being part of both of them allows you to be able to pull information from separate sides of a spectrum and everything in between.

In robotics I have been able to learn many different skills including programming, building and designing. My first year I worked on the VEX robot as a builder/programmer, I was able to understand several different concepts important to programmers, for example, troubleshooting and universal commands like: if, else, while. 

In my second year, me and another student, Anthony created a virtual park in which I was introduced to the open-source animation/game engine Blender and scripting software, Python. Together we stayed countless hours after school to finish the program which we were able to take all the way up to Washington D.C. to present at the first National Science fair. We were able to stand next to professionals proudly presenting our project as Sophomores. This year I am back on building and we are taking a much more professional approach to the construction of the robot. I created three different robot designs and am currently working on a proof of concept. Robotics has made me realize that I really enjoy creating games and it is at the top of my “Majors I am considering” list.

I have also had a fair amount of success in the Graphic Novel Project. I have learned and mastered most of the Adobe Creative Suite CS3 because it is what we mostly use to ink/color our comics. I have become extremely proficient in Photoshop up to the point which I know what EVERY button does. Last year everyone in the project had to create their own comic. I discovered that I actually enjoy drawing and I might actually want to draw as a hobby or maybe a profession later on in life, something that had never crossed my mind, I have already had my first “Professional” job designing a t-shirt for Eco-Vivarium. I would have never been able to accept the job without the knowledge that the Graphic Novel Project has given me.

Being part of these two amazing groups has allowed me to absorb many valuable skills and given me many once in a lifetime chances some people would kill to obtain. The best part about these things is that the following years people will get a chance to live through the same experiences I have gone through. We already have a spot in the 2012 annual Science Fair and San-Diego Comic Con. Hopefully people will be able to pull as much information as I have.

Victor is a wonderful person and brilliant in his own right, but he would be the first to say  that everyone is capable of doing these amazing things if given the opportunity. Robotics and the Graphic Novel Project were born out of Patrick and my passion for these things. What are you passionate about and how can you provide incredible learning opportunities for your students? The world will be changed by those who are passionate and share that passion with others!

Have Paperless Reading Discussions via Google Talk So Everyone Has A Voice

Whenever my colleague and friend Patrick is excited about something he did in his classroom, I know to put everything down and prepare myself because it is going to open my eyes to a new way of thinking about what technology allows us to do. I'll let him tell you all about it.

Paperless Final Word Protocol
I (Patrick) wanted to share this amazing thing that occurred in my classroom this past Friday. I have been practicing paperless classroom techniques for the past two semesters with resounding success. I started a graffiti project with a couple of my classes because, I think teaching underground art practices is amazing and I have tons of fun learning graffiti techniques with my class. I also love to teach the laws that are in effect just around the word graffiti. (California is spending somewhere in the millions each year to fight graffiti whee in european countries graffiti is as common as lets say breathing.)

Anyway, I love talking about subjects that are not black and white, where perspectives on situations are vast and controversial. About five minutes before class I found an Article I wanted to share with my students that was put out by the Los Angeles Times that give a radically different perspective on graffiti. It discusses its role as a new favored art form in the Fine Arts world and how that is enraging the people of LA who are busy fighting to keep their streets clean.

As soon as I read the article, which was around the time the students were entering the classroom, I knew that I wanted to do a final word protocol around the article. I printed a copy of the article and I held it in my hands. I started thinking about how I wanted to do it. I was about to jump out of my seat and run to the copier to make 26 copies of the article but I just couldn’t do it.

The kids were doing their lively thing behind me while my mind searched for a way to do this thing paperlessly. Then an idea came to me. I stood up and walked to each student and gave them a number between 1 and 6. This number was to be their group formations. I told them to meet with their group members and pick one person to write down the names of all of the group members. I then had them immediately go to their computers.

I sent a mass email to the entire class with this message:
1. Everyone silently read this article (10 minutes)
2. Pick 1-2 sentences that stick out to you
3. The person who collected your names is now referred to within your group as the “facilitator
4. The facilitator is going to start a group chat (Gmail Chat Video)
  • Invite all members of your group to the chat
  • Invite MisterY (me) to the chat group
5. At this time you should only have two windows open on your desktop:
  • The article
  • The group chat
6. Facilitator will pick the order of students who are going to share, including the facilitator
7. The first person simple copies and pastes the first quote that they liked into the group chat
8. Everyone in the group now responds to how they interpret the quote, except the person who originally posted the quote
9. After everyone has shared the person who originally shared can now respond with any additional thoughts, changed thinking, and/or responses to what everyone has said
10. Move on to the next person, repeat until everyone has shared at least one quote. If you have time move on to a second round of quotes.

Check out what happened next

Afterwards the moderators shared out to the class what their groups had discussed. Keep in mind, that there is no sound because the room is completely quiet. The only talking that occurred was through the chat.

Suggestions for instructors trying to repeat this process:
  • Preview the article and give a little blurb about why you are sharing it.
  • Go over the directions out loud with the class.
  • Get up and walk around as the protocol starts and as it transitions into the sharing phase just to make sure the students only have the group chat and the article open, the other things they have access to are really distracting. You may have noticed in the video that there was a lag in some of the conversations because they were distracted.
  • Be okay if you haven’t read everything the students wrote - that what you have chat transcripts for. If you have not enabled chat. Go to Gmail Settings (upper right corner), Chat tab, "Save Chat History". This a good idea if you are having conversations with students and parents anyway

Have fun and be part of the conversations!

See, what did I (Phil) tell you? Patrick's classroom is not only paperless and fun, but most of it can be used directly in your classroom tomorrow. Be sure to send some love Patrick's way so we can encourage him to post more often!

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What Words Do You Live By?

There is nothing like a good quote. Sometimes it is attributed to the wrong person but it can stir one up none the less. For thousands of years of oral and written tradition, they were our sound bytes. They could spark revolution and awaken one to their life's purpose. Everyone has a pedagogy and educational philosophy even if they don't know it and many times it can be boiled down to something they heard or that someone said to them.

So I am asking, what quotes do you live by? In the classroom, in your life? What drives you everyday?

Mine are (in no particular order):
  • Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. (Howard Thurman)
  • It is unworthy of excellent men to lose hours like slaves in the labour of calculation which could safely be relegated to anyone else if machines were used. (Gottfried Leibniz)
  • It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer. (Albert Einstein)
  • No matter what you do, be the best you possibly can at it. (My Great-Grandpa)
  • Be on time, do a good job, look presentable, and respect others. (An Admiral I met in the Navy)
  • Smile, breathe and go slowly. (Thich Nhat Hanh)
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California Standards Test - How Your Students Can Learn and Enjoy Taking It

In California our big standardized test is approaching. In a project based learning school there is always a bit of apprehension because we know that we have taught for depth and not breadth. This means that students are over prepared for some topics and less prepared for others.

While we provide them with the usual advice of getting a good night's rest and have a simple breakfast available in the morning, we also emphasize the importance of using their critical thinking skills.

I have always looked at tests as a game or puzzle which explains why I was often not stressed about it. I love trying to figure out a problem and I won't lie, I have rederived some equations but I also found a deeper understanding of a concept as I was trying to figure it out. While others are trying to recall facts and equations, I lean upon my understanding of the world to help me answer questions. If that sounds esoteric or inefficient, remember that I live and look at problems as puzzles. I would rather turn the tests into another opportunity for thinking and discovery for my students than into something they have to do and will not enjoy.

Help your students to think critically about a question as opposed to trying to remember the information. In the "real world" there is no analogous situation, people do their work and are free to look up information as needed or if it is truly important they remember it from using it so often. Looking at the test as a game can turn a painful experience into a exhausting but fun game. There are no shortage of people decrying the need for better testing, but while we wait for that we can help our students see this as a challenge to enjoy. I am not defending the test or saying we should have more but hoping to make the best of a situation.

Long after they have forgotten the content of your class they will be using the critical thinking skills they develop. My 2 cents, take them for what they are worth to you.

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Start Programming with Your Math and Science Class Today

If you are a long time reader of this blog, then you have seen the many ideas, thoughts, and examples of how I use and encourage the use of programming to learn math and science. I realized that I have not ever created a clear introduction to getting started with using Python in your class.

I hope that this tutorial helps you get started and have some great ideas. The more of us who are using and creating awesome math the more it helps everyone else. So please enjoy, ask questions, try something, and share with us what you did and how it went. It is exciting to think of all of the cool learning, questions, and skills that your students will gain from this experience.

Enjoy, and if you have any feedback or discover errors let me know. Here is a link to the PDF as well.

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The World Was Inspired at The FIRST World Championship in St Louis

What an amazing end to this year's FIRST Robotics Competition! Teams of Students receive the game at Kickoff and then have 6 weeks to design, build, and program a robot from scratch. Then the robots are shipped to the regional competitions to play against other teams to win the most points and demonstrate how they have inspired other students to pursue STEM careers. Those who exceed expectations are awarded the opportunity to go to the FRC World Championship in St. Louis, Missouri.

This year's FIRST World Championship, was an exceptional year. In the 20th year of FIRST, the surge in the number of teams being started and schools seeing the transformative power of this program is incredible by all standards. There were students in all grades: K-3 in Junior FIRST Lego League, Middle Schoolers in FLL, and finally the High School students participating in FIRST Tech Challenge and FIRST Robotics Competition.

Each of these competitions have their own games and their own unique culture, and being able to be at World Championship and walk through each of them really fills you with awe to see so many students excited to learn and help each other.

FIRST Starts a College Division
For years, students have learned CAD, JAVA programming, machine shop practices, business and marketing skills and then it ended when they graduated high school. Of course some colleges had their own programs but now FIRST can be open to every college student. Not only this, but FIRST is perfect for the culture and spirit of University Sports where the entire school turns out to support their athletes. Now everyone can participate and/or support the learning that is going to change the world.

What is this new college program? It's called CARD or Collegiate Aerial Robotics Demonstration. That's right these robots are flying!

The game is called All Your Base (hooray Geeks!) and is played essentially like a game of Tic-Tac-Toe. Students were allowed to choose their microcontroller and most of them picked...Arduino of course! For its cost, relative ease, and large amount of community support, it was perfectly fitting for the FIRST principle of Coopertition and support.

With 352 teams for the FRC program, there is no doubt of how quickly this is catching on around the world. I get skeptical looks when I tell my students and others about how exciting these events can be, but with thousands watching live and online, there is no doubt of the excitement and feasibility of this catching on mainstream.

Friday evening, we were treated to a special performance by and the Black Eyed Peas.'s appointment as "Director of Creative Innovation" at Intel has allowed him to proclaim a synergy of technology and artists. At this year's FIRST Kickoff he stood there next to Dean Kamen and Woodie Flowers to get us pumped up for this season. Friday's performance was recorded to air on August 14th at 7pm on ABC as a showcase of FIRST and the Black Eyed Peas. 

Kamen, shared a conversation between himself and before Kickoff where he asked if he was going to help make FIRST cool. replied, "I can't make it cool, it already is. I want to make it loud!" With releases like The New Cool and ever increasing opportunities for students to participate, the culture is shifting and we will see a shift towards celebrating STEM as we do with music and sports.

A fact shared with us Saturday night, if FIRST grows as much in the second 20 years as it did in the first, we will have over 150,000 teams by 2031. Will you be one of those teams? 

I hope to see you and your team next year at a FIRST or VEX regional. Feel free to leave your World Championship experience in the comments, or describe how robotics has impacted your community/life.

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