Since the release of the iPad last spring I’ve noticed an increase in the prevalence of e-readers, not only Apple’s entry but from anybody selling an e-reader. When I surf over to Amazon.com the homepage has an advertisement for the Kindle prominently displayed. Likewise, when I step into the local Barnes & Noble I’m welcomed by a display for the nook. Based on the recent boom in e-reader devices it may be that we are in the beginning stages of a paperless book reading experience. But how does this translate to the classroom?
Over on The Active Class blog is a nice post on teaching a paperless class. Among the issues raised are the ease of interacting with a bound text and the general nostalgia of handling a book. These issues tend to outweigh the convenience of a cheaper, more portable version of the same text. As a result, there seems to be some resistance to completely transforming into a paperless class.
Referenced in the same Active Class blog entry is a posting on Mashable entitled Digital Textbooks: 3 Reasons Students Aren’t Ready. This article adds to the discussion that an e-text revolution isn’t quite here because of the lack of a substantial cost savings, no universal standard, and a question of ownership of the downloaded material.
In the Physics Department at Coastal Carolina we’ve discussed the issue of promoting e-texts, mostly with the motivation of saving our students money. Central in our discussion is the last point made on Mashable. Physics majors need to keep their texts years after the actual class. As a faculty member I still reference textbooks I used as a student. So when a student elects to use an electronic copy of the text, the question arises, how longs does the student have access to it? Will the material expire? How is accessibility handled as students purchase new e-reader devices? These are important questions that need to be made more clear before the large leap into the paperless class can be made.
For the non-majors—those students that typically celebrate passing physics and never want to look back—they can’t wait to sell their expensive books back to recoup at least some of the original purchasing cost. With e-texts, it doesn’t seem that resell is possible. If a student spends a substantial amount of money on a digital copy of the text, they would like to get something back at the end of the day.
The other large issue I see with going paperless is a reliable device for reading the material. A few years ago—or even arguably a few months ago—the only readily available e-reader device was a computer. A desktop limits the location of where an e-text can be read. It’s also more restrictive in the physical positions a person can be in while interacting with the material. (How many of us have a desktop that we can use while lying down.) Laptops alleviate most of the desktop issues but they fall short in that laptop battery lifetimes tend to be short. In my own classroom students that use a laptop during class are often tethered to the wall because their computer’s battery can’t even make it through class. For these reasons, and those discussed elsewhere, I think students may be hesitant to embrace the e-text idea.
However, now that there are a number of more portable, long battery life devices out there, maybe the time for e-texts is here. These new devices are cheaper than a traditional computer, which makes them more financially accessible to students. They’re also more inviting as devices that can be more than just an e-reader. In one composition book sized object you have not only an e-reader, but access to email and the world wide web in addition to a number of relevant applications. Think of apps like The Elements and Star Walk to name just a few.
Still, there are issues of material ownership and universal access for electronic materials. How long can students access digital texts? Can one student use a Kindle while the next student use an iPad? Also, students have to overcome the nostalgia factor of interacting and collecting bound texts.
My suspicion is that as these new e-readers become more prevalent in our leisure lives, we’re going to see more of a push to address the concerns over going paperless in the classroom. In other words, as devices such as the iPad are used for things other than schoolwork, students are going to realize the comfort and benefits of going paperless with their textbooks as well. More importantly, as publishers see sales of e-readers increase, they’ll see a window of opportunity and will in turn clarify issues with universal accessibility and expirations. The business models will follow customers’ desires.
The book is broken up into one page summaries of common astronomical objects, such as the Sun, constellations, and dark matter to name a few. The object descriptions are done in the first person voice from the viewpoint of the objects themselves. For example, Betelgeuse remarks, “Call a doctor! I’m swelling up and running a temperature of 6,500 °F (3,600 °C)! Oh no! This is just how red giants kick the bucket. My problem is certainly not old age. At only ten million years old, I’m a mere baby star.” The first person voice makes the book unique and enjoyable. Many times I thought how nice it would be to just quote some the descriptions in my university level Astro 101 class.The object descriptions are accurate and frequently includes little known facts. Even I learned a few new things.
The publisher recommends the book for ages 10 and up which I agree with. There are some big and technical words used in the book. I wonder if the average parent reading this book to their child, or especially a 10 year old reading to themselves, would know the meaning of a degenerate astronomical object, or even plasma. At times it felt like the author was willing to sacrifice pedagogy to use fancy words that made for a whimsical flow.
My only other concern with the book is that the stated facts are random with no apparent connections. It leaves the reader asking “why does that happen?” or “how do astronomers know that?” I used this book as a bedtime read for my five year old. As we made our way through the book he would often stop me and ask great, inspired questions. It was obvious the book piqued his interest and got him thinking about astronomy. However, I had to use my own knowledge to answer him.
Astronomy: Out of this World is one in a series of similar books by Basher Laboratories. Other topics in the series include topics such as physics, math, and planet earth. Overall my son and I enjoyed reading the astronomy book—enough so that we’re interested in buying other books in the series.
This week a former Astro 101 student stopped by my office. She had another class in the science building and had some time to kill so she came by to talk. She thanked me and said she really enjoyed the class. As flattered as I was, I had one problem. I couldn’t remember her name. I recognized her face and could easily recall her abilities in the course, but for the life of me I couldn’t think of her name.
This happens way too often. I’m really bad with names. The largest classes I teach are about forty students which means I can learn most of their names by the first midterm. A few take longer, especially the quiet ones. This semester I stole an approach from a colleague. On the first day I had each student make a personal name plate using a 4″×6″ index card. We’re now five meetings into the semester and I know the names of about 75% of the students. It also helps that I use an learner-center classroom style, which means we spend a considerable amount of time doing small group activities. In addition to the index cards I have access to an electronic class roster that includes pictures. In the past I’ve used this roster to help learn those last few student names.
Learning student names makes the class more inviting for discussions. In the past students, have left comments on the end of the semester evaluations indicating that knowing their names was a noticeably positive feature to the course. In fact, some of the comments posted on Rate My Professor point out that I actually know my students’ name.
Yet with all this said, I still fail miserable in moving student names to my long-term memory. This is something I need to work on. Every semester I keep telling myself to print out the roster that includes student pictures, but every semester I forget. (The available archive only go back one year.)
So to all my former students, if you start talking to me and I have a blank look on my face. It’s not that I don’t want to hear from you. It’s that I’m trying my hardest to recall your name. Sorry.
A short time ago I wrote the entry Super Size Me Martian Style about an email that was forwarded along by a colleague. The email claims that on August 27 Mars “will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye.” I’ve heard such a claim before. It happens every summer. In fact I suspect a lot of us hear this claim once a year. My suspicion arises from a recent Science@NASA Headline article, The Mutating Mars Hoax, which explains the evolution of this tall Martian tale.
It’s interesting to see how an outlandish claim can be rooted in some truth. As I wrote before, it’s hard to even call this story a hoax because the original emails back in 2003 probably had good intentions about getting people excited about astronomy. For whatever reason bad information snuck in. It’s like the old telephone game played by many of us in elementary school. Starting at one end, a kid whispers a statement to the kid next to them. The second kid then turn to a third and tries to replicate the original statement, and so forth down the line. As the message is passed along, errors creep in until the final message is nothing like the original.
Unfortunately with the large Mars story it seems to have started with some bad information that has done nothing but gotten worse.
With the beginning of a new school year upon us, I wanted to share a first-day activity I’ve been doing for the last few years that helps lay the foundation for an active learning environment. I need to start by professing that I did not come up with this completely on my own. I learned about this activity from Joe Heafner during an AAPT workshop at the 2007 summer meeting. I’ve since adapted the activity to my classroom as a means to introduce students to the importance of being an active learner.
The activity starts by handing out boxes of Home 360™ flexible straws and rulers. Ideally I would like to hand out sealed boxes, but if I’m reusing boxes form a previous semester I have to ensure the students that I haven’t altered anything, which I honestly haven’t. I now ask the students to work in groups of three to consider the information stated on the straw boxes.
Naturally the first piece of information students consider is the number of straws in the boxes. Rarely is the number exactly 40. Sometimes it’s smaller, occasionally it’s larger.
At this point the students need a little encouragement to consider the other numbers. It’s the first day after all. Usually they turn their attention to the length of the straw. The problem here is that they’re bendy straws, so the length is ambiguous. Is it the length when the straw is scrunched up, or when it’s fully extended, or maybe an average? Next they look at the straw diameter. The package claims a diameter of .245 in (62 mm).
There’s something wrong here! The millimeters value implies I could suck a piece of fruit through these straws. Here’s where the story gets even funnier. I’ve been doing this activity for the last three years. Recently I had to replace my straws. When I did so, I found that the packaging changed, yet the misprints remained.
We wrap-up with a group discussion which starts with me asking what they’ve taken away from our little activity. Typical responses circle around a mistrust in the food industry. At this point I nudge them toward the true goal. The activity punchline is that without stopping and critically analyzing the information for themselves people would normally overlook the flaws stated on the box. Similarly, in the classroom it’s important for the lecturing to occasionally stop, and to transform the class into an active learning environment. During these times the learning process is carried out through learner-centered activities. It is here that students come to grips with some of the subtle points of the material. Without the personalization of the learning process by the students, difficult definitions and concepts may never be mastered at the expectation level for the course objectives.
The beauty of doing this activity on the first day is that it gets the students talking to each other—I usually start the activity by having the students introduce themselves to each other. It also doesn’t require a lot of brain power so students are not put off by doing high level thinking right out of the starting gate. Lastly, it lays the framework for the expectations for the rest of the semester. Active learning is an important part of my classroom.
Annual pay for Bachelors graduates without higher degrees. Typical starting graduates have 2 years of experience; mid-career have 15 years. See full methodology for more.
Do you see a common thread in all of these jobs? It’s math! Each career requires a substantial amount of math. Some more than others, but literally every job is built on a mathematical foundation. So what’s the big deal?
The problem is that a number of people have a math phobia that usually develops early in life. One particular study by Beilock et al. suggests that females may develop a math phobia as early as the first or second grade. Moreover the Beilock study suggests that the phobia originates from an adult role model—in this case the child’s teacher.
As an science educator at an undergraduate institution I regularly come across students, both male and female, with math phobias. It’s disheartening to see someone freeze-up when presented with a math problem. In many cases the person is intelligent and can understand scientific reasoning, but when asked to perform a calculation often leads to a deer in the headlight response.
Unfortunately for anyone that develops a math phobia, they can be excluded from the highest paying jobs. As a colleague of mine puts it, when adults inject (intentionally or not) a math phobia into kids they’re doing them a great disservice. I would add that there are a number of very intelligent and talented people out there that are not in these mathematical fields because at some point in their childhood they developed a math phobia that has directed them away from such career paths.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is to keep an open mind when discussing mathematics with children. Otherwise you may accidentally short-circuit a career path years in advance.