About Anne Gunn

A Wyoming native who grew up in Montana, Anne Gunn lived for 20 years in New England before returning to Wyoming in 1999. While in New England, she co-founded Tally Systems, a bootstrap-funded software company. At Tally she wore many hats, including software development, sales, technical support, quality assurance, and product management. In 1995 she promoted herself from Senior VP of Product Management to entry level programmer in order to have more time and flexibility. She remained on the board of Tally until its sale to Novell in 2005. Here in Wyoming, she has worked as a freelance programmer and has started a new software products company. Sheridan Programmers Guild publishes apps, websites, and ebooks and takes on a small number of custom projects for clients each year.

Working Memory and Lost Keys


Not my family’s fabled key ring but about the right size and variety.
Photo by Jim Pennucci via Flickr
[License: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0]

Keys lost

I share a personality trait with at least two of my closest blood relatives. When I get in a hurry or under stress, I lose my car keys.

It took me a long time to isolate this pattern as something predictable and, indeed, diagnostic.

Lost key episodes were a dramatic feature of my childhood. My parents owned a large and rambling old motel and, when I was very young, they shared custody of a master key ring of epic proportions. Once when my dad was out of town for a weekend, my mom had to cope with an unexpected spring snow storm and with all the plumbing and heating problems that were usually dad’s to deal with. (For the most part, my dad took care of the physical systems; my mom dealt with the people.) Mom did a masterful job of getting us through the crisis. But by the time my dad got back to town, her triumph was overshadowed by disaster. She had lost the big key ring and none of us could find it, no matter how hard or long we searched. Continue reading

Wrong Answers: Mistakes or Misconceptions?

Even the equals sign can be the target of misconceptions

The first use of an equals sign, equivalent to 14x+15=71 in modern notation. From The Whetstone of Witte by Robert Recorde. [Public domain] Courtesy Wikipedia.org.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about learning and teaching algebra. It’s not a topic I thought much about when I was learning algebra myself. It was just another math class for me. Not as much fun a geometry proofs, admittedly, but a reasonably good time nonetheless. (Yep. I was one of those strange kids that actually liked geometry proofs. Some people like to run 25+ miles at a time. Some folks are willing to listen to jazz. No accounting for taste, is there?)

Turns out, though, that learning algebra is actually pretty hard and teaching it is very tricky indeed. It’s full of little “threshold concepts” — those hard-to-teach, hard-to-learn, see-the-world-differently-after-you-know-them ideas that frustrate learners and teachers alike. And oddly enough, it is also a topic where the math the student already knows can turn out to be full of deep-seated misconceptions, lying in wait to trip her up and make new learning painful.

Take the humble, ubiquitous equals sign for example. Continue reading

Wrong Answers in Developmental Math

This is the second of two posts on the role that wrong answers can play in the algebra classroom. The student in a developmental math class generally doesn’t react in either of the two ways described in my previous post.
Developmental Math is not formulaic

Wrong Answers — Student Perspectives II

It is easy to picture the developmental classroom as being filled with undirected young slackers who just didn’t try hard enough when they were taught algebra the first time around in public school. Clearly this is the theory of the many state legislators around the country who are restricting funds for developmental education in their post-secondary education systems.

Ask a developmental education instructor, though, and what you will consistently hear is, “Our students have complicated lives.” Whatever the back story of an adult learner sitting in a remedial pre-algebra class, you can be pretty certain that some aspects of their current situation are not that pretty. Most of them are making an extraordinary effort to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

So, while the instructor is up there at the board, working through that hard one, a thousand things unrelated to the correct math process are probably running through the students’ minds. Continue reading

Wrong Answers in Algebra Class

Teaching algebra is not an easy formula to parse

It’s been my privilege, recently, to sit in on several algebra and pre-algebra classes being taught by master instructors.

Wrong Answers — Teacher perspective

Think about an experienced algebra teacher going over a set of practice problems with her class. It’s yesterday’s homework assignment that she wants to correct at the start of class today, so she and the students can get quick feedback on how they are doing before she moves on to new material.

She asks for the students’ attention. She reads each answer out loud, repeating it if requested, while each student marks up his or her own paper. At the end, she asks, “Do you want me to work through any of the problems on the board?”

Because she’s experienced, she really doesn’t need the students to tell her which problems to go over, but she would rather they do so. It’s one way she knows she’s developing rapport with the class, when students feel comfortable enough to raise a hand and ask out loud, “Can you please do #11?”. Continue reading

High Tech Money Laundering with Carbon Dioxide

Thousand Dollar BillCarbon dioxide (CO2) gets an awful lot of bad press these days. So I was pleased, earlier this week, to note it being touted as the environmentally-friendly solution to a big green problem.

It turns out that dealing with old paper money is a huge issue for the world’s central banks. The notes generally need to be destroyed and replaced since there has been no good way to clean them. Now scientists in Rhode Island have come up with a solution: use supercritical CO2 to clean the accumulated hand oils and dirt off of the old bills so they can be re-used.

Here’s the layman’s version of the story, from The Econmist: The Benefits of Money Laundering

Or, for you folks who prefer your science news unmediated by the press, here’s a reference to the research paper itself: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/ie403307y

BugOut! Live — New Learning Environment Goes Online

For the last six months, in parallel with the research work we’ve been documenting here on our Learning Laboratory site, we at Sheridan Programmers Guild have been building some custom software for a truly remarkable customer.

Dr. Meghan Jeffres is an Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice at Roseman University of Health Sciences in Henderson, Nevada.  She is a specialist in infectious diseases (ID).  She teaches courses in statistics and infectious diseases to pharmacy and dental students in a classroom setting and precepts pharmacy students and medical residents in a clinical setting. Continue reading

MOOCs: chaotic or chaordic?

Ami Erickson, one of the deans at Sheridan College, our local community college, recently participated in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) about MOOCs.  Although Erickson is a teacher and administrator at a relatively traditional bricks-and-mortar institution, one of her personal goals is to “identify, promote, and encourage opportunities to help [her] team excel in a dynamic process of progress and growth.”

So when she got the chance to participate in the online class put on by Hybrid Pedagogy, a “digital journal of teaching and technology,” she jumped onboard.  Then she wrote about the experience in a piece that appears on her own blog and was recently published in our local newspaper, where I happened to see it.

Read Ami’s own post if you want the details.  But I think her experience with a MOOC may be quite common.  On her first day, she wrote, “My initial impression following the introductions and comments by the approx 300 participants is that this is pure chaos.”  “But maybe this chaos will organize . . .

And it did. Continue reading