Teach Creatively! Reaching “Hard to Reach” Students

A C Bilbrew Public Library. Image from County of Los Angeles Public Libraries

A C Bilbrew Public Library. Image from County of Los Angeles Public Libraries

[Edit 4/14/14: If you came here looking for a blank multiplication grid, see this post for our PDF times tables.]

Three Free and Easy Ideas

During the 2007-08 school year I was a tutor with an agency serving the Los Angeles Unified School District under funding from No Child Left Behind (NCLB). A pre-test selected three California state standards that I was meant to enforce in each student, all of whom were unwilling and less than thrilled with school in general. I was on my own in terms of teaching materials and, feeling sorry for my bored kids and sensing the inefficacy of plain old worksheets, I found myself flexing my creative muscles to generate solutions, which I would like to share with any tutor or teacher who needs some inspiration. Continue reading

Happy Pi Day (and Contest Ends This Friday!)

The most evil eye chart in the world. "Now, can you read me the last line?" ... "AGHH! There is no last line!!" Image from Unihedron.

Pi Day is March 14. This is the most evil eye chart in the world. “Now, can you read me the last line?” … “AGHH! There is no last line!!” Image from Unihedron.

Did you know (3 syllables)

Pi, (1)

our fave constant, (4)

has (1)

its own holiday? (5)

Celebrate the interminable (9)

greatness (2)

with these Pi Day assets: (6)


Pi Day Dot Org Home (5)


Pi(ano) (3)

(Watch Pi as music) (5)


Search Pi for any number string (8)

(e.g. your phone number or birthday) (9)


Party hard for Pi–not too (7)

crazy, but irrational is fine.(9)


In other news (I’m done counting my syllables for the day), our Learning Game Idea Contest is coming to a wrap this week, and it’s not too late–procrastinators–to knock out that last minute Eureka-stroke-of-genius entry. The deadline is Friday the 15th. Motivational reminder: the prize is a $100 gift card to your choice of iTunes or Amazon.

A Free Online Toolkit for Math and Science Courses

Desmos Calculator, courtesy of Desmos.com.

Desmos Calculator, courtesy of Desmos.com.

We’ve assembled an online set of tools for use by a teacher or tutor looking for high quality free resources, or by a student who needs a little math, physics, or chemistry homework help. The following resources have been selected by our editors as representing the best of what is offered freely on the Internet. Continue reading

Threshold Concepts: Education as Rite of Passage

Initiates of ancient mystery religions would learn the meaning of symbols like this one. Image believed to be in the public domain; originally published 1896. From Wikipedia.

Initiates of ancient mystery religions would learn the meaning of symbols like this one. Image believed to be in the public domain; originally published 1896. From Wikipedia.

By dark of night the master leads you, the robed initiate, beyond the columns of the marble portico and into the candle-lit court of the temple. According to custom, the master has overseen your days of fasting, study, and preparation leading up to this, the day you would be ready to cross the threshold. Now, as the cock crows thrice, you are led into the place where you have never been allowed before, to see what you have never seen before, and to know what has been heretofore unknown…You enter into the inner portal of the holy of holies and behold, in the sacred light of a golden candelabrum… the solution to your chemistry homework.

A movement exists in education to view educational standards in the anthropological terms of the rite of passage. As elaborated by Victor Turner [Wikipedia] and other anthropologists, a rite of passage consists of an individual beginning in one social category, crossing a limen (Latin: threshold), and entering into another social category. Examples include rites of passage by which a boy becomes recognized as a man (e.g bar mitzvah), or by which a girl becomes a woman (e.g. bat mitzvah), or certain religious initiations, such as Greco-Roman mystery cults [Wikipedia] or, to use more familiar, contemporary examples, baptism, first communion, or confirmation.

The analogy is this: a student passes a conceptual limen when he or she comes to really understand any threshold concept. There is a metamorphosis from ignorant to understanding. Like a participant faced with the revelation of divine knowledge at Eleusis, the student confronts quadratic equations, the ideal gas law, the principles of engineering, the grammar of a well-composed sentence…whatever the concept, and that student is changed. Once a student masters a threshold concept, he or she doesn’t simply revert to ignorance. A threshold concept is of a class of concept such that it changes the student’s view of the course subject, and, perhaps, whether in a small way or in a profound way, the student’s entire worldview. Continue reading

Sig Fig Rules!–Master Your Significant Digits Here (A Learning Game Contest Example)

[Edit 09.05.13] SigFig is now accessible through our primary chemistry learning web app, Study Putty.

In the preceding weeks we launched our Learning Game Contest, seeking submissions of science/math learning game concepts and offering the prize of a $100 Amazon or iTunes gift card along with the chance of seeing that idea implemented in a playable game. With the intention of demonstrating the sort of concept we’re looking for, and to show how your concept could become a working game, we recently published Sig Fig Rules! online.

If you have ever taken a chemistry course, whether in high school or college, you may remember the lesson on significant digits. If your response to being asked to identify significant and insignificant digits was, like mine, “Discrimination! Who am I to tell a number his existence is insignificant?” you, like me, might have benefited from a learning tool such as this. Continue reading

Ten Free Flashcard Sites to Flip Over

Image credit: semanda.com

The 21st century has been called the Age of Technology, but it might also be aptly dubbed the Age of Independent Learning. Online resources have made it possible for the motivated to learn just about anything online for free. Online learning can be scaled up to the level of taking entire college courses for free, or scaled down to make learning specific details easier.

Flashcards are one of the world’s oldest learning ‘technologies’ but, despite their simplicity, they can still often be an effective study tool. Now, though, you don’t have to amass a suitcase full of 3 x 5 cards . . . that upon graduation from college you may just not be able to bear to throwing out. (Though maybe I’m the only one who still has that suitcase stored away in a dark corner.)

At any rate, the following sites allow you to either generate your own flashcards or use flashcards created by other learners around the world. Learning anything from art history to the cell cycle has become easier! Visual learners are in luck as nearly all of these flashcard sites can incorporate images into personalized flashcards, and some even incorporate sound for the aural learners among us.
Continue reading

Learning Activities: Put some fun into learning. Your students will thank you.

Image credit: newhanover.k12.nj.us

Research shows that play is incredibly important for early childhood development. Elementary school classrooms often ring with student laughter. However, we sometimes need reminded that the “serious learning” conducted at the collegiate level doesn’t, by default, have to be seriously boring or superbly stressful. College learning can also be fun, entertaining and engaging. Students’ knowledge retention rates have been shown to increase when learning games are implemented in class (Barclay et al. 2011).  Students play games such as Portal 2, — arguably a physics learning game in itself — on their own time to unwind. And yet, a learning game doesn’t have to have spectacular graphics or complex game play to be fun and effective. For example, The Blood Typing Game does both! The following resources highlight several aspects of electronic learning activities for use both in and out of class. By all means, if you get excited, create your own game. Continue reading

Social Learning: Share the learning experience with like-minded learners

Image Source: wendybutlerberns.com

Shared experience is the very fabric for human culture. It creates a sense of belonging, provides common ground for conversation and links us in ways that help us to relate to one another. Shared experiences can occur on a local level such as eating a hamburger at Louis’ Lunch or surviving Mrs. Muchen’s 8th grade math class. However, we also collectively share global experiences such as mainstream films, television shows and music which we reference through quotes, lyrics, and parodies. Those common experiences are the stitches that piece each of us into the quilt of society. Excitingly, social media is creating a whole new realm of shared human experience. Social learning deploys social media to help learners around the world unite to accomplish their learning goals, whether it be mastering linear equations or learning a foreign language. The following resources exemplify a few of the social learning resources emerging in our ever-expanding world of shared experience.

Continue reading

Collaborative Software: Editing student work and group projects just got easier.

Image credit:

Good news! The following collaborative tools can not only make giving students’ genuine feedback a cinch, but also better facilitate group work among your students. One struggle good instructors face, is creating time for meaningful student feedback. After grading 50 papers, it is easy to give in to a cross-eyed, writers cramp induced stupor and simply write C+ without any useful comments to help your student improve. At the same time, group work might no longer send such a shudder up your students’ spines, as the same useful resources might mean students effectively collaborate from anywhere regardless of the time of day. Check out the following learning technologies to make your and your students’ lives a whole lot easier. Continue reading

Enhancing Student Engagement: Students can’t learn when they are asleep.

Image credit: speakitalianmagically.com

Nowhere in college handbooks does it state that learning will be dry, dull and at times stressful beyond measure. However, much of the class time in universities across the country is seemingly governed by an iron fist of boredom interspersed with cram-and-purge testing several times a semester. This scenario isn’t fun for students or their instructors who look out at their glazed and sleeping (or texting) students and wonder what it is they might do differently. The following resources may help. These learning technologies are designed to spice up lecture delivery and bolster student engagement both in and out of the classroom. Harnessing the power of learning technology linked by mobile devices (which are even more ubiquitous than piercings among the college population these days) may help open instructor-student and student-student communication for your class in ways you never thought possible. Continue reading