Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I learned to program...

Computer Science teacher Ben Chun launches a single-serving site called I learned to program... His "goal is to offer some insight for non-programmers (and especially pre-programmers!) into the wide range of people who know how to do this thing. We all got our start and learned our skills from a wide range of sources, for a wide range of reasons."

Most responses seem to fall under 3 categories:
Learning Method
watching my brothers make turtle graphics on the Apple II in my crib room.
Donovan Drane
because creating something useful where before there was nothing has to be the coolest thing in the world.
Hélène Martin
in a batch file using MS-DOS.
David Harris

Personally, I like the why responses the best. Take a look at some of the responses and add your own!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Schadenfreude Culture

Schadenfreude : From German Schadenfreude, from Schaden (“damage, harm”) + Freude (“joy”). Malicious enjoyment derived from observing someone else's misfortune.

A few years ago, as a new teacher armed with a freshly minted credential, I was too preoccupied with my instruction and my classroom management to put much thought about furniture arrangement and classroom setup. It meant that, sometimes during instruction, I stepped on and pushed aside cables in my work area as I moved about the room. They were out of the way of the kids so no one was in any danger ... except me. It's clear now that it was only a matter of time before my reflexes would be tested. I weaved my way through the clutter for at least a semester so it was a surprise to me when it finally happened. Fortunately, I was youngish and healthy so I took a few loud steps forward and avoided the fall. No face plant. No thud. Whew.

I was surprised and disappointed that some kids laughed at me. But for some reason, I didn't get upset or angry at the students or played a victim. I thought about "teaching" them a lesson about how inappropriate it is to laugh at other's misfortune. The Golden Rule crossed my mind. Instead, I walked up to the board and wrote Schadenfreude. I had them repeat it a few times and then I explained its meaning. I didn't tell them what they were supposed to learn. The students figured it out. It was at that moment that I knew I would make it as a teacher. I didn't catch a hint of it for the rest of the year, but I digress. Apparently the word/concept was so useful that students asked me about it several more times before the year ended.

Popularity of sites such as, the extensive collection of "fail" videos on YouTube (1.2 million by last count), and even 160 new tweets with the hashtag #fail in the time it took me to write the above paragraphs are signs of this schadenfreude culture.

Yes. Some are funny without being malicious, but my guess is that's probably not true of the intentions of the person clicking it hoping to have a laugh at the expense of someone else.

A more recent example is Rebecca Black's Friday. In the Nightline segment below, it's clear that schadenfreude was one of the main reasons for her rise to fame.

Starting about 2:57
Andrea Canning (Nightline reporter): Rebecca became a viral star.

Doree Shafrir (senior editor, Some people look at her and say why this girl? why did this girl make it and other people didn't. But I think she is cute and the video is kind of just silly enough that it seemed like she could maybe be in on the joke herself.

Andrea Canning: But it was when a comedy central blogger made fun of the song that it really took off.

Andrea Canning: When did you realize that things were really getting out of control.. that this video had gone viral?

Rebecca Black: Probably after seeing it go from four thousand views to seventy thousand views in one night and then waking up and then it was at two hundred thousand views that was when I realized this was going to be big.

Andrea Canning: But at first it was for all the wrong reasons. In fact, so many viewers and critics panned Friday it was dubbed the worst song ever.

Before I saw the Nightline segment, I caught Stephen Colbert singing Friday on Jimmy Fallon. Being a fan of Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon, I was a little worried that their stunt to raise money for DonorsChoose where Colbert would be "punished" by having to sing Friday on Fallon's show if Fallon also raised $26,000 would turn out to be a schadenfreudefest. It may be great for their shows but not so great for the girl. Somehow, they actually managed to turn it into something entertaining without the malice that I saw in some YouTube videos.

Lastly, here's a video that lifted my spirits the other day. In the middle of the national anthem, the mic goes out on a little girl. After a few laughs, the crowd joins in to support her. Kudos. Videos like this reinforce my faith in humanity. (Note: The owner of the video does not allow embedding, click on the picture below to go see it.)
How this applies to teaching and education is left as an exercise to the reader.

PS: Question for the ELA teachers! What's the adjectival form of this loan word? I've gotten schadenfreudal, schadenfreudian, schadenfreudic, and schadenfreudistic. The last one sounds more like a portmanteau with sadistic.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

AlgoRythmics - Sorting Algorithms as Folk Dances

Absolutely brilliant series of videos interpreting the various sorting algorithms using folk dance. Nice touch on the conventions for comparisons. The videos have no voice-over or distracting subtitles and are slow enough that you can show the video and comment on each of the steps in the algorithm while it is occurring. After a few steps, have students predict what will happen next (e.g. who will dance next and who will swap places).





You can find all of them at the AlgoRythmics YouTube channel. I'm hoping they find a way to get more of the popular sorting algorithms done.

(via Slashdot)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Mathy Comics - SMBC (Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal)

Just wanted to let my readers know about some of the mathy comics that I follow. One of my favorites is SMBC Comics (Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal). You can find many that I follow in my Blogroll.

Most of you who follow me on twitter or follow my Google Reader shared items probably already know about it. But did you know that some comics have hidden content/easter eggs? I think it was a month of following SMBC before I figured out that there's hidden content on each page. This is mostly because I added the RSS feed to my Google Reader and didn't see a need to click through. That plus the fact that I run firefox with noscript ensured that I wouldn't see it until I accidentally enabled scripts on SMBC. Be sure to click on the above picture to go to the SMBC site, then simply mouse over the red button after you've read the comic.

Mathy Comics
Mathy Comics - SMBC (Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal)
Mathy Comics - XKCD

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sum of Interior Angles

Posted here for fellow math teachers. Click on File then Save As to save a copy. Click Options followed by Rounding and selected the desired number of decimal places. Suggestions, comments, questions, and requests are welcome.

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