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Monthly Archives: January 2013

Lunch Dates: Vi Hart

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This is the second entry in the section of people I want to have lunch with because they’re interesting or just tickle my fancy.

Vi Hart (and her old page of videos here and her Khan Academy page here) is a self-described mathemusician. You might have noticed that she’s already in my list of “Science and Math links” on this page.

I think this was the first of her videos that I watched. They often start with, “So suppose you’re sitting in math class…”

Math is interesting?? And utilitarian? What a concept!

Actually, utility is kind off-topic. At least, at first. Ms. Hart always finds a way to quickly touch on the actual usage (or at least, a cool pattern trick) that the particular concept can be used for.

She’s fascinating to watch! Even non-mathy people enjoy her videos, at least for the silly sense of humor, if not for the content as a whole. The thing that makes Vi Hart’s videos so appealing is that the fast-paced, nearly-stream-of-consciousness topicality of brain-wanderings is so addictive and relate-able. You know that a non-engaged-in-math-class mind could definitely traipse along this particular path (or many others, and you could almost imagine Ms. Hart illustrating those too). Plus, many of them are drawn almost entirely in Sharpies (maybe that just appeals to my desire for order and permanency and non-smearing lines).

Wait, what’s this got to do with the music part of “mathemusician”? Oh, something like this:

And here are some of her other music links.

There’s actually quite a bit of info about Ms. Hart’s history and video-making-process already online. So, what else would I like to know? Things I might ask her during lunch, when I’m not too busy watching her dissect her plate’s contents into patterns and/or series:

  • Why did you start making videos?
  • What’s the deal with the Sharpies?
  • Do you think of your videos as educational, or are they more of musings to you (or something else entirely)?
  • Do you want to eventually teach people in person?
  • How is working for Khan Academy different from making your own videos?
  • You like math, you like music, you like art (or at least crafty patterny things)… is there something totally different you want to try?
  • Do you think we should do away with divisions of subject matters, like separate “art” and “math” and “science” classes, or do they have a value?
  • What do you think about STEM education that’s all the rage?
  • What kinds of math do you think school kids need to know, and what should they also learn?
  • Is there something you think the American education system is missing or missing out on?
  • Why do you think videos and YouTube are so popular now for education?
  • If you weren’t making these types of movies, what do you think you’d be doing?

On Setting Goals

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W. Clement Stone said something along the lines of, “Always aim for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” But, humans have been to the moon already, and haven’t been to the stars. What’s next?

What’s an appropriate goal, and what’s just dreaming? Is dreaming really all that bad? Or does dreaming create the next reality?

Perhaps dreaming leads to inspiration, which leads to reality. Reality seems, to me, to be a pretty good goal.

So what’s a good goal for obtaining teachers? Obviously, we want our teachers to be good! No,no… the best! And the smartest in their respective fields. And they should be personable and save our kids from harm (like Jaime Escalante and Erin Gruwell). And they should work hard and get our kids good grades.

How do you measure the readiness of teachers? The same way we measure our students: with standardized tests! How much does a standardized test tell you about the dreaming, the inspirational and aspirational thinking of a teacher? What does it mean for a teacher to dream, and I don’t mean, “gee, I really want a good class of kids this year,” but “what kinds of resources and materials can I get for my students next week?”

Perhaps teachers can fade out all together? After all, the internet makes information cheap and ubiquitous!

Is the internet as a teacher any different from being taught by robots? Is it any different from being taught by an inflexible teacher? Does being taught by the internet mean that every child will learn what they need to know, or what they want to know, or what they’re required to watch? Arguably, the information is out there already, just waiting for someone to access it. But why don’t they? Why don’t we?

Perhaps this is really more of a motivation thing. I mean, news sources now (sadly, fairly routinely) get the news wrong, when what journalism traditionally required was finding and vetting sources. The internet and nearly-instant communication systems have made it easy to disseminate information and misinformation with blinding speed. CNN and Fox News both got the health care ruling wrong initially. Wikipedia has an entire entry dedicated to premature obituaries. The Onion was taken seriously.

How do we teach our kids (even if they don’t watch news anymore) that they should verify sources of information instead of just Googling for the first hit?

AND, how does this allow kids to dream? If all information seemingly exists online, how can you help a kid to think and imagine something altogether new?