When people mention that I use digital technology, I believe the comment is often returned with silence and a blank stare. This is often due to the fact that such comments seem to infer that I strive specifically to use such resources in my teaching. A focus in teaching is engagement. I teach mathematics, and many people find the word “math” and “engagement” in the same sentence to be describing an experience they have yet to encounter. I find a variety of teaching techniques (digital and otherwise) help reach a wide spectrum of students with their differing interests, preferred learning styles, and background knowledge.
Given this is an unconference for digital technology in the humanities, my place as a mathematician may seem to involve an attempt to fit a square (I’m the square) in a round hole (you are well-rounded). This may or may not be a fair, general assessment of my field. Fortunately, we can pivot quickly from this point and move in a different direction. I tend to learn more as an artist then a mathematician. I have professional training in both puppetry and mime and use both (although currently more my mime than puppetry) to teach math. Initially a surprise to me, mathematicians love seeing their world of thought visualized in the invisible world of mime. In a way, the mime makes the invisible world of math visible. For those who describe themselves as non-mathematicians, a performing art, like digital technology, can present ideas in a new format, possibly allowing for a new perspective and insight.
My current interests lie in several directions. First, I’m a contributing writer/blogger for the Huffington Posts’ Science blog. I’m very interested, especially in this format, in finding innovative ways to present math. You can see an example of my mime and how I folded it into a posting in my article To Hold Infinity and Beyond.
Next, I’ve been working on webinars this term. I have 7 colleges participating with about 70 participants consisting of both professors and students. To see an example of my first webinar in which I discuss how ideas from algebra can help you play Angry Birds, you can visit Algebra and Angry Birds webinar. Or you can see the entire webinar project at Life is Linear. Next week, we will be posting “posters” of our respective explorations in the topics.
While I’m interested in ideas related to either of these activities in scholarship, my overarching interest is how to have students engage in creating digital resources. Can students produce webinars that are helpful to others and satisfying to the students who produced them? I’d like to have students both math major and non-math major (by this I mean a student in what is likely his or her last math class taken as a distribution requirement) produce webinars. The webinars would be viewed by children and youth. If you had to engage a child or youth about math, what would you do? Many students will find themselves in this position at a dinner table with their own or a friend’s child. How can I help students learn to produce such media? think about tackling such a project? be comfortable enough with the process that their energies are engaged creatively rather than technically in the steps of production? My main fear is throwing students into a digital sea too turbulent for them to swim or even float. I have no experience with creating videos using iMovie or other software. Is it easy? If so, can someone help me? How can students learn? What type of commitment is necessary in helping them learn?
Finally, I’m interested in having students create cartoons of math concepts. You can read more about this idea at Comic in Calculus. This is very new for me but an idea that attracts me. Creating such cartoons requires a student to examine material in a new way, think about how to be cute or funny about a concept, and then create a cartoon. What can I do to support the creation of such art works? I don’t mind simply having them draw them by hand. Still, I wonder about other techniques.
These are interests that I have but engaging in them is not what pulls me to attend our THATCamp. This posting merely describes my starting spot from which I can be propelled into places of inspiration as I learn from the work and innovations of others.