Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Working from Home: Physical Setup

Many people are shifting to working from home. As they do, I see lots of people are shifting from working from their couches to setting up make-shift work spaces. Here are some tips that could help:

  1. Consider designing your space so you can stand at your desk periodically. It's a nice change of pace for your back. I have a pretty cheap Ikea desk with a motor that raises and lowers it, but you can also get a Varidesk or use milk crates or something similar.
  2. Get up and walk every hour or so. Do a quick chore or check the mail or something.
  3. Keep hydrated. If you use normal-sized drinking glasses, this can dovetail nicely with #2.
  4. If you start to get pain in your arms or fingers, invest in a wireless curved keyboard. I use a Microsoft Sculpt and love it.
  5. Setup your chair, desk, monitor, etc. so they are ergonomically sound. Mayo Clinic has some advice on office ergonomics
  6. Not everyone can locate their home office in a separate room like I can. Still, you need a space, and you should find a way to physically check in and out of "the office." When I started working from home, my space was in the family room attached to our kitchen. Not ideal, but it's all I could do at the time. To check in and out of the office, I would turn the monitor off. Though I could still check and reply to emails on my phone, having the computer/monitor off helped me set a boundary.

Pay attention to your physical work space. If you don't take care of your body, it will punish you.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Helping Your Kids Keep Learning: Math

As many school districts close for the remainder of the academic year, many parents are struggling with several issues:
  1. If the teacher isn't doing much, what should I have my kid(s) do?
  2. What are some good resources for math curriculum?
  3. What are some good resources for math help?

What Matters Most?

A: Not losing ground. Studies show that students lose a fair amount of ground in the summer. Imagine a summer that lasts 5 months instead of 2.5! Therefore, I really care about progress. Get them to do something that is close to grade-appropriate. I just don't want them to forget how to do math.

B: Being ready. This is tougher to do, but if a student is taking a course now that has foundational content for next year's course, then I care about those foundational skills and concepts. The trick is identifying those key things. Achieve the Core has really helpful Focus documents for each grade. Look for the solid green squares. These are particularly helpful for anyone in a Common Core state. It's not always so easy to identify the key foundation content, so you might need to reach out to a teacher or curriculum person for guidance. One of the important things to keep in mind is that not everything is critical. You don't need to jam it all in there. Pick and choose carefully.

C: Liking math. If your approach to being ready results in a student who hates math, then you've created problem. I know this is tough, but you need to find a way to keep them moving forward that doesn't spoil whatever affinity they have for math. Not losing ground is more important than being ready, and liking math is perhaps most important.

Math Curriculum Resources

If you are pretty much on your own for helping your kid move forward with math, consider going to UnboundEd and/or OpenUp. They have solid content with good focus, rigor, and coherence. Please avoid entering the wild west that is Teachers Pay Teachers. TPT has a ton of issues I won't go into, but suffice it to say that I'm not a fan.

Math Help

What if you or your student gets stuck on some math topic? Note that this is really different need (and set of solutions) from the curriculum focus above.
  1. If you haven't checked Khan Academy, you haven't done a serious search. I would not use this as a curriculum, but the videos can help a learner get over a bump in the road.
  2. BrainPop is another good source of videos. There are a ton of others, and you can find many at OER Commons.
  3. Friends and family could help. Who do you know that is good at math? They are likely sitting at home, and would be happy to help and interact with someone new. Lean on your network!
Progress is important, but don't stress anyone out. The current state of affairs is inherently stressful, and math shouldn't be part of the problem. I hope math can be part of the solution -- doing some math work could fit as part of a new daily structure that provides some semblance of consistency and normalcy. 

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Novel Coronavirus & COVID-19: Data, Models, and Visualizations

This is not intended to be a complete analysis of the current pandemic. Rather, I just want a place to collect some particularly helpful articles and resources.

About the Models

Why It’s So Freaking Hard To Make A Good COVID-19 Model Creating a math model for something as complex as infectious disease is not easy, but COVID-19 is particularly difficult. Fivethirtyeight.com does a nice job of walking through many of the reasons that creating good models for it has been (and continues to be) so challenging.

Don’t Believe the COVID-19 Models -- That’s not what they’re for is The Atlantic's attempt to get people to understand the nature of modeling.

Data Visualizations

Coronavirus Infographic Datapack by Information Is Beautiful is my go-to spot for nice graphs. The first one uses a log scale, and is a great example of when and why log scales are so helpful for making sense of exponential phenomena. Basically, anything that looks like a line is experiencing exponential growth. The steeper the line, the faster the rate of exponential growth.

Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count is from the New York Times.

Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases at Johns Hopkins' Center for Systems Science and Engineering was the first tool I used to track the virus' spread. I still find it helpful for digging into geographic centers.

The Blog Awakens

As we all come to grips with a new normal, lots of things that seemed really stable have shifted. Working in offices, going to school, hanging out with friends, and grabbing an Americano at my local coffee shop have either been eliminated or drastically changed.

Lots of these changes have pulled many people closer to my daily reality and experience. I've worked from home for several years, develop curriculum for distance learning, and have an active virtual network of friends. I miss getting an Americano and hanging out at my local coffee shop, but less of my life has had to shift than for many people (e.g., my wife and kids).

I'm awakening the blog so I can opine at some length about topics that could possibly be of interest or value to people who are trying to forge a new normal.

Merit and Diversity in College Admissions

The recent Supreme Court ruling against race-conscious university admissions has everyone thinking about racism, privilege, equity, merit, ...