The NASW, Math ALIVE!, and Sprout

The NASW, Math ALIVE!, and SproutAs expected, March was a rather full month, with three mindfully notable happenings.

First, the NASW formally accepted my individual membership application (individual memberships are the only type of membership that they offer). This is a wonderfully welcome validation from my peers. It opens the door to useful collaboration with other NASW members, and earns me a right to an entry in the NASW’s Find A Writer database (here). And that database entry could help us to land more contracts.

Next, I’ve begun teaching a really nifty new math class at One Spark Academy, a class very much inspired by Seymour Papert’s Mindstorms. Papert is that rare person who is a true visionary, provably ahead of his time. Back in the 70’s and 80’s, he was frustrated with the way that educators were using new technology (computers) to do the same-old-same-old. He felt that with new tools, we could teach in fundamentally new ways. More specifically, he felt that we could use computers as supportive tools that would enable students to learn math, geometry, and procedurality in a more intuitive way at a younger age.

In my new class, Math ALIVE! (cue horror/zombie music), we combine simple mathematical operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) in complicated ways to create a working model of the solar system based on classical Newtonian mechanics. To do this, we use paper-and-pencil mathematics, mathematical roleplay, and MIT’s Scratch. With the right framing, Scratch is a transformative tool in just the way that Papert described, enabling students to learn advanced mathematics (systems of equations) in a more intuitive way at a younger age. Using Scratch, my students are creating math-powered animations that bring math alive!

FYI, you can find the first three Scratch tutorials here.

If this class goes well (and so far, it seems to be going well) I’d like to eventually write up the class (lectures, games, tutorials) as a maker-oriented book in the style of Sew Electric (and similar books). But that’s a big dream. First things first – make this class a success.

Last but not least, I’ve taken on a new volunteer project. Some of you already heard about this in the last behind-the-scenes Patron update. In short, I’m porting Sprout from Flash to Unity. Sprout is one of my favorite botanical games, and is an important part of our recently published Hands-On Botany lesson plans.

Sprout is written in Flash, and Flash is disappearing from the world, which means that Sprout is also disappearing from the world. In fact, it is already hard to play Sprout in Chrome, though you can still play it just fine in IE (weird). This seemed a terrible shame, so I reached out to Sprout’s creator (Jeff Nusz) and offered my help. He agreed, and we’re currently working on a port, with an optimistic release date of late April, and a more realistic release date of June.

Till next time,

Tim