Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Teacher Me Envies Knitter Me

The new Knitty came out today. Knitty is the online knitting magazine that has been my go-to for patterns, techniques, and inspiration since in high school.  The arrival of a new issue is a drop-everything-and-take-an-hour-to-enjoy event.

First click, the patterns. My ritual takes me through each of then before I savor the columns. I'll imagine the possibilities and move back to the work I was doing before.

Today I noticed a change in my routine. As I'm going through patterns, I am clicking a bookmarklet in my toolbar "Ravel This." 

Ravelry is the social networking site for yarn people. That bookmarklet takes me to the site. If the pattern is already in the system (and everything I've clicked for it is) I'll go to the main page for the pattern. I can save the pattern to my favorites. Add it to my queue. Cast on and put it on my projects page.

I can see other projects from the same designer. See what other people are saying about the project. Find other people who like the project. Read blog posts from people who are making the project. Look at their photos. See their ratings. Easy or Hard? Heart or Ugh? Examine revised versions of the pattern.


When I bought sock yarn over Christmas, I entered it in my stash. I can browse projects others knit with the yarn. Buy extra from someone if I didn't have enough. Ask questions on the discussion boards. Or in one of the groups I'm in. Or by messaging one of my friends.

Where's the equivalent site for teachers? 

There are so many lesson planning libraries. Resourcing sharing sites. Wikis. Nings. TFA has one, but requires I downgrade my Firefox and is exclusive to TFA people. (I'm not comfortable with that.) 

I want the place I default to be THE place where teachers go online. To have access to all the conversations. So that when I add new slides to Dan Meyer's Geometry Curriculum I can upload them, write a quick comment, and know that anyone who looks at that week can see my revised version without changing the original for anyone. Or when I'm looking for a lesson on exponents, I don't end up looking through the variety of folders on my computer: "from Dan Greene," "from Kate, "from Nick," "from Sam," "Dan Greene Algebra 2"... I want to click the tags. Search within them. Browse a few links and be inspired. 

Please tell me where I'm supposed to go.

(Though I feel like if I haven't found my site, it's not THE site yet. Take my ideas and run. Alternatively, I'm still flexible in my plans this summer. If someone is good at web programming, I'm willing to think more about design.)


H. said...

Fascinating. A friend (co-teacher at San Quentin) introduced me to Ravelry a year ago, and I was intrigued by a pattern for knitted trilobites, but otherwise I haven't been bitten by the crafts bug. It does seem strange, though, that knitters would have a more developed online forum than math teachers. It doesn't seem right.

Allison said...

I don't know if she'd be up for it, but you might consider talking to Meg.

Kate said...

Teacher me envies knitter you, too.

I think you hit on a key point, which is that you use ravelry to organize all YOUR stuff, as well as gather and share ideas. It's an organizer and a communicator.

I'd be happy with some tool that just organized my own stuff that was better than documents in hierarchical windows folders, but that's what I got. I'm partying like it's 1995. I have the web stuff loosely nailed down between delicious and google reader. Though it's like nailing jello to a wall.

So now I'm going to be a pessimist and talk about all the obstacles -

1. format. I can't tell how patterns are posted on ravelry, but if we are talking about teachers' materials, we are looking at a healthy mix of windows and mac, with lots of people using smart notebook but lots of people not. In what format would materials be shared?

2. money. A quality website of this sort would take some dedicated programmers. Maybe some dual-talented teacher/programmers could get it going over the summer. Maybe. I wonder what richskyline is doing this summer. I think if there was something really great and compelling, some districts might pay for access, but social networking is a critical mass thing, and to get an adequate number of people onboard it's going to have to be free, or at least have some level of free access.

I don't knit but I'm tempted to join ravelry just to see how it works! I am very intrigued. Something analagous for math teachers would be amazing. Thats for this very thought provoking post.

Mr. D said...

I have Firefox and have no problem getting onto any TFA website--but that's just me.

One of my colleague created an elective class weaving math and knitting (pun definitely intended!). It's awesome to watch them knit and think about the patterns that emerge. This is a great idea!

Mary said...

Hi - I'm a knitter and a teacher too. I am not a mathematician, but I'm teaching a new math class at our charter school - using knitting as a forum for concrete math. If you or anybody has ideas or suggestions for me, well, I'd be thrilled. Thanks.

Sarah Cannon said...

Briefly before I leave town for the weekend.

H. It fascinates me how quickly knitting and crochet groups created their niches online. I taught myself to knit from a Columbia-Minerva magazine my Grandmother passed down and the internet. That was 10 years ago. Five years ago Newsweek's articles about blogs would mention knitters. Now, I'm writing about them web 2.0 style.

Allison and Kate Very wary of the enormity of this project.

There are so many sites out there. I believe there are people trying to make our lives easier. But I'm like Kate--Delicious, Google Reader, and Finder on my Mac are my friends. Whenever one of my favorite math bloggers posts a lesson, I download and file. (Except some of Sam's Calculus lessons. I can't pretend I'll use them anytime soon.) I try to give myself enough of a description when I tag an item that I'll be able to search for it later. It usually works, but there are times when I forget something I marked 3 months ago until the day after a lesson.

Which is exactly what you point out with Ravelry's personal organization. When I mark an item as a favorite, I can add my own tags for future findings. I can reorder projects in my queue. In my ideal teacher site, there would be some calendar function to help with long-term plans--oddly a feature not yet in the knitting version.

So concerns. Because I have a lot of them too.

We’re sharing in a ton of versions now, I don’t see the need to change. Though it would be beneficial if this site had large amounts of storage available for people to upload and share without navigating filesharing services. Also handy to have a PDF-Word converter link lying around.

Ravelry allows people to post projects with or without patterns available. If it’s online, there’s a link to it. That includes webpages and PDFs. Free and to order. If it’s in a book, here’s the Amazon page. If it’s in an out-of-print-book here’s the title and author. (More in the personal organizing, under the my notebook tab there’s a library page. You can add books, magazines, booklets, PDF files. Mark the ones you’ve used. Say if there are ones needed for future projects.)

Which bring me to the money hurdle. I’m not a business person, this is the part of the plan I worry about the most. I’m more willing to buy something after I’ve seen a sample. Even more so if other people are using it and discussing it. Surely there are companies--textbook or worksheet sites or something--that could advertise. Or some foundation can take it on. I will say, I probably won’t sign up for the site if I have to pay. Just one more hurdle to jump through. But if I start using it and love it, I might donate to it. Maybe?

While I obviously want this for math teachers, I don’t see a need to limit it to any subject or grade level. As you say, social networking sites need a critical mass. Maybe the English Teacher Ning is enough for them, but I’d be happy to share with everyone. Just one more button in the bio.

Or again, there are sites out there trying to get us to use them. But now the more time I spend visualizing my dream site, the less happy I am with the options I see. I’m not going to make this happen on my own, but if I give voice to a vision something might happen.

I think you’re right though that it’s a teacher/designer team effort. It’s how the knitting websites get going. Summer set-up would be intense, but hopefully set on good ground for the fall.

By all means look at the screenshot tour. Sign up just to explore. At least if you’re still interested when the invite arrives. (Downside of the site is it does take a few days to get off the waiting list.)

Mr. D Are you running Firefox 2? That’s what the error messages always tell me to go to. This fall I signed up to be a super-user for the new Resource Exchange, but dropped out after the frustration of technical difficulties. I should check it out again, but it’s an example of a site that I want so much MORE from. Starting with access available to everyone who's already commented here.

Mr. D and Mary I love the idea of integrating math into knitting projects and vice versa. But right now it just screams, “Another prep!” at me. I’m a fan of sharing because I don’t have time to do all of my preps justice as it is….

Superbrief brainstorm of ideas: resizing patterns, taking gauge, hyperbolic geometry, and this comic.

All Again, thanks for your responses. I’m off to bed. I’ll be back at the end of the weekend. Hope you have a good one.

Kevin said...

Sounds like a good idea, but I wonder about the cost to create it. There isn't the same advertising stream that knitting has.

Also, there were excellent knitting communities (magazines, stores, kitting circles, ...) even before the web existed. Math teacher communities were *much* rarer (even the natural unit, schools, often had no sharing between teachers). If people can't create communities when they see each other frequently, it is much harder to see how critical mass needed for an online community will happen.

Kevin said...

I've been thinking a lot about this and I think there are a number of problems. (1) There isn't going to be a site for all teachers in the US. There will always be alternatives and alternatives to those alternatives and we get the present system. Thousands of websites. (2) Hosting files costs money (on the server side) so that is a limiting factor. (3) Different states/regions have different curriculae/standards.

I've been working on developing a local solution. Starting with school systems, or regions within in a state. A website where you don't host documents. A website organized by content (though cross referenced). If you have recently had a good experience with an activity for exponents you could post something and tag it with various labels like "Exponents" and any others that apply. The key is that there would be a way for other teachers to contact you about this material if they wanted more details. Other teachers could also add labels, vote on it and add comments. But the key is that all those things: votes and comments would not be visible unless requested. We need a really clean, easy to nagivate website. By not hosting documents you reduce the strain, server side, and you encourage networking. Other teachers, who use the material could offer themselves up as a potential contact.

Just rough ideas that I'm thinking about. But I think its important to start at the local level. Instead of searching the entire country for that great idea, maybe there's a teacher 20 miles away who has a great lesson on rational functions.

These local sites could, in practice, be built up into regional collections or state collections, like legos attached together. But given the inability of the web to produce any sort of central clearinghouse of education I think we should start small. Get local involvement and build our resources and networks there and then try scaling up. Scaling up won't be any harder as its just a matter of searching tags and keywords and with any luck there are more and more contacts (kind of like having a lot of download mirrors).

Any other ideas? You're right, we need something other than just browsing. We get lucky on a occasion and stumble across people like Kate or Dan but I think we need a simpler system for the many staff across the country that are less techy.



Kevin said...

P.S. another aspect I imagine (to keep cost down) is to not try to recreate a Facebook for education. But keep this as an interactive database of discussed/ranked/commented lesson ideas.

Again (I reread some of the comments) I think its important to NOT post documents. They will end up sitting there forever, long after support for file extensions has expired. The ability to contact the person (without necessarily being able to see their contact info) would be key. That person may have updated the idea, tweaked it, may be using a different technology, but never got around to reposting the updated documents. Get to the source.



Sarah Cannon said...

Ken, I've been thinking about your suggestions. and apologize for the much delayed response. New rule for self: don not post something you're excited about discussing before you leave town for the last weekend in the quarter.

Teaching in an high-turnover rural location pushed me to look online for a network in a way I probably would not have elsewhere. I feel more connected to experienced math teachers nationally than locally, largely because at my school I am considered an experienced teacher. A solution of sharing locally and then scaling up, wouldn’t reach me for a while.

Yeah, standards are different. H and Kate discovered how amorphous Algebra II is. But even if I don’t know how the standards are phrased, even though New York has standards that California doesn’t and South Dakota barely defines them, tags and labels can make content navigable.

I’ve been poking around the updated TFA site and Curriki. I picked the upcoming topic of inequalities. Haven’t downloaded anything yet. I’ve found some materials, but a title doesn’t give me enough information. I think we agree that part of what’s needed is a system for sharing ideas and finding a way to help developed ideas evolve.

Just like the 5-star rating on Amazon, seeing people’s basic reactions to a pattern on Ravelry helps me select which ones to open for further inspection. I agree that other comments should be hidden from an initial search page, but I think ratings help the good stuff become visible.

I can respect not hosting documents, but I prefer the idea of sharing materials somewhere to sharing ideas and contact information. Maybe it’s because of the turnover here, but I think support for file extensions will exist longer than many people will be able to support the lesson plan. I do want a preview of an idea before I download anything. But, let’s be honest, when I’m prepping for four classes there are plenty of days when I’m working at the last minute. I don’t want to contact someone asking about a lesson idea only to find out they’re no longer teaching Algebra/Geometry/Calculus. I want to see everything I can about it and adapt it for what I need the next morning. If it goes really well, really horribly, or even just mediocrely, it makes sense to record those thoughts so that I remember next year and others can continue to build on the idea in the meantime.

There will be lessons that people tweak without telling what they did. People will update materials and not upload them. But having a system that connects generations of an idea would encourage me to post my edits.

Thanks for pushing me to think more about this. School shouldn’t be as crazy in the coming weeks, so hopefully I’ll be better able to keep up my end of conversation.



PS Let me know if you want me to e-mail you my username and password for Ravelry for a week.