You probably Googled this

I’ve had this blog since November of 2012, about three and a half years. WordPress.com very kindly offers me a bunch of interesting statistics, and today I noticed a trend in the “Referrer” area.

There are a bunch of referrers, but the top two are always “Twitter” and “Search Engine”, like this result from May 2015:

Referrer

The Trend

Here are the annual statistics since the blog started:

Year Search Engine Referrals Twitter Referrals
2012 12 53
2013 653 637
2014 5893 1281
2015 (to date) 4056 318

There’s about a 90% chance that you arrived here via search engine.

The Why

First, I don’t tweet out links to old stuff very often. If you followed a Twitter link to get here, it was probably new content. Old stuff is always available by search engine. I think think is the most important reason.

Second, I’m not as active this year as I have some other priorities. I’m not as well connected with the rest of the province. The blog is more intermittent.

Last, a lot of people are searching for my blog, not just “assessment in math” or some other topic. So the search engine referrals are both intentional and incidental visitors.

I find this interesting to think about, although I don’t imagine it’ll change how I do anything.

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Neat-o stats from my blog for 2014

I wrote 106 blog posts in 2014, or about two per week. The actual number is higher, but I wrote a bunch of drafts that are either living in the trash folder or shivering in the drafty darkness, and I removed one post from public view.

I like writing on my blog. I write here to think, to share, to socialize, to converse, to have fun, and to avoid getting down to work.

It’s interesting to look back on the last year’s posts and see what I did, and how it was received.

For instance, the blog received about 11,000 views this year, up from about 3000 in 2013.

My Favourites

When I flipped through the list of post titles, these are the ones that I remember liking more than others, or that I thought were important. They’re mostly about education, but not all. Not stats, exactly, but still neat-o.

That’s nine posts; not one of those arbitrary numbers we call “round”, but still a nice number.

All-Time Greatest Hits

I find the most-accessed-posts list interesting. I always wonder whether the readers were “satisfied”: whether they got what they were expecting or wanting.

You can read my entire blog just by scrolling on the homepage, but these are links that were clicked directly:

Because three of these were written in the last 14 months (interesting, eh?), those are also the top three posts of 2014.

Other Neat-o Stats

I wrote the most posts in April (31), mostly because of NaPoWriMo.

I had the most views during November (1476).

Views-per-visitor is fairly consistent, usually around 1.4 posts per day (including the homepage).

Canadian and US visitors accounted for the vast majority of the views, with nearly equal numbers of each. This is an increase in the proportion of US visitors. The next three countries are the UK, India, and Australia.

Apparently Akismet has protected my site from 18,147 spam comments already. Neat-o. This means about 1.9% of comments are legitimate, and 1.3% of comments are legitimate and not written by me.

Search Engine Terms Used

When people use search engines and find my blog, the terms used are sometimes logged. The most frequently-occurring term is brandon grasley (surprise!). Many times it’s spelled incorrectly (grasely is common), and happily there are few capitals used (Grasley is the same as grasley according to Google, after all). Some of the more interesting searches that landed people here were:

  • how to build an igloo out of legos
  • importance of laptop to rural school pupils when teaching
  • “i didn’t publish it because i thought
  • technial skill the least inportant, why
  • tired of being the go-to-guy
  • how long can a 500 g brick of cheese last
  • email id of people who create a cover for novel
  • can i read kindle comics on chunky

and my personal favourite:

  • a lot of brandons who are on facebook or twitter

Neat-o, eh?

Any cool stats from your blog?

My Unresponsive Course

You have me thinking again, Mr. Peterson. Today it’s with your post, “You Need to Be Responsive“.

My own blogs are responsive and so they display well on multiple device types.

My blog on a computer browser.

My blog on a computer browser.

My blog on a phone browser.

My blog on a phone browser.

Students tell me they like the theme (The Suits Theme) on my class blog; they say it looks professional.

The class blog in a computer browser.

The class blog in a computer browser.

The class blog on a phone browser.

The class blog on a phone browser.

However my e-learning course is less responsive. There is a mobile interface which becomes active when you use mobile device, but there are a couple of components on my course homepage which only appear using the desktop interface (custom widgets with links to the Padlet and the YouTube playlist for the course). Some course tools aren’t available in this view (e.g. the Checklist Tool).

My course homepage on a computer browser.

My course homepage on a computer browser.

Course homepage in the mobile view.

Course homepage in the mobile view.

Tools in the mobile view.

Tools in the mobile view.

What’s more, I have created quite a few PDF files for the programming concepts in the course. These files, because they are paginated, are not responsive.

PDF in a mobile browser

PDF in a mobile browser – portrait

PDF in a mobile browser - landscape

PDF in a mobile browser – landscape

Honestly, I don’t remember considering that issue when finally deciding to use PDFs. Since students are coding on computers anyway perhaps it doesn’t matter that much. And other stuff, like news and discussions, are mobile-friendly.

But I’ve unintentionally made it difficult for them to use small, mobile devices to keep up with the “text” part of the course (i.e. when they’re not actively programming). I do have a lot of video on there, which is (I think) fairly accessible.

I’ll have to think about whether it’s worth fixing the responsiveness of those PDFs.

My students like the class blog (phew!)

I reminded my MDM4U students to visit our class blog today as I had posted a video this morning with solutions to some questions from class. I was pleased to hear that a few students have been heading there regularly. I played a bit of the video on the screen so they would understand what it was like, and then I asked for input about the sorts of resources they would like me to post.

First, most students want to have the videos. They’re nothing magical; they’re just me solving some problems on paper. A couple of students said they like the idea of being able to rewind me (since that’s hard to do live, in class).

Second, a few students also want a text format of some kind (a blog post, a PDF file, or something like that). I understand that; it’s faster if you just need a short bit of explanation. It takes a lot longer to type out a solution, but I could always write one and take a photo, I suppose.

The third response I took away was that posting videos like this is unusual in their experience, and they appreciate the extra effort on my part. Several students seemed to understand how much extra work goes into creating these supplementary resources, so that was nice.

At some point I’m hoping to post more student work for them to learn from instead of creating everything myself. I think they’ll learn a lot from doing it, and then a lot from each other. Videos would be awesome…

I care a lot about their success, and I’m hoping to give my students a better-than-average chance at being great at this stuff. A lot of the responsibility lies with them, but I’ll remove as many barriers to their learning as I can. I’m glad to hear that my work on the blog is being well-received.

Teachers DO care, Seth Godin

Seth Godin wrote a blog post yesterday which has been making the rounds in education circles. It’s called “Good at math”, and in it Seth makes a very good point in the first paragraph:

It’s tempting to fall into the trap of believing that being good at math is a genetic predisposition, as it lets us off the hook. The truth is, with few rare exceptions, all of us are capable of being good at math.

He’s right, without question. Most people are capable of becoming “good at math” the way most people are capable of becoming “good at reading” or almost anything else.

The problem with math education, he argues, is that there has been a focus on memorizing formulae in math classes instead of on the important stuff (I’m assuming he means modelling, problem solving, critical thinking, etc.). In particular, he says standardized tests are useless.

Before you continue, please understand that I agree with Seth. I agree that math education has been unbalanced in favour of rote learning and memorization, sometimes to the exclusion of problem solving and critical thinking, and is divorced from real-world, relevant application.

But one sentence in his post is really galling to me. One point he makes, almost casually, that has prompted this post.

He says,

It’s because you haven’t had a math teacher who cared enough to teach you math.

Again, I agree that the focus has been wrong, and that math education has been largely ineffective. But that’s not for lack of caring on the part of teachers.

Teachers are among the most caring people on the planet. We work like dogs, struggling beside our students, coaching, cajoling, encouraging, pleading. We can’t sleep for thinking about how to improve for the next day. Teachers agonize over their students misunderstandings, apathy, home lives, social problems, mental state, self-esteem, literacy, and all other aspects of their beings. We are charged with developing tomorrow’s citizens and we take it very seriously.

But it’s true that not all teachers are exemplary. Not every class is equally “engaging”. Teachers don’t all have the same arsenal of strategies at their disposal. We disagree about assessment, behaviour management, instructional paradigms, big ideas, learning goals,… pretty much everything, actually. There is little consensus among teachers.

Except for one thing: we care. We want the best for our students. We want to be better at our work.

So why has ineffective math education persisted for so long?

  • there is a cycle of successful math students becoming math teachers (this is true in every subject area, not just math)
  • it’s hard to employ new strategies
  • it’s hard to find mentors who have effective practices and can coach
  • there are approximately a bazillion other demands which take away from instructional practice, including other system- and school-level priorities

That’s a lot of reasons/excuses, but there are solutions.

Teachers must become aware that there are ways to improve their instructional practice. Some folks believe that the hard work is figuring out how to ensure compliance from students. “If only they would [insert good learning behaviour] then they would be successful” is a common statement. Developing this awareness requires exposure to better methods, whether through direct observation or other sharing.

Teachers need time and “permission” to try strategies which are new to them. Fitting everything into a math course is really challenging. Now ask a teacher to “take chances” with several lessons. It’s hard to convince people to try something new when you can’t promise it’ll work. In my experience, the best way to make the case is to remind them that what they’re doing now is only working for their strongest students anyway. That time spent “experimenting” can be gained back in the form of increased student understanding and skill.

School leaders need to encourage and support teacher learning in dramatic and meaningful ways. Make co-planning a priority. Visit classrooms. Learn about effective math instruction so that you can have rich conversations with your math teachers. Finding the time to develop as a school leader is possibly the most difficult task I’ve mentioned.

Seth’s blog post seems to have been aimed at the general public, reminding us that numeracy is as crucial as literacy, and that we have been damaged by narrow, ineffective teaching practices. That is a great message, and one that I think most people are hearing in his words. His claim that it’s because teachers don’t care is ridiculous.

LaTeX in WordPress

I assumed I would have to pay fees, get a plugin, or use WordPress.org in order to have math rendered in my blog posts. Not so.

Details are at http://en.support.wordpress.com/latex/, but here’s a sample:

f\left(x\right)=\frac{5}{2}cos(x-\pi)+\frac{1}{2}

Nice, eh? It renders an image and puts the \LaTeX in the ALT tag. I love it.

7 Must-Have Title Elements For Your Blog Post

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend among bloggers which seems to have spread from traditional media (i.e. newspapers). It’s the attempt to garner readers by using carefully-crafted titles (formerly headlines). Readership isn’t a bad thing; My ego and I like it when people read my blog. Crafting titles carefully isn’t bad either.

The problem arises when hyperbole and dishonesty win out over the truth when post titles are written. It’s a disease in traditional media, it’s infected online news outlets, and bloggers are succumbing as well.

Look at the title of this post. Did you come here because you often read my blog? Because you’re looking for some tips for better writing? Because I used a number, 7 (I’ve heard this is weirdly effective)? Or, to my horror, because I said these are “must-have” elements?

Well, I lied. I don’t have 7 must-have elements for your blog post title. I do have 4 suggestions for you to consider when writing a title, and I think they’re important to me as a reader of blogs, but I won’t say they’re “must-have”. Nor is nearly anything else you read about on the Interwebs. Unless those “must-have” items include food, water, heat, or WiFi.

Be honest about your post’s topic

Don’t try to trick me into reading your post. I won’t be happy with you if you do that. I might not come back. It particularly bothers me when people use current events to draw readership for tenuously-connected topics.

Don’t be overly cryptic

Titles like “You won’t believe what Jenny told Doug about educational technology today!” might tap curiosity, but you haven’t said much about the actual contents of the post. If it’s about ed tech and assessment, you should say so. The sample title here will be hard to find or interpret later.

Don’t oversell

Saying “must-have”, “essential”, “wicked”, “original”, or “frosted” doesn’t make your content these things. If you apply a descriptor like this, you’d better deliver.

Remember why

If you’re an educator you’re not blogging to sell a product; you’re blogging to share your thinking and spark conversation. Make sure your title is about your post, not about getting hits.