EP 161: Optimizing Schools with the Canvas Learning Management System

Rarely do we take the time to consider the invisible digital platforms that make schools run seamlessly — the technology allows students to stay on top of grades, classes, and homework. These Learning Management Systems have grown in quantity and quality as of late as schools and universities attempt to digitize everything. In this episode, we spoke with Hilary Scharton, VP of Product Strategy for K-12 at Instructure, to discuss their Canvas Learning Management System.

Canvas began when two graduate students looked at the LMS their institution was currently using and decided it was terrible — the company Instructure was subsequently born and the Canvas product developed and released with it.

Canvas aims to bring to life the ideal one-on-one, individualized learning experience that has proven to be the most successful for students. Through Canvas, teachers can give students personalized content, including tests and assignments, based on students’ past results. Whenever students receive a grade, teachers can decide what kinds of assignments and curriculum to provide students based on their grades. This can all be completed automatically by Canvas.

They want to centralize information and cut down the number of unused, unnecessary products that schools and districts purchase but never implement by providing everything on one central platform. This way, the product actually gets used instead of being left idle. Part of this includes their connections with content companies and textbooks, allowing students to access that content from Canvas. They can also communicate with teachers and see assignments and tests so that everything is based on Canvas, easy to access and easy to use.

Canvas today, seven years after its initial launch, now has over 3,000 users ranging from individual schools to entire states. In total, it serves millions of students and is continuing to grow. It’s adoptable, adaptable, and reliable.

To learn more about Canvas LMS and Instructure’s other products, Gauge and Arc, check out their website at https://www.canvaslms.com/ and listen to the full podcast interview below.


EP 160: Teaching Math the Right Way with Welch Labs

There are few resources in place for people to learn difficult and complex material, especially when it relates to mathematics and technical subjects. All too often, textbooks are dense and boring and avoid encouraging a deeper understanding of the subject to provide surface-level comprehension. But there’s more than just the “how” to do something — there’s the “why.” And that’s how Welch Labs was born.

A practicing engineer, Stephen Welch founded Welch Labs in 2014 by publishing YouTube videos about machine learning. The idea came about when he was having difficulty with a project on neural networks — he wanted to provide online resources so that others would not encounter similar struggles. He now creates online math content and videos for people in high school to graduate school.

His channel currently features three different series: Neural Networks Demystified, Imaginary Numbers are Real, and Learning to See. The latter focuses on artificial intelligence and computer science framed in ways that are understandable to a wide audience base. He is now publishing videos in a How to Science series, which covers topics ranging from music to more traditional mathematical concepts. The idea is to promote actual understanding of math, code, and similar concepts.

To see this in action, visit the Welch Labs channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UConVfxXodg78Tzh5nNu85Ew. To listen to the full interview with Stephen Welch, listen to the podcast below.


EP 159: 3Blue1Brown on How to Show the Natural Beauty of Mathematics

Math and art — two seemingly vastly different subjects. But despite the apparent opposition between the two, YouTuber Grant Sanderson has set out on an endeavor to combine them in his channel, 3blue1brown, named after the sectoral heterochromia that leaves his right eye ¾ blue and ¼ brown. His videos essentially animate math, providing visual depictions of the topics he covers using a Python library of his creation.

Grant studied math at Stanford University and later went on to produce content about multivariable calculus for Khan Academy. Eventually, his love for mathematics (and passion for teaching it to others) led him to create 3blue1brown, which has now amassed over 800,000 subscribers.

His videos vary in focus. Many discuss topics that are typically not covered in traditional math classes, such as topology, Bitcoin, higher dimensions, and more conceptual subjects (an example being a video entitled “What does it feel like to invent math?”). But he also has series that are oriented to students learning particular math topics, such as calculus and linear algebra.

Grant’s goal is to “bring life to math,” animating it in both a literal and figurative sense. Math can be difficult and hard to fully comprehend, but displaying it with visuals and graphics allows him to break through such a learning barrier and help viewers understand math as they should. By looking at problems through a different lens and in a new format, complex solutions don’t seem so daunting and instead become enjoyable.

To explore and subscribe to 3blue1brown videos, check out the channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYO_jab_esuFRV4b17AJtAw.

To learn more about Grant and 3blue1brown, listen to the full interview below.


EP 158: Turning History into Music with Mr. Beat

What’s the easiest way to remember everything you need to know about the Red Scare? Set it to the tune of “Call Me Maybe” and replace the lyrics with a slew of facts about that moment in U.S. history, complete with a chorus featuring the line “Commie maybe.” This is just one of many historically themed music parodies that content creator Mr. Beat has released. Others include the causes of World War II to the tune of “Hotline Bling,” Napoleon to the tune of “Celebration,” and the Great Migration to the tune of “Good Vibrations.”

Mr. Beat began his channel in 2009 and has since amassed more than 22,000 subscribers. But his parodies are not the only content he makes: he also has original songs about different periods in United States history as well as videos explaining the presidents and various Supreme Court cases. His goal is to create videos, often featuring music and song, to make history and geography easier to learn and absorb.

As a teacher in Kansas, Mr. Beat has had plenty of experience recognizing that his students were not as engaged with history as they could be. His channel was an attempt to change that, an endeavor that we here at Scalar Learning are just as dedicated to.

To view and subscribe to Mr. Beat, visit his channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/iammrbeat/featured. To hear the full interview, listen to the podcast below.


EP 157: Bridging the Communication Gap between Colleges and their Students

In an age of technology and the Internet, it might seem contradictory that college students are feeling increasingly disconnected from their schools and administrators. Over half of emails sent to students are left unread, and nearly 80% of students think that schools can improve their college experiences by improving communication. This disconnect can be partially attributed to a lack of proper communication services, as students tend to gravitate away from email as their primary form of communication. Apps on the market are too cluttered and confusing to use, leading to an even greater divide between universities and students.

But DubLabs is trying to reverse the trend of low student engagement. Since its founding in 2012, over 150 colleges now use DubLabs to keep millions of students engaged with campus life.

DubLabs’ approach centers around simplicity: an app that’s not “overloaded with features” and instead has a “dynamic feed-based interface” that is familiar to modern students. The app features two-way chat and notifications customized to each student to make staying connected easier than ever, allowing students to stay in the loop. They have access to their schedules and grades and can contact advisors and administrators quickly and easily. Instead of struggling to figure out what’s located where and how to access certain features, as was the problem with many other apps, everything is organized into a dashboard that simplifies things immensely.

When students feel disconnected and unable to communicate with their faculty support systems, grades drop and motivation is lost. But with DubLabs, the ability to connect leads to a heightened capacity to succeed.

To learn more about DubLabs, visit their site at www.dublabs.com. To listen to the full interview with Chief Strategy Officer Chris Hopkinson, check out the podcast below.


EP 156: A Way to Optimize Teacher Development

“School leaders spend nearly 10% of their time each week managing the mountain of paperwork that comes from teacher observations and feedback.” That can add up to as much as six hours a week dealing with feedback from countless sources across numerous locations.

But leaders shouldn’t have to waste valuable time on spreadsheets and data — it was from this simple premise that Whetstone Education was born. Founded in 2010 by two school leaders fed up with the nightmare of state reporting while tracking mounds of teacher feedback and data, Whetstone has since grown to a platform used by over 500 schools, resting on a foundation of providing an easy place for schools to store data on performance, observations, and feedback while also enabling administrators to spend more time with teachers and students.

The platform allows schools to work with data analytics to provide professional development and advice for growth that is backed by more than just word of mouth and “a hunch.” Instead, actual reports allow for feedback that makes sense. Whetstone’s algorithm uses both quantitative and qualitative reporting to home in on exactly what teachers need to improve upon and where instructional time can grow. The information is easily shared with teachers, thanks to video coaching and live connections to teachers. But the platform is still customizable to ensure that each school is getting exactly what they need.

This week, we spoke with Michael Richard to learn more about Whetstone and its implementation of technology to make education a more manageable. To learn more about this revitalization of teacher development, visit https://www.whetstoneeducation.com/ or listen to the full podcast interview below.


EP 155: Making Science a Sheer Joy with Veritasium

School can often feel like relatively impersonal, leading to a transitively worse educational experience. But in the age of the Internet, learning is no longer confined to the cement walls of a classroom. Instead, educational resources populate the web — one of the more popular ones being YouTube videos and tutorials. Nowadays, content creators use YouTube to form connections with viewers and take education outside of just the classroom and into a world where the viewership can expand to any audience. One of the largest and most entertaining of such YouTube channels is Veritasium, a science learning channel run by Derek Muller that has videos on topics ranging from interviews with experts to demos of experiments.

Derek Muller began making YouTube videos in 2011, and in the years since, it has grown into a channel with an avid fan base of nearly 4.7 million subscribers. This number is particularly noteworthy for a channel dedicated solely to videos focused on math and science, topics that are traditionally underrepresented in the YouTube sphere. But Derek deviates from many other popular science and engineering channels in the variety of videos covered and quality of content offered.

His most popular video, “Surprising Applications of the Magnus Effect,” boasts an impressive 36 million views and begins by showing how backspin affects a basketball falling from a height of 415 meters. It’s a three-minute video complete with a visual animation of how air and the basketball interact and the forces that result. Derek then goes on to explain how this Magnus Effect works and how it can be seen and applied in other areas of life — namely, plans and ships. When the video is over, you feel like an expert on a topic you knew nothing about three minutes prior.

Most of Derek’s videos are in the same vein — succinct, educational, and most importantly, interesting. The topics aren’t traditional proofs and experiments; they are videos that explain laser hair removal, why mosquitoes are attracted to certain people, or the morality behind self-driving cars. His other YouTube channel, 2veritasium, features videos on topics that are “a little less flashy but just as enlightening.”

In the end, it’s all about increasing the world’s exposure to science, engineering, and technology in a way that remains fascinating and mind-opening. Because as Derek so concisely put it, “sometimes the simplest questions have the most amazing answers.”

To watch Derek’s videos or subscribe yourself, check out his channels here:

Veritasium - https://www.youtube.com/user/1veritasium

2Veritasium - https://www.youtube.com/user/2veritasium

If you want to check out the videos discussed by Derek on the podcast, you can find them here:

World’s roundest object! - https://youtu.be/ZMByI4s-D-Y

Why are mosquitoes attracted to me? - https://youtu.be/38gVZgE39K8

A misconception about Science - https://youtu.be/Y5kLMVgv0Xg

Surprising applications of the Magnus effect - https://youtu.be/2OSrvzNW9FE

To learn more about him and his channel, check out the full interview below!


EP 154: Super Math World - A 3D Universe that Teaches Math through Game Play

How do you get students interested in a subject matter that is notorious for being boring and difficult? Turn it into a video game complete with number monsters, prime number devouring sheep, and fraction based castles to conquer. This is the goal of Super Math World, an online computer game that encourages students to learn math by making it fun.

The game is tailored to grades 2 through 8 and covers basic math topics such as integer operations, number lines, fractions, and multiplication. It’s available for purchase by parents and teachers, who can create classrooms for their students to play and track their progress. Rather than handing out worksheets as practice, students can now refine their math skills by fighting monsters and creating machines. Teachers can also create and edit levels for their students to get the most out of Super Math World as well as track the progress of their classes; the game is aligned with Common Core standards so that it’s compatible with all classrooms.

The most important time period for the development of math skills is at a young age. Students who fall behind early often never catch up, leaving them struggling with math throughout their school careers and consequently ending up disliking the subject as a whole. But if kids are learning from an early age that math can be fun, they are all the more likely to pursue it beyond their primary education and even see it as a potential career choice.

Super Math World avoids mindless memorization and instead pushes players to gain a thorough understanding of the fundamentals of math through experiential learning. Because there is no set solution, the game “lets creativity blossom as you find your own way to your next level.” By creating new levels and really using math instead of reciting facts, users can visualize the topics that they are learning and understand them in depth. The math is integrated into the storyline of the games in a way that makes learning math something to look forward to instead of shy away from.

For years, math has been seen as a traditionally unpopular subject instead of something that can be fun and exciting as long as it is taught in the right way. But Super Math World is on its way to changing that perception.

To learn more about Super Math World, visit www.supermathworld.com. To listen to the entire interview with Charlie Zannorman, check out the full podcast below.

 


EP 153: Getting into Harvard and Yale  

The college admissions process is often described as a crapshoot; a harrowing, stress-inducing experience filled with single-digit acceptance rates and essays upon essays. It's a difficult process to decode, and students and parents frequently feel like they're going in blind, with no clue what the secret sauce is to gain admission at an elite university. Today, we try to help listeners demystify that process by talking to two high school seniors, Alicia Abramson and Meredith Johns, who were recently admitted to Yale University and Harvard College, respectively.

Alicia lives in Los Angeles, California, and currently attends Palisades Charter High School. Meanwhile, Meredith hails from just outside of Atlanta, Georgia, and attends Kennesaw Mountain High School. The two have been friends since July, when they met at Notre Dame Leadership Seminars, a summer program for rising seniors at Notre Dame University.

Both have been involved in politics and government throughout their high school careers. Alicia is involved in Moot Court, Youth & Government, her local Democratic Club, the L.A. Mayor's Youth Council, and her school newspaper. She has served as an intern on several local and national political campaigns, and she works as a tutor — in fact, she currently does work for the Scalar Learning podcast. In a similar vein, Meredith is a part of Model United Nations, her school paper, Young Democrats, and student government. She has interned at the Carter Center and with multiple political campaigns. Both hold various leadership positions within those clubs and organizations.

In this episode, we talk about what it takes to get into some of the top schools in the country: a combination of grades, test scores, extracurriculars, and essays. Alicia and Meredith go into detail about their high school experience and the college application process that they went through in applying and being accepted into their top choice universities.

Tune in to the entire episode below to find out more about getting into top Ivy League schools!


EP 152: Create Breathtaking Projects with 3Doodler  

3D printing often seems like one of many esoteric scientific inventions that are elusive to everyone, especially students — inaccessible and apparently useless when kids are still struggling through geometry. After all, it’s difficult to imagine how 3D printing could help students memorize theorems. But the 3Doodler aims to change that.

This 3D printing pen doesn’t require excessive technical knowledge or scientific abilities. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: the 3Doodler is meant to be “affordable as well as fun,” encouraging students to engage with 3D printing technology without being hindered by a lack of experience. It’s easy to use and comes in several different designs — 3Doodler Start, 3Doodler Create, and 3Doodler Pro, each of which has a different style catered to a specific audience.

An easy-to-use 3D printing pen bridges the gap between theoretical and concrete. In the classroom, students all too frequently end up memorizing terms and concepts without any real understanding of what they’re committing to memory. But the 3Doodler allows students to model what they’re learning and see the concepts unfold before them. Geometry theorems are suddenly more than just a slew of math vocabulary terms; instead, they can be visualized using models that students create themselves, ensuring actual learning and absorbing instead of mindless memorization.

3Doodler has a rapidly growing online database of free lesson plans for teachers to implement in conjunction with the use of the 3Doodler pen. There are currently eight different curriculums online, each of which comes with a set of lesson plans. The engineering and design curriculum, for example, contains lesson plans for students to build a model roller coaster for a marble to roll down and to build a bridge of their own design. This is meant to help students grasp concepts that may otherwise elude them — the basics behind potential and kinetic energy. These concepts are much easier to understand once you’ve seen them in action from something you’ve created yourself. The design challenges curriculum contains 21 different designs for students to attempt to recreate with 3Doodler while applying math and engineering concepts.

In a school system where courses tend to get tedious and abstract, 3Doodler brings a bit of creativity and hands-on learning to the classroom. The concept of understanding by doing is reflected in every creation, whether it’s a coin purse or a mathematical model (and with this pen, both and anything in between are possible). With so many possibilities, as 3Doodler asks, “What will you create?”

To learn more about the 3Doodler, visit the3doodler.com. To listen to the entire interview with Leah Wyman, check out the full podcast episode.