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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Treading Lessons

Mildly frustrating couple of days at the Lish. Yesterday we tried to write a lesson about Scrabble. Is the letter distribution of the tiles correct? Do the assigned points values make sense? How do these things compare to Words with Friends? Lots of data. Lots of good math questions to ask. But we couldn't find a compelling overarching structure. Frustrating, because I heart Scrabble.

Today we tried to write a lesson about Black Friday. When should stores open? Do stores pay a price for opening the earliest, because they get negative publicity? Is there a race to the bottom? Or rather, to the early? This was one of those lessons where my Economics-major colleagues start invoking concepts I don't understand, and I can't help but kind of zone out and work on something else. (I prefer things we can measure. Sorry.) Which is actually fine, because once some questions are written, I will be able to come at it fresh and help evaluate if the story in the lesson makes sense.

Yesterday we were visited by the great and powerful Max Ray and his sensei Lois Burke, and I am so glad. I'm embroiled in this online teacher professional development research study this year (I would like to write about it here, but oy. Its tentacles are many), and we're having trouble with the online part. Max has lots of experience in what works with the online part. He very patiently let me describe our setup and offered some suggestions. What I appreciate about Max is, he's very calm. Being around Max is to feel like everything is going to be okay.

For Elizabeth: my cooking lately has leaned vegetarian. I made an awesome yam coconut curry soup last weekend, and have made two of these crazy rice bowls. Yum. Right now I have a CSA half-share in my kitchen that is mostly squash, so I think there is some roasting in my near future.


  1. Thanks. It was lovely hanging out with y'all. It's a tribute to your high standards and creative process that you are willing to spend time on lessons and then agree they're not there... yet. Productive struggle FTW!

  2. I'm curious to hear what might count as an "overarching structure", because I'd love to participate (somehow) on a Scrabble lesson. As you say, there's lots of cool data!

    For instance, these two articles use Google's access to data to reassess "ETAOIN SHRDLU" and Scrabble's letter distribution.



    Also, Bananagrams uses a different letter distribution than Scrabble, and Super-Scrabble has yet a third distribution.

    Of course, maybe you all knew all of that already... in that case, I'd like to hear more about how you make decisions regarding "overarching structure".

  3. Hi Jason,

    I hadn't seen those two articles - thanks!

    By structure I mean, the story that is told by the lesson. We are pretty obsessive about asking questions that are actually interesting, and natural things to ask. We wouldn't just put a bunch of good math questions in, and call it a lesson. You know?

    We toyed with a few ideas for Scrabble, like, Act One: What /should/ the distribution of letters and letter points values in Scrabble look like? Inspecting letter distribution in the English language. And then Act Two: What /does/ it look like? Creating a scatterplot of frequency in English vs frequency in Scrabble. But then we wanted to compare Scrabble with Words with Friends, and the whole thing was just rather muddy and had problems.

    If you'd be into sitting in, the next time we discuss, shoot me an email! If the timing works for you, maybe we can GHangout you in.


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