Saturday, September 26, 2015


Arthur Camins says:
The biggest problem with education is the U.S. is not test scores. Rather, three central problems plague public education in the United States. The most dramatic is inequity. There are vast inequities in educational resources and in the conditions of students’ lives, resulting in persistent race- and class-based disparities in educational outcomes.
Second, we are far too focused on a narrow range of outcomes – reading and math test scores – and not enough on a broader range of subject matter or essential domains, such as critical thinking, creativity and collaborative skills. Third, we gravitate toward partial quick solutions, rather than thinking systemically and having the patience to allow strategies time to develop, take hold, and be refined.
Which is great ... but what do we do about it?

Not sure this is a "Majority"

from the Daily Buzz, not known for its math skills, comes this paragraph ...
Noel Biderman, CEO of Avid Life Media which owns Ashley Madison, claimed that the site had equal opportunity connections for men and women, but in fact, the site’s members were primarily men by a staggering ratio of 28 million men to 5 million women.
Surprisingly, a majority of the email addresses on the site, 15,000 of them, were linked to men who are U.S. government and/or military officials.
15,000 out of 33 million?

Is this like a moral majority?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

A Strike Against Charter Schools

This argument is one that I've made several times and I'm glad that it's resonating in some places, though I certainly couldn't claim any credit.
"The Washington State Supreme Court has ruled that charter schools are unconstitutional, reported the Seattle Times. Conservatives push charter schools as part of their mission to dismantle public education.
It's not just conservatives, but it does seem to be dominated by that point of view.More specifically, it seems to be dominated by a desire to filter out "the bad students", a desire that at first seems like it might be reasonable but that falls apart when examined logically.  It also, strangely, seems to come flavored with class and socio-economic discrimination.
Late on Friday, the state Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that charter schools are unconstitutional because they aren’t “common schools” in that their boards are appointed, rather than elected, said Washington Chief Justice Barbara Madsen. Charter schools are publicly-funded but privately-owned.
This fact is key, in my mind ... how can it be justifiable to allow a private school to be paid out of public funds when the public is paying for a local school already? 
The ruling stems from a 2013 lawsuit in which a pro-public education coalition claimed that charter schools “improperly divert public school funds to private organizations that are not subject to local voter control.” Kim Mead of the Washington Education Association praised the court’s ruling. “The Supreme Court has affirmed what we’ve said all along — charter schools steal money from our existing classrooms, and voters have no say in how these charter schools spend taxpayer money,” said Mead.
Right. I can run for the local school board (and have served on it), I can ask to see their budgets and accounts (and have), I can know about and criticize their hiring practices and salaries and policies. I can't do any of that for the local Catholic school, or any of the local private schools. If taxpayer money is being REQUIRED of me for tuition payment, then I have the right to have a say in how it's spent. Charter schools do not have to tell me any of that.
The ruling is a great victory in the fight against conservative privatization and the attack against public education. Private companies should not be allowed to use taxpayer money to run private, issued based, schools in a pursuit of profit.
The only thing a charter school can offer that public schools don't is the removal of all weak students from nearby classrooms.

The only voucher system I have ever supported is one in which students are allowed to choose a different PUBLIC SCHOOL than the one in their neighborhood. Public money should stay in the public schools.

Just as important, charter schools don't actually offer anything that the local public school doesn't.  The pro-charter reformers always tout low test scores as a reason to allow the best students to go somewhere else, but that's a straw-man argument.

Those top students aren't being forced to take remedial classes, or being ignored and forced into doing poorly because other kids in that same school are doing poorly. Those top kids are taking challenging classes in the public school. They're taking AP courses, college level courses (and receiving college credits from the University of Vermont system), and online courses through UVM and VHS. They're doing well on the SAT, ACT, and others. They're going to Dartmouth and the Ivies, state colleges and Universities. They're not being held back by their peers.

The only thing a charter school can offer that we can't is the removal of all weak students from other classrooms. That's not appropriate for a public school system.
  • Charters don't offer anything better than we do. 
  • Charters don't improve students; they improve averages. 
  • Charters don't improve school offerings; they remove the very students that allow us to offer AP calculus.
  • Charters don't help students; they offer the exact same courses to the same kids that I would.
  • Charters don't have better teachers, either. They have younger teachers, or those who weren't good enough to get a job in the public school, or those who weren't certified to teach in public school (and that's a pretty low hurdle), or those who want to work many more hours for less pay.

Monday, September 7, 2015

We need to rename Herd Immunity

One morning last week, I found myself thinking about vaccines and immunizations as I drove to work. Perhaps NPR had something on the radio, perhaps not.

It occurred to me that the phrase "Herd Immunity" is flawed and I realized that I wished doctors and researchers could arrive at a better one.

It defined "noun: herd immunity"
  1. general immunity to a pathogen in a population based on the acquired immunity to it by a high proportion of members over time. 
My difficulty with this phrase and its definition is that it's not a definition of immunity. It's a probability statement.

Immunity is the capability of the body to resist harmful microorganisms or viruses from entering it, acting as a barrier, the capability to act as an eliminator of a wide range of pathogens irrespective of antigenic specificity, and the capability to adapt to each new disease encountered and generate pathogen-specific immunity.

If you are immune, you can't get that disease. Either your body blocks it from entering (skin or other barrier), it's not compatible with humans in the first place (not zoonotic), or you have antibodies in general that can destroy it, or you have gotten the disease before and developed specific antigens for it.

"Herd immunity," on the other hand, is not a thing you have or a feature of being human. You can get the disease just as easily as anyone, but the probability is low that you'll come into contact with a carrier ....  except in schools, hospitals, churches and any other place where people congregate.

"Community Immunity" (NIH)
Look at the way herd "immunity" works (source):
Top: If no one is vaccinated and a disease carrier enters the group, the group catches the disease. A random few have a natural immunity, or did not attend church that day, or live far enough away from the carriers and did not contract the disease.

Middle: A few are vaccinated, a carrier mingles with the group and again, many people contract the disease.

Bottom: Many people are vaccinated and the carriers do not inflect as many people.

But there's problems with that. This image shows a nice statistical spread, a random positioning, that allows the unvaccinated to avoid being infected.  Schools, churches, hospitals, and other gathering places, are all scenarios in which this nice statistical spread is not in place.

School children are grouped together all day. If there is a red person and a blue person anywhere in that building, they will come in contact at some time during the day. The statement "If you have a high enough percentage in the group who are vaccinated" now runs afoul of the reality that schools are not random distributions with unvaccinated children able to stay away from any potential carriers.  They will come into contact with the un-vaccinated and they will be infected.

Why does this matter?

I think that the term is incorrectly giving people the impression that they are safe if they don't vaccinate when the truth is that they are in danger of infection when they no longer are spread out into their respective suburban cul-de-sacs and are commingled in schools and other gatherings.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

If that's a condition, I want nothing to do with it.

In a discussion the other day with one of the new teachers in the district, I mentioned that I was the NHS advisor, and that I was surprised that the dues for the school's joining for the year went from $85 to $385 per year. That got a strange look and a negative comment about the organization; I'm paraphrasing here: "I hate the NHS."

One raised eyebrow later, the teacher continued, "I was straight As, honor roll, did everything they expected of new members, the works. I and a couple of friends were rejected because our parents were divorced. Yep. The kids who were accepted all had married parents. Everyone rejected had divorced parents.  When we asked the advisor about it, he talked about the morality clause."


Monday, July 13, 2015

Do This and the Bunny Dies

(Bumped to the top)

Can't remember where I saw this first.

Save the Rabbit!

Poor Kitten ... this happens all the time.

Such a shame how often that poor puppy gets it ...

Damn you, TI !

Because we all know a Fawn ...

Pandas are endangered, people. Cut that out!

Poor, poor Grumpy Cat.

Don't make him cry, people!

You heartless bastards.

I have nothing left to say.

Do You REALLY want him to win?

There's more!

Look at how sad he is ...

Don't you want friends ....

Poor bastard ...

SO very disappointed ...

It's just mean for you to do this ...

This just makes me sad ...

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Considering Google Classroom - part1

So you're considering Google Classroom?  Great!

What it is: The best way to explain this thing is that it's an organizing system for GMail communication in a classroom setting. It has tools that make the process of sending out assignments and collecting assignments, from all of the students, multiple classes, multiple artifacts per student, much easier. 

It is NOT an online classroom where each student gets to work at his/her own pace. That would be Moodle ... if you want a totally differentiated system that does the teaching and each kid is at a different place, then Classroom isn't going to work well for you.

Type of class it's best for:
My colleagues in the English and History departments are the most satisfied with Classroom because their myriad assignments are typically written paragraphs that could easily overwhelm your in-box if you were to try and have the students just send them to you ... to the tune of 1000 emails a week, or more.

(update: "Ducks to Water - Google Classroom" details the experience of a New Zealand English teacher's use of Classroom)

It's tough for math, however.  Symbols are limited. There is Greek Delta for triangle, but you have to use < for angle. Complex notes are impossible - handwritten still works best for taking notes, then scan and send from the school copier.  Algebra is possible for me since I'm writing one equation for a problem but the students can't show their work easily. Pre-Caclulus and Calculus are basically a no-go in GDocs.  There's easy integration of Desmos and Geogebra, but you have to let go of the need to show work or steps.

The exceptions: Probability and Statistics, and portfolio/explanation/extended answer questions. P/S using Sheets works great. You can send out data ("Make a copy for each student") and the kids each create a presentation with graphs from it.  Similarly, "portfolio" problems or the new Common Core explanation-required problems work fairly well because there's more writing and verbiage than math equations.

Bottom line: If your students are using Google Docs to do their work, then Classroom is perfect. I gave the Stats class work that they generated spreadsheets and graphics for: Sheets and Slides came back, sorted, tagged with name, a nice little interface that collects all of the artifacts that are submitted with the assignment (also renames them with assignment name and student name, e.g., "6.2 Histogram - John Smitty 2018").

Bonus: If your students have more than one class using Classroom, then they get a dashboard with assignments and such. They LIKE having everything there.

  • Ease of use.
  • Every assignment goes to every kid at the same time. Email notification and bright red "Assignment Due" in the interface.
  • The assignments that are submitted are definitely submitted.
  • Kids appreciate it when multiple teachers use it.
  • You can grade right in the list of students' submissions. Open the kid's submitted files, add comments right in the margins, "Return" it if you want improvements, choose a grade.

  • Typing Algebra. 
  • Drawing graphs. (Desmos and Geogebra integrate well, but DRAWING is cumbersome)
  • Every assignment goes to every kid at the same time. Email notification and bright red "Assignment Due" in the interface. No differentiation.
  • No quizzes (yet. They claim to be working on it)
  • You can't have a class prepped too far out, certainly not a full course. 
  • Gradebook is limited and does not integrate with your gradebook program.

Here's a sample assignment:

It's got a title and a due date. I included a picture for them to look at (student can view), a spreadsheet will the data that each student will work on and submit later (Make a copy for each student) and an another spreadsheet that all students can edit together. The "Make a copy for each" option allows each student to have their own to work on while the "Students can edit" option lets us all contribute data to the same file. It could be raw data, a GDoc that you're using for class notes, etc.

The paperclip icons at the bottom allow you to attach a file from your computer (uploaded), attach a google doc (doc, sheets, drawing, etc.), a YouTube video link, and a general link.

When you student has completed his work, he goes back to this page and hits the SUBMIT button.  Any file that was "Make a copy for Each" is automatically attached, but the student can attach other files, evidence, artifacts, and then submit.

It all gets neatly organized in your GDrive, in a folder creatively called "Classroom", but you will never need to look in there for them.
Nope, don't care.
What you'll do is look in your assignment "stream":

Note: The blue rectangles are just to obscure the students' names for publishing here. The green one covers a student's name as part of the new automatically created filename. Each student's entry can be expanded as I did here to see and open any submitted files. Everything is in my Drive, but I can get to it all here.

Also, to answer the other question asked on Twitter, I feel it's not that difficult to create the same assignment more than once for different sections and this gives me the flexibility of having classes at different points during the year. Not only that, but announcements can be posted to more than one group and can contain PDFs, links, images, etc.

Note: I don't grade them here because I don't want dual-gradebook confusion. I do write comments (ctrl-alt-M) in the documents themselves.

If this works for you, you owe me a beer someday.

There will be a part 2.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

RI rejects sanity.

From Joanne Jacobs:
Rhode Island should stick with a single diploma, says Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist, who’d proposed creating standard, “regents” and honors diplomas. Instead, she said districts should be able to add “endorsements” to the diploma to indicate higher levels of proficiency and honors.
Which is a shame, really. Having more than one diploma makes the students work harder for the better one.

HIP: class expectations

Because there's nothing quite like strict discipline for teaching teenagers, the Highly Ineffective Principal actually came out and said the following (although not all at the same meeting):
  1. Every class should have 100% attendance daily. It is the teacher's responsibility to call parents and make this happen.
  2. Every child should have a hand up for every question. The right hand should be raised if they know the answer and the left one if they don't.
  3. If a paper drops, everyone should be able to hear the paper hit the floor.
Total silence is best.
Teacher-led questions only.
Your kids are not allowed to be sick, go to the doctor, be dismissed early for sports, go to the counseling office, be involved in anything outside of school or else ... what?

And people wonder why teachers bitch about incompetent administrators.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I'm never gonna use this.

Well, Eighties Music Forever, I never said that you would have to. I notice that you didn't "use" poetry, chemistry, biology, or science of any kind, nor history, psychology, art of any kind, nor Literature; pretty sad that all that schooling has gone to "waste" because no one gave you an artificially simplified problem that you recognized as "Algebra" instead of as a real-world problem that you couldn't have dealt with unless you'd understood algebra.

Of course, you wouldn't be much of a person without it all, though, so it's a good thing you learned it in school.

We could use "I'm bored" as an excuse or "When am I ever gonna have to use this?" as a reason to kick you out the door into the Real-World and let you get a Real-Job and pay Real-Bills, but I prefer to put it more simply:
You're (Black/Latino/Female ... you can fill in the blank) so you aren't allowed to take Algebra - it will be too difficult for you and the community doesn't feel that they should be paying for your education when you'll only ever be a (minimum-wage/slave-labor/custodian/mechanic ... fill in the blank) worker.
If you recoiled when I forbid you from learning something because I didn't consider you worth the effort, why should I allow a student to do this to themselves?

Every student hates algebra because learning it is hard ... learning anything is hard if you've never done anything like it before.  

Reason #722 why Students Have Trouble

Found this at teachers pay teachers.

No shit. And the hundredths place is called that because ....?

This is what Rape Culture Looks Like.

“Gentlemen. This is what rape culture is like:

Imagine you have a Rolex watch. Nice fancy Rolex, you bought it because you like the way it looks and you wanted to treat yourself. And then you get beaten and mugged and your Rolex is stolen. So you go to the police. Only, instead of investigating the crime, the police want to know why you were wearing a Rolex instead of a regular watch. Have you ever given a Rolex to anyone else? Is it possible you wanted to be mugged? Why didn’t you wear long sleeves to cover up the Rolex if you didn’t want to be mugged?

And then after that, everywhere you go, there are constant jokes about stealing your Rolex. People you don’t even know whistle at your Rolex and make jokes about cutting your hand off to get it. The media doesn’t help either; it portrays people who wear Rolexes as flamboyant assholes who secretly just want someone to come along and take that Rolex off their hands. When damn, all you wanted was to wear a nice watch without getting harassed for it. When you complain that you are starting to feel unsafe, people laugh you off and say that you are too uptight. Never mind you got violently attacked for the crime of wearing a friggin time piece.

Imagining all that? It sucks, doesn’t it.

Now imagine you could never take the Rolex off.”

— The Wretched of the Earth: On Rape Culture


In an article about the crash of Flight 447, Automation Paradox, pt. 1
In 1997,  American Airlines captain Warren Van Der Burgh said that the industry has turned pilots into “Children of the Magenta” who are too dependent on the guiding magenta-colored lines on their screens.

William Langewiesche agrees: “We appear to be locked into a cycle in which automation begets the erosion of skills or the lack of skills in the first place and this then begets more automation.”

However potentially dangerous it may be to rely too heavily on automation, no one is advocating getting rid of it entirely. It’s agreed upon across the board that automation has made airline travel safer. The accident rate for air travel is very low: about 2.8 accidents for every one million departures. (Airbus planes, by the way, are no more or less safe than their main rival, Boeing.)
As a math teacher, the parallels to the use of calculators, graphing calculator apps, and various other tools, jumped out at me immediately.  These tools make student progress in mathematics easier, make concepts more easily grasped ... and give the students a crutch that has vast implications when that crutch is whisked away or breaks.

Technology cannot replace understanding. It is a tool, nothing more.