Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Essendon wins Anzac Day Match vs Collingwood

You can't watch the whole thing but the last ten minutes were pretty special. Fortunately, YouTube comes to the rescue.

Up to sixth in the standings! Woot!
Attending the Anzac Day match has been on the Bucket List for years.

Wish List

Wish list only has one thing on it right now:
I have GOT to get me one of those ...

Monday, April 27, 2009

Too silly. The recruiter can't even make a pitch.

From SFGate:
Now Arcata is at it again, with a law blocking the military from recruiting anybody in town under the age of 18. And this time, the law has the backing not of a few City Council activists, but of thousands of voters who went to the polls in November.
These kids wouldn't make very good soldiers anyway. This is actually a blessing in disguise - now the recruiter doesn't have to waste his time offering good opportunities to the children of fools. The military is not for everyone and as soon as the armed forces figure that out, they'll have an easier time filling the ranks. Why? Because the ones who go in will be more serious about it and won't drop out the first time the drill sergeant wakes up the precious little snowflakes at 0430 by banging a trash can. (That sound still gets my heart racing after how many years?)

Political Humor

I just find this funny. Maybe it's because I know a bunch of people who wouldn't see the humor in it at all. Of course, working for a living before you become a teacher does have a way of bringing idealism up to the level of pragmatism.

From WND, we get the Joke of the Day:
I recently asked my friend's little girl what she wanted to be when she grew up. She said she wanted to be president some day. Both of her parents, liberal Democrats, were standing there, so I asked her, "If you were president, what would be the first thing you would do?"
She replied, "I'd give food and houses to all the homeless people."
Her parents beamed.
"Wow...what a worthy goal." I told her, "But you don't have to wait until you're president to do that. You can come over to my house and mow the lawn, pull weeds, and sweep my yard, and I'll pay you $50. Then I'll take you over to the grocery store where the homeless guy hangs out, and you can give him the $50 to use toward food and a new house."
She thought that over for a few seconds, then she looked me straight in the eye and asked, "Why doesn't the homeless guy go over and do the work, and you can just pay him the $50?"
I said, "Welcome to the Republican Party."
Her parents still aren't speaking to me.
Is the glass half empty or half full? Neither. It's twice as big as it needs to be.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Practice makes _______? Take a guess.

From over at Right Wing Nation, there is something that bears repeating.

From Art and Fear:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot -albeit a perfect one - to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes - the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

As the RightWing Prof says, "There’s a lesson there."

Yes, there certainly is. In HighSchool World (different from REAL World), the idea of practice has gone out the window. Practice is labeled "Drill and Kill" and those who practice it are denigrated and denounced (though maybe denounced is too harsh a word). Our curriculum coordinator uses "Drill and Kill" to kill any reform that smells of mastery. She much prefers spiraling and discovery and "Guide on the Side" -- to the exclusion of everything else.

And then there's the textbook that I get to use:

"Factoring is the process of using the distributive process to represent a mathematical expression as a product. For example, the expression 2x+6 can be factored into the equivalent expression 2(x+3). Similarly, the expression 2x2+3x-5 can be expressed as (2x+5)(x-1)"
On the face of it, that sounds okay. We've avoided any mention of FOIL. Succinct and clear. And then you realize that there's nothing more. Those three sentences are the extent of the factoring. That's it. No further explanations, no practice problems.

The whole "book" is like that.

Thankfully I have plenty of stuff of my own making and of the Dale Seymour series so I've got as much as the kids need, but it still amazes me that the authors of this course (and the people who chose it) don't feel it necessary to explain HOW or give some repetitive DOING.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Anzac Day, April 25th

Lone Pine Hill Memorial

"Anzac Day runs deeper than nationalism or military pride," said The Australian.

Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) forces landed on the western side of the Gallipoli Peninsula (now part of Turkey) in 1915 during World War I. The objective was a quick strike at the Ottoman Empire, capture Constantinople (now Istanbul) and open The Dardanelles. ANZACs fought their way in to the beach, across the sand, and up the hills directly into Turkish small arms and artillery fire (under the command of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk). Both sides took heavy losses and eight months later, the Allies withdrew, giving up the two square kilometers of ground. After the war, over 40 memorials and war cemeteries were built for the 36,000 Commonwealth and over 86,000 Turkish dead.

The Band Played Waltzing Matilda
Eric Bogle

When I was a young man, I carried me pack
and I lived the free life of a rover
from the Murray's green basin to the dusty outback
I waltzed my Matilda all over.

Then in 1915, my country said, "Son,
It's time to stop ramblin', there's work to be done.
They gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun
and they sent me away to the war.

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
as our ship pulled away from the key.
And amid all the cheers, flag waving, and tears
we sailed off to Gallipoli.

When I remember that terrible day
when our blood stained the sand and the water.
and how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay
we were butchered like lambs at the slaughter

Johnny Turk he was ready, oh he primed himself well
He rained us with bullets and shot us with shells
and in five minutes flat, we were all blown to hell.
Nearly blew us back home to Australia.

But the Band played Waltzing Matilda
as we stopped to bury our slain.
We buried ours and the Turks buried theirs
and we started all over again.

Those who were living just tried to survive
in a mad world of blood, death, and fire
and for ten weary weeks, I kept myself alive
while around me, the corpses piled higher.

Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head
and when I awoke in my hospital bed
I saw what it had done and I wished I were dead
I never knew there were worse things than dying.

For I'll go no more waltzing Matilda
all around the green bush far and near
for to hup tent and pegs, a man needs both legs
no more waltzing Matilda for me

They collected the crippled, the wounded, the maimed
and they shipped us back home to Australia
the armless, the legless, the blind, the insane
those proud wounded heroes of Suvla.

And as our ship pulled into Circular Key
and I looked at the place where my legs used to be
I thanked Christ there was no one waiting for me
to grieve and to mourn or to pity

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
as they carried us down the gangway
but nobody cheered they just stood there and stared
and they turned all their faces away.

So now every April I sit on my porch
and I watch the parade pass before me
I see my old comrades, how proudly they march,
renewing their dreams of past glory.

I see the old men, how tired, stiff and sore
The weary old heroes of a forgotten war
The young people ask "what are they marching for?
and I ask myself the same question.

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
And the old men still answer the call.
But year after year, the numbers grow fewer.
Someday no one will march there at all

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
Who'll come Waltzing Matilda with me?
And the ghosts may be heard as you pass by the billabong
You'll come Waltzing Matilda with me.

more on Gallipoli - or just Google "Anzac Day."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Volunteering for Money

The Daily Gazette has an Editorial: Tax breaks for volunteer firemen

"Sen. Charles Schumer ... give volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians a $1,000 federal income tax credit ... a state bill to provide property tax breaks for volunteers ... aren’t volunteering ... like they used to. They’re either too busy with their jobs or families, too lazy, too selfish — there are any number of reasons."

Here's the clicher: Schumer wants to give "anyone who spends at least six months as a volunteer and at least 40 hours per year working in that capacity $1,000 off their federal tax bill"

When you put it like that, people will start to calculate the hourly rates and your volunteers will fall even more. Besides, people who volunteer for financial gain tend to be lousy volunteers and far more of a pain in the ass than anything else.

I can see many people starting this process, entering training (at huge cost to the system), hanging around being a pain and wasting the time of the real volunteers and firemen. I can see the Captains in a paperwork nightmare, having to sign off that each man and woman was indeed there for 40 working hours and 6 volunteering months each year. I can see many people showing up, waving and going to their real jobs. I can see resentment forming that "They're only doing it for the G" and "Him? He was here 40 hours?"

"If you do for the reward and recognition, you can't afford it. If you do it for the enjoyment, the reward and recognition comes free of charge."

Strip Search for Advil

We have gone from being ridiculous to completely falling over the line. In Safford vs Redding, the Supreme Court is looking at the case of the middle-school girl who was strip-searched for Advil.

MSNBC has a story here.

School officials are "looking for drugs" ( Ibuprophen ). Was there really a danger to the school or students? No, even if she had Motrin. "So what?"

What reason to search? Another girl said she had it and had given her some. Did they confirm this information? No. Did they search her locker? No. Apparently, it didn't occur to Starsky and Hutch that Huggy-Bear might be providing false information.

They searched the backpack and found nothing. So they strip-searched her: they told her to remove her clothes and shake out her underwear. This takes an amazing amount of institutional chutzpah and self-righteousness.
  • You have to assume that any rumor is legit.
  • Anything in pill form is dangerous, even Motrin.
  • All 13-yo girls tell the truth except the one who's guilty.
    • How do you know she's guilty? she denies it.
    • Want further proof? Search her backpack. If you don't find it there, it means she's more clever than that.
    • It's in her pockets because she's guilty. Nothing.
    • She's guilty, look in the seams. Nope.
    • Aha! She must have hidden it in her underwear.
  • and Parents don't care if this happens.
  • and Administrators are always right.
  • Zero tolerance. Zero brains.
The ends always justify the means. Drugs are so scary bad that any rights or reason must be ignored. The drugs must be found even if they don't exist and the student punished severely regardless of guilt.

Once you're identified, you're guilty until proven innocent - and even then we're still not satisfied - you must have swallowed them!

The Supremes are wondering about danger to school in extreme cases and not wanting to set a precedent. I can buy that because that's their purpose.  There's talk of meth and crack and "possibly having other children die while in their care." This is all well and good but the case in front of them remains a strip-search for nothing on false grounds by an over- zealous administration with no sense of reality or proportion. "The school's lawyer argued that the courts should not limit school officials' ability to search out what they think are dangerous items on school grounds."

Really. Even for Advil?

Happy Birthday, Will

Okay, no one really knows (and some people aren't even sure he existed at all) but April 23rd is the day decided upon.

Even the greatest ones need an editor ...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Those Vermonters - What a hoot.

They did the whole over-ride the Governor's veto thing in Vermont and passed same-sex marriage. Miss California decided she lived in a different country (California a different country? Where have I heard that one before?) and declared: "Well, I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one or the other. We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. And you know what, in my country, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman."

I've heard Ayn Rand quoted a lot recently. Perhaps this quote will suffice here:
"Individual rights are not subject to a public vote: a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority." Ayn Rand

I've mentioned that I'm a Libertarian more than liberal or conservative. I can't for the life of me see why Jay and Jason can't get married if they want to. It's not harming my marriage. Them together is better than them just living together. The one son who's involved sees both his parents and has a stepparent now - just like practically every other one of my students. It's more stable socially and that's the only purpose for a law anyway - to promote social and family stability.

The only people it seems to piss off are those whose religions have said "No." While I sympathize in part with their hurt sensibilities, I can't imagine that either man would ever have any contact or dealing with any of those churches or their followers. I personally don't grant LDS or any other religious group the right to veto this or any other same-sex marriage.


Besides, the anti-group really needs to get somebody better than Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich to lecture piously on morality. Glass houses and all that.

Double Dose of Algebra and some Ramblings

Over at Curriculum Matters, they're asking Does 'Double-Dose' Algebra Work?

Across the country, one of the strategies schools are trying to help struggling students in algebra is essentially doubling the amount of time spent on that course. It's a popular tactic in other areas of math, and in reading, too.

A new study, however, says that double-dose courses produced mixed results in Chicago schools. On the one hand, the 9th graders studied saw their test scores rise. But the policy did not appear to result in fewer students failing the course, as school officials had hoped, the authors report. The grades of some struggling students increased, after the double-dosing, though the weakest students did not see their grades rise.
Ignoring the grammatical and structural problems in those paragraphs, I was struck by the apparent surprise. This result seems very obvious to me. With more time devoted to drilling and practicing for the test, you'd expect the test scores to converge on the mean. Look no further than KIPP.

The grades in the course, on the other hand, are based on different criteria. Teachers routinely count "participation," homework, classwork, and behavior. Extra credit and test corrections and grade-adjustment skew the scores. Parents routinely ask for "make-up work," code for "just give him more points without making him do anything or we'll raise hell."
Should advocates of double-dose math courses be pleased with these results? After all, one could argue that student learning—if test scores accurately reflect that—increased. Or should persistently high failure rates raise red flags?
Sure. But Red flags signifying which issue? That the class is different from the test? DUH. Would you be upset if the class averages were in the 90s and the test scores were dismal? Yes, you should. But you'd be worried about the wrong things. Do class averages measure learning? Does the State test measure learning?

When the State scores are low, the usual response is to bitch about the content of the course or the quality of the teacher. This is occasionally the problem. A few people complain about the motivation of the student, which is a big problem. No one ever talks about the idea that the teacher might be teaching material that the State isn't testing, like the algebra the kids need instead of the geometry that the State assumes they should be ready for at age 15.

When the scores don't correlate, too many people spout off about "test-taking strategies" and "test anxiety" and "some kids don't test well" and "only a snapshot."

What is wrong with a "snapshot," anyway? I can't tell you how many times I've had people tell me that the (3-hr, well-constructed and extensively peer-reviewed before and after the fact) State Tests are bad because they're only one day's measurement and thus should be eliminated. These same folks then turn around and push for a final exam (1.5hr, 'constructed' by the teacher at 12 midnight and never reviewed) to be 20% of the kid's grade.

No one ever complains about the most common problem and the biggest reason why grades and State Scores rarely correlate: the teacher has too much control over the way the course is graded and his tests are scored.

Even the newest, most inexperienced teachers are routinely given control over grading, curriculum and student progress.

I have had brand-new teachers tell me that they are going to teach chapters 1, 6, 8, 7, 2, 4, in that order. Why? They thought it was better that way. Ch3 and ch5 are ignored because why? The answer usually has more to do with the teacher's lack of understanding than the stated reason, "Those chapters on matrices and blahblah are not current and blah blah blah." No account is given for the idea that the book was written and vetted by people far smarter (and with a lot more time to consider these things) to be done in a particular order. No thought is spared for the linearity of the material and the fact that most of the problems in ch4 assume that you've done (or at least understand) ch 1-3. Going out of order confuses even the best students; they are constantly asking "Should I have known that really important fact or idea? Am I stupid or did we just not cover it?"

The standards-based movement exacerbates this problem. Instead of following a curriculum, the teacher is supposed to pick and choose from the Standards and individualize the curriculum for each kid based on test scores. The grades coming out of this train-wreck usually have more to do with some vague idea of "effort" than of any assessment of ability.

Beyond the curriculum matters, the teachers also mess up grading. Do you count homework or grade it? Some have participation and brown-nosing scores as high as 10%. Some have tests, quizzes and homework roughly equal. In my school, we even have control over the relative weight of the terms if you can believe it. Some faculty count the two terms and the final as 40-40-20 while others are 45-45-10. Others don't give a final.

Is it any wonder that grades aren't changing in lockstep with the State scores?

Is it surprising that we don't achieve in the same way as the schools in other countries do? You know, the ones that have a national curriculum that aligns with the TIMMS and PISA tests so that those countries will do well on the TIMSS and PISA tests? That have long (by comparison) teacher mentorships so that the new teachers are in line with the older ones and not spinning off like some subatomic particle in their own personal cloud-chamber? Have we learned nothing from the reality of Stand and Deliver or were we just seduced by the feel-good fiction?

I'm not saying this is the ideal but if we wish to repeat their successes, we'll need to at least partially repeat their processes. We also have to consider that learning might not equal scores or grades.

Curriculum Matters continues with another obvious point:
Chicago is, of course, coping with many of the same challenges in algebra that other districts are. The new study follows another one, released last month, which found that Chicago's failure rates increased when the district mandated that students take algebra in 9th grade.
I nominate Curriculum Matters for Poor Elijah's Emperor Awards 2009 (2008 here) "Archimedes Eureka Honorarium" which spotlights the imaginative world of education research. Congratulations to all.

The most annoying math movie ever

Cue the lights!
Sound the sirens!
Fill the buckets with popcorn and the seats with your butts!

It's the most annoying movie ever made, Stand and Deliver! Watch gangbangers morph into AP Calculus kids in one year with a little extra work. See the maverick educator make the losers into winners as if by magic!

You should be able to do it too! It's in the Movies so it must be real! They're all Latinos and Blacks so it must be true or you're a racist.

Why aren't your students succeeding like that? You suck.

In reality, there was little magic and a whole hell of a lot of work on the part of the students and the teachers - and it paid off.

Escalante started as all teachers do, fighting the system and trying his best. It wasn't until he became Department Chair and had a supportive principal that the "magic" happened.

Escalante had complete control over the curriculum and the daily lessons for the entire Math department for about six years. He had Guidance following his recommendations. He could recruit teachers who understood him and his ideas and push out those who didn't into other schools in the district. He developed a feeder system that led from the middle schools into Garfield High.

Each teacher knew what to teach and when (they collaborated on the lesson plans to keep the continuity). Kids progressed through each course in the same order and with the same expectations. Any kid could take his class, but he had to succeed. A kid could jump forward based on ability and knowledge regardless of where he got that knowledge. There was no tracking nor were there effort grades. A kid was able to be whatever he could and allowed to attempt any challenge he wanted to set himself to.

Escalante taught many of the feeder courses and allowed his Calculus to get as large as needed. This open-door policy ran against the 35-person max in the teacher contract and would later become an issue with the union.

He arranged for summer classes at the local CC for those who wanted to jump forward.

Help was available because Escalante browbeat the administration and staff to allow folks to come in early, stay late, and on the weekends. Everything went as Escalante wanted. The success fueled the teachers' imagination and motivation. Everyone had a stake and everyone who helped push and who saw the results was inspired to do more. You know, that "Why I got into Teaching" thing.

Minority students (who were the majority, if not the totality, of this school) realized that brains and ability were internal but that effort was also required. Their success transformed them.

A goodly percentage triumphed and made it from pre-algebra to calculus BC, though they did it over four or five years instead of as in the movie. A huge majority succeeded beyond their wildest expectations, i.e., got a decent math education. A few dropped out or transferred - even the Great Ones can't make 100% of the kids succeed.

Consistency, a proper vision and a true idea of the abilities of his students. None of that reform math or fuzzy math anywhere. No effort grades. It was solid algebra, geometry, trig and calculus. No goofy integrated garbage. No maverick teachers trying to "let the students decide what they want to learn." No writing papers describing the math as a color or asking "How does that make you feeeeeel?".

It was too good to last, of course. Politics and class size regulations, celebrity from the movie, jealousy from other teachers outside of the "track" all contributed. A new principal and the union clashed with him over class-sizes and teacher assignments and student placement and all the other things. He and one of the other calculus teachers retired from Garfield and it all started to fall apart. A protege tried to continue it but the resistance was too strong and he left after a year, too. Mediocrity based on "common practice" and "reform" took hold.

Kinda different from the Escalante as "Deus Ex Mathematica" as implied by the movie? That's why I hate it. It tells too little of the truth and, in so doing, makes the real issues disappear and papers over the real genius of the man.

The implication was that the students didn't succeed but that Escalante performed some magical teaching. Don't get me wrong. The man is and was a great man. He was dynamic, smart, charismatic. "Kimo" could teach. But there's no mention of the program and the long-term view of the curriculum. There little mention of the other teachers who were a big part of the success.

Except for the heart-attack scene, there's little mention of the tremendous amount of work that kids, teachers, and Escalante put in. It all just sort of happens.

"The girl gets pregnant and drops out" is a more important scene to the producers than one describing the 200 kids who are doing everything they can to get in, but fall short of the calculus. They go on to college and fare quite well anyway - a tremendous success but it's not enough for the movie.

It's been a while since I saw it, but I can't recall if there was any mention of the intense pressures to stop recruiting teachers, to cut down class size and to stop offering extra help. (Pressure from the new administration, of course. He had good rapport with the one principal but the second was a typical wonk.)

I also can't recall if the Union's "help" is depicted. They insisted that he get his classes down to 35 but he refused - open door policy: any kid can come in but it's up to him to make it. His successor had the same problem and had the same issues with the union demanding to "help." Take 100 students and divide them into two sections or three? If you choose two and refuse the third section, don't be surprised when the teacher says "Bring it on, I'll teach'em anyway." And perhaps we shouldn't be surprised if the union bitches about it anyway.

My biggest issue is with the time-frame, though. The movie, for some reason, compressed everything into 1 year and made it seem as if it were possible to go from pre-algebra to AP Calculus in one year if only your teacher were good enough. (Hence the question "If he did it, why can't you?")

Reason #3284 to get annoyed at Hollywood.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Lawmaking is like sausage

What is it this time? Seat-belt law. New Hampshire is the only state without one. "Common sense for all" is what's written on the signs. (Under 18 have to buckle up)

Under the new law, adults would have to buckle up or face a $25 fine under a mandatory seatbelt bill facing a hearing in the state Senate today. Additionally, the state would get 3.7 million in federal highway funds which would have to be earmarked to be used to raise seat-belt use.

Sound a little circular to you?

For the record, this old coot feels that I should be able to make my own decisions about anything that does not directly effect others. Drinking and driving can directly cause an accident, so I have no problem banning it. Talking on a cell-phone while driving can and does cause accidents (even more so than being drunk according to most studies) -- ban it. Shooting at the streetlights is illegal for a reason - I am affecting other people.

Not wearing a seat-belt does not cause anything to happen. I understand that post-accident injuries can be higher (airbags do the best job with a lap belt, but not a shoulder belt) but I have to be the one to determine the risks and costs of that for myself. I have insurance. My family is my business.

As for the costs to you or other drivers, NH doesn't require car insurance, leaving that risk choice up to the driver. Unlike every other state, you do not have to carry insurance to cover anyone. The same accident that harms another person (for whom you have no insurance coverage) might also harm you (but wear your seatbelt so you don't get hurt)?

Seems a little back-asswards to me.

"But supporters say the state and municipalities would save money from reduced health costs of caring for severely injured, unbelted victims". I could more readily support a requirement to have insurance to cover the other driver than one to require me to protect myself.
They are talking about unionizing the NY KIPP schools ...
For KIPP, the fundamental question is one at the heart of much modern education reform: do schools operate for the kids who attend them or the adults who staff them?
Basing the schools solely on what teachers want is not effective. Ignoring the reasonable desires of those teachers to have a life outside the school is a recipe for disaster, too. I can't imagine why anyone over 26, or who had a significant other or a family, who would want to be in that situation. It's not education, it's a concentration camp with a new interpretation of the word "concentration."

I'm pretty sure that schools that are based on what the students want and need will do well. I don't think KIPP is that answer. Students should not be in school from 7 to 5. The uniform is cute but it isn't necessary. I don't think that what students want and need includes teachers who work 9-10 hours a day, plus some weekends, plus homework help in the evenings and then their grading, for a longer school year and extra summer time. Quality and quantity, you know.

It has been shown that KIPP does well with students who start below the baseline but this is a meaningless statistic. KIPP has none of the restrictions that the public schools have and can and will do things the rest of us can't.

Things like:
demand that students be active and involved or be dumped.
demand parents be active and involved or the kid gets dumped.
demand the students toe a very stringent line or be dumped.
demand hours of repetitive drills or be dumped.
demand twice the time and effort from a kid or be dumped.
demand the students test well and often or be dumped.

I won't even get into the California abuse problems.

The bottom line is that KIPP, while pretending to have an open admission, has some of the most selective policies in the country. This "dump everyone who brings down your score or who might display the 'wrong' behavior" policy quite naturally leads to good scores from those left behind.


It does not mean, however, that any other students would do well if forced into this type of regime.
Those who can learn in a 6 hour school day.
Those who got it the first time without endless drills.
Those who like to dress in camoflage or fashionable clothes.
Those who appreciate teachers who don't run around like over-caffeinated chihuahuas.

Those others are still getting a decent education in the mainstream schools. The testing doesn't show it because the testing has no teeth and isn't measuring much of importance. The fact that KIPP caters to it shows a lot about the mentality of the place.

Our testing is a cooperative thing between us, Vermont, and Rhode Island. 70% failed the math in each of the last three years. Go ahead, tell me this is a good test. You get the same results with private schools who take it. Tell me I should change my curriculum to suit this thing, just like the previous math teacher changed the curriculum to suit the last type of testing that came through.

One of our students wrote a three page essay on the evils of state testing instead of the prompt - who cares? She passed the essay anyway. Tell me this is a good test.


"The fundamental question is: do schools operate for the kids who attend them or the adults who staff them?" Both, but not like that.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

More on Vets and that Penn State Video

One of the commenters tried to make a point:
Posted by: Bornhillbilly
This colleague was doing well in his class when the professor decided to change his grading method in the middle of the term. Since this student needed this class and was concerned about the change, he went to talk to the professor. He told the professor he wasn't happy about a change in the middle of the term. He told the professor he needed to pass the class and that he was just back from Vietnam where he killed over a hundred people. He said one more wouldn't make any difference to him. Somehow he passed that class.
I would have instantly thrown this man out of my class. Blatant threats have no place in college. The professor changes his grading policy mid-course and that's wrong; threatening to kill him over it shows a seriously disturbed mind with no sense of proportion and a total lack of respect for the military services. It's morons like this who make all vets look bad.

I mean, really, how disturbed is this guy? "You put a D instead of a B and I'll kill you over it?" Not only that, how stupid do you have to be to use this anecdote when arguing that vets are treated like grenades without pins?

Penn State goes loopy

This runs counter to every mental image of veterans that I have ever had, save Timothy McVeigh (one freak-crazy bastard out of an entire army). Every other military guy was and is up-front, down-to-earth, hard-working, opinionated as hell (and not always in agreement with me), and basically all-around good guy. This used to be a virtue.

Every one of them was a better student after basic training than before. Every one of them came home with a renewed sense of purpose - exactly the type of person any sane college professor should want.
"Veers off subject ... doesn't seem to understand the assignments ... talk with him every week .. usually ends up arguing with me."
Wow. A person with an opinion. No wonder this twit doesn't feel good about him. This Armchair Psychiatrist smells inferiority complex.
"I've tried to explain my grading. He just won't listen. I feel nervous talking to him. His tone is very confrontational. I'm afraid he might lose his temper."
Has he lost his temper or are we projecting, dearie? "No"

It goes on. The scenario plays out with the veteran himself and it really seems to me that the "professor" has no business being in academia. I must just be out of college for too long.

Maybe I'm reacting poorly to the situation because it all rings so false. The GI Bill was an incredible idea last century and it seems that this is the beginning of its destruction. After all, if all those vets are psychos then we certainly don't want them in our colleges, do we?

It reminds me of the beginnings of that silly Rambo movie in which every simple act is interpreted as threatening and every denial is an escalating threat instead of a denial. This actress is playing her role well - I know many like her who misinterpret everything and cannot shift their frame of reference to include someone with whom they fundamentally don't agree. The caricature is spot on.

Kind of unfortunate, really.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Fine Whine of the Upper Class

I had to laugh at this Wall Street Journal Article on those "middle-class" folks who "only" make $250,000 a year.

"I'm not complaining, but the reality is ... " yes, you are complaining.  Unnecessarily so.  You have a 2500 sq.ft. house in the burbs, drive an infiniti and whine about how plebian you are.  Tough noogies, woman.

The article helpfully explains their plight, "They are by no means struggling, compared with the 98% of Americans who make far less, but depending on where they live and the lifestyle choices they have made, they don't necessarily feel rich, either."


If you think $250k per isn't enough, then what exactly WOULD be enough for you?  How much food do we have to shove into your mouth to satisfy you?  How many cars do you need?  How much couch space is sufficient for you? 

How arrogant can you get?

Not On the Test

Very well done ...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Aussie Rules

Aussie Rules -- it's sorta like rugby but much more fun.

Math teachers - the information between the lines without the later description makes for a great puzzle for your students. Just tell them it's the score of a game with only two ways to score points (goals and behinds) and see how long it takes them to figure out the conventions and the point values.

MCG             Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 FullTime 
  BLUES  4.6  7.10  13.13  16.16  112
  BOMBERS  1.4  8.6  15.7  17.14  116

For those reading the score saying "Whot?"
The format is goals.behinds and it's a running total each quarter. Goals are worth 6 pts and behinds are 1 each. For example, at the end of the third, Essendon Bombers were 15 goals *6 pts + 7 behinds*1pts for 97. Carleton Blues had 13.13 for 91. By the final siren, Essendon'd scored two more goals and 7 more behinds for an additional 19 points and held on for the win.

Four points for a win, 0 for a loss and 2 for a tie, though ties are rare.

Essendon's now 2-1-0 with 8 points and is finally in the top eight where they belong. About bloody time.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


In 1933 Isaac Kandel said this: [There is] "one part of our educational system, secondary and higher, in which there is no compromise with standards, in which there is rigid selection both of instructors and students, in which there is no soft pedagogy, and in which training and sacrifice of the individual for common ends are accepted without question. I refer, of course, to the organization of athletics."

Playing Games with Scholastic Numbers

Schools Matter is running this little blurb ...
Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer Alfred Lubrano
Students in Pennsylvania schools can eat breakfast in their first class of the day with a teacher present and it will be counted as instructional time, the Department of Education has announced.
Wow. I'm fine with the idea of giving them something to eat. I think the cafeteria should be open before school and kids with free-and-reduced lunch should be given a chance to eat. (Actually, any kid should get a chance to eat something.)

But to call it instructional time if the kid's in a classroom? Seems a bit funny to me. I allow my students to have coffee or closed drinks in the classroom and occasionally one will ask to eat lunch there, but it definitely gets in the way. Students cannot multitask even at this level.

If you insist on counting instructional minutes, and that's of debatable utility, it's a joke to count this time as instructional. By the same logic, I would think you could count the bus ride, too, if there were a teacher or aide chaperoning the special needs kid in the front seat.
The new ruling is important because many principals typically have resisted in-class breakfast service, saying it detracted from instructional time. Numerous studies show that breakfast is vital to learning and that in-class service has proved the most effective means of getting children to eat the meal, said Leah Harris, a department spokeswoman. Seizing on the change, Philadelphia advocates for the hungry say the city school district should mandate breakfast service during the first class every day.

It does detract from instructional time.
It is vital to learning.
You just can't count eating as instruction. Mandating that it happen every day during first period is tantamount to accepting that first period is not an instructional time and that you've essentially created a homeroom with food.

I love this part: evaluation based on providing food.
"It should be required throughout the system," said Jonathan Stein, a lawyer with Community Legal Services long involved in school-meal programs. "And principals should be evaluated on whether they ensure children eat breakfast."

And then the real kicker ...
The Inquirer reported last week that principals typically push in-class food service during testing periods, when their performance is being judged. But during the rest of the year, they don't seem to make the same effort to ensure that children eat morning meals. . . .

"Teach and the test will take care of itself."

Anything done ONLY before testing is not going to help the kids. If you do it every day, then you can help long-term learning and that's what testing really measures. Testing does not measure anything crammed at the last minute. Practicing the released questions incessantly doesn't help. Performance is not effected by giving the kid a donut on test day. You can prepare them by showing them the type of question, but those who just drill the questions without teaching the material risk looking like Mrs. Crabapple.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

700 yard par 3

700-yard par three!

In a South African golf course, the 19th hole is a bit unusual - it's 310 yards horizontally and 640 yards vertically - call it 700 yards - and a par-3. The green is shaped like Africa and is surrounded by a sand bunker. The tee is at the top of a cliff. Used primarily for playoffs and milking the rich, it's pretty spectacular.

You ride a helicopter to the tee and they post spotters around the green - you can't possibly see the ball hit or miss the green.

Do not press play if heights are a problem for you. The comments are pretty funny, too. Everyone's complaining about the tremendous waste of resources to fly you up to the top of the cliff. I guess the private jet from New York to South Africa to play golf is okay, but a quarter-mile helicopter ride is destroying life as we know it.

Let's Get Together

It's Spring, just after April Fool's Day, and it's time to play "Let's Get Together and Network"

There we were, math and science teachers all, gathered to absorb the wisdom of the State and of each other. "21st Century Graphing Skills in the Mathematics Classroom" - sounds spine-tingly good, doesn't it? Me like.

Until the presenters started speaking and doing. Number 1 - state functionary who didn't really know math. Number 2 was a Geometry teacher who began by saying that she didn't really use technology and didn't know much about the graphing calculator (nor, as it turned out, much about Geometer's sketchpad, winplot, TI-Smartview, MS Office, computers, or Windows in general.)

Number 1 tried to present WebQuests but that didn't work too well. The first one on the list was riddled with grammatical errors and wasn't that useful. The second one was trivial and required one Wikipedia page. It was projected on a SmartBoard so that apparently made it okay.

I went over to the CBL motion detector setup to set it up for Number 2 because she couldn't, but another teacher beat me to it. I played with that for a few, but I'd rather use LoggerPro to collect data in the classroom. The TI is OK but cumbersome in that role. It's only good outdoors if you don't have a netbook handy.

Realize, we didn't actually DO any graphing or discuss how that graphing might happen in a math classroom or how we might assess that graphing in the classroom. We just saw a couple examples of someone they'd heard about.

Completely useless.

The afternoon was billed as 9-12 Graphing Across the Math and science Curriculum. I lost interest when our first task was to count by fours and group ourselves. My mood further deteriorated when the second task was to compare and contrast k-2nd grade math and science standards that seemed to be about data collection.

I know squat about 1st grade science standards.

Then we looked at state test sample answers. Part of the "official" criteria included "uses more than 2/3 of the available space."

Not "is legible".

Update: Those who can, do. Those who can't, run the State DOE.