Friday, July 31, 2009

Taking a break.

There won't be anything going on here behind the curtain for a while. I'll be posting again in a week or so.

See you then.

Trivia - Music for Friday

The gifted, extremely popular singer who originally bore the name Virginia Patterson Hensley was killed by a tragic plane crash while on tour. What was her stage/recording name?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Trivia for Thirty Thursday

What number of gunshots is fired for the arrival of the president?
BONUS: How about for the vice president?
DOUBLE BONUS: For an admiral or general?

How testing works

Let's repost this, shall we?

Dear Parents: What happens in the testing room?
Heather Wolpert-Gawron / tweenteacher blog

Dear Parents,

I’m going to walk you through what happens in a testing room to help demystify your child’s test taking experience.

First off, I’m told to take down anything from my walls that might help kids out. That means they are now emerged in a neutral testing environment. No Word Walls, no prompts, no student work. The room is either stripped to the bare walls or paper is stapled up over everything. This is so every school and every class has the same disadvantages. It’s also very depressing.

OK, so the day of the test, I walk down to the farthest place on the other side of the world and pick up a box that has all my testing materials in it, signing away my firstborn should I lose a pencil. I walk into my classroom, and at the bell there soon appears my testing group that consists of 36 students I’ve never seen before. Students, you see, are not necessarily assigned to classrooms they’ve ever been in. I don’t know them, and they don’t me. Kinda uncomfortable all around.

I notice there’s a girl crying. Her friend leans over and whispers that her boyfriend just broke up with her. I thank the friend for the gossip and ask the unfortunate casualty of tween-dom if she needs a tissue. She sniffs and shakes her head in the negative, suggesting she’s trying to be strong for the test for which she’s about to receive. I have no doubt this test is very high on her priority list right now.

I distribute the question booklet as I read a script word-for-word of directions and cautionary phrases. Profound ones like, ‘Read directions,” and such. The script keeps me in line. No unauthorized humor allowed on a testing day. The directions are mind numbing, and I can’t help but wish the testing company could hire some real writers for this thing, say, from 30 Rock or something? The script continues with monotonous instructions on where to put your name, how to write the number of the test on the answer sheet, where to write the name of our school, and where to write the school district’s name.

At this time, the students who just entered the school only a week ago from some other state or district raise their hands and in unison call out, “What district is this?” You tell them and hope their previous teachers covered the material that they are now being tested on in your room. bubble-test

I continue: “Everyone open to page 12 to begin the Language Arts portion of the test. This is represented by a picture of a #2 pencil. Now go to your answer sheet and find the picture of the #2 pencil. (pause for students to find the pencil) Now look at sample question A…” and so on. You ask for the answer for the Language Arts sample question A, and it is when someone answers ½ that you realize that he was on the Math section of the test. You ask them politely to please turn to page 12 as previously requested.

“When you see the stop sign at the end of page 32, you must close your book. Do not go to any other page.” (Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.) You say this with some skepticism knowing that at least 2 students will plow ahead simply because they are not paying attention to stop signs. We call this a California Stop and a cop can pull you over for just slowing down before accelerating ahead. It is a part of my job as test police to catch these students before they pull ahead of the class while in the test taking zone.

“You may begin.” And now starts the process of walking around the classroom and not saying anything, because I am not allowed.

The phone rings. The front office forgot we were testing and sent a call through with apologies.

A student raises her hand. ”I don’t understand this word,” she says. You look at the word and remind yourself that a certain percentage of the tests are meant to be above most kids’ heads, so you bite your tongue and don’t say anything. Perhaps you say something encouraging or suggest that she skip the question and return to it later, rather than sit and struggle with it now.

The phone rings again. This will happen two more times.

A student raises his hand and I ask him what he needs. He looks at me blankly and I realize he’s been placed in the wrong classroom. He doesn’t speak English. I send him to the appropriate room.

3/4 of the way into the testing period, the student who never shows up to school…does. He sits down and looks around realizing that he has appeared on one of the testing days rather than the assembly day schedule he had originally planned. He will spell out “This Sucks” on his bubble sheet with his #2 pencil.

I continue to walk around the classroom and hear a scream and a cry of alarm. A student has just realized that when she skipped #4, her bubbling had derailed for the remainder of the 46 questions. She has 5 minutes left to erase and re-bubble. I realize that these kids are really being tested on their ability to bubble.

We’ve been sitting there for 3 hours of testing. The kids are fried. I’m fried. The bell rings and the kids make a break for it. I wave to them knowing that we’ll be doing this all over again the next day. I pack up the supplies: count each pencil, eraser, scratch paper, alphabetize the answer sheets and booklets, and schlep them back down to the room on the other side of the world.

The materials will go into some locked-down Hazmet unit to await their release on the morrow.

And now here’s the LA Times with a report that California is having funding threatened if it can’t use test scores for their teacher evaluations.

Here are the facts:

1. A certain percentage of questions from standardized tests are meant to be too challenging (meaning, there’s only a small sliver of student pie who are meant to be able to answer those questions).

2. Questions that too many students get right are dumped from the test as being too easy. In other words, if every teacher did their job well, and teach the standards such that the kids can all answer a particular question, that question is deemed not challenging enough. So if too many teachers do their job well according to test scores, the test must be the problem, not the teachers who are the solution.

3. Taking funding away from failing schools will not lead to anything but more failing schools.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Trivia for Wednesday the 29th

The name for this animal comes from the Afrikaans words meaning "Earth Pig". Nearly six feet long and the size of a wild pig, this creature has little hair and a long rat-like tail.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Two for Tuesday the 28th

Two Literature Questions
  1. Boris Pasternak's greatest work was suppressed and could not be published in the Soviet Union; it was finally released in Italy in 1959. Name the classic the Soviets banned.
  2. “This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.” This is the first line of a book that includes the Cliffs of Insanity, Rodents Of Unusual Size, and a sword made for a six fingered man. Name this novel supposedly written by S. Morgenstern, but whose “Good Parts” version was written by William Goldman.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Trivia for Monday the 27th

Who is this 1927 passage about?
"Suddenly and softly there slipped out of the darkness a gray-white airplane as 25,000 pairs of eyes strained toward it. Lines of policemen and stout steel fences went down before the rush of Parisians."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Enough Said

From Dave Marain at Math Notations comes word of this CNN Money article:
Most lucrative college degrees

By Julianne Pepitone, contributing writer
July 24, 2009: 04:39 AM EDT

Math majors don't always get much respect on college campuses, but fat post-grad wallets should be enough to give them a boost.

The top 15 highest-earning college degrees all have one thing in common -- math skills. That's according to a recent survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, which tracks college graduates' job offers.

"Math is at the crux of who gets paid," said Ed Koc, director of research at NACE. "If you have those skills, you are an extremely valuable asset. We don't generate enough people like that in this country."

This year Rochester Institute of Technology hosted recruiters from defense-industry firms like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, as well as other big companies like Microsoft and Johnson & Johnson.

"The tech fields are what's driving salaries and offers, and the top students are faring quite well," said Emanuel Contomanolis, who runs RIT's career center.

Specifically, engineering diplomas account for 12 of the 15 the top-paying majors. NACE collects its data by surveying 200 college career centers.

Energy is the key. Petroleum engineering was by far highest-paying degree, with an average starting offer of $83,121, thanks to that resource's growing scarcity. Graduates with these degrees generally find work locating oil and gas reservoirs, or in developing ways to bring those resources to the Earth's surface.

"Exploration for new energy sources is high," Koc said. "The oil and gas industry has done relatively well the past year, even though oil prices are off right now."

Other highly-paid engineering majors include chemical engineers, who employ their skills to make everything from plastics to fuel cells and have an average starting offer of $64,902.

Mining engineers start at $64,404 on average, while computer engineers, who have an expertise in both coding and electrical engineering, pocket roughly $61,738 their first year out of school.

Left behind. Of course, not every student with an engineering degree will score a fat paycheck. RIT's Contomanolis noted that "average" graduates are feeling the pinch of fewer job offers. Still, in a tough job market, graduates with technology degrees have an advantage.

"It's a tech-driven world, and demand [for engineers] is only going to grow," said Farnoosh Torabi, employment expert and Quicken blog editor. "You can't say that about many fields, especially in a recession."

Perhaps that's why more and more college students are picking their majors based on a field's earning power, ultimately "choosing a major that pays," Torabi said.

Top non-engineering fields. Only three of the 15 top paying degrees were outside the field of engineering -- but they each still require math skills.

For computer science majors, who specialize in programming and software, the average salary was $61,407. Graduates with degrees in actuarial science took home about $56,320; and jobs for students in construction management paid about $53,199. Each of these fields has paid well throughout the years, Koc said.

What happened to well-rounded? There are far fewer people graduating with math-based majors, compared to their liberal-arts counterparts, which is why they are paid at such a premium. The fields of engineering and computer science each make up about 4% of all college graduates, while social science and history each comprise 16%, Koc noted.

As a result, salaries for graduates who studied fields like social work command tiny paychecks, somewhere in the vicinity of $29,000. English, foreign language and communications majors make about $35,000, Koc said.

"It's a supply and demand issue," he added. "So few grads offer math skills, and those who can are rewarded."

Trivia for Sunday the 26th

The Arc de Triomphe was erected to commemorate the victories of Napoleon Bonaparte. It is at the end of what street in Paris?
BONUS: What illuminating nickname is given to Paris?
BONUS2: What race ends with a stage down the Champs Elysees?
BONUS3: Who has won the race the greatest number of times?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Lightning Round Saturday the 25th - Vocabulary !

I'll give the animal, you give the collective noun. For example, if I were to say "antelope", your response would be a "herd of antelope". Seagulls would be in a "flock" and so on.

  1. _______ of ants
  2. _______ of bacteria
  3. _______ of bears
  4. _______ of bees
  5. _______ of buffalo
  6. _______ of cats
  7. _______ of crows
  8. _______ of dogs
  9. _______ of dolphins / whales
  10. _______ of lions
  11. _______ of penguins

Friday, July 24, 2009

Trivia - Flowers for Friday the 24th

These flowers bloom for a very short time, yet their petals are highly prized for making perfume. This flower grows from bulbs. Primarily associated with Holland, this flower has been the subject of price wars, economic crashes and the occasional time when one bulb could be purchased for the equivalent of $500 - $1000 apiece.

BONUS: The most expensive was Semper Augustus, extraordinarily beautiful with midnight-blue petals - that topped by a band of pure white, and accented with crimson flares. In 1624, a man owned the only 12 that existed. He was offered 3,000 ________ for one bulb, roughly equal to the annual income of a wealthy merchant. What Dutch monetary unit was this?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Trivia for Thursday the 23rd - Egyptology

The discovery of this piece of stone made the translation of the mysterious Egyptian hieroglyphics possible because it contained a passage of hieroglyphics that was also written in two known languages. Give the name of this stone.
BONUS: In what city was it discovered?
BONUS2: The soldiers who found the stone were part of whose army?
BONUS3: Give one of the other two languages that appeared on the stone.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Trivia for Wednesday the 22nd - Change is good.

What movement began on the evening of October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his theses to the door of the Wittenberg church?
BONUS: How many theses were there?
What nation is Wittenberg in?
What branch of Christianity came out of this movement?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Trivia - Two for Tuesday

Bread gets its light and fluffy texture from what gas produced when Saccharomyces ferments the carbohydrates in bread dough?

BONUS: What is the common name for Saccharomyces?

Monday, July 20, 2009


When are we going to learn?
Texting (and phoning, and blogging) take attention and focus. You cannot multitask. Just because you are a "digital native" and you feel like texting doesn't mean you have the slightest clue about your own capabilities.

All of you educlowns who want to have cellphones and texting and blogging and computers and "engaged students" in the classroom? If they are engaged in the technology, they are not engaged in learning or listening to you or their classmates or anything. You hear them "I am a digital native. I can multi-task."

Um, no.

"His life has been shattered."
Quinn has been fired from his MBTA job.
Sent a text message, missed a red light, slammed into a stopped trolley.
Caused $9 million in property damage.
Quinn was among 60-plus people injured.

His defense? "The law was meant for choo-choo trains." How pathetic and childish is that?

When are we going to learn?

Complete article:

Boston Herald
Accused texting T driver rails against charge
By Laura Crimaldi
Monday, July 20, 2009

The accused texting T driver railed against prosecutors today for slapping him with a charge that was used more than a century ago to prosecute “choo-choo train” engineers.

Aiden Quinn, 24, pleaded not guilty today in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston to a single charge of gross negligence while in control of a train. He was set free on personal recognizance.

His lawyer, James Sultan, said the charge should have remained in the history books and not back in a modern-day court.

“I think they picked the wrong statute,” said Sultan today on the steps of the court as he draped his arm around Quinn. “His life has been shattered.”

Quinn is due back in court July 27 when a permanent defense attorney will be assigned the case. Quinn, who has been fired from his MBTA job, claims he is flat broke and can’t afford a lawyer.

Quinn faces up to three years in prison for allegedly sending his girlfriend a text message when he missed a red light and slammed into a stopped trolley in the subway tunnel near Government Center on May 8, causing $9 million in property damage.

The crash prompted the T to order all employees to stop carrying cell phones while on duty.

Quinn, dressed in a dark suit, let his lawyer do all the talking today.

Sultan said the charge against Quinn has not been used for 135 years – when it was put to use primarily in the enforcement of “choo-choo trains.”

Quinn, who broke his wrist in the crash, was among 60-plus people injured.

The T and the National Transportation Safety Board blamed the accident on human error.

Trivia for Monday the 20th

Military Science
This plane holds several records, including New York to London in 1 hour 54 minutes and Los Angeles to Dulles International Airport, outside Washington, D.C., in 1 hour 4 minutes 20 seconds. Built for reconnaissance, it relied on speed instead of weapons for safety. Operational from 1964 to 1990, this spy plane could fly three times the speed of sound. Name the plane.

BONUS: If the distance is roughly 2600 miles, what was the average speed from LA to Dulles?

DOUBLE BONUS: If the speed of sound is 770 mph, what Mach Number did the plane average?

Sunday, July 19, 2009


"This is a fight for liberation no different that the fight for the liberation of slaves, of women or any other oppressed group in the past. We have to equate our movement with those movements." - PETA supporter.

"The foolishness of that comment is so deep I can only ascribe it to higher education. You have to have gone to college to say something that stupid." - talk show host's response.

Health Care in the Education Model

Of course, I've got really good health care because I'm a teacher, but that's not where I'm going with this. The conservative wings are up in arms because of a clause they've found in one of the new bills. If I can trust their transcription skills and trust that it says what they say it says, the new law would prohibit many types of private care.

The health care system should run like many other social systems in this country. I think the most appropriate one would be similar to the education system. Everyone has a right to care, just as every kid has a right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Anyone who wants to enroll in a private school is welcome to do so, but still has to pay school taxes. Likewise, anyone who wants to buy separate health insurance (to cover anything that the main plan doesn't) would be free to do so.

I know, the screamers are going to insist that education isn't run properly and shouldn't be the model for anything, but I disagree. When not playing games with the statistics, people can see that public schools do a good job with most of their students, most of the time. If you want much more than that, or want a specialist education, you are free to purchase that.

Just a thought.

Trivia for Sunday the 19th - Another Lightning Round

Again, I give you the nickname and you supply the State. 1 Minute!

14. The Tar Heel or Old North State?
15. The Buckeye State.
16. The Mountain State?
17. The Evergreen State.
18. The Granite State.
19. The Magnolia State.
20. The Sunshine State.
21. The Land of Opportunity or The Natural State?
22. The Treasure State or Big Sky Country?
23. The Palmetto State.
24. The Centennial State (became a state in 1876)
25. The Bluegrass State?
26. The Pine Tree State.

Comments will be hidden to allow folks to answer without seeing other responses.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

In the Bucket

Rick Reilly's Bucket List of Sporting Events to see:
7. Yankees vs. Red Sox at Fenway -- There's no better place in baseball than Fenway, which is like playing in your grandmother's attic. The Green Monster isn't an architect's precious quirk; it was the only way to shoehorn the place onto the available land. And Fenway is filled with people who don't need giant clapping hands on the scoreboard to know when to cheer.

Oh Yeah.

State of Education

Mamacita speaks her mind before posting 50 education Quotes on Quotation Saturday:
"The state of education in America fills me with shame, and yet I know that we have always had and WILL always have a population of students desperate to learn, thirsty for knowledge, hungry for opportunities to try their intellectual wings. . . . Why do our schools do nothing for these students any more? Why do we cater to the lowest possible common denominator and pretty much ignore the cream?"
Because we are not forced to. Because we are focused on bringing up the level 2's to Level 3-passing. Because every time you set up an honors class, the helicopter parents get their dunderheads transferred into it. Because "track" is a dirty word and "drill" and "practice" are no longer "best practice." Because mainstreaming is done improperly.
"Why have we allowed petty politics to rule our school systems? Why do we put up with secretaries who don’t do computers, janitors who don’t do vomit; counselors who don’t do controversy, principals who don’t do discipline, superintendents who don’t do ethics, coaches who don’t do grade checks, parents who don’t discipline, and school boards who don’t even know what’s going on?"
Lawsuits, unions, OSHA, "feelings", job market, New Age - PETA thinking, it's a PITA, and for the School Boards at least, an over-reaction to the fear of micro-managing. The reasons are many.

It's simple, really. The reason that many charter school succeed is because they do not have the restrictions that the public schools do.

Trivia for Saturday the 18th - Lightning Round

Lightning Round - 1 minute!

I give you the nickname, you give me the State.

1. The "Heart of Dixie," "Yellowhammer State"
2. The "Garden State"?
3. The "Battle Born State," "Sagebrush State" or "Silver State.".
4. The "Green Mountain State"?
5. The "Lone Star State"?
6. The "Beehive State."
7. The "Old Dominion"?
8. The "Volunteer State"?
9. The "Hawkeye State"?
10. The "Grand Canyon State"?
11. The "Badger State."
12. The "Last Frontier" or "Land of The Midnight Sun."
13. The "Free State" or "Old Line State?"

Answer from Friday:
Ginger Rogers

Friday, July 17, 2009

Trivia for Friday the 17th


It has been said that she performed all of the same steps as her partner, Fred Astaire, only she danced hers backwards and in high heels. Who was she?

Answer from Thursday
Knight of the British Empire
Sir Rudolph, indeed.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Trivia for Thursday the 16th


Although he is not entitled to call himself "Sir Rudolph," New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was honored by Britain's Prince Andrew to be able to include the letters "KBE" following his name. What does the KBE mean?

Answers from Wednesday:
Franklin on the $100
Hamilton on the $10

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wednesday Trivia

Since 1969, the only paper money issued to the public has been those bills from $1 to $100, amounting to seven denominations. Only two of those depicted on these bills were not presidents. Who?

Answer from Tuesday:
Acetic acid

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


"Failure to spend the [presentation] time wisely and well, failure to educate, entertain, elucidate, enlighten, and most important of all, failure to maintain attention and interest should be punishable by stoning. There is no excuse for tedium." — Jay H. Lehr

Tuesday Trivia


Name a common dilute acid used in the home as a cleanser and in salad dressings.
BONUS: What type of acid is this?
DOUBLE BONUS: give the chemical formula for this acid.

Answer from Monday:
Hans Christian Andersen, no less.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Clueless on Cheating

from eSchoolNews:
"A recent report commissioned by Common Sense Media about the use of cell phones and the Internet for cheating (see story) is representative of how students and adults can look at the same behavior or activity and have very different perceptions of technology's impact."
This should not surprise anyone. Teenagers are fundamentally different in how they perceive the world, assess needs and risks, and how they apportion time and manage their resources. They have always been different from the adults. Adults have always had to be the responsible ones, though the roles do sometimes get mixed. (I have no intention of talking about those parents at this time.)

Not everyone seems to understand this, however, and they are increasingly making excuses for teenagers and basing these excuses on "digital nativism."

This is a joke. I am just as capable as my students in using all these digital tools and I started on a PDP-8 with a punch-tape reader, for criss-sakes. Digital familiarity is not a psychological difference nearly as large as that driven by age and experience. I can use all of it. I just don't want to.

Call me old-fashioned. Call me old.

Tech toys are not an excuse for cheating and the availability of technology is not an excuse for not thinking. Students still need to think. As Dan Willingham put it in his terrific book Why Don't Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom, schools ask students to think and thinking is HARD. This fact is never going to change. Pretending that wikipedia copy-and-paste is ethical and desirable simply because technology makes it easy is itself a simplistic and ultimately incorrect argument.

Claiming that students who text each other for the answers to a test or quiz are somehow being digitally masterful is missing the obvious insight that 40 years ago it was a high-tech Bic pen and a piece of paper.
At the root of this digital disconnect is a fundamental difference of perception. Our students, who are not only digitally native, but increasingly mobile, view the world through a new lens that has been framed by a myriad of emerging technology devices and the use of such tools for increased communication, collaboration, content development, and connectedness. Their parents, teachers, and many other digital "immigrants" in education policy and media spheres are startled by the speed with which students are not only adopting these new tools, but adapting them to new, previously unforeseen uses. And quite often, the context of this adaptation is misunderstood by the adults whose lenses are not quite as digitally focused.
Context, my foot. New lens, my eyeball. "Previously unforeseen uses?" 99% of what kids use technology for is chatting. Just as we oldtimers used the high-technology of our time, the telephone, so much that our parents had to install a second line? How many of you had a sister? How many parents had to scream daily "Get off the phone, I need to make a call!"

Nothing new is really new, it's just packaged differently. The technological icing on the cake is sweet and not too sustaining. We'll adapt to different ways of doing things but we'll also come to understand how desperately wrong folks like eSchoolNews and the Techno-philiacs really are.

Cheating is wrong not because of my hurt feelings. Cheating is wrong because it's easy and doesn't lead to anything meaningful. Not every kid understands this but I've never let a kid decide things for me. I'm still the adult in the room, I hope.

If only I can get this damn blog thing working.

(Exit, muttering.)

I'm on the mailing list for Mayoral Candidate Avella

I've now received 3 emails from this guy.
"Since Tony spoke to the Working Families Party on July 2, we’ve received some incredible support from the education community. Because you write about education, we thought you might find the following story interesting."
"Does Mike Bloomberg even believe in democracy? That's one question you'll never have to ask about City Councilmember Tony Avella. Let's stand together. Tony Avella for Mayor."
"City Councilmember and Mayoral candidate Tony Avella joined with parents and teachers from PS 123 this morning to resist the downsizing of their school and the expansion of the charter school Harlem Success Academy II."
If you say my name three times, do I get to vote?

Word to Mayoral candidates ... I would be happy to blog for you. Email and we can discuss terms. I would not do this without disclosure and, since I don't live in New York or even close to it, my position on this can't be personal but only mercenary.

Thanks for the request. Hope to speak to you soon.

Trivia for Monday the 13th

He died as a result of falling out of bed. Viewed as a lunatic in his early years, he was so ashamed of his body that he would pad his shirt with newspapers to make it appear more muscular. Yet, his writings became immortal and he was beloved by children everywhere for his fanciful tales. Who was this Danish writer, the author of such tales as “The Little Mermaid” and “The Nightingale”?

Answer from Sunday
Star-Spangled Banner
Francis Scott Key
"free, and the home of the brave"
"Play Ball!"

Math in the Crosshairs again, this time Maryland

"... many graduates do not have a grasp of the basics."
"... schools have deemphasized drilling students."
"... taught too early to rely on calculators."

A calculator is a tool. It should be used as a tool. As soon as it replaces thought, it should itself be replaced.

I have decided to make a new slogan, signifying my reluctance to rely on the thrilling new technology of calculators because of the very real effects on the kids' development.

"Thrill and Kill."

"... ninety-eight percent had to pay for remedial classes." Okay, it's a community college and you expect that many of the attendees would be looking to improve their math skills. But 98% ??

"Across the nation, slightly more than one-third enroll in remedial classes." That's bad, people.

The report gets specific but, in my view, misses the mark. " ... particularly critical of the Algebra I standards, saying that they are watered down because educators must teach material for the High School Assessments, which includes data analysis. It is not what any mathematician would consider an algebra course."

No, I think the algebra I course is watered down because, (A) it is taught to eighth graders and they had to water it down so they could pass more easily and (B) mainstreaming and the refusal to place students in an appropriate class means that every room has kids who slow down the group. This insistence on placing kids in a course based on emotion, faulty pedagogy, self-delusion and parental desire instead of mathematical ability will ruin your classrooms every time.

Anyway, the article that started this train of thought appears below the fold.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Scholar's Bowl

The trivia questions I've been posting have been from an academic competition called Scholars' Bowl. Teams of 4-6 compete against each other in a three-round format.

Round one (10 minutes) has toss-up questions. The question is read and a player from either team can buzz-in and answer the question (hence "toss-up"). The questions will often have three to four sentences, the first being an obscure clue and the rest giving progressively more information. A good player will recognize the answer from the first sentence but has to weigh the 10 points for a correct answer against his uncertainty and the 5 point penalty for guessing early and incorrectly. A correct answer wins 10 points and first shot at 3 bonus questions. That's a fun part of the competition - do I guess early and risk the penalty, or wait and maybe I'm wrong but no penalty? What if the other team buzzes first? Typically, this round ends with scores of 50 to 60 or so.

Round Two is the lightning round. The trailing team gets one minute for 10 quick-answer questions, 5 points per. Any that they "pass" or answer incorrectly are then asked of the other team. Answer all ten and get 10 extra points. (total 60). Then team two has ten questions and any they miss are asked of team one. The scores are usually pretty close after the second round and usually close to 100 each.

Round Three is all toss-up questions, no bonuses. This round is fast and the points come quickly. A good reader can make or break a competition - read deliberately and the teams are antsy and jumping at straws. Read quickly and clearly and the teams settle into that zone you hear about. Very fun.

If you can get your school to sponsor a team, it's worth it.

This book is a good place to start your classes off:
Campbell's Potpourri III of Quiz Bowl Questions

Trivia - Sunday 12th

An easy one this time, for the musically inclined.

What somewhat famous song, set to the tune of an old English drinking song, was written by a prisoner on a British warship near Fort McHenry during the War of 1812?

(a) Name the prisoner.
(b) What are the last seven words of the song?
(c) According to the joke, what are the two words after that?

Answers from Saturday:
Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Saturday Trivia - July 11

Trivia Question:
What is the modern name for the practice suggested in this passage from the first century A.D.? "The earth neither grows old nor wears out if it be dunged."

BONUS: What are the three primary elements in this product?

DOUBLE BONUS: What are the chemical symbols of these elements?

Answers from Friday 10th:
Silmarillion : JRR TOLKIEN
Stranger in a Strange Land : ROBERT HEINLEIN
Narnia Chronicles : C.S. LEWIS
A Spell for Chameleon : PIERS ANTHONY
Foundation Trilogy : ISAAC ASIMOV
2001: Space Odyssey : ARTHUR C. CLARKE
Midnight at the Well of Souls : JACK CHALKER

Friday, July 10, 2009

Friday Trivia - July 10

We'll wrap up the week with the last of the Bookshelf "Lightning Round" - these are even more out there - really out there. To Space and the SciFi Section.

Give yourself 30 seconds - can you identify the author of each of these works?

My bookshelf, PART III: Given the title, tell the author.
Stranger in a Strange Land
Narnia Chronicles
Jurassic Park
A Spell for Chameleon
Foundation Trilogy
Ender’s War
2001: Space Odyssey
Midnight at the Well of Souls

Answers from Thursday:
My Name is Asher Lev : CHAIM POTOK
Patriot Games : TOM CLANCY
Flight of the Intruder : STEPHEN COONTS
A Brief History of Time : STEPHEN HAWKING
Deliverance : JAMES DICKEY
Raise the Titanic : CLIVE CUSSLER
The Guns of Navarone : ALASTAIR MACLEAN

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Thursday Trivia - July 9

Thursday is another "Lightning Round" - but these are harder.
Give yourself 30 seconds - can you identify the author of each of these works?

My bookshelf, PART II: Given the title, tell the author.
  1. My Name is Asher Lev
  2. Being There
  3. Patriot Games
  4. The Client
  5. Flight of the Intruder
  6. It
  7. A Brief History of Time
  8. Deliverance
  9. Raise the Titanic
  10. The Guns of Navarone

Answer from Wednesday
The Prince and The Pauper : Mark Twain, or Sam Clemens
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof : Tennessee Williams
Franny and Zooey : J.D. Salinger
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead : Tom Stoppard
The Sea-Wolf and Other Stories : Jack London
Homage to Catalonia : George Orwell
Cyrano de Bergerac : Edmund Rostand
A Farewell to Arms : Ernest Hemingway
Wind in the Willows : Ken Grahame
The Stranger : Albert Camus

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Discipline in a Nutshell

From Andrew
Rules which are not enforced are often far more harmful than no rules at all and a chain of command which breaks is worse than no chain of command at all.

A silly little ratio problem for you

I was wandering around the SmartBoard website and I came across this little bit of information:
Model  Active screen area
690  94" (238.8 cm), 16:9 aspect ratio
685  87" (221.0 cm), 16:10 aspect ratio
If that 94" is the diagonal of the active area, what are the dimensions of the whole board? Let's assume it's 3" from the active area to the actual edge of the equipment on the left, top and right and 6" at the bottom (to include the "chalk tray").

How about for the 87"?

Whew! World is still here.

Holding your breath? We're okay. We made it.
12:34:56 7/8/9
has passed and there aren't any floods, disasters, or religious raptures. Maybe I just read the tea leaves wrong. 2012 anyone?

Longitudinal Data Collection

From eSchoolNews:
President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have emphasized the need for all states to implement longitudinal data systems to track the progress of students from kindergarten through college and the workforce. Those data systems also would link students to their respective teachers and help school leaders identify strengths and weaknesses within their districts.
I like this idea in theory, but it is rife with dangers to the teacher, school and student. I have no faith in the goodwill intentions of those who are proposing this nor in those who will implement it. It feels like some think tank took a decent idea and extrapolated too far. I don't think they're thought this one through.

Considering teachers, I am focusing on "link students to their respective teachers and help school leaders identify strengths and weaknesses"
  1. What of the teacher who is assigned the weaker kids in the first place because he is the better teacher - is my teaching them multiplication as value-added as your teaching them polynomial factorization?
  2. What if the weakness is administrative? One of my peeves is the guidance counselor who can't decide if the "consumer math" class is for seniors who have completed algebra 2 / pre-calculus or for the kid who can't pass algebra 1 -- and they're both in the same class. How do we account for this?
  3. How do we measure the teacher who is primarily pre-calculus / calculus and whose students are primarily seniors - they're past the test, having passed the test? Is this person a weakness?
  4. What of the teacher whose material isn't yet tested? History, Art, Music, Languages, IEP/504
  5. Just for laughs, what of the kid whose parent has overruled his teacher's placement recommendations? Whose fault is it that he's struggling and not learning as much as he might?
  6. I don't know about you-all, but some kids up here change teachers during their high school career. I don't want to be saddled with the test results for a kid who's been in my math class for 1 month, especially if he's transferred out of Mr. Loser's class into mine specifically because he wanted a better teacher.
For the student, I have concerns about the security of the data and the inputs:
  1. How long will it be before we have the kid's entire life on one database and schools start selling adspace and selling the database to marketers. It's already happening with iGoogle and student editions of Google Mail. How long before someone sells access to the better math students? or the better writers? There are ways to serve the ads that wouldn't violate FERPA. This is not a good thing.
  2. The schools are notoriously bad at security now - how can they possibly hope to keep all this correct? Think of the story last week of the mother who changed grades to promote her daughter's standing - do you want to trust that same woman and the thousands like her to be perfect? If the data is internal, the damage is limited to transcripts and such - easily caught because it's local. If the correction takes a while, then the damage is likewise local. Can you imagine the State catching those errors? The State can't even figure out how many kids attend a school or what the graduation rate is. They have to depend on fallible humans. Garbage in, garbage out.
  3. Credit card companies and banks get hacked. Do we really think that Mrs. Smith in the main office is similarly motivated, trained and able to keep things secure? You know her, she's the one with the post-it note passwords?
  4. Have your ever tried to correct your address at school? You walk in, say "Hi" and tell them the new address. How about doing that at the state level? What of the kid who changes his name midstream. Or changes schools, or changes religions and adopts a new name? Or goes to live with the other parent in a different district? state?

What of the records from private schools or charter schools or homeschools - is this just another way to smack down the public schools while promoting schools that can't be measured but are assumed to be good "just because they're parochial and everyone knows they're good"?

Other thoughts:

They want to also include college - how? The kid is over 18, is paying for college, and even his own parents can't see his records if he doesn't give consent.

Don't even get me started on tracking a student up to, into and through the workforce. Creepy and over-reaching are the nicest terms I can think of. Certainly, it's the only one I should use publicly.

Let's end with this:

One big-ass system to track students. How's that working out for you, NYC?

Before I dump everything into this happy little database - can we please make sure it works?

Trivia - Wednesday Lightning Round

Wednesday's Question is a "Lightning Round"
Give yourself 30 seconds - can you identify the author of each of these works? Highlight the text after "Answer:" for the answers!

My bookshelf, PART I: Given the title, tell the author.

The Prince and The Pauper
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Franny and Zooey
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
The Sea-Wolf and Other Stories
Homage to Catalonia
Cyrano de Bergerac
A Farewell to Arms
Wind in the Willows
The Stranger

Answer from Tuesday:
Sammy Davis Jr. sang the theme song to Baretta, "Keep Your Eye on The Sparrow." Nobody knows what that means. Nobody cares cause it's Sammy and he was a great singer.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


In another post, I referred to Baretta's theme song. "Don't do the Crime if you can't do the Time, Don't do it".

Who sings the theme song to Baretta?

Answer in next day's question.

Punishments, Fines and Penalties

From this Yahoo article by Chris Chase comes news that penalties for lateness in the real world do exist. I may keep this one for when kids complain that they were "just going to the bathroom and couldn't make it to class on time" or "their car wouldn't start" or "my sister was late."
"Lance Armstrong and his Astana team were fined for arriving late for the pre-stage registration this morning in Marseille, France. Rules state that riders must show up 20 minutes prior to the start or face a fine of 100 Swiss Francs ($92)."
Of course, the French authorities were not amused:
"They don't care about the fine. We are going to ask the UCI to be tougher."
Which brings up an interesting point for educators. Set your penalty for the 'offense' and stick to it. The temptation is to raise the stakes for repeat offenders leading to the school suspending or expelling for chronic tardiness. This escalation rarely works to your benefit. Instead, keep the punishment wherever it is. The rulebook is your friend.

High Schoolers are in the middle of feeling their way through the transition from "letter-of-the-law" mentality to "deeper meaning of the law" mentality. Anyone who has tried to write or enforce a dress code knows what I'm talking about here!

If the rule and its response aren't specified, the lesson won't be internalized. If the rule isn't followed all the time, don't expect to have an easy time of it on those rare occasions when you try. These kids are not quite ready to understand relativity and fine lines and shades of gray. They want "Yes" or "No", "Breaking the Rule" or not, "I was inside the door when the Bell rang."

Also, don't get all hung up over the enforcement of that clearly-defined rule and response. The kids get the quid pro quo if they know that you are not singling them out. They might not like the punishment, but they'll understand it. Better to say "You knew what was going to happen, don't complain" or sing the theme tune to Baretta.

Whatever you do, don't drop the punishment. If your school says 1 detention for 3 tardies, it shouldn't suddenly try to mitigate that with "restorative justice" or some other touchy-feely garbage just because Johnny has racked up 15 detentions. The adults will feel better but the Johnny won't get much except "I got away with it." Figure out a way for him to "pay off" those 15 detentions - maybe a work crew assignment on Saturday that happens to be equivalent. If you can't find an equivalent then maybe your penalties should be changed -- at the end of the year.

If the school seems to be ignoring your problem student (as mine does) then the "Mad Minute Quiz" is a fine solution. Have them add fractions or solve simple equations for 60 seconds, no retakes allowed. Anyone on the absence list is exempt.

Don't over-react, either. This is not the time to start talking about "three strikes" or suspension or expulsion. If the kid escalates, then you can rise up with him. His screaming and shouting raises the stakes and is a new situation. His loss of control is a new problem and should be treated just like any other episode of screaming and shouting. Just don't try to make that kid understand that THIS time his five-minute tardiness is somehow more important that the last one and deserves more punishment. He won't understand and you'll get nowhere, mostly because this tardy IS NO different.

Sometimes, you just have to laugh:
"One of the excuses floated for that late arrival for Astana was that there was bad traffic in Marseille. The irony of showing up late to a bike race because your car was stuck in traffic is something even Pescheux should find amusing."

Monday, July 6, 2009

There's Brains for You

More Verbal Diarrhea from Arne Duncan:
"Kids are on their cell phones the 14 hours a day they are not in school," Duncan said in a recent interview with eCampus News at Education Department (ED) headquarters in Washington, D.C. With teenagers and young adults using cell phones constantly, Duncan said, technology officials should find ways to send homework, video lectures, and other classroom material so students can study wherever they are.
Does it really make sense that the kids will study during those 14 hours of the day that they're not in school if they couldn't be bothered to study during the 6.5 hours they were in it?

I always come back to this question: If students were so good at studying outside of school such as during the summer, why don't they come back to school better? Why is there such a drop-off during the 10 weeks of summer? The Internet and Wikipedia and all those free online courses and thousands of free websites (like my real one, not this one) that articulate pretty much everything that happens in class, are all available during the summer. Judging from the logs, though, it's not used all that much.

Could it be that students don't learn very much outside of the classroom, that the cellphones are used for chatting and sexting rather than for education?

I wonder, too, if you make everything available outside of the classroom, what incentive is there to be in class and paying attention? "I don't need to write this down, I can get it from the website." "I don't need notes because you'll write them for me." which then leads to "I don't understand this question on the test because I didn't understand your notes." Not surprising, since you didn't actually read them, you just skimmed them and made some very broad assumptions about your understanding.

Fun with the Daily Schedule

The school wants to make a change. They had a set schedule years ago. They tried a rotating schedule and now want to change back. The students disagree and sign petitions and write eloquent letters. So far, so good.

Then you read some of the reasons the students put forth and you wonder which world the kids are really inhabiting. Scratch that. They're still in "It's not my fault"-ville with a few residing in Dillusiontown. Much of the argument boils down to "Humor me. I can't get out of bed so you need to change."

The whole purpose of a public high school is to provide an education to as many students as it can, in as efficient a way as it can. The students actually have to be on time in order for this to work - we need a schedule so everyone is coordinated.

Here are some of their complaints:

(1) Students can't be on time for first period. Whose fault is that? "A lot more will bunk class if they're late." So? If you want to be an idiot, get lost.
"Pity the teenager who routinely arrives at school 10 minutes late. With a rotating schedule, which is what Classical has now, that student doesn’t have to worry about being late for the same subject day after day." So you screw with every class instead? I'd rather such students arranged for a study hall first period and showed up 40 minutes late than to have them miss 25% of every first period, which would actually be more like missing the whole thing. Why? Any kid who is consistently late will also not be likely to be prepared for class and will destroy much of the class's attention, not to mention the teacher's. Look at Willingham's distraction test - a distraction negatively affects the class's memory of events and ideas FROM BOTH BEFORE AND AFTER the distraction. Really, the kids who can't get to school on time are simply making excuses. If they can be consistently 10-15 minutes late, change their clocks and they'll be consistently on-time.

(2) Students will fall asleep in first period - again, whose fault is that? What do these matriculating seniors say about college where freshmen are always assigned to the 8am classes? What about the other end of the day? If you start late, you'll have to end late. No one wants to have classes go until 4pm.
"What about a teenager’s circadian rhythm? The new schedule, Siegmund says, ignores research that shows that teenagers are not fully awake until an hour after they wake up." SO wake them up earlier. If we cater to their every whim, we'll be starting school at 1pm and ending it at 1:15pm, and holding it only on Tuesday and Wednesday.

(3) Students want to talk with their friends during lunch, but they can't because of the schedule. Why is this so important? Frankly, the students should be split from their friends - school is the place to make new friends and try new things - as soon as school's out, they can compare notes and tell stories with their "boys." School is NOT a place where student "learn social skills" by only talking to the same five people all day.

(4) "Nobody wants leftovers in C lunch every day." You got me there. The lunch program always deteriorates as the day progresses. So fix the lunch program. This is a problem in every school who has hired out to Aramark or some other service. The food is definitely worse in the last lunch.

(5) Students don't want every day to be the same. Other than spoiling them, why does this matter? They've had a set schedule for the first eight years of their educational career, and they'll have a set schedule for the next four years, and they'll have a set schedule for their work life. Even if they work from home, their employer won't tolerate constantly changing times. Why should this era be any different? In what way are students psychologically unable to handle a set schedule? It's my experience that the students crave consistency.


Having said that, I do like rotation. It's not necessary, but I like it. I don't get the same class last period. There is a different group for the post-lunch doldrums. I understand that the rotating schedule interferes with too much other stuff and I'm not surprised that a public school wants to change back to a set schedule.

Some of the very real problems that must be overcome:

(1) Out of school schedules
- Seniors can't take college classes because they can't align their free time with the college.
- Eighth graders can't come up to the high school for geometry because the schedules don't match.
- Interns and work-study students can't get a set time to leave the building for their jobs.

(2) Part-timers and One-shot Deals
- The school can't bring in part-time teachers (the super-duper calculus teacher from the college can come in first period only and the half-time English teacher can't set her schedule and get a second part-time job.)
- Any online conference or schooling that is at a set time each day, can't be done.
- Speakers and such - getting it right is a miracle. Postponements are especially hard.
- Appointments can't be scheduled easily with free periods. People are forever asking "third period of the day or 3rd period?"

(3) Silly but important
- Seniors don't get the late arrival privilege that comes with a free first period.
- Students forget which day it is. Procrastinators forget they didn't have a free period before math class. Kids are always going to the wrong class.
- Teachers forget which day it is. "Damn, I need to make copies during the free period I don't have in time."
- Anything that requires more than one day is done at different times.
- Sports: The classes missed are always different. This messes with the students in all of their classes instead of just one. The coaches are usually helpful but ...
- Field Trip excused absences are a real PITA. "Please excuse Johnny, Sue and Billy from last period on Thursday." Which class is that? Are they in that class? What will they miss?
- What day is today?

It's a terrific pain if the students are doing anything outside of the building while in a completely contained environment, it's great. It boils down to the reason that the schedule is made in the first place - to get students and teachers together in an efficient way.

One possible solution is to have the two parts of the day treated separately, which I have seen done. The afternoon three classes rotate. If anyone had outside commitments, they invariably had the three afternoon periods free and could leave regardless of the rotation.

Here's the original article:

Classical students petition against fixed-schedule plan
By Linda Borg / Providence (RI) Journal Staff Writer
July 5, 2009

PROVIDENCE — Students will snooze through first period. They won’t be able to socialize with different groups of friends during lunch. Grades will surely suffer because students will be so bored.

Classical High School students are in a snit over the School Department’s plan to adopt a fixed class schedule in all its high schools this fall, a plan that students say will lead to academic ruin.

In the waning days of school, Madeleine Siegmund, a junior, gathered 245 signatures on a petition that implores school officials to abandon plans to impose a fixed six-period day. In her eloquent, two-page letter, Siegmund calls her missive “a protest to every single day being on the same time.”

“In the teenage mind,” she writes, “interest leads to motivation. Too much mind-numbing repetition lowers interest and drive. … The great majority of students regard it as near torture to have every class at the same time, every day, every week, every month, all year.”

Madeleine’s mother, Carmel McGill, who is also president of the school’s Parent-Teacher Organization, couldn’t agree more and has appealed to school administrators for relief.

“Having a rotating schedule allows our students to have a breather every day,” said Laura Gallagher, who will be a junior this fall. “It makes every day less boring, monotone and unappealing. From a social perspective, it’s better to have rotation so that lunches will be different. Nobody wants leftovers in C lunch every day.”

But school officials say that in a district with 23,300 students and 13 high schools, consistency is a must, especially since students change schools frequently. A fixed six-period day will allow department heads to have common planning time and make it easier for students to set up internships and enroll in college courses, according to Nkoli Onye, executive director of high schools.

“The class schedule, in and of itself, doesn’t do anything,” Onye said. “It’s about what we do with the schedule.”

But some Classical students worry that a fixed schedule will wreak havoc with their first-period class. Pity the teenager who routinely arrives at school 10 minutes late. With a rotating schedule, which is what Classical has now, that student doesn’t have to worry about being late for the same subject day after day.

“The good thing about this school was the schedule,” says Stephanie Acebebo, a senior. “Every day, it was something different. A lot more kids will bunk class, especially if they come in late.”

Siegmund says that Rhode Island Public Transit Authority buses, which most high school students in Providence rely on for transportation, are not always reliable. Sometimes, she says, they are late; sometimes, they are early and sometimes, the RIPTA bus is full and blasts right past the waiting student.

What about a teenager’s circadian rhythm? The new schedule, Siegmund says, ignores research that shows that teenagers are not fully awake until an hour after they wake up. Again, this means that the first period of the day suffers.

“If there is the same class first period every morning and the student is either exhausted or late,” Siegmund says, “he or she will most likely fail that class because of the limited ability to participate fully. CUTTING CLASSES WILL BECOME AN EPIDEMIC.”

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Just saw a story about a Christian College dropping their Crusader Mascot.
Now they are called the Lions.

Isn't irony wonderful?