Sunday, December 26, 2010

On jumping to conclusions and historical data.

In discussions that refer to data about historical topics, the non-math folk often fall for the correlation - causation error, as well as misinterpreting their evidence.
It is generally accepted that height actually declined somewhat in late period and early modern times (see, for example, preserved sites like Williamsburg or Jamestown, where door frames and hallways are significantly smaller than nowadays), the reason having to do with more widespread malnutrition and chronic health problems emerging in the 14th century and continuing on until the 18th century. (from a mailing list focusing on medieval history.)
Average is a really tough thing to deal with here and there are a bunch of problems with this statement.

Let's deal with averages first. It's pretty easy to find the average height of modern people. They're alive and measurable. You call together twenty folks at the mall and ask them their height. Convenience sample leads to selection bias, so you retry with a cluster sampling. That's better, but did you happen upon the community of immigrants who are shorter? SO you expand your search and try a more systematic approach. In the end, you have a sense of the average height.

Now try that for the 14th century. Your sources are whichever bones you've been able to find and measure and a few written claims. Not much for numbers there.

Second issue is that pre-19th century doors, hallways and buildings weren't built for standard-sized people. They were built for the occupants and those occupants had different needs. Stating that door frames and hallways are smaller than currently because of a lesser average height is a conclusion that doesn't necessarily follow.

Your average tells you about the group but not much about individuals, so your building codes are set for the 99.8% who are shorter than +3 standard deviations from the mean so that no one is inconvenienced. But what is the average height? That's easier to tell now, but not so much for earlier demographics.

Room size does not correlate to occupant height either. My classroom ceiling, for instance, is nearly twelve feet high. Can we really conclude anything from that? On the other hand, all of the occupants for the last twenty years have been shorter than 6'5" and half of them were averaging 5'4" (the girls). All classrooms built in the last twenty years have 8' or 9' ceilings, becuse of changes in the building code, not because people kept hitting their heads.

The windows are huge, nearly 3' by 8', but that speaks to the need for free light and air rather than a race of giants.  Need and purpose are better indicators of door size in pre-code days.

The typical pre-1850 house has low ceilings and doors I want to crouch for (but that are still taller than I am), for a couple of reasons.

A room with a low ceiling is easier to heat, less difficult to build, and uses less wood in the building process. A 7' ceiling is not a problem for anyone who was going to use it - the builders were making houses for themselves and they didn't feel the need to give themselves 2' of headroom.

Sure, it's shorter than today, but only relatively. We notice because the standards have changed and it FEELS lower, not because we need to duck.

The same is true for the door. It's shorter. It was custom-made and of varying heights. Often it wasn't "square" but rather built to fit the space rather than the other way around. It might have a corner cut off to fit under the eaves or clear a stair. In any case, the door was built for the prospective occupants, not the rare fraction who needed a 6'8" door. Andre the Giant could bloody well duck.

Likewise hallways. What's the need for a wide hallway? It's just wasted space. Your big furniture was on the main floor or was carried up in pieces and assembled in place. There were no ADA-type requirements. Again, we feel constricted, but the person of that time would consider our modern requirements to be ostentatious displays of wealth. The typical house of the 15th century was maybe half the square footage of 20th century houses, and that is being dwarfed by 21st century ones. This correlation is with wealth, not height.

Other factors chime in: the cost or taxes assessed on road (or canal in this case) frontage might dictate your building style. For an extreme example of this, check out houses in Amsterdam: narrow, almost useless staircases and a hoist mechanism outside for lifting pianos and furniture to the second or third floor.

The takeaway for math teachers is to stress that we need more than correlations to justify cause. I might state the original paragraph and have the kids try to punch holes in it. Critical thinking and all that. I'd be looking for points like those above and:
• If the claim is that people were taller before the Templars' suppression at the hands of Philip the Fair, became shorter during the 14-17th centuries and then started getting taller again in the 18th, then your doors should show the same trends for the same time periods, in the same types of houses and at the same socio-economic levels. If the doors to churches showed the same decrease and increases, that would be a good sign.
• How could the builder know the average height of 15th century mankind? Communications were difficult and slow, the size of the foot varied by region among other factors. Besides, even if he did know, why would he care? He's building for the man in front of him, not some mythical beast. Is there evidence that builders knew the average?
• Is the rural house different from that in the city?  See the Amsterdam note above.
• What are other reasons for the differences do you see?
• War.  Make your attackers duck as they enter. Some Indian adobes have four foot doors for this reason. This picture is from Doune castle.
• Security. A smaller door is easier to bolt closed.
• Religion. Make your visitors bow in humility as they enter.
• Practical. They wanted to reach the ceiling beams for storage hooks.
• Sexism.  Only women used this door so who cared about it being more than 6'?
• This was where the children slept.  There was plenty of room under the eaves.
• Mathematical considerations:
• Can the average height be measured?  Is that number meaningful here? Should the anthropologist use median or mode instead?  What was the builder using?
• What kind of sampling would work best for ascertaining that measure?
• Historical considerations:
• How do we know that people did get shorter? Did they or is this a myth?
• If they were, was it due to nutritional deficiencies? Were chronic health problems all that widespread in just those four centuries or merely the Black Death taking all the headlines? Was the 9th century healthier?  How about NYCity in the 1800s tenements?  London's Soho at the time of cholera epidemics?
• Were the doors shorter during the time period in question? What was he looking at when he measured?
• What would the students do as step two to confirm or deny these theories? Why haven't they started?
I love math.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

That'll improve the school

 Think they'll pass muster?
Forget about replacing the teachers ... replace the students. Bring in the superstars, the superheroes and the supernerds.Then our scores are sure to go up.  New Trier High School, Fairfax High School -- we're looking at you. Let's trade yours for ours!

Never mind.

Funny idea, though.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Science shouldn't be politicized.

It's a vital part of teaching ... helping students develop a healthy skepticism about what they see and hear. I show them videos, ads, other things and we dissect and analyze them in class. It's probably what I'll do tomorrow during the last day of school before break. I pick on the quacks, mostly: iRenew bracelets, QRay bracelet, Kinoki Footpads, Dr Marks Ion Cleanse Detoxifying foot baths, etc. Of course, during this process there is the inevitable question of global warming. It's with this in mind that I ran across the following article and thought I'd share.
From the Albany Times Union, Science shouldn't be clouded by politics
By Randy Simon

Is there solid evidence that the earth's average temperature is getting warmer, mostly as a result of human activity? What do you think?

Before answering, consider these scientific questions:
• Has coronary CT angiography made coronary catheterization obsolete?
• Are the hotspots in the earth's crust explained by phenomena in the upper mantle rather than in the earth's core?
• Can molecules exhibit intrinsic electronic functionality?
• Is lactose intolerance a genetic inherited trait?

(to which I'd add "Will the Large Hadron Collider destroy the Earth when turned on?" and "Why won't value-added measures work to instantly maximize our schools' performances?" "Vaccines cause autism and backwards walking in cheerleaders.")

You probably are thinking: "How am I supposed to know?" That is, unless you are a cardiologist, geologist, condensed matter physicist or geneticist, or at least someone highly informed about these disciplines. These questions are in fact quite controversial in their respective fields, meaning that there is considerable disagreement among the experts.

Yet, you were probably all set to offer your opinion on global warming although you are not a climate scientist and are undoubtedly not well-versed in that discipline either. Furthermore, the question posed is not even controversial among experts in the field; there is overwhelming agreement that the answer is "yes."

So what gives here?

The answer is that you can't get opinions about most scientific questions from pundits and politicians but you can't avoid getting opinions on global warming from them.

Would you make decisions on how to treat a heart arrhythmia based on what a talk radio host believes? Would you have a senatorial candidate evaluate an aircraft design instead of an aeronautical engineer? Of course not. They aren't experts.

Clearly, we have come to believe -- or at least to act as if we believe -- that there are two kinds of scientists in the world.

There are those who work on a myriad of topics that have managed not to become political issues. They are obviously highly intelligent and accomplished individuals who have brought us brain surgery, iPads and the Space Shuttle.

Then there are those who work in areas that have become the subject of political and/or religious attention -- such as climate change and evolution -- and they are apparently dishonest, confused and deficient in their knowledge.

We are not becoming a society of Luddites; we surely want the fruits of modern science in our lives. Instead, we divide science into "good science" and "bad science" and allow partisan politics to make the distinction. It would be humorous if it were not alarming.

The political debate about global warming is fueled in part by scientists who take the position that the phenomenon does not exist, or at least that it isn't a result of human activity, or that it cannot be remediated by human intervention. This is no more compelling than the arguments in the 1960s and 1970s by a few medical doctors claiming that cigarette smoking was harmless. Indeed, there are always scientists with differing opinions on any topic.

When the overwhelming majority of scientists observe the same phenomena and draw the same conclusions, there are abundant reasons to take them seriously. The fact that we don't like the results (or even worse, political dogma doesn't like them) should not matter.

Could the majority opinion be wrong? Absolutely. But ignoring that opinion because you don't like it is foolishness.

Every day we trust our lives to the fruits of modern science. Medical technology, aircraft design, structural engineering and many other disciplines impact our safety and our very survival and, by and large, we feel that we can count on them.

Yet, when thousands of climate experts around the world draw serious conclusions from a wealth of data, we reject those conclusions because of our politics. It is nothing less than astonishing.

Perhaps you are not surprised by this at all. Some may see this discussion as an analysis of current attitudes toward science but others, I suppose, will cast it aside as "left-wing propaganda." And that, I suppose, is the problem in a nutshell.

One of the comments on this article was "We all have daily experience with weather, and through experience, with climate. To have some understanding of climate and none about the other issues is not surprising."

Really?

So I visit the doctor a couple times - does that make me qualified to judge his work?
I teach high school math and physics but I can't do a simple probability analysis. Should I be commenting on the LHC?
 Watch it all or forward to Walter Wagner at about the 2:15 mark.

I used to run daily. Did that make me a physical therapist?
I eat food every day. Does that mean I know the nutritional value and positives / negatives of an Activia-fueled diet?
I go to the mall and I walk. Is iRenew a good product?

I went to school. Does that make me an education expert?

There is a huge difference between "I have experience with these" and "I have studied these in a scientific fashion." One is a guess. There other is not.

Dozens of TV shows and thousands of people believed that cheerleader who claimed the Flu shot made her walk backwards. Quantity is not a proof. Science is not a debate.

Another commenter:
So, where are the counter examples where scientists/experts got it wrong? This whole article is built on a fallacy--trust the experts. If it were to be the least bit helpful, it would have explained what we know, what we don't know and the strengths and weaknesses in our methods of knowing about the climate. But, of course, newspapers would rather make stupid arguments than educate the public so they can make better decisions.
Which I find somewhat amazing. Scientists get lots of things wrong. Then they fix the model and try again. Just because someone was wrong doesn't mean they can't fix it and get it right.

Rush Limbaugh is not a counter-argument.

And why the complete distrust of the "experts"? Do we refuse to drive a car because an expert mechanic worked on it? Does the expert computer technician bring us calm hope that our problem will be resolved or do we scream invectives and demand that the other politician really knows what's going on?

If you find that you can't trust those who spend their lives working on a problem in favor of someone with a monetary axe to grind, you'll simply wind up with "More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette."

Converting from metric is always tough.

In this piece from the Lancashire Evening Post, there seems to be a bit of a problem with conversions:
A Medieval silver broach dating back 600 years which was discovered using a metal detector in a Lancashire field has been declared treasure. An inquest at Preston Coroner’s Court heard that the 35mm silver dress closure was discovered by a pair of a metal detecting enthusiasts in a farmer’s field in Croston, near Chorley, in October.  The piece is half-an-inch in diameter, with groove decorations around it and a hook believed to have been used to fasten clothes.
35mm or half-an-inch?

Arrgh. One more day.

Who scheduled school to the 23rd? Bah! Humbug, indeed.
 from interfacelift.com

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Classy

Just saw the Christmas Card.
Is it just me, or are Bruce Jenner and Lamar Odom the only one with class and style in this photograph?

Monday, December 13, 2010

What's it worth if it isn't scored accurately?

 SCores are being held consant.
From the Loneliness of the Long Distance Test Scorer: For some mysterious reason, unbeknownst to test scorers, the scores we are giving are supposed to closely match those given in previous years. So if 40 percent of papers received 3s the previous year (on a scale of 1 to 6), then a similar percentage should receive 3s this year. Lest you think this is an isolated experience, Farley cites similar stories from his fourteen-year test-scoring career in his book, reporting instances where project managers announced that scoring would have to be changed because “our numbers don’t match up with what the psychometricians [the stats people] predicted.”
Let's hear it for testing!

The whole article is interesting, but that line caught my eye.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

It's cold. No Global Warming Again.

According to Andrew Watts, Cancun COP16 attendees fall for the old “dihydrogen monoxide” petition as well as signing up to cripple the U.S. Economy
Oh dear, some of these folks aren’t the brightest CFL’s in the room. Readers may remember this famous Penn and Teller video from 2006 where they get well meaning (but non thinking) people to sign up to ban “dihydrogen monoxide” (DHMO), which is an “evil” chemical found in our lakes, rivers, oceans, and even our food!
Ha, ha. Since some people at the conference fell for the old joke, global warming is therefore totally false. As is everything else they said, believed, wrote or thought. And since there's cold weather in Cancun, Global Warming is further debunked.

Jesus, people. Grow a brain.

Looking for the Education

We're below average on test scores.
U.S. students are below average in math skills, according to PISA, while Asian countries excel.
So somebody decided to look at why. Family attitude seems to be the key: working your butt off and getting extra help seems to be the key to doing better on the test.
source: Just as the latest international testing data once again highlight the relatively poor performance of U.S. students in math, a new report has come out to further explore why the United States may be struggling, with a focus on the math attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of parents, and their children's out-of-school activities. Among the key findings: Parents in Singapore are far more likely than those in the United States and England to engage a math tutor to help their child, they're more likely to get assistance from teachers and others in how to help their child, and their children more often take part in math competitions and math/science camps.
I'm okay with that.  If you want to do better on something, you practice it. If you want to test better, you need to practice on the test.

Just don't call it an education.

Call it "Education Hero."

Just as Guitar Hero ruins the ability to play an actual guitar, Education Hero shouldn't be used on actual students.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Critical Thinking is not for Everyone.

The latest act in the worldwide WikiLeaks comedy: on Friday, the White House told federal employees and contractors that they're not allowed to read classified federal documents posted to WikiLeaks unless they have the proper security clearance.
It's posted for all the world to see, but if I work in Gov't, then I must adhere to the security limitations so the only people who won't read it are in Gov't.

Stunning.

Update from the drive home:

And then I thought about it a bit. Those with clearance randomly undergo security screenings and occasionally polygraph testing.  One question usually deals with "Have you seen, read or otherwise had knowledge of classified documents for which you did not have the proper security clearances?"  If I had seen something on Wikileaks, the honest answer would have to be "Yes."  That would lead to a whole lot of unpleasantness.

This advice might just save a few jobs.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

What happened to "Education"?

Joanne Jacobs has a piece on evaluation programs that are looking to videotape teachers as they give lessons and then "Go Look at Tape." The issue seems to be that
More than 99 percent of teachers are rated satisfactory by their principals, reports a study on “the widget effect” by the New Teacher Project.
and this is somehow "bad," hence the need for overhaul. While I would argue that you need to improve the system so that middle-managers (Admin) can appropriately rate, measure and evaluate their assembly-line workers (teachers), I'm not sure that going to videotape is much of an improvement. If the Principal can't see the "errors" while sitting in the class, how is he supposed to make anything out of the 17th such review, even if he did have the time. Well, they have an answer for that ... Gates figures we'll pay outside evaluators who will somehow be able to see what the highly paid admin can't or won't.
The Gates Foundation is developing a new model, with the help of social scientists and teachers, reports the New York Times. Outside evaluators analyze videotapes to determine whether teachers are teaching well.
We've got money for outside evaluators? Pretty cool. I'll sign up. What gives you the idea that I'll be any more or biased/petty/superficial than the current system? The fact that I'll be able to rewind the tape? More likely I'll fast forward through it. The fact that I don't know the teacher so I'll be more honest? More likely, I'll make a snap judgment and move on.

You know we'll pay for training out of our RTTT money or something, hire bunches of consultants to teach teachers to evaluate other teachers who are trying to teach students. Pretty amazing, ain't it?
Hundreds of teachers will be trained to review 64,000 hours of classroom video. They will look “for possible correlations between certain teaching practices and high student achievement, measured by value-added scores.”
Let's say it's 800 teachers - that's 80 hours of tape to watch, per person. Asking a lot? I can't even spend that much time watching TV or movies in a month while sitting mindless and half-comatose. I'd need to be unemployed to look at 80 hours of tape multiple times and evaluate someone.

But here's the crux of my complaint ... those correlations. I've had students who completely and utterly bombed in class but did well on testing. I've also had plenty who did well in my class, well in the next couple of classes, had a great high school career, and then a great college career, and are now cranking out 6 figure salaries ... but didn't do well on testing. How do I know they did well? They told me.

Since when did value-added scores on NEAP mean an education? Since when could anyone figure out what I do that "works" by watching 10, 20 hours of videotape? Really? Do they know me? Since when did someone watching a few hours of video actually have a clue as to what went on and who and how the students were effected? Ten hours of video? That's two days. Does anyone here think that I couldn't fake it for two days and mess around the rest of the year if I was of a mind to?

I didn't think so.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Awards for all?

Joanne Jacobs has a piece about a parent complaining that only some kids were recognized for their performance on state testing. I actually agree with the parent on this one.
This, he said, was unfair to students who traditionally score lower on standardized tests and might not reach proficiency no matter how hard they try — mainstreamed special education students, for example.
Some kids will never reach proficiency. It's just a fact of life. If you make your standards low enough for all, then the achievement is meaningless and all of the kids know it and blow you off.The better response, for me, is to simply thank everyone publicly, en masse, and announce the barbeque for all. Then, reward or thank the good students separately.

Really, the "Always Praise in Public" rule isn't always your best course of action. I am against, for example, the tactic of an academic assembly during the first two periods of the day for which every class trudges down to the gym and sits by class.

 "Everyone is sure to be a winner with these fun 4" trophies."
What happens next is the whole point and is also the most excruciating part: the Guidance counselor, feeling all very important because she gets to "honor" the "good" students and bask in the reflected glory, reads the names of the high honor roll (20 kids), honor roll (140 kids), and merit (15 kids). She asks them to stand while this endless list is being read. Do you know how long it takes to read 175 names?

A little subtraction shows that there's maybe 30 kids in that grade who couldn't manage to get anything ... administration is proud that they didn't publicly shame any of them by saying their names. Except that they are still sitting down while everyone around them is standing up. Is it any wonder that they feel like shit? Most memorable student quote about the assembly (in informal geometry afterward): "Here are all the smart people in the school and none of them are YOU."

Back to the fun. Guidance has them sit ... and does the 11th grade. And repeats for the 10th. And the 9th. Can't have anyone left out, can we? An hour and something later, you've managed to humiliate as many people as possible, so you send the school back to class. "Don't make any comments to the Dweeb in the hallway, now."

Maybe the proper response is to not require everyone to recognize them. Give them their own awards night and invite them and their parents to come or not, as they choose.  You know, like the sports awards night, where the non-athletic can avoid having to sit through endless coaches' attempts at public speaking.

God knows there is nothing worse than a coach with limited vocabulary and no experience speaking to a crowd who's attempting to appear smart, clever, witty and interesting ... for each of his 54 football players, naming and praising the "spectacular work ethic" of every member of the 1-6 team, including the kids who lost eligibility for drinking and fighting.

It was also interesting that the rest of the fall teams had much better seasons, one winning a state championship, but the football team spent the most time congratulating itself.  But I digress ...

Maybe the takeaway from all this is simple:  The people who attend an awards night should be the ones who were there to watch the achievement itself.  Anyone else is excused. Those who wish to attend can do so.  I'd much rather have an awards night with the rest of my team and the spectators who were at the games. Everyone else feels like "Johnny come lately" hangers-on.  The same is true for academic awards:
If you weren't there when we did it, why would you want to be there to celebrate it?
If you can answer that question, then you can come to the ceremony and we'll all have a blast. If you can't, then you shouldn't be required to be there and we probably would feel uncomfortable if you did show up.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Superintendent to CEO.

I read in the newspaper the other day that the Superintendent for a local school district just resigned to become the CEO of a major industrial company.  There was no question she could do the job as she had been running a multimillion dollar school district for more than 10 years.

Okay, I'm lying. That lede wouldn't fool anyone. The idea is patently silly. Of course, a story about someone moving in the opposite direction seems a little ridiculous as well.

If Cathy Black is a good fit as chancellor because she has experience running a magazine, should Joel Klein simply take over the New York Times? Seems silly, doesn't it?

Would Cathy Black be any good at running GM - or would the company, its stockholders and its employees all rise up in anger and reject her appointment on the grounds that she know a lot about magazines and choosing the right model for the front cover but damn spit nothing about cars.

The NYTimes quotes a few experts who are used to looking at industry - none of them has any experience in education. NYTimes

"They held up several examples of corporate chieftains who hopscotched successfully from industry to industry, people like Louis V. Gerstner Jr., who went from RJR Nabisco, a maker of food and cigarettes, to I.B.M, a maker of computer equipment."
Yeah, there's a good analogy ... maker of food stuff to a maker of non-food stuff. Both of which are assembly line type situations where defective parts or ingredients are trashed or recycled.

Oh well. Here's to one more experiment with someone else's kids.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Further You Extrapolate, the Sillier You Look

I'm always bemused by graphs that try to extrapolate too far.  Case in point at right (found by Darren).  The numbers previous to today are obviously known well but the future is a little cloudier.  Nevertheless, this graph claims to see a trend going rather upward, even though the trend for the next few years is downward.

Like the "population bomb" scare stories of the recent past, this one is just silly.

Why silly? Because it assumes that "given no change in policy, the numbers will do this."

Given no change? This is America.  We can't stop changing. The one thing that will never happen is steady state.  Somebody will introduce a bill to change this or that and your whole projection becomes worthless ... as if it meant much to begin with. We adapt in this country.  When the deficits were spiraling out of control under Reagan/Bush I, the country adapted, we nearly balanced the budget and we were starting to work on the debt.  Clinton's policies were less of a driver than the tech boom but, c'est la guerre. I'm frankly surprised that the National Review published it because it shows the sharpest drop under Obama's second term.

I had to tweak Darren, since he's a staunch conservative:

"Come on. Extrapolating a possibly exponential curve out to 2082? You really shouldn't, as a math teacher, have let that go without some comment.

But I'll play along ... let's read the graph. The percentage surges upward in 1980-1984 when Reagan was doing those enormous deficit budgets -- to drive the Russians to bankruptcy, yes, but it still increases.

Then the economy recovered and those percentages dropped under Clinton (not that he was totally responsible for that, but it does make a good way to tweak conservatives!).  Likewise, the percentages rises under GWB, hits a peak in 2010 under Obama, and then shows a tremendous downward slope under the remaining years of Obama's term (and into his next?). Then, in 2016 (when the Republican presumably gets elected), the percentage starts to climb again.

I'm not sure that's exactly what you had in mind."

Darren responded later ...
"It's when the health care costs really start to kick in. Of course extrapolations that far out are silly, which is one of the reasons why I love the global warmers so much. Still, I don't see anyone arguing that our interest payments are going to go *down* any time soon."

No. But why is that graph any less ridiculous? The spending by Government is totally under the control of the Legislature and can be adjusted yearly as the political winds blow. If they wanted to, the Afgan war could cease in days, the bailouts could stop, the contracts could be ended and penalties paid.

Global warming isn't quite up to a vote by the House Ways and Means Committee. Natural processes don't stop on a whim.

I don't particularly care about the gloom and doom part of the debate anyway, so I'm probably not a good person to argue this with. I don't care about global climate as such, but I do care about MY air. If NYCity goes under water, it'd be turned into a modern Venice pretty quickly and Mankind would adapt. Florida would build dikes like Holland and Mankind would adapt. Ideal croplands would be found further north and, well, you get the idea.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Looking for the Value in Value-Added.

In all of the argument and debate in the merit-pay/ teachers suck arena, the topic of value-added assessment comes up often. I wonder if anyone can actually delineate in which fashion or way that a multiple-choice, standardized test that is taken by students who have no pressure on them at all and who have no immediate personal need to pass the thing can possibly measure the educational state of said students, let alone any "added value" imparted by me.

Standard-based, constructivist, traditional ... none of that seems to matter.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Ingenious Solution - except for those who didn't pack their own bags.

The Grouchy Old Cripple had a thought:
FINALLY - A great alternative to body scanners at airports ...

The Israelis are developing an airport security device that eliminates the privacy concerns that come with full-body scanners at the airports. It's a booth you can step into that will not X-ray you, but will detonate any explosive device you may have on you. They see this as a win-win for everyone, with no crap about racial profiling. It also would eliminate the costs of long and expensive trials. Justice would be swift. Case closed!

You're in the airport terminal and you hear a muffled explosion. Shortly thereafter an announcement comes over the PA system . . . "Attention standby passengers - we now have a seat available on flight number XXXX. Shalom"
"Have your bags been in your possession since the time you packed them?"
"Yes."
"Have a nice day."

One-percent of a Standard Deviation

... is quite a bit smaller than a one-percent increase. In fact, 1% of a standard deviation is pretty damned small. It seems somebody needs a Statistics course:
Public schools located near private schools increased reading and math scores more than public schools that had little competition.
 Huge, I tells ya.
For every 1.1 miles closer to the nearest private school, public school math and reading performance increases by 1.5 percent of a standard deviation in the first year following the announcement of the scholarship program. Likewise, having 12 additional private schools nearby boosts public school test scores by almost 3 percent of a standard deviation. The presence of two additional types of private schools nearby raises test scores by about 2 percent of a standard deviation. Finally, an increase of one standard deviation in the concentration of private schools nearby is associated with an increase of about 1 percent of a standard deviation in test scores.
Test scores rose more for elementary and middle schools than for high schools, perhaps because the scholarship made K-8 private schools affordable but didn’t cover as much of the tuition at private high schools.
Hummmm ...

Did the scores of the private schools drop at the same time as the public school rose?  If the public school scores rose, was it because the parents of weaker kids took the money and ran? Was it because Florida is investing heavily in on-line learning and told certain kids that their behavior was unacceptable IN school so they had to switch to the private school or take courses online? We'll never know but this is an equally valid interpretation of the facts as presented.

I find the "1.5 percent of SD per mile" statistic interesting but pretty meaningless. That's not a standard deviation, it's one-one hundredth of a standard deviation. That's the equivalent of SAT scores rising 1 point. Read the collegeboard's take on significance.

Just because you can see something in your educational microscope doesn't mean there's anything worth looking at.
The quote also says that this happens only in the first year following the announcement. So the average SAT scores went up about 1 pt.
Once.

Here are Florida's average SAT scores for the last couple years. Notice the yearly fluctuations larger than that touted by the article. Note, the standard deviation for SAT scores is typically 100 - 110 points. So 1.5% of a standard deviation would be 1.5 points.

The timeline is also interesting. The idea that the mere announcement of a private school makes a difference in the first year (but only in the first year) indicates that it's got nothing to do with the education provided since it takes some time for a kid to get an education. Statistically insignificant.

I'd be looking for information on who paid for this study and who has the most to gain by falsely trumpeting miniscule gains and falsely attributing them to the glorious private schools.

Duh. Comment.

Some clown at Dissertation Help really needs to improve his "robot commenter."
Dissertation help said... This is a sort of blog we can have loads of information i would like to appreciate the intelligence of this blog's owner
If this is their idea of intelligent comment and correct grammar, who in their right mind would ever go to that website for help with a dissertation?

Okay, I'll bite.  Let's go look.

Nope, they suck.  Let the students go there, spend their money, pretend they actually wrote a paper.  Thank you for your time and we'll see you in this class again next year.

The Single Funniest Lede in History

Right from the front page of the Rutland Herald (VT) ...
When David Belock's car went missing, he told state police he suspected the men who delivered cocaine to his house on a weekly basis may have been responsible.
But wait, it gets better. How? Well, a man was found driving it. (There was also a passenger from Brooklyn) The driver claimed he didn't know the man in the other seat nor where the car had come from, but
When he arrived at his home, he found the man from Brooklyn in his house and the car parked in his driveway. He decided to go to the store and noticed the keys were in the ignition so he decided to take the car to the Grand Union supermarket.
And, all this time, I thought the New York Post made this kind of stuff up.
(story by Brent Curtis, Rutland Herald)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sure sign you're teaching in Vermont.

"Hey, Mr. Curmudgeon.  I won't be in on Thurday or Friday.  My family is going hunting.  I'm hoping to get a moose."

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Some people just have different priorities.

I find it amazing that this article had to be written ... then I remember times in class when I reference basic historical knowledge and I understand.

While fans of the "Harry Potter" series headed to the Web on Thursday to catch the London red carpet premiere of the latest movie, others wondered why the actors wore matching red poppy boutonnieres. Stars Daniel Radcliffe, 21, Emma Watson, 20, and Rupert Grint, 22, who play Harry Potter and his best friends, Hermione and Ron, all donned the red blooms. They were joined by attendees Tom Felton and Ralph Fiennes and none other than J.K. Rowling herself -- and not just because they looked dapper. The flowers have a special meaning in Britain.
"A special meaning" indeed.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Thought for the Day

GOLD is the money of monarchs.
SILVER is the money of gentlemen.
BARTER is the money of peasants, and
DEBT is the money of slaves.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Reggie Miller on Ray Allen

On RA's hitting 7 of 7 from 3-pt distance ... "I'm done. I'm taking my record and walking over to the Celtic bench and handing it to him."

Those who can ...

Yeah, I know.  I hate that old saw, too.  But dammit, why do we have to have so many people confirming it?  The Mrs. reminded me of a time last year when she went to a conference. Another teacher stood and spoke of their "adventures" hiring a third-grade teacher. The school required the applicants (13 of them? Number was implied, not specified) to write an essay and take the 8th-grade end-of-course math test.

None passed.

The school had to reopen the application process.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Jargon means something

It's been said before and it bears repeating. Jargon ("the language, esp. the vocabulary, peculiar to a particular trade, profession, or group") is used to make communication simpler and more precise.

Except in education.

Education "experts" use jargon to make simple things sound complicated, to change the inherent meaning of words and to appear (I guess) smarter than the speaker actually is. Education experts further abuse the English language by changing the meanings of simple words to either "be cute" or to obfuscate.

In what other field would a person who was speaking to a room full of professionals, requesting that thoughts and questions be "captured" (written down on sticky notes) and that the sticky notes be then attached to the "Parking Lot" at the back of the room (a large piece of paper decorated with an elementary school cartoon of a car and the words "Parking Lot" in large, multi-colored letters.

Teachers will never be taken seriously as professionals until we cease to find this clever, cute, or anything but demeaning and puerile.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Teacher Training?

"Mr. C, I want to be teacher."
Then your entrance exam is to decode this.  If you can make sense of this, you are ready to be a teacher.

h/t to Pissed Off!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Polls may be hitting a wall.

Slashdot has a thought:
"The 'cellphone effect.' In 2003, just 3.2% of households were cell-only, while in the 2010 election one-quarter of American adults have ditched their landlines and rely exclusively on their mobile phones, and a lot of pollsters don't call mobile phones. Cellphone-only voters tend to be younger, more urban, and less white — all Democratic demographics — and a study by Pew Research suggests that the failure to include them might bias the polls by about 4 points against Democrats, even after demographic weighting is applied."
This will make the "science" of polling even more suspect.  It's a factor I hadn't really considered until now, but everyone that I know who has dropped their landline for a cell-only life is definitely in the Democratic profile.

On the other hand, those people most likely to skip voting entirely are also in the exact same demographic.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Once more into the Ed Reform Breach, Dear Friends

Joanne Jacobs notes that Rhode Island considers tiered diplomas: The best students in Rhode Island’s most rigorous schools may get a Regents diploma showing they’ve met state standards, while most graduates would earn a local diploma, reports the Providence Journal. Tougher graduation requirements linked to the Regents diploma are supposed to go into effect in 2012. But many districts — including the three largest, Cranston, Providence and Warwick — aren’t ready to teach to that level. Students aren’t ready either.
I've thought for years that a single diploma was too broad a brush to paint the picture of all of the graduates. I approved of the NYRegents diploma when it was actually a challenge to get one, when you had to work hard at a more difficult course and pass a more difficult curriculum to get it.

What I foresee happening in the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations is a quick fade on the strict adherence to the standards they set up. Just as NY has fiddled with its tests until the NYRegents has little meaning, so will the RIRegents.

Maybe there will be some students who stand out while it lasts. It would certainly alleviate the problems of remedial word requirements in college and would allow employers and college admissions people to have a better feel for the true ability of the applicant.

Just because YOU don't know what it is ...

doesn't mean it's aliens. Just because your feeble brain is stuck on something and can't come up with a reasonable answer, doesn't mean there isn't one.

So here's the moron who's convinced that he sees a cellphone using time-traveler in an outtake from a Charlie Chaplin film.

When faced with two or more conclusions, the simplest one is usually the truth. In this case, the simplest explanation is that this is an alien. No wait, it's a secret plot by time travelers. No wait, she's holding her hand over her ear because it's cold out. No wait, it's DVD distortion. No wait, it's a cellphone. No wait, it's photoshop.

Look, if we can make the entire friggin' Lord of the Ring Trilogy of Monsters, why is "time travel" the first thing this so-called intelligent filmmaker can come up with?

Okay, let's run with a time traveler: Why would someone with the technology to do time travel be wandering around Hollywood with a cellphone that has to be held against the ear and is going to buzz or ringtone at really inopportune times (like that wouldn't be noticed?)? Why not a subdermal subvocalization mic w/ bluetooth connected to a satellite phone to the geosynchronously orbiting time travel pod and the bevy of space-studs dressed in leather thongs? Because that would be ridiculous?

All that technology that I just mentioned is currently available. Even the studs dressed in leather thongs. Cellphones in the form the Irishman witnessed have only been around for 5-6 years. Previously, they were differently shaped and would have required a cellphone tower every three miles. Phones are even now beginning to look different from "this" one - smartphone, bluetooth, etc.

Why would technology from the current, and narrow, 5-6 year window be the one seen? Because this is a self-delusionary fool who has a little imagination and sees what he wants to see.

Or this is a stunt by the Irishman - maybe he wants to get himself a little exposure as an idiot, thinking he'll somehow get more "award-winning" film jobs.

Or this is a stunt by the DVD compiler, trying to sell copies of a boxed set to gullible idiots or people who want to "prove that Irishman wrong," i.e., gullible idiots.

Or this is a misinterpretation of 6 seconds of footage culled from millions of hours of Hollywood video. At this rate, even monkeys can randomly type a line or two of Shakespeare.

Six Word Saturday.

Ricochet contributes to Six Word Saturday:

Brat is not a learning disability.

Priceless.

The One has been found.
No discernible problems.
Except he's a brat.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

PsuedoContext

Dan Meyer gives an example from "The Real World":
Santa Cruz Sentinel, today:
The City Council will consider a proposal today to establish a citywide pay-by-cell phone system that would allow motorists to start, finish and extend time for meters or fee-based parking spots. [..] Consumers would pay a fee of 35 cents per transaction, or 25 cents for frequent users if they are willing also to pay a monthly access fee of \$1.75.

"Is pseudocontext a failure of imagination or is it a symptom of laziness? Because this sort of thing just isn't hard to find."
I think it's pretty lame of him to toss out this false dichotomy like that. (My browser settings and his comment system don't seem to be on speaking terms, so I'll mention this here.)  And I notice that he's been teaching for how long and only now noticed this gem? (I know that's unfair, but so is the original question.  I withdraw my snarky comment.)

No, the real problem here is one of timing, of not having this pop up in your newspaper on the day you need it, at the time you're doing the lesson planning. It's got little to do with a lack of imagination.  In fact, a lack of imagination is probably the best trait for someone doing lesson plans.  Teaching takes imagination -- why waste this limited resource on something as foolish as lesson plans?  What God in whichever Heaven you stare at when you can't see a ceiling decreed that you must know what the kids will be doing during the 13th minute of your class period? What if you needed to repeat something or -- swoon -- got off on a really good tangent?

Besides, not everyone spends every waking moment solely focused on teaching and mathematics. Sometimes, I just read.

It does take a certain frame of mind to watch for these things ... an old teacher friend of mine used to clip articles ... this is similar.  I never could get the hang of it with newspaper, but I do find it easier on the Internet. Now that I have been using the thumbdrive method of file transport, I have amassed a large library of these types of things, neatly sorted into the classes and folders so I can find them later when I get around to it. (Yeah, right)

Having said that, this "Real-World" problem is no more or less engaging to students than the cellphone plan that charges by the month or by the 100 minute-block or the psuedocontextual dreck in the book.

[So I had a five-minute bit of Photoshop fun at Dan's expense. Don't think nothing of it.]

On a scale of 1 to 10, these are funny.

So, there's this magic dust called "Math Teacher Magic Scale Factor" ... it makes things really big. Sometimes too big.

Friday, October 22, 2010

First Amendment

 Not Thomas Jefferson
"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State." - Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, 1802.

http://www.usconstitution.net/jeffwall.html

Student videos at Dangerously Irrelevant

These kids are complaining about school (a new phenomenon, I'm sure) and, true to form, people are watching them. Some viewers take everything at face value and believe every word the kids say because the teachers are always at fault. Others, I assume, are in thrall to the idea that "If it's put on the Internet by a kid, then that's 21st Century Skills right there!" and completely miss the fact that the kid is in desperate need of some psychological counseling. Most of the ones shown at the link above are of the"whiny student" who hates his teacher "because he made me work" variety. Danzigar (left) points out the problem with that reasoning.

Scott MacLeod gathered some videos together, asking "American students generally have the legal right to express their opinions at home on their free time using non-school computer equipment. So here are a few students expressing their opinions about their teachers. Do you know what your students are saying at home about your school? Is this something that educators should care about or just ignore?"

Some of the ones he gathered are full of psychological cues for depression, others are classic student complaints -- a self-centered world-view and a total misunderstanding of what they will need in life and why the town spends the kind of money it does. The self-centeredness is nothing new, of course, but I must admit to an overwhelming desire to point out how incredibly short-sighted most of those complaints are.

A few are to the point. I always hated when anyone said "Nucular" instead of "Nuclear" but he was our President and we had to live with it. I think he was an idiot but not because of his pronunciation problems.

I worry, though, about the ramifications of these. The teachers who see them are not going to be happy and the kids seem completely unaware that people talk. They also seem unaware that most people, when attacked directly will retaliate, overtly or subtly. Stories will be told. Deadlines will become more definitive; retakes and makeup will disappear. People will be warned. Reports of threats and unsafe working environment will surface - hey, teachers are mandatory reporters and that first kid keeps picking up sharp implements. Threats will be reported to the police and the evidence is crystal clear. Admissions officers will notice. Principals will react. People will think twice about your judgment. It'll all be confidential, of course. (Sure, it will -- you put it on YouTube, you moron!.)

What's the point of it in the long haul? Why didn't some adult say, "Not a good idea."?

If I'm in one of these videos, I might change something about the way I teach but it's more likely that I would write it off as another selfish, whiny student. I can't change my accent. I teach the way I do because I believe it's a good way - backed by my 30 years of teaching experience as opposed to the kid's 2 years ignoring high school. If you hate me, I don't actually care.

But these videos persist.
• "A recommendation? Sorry."
• "You want to join my class? Sorry, it's full."
• "Mr. V, watch it with that one. Bad student."
• "That just wasn't a very good essay.  I'm sorry. You made a whole lotta grammatical errors and it brawt the grade down. You're a junior. This isn't assseptable." I'd be sure to use any words she mentioned in her little tantrum and really draw out the accent.
• "This dyke isn't amused."

A teacher could make the next parent phone call or conference REALLY uncomfortable for the parents, especially if the teacher has been there for a while and knows all the people the parent knows. Just start playing the video in everyone's presence. Watch the parent slink into the crack of the chair.

1. Ignore all of the ones that complain. They have the right to babble, off-campus. Mention the video to the teacher and suggest he/she watch and decide if there is any merit to the complaint and to ignore it or change, as he/she feels appropriate.
2. Take seriously all the ones that threaten, slander or libel. Sorry, kid. You took it public. There are always ramifications for public speech that threatens, slanders, or libels. Under current interpretations of law, statements such as "Ugh, class ... with the dyke ... 'That's the point, you suffer.' 'Fucking dyke.'" constitute harassment.
3. Take seriously all those "hidden camera, gotcha" videos. Something is wrong but remember that students can drive a teacher to it. Don't just react and fire a good teacher for a bad day with evil children. Notify and warn, but do nothing because you don't have context. (Unless you have context.)
4. If school equipment was used, then someone needs to have a serious talk with the teacher responsible for it. That classroom in #2, for example.
1. Were they allowed into someone else's room?
2. Did they film that for an assignment?
3. Did the teacher know that the school resources were being used to attack another teacher?
4. Why did he approve the script?
5. Why did he think it was okay to let students do this?
5. If you've got violence about to happen ...
Well, you'd better do something quick, don't you think?

Speech is not completely free in Schools, even though the Tinker decision said, "The rights of students and teachers do not end at the schoolhouse door." The later Hazelwood decision allows editing (censorship) in those school fora which were not expressly set up for a free flow of student views ... "the rights of public school students are not necessarily the same as those of adults in other settings." Essentially, the school does not have to provide full, free-speech forum and may instead provide a limited speech forum for academic purposes. This limited speech forum cannot be forced to allow full free speech, "schools aren't required to lend their resources to the dissemination of students' opinions, particularly opinions that 'associate the school with any position other than neutrality on matters of political controversy.' "  The court also specifically allowed officials to censor material that's "biased or prejudiced, vulgar or profane, or unsuitable for immature audiences."

The current interpretation of this rule is that schools may "edit" (or censor) material or views that are produced using school equipment, or school resources. [The main reason I write this blog from home and never check it at school]. School resources include school-assigned emails from the school domain, internet access, class or study hall time or computer equipment use, school software or even school laptops when taken home. (Bet you didn't think of that!)

Remember that case of the school that turned on the laptop webcams? They got into \$600,000 worth of trouble because an administrator went off on her own to start taking pictures of students, half-naked or in their bedrooms. Had it been properly warned and notified, had protocol been set and followed, things would have been different. They did not get into trouble for monitoring their own machines. They would not have been ni trouble if they had required all students to submit to an audit of the harddrive.

If the threats were created done at school, it's even easier.  Simply explore the kid's network account for the powerpoint or animation file and follow your current procedures when you find it.  Any kid stupid enough to attack a teacher by making a file in computer class deserves to be punished, if only for being so stupid.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Computer Science is on the wane

eSchoolNews reports that

U.S. needs more computer science teachers

Fewer than 65 percent of K-12 schools in the United States offer an introductory-level computer science course, much less rigorous training, according to a recent study conducted by the Association for Computing Machinery and the Computer Science Teachers Association—and an Oct. 6 Computing in the Core summit aimed to draw attention to the need for more computer science teachers.

I see a couple of reasons for it. QBasic used to be installed on all windows machines as part of 3.1, 95, 98, NT and some XP, but no longer.  If you want to play with a simple language, you have to find and install it yourself. Not a problem, you say?  Ahhhh, but when I learned Basic on the pdp-8 and then the TRS-80, that's all I could really do with it, so I learned it.  I used it occasionally in math classes whenever the problem would fall to a brute force solution.  When I moved up to the Commodor64 and then to various windows machines, it was always there.  Not anymore.  I can't even get my copy of TruBasic to install on my Win7 box, though I didn't try all that hard.

HTML might be the computer language that breaks the ice and draws in the novice programmer, but few kids care about the static web.  JavaScript, java, php, asp, ruby, python, perl, AJAX, etc. all take a significant investment in time with little to show for it until a great deal of sophistication is achieved. Oh and a website that supports it or an emulator on your machine -- again, probably more work than it's worth in the beginning..

Pascal? I'd rather do .php -- at least I can make use of that. C or C++? How incredibly tedious.

A second culprit is the rise of web 2.0.  Why?  Because web 2.0 is designed to be used by the masses and hides all of its code behind the scenes.  You don't need to code ... you just need to type.   If you consider LOL and POS as typing. This rise of Facebook and the rest of social media drains off the fence-sitters who might have enjoyed coding but who find "better things to do."

Mostly, I think there are too many incredible video games. That means that the nerds and geeks who might have turned to coding as an outlet for their geekiness are instead playing shoot-em-ups with mind-blowing graphics and intense game-play.  Zelda v1 or Space Invaders were simple enough that you could think of doing it yourself.  Zork and the other text games were fun to rework.  Warcraft? Might as well just play it.

Randall got it right, but I can't see kids taking this route anymore:

More's the pity.

Men Ending Rape seems to be a worthy organization.  FIRE doesn't approve of their mandatory  seminars for male freshmen at Hamilton College.  I went to the MER website and saw the posters they had available for download.  I was struck that the tones of these posters seem to be sending mixed messages.

Which is it - the woman is responsible for herself, for not getting too drunk so that she notices that the BigJohnson is ridiculous or is the message that men are the only ones who can stop college date rape or that all women fear all men because of the possibility of rape?
Seems they would have a better response from men if they stuck to the first one. Ridicule and a clear, sobering blast of humility are what most freshmen need, I think. The one on the right ... I can't believe that one will affect any guy - what self-styled Romeo would even believe it?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Social Promotion in the HighSchool

Joanne has this piece about colleges bemoaning remedial classes which the students can't seem to get out of.

Not surprisingly, someone wants to blame social promotion in k-12.

"K-12 schools need to stop the conveyor-belt approach that moves kids from grade to grade without ensuring that REAL grade-level knowledge has been mastered. ... Require a certain score for MS and HS entry."
"So…why isn’t the K-12 system held responsible for educating these kids?"
"It’s time to hold both k-12 systems and their students accountable for real academic achievement. Being able to pass along their problems to CCs doesn’t do that."

Before we go all out blaming the K-12 educational system, which is required to teach and deal with all students … can we ask a question of the colleges?  Why did they accept the student who they knew wasn’t properly prepared?

Social promotion will always occur in high and middle school because the students are required to be there. That requirement means that some students who are not in any way willing to work and who are often violently opposed to cooperating and learning, are still in your system, still behind their age cohort.

If you simply end all social promotion with no alternatives, then this kid stays at the 7th grade level until he (most often he) is old enough to drop out. Until that time, he is quite willing to disrupt the education of the 11 and 12 year olds around him. In fact, it may be the only time in his life when he is able to completely dominate everyone around him and be a virtual dictator of the schoolyard.

Social promotion is a lousy option but it beats that situation hands down. Certainly the father of the 11 yo girl agrees. Certainly the teachers agree. So do all the other students and so does the kid himself.

Requiring a certain score on a test merely means that you will have plenty of kids fail to reach it and are "retained" - how's that working out for anyone who's tried it?  Not particularly well.

15 year olds should not be taught the same material as 11 year olds. They learn differently, respond differently, behave differently and are different. If people don’t understand that, too bad.

College students have options – withdrawing from college, getting a job, etc. They are adults. they are fully capable of deciding that remedial classes are not for them and working harder or changing major or quitting.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Strawman

It's always interesting to hear debates.  I came across this gem the other day (augmented from the transcript):
We are creating a world that no one will want to live in. Do you know what these students will do when they get control of the world? They'll say, "We we recorded all the time by government schools and so government not only can but should record the audio and video of everyone to protect us all." And when the technology is developed to detect what individuals are thinking, the government will mandate thought monitoring, too, because all words and actions begin with thoughts. Can we really afford not to know what people are thinking?
Over-reacting with a strawman? Or a reasonable argument?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Trader's Puzzle - Balance Weights

What are the weights of the four rings to as to measure any desired weight from a quarter-pound up to ten, in quarter-pound increments?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Stupid, just Stupid.

Business Insider has a Chart-of-the-Day that I subscribe to.  It's usually bland and stupid, some line chart or pie chart, but occasionally the editors commit some total bonehead move and choose the wrong type of graph or mess up somehow. Equally rarely, they produce a wonderful one, with some really cool data.  I use it to let my students see that their choices and mistakes are not uncommon but that you risk looking silly if you misuse Excel.

The page has links to other business-related stuff, which is why I brought it up.  Here is an amazing picture-story combination.  Any thoughts?

Monday, October 4, 2010

New is the Old New ... whatever.

Some years ago, Dan said
"The suspicion just creeps over me every coupla months or so that the constant introduction of new tools has left your average, well-meant educator a permanent amateur, able to save some time for herself using these tools, unable to do anything better. And since we're all in that same state, there exists very little peer pressure towards excellence, excepting occasional posts from certain School 2.0 curmudgeons."
Add to that the constant introduction of "New and Improved" (read: different interface entirely) versions of the software we all depend on. In my career, I've gotten used to 13 different versions of Word which were mostly compatible with each other but only in one direction. Add to that, a couple of WordPerfects which were far superior to Word but the schools always used Word, so I had to change or suffer the incompatibility.

It's the same with a host of other software. I frankly don't see how most people keep up with it AND with the constant drumbeat of "better" ways to teach math. Throw in operating systems, schools behind the tech curve and the cost of software - and "Don't you dare install FOSS on your school computer.  That stuff is loaded with viruses."

Web 2.0 is little different. I've gone through three different blogging platforms so far -- fortunately they are roughly similar but they are constantly being bought, sold and changed.  The paradigm is changing monthly ... do you use blogs, forums, moodles, chat, text, email, IM, Skype?  Do you have any idea what your passwords are if you don't have them stored in your browser?  How do you circumvent the school filter to show YouTube video? (Me? I download the video and play it with VideoLAN.  Don't tell IT.)

Apparently, the only way to be a teacher nowadays is to be a tech expert.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Joanne Jacobs has a quick hit on selling ads on permission slips.
Ads for local businesses will appear on permission slips, class calendars and school notices sent home with elementary students in Peabody, Massachusetts, reports the Boston Globe. Ads for cigarettes and liquor will be banned.
The calendars are no big surprise. Schools have been selling ads on sports calendars for what, decades? The sports stadium is littered with ads and the cafeteria probably a bunch more. The permission slips and report cards are new, but only report cards seem to me a worthwhile location. Permission slips are sent home, quickly skimmed and signed (rarely read) and then go back to the teacher. Report cards have more permanence and might be posted somewhere and often viewed.

One of the things that amused me about the story was the idea that cigarettes and liquor ads will be banned (I guess they're too evil) but the ads targeted to elementary kids will be "age-appropriate," ... "local pizza and ice cream shops." Certain vices are verboten but it's okay to fatten them up? They're in the clear because they'll allow "dance and karate schools"? And then there's this gem of an idea ... "maybe from a florist or a college." That's funny. When I think about 3rd graders, the first thought is not usually a desire to buy from florists or a need to worry about college.

Secondly, they should be upfront and admit it's all about a little extra money the principal can waste on frivolity.
"Peabody schools laid off six teachers, two guidance counselors and other staff this year. Fees for riding the bus and playing sports were raised."
This is a drop in the bucket. Maybe enough to re-furnish the principal's office. To mention staffing numbers and fees in the same article as (wildly overestimated) \$24,000 in advertising seems only calculated to reduce the inevitable backlash.

What backlash?  I'm sure that some parent will complain.  Maybe the Pizza Shack owner who has to forever display his daughter's straight-A report card with the Tony's Pizza ad on it.  I would complain if I found out that the school went through the hassle of selling the ads but had to buy specially printed report cards (using up the "profits" because every report mailing was different) and then spent hours of time trying to get the report cards to print out properly.  I would also want to earmark the money.  Putting into the Principal's Slush Fund isn't my idea of proper management.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Highly Qualified or Effective?

Mike Petrilli on Education Gadfly writes about HQT and how terrible it is:
Everyone knows it’s a meaningless designation. Nobody will defend its focus on paper credentials. The conversation has moved on to teacher “effectiveness” as measured by student learning and other meaningful indicators. Yet in the real world of real schools, HQT is still the law of the land, wreaking havoc every day. It continues to make teachers jump through unnecessary hoops. It continues to tie the hands of charter schools that have to demonstrate that their teachers have requisite “subject matter knowledge”—never mind the autonomy charters are supposed to receive. And now it’s causing material harm to Teach For America, one of the best things our education system has going.
Awesome. and Stupid. and Inconsistent.

HQT makes teachers hop or skip through low-lying hoops, like certification and demonstrating that you actually know what you are trying to teach. The praxis test is required. Not much more. The checkboxes for HQT are so incredibly easy to tick off that 93.8% of Vermont teachers are HQT. The obvious response is "You want to be a teacher. Teachers have paperwork. This is easy. Get over yourself."

Mike wants "teacher 'effectiveness' measured by student learning and other meaningful indicators." So, if I understand this, he wants the teachers' effectiveness measured by students taking a meaningless high-stakes test instead of the teachers taking a meaningful one. That's silly. The teachers should take the tests. After all, if they fail, it'll be their college professors' fault.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Archery Puzzle

How close can the young archer come to scoring a total of 100 - using as many arrows as she pleases.
The rings are numbered 16, 17, 23, 24, 39, 40

Skating Puzzle

It is recorded that in a mile race between two graceful skaters the rivals started from opposite points to skate to the other's place of beginning. With the advantage of a strong wind Jennie performed the feat two and a half times as quick as Maude, and beat her by six minutes. The problem, which has created no end of discussion, is to tell the time of each in skating the mile.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How do Corporations Choose?

From a A WALL STREET JOURNAL Letter to the Editor
Reader Harvey Karten concludes that the recent Journal article about employers favoring graduates of big state universities over graduates of the Ivies is an indication that there are still things that government can do better than private industry.
I think it just as likely that the corporations are tired of the self-absorbed and self-indulgent TFA wanna-bes, primarily scions of the upper-class, graduates of the Ivies and are instead looking for candidates who had to work for a degree and who might be more likely to succeed at working for a living.