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.


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

Thursday, October 28, 2010


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.

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.

To answer MacLeod's question:
  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

Panel members spoke of the need for more rigorous computer science education.

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 -- Self-contradictory?

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


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?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

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

Ads on Permission Slips

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.