## Wednesday, December 28, 2011

### Rules are rules. Especially for Coaches.

Yahoo News has a short piece decrying the horrible tactics of some high school league:
With his stepfather in jail, Brown spent a year at South Kent School in Connecticut, then decided he needed to start over, so he moved to Southern California. After a season at Simi Valley (Calif.) Stoneridge Prep, where the Brooklyn native was a boarding student, Brown was left with nowhere to go when Endres learned of his precarious situation. Without thinking twice, the coach did what he thought was right: He took in a teen in need, regardless of who he was on the court. Now, both the player and coach are being punished for what is virtually universally recognized as a truly samaritan act.
Well, actually, the kid is a pretty good basketball player and they transferred him after the residency deadline and the coach expected everyone to happily go along with it because, of course, he wouldn't have an ulterior motive. It's just a coincidence the kid would be the best one on the team, right?

Here's a thought: If you really want to help the kid, give him a home and send him to school. Next year, his residency requirements will have been met and he can become whatever player he was destined to be. The education he gets will be worth far more in the long run than a single season on the basketball team in the hands of a fool who can't figure out why this "truly Samaritan act" might look a little sketchy. And why can't this genius think of anything good that might happen except for the kid's being able to play?
As reported by the Times, the Marmonte League principals didn't even let Endres speak at the hearing set up to decide whether or not to approve a waiver of CIF residency requirements which would allow him to play for Thousand Oaks.
Maybe this video helped them decide:

## Tuesday, December 27, 2011

### The Kindle is Better than Public Schools. Kneel before its mighty visage.

 Here is your teacher. Revere it as I do for it will save the world. It will remove the shackles of the evil teachers from the necks of our precious children. Deus in Machina. Amen.
I read, with some amusement, A World without Schoolteachers by Richard F. Miniter over at American Thinker.

The Kindle and Nook may make for not only the most important advance in reading since Gutenberg, but also, quite likely, a major lesson in unintended consequences. Especially for the educational establishment, because for the first time in history, Americans should be able to envision a future without public-school teachers -- indeed, a future without public-school administrators or state departments of education with their rigidly enforced, politically correct social-transformation curriculum. A future without onerous school taxes, "education president(s)," self-preening school boards, or million-dollar classrooms. But most happily, a future without a single supercilious finger wagging in our face as we're forever lectured about how much a securely tenured, part-time, self-important, overpaid class of public employees "cares" about our sons and daughters. Really, really, really cares. And, of course, knows much better than we do how to bring them up. And it's all possible because these cheap, handheld, downloadable reading devices such as Kindle and Nook now give parents a choice between tutoring and classroom education.
If only I'd known. It seems so simple. It seems so perfect. So ... egalitarian and utopian.

Call me when it works.

### Dividing by a Fraction

We "invert and multiply", "multiply by the reciprocal" or insist on using the fraction key because we can't remember or were never really taught the reasons or the algorithm. Is there a simple explanation for the method we old farts memorized years ago in third or fourth grade? Why does it work?
Let's start with a problem: $\frac{3}{4} \div \frac{5}{6}$ and change to a compound fraction: $\dfrac{\frac{3}{4}}{\frac{5}{6}}$

Now what? Dividing by a fraction is confusing, but dividing by one is obvious. So we turn $\frac{5}{6}$ into unity by multiplying by its reciprocal. Of course, you can't just multiply part of our problem by $\frac{6}{5}$ without changing its value, so we multiply by one: $\dfrac{\frac{6}{5}}{\frac{6}{5}}$

All in one image: $\dfrac{\dfrac{3}{4}}{\dfrac{5}{6}} \rightarrow \dfrac{\dfrac{3}{4}}{\dfrac{5}{6}} \cdot \dfrac{\dfrac{6}{5}}{\dfrac{6}{5}} \rightarrow \dfrac{\dfrac{3}{4} \cdot \dfrac{6}{5}}{\dfrac{1}{1}} \rightarrow \dfrac{3}{4} \cdot \dfrac{6}{5} \rightarrow \dfrac{18}{20} \rightarrow \dfrac{9}{10}$

Divide by one. Seems simple to me.

### Apparently the OSS knew about Highly Ineffective Principals

In Teachers’ Unions as Saboteurs?, Andrew Gillen quotes the Simple Sabotage Field Manual, published by the Office of Strategic Services (precursor to the CIA) during World War II. It includes advice for indirect sabotage in “General Interference with Organizations and Production.”
(1) Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions. (Just like my principal - who knew?)
(2) Make “speeches.” Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your “points” by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences… (This sounds like me. What if I'm the one?)
(3) When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” (HIPster has this one covered.)
(4) Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
(5) Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions. (Mission statement, anyone?)
(6) Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.
(8) Be worried about the propriety of any decision — raise the question of whether such action as is contemplated lies within the jurisdiction of the group or whether it might conflict with the policy of some higher echelon…
This can also be caused by Ineffectiveness, but ineffectiveness looks the same as sabotage.

## Monday, December 19, 2011

### Graphical Literacy - Graphicacy

Graphicacy is a wonderful term, a combination of literacy and graphics, coined here.

I love data visualization, though I admit to not being particularly good at the artistic side of it. Information is Beautiful is a great place to start exploring.

Earlier this year, when the science fair projects were in their beginning stages, we had time in math to get them a narrow picture of methods and types, but nothing too extensive.  I showed them how to make graphs in Excel and led them through a few samples, then had them create a few by hand. I also ran them through some of the correlation - causation slides from the statistics class but they were convinced of their own brilliance and didn't want to pay too much attention.

Well, Science Fair just happened and we'll be reviewing the graphs created for that. It's really fascinating what kinds of things kids will do in pursuit of that last-minute, late-night graph.  I had line graphs that should have been box-and-whisker plots, column graphs that had no business being sorted and probably should have been scatterplots and a couple other sins against proper representation.

We'll critique and re-format, re-create and fix.  It should be interesting. I'll be introducing them to the infographic in its role as a data presentation tool, too.

For the interested person, here is a chart of data visualizations that, strangely, doesn't include periodic-table visualizations ....

## Sunday, December 18, 2011

### Copper Statue

"The Statue of Liberty ("Liberty Enlightening the World" by Frèdèric Aguste Bartoldi) in New Jersey waters outside New York Harbor is sheathed in copper of average thickness 2 mm. The statue is 50 m high and some 80 metric tons of copper was required for its fabrication. It is probable that few projects before or since the Statue`s construction in 1876-1885 ever required as much copper."

Any Questions?

## Thursday, December 15, 2011

### Finally, Jay Matthews!

Of course, Jay misses the irony in his "5 ways to save American Education".
A research team led by Marc S. Tucker, a relentless advocate for adopting successful international practices in U.S. schools, recently concluded that we, in essence, are doing almost nothing right. His investigators could find no evidence, Tucker said, “that any country that leads the world’s education performance league tables has gotten there by implementing any of the major agenda items that dominate the education reform agenda in the United States, with the exception of the Common Core State Standards.”
 I'm from Washington and I'm here to help. Heh.
In the past, Jay said that the answer is to blindly cast about for another shiny, dangly-bit of education reform so we can save our schools once and for all. "KIPP is the solution," he said. "Play nice, be smart, be indoctrinated into your little cages" he said. "Vouchers will save your kids from the evils of public schools", he mumbled.

How about "Just teach math. Raw, pure math with questions that fascinate and practice that doesn't suck."

I'd be good with that.

### Now it's Canada's Turn for Deform

 Harrison wasn't allowed either.
Yes, the times tables are vitally important.
Yes, algorithm is important.

No, those new-fangled methods aren't really new. In fact, they are hundreds of years old. They were in use for centuries until the algorithms were developed. Then, everyone switched to the new algorithms because THEY ARE MORE EFFICIENT and EASIER TO USE. Education deformers who lacked any sense of history and never learned those algorithms have developed the old ways all over again: lattice multiplication, grouping by thousands and hundreds.

Isn't that incredible? It's like arithmetic archeology posing as cutting-edge but acting like the Handicapper-General in Harrison Bergeron. Why should today's kids use what works efficiently? If a Deformer couldn't learn this "long division" thing, why should America's kids? The Deformer was a "C" student so everyone must be limited to the same inadequate and tedious multiplication methods. "You MAY NOT USE the easy method."

MARGARET WENTE: Why Alex can’t add (or subtract, multiply or divide); Globe and Mail

A parent I know went to an information session about math at his kid’s school. After listening to the visiting curriculum expert explain how important it was for students to “understand” the concepts, he asked: “So, how important is it for them to learn the times tables?” The expert hemmed and hawed and wouldn’t give an answer.
 The elementary teacher is a math-phobe. Where did you think the kids got that fear?

Parents across Canada might be surprised to learn that the times tables are out. So are adding, subtracting and dividing. Remember when you learned to add a column of numbers by carrying a number over to the next column, or learned to subtract by borrowing, then practised your skills until you could add and subtract automatically? Forget it. Today, that’s known as “drill and kill,” or, even worse, “rote learning.” And we can’t have that.
Nope. Can't do it. Practice is right out of the math classroom. It's much better do have the kids hop onto the computer, log in to their Khan Academy account and do rote learning and drill there. It's a computer, don't you see? That means it's not really drill. It's shiny and new so it must be better than making the kids learn math.
“The designers of the new curriculum have decided it would be a really good idea not to teach these things,” says Robert Craigen, an associate professor of mathematics at the University of Manitoba. He sat on the province’s math curriculum committee for years. Unfortunately, nobody was interested in what he had to say. So today, he’s got calculus students who never learned long division. “The undergirding motive is: We want to teach understanding, and all this mechanical detail gets in the way of understanding.”
Because nothing allows you to think like knowing nothing. Lots of room for all those thoughts to bounce around. When you open your mouth, pretty much anything comes out.
The common methods used to add and subtract are known as standard algorithms. They are efficient and foolproof. But, instead of being taught these methods, students are encouraged to find “strategies,” such as breaking numbers into units of thousands, hundreds, tens and ones and working horizontally. It works, but it’s not efficient. And every time a student sees a new problem, he has to start from scratch – and pick his “strategy.” It’s like playing the piano without ever learning scales, or hockey without basic drills.
 If Practice is so Bad, why am I constantly hearing about Teaching's Best Practices?
But that's how NHL players are made, aren't they? Don't those little kids just skate around the rink devising new ways to score? We should let them invent the rules they want to play by. There's plenty of time to learn skill. We'll use a video game. Yeah, that's the ticket. A video game.
The loony thing is that Canada is way behind the times. After a decade of disastrous experimentation in the United States, this approach to math education has been repudiated. The leading U.S. heavyweights in math came out decisively against it in 2008. Sadly, it seems this news has not yet reached Canada. Here, curriculum developers and boards of education are pressing forward, undeterred by the objections of math experts or the bafflement of parents and children alike.
Ooooooh, you went there. Except that the information is not quite right. There are plenty of experts in the US who still believe that Practice is the Road to Hell and that Engagement at any cost is Royal Road to Mathematics.

Meh.

Apparently, drills are fine on the football field but not in the classroom.  Maybe that's why we're so much better at football.

## Tuesday, December 6, 2011

### Find love elsewhere.

Joanne Jacobs has this from Reason.com:
Reason‘s “Nanny of the Month” highlights a law that would make student-teacher sex a felony, even if the student is 18 or older. Adult ed teachers and school volunteers are included in the proposed Michigan law.
I don't have a problem with this law. Your classroom roster isn't an old-school version of match.com and isn't where you should be looking for a good time.

It's the same as sleeping with your boss, fraternizing in the military, or looking for a wife at the family picnic. It's a bit unseemly and in practice quite problematic. Someone invariably winds up being hurt. While the situation isn't as bad for the two parties, an adult education teacher whose spouse becomes the student shouldn't be teaching a spouse in a formal situation anyway.

Rather, the law seems to be trying to close the "loophole" of a teacher who points out that "his high school girlfriend juuuuust turned 18, so its okay!"

Seriously, graduation can't be that far away.

Speechless.
WEST WINDSOR — Two men are accused of breaking into the home of a Vermont state game warden and stabbing two goats in his barn. State police have arrested 33-year-old Nick Ashline and 20-year-old Daniel Parry following an investigation into the Oct. 30 incident.

Police said Steven Majeski had returned home in West Windsor after work. He said two of three goats housed in his barn had been stabbed. One of the goats died. Ashline and Parry have been charged with burglary and cruelty to animals.

## Monday, December 5, 2011

### Top the Nation in Blood

This is what comes of not paying too close attention to banners and headlines. I was signing up for blood donation.  The big city (pop. 63,000) is trying to beat the national record for a one day blood drive. We hold the New England per-person record, but lost out last year to Boston for the overall.  Unwilling to let Boston attempt to claim any type of superiority ....

So anyway, I'm clicking the form and I glance at the header:
"Let's top the nation in blood." I had just gotten finished watching a "Zombie Christmas" so I'm primed to see that Texas Chainsaw Massacre headline.

Alas, it was blood donation:
Silly.

"The GOLM collected 368 pints that first year, and has grown steadily ever since. For three straight years, the GOLM has broken the New England record for a one-day community blood drive. Boston held the record of 772 pints until Rutland collected 856 in 2008 and 1,024 in 2009.

In September 2010, Boston collected 1,177 pints to reclaim the New England record, but Rutland took it back in December, with 1,400 pints. Manchester, N.H., broke that record – and the national record – in August 2011, with 1,968 pints – setting the stage for our 2011 goal of topping the nation in blood donation.