Monday, December 31, 2012

Odd Man Out Puzzle

Source: Mensa cards.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Circles Puzzle

source: Will Shortz
Note: Mouseover the word to see the answer.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

We don't have a gun problem.

Usually cheaper than this.
We have an alcohol problem.
We have a drug problem.
We have a poverty problem.
We have a "Kids Being Stupid" problem.
We have a politics problem.
We have an anti-vaccine idiot problem.

We don't have a gun problem.

I'd really appreciate it if we could stop applying solutions that don't work to problems we don't have, creating new problems we didn't need.

I'm sure someone will claim I'm being obtuse and since few of you has my perspective, I'll be more clear.  I'm not being a pro-gun, pro-NRA stooge.  I'm not ignoring the real problems that many schools have. I'm not ignoring the problems that we do have.

And I'm not ignoring reality.

NOT one of my students, but I see
similar pictures all the time.
First, some information.  At least 50% of my students have guns in their homes. At least 25% of my students have their own guns (and a few are pink camoflage, too).  I know, because they've shown them to me. "Hey Mister, check this out.  I got this deer this weekend." (Shows me a cellphone picture of herself posing proudly with a 6-pointer and the rifle.) This is anyone from one of the seventh graders to one of the seniors.  First kill - they're typically thrilled out of their minds and showing everyone.

I won't say that everyone hunts in this state, but several schools just give up and cancel classes during the first days of hunting season. We don't, but I do get the requests for homework so they don't fall behind. I have friends who own multiple guns, some of which are loaded and lying on the windowsills of the home. It might be startling at first to see it, but the surprise quickly fades. In Brattleboro, you can see people walking down the street, naked except for boots and a hat, sometimes with a rifle over the shoulder.

The law in Vermont allows for adults to own, sell, carry a weapon with very few restrictions. Under 16 only need parental permission. It is legal to walk around with a weapon, concealed or not, except for a few places like schools and courthouses, etc.

Have we had a problem with guns in school? No.

Yes, there was a shooting in an Essex school (just outside of Burlington, the closest we can come to a city) in which a man came in during August work days to shoot his teacher girlfriend, but killed another teacher. A Jericho student killed himself. That's it, going back to the 1960s.

Have had a problem with guns, period? No.

There was a guy who shot at a tractor in the middle of a field and killed the farmer he couldn't see behind it. There was a drug dealer in Burlington. There are the occasional "hunting accidents" and other things, but nothing remotely like Adam Lanza. We have maybe five homicides a year. We DID have the farmer who was angry at the cops and crushed all eight cop cars with his tractor, though, but I don't figure that counts.

We have had more kids die from whooping cough than from school shootings. Can we shut up Jenny McCarthy instead?

Banning guns, getting all paranoid about locking doors, hiring cops, arming teachers, are all security theater .... worthless attempts to solve a problem that doesn't exist here by pretending to raise security. The problem is that they cost serious money while being worthless.

Governor Howard Dean was in favor of tighter gun control but got the NRA's A rating eight times because he refused to jump at shadows. A Canadian news program asked him why he never tried to pass any gun control laws.  He replied, "I would have, but I never found one that would work."

In the national campaign, he said,
"If I thought gun control would save lives in Vermont, I would support it. If you say “gun control” in Vermont or Tennessee, people think you want to take away their hunting rifle. If you say “gun control” New York or L.A., people are happy to see Uzi’s or illegal handguns taken off the streets. I think Vermont ought to be able to have a different set of laws than California. Let’s keep and enforce the federal gun laws we have, close the gun show loophole using Insta-check, and then let the states decide for themselves what if any gun control laws they want. We need to get guns off the national radar screen if Democrats are ever going to win again in the South and the West. Just as we resist attempts by President Bush to dictate to the states how we run our school systems and what kind of welfare programs to have, we need to resist attempts to tell states how to deal with guns beyond existing Federal law. Source: Campaign web site,, “On the Issues” , Nov 30, 2002
Let's spend our limited resources on applying solutions that will work to counter something that IS a problem.

Coffee coupons


Friday, December 28, 2012

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Rectangle of Squares Puzzle

Like this, with different side lengths.
"A perfect fit with no overlapping"

Take some squares as defined below and fit them into one big rectangle with no gaps or spaces between the squares or in the corners. (Using graph paper might make it easier.)

The squares have sides of the following lengths:
2, 5, 7, 9, 16, 25, 28, 33, & 36.

source: efriedman et al.

The Daily Schedule again

The bastard.
Let's ask some rhetorical questions about the nature of school ... and jump to an amazingly random solution. Actually, I'll let someone else do it.

Shawn Cornally thinks we should get rid of class schedules and let the kids figure it all out. After achieving some success with SBG and assuming that he's got all the answers, Cornally takes the mental leap: maybe the reason kids are cheating, lying, "clamoring for meaningless grades and inflated As" is because the school day is scheduled. Throw in "herd mentality" and "cryptically planned lesson", ask a bunch of rhetorical questions masquerading as reasonable thoughts, and suddenly you've got a blog post.

I'll start with grades. Read more of Cornally's work (ThinkThankThunk -Dealing with the fear of being a boring teacher) and you see that he has a much better argument for SBG as a cure for grade-grubbing and for improving learning. I personally think it's more about how you grade and interact with your students than what form the grades take, but that's not what we're dealing with here.

Here we're discussing whether the daily schedule itself is the cause.

Now, I've been around a long time and I've attended and taught at both public and private, small and large, 8x40minute or 4x90 minute, strict or relaxed (not quite Ode to Billy Jack  but close) and I've dealt with students from all walks of academic life from hippy home-schooled and unschooled to public schools to the private-schooled ultra-rich.

The schedule isn't the problem and it's not what causes angsty students. I've seen too many schools in which this no-schedule proposal has been tried and has badly failed the students in the long run.
"How can we expect them to connect Hemingway, vectors, pottery, cells, and ancient Greece every day? It’s a disjointed nightmare—to which you might say, "deal with it, that’s school." But what I see in my students is that "dealing with it" results in a lot of material crammed for a test and then forgotten."

"They need to see that you can't always get the right answers from the back of a book. How many times were you allowed to mess up a chemistry lab in high school? Most likely you were graded on how well you reproduced a set of instructions the first time you tried it. That’s not how anyone really learns. Students need to know that things go wrong, and they need to be comfortable—dare I say happy—with failing and retrying."
Interesting strawman argument. Fallacious, but interesting. How can he expect me to connect having a schedule with test cramming? What causal link exists here? Further, the balancing of "learning to follow instructions" and "allowing students to mess up" has what possible link other than coincidental with the fact that you have those students for 90 minutes a day?

Cornally then asks a few questions that I'd like to answer:
What if we removed the passive course-to-course drudgery of the school day? What if there was no schedule? What if students were left with a list of coyly worded benchmarks targeted at creating quality humans, and we just waited to see what they could do? What if teachers were seen as mentors for projects designed to help students meet those benchmarks? What if the students initiated these projects and the teachers spent their time recording TED-style talks that would serve as inspiration and help students generate benchmark-related ideas?
What if, indeed. Well, the school would quickly grind to a halt for one thing. What reformers forget is that students, by and large, are not focused on education in the way education "experts" are. What works for a small subset of the population will not work for the greater portion. Additionally, if you let the students choose from too big a list, you'll give them too many choices and they mentally freeze, doing nothing. Students need structure. Not a prison but not a free-for-all either. Where you draw the lines depends on their age/maturity level.

I've made my choice for today.
"Passive course-to-course drudgery" is his interpretation.  As a math teacher, I would love to focus on one thing for an entire day, but few of my students will nor is it optimal as the basis for learning new things.

"A change of work is the best rest."

Students  have other interests, too; math is important and interesting and satisfying (and therefore fun) but not in large doses. If you eliminate the different courses, you and they will quickly run out of energy.

Leaving a list of "coyly worded benchmarks targeted at creating quality humans" would insult any students who thought about it, irritate the hell out of the rest. Students are smart enough to know when they are being patronized. They'll rebel out of irritation.

What if students "initiated these projects and ... teachers were seen as mentors ... serve as inspiration and help students generate ideas"? This pie-in-the-sky mental diarrhea is the worst of the bunch. First, only a few will initiate anything. The rest won't or will tag along hanging to the coat-tails of others at best, or actively sabotage at worst. Students, by definition, are at the stage in their lives where they are making some good choices and many bad ones. It's why they can't drink, smoke, drive without an adult, rent, get married, have sex with a thirty-year-old, join the military.  Some things they can do only with parental permission or supervision. So many forbidden or limited things ... why? Because they are not adults yet, partially because their parents and society doesn't want to let go yet. If a teacher wants to let the students decide everything, then he needs to switch out of public schools and into a private school that specifically allows for it and whose parents specifically asked (and paid) for it .. and even then, there are limits and limitations on what that education really accomplishes.

TED - Inspirational and Truthy
Not Always at the Same Time.
My favorite, though, is "What if the teachers spent their time recording TED-style talks that would serve as inspiration and help students generate benchmark-related ideas?" I love it. First, most teachers are paid to teach. Separating me from the classroom and putting me in a Khan Academy closet to make videos isn't going to make me a TED-quality superstar, isn't going to make the parents, administration or the school board particularly happy, and isn't going to do much for my students. Second, the average teacher is, well, average; hardly inspiring and certainly doesn't have all that much to say beyond the next chapter in the book.  Third, what happens the next year when those videos are already finished? Do I get to sit back and let the previous year's videos do the inspiring while I drink coffee and read

Most important, the whole "online video will solve the educational crisis and restore Peace, Love, Justice, and the American Way by inspiring students to do everything we want them to do instead of by forcing them" ignores the obstinate fact that students only tolerate online education when a real class isn't available ... and making a bunch of videos to replace your lectures isn't really all that interesting to your students. If that were the best way to go, YouTube would have already taught them everything they needed by age 13. There are thousands of better videos than mine out there. Thousands are better than Cornally's, too.
Instead, I will go back to my classroom tomorrow, where my students are slated for yet another period of biology. Once a day for 90 days—evidently that’s the prescription for understanding biology. How can we possibly know that’s enough for them to learn biology or any other subject? I’ll be trying a few experiments aimed at giving my students the curriculum and the freedom to generate projects that are asynchronous but productive.
And that, frankly, is what Cornally should do. He should go back to class and do his best. He should avoid giving meaningless, boring assignments to students, refuse to give credit for "organizing her binder in government class", make it possible for them to get inspired by a TED-style video or participate in a blended classroom. By all means, he should use whatever grading system makes the most sense for him, build his course along "authentic" projects (as opposed to what so many of us apparently do ... "fake" or "imitation" projects) and promote project-based learning if that works for him.

How do we know that's enough for them to learn Biology? I've talked about that. (In response to another Cornally post, no less.) The simple answer is that the course filled the time available rather than the other way around. When the science teachers in a neighboring school found they couldn't teach enough of what they thought Physical Science should be, they simply made two courses out of it. At another friend's school, the math department found that they didn't have time for everything they wanted in Pre-Calculus, they separated trig out to a half-credit course.
But as long as we keep the current way classes are scheduled, we will continue claiming that we just don’t have time for learning.
You can claim that.  I certainly won't.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas, Everyone.

How many triangles

Hold your mouse over the image for the answer in slightly hidden form.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Pulley Puzzle

belt loop puzzle
A puzzle by Harry Langman:
A thin belt is stretched around three pulleys, each of which is 2 feet in diameter. The distances between the centers of the pulleys are 6 feet, 9 feet, and 13 feet. How long is the belt?

from Futility Closet.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

I would have enjoyed writing for this man.

I hated English in school until I had Mr. Clark in 12th grade. He had a passion for the subject but also a pragmatic side. We read Thoreau and Shakespeare but also Frost and Bronowski. Every Thursday, we'd enter the classroom ready to write with a topic already on the board; we had forty minutes to write 1.5 - 2 pages. The papers were graded for content and style as most English papers were but then they were put through the wringer: every grammatical mistake brought the mark down a letter grade. That's when I learned to write and when I learned to appreciate good writing.

Taking a course like this one, however, taught by a teacher like this one, would have been glorious.

This assignment is reprinted from Kurt Vonnegut: Letters , edited by Dan Wakefield, out now from Delacorte Press.


November 30, 1965


This course began as Form and Theory of Fiction, became Form of Fiction, then Form and Texture of Fiction, then Surface Criticism, or How to Talk out of the Corner of Your Mouth Like a Real Tough Pro. It will probably be Animal Husbandry 108 by the time Black February rolls around. As was said to me years ago by a dear, dear friend, “Keep your hat on. We may end up miles from here.”

As for your term papers, I should like them to be both cynical and religious. I want you to adore the Universe, to be easily delighted, but to be prompt as well with impatience with those artists who offend your own deep notions of what the Universe is or should be. “This above all ...”

I invite you to read the fifteen tales in Masters of the Modern Short Story (W. Havighurst, editor, 1955, Harcourt, Brace, $14.95 in paperback). Read them for pleasure and satisfaction, beginning each as though, only seven minutes before, you had swallowed two ounces of very good booze. “Except ye be as little children ...”

Then reproduce on a single sheet of clean, white paper the table of contents of the book, omitting the page numbers, and substituting for each number a grade from A to F. The grades should be childishly selfish and impudent measures of your own joy or lack of it. I don’t care what grades you give. I do insist that you like some stories better than others.

Proceed next to the hallucination that you are a minor but useful editor on a good literary magazine not connected with a university. Take three stories that please you most and three that please you least, six in all, and pretend that they have been offered for publication. Write a report on each to be submitted to a wise, respected, witty and world-weary superior.

Do not do so as an academic critic, nor as a person drunk on art, nor as a barbarian in the literary market place. Do so as a sensitive person who has a few practical hunches about how stories can succeed or fail. Praise or damn as you please, but do so rather flatly, pragmatically, with cunning attention to annoying or gratifying details. Be yourself. Be unique. Be a good editor. The Universe needs more good editors, God knows.

Since there are eighty of you, and since I do not wish to go blind or kill somebody, about twenty pages from each of you should do neatly. Do not bubble. Do not spin your wheels. Use words I know.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Petitions and Relevance

The Examiner has a story about citizens petitioning for states to secede from the Union because Obama won. Sure, the people are all complete nutjobs who want to register a protest without any thought to what would happen if they somehow, improbably, succeeded. Sure, there are mental patients in every state who believe that Obama is conspiring with foreign countries and is secretly a Communist/Socialist/Dictator. (I'm looking at you, Donald Trump) There are more people who believe they are a firetruck.

Look at the numbers here and declare yourself surprised that this many people signed a pointless, doomed petition. Louisiana, 7,358; Texas, 3,771; Florida, 636; Georgia, 475; Alabama, 834; North Carolina, 792; Kentucky, 467; Mississippi, 475; Indiana, 449; North Dakota, 162; Montana, 440; Colorado, 324; Oregon, 328; New Jersey, 301 and New York, 169.

Get over it, people.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election cost perspective.

Sure,  $2.6 GBucks is a lot to spend for an election ... but the US spent $4.6 GBucks on chewing gum in 2011.

From NYTimes:
From makeshift voting sites in East Coast communities devastated by Hurricane Sandy to the more typical voting booths set up in school gyms, libraries and town halls across the rest of the country, people began lining up before dawn to cast their ballots — collectively writing the ending to a bitter, expensive presidential campaign in which the candidates, parties and well-heeled outside groups were on pace to spend some $2.6 billion

Oddly, if you follow that link, the next article is headlined
"Total Cost of Election Could Be $6 Billion"
The total cost of the 2012 election could reach $6 billion, according to estimates from a leading research organization, which would obliterate the previous record by more than $700 million.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Factor Diagrams

Factor diagrams have been making the rounds and I was struck by this one from Brent:

Is it just me or should the diagrams for 15 and 45 be a blue pentagon with surrounds?

Still, it's cool.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Types of Homeschoolers

This rant was sparked by the comment described below about World of Warcraft.  Ignore it if you choose to, but I felt like a little rant was in order.

I figure that you can raise your kids in whatever fashion you feel appropriate within the limits set forth by the Division of Youth Services and the standards of human decency.  As long as you don't slip over into abuse or negligence, it's probably none of my business to tell you how to raise your kids.  And no, spanking isn't abuse. Schooling is one of those parental choices.

In my experience, homeschoolers' reasons fall into three basic categories.
  1. Those who feel they can do a better job.  This parent is usually well educated and has the ability to spend the time necessary to do the job right.  Sometimes, this is a work-from-home parent who can work from some really neat places, so they travel a lot and take their kids on a grand tour of the world. Perhaps the child is truly superior and the parents are nurturing that ability and don't want their child to slow down in any way. These people I have no problems with ... take your kid out of school ... he'll be fine and go to a decent college (or not) and live a good life.
  2. Then there are the religious reasons. These range from "the public school is too permissive and my kids are going to learn about all those horrible things and start doing drugs and forget about God" to a simple desire to have theology classes and a more spiritual approach to life.  This group, I have no problems with ... raising your kids in a closed environment probably isn't the best idea for psychological development, but it should be a choice that parents can make for their kids. Living a more religious life among the Heathens is a choice.
  3. Then there are the assholes, the parents who "homeschool" for asinine reasons. These are the ones who take their kid out of school so he can play Guitar Hero "professionally" or who sign the papers and let the kid sit at home all day long or make him go to work for the family business because they don't want to pay a real worker. I'll include here the racist clowns who "homeschool" because they don't want their kids in a building with "spics and niggers." (A friend of mine was visiting his nephew and noticed them playing World of Warcraft early around noon.  He asked who everyone was and was told that they were all Texas kids whose parents didn't want them in public school for that reason ... although on WoW, they can't use that language, so they have to say 'S&Ns")
Of course, none of these reasons justifies the "voucher" idea. If your town opens a public school for all of those who wish to take advantage of it, it shouldn't have to pay to send your kid somewhere else.  If you want to buck the group and get something special, I think the town/state should allow you to do so and not make a fuss beyond asking for a description of the curriculum/syllabus, but you need to provide that something special at your own cost.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Support for Idiotic Fads is Highest Among New Teachers

although, I may have misread that statistic. Education News has this article stating "Support for Education Reform Highest Among New Teachers".
A new survey shows that teachers entering the workforce are more open to accepting changes pushed for by education reform advocates, such as linking pay and promotions to performance, than their longer-serving peers. 

Merit pay works.
Okay, I'm being slightly facetious but my sarcasm hides a valid point.

I have been teaching for nearly thirty years. I have seen, or developed, or participated in, many reforms over those years. Many of those reforms stunk, were stupid, wrongheaded, but they were all promising fundamental change that would help our students.  That's why we tried them.

Some reforms succeeded beyond our wildest dreams ... special ed foremost among them.  I can remember times when students were pushed into a closet and ignored because they were troublesome. I can remember when students were ignored if they had a learning disability.  IDEA helped change that culture and changed many lives.  We have to reach a balance between the two extremes but overall, that change is good.

If, on the other hand, a reform failed before, and the new reform looks very much like the old reform, should I ignore the similarity and forge onward?  Should I forget that I am being paid more than those new teachers ... mostly because of experience teaching ... should I forget that experience and forge onward with the "new" idea? Should I forget the mistakes I have made and make them again?

No, no, a thousand times, NO.

I truly feel that some of the loudest voices are those who are most wrongheaded.  Merit pay is a bad idea.  I have seen it fail and I have no desire to see it fail again. 

I would be happy to see reforms "such as linking pay and promotions to performance" if only someone could explain how to measure that and who would measure that.  It would be nice if anyone had the least bit of research that said this type of scheme actually worked.  (See Dan Pink, below)

In the past decade or so, my principals have embraced "Verbatim Observations" - writing down every word said in the room instead of simply watching and listening. This happens once a year. If you think I'm going to accept letting $5000 rest on that flimsy an evaluation, you are sadly mistaken.

If you insist $5000 of my income be based on my students' performance on a single test, try again. I will do everything in my power to stack the deck - against the test, against my colleagues, against the scheduler. That kid who's not working very hard - move him out. That kid in the other teacher's class - "sorry, too busy". Letting the department in on a great project? Not a chance. Cooperation in department meetings and curriculum development? Not if it means I am at a disadvantage when bonuses come out. If another teacher needs help with technology ... "I haven't tried that yet. I don't know."

You need to watch this.
Hey, let's be real.  When you talk a significant amount of money, then you have changed the focus. As Daniel Pink says in Drive, you need to pay people enough to get the question of money off the table.  Then get out of the way. Money sours the deal and makes performance worse.

Yet merit pay is high on the reformers list and high on the New Teachers' list.
 Specifically, while veteran teachers broadly reject the idea that student achievement metrics should be a part of teacher evaluation, newer teachers were much more open to the idea. The younger teachers went even further, broadly supporting the idea that student growth should play not just a role, but should be a substantial factor in judging instructor effectiveness. While veteran teachers rejected the idea outright, those with ten years of experience or less thought that it should make up at least 20% of the final assessment score.
If you are a new teacher and you disagree with me because you think I'm wrong and here's why ...fine. I'll listen and then offer my experience because you might not realize, with your fresh newly printed certification, that you don't have all the answers.

You might not realize how wrong you are.

Finally, we asked teachers if they would be willing to replace the current compensation and tenure systems with a performance-based system with much higher starting and top salaries. Here, New Majority teachers are far more supportive of a change to the status quo; specifically, 42 percent of New Majority teachers and just 15 percent of veteran teachers support such a change.
Before you reject my resistance as silly, ask WHY.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

More Fun with the School Internet Filter

Looked over the shoulder of a student in the computer room: was blocked. That's Vermont Public Radio, by the way.  I commented on how silly it was to block that when I had a thought and asked the kid to check Open.

And this is a liberal state!

Vermont Public Radio: 0 1

Monday, October 22, 2012

There's no Merit Pay in the RealWorld ...

Sorry. Almost never exists, at least not as the Education Reformer Model has it: your pay is always variable and dependent on an evaluation of someone else's performance.

Think about that for a second.  We're having a conversation around this country based on a fallacy. (A fallacy in education? Who'd have imagined that?)

"Teachers should be paid on the basis of how well their students do on a test because that is how the rest of the world does it."  Pretty funny but that is definitely NOT how the rest of the world does it.

SmartBoard still haven't fired the idiot
who wrote this app, nor have they fixed it.
Teachers, unfortunately, don't usually get it because we're too deep in the debate.  We've become immersed in whether or not value-added measures work or whether merit pay does or does not affect teacher performance and school climate.  All too often, we forget that the underlying rationale for this idea is flawed.  The RealWorld doesn't base its workers' pay on something the workers have little control over, if they want to have workers.

There are no successful companies who say to their staff, "I don't know how much you'll get paid this year until the Consumer Reports issue on our washing machines comes out." They might pink-slip people if the company tanks but the paycheck is not set to the manager's whim, nor it is set on consumer feedback.

No one says "Your pay will be $12 an hour if I like the shine on this floor but only $10 an hour if I find dirt here from a customer's shoes."

No one hires an engineer saying, "Your salary this year could be from $60,000 to $80,000 depending on whether your designs are built properly by the factory."

Farm workers are paid by the bushel or the box, not by the quality of the vegetables. The farmer can't thank them for picking the crop but, "Jeez, the truck driver crashed and the crop was destroyed, so I'll only pay you half."

An article quoted by NYC Educator included this line:
Workers in the private sector take it for granted that their performance will affect their pay, and that if they screw up badly, they will be fired. Teachers, like many other public employees, have been protected against that harsh, real-world stuff.
And that is utter bullshit.  Your performance at a private company won't affect your pay. Someone else's performance won't affect your pay. The boss can't just change your paycheck at whim.  Once hired, you have a great deal of protection in the courts if you want to fight it. Screws-ups need to be major (and documented, documented, documented, and break some clause in the contract or involve something illegal) in order to get fired summarily because the unemployment repercussions are pretty severe for the company -- because there are rules. Lawsuits are expensive. Discrimination is illegal.

Even if it's documented, your performance isn't an easy trigger. They hired you - implying that they thought you could do the job. The company can't then say that you've been doing a fine job for 3 years but now you suck and should be fired ... well, it can but its unemployment taxes will skyrocket and it'll pay just about as much but get nothing for it. And then the employee can sue to get the job back so the company has to have extensive evidence to show you were breaking your contract or malingering.

The onus is on the hiring personnel to get the right person and make sure that, once the probationary and training period is over, the person can do the job. Contracts and contract law are pretty well developed in this country.

Yes, teachers have a contract that a union probably negotiated, but if you listen to the blowhards, you might be thinking that no one else in the world has one and that there aren't any unions anywhere else and that UNION=EVIL. Didn't the blowhard sign a contract? Isn't he being recorded and broadcast and published by people working for a contract, under the protection of a union?

But Merit Pay? Nope. Even in sports, there is no merit pay in the way these reformers are envisioning it.  A pitcher's check cannot be reduced if he can't get a runner out because the second baseman made an error. He might get let go, but the money still comes. He might get bonuses if the team makes the postseason but those are above and beyond his base pay in his contract.  And his industry has a minimum wage, too. Football players can be dropped at a whim, but their contract specifies that it's only a game at a time - and teachers contracts are for a year at a time.

But, but, but ... merit pay does exist, doesn't it?

Nope.  Bonuses, maybe, but not merit pay in the sense that your pay is always variable and is dependent on an evaluation.  The employee MUST be paid the wage agreed to in the contract and if bonuses are being awarded, MUST be apportioned fairly. Otherwise, bosses could give bonuses to their favorites, or to just the men in the company, or only to the white workers.

No. Even the purest form of merit pay in this country -- tipping your waiter -- has considerations beyond just your whim of the moment.  As an experiment, try walking out of a nice restaurant without leaving one. Then, return the next day, announcing that you will only tip for GOOD service, and ask for a table. See how far that gets you. Of course, this isn't merit pay anyway - you are the customer, not the boss.

Bottom line: There are companies, like Google, that use a form of merit pay, but the bonuses come fast and freely, are considerably larger than what we are discussing here with a minimum far higher than schools are willing to pay, and are tied to an individual's performance instead of on the performance of someone else's kids.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Tech Gurus need to Shut Up.

Scott Macleod is saying that he is Struggling with educators’ lack of technology fluency

"All teachers suck at tech."
It’s 2012. Technology suffuses everything around us. The Internet and Internet browsers have been pretty mainstream for at least a decade. And yet, I continually run into significant numbers of educators who still don’t know how to work their Internet browser. They struggle with copying and pasting. They get confused just clicking between 2 or 3 different browser tabs. They don’t conceptually understand the difference between their browser’s Google search box and the box where they can actually type in the URL and get there directly. They have no idea that they can right-click on things like hyperlinks or images. And so on… [And this is just the Internet browser. I'm not even talking about individual software programs or online tools.]
I have a few things.

This is hardly just a teacher issue. Frequent any tech-centric forum and you’ll hear these complaints are endemic to EVERY field, from nuclear physics to graphic arts AND Education. When I am helping the nurse in the emergency room with a computer issue and it's brain-dead simple, I don't run screaming that all nurses should be tech nerds or be fired.

You need to stop lumping the capable with the clueless and stop implying that I am just like that apocryphal moron. Sure, you "continually run into" them but you also continually run into capable people, too.  We don't hit you in the metaphorical gut in such a memorable way, though. I suffer these fools, too, but I don't want to fire everyone who can't run AutoCAD.

You need to stop conflating your pet peeves with actual problems. Not understanding the difference between the URL box and the Google search box is a minor issue. The only difference, when you come right down to it, is that the one gives Google one more sliver of ad-revenue. Maybe. I'm sure that I could find some equally "silly" thing that you don't know about IE or Chrome.

In education, the answer is many-faceted:
  1. Free up the tech people to make tech available to the faculty and to provide training for teachers and students. SOMEONE has to be the go-to guy, looking at various options and deciding which might be worth following. Tech is coming out constantly - you can't expect faculty to succeed with two full-time jobs simultaneously: (1) teach high-school math and (2) discover, evaluate, learn, train on the 1200+ software tools on the 10+ major platforms.
  2. Introduce tech to the classrooms that works as promoted. Too often, the starry-eyed purchase something that winds up being ignored because every time you go to use it, it fails and you have to have a plan B ready for the 45 minutes you have these kids. The tablets needs to be able to connect to the Internet ... all the time, in every classroom, without a 15 minute delay.  By the time I finish taking roll, the tech should be working. If my smartboard crashes every time I use it, I won't count on it.  If the tech guy comes in with a wide-screen monitor for a 3:4 aspect ratio projector, you're not going to be able to use one of those two. If the students can't access their Google accounts, you won't get much done. If the school tech guy can't get the filter to work seamlessly, then you will be constantly doing things that are not what you planned. 
  3. Plan for repair and maintenance. If you ask the average person to repair the tech in his room, be sure that he will make some mistakes - it's not just a teacher thing.
  4. Free up the faculty to develop these new resources. Remove the stigma / penalties for those who try something new and fail the first couple times.  If your teachers are afraid for their jobs, they will be ultra-conservative since few want to take a wild-ass chance on a curriculum revamp with merit-pay and test scores and observances and evaluations on the line. When parents and administrators and school boards are all questioning a new way of teaching, few teachers are going to jump at the chance to be the guinea pig. If it has to be perfect the first time, it won't happen at all.
  5. Research and Published Results. Tech-gurus and bloggers and educational researchers are consistently contradictory as to the value and efficacy of new (or rehashed) ideas.  It would be really nice if you-all could agree on starting school at age 3 or age 7, whether this tech or that tech is best, whether collaborative learning Integrated Math or Singapore Math is best. Figure this shit out for me so I can apply it.
  6. Free up the money to let this all happen. Tech is expensive. Tech mistakes are expensive too.
  7. Free up the faculty from union restrictions. Yeah, I said it. In the  push to help guarantee fair treatment for all teachers, the NEA and AFT too often negotiate contract compromises that bind faculty or give faculty the sense that going around that provision is tantamount to surrender in a bloody civil war. Occasionally, the faculty need to tell off the Union Rep in order to get the time to receive training that actually helps them.  Of course, the school has to be sure that the training actually helps them.
We aren’t asking for much.

Getting rid of 12th grade is Idiocy.

Joanne Jacobs has
Children should start school at 3 but skip 12th grade, writes Linus D. Wright, ...
Why is this picture of
a cracked pot here?
Do I imply something?
“A fully financed mandatory early-childhood-education program would do more to change the culture and academic outcomes of students than any other area of reform,” Wright argues.
Step two of the formula for improving education at every level in the United States is to eliminate the 12th grade. It is the least productive and most expensive of all grades, and the money saved by getting rid of it would pay for early-childhood programs, which are the most productive and least expensive. Most students are taking electives in 12th grade, he writes. They’re focused on their part-time jobs. Move ‘em out and use the savings for the little kids.
Which is silly.  This "problem" of seniors taking only electives, of seniors leaving school early or doing work-study, of students focusing more on out-of-school than on academics is a logical extension of the trend in recent years of holding kids back, of "red-shirting" them so as to raise early test scores. When you have parents keeping kids out of school until age 6 so that they will have a developmental edge on their "peers", you will have 18- and 19- year-old seniors. When you have schools encouraging the practice so they get marginally better scores, you will have this problem.

BUT ...

Seniors can do research, too.
It's not just for Education experts.
Instead of eliminating the senior year and sending barely-ready students to college remediation and full-time minimum wage jobs, make the seniors take electives in math and science and English and history.  Give them a Senior English Seminar (vocab, grammar, and a 30 page research paper) in addition to the regular English 12 BritLit class, an AP US History or US Military History, a math class in Discrete Math or Game Theory or Chess, a foreign language such as Latin or Japanese. How about freakin' Art or Architectural drafting? You have a theater program, don't you? Your music teacher isn't the modern day El-KaBong, right?

Of course the senior year costs a lot - you have to do more than throw a marginally intelligent elementary teacher (who majored in elementary ed because she was incapable of anything more intellectual) in the room to babysit. You actually need to push those know-it-all 18yos into a place where they'll step it up a bit ... and that takes resources.

Seniors are about to make major life choices. It is the responsibility of the school to give them some experience and education in as many strands as they can con the seniors into.

On the other end of the scale ... why in anyone's delusional world would you want to require ALL children go to pre-school from age 3?  I'm sure that everyone can name a few children who should have this intervention but it's absolutely NOT better for the vast majority.  Children should learn from and be with parents.  Daycare should be just that unless the parents specifically ask for pre-school.

Having Pre-school available from age 3 is alright, but the key word is "available" as opposed to "required".

Linus Wright writes, "In the most recent report of the Program for International Student Assessment, released in 2009, American students ranked well below those in a significant number of other industrialized nations in such critical areas as reading, science, and math."

Yeah, and many of those countries start education later than we do.  In fact, Finland starts them at 7 years old:
Ever since Finland, a nation of about 5.5 million that does not start formal education until age 7 and scorns homework and testing until well into the teenage years, scored at the top of a well-respected international test in 2001 in math, science and reading, it has been an object of fascination among American educators and policy makers.-NYTimes.
Why can't these Education Research "Experts" get their facts straight and their conclusions consistent?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Voter Intimidation is Illegal.

I hope you make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections. And whether you agree with me or you agree with President Obama, or whatever your political view, I hope — I hope you pass those along to your employees. Nothing illegal about you talking to your employees about what you believe is best for the business, because I think that will figure into their election decision, their voting decision and of course doing that with your family and your kids as well.
Thank God you can't actually find out who people voted for, but this does seem to be fairly intimidating.  Hope the employees can lie well.... and yes, it's illegal to threaten employees if they don't vote the way you want them to.

It's not illegal for Romney to ask the CEOs to do so, though.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Math Literacy - It's not just for breakfast, you know.

The stat of the day ...
OCTOBER 17, 2012

Don't Believe People Who Say They Work 60 Hours a Week

That's very interesting.
People overstate the number of weekly hours they "usually" work by 5% to 10%, with those on the higher end being more likely to overestimate, according to a study led by John P. Robinson of the University of Maryland. By examining U.S. workers' time diaries, the researchers found that people who say they usually work 55 to 64 hours per week are off by an average of about 10 hours; people who say they work 65 to 74 hours are overstating by about 20 hours. Respondents may inflate their estimates because of a desire to appear industrious, the researchers suggest.
Okay. Listen up.
If you're going to have a blog called Stat of the Day, you need to adhere to some basic rules.
  1. Don't make stupid math errors.
  2. Don't quote stupid research.
  • If a person claimed 55 to 64 hours and is off by 10 hours, then they worked 45 to 54 hours. 
  • If a person claimed 65 to 74 hours and is off by 20 hours, then they worked 45 to 54 hours. 
These two statements should not be separate - people only work 45 to 54 hours, regardless of what they claim.
  •  Overestimating by 5% to 10% on 45 to 54 hours of real work does not make you 10 hours off in your estimate.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Youtube Blocked. No Math Tutorials for You!

Spend four hours recording some math tutorials,
Upload them to YouTube via the video manager,
Click on the link so you can get the embed code
So you can drop the links on the Moodle page.

Tell me again how we're teaching the children of the new millennium?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Reform math or Keep it Traditional?

Compare this point of view from Scott MacLeod, who promoted the quote:
Education will only truly be transformed…
Education will only truly be transformed when we stop trying to jam content into our kids’ heads and start allowing them to explore and learn in contexts that feed their desire to keep learning - Will Richardson via

With this one, copied from :
The criticism of traditional math teaching is based largely on a mischaracterization of how it is/has been taught, and misrepresented as having failed thousands of students in math education despite evidence of its effectiveness in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s.

Reacting to this characterization of the traditional model, math reformers promote a teaching approach in which understanding and process dominate over content. In lower grades, mental math and number sense are emphasized before students are fluent with procedures and number facts.

Procedural fluency is seldom achieved.

In lieu of the standard methods for adding/subtracting, multiplying and dividing, in some programs students are taught strategies and alternative methods. Whole class and teacher-led explicit instruction (and even teacher-led discovery) has given way to what the education establishment believes is superior: students working in groups in a collaborative learning environment. Classrooms have become student-centered and inquiry-based. The grouping of students by ability has almost entirely disappeared in the lower grades—full inclusion has become the norm.

Reformers dismiss the possibility that understanding and discovery can be achieved by students working on sets of math problems individually and that procedural fluency is a prerequisite to understanding. 

Much of the education establishment now believes it is the other way around; if students have the understanding, then the need to work many problems (which they term “drill and kill”) can be avoided. The de-emphasis on mastery of basic facts, skills and procedures has met with growing opposition, not only from parents but also from university mathematicians. At a recent conference on math education held in Winnipeg, math professor Stephen Wilson from Johns Hopkins University said, much to the consternation of the educationists on the panel, that “the way mathematicians learn is to learn how to do it first and then figure out how it works later.” This sentiment was also echoed in an article written by Keith Devlin (2006). Such opposition has had limited success, however, in turning the tide away from reform approaches.

Here's the whole article:

Mathematics Education: Being Outwitted by Stupidity

By Barry Garelick
In a well-publicized paper that addressed why some students were not learning to read, Reid Lyon (2001) concluded that children from disadvantaged backgrounds where early childhood education was not available failed to read because they did not receive effective instruction in the early grades. Many of these children then required special education services to make up for this early failure in reading instruction, which were by and large instruction in phonics as the means of decoding. Some of these students had no specific learning disability other than lack of access to effective instruction. These findings are significant because a similar dynamic is at play in math education: the effective treatment for many students who would otherwise be labeled learning disabled is also the effective preventative measure.
In 2010 approximately 2.4 million students were identified with learning disabilities — about three times as many as were identified in 1976-1977. (See and This increase raises the question of whether the shift in instructional emphasis over the past several decades has increased the number of low achieving children because of poor or ineffective instruction who would have swum with the rest of the pack when traditional math teaching prevailed. I believe that what is offered as treatment for math learning disabilities is what we could have done—and need to be doing—in the first place. While there has been a good amount of research and effort into early interventions in reading and decoding instruction, extremely little research of equivalent quality on the learning of mathematics exists. Given the education establishment’s resistance to the idea that traditional math teaching methods are effective, this research is very much needed to draw such a definitive conclusion about the effect of instruction on the diagnosis of learning disabilities.1
Some Background
Over the past several decades, math education in the United States has shifted from the traditional model of math instruction to “reform math”. The traditional model has been criticized for relying on rote memorization rather than conceptual understanding. Calling the traditional approach “skills based”, math reformers deride it and claim that it teaches students only how to follow the teacher’s direction in solving routine problems, but does not teach students how to think critically or to solve non-routine problems. Traditional/skills-based teaching, the argument goes, doesn’t meet the demands of our 21st century world.
As I’ve discussed elsewhere, the criticism of traditional math teaching is based largely on a mischaracterization of how it is/has been taught, and misrepresented as having failed thousands of students in math education despite evidence of its effectiveness in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. Reacting to this characterization of the traditional model, math reformers promote a teaching approach in which understanding and process dominate over content. In lower grades, mental math and number sense are emphasized before students are fluent with procedures and number facts. Procedural fluency is seldom achieved. In lieu of the standard methods for adding/subtracting, multiplying and dividing, in some programs students are taught strategies and alternative methods. Whole class and teacher-led explicit instruction (and even teacher-led discovery) has given way to what the education establishment believes is superior: students working in groups in a collaborative learning environment. Classrooms have become student-centered and inquiry-based. The grouping of students by ability has almost entirely disappeared in the lower grades—full inclusion has become the norm. Reformers dismiss the possibility that understanding and discovery can be achieved by students working on sets of math problems individually and that procedural fluency is a prerequisite to understanding. Much of the education establishment now believes it is the other way around; if students have the understanding, then the need to work many problems (which they term “drill and kill”) can be avoided.
The de-emphasis on mastery of basic facts, skills and procedures has met with growing opposition, not only from parents but also from university mathematicians. At a recent conference on math education held in Winnipeg, math professor Stephen Wilson from Johns Hopkins University said, much to the consternation of the educationists on the panel, that “the way mathematicians learn is to learn how to do it first and then figure out how it works later.” This sentiment was also echoed in an article written by Keith Devlin (2006). Such opposition has had limited success, however, in turning the tide away from reform approaches.
The Growth of Learning Disabilities
Students struggling in math may not have an actual learning disability but may be in the category termed “low achieving” (LA). Recent studies have begun to distinguish between students who are LA and those who have mathematical learning disabilities (MLD). Geary (2004) states that LA students don’t have any serious cognitive deficits that would prevent them from learning math with appropriate instruction. Students with MLD, however, (about 5-6% of students) do appear to have both general (working memory) and specific (fact retrieval) deficits that result in a real learning disability. Among other reasons, ineffective instruction, may account for the subset of LA students struggling in mathematics.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) initially established the criteria by which students are designated as “learning disabled”. IDEA was reauthorized in 2004 and renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA). The reauthorized act changed the criteria by which learning disabilities are defined and removed the requirements of the “significant discrepancy” formula. That formula identified students as learning disabled if they performed significantly worse in school than indicated by their cognitive potential as measured by IQ. IDEIA required instead that states must permit districts to adopt alternative models including the “Response to Intervention” (RtI) model in which struggling students are pulled out of class and given alternative instruction.
What type of alternative instruction is effective? A popular textbook on special education (Rosenberg, et. al, 2008), notes that up to 50% of students with learning disabilities have been shown to overcome their learning difficulties when given explicit instruction. This idea is echoed by others and has become the mainstay of RtI. What Works Clearinghouse finds strong evidence that explicit instruction is an effective intervention, stating: “Instruction during the intervention should be explicit and systematic. This includes providing models of proficient problem solving, verbalization of thought processes, guided practice, corrective feedback, and frequent cumulative review”. Also, the final report of the President’s National Math Advisory Panel states: “Explicit instruction with students who have mathematical difficulties has shown consistently positive effects on performance with word problems and computation. Results are consistent for students with learning disabilities, as well as other students who perform in the lowest third of a typical class.” (p. xxiii). The treatment for low achieving, learning disabled and otherwise struggling students in math thus includes some of the traditional methods for teaching math that have been decried by reformers as having failed millions of students.
The Stealth Growth of Effective Instruction
Although the number of students classified as learning disabled has grown since 1976, the number of students classified as LD since the passage of IDEIA has decreased (see Figure 1). Why the decrease has occurred is not clear. A number of factors may be at play. One may be a provision of No Child Left Behind that allows schools with low numbers of special-education students to avoid reporting the academic progress of those students. Other factors include more charter schools, expanded access to preschools, improved technologies, and greater understanding of which students need specialized services. Last but not least, the decrease may also be due to targeted RtI programs that have reduced the identification of struggling and/or low achieving students as learning disabled. .
Having seen the results of ineffective math curricula and pedagogy as well as having worked with the casualties of such educational experiments, I have no difficulty assuming that RtI plays a significant role in reducing the identification of students with learning disabilities. In my opinion it is only a matter of time before high-quality research and the best professional judgment and experience of accomplished classroom teachers verify it. Such research should include 1) the effect of collaborative/group work compared to individual work, including the effect of grouping on students who may have difficulty socially; 2) the degree to which students on the autistic spectrum (as well as those with other learning disabilities) may depend on direct, structured, systematic instruction; 3) the effect of explicit and systematic instruction of procedures, skills and problem solving, compared with inquiry-based approaches; 4) the effect of sequential and logical presentation of topics that require mastery of specific skills, compared with a spiral approaches to topics that do not lead to closure and 5) Identifying which conditions result in student-led/teacher-facilitated discovery, inquiry-based, and problem-based learning having a positive effect, compared with teacher-led discovery, inquiry-based and problem-based learning. Would such research show that the use of RtI is higher in schools that rely on programs that are low on skills and content but high on trendy unproven techniques and which promise to build critical thinking and higher order thinking skills? If so, shouldn’t we be doing more of the RtI style of teaching in the first place instead of waiting to heal reform math’s casualties?
Until any such research is in, the educational establishment will continue to resist recognizing the merits of traditional math teaching. One education professor with whom I spoke stated that the RtI model fits mathematics for the 1960s, when “skills throughout the K-8 spectrum were the main focus of instruction and is seriously out of date.” Another reformer argued that reform curricula require a good deal of conceptual understanding and that students have to do more than solve word problems. These confident statements assume that traditional methods—and the methods used in RtI—do not provide this understanding. In their view, students who respond to more explicit instruction constitute a group who may simply learn better on a superficial level. Based on these views, I fear that RtI will incorporate the pedagogical features of reform math that has resulted in the use of RtI in the first place.
While the criticism of traditional methods may have merit for those occasions when it has been taught poorly, the fact that traditional math has been taught badly doesn’t mean we should give up on teaching it properly. Without sufficient skills, critical thinking doesn’t amount to much more than a sound bite. If in fact there is an increasing trend toward effective math instruction, it will have to be stealth enough to fly underneath the radar of the dominant edu-reformers. Unless and until this happens, the thoughtworld of the well-intentioned educational establishment will prevail. Parents and professionals who benefitted from traditional teaching techniques and environments will remain on the outside — and the public will continue to be outwitted by stupidity.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (2011). Digest of Education Statistics, 2010 (NCES 2011-015), Chapter 2.
Barry Garelick has written extensively about math education in various publications including Education Next, Educational Leadership, and Education News. He recently retired from the federal government and has completed his requirements for a credential to teach math (middle school/high school) in California.
1This article focuses on math teaching and learning, but the same pedagogical issues arise in history, science, and English Language Arts (ELA), including grammar, spelling, composition, reading comprehension and literature.
Devlin, Keith. (2006). Math back in forefront, but debate lingers on how to teach it. San Jose Mercury News. Feb. 19.
Geary, David. (2004). Mathematics and learning disabilities. J Learn Disabil 2004; 37; 4
Lyon, Reid (2001), in “Rethinking special education for a new century” (Chapter 12) by Chester Finn, et al., Thomas B. Fordham Foundation; Progressive Policy Inst., Washington, DC.
Available via
Rosenberg, Michael S., Westling, D.L., McLeskey, J. 2008. Special Education for Today’s Teachers: An Introduction. Columbus: Pearson, Merrill Prentice Hall.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Get Rid of As Bs Cs?

As a point of reference, for those who want to remove the "traditional" A-F scale and replace it with something more rubric based, you're not being particularly new or original. Changing a grade from "A" to "Proficient with Distinction" doesn't actually provide any more or less information - it's still a distillation of mounds of data down to a single indicator, with interpretation and fiddling for those students the teacher doesn't want to be truthful to. "F" means "Fair" or "C" means "Average" or "2" means "Didn't quite meet the standard" -- what's the difference, really?

I got this nugget from Black River Union High School, in southern Vermont:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Got an hour to kill? xkcd.

Normally, is a quick cartoon that is very intellectual in a delightfully warped sort of way.  This time, however, Randall has created the largest comic I've seen in years.  Called "Click and Drag", it's a big worl to explore. You could take as long as a couple of hours to see it all.

Here's a sample image:
It's waaaaay underground. Go find it.

But grade your homework papers and tests first.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Reformers. Can't live with 'em ...

Besides, what could possibly go wrong with letting a non-teacher create the curriculum and make decisions for your school and district?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

I am Tired of Idiots

I am tired of the idiots who make videos solely to provoke radical Muslims.
I am tired of the radical Muslim idiots who fall for the same damn trick every time.
I am tired of the idiotic radical Baptists who picket at soldier's funerals.
I am tired of the idiotic preacher who burns Korans to draw attention to himself.
I am tired of the idiotic fundamentalists who insist that the Earth is 4000 years old.

Forget "Can't we all get along?"  How about "Shut the Hell Up, Already."

Experts in Education

... don't seem to have any experience in education. Occasionally, we'll get that rare person running professional development ... an actual teacher who has had recent experience at our level ... but mostly it's another "Bright Ideas come from Industry" kind of person or it's someone who was an elementary teacher twenty years ago who left the classroom to get a PhD in education and never looked back.

Education Experts
  • are people who start foundations with profits from the computer industry (Bill Gates), 
  • who taught a single summer course at a small private school in Massachusetts (Alfie Kohn), 
  • who made a ton of money as a fund manager and made a few videos for his nieces (Salman Khan),
  • who had a daughter with special needs (Bill Daggett) and now spends his time being on boards and shilling his research results. "We have found what the most-improving schools are doing ... but it'll cost you."
  • who take a six-week prep course and are ready to "Save the Kids" from their drab, wretched lives as long as the saving doesn't infringe on their chance to get a "Real Job" (TFA-ers)
from NYCEducator
In fact, it seems that the one criteria common to all of these "Modern Wonders of the Education World" is that they've never been teachers. The second commonality is that they can't agree on the advice they give and spend most of the time contradicting the other expert.
  • More tech, more tech, more tech vs. Less Tech, more Literacy
  • "More Homework" "Less homework" "No homework"
  • Back to Basics; Raise the Standards; Teach All Students the Same thing.
  • Homogenize and Differentiate vs. Tracking and Splitting out the exceptional kids.

Why do these experts get pushed to the fore? I think it's because they made money, or on the case of TFAs had parents that made enough money to send them to IVY-league schools. To make money, you have to be a bit of an inconsiderate asshole with a tremendous ego streak and a certainty that your actions are always right. This works in industry ... just ask Donald Trump.

Interesting side note: Microsoft's first big success, DOS, was essentially stolen from its original programmer ... Bill paid a tiny fraction of what it was worth and immediately turned around and sold it to IBM at a huge markup.

So now what? I guess I'll just keep plugging along, teaching the kids and doing my job.

I'm happy to hear of the success they're having in college (gots lots of stories the other night at open house). I'm a little bummed when kid after kid comes to me and says how much they wish they were in my class again, how the other teacher is "so awful" and doesn't teach right and I have to help them realize that everyone teaches in a different way and that they need to adjust to a different style, "Different is not bad, it's just different." It's tiring to endure the "experts" who tell me, in not so many words, "You Suck. You don't Know What Works."

Bah.  I've got to get back to work.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Librarians should be somewhat technical

In this age of declining card catalogs and diminishing shelves being replaced by computer networks and Wikipedia, shouldn't the librarian be someone technologically savvy? At the very least, she should be able to find an online tutorial for the major Office Suite programs and learn how to make tables and center justify the cells.
"I don't have a Facebook account" and "I don't know how to do Windows updates for the computers in the library" and "I can't figure out how to run the SmartBoard" shouldn't be allowable either.

To top off the cake, the other day she was adding up union dues to be withheld from our paychecks so we could all sign off ... adding three numbers totaling about $600 ... she got it wrong by over $200.

Just sad.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Factoring ax²+bx+c

Factor $3x^2 +10x -8$

Multiply first and last:  $3 * -8 = -24$

What are the factors of -24 that add up to 10?  12 and -2

Here's where it gets weird. We multiplied the first and last so the product is too large by a factor of 3 so we need to cancel that extra 3.  We'll take care of it in this next step.

The factors of 3x² are going to be 3x and 3x, which is where that extra 3 is included. 

Create a big fraction: $\dfrac{(3x+12)(3x-2)}{3}$

What's cool is that the two factors, 12 and -2 are placed right into the big fraction without consideration for where they go. They are guaranteed to reduce. What's incredibly cool is that you have no big list of factors to run a trial and error method against.

Reduce  $\dfrac{3(x+4)(3x-2)}{3} = (x+4)(3x-2)$

It works if you forget to factor out a common factor. It works for all trinomials of this type.

Factor $24x^2+4x-20$

Multiply first and last:  $24 * -20 = -480$

What are the factors of -480 that add up to 4?  24 and -20

Create a big fraction: $\dfrac{(24x+24)(24x-20)}{24}$
Reduce  $\dfrac{24(x+1)4(6x-5)}{24} = 4(x+1)(6x-5)$

It would be easier if you did factor out that 4:

Factor $24x^2+4x-20 = 4(6x^2+x-5)$

Multiply first and last:  $6 * -5 = -30$

What are the factors of -30 that add up to 1?  6 and -5

Create a big fraction: $4*\dfrac{(6x+6)(6x-5)}{6}$

Reduce  $4*\dfrac{6(x+1)(6x-5)}{6} = 4(x+1)(6x-5)$

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Monday, September 3, 2012

Khan Academy post briefing

My account - quite a mixture for the
suggestions. How is this generated?
From the Los Altos School District, a discussion of how Khan Academy worked and didn't work, it's strengths and weaknesses and the insistence of the media in misinterpreting the information.
Unfortunately, the idea of flipping the classroom that Sal mentioned in his TED Talk resonated with many members of the media, and we were unsuccessful in helping some of them divorce this idea from what they saw in Los Altos.  As a result, our educational philosophy, teaching practices, and Khan Academy implementation have been misrepresented, in varying degrees, by a few major media outlets.
What is it good for?
Teachers in our district have determined that the greatest value of the Khan Academy lies, not in the videos, but in the exercise modules and data generated as students work practice problems.
I would have to agree but with reservations.  I signed up for an account and was thrown into a morass of possibilities that didn't seem to have any rhyme or reason and certainly didn't seem to be scaffolded in any meaningful way.  Where do I start? My suggestions list included a riff on tau vs pi that seemed to be based on Vi Hart's much more succinct video. If I'm truly just starting geometry and I have the Angles 1 thing done, is this a great thing to listen to next?

Why can't I indicate my current course somewhere and leap right to it, landing in a sequential list of things presented in an organized fashion? Do I have to begin with telling time just to check those off my bucket list? Can my teacher (excuse me, my COACH) direct me to a specific topic? Haven't seen a way yet.  I guess you're on your own ... homeschooler or unschooler, but not following anyone's lead.

And then there's the actual work: video, then practice. The video is very rambling ... I guess it's okay but then you're dropped into practice that ranges from tough to simplistic without a noticeable scheme. Take, for example, Order of operations ... a fairly straightforward kind of thing. You expect to be given examples that test the use of the rule and that progress from simple to complicated.  Instead, the ten expressions ranged all over the place. Early on, I got a complex, 4-step, thing that wound up to be -394 but that was followed by a much simpler one. I recorded a couple in the middle of the pack.  In order,

And no exponents. Weird.

I intend to have students do some out-of-class review in a structured way and we'll see.  Not afraid for my job, though.