## Friday, January 13, 2012

### Teenagers are different, now.

"When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in 7 years." - Mark Twain
Nope. No different after all.

### #AnyQs - Chocolate cake mix

I also like the last visible comment:
"The batter may look curdled; that's OK, it will bake up fine."

## Thursday, January 12, 2012

### PEMDAS is unfair? I can't believe I read that.

On a blog which ordinarily doesn't have much silliness, I read the following
You can explain the truly arbitrary elements of PEMDAS (the left to right of AS and MD) through an experiment. Allow students, independently, to do these two problems any way they want, ignoring any stupid arbitrary rule they might have previously memorized:
Include here a few order of operations-type problems.
Enter the Stupid Arbitrary Rule (SAR).
Because we need to all come up with the same answer, we need a rule to follow. Really, it can be any stupid arbitrary rule (SAR). But we agreed, at some point in history, to all follow the “left to right” thing once we were down to addition & subtraction or multiplication & division.
While I agree that it is an arbitrary rule, it's far from stupid and, for me, it highlights one of the reasons why schools exist; that is, telling kids how the world they are about to enter works and what it's rules are. But then I get this:
It’s important to note that kids didn’t get to be part of that agreement we made. Just like they don’t get to vote in elections. Is it fair? Probably not. They would probably do a better job of choosing leaders as well as determining the order of operations. But that’s the way things likes SARs work.
You have to stop that crap right at the source. How can anyone say "that agreement we made" and conclude that it probably wasn't fair that kids can't be part of that decision?

First, of course, is the "we" thing. There is no "we" and "they" here and nobody waved their scepter around declaring that henceforth All Students Will Do It This Way. The order of operations didn't exist at some point in time, but then neither did algebraic notation. There weren't exponents until fairly recently (they were written words), someone had to have been the first to use a zero and place value ... you can go on. The point is that someone started using a notation, explained what it meant and how it worked and others decided it was easier and fell in with the crowd.

Enter the modern student, spoiled silly and clutching his cellphone and fantasies of being a "Digital Native" who can multitask and has no use for That Boring Crap.

What has "fair" got to do with it? Why is this pubescent psycho-babble coming from the only adult in the room?

And when he says students would probably do a better job of electing leaders, you have just heard the sound of a deluded mind. It's typical in education, echoing the "noble savage" mentality. So many teachers harbor this idea that kids know so much more than we stupid adults, that if we only took off the restraints they'd be teaching themselves calculus in no time. They're better than we were, smarter than we were, and by golly just look at how responsible they'd be.

This is a huge disservice and only feeds the disillusionment with school and learning - "Why are you screwing me over? This is so UNFAIR."

And to then make up new rules for mathematics, post them in the classroom and keep using them? You've just gotten through telling them that all the rules are stupid and arbitrary and you want to have them make up and use more stupid and arbitrary ones? I'll stick with the valuable, useful and arbitrary ones and I'm always looking for a new way to demonstrate them ... like this image I found (might be Dy/Dan's):
Now, that's education.

## Wednesday, January 11, 2012

### Film Alphabet "Puzzles"

From Steven Wildish's Friday Project: Film Alphabets.

There was no math warmup problem today. I put the 1990s up as the windows wallpaper and then turned on the SmartBoard. They were fascinated. It seemed a hit so I printed them out from the folder - in Windows, you can print some of the contents of a folder and it will automatically scale them to full-page -- and lined them up on the wall outside my door. Teachers thought it was a hoot. The person with the most solutions? The science teacher across the hall. The second best? A senior with a Netflix connection.

Feel free to put in some answers in the comments. The artist's website is cool too, but there are only solutions for the 80s and 90s up so far.

### Teacher evaluations, new research

eSchool online sends me weekly emails about school reform and technology integration. This week's included this paragraph:
Some states are at risk of losing their Race to the Top funding because they've been forced to delay plans to implement proposed reforms; and a new study indicates that evaluating classroom teachers just once a year will not help teachers to improve.
I'm thinking that delaying some of that reform might well be a good thing in the long run since RttT overly promotes merit pay and other bogus "incentives", weird ideas about testing and technophiliac waste.

Then I get to the second part and I'm struck by the emphasis that evaluating "just once a year" will not help teachers improve, implying that it ought to be several times per year.  I actually believe the study, but coupled with what I've seen in the past thirty years or so, "one evaluation won't help a teacher improve" because evaluations don't do much and repetitions of nothing are still nothing. I've had good principals who gave good evaluations that really were helpful but I've had many, many more that were useless.

Overall, the study seems typical of education research and education reporting.

Bottom line for me is that if they found that multiple evaluations each year were beneficial, they'd have said so. Since they didn't say that (and they would dearly LOVE to say that), then it can be assumed that they found no evidence so they fudged the report and let the reader assume.

Smart program.

## Tuesday, January 10, 2012

### It's not that colleges don't teach ...

It's that their students aren't 100% students. Far too many students are unprepared, unmotivated and unwilling to put much effort into their college courses. Fortunately for their delayed entry into the RealWorld, they can still pay their bills (albeit by taking out loans in many cases).

Wander a college campus at night, follow the students around, listen in at campus bistros, check in on the residents, take a class, and you'll quickly see two types of students: the ones who do care, are motivated and who are getting their money's worth and those who feel that work is an imposition on their sex and drinking lives.

"I can't write an essay, that's the weekend."
"My computer stopped working so I didn't do that assignment."
Watching video on the laptop.

Why would anyone be surprised "that 45 percent of undergraduates gain little in thinking and writing skills in the first two years of college, and 36 percent show little gains in four years of college"?
Jay Matthews:
The previous post on this blog is my Monday column, complaining about the lack of much reaction to last year's study, which showed that 45 percent of undergraduates gain little in thinking and writing skills in the first two years of college, and 36 percent show little gains in four years of college. This is based on results at 24 colleges on the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a lengthy essay exam.
I failed to address this question. Do we care about such results, or is the reputation of the colleges of more use, as we choose colleges? Some colleges do release their National Survey of Student Engagement results, which indicate if they are teaching the right way. Have any of us ever sought that data while making a college admission decision? Are colleges right to keep such information confidential if it makes them look bad? Or would anyone care?
My answer to Jay: "No, we expected that 9% are losers until they get the junior-class wake-up call and that 36% never hear that call."
1. College is not for everyone. Plumbers are people, too. (And they work harder to get as good as they are - that's why they get paid more than a newly minted graduate.)
2. Education gets more complicated and demands more from you as get older. That's why it costs more and takes more time while taking less class time.
3. You get what you pay for.
4. You get what you work for.

## Sunday, January 8, 2012

### The problem is Cross-Curriculum teaching

from Darren, a school might in trouble for its attempt at cross curricular teaching ...
The question was a word problem that said, "Each tree had 56 oranges. If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?" Another math problem said, "If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in one week?"... (District spokeswoman) Roach explained the teachers were trying to incorporate social studies lessons into the math problems, which is something the school district encourages. But the problem with the questions is there is no historical context.
No, the problem is that when you are teaching in the 21st Century, you need to pull your head out of the hole in the ground (or out of your behind ... some have trouble telling the difference). Much better to use word problems such as these (provided as a public service by the Curmudgeon Math Project, LLC.)
1. If an elementary teacher makes three stupid decisions per day, how many days will it be until she is fired? For extra credit, make a diorama of the classroom using macaroni and tongue depressors.
2. If four teachers collectively have an IQ of 380, what is the average IQ of a teacher in this school system? For full credit, don't forget to show your work - text your answers to 1-802-IDIOTIC.
3. When a teacher chooses to write beyond her intelligence, how many irate parents will it take to get it all written up in the national press? Answers must be posted to Twitter because this teacher is obviously a twit herself. Use the hashtag #LowGradeMoron
4. Write a paragraph explaining why posting a nude picture of herself on Facebook page would have been a better career move. How many reposts will she get if 3500 people see it every three minutes?
5. Use the MAKEYOURSELFAFATPIG program on your smartphones to figure out the total amount of ice cream eaten by 26 students who eat 3 scoops of ice cream each, if each scoop of ice cream costs \$23 and uses \$18,000 worth of 21st Century Technology.
6. Mrs Barnettt has three real daughters and one imaginary one, if she can claim one extra week of vacation in Costa Rica each time she claims that a daughter died, how many weeks will she be spending on the unemployment line in Costa Rica?
Or you could stick to your strengths,
stop trying to be clever,
and ... just ... teach ... math.

### Time off for good behavior?

New York City school employee faked her child's death to get extra vacation.

Wow.

"Joan Barnett, a parent coordinator at the Manhattan High School of Hospitality Management, was so determined to make the spring break jaunt that she:
* Had one of her daughters call the school to say that her sister had suffered a heart attack in Costa Rica.
* Had another daughter call the school later that day to say that the sister had died and that about a dozen relatives, including Barnett, were traveling to the country for a funeral.
* Faxed a forged death certificate of her daughter “Xinia Daley Herman” to school as proof of the death. The document is required if a city school employee asks for bereavement days.
I can't even imagine the thought process that didn't go into this idea.

## Saturday, January 7, 2012

### Let Math Fix Elections ...

(Note: I originally wrote this piece last year, but bumped it to the top for obvious reasons)

What if we really wanted to reform elections – How to do it?

The flaws in the current system are obvious to all – campaigns beginning right after the off-year elections, candidates who rarely stray from bullet-point sound-bites, massive amounts of money being raised and spent, and the all-too-common situation of one candidate's reaching a domination point before all of the states have had their say.

The desire for relevance has resulted in a furious jockeying for first primary. New Hampshire is pushing its primary as far back as it can to maintain its first-in-the-nation status, Iowa is following suit and California just moved its primary to February. It doesn't have to be this way and it shouldn't be this way.

I propose that there be 6 days of primary voting, arranged so that the delegate total doubles each time.

Primary Day I
Leave NH and Iowa first, voting at the end of February. They have been first for many years and are located in completely different parts of the country. They are also small. This small size gives all of the candidates an equal chance to get into a bus and criss-cross the two states meeting personally with as much of the electorate as possible. This sort of old-fashioned campaigning is essential at the beginning.

 NH and IA are the first: they winnow the candidates.
The media will, of course, follow and dutifully report on all of the wonderful stories, repeat all the sound bites and give valuable airtime to the candidates. Because only two states are in contention for the next three weeks or so, all of the candidate's attention is on a small number of voters and a small geographical area.

(Day 1: 2% of delegates committed)

After NH and Iowa have done their civic duties and winnowed the field somewhat, we have then three to four weeks before the next group of small states in mid-March.

Primary Day II
Wyoming, Vermont, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Delaware, D.C., and Alaska.
(Day 2 cumulative total: 6% of delegates committed)

After this second day of voting, the candidates have been analyzed, interviewed, tested under fire, suffered through elections, and hopefully taken a closer look at themselves and their campaigns and made realistic projections about their futures. These small contests harden the serious candidates and eliminate any truly weak ones. Group II states are all "relevant" in that they are the first real test, the first crucible of cross-country campaigning.

Viable candidates who are late-comers to the party won't suffer, though. There have only been some small elections. A candidate could declare in March and still have a realistic shot.

Primary Day III
Now its time (1st week in April) for Rhode Island, Maine, Idaho, Hawaii, West Virginia, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Nebraska. Some are blue states, some are red, some are coastal, others are interior states.
(Day 3 cumulative total: 14% of delegates committed)

Our goal now is to force the candidates to campaign to wider audiences. TV ads and news interviews have given the candidates plenty of exposure by now. People in the coming elections are seeing the results of earlier elections and starting to mobilize their parties.

At every step of the way, anyone could take over the lead regardless of the current totals. We're doubling down at every turn - at every stage someone can decide to become a candidate and can come in and sweep up enough delegates to take the lead.

First Interlude
The race is in full gallop. The early debates can happen now. With 18 days or so before the next round, the country has a perfect opportunity to see these candidates in debates and forums. Jim Lehrer can put them through their paces.

Primary Day IV - Super Tuesday
In the 3rd or 4th week of April, we have the first Super-Tuesday. Mississippi, Kansas, Arkansas, Oregon, Oklahoma, Connecticut, South Carolina, Kentucky, Louisiana, Colorado, Alabama bring the delegate total from 14% to 29%.
(Day 4 cumulative total: 29% of delegates committed)

Primary Day V - Super Twosday
Two weeks later, the next Super Tuesday, somewhere near May 10th : Wisconsin, Minnesota, Maryland, Arizona, Washington, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Massachusetts, and Virginia.
(Day 5 cumulative total: 50% of delegates committed)

Second Interlude
Candidates are now running around like crazy folk, but the elections are coming with two-week "respites" that will allow everyone time to regroup and refocus on the next set of states.

Remember too, that even now only half of the electoral votes have been assigned – it's still anyone's race. Theoretically, a candidate could step in and sweep the next Super Tuesday and ride triumphantly to the party conventions in June.

Major candidates are now invited to the second round of debates. During these two weeks, the candidate debates can be held every four days or so. The League of Women Voters and other civic groups conduct debates, get-togethers, and candidate forums.

Primary Day VI
So here it is, the last Super Tuesday, in the week of May 24th … North Carolina, New Jersey, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Florida, New York, Texas, California. These are the biggest states with the most voters. Candidates still have the chance to "come from behind." They have been in the news for weeks and have had ample time to get out the vote in these big states, raise money, buy ads, and spend money.
(Day 6 cumulative total: 100% of delegates committed)

We've been doubling the totals every time to keep everyone relevant. We've kept the elections to six intense days, instead of scattershot across the five, six or seven months.

Every state matters because no candidate can get an insurmountable lead. Every vote counts because no one can be declared a winner until the end of May. Even the last set of states are relevant: without this group, no one can get over the top. Between Valentine's Day and Memorial Day, we've conducted our business, and can take the holiday weekend off.

We'll have earned it.

## Monday, January 2, 2012

### Curriculum mapping in standard little boxes

 Writing is horizontal ... except in maps.
I was struck by a few things the other day when the Mrs. was putting together her curriculum maps for the year ... her curriculum coordinator was demanding that all teachers use the same template so there wouldn't be any confusion and there wouldn't be multiple formats coming in to her office.

1) Why does the template have boxes labeled by the month?

My math classes are split into chapters/ units that have never corresponded to months all that well. The lengths of the months is different as well because of the random nature of vacations, exams, sporting events. We're in block scheduling so the second semester has a completely different pace than the first. Obviously, some variations are less disruptive than others but the month-by-month format seems to be the format that least well corresponds to the course. English classes don't think month by month either. Nor does pretty much anybody else. Why insist on it?

Then you have the long words that don't fit. Unless you teach math, "Prop ortio nal Reas" isn't that meaningful nor is "Probl ems and Linea."

Adding to the silliness is the repetition, as shown here.  This teacher has broken the course down to the weekly level ... and repeated everything. Enlarge the image above ... by my count he pasted "Linea r Equa tions" 56 times.Why? Because he wasn't allowed to combine table cells.  Legibility is sacrificed and some of the words don't even show up in the cells but we were able to keep the format.

Writing is horizontal. Except here, where six letter words are split with a single "r" on the next line and there's no thought of proper hyphenation. This is crazy.  The formatting should not take higher precedence than the content.

2) Why does the Coordinator assume that the course changes significantly from year to year?

Maybe it varies in some classes, but the essence of the transcript is that we are awarding a credit for Algebra I. For that to mean anything, the Algebra I class needs to have some consistency from section to section and from year to year. If it doesn't, then something is wrong. The "C" in Algebra I means that the student has accomplished a certain amount of algebra with a certain amount of facility and thus can be admitted to Algebra II and placed appropriately.

Or you need to give a grade for "Individualized Mathematics" and be ready to explain it to anyone who needs to know. If you're a single tutor of a single home-schooled kid, then this is the rule. When you are dealing with a few thousand kids, however, each kid's transcript needs to be clear. When you are hiring a math teacher to teach Algebra I, you need to know what that entails.

3) Different formats would complicate things for parents.

This complaint is a weird one to me. Even if I thought a parent would read the curriculum map, certainly not a winning bet, I would expect that the parent would have a harder time with the terms and descriptions than with the organization. Labeling the top of the chart Sept, Oct, Nov gives less information than sections 1, 2, 3 and much less than "Polynomials", "Slopes and Lines", "Linear Functions".

A format that provided greater information is preferred here as well as one that doesn't force weird splits in short words: "Probl ems and Linea"

Remember that the original idea (in Jacobs, Heidi Hayes: Mapping the Big Picture ) was for the teachers to make the map so they could identify missing pieces and make the entire school curriculum into a coordinated whole.

If the course isn't taught month-by-month, why map it that way? The teachers are the audience. The point is to identify gaps ... months do not add to that information. Further, Common Core and other standards purposefully do not specify when a particular topic be addressed or how ... why examine it that way?

4) What kind of confusion could possibly arise - doesn't the curriculum coordinator know enough about the curriculum that she could interpret pretty much any format?

Unfortunately, no. If she is like ours, she only wants you to enter all of this data into an online database that she has paid a lot of money for (and needs to justify the expense). The online database was never designed to accommodate teachers and this is what you get.

But she gets to push a button and the database will scan through and determine whether you've addressed standard F-TF (Functions, Trigonometric Functions).

She couldn't just look herself because she's never taught math and has no idea what we put in the boxes.

5) Why does everything have to fit into one box even when different?

Here's the funniest thing (and we get to use this screaming gem of a program so the word "funniest" is coming through clenched teeth) ... Everything in the month goes in the same box, so you have extra lines put in so you can keep the resources for topic one aligned with the content, skills, and assessment for topic one.  Add a few words to clarify one thing and you have to go back and adjust all the other columns ... which gets all messed up when the font size changes.

Like when a browser is set differently (full-screen vs. windowed) or when you print.

Did I mention that the web form accepts Word formatting, so a copy and paste job from the equally useless Word document you did three years ago) comes with 80KB of unbreakable hidden formatting? Yeah, it does. We spent so much time trying to make it look right, we finally broke down and re-typed every word. And every link to the "Standard" had to drill down through the entire document ...

Nothing changed.
Nothing improved.
No benefit to the students.
No mysterious "missing content" suddenly found.

Just five in-service days wasted changing from a Word document which was a printout from the last web company mapping system, itself a conversion from the excel spreadsheet which was a conversion from a word document which had been in wordperfect format fifteen years ago.

I still have the binder.