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.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Leadership in Education - Good vs Great

So, we're listening to Bill Daggett, president of the International Center for Leadership in Education, and he shoots off some statistics and statements that leave me puzzled. Here I discuss some thoughts about the "Best Schools in the Country."

Bill and his team went into hundreds of schools and tried to identify what made them great. I'm good with his method: they went and looked and identified habits and tactics, then looked at success rates, and tried to find commonalities.

"Let's take the top 100 hundred elementary schools and narrow them down to 30, then we'll look to see if they ALL do a particular something." They did that and found that all of the most improving schools did "looping", a program in which the 2nd grade teacher follows the kids to third grade and then goes back to the 2nd grade. The teacher can then see the results of her teaching and make improvements.

Another was the cross-discipline departments. Don't have a math dept and an English dept. Have departments made up of various teachers and give them a common planning period. (Not something I've seen in the top private schools but maybe things have changed.)

I like this method. You find what people are doing experimentally, identify which schools are doing well, and try to make connections.This has classic correlation vs causation error written all over it, but it is far better than the usual methods which entail trial and error with no analysis of the error - the fad of the moment, repeated annually.

Bill kept saying to us, "You're good ... but you can be great."

But then I thought about it on the ride home.

He said that the best schools in the country could all be identified by looking at the socio-economic status of the neighborhood, that they all had wealth in common so he only focused on the "30 most improving schools".  He never specified whether the schools were going from the 5th percentile to the 15th or from the 45th to 65th or even from 85th to 90th.

I want to know about what schools who improve are doing, but they may be changing from crap to fair. Show me what the best schools are doing, too.  There's a reason they are good ... and it's not just money. I want to know what methods and practices are common to both of these categories. This is important because my school may be doing fairly well already and methods that work with one set of kids aren't necessarily the ones I'd use with mine.

I went to a private school and to public school and I've taught at both types of institutions. I know there's a difference, but my experience in private schools is from before the Great Change (widespread availability of special education) and before tech really stood up and made itself vital to education.

Here are some questions:

If the best schools in the country are only found in wealthy districts as Bill said, then should I be imitating them with my groups? Is it a lost cause for my students or should I imitate the methods used at Phillips Exeter? (I do, anyway, but the question remains)

If my school is doing well because my state has pretty high standards and our kids missed our state's cutline but would have sailed past the cutlines for 44 other states, do I look for radical innovation or should I quietly tinker with my practices?

We paid this guy. We got a few dribs and drabs over the four hours. You can buy the "Best High Schools in the Country" report for $175. Not to be greedy but if this PD was nothing more than shilling for his reports, then my reaction is to be a lot more critical of his information. I want to know if it's the straight dope
 or just hype and fear to sell snake oil.

Leadership in Education - Surveys of 42,000

So, we're listening to Bill Daggett, president of the International Center for Leadership in Education, and he shoots off some statistics and statements that leave me puzzled. I can't put them all in one post, so I'll be spreading them out a bit.

One of his memes is the idea of research by polling. His team went out and asked a lot of people to rank the topics that are listed in the math standards with a question that approximated "Which of these topics is the most important to you, is the topic that you feel is most useful in your daily life."

The answers came back and led to a fairly consistent set of answers. "Knowledge of the right triangle and the relationship of the sides using Pythagorean Theorem" came in at about 38th for almost everybody. The subset of  Math teachers, on the other hand, said it should be 4th. Daggett's point was that the math teachers weren't on the same path as the rest of the world and that we needed to change.

I found this troubling for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted to know the actual question ... how was this phrased? Did they just quote the standard or did they interpret it? Can this group really understand enough about specific math topics to be able to rank them?

I wondered whether engineers and technicians and other folks who use math often were separated out from those who didn't claim to use math daily, who claimed "I was never any good at math." It troubles me because a huge percentage of the American public has chosen careers to avoid math, has chosen to turn away from math because they don't like it, has chosen to trust someone else to do their math for them. That majority has already denied math in all of its forms ... should we ask teachers to have an opinion on the best surgical practices for dealing with appendicitis or ask mechanics to comment on law?

Why should their opinion of what's important matter to me as a teacher?

Secondly, should I really ratchet my classes to the point of average knowledge?  Should I tell my students that because the majority of Americans thinks that Pythagoras is useless then they aren't going to see it?  What of the percent of my class who could become one of "The Few, The Proud, The People who can Add without Whingeing"?

Show me what happens in the daily lives of people who use math daily ... now that would be helpful.

Of course, it would be nice to actually see the rankings, flawed or otherwise, instead of being told that there is a disconnect. We never did get that bit of information.  I guess we didn't pay him enough for that.