Wednesday, December 31, 2008

More High Tech Hype

RightWingNation has a good denunciation of a new high-tech school.

Education, beware. The forward-thinking and better-than-I folks have decreed that I am a dinosaur and that this is the face of education. I have to laugh at the list on earth-shattering newness ...
  • Bill Gates has money, therefore he is a good teacher
  • Authentic Learning (because it's all fake now and has been since Medieval Times)
  • Discovery Method is good. (because everybody knows how to teach, mostly the kids. I guess the teachers can't.)
  • “School of the Future” (Good thing, too. I'd hate to see that money go to waste on a boondoggle.)
  • first-of-its-kind model for technologically advanced schools worldwide (Note: not the model for education. Just for tech school.)
  • jaw-dropping awe (They spent THAT much?)
  • A laptop for every child (Wait, isn't that phrase copyrighted?)
  • Lockers that open with the swipe of a smart card. (Or a push against it with the card in the back pocket.) Or the inevitable run on magnets from the physics lab to wipe all those cards.
  • A fully wireless building. (God knows that never screws up)
  • Virtually no textbooks. (Ummmm, good pun. Stupid Idea.)
  • Not even an encyclopedia in the library. ('cause Wikipedia is so good.)
  • “It’s going to be as close to a paperless school as we can manage,” (Because paper is what you make contracts with and we don't want accountability.)
  • Plasma screens, ceiling projectors, interactive white boards, and laptops abound, and classroom furniture is on wheels to allow for group work in varying configurations. (Just like a business, don't you know. -- of course, not like the parts of business where they actually teach things -- this is like the parts of the business where the Board sits around amazed at all the wasteful techiness, thinking "Can I get a Bailout with that Cheeseburger?)

Right Wing Professor says, correctly, "The technology is nothing more than a tool, and it will not improve anything if there is no substantial content."

Curmudgeon thanks you, Professor.

Let's continue ...
  • toilets that flush themselves (Was it necessary to include this in a school? Can't the kids do this? Maybe the school is filled with airport travelers?)
  • the rainwater recycling (Great. Pigeons and rats defecate on the roof and you're re-using the water?)
  • Traditional education is obsolete (Then why are we constantly comparing ourselves to other countries and their traditional education systems?)
  • teach students the skills of problem-solving, critical thinking and effective communication, which they need to succeed in the 21st century.

Last time, people.

You can't teach students to think about a problem if they have no frame of reference and no background knowledge. They can't think critically before they know how to read, write, and do arithmetic. The whole point of critical thinking is comparing the new situation to old situations and experience.

Basics must be practiced. Drill and Practice, not Drill and Kill.
Preparatory knowledge is necessary to extension of knowledge.
Educationalists are idiots.

Uncle Jay is worth subscribing to.

Thanks to SchoolGal, NYCEducator, PissedOffTeacher, and others ...

He posts weekly and is teh funneh.

Wierd Gas Prices

It's a combination of low prices ($2.19) and the local supermarkets having a price-saver card deal thing going on. If you spend enough at the supermarket - you get $.30 off per gallon. We would up spending $1.89 per gallon for 20 gallons. It's only a $6 savings but damn. $1.89

just sayin'

That was Novemeber; now it's December.
Now it is cheaper than that without the discount. And we still get the discount.

New Year's Day: $1.54
Isn't it amazing how quickly we get used to these prices? I'd scream if it went up to $4.00 again.

Don't wear a hat!

It's puzzling, really
Curmudgeon's stepson reminded him of some more administrator silliness that you'll all get a kick out of. His school has a no-hat rule.

"No big deal, Curmudgeon," I can hear you all saying. "No hoodies and no hats is a pretty common rule."

And you would be right, but at his school, the rule was extended for the holidays. Halloween costumes were fine on the 31st, but without a hat. That's right. You could be a witch and dress in a scanty and flimsy sheer thing that wouldn't have passed the dress code if it weren't for the green-and-white-striped tall socks and even then the cleavage on display could be impressive. The hat was forbidden, though.

Camoflage was verboten at first because of the whole guns thing. This changed to ok when kids pointed out that many wore it almost every day and "Yes, Virginia, it is hunting season."

Then came Christmas. Stepson wore his Santa hat and everyone thought it pretty cool except Vice-Principal CSI and Principal Frumpyants. "Take off the hat or get a detention."

You just can't make this stuff up.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Racy Photos and Teenagers

Is it any real surprise that Sending racy photos is common among teens? They're immature, they don't have much forethought, and they don't have much fear of shame. No one is allowed to point out the inappropriateness of this to them for fear of being labeled a pervert, or worse. Their friends certainly won't criticize, just forward on the pictures. They see nothing wrong with it and probably do it themselves. Their parents have no clue until the kid gets upset by it, and that's rare.

Teenagers should not be interacting only with teenagers. Adults need to be a bigger part of their lives to point out that there are consequences even if the kid doesn't particularly care right now. It's not a good idea to post pictures of yourself getting stoned or drunk on Facebook, or acting like an idiot.

Shame isn't available. It's not the thing anymore.

They don't have jobs or other adult interactions where an adult can say "That's bad. You're fired," or simply point out how ridiculous they look.

I guess we'll just have to let them hang themselves.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all,
and to all a Good Night.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Silent Night, full of Snow

There's only one Christmas song appropriate for this much snow.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Snow Day !

View out the living room sliding glass door, through the "tropical" plants at the nearly 20" of snow and thinking about the next storm of 1"-2" tonight and 5"-8" inches tomorrow and tomorrow night.

It's enough for a snow day. Ayup.

update: more snow.

Oh my goodness. Even the bird feeder is getting into the act.


I'm not an economist, just a annoyed curmudgeon. My thoughts are therefore not to be taken literally here, but maybe my ramblings have a notion of good sense in them.

Everyone from Jamele Hill on ESPN is saying things like:
Congress is stalling regarding the Big Three automakers, having forgotten it just wrote a blank check to Wall Street without even asking for so much as a Christmas card in return.
I think they're wrong to beg for an auto company bailout and here's why. The Big 3 built cars and a new (overpriced, overweight, overhyped) car (SUV, pickup) is not a necessity. In fact, in these times of trouble, the last thing that any family should do is to buy a new car if the old one has anything left on it.

For me, the difference in the bailouts is that the banks had retirement money, mortgages and such. The house and the retirement are more important to the average American than replacing a 20-month old car with a shiny new 3-month old car.

Companies go under all the time. There have been layoffs and closures that have hit my state hard. It's nature and it's style have changed dramatically over the last few years. That's progress. Move on.

I would let the banks go under, too. Screw the banks and their multi-millionaire owners and CEO -- save the account holders and mortgage holders. If you took the $700Billion dollars and distributed it a little differently, you could pay the mortgages for a year for more than 35 million families. Then sell their mortgages to someone like GMAC (the highest profit arm of GM, don't you know ...) at, say, 97 cents on the dollar and tell the banking industry to go buzz off.

Much more sensible than giving it to a company that's paying it's CEO more than $100 million dollars this year alone.

Friday, December 19, 2008

New Math for Newlyweds

I am rarely at a loss for an opinion. Those who play fast and loose with math to make a point, or who just don't understand the basics and demand to be heard by shouting from their soapboxes, need to be corrected.

In a comment about condoms, DANEgerous points out:
In contrast condoms break, or slip, up to 12% of the time. That may not sound like a big number but if you have sex more then once, each event is cumulative and the probability of unsafe sex quickly exceeds 100%. Given the average single person 'hooks up' with a few partners a year, a few times each, multiply those dozen "trials" by a failure rate that high and the average single person exceeds 100% every year.
What school did you attend, dude? Probability never exceeds 100%. Didn't I teach you that? Repeatedly?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Teh Funneh

Green campaigners called in police after discovering an illegal logging site in a nature reserve. Environmentalists found 20 neatly stacked tree trunks and others marked for felling with notches at the beauty-spot at Subkowy in northern Poland. But police followed a trail left where one tree had been dragged away - and found a beaver dam right in the middle of the river.

How about that logic ability?
How about the ability to notice detail?


Some more bogus research?

New York is apparently considering (or is currently pushing into place - I'm not sure) a law that puts taxes on non-diet sodas.   Moonbattery is having a conniption over it, saying in part
There's just one problem: Studies have found links between drinking diet sodas and obesity and diabetes.

Well, duh.  Fat people drink diet soda because they don't like being fat and they are trying to reduce their calorie intake.  Diet soda is not causing the fat.  Come on, people, think.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Lesson Plans

So we've got lesson plans due later this month - hand in all of your plans at the end of the semester so Principal PJs can review them.

I took the easy way out. I made'em electronic.

Course by course, day by day, I've been transcribing them. I don't have to do every class, of course -- I have a few left over from last year. There are some updates and changes but math doesn't change that much from year to year. Shocking! Redoing all those lesson plan books was annoying and time consuming - thank God I saved them.

But now? Now the curriculum map is one aspect of it, daily lesson plans another, and substitute plans are a third. I have even less desire to do lesson plans now that I've actually compared a couple of years - I've always been a wing it and teach from the seat of my pants kind of person anyway. Really, I don't need a roadmap anymore. I have them if I need to prove I can do them.

Algebra started as a collection of assignment lists, then daily notes. The Calculus one is essentially an expanded version of what I did for the AP audit, along with the assignment list and various powerpoints, display, and labs. I don't have them dated with the actual date. Instead, they're day 1, day 2, day 3 etc. It's so much more useful and the whole "hand them in" thing is much less stressful. I just print. It's not my nickel.

Why did I wait so long? Why do I feel like I've caved in to the man?

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Night before the Unmentionable

Let's pass this one on, shall we?
Wish I knew who to attribute it to ..

'Twas the Night Before Christmas (PC Sytle)
A Christmas poem

'Twas the night before Christmas and Santa's a wreck...
How to live in a world that's politically correct?
His workers no longer would answer to "Elves".
"Vertically Challenged" they were calling themselves.
And labor conditions at the north pole
Were alleged by the union to stifle the soul.

Four reindeer had vanished, without much propriety,
Released to the wilds by the Humane Society.
And equal employment had made it quite clear
That Santa had better not use just reindeer.
So Dancer and Donner, Comet and Cupid,
Were replaced with 4 pigs, and you know that looked stupid!

The runners had been removed from his sleigh;
The ruts were termed dangerous by the E.P.A.
And people had started to call for the cops
When they heard sled noises on their roof-tops.
Second-hand smoke from his pipe had his workers quite frightened.
His fur trimmed red suit was called "Unenlightened."

And to show you the strangeness of life's ebbs and flows,
Rudolf was suing over unauthorized use of his nose
And had gone on Geraldo, in front of the nation,
Demanding millions in over-due compensation.

So, half of the reindeer were gone; and his wife,
Who suddenly said she'd enough of this life,
Joined a self-help group, packed, and left in a whiz,
Demanding from now on her title was Ms.

And as for the gifts, why, he'd ne'er had a notion
That making a choice could cause so much commotion.
Nothing of leather, nothing of fur,
Which meant nothing for him. And nothing for her.
Nothing that might be construed to pollute.
Nothing to aim. Nothing to shoot.
Nothing that clamored or made lots of noise.
Nothing for just girls. Or just for the boys.
Nothing that claimed to be gender specific.
Nothing that's warlike or non-pacific.

No candy or sweets...they were bad for the tooth.
Nothing that seemed to embellish a truth.
And fairy tales, while not yet forbidden,
Were like Ken and Barbie, better off hidden.
For they raised the hackles of those psychological
Who claimed the only good gift was one ecological.

No baseball, no football...someone could get hurt;
Besides, playing sports exposed kids to dirt.
Dolls were said to be sexist, and should be passe;
And Nintendo would rot your entire brain away.

So Santa just stood there, disheveled, perplexed;
He just could not figure out what to do next.
He tried to be merry, tried to be gay,
But you've got to be careful with that word today.
His sack was quite empty, limp to the ground;
Nothing fully acceptable was to be found.

Something special was needed, a gift that he might
Give to all without angering the left or the right.
A gift that would satisfy, with no indecision,
Each group of people, every religion;
Every ethnicity, every hue,
Everyone, everywhere...even you.
So here is that gift, it's price beyond worth...
"May you and your loved ones enjoy peace on earth."

Christmas Stupidity

What is wrong with these people?

Benson school removes holiday decorations

Instead of simply telling the kids "Sure, put up decorations from whichever tradition you'd like" and letting them have at it, we must remove it all. Complete idiots.

I like the comment "I just wish that we could give as much attention to eradicating drugs from our schools as we do to eradicating Christmas wreaths."

'Nuff said.

UPDATE: It turns out that one Jewish couple is complaining about Christmas decorations. That was the cause.

That Calculator

One of the main points that Malcolm Gladwell makes in Outliers: The Story of Success is that the time needed for total fluency and expertise in nearly anything is about 10,000 hours. Whether he's got it nailed or is off by a few percent, I have to agree with the basic premise.

Practice works. I know that I never really got the whole addition and subtraction thing down cold until I had to run a school snack bar. I could do it, just not quickly. When you're selling, speed is critical and there was no cash register to add for me. It was all mental and the kids were adding right along with me to be sure. SOHCAHTOA didn't happen until I had brutally memorized the formulas and then did 30, 40, or a couple hundred of them. It wasn't totally clear until after umpteen million R->P and P->R shifts. (Rectangular to polar coordinates, for any who wandered in here unawares)

Every day in my high school classes, I repeat the mantra. "Estimate mentally. You must know where you're going before you can be sure the calculator got you there." Every time there's an extended fraction or calculation on the board, they try to get a better estimate than I. Even questions as simple as 18*7: "10*7 and 8*7 is what?" I mention the distributive property. It's now been 3 months and some are trying to survive without a calculator as the first response.

Practice, Practice.

In addition, we teachers need to find those problems that are more difficult to do with a calculator than without - things like graphs that are nowhere near the "standard window". I might use y + 15 = ( x - 23 )2 or an exponential function that intersects another at (1000000, 21). Or my favorite old-school SAT problem (I remember looking over at another kid - back in the scratch paper days - who was doing a verrrrry long multiplication and wondering what I had missed. Turns out, nothing. He was doing it in the wrong order)
142802/145726 * 291452/71401 = ?
If you make the numbers at least 6 digits, you are guaranteed they will have transcription errors and the calculator will be more difficult than just working it out. It is one of the nice things about the SAT. The problems are solvable without a calculator. Practice, practice, practice.

In Math Tales from the Spring: Calcaholics, Mrs. H. is having these issues right now with her students - too much reliance on the machine instead of thinking and reasoning. I love the "Calcaholics" term for them, by the way. We're all having it and we all have to help the kids overcome it.

Practice, practice.

This issue comes up around here because the elementary school teachers are, by and large, unable to understand math themselves and so they pass on their overwhelming math phobias and calcuphilia to their students. Along with a healthy dose of "It's Drill and Kill not Teaching", they are ceding control of their classrooms to the whims of the students under the guise of "following their interests." What student wants to play with numbers? Much easier to punch buttons and get it over with.

Takes a while to overcome but it's worth it. First semester of college is over and the kids are coming back to visit. "I am sooo glad you kept making us do ..."

Such a nice feeling.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Not sure this is Wright. Yep, it is.

It certainly isn't right. If this is truly what the preacher said, it shows either a tremendous lack of civic knowledge or a willingness to bend the truth beyond recognition for a cheap rhetorical point.

"Today is December 7. The day that this government killed over 80000 Japanese civilians at Hiroshima in 1941. Two days before killing an additional 64000 Japanese civilians at Nagasaki by dropping nuclear bombs on innocent people."

I am going to try to find out if this is an accurate quote.

Update: yep, it is. As much as he annoys me, O'Reilly did have this one correct.

That's Reverend Wright, reading from a prepared script. Forward to the 47 second mark. It's not a misstatement or a slip of the tongue. It's deliberate and calculated to raise the ire, a "damned lie" meant to deceive with malicious intent. It's going to infuriate Republicans and Democrats alike, as it should. It's going to embarrass the hell out of the President-Elect.

Screw you Reverend. And the horse you rode in on. And the church that tolerates you.

Students cheat, you know.

Yup, almost 64 percent of them claim to have done it at least once last year. A few manage to hack into the grading system. The truly unique don't get caught. Everyone else gets on NBC.

There are so many life lessons here, it's difficult to know where to start. Like the Bronx, NY admin who got caught changing 1000s of test answers, these kids got caught because they ignored the fundamental rules of getting away with it. They did too much, too often, too suddenly and too loud.

Richmond County high school students caught changing grades
By NBC Augusta Staff
AUGUSTA, Ga. - Nearly 30 students at Glenn Hills High School are in hot water for cheating. Richmond County's executive director of high schools, says one student swiped a teacher's password and offered it to other students over the summer. The director said the student's score changed to 100 within minutes of receiving a failing grade. In one case a student was given a passing grade to a test she never took. The students were suspended for up to 10 days and lost credit for the online class they took. The student who stole the password has been withdrawn from the school.

Too much: if you are a bad student who has never gotten better than a 60 when a grade of 100 appears for a test, "You might be a Redneck Cheater." It doesn't take much to skim a list of numbers. Raise the grade 10% and I'll miss it. Raise it to 100% and I won't.

Too often: do something too often and the teacher is bound to notice and start checking against the paper gradebook. Do it just once and the single good grade stands out as an anomaly. You need to find the happy medium.

Too suddenly: don't change the grade the teacher just entered! (within minutes, no less!) It's still fresh in his mind. Change the something from three tests ago when you came in for a retest. The retest is the anomaly, so look to change a few grades AROUND it. A rising tide lifts all boats.

Too loud: The quiet ones are never suspect. The ones who brag to friends are always caught. Students don't realize that teachers LISTEN. Shut up and smile and shrug your shoulders.
Also follow these handy guidelines - Don't be ...

Too brash: Don't come out looking like the best kid in the class when you've been the loser all along. Give everyone a random 10-15% bump. Play Santa. Get into the Spirit of the Season.

Too weird: Don't just bump up your one bad grade. Why on Earth would you suddenly be a star in math after all this time? Raise all of your grades a little bit.

Too personal: Really throw them for a loop - reduce everyone's grades but your own and have a faked grade report sheet ready, proving you should have had a better grade. Then let the teacher feel guilty about your grades along with everyone else's and helpfully let him have a photocopy of the faked grade report.

To teachers who complain that I'm giving them ideas - I'm really showing you the ways to notice when someone is scamming you. #1 way to prevent that is to use Curmudgeon's Concerted Cheating Cancellation Cards. For three easy payments of a photocopier, you can prevent cheating too. Call now.

Monthly, either print out a hardcopy of your electronic gradebook or photocopy the sheets of your paper one. Notify the students that you do this and leave it at home. At any time you think something might have happened, take a cursory look at the two and you'll see the changes easily. You'll know.

Don't you just love the "The student who stole the password has been withdrawn from the school" line? Really? You don't say.

Political Correctness

Mamacita is disappointed with the few who ruin it for others.

Creationism and Evolution

Perhaps it's my need to question. Perhaps it's that I also teach physics and I feel for those science teachers who are caught in this debate.

I have one simple, straightforward question for all of those parents and religious types who are pushing for science teachers to teach creationism in their classrooms.


Why would you want me saying anything about your beliefs? I am a fairly non-religious but non-atheist curmudgeon who isn't of your brand of religion. I don't know what you think, I don't know what you believe, I don't have any sense of whether you feel the Earth is flat or is resting on a giant turtle, was created in 7 days or 7 ages. Do you really want me to teach your kid what I know nothing about?
"almost nine out of 10 believed they should be allowed to discuss creationism if pupils bring it up."
What if MY religious beliefs are that Thetans (8foot tall humanoids) created the Earth and populated it, not some Almighty Power? Would you like me to preach that "truth" in class on an equal footing with "God created the Earth in 7 days about 10,000 years ago" and that of the Flying Spaghetti Monster ("Touched by his Noodly Appendage")? Didn't think so.

Don't pretend to yourself that I could fake it well enough to satisfy all of my students and their families. My mentioning anything about another religion would be coming from an outsider, with an outsider's lack of true understanding. Wouldn't your Sunday School teacher be far better at explaining your beliefs than I?

In the U.K., nearly a third of teachers felt that creationism should have equal status with evolution in a classroom and nearly all agreed the religious students would feel "excluded" if their views were ignored.

Well, if I'm worried about kids feeling "excluded" when their views are ignored, how about we expand the discussion a bit (partial Straw Man argument coming) and consider other views that students might hold.

If I teach a law class to seniors, should I stick to the US Constitution or should other countries' laws have equal footing? The need to stone a girl to death if she becomes unclean? A woman in the company of a man she's not related to is gangraped by seven men as punishment - should we be talking about how the girl should also get 200 lashes with a whip as a legal punishment from the courts? (For talking to someone and for daring to appeal the original sentence for being raped.) If one of my students tells his "boys" to grab a girls and rape her for insulting him, should his views gets equal standing so he doesn't fee "excluded"? It's obviously something he "feels" is right. (Like the boys who did that to a 14yo for insulting one of them). Should we include all views like that in the classroom?

Of course not. Ignore the StrawMan and keep to the specifics and the answer's still the same. Let me teach my algebra or physics or whatever. You teach the religion. It's better that way.

I brought this up because of the article reprinted below.

One in three teachers believes schoolchildren should be taught that creationism is just as valid as evolution, according to a survey.
By Martin Beckford, London (UK) Telegraph Religious Affairs Correspondent
07 Nov 2008

The poll also disclosed that pupils in almost a third of schools already learn about the controversial divine explanation of the universe, with even science teachers thinking it has a place in classrooms.

Almost all of those questioned by Teachers TV, a satellite television channel, agreed that children with strong religious beliefs would feel excluded from science lessons if their views were ignored.

The findings support the views of the Rev Professor Michael Reiss, who lost his job as director of education at the Royal Society, Britain's prestigious scientific academy, after calling for creationism to be included in school science lessons.

The ordained Church of England minister said the idea that the Earth was made by God 10,000 years ago should be discussed if pupils raise it, because "banging on" about natural selection would not lead evangelical Christians or Muslims to change their views.

But he was forced to step down after his views were denounced as "dangerous" and "outrageous" by two Nobel laureates and the Royal Society claimed he had damaged its reputation.

Commenting on the results of the survey of 1,200 viewers of Teachers TV, its chief executive, Andrew Bethell, said: "This poll data confirms that the debate on whether there is a place for the teaching of creationism in the classroom is still fierce."

The poll found that 31 per cent of teachers agree that creationism or intelligent design – the theory that the universe shows signs of having been designed rather than evolving – should be given the same status as evolution in the classroom, including 18 per cent of science teachers.

Half of those questioned agreed that excluding the alternative to evolution would alienate religious pupils, and almost nine out of 10 believed they should be allowed to discuss creationism if pupils bring it up.

Mr Bethell said: "Although over half of teachers either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the idea that creationism should be given the same status as evolution, there is a significant minority who believe that it should be given equal weight.

"Nearly half of teachers also agreed with Professor Michael Reiss' sentiment that excluding alternative explanations to evolution is counter-productive and alienates pupils from science.

"Perhaps most telling is the fact that, almost nine out of 10 teachers take the pragmatic view that they should be allowed to discuss creationism or intelligent design in science, if pupils raise the question."

The survey was conducted ahead of a programme on Teachers TV, to be broadcast at 7pm on Saturday, which asks if the teaching of evolution is under threat from increasing religious fundamentalism among pupils.

It is thought that as many as one in 10 children in British state schools now holds creationist views.

Earlier this year the prominent atheist Professor Richard Dawkins accused the Government and teachers of "bending over backwards" to respect pupils and parents who do not believe in evolution.

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: "The findings in this survey are extremely alarming.

"It is time for the Government to issue instructions to schools that creationism is not to be given credence in science lessons. The place to discuss it is in religious education classes."

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The fixture is set - can't wait.

I know it's not till March, but damn ...
Round 1 March 26 - 29: Port Adelaide vs. Essendon
Will they have a good year? I hope so.

Boobs at Sea

I can only wonder. Would these be a Sea-cup?

Missing inflatable boobs at sea from Ralph Magazine found
December 10, 2008 01:15pm

MORE than 100,000 pairs of missing inflatable breasts intended for an Australian men's magazine promotion have turned up in Melbourne. The shipment of plastic boobs from China had been missing for more than a week after Chinese officials lost the paperwork and put them on the wrong boat, a Ralph magazine spokeswoman said.

They had been due to dock in Sydney last week, but have since turned up at a Melbourne dock, where they've been sitting for a week. Workers are now frantically working to put them in bags to go out with the December 15 issue.

Ralph editor Santi Pintado said the incident had cost the magazine $30,000.

"If we'd found them a day later, it'd have been too late to get them on the next issue," Pintado said. "You'd think the Chinese economy was in enough trouble without misplacing 130,000 pairs of boobs."

The magazine is expected to break the Guinness world record for the most boobs given away at one time.

Teh Funneh

Huddled in Mr. Soccer's room for lunch, trying to avoid students for 10 minutes, we happened to bring up Blogjevich's "alleged" "sale" of "Obama's" "senate Seat" "to the highest bidder."

Mr. SweaterVest wasn't sympathetic. "It's treason. He should face the firing squad. Line them up and fire away."

Apparently, last period didn't go so well.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Cheating - Followup

I said I'd get back to you on this Ethics Survey. Here's a preliminary look at the press releases. (I'm still trying to get the breakdowns from earlier years)
"Cheating in school continues to be rampant and it's getting worse. A substantial majority (64 percent) cheated on a test during the past year (38 percent two or more times), up from 60 percent and 35 percent, respectively, in 2006."
I have problems with that kind of a blanket statement when it's based on a self-reported survey handed out in classes across the nation. I also notice that the sensationalistic statement "and it's getting worse" seems more appropriate to a consultant driving his business in professional development seminars than a true scientist whose own data seem to undermine his thunder.
Sure, the self-reported cheating is up, but only because the Institute was very careful to pick the right goal posts. 2008 is up, but lower than much of the last decade. Is this a blip or a long-term upward motion? Are we still within the margin of error (3% for many questions because of the breakdowns)?
Also, in reading the past press releases, it seems as though the main focus of the Institute is the Character Flaw of the Year, whatever it is.
I remain unconvinced, however, with the basic premise of these surveys. Kids exaggerate boldly and humorously. I don't think they are any better or any worse than we were at that age. Maybe only more willing to say so, but even that is debatable.
I am sure that it will be a "standard" we'll have to meet at some point - develop their character with this curriculum and DVD and there'll be a multiple-choice state-developed test to show progress and to enable our student directed action plan agenda item to be eliminated from the forefront of the establishment and it's mission statement. We test, therefore we are good.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Constructivism and group work

It's not that I'm against it, per se. I just don't think it's very good for teaching math. The cartoon below is exaggerating for the humor value, but the idea that students will be able to learn math on their own, without being taught, is silly to me. The idea that students should construct their own view of the subject, building from scratch because they'll learn it better that way, is ludicrous. We humans have spent millennia devising these ideas and rules and concepts. We expect the kids to develop them from scratch?

The Guide-on-the-Side spends a great deal of time leading the kids by not leading them, pushing them in the right direction without pushing, guiding them without showing the way. I find the students just want the guide to stop dancing around and get to the point. Teach, ask, listen, reply, adjust. They want a sage. They don't want someone to stand there and talk incessantly for 90 minutes but they DO want someone who can impart some knowledge and help them to understand it, then take them down the road a little further each day.

Working together to solve a problem is wonderful for some things. After one has been taught, has been lead through the easier problems, and has been pushed through some harder ones, it's time for some practice. "Work together and ask each other" is okay - as long as the teacher is right there to correct the smart kid who doesn't quite get it yet. I have too often seen the smart kid in this situation "think he has it" but tell his compatriots a very wrong analogy or algorithm.

It's not conducive to the learning styles and abilities of high-schoolers to have too much of the education come at their initiative and design. Having a teacher stand there while kids are reading the book's instructions, sitting nearby while they follow the book's directions, sauntering around while the kids copy the "math notes" out of the book -- what's with that? Haven't you simply removed a sage with brains and intelligence, only to replace him/her with a dead-soul of a book? If that were effective, what the hell are you paying me for? Why not get a $6/hour substitute and let the kids teach themselves? They teach themselves math all summer long, right? That works, doesn't it?

Teenagers learn best in groups, right? Not from my experience. As Old Andrew says quite nicely, though a tad indelicately, in his article on Groupwork, "If you want to learn how to cooperate effectively with others, then the last place you’d start is in a group of teenagers being made to do school work. This is like saying the best way to learn how to make pork sausages is by being imprisoned in a pig farm with a half-dozen rabbis. Putting together people who are neither experienced at doing something, or particularly inclined to want to do it, is not how you learn to do that something."

And they don't need to learn to socialize -- they've got that down pretty well. Frankly, I'd rather they didn't do quite so much of it.

Maybe it's just late in the evening, but that cartoon's not really that funny. Kind of sad we're doing this to our kids.

Teachers who can't pass either.

On Nov 24, 2008 a New Mexico station broadcast the names and failure frequencies of some teachers who took the state certification tests.

I can't believe they mentioned anyone by name and school, but I suppose the information is available publicly. What bothers me is the way they collated and made public the information, and by their action emphasized its importance when it might have had none. I have to wonder, on the other hand, if these teachers should be actively examining their career choice.

These certification exams are pathetic in their simplicity - at least at the initial levels. The Praxis I, which I had to take because I was following the Peer-Review track to certification, was laughable. I had to correct one of the math problems for them. The Praxis II content test was much more reasonable. It was a decent test and covered all of the types of things I would have been expected to have been able to do as a first year teacher.

One of the viewers commented, in essence, that English teachers shouldn't have to pass math tests and vice versa. Interesting in it's narrow-mindedness, don't you think? The English teachers still need to calculate grades and the math teachers need to write. Besides, these tests are terribly easy.

Which of the following is equal to a quarter of a million?
A) 40,000
B) 250,000
C) 2,500,000
D) 1/4,000,000
E) 4/1,000,000

How can you possibly fail a test like that?

Cheating on the Rise? I'll get back to you on that.

As I read this story (below), I couldn't help the immediate reaction. "Really? Morals have declined that much, huh?"

And then I started to think about the mechanics of this. They sent out a survey to enough schools and to a broad enough sample that I feel comfortable with the averages and numbers. They didn't include any of the questions in the survey but they were probably straightforward - the results summary seems to indicate that. The only reservation I have is that the survey is self-reported data.

Is cheating really getting worse or are the students more willing to admit it now or are the students more willing to lie to pollsters now?

It seems to me that cheating has always been around. Passing notes, looking over at the next student's paper, scrabbling through the trash can next to the copier. This is nothing new. Texting is passing notes. Photographing a question is like the "wandering eye."

E.g., just a few days ago, I found a notebook in my classroom. It had belonged to a student three years graduated and held all of her chemistry notes, quizzes and returned tests. I dropped it off in the Chem lab and we figured out who knew the girl and "Lo and behold," he had been doing surprisingly well these last few months until he had gotten to a part of the course that wasn't in the notebook. Must have been a coincidence. You could see the wheels turning in the Chem teacher's head. I wish I could be there when he finds out she has his cheatbook.

I'm going to go look up the survey and read the original. Should be interesting.

Here's the article itself.

Survey Finds Growing Deceit Among Teens
64 Percent Admit Cheating on Test In High School
By David Crary / Associated Press via the Washington Post
December 1, 2008; A06

NEW YORK, Nov. 30 -- In the past year, 30 percent of U.S. high school students have stolen from a store and 64 percent have cheated on a test, according to a new, large-scale survey suggesting that Americans are apathetic about ethical standards.

Educators reacting to the findings questioned any suggestion that today's young people are less honest than previous generations, but several agreed that intensified pressures are prompting many students to cut corners.

"The competition is greater, the pressures on kids have increased dramatically," said Mel Riddle of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. "They have opportunities their predecessors didn't have [to cheat]. The temptation is greater."

The Josephson Institute, a Los Angeles-based ethics institute, surveyed 29,760 students at 100 randomly selected high schools nationwide, both public and private. All students in the selected schools were given the survey in class; their anonymity was assured.

Michael Josephson, the institute's founder and president, said he was most dismayed by the findings about theft. The survey found that 35 percent of boys and 26 percent of girls -- 30 percent overall -- acknowledged stealing from a store within the past year. One-fifth said they stole something from a friend; 23 percent said they stole something from a parent or other relative.

"What is the social cost of that -- not to mention the implication for the next generation of mortgage brokers?" Josephson remarked in an interview. "In a society drenched with cynicism, young people can look at it and say, 'Why shouldn't we? Everyone else does it.' "

Other findings from the survey:

· Cheating in school is rampant and getting worse. Sixty-four percent of students cheated on a test in the past year and 38 percent did so two or more times, up from 60 percent and 35 percent in a 2006 survey.

· Thirty-six percent said they used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment, up from 33 percent in 2004.

· Forty-two percent said they sometimes lie to save money -- 49 percent of the boys and 36 percent of the girls.

Despite such responses, 93 percent of the students said they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character, and 77 percent affirmed that "when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know."

Nijmie Dzurinko, executive director of the Philadelphia Student Union, said the findings were not at all reflective of the inner-city students she works with as an advocate for better curriculum and school funding.

"A lot of people like to blame society's problems on young people, without recognizing that young people aren't making the decisions about what's happening in society," said Dzurinko, 32. "They're very easy to scapegoat."

Peter Anderson, principal of Andover High School in Andover, Mass., said he and his colleagues had detected very little cheating on tests or Internet-based plagiarism. He has, however, noticed an uptick in students sharing homework in unauthorized ways.

"This generation is leading incredibly busy lives -- involved in athletics, clubs, so many with part-time jobs, and, for seniors, an incredibly demanding and anxiety-producing college search," he offered as an explanation.

Riddle, who for four decades was a high school teacher and principal in Northern Virginia, agreed that more pressure could lead to more cheating, yet spoke in defense of today's students.

"I would take these students over other generations," he said. "I found them to be more responsive, more rewarding to work with, more appreciative of support that adults give them.

"We have to create situations where it's easy for kids to do the right things," he added. "We need to create classrooms where learning takes on more importance than having the right answer."

On Long Island, an alliance of school superintendents and college presidents recently embarked on a campaign to draw attention to academic integrity problems and to crack down on plagiarism and cheating.

Roberta Gerold, superintendent of the Middle Country School District and a leader of the campaign, said parents and school officials need to be more diligent -- for example, emphasizing to students the distinctions between original and borrowed work.

"You can reinforce the character trait of integrity," she said. "We overload kids these days, and they look for ways to survive. . . . It's a flaw in our system that whatever we are doing as educators allows this to continue."

Josephson contended that most Americans are too apathetic about ethical shortcomings among young people and in society at large.

"Adults are not taking this very seriously," he said. "The schools are not doing even the most moderate thing. . . . They don't want to know. There's a pervasive apathy."

Josephson also addressed the argument that today's youth are no less honest than their predecessors.

"In the end, the question is not whether things are worse, but whether they are bad enough to mobilize concern and concerted action," he said.

"What we need to learn from these survey results is that our moral infrastructure is unsound and in serious need of repair. This is not a time to lament and whine but to take thoughtful, positive actions."

More Cheating in the News

You can pay them more, but they still have the same reactions to incentives and punishments - if you can't win by trying, cheat.

The gist of the matter is that an assistant principal altered thousands of MC answers of the Regents Integrated Algebra test given this past June so more students would get a passing grade.

"What a maroon," as Bugs would say.

Essentially, the State made a correlation between the erasures and the answers - too many erasures to correct answers, not enough to incorrect ones. The red flags went up as well when students' answers on individual questions didn't match his ability levels on other similar questions or match his overall score. Very hard to spot individually, but the discrepancies show up in the large numbers.

When will people learn?

On a similar topic, but unrelated to this story:

If you're the numbers type, the raw-score to scaled score conversions are interesting.

The whole thing (includes a video):

City Finds Bronx H.S. Cheated On Regents Exam
By: NY1 News

An investigation into a Bronx high school has determined there was tampering with a Regents exam given this past June.

A report released by the city's Special Commissioner of Investigation on Wednesday says the assistant principal at the High School of Contemporary Arts altered multiple choice answers to the Integrated Algebra Regents exam so more students would get a passing grade.

The report says there are irregularities on answer sheets such as thousands of erasures and changes in 94 percent of the passing exams.

Department of Education officials said in a statement, "We have reassigned Assistant Principal Ruth Ralston and we are seeking her termination."

Ralston has been at the school since 2006.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Christmas Party Planning

We'll just have to continue this moving ...
from the Dipso Chronicles

FROM: Pauline, Human Resources Director
TO: All Employees
DATE: 21st October 2008
RE: Christmas Party
I'm happy to inform you that the company Christmas Party will take place on December 23rd, starting at noon in the private function room at the Grill House. There will be a cash bar and plenty of drinks! We'll have a small band playing traditional carols...please feel free to sing along. And don't be surprised if the MD shows up dressed as Santa Claus! A Christmas tree will be lit at 1.00p.m. Exchange of gifts among employees can be done at that time; however, no gift should be over £10.00 to make the giving of gifts easy for everyone's pockets. This gathering is only for employees! The MD will make a special announcement at the Party.
Merry Christmas to you and your Family.

FROM: Pauline, Human Resources Director
TO: All Employees
DATE: 22nd October 2008
RE: Holiday Party
In no way was yesterday's memo intended to exclude our Jewish employees. We recognize that Chanukah is an important holiday, which often coincides with Christmas, though unfortunately not this year. However, from now on we're calling it our 'Holiday Party'.. The same policy applies to any other employees who are not Christians. There will be no Christmas tree or Christmas carols sung. We will have other types of music for your enjoyment.
Happy now?
Happy Holidays to you and your family.

FROM; Pauline, Human Resources Director
TO: All Employees
DATE: 23rd October 2008
RE: Holiday Party
Regarding the note I received from a member of Alcoholics Anonymous requesting a non-drinking didn't sign your name. I'm happy to accommodate this request, but if I put a sign on a table that reads, 'AA Only', you wouldn't be anonymous anymore!!!! How am I supposed to handle this? Somebody? Forget about the gift exchange, no gift exchange allowed now since the Union Officials feel that £10.00 is too much money and Management believe £10.00 is a little cheap. NO GIFT EXCHANGE WILL BE ALLOWED.

FROM: Pauline, Human Resources Director
TO: All Employees
DATE: 24th October 2008
RE: Holiday Party
What a diverse group we are! I had no idea that December 20th begins the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which forbids eating and drinking during daylight hours. There goes the party! Seriously, we can appreciate how a luncheon at this time of year does not accommodate our Muslim employees' beliefs, perhaps the Grill House can hold off on serving your meal until the end of the party - or else package everything up for you to take home in a little foil doggy bag. Will that work? Meanwhile, I've arranged for members of Weight Watchers to sit farthest from the dessert buffet and pregnant women will get the table closest to the toilets, Gays are allowed to sit with each other, Lesbians do not have to sit with gay men, each will have their own table. Yes, there will be flower arrangements for the gay men's table too. To the person asking permission to cross dress - no cross dressing allowed. We will have booster seats for short people. Low fat food will be available for those on a diet. We cannot control the salt used in the food we suggest those people with high blood pressure taste the food first. There will be fresh fruits as dessert for Diabetics; the restaurant cannot supply 'No Sugar' desserts. Sorry! Did I miss anything?!?!

FROM: Pauline, Human Resources Director
TO: All F***ing Employees
DATE: 25th October 2008
RE: The F****ing Holiday Party.
Vegetarian pricks I've had it with you people !!! We're going to keep this party at the Grill House whether you like it or not, so you can sit quietly at the table furthest from the 'grill of death', as you so quaintly put it, you'll get your f***ing salad bar, including organic tomatoes, But you know tomatoes have feelings too, They scream when you slice them. I've heard them scream. I'm hearing the scream right NOW!!
I hope you all have a rotten holiday, drink drive and die.
The Bitch from HELL!!!

FROM: John Benson.( Acting Human Resources Director )
TO: All Employees
DATE: 26th October 2008
RE: Pauline Lewis and Holiday Party
I'm sure I speak for all of us in wishing Pauline a speedy recovery, and I'll continue to forward your cards to her. In the meantime, the Management has decided to cancel our Holiday Party and instead, give everyone the afternoon of the 23rd December off with full pay.
John Benson.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Those extended vacations

You know how the vacations are scheduled ahead of time? Coach Brown mentions this in the context of teacher accountability here at "A Passion for Teaching and Opinions".

Up here, it's "Our driveway was snowed in yesterday. I couldn't make it in. Can I take the test today instead?"

Great Expections, the eduWonk edition.

I ran across this assignment today:
Expectations: 7th Grade High Level Writing Assignment
Essay on Anne Frank
Your essay will consist of an opening paragraph which introduced the title, author and general background of the novel.
Your thesis will state specifically what Anne's overall personality is, and what general psychological and intellectual changes she exhibits over the course of the book
You might organize your essay by grouping psychological and intellectual changes OR you might choose 3 or 4 characteristics (like friendliness, patience, optimism, self doubt) and show how she changes in this area.

I'm no English teacher, but if this is for a 7th grade class, how much are we realistically expecting? I'll repost my comment ...

At first, I thought they were making fun of the grammatical errors in the first slide. Then I read the rest of the blog entry and realized they were praising this as the better of the two. Having thought about it, I'm not sure that I don't find the first to be one of those over-written and quite pretentious lesson plans that pretend to high expectations while grading everything easily and accepting anything.

I am always suspicious when obvious mistakes are made in a piece that is released to the public in this fashion - did no one check or notice?

High expectations need to be followed by high standards in grading. That is where I would focus in this situation. What was received and how was it measured?

Anyone can copy a good assignment from the internet and butcher the execution.

The second page is just silly, but maybe it was meant to be? I could see this on the first day of a new block class, second semester. At least it gets the subjunctive mood.

Math Tales from the Spring: The Avoider

Math Tales from the Spring: The Avoider.

Take some comfort: It's not just you, Mrs. H. These clowns are all over the place.

And their unfortunate kids, too.

Not so Touchy-Feely Herself.

In Time, Michelle Rhee,
"The thing that kills me about education is that it's so touchy-feely. People say, 'Well, you know, test scores don't take into account creativity and the love of learning.' I'm like, 'You know what? I don't give a crap.' Don't get me wrong. Creativity is good and whatever. But if the children don't know how to read, I don't care how creative you are. You're not doing your job."
The curmudgeon smiles as he waits for the screaming to start.

The Enabler

Alcoholics and their support groups use this term, I think it applies to education in an equally insidious fashion. Some people incorrectly lump them in with helicopter parents, but they're too different. The helicopter parents are more annoying but the enablers are more destructive.

Had a parent-teacher conference the other day with guidance, parent, kid, Mme. Science and me. The topic was "What's going on? Baby boy is failing." My take on it was simple, "Not paying attention in class, unfocused, whispering and talking. Always misses the crucial details that make math easy if you know them and impossible if you don't."

He had a ready excuse - he only wants to be a helicopter pilot. "No college" means "no effort needed now." He doesn't see when he'll need any of this. Pythagorean theorem? Who cares? Right triangle trig? Useless to this flyboy. Critical thinking? Who needs that? All he needs is some flight courses after high school. A couple of hours of training and wham, he's got a glamorous job for life. Navigation? He doesn't care. Aeronautics? Useless. He only needs to fiddle with the stick. That won't take any training at all. He's got video games so he knows what it takes to fly.

Momma is on board with the whole pilot thing. She's got all of his dreams for him. She likes the idea. She's told him that it's his choice and she'll pay for all of it and pat him on the head. She didn't seem to see that she had given him this way out of working. Neither of them can see that there is a tremendous amount of work and studying that goes into a pilot's license - that spending the money is the least of it. I can't see him putting in the time and effort to make it in that field. He'll be competing against way too many ex-mil who have real skills and experience and who have gone to college on the GIBill and have a resume that isn't crap.

So he's failing.

Am I giving up lunch to tutor? Ummmmmmmm, no.
Am I keeping him after school? Ummmmmmmm, no.
Am I available after school? Yes and if no one shows, I'm outta here. ( I stay roughly an hour, longer if someone comes in.)

Here's the deal, kiddo.

First, if you screw around during class, I'm not going out of my way to somehow force you to come after school or get extra help during other times. The onus is on you to seek out the help.

Second, if I'm going to spend 1.5 hours of class time teaching you something, only to have you ignore it, then I won't be so happy about taking even more time to reteach you personally. I'll do it because I consider that hour or so to be an expandable "office hours" where I'm available for anyone, but you'll be lower in priority than those who were trying. I'd do the same during prep period, too, if you had a question during that study hall, but I know you won't.

Third, your grade stands. Earn your way out of the hole. You took a test and got a 20%. You took a retest on the same material with basically the same questions (only different numbers) and got a 25%. The rest of the class was in the As and Bs with a couple Cs. You knew the difficulties and the material and you didn't bother to do anything.

You asked no real questions, tried nothing, copied the classwork from the next kid, copied the homework from someone else and thought you'd put one over on me. Here's your rope, kid.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Students are NOT multi-taskers

I don't know how many times I hear this each day, but it seems to be the excuse on everybody lips. "Students today are multi-taskers."

Bull. Students today are exactly like students yesterday, students a decade ago, and students in my generation. There is no physiological or psychological difference that makes them more able to multi-task than any other human. Individuals may be able to do more than others, but the differences are not age-based.

Watch your own students. Watch someone else's. Watch them in the supermarket, at the skate park, in casual settings. They are just like you were. They can focus completely on one thing at a time when they want to. Watch (if you can) four straight hours of practicing a particular grind on a certain rail configuration or repeated hikes up the halfpipe to do a McTwist or a frontside 1080 over and over. Watch as they practice guitar hero for hours. Today's teenagers are exactly like yesterday's except the music has changed (not it's attitude, only the names).

When we claim that students can multi-task, we allow them to excuse their lack of focus in the classroom and explain away their inattention to algebra. We reinforce flightiness instead of letting them find out what being "in the zone" is really like in academics.

Still don't believe me? Have them read Gould's article "The Median Isn't the Message" while you are talking about measures of central tendency. How well does that multitasking work out for them now?

Can they text/phone while driving? No. No one can do that. Attentional blindness is a human failing not a aged one.

Can they even have friends in the car during their first months of having a license? No, because the friends are too distracting.

Can they listen to music while typing a paper? Mostly no, but it depends on the music - always has.

Can they text in class and understand what you just said? No. Sure, they "heard" it but they weren't listening. All of you teachers know the difference.

Ask a simple question to find out who's listening -
"If I take the high value of a data set and change it to a number large enough to be an outlier, which of the following will change and in what way?
mean, mode, median, IQR."
"What if I made that same number SMALL enough to be an outlier?"

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The debut of a new category!

Over at FoxNews they've got a story about a bus driver who asked the cheerleaders to lift their shirts for money.
"... Diamond approached the girls with his request ... The high school students found another ride home ...."
He's lucky they didn't slap him stupid.
"Diamond ... was described by co-workers as a quiet man who keeps to himself."
A sure sign of trouble, right there. I love the understated nature of this line, though ...
"He faces termination for the alleged incident."

Gee. You think?

Here's the whole story (sort of, it's Fox after all) ...

A longtime school bus driver could be fired after several members of a cheerleading squad in Lynnfield, Mass., said he offered them $40 to lift up their shirts.

Driver Bill Diamond, 56, was suspended without pay after the allegations surfaced, reported. Diamond has been at the job for 23 years.

"This clearly goes well beyond any bounds of acceptable behavior," said town administrator William Gustus.

Police said Diamond approached the girls with his request after a cheerleading competition in Lowell. The high school students found another ride home and went to authorities, who in turn questioned the bus driver, according to

The driver allegedly didn't deny that the accusations were true.

Diamond has no record and was described by co-workers and his supervisor as a quiet man who keeps to himself.

He faces termination for the alleged incident.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Time redefined

I was just killing time talking with Mr. Sweater (History) and the subject turned to evaluations. He was being evaluated this month sometime and was looking forward to it (?!?). He then threw me for a real loop.

"I haven't been evaluated for at least three principals, maybe four. I'll have to go and look."

How about that? We've had so many that it's easier to discern which year not by the kids who were there (Sam's older brother's year - you know, when they decorated the ...) but rather by the principal. Oh, and this measurement system is more fine-grained than doing it by year, too.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

AP in the News again

Jay Matthews feels that anyone can learn in an AP class and said so. "I was repeating for the 4,897th time my view that even low-income students who have not performed well in school can learn in a college-level high school course, like Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate, if given extra time and encouragement." I'll save his caveat until the end of my post because he did the same. It's a qualification of his argument that gets him off the hook but is always ignored by demagogues and administrators, or missed by anyone who doesn't read the whole article.
A commenter replied, in part, that access to such advanced material must begin early and " ... this kind of feel-good, everyone-can-do-it idea is valuable, but not at the expense of students who are not trying to game the system but who have worked solidly to learn and succeed .... ACCESS BEGINS IN KINDERGARTEN, not at the moment a child who has effectively been asleep in school for 11 years suddenly decides to wake up!"
Matthews is wrong because he's confusing ability to learn and the quality and quantity of that learning. When you are talking AP, it's not a matter of equal rights through equal placement, measured by enrollment numbers. It's rather "What is most appropriate?" In APCalc, for example, one can teach trig and logarithms and advanced algebra along the way, but it's better if students already have learned it because calculus builds upon previous knowledge like no other subject. Those who cannot do the preliminary work CAN learn calculus but aren't really doing college work. They're dilettantes, in a way. There's nothing particularly hard about rates of change and accumulated areas and anyone can learn these concepts. Using them is another matter.

Matthews says "can learn" is the criteria to use, but he's repeating this too-often repeated educational canard. Anyone CAN learn SOMETHING in any class, but an appropriate placement means that the same "anyone" will be able to learn FAR MORE.

The first commenter, on the other hand, is wrong because he's starting way too early and because he's confusing "gaming the system" and behavior with ability. If you are talking about "not performed well" because the kid got bad grades but knows what he is doing - APCalc will be fine. If the "not performed well" is due to a lack of knowledge and skills, why not put him into a class that's appropriate?

There is no reason why a kid can't start with nothing and work up to AP level during the high school years. Escalante proved that - just remember that Escalante didn't do magic, didn't do it in 1 year, put a strong linearly-progressing curriculum into place, and demanded the world from his kids every day.

You CAN go from worst to first - but it takes a boatload of work, a competent teacher and a good teaching-and-practice curriculum, not the constructivist stuff. It takes work.

The first commenter is also correct when he says that students who do well and work hard should not be held back by those who don't work hard and who lack the necessary skills and knowledge.

A second commenter criticized the first - "Scary to think this person is a teacher. It appears he/she does not teach in a public high school ... The notion that access to AP classes should begin in early childhood education is absurdly myopic. Recently my colleague Mary Ann Bell and I gave a presentation to approximately 40 parents and 8th grade students who wanted to learn more about our AP Network here at Wakefield. ... We have AP Summer Bridge, AP Study Seminar, AP Lunch Lab, Academic Cohort for Minority Males, United Minority Girls, etc. ... the overwhelming majority of our AP students have never been identified as gifted. We also have AP students with individualized education programs that require hosts of accommodations."

Firstly, if AP access doesn't start early, why are you giving presentations to 8th graders? Saying "Early childhood" is silly, but preparation is hugely important.

If the AP is the right placement, then why do you need all the Bridges and Summers and Lunch Labs? Because it wasn't the right placement. They weren't ready for Calculus and you knew it. If the kid doesn't know what's in a typical Pre-Calculus course, why not schedule him for Pre-Calculus?

If the overwhelming majority were never identified as gifted, that's your fault as a school. It takes a superior student to be able to gain college credit in a high school setting as a younger age. Putting weak students in the course may satisfy your need to prove non-racism, but it doesn't help the students.

If the kids' IEPs provide accommodations that modify the environment, then I couldn't care less - that's not a concern, just something that is done and no one thinks twice about it. If the IEPs modify the material or the teaching methods or the requirements, then the student is mostly likely better placed in another course.

Having said all that, what was Jay Matthews's caveat?
"For some courses, particularly calculus and foreign languages, unprepared students should not be admitted." It's correct but it is buried in a paragraph from which a casual reader (and administrators and reformers and critics of pre-requisites) would take the opposite meaning.

The whole paragraph ...
The AP and IB teachers with the best results in the classes, for both fast and slow students, have told me they don't need to grind the whole thing to a halt to help kids at the bottom. For some courses, particularly calculus and foreign languages, unprepared students should not be admitted. But in most AP classes with students at different levels, some will grasp more of the classroom discussion than others, but for nearly everyone there is a net gain. The data show that opening AP to anyone who wants to take it does not reduce the number of students getting the top scores on the exams, one indication that the fastest students are not hurt.

To finish, I'll add an experience of my own - a girl who scored 480 on the math SAT and was placed in an AP Calc class. I argued that it was the wrong placement, that she was doomed to failure. I was overruled because "teacher can individualize the education" and low scores on a single test should not prevent you from taking a course." Bull. If you can't score at least 600 on the math SAT, you will probably not do well in AP calculus. It's not fair to place a student into a situation which will be forever frustrating. She wound up failing because she didn't have enough background. She was trying to learn the algebra when the rest of the class was trying to use the algebra to learn a calculus idea. Failure.

Why do keep making this mistake? Inflated grades are part of the problem, as is the group work is a cure-all fallacy. This girl did a lot of group work in her previous courses (read: she followed along while others learned). Mostly, it was an administration who wouldn't say "No" because they thought that anyone can learn in a calculus class.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Tolerance and Acceptance

I have fears for this country. People spent 8 years ranting about the hardline right running the country into the ground, ruining civil liberties, destroying political freedom, etc., ad infinitum. Then, a few hard-left nutjobs promptly recreate the tyranny and intolerance from their side of the park.

If liberals want to be taken seriously, then Liberals and Libertarians need to denounce the radical morons who make everyone look bad. Sure, you've got the right to say it - but not the right to overreact and get violent and get nasty when someone else says it.

"I may disagree with what you say but I will defend to the Death your right to say it." attr. to Voltaire, but actually written for him by Hall.

The college girl punched and screamed at because she wore a McCain button - is this how civil discourse works in colleges these days? The 8th grader with conservative father and liberal mother who decided to test her classmates and teachers. The kid who wore a McCain t-shirt to an after-election street party and was arrested for it? The grandmother whose cross was taken from her and stomped upon by a group of Prop 8 opponents? The NYCity people willing to let themselves be filmed swearing and cursing someone quietly standing - simply because his shirt says Palin on it? Students who can't help but criticize another's choice, saying, "Palin is a religious freak and a danger to society." without knowing anything about her, other than she's on the Republican ticket? The Racist Right has it's mouth open with brain shut moments, too. Cool it, people. You're not clever and you're not making much sense, but you are making videos that compare Obama to Hitler and Jim Jones. Rein in your psychoses and have a civil disagreement. The Black Panthers "standing guard" (one of whom is holding a nightstick) at the polling place giving certain people a bad time -- Gee, didn't someone think that might be misconstrued by a camera with an axe to grind?

To be taken seriously, to be American, we must all denounce these actions and the millions of other occurrences great and small, anti-republican and anti-democratic alike. We people who claim to be tolerant of diversity? How about some true tolerance? Be tolerant except of intolerance.

I work in education - surrounded by people who are knee-jerk one way or the other. I have one message. Grow Up.
Be the token liberal in a group of redneck friends.
Be the Red-State diehards on a BlueState campus.
But talk to each other. You're friends, or you ought to be.

Why can't we see that the country split nearly 50/50 on this election - if you isolate and demonize those with whom you disagree, you will never achieve consensus nor will you ever achieve peace. If we can't rein in the extremists, we will trade one set of pedagogical fools for another.

Just sayin'.

Friday, November 14, 2008

SmartBoard follies

SmartBoard professional development presentation at our little hole-in-the-wall consisted of:

District tech coordinator.
School tech dude.
Computer Teacher.
Chemistry teacher.

20 minutes passed while they tried to hook up the smart board. Comedy of errors mixed with Keystone Kops choreography.

Finally machine was up and running but Science teacher (only one who used it regularly) didn't have her files on this computer - it wasn't networked because the wireless card was fritsy.

So she showed us how to doodle on stuff and kept apologizing that she couldn't show us any of the really cool things she did with it everyday.

Computer teacher showed us the dice-rolling animation thingy. She didn't apparently have any other ideas or suggestions.

District tech has never used one except to tap to advance Powerpoint.

School tech never used it because he had admin duties.

That's it. That was the PD that wound up being PDS (pretty damn stupid) and PDI (pretty damn irritating) and PMAWOT (pretty much a waste of time).

Later, in my classroom, I read an online manual and played with the software for an hour (downloaded for free).

Guess which was more informative and useful?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Rectangle of Squares 1

Boosted from JD2718
Clarence the Clever Contractor cleared a rectangular plot of land and covered it with gravel. Then he purchased 9 square wooden sections of side-length 2, 5, 7, 9, 16, 25, 28, 33, and 36. By placing the squares on the gravel with no two overlapping, Clarence built a patio which exactly covered the graveled surface. Find the perimeter of Clarence’s new patio.
I have another from an Informal Geometry book, which drew out the squares, labeled the 7 and 9 and left finding the rest of the sides for the students.

If you get the first, try this one ...
7, 9, 16, 19, 26, 28, 33, 44, 45, 60

Try using total area and prime factorization as well as the visual method, which I likened to a sunflower in that you start in the middle and work outwards.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


The Foundation of a Society is the Education of it's Youth - Diogenes

You can go to a ski shop and get a good fit for an average foot, right out of the box. For oddball feet, you'll pay more for the custom boot fitting. For the race fit, you'll definitely pay more and you'll be more involved in the work. But you're a racer for whom fractions of a percent are important. You're in the right-hand end of the right side of the distribution.

You can go to the supermarket and get good meat for a good price, right out of the display. You have choices galore, but not every choice. A good deal for a good price for an average customer. If you want specialized, you go to the butcher and you pay more and you get exactly what you want. If what you wanted was already in the display, you'd be foolish to go to the butcher, wouldn't you?

You should get the same for education. The "government-run" schools should provide a good education for the average student, right out of the box. If you want Catholic - you pay to send him to parochial school. If you want specialized, you should have to provide that, too. If you want a charter school and all the perks, pay up. If you want to homeschool, then you should contribute the time and energy.

It's time for schools to stop trying to provide extraordinary education for the average price. The multi-million dollar facilities for athletics are too much. The million-dollar, 20 seat computer lab is over the top. The TV station is an extra the voters shouldn't have to pay for - especially since the cable outlets are providing one for free - cable access LOVES schools.

We provide the education. Free, Appropriate, Public, Education. But it needs to be on our terms. If you'd like to take advantage of it, then you are welcome to do so. Your child comes to the school and takes the courses we offer. We try to schedule to fit everyone and disappoint no one - ideally of course.

We ask that your child fit in and not raise waves - not because we're trying to "beat him down intellectually" but because we're trying to do the most for everyone.

We look like a mall because we have to. Explain another way to put 60-100 classrooms in a small location with wheeled access to every room and we'll probably build that way. You can't, though.

We run on a model that resembles a factory, not because we want to be grimy and dangerous, hurtful and uninterested, but because we need to service a whole lot of people and one-to-one isn't efficient.

I have 15-20 in my classes at a time, but not because we're warehousing them or coddling teachers. We've looked around and found that that is simply the most productive number. It's not that I couldn't teach 30 at once. It's not that I'm trying to keep the maximum number of teachers employed. I know that 18 is the perfect size because I've had both fewer and more over the last 25 years, and that's the best.

We the voters are paying for this because we want to provide this education to the town's children. No vouchers to some other school or district. No demands that we meet every whim of fickle parents who have little experience with anyone under 18 who isn't their own kid. If you have 1 kid or 8 kids, the price is free. There is no tuition. The town is providing this service collectively and taxing itself to do so. Like the road over the mountain, my helping to repave it has nothing to do with whether I ever drive on it. Take advantage of it or not, that's your choice.

Just stop complaining that it needs to go away.

Homeschooling without all the effort

Florida has upped the ante on stupidity. They've started on-line courses that will essentially relieve the State of costs, teachers, students, need for school buildings and other apparently unnecessary things.

If you don't like the other children at school or disapprove of the minorities who might contaminate your little precious but are unsure of how you could teach her? Plop her down on the living room floor and a Florida-certified teacher will teach her online.
"A teacher working out of her home at an undisclosed Florida location supervises instruction for Taylor and dozens of other elementary students across the state. She monitors their work, talks with students individually online and holds virtual class meetings to discuss particular topics."
Instead of holding actual class meetings, she supervises education and monitors their work? Instead of 18 kids in a room where a physical teacher can see that Johnny is bored or misunderstanding and do something about it, we now have dozens of kids in their own homes possibly supervised by their parents. This is an improvement?
"What's missing is 18 kids competing for one teacher's attention, boring downtime in the classroom, distracting discipline incidents and playground bullying."
Now your little darling can be homeschooled and you don't have to do anything or know anything except be a presence in the building. The elementary school teacher now has dozens of students instead of 18. Little kids with no self-control and little motivation are treated just like highly motivated ones. There is no teacher, no one to explain or instruct or motivate, only
"boxes of textbooks, work sheets, study materials and other classroom supplies, right down to a compass, magnifying glass and other nifty items for basic science experiments. Older kids even get microscopes."
That'll help the little darlings. Unsure of something? Ask your computer screen and when the online teacher gets around to it, she might explain it. An adult is required in the home to help with instruction - yeah right, that'll work. The whole point of this program is to provide homeschooling for parents too lazy, too stupid or too unmotivated to provide it.
Back in the kitchen, Joni Fussell keeps Taylor on task, although there is flexibility for running errands or doing chores, as long as Taylor spends about five hours a day doing schoolwork. The program requires an adult at home to aid with instruction.
I love the "flexibility for running errands" thing. Like anyone will check if the only adult is gone for 4 hours. Like the adult is truly expected to do anything or is responsible for anything. At least true homeschool parents make a commitment to teaching and guiding their children. Essentially, the state is pawning off it's responsibilities onto parents in guise of giving them choices.

But wait, there's more. You can't do a partial program. No clubs, sports, computer classes, proms, languages. No attending school for part of the day to take a gifted and talented program. The teacher is not negotiable.

The final oxymoronic part of this new wave of homeschooling? People who have been homeschooling already are not welcome in this program. I guess that "once jilted, forever angry" is the stance Florida is taking.

Here's the link.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Problems in American Mathematics

I'm technically supposed to teach certain courses in this constructivist manner - "Be a Guide on the Side, Not a Sage on The Stage." I think you can guess my response to that. "Learn, Drill and Practice, Baby." You can call it 'drill and kill,' but I call it practice. This is rocket science, it's education. Education takes practice. Teaching takes practice and learning takes practice. Writing takes practice and very definitely math and science take practice. Learn and then practice.

from my own past:
Right-triangle trig was difficult for me because I resisted memorizing the ratios. I resisted memorizing the functions of common angles. I didn't see why radians were necessary. I was trying to understand and going nowhere. I finally just memorized SOHCAHTOA and the reciprocals. Things became abundantly clear and so incredibly simple. Now, every similar situation in the wood shop became obvious, every real-world problem became a piece of cake. (and the angle on that piece of cake needed to be 45o - more would be greedy.) Then I practiced. Okay, the teacher gave us a bunch of questions, but they were easy because he had taught, I memorized some basics, I practiced and then I knew. I'd still be there if I'd had to come up with it myself.

"If I have seen farther than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of Giants." At what point do our students get to stand on the shoulders of giants? We say that people learn better if they come up with it themselves. I say that's a flippin' waste of their time. Math geeks spend their lives figuring this stuff out and you want a bunch of kids to do it in 9 months?

Anyway, here's the article from over at ednews ...

“Student-centered” Learning (or “Constructivism”)
By Laurie H. Rogers, author of "Betrayed"

Constructivism and lack of practice

Here are two of the clues to America's current mathematics problem:

1."Student-centered" learning (or "constructivism")
2.Insufficient practice of basic skills

"Student-centered" Learning (or "Constructivism")

In an October email, Spokane's secondary mathematics coordinator reaffirmed this district's commitment to a "student-centered" approach to teaching (also sometimes called "discovery learning" or "constructivism"). In this approach, students often work as partners or in groups, and teachers act as "facilitators" rather than as "instructors." Students are encouraged to come up with their own multiple solutions to problems and to ask fellow students for help before asking the teacher.

Reform math curricula are typically built around a constructivist approach, probably because the 1989 Standards document from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics calls for it (Stiff, 2001c; "Curriculum," 2004). Proponents say the approach leads to "deeper understanding," helpful collaboration and better student enjoyment of the process. Others say a dependence on it can hinder the learning process and frustrate students.

A local parent told me this story about when his daughter took a math class that used reform math curriculum Connected Mathematics:

Students were told that "Juan" was mowing a lawn in a right-angle triangle. He wanted to figure out the length of the diagonal. The term "Pythagorean Theorem" (a2 + b2 = c2) wasn't presented. The students were to work in groups and figure out a way to get the answer. Finally, one student who knew the theorem provided it to her group. (Her group was the only one to get the right answer.) Incredibly, the teacher "chastised" the student for using the formula.

"A lot of parents don't believe it at first," the parent said to me. "Like, their kids are younger, they don't know, and they feel that parents are exaggerating, but it is the honest-to-God truth, and these stories get worse."

In small doses, constructivism can provide flavor to classrooms, but some math professors have told me the approach seems to work better in subjects other than math. That sounds reasonable. The learning of mathematics depends on a logical progression of basic skills. Sixth-graders are not Pythagorus, nor are they math teachers.

Meanwhile, anti-reform advocacy group Mathematically Correct provides an amusing take on constructivism ("What Is," 1996):

"This notion holds that students will learn math better if they are left to discover the rules and methods of mathematics for themselves, rather than being taught by teachers or textbooks. This is not unlike the Socratic method, minus Socrates."

Insufficient Practice of Basic Skills

Another problem in math classrooms is the lack of practice. Instead of insisting that students practice math skills until they're second nature, educators have labeled this practice "drill and kill" and thrown it under a bus.

I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard that phrase. It's a strange, flippant way to dismiss a logical process for learning. Drilling is how anyone learns a skill. Removing drilling from the learning process is like saying, "We'll just remove this gravity. Now stay put." Everyone drills – athletes, pianists, soldiers, plumbers and doctors. Drilling is necessary.
It isn't good or bad – it's simply what must be done.

Imagine if I told chess players they had to figure out the rules of chess on their own, in fits and starts, by trial and error and by asking their fellow players. Imagine if I expected them to win games when they hadn't had a chance to practice.

In American education, the "worm" is not yet turning, but it might be looking over its shoulder. In its March 2008 report, the National Mathematics Advisory Panel reintroduced the notion of practicing the basics:

"Practice allows students to achieve automaticity of basic skills – the fast, accurate, and effortless processing of content information – which frees up working memory for more complex aspects of problem solving" ("Foundations," 2008, p. 30).

But children in the system now are stuck with a process that asks them to work in diverse groups to reinvent thousands of years of math procedures that they then don't get to practice.

Some people enjoy puzzles on logic and process, where things might not be what they seem and where they've got to figure out subtle differences and new ways of thinking. But this esoteric, conceptual approach to math, with a constant struggle to understand the process, doesn't seem like a logical approach for children. Children are concrete thinkers who tend to appreciate concrete ideas. Children want instructions, direction and things that make sense. Many don't appreciate the daily grind of writing about math, of having to figure out what they're doing, of having to count on classmates for guidance, of trying to remember things they've done just once or twice and several weeks ago.

It's ironic that proponents of reform math criticize traditionalists for supposedly not knowing "how to teach math to children." The reform method seems completely oppositional to how children learn best.

I asked a Spokane student if she prefers the Connected Mathematics she gets in school over the Singapore Math she gets at home. She said, "In a way, Connected Mathematics is easier because you don't have to know as much math, but in a way, it's harder because you have to know more. You have to know exactly what they want."

She gave me an example of the classroom approach: Students are to gather in groups to discuss a problem. The problem might be a complicated twist on simplistic math, or it might be a concept they've never seen before. As the groups muddle around, they don't always agree on what's required. Sometimes, they don't have the necessary underlying skills. Some students become frustrated or bored. Trying to help each other, some confuse the others. They might come up with the right answer, or they might not, but – without practicing the new concepts – the class moves on to something new.

Singapore Math, on the other hand, "might be harder as far as the math goes," she said, "but at least you know what they want."

I told her I thought her answer was articulate and enlightening. "I've spoken to a lot of people now," I said, "and you explained things very well."

"That's because they teach it," she replied, "but I'm the one who has to learn it."

Published November 9, 2008