Saturday, January 31, 2009

Once more into the Breach of Reform

D-Ed Reckoning is talking about Bill Gates again.
First, Bill sets a silly goal: "Our goal as a nation should be to ensure that 80 percent of our students graduate from high school fully ready to attend college by 2025."
The problem isn't that all our kids aren't going to college. We still need to have the discussion on WHETHER all our kids should go to college. It is truly irresponsible to encourage a kid to be a really good mechanic? I'll teach him as much algebra and "Real-World" mathematics as I can but my gut tells me that he'd be happy and prosperous, and live a fulfilled and rewarding life as a mechanic.

The Gates Foundation has really bought into improving education and I'm glad. I just don't think he or any of the others have a clue.

A fundamental flaw is that no one has defined a goal in education - I mean a real one, not the silliness described above.

Businessmen measure themselves by the size of the company, income, number of employees, gross market share, etc. These are all readily quantified. You can argue whether (a)(b) or (c) is a more important indicator but you are still talking numbers. You are also talking about 2-3 years at most. What you do now has immediate ramifications and the effects can be seen clearly.

Education is not so easily defined and analyzed. Children take far longer to display changes caused by your reforms. They have their own ideas about what their education should look like and they have their own frame of reference through which your reforms must pass.

The over-arching problem is the lack of a true set of finish lines or yardsticks. Everyone can claim expertise because no one has any idea of what we're measuring. You can't toss out the charlatan because you're never able to identified them as such. We have no better idea of what makes a good education that we have ever have.

What is the goal?

Are we looking at
- Scores on a test?
- Graduation rate?
- Survey results?
- College admissions?
- College Graduation?
- Time in seat?
- Number of computers hacked?
- Number of books read?
- Number of books understood?
- Number of KIPP drills?
- Varsity Letters?
or ... what?

Bill comes in with his definitions, throws around some money and says "Follow me" but the results take 12 years to come to fruition. By then we're on education reform #392 and his definitions are no longer in play by the time someone realizes that his goals were pretty self-serving all along and not applicable to the vast majority.

Bill (and his ilk) also have trouble remembering that students are not widgets. The same ruthless adherence to standards in manufacturing cannot be applied to education - you cannot simply send back to the supplier for better parts with fewer flaws or blemishes.

Children are also not adults. They are not responsible and cannot make decisions on their own. Don't yell at me - society will not allow them to drive, drink, smoke, have sex, or drop out of school, among other things. To expect young people to make good decisions about education when they can't apparently make decisions about any other aspect of their lives makes for an impossible paradox – how to get the one person with control over his/her own behavior, attitude and work ethic to exercise that control responsibly? The analogy to herding cats never looked so apropos.

Teachers, too. Be a Sage on the Stage or Guide on the Side?

What if the teacher fundamentally doesn't agree with the new reform? Is he at fault or is the reform effort the true problem? Did you train that teacher in the new methods or give him a book and say "Have at it!" When it falls flat, did that teacher deliberately sabotage the reform or is the reform poorly thought-out, poorly imagined and dead wrong for the students?

D-Ed Reckoning then has a different take than I when he lays out two approaches to answer this question:
"Next, Bill asks an easily answered rhetorical question:
Unlike scientists developing a vaccine, it is hard to test with scientific certainty what works in schools. If one school’s students do better than another school’s, how do you determine the exact cause? "
I'm asking all of us - Before you figure out why this group did better than that one, kindly explain how you determine which school's students did better? What's your criteria and why?

This is not as easy as it might be at first blush. Take the KIPP schools - arguably the best at what they do. What do they do? They prepare kids for a drill-and-practice kind of world and their kids do very well on recall tests. That's fine as far as it goes, but I for example would have hated it. I was fine in a much more loosely defined world in high school and quite successful in life - even if you avoid the "He became a teacher because he couldn't do anything else" joke. I didn't need to spend 7:30 - 5:00 every day at school, practicing my math facts and being taught to write. My teachers would never have tolerated it and I had some fine teachers. KIPP is excellent at what they do but it's not for everyone. Probably not even for much more than a small minority.

So - is KIPP the standard of success? Not for me but something had to generate this idea of Gates's ...
It is amazing how big a difference a great teacher makes versus an ineffective one. Research shows that there is only half as much variation in student achievement between schools as there is among classrooms in the same school. If you want your child to get the best education possible, it is actually more important to get him assigned to a great teacher than to a great school.
If that's the case, then why doesn't teacher certification seem to matter?
For my money, it's that we haven't decided what we're ultimately doing.

I live in New England

It always cracks me up ....

If your local Dairy Queen is closed from September through May, you live in New England.

If someone in a Home Depot store offers you assistance and they don’t work there, you live in New England.

If you’ve worn shorts and a parka at the same time, you live in New England.

If you’ve had a lengthy telephone conversation with someone who dialed a wrong number, you live in New England..

If “Vacation” means going anywhere south of New York City for the weekend, you live in New England.

If you measure distance in hours, you live in New England..

If you know several people who have hit a deer more than once, you live in New England.

If you have switched from “heat” to “A/C” in the same day and back again, you live in New England.

If you can drive 75 mph through 2 feet of snow during a raging blizzard without flinching, you live in New England..

If you install security lights on your house and garage, but leave both unlocked, you live in New England.

If you carry jumpers in your car and your wife knows how to use them, you live in New England.

If you design your kid’s Halloween costume to fit over a snowsuit, you live in New England.

If the speed limit on the highway is 55 mph — you’re going 80 and everybody is passing you, you live in New England.
UPDATE: If you're going 90 and everyone is passing you, you're on Route 2 out of Boston at rush hour. If you're dragracing and losing the race to the next light, you're on Commonwealth Avenue.

If driving is better in the winter because the potholes are filled with snow, you live in New England.

If you know all 4 seasons: almost winter, winter, still winter and road construction, you live in New England.

If you have more miles on your snow blower than your car, you live in New England.

If you find 10 degrees “a little chilly”, you live in New England.

I hate the Real World

I am tired of "Real-World" problems.

jd2718 asks about the Integrated Algebra #23
A survey is being conducted to determine which types of television programs people watch. Which survey and location combination would likely contain the most bias?
(1) surveying 10 people who work in a sporting goods store
(2) surveying the first 25 people who enter a grocery store
(3) randomly surveying 50 people during the day in a mall
(4) randomly surveying 75 people during the day in a clothing store

Once again, the real world is far too messy to be contained in a simplistic little problem.  As I said on a different comment, this question was probably written by someone who didn't teach and who didn't completely understand the subject.  In his mind, avoiding bias was only a function of the sample size, but he forgot that this rule applies to those "chosen at random."  

There is simply too little detail to ascertain the randomness of the sample.

The employees at a particular store are probably quite varied and most random, unless you chose all minimum-wage cashiers.  Which is it?

The first 25 people who enter a grocery store would be self-selected as well - none are at work at that time of day,  same type of shopper with same type of viewing habits - they might even have scheduled grocery shopping around their other interests - and may be all getting this chore done so as to go and watch the same show.  Still, 25 grocery shoppers are a better sample than 10 employees if you assume that the 10 are all cashiers.

The 50 in a mall during the day have the same problem - if you have time to go to the mall during the day, you aren't working during the day.  Any mall worker could tell you that - the mornings are the older folks doing their exercise and the idle.  (I am basing this on the advertisements for such at the local mall.  I can't say for sure as I can't recall as I've ever been in the mall during the day on a normal weekday.)  If your survey needed to know daytime viewing habits, this would be the best sample to take, though.

The 75 people during the day in a clothing store are probably the most homogeneous - daytime free time and all that, but the clothing store would select for only a very small demographic.  In my mind, the advantage of the greater number is dwarfed by the uniformity of the clientèle at the Old Navy Store in the mall during the day.

I vote (4) as the most biased sample, based on the assumptions I made. I'm not sure how you can tell me I'm wrong unless I've told you those assumptions.

Once again, real world knowledge, intelligence and critical thinking are a hindrance to the finding "correct" answer, exactly opposite to our goal. 

Oh well.  Shut up, stop thinking and choose (1) as your answer.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

NY Regents: Mathematics B Conversions

For those interested, here are some raw-score to scaled score conversion charts for the NY Regents Math B for January 2009.
Right: Raw Score-Scaled Score. Center: point differential vs raw-score. Left: Percent increase of scaled score over raw score vs the raw score. In other words, (scaled-raw)/raw * 100%

Very interesting comparing the scales to these for the June test last year.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sports isn't always glorious.

Every once in a while, it all goes terribly wrong. I used to work in this industry and this struck home. It always does and it always hurts, even if I didn't know this girl personally.
BARKHAMSTED — A 16-year-old Barkhamsted skier died Wednesday of injuries suffered the day before when she crashed into a tree during a warmup run on a black diamond trail at Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine. Rebecca McGill was a student at Stratton Mountain School in Stratton, Vt. She was attending Sugarloaf's annual Speed Week training camp when she left the trail and crashed into a tree.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sick Daze - part Deux

A couple of folks have asked about the actual contents of my sick days reading folders but I must confess I haven't gotten it wrapped up yet. I have until Jan 27th for crying out loud. Sheesh. Surely today is soon enough to start?

Procrastinators of the World - Unite. The day after tomorrow.

I do plan on putting up the list (once it's been decided upon) and the questions but I'd also love to hear your thoughts on this.

Science Fair

I get to judge science fair because I'm a sucker that way. It's interesting but occasionally very unpretty. Some conclusions are astounding.

Did you know that running up stairs makes your heart beat faster? No, really, it does. This graph shows it. (Insert Pareto sorted graph -- names vs. single recorded time -- here) Realize, my readers, that the data didn't compare relaxed heart rate to running heart rate vs BMI or something scientific. It was just name and number, thrown together that morning.

Compare that to an exploration of the burn temperature of flour-sugar mixtures. She didn't quite realize the shape of her graph. She figured on the exponential part but not that it would naturally have a decreasing growth rate as the mixtures approached 100% sugar. She tried to explain her extrapolation of her figures but knew it wasn't fitting the data right. I pointed out the 100% cap on the mixture and how that would limit the temperature to that of the pure mixture and her eyes lit up as she realized what the actual situation was. I felt a little bad when she said "it was so obvious now." Well, not really.

Some of the graphs make me shudder. One in particular had a horizontal axis evenly marked off, but labeled "0.1, 0.1, 1, 0.5, 2, 1, 0.5, 2, 3" The graph had an upward trend and so did the results. I am looking for the spot on the scoring rubric that said "Totally screwed up the graph and all conclusions made from it were garbage" but I couldn't find that entry.

Others had a couple observations and no real data to graph but they made graphs anyway. "I measured the time it took to climb three sets of stairs and graphed the numbers. I spent a lot of time painting the cardboard display." "So? What conclusion did you reach?"

Distraction vs style of music - I liked that one. I hope she quantifies the distraction of the music somehow, but it had definite promise.

Size of wound v time of bleed-out - give me a break.

Still others had had a "bit of help" from their parents. I asked one "I see this number in the table and I see it here on the graph, but where are these numbers? (indicating some others in the table)" Couldn't answer. Father answered for her. Father was wrong. I tried again. "How did you measure the heartbeat?" "I held the mouse and divided by 15." I think she meant that she counted for 15 seconds and multiplied by 4, but what I had seen already was pretty impressive for her regardless, so I didn't press further, just told her it was a good job and scored it so.

One kid was all proud of herself because she had been able to teach many other students about the use of Excel so that was a good spot of light on the evening.

Will you grade mine?" was the constant refrain. I really wish I could move around, look at them all and not have to score them, just offer a comment or suggestion or a "cool" without needing to spend too much time at each one. As it is, I always seem to miss so many of my students because it's just too much. After two hours, I have to get out.

And I hate the rubric.

Performance based on this?

I'm watching an English class give presentations based on their reading of some "To Build a Fire" type story - not the London tale but similar. This particular group is ninth graders, very remedial reading. These are not strong students but most gave a good attempt at a presentation. There was one, however, whose entire presentation on wilderness survival consisted of holding an aluminum energy-drink can and saying

"To start a fire, take a piece of chocolate and rub the bottom of the can to make it shiny and then shine it on the tinder and um, yeah."

That's it. That was the whole thing. Right out of SurvivorMan and not even that good.

So I'm thinking ... These are the kids whose math and English scores are going to be used tojudge us all and our effectiveness as teachers? How well I teach seems such a small part of the overall performance of our students. Their mood, the time of year, the help they get from parents or not, their attitude.

If I were grading this and gave the kid the grade it deserved, am I being too mean? Will the kid learn more from seeing the true worth of his work or should I pat him on the back and praise away my standards? At what point does the "Gotta make them learn" run up against the need for students to do their part and accept some responsibility for their laziness or screw-ups?

Am I at fault for the lazy student?

What is the goal here? Good performance on the NCLB test? Or preparation for the Real-World (tm) of bosses who are not happy with a 32-word presentation? Or some other vague notion of teaching to the best of your ability?

Is it any wonder I'm not in favor of performance bonuses for teachers?
Ferriter at the Tempered Radical is talking about professional development and since his page "Won't accept this data" when I tried to comment, I figured you all could go there and read his article and then read this comment if you'd like.

Comment on Ferriter's Professional Headache.

I too am annoyed by the insistence on learning the SmartBoard and other truly simple technology tools in any kind of group setting.  Teachers seem to have this constant need for "Training" when they could buy a ____ for Dummies book and sit and read it.

Compounding the annoyance ... When the projector doesn't work with the laptop and the presenter has no clue about the use of the tool. I get very frustrated.

I wrote about it at one point ( and I still look back at that session with amazement. Just the idea that this computer teacher had had a SmartBoard for over three years, yet her uses for it were limited to using it as a projection screen and for the occasional tapping of a PowerPoint.

Her contribution to the presentation (she was one of two presenters) was "Somewhere here, hang on, let me find this really cool thing, wait, oh yeah, here it is - YOU CAN ROLL A PAIR OF DICE! Isn't that cool?)

I'm thinking "I can write programs in a whole bunch of languages, I run 13 websites using ASP, PHP, and regular HTML, am fluent with the machine and the board.  Why am I here?"

Then I answered myself, "Because the other option was even more stupid. That was learning how to teach children to count.  Let's count the circles and watch the aides and the elementary teachers get the wrong answers."

At least I haven't had the pleasure of sitting through professional development delivered by students
(  I have no illusions about that scenario - I have judged at way too many science fairs.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Sick Daze - a thought.

Our principal called for five days of emergency plans from all of us, plans that could be used at any time in the school year for, well, an emergency.

I'm a math teacher and it's difficult for me to plan THAT far ahead with any specificity - who knows what the sub can or can't explain, what the kids can or can't figure out - so our department is going to try something along these lines:

Instead of some worksheet that might or might not get completed or understood, we're going to collect articles and other readings, bind them into those folders with fasteners and leave 30 of those in the corner of the room. We'll include some questions and leave instructions to "have them read article number 13 and discuss the questions afterwards." It's not a math assignment but it's not a day off either.

Things like "The Median isn't the Message" by SJ Gould, "Flatland" by Abbott, "Clever Hans the Math Horse" from, Asimov on Physics, and other articles and pieces that have some connection to math.

It should be an interesting change of pace and we feel it will be good for the students to read short pieces with a different tone and focus than what they might get from the English or History Department.

Reading such as this isn't in the same vein as Sustained Silent Reading, (or Self-Selected Reading if you'd rather) but we also have to placate our principal who foams at the mouth if we aren't DOING SOMETHING about our math test scores.

Geometry Fail

In honor of PO'd Teacher's Uniform Geometry Exams being so "clever" ...

I thought I'd add a question for it ... Does Mr. AP look good in a tophat?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Cowboy Competent

He seems competent. I think we have elected a man who will not be flashy, who won't shoot from the lip and who won't overreact.

Nice change.

I thought Charles Krauthammer said it really well: "In Obama, we get a President with the political intelligence of Bill Clinton harnessed to the steely self-discipline of Vladimir Putin."

The speech was a case in point. I was waiting for that rousing moment, the "Ask NOT what your country can do for you", but it never came. I'm not disappointed, though. "Time to get up, dust ourselves off and get back to work" is what we need to do in this country right now.

Monday, January 19, 2009

State Lottery Games

It was time for probability a few weeks ago and I like to finish off one part of it with real expected return questions.

I have a substantial collection of used State Lottery scratch-off tickets - some I had played myself and others that I had gotten out of the trash - and had the kids calculate the expected return for them based on the odds on the back.

Each kid gets a different game, but in comparing results find that all of the games regardless of cost or possible prizes somehow (!) return 0.60 on the dollar.

EXCEPT for games with a Christmas theme. Those return 0.75 on the dollar.

The discussion as to "Why those?" is the most valuable of all. It's also interesting to see and hear their reaction to the myriad of names the creators come up with for them: "Hot Money" "Fast Cash" "Trolling for Cash" "Buried Treasure". They don't really realize how much psychology goes into it all.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Arizona Iced Tea and Recycling

Okay, dumb question ...

Arizona Iced Tea is supposedly the drink of choice for forward-thinking, environmentally conscious, Youth of America. If you buy the gallon size Iced Tea, it comes in a #7 bottle. Trash only.

What's with that?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Russo is Wrong.

Alexander Russo said
Picture 4 watch the Daily Show's Jon Stewart hilarious critique of the mainstream press for its wall-to-wall coverage of the first days of school for the Obama girls (including coverage of the school lunch menus and the fashions that the girls are wearing). They're not integrating Sidwell Friends, Stewart notes.  Via Jezebel.
What's my excuse for covering the girls? This is a blog about schools and politics. And I don't think that the President's decision to send his daughters to private school is off limits or not relevant.

No. You think wrong. The President's decision to send his daughters to private school is his and his alone. It should be off limits and it is definitely NOT relevant to anything.

The news media should back off. The lunch menu stories and the fashion sense stories need to stop. It's stupid.

As for the decision. The President should definitely NOT send his kids to public school in DC for every reason you can think of, but primarily because those schools stink.

His daughters need an education NOW, not ten years from now when the President's decisions and policies could possibly have an effect on the schools. They are not political pawns and you should not be using them as such.

I ask those who feel they should be able to tell the President to send his daughters to Public School: Who are you to make this decision for him? If you feel that he should do as his neighbors do, are you telling the President to take a commuter bus through the city because his neighbors do? Give up Air Force One because his neighbors couldn't afford it? Drive around in a beatup Honda Civic or move using U-Haul?

Not while he's President.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Chorus Concert

Very nice show tonight at the Winter Chorus Concert. Good voices, a couple spirituals, a couple of show tunes, well worth the trip through the snow.

The eighth graders did Shalom Chaverim, which I'd never heard before and the seventh did This Ol' Man - a definite change of pace! Frim Fram Sauce, Sing and Shout, Didn't it Rain were very well done.

Women's: Be My Baby and Hit me With A Hot Note - classic and well done.
Men's: Ruby Ruby and Breakfast at Tiffany - I enjoyed the solo, but would rather have had the group singing more of the chorus.

Chamber Singers followed with a spectacular Eleanor Rigby, with all the added harmonies they could muster. All my Trials was good, but the arrangement for In Your Eyes didn't strike me well. Love Potion #9 - hilarious, considering some of the soloists.  The group finished off with Operator (Manhattan Transfer version) that was really good.

Senior Chorus is always spectacular and had great range this year. The 70 or so members were tight on Russian Picnic and excellent with Lord of the Dance. Ching a Ring Raw and Long Time Ago were decent. Not ones I'd have chosen, but they made up for it with Ain'a That Good News and a really, really good Goodnight Irene. Ending the night - Requiem for the Masses.

Can't wait for the Spring Concert.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

What He Learned from His Students

Branford Marsalis on the 21st Century Student:
What I've learned from my students is that students today are completely full of sh*t.

That is what I've learned from my students. Much like the generation before them, the only thing they are really interested in is you telling them how right they are and how good they are.

That is the same mentality that basically forces Harvard to give out B's to people that don't deserve them out of the fear that they'll go to other school that will give them B's, and those schools will make the money.

We live in a country that seems to be in this massive state of delusion, where the idea of what you are is more important than you actually being that. And it actually works just as long as everybody's winking at the same time. If one person stops winking, you just beat the crap out of that person, and they either starting winking or go somewhere else.

My students — all they want to hear is how good they are and how talented they are. Most of them aren't really willing to work to the degree to live up to that.

h/t to Moonbattery

Branford's got a point. I'm somewhat glad that it's not just me.

They've certainly got the self-confidence and the braggadocio and the 'tude. It's a good thing the whole "education is going to hell and our students are the worst in the world" thing isn't bothering them. I don't know what they'd do.

Best Answer to the Dumbest Comment

Robert McHenry said the following ...
On the Today show, one of several television programs that suddenly took an interest in him, Burris was asked about the role that race may or may not have played in his selection. He tried to finesse the question but then shared this insight:

“That’s a fact: There are no African-Americans in the United States Senate…. Is it racism that is taking place? That’s a question that someone else may raise.”

Yep. “Someone” may. These here racists, it turns out, are even sneakier than we had thought. There used to be a black guy in the Senate, duly elected; but they figured out how to get rid of him. They got him to run for President and win.

Spin in Research

Research spin is always interesting, as is the insistence by everyone to spin the results. Take that birth-rate story I spoke of. Here's a clipped quote from the AP article:
"Some experts have blamed the national increase on increased federal funding for abstinence-only health education that does not teach teens how to use condoms and other contraception.

Some conservative organizations have argued that contraceptive-focused sex education is still common, and that the new teen birth numbers reflect it is failing."

Don't you just love politics?

AP Science writer can't do math.

Well, he IS a reporter. He should have known better because he covers science for one of the largest press organizations in the world, but I guess we can forgive him because he writes for idiots - the American public.

Aside from making fun of his idea of percentages, does anyone else gets annoyed by the hyperbole around teen births rates that include adults?

I really don't care about the birth rates for "teenagers" who are adults and who have completed high school and possibly even gotten married. At 19, you're responsible for yourself and should be able to have children if you want without some blowhard decrying your inability to live up to his standards.

Let's break out the 18s and 19s from this data.

Group the kids into 12-13, 14-15 and 16-17, if you insist on grouping. (I'd rather see what happens year-by-year, though). In this way, you have three groups that differ in more important ways and you don't lump adults with children: minors at puberty, minors just under the age of consent, and minors just over the age of consent.

Then I'll get the rage going if it's warranted.

(Those are numbers per thousand. The national average is 41.9 per thousand, or 4.2%)

Is this really what makes a good Teacher?

Mr. McGuire in the The Reading Workshop blog laid out these inspirations in a post titled "What makes a good teacher."
  1. Interpersonal skills trump professional skills.
  2. Give students a job and let them do it.
  3. Be open and collaborative, but step in when needed.
  4. Be visible.
  5. Keep a sense of perspective.
  6. Finally, be a decent human being.
I look at this list and can't find "teacher" nor can I find anything that accepts the idea that the adult in the room is supposed to be imparting anything to the teenagers in the room. Everything screams "I am insecure in my knowledge and I doubt that the students are looking to me for anything."

Implicit is the idea that students are the equals of teachers, that their opinions are based on the same amount of experience and understanding. "Give them a job and let them do it" implies the teacher is only a obstacle to student achievement.

I know that some will blast me for saying this, but tough. If the kids were truly the equal of the teacher, why bother with the teacher? Why spend so much time, effort and money getting teachers to write curricula, design assessments and lesson plans, take workshops on classroom management and all the million other things we do? Plop him in front of the technology he loves so much and keep your old-school ways out of his way - yeah, <sarcasm> that works real well. </sarcasm> Just look at how much they accomplished last summer.

Why is being decent, having perspective and being visible, open and collaborative considered the be-all and end-all of good teaching? I think it's because so many of us are lousy teachers who aren't properly prepared, so we focus on our smiles instead of our subject. Being decent and all is important but it is not what makes a "Good Teacher."

When did the adults abdicate their responsibilities to be the leaders, to be the teachers? Why does that old joke about "those who can" still hold so much traction? The answers to these questions are complementary.

But not very complimentary to the profession.

Being a Good Teacher

I ran across a list of 6 things that apparently "made a good teacher." I'll post it in another entry, but one part caught my eye. In it the writer shares his inspiration - that's right, inspiration. In education, you see, we don't learn from experience, we learn from inspiration. Additionally, we don't learn from education exemplars, we learn from business ones.

"Doug Johnson on the Blue Skunk Blog discussed what made a good boss. This list has been adapted from his comments about a great boss.

But Mr. McGuire, wait. A good boss is not a good teacher.

A boss pays you. From the start, you are expected to be capable of doing everything the job requires. Boss expects you to be knowledgeable, erudite, and capable of doing the job you were hired for ... whether that entails good people skills in a cooperative job environment (the whole 21st Century thing which isn't anything new) or a cubicle keep-to-yourself and get the work done kind of job with minimal contacts beyond the check-in and coffee urn. The boss does not expect to teach you. You improve yourself or not. You accomplish your job or not. You get fired or not. You finish for the day and you go home. If you enjoy the work, bully for you.

A teacher does not have the same expectations of his charges - they don't know things. They don't know math, they can't write well, they're ignorant of history ... that's why they are enrolled. A Teacher cannot approach his craft in the same way as a Boss.

Everything about dealing with students is based on the fact that this society doesn't believe they are capable of making appropriate decisions or fending for themselves; everything about dealing with employees is based on the fact that they are and they can. Tread carefully if you try to cross these lines for you risk looking foolish.

Students aren't deemed responsible enough to be allowed to do choose whether or not to do anything - don't blame me for it, it just is.
  • choose to smoke (laws)
  • choose to drink (laws)
  • have sex, (age limits, etc.)
  • show up, (truancy laws)
  • take an aspirin, (all those restrictions)
  • slack off, (we need to inspire them, make learning fun)
  • bring a pencil, or materials, (I just give them one if it's the occasional forgetfulness, but I'm not happy when it's a habit. They still get one but I scowl.)
  • leave the building, (it's a closed campus)
  • go to the bathroom, (without a pass and in some places there's a quota, for chrissake.)
  • drive a car (restrictions abound)

A girl CAN get an abortion without parental permission, but that's the exception that proves the rule.

This business model doesn't apply here, Sir, even if it does inspire you.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Friday, January 2, 2009

Carbon Offsets - Buy 'em now !

Without a Doubt, this is priceless. San Francisco Airport is setting up kiosks for travelers to buy carbon offsets. (link to Michelle Malkin's blog. She quotes an article at

Here's the deal ...
one would "approach a kiosk resembling the self-service check-in stations used by airlines, then punch in his or her destination. The computer would calculate the carbon footprint and the cost of an investment to offset the damage. The traveler could then swipe a credit card to help save the planet. Travelers would receive a printed receipt listing the projects benefiting from their environmental largesse."

That's it. Here you are, two and a half hours early to make it through the security to board a flight, and you VOLUNTARILY walk up to a random machine in the concourse, tell it where you are going and let it run some random numbers. Presto, whizz, bang! Swipe a credit card and you're done.

You have just given money to a company for nothing. ZIP. You didn't even get porno at $5/minute. You get a receipt listing some "projects" that "benefited from your largesse." Riiiight.

I know, I know. You're "saving the planet." But, really? Are you really saving the planet?

Let's look. 3Degrees claims to be doing something good with the money but is really siphoning off some of your cash before sending it to some very large companies. Take a look at the graphic from their website:
How much of that is truly going to be going to "saving the Earth?" None, really.  It will all go into increasing the CEO's compensation. All of the gas capture projects benefit the companies - they burn it all as fuel, write it off their taxes, and have an ROI of 10 years or less. Then it's all gravy.

And let's be clear here about those agricultural projects. None of them is the organic farmer down the road. She's too small of an operation to have enough bull&*$% to capture methane. Far better for you to buy her produce at the Farmers' Market - be a Localvore and support the people you think you should be supporting. Buy their stuff - it's what they want - a market, not a donation. 3Degrees is only working with the super-farms who have thousands of acres, haven't been a "family farm" for decades, and are just looking for another subsidy to not-plant corn and not-produce dairy.

I should pay for "Sustainable Forestry?" Give me a break. The timber companies have been doing this for years - they own the land and their forests are going strong because they want to get another harvest (or ten) out of them. I have no intention of giving them money just for the hell of it. I will buy their paper and wood products since that's what money is for.

Here's the best part: The kiosks "will serve an educational function. It's something interesting to do while you're killing time at the airport."

I'll give you the education right here:
You got conned.

3Degrees is proposing that you give the money to them so they can send it to the various companies. What do you get for your taxable donation to 3Degrees? You get a receipt. Oh, did you miss that? It's not tax-deductible because 3Degrees and the companies they give the money to are NOT non-profit. You are supplying income, not donating to anything.

You'd be better off giving it directly to the Appalachian Mountain Club and saving the paper.

And thereby saving the planet more efficiently.

Here's the original SFGate article:

S.F. fliers may pay their way in carbon usage
Michael Cabanatuan, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Environmentally conscious travelers flying out of San Francisco International Airport will soon be able to assuage their guilt and minimize the impact of their air travel by buying certified carbon offsets at airport kiosks.

The experimental program, scheduled to start this spring, would make SFO the first airport in the nation - possibly the world - to offer fliers the opportunity to purchase carbon offsets.

"We'd like people to stop and consider the impacts of flying," said Steve McDougal, executive vice president for 3Degrees, a San Francisco firm that sells renewable-energy and carbon-reduction investments and is teaming up with the airport and the city on the project. "Obviously, people need to fly sometimes. No one expects them to stop, but they should consider taking steps to reduce their impacts."

San Francisco's Airport Commission has authorized the program, which will involve a $163,000 investment from SFO, but is still working out the details with 3Degrees. Because of that, McDougal said, he can't yet discuss specifics, such as the cost to purchase carbon offsets and what programs would benefit from travelers' purchases.

But the general idea, officials said, is that a traveler would approach a kiosk resembling the self-service check-in stations used by airlines, then punch in his or her destination. The computer would calculate the carbon footprint and the cost of an investment to offset the damage. The traveler could then swipe a credit card to help save the planet. Travelers would receive a printed receipt listing the projects benefiting from their environmental largesse.

The carbon offsets are not tax deductible, said Krista Canellakis, a 3Degrees spokeswoman.

"While the carbon offsets purchased at kiosks can't be seen or touched, they are an actual product with a specific environmental claim whose ownership is transferred at the time of purchase," she said.

Mike McCarron, airport spokesman, said the projects offered will be chosen by the mayor's office, in conjunction with 3Degrees, from a list certified by the city's Environment Department. Airport Director John Martin told the commission that projects could include renewable energy ventures in developing countries, agriculture and organic waste capture, coal mine methane capture, and sustainable forestry.

Nathan Ballard, a spokesman for Mayor Gavin Newsom, said a portion of each offset purchase would go to the San Francisco Carbon Fund, which supports local projects such as energy-efficiency programs and solar panel installations for low-income housing, as well as efforts to convert waste oils into biodiesel fuels.

The cost of offsets for SFO travelers is still being negotiated, McDougal said, but figures on the company's Web-based "carbon calculator" suggest that a two-hour trip uses about 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per person, and the cost to offset that would be about $4. Offsetting a trip to Europe would cost $36.

"It's definitely not going to double your ticket or anything," he said. "It's going to end up being a small percentage of your total airfare."

Under the agreement, the airport will provide the kiosks and 3Degrees will supply the software and the certified carbon offsets being sold and will operate the program. Kiosks will be placed throughout the airport, with locations at the customer service desk in Terminal 3 and two wings of the International Terminal. 3Degrees will get 30 percent of each purchase, with the rest going to carbon-reduction projects. The agreement calls for a one-year program, with a possible extension.

"The carbon kiosks will not only reduce global warming," Ballard said, "they will serve an educational function. It's something interesting to do while you're killing time at the airport."

Given the innovative nature of the venture, airport officials said they don't expect 3Degrees will turn a profit - at least not at the outset. McDougal said it's impossible to predict how many passengers will want to make what is essentially a voluntary contribution to compensate for the impacts of their air travel. But he hopes the program takes off.

"Hopefully, it will be successful," he said. "But if we just have a lot of people stop and read the information and think about it, that's something we've accomplished."

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

Boom, bang ... ooooh, aaaaah.

The clock puzzle Answer

The hands are directly opposed at 6:00 sharp.  They are opposed again a little after 7:05, a little after 8:10; 11 times in 12 hours.  Therefore, the time between each is 12/11 or 1 & 1/11 hours. This works out to 1 hr 5 min 27 & 3/11 seconds.
7:05:27 & 3/11
8:10:54 & 6/11
9:16:21 & 9/11
10:21:49 & 1/11
11:27:16 & 4/11
12:32:43 & 7/11
1:38:10 & 10/11
2:43:38 & 2/11
3:49:05 & 5/11
4:54:32 & 8/11

Looking at the second hand in the picture gives us the answer of 10:21:49 & 1/11

back to the original.

The Milkman's Puzzle - answer

I haven't really thought this out fully, so there may be a better answer (I might have done a logical circle) or one in fewer steps.

The assumption is that we will, every time, pour milk until the RECEIVING vessel is full or until the pouring vessel is empty. There are no half-pours or "holding the pitcher at an angle so as to get half a can." Label the containers 4, 5, A and B.
4 5   A  B 
A -> 4    4 0   6 10
4 -> 5    0 4   6 10
A -> 4    4 5   2  9
4 -> B    3 5   2 10

5 -> A    3 0   7 10
4 -> 5    0 3   7 10
B -> 4    4 3   7  6
4 -> 5    2 5   7  6 
5 -> A    2 2  10  6
Back to the puzzle.

Overlapping Squares Puzzle Answer

In the diagram, the 4 in. square overlaps the 3 in. square in such as way that the corner of the larger square is at the center of the smaller square. The 4 in. square has been rotated so that its side trisects the side of the 3 in. square. What is the area of the shaded portion?

Rotate the 4” square until the sides of the squares meet at a right angle (dashed square above). We create a shaded triangle and a white triangle.

The triangles are congruent (properties of squares, the angles are congruent and the heights are both 1.5 and the bases are 0.5)

Take that small shaded triangle and move it to cover the small white triangle.

The area of the shaded region is congruent to one-fourth of the 3”square.
Area = 2.25

Lake Puzzle Answer

I used Heron's Law the first time I solved this and a buncha triangles the second time I tried. I kept getting 11 acres but, as jd mentioned in the other comment, the elegant solution must be available but it escaped me every time I tried.

The puzzle solution relies on the recognition of three pythagorean triangles. (How one came to these combinations was never quite clear to me, but hey ...)

5-7-√74 triangle would have the same length side as a square of area 74 sq. units.
4-10-√116 would have the same length side as the square of area 116
9-17-√370 triangle would have the same side as a square of area 370

Lo and behold, these triangles could be rearranged as below.

The lake is therefore the difference in area of the big triangle (0.5*9*17 = 76.5) and the three smaller pieces (28 + 0.5*5*7 + 20 = 65.5) which is 11.

So there you have it. In my opinion, this proves that the solution works but gives no indication (to me at least) of how one might solve similar situations in the future and does not enlighten the puzzler to some heretofore unknown rule, theorem or hypothesis. Not a very satisfying solution for me.

return to the puzzle.

Cattle Puzzle answer

Farmer Jones paid $150 for one cow and $50 for the other. He sold them for $210, clearing 5 per cent.

This puzzle makes no pretense at context. It is not even pseudocontext, yet it is a excellent use for algebraic reasoning and guess and check, or systems of equations if you were so minded. It is interesting to me to think that Loyd's Puzzles (ca 1910) were published in the newspaper for the common man, for the farmer, for the factory worker, for the clerk, for the uneducated, for everyone - as challenges.

Math isn't fun. It's satisfying.

1.1x + .90y = 210
1.05( x + y) = 210 ==>> x + y = 200 ==>> x = 200 - y

1.1(200-y) + .9y = 210
220 - 1.1y + .9y = 210
-.2y = -10
y = 50
x = 150

return to the Cattle Puzzle.

Koi Pond Puzzle Answer

Start by assuming the area of the big square is 4 square units instead of acres – it will make the calculations easier. Therefore the sides are 2 units x 2 units.

With a rotation, you can see that the diagonal of the pond and the diameter of the circle are both 2 units.

By Pythagoras, this isosceles right triangle with hypotenuse = 2 has legs √2/2. Thus the area of the smaller square is √2/2 * √2/2 = 2 units² = 2 acres.

SO the pond is 2 acres, or 87120 ft².
(1 acre = 43560 ft²)

Volume = 87120 ft² * 3ft = 261360 ft³
* 7.48051948 gals/ft³ = 1,955,109 gallons

National Board Certified

Stories from School is effusive ...
Across the nation, "more than 9,600 teachers achieved National Board Certification--bringing the total number of the nation's top teachers to nearly 74,000." The impact of these teachers on the learning of their students is huge. A whole new world opens up for NBCTs. There is a sense of confidence, even validation for the strength that one possesses in the art and science of teaching.
I have two questions for NBCTs.
(1) How will National Board Certification affect your classroom/school/district/state?
(2) What is your next step now that you are certified (any leadership thoughts)?

I actually have some thoughts on those two questions. The fact that you asked (1) now is somewhat odd. They just got certification - they don't have any experience as a NBCT yet. Ask them after they've put some of that special, super-duper HNCBQT-type teacher stuff into action with real students.

That's my thought on #2 as well. Why aren't you becoming a teacher now that you're certified? What's with the "leadership thoughts?" Get some experience before you start lecturing everyone on all of that educational goodness.

The last thing we need is another idealistic "ROTC 2nd Lieutenant" teacher turned professional development coordinator or district curriculum coordinator.

Bless us with your teaching of students before your teaching of us, will ya?

Collaboration was the Answer all along.

A nationally Board Certified Teacher-type person is certified in 2002 but now "currently serves as a district professional development director." So, of course, he is an expert on improving schools.

And what is is expert advice that the rest of us have missed all these years? We never talked. We never collaborated. Never had and IEP meeting. EST meeting. Cross-curricular. No one ever suggested something. For each and every kid.

I'll let him speak.
There's no F in "Team"
by Stories from School's FIRST guest blogger: John

The nationally syndicated article by E. J. Dionne on education that appeared in this past Sunday’s Seattle Times is relevant to Tom’s last post on what new approach the Obama administration will take on education policy.

In addition to the policy statement Tom mentioned (EPI), Dionne also mentions a second policy onto which new Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has signed—the Education Equality Project. It’s Statement of Policies includes this: “The sad reality is that these systems are not broken. Rather, they are doing what we have designed them to do over time. The systems were not designed with the goal of student learning first and foremost, so they are ill-equipped to accomplish what is demanded of them today.”

Damn those schools we all attended. They weren't designed for learning.

Schools were not built to overcome achievement gaps—they were designed to manage and rank all kids and educate some kids. While this may seem depressing, I believe it offers some hope…
Oh good.

If we can change the way schools do business, we can begin closing the achievement gap without spending trillions to do it. The key is in Dionne’s article title and final line—collaboration.

To continue the car analogy, what if you took your car instead to a team of mechanics? Instead of one mechanic’s opinion that you need a part that will cost and arm and two legs, you get a second mechanic who pipes in that he knows a wholesaler who can get the part for half that price. And then a third mechanic says “I can do you one better—I know a guy who refurbishes those parts for a quarter of the price.”
Right. Johnny needs a new muffler from the Guy in the Narrow Alley Over There.

Once schools start building a culture of collaboration, of collective responsibility for all students, not just those assigned to them, unprecedented gains can be made. The National Staff Development Council (NSDC) notes that “organized learning groups (of teachers) provide the social interaction that often deepens learning and the interpersonal support and synergy necessary for creatively solving the complex problems of teaching and learning.” (2007)
Bzzz. Bzzzz. More buzzwords! (Ignore the grammer errors.)

A school is built with a system of interventions that takes collective responsibility for not allowing students to fail can begin to overcome the factors outside of the school setting that provide barriers to learning. We did exit interviews with high school students in my district and several mentioned the fact that knowing they would not be allowed to fail was one of their strongest motivating factors. Often there is nobody else in the student’s life that cares enough to provide those expectations.

In some ways this approach makes the job much more difficult—it requires almost an “IEP” approach to each student. On the other hand, working together is almost always easier than working in isolation. Take a look at Damen’s comment to Tom’s post. He says, “I should just guide them and let them excel on their own. Then there are those who will struggle to achieve no matter how many hours I put in lesson planning. To reach these students I need to teach there parents how to parent or take the kid to a museum myself.” Damen’s language indicates that he sees the challenge completely on his shoulders. When looking at the challenge of overcoming the outside factors that hinder learning, it is overwhelming to do it alone. With a team approach, there is hope.

Obama and Duncan have teamed up on the basketball court with much success. I hope they focus on what has been shown to work and fight for the resources needed to implement true teamwork in schools.

John certified as a National Board Certified Teacher in 2002 in the Early Adolescence English Language Arts certificate area. He currently serves as a district professional development director.

Well, thanks John.

To continue the car analogy even further, what if you took your car instead to a different team of mechanics for a second opinion? They could stand around and talk over coffee and the one who knew what he was talking about could be overruled by the other two who had more seniority. The IEP specialist and the Director of Special Ed could then quarrel about exactly what services the school can afford while the parent steams and demands more tests. Finally, the case manager opens her laptop with the IEP template and actually writes the plan.

You wind up paying twice your original estimate and fail to help the problem. In fact, you spend even more money attempting to diagnose the problem because the first set of WISC-R results and Woodcock-Johnsons didn't jibe with what the teachers were telling the EST team in the first four meetings. So, now the teacher needs to fill out the 120 true/ false/ maybe questions that ask about everything under the sun and really don't specify much of anything. "Student has been sexually abused at home. Y/N/M" -- as if the teacher knew but was holding that information until you gave him the green form to fill out. What's with those green forms anyway? "Due no later than tomorrow, please fill out the kids name and address and his grades in every class and answer these simple questions."

It would be lovely if these meetings were effective. It would be even better if effective meetings could lead to a solution, but they don't. In my experience, the final result of all those meetings and all of that paperwork and those consultancy fees is that the teachers are told to make some accommodations and changes that have already been in place since the third week of school.

More importantly, children are not cars. Their problems aren't solved by plugging in a new set of spark plugs and replacing the oil. Teachers don't bid their ideas to the team in some capitalistic fashion. Children do not fail in one part that can be replaced by a magical pseudo-competitive free market multi-teacher consortium that has the best interests of the system at heart.

Teachers, parents, staff, and the kid all have ulterior motives and none of these lives up to your fantasy of mechanic #3 underbidding at a quarter of the price.

Although, I must admit that I'd love to start a bidding war in one of those meetings just to liven it up some.

"I can give him extra time and I'll do 15 minutes a day after school."

"Well, I'll give him that and organize learning groups of teachers to provide the social interaction that deepens learning and the interpersonal support and synergy necessary for creatively solving the complex problems of teaching and learning."

"Damn. Outbid again."