Monday, March 30, 2009

Work Ethic

From the NYTimes: "The recession has sparked intense competition between young and old for entry-level jobs in stores, supermarkets and fast-food restaurants - and the seniors seem to be winning, The number of unemployed Americans ages 16 to 24 has fallen by 2 milllion over the past two years, while the number of workers 65 and older has risen by 700,000"

Can't say I'm surprised. I've had talks with any number of kids who can't understand that their lateness and mouthiness is, in fact, an undesireable habit and that firing usually results. "It's so unfair" and "I don't get it." Welcome to the real-world, kiddo. Those seniors are going back to work because they HAVE to - they're not messing around. They might not move quickly, but they work better than any three teenagers.

Let's add to the "Difference between School and the Real World" list:
No swearing - even if you think no one but your "boys" is listening. The hood - sorry, they have a uniform and it doesn't include your baseball hat on crooked and your pants around your thighs. Oh, and leave the phone off. No one is paying you to text and talk - if you keep it up, they'll fire you so you can text and talk all you want. You don't get "sick days" or "Didn't-feel-like-it days." Your opinions are worthless because they're based on 18 minutes of experience in a job and 18 years of your mother telling you how wonderful you are (and even she didn't believe it all the time).

No one cares about your dignity and no one will give you any respect and no one is giving you a raise any time soon. Show up, do your job, and prove yourself. It'll take a while to shake off the bad taste they have for whining teenagers.

Just sayin'

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Dirty Chore

I would like to mention - for the record - that taking up carpet that has been repeated "hit" by cats is probably my least favorite chore.

Just sayin'

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Field Trips from IB a math Teacher

Because we all need the laugh ...
Three Standard Deviations to the Left responds to the request for permission to attend field trips (old post from deeeeep in the archives) by attaching a list of all his students to this note:
Please excuse the following students from your field trips, meetings, sporting events, and excursions as they have a lesson in mathematics on Thursday, March 08. I'm sorry for the late notice, but I just couldn't pass on the opportunity.

All absences will be excused, so their work can be made up, per district guidelines. Please be willing to stay after school or come in early to help them with the work that they missed.


More on spelling ...

I'm floating through my usual list of websites, reading the profanities and profundities when I came across this:

"Largo Middle School eighth-grader Miguel Latorre listens during a presentation on bullying during health class recently. The insults written on the board by a social services counselor are the kinds of things students said they hear from bullies. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]"
How can you be college-educated and still get this wrong in front of a group of students? Oh yeah, I remember: "POTATOE"

Doesn't it look as though Miguel is desperately trying to refrain from pointing out these errors?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

KIPP meme

Deja vu -- Article on KIPP Schools! echoes much of what I, NYCEducator, Jim Horn, Transform Education and many others have said.

Push the meme - pass around the links, add your thoughts. We need to keep this "data" real. KIPP is effective with a small fraction of the student population IFF everything goes exactly to the master plan. Its methods will not work anywhere else, so ...

Please please please Mr. Administrator. Don't get all googly over these results and think you can replicate them. You can't.

I'm not against it for what it is and for whom it is designed to work. I'm against Principal PJs' idea of replicating it for everyone.

I've gotta get back to work.

Online Courses Leave much to be Desired

Just a quick one for now. I ran into a student who is homeschooled and is taking online courses.

"I finished my English class today."

"Oh, that's nice. How did you think the course went? Easy, hard, fun, what?"

"Pretty easy. I started this morning at about nine or so and finished it around noon and went for a walk."

"Finished the first section?"

"Nope. Finished the whole course."

I assume someone can tell me why this strikes me as odd? Is it just me? Or are the online courses rather simplistic and easy to get credit in?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Musing on Multiple Choice

I was reading back-posts on Dave Marain's Math Notations blog.
From 2008, he has Figure Not Drawn To Scale!

In the circle at the left, O is the center, A, B and C are on the circle and OABC is a parallelogram. If AB = 6, what is the length of segment AC (not drawn)?
(A) 3√2 (B) 3√3 (C) 6
(D) 6√2 (E) 6√3

Dave also includes "POINTS TO PONDER:"
  1. Is this an appropriate standardized test question?
  2. Are you an opponent of multiple choice (aka, "multiple guess") questions. Why?
  3. We can also say much about the issue of drawing figures that do not appear to be what they are? Is it just the testmaker's way of misleading or trapping students or is there a valid purpose to this?
I think this an excellent question, but that depends on the test. It might be inappropriate for the PSAT, just right for the SAT I, and too easy for more advanced levels. It has a good balance between the knowledge required and the amount of critical thinking necessary. You need to twig on the parallelogram and it's properties, that it's also a rhombus (at least by properties, if not by name), that the triangles are congruent and equilateral and finally find the length of the line in question as two heights. All fairly easy steps if one understands the material.

This question is, in my mind, perfect for demonstrating that critical thinking alone is not enough. A student needs to memorize/ understand many properties and theorems as well as master critical thinking skills and all that 21st century garbage. I say "garbage" in the nicest way -- I actually refer to the attempt to teach the latter without the former. I am firmly on board with "Poor Elijah" and others who deride the "transformation to 21st Century thinking" if it doesn't include knowledge and facts for the students to be critically thinking ABOUT.

Dave's second question about the utility of multiple choice (despite the "clever" dig about "multiple guess") leads me to point out that the utility of ANY test is a function of the test creator's abilities rather than any inherent properties of the style itself. A good teacher can make a good test, whether it be MC or short answer or extended answer.

I think multiple choice is actually the hardest style to do well. The problem is that you need to do all of your thinking, grading and question-testing before you put it together and administer it. It's quick to score though and that makes it easy to give immediate feedback - use it for homework checks. I know a bunch of college professors who love it because it allows for much analysis and statistical scull-sweat. In general, I'm for it. Cheating is an issue, but a slightly randomized set is pretty easy to do.

My principal hates them because he thinks they are "inauthentic" but I will ignore him until he learns to differentiate between "their" and "there," between "then" and "than" and between "percent of" and "percent more than."

Lastly Dave asks about the "Not drawn to scale" thing. I love it. I can't draw worth a damn and I'm an engineer - go figure. All of my diagrams on the board are "not to scale." I think it's good "critical thinking" to learn to determine what is said or stated and then determine the next steps. Too often, a student will haul out a calculator and estimate/guess-and-check and assume he's done while assuming information that isn't true or that needs proof.

This problem above loses three out of five essential ideas if the diagram is perfect, downgrading it from "hard" to "easy." That's fine if you are solely after the height of an equilateral triangle. I like this one better.

That's all for now. Have a lovely snowy day.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Combination Lock

Darren says that Combination locks are misnamed. They should be called permutation locks.


Friday, March 20, 2009


No. I am not talking about substituting x-c for x. I am talking about "the changes to education" and the transformative discussions.

We watched a cutesy video on the YouTubes called "Did you know?"

It's basically telling us that we'd better watch out because the Chinese and Indians are gonna take all our jobs and they're a big threat to American dominance and jobs in this country and MySpace is the 6th largest country and "OMG".

SO we need to transform our school to compete with the new version of the "Yellow Peril" (not their words, but that's the impression).

Funny thing is that all of the so-called experts and educrats are pushing reforms and policies that are diametrically opposite to the ways and means that allowed those menacing countries to catch up with us in the first place.

If you listen real close, you can hear them laughing.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

More Musings on Grades

I'll have to think about it but it seems, at first blush, like this goes a long way towards explaining my dislike of cooperative learning but more importantly, my dislike of the grading that goes along with it.

Add in that wonderful quote from Old Andrew, "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."

From Theo Spark:
An Experiment in Socialism

An economics professor at Texas Tech said he had never failed a single student before but had, once, failed an entire class. The class had insisted that socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer. The professor then said, "OK, we will have an experiment in this class on socialism."

All grades would be averaged and everyone would receive the same grade so no one would fail and no one would receive an A. After the first test the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The students who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were happy. But, as the second test rolled around, the students who studied little had studied even less and the ones who studied hard decided that since they could not make an A, they studied less. The second Test average was a D! No one was happy. When the 3rd test rolled around the average was an F.

The scores never increased as bickering, blame, name calling all resulted in hard feelings and no one would study for anyone else. All failed to their great surprise and the professor told them that socialism would ultimately fail because the harder people try to succeed the greater their reward but when a government takes all the reward away; no one will try or succeed.

I'm not sure that it's all so cut and dried but the historical and cultural data is pretty strong.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

More grade musings

In my other post of the day, I spoke about grading and talked about the emphasis on process or knowledge. I do agree with JD that focusing entirely on one or the other is probably less effective that a measured blend. I'll second his comment that "knowledge is key to passing" with an anecdote ...

A student dropped in. This is spring break and he was talking about his college and courses and "how it was all going." He had taken everything available while in high school and had gotten decent grades (Bs and As) in math. Spring of Junior year, he took the SAT and scored below 500 on the math. Then he showed up in my calculus class senior year. I had mentioned that, though it wasn't a deal-killer, a sub-500 score on the math should indicate that perhaps calculus wasn't the best placement. He insisted on staying - he'd gotten good grades all his life. Guidance repeated the statement with dramatic gasps of indignation that I was perhaps being "elitist" or something.

He failed. Everything. Limits were a horror story and derivatives were a chore. The limit form of the derivative was a perfect storm of frustration. He muddled through the year, withdrawing mid-year but Guidance said to keep attending to get whatever he could.

Flash forward to this year: College placement: pre-calculus. grade in pre-calculus: 92

How in the hell did this kid get As and Bs all his career and show up in senior year so deficient in algebra that the power rule is an enigma? I have my guess: group work and off-kilter grade proportions. Tests worth 60 points and homeworks worth 15. And that homework was group work and collaborative learning.

Teachers shouldn't dress on the SAT guidon, but you have to at least be cognizant of the correlation between your grades and standardized tests. If you find that your grades don't match up with states tests or SATs or APs, you must consider the reasons carefully. An "excellent" student (95%) in algebra II should not be getting a 400 on the SAT math without SOMEONE saying "hummm." If we teachers don't want the bigwigs to do this, we need to do it first.

Just sayin'.

Musings on Grading.

Progress reports due today. One boy has a 17. I managed to give him credit for participating in classwork and he earned a 7% on a test. Never did the test corrections. Doesn't hand in homework or even most of the classwork. Another works hard, hands everything in, tries to pay attention in class, but can't score better than 60% on tests. Still another pays attention, answers questions, hands nothing in but still gets As on tests.

Should we grade these students based on what they do in comparison with the rest or compared to a mythical norm? Should we give more credit for effort or for knowledge? What's the balance between homework and tests? Is it the learning at the end that counts or the learning process?

I've often thought about this balance between grading for effort/ improvement and grading for results. I guess I come down on the side of the latter. I'd much rather a kid who gets the knowledge in the long run.

I've been doing this teaching thing for a while now and I think the most frustrating part of a new class is figuring out how much the kids know and where to go from there. Are the kids similar in ability and knowledge to other post-algebra one students? I think that grading should reflect knowledge more than effort.

A grades is my way of telling the next teacher what to expect.

If the transcript says "B" in algebra I, then the kid's gotta know certain things. When you put him in algebra II, you are launching him into a course that assumes an understanding of certain things: factoring and distributive property (don't call it FOIL! h/t jd2718), linear functions and graphing, english-to-algebra translation (word problems), numerical and algebraic FRACTIONS, all those simple algebra rules, an intro to quadratics and radicals.

What happens if the kid gets a push, with too much credit for copying homework and "really trying" and "cooperative learning"? He was the lower man on the totem pole last year and needed a push - now he's even worse off. I don't think it's fair to him. Let him repeat algebra I. Better yet, let him repeat the eighth grade pre-algebra if needed.

This idea that process is more important that knowledge is killing our schools. We're also pushing the content lower and lower, replacing the practice and knowledge that middle school used to focus on. We've got kids who are taking a watered-down algebra in seventh or eighth grade who then wonder why they have so much trouble in calculus when they get that far.

21st century skills, my foot. How about some 20th century knowledge? It's 20th century knowledge and skills that built all these wonderful toys and technology - why change horses now?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sorry about the dearth of worth

Brain's not working all that well. Daylight-savings time has crushed me this week.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Peer Educators

Whew. Glad that's over. We had Bullying and Harassment training for the students today. The students watched a DVD video clip, defined some words and watched some other students play-act a "scenario".

It was put on by students. Faculty weren't involved. It was lame. The audience couldn't even shut up long enough to hear the badly scripted contrapuntal delivery.

They did hear the simpering, limp-wristed portrayal of a kid whose effeminate nature gets him bullied. Think every possible gay stereotype packed into one bad performance and you'll just about get the picture. Pathetic.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


The science teacher caught two students cheating - they had photocopied part of the lab report. She going to try and give them a zero for part of the lab.

I'm waiting to see how quickly she gets called in to defend her decision. "Did you write it in the syllabus?' "Is it spelled out exactly what would happen?" "Did you give them a zero fairly?" "Did anyone else get a zero for cheating?" "When?" "Do you have complete evidence that they cheated?" "You need to make three copies of the lab report notebook and the syllabus and the paragraph where you explicitly stated the number of points you would dock the student ..." "They claim they were allowed to copy the graph. Why did you consider that cheating?" "Their parents want to discuss this with you. Let's meet and talk about it after school next week." "Can we talk about an alternative punishment because the transcripts are going out to colleges and this is going to affect their ability to get financial aid and might keep them from attending the college they've dreamed of going to." "Joe will not be able to participate in the basketball tournament because of this and we need him on the court."

Makes you want to reconsider sometimes.

An Open Letter to School IT People

According to eSchoolNews, school IT departments are in a bad way.
The figures pulled from his district's help-desk logs tell Charlie Reisiger that his technology team spends about 70 percent of its time fixing faulty machines or grappling with software questions from teachers and administrators. That doesn't leave much time for other activities, such as planning new projects or helping teachers weave technology into their instruction.
If you allow faculty to do stupid things and help them learn from their mistakes instead if treating them like children, then your faculty will grow into power-users who can train themselves and each other. I can't tell you how many times the IT staff at schools (I am involved with four) will tell the faculty - "You can't use youtube without prior permission for each video. For other websites, the IT staff will unblock any blocked website if you give them a 48 hour notice." No bottleneck there, huh? Some other favorites, "Faculty cannot change settings." "For confidentiality reasons, we cannot allow CMS or blogging software on the school's website." "School policy prevents us from allowing you access to email, wordpress, twitter, flickr ..." Any wonder I do more work from home and don't involve the kids as much?

Don't help teachers "weave technology into their lesson plans." Show them how to use the software and let them do their job. Accept the fact that some teachers actually do know what they are doing even if it means a low-tech answer. I can't stand writing on a SmartBoard -- it can't keep up with me. I use it a lot, but not for writing notes. A better use for me is to display notes, to annotate diagrams, to involve a student. An overhead projector is actually more useful and easier for students. A blackboard / whiteboard is the best but each tool has its purpose.

Train people correctly in the first place and don't label them as "LUsers." Consistency is also key. Don't change versions with every new release. Skip a generation or two. If you keep teachers off-balance by changing their desktop and menu bars and processes every year, they'll learn but much more slowly. If the software we use at home is v4 and you upgrade to v5 and then v6, then all of my habits must change daily. That's difficult for most users. Likewise. have the same grading program year after year and don't change it - this is software we must know well or we waste valuable time trying to do attendance and make the grades work out properly. Don't update Office for the hell of it - especially since they change formats every time. I can't keep updating my computer at home just because I want to write tests at home. Let's say categorically that Vista is not an improvement over XP.

Most faculty don't care about websites or blogs or on-line help tickets or Internet wizardry. They're just trying to teach. They really aren't going to submit a page to the tech coordinator to be placed on the school's website. Give them the ability to do it themselves and stand back. They will use odd moments to update one small thing. They won't tolerate a middleman, especially if that middleman is a non-teacher who only does the work every other Thursday. Faculty who care about these things will simply use Blogger or Wordpress "off the reservation."

Lastly, you are techie. DO NOT MAKE DECISIONS BASED ON WHAT YOU WOULD WANT TO DO IF YOU WERE A TEACHER. You're not. You are IT. When it comes to teachers, oh mighty IT staff people, you are morons. Take some time to sit down with a cup of coffee in the teachers' lounge and listen for an entire period. Fix every problem you hear about and show people how you did it. Give them the tools and warn them of the dangers of those tools' misuse.

And while you're at it, laugh with us - it will go a long way toward getting us on your side and you on our side. We hate it when we never meet you.

If you choose to ignore this list, then don't expect your teachers to help you. They've got a learned helplessness thing going -- a passive-aggressive bitch-at-the-tech-guy and laugh when we cause him pain. They're way ahead of you in the gripe session.

Statistics - picking the Goalposts

Bill O'Reilly is really funny sometimes. I usually don't say much about politics other than when my sense of math is offended which is now.
Since President Obama took office, the Dow is down nearly 1,200 points. In February alone, stocks fell 12 percent. It is obvious Wall Street is not yet confident the president knows what he's doing.
Um. Billy? You do realize that picking the goalposts like that is just going to make you look silly? I'm going to have to point out that under GWB the Dow went from 13000 to 9000 last year before the election (-30%) and then dropped a couple thousand more after the election but before the Hated One took office.

Frankly, if all we'd had to worry about in the last year was a drop of 1200 in the Dow, we'd be cheering in the streets. Below is the Dow for the last year.
Of course, if we go back five years you could equally easily claim that GWB created a huge bubble in the economy and then deliberately and spitefully destroyed it and the country both just when a peaceful transfer of power was taking place, all to express his party's petulance over the results of a democratic election.
That is, of course, if you actually ascribe total power over the economy to the President and his policies. Which I don't.

This is like the man with a rifle. Hit the bull - I'm a good shot. Miss the target - check the sights and bitch about the quality of ammunition these days.

O'Reilly feels that if the Dow goes up, it's the result of pure dumb luck on the President's part and a renewed message about the value of capitalism. If the economy tanks again, then it's all the Democrats fault and they should be taken out and shot.

I feel that the banks should have been allowed to go bankrupt and the car companies should be allowed to close. I don't give a damn about insurance companies who are "too big to fail."

Monday, March 2, 2009

Guidance Counselors and the Master Schedule

I was down at Guidance, talking to them about AP Calculus / Calculus for next year. They had sent me a list of those students they felt would be taking Calc. Needless to say, their idea of "able and willing" did not match the students' nor the math faculty's. Of course, assuming that 30% of the senior class should be in Calc is rather funny, too.

What is it about administration that feels that a student who has finished Pre-Calculus with a D or a C, can't score above a 500 on the SAT math, hasn't yet taken trig and isn't real enthused about math in general, is somehow a candidate for AP Calc?

Of course, her comment that the paper in her lap was the locked-in Master Schedule amused me, too. The students, you see, hadn't signed up for courses yet. The schedule in her lap wasn't worth the paper it was printed on.