Sunday, May 30, 2010

Placing the Blame - Student Debt.

The NYTimes has a long article detailing the money troubles of a recent grad with thousands in debt. Showing pictures of her in her fashionable clothes and a ten-speed bike, the reporter bemoans the seemingly vast numbers of students who, through no fault of their own, racked up enormous debt. The colleges and universities should do something, he rants. Deputize MBA students (?). The parents - are they at fault? Sallie Mae? CitiBank?  Yeah, CitiBank.

Puhlease. Just because she's pretty doesn't mean she's right. Just because CitiBank sucks doesn't mean they're wrong. Let's examine a few things.
"The balance on Cortney Munna’s loans is about $97,000, including all of her federal loans and her private debt from Sallie Mae and Citibank. What are her options for digging out?"
Holy crap. She must have really needed that degree if she was willing to incur that much debt. The prospects must have been good before the recession hit, wouldn't you think? I'll bet this was an MBA or engineering degree? She's got savant talent and is about to blow your doors off? Well, no.
"... since graduating with an interdisciplinary degree in religious and women’s studies."
Right there, you can tell this isn't going to end well. This is obviously not a financial wizard. She majored in touchy-feely on someone else's nickel. She went to NYU instead of CC or any of the SUNY campuses. It isn't all bad, though. She just got a raise. Now she makes almost as much as I do.
"She recently received a raise and now makes $22 an hour working for a photographer. After taxes, she takes home about $2,300 a month. Rent runs $750, and the full monthly payments on her student loans would be about $700 if they weren’t being deferred, which would not leave a lot left over."
Not a lot left? That would be $850 per month left over, maybe $30 per day. She is just out of college. She can brown-bag lunches like the rest of us. Share expenses. Skip the "going out" stuff. Bike to work instead of bus or car. Share the apartment. Get a second job, if she needs the money so badly. Get another, more useful college degree but not if it is solely to avoid paying your debt. When you are desperate, try 80-hour work weeks - it beats eight hours of tv and partying every night.

Another womyn's studies disaster. Cry me a river.

The article is copied below.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Some Teachers should really just shut up.

The teacher who went foot to mouth against Gov. Christie really should just shut up. If the reports are true that she actually said she'd "love to earn $83kpy" and in fact makes $86kpy with benefits on top of that, then she has done much more damage to the teachers' cause than she probably realizes.

It does no one any good if the most visible spokesman whines hypocritically and gives the Gov enough ammunition to shoot down her argument. It does no one any good because lots of NY teachers make less with bigger courseloads. I don't make anywhere near that, even after nearly 30 years of teaching, but I don't have nearly the student load or the administrative hassle either of my readers do.

Lady, for all of us, please shut up.

Because it does matter. It matters in the court of public opinion. It matters in the court of John and Mary Smith when they go off to pay their local property taxes. It matters in the zeitgeist.

How much? The same post had this from
In an astonishing fall from grace that has taken only months, teachers have gone from respected and beloved members of the community to some of the most reviled. In a blink, they have trashed years of good will.
Once the patient darlings who nurtured our kids, teachers now look like insensitive, out-of-touch, can’t-think-for-themselves union robots who, when forced to face economic realities, clung to an insulting sense of entitlement, heartlessly sacrificed the jobs of colleagues, called the governor naughty names and used students as political pawns.
All while blaming everyone else.
It matters.

But Living in Monticello ain't bad.

It an otherwise typical post worrying about the upcoming "War on Bacon" and bemoaning Big Government, Breitbart includes this bit of historical poetry:
“I had rather be shut up in a very modest cottage with my books, my family and a few old friends, dining on simple bacon, and letting the world roll on as it liked, than to occupy the most splendid post, which any human power can give.” - Thomas Jefferson
ummm, bacon.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Koi Pond Puzzle

This geometric city park is perfectly square with a square koi pond in the middle. There's a circular walking path that is tangent to both squares at the indicated points. The pond is 3 feet deep. The area of the park is 4 acres.

What is the volume of the koi pond in gallons? (You’ll need to Google a few conversions.)

Answer in this backdated post.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Overlapping Squares Puzzle

Overlapping Squares

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?

answer, here, in a backdated post.

Checkbook Puzzle

Try this very simple checkbook-balancing problem.

Beginning balance for the month $54.00

Check #0221 $20.00
Check #0222 $20.00
Check #0223 $10.00
Check #0224 $ 4.00
Total $54.00

Balance $34.00
Balance $14.00
Balance $ 4.00
Balance $ 0.00
Total $52.00
You naturally added everything very carefully so you should be able to tell where the missing two dollars have gone.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tough Times for Unemployed Teachers - or not.

According to the NYTimes: Teachers Facing Weakest Market in Years, it's tough to get a job because of all the other teachers out looking. Of course, this IS Westchester County, Long Island so it's not surprising that there are 3000 applicants for 8 jobs.

With all these teachers available, I wonder about the other complaint floating around the blogosphere: that of unavailable people to fit into charter school jobs. Charter schools were complaining to the Wall Street Journal about the oh-so-onerous restrictions on hiring non-teachers that I wrote about the other day. Either they can't find or are simply offering too little money for too much work. Gotta keep up the salaries of the administration - inexperienced teaching at any cost.

Read More:

Valedictorian Speeches

I appreciate the writing and the eloquence. They've found their own voices but not yet fully developed their own opinions - some of what they say is rehashed talking points - but it is nice to hear seniors who can speak well and are starting to accept the mantle of adulthood.

Read more:

The Missing Word Puzzle

"Here is an odd little criss-cross puzzle wherein you are to discover a word, which when placed in the vacant space, so as to be read twice, will make the sentence complete, beginning at THE and ending with ESCAPED.
- Sam Loyd, Cyclopedia of Puzzles, 1914

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Turf Puzzle

To show how little the patrons of the turf know about the theory of odds as practiced at the race track, let readers seek a solution to the following elementary problem:
If the odds are 7 to 3 against Apple Pie and 6 to 5 against Bumble Bee, what should be the odds against the famous running horse Cucumber?
-Sam Loyd, Cyclopedia of Puzzles, 1914

Letters to the Editor, vol1 i2: Certification and the Alternate Track

A Letter to WSJ complained about charter schools not being allowed to hire non-teachers to teach. He felt that people switching over from pretty much any career would be acceptable as teachers - retirees, engineers, scientists, artists.

I doubt that a long career designing automobile engine parts for Ford, for example, would be good training for an algebra teacher. Oh, that person would have lots of "real-world" knowledge but absolutely no idea of how to deal with a classroom full of teenagers. There has to be some training, some mentoring. There also has to be a vetting process, some way to determine whether the prospect is actually knowledgeable about the subject and able to teach it to kids and I'm not talking about a 30 minute interview with my principal.

If some wunderkind exists, he can get into teaching pretty easily. How? Every state has some form of "peer review" process in which a differently trained person with the desire to become a teacher can submit a portfolio demonstrating knowledge and ability in the various aspects of being a teacher. I did it this way - 100ish pages of descriptions, letters, transcripts, explanations and other evidence. Presto! Four weeks later, I had a license.

Some states are more difficult about it. Teach for America is much easier about it. Results vary, but there has to be some sort of hurdle, else you wind up with too many dilettante teachers who crap out in the first month and leave the students hanging. I've seen this kind of thing happen all too often in private schools (because they don't have to hire credentialed teachers) - incoming genius ready to save the world and show his incredible talents to the poor downtrodden students who had been, until his arrival, horribly confused and mistreated by the "lifers." The office pool was always won by Halloween.

Why do we allow liberals to waste such valuable talent? Because, by and large, it doesn't exist. There just aren't thousands of people willing and able to become teachers -- who haven't got the smarts to do "peer review." Skill in the computer design center working with adults all day and lots of autonomy (that word again!) doesn't carry over to solving the real problems handling a room full of teenagers who couldn't give less of a damn about fractions.

Bottom line: It's pretty damn easy to get a license -- if you've got the potential to be a good teacher. If you don't, then the hoops are useful in weeding you out.

As for the editorial - come on, people. Blaming the failures of charter schools on a perceived lack of autonomy in hiring teachers is pretty lame. Just because most charter schools can't do better than the public schools they steal from despite the selection and rejection of pupils ...

click the header to view the letter and the editorial, below the jump.

Yearbooks Two

original article, but I copied it below if that link breaks.

I can understand missing a bird in a photo or a double-entendre inside joke in a comment. I can't understand allowing the student to do whatever.
"She told me it was their yearbook and they could put whatever they wanted to put on it," the advisor said.
If the article is accurate, the students knew exactly how the community would take it and did it anyway. They were making a statement and none of those in positions of authority did a damned thing.
"The custom has been for me to approve the cover, but it was not brought to me this year," she said. "It was . . . published sooner than usual, and now we are dealing with the aftermath."
I wonder if that principal expects people to believe that?

Some senior pictures were left out, there was a "hidden message" that no one managed to notice, the cover is either a cool riff on on a good Sunday or a dig at the school depending on who you ask and in what context, and everyone is now furiously distancing themselves from any critical thinking.

What could possibly go wrong?

Read more:

Friday, May 21, 2010

Yearbooks in the News.

Tom, at Stop Trying to Inspire Me picked up on the article in The Free-Lance Star that Massaponax High School's yearbook is being recalled for a "True Confessions" page, among other things.

Lots of truth, anonymously told. Students are dismayed when the book gets pulled.

First, where the hell was the advisor and the administration? The yearbook is all online these days, even down to the image editing. The advisor has passwords for each kid and has a higher level password for herself. Nothing gets published without her knowledge. She could have reviewed the material and locked the pages. She did not. The administration also has high-level passwords and could have reviewed the material as well, but did not.

"Rodkey said the yearbook is a student publication, overseen by an advisor. He said he did not want to cast the staff or advisor in a negative light."

Bull. Not making a decision is equivalent to approval. The joke that seems funny now is crude in a few years, stupid in a few more, and just plain mean-spirited after that. The mis-attributed "Quotable Quote" would be a lawsuit in any other publication. The previous yearbook was called "Scandalous" and many parents agreed. It does give one something to think about.

I've found that the biggest student misconception is "It's OUR yearbook and we can write anything we want."

Um, no, it's not. And you've got Facebook for that.

The yearbook may be ABOUT the students but it doesn't belong to them.

It has to be about the football kids and soccer kids, the goths and the jocks, the drama club and the drama queens, those who did nothing for four years and those on the Ivy track. It should have the loners and the clubbies, winners and losers (pictured that one time when they looked good). No one should ever have to hide a picture. Every senior should have a formal and at least one candid. Every picture and every comment must meet the "parent shows to grandparent and both smile" test.

It's the kids' yearbook,
and the parents',
and grandparents',
and the community's,
and the library's,
and the faculty's,
and the friends and fans of the sports teams,
and for the kids twenty years hence to show their children.

Everything in it must be something to make all those people look back fondly. Publishing things like "I have sex with people just to feel wanted." "I worry all the time my ex-boyfriend will use the naked picture I sent him to ruin my life."
"I had an abortion and my mom doesn't know." "I once did so much pot that I woke up high." "I'm pregnant with my best friend's boyfriend's kid."

What in hell were the adults thinking?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Lily-Pad Problem

Proposition – If the water lily is ten inches above the water, and disappears under the surface at a point distant twenty-one inches, what is the depth of the lake?

Click title to Read further

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Critical Thinking needs critical facts

From a website begging to teach me critical thinking:
“With No Child Left Behind in the rearview mirror, it's time to broaden your students' horizons. Now teachers can focus on critical thinking, comprehension and meaningful expression. Critical thinking is the most valuable skill we can teach our children. With it, kids can find any fact and solve any problem.”
Actually, no. And yes.

Yes, you can find any fact.
No, you can’t solve any problem.

The acquisition of facts allows the brain/mind to juggle those facts and judge whether or not something is true, to extend the facts beyond what is known and extrapolate to an unknown, to devise a new formula from the old, to push the boundaries of understanding beyond the limits.

Critical thinking, by itself, is not enough. “If I have seen far, it is because I stood on the shoulders of giants.” Critical thinking is that “Seeing far.” We must build upon our past, expand our knowledge and push our learning forward.

Without resistance and thinking, one cannot have learning. Learning is hard. Understanding new things is hard. If it isn’t, then the new thing probably isn’t new. It may have been unthought-of, but it isn’t new. The spark was needed but the groundwork had been laid.

Before you can be a critical thinker, you must have some facts to critically think about. Before one can decode a word problem and reduce it down to its essence, one must first understand the essence. Only then can we see the frills and verbiage that obscure the true problem.

Surface area of a house … “What’s the formula?” There isn’t one. It’s a collection of known figures for which we do have formulas.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

If Your Theory is Foolish ...

Any new theory first is attacked as absurd; then it is admitted to be true, but obvious and insignificant; finally it seems to be important, so important that its adversaries claim that they themselves discovered it!
-- William James (1842-1910)

Just because I attack your new theory of educational practice as absurd does not mean that it will someday be true.
-- Curmudgeon (2010)

College Degree isn't working out for everyone.

via Joanne Jacobs: The Class of 2010 borrowed lots of money to attend expensive universities and graduate with skills the labor market doesn’t want, writes Joe Queenan in the Wall Street Journal.

The whole "college degree gets you a million more over your lifetime" thing was bull all along. It was based on a selected sample comparing apples and oranges.

Here's a bit o' truth for all you students out there.
  • All college degrees are NOT created equal. Sorry.
  • "Womyn's Studies" and "Black Studies" and "I don't do math so I'm going to be an elementary ed teacher." Don't expect to paid like a rockstar if you can't play a lick.
  • This is what happens when you slack your way through classes and start your drinking on Thursday (We don't want Friday classes).  Too much selfish and childish behavior - fewer hours spent doing homework and more spent on your little iPhone and on those video games and TV. Most college students are lazy slackers more interested in beer than work.
  • This is the result of searching for the professor who gives out easy As or who rewards the girls with the biggest chest, instead of those who learned something. Choosing a school based on the nearby beach or the quality of the babes doesn't translate to learning anything, you know.
Maybe you SHOULD have been a plumber. Tech school WAS an option, you know. So is the military, though their standards may be a little too high for someone of your obvious talent and sensibilities.

If you're stupid enough to take lame and useless courses and expect a rapid payoff once out of college, I frankly don't care if you have that millstone around your neck. (I'd have said 'albatross' but too few students would get the reference - lack of employment is a punishment for hubris- driven college course selection).

I'm not sorry for having this opinion, kids. You set up your education - this was not a snap judgment. You were not forced into doing this. You demanded your parents hard-earned money for some of this education cost and you took out the loans for the rest. You slept through class or skipped it to go to Spring Break. What did you expect?

You get what you pay for, or in this case what you worked for (or didn't).

If you did take rigorous courses and worked hard, got a good degree and still got laid off, then I do sympathize and wish you better luck. My guess is that you'll be able to get a good job much faster than that other idiot. You'll also be able to work up the ladder faster, too.

The slacker in college is still a slacker in life. He's screwed either way. Don't be that guy.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Arizona Improves its Teacher Corps

In this WSJ article,
"Nearly half the teachers at Creighton, a K-8 school in a Hispanic neighborhood of Phoenix, are native Spanish speakers. State auditors have reported to the district that some teachers pronounce words such as violet as "biolet," think as "tink" and swallow the ending sounds of words, as they sometimes do in Spanish.
These teachers "are very good educators who understand the culture" of their students, said Ms. Agneessens, Creighton's principal. "Teachers should speak grammatically correct English," she acknowledged, but added, "I object to the nuance of punishment for accent."
I certainly agree that those teaching English should be fluent in English. It's less important for them to be New England Private School Stereotypes. (Mr. Chips left this building years ago.) If only all teachers and administrators were fluent in English (which apparently mine is not, despite being a WASP), that would be a very good thing for all of the kids, white, Hispanic, Asian, whatever.

It would be nice if they were all fluent in mathematics, too, but I wish for too much.

The accent, though, is a much dicier matter for me. Knowledge can be acquired. Style can be learned. Strategies can be developed. Accents are forever.

Einstein spoke with an accent. Arianna Huffington. Henry Kissinger. Lucille Ball and Dezi Arnaz. Half the engineering faculty in this country speak with accents. Which "accent" is the Arizona DOE putting out as acceptable? Is it just the Hispanic accents they are denouncing? Careful how you answer that.

Would Arnold Schwarzenegger be allowed to teach in Arizona?

I speak with an accent, too. I try for different ones to crack up the students - I'm quite proud of my North Carolina and my Kain-tucky. Every Southerner I know speaks with a distinct drawl. Most Texans can't seem to pronounce "you" with one syllable and three letters, not to mention most of the rest of that bastardized version of English. The Welsh guy and the German and Italian teachers all have accents - duh. Every wanna-be gansta kid (black or white, though the white kids are funnier) works on a pretentious, ridiculous accent that practically guarantees that they will never be taken seriously in an intellectual context. Ebonics was a sick joke.

And Arizona is concerned with "tink"?

Letters to the Editor - issue one

Just ranting. This might be my response if I were to write to the Gazette. (see original letter below) I won't because I don't live anywhere near there, but ...

I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but letters like this one quoted below fill me with a sense of wonder and maybe a little despair -- wonder that the writer has so little knowledge of how the world works (or simply refuses to look beyond a talkinghead-type sound bite) and despair that we have a media with its echo chamber forums determined to perpetuate the false notions dreamed up in a fit of rage.

First, I wish that other states would include income sensitivity in their property-tax calculations to account for those who can't afford to pay. Here in the Socialist State of Vermont, property taxes are capped at 4.5% of household income. Its a fair compromise for a state that has little industry and most of its wealth tied up in property and it makes a lot of these complaints moot.

The wonder? The writer is essentially complaining that teachers (and their unions) are greedy bastards, "teaching students to pursue their own advantage regardless of the cost to their neighbor ... [snip] ... teachers’ unions are unwilling to forgo salary increases."

Click on the title for more

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Validating the material. Justifying the curriculum.

I'm all for the real world. I live here, too. But not everything I do is directly related to what I'll be doing tomorrow. Sometimes, I'm just guessing. Most of the time I know what's useful and what isn't.

What I refuse to do is to always justify every topic and problem that I teach as being useful to every student for every day of their future lives. I won't even guarantee that every topic will be "useful" even just once for each student. I can never do that because I know that every kid is different and will have different needs. Some kids are losers who will grow out of being losers -- what you were sure was useless last year may suddenly become very useful tomorrow.

This question arose when f(t) posted about some circle theorems and asked "What are these good for?" One answer included the following: "On the other hand, there are millions of other problems/concepts that also do that AND are useful in 'real life.' So, why do we do these that are so disconnected?"

The problem with always requiring "a real-world application or you'll dump the material" is that all of math can be reduced to this absurd level if you try hard enough. As can poetry. And chemistry. and history. and art. (and grammar and writing, if you took my principal's example). Every topic can be eliminated by somebody.

"When am I EVER going to use this?" becomes a weapon instead of a question.

Why not teach it "just because?"

Why should my short-sighted, intensely hormonal, spring-addled students have the right of refusal over anything they don't immediately see a purpose for? I can see a couple of blue-collar uses for those circle and tangent rules above. If I can't convince a student that a machinist, draftsman or custom motorcycle builder would need at least an understanding of this stuff, should it be eliminated? I don't think so.

Sometimes they just need to follow the leader. "We're doing it because I think it's neat, it's part of the course, it fits here and we have the time."

As math teachers, we need to refocus the question and answer it ourselves. We need to take the question out of the mouths of the lazy and decide what does, indeed, make for a good curriculum. If something like those circle theorems can be used in any meaningful way either later in life or later in the week, then WE should decide. If they have no purpose other than intellectual curiosity, then they have that going for them, don't they?

Geometrical theorems are rarely useful in the raw as it were, but in combination with other knowledge, make a different problem solvable. It's a polygon inscribed in a circle -- or is it a bolt-pattern for a truck wheel? Tangents and circles, central and inscribed angles, external angles come together all the time in machining and manufacture.

To answer the original question:
Every time I see these theorems, I think of the guys on Junkyard wars who recited geometrical theory when building a go-kart. They won.

Some other comments:
"My take on it is that the people behind the unified 10-12 curriculum looked at circle geometry and asked these same questions of "why?", had no answer, and got rid of them. " The commenter didn't get rid of them but the powers-that-be did.

"I don't consider "it's interesting" a good enough justification, because there are plenty of things that are both interesting and relevant to what students will later see of pure mathematics." In other words, justify or get replaced.

"it's a mathematical dead end." and "but I can't even think of a later pure-mathematics connection. Shouldn't we be suspicious of anything that's a "stub" in the curriculum?" I can't think of a reason for it, so let's be suspicious of it?

Monday, May 10, 2010

In the running for HIP

"A third-grader in a small Texas school district received a week's detention for merely possessing a Jolly Rancher. Leighann Adair, 10, was eating lunch Monday when a teacher confiscated the candy. Her parents said she was in tears when she arrived home later that afternoon and handed them the detention notice. But school officials are defending the sentence, saying the school was abiding by a state guideline that banned 'minimal nutrition' foods. 'Whether or not I agree with the guidelines, we have to follow the rules,' said school superintendent Jack Ellis."
Because you're an idiot?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Sunday, May 2, 2010

An amazing shot.

From the Times Online:

A BRITISH Army sniper has set a new sharpshooting distance record by killing two Taliban machinegunners in Afghanistan from more than 1 mile away. The shooting — which took place while Harrison’s colleagues came under attack — was at such extreme range that the 8.59mm bullets took almost three seconds to reach their target after leaving the barrel of the rifle at almost three times the speed of sound. The distance to Harrison’s two targets was measured by a GPS system at 8,120ft, or 1.54 miles.

The speed of sound in air is 340m/s or 1125 ft/s. The L115A3 has muzzle velocity of 936 m/s (3071 ft/s) and has an effective range of 1500m or 4920 ft. He hit TWO guys at nearly twice that.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

What can you do with this? Fish Fungus

Last year, one of the fish developed a fungal infection:
We don't care much about this particular one as it was a 12 cent feeder fish but the same pond has other fish.  The koi, for example, are quite valuable. If we did nothing, this one might infect the rest.  So we needed PIMAFIX, but how much?
More below.

WCYDWT? Really. I don't know yet.

Honest. I just found it and it struck me. What can you do with this?
MWRA is activating its emergency water supplies such as the Sudbury Aqueduct, Chestnut Hill Reservoir and Spot Pond Reservoir. THIS WATER WILL NOT BE SUITABLE FOR DRINKING, but can be used for bathing, flushing and fire protection.

The leak is located at the location where the MetroWest Water Supply Tunnel meets the City Tunnel on Recreation Road. This 120-inch diameter pipe transports water to our communities east of Weston – as far north as Wilmington and south to Stoughton. Water is leaking into the Charles River at rate of over 8 million gallons an hour.