Saturday, April 30, 2011

Teaching Teachers - A Cautionary Tale

Teaching is a great field to be in. Like every job, there are positives and negatives, trials and tribulations, difficulties and successes. Teaching has its stars and its plodders, champions and minions just like every other business. Find the good ones and try to avoid the bad ones.

I just wish so many teachers weren't so damned frustrating.

The tagline for one particular blog is "Burn The Textbooks, Shred The Worksheets, Teach Math," which is a sentiment I can follow, albeit cautiously. There is certainly nothing sacred about a textbook if you are replacing it with superior material, ideas and learning. Some things seemed childish, as if they were geared towards a young audience, but that's all right. I like to see what elementary students are learning, to get a sense of the state of the art in the lower grades, so I kept looking.

This guy, though, strikes me at first glance as a pretentious moron and I find myself wondering how I got to this one in the first place ... whose blogroll contained him? He seems to always be pitching his lesson plans for sale and that rubs me the wrong way. I can forgive if the quality is there, but then he posts this kind of thing (Learning the Number System with Maps) and you wonder ...

Anyway, I threw his blog into Google reader a week or so ago and I think he just earned his way into the joke folder.
My college students were offered extra credit for producing a hands on math project on one of the following themes. 1) The Real Number System 2) The Commutative, Associative or Distributive Properties
And then I looked at the pictures posted with it.

As projects by college students, they are poorly thought out and suffice only as examples of their own math illiteracy. As extra credit, I'd consider them as negative value work in that I'd actually reduce grades for trying to pass this off as worthy of a child's time. If these people are supposed to become teachers, I shudder at the implications for their prospective schools. Do they truly know so little? Is this their best work or merely a toss-off handout meant to glean a couple of points from a gullible and not-too-attentive professor? Does the professor not know the problems?

Now, I understand that I may have misunderstood the purpose of the assignment and that these students may have intentionally written incorrect examples, confusing or obfuscated instructions, or created Venn diagrams and graphic organizers that intentionally make incorrect mathematical points.

Nothing in the post or in the pictures above, however, makes that clear or explains why such dreck is worthy of extra credit, a concept with which I rarely agree.

On its face, extra credit is a silly idea.  Doing something unrelated to fractions in order to improve a grade on fractions seems antithetical to the idea of a grade being a numerical representation of a student's understanding and knowledge. Show me later that you understand this work better than you did the first time and I'll increase your grade on it. Doing something like washing teachers' cars for extra credit is outright bribery -- ethically, it's equivalent to accepting cash.

If anyone reading this is a teacher prospect and is wondering what I find so problematic about the above images, let me be clear that I am making these comments without knowing any more than the post and the images.

1. The butterfly graphic organizer bothers me. Before creating this, the teacher must be clear in his mind exactly what color, shape, represents what type of number and know the definitions of each. If a rational number, $\sqrt{100}$ is placed in a green region as are the irrationals like $\sqrt{19}$, students will assume that irrationality is exclusively determined by a square root. Does the teacher candidate not realize that 10 is rational.  Secondly, if there are no irrationals without radicals, will the viewer understand the nature of π or φ? If the teacher does not know himself ...

By my count, 5 of the greens are rational but I may not have found them all. Finding them would make a good lesson but it's one that seems to have been lost on the constructor.

2. This one is just odd. The instructions are unclear: "Do not feed the alligators unless the #'s are the greatest."  Why superlative rather than comparative? Why state this as "Do Not ... Unless"? Are there too many other options to list?

How about "The alligator eats the larger number"?   Maybe "The point is small and the other end is large so it points to the smaller number"?

I have no idea what "Order Property" means or why "Food" is listed on strips.  Where are we going with that? Is the top list greater than the smaller list? Is every element of the first list being compared to those in the second list or is it intended to mean that place in the list matters? If this is truly a lesson for children, then we have to assume that the children are having trouble with the concept - this does nothing to simplify it.

3. First, the picture is of the associative property.

Second, the story is ridiculous and has nothing to do with either mathematical property.

Third, a child who is reading something written in this font style should be focused on the idea of the property without bothering with the name of it.

Fourth, stop pretending that a child wrote this.

4. A nice idea, but flawed in the execution.  Start with the map of the world.  Irrational numbers are Australia and rational numbers are the USA ... that's pretty goddam funny and possibly backwards, but who's making a GOP joke? Me, actually. What's the rest of the world?  If it's not rational, it's irrational by definition. To make this work, the USA would be rational and the rest of the world irrational and I can't stop giggling at that either.

The USA is divided up in a better fashion in that there are vastly more non-integral rational numbers than integers but I doubt that the designer knows that.

The Virginia split? Apparently the whole numbers are just Frederick County meaning the rest of the state is negative integers. Seems unbalanced somehow since, other than zero, there are equally many positive as negative integers, but that's a nitpick.

Speaking of zero, if the Town of Winchester is the Natural numbers and Frederick is the Whole numbers, then what does that say about the rest of the county? Yup, it's the zero.

I know, I know. Area shouldn't matter in a graphic organizer but when you use a visual that explicitly has such a meaning then the reader will make the wrong inferences based on those meanings.

5. What can I say? 75% of the examples are wrong and 75% is less than 100% but that's no reassurance either because 100% wrong is a lesser problem than 75% wrong because the former is a misunderstanding of the notation and easily solved, but the latter shows both a misunderstanding and a mistake based on that misunderstanding.

2 is less than 1? No shit.

Forget the "Feeding Instructions." Could someone please explain what "Please put food of the lower number into its mouth" is supposed to mean, because my English skills are lacking and my mathematical side seems to remember it the other way around. The only correct problem listed, 5 < 6, along with the improper instructions, gives me the distinct impression that the last example was actually a double negative.

Oh well, the South won the Civil War, too.
God Bless Virginia.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Saturday Puzzle

Just thought I'd create the graphic for jd2718's question. The source of the puzzle is unknown to me but I'm sure that I've seen it before. The problem is simple ... given a square of side 1 and four circles each of radius 1 centered at the four corners of the square, what is the area of the "rounded square" in the middle?

For what it's worth, I got $1-\sqrt{3}-\frac{\pi}{3}$, but I can't follow all my scribbling to check it. Too much thinking for a Saturday afternoon.

Friday, April 22, 2011

That's WYCDWT - Speeding Tickets

"For each ticket, Mr. Foreman digitally superimposed the two photos - taken 0.363 seconds apart from a stationary point, according to an Optotraffic time stamp - creating a single photo with two images of the vehicle. Using the vehicle’s length as a frame of reference, Mr. Foreman then measured its distance traveled in the elapsed time, allowing him to calculate the vehicle’s speed. In every case, he said, the vehicle was not traveling fast enough to get a ticket."

Judges agreed.  Booyah.

But it's okay, right? Starburst Candy Wrapper Prom Dress.

The Inverted Classroom

Robert Talbot
Casting Out Nines
People are talking about it here, and here. This is Robert Talbot, the first person I heard about it from. Here are some of his other articles. Let me throw out a few thoughts and attempt to nail down what I think. ("essay" from Fr. "Essayer", to try.) I'd love to hear what all of y'all have to say, too.

Essentially, Talbot (a university math professor) is reversing the order of his teaching.  He makes a video of his lecture which students are required to watch before class. Class time is then used for doing "homework" and practice, etc.  The theory is that lecture is very one-directional anyway (basically a video) and the students don't do well in lectures, so put the video online and have the kids do that portion of the class themselves. They can rewind, fast forward, review, whatever.  Then class time is reserved for face-to-face tutoring, direct and targeted instruction. Differentiated, if you will.

I'm ambivalent about this for high school. It sounds great in theory but so many great educational theories only work with college students or other adults who have different time pressures and levels of responsibility from the ones in front of me.

Some thoughts that occur to me are

Can 9th grade students learn this way? I'm not convinced. I think education at this level is more than just watching videos (and certainly NOT a lecture) and I'm not sure that the limited amount of time in the classroom the next day will suffice for re-teaching missed concepts or for correcting misunderstandings ... but they can watch the video over and over again, stop it and think. Listen to it again.  There are misunderstandings now and lots of time that homework would have gone much more smoothly with me to help. ("but my father said THIS was the way to do it.")

Really?  Students teach themselves? What am I here for? To teach the students.  They'll get more personalized attention the next day when you are working through the homework with them.

What about time? The college professors who have tried this are dealing with people who come to class every other day, people who have much more control over their lives, who can drive. I remember my college schedule: three to fours hours of class a day and then lots of free time to do this kind of thing. The expectation was one hour in class for every two hours outside of class. I can't see high school students ever fitting this pattern. When my son learned to drive, it immediately freed up a tremendous amount of time for him and for us. That's one huge difference - the amount of "loose time" and non-structured time. Time they can use to go to Office Hours. Our kids aren't allowed to come during free time, can't stay in the building without a teacher, can't meet at off times. But shouldn't they be developing that sense of responsibility? It's simple to require homework and any parent who won't support that shouldn't be surprised if the kid doesn't learn. We don't even allow them to go to Subway for lunch. that's my reality.

I can see a parent getting really annoyed that his daughter needs to use the living room TV every night for 45 minutes per class. I can also see that daughter being embarrassed to ask or simply giving in to the family's "American Idol" viewing habit. See previous comment.

My computer ate my homework.
The technological side bothers me too. Too many possible home configurations, IT issues. I had one set of parents tell me that they couldn't get their son to do a PowerPoint (I'd have accepted Keynote or Google apps, too) because their computer had a problem. For two months. True or not, it was out of my control - that kid would have had no instruction for two months. That kid had plenty of time to do the assignment, had plenty of resources with which to do it (town library, after-school, during class).  What he lacked was the desire. This will clarify matters.  Watch the video or fail.

An issue here in Vermont that the rest of the world hasn't had to deal with for a while is lack of broadband; probably a third of my students can't even get cellphone access at home. Poverty dictates that the school can't require certain things.  Require it and make it work. If there is a student who legitimately cannot, then deal with that issue at that point. Most complaints of this type are bogus. The real-world isn't stopping to wait. Lend him a computer, use a DVD, make a vidcast for the iPod the kid is carrying.

If they don't get the video done, what happens? I assume you'd let them watch it during class? What about the homework then? Does that kid get to re-invert the classroom because he simply won't cooperate? No. The classroom stays inverted.  If he refuses to do his assigned work, then that is the same as refusing to do homework.  If he refuses, he won't learn. If he doesn't learn, he'll fail. That seems a little draconian, but the students will rise to the level of your expectations.

Or not. The parents will bitch, the principal will be called and I'll be told to change. A lawsuit will be threatened. Hell, they do that anyway. Remember that kid and the PowerPoint? Give him some more time, during class, to get the work done.  That's the whole point of this - class time should be for working with a student, not talking at him.

What if YOU don't get the video done?  Well, shit.  You'd better prepare at least two weeks in advance, or just do the whole course over this coming summer.  No more of your "I've been doing this for years, let's just wing it today" bullshit.

Will students who play a sport or have another obligation get progressively farther behind? I can see them doing math problems on the bus (or on the bleachers while they wait for the JV game to finish) but not being able to do much more than placidly listen to a DVD (or podcast). Learning something new from scratch needs focused attention. Doing homework needs focused attention, too.  Would you rather they zoned out while listening to you in class, or zoned out while listening to you on their computer?  It might give them more responsibility because they know they have to get it done.  Slacking off has no upside. And you can help them with the more important part of learning, the reinforcement.

New isn't always better. Old isn't always better, either.

Crap. What about the time needed? In any recording endeavor, the time to create is at least four - six times the running time. You plan, record, re-record, mix, edit, review.  In the middle of October, that pile of whatever that needs grading is not going to go away and you've got videos to make and these videos can't wait. You don't have the "research" time that Talbot does. He has 3 hours of class a day, you have 6. He has lot more free time and "office hours" than you do. Once created, they stay created.  Sure, you can be replaced next year with a much cheaper TFA teacher and we'll still show your videos, but that's the risk we all take. Did I mention that all of your work is now the property of the school, that you cannot resell it or even give it away for free? Take it off YouTube. It legally belongs to the district because you created it on school time. Thanks for your effort. Now we can give a teacher 60 kids per class and a couple of cheap aides because all the learning has been done by video. Any non-learning will still be your fault. Aren't you thrilled?

Well.  It was a nice discussion.

I think that I will take the safe route this year and wait for other people who have met AYP to do the research. In the meantime, I'll put a few videos online, increase the use of the Moodle, but keep the traditional format for now.
You can't have "improvement"
if you haven't got any data.

Changing seems too much of a crapshoot to me at this point. The most important piece to all this, and one that I'm afraid will be overlooked by almost everyone, is data. I haven't seen anything other than Talbot's anecdotal information to say this works at the high school level.  I am not willing to go through the tremendous amount of time and effort required to change over without something more than pleasant stories.

We have enough trouble in this country with educational fads. An option that MIGHT work? I have seen lots of stupendous, wonderful, groundbreaking ideas come roaring in like lions and then go slinking out embarrassed like a wet toy poodle. The money spent in the meantime is obscene.

Data Questions:
Better bone up.
  1. What is your baseline? Have you got someway to measure the effectiveness of the current system before you throw it away?
  2. What kind of data will convince you that this works - or doesn't?  You must develop some way to tell if this was effective or if the teacher was effective, or both, or neither.  If you can figure that out, you can sell the idea to New York.
  3. When will you decide? You have to nail this point down or run the risk of picking your goalposts to suit a preconceived notion.
  4. Is this tent therapy?* Are the gains simply a matter of improved attention on the teacher's part, working harder, being better because you're paying attention for the first time in a while? Is the different format making a difference or is it simply that you've made a change?  Will these gains diminish next year when the kids get used to the new method? If this goes well, will you be able to prove it?
  5. Control group? Can students transfer to another class if they really don't like it? How flexible is your school? If you truly want to make this a controlled experiment - and you should - you should do it with only half of your classes and refuse to let the kids switch around.
These questions need to be answered FIRST or you are committing Egregious Research Error #1.  There's been enough of THAT already. Now for the important questions:
  1. Will your principal back you up? College professor Talbot has a great deal of professional freedom. If this hits a stubborn kid or obnoxious parent in October, how much influence will be enough to shut this down? (Is 'obnoxious parent' an oxymoron or a regular moron?)
  2. Do you have tenure? Is your union willing to stand by you? Do you still have a union?
  3. Do you need this job? If the answer is "Yes." then you need to consider whether to take this chance. I know what the current method does. 
  4. Do you have the resources to pull this off? Technology, website, bandwidth. Since you're going to be doing some of this from home, how's your home computer?
  5. Do you have the time? Better start recording the lessons now.
* Tent therapy was a short-lived psychological treatment fad from early twentieth century. Patients who were brought outside and placed in tents on the lawn of the insane asylum showed improvement. In reality, the improvement came not from the tents or the fresh air but from the increased attention the staff was giving to the patients. As soon as routine settled in, the improvements disappeared.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Math Reform: Games, Practice and Psuedocontext

More interesting to students.
Probably not good at being a teacher.
Dan Meyer found Mathematics v. MTV by H. Wells Wulsin in this month's Stanford Sound Off. H. Wells, a former physics and chemistry teacher at a Washington DC private school, is making the case that math software (and by extension, teachers) must change because of competition with MTV for the eyeballs of our students. Which is kinda amusing, since none of my students watches MTV for more than a tiny percent of their information-absorbing time. Facebook, iPod, games, texting, Facebook, YouTube, cellphone, texting. The TV might be tuned to MTV in the background, but more likely it's on Spongebob.

Anyway, he does have a point when he says, "Mathematics educators now vie with a multitude of digital entertainment options to capture adolescents’ interest." "To compete more aggressively for students’ attention, mathematics software should adopt the very strategies that have made these other media so successful."

An issue I have is when he says, in the next breath, "Research shows that mathematics software can boost student learning, but these programs remain unpopular."  That's because software isn't always the answer. Teachers are primarily involved with new learning. New learning is rarely successful in a computer-learning environment because it usually needs an human explanation. If students could do this alone, you'd see a lot more kids taking summer classes online and getting credits. Repeat learning can be successful online (or by computer training) because the kids already know what the goal is, already have been taught the concept but just need repetition and practice.

The upshot of all of this?  You probably have done as much of this guy's ideas as is workable.

Back to our expert ... Wulsin offers recommendations that sound good in theory:

Presenting examples in high-resolution video. "Video lets students watch the sweat beading on the athlete’s temples, see the whoosh of wind in the skydiver’s hair, hear the rev of the daredevil’s motorcycle. A photograph or cartoon cannot beat video in its fidelity and power to captivate."

Connecting to students' interests. "Monitoring a breeding bunny population would show the process of exponential growth. Baseball batting averages could introduce percentages."

Showing appealing faces. "These videos could occasionally feature famous sports or entertainment figures. What if Michael Phelps calculated the volume of an Olympic swimming pool or Beyoncé computed the time delay needed for speakers at an outdoor concert? Why not let Danica Patrick figure the monthly payment on an auto loan?"

Holding students' attention. "Make students laugh through physical comedy or corny one-liners. Introduce them to interesting people with magnetic personalities."

Sounds good. Misses the point.

To engage learning, what you need is a good question that arises out of context, asked in a way that makes sense, posed by someone who actually needs to know the answer.  While I hate to push the button marked “Praise Dan” too often, I do think that he has given us a shorthand for much of this … pseudocontext … and the suggestions fail because of it.

Show appealing Faces

“What if Michael Phelps calculated the volume of an Olympic swimming pool”

Really? When would Michael ever care? On the other hand, he might be interested in split times and speeds and the differential changes made by a new type of suit with a 5% slicker surface. Build your question from that and you'll have the class hooked. Bring in data from your pool at home and calculate the chlorine percentage. How many tabs go into this pool? In my case, it was the number of bottles of medicine I needed to add to a fishpond.

“or Beyoncé computed the time delay needed for speakers at an outdoor concert?”

Don’t make me laugh. Beyoncé’s job is to sing. When the hall was built, someone cared. Once. Then the problem was solved and everyone moved on. The audio engineer needed to know when she placed the venue's sound system. The designer needed to know where to put the reflecting panels. But not Beyonce.

And the silliest one of all: “Why not let Danica Patrick figure the monthly payment on an auto loan?”

Because she cares even less than your students do and they know it.

In a sport like NASCAR, which is run using computers, analyzed to death with computers, which has something like 200 different sensors on the cars taking measurements every 1/300th of a second generating GBs of data which is endlessly broken down before, during and after the race … and all we get is a suggestion that Danica figure the monthly payment of an auto loan? Lame. (BTW, amortization schedules? Even bankers and loan officers run freely available spreadsheet tools.)

How about spring displacement, fore and aft g-loading, pressure, O2 vs Temperature, wing downforce? Suspension settings, pitch attitude, adjusting control parameters, understeer, optimize torque during power down? Why not do this? Probably because it's more information than your kids can handle, that's why.

Going too far into the real-world is not only confusing, it's counter-productive. You spend way too much time explaining something that winds up being taken on faith rather than being understood and the math you wanted them to get is lost in the descriptions of the curve of the wheel-wells. The jargon of the job overwhelms them. I love the concert hall question but you'd have to remove a lot before it became an algebra I question.

The other suggestions are interesting but not very particularly useful. Rabbit populations are not exponential (more sinusoidal) and not very relevant to the kids unless you have a fur farm nearby, in which case you'll start up the PETA alarmists instead of the graph-makers. Fibonacci was just doing a thought experiment anyway - in practice, the numbers are fairly complicated unless none of the rabbits ever dies and they all have 2 kits per litter.

If you want to model things, you need to pick the model carefully or the idea will disappear in the myriad details. If the relationship is supposed to be linear, stay away from the exponential data, and vice-versa. If you pick a real-world problem, you need to make sure that it will work out as you expect.

Appeal to Kids' Interests

Mindlessly connecting to kid's interests is a bad idea for a couple reasons.

One, the kids aren't interested in things that are mathematical right now. They are social beings and putting them in a social situation but wanting them to be mathematical is a frustrating and pointless exercise akin to moving Mt. Fuji with a spoon.

Two, which kid's interests? Baseball and softball overlap, but the goth kid is in his anti-jock mode and deliberately tunes you out for trying and nobody can understand the Valley Girl accent you're attempting.

Baseball batting averages are great for introducing percentages. Once. After that, only baseball freaks care and only if it's "their guy." The other 96% of the class is totally bored. If the entire software package is developed around baseball, I'd scream, too.

Third, How do you Know? If a kid is interested in something that you know little about, you risk looking foolish and stupid -- which doesn't achieve the goal you are trying for. Your "real-world" question is obviously contrived and tedious. This is why the "psuedocontext" questions in the book are so discordant. They aren't written by real people.

This may be hard to believe, but kids are okay with just learning something mathematical. Raw, pure math. Give them this just before they really are going to use it for a question THAT INTERESTS YOU and you'll have succeeded.  Forget their interests. "What use do YOU make of it" would be a better idea.

Finally, kids change. MTV is so last week. If you base your software on what was current just ten years ago, 95% of their world wouldn't exist. Are they interested in Spongebob or iCarly or Jimmy Neutron? Kid fads go out of style way too fast to try and keep up and there is nothing so dated as a teacher (or a computer tutor) trying to achieve "relevance."

Use Hi-Res Video

Hi-res video is valuable except when it’s not. The video has to show a problem. If it shows the sweat, blood and tears without a problem, then there is no point. Better to use a still picture that does than a video that doesn’t.

Make Students laugh

Making students laugh with corny one-liners that come out of nowhere only leads you nowhere. The jokes can be bad and yet still effective if they have context … like the joke that always comes up during discussion of integral of 1/x:

What’s the integral of $ \int \frac{dCABIN}{CABIN}$ ?
ln(cabin), of course. ("natural log cabin")
and when you add “C”, you get houseboat. (Better when you say it aloud.)

In the end

In the end, for me, it comes down to:
Get Real: real math, real problems.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The root of the problem

Gene Lyons has this piece in Salon:
"Except for weight loss potions, no area of American life is more prone to fads, panaceas and miracle cures than public education. Everybody agrees that schools are failing, and since everybody went to school almost everybody's an expert.

"Naturally, it's assumed that the biggest experts are those with the most money. Hence the philanthropic enterprises of what Bob Somerby calls the "Billionaire Boys Club" draw outsize attention. Whether it's New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg or Microsoft's Bill Gates, the guy with the thickest wallet is assumed to have all the answers.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Let's make Algebra II mandatory - that'll learn them.

From Mother Jones and The Washington Posted reform has gone to this:
Of all of the classes offered in high school, Algebra II is the leading predictor of college and work success, according to research that has launched a growing national movement to require it of graduates.
In recent years, 20 states and the District have moved to raise graduation requirements to include Algebra II, and its complexities are being demanded of more and more students.
....One of the key studies supporting the Algebra II focus was conducted by Anthony Carnevale and Alice Desrochers, then both at the Educational Testing Service. They used a data set that followed a group of students from 1988 to 2000, from eighth grade to a time when most were working. The study showed that of those who held top-tier jobs, 84 percent had taken Algebra II or a higher class as their last high school math course. Only 50 percent of employees in the bottom tier had taken Algebra II.
....But not everyone is convinced that Algebra II is the answer. Among the skeptics is Carnevale, one of the researchers who reported the link between Algebra II and good jobs. He warns against thinking of Algebra II as a cause of students getting good jobs merely because it is correlated with success. “The causal relationship is very, very weak,” he said. “Most people don’t use Algebra II in college, let alone in real life. The state governments need to be careful with this.”
Holy crap!  It's so damned simple!

Calculus students do really well in jobs that require mathematics.  Let's require every student to take calculus and we'll have a nation of math geniuses.

Algebra II! As a minimum requirement to hold a high school diploma! We're literally saying that if you can't factor polynomials, manipulate complex numbers, do matrix arithmetic, and understand basic trig, then you can't get a high school diploma? Really?
The push comes from Achieve, a group of idiots would really, really need to take statistics again.

Let's think here ... smart kids take algebra II ... smart kids are motivated ... smart kids are likely to maintain their motivation and work their way up the corporate ladder ... smart kids are likely to take art ... smart kids are likely to do well in literature ...  smart kids are likely to finish college ... smart kids do well in science ... smart kids work hard ... smart kids focus ... smart kids are likely to be smart ... smart kids eat healthy foods ... smart kids play a lot of video games ... smart kids read a lot ... smart kids play soccer ... smart kids volunteer their time ... smart kids eat crappy, greasy foods ... smart kids are likely to be athletic ... we could go on.

Why is anyone making the link only between algebra and success?

Why are we so stupid?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Speaking Fees

It's always been a scam. Ex-President gets $400,000 for delivering a 45-minute speech (which is equivalent to his Presidential yearly salary) or travels around the country speaking for $150,000 a pop. Schools try to garner the best people they can: diplomats, statesmen, artists, people who think and deliver the goods. The goal of landing a big speaker is usually to boost alumni donations and add to the university's endowments. The criteria usually include a lifetime of work and achievement, like what Bill Cosby has done or any number of Presidents.

And then you have Snooki, famous for a different kind of endowment, willing to donate pretty much anything to pretty much anyone.

PISCATAWAY, N.J. - The pouf is mightier than the pen when it comes to speaking fees at New Jersey's largest university. The Rutgers University Programming Association paid Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi of the reality TV show "Jersey Shore" $32,000 Thursday to dish on her hairstyle, fist pumps, as well as the GTL — gym, tanning, laundry — lifestyle. That's $2,000 more than the $30,000 the university is paying Nobel-winning novelist Toni Morrison to deliver Rutgers' commencement address in May. Money for Polizzi's appearance came from the mandatory student activity fee.
Public University. Mandatory student activity fee. GTL lifestyle. More money than the commencement speaker, Toni Morrison. I guess it's okay if your purpose is to emphasize the role of women in today's society.

OMG indeed.