Thursday, July 28, 2011


William Klemm, a neuroscience professor at Texas A&M University, on memorizing:

“Creativity comes from a mind that knows, and remembers, a lot.”

He argues that memorization both improves thinking and arms us with the facts to defend our arguments. The more you know, the easier it is to seek out new information, evaluate it and do something with it.  And remember it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Walt Whitman was gay, too

But we study his work because he was a great poet. Julius Caesar most certainly indulged but that's not why we read his thoughts in Latin class, or history, or political science. I can't think of much to say about California's new law requiring mention of certain groups in history classes other than it's stupid.  Coach Brown says it better, so go read his take on it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Fines for Truancy, by people with too much time on their hands.

I doubt that the fines for truants program will work.  As soon as you get money involved, excuses will be found in much the same way as excuses are found when students and families want to take an extended vacation or take an extra week for Spring break. Besides, if the parents couldn't make them go to school in the first place, how are they supposed to make them go to school in the second place?
Bad boy. Stop it.
It could soon cost kids (and parents) in Concord,CA upwards of $500 if the teenager continues to cut class. The mayor of Concord, Laure Hoffmeister, insists that the local police are spending too much time and effort chasing down truant kids these days.
So instead of chasing them down and bringing them back to school, they'll chase them down and give them a ticket, show up in court, give testimony, watch as the judge waves his gavel and threatens to impose the fine but never does, listen to the kid do that pretend-contrition-bullshit thing they're all so good at, and then tell the parent to bring them back to school. Because, gosh darn it, they're all such GOOD kids.
“Often they’re finding that the kid they return at 11 a.m. is back out at 12:30,” said Hoffmeister. After a series of general warnings, students and their parents would be fined $100 after the first offense, $200 after the second, and $500 after the third.
And this solves things, how?  The school has already admitted it can't keep them in the building for longer than a couple hours.

Darren has a few other implications that I won't repeat in their entirety, but just say that the schools seem to be are demanding more and more control over students' off-campus lives but accepting less and less responsibility.
On the whole, adults in the area seem to largely support the innovative and unique idea. Predictably, teenagers and students are vehemently opposed to the new proposal.
Quel surprise. The adults approve a measure that restricts teenagers. I wonder how long the ordinance will last. Probably until someone in local government has to pay the fine. This whole sorry tale brings to mind this:
Americans have long been driven by two deep longings. The first is to be left alone. The second is to tell other people what to do. On most moral issues, the easiest way out is to inflict our piety on children. All the righteous satisfaction, none of the libertarian backlash.
~ William Saletan, Slate

Won't someone PLEASE think of the Children?

Bullying is cause for Expulsion

I await the results of California's foray into social science, to whit, the new law making cyberbullying punishable by expulsion.
The bill, know as AB 746, or the Cyber Bully Prevention bill, was championed by Assemblymember Nora Campos (D-San José). It has become official California law following Governor Brown’s signature. AB 746 declares that posts made on social network sites are covered under the Education Code anti-bullying provisions and allows school officials to suspend student violators. California law allows for the suspension of a student for bullying, including bullying by electronic acts.
I'm assuming they've figured out
  • how to identify the true culprit from other than circumstantial evidence. I, for example, have two facebook accounts and I recommend that students and teachers do as well. One is my squeaky-clean page, the other is anonymous. There are easy ways to set up a blog or a facebook account without much of a trail.  Police can figure it out with a judge's warrant and a bucketload of time but probably have more things on their mind than Suzy calling Jenny a "whore-slut" online. A smart kid posts the nasty, waits for reaction and then deletes it. A smarter kid posts "Hey, did you hear about what Jenny did?" The smartest bully gets everyone to unfriend the victim and bullies in the old-fashioned way by shouting things when adults aren't around.
  • how to deal with a bully who just shuts up and whose parents get a lawyer. What? Did you expect any different? Are you going to subpoena something? Got some proof it was my client? His account got "hacked" and he would never write that. It didn't work for Weiner but it would for a nameless 10th grader.  Don't forget due process laws, confidentiality rules and all that.  How do you deal with accounts set to "private".  What, are they going to require accounts and passwords from every student or "friend" them all?
    Bullies are everywhere. The harder you look, the more you'll find.
  • how to deal with the natural school administration tendency of reading a law and then interpreting everything as being applicable from the most minor to the most major. The Sledgehammer Effect.
  • how to deal with the ever-slippery slope of the word "bullying" and the growing tendency of teenagers to be offended (mostly because the counselors in their lives are so anxious to tell them they are.). 
  • how expulsion will help. The recent case in Massachusetts would not have been helped by expulsion of the major parties. They would simply have become more antagonistic and less public, making the situation spiral out of control that much faster.   A minor issue blown up to a major one does not resolve the issue. A major issue blown up to an expulsion case pushes the problem out of the hands of the school but doesn't solve it.
  • how the same officious twerps who can't deal with problems themselves but are always running to the police (euphemistically called "School Resource Officers")  are going to deal with social media and modern technology. Hell, mine can't even set up surveymonkey polls without help.
  • how to suspend or expel an already expelled student (repeat offender) or one who is not currently in school, whether graduated or bullies from one school and victims in another -- which school officials are involved?
My biggest complaint is that I can't see that school officials have jurisdiction here, but maybe this law circumvents that pesky Constitutional problem. If the kids can't get on Facebook during the day at school, then all of this must be happening at home.  This makes it a parental problem calling for a parental solution.  If the issue escalates beyond what the parents can or will handle, then it becomes a civil problem. If it escalates further, it becomes a criminal problem.

recently, the third Judicial Court
issued two simultaneous opinions to resolve how much control high schools may exercise over their students’ off-campus, online speech. In Layshock v. Hermitage School District and J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District, the judges held that school officials cannot, “reach into a child’s home and control his/her actions there to the same extent that it can control that child when he/she participates in school sponsored activities.”  In the two respective cases, students had been disciplined for creating MySpace profiles intended to mock their principals.  The Third Circuit ruled that schools cannot punish students’ online speech simply because it is vulgar, lewd, or offensive.

In my interpretation, if speech rises beyond that limit, as bullying can do, then it becomes a civil or criminal offense but, again, not a scholastic one. Schools are spectacularly ill-equipped to handle this issue.

Two anecdotes that color my thinking.
A says to B "That's so gay." and kid C overhears it and is convinced by counselors to be offended and everybody is called to the office, meetings with parents and kids happen, and everyone is thoroughly frustrated and it only makes the matter worse because it was only an off-hand comment in the first place. Over-reaction is all too common and makes minor matters worse and makes major bullies more retractable.

It is much better handled low-key as I witnessed about two months ago. A good friend of mine is a teacher up north and he is openly gay. Because he is my friend and he commented, the conversation appeared in my facebook feed. I saw a comment by a kid saying "That's gay!" in the normal, stupid way. My friend replied "Ahem." The kid instantly retracted it and apologized profusely, promising not to repeat the mistake. Simply done, effective and long-lasting.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

LAUSD, 10% Homework policy and Class Categories.

Seems okay to me that homework is limited to 10% of a student's grade. I think that's probably about right since I can never really be sure that the homework wasn't
  • copied from a friend
  • done by a parent
  • cut-and-pasted from Internet sources.
  • removed from the older brother's notebook from two years ago and handed back in! (Happened to the chemistry teacher this year - pretty damn funny.)
For me, there are two categories; "graded" and "practice".

"Practice" includes homework, classwork, some group projects, notebook checks and some ungraded quizzes that are up-front "Will not be graded - just for seeing your understanding." If it's done fairly completely, I give it 5 points, 3 if half-assed and 0 if not at all. Anything given out as a worksheet is placed on the Moodle and can be completed later for full credit. "It's practice!"

If students did it with help and it's not all individual work, it probably falls into this category. Since "practice" implies errors and improvement, this work is not graded for correctness.

"Graded" : quizzes, projects, tests. If you did this on your own and YOU have the understanding, then it fits into this category. I am not a fan of group grades. We can argue about that later.

How does this balance out?

The younger the grade and ability, the higher the practice portion of the grade. Weak 9th graders in pre-algebra get a 60% graded - 40% practice to encourage the notebooks, homework, classwork. It also gives me leeway for the IEP and 504 students who have so much of their work completed for them by the Resource Room Staff.

Thus, 10% for homework will work just fine.
For the AP seniors, there is no "practice" category. The grade is based on quizzes, labs, tests, and binder-questions. Daily homework is for practice and has no effect on the grade, positive or negative. (There are some graded problems for homework, but that's specified ahead).

It's high time they get some experience in deciding what and how much to do, and figuring how much they truly understand - now, while the education is free. Conversely, those who know what's going on can focus on their science or English on any particular day, or on their soccer game since I have a lot of soccer players in my AP calc.

My ultimate goal is for the student to leave the class prepared for what's next. If she passes Algebra I with an A, then she'll be fine in Algebra II. If they get a "A" in calc, then I expect they'll get an "A" in MA121 at RPI.

Code in a nutshell:
  • I try to always be aware of the social promotion aspects of grading. It does no one any good, least of all the student, to pretend that he passed Algebra I so then he gets put into Algebra II. Don't pass him on "Effort" alone. It's not fair to him. 
  • There's nothing wrong with repeating a math course.
  • The assessment of their abilities should be reflected in the standardized test scores they earn: SAT, NECAP and Regents results. If my students are consistently doing poorly on standardized tests, yet get As and Bs, I need to consider whether and what to change. ME, not the school or the district, or any silly value-added measure.
  • If the transcript says "Math" then I have freedom do work on whatever I feel is appropriate for each student. I can take a two-week detour into fractions and basic math if that is what they need. If the transcript will say CP Geometry, then I base the course and the grading on what that means in my school.
  • I refuse to differentiate if it means I am not teaching what the transcript says I am teaching. Differentiation should happen by class - if he isn't capable of CP Geometry then he should switch into a class more appropriate. The one-room schoolhouse lump-them-all-into-one class and differentiate is utter bullshit and was only done last century out of necessity. Since it's no longer necessary, I don't do it. 
  • I don't "pass" a misplaced student if it means he'll be more badly misplaced next year. By all means, I'll help him pass on his own but I won't pretend.

"I won't lie to you and I won't lie for you. Here's the straight dope."

Visualization Types Chart is missing at least one type ...

There's a neat visulization of the various methods of visualizing data. Here is the interactive version, which includes little pop-up examples of each method as you mouseover them. The static graphic is below.  It's all very cool.  Except that they seem to be missing a very important one, or at least a very pertinent one.

Any guesses?
There's no entry for periodic table visualizations! Isn't that weird?

Anyway, visit the page for a good look at each of these.  Maybe save the page for students' reference.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Grimm's Fairy Tales

I saw this cartoon this morning and my immediate thought was ...

Have you ever read Grimm's Fairy Tales?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Spam gets better, but still funny.

SO ....
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Well. I'm flattered?

Starting school at 8am or later ...

Okay, so this is a radical idea?  I've seen it work. It's quite pleasant for all involved.

Why not shift the day until later?

The later you start, the later you finish.  If there are limited sports fields, then the coaches need to be more creative in their planning and field rotations.  It creates some problems in late October and November when the light is fading and when playoffs and such have to begin at 3. After school schedules and later finish times mean lots of announcements that "XXX team is dismissed at 1:30", etc.

Students with after-school jobs lose work time. Buses and such need to change, which is occasionally a serious issue. At some VT schools, several towns cooperate with busing and so the high school schedule needs to mesh with that of the elementary schools. All Vermont high schools are affiliated with a Tech Center and send certain kids to it every day, so you have to mesh your bus schedule with that schedule, too.

So that's the bad news.  The good news is that the kids are awake for first period. The whole school is more relaxed. Tardies and absences go down. First period is no longer the yawning wasteland. The students have a better outlook on the day. It's not a panacea but it is like having a cafeteria that can actually cook decent food -- everyone feels better and the school runs better. (It's amazing what good food can do for a school.)

What's the big deal? Why can't kids just get up? What makes them so damn special?  My response is "Nothing."  I do, however, agree that for whatever the reason, my students don't really get going until 8:30 or so and the start time of 7:30 added to a bus for 60 minutes (yes, 60 minutes to go a total of 15 miles. It's very rural Vermont/New Hampshire. Don't ask.) plus 15 minutes to scrape themselves out of bed and shower (please?) means that they are seriously sleepy for first and second period.

Is it giving up? I don't think so. I think it's a matter of accepting reality and working with it, of accepting that the Calvinistic "up at the crack of dawn" thing isn't what teenagers have EVER done willingly, as a rule.

This should not be done as some magical cure-all for raising test scores, though it will probably affect things somewhat.  Since only 4 high schools in Vermont reached AYP last year, and yet we're still considered one of the best states in the country for education,  many places are willing to try anything.

What are the changes? Brattleboro Union High School will push its start time back an hour this fall, to 8:45 am.  The middle and high schools will now let out at 3:20 in the afternoon, pushing athletics back an hour.

Typical start times range from 7:20 a.m at Fall Mountain to 7:55 a.m. at Hinsdale. Bennington started at 7:10 for a couple of years but changed that. The local Catholic schools are typically 8a.m. starts and one of the four schools in Vermont that met AYP last year starts at 8:20 a.m. (It's a coincidence. Come on, people.)

I eagerly await the results.

Here's a pertinent site:

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Don't teach to the Tests

For any new teachers out there, here's a few words of advice.

  • Teach your students math. The tests will take care of themselves.
  • Use released test questions in your own tests occasionally. Some of them are quite good.
  • The book is not your enemy. It's not your script either.
  • Remember the way you learned. It seemed to have worked.
  • "Don't smile before Christmas" is stupid.
  • "Don't threaten what you won't enforce." is critical.
and for Christ's sake, don't cheat on the standardized testing. It is so easy to detect and you'll accomplish nothing.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Digital Textbooks

I still can't figure out why Apple hasn't jumped on the textbook yet. The iPad seems to me to be the ideal platform for education. You can put all your stuff on it, it's got color, it's got video and audio capability. One device, a dozen textbooks and a boatload of reading books. More and more, colleges and schools are putting materials online. Five colleges calculus, MIT courseware, California Learning Resource Network, all of the Regents Materials you could ever want. When was the last time you actually told a kid to take notes in the book? Now you can. Okay, typing still sucks on tablets and note-takers aren't going to stop using paper anytime soon. Still ...

It's gonna happen.  For me, the only question is "When?"
From Slashdot:
South Korea plans to spend $2.4 billion buying tablets for students and digitizing materials in an effort to go completely digital in the classroom by 2015. From the article: "This move also re-ignites the age-old debate about whether or not students learn better from screens or printed material. Equally important, there's the issue of whether or not devices with smaller form factors are as effective as current textbooks, which tend to have significantly more area on each page."
Apart from the lunatic fringe who want to ban the Kindle from classrooms because blind kids can't use one, this seems like a win. All the stuff, handouts, videos, textbooks, all transferred to each students' machine and portable.
From Jacob Nielson on readability and reading speed:

Results: Books Faster Than Tablets
The iPad measured at 6.2% lower reading speed than the printed book, whereas the Kindle measured at 10.7% slower than print. However, the difference between the two devices was not statistically significant because of the data's fairly high variability.

Thus, the only fair conclusion is that we can't say for sure which device offers the fastest reading speed. In any case, the difference would be so small that it wouldn't be a reason to buy one over the other. But we can say that tablets still haven't beaten the printed book: the difference between Kindle and the book was significant at the p<.01 level, and the difference between iPad and the book was marginally significant at p=.06.

User Satisfaction: iPad Loved, PCs Hated

After using each device, we asked users to rate their satisfaction on a 1–7 scale, with 7 being the best score. iPad, Kindle, and the printed book all scored fairly high at 5.8, 5.7, and 5.6, respectively. The PC, however, scored an abysmal 3.6.
I'm sold.  Yoo-hoo! Principal PJs!
About that "Have you looked at electronic readers for your classes? What do you think of them?" comment that you uttered the last time we talked?

We need to talk.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

#anyqs Fireworks

It's a goldmine:

But the embedded NatGeo clip doesn't show up in Google Reader. Click through.
size of shell vs height
time differential between first and second explosion
Bunch of things.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Difference between Teachers and Education Experts

Teachers want to change education back to what worked for them and for their students. "I need them to study fractions because fractions (and more importantly, the numerical sense that fractions develop) are so important in algebra and in life in general. They need to study algebra because the abstract mathematical ability that algebra develops and reinforces is critical to every single job I've ever had contact with, or my students have had contact with. Etc."

Education Experts want to reform the system to something different than what worked to teach them -- even if it was effective. Consider Conrad Wolfram, brother to Steven of Mathematica fame. He wants to eliminate every educational system that produced him and his brother and replace it all with computer software-based learning.

Corollary: If the Expert didn't like algebra, it was because he was bored and the teacher should have given out cookies and made the course more ! F ! U ! N ! , forgetting that it was normal teenaged angst that colored his appreciation or lack thereof.

Second Corollary: Education Experts have not been in a classroom for at least twenty years or not at all, and seem to feel that their dim memories of angst-filled 10th grade are sufficient experience.