Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Colleges' Math - Science Death March

The group that made a YouTube
video denigrating the education
they were ignoring while they made it
-- and then wondering
why they couldn't understand
the material they were ignoring.
But maybe there's a reason that so many drop out?
But, it turns out, middle and high school students are having most of the fun, building their erector sets and dropping eggs into water to test the first law of motion. The excitement quickly fades as students brush up against the reality of what David E. Goldberg, an emeritus engineering professor, calls “the math-science death march.” Freshmen in college wade through a blizzard of calculus, physics and chemistry in lecture halls with hundreds of other students. And then many wash out.
So what? There's a reason why they made those courses so hard -- so 75% of the freshmen WOULD drop into something else. They need the worthless chaff to switch and leave the wheat behind.

The STEM courses have always been difficult if your preparation
  • consisted of "fun" and "dropping eggs" and stupid computer games pretending to teach.
  • involved "student-directed learning", standards-based grading based on vague rubrics instead of knowledge and ability, and open-ended questions with no middle, beginning or point.
  • didn't include calculus, chemistry, and physics.
  • focused on inquiry-style explorations that managed to avoid inquiring or knowledge.
  • didn't involve 40-page research papers and English teachers who dropped the grade by a LETTER for each grammatical mistake on an in-class, timed essay.
  • focused on computer usage and gaming rather than programming. (Hello World!)
I love the appeal to pity "a blizzard of calculus, physics and chemistry in lecture halls with hundreds of other students. And then many wash out."

If you can't learn from her,
you need to change your major.
It's hard. It's supposed to be hard. None of these careers has all that much room for error and few have much room for whiny crybabies. There's a LOT to learn. Relying solely on a Google search and a Wikipedia article while building a 2000' skyscraper is dubious at best. If you can't hack it, get out of the way of those who can.

Face facts. Stop lying to yourself.  Tell your momma to go home; this is your time to make a decision. Work for a degree or don't. There are lots of people who destroy their health and hole up like an anchoress to get a degree in this stuff. Slide your lazy, drunken, over-sexed butt into something more your speed.

If you can't put some effort into the $35,000 /year you're spending (or borrowing), why should anyone care about you and your obvious lack of critical thinking and adult decision-making skills?

Outlook Confusion

This cracks me up. I should only preview files from someone trustworthy but previewing might not show everything so I should open it instead but always warn myself before doing that.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Grade Inflation in College? I'm Shocked!

Who would have thought?
Go to this web site and search the course roster at the University of Wisconsin and find out what grades were given each semester for the last several years.

I wandered the Fall 2010-2011 Grades
Intermediate Organic Chemistry: 2.8
Evolving Universe (in the Astronomy Department): 2.9
Freshman Composition: 3.7
Curriculum and Instruction (EDU) had a department average of 3.927
Engineering: 2.902
Thermodynamics: 2.818

You get the knowledge you work for.  The grade hardly matters anymore.

College debt Post Hoc fallacy

Joanne Jacobs asks: Is fear of debt worse than debt itself? College students who borrow are more likely to go full-time and complete degrees.
Is it the going into debt that causes the degree completion, or is it that those who feel confident of their ability to finish are more likely to incur some debt to do so?

Should I go into debt to ensure that I finish?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Algebra 2 for All

When all adults in California can understand and complete an algebra II course, then it makes sense that all high school students should be able to.
Otherwise ...

It's not that these California math teachers had the stones to sign, it's that more of us don't feel we can.

Maybe this is why tenure is so necessary?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

I Don't Do Math - Accepting False Limits

Seth Godin (Marketing Expert) has this: Accepting false limits and you'll probably guess that I'm about to throw out "I Don't Do Math", but bear with me.

I will never be able to dunk a basketball. This is beyond discussion.

Imagine, though, a co-worker who says, "I'll never be able to use a knife and fork. No, I have to use my hands."

Or a colleague who says, "I can't possibly learn Chinese. I'm not smart enough."
This is a mystery to me. A billion people have learned Chinese, and the failure rate for new kids is close to zero. If a well functioning adult puts in sufficient time and the effort, she'll succeed.

The key to this disconnect is the unspoken part about time and effort and fear. I agree that you will never ship that product or close that sale or invent that device unless you put in the time and put in the effort and overcome the fear. But I don't accept for a minute that there's some sort of natural limit on your ability to do just about anything that involves creating and selling ideas.

This attitude gets me in trouble sometimes. Perhaps I shouldn't be pushing people who want something but have been taught not to push themselves. Somewhere along the way, it seems, I forgot that it's none of my business if people choose to accept what they've got, to forget their dreams and to not seek to help those around them achieve what matters to them.

Not sure if you'll forgive me, but no, I'm not going to believe that only a few people are permitted to be gatekeepers or creators or generous leaders. I have no intention of apologizing for believing in people, for insisting that we all use this moment and these assets to create some art and improve the world around us.

To do anything less than that is a crime.
Not exactly.

There's a huge difference between the picture above (girl being told she isn't good enough, pretty enough, fat enough, skinny enough, smart enough, slutty enough) and a girl making an honest self-assessment of her abilities.  There's a big difference between giving up too early (accepting FALSE limits) and accepting true limits.

Not everyone seems to be able to do math as well as I can. I can't draw or paint as well as my uncle. My uncle can't drive (and doesn't need to) and certainly can't do math. My grammatical sense is better than that of most teachers, if I can believe what I read and hear on the Internet.

I know scads of folks who "can't do algebra" but who consider themselves successes, engineers who could never understand related rates or scale factors, artists who understand percentages and accounting but not much more, actors who couldn't write to save their lives, and scientists who can't speak to an audience or write coherent sentence without endless rewrites and help from their significant other. White Men Can't Jump ... but that didn't stop him from playing basketball and pretty damn well.

The California teachers who signed a letter saying that students should not be required to pass algebra 2 as a graduation requirement are probably spot on with their assessment of the kids' abilities and completely off the mark when it comes to assessing the political and academic climate. Eighth grade math seems to be about the least you can learn and still have a shot at claiming yourself a success in life.

"I don't DO math" should be an incentive rather than an excuse, I know, but I also have to accept that not everyone is going to be "proficient" in this topic or any other. We need to tell them "Do your best and don't let the stupidity of youth drive you to deny an ability that you may develop in a field you haven't got a clue about yet" but we also must accept that not everyone can be good at everything.

Even math teachers.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Good to Know about those Exit Cards.

We're back with another episode of "Highly Ineffective Principal."


"Oh, sorry. That wasn't a joke?"

So we all got an email from him that told us of the information that he put in our mailboxes (right there, you know this is a good one). He went to a conference and heard about something INCREDIBLE and he wanted to make sure we all knew about it. It had the key words "brain research" and "student engagement" and "achievement" so you know we were all on pins and needles.

Exit cards.


Forget instant communication, clickers, voting by text, Google poll, smartphone. We aren't going to be trying any new, 21st Century stuff. Our HIPster is enthralled by note cards. "Before I file the information away, there are several items in my notes that I want to share with you."

We teachers apparently have never heard of this "Exit Cards" idea.

We also can't seem to get the 12 pages (double-sided, too) of information as a .pdf or a text email. It was photocopied for every person in the building. And put in mailboxes.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

This moron is teaching future math teachers

and giving them extra credit for this:

Unless they changed the rules recently and I never noticed, irrational numbers are still real.

This is the problem with math education in America.

  • Not the students who hand in this mistake.
  • Not the teachers nationwide who cringe at this mistake.
  • Not the schools who do their best with unwilling or unmotivated students.

No, it's the college teacher preparation programs that instill faulty knowledge and reinforce it with extra credit ... these students obviously don't know their subject all that well and this "teacher" is no better. "Hands On Math: Burn The Textbooks, Shred The Worksheets, Teach Math." is the blog motto.

Seems like reading a book and learning a fact or two might come in handy.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Cost of Changing to Common Core?

Joanne Jacobs - What will common standards cost?
It will cost $800 million for California to implement Common Core Standards, down from an earlier estimate of $1.6 billion, according to the state education department. That includes training, learning materials and testing.

Other states are starting to worry about the cost. Washington state estimates it will take $300 million to prepare teachers and principals and buy new textbooks; updating the state’s testing system will be extra.

Give me a break.

“Washington state estimates it will take $300 million to prepare teachers and principals and buy new textbooks; updating the state’s testing system will be extra.”

This is a silly point. Washington will buy new books regardless. They will also spend money in Professional Development to train new teachers (and old) in the current system or they can spend money in Professional Development in Common Core. What would be interesting would be the amount EXTRA needed with Common Core. My guess is zero.

I’ve personally gone through full curriculum rewrites and what seems like dozens of formatting changes in order to to align to old standards, new standards, frameworks, GLEs, etc. This is simply the new fad. The real problem isn't the Common Core. It's "Change the Standards Because We Don't Know What Else to Do".

It's the idea that all students will succeed if we could just find the ONE SINGLE PERFECT WAY TO DO THINGS. Watch Malcolm Gladwell's discussion of finding the perfect spaghetti sauce.

Public schools can never be the perfect solution to all students, all the time, by 2014 or any other date.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

AnyQs - Cleaners

Two seemingly identical bottles. 28 and 32 oz.

If you can't read it, it says
33% more 
than other leading national brands **
**Compared to 24 fl.oz. of other leading national brands.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Monster blog has monster sized misconceptions

Monster blog has this article about Gen Y Talent Myths. I am amazed at the nearsightedness in evidence here. Not to knock the guy -- he has spent over six years as a career counselor at a top-flight research university so he must know the habits and talents of the entire Gen Y demographic, right? Anyway. I was amused.

First, he feels that Gen Y is CONFUSED rather than LAZY. Okay, not all of them are lazy but the truth is that they would rather be playing video games and chatting and Facebooking than working. This is not a particular surprise since every generation back to prehistoric times has said that about it's teenagers.

That being too complicated a thought, he felt it was due to "the world and technology constantly changing and becoming more complex, members of Gen Y are just trying to decipher how to navigate their way around" and "Generation Y lacks the experience and foundation to best utilize these various technological resources." On the other hand, "Generation Y is the most experienced and qualified to understand and decipher the social media landscape".  Proof by confusing contradiction?

He then feels that if we aren't "moving at the speed of these technologies, we are already behind before we’ve even started." You say, "Touche", I say "Cliche." Come on, dredge up a better one than that. "Moving at the speed of these technologies" doesn't even mean anything.

Generation Y seems to "Lack Morals". According to David, they merely have "Different Values" because they were the product of the ‘Me Generation.’ I guess that excuses them from sharing the values of the society at large or something.

Conservative AND socially conscious.
Now we get weird. Correlation, causation and all that. He claims that Gen Y got Obama elected (really!) and so we think they must be more liberal. They're not, though, because they "prefer to seek opportunities to make a difference in their communities". Wow. They're not liberal because they like to make a difference? That's just funny.

"How else do you explain the rise of social entrepreneurs (Tom’s Shoes?), the growth of core value-laden companies such as Zappos and Google (witnessed by Google’s core principle 'you can make money without doing evil?'), and the new found commitment/interest in non-profit organizations?" Actually, dude, those companies weren't founded by, and aren't run by, GenY.

The last bit of fun comes when this guy claims that GenY thinks it's smarter than the older folk, and therefore is smarter. How dumb can you be?

Every generation thinks it's smarter than the previous one. This one isn't smarter, but they think they are. David feels they are smarter "as long as they utilize reputable sources" and points out that "Five-year-old children are able to find more information on a smartphone or tablet than their parents."

Holy crap, what kind of evidence is that? Are you sure you're at a university? A five year-old on an iPad makes for a cute picture but it’s less of an indication of brilliance than a 1990 kid on a Commodore 64 with an encyclopedia nearby.

The next line is the funniest. In his day, "one could get a quality college education with an SAT score of 1100 … care to guess the average now?" Uh, 1538.

Does genius boy know why the average has risen ... all the teachers reading this do. Ding-ding-ding! Three sections! 1538/3 is 513 or so per section. Back in his day, the per-section score was 550. OOPS, not so good on the math, either. Must be more of that top-flight research university training, huh?.

I guess I know why so many kids come out of college they way they do.

Obligatory Nov 5 reference:

The article below the fold:

Condi Rice's Opinion of Khaddafi

She said it, not me.

Herman Cain's Positively Negative Trendline

FiveThirtyEight had this little graph and the comment. "It looks to me as if Mr. Cain had been on a positive trajectory before, perhaps having moved up to about 28 percent of the Republican vote.

Really? You see an upward trend there? Is that blue trendline all that reasonable?

I see a downward trend if I get rid of the first week's data.  If I include the first week, then I can see that blue line being the calculated trendline but it should be obvious that the bump he received on Oct 8th (appearance on Huckabee, touting his 999 plan?) brought him to a plateau and he's been losing ground ever since. The allegations didn't change that downward trend.

Borrowing Without Collateral

The country is running up against the whole college loan things again. There's a website that claims the trillion dollars of student loan debt should all be forgiven because that'll stimulate the economy.

Intelligent people ask that those loans get deferred a couple years so that the loan payments can be made when the borrowers are a little more solvent. I'm okay with that as it acknowledges that the borrowers are accepting their debts and making the books right.

Others want all college loans wiped off the slate so that graduates can get on with their lives. WTF?

Why adults should get $100,000 loans wiped clean is beyond me. They took out loans as adults to pay for adult things and now they all get off free? What's next? Should we give them a home loan and then excuse the loan when the first few mortgage payments are due?

Which begs a question: What's the collateral in a student loan?
NYT Sob Story

Future earnings, of course.

At what point are the banks and loan-makers going to ask for that collateral? Why should a bank finance a degree in women's studies or in some other navel-gazing, narcissistic puffery which has ZERO value in the future marketplace?

I'll say it again. If you're using your own money, or you're putting up Daddy's business as collateral for this loan, then feel free to get any degree you'd like.

If your state is willing to give a free college education (not including fees), then you are free to accept the offer and take any degree the college will offer you.

If you're borrowing money with no other collateral than your future earnings, you shouldn't be surprised if the lender asks for a degree with better prospects than Burger King or trophy wife.

If you're "conned" into borrowing what you can't afford, yet you still "need" a degree in women's studies at very expensive college like NYC, don't expect much sympathy.  Pay your damn loans.

"Do you want fries with that degree?"

It's high time the federal government college loan programs start demanding valuable degrees as "collateral" for their loans.  Otherwise, taking out a loan with no thought of paying it back is fraud.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Seth Godin (Marketing Guru) has this little post
Are you doing math or arithmetic?
I have enormous respect for mathematicians. They're doing work on the edge, a cross between art and science and music. Arithmeticians, not so much. They are merely whacking at a calculator, doing repetitive work better done by a computer or someone cheaper.

Many fields have precisely this same division. There's a chasm between the proven, repetitive work that can be farmed out and the cutting edge risky work that might just change everything.

With my students, I tell it this way:

A mechanic is looking for a job.
He tells the manager "I have twenty years experience."
The manager asks "Is that twenty years of experience or two years experience repeated ten times?"

Which is it for you? Are you still teaching the same things with the same worksheets and the same quizzes and the same methods that have worked over and over? There's a lot to be said for consistency, but you do have to stick your head up and make sure that what and how you're teaching is still relevant.

I'm making the change to tablets instead of textbooks, .pdf instead of paper.  It's still a work in progress, especially the video.  I'm still trying to figure out if the inverted classroom is fad or future. I'd love to get the note-taking features of the iPad/Android to mesh with the marginalia of the textbook, but we're not quite there yet. Where is the graphing calculator app that works with a spreadsheet?

Some tech is incredibly useful.  Some tech is incredibly damaging, especially to teenagers. Texting is, without a doubt, the most pernicious distraction ever created by man.  Read Daniel Willingham's work on concentration, learning and the cellphone call in the middle of the information storage process.

It'd be nice if the nation was a little more together on all this.