Friday, January 13, 2012

Teenagers are different, now.

"When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in 7 years." - Mark Twain
Nope. No different after all.

#AnyQs - Chocolate cake mix

I also like the last visible comment:
"The batter may look curdled; that's OK, it will bake up fine."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Film Alphabet "Puzzles"

From Steven Wildish's Friday Project: Film Alphabets.

There was no math warmup problem today. I put the 1990s up as the windows wallpaper and then turned on the SmartBoard. They were fascinated. It seemed a hit so I printed them out from the folder - in Windows, you can print some of the contents of a folder and it will automatically scale them to full-page -- and lined them up on the wall outside my door. Teachers thought it was a hoot. The person with the most solutions? The science teacher across the hall. The second best? A senior with a Netflix connection.

Feel free to put in some answers in the comments. The artist's website is cool too, but there are only solutions for the 80s and 90s up so far.

Teacher evaluations, new research

eSchool online sends me weekly emails about school reform and technology integration. This week's included this paragraph:
Some states are at risk of losing their Race to the Top funding because they've been forced to delay plans to implement proposed reforms; and a new study indicates that evaluating classroom teachers just once a year will not help teachers to improve.
I'm thinking that delaying some of that reform might well be a good thing in the long run since RttT overly promotes merit pay and other bogus "incentives", weird ideas about testing and technophiliac waste.

Then I get to the second part and I'm struck by the emphasis that evaluating "just once a year" will not help teachers improve, implying that it ought to be several times per year.  I actually believe the study, but coupled with what I've seen in the past thirty years or so, "one evaluation won't help a teacher improve" because evaluations don't do much and repetitions of nothing are still nothing. I've had good principals who gave good evaluations that really were helpful but I've had many, many more that were useless.

Overall, the study seems typical of education research and education reporting.

Bottom line for me is that if they found that multiple evaluations each year were beneficial, they'd have said so. Since they didn't say that (and they would dearly LOVE to say that), then it can be assumed that they found no evidence so they fudged the report and let the reader assume.

I'm glad I use Thunderbird for my email, though, because it warned me about this email.  Thinks it's a scam.

Smart program.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

It's not that colleges don't teach ...

It's that their students aren't 100% students. Far too many students are unprepared, unmotivated and unwilling to put much effort into their college courses. Fortunately for their delayed entry into the RealWorld, they can still pay their bills (albeit by taking out loans in many cases).

Wander a college campus at night, follow the students around, listen in at campus bistros, check in on the residents, take a class, and you'll quickly see two types of students: the ones who do care, are motivated and who are getting their money's worth and those who feel that work is an imposition on their sex and drinking lives.

"I can't write an essay, that's the weekend."
"My computer stopped working so I didn't do that assignment."
Facebooking during class.
Watching video on the laptop.

Why would anyone be surprised "that 45 percent of undergraduates gain little in thinking and writing skills in the first two years of college, and 36 percent show little gains in four years of college"?
Jay Matthews:
The previous post on this blog is my Monday column, complaining about the lack of much reaction to last year's study, which showed that 45 percent of undergraduates gain little in thinking and writing skills in the first two years of college, and 36 percent show little gains in four years of college. This is based on results at 24 colleges on the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a lengthy essay exam.
I failed to address this question. Do we care about such results, or is the reputation of the colleges of more use, as we choose colleges? Some colleges do release their National Survey of Student Engagement results, which indicate if they are teaching the right way. Have any of us ever sought that data while making a college admission decision? Are colleges right to keep such information confidential if it makes them look bad? Or would anyone care?
My answer to Jay: "No, we expected that 9% are losers until they get the junior-class wake-up call and that 36% never hear that call." 
  1. College is not for everyone. Plumbers are people, too. (And they work harder to get as good as they are - that's why they get paid more than a newly minted graduate.)
  2. Education gets more complicated and demands more from you as get older. That's why it costs more and takes more time while taking less class time.
  3. You get what you pay for.
  4. You get what you work for.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The problem is Cross-Curriculum teaching

from Darren, a school might in trouble for its attempt at cross curricular teaching ...

The question was a word problem that said, "Each tree had 56 oranges. If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?" Another math problem said, "If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in one week?"... (District spokeswoman) Roach explained the teachers were trying to incorporate social studies lessons into the math problems, which is something the school district encourages. But the problem with the questions is there is no historical context.
No, the problem is that when you are teaching in the 21st Century, you need to pull your head out of the hole in the ground (or out of your behind ... some have trouble telling the difference). Much better to use word problems such as these (provided as a public service by the Curmudgeon Math Project, LLC.)
  1. If an elementary teacher makes three stupid decisions per day, how many days will it be until she is fired? For extra credit, make a diorama of the classroom using macaroni and tongue depressors.
  2. If four teachers collectively have an IQ of 380, what is the average IQ of a teacher in this school system? For full credit, don't forget to show your work - text your answers to 1-802-IDIOTIC.
  3. When a teacher chooses to write beyond her intelligence, how many irate parents will it take to get it all written up in the national press? Answers must be posted to Twitter because this teacher is obviously a twit herself. Use the hashtag #LowGradeMoron
  4. Write a paragraph explaining why posting a nude picture of herself on Facebook page would have been a better career move. How many reposts will she get if 3500 people see it every three minutes?
  5. Use the MAKEYOURSELFAFATPIG program on your smartphones to figure out the total amount of ice cream eaten by 26 students who eat 3 scoops of ice cream each, if each scoop of ice cream costs $23 and uses $18,000 worth of 21st Century Technology.
  6. Mrs Barnettt has three real daughters and one imaginary one, if she can claim one extra week of vacation in Costa Rica each time she claims that a daughter died, how many weeks will she be spending on the unemployment line in Costa Rica?
Or you could stick to your strengths,
stop trying to be clever,
and ... just ... teach ... math.

Time off for good behavior?

New York City school employee faked her child's death to get extra vacation.


"Joan Barnett, a parent coordinator at the Manhattan High School of Hospitality Management, was so determined to make the spring break jaunt that she:
* Had one of her daughters call the school to say that her sister had suffered a heart attack in Costa Rica.
* Had another daughter call the school later that day to say that the sister had died and that about a dozen relatives, including Barnett, were traveling to the country for a funeral.
* Faxed a forged death certificate of her daughter “Xinia Daley Herman” to school as proof of the death. The document is required if a city school employee asks for bereavement days.
I can't even imagine the thought process that didn't go into this idea.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Curriculum mapping in standard little boxes

Writing is horizontal ... except in maps.
I was struck by a few things the other day when the Mrs. was putting together her curriculum maps for the year ... her curriculum coordinator was demanding that all teachers use the same template so there wouldn't be any confusion and there wouldn't be multiple formats coming in to her office.

1) Why does the template have boxes labeled by the month?

My math classes are split into chapters/ units that have never corresponded to months all that well. The lengths of the months is different as well because of the random nature of vacations, exams, sporting events. We're in block scheduling so the second semester has a completely different pace than the first. Obviously, some variations are less disruptive than others but the month-by-month format seems to be the format that least well corresponds to the course. English classes don't think month by month either. Nor does pretty much anybody else. Why insist on it?

Then you have the long words that don't fit. Unless you teach math, "Prop ortio nal Reas" isn't that meaningful nor is "Probl ems and Linea."

Adding to the silliness is the repetition, as shown here.  This teacher has broken the course down to the weekly level ... and repeated everything. Enlarge the image above ... by my count he pasted "Linea r Equa tions" 56 times.Why? Because he wasn't allowed to combine table cells.  Legibility is sacrificed and some of the words don't even show up in the cells but we were able to keep the format.

Writing is horizontal. Except here, where six letter words are split with a single "r" on the next line and there's no thought of proper hyphenation. This is crazy.  The formatting should not take higher precedence than the content.

2) Why does the Coordinator assume that the course changes significantly from year to year?

Maybe it varies in some classes, but the essence of the transcript is that we are awarding a credit for Algebra I. For that to mean anything, the Algebra I class needs to have some consistency from section to section and from year to year. If it doesn't, then something is wrong. The "C" in Algebra I means that the student has accomplished a certain amount of algebra with a certain amount of facility and thus can be admitted to Algebra II and placed appropriately.

Or you need to give a grade for "Individualized Mathematics" and be ready to explain it to anyone who needs to know. If you're a single tutor of a single home-schooled kid, then this is the rule. When you are dealing with a few thousand kids, however, each kid's transcript needs to be clear. When you are hiring a math teacher to teach Algebra I, you need to know what that entails.

3) Different formats would complicate things for parents.

This complaint is a weird one to me. Even if I thought a parent would read the curriculum map, certainly not a winning bet, I would expect that the parent would have a harder time with the terms and descriptions than with the organization. Labeling the top of the chart Sept, Oct, Nov gives less information than sections 1, 2, 3 and much less than "Polynomials", "Slopes and Lines", "Linear Functions".

A format that provided greater information is preferred here as well as one that doesn't force weird splits in short words: "Probl ems and Linea"

Remember that the original idea (in Jacobs, Heidi Hayes: Mapping the Big Picture ) was for the teachers to make the map so they could identify missing pieces and make the entire school curriculum into a coordinated whole.

If the course isn't taught month-by-month, why map it that way? The teachers are the audience. The point is to identify gaps ... months do not add to that information. Further, Common Core and other standards purposefully do not specify when a particular topic be addressed or how ... why examine it that way?

4) What kind of confusion could possibly arise - doesn't the curriculum coordinator know enough about the curriculum that she could interpret pretty much any format?

Unfortunately, no. If she is like ours, she only wants you to enter all of this data into an online database that she has paid a lot of money for (and needs to justify the expense). The online database was never designed to accommodate teachers and this is what you get.

But she gets to push a button and the database will scan through and determine whether you've addressed standard F-TF (Functions, Trigonometric Functions).

She couldn't just look herself because she's never taught math and has no idea what we put in the boxes.

5) Why does everything have to fit into one box even when different?

Here's the funniest thing (and we get to use this screaming gem of a program so the word "funniest" is coming through clenched teeth) ... Everything in the month goes in the same box, so you have extra lines put in so you can keep the resources for topic one aligned with the content, skills, and assessment for topic one.  Add a few words to clarify one thing and you have to go back and adjust all the other columns ... which gets all messed up when the font size changes.

Like when a browser is set differently (full-screen vs. windowed) or when you print.

Did I mention that the web form accepts Word formatting, so a copy and paste job from the equally useless Word document you did three years ago) comes with 80KB of unbreakable hidden formatting? Yeah, it does. We spent so much time trying to make it look right, we finally broke down and re-typed every word. And every link to the "Standard" had to drill down through the entire document ...

Nothing changed.
Nothing improved.
No benefit to the students.
No mysterious "missing content" suddenly found.

Just five in-service days wasted changing from a Word document which was a printout from the last web company mapping system, itself a conversion from the excel spreadsheet which was a conversion from a word document which had been in wordperfect format fifteen years ago.

I still have the binder.