Saturday, March 31, 2012

Images that interest me.

Just a random collection of things that caught my eye. Below the break.

Why is a Valedictorian Like a Throughbred Horse?

Not similar to GPA.
Beats the hell out of me. Why should a girl who wants to major in engineering be "competing" against a girl who wants to major in business? How can anyone possibly compare the two to the number 3 girl who took predominantly music, art, and English electives and wanted to major in theater?

A couple of years ago, my school had two amazing kids: one took geometry as a freshman, the other took algebra 2 as a freshman. By the senior year, both had progressed up the ladder and taken calculus. Their GPAs were 0.003 apart. The valedictorian received a UVM total scholarship (Green and Gold) but didn't need it and went elsewhere. The salutatorian who needed that scholarship and wanted to go to UVM, didn't get it.

Why do we do this to our kids?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Awesome April Fool's Pranks

from Richard Wiseman, the Magician:

I think the last one is my favorite.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Students should be taught how to study.

Dan Willingham: Students should be taught how to study.
How do you study? Students respond:
Rereading is a terribly ineffective strategy. The best strategy--by far--is to self-test--which is the 9th most popular strategy out of 11 in this study. Self-testing leads to better memory even compared to concept mapping (Karpicke & Blunt, 2011).
Gladwell said it, too. "Deliberate practice" he called it, and said that you need about 10,000 hours of it to achieve mastery.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Innumeracy in the News again

A town in Illinois got hit by a tornado, causing $3 million in damage.
News clip: A powerful tornado hit Harrisburg, Illinois, killing seven people and caused widespread damage throughout the town. Dean Reynolds reports on how the state will not be receiving nearly $3 million in relief aid from FEMA to help homeowners and renters. On the day that a tornado ripped through Harrisburg, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn surveyed the damage and tried to think ahead. "We have an emergency management agency and I signed a declaration, a state disaster declaration," Quinn said. "And I will ask the feds for assistance. You have to file a good application if you want federal assistance."
They got denied and everyone started screaming how awful it was that FEMA would do such a heinous act. Predictably, someone blamed the President. A couple of talking-heads compared it to Irene and wondered if Vermont's democratic leanings had something to do with it.

Let's compare that Illinois damage to what they pay their school superintendents, shall we? The 100 highest-paid school administrators in Illinois in 2006 (and now, with inflation and the inevitable raises, much more!) had salaries ranging from $205,590 to $380,227. (#1: Catalani Gary T $380,227 CUSD 200 to #17: Wolf Boyce J $256,380 ROCK FALLS TWP HSD 301.)  The total for the top 100: $23,000,000.

That's the cost of ONE salary from each district, six years ago. In 2011, the top two salaries were $402,000 and $411,000. source. Summary: the top 100 (from six years ago) of 1145 district account for 22 million.


Yeah, I think FEMA had this one right. Illinois can certainly afford it. Governor, shut up.

There used to be three lanes here, two up, one down.
There were five washouts this size in a two mile stretch.
Compare that to Irene in Vermont -- infrastructure damage could cost state $100 million. That's not including citizens' home and property damage. Many of my kids' homes were devastated, farmland ruined and crops destroyed. You can't sell food crop that's been flooded, you know, so the money was paid out all year for seed and fertilizer et. al., and then the only income is declared "spoil". FEMA sort of helped out; 10% - 20% of the cost of the replacement. Of the barn.

Farms were destroyed and crops ruined and whole sections of the state inaccessible due to washouts; farmers and contractors and citizens went out on their own initiative and used their own money and equipment to rebuild roadways, dredge and reconfigure streams and rivers, haul away trees and debris. The state had to come in to check and finish and pave, but a lot of that work was done by volunteers. Everyone helped out. The soccer team went door-to-door instead of to practice, even though school closed because no one could physically get there. Even the road contractors stopped leaning against their truck doors with cups of coffee - major bridges were rebuilt in weeks, roads like the one in the picture were rebuilt in days.

Since we used the schools as a proxy for our state wealth capability calculations: "On average, Vermont’s 60 superintendents earn $105,337 a year." That's all of them. $6 million. source.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Rasing the Standards for teachers

When are we ever going to have to use that
in elementary school?
You won't even make it that far.
Came across this bit from the Boston Globe, two years ago:

Aspiring teachers fall short on math - Nearly 75 percent fail revamped section of state licensing test."Not all our students are receiving a strong math education." -- Mitchell Chester, Commissioner of elementary and secondary education. By James Vaznis, Globe Staff, May 19, 2009

So, I ask again ... why do we allow people to teach math at any level if they can't pass a high school math test as an adult?

Here's another question, just to annoy the crap out of you as you consider that your child's prospective teacher had trouble with this:

Yeah, it's pseudocontext, contrived, silly, but jeez-louise people, it's easy.

OOOOOH, fractions. Scary.

Education Gap - Money Gap

A bunch of people are pointing to this graph and coming to lots of conclusions.

Who makes it to the top of the income pile?  The motivated and intelligent people who are willing to work hard, able to sacrifice for a goal, and able to defer instant gratification for a long-term benefit. (and lottery winners.)

Who makes it to the top of the education pile, achieving a high school and then a college diploma by any means possible? The motivated and intelligent people who are willing to work hard, able to sacrifice for a goal, and able to defer instant gratification for a long-term benefit. (and spoiled rich kids)

What kind of kids are motivated and intelligent people who are willing to work hard, able to sacrifice for a goal, and able to defer instant gratification for a long-term benefit? They are usually kids imitating their parents' qualities of being motivated and intelligent people who are willing to work hard, able to sacrifice for a goal, and able to defer instant gratification for a long-term benefit. The Income Gap is really an Education Gap which is really a Motivation and Work-Ethic Gap.

I don't see the motivation, work-ethic, and intelligence gap going away any time soon.
The chart below shows that as people's income rise, so too does the likelihood that they have a college degree or higher. By contrast, those with the lowest incomes are most likely to have a high school education or less. Just 8% of those at the lowest income level have a college degree while 78% of those earning $250,000 or more have a college degree or advanced degree. At the other end of the income scale, 69% of low-income people have a high school degree or less, while just 9% of those earning over $250,000 have just a high school degree.

Data-Driven is Driving out the Good Ones

from Jay Mattthews:
Cotton worked hard. He said his evaluations from classroom observers got better as the year went on. But his students failed to outdo their suspiciously high fourth-grade scores to save his job. Those test results counted 50 percent in Cotton’s final evaluation.
He might have been a lousy teacher, but most first-year teachers need a lot of practice to get this job right. It takes about three years to catch up to the standard. It makes no sense to toss him under the bus.

The data requires me to be 
stupid, that's why.
The test maker sees evidence of cheating in the previous year's answer sheets, for a "suspicious number of wrong to right erasures". A former teacher is fired for cheating, or as the administration puts it, "is no longer at the school" because of  "a lapse of integrity".  What to do?  Fire the new guy because his more honest scores are too low, because you can fire a probationary teacher without cause or reason, because you will be "doing something", because "we will turn this place around".

Decisions must be data-driven instead of intelligence-based, apparently. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Just one more sign of the Education Apocalypse

Destroying the budget, it is.

Highly Ineffective Principal decides that the cost of printing is SOOOOO big. "Something must be done! I know, quotas!" Never mind that the principal himself prints out and copies tons of junk for our mailboxes instead of forwarding it. Never mind that the principal needs to hire someone to implement and oversee the quota system / accounting and is paid more than the printing budget. Never mind that the quotas are set without any rhyme or reason.

Whence the rant? I was just reading Mimi's blog and I ran across this sentence:
PS. You can see a copy of my said trig test here. Sorry but the font is small -- for two reasons: one is that I am almost out of printing quota for the month.

Kinko's charges 9 cents per page to make copies and they're making a good profit. A typical school photocopier costs between 3 and 5 cents a page, so let's say 5 just to be snarky. (It's based on print density and that trig test was hardly dense.) That trig test is two pages so that's 10 cents per kid; pretending there's 30 in the room, a total of $3 for that assignment or test.
Why, yes money grows on trees.
To pay the admins at least.

You're going to complain about a teacher spending $3?  Really? I can see why you'd want a teacher to consider the printing costs if the options were to print the text of War and Peace or buy the paperback, but otherwise the school should just shut up about printing costs. Three dollars is approximately what our curriculum coordinator (who never actually shows up and coordinates) gets paid for 2.5 minutes, assuming $90K, 180 days, 7hours/day.

"Sorry, I can't print out the work for all of my 150 students. A useless member of our school bureaucracy (is that redundant?) needs to be paid for the time she'll spend while her computer boots up today."

Zombies, all of 'em.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Facebook and Privacy - Athletes this time

"Student athletes at various universities are finding out that they have no expectation of privacy with regards to their use of social media. A recent revision in the handbook of the University of North Carolina states:
 “Each team must identify at least one coach or administrator who is responsible for having access to and regularly monitoring the content of team members’ social networking sites and postings. The athletics department also reserves the right to have other staff members monitor athletes’ posts.”
I say, "So what?" Yes, it's an invasion of privacy. Yes, it raises First Amendment questions. No, the college has no right to look at what the student posts on Facebook. Why shouldn't we scream about it?

The student should have two Facebook accounts and two twitter accounts, two of everything that the coach feels like monitoring.

One, under the student's real name: nice and shiny and clean and sanitized - posts about squeaky clean and honest living, the thrill of academics, and messages to parents and family. Use this one to set up future job prospects and post photos showing one in a good light. Dutifully give this information to the goody-two-shoes compliance officer and don't forget to friend the coach and his flunkies.

The second account, set up under a pseudonym such as "Attila the Bunny Rabbit" is the one that has all of the true friends, the honesty and the fun.

For me, this is the difference between the Math Curmudgeon and my real life. Plausible Deniability.

Article Source.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Sleep and Academic Achievement.

Why didn't they use a multiple bar chart?
Joanne Jacobs says "While federal guidelines recommend 9.25 hours of sleep each night for students, that could be too much for teens, concludes a new study, which correlated students’ hours of sleep to reading and math scores."
The study found the optimal sleep amount for 10-year-olds ranges between 9 and 9.5 hours, while for 18-year-olds it is slightly less than 7 hours. At ages 12 and 16, children need between 8.34 to 8.43 hours and 7.02 to 7.35 hours, respectively, the study found.
First, very few people are capable of determining how long they stay asleep because they have no way of knowing when they fell asleep; the study was based on numbers that were self-reported (by children!). "There is heaping of sleep hours in the data on 0s and 5s. The distributions are computed with a smoothing parameter of 0.85." If you can't measure sleep time empirically, your data becomes suspect. To be fair, the researchers acknowledge "The first issue concerns the non-experimental nature of our data. Because our data were not generated by a controlled experiment, we cannot rule out the possibility that we are measuring a correlation between sleep and test scores rather than a causal relation."

While this is interesting, it's not too useful.
Second, there was no control for studying time. Were those students studying if they slept less? Maybe the 18ers who are getting 6-7 hours of sleep are the ones studying and learning for hours while those who are sleeping for 9.5 hours are working less hard. Maybe no one is studying. Maybe they all are. Maybe the school should start at 8:30 instead of 7:30 (with a one-hour bus ride before that).
"To determine the optimal amount of sleep, they compared standardized test scores in mathematics and reading with the self-reported number of hours students were typically sleeping each night. "
Without knowing WHY the students are sleeping more or less, this is just another useless education study, listed in the advance online publication section. The results were released and everyone jumps on it to further some educational fad or just to make copy deadlines. "The study's results raise the issue of whether students receiving too much sleep may see a reduction in academic achievement. While more research is needed, the authors conclude that this is possible." Actually, the researchers don't get anywhere near that definitive a conclusion.

Let's look at their aggregate data; maybe that will clarify things.

The hours of sleep range from 4 to 12, with σ = 1.45 and =8 so we have a pretty narrow window here but it's still worth exploring. Income isn't ... wait ... mean income is 67k, range is 1.4 million, σ=$92,000 ! Wow, I sure hope they controlled for income, but a look through the report doesn't show any indication that they did.

I know where I'd start round two.

If this is Singapore Math, I want nothing to do with it.

There is a teacher in trouble for assigning violent math problems.
A Washington, D.C., charter school teacher has been fired after it was discovered the teacher had assigned third-grade students a number of math problems framed around violent and illegal scenarios.
Hummm. Not a peep from the evil teachers' union. Maybe you can fire bad teachers after all. Maybe, just maybe, you need a reason to fire bad teachers ... and given a good reason, the NEA will stay out of it. Oh, my bad, this is a charter school. The union and all those pesky certification requirements are not welcome.

At first, the unnamed teacher at the Trinidad Center City School claimed he had been ordered to assign the problems, but it was quickly discovered that the teacher had actually downloaded them from a free homeschooling website called ""
Ordered to use those problems ... doubtful. I've copied a few below. I'm not sure I'd give them to a third grader.  They are stupid and unrealistic while pretending to be "engaging". The violence is somewhat of a problem but then I grew up with Tom and Jerry and Wile E. Coyote so cartoon violence doesn't bother me, but I can see how today's admin, parents and students might be uncomfortable. Are they Racist? Absolutely.
Even more baffling, other parents at the school say the teacher in question is a minister.
I'd be curious if the "minister" was a real one or just someone who bought a one-week course and a semi-fake diploma. I think this is a red herring. Being a minister doesn't immunize you from stupidity or racist assholishness but it isn't pertinent to this discussion.

Anyway, I'm interested in the questions. I followed the link to Homeschooling Paradise and then chose a set of free printable math worksheets for 3rd grade. At random, I chose this one.

Math Problem 9
A swarm of bloodsucking flies descended upon Egypt. King Tut and King Rehotep leapt onto their chariots and began to catch the flies with their long sticky tongues. By the time they were finished, King Tut had swallowed 7 times as many flies as King Rehotep. If King Rehotep caught 251 flies, how many delicious flies did King Tut swallow?
Really? King Rehotep? Catching flies with their "long, sticky tongues"? I'll bet this question satisfies the Science and History requirements, too ... you little &^%(. 

And this teacher went and downloaded this because ... why?  Was this material superior to what he already had? Wait ... this is a Washington DC Charter School teacher? 
Math Problem 16
My sister greedily lapped up 483 liters of maggot juice from a saucer. I slurped up 5 times as much creamy maggot juice as she. How much delightfully delicious maggot juice did we drink altogether?
Sure, that's a RealWorld problem. My mass is 100kg. So this "sister" lapped up nearly five times my weight in liquid and "I" lapped up five times as much, from a saucer remember; that's equal to the weight of my Ford Ranger pickup truck.

I'm done with that idiot teacher. Send him on his way - he definitely used some really bad materials and he has the intelligence and judgement of a rotten tomato. I will try to ignore the whole "Charter Schools are automatically better than public schools thing" - that's another piece.

But homeschooling parents don't deserve this trash either and this website must be serving someone. It's no wonder that so many homeschoolers take math classes at the high school if this is the kind of educational material they and their parents get to choose from.

Pretty amazing stuff. I tried out the mass, volume and time.

Question 1
Last night, a 2950 g beaver entered Bob's house and put its wet paw into a hole in a wall socket. The poor beaver died of electrocution. Bob was delighted. He cut out 850 g of the dead beaver and made beaver pies with it. He divided the remaining dead body into 3 equal pieces and gave them to Alan, Charles and Mei Ling. What was the mass of the portion Charles received?
That seems a bit much. Let's try some intended for the second grader in your homeschool paradise.
Serial killer brandishing machete clip artFree Elementary Math Worksheets: Homeschool Math Practice Question 19
Sadistic Serial Killer Suppiah crept into a hospital brandishing a machete. He went on a killing spree and murdered 634 doctors, nurses and patients. He slashed 457 doctors to death. If he butchered 151 more nurses than doctors, how many poor nurses did he kill?
Well, that's a relief; I thought they'd have something unpleasant.  I'm more offended that this problem is unsolvable as written. The answer is supposed to be 164, you see.
"If your child got all correct, she must be a math whiz. If she didn't, all she needs is a bit more math practice. That's what we are here for! Please bookmark our Home Page and come back for more Singapore Math Worksheets."
Um, No.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Does this make him a bad teacher?

Darren has this piece about a teacher who's living with one of his students.
Last year, Jordan Powers was just another student from Mr. Hooker's class. Now she's his live-in girlfriend. James Hooker -- the 41-year-old married father who left his wife and kids for his 18-year-old-student -- might be the worst teacher ever.
He should never have an affair with his student. Don't look for love on your class roster, even if she graduated and turned 18. There's too much baggage there. Certainly don't leave your family for the girl. He's 41 and she's 18 ... really?

It's the same as sleeping with your boss, fraternizing in the military, or looking for a wife at the family picnic. It's a bit unseemly and in practice quite problematic. Someone invariably winds up being hurt. It's illegal in most states for that reason.

However, that doesn't make him the worst teacher in the world. It makes him a bad person who happens to be a teacher.