Monday, December 31, 2012

Odd Man Out Puzzle

Source: Mensa cards.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Circles Puzzle

source: Will Shortz
Note: Mouseover the word to see the answer.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

We don't have a gun problem.

Usually cheaper than this.
We have an alcohol problem.
We have a drug problem.
We have a poverty problem.
We have a "Kids Being Stupid" problem.
We have a politics problem.
We have an anti-vaccine idiot problem.

We don't have a gun problem.

I'd really appreciate it if we could stop applying solutions that don't work to problems we don't have, creating new problems we didn't need.

I'm sure someone will claim I'm being obtuse and since few of you has my perspective, I'll be more clear.  I'm not being a pro-gun, pro-NRA stooge.  I'm not ignoring the real problems that many schools have. I'm not ignoring the problems that we do have.

And I'm not ignoring reality.

NOT one of my students, but I see
similar pictures all the time.
First, some information.  At least 50% of my students have guns in their homes. At least 25% of my students have their own guns (and a few are pink camoflage, too).  I know, because they've shown them to me. "Hey Mister, check this out.  I got this deer this weekend." (Shows me a cellphone picture of herself posing proudly with a 6-pointer and the rifle.) This is anyone from one of the seventh graders to one of the seniors.  First kill - they're typically thrilled out of their minds and showing everyone.

I won't say that everyone hunts in this state, but several schools just give up and cancel classes during the first days of hunting season. We don't, but I do get the requests for homework so they don't fall behind. I have friends who own multiple guns, some of which are loaded and lying on the windowsills of the home. It might be startling at first to see it, but the surprise quickly fades. In Brattleboro, you can see people walking down the street, naked except for boots and a hat, sometimes with a rifle over the shoulder.

The law in Vermont allows for adults to own, sell, carry a weapon with very few restrictions. Under 16 only need parental permission. It is legal to walk around with a weapon, concealed or not, except for a few places like schools and courthouses, etc.

Have we had a problem with guns in school? No.

Yes, there was a shooting in an Essex school (just outside of Burlington, the closest we can come to a city) in which a man came in during August work days to shoot his teacher girlfriend, but killed another teacher. A Jericho student killed himself. That's it, going back to the 1960s.

Have had a problem with guns, period? No.

There was a guy who shot at a tractor in the middle of a field and killed the farmer he couldn't see behind it. There was a drug dealer in Burlington. There are the occasional "hunting accidents" and other things, but nothing remotely like Adam Lanza. We have maybe five homicides a year. We DID have the farmer who was angry at the cops and crushed all eight cop cars with his tractor, though, but I don't figure that counts.

We have had more kids die from whooping cough than from school shootings. Can we shut up Jenny McCarthy instead?

Banning guns, getting all paranoid about locking doors, hiring cops, arming teachers, are all security theater .... worthless attempts to solve a problem that doesn't exist here by pretending to raise security. The problem is that they cost serious money while being worthless.

Governor Howard Dean was in favor of tighter gun control but got the NRA's A rating eight times because he refused to jump at shadows. A Canadian news program asked him why he never tried to pass any gun control laws.  He replied, "I would have, but I never found one that would work."

In the national campaign, he said,
"If I thought gun control would save lives in Vermont, I would support it. If you say “gun control” in Vermont or Tennessee, people think you want to take away their hunting rifle. If you say “gun control” New York or L.A., people are happy to see Uzi’s or illegal handguns taken off the streets. I think Vermont ought to be able to have a different set of laws than California. Let’s keep and enforce the federal gun laws we have, close the gun show loophole using Insta-check, and then let the states decide for themselves what if any gun control laws they want. We need to get guns off the national radar screen if Democrats are ever going to win again in the South and the West. Just as we resist attempts by President Bush to dictate to the states how we run our school systems and what kind of welfare programs to have, we need to resist attempts to tell states how to deal with guns beyond existing Federal law. Source: Campaign web site,, “On the Issues” , Nov 30, 2002
Let's spend our limited resources on applying solutions that will work to counter something that IS a problem.

Coffee coupons


Friday, December 28, 2012

Presto Chango Puzzle


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Rectangle of Squares Puzzle

Like this, with different side lengths.
"A perfect fit with no overlapping"

Take some squares as defined below and fit them into one big rectangle with no gaps or spaces between the squares or in the corners. (Using graph paper might make it easier.)

The squares have sides of the following lengths:
2, 5, 7, 9, 16, 25, 28, 33, & 36.

source: efriedman et al.

The Daily Schedule again

The bastard.
Let's ask some rhetorical questions about the nature of school ... and jump to an amazingly random solution. Actually, I'll let someone else do it.

Shawn Cornally thinks we should get rid of class schedules and let the kids figure it all out. After achieving some success with SBG and assuming that he's got all the answers, Cornally takes the mental leap: maybe the reason kids are cheating, lying, "clamoring for meaningless grades and inflated As" is because the school day is scheduled. Throw in "herd mentality" and "cryptically planned lesson", ask a bunch of rhetorical questions masquerading as reasonable thoughts, and suddenly you've got a blog post.

I'll start with grades. Read more of Cornally's work (ThinkThankThunk -Dealing with the fear of being a boring teacher) and you see that he has a much better argument for SBG as a cure for grade-grubbing and for improving learning. I personally think it's more about how you grade and interact with your students than what form the grades take, but that's not what we're dealing with here.

Here we're discussing whether the daily schedule itself is the cause.

Now, I've been around a long time and I've attended and taught at both public and private, small and large, 8x40minute or 4x90 minute, strict or relaxed (not quite Ode to Billy Jack  but close) and I've dealt with students from all walks of academic life from hippy home-schooled and unschooled to public schools to the private-schooled ultra-rich.

The schedule isn't the problem and it's not what causes angsty students. I've seen too many schools in which this no-schedule proposal has been tried and has badly failed the students in the long run.
"How can we expect them to connect Hemingway, vectors, pottery, cells, and ancient Greece every day? It’s a disjointed nightmare—to which you might say, "deal with it, that’s school." But what I see in my students is that "dealing with it" results in a lot of material crammed for a test and then forgotten."

"They need to see that you can't always get the right answers from the back of a book. How many times were you allowed to mess up a chemistry lab in high school? Most likely you were graded on how well you reproduced a set of instructions the first time you tried it. That’s not how anyone really learns. Students need to know that things go wrong, and they need to be comfortable—dare I say happy—with failing and retrying."
Interesting strawman argument. Fallacious, but interesting. How can he expect me to connect having a schedule with test cramming? What causal link exists here? Further, the balancing of "learning to follow instructions" and "allowing students to mess up" has what possible link other than coincidental with the fact that you have those students for 90 minutes a day?

Cornally then asks a few questions that I'd like to answer:
What if we removed the passive course-to-course drudgery of the school day? What if there was no schedule? What if students were left with a list of coyly worded benchmarks targeted at creating quality humans, and we just waited to see what they could do? What if teachers were seen as mentors for projects designed to help students meet those benchmarks? What if the students initiated these projects and the teachers spent their time recording TED-style talks that would serve as inspiration and help students generate benchmark-related ideas?
What if, indeed. Well, the school would quickly grind to a halt for one thing. What reformers forget is that students, by and large, are not focused on education in the way education "experts" are. What works for a small subset of the population will not work for the greater portion. Additionally, if you let the students choose from too big a list, you'll give them too many choices and they mentally freeze, doing nothing. Students need structure. Not a prison but not a free-for-all either. Where you draw the lines depends on their age/maturity level.

I've made my choice for today.
"Passive course-to-course drudgery" is his interpretation.  As a math teacher, I would love to focus on one thing for an entire day, but few of my students will nor is it optimal as the basis for learning new things.

"A change of work is the best rest."

Students  have other interests, too; math is important and interesting and satisfying (and therefore fun) but not in large doses. If you eliminate the different courses, you and they will quickly run out of energy.

Leaving a list of "coyly worded benchmarks targeted at creating quality humans" would insult any students who thought about it, irritate the hell out of the rest. Students are smart enough to know when they are being patronized. They'll rebel out of irritation.

What if students "initiated these projects and ... teachers were seen as mentors ... serve as inspiration and help students generate ideas"? This pie-in-the-sky mental diarrhea is the worst of the bunch. First, only a few will initiate anything. The rest won't or will tag along hanging to the coat-tails of others at best, or actively sabotage at worst. Students, by definition, are at the stage in their lives where they are making some good choices and many bad ones. It's why they can't drink, smoke, drive without an adult, rent, get married, have sex with a thirty-year-old, join the military.  Some things they can do only with parental permission or supervision. So many forbidden or limited things ... why? Because they are not adults yet, partially because their parents and society doesn't want to let go yet. If a teacher wants to let the students decide everything, then he needs to switch out of public schools and into a private school that specifically allows for it and whose parents specifically asked (and paid) for it .. and even then, there are limits and limitations on what that education really accomplishes.

TED - Inspirational and Truthy
Not Always at the Same Time.
My favorite, though, is "What if the teachers spent their time recording TED-style talks that would serve as inspiration and help students generate benchmark-related ideas?" I love it. First, most teachers are paid to teach. Separating me from the classroom and putting me in a Khan Academy closet to make videos isn't going to make me a TED-quality superstar, isn't going to make the parents, administration or the school board particularly happy, and isn't going to do much for my students. Second, the average teacher is, well, average; hardly inspiring and certainly doesn't have all that much to say beyond the next chapter in the book.  Third, what happens the next year when those videos are already finished? Do I get to sit back and let the previous year's videos do the inspiring while I drink coffee and read

Most important, the whole "online video will solve the educational crisis and restore Peace, Love, Justice, and the American Way by inspiring students to do everything we want them to do instead of by forcing them" ignores the obstinate fact that students only tolerate online education when a real class isn't available ... and making a bunch of videos to replace your lectures isn't really all that interesting to your students. If that were the best way to go, YouTube would have already taught them everything they needed by age 13. There are thousands of better videos than mine out there. Thousands are better than Cornally's, too.
Instead, I will go back to my classroom tomorrow, where my students are slated for yet another period of biology. Once a day for 90 days—evidently that’s the prescription for understanding biology. How can we possibly know that’s enough for them to learn biology or any other subject? I’ll be trying a few experiments aimed at giving my students the curriculum and the freedom to generate projects that are asynchronous but productive.
And that, frankly, is what Cornally should do. He should go back to class and do his best. He should avoid giving meaningless, boring assignments to students, refuse to give credit for "organizing her binder in government class", make it possible for them to get inspired by a TED-style video or participate in a blended classroom. By all means, he should use whatever grading system makes the most sense for him, build his course along "authentic" projects (as opposed to what so many of us apparently do ... "fake" or "imitation" projects) and promote project-based learning if that works for him.

How do we know that's enough for them to learn Biology? I've talked about that. (In response to another Cornally post, no less.) The simple answer is that the course filled the time available rather than the other way around. When the science teachers in a neighboring school found they couldn't teach enough of what they thought Physical Science should be, they simply made two courses out of it. At another friend's school, the math department found that they didn't have time for everything they wanted in Pre-Calculus, they separated trig out to a half-credit course.
But as long as we keep the current way classes are scheduled, we will continue claiming that we just don’t have time for learning.
You can claim that.  I certainly won't.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Painter's Puzzle


Christmas Pear Tree.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas, Everyone.

How many triangles

Hold your mouse over the image for the answer in slightly hidden form.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Pulley Puzzle

belt loop puzzle
A puzzle by Harry Langman:
A thin belt is stretched around three pulleys, each of which is 2 feet in diameter. The distances between the centers of the pulleys are 6 feet, 9 feet, and 13 feet. How long is the belt?

from Futility Closet.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

I would have enjoyed writing for this man.

I hated English in school until I had Mr. Clark in 12th grade. He had a passion for the subject but also a pragmatic side. We read Thoreau and Shakespeare but also Frost and Bronowski. Every Thursday, we'd enter the classroom ready to write with a topic already on the board; we had forty minutes to write 1.5 - 2 pages. The papers were graded for content and style as most English papers were but then they were put through the wringer: every grammatical mistake brought the mark down a letter grade. That's when I learned to write and when I learned to appreciate good writing.

Taking a course like this one, however, taught by a teacher like this one, would have been glorious.

This assignment is reprinted from Kurt Vonnegut: Letters , edited by Dan Wakefield, out now from Delacorte Press.


November 30, 1965


This course began as Form and Theory of Fiction, became Form of Fiction, then Form and Texture of Fiction, then Surface Criticism, or How to Talk out of the Corner of Your Mouth Like a Real Tough Pro. It will probably be Animal Husbandry 108 by the time Black February rolls around. As was said to me years ago by a dear, dear friend, “Keep your hat on. We may end up miles from here.”

As for your term papers, I should like them to be both cynical and religious. I want you to adore the Universe, to be easily delighted, but to be prompt as well with impatience with those artists who offend your own deep notions of what the Universe is or should be. “This above all ...”

I invite you to read the fifteen tales in Masters of the Modern Short Story (W. Havighurst, editor, 1955, Harcourt, Brace, $14.95 in paperback). Read them for pleasure and satisfaction, beginning each as though, only seven minutes before, you had swallowed two ounces of very good booze. “Except ye be as little children ...”

Then reproduce on a single sheet of clean, white paper the table of contents of the book, omitting the page numbers, and substituting for each number a grade from A to F. The grades should be childishly selfish and impudent measures of your own joy or lack of it. I don’t care what grades you give. I do insist that you like some stories better than others.

Proceed next to the hallucination that you are a minor but useful editor on a good literary magazine not connected with a university. Take three stories that please you most and three that please you least, six in all, and pretend that they have been offered for publication. Write a report on each to be submitted to a wise, respected, witty and world-weary superior.

Do not do so as an academic critic, nor as a person drunk on art, nor as a barbarian in the literary market place. Do so as a sensitive person who has a few practical hunches about how stories can succeed or fail. Praise or damn as you please, but do so rather flatly, pragmatically, with cunning attention to annoying or gratifying details. Be yourself. Be unique. Be a good editor. The Universe needs more good editors, God knows.

Since there are eighty of you, and since I do not wish to go blind or kill somebody, about twenty pages from each of you should do neatly. Do not bubble. Do not spin your wheels. Use words I know.