Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Ask the Blogger: Slept through Final Exam

Ask The Blogger:

I accidentally slept through my exam, which is worth 50%. Should I ask my professor for a redo, or would that look bad?


You should absolutely ask. The answer is probably “No”, but there is small chance of “yes”.

The one thing you should do is be honest, admit to the mistake, and see if there’s another administration of the exam possible. It helps if you already have a good rapport with your professor, attended office hours, asked intelligent questions, and demonstrated your willingness to do the work and learn.

If you try to BS your way through it, you’ll be flat-out rejected. Professors get this all the time. There’s a joke going around about the effect exams have on grandparents’ health in that they tend to die right around finals week, and somewhat surprisingly, a single grandparent will occasionally die more than once. Lies will absolutely come back to haunt you to the end of your career in that department.

If you’ve never talked to them before, you won’t get anywhere, either. It’s very easy to point to the clock and remind you that the information was in the syllabus that you obviously hadn’t read and that the course would be offered again. It’s harder for them to do that if they know that you have been working hard and been involved with the course.

Don’t get angry. You screwed up.

Don’t complain. It’s your fault.

There are no excuses that will work here. Only an explanation and a hope that there was some reason that an alternative final was already planned, and that you’d be allowed into that session.


Sadly, the answer was "no" but, in the long run, it all worked out for our student. They retook the course, got straight As, and found that this paved the way for a degree path that was much more fulfilling. Later, they found themselves doing research with that professor, earning second-line mention on the resulting paper.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Ask The Blogger: Admission Revocation

Ask the Curmudgeon:

If I was accepted by Early Decision, can the college revoke my acceptance? Are there typical grades that must be maintained for the HS senior year in order to attend the college?


“Senioritis” is students’ attempt to excuse lazy, selfish behavior. You may think this time is your “last months before getting serious” but it is actually not.

High school is for teens who are not quite ready to be adults. Senior year is the transition. Senior year is when you need to demonstrate to yourself that you can be an adult, accept responsibility, stand up under pressure, look out for your better interests, academically invest in yourself. (and to the faculty and parents, but mostly to *you*)

You need to arrive in college able to adapt to oddball professors, advocate for yourself (since advisors rarely do as much as you think they should), get out and learn rather than sit back and passively absorb whatever gets past your AirBud filters, discipline yourself with completing the workload, limit your distractions and maximize the education opportunities you’re paying a lot of money for.

If you can’t do that in the protected, slightly limited HS setting, what makes you think that you’ll magically be able to do so 6 months later when you are in college?

Why does anyone consider that doing nothing academically is a good preparation for spending $30,000 per year doing academic things?

Can the college revoke your acceptance? Yes.

If you prove that you can’t resist slacking off, if you aren’t ready for the challenges and sheer joys of college, then you should be grateful if they do.


Sadly, he heard the advice, but didn't listen to it.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Ask the Narrator: Flags

Ask The Narrator:

"I fly the Stars and Bars and a Trump flag. LGBTQ aquintances have said that it's hurtful. I said, 'You might as well de-friend me now because I have a Trump 2020 flag hanging out front of my house and a Confederate flag hanging in my office. I hope you don't de-friend me though.'  Am I the Asshole?"

Narrator: Yes.

If that is how you truly feel, that all the things those two flags represent is ok with you, why should anyone who has been targeted by people waving those flags say "Yeah, that's alright. He must be nice in other ways"?

What parts of those philosophies do you reject - any part? Are you ok with slavery? With white supremacy? You okay telling people that you support a President who will behave in such a fashion and say the things he said about POC, immigrants, etc, all while promoting policies that actively harm other people? If so, don't be surprised at the reaction you get.

I tell my students, "If you stand here and say 'You can't stop me from saying this or believing that, I don't care what you think" - don't be surprised if people accept your statement and shut you out."

Words have meanings.
If you don't agree with them, don't say them.

Flags have meanings.
If you don't really mean all that they represent, don't fly them. It definitely sucks if you believe in Libertarian ideals and consider the Gadsden Flag appropriate, but you also must realize that far more people fly that banner with very different intentions.

If you know that something you say (and flying the stars and bars is definitely speech) will aggravate, or anger, or depress, or disappoint someone else and you say it anyway, don't be surprised if they take you at your word.

You have rights to speech, but not to my company or to the company of people targeted by many of those who fly those two flags.

You *might* be the one holdout, the one nice guy flying those flags. But I doubt it.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Ask the Narrator: Apps

Warning: The narrator of this blog is "going there".

Ask the Narrator: An App

What do you think about an app that helps parents to easily communicate with teachers towards the educational welfare of students both at school and at home?


I’d have to look at it to be able to say. A few things about your question jump out, though.

“app” & “easily communicate” — you mean like email, texting, facebook clone, instagram, whatsapp, slack, messenger, facetime, …?

As a teacher, I don’t want this much communication with every one of my students parents because my job is teaching, not socializing. The biggest problem teachers have with parents is getting them to let go the reins, stop the constant hovering, … essentially to back off and let their children learn in peace.

Younger children need more oversight, but high school kids much less so. Juniors and seniors are nearly adults. HS is the time to learn self-control, self-motivation, learn from mistakes, break away from Momma and get out of bed on their own, take responsibility for their own education …. now, before it costs $30,000 per year.

“Educational welfare” — what does that even mean?

“at school and at home” — Children at school are my responsibility not the parents’. Children at home are their parents’ responsibility, not mine. Mixing these is where the most egregious problems happen.

Unless, of course, if you’d like me to express my opinions on your ability to cook a nutritious meal, refrain from attending that ridiculous church, comment on your parenting skills, criticize your gun control views, tell you that your kid should be studying rather than having a part-time job, question your support of Trump despite all the evidence, point out that being poor is your fault … and let’s not get into the fact that your divorce from the third man in your kid’s life is really messing her up and causing psychological problems.

Before you argue that all of that would never happen because teachers are just peachy-keen and awesome, supportive people, I have to mention that each one of those comments did happen in local districts or in my own district, and everyone wasn’t particularly happy. (Side note: being a union representative can be soooo interesting, sometimes)

I guess I’ve answered your question, after all.

I don’t want that app.

Fortunately for me, you don’t either.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Ask the Narrator: Taxes for Education

"I'm sick of paying for everyone else's kids to go to school. Why can't people without children pay smaller amounts of school tax than people with children?"

Ask The Narrator

Because you’re not paying for a child to go to school. You are paying taxes in a town, and that town is funding a school for any child who lives in the district. You aren’t driving on every road the town maintains, nor using all of the services available, or even paying all that much and you may have children in that district someday.

Mostly, you are living in a civilized society and that society believes that every child deserves an education.

Some numbers. I pay about $3000 per year on my property taxes for education. I will probably pay those taxes from age 24 - 64 (after that, education taxes are minimal or zero) - so a total contribution of $120,000, which sounds like a lot but it's over 40 years. However, the town guarantees an education to any child … all of mine, any step children, foster children, grandchildren if the kids get in trouble and can’t take care of them, children of relatives if we all want them to be in a better school system, immigrant children if we decide to sponsor them, … each one costing about $15,000 per year. And that’s just my household. Homeless or orphaned, single parent or two, black or white or something in between, disabled or genius or both or neither, athlete or nerd.

My lifetime taxes pay for one child, K-9th grade. Cheap at the price.

It’s just like buying home insurance that you never used because your house never burns down ... but you bought it anyway.

Then, we have the argument that "I don't want my kids to go to public school ... why can't I spend MY money the way I want to? Gimme a full-tuition voucher to a private school."

Because it isn't your money. You don't get to contribute $3000 per year and get a check for $30,000 to send your two kids to Catholic School. And, as above, that tax money is being used by the town to provide an inexpensive education for its citizens. If you don't want to take advantage of that offer, that's fine, but you don't then get to demand they pay for your whims.

If your local school sucks, perhaps you might consider helping to change it and fix it instead of selfishly trying to destroy it with no replacement.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Ask The Narrator: Mandatory College For All

Recently, the Narrator was asked if college would ever be made mandatory like K12 is. The narrator says no.

Ask The Narrator

"Will college ever be mandatory?" 

K-12 students, by and large, are not yet adults. You can’t require college for adults. 

Being the Narrator allows for extending the question.

"Should there be college for all?"

College isn’t for everyone in the first place, isn’t appropriate for many who do wind up going, and isn’t appropriate for everyone at the exact age they graduate high school.

No, the most you can do is put policies into place to encourage college for all, but you need to have some mechanisms to keep out those who don’t really want to be there.

"Should there be programs to offer aid (up to free tuition) to all?" 


Four-year college is the pinnacle in the minds of most Americans, but that's ridiculous. Two-year degrees are just as worthwhile to many people because of differing aspirations, abilities, and life situations. So are tech programs, certifications programs and that sort of thing. 

If we can provide tuition for a four-year degree at a State School (which I think we can and should do), why not also help out with the retraining costs for someone who wants to be a long-haul trucker and help them get a CDL? Why not help the office worker who wants to retrain as an accountant?

Why should we wait for the plant to close and lay off all its workers before we help them get training in another field if they want to put in the considerable time and effort?

Monday, November 4, 2019

Ask the Narrator: SAT prep tactics

Ask the Narrator

Q: How do I prepare for the math SAT?

A: Hard work. There is no "Royal Road to Success."

Learn math every day.

Practice math every day.

Take your courses seriously every day.

See math problems as a challenge you can beat, not a chore you have to suffer through.

It takes deliberate practice, like the stuff you do to improve at soccer or chess, instead of half-assing your way through something just to finish it; that's the only way to succeed at anything, especially math.

Improve your arithmetic skills: mental math (for quick estimation), fractions, percents. Not having to worry about these will free your mind for more complicated parts of the questions.

Practice reading word problems and converting to algebra - there are plenty of questions like this on the SAT. You can find 8 sample tests on the collegeboard website - download them and take them.

Find out if anyone in your school has taken the SAT and requested (and paid for) the wrong answer report. If you can afford it, request it yourself when you take the test. Reviewing these questions helps a lot.

Finally, understand that the SAT is made up of the stuff you learned in:
  • Pre-Algebra (the statistics questions are at this level), 
  • Algebra 1 (especially word problems in systems of linear equations), 
  • Geometry, and a smidgeon of trig (mostly the right-triangle trig from ch8 in Geometry),
  • Algebra 2 (the raw, pure algebra of weird-looking expressions that factor nicely, etc.).

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Ask the Narrator: Class size

In the spirit of all of those movies with a Narrator voice-over ...

It's the Inaugural Episode of ...

Ask The Narrator

What is the optimal classroom size for creating the best quality learning environment?

I like my math classes between 10 and 18.

Fewer than 10 leads to too much of a tutoring situation. The student has to be “on” at all times, and misses out on being able to sit back and consider while someone else asks that same “dumb” question.

More than 18 allows students to hide and you can’t “check in” with them enough in a class period and they don’t learn as much or as well.

More than 24 kids in a class means that the kids on the edges are essentially taking a live-action but on-line class. They don’t ask questions, they don’t work very hard, they skate through and maybe learn something - or not; it’s as if you weren’t even there.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Let Math Fix Elections ...

(Note: I originally wrote this piece several years ago, but bumped it to the top when I read that the GOP is thinking of reconfiguring their primaries and convention.)

What if we really wanted to reform elections – How to do it?

The flaws in the current system are obvious to all – campaigns beginning right after the off-year elections, candidates who rarely stray from bullet-point sound-bites, massive amounts of money being raised and spent, and the all-too-common situation of one candidate's reaching a domination point before all of the states have had their say.

The desire for relevance has resulted in a furious jockeying for first primary. New Hampshire is pushing its primary as far back as it can to maintain its first-in-the-nation status, Iowa is following suit and California just moved its primary to February. It doesn't have to be this way and it shouldn't be this way.

I propose that there be 6 days of primary voting, arranged so that the delegate total doubles each time.

In order to simplify the numbers, I'll use Electoral college numbers as proxy for population or primary delegate numbers. It's not perfect, but it's a good start.

Primary Day I

Leave NH and Iowa first, voting at the end of February. They have been first for many years and are located in completely different parts of the country. They are also small. This small size gives all of the candidates an equal chance to get into a bus and criss-cross the two states meeting personally with as much of the electorate as possible. This sort of old-fashioned campaigning is essential at the beginning.

NH and IA are the first:
they winnow the candidates.
The media will, of course, follow and dutifully report on all of the wonderful stories, repeat all the sound bites and give valuable airtime to the candidates. Because only two states are in contention for the next three weeks or so, all of the candidate's attention is on a small number of voters and a small geographical area.
(Day 1: 2% of delegates committed)

After NH and Iowa have done their civic duties and winnowed the field somewhat, we have then three to four weeks before the next group of small states in mid-March.

Primary Day II

Wyoming, Vermont, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Delaware, D.C., and Alaska.
(Day 2 cumulative total: 6% of delegates committed)

After this second day of voting, the candidates have been analyzed, interviewed, tested under fire, suffered through elections, and hopefully taken a closer look at themselves and their campaigns and made realistic projections about their futures. These small contests harden the serious candidates and eliminate any truly weak ones. Group II states are all "relevant" in that they are the first real test, the first crucible of cross-country campaigning.

Viable candidates who are late-comers to the party won't suffer, though. There have only been some small elections. A candidate could declare in March and still have a realistic shot.

Primary Day III

Now its time (1st week in April) for Rhode Island, Maine, Idaho, Hawaii, West Virginia, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Nebraska. Some are blue states, some are red, some are coastal, others are interior states.
(Day 3 cumulative total: 14% of delegates committed)

Our goal now is to force the candidates to campaign to wider audiences. TV ads and news interviews have given the candidates plenty of exposure by now. People in the coming elections are seeing the results of earlier elections and starting to mobilize their parties.

At every step of the way, anyone could take over the lead regardless of the current totals. We're doubling down at every turn - at every stage someone can decide to become a candidate and can come in and sweep up enough delegates to take the lead.

First Interlude

The race is in full gallop. The early debates can happen now. With 18 days or so before the next round, the country has a perfect opportunity to see these candidates in debates and forums. Jim Lehrer can put them through their paces.

Primary Day IV - Super Tuesday

In the 3rd or 4th week of April, we have the first Super-Tuesday. Mississippi, Kansas, Arkansas, Oregon, Oklahoma, Connecticut, South Carolina, Kentucky, Louisiana, Colorado, Alabama bring the delegate total from 14% to 29%.
(Day 4 cumulative total: 29% of delegates committed)

Primary Day V - Super Twosday

Two weeks later, the next Super Tuesday, somewhere near May 10th : Wisconsin, Minnesota, Maryland, Arizona, Washington, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Massachusetts, and Virginia.
(Day 5 cumulative total: 50% of delegates committed)

Second Interlude

Candidates are now running around like crazy folk, but the primaries are coming with two-week "respites" that will allow everyone time to regroup and refocus on the next set of states.

Remember too, that even now only half of the delegates have been assigned – it's still anyone's race. Theoretically, a candidate could step in and sweep the next Super Tuesday and ride triumphantly to the party conventions in June.

Major candidates are now invited to the second round of debates. During these two weeks, the candidate debates can be held every four days or so. The League of Women Voters and other civic groups conduct debates, get-togethers, and candidate forums.

Primary Day VI

So here it is, the last Super Tuesday, in the week of May 24th … North Carolina, New Jersey, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Florida, New York, Texas, California. These are the biggest states with the most voters, evenly split red state - blue state. Candidates still have the chance to "come from behind." They have been in the news for weeks and have had ample time to get out the vote in these big states, raise money, buy ads, and spend money.
(Day 6 cumulative total: 100% of delegates committed)

We've been doubling the totals every time to keep everyone relevant. We've kept the elections to six intense days, instead of scattershot across the five, six or seven months.

Every state matters because no candidate can get an insurmountable lead. Every vote counts because no one can be declared a winner until the end of May. Even the last set of states are relevant: without this group, no one can get over the top. Between Valentine's Day and Memorial Day, we've conducted our business, and can take the holiday weekend off.

We'll have earned it.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Do This and the Bunny Dies

By request Ms Cangialosi:

Because someone's beagles do this all the time ...

Fresh from today's test:

Nominated by @MathsPadJame,

Seriously? Nix The Tricks, Dammit!

I'm trying to hold it together, people ...

We've both had enough of that fraction mistake.

That's not even reasonable ....

One for the younger ones ...

Can't remember where I saw this first. (edit: Finally found out the original ones with the handwritten math came from Bowman Dickson, @bowmanimal)

I cleaned up the original images a bit and tried to keep it sensible, but between the kids' and my evil senses of humor ... this project has grown out of control.

We might as well just enjoy it.

Save the Rabbit!

Finally found out these original ones with the handwritten math came from Bowman Dickson, @bowmanimal. You can blame him for starting all this. ;-)

 Poor Kitten ... this happens all the time.

Such a shame how often that poor puppy gets it ...

Damn you, TI !

Because we all know a Fawn ...

Pandas are endangered, people. Cut that out!

Poor, poor Grumpy Cat.

Don't make him cry, people!

You heartless bastards.

I have nothing left to say.

Do You REALLY want him to win?

There's more!

Look at how sad he is ...

Don't you want friends ....

Poor bastard ...

SO very disappointed ...

It's just mean for you to do this ...

This just makes me sad ...