Monday, July 20, 2020

Ask The Blogger: Do We Stick to the Curriculum?

Sure. We are always editing the curricula for our classes because we all have different experiences and we have different priorities.

I’ve got an engineering degree. I used math for practical reasons, doing hands-on problems. I want my students to understand why it’s necessary by doing the same kinds of things with the math that I did and that they will need to do in their futures.

To a math major, that’s a pentagon. It’s got an apothem, a radius, and a side length. To me, that’s a five-bolt pattern that needs to be milled into a block of aluminum for a wheel, and you measure it “this way, between the top bolt and the center of the third bolt”.

VT doesn’t mandate any curriculum, but our school has basically adopted the CCSS. It has some limited technology requirements, but I have kids use spreadsheets, DESMOS, wolframalpha, geogebra, laser transits, etc., whenever I can.

The statistics book and the SAT use examples that contain 12 data points. I like to give them ones that have at least 1000. Is spreadsheet facility a part of the standards? No, but my students come back and tell me how useful and helpful that knowledge is.

We’ve all got our strengths; we’ve got our preferences and dislikes for which courses we teach. We are always changing up what we teach if we think we can give our kids an edge.

Narrator: The curriculum is a minimum.

Friday, February 7, 2020

The Walter Mitty President

"Trump will say anything to rally his base. He wants to be re-elected."

I don't think that's his primary motivation for saying the things he does, for doing the things, for telling the lies. I think this is his version of self-help therapy, a free-association riff with feedback from the audience instead of from a psychiatrist.

Hear me out.

Being President is scary to him. He knows he can't really do the job, and he thinks that it's a great way to make money and get some revenge on all the NJ and NY people who've made fun of him for the last forty years in the NYPost and elsewhere. "I'm more successful than you are" is *still* a big driver for him.

But his primary motivation for the bullshit? The reaction. Not to motivate the base. He can't see the base, or hear them. When he speaks, he reacts to every reaction, and modifies his next few sentences to maximize that reaction. He's surfing on the attention, twisting back and forth, letting the swells of attention guide his words.

If he says something and doesn't get that immediate scream of adulation, he'll switch to something that does. When he does get it, he riffs on it, milking it for everything it's worth.

He needs that feedback. He's not in control of his speeches; his listeners are. He provides the endless stream of consciousness drivel and the audience guides it with their cheers. The more you praise and worship his awesomeness, the more he gives you. The more attention he gets, the more he gives to get more of it. The attention is the drug that drives Trump. 

A reporter asks one of those leading questions that answers itself; his response is that of the school bully because he doesn't have a good reply. If the reporter asks a real question that pins him down, or makes it obvious that he failed, the network is banned or denied a press pass. Ask a softball question and he's your friend and he calls you at your desk at FoxNews, desperate for more pats on the head.
He needs it because deep down, he knows he isn't good at what he does. He failed at business over and over, going bankrupt, losing money. He knows that he's taken a huge fortune and turned it into a lesser one, and he's scared shitless that SDNY will get his tax returns and prove it.

He sucks at almost everything he's done. His marriages fail, his kids are messed up, he's a laughingstock to any competent person. He is the figurehead who failed at business, failed at family, failed at being President. The people with power couldn't give less of a shit about him as long as he doesn't get in their way; he's the useful idiot.

Border wall? That was never a big deal until he started getting "shocked" faces and bitter denunciations. He threw it up and saw it stick to the wall, and kept right on going. He doesn't care about a wall -- he only cares about "trolling the libs" and getting his fix.

And then he stands in front of a rally and people cheer. For a few minutes, he can dream that someone loves him.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Teaching Grammar

I was wasting time the other day, reading an article that my browser labeled "5 Administrative Tasks that Waste Teachers' Time" even though the actual title at the top of the article itself was "5 Things Teachers Do Every Day That Are a Complete Waste of Time."

Irony? I think that qualifies as irony. But, I digress.

The article listed the following:
  1. Write the standard on the board. 
  2. Teach grammar. 
  3. Grade daily work. 
  4. Collect data. 
  5. Enforce the dress code. 
Wait, what?  One item at a time, shall we?

Enforce the dress code - that's a tough one. Dress codes are usually so one-sidedly sexist that I want to reject them outright and as a man (he/him/Mr.), I will always be over-cautious when it comes to enforcing dress code violations. Yeah, this can an administrator's job. I've got better things to worry about.

Collect data - data is good, as long as it is collected without extra effort on anyone's part. I see no reason to fill out paper forms, hand out paper exit tickets, or collect paper that only services data collection. If you tell me I have time to transcribe data, then I would have far more time if you understood that I can distill that raw data into more meaningful information.

I can ask for a show of hands. Clicker cards. Exit tickets and homework checks with Google Forms. That raw data is useless to anyone but me and instantly obsolete. My interpretation of that data is useful - we call that interpretation "Grades". That's what you pay me for. If you demand the detail, then I'll send you a blizzard of it and then pester you often for your interpretation of it, until you admit that it's not working for you.

I read further; that isn't what they meant:
It seems there’s always some kid who desperately needs an IEP but doesn’t have one, which means we have to go through the process to get the kid services. Yes, it’s incredibly important to provide kids with the accommodations they need. But spending 20 minutes twice a week using some “intervention” one-on-one just to prove that it doesn’t work, then giving a “probe” that’s completely unrelated to my curriculum or the skills the kid needs? That’s meaningless paperwork, and it takes away from my students’ learning.
The author is an ass.

The IEP has the power of a legal contract. It says what the school agrees to do, and by extension, me. They're important. If it says "20 minutes, twice a week" then it has to happen. To be fair, the author (Captain Awesome, apparently) teaches in the UK, so maybe things are different. In my school, the teacher is part of the team that decides what the school can guarantee to do, and we are expected to object if an intervention is truly impossible to fulfill; a school resource professional takes up the slack.

Grade Daily Work - no argument there. If we're using a normal 100-pt scale, tests are 100-150pts.  That means homework or classwork is 0pts or 5pts, depending on "an honest attempt". In the current SBG, this stuff is "formative" and carries no value to the grade. Either way, I'll tell you how you are doing, but I won't grade it.

Write the Standard on the Board. Yep, waste of time. Especially for us. Our administration has declared that each course has one "Power Standard" each term (8 terms). The same words are posted for a month; it's not particularly useful. If you mean "Daily Learning Target" should be posted, then that's different. I doubt that posting it has much purpose or improves the teaching in any way, but I'll do it if my paycheck depends on it.

Teach Grammar. WTF? Grammar is vital. (I'm assuming that Captain Awesome is an English teacher). Grammar to an English teacher is analogous to arithmetic and mental mathematics to a math teacher - it's basic, vital, and perilous if overlooked.

Take the line: y = (3/7)x + 2

What numbers would you substitute for x to get three points that you can graph? Why? If they aren't saying "-7, 0, and 7 because fractions", then you have a problem. You really shouldn't be moving on without this conversation because they can save so much pointless mental anguish trying to graph (3, 12/7) or (3,1&5/7) -- this takes up all their abilities and they miss this new idea of a linear function.  A slope of 100/250 can be reduced to 2/5 or 0.2, but can also be thought of as 100 up and 250 over, or 100 hits in 250 at-bats.

Grammar is similar. If it's understood, then your students can use it and communicate clearly and easily. If they don't "get" it, then you need to stop what you're doing and dive in.

I teach SAT prep. Most of the math I do is review. Let's look at this again, now that you basically know what to do but perhaps have forgotten "why?". Show me you can write the equations that model "$500 pays for 14 bags and 200 pounds overweight, or "kilometers are roughly five-eighths of a mile, so 55mph is equal to how many kph?".

Funny enough, I also have to review for the Verbal Test.

"The students' knowledge of grammar (is/are) laughable."
They can't identify the subject, so how are they supposed to know subject-verb agreement? "Clause" only has meaning at Christmas and adverbs are much the same as proverbs, apparently. "Past tense" is an easy concept as long as you know the meaning of "tense" in this context, and most students don't.

In fact, the only kids who understand English grammar are the ones who are in at least their second year of a foreign language.

Bah, Humbug.

I've got to get back to work.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Ask the Narrator: SAT

Q: Does the college SAT accurately measure one’s intelligence level, or is it simply a comparative tool?


The SAT is not about intelligence. It is testing English grammar, writing, and reading skills; and algebraic interpretation and computation, along with some statistics and a bit of geometry and trig. It does not go a very good job of predicting success; high school transcripts are better, and correlate with college success fairly well.

What the SAT does do well is help the college admissions staff. Is this A average as good as that one? Does this student’s straight A transcript represent good grades in hard math courses or are the courses mislabeled? Are the teachers over- or under- grading?

If you got As in math through “precalculus” but score a 450 in math, that’s telling. If there’s nothing else in the application that explains this discrepancy, like documented test anxiety, then the school’s math department is doing a lot of “social promotion”. The SAT is a pretty good “comparative tool”, but perhaps not in the way you intended.

So why is your transcript a better predictor of college success?

Because the transcript (HS grades, really) correlates with hard work, willingness to learn and accept extra help, self-motivation, willingness to do assignments and homework as well as possible. Innate ability is a factor, but can easily be derailed by a lack of the other characteristics.

Perhaps not too surprising, those are the same characteristics that make a great college student. Innate intelligence is great in college but as a newly-minted adult with all of the responsibility and none of the external “controlling factors”, college students are far too often sabotaged by their own lack of control.

Also, Narrator:

With this attitude so widespread, is it any wonder that college kids can't get their heads straight?