Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Why College Isn't Home

I've not given much thought to the topic with whether or not a college dorm can be considered home, but Conor Friedersdorf obviously has--and he says no:
A College Is a Community but Cannot Be a Home

Campus life is too diverse at most schools for dorms to serve as a place of respite from uncomfortable ideas.

Do We Still Have A Republic?

I used to wonder if we were just going through the motions of having a constitutional republic, worry that we had crossed the edge into tyranny.  Back then, though, the concern was only academic.  After learning that Angelo Codevilla shares my concern, the fear becomes real:
Over the past half century, the Reagan years notwithstanding, our ruling class’s changing preferences and habits have transformed public and private life in America. As John Marini shows in his essay, “Donald Trump and the American Crisis,” this has resulted in citizens morphing into either this class’s “stakeholders” or its subjects. And, as Publius Decius Mus argues, “America and the West” now are so firmly “on a trajectory toward something very bad” that it is no longer reasonable to hope that “all human outcomes are still possible,” by which he means restoration of the public and private practices that made the American republic. In fact, the 2016 election is sealing the United States’s transition from that republic to some kind of empire.
Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Writing New Tests

I've probably stated about a zillion times that new (Common Core) standards and new textbooks have compelled me to revamp each course I teach, rebuilding it from the bottom up.  That means all new lesson plans, all new assessments, all new modes of instruction.  I have few limitations--and necessity being the mother of invention and all, I spend quite a lot of time creating new lessons.

But I find I'm really enjoying writing new tests and quizzes.  My new philosophy of testing has led me in new directions.  I now include fewer questions on my tests/quizzes, but strive to get more information about my students' knowledge (and my own teaching) out of those questions.

And then there are the practical changes.  For one thing, I've installed and learned to use MathType.  If you're a math teacher/professor and haven't used MathType or something similar, you should.  Buy it, or have your school buy it, and work through the tutorials.  It allows you to write math problems in MS Word or similar documents, but have those math problems look like they were copied straight from a book.  Imagine being able to type in sigma notation, to type rational expressions, or to have easy access to all the Greek letters and other symbols we need!  It's very handy because, by having an assessment entirely typed, the test or quiz can easily be modified and reprinted (think make-ups or even next year).  Besides, it just looks more "professional".

I've found that I like writing tests.  Oh, they take up a lot of time, time that I don't have in abundance because of the papers I should be writing for my master's course (even as I type this!), but still I do enjoy writing them.  How fun would it be to be a test writer?  I find I'm getting very good at it.  I doubt my district would ever hire me as a "teacher on special assignment" to write math tests, but when I get burned out on teaching I think such a job would jibe quite well with my abilities and interests.

Update, 9/28/16:  I spent almost 2 solid hours today writing next Tuesday's statistics test.   I'm pleased with the outcome, but that's a long time.  Later I started on the answer key but didn't quite finish.  If I can complete the answer key in about 15 minutes, then my students should take about an hour to complete the test.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Learning Styles

Learning styles, and their cousin "multiple intelligences", are pseudo-science at best.  I love this article, reprinted in many sources around the planet in the last few weeks, written by a Professor and Associate Dean at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne, Australia:
The theory is that if a teacher can provide learning activities and experiences that match a student’s supposed learning style, learning will be more effective.

Probably the best known are the “auditory” (learning best by hearing), “visual” (learning best through images), and “kinesthetic” (learning best through touch and movement) typologies of learners.

Learning styles has become a vast, lucrative industry with inventories, manuals, video resources, in-service packages, websites, publications and workshops. Some schools have spent many thousands of dollars assessing students using the various inventories.

Psychologists and neuroscientists agree there is little efficacy for these models, which are based on dubious evidence.

If learning styles exist at all, these are not “hard wired” and are at most simply preferences...

Professor of reading education Stephen Stahl has commented:
I work with a lot of different schools and listen to a lot of teachers talk. Nowhere have I seen a greater conflict between “craft knowledge” or what teachers know (or at least think they know) and “academic knowledge” or what researchers know (or at least think they know) than in the area of learning styles...
When I have pointed this out to educators, the usual response is that “it doesn’t matter”. But it does matter because of the problems and harm that can be caused by the categorisation and labelling. These can lead to negative mindsets in students and limited learning experiences through the continued belief in and application of so-called learning styles, not to mention the time and money wasted. We might as well teach students according to their horoscopes.
Yeah, what he said.

Sometimes I think teachers will believe anything if it will just make them (or their students) feel good about themselves, truth or reality be damned.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

I Think We Have Our Answer

Six years ago I wrote about a fiery principal in a major Sacramento school district.

Five years ago I wrote about him again.

In both posts I wondered if he was stepping on toes in order to make needed change, or if he was stepping on toes just because he could, because he likes stepping on toes.  Then he dropped off my radar.

I encountered a newspaper (remember those?!) today and saw his name on it.  The article inside seems to have provided the answer to my long ago queries:
The Sacramento City Unified School District paid $175,000 to settle a racial and sexual harassment lawsuit after a former Hiram Johnson High School principal allegedly threatened to “whip” a female after-school employee and later told her she would “have enough time to pull your panties down” if she tried to report him.

Felisberto Cedros was placed on paid administrative leave as Hiram Johnson principal for two months in 2015 before returning last fall to a newly created post of principal on special assignment, working on special projects. In that capacity he earned $139,303, the same salary he received as principal.

He continues to receive a six-figure paycheck from the school district, though he was demoted July 1 to another newly created position of assistant principal on special assignment, in which he is now paid $109,886. In that job, he is working in a department that helps schools prepare for an upcoming federal audit...

“The evidence shows that the principal sexually and racially harassed and retaliated against the complainant,” the state declared. “The district’s conclusion that the principal did not violate any law is not consistent with law.”
I understand that in order to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs. Merely breaking eggs, however, does not mean you're making an omelet.  Sometimes you're just making a mess.

Read more here:

Read more here:

Saturday, September 24, 2016

My Two Favorite Words

Touchdown, Army!

It's nice to see West Point fielding a winning team after so many years in the desert.

Update:  Oh good Lord.  Army led by 2 touchdowns at the beginning of the 4th.  Tied with 2 minutes left in the game.  Missed a field goal with seconds left.  Missed a field goal in overtime. Buffalo makes an overtime field goal and wins 23-20.

Army gave that game away.  *sigh*

Thursday, September 22, 2016

How Valuable Are Student Evaluations of Instructors?

Seemingly not as valuable as we've been led to believe:
A number of studies suggest that student evaluations of teaching are unreliable due to various kinds of biases against instructors. (Here’s one addressing gender.) Yet conventional wisdom remains that students learn best from highly rated instructors; tenure cases have even hinged on it.

What if the data backing up conventional wisdom were off? A new study suggests that past analyses linking student achievement to high student teaching evaluation ratings are flawed, a mere “artifact of small sample sized studies and publication bias.”

“Whereas the small sample sized studies showed large and moderate correlation, the large sample sized studies showed no or only minimal correlation between [student evaluations of teaching, or SET] ratings and learning,” reads the study, in press with Studies in Educational Evaluation. “Our up-to-date meta-analysis of all multisection studies revealed no significant correlations between [evaluation] ratings and learning.”

These findings “suggest that institutions focused on student learning and career success may want to abandon SET ratings as a measure of faculty's teaching effectiveness,” the study says.
This study dealt with professors, not high school teachers.  Want to know who does know who the good and bad high school teachers are?  Other high school teachers.  It's not rocket science.

Rightful Arbiters of the Truth

Straight out of MiniTrue:
This site is so realistic that I didn't begin to catch on that it was satire until I scrolled over half way down the page.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

This Is What Equality Looks Like

In my day, only men were required to take boxing in PE class.  That's now changing:
WEST POINT, N.Y. — Army cadets Kiana Stewart and DeAdre Harvey squared off in a boxing ring at the U.S. Military Academy this month, circling each other with their gloves up. Watching classmates already had suffered bloody noses, but the women stayed aggressive, bouncing on the balls of their feet while delivering the occasional jab.

The female cadets are part of a first at West Point: women who must box. Beginning this fall, West Point officials shifted from allowing female cadets to take the course as an elective to requiring it for all approximately 1,000 students in the Class of 2020. The move follows the Pentagon’s historic decision last year to fully integrate women into all combat roles for the first time, and allowing women to box marked the fall of one of the last barriers to women being allowed to do anything they are qualified to in the U.S. military.
Why don't the women have to box men?  I had to go up against people I considered behemoths!
Brig. Gen. Diana M. Holland, who took over as West Point’s first female commandant of cadets in January, said that when she was a cadet in the late 1980s, she had a hard time understanding why she wasn’t boxing and her male classmates were. The course this year incorporates graded two-minute bouts in which women face women, and controlled sparring in which men and women can be matched up against each other.
Female privilege, I guess.  Or perhaps a nod, if not a total recognition, that men and women are different.  Legally and socially equal, of course, but physically, fundamentally, different.

Divisibility Rule For 7

I learned something today.

Today my pre-calculus students were studying all sorts of things about polynomials.  They looked at the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra and it's far more interesting lemma about the number of roots, they learned about about the nature of roots--specifically, if the polynomial has real coefficients, then any imaginary roots will always occur in complex conjugate pairs--they learned to how find a polynomial that had specific roots, and they learned the rational root theorem.  All in 2 hours.

In 6th period, something prompted me to mention divisibility rules.  I said there were rules for 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, and 10; I'm not concerned about divisibility rules for numbers above 10.  One student asked if there was a rule for 7 and I said no, I'd never heard of one.  He showed me one he learned somewhere, and I told him I wanted to check it.  I brought it home and just proved it.  His rule is this:
Separate the n-digit number into n-1 digit number and a 1-digit number by removing the ones digit.  Subtract twice the ones digit from the n-1 digit rump number.  If the difference is divisible by 7, the entire number is divisible by 7.  If the difference is still large, continue the process on this difference.

Prior to proving it, though, I needed to review a little number theory.  I've never had a class in number theory, I've just encountered it in a Problem Solving Throughout History course.  I came home and reviewed what little number theory I've studied, practiced it by proving the divisibility rule for 9 (at least for a 3 digit number), and tackled 7.

It works.

Before I show my work to you, let's review some algebra problems that only old-timers will have encountered.  Remember these?
Start with a 2-digit number.  Reverse the digits.  The new number is 27 more than the old number.  The digits add up to 11.  What was the original number?
If t is the tens digit of the original number, and u is the units digit of the original number, then the system of equations that is created is
Remember those?  Well, that's where I started.

The first problem I worked, just to get my juices flowing, was proving the divisibility rule for 9 for a 3-digit number.  To say that a number is divisible by 9 means that it is equal to 9 times some integer, which I called p or q.  And of course, the digits in the number have to be integers.

Here's my work for proving the divisibility rule for 9 on a 3-digit number.
click image to enlarge

Looking at this proof, it wouldn't be difficult at all to extend it to an n-digit number.

Feeling all warmed up, I tried this student's proposed divisibility rule for 7 for both 2 and 3 digit numbers.  It worked.

By this time I was fully ready to tackle an n-digit number.  Turns out it was pretty straight-forward:

I don't know who discovered this rule, or how, or what they were smoking when they figured it out, but I like that I learned it today.

Update:  minor error in my last proof.  The given integer has n+1 digits, not n.  No aspect of the proof is affected by this mistake.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

In the moments I could get some administrative work done today, I accomplished everything I set out to do.  So when I had the opportunity to leave school before 4:00 today--something I've been able to do only a few times in the month since school began--I took it.  I'll be able to knock out a lot of my master's coursework.

I got home to a garage door that wouldn't open.  No problem, I'll figure out that problem quick enough and then get some work done, then maybe go for an evening walk.

The stopped clock on the stove told me that the power had gone out perhaps 10 minutes before I got home.  It came back on not too long ago.

My master's coursework is done online.  No good deed goes unpunished.

Oh well.  I met some of my neighbors, folks I'd never met before after living here 11 years.  And I met them because I heard them talking out on the sidewalk, so I went out to join them. 

Lemonade from lemons.

Monday, September 19, 2016

It's Not Just Trouble That Comes In Threes

My current master's class, on measurement/assessment, has several types of assignments we must do.  We must read each of 16 chapters, respond in writing to each of 16 chapters, and respond to at least one classmate's comments about each chapter.  Additionally, we must write a paper on our personal philosophy regarding measurement and evaluation, conduct a "mini-review" of literature on a related topic, and submit a measurement and evaluation project.

That's a lot of stuff.

I've decided that in the 60-90 minutes a night that I devote to the course, I need to do three things.  Tonight, for example, I completed my "philosophy" paper and responded to 2 classmates' writings on different chapters.  Tomorrow I might read a chapter, write my thoughts on it, and start one of the other projects.

I find that breaking my work up this way keeps me from getting bored or overwhelmed, and allows me to chip away at the zillions of little parts listed on the course syllabus.  My personality type is one that likes to make lists and then cross off items as they're completed, and my "three" method allows me to do a lot of crossing off.

For the Math Teacher In Me

I stopped at the post office to mail a package today and saw that these stamps were available.  I (obviously) bought a plate.
click to enbiggen

He had ganas.

For the Star Trek Fan In Me

I stopped at the post office to mail a package today and saw that these stamps were available.  I (obviously) bought a plate.
click to enbiggen

Live long and prosper.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Should You Have To Pay For Someone Else's Porn?

Nobody figured out beforehand that this would be an issue?  And then when they figured it out, they got bothered by this?  In liberal New York City?  I don't understand:
New York City thought it was stepping into the 21st century when it launched its public internet kiosks. They envisioned yet another "free" public service being used for good and noble purposes. After all, the internet makes so many amazing things possible, right?

Unfortunately, the folks of NYC forgot that the public -- who were taxed to pay for the "free" internet -- is made up of people. They used the internet for their own purposes, and those purposes weren't what the city envisioned:
Eight months after the appearance of the first LinkNYC hubs, which are -- or were -- internet kiosks meant to help bring the Big Apple into the 21st Century, the city has taken a step back.
Some of these kiosks were not used to “save data on their mobile plans, call relatives across the country, and get a much-needed quick charge” as they were originally intended. Instead, they were used to watch pornography.

What Should Public Schools Be Doing

Public schools serve many purposes, from helping pass down our common culture (I doubt most people learn the Pledge of Allegiance at home) to reinforcing cultural mores (don't interrupt some who's speaking, don't hit someone else, help others) to, last but not least, teaching academic content.  I'd say that all those things are important, but the last one is the most important and is the justification for spending the billions we do each year on education.

So what do you think of this?
Officially, the “evaluation rubric” adopted by the State Board of Education this month is “an accountability system designed to help all schools continuously improve.”

But by grading schools that serve California’s 6-plus million K-12 students on “10 areas critical to student performance,” the system – whose precise details are yet to emerge – moves away from traditional academic standards into fuzzier areas. And that will likely make it more difficult for parents and the larger public to determine what’s really happening, or not, in the classroom...

Assembly Bill 2548, now awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature (unlikely) or veto (more likely) would embrace “multiple measures” but put more emphasis on academic achievement and comply with a new federal school law that requires low-performing schools to be identified.

Brown, taking his cue from Michael Kirst, the state school board’s president, championed an overhaul of school finance that gives districts with large numbers of poor or “English-learner” students extra money to raise their academic performances and close the “achievement gap” to which Weber refers.

Brown and Kirst, however, have been curiously reluctant to adopt tight oversight of how local schools are spending the extra billions and whether they are, in fact, having an academic effect. Brown has cited “subsidiarity” – leaving implementation to local school officials – as his mantra.

Their preferences mesh with those of professional educators and teacher unions, which dislike what they see as the punitive approaches of past state and federal policies.

Without tighter supervision, critics counter, local school officials are under great pressure to spend – or squander – the billions of extra dollars on salary increases and other items that don’t directly benefit what are called “at risk” kids, who are about 60 percent of the state’s students.

There are already indications that the extra money is being siphoned into broader categories of spending and that the “Local Control and Accountability Plans” that districts are adopting to guide spending are wordy, confusing and ineffective.
What are the areas that will be graded?
The accountability system approved by the State Board of Education will rate schools not only on standardized test scores, but also on the progress of English learners, high school graduation rates, college and career readiness and, initially, suspension rates. School districts also will measure campuses for school climate, parent engagement, implementation of state academic standards, services for expelled students and adequate instruction and facilities...

“What we have today is something we haven’t had before ... a mental model,” said board member Patricia Ann Rucker.
Oh, there's something mental here all right.  How do you evaluate schools on career readiness?  What kind of parent engagement will be considered good, and what kind bad?  If no students were suspended, would schools be safer, would academic achievement soar?

This is softheadedness taken to new and dramatic extremes.
The State Board of Education proposal would replace the three-digit API that was suspended in 2013 when the state adopted new standardized tests that adhere to Common Core State Standards. While the score gave communities and education officials an easy way to compare schools, critics said it was too grounded in test scores and ignored other factors that reflect school performance.

Read more here:

Read more here:
Why would you care about any "school performance" except the learning of children?

What must it be like on the logical side of the looking glass?

(I completely altered the last third or so of this post not long after posting it.)