Monday, October 24, 2016

The Final Paper Has Been Started

I've read the research. Highlighted the interesting stuff. Made a few notes.

I've done about as much as I can do without actually writing the paper.

So last night I set fingers to keyboard. I created the title page (APA format, don't you know), formatted the headers, drafted an abstract, and typed the first two sentences of my "review of literature" regarding what attributes a good math teacher should have. My goal for tonight is two paragraphs.

The paper is due in less than a month.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Great Way To Screw People

This just makes me sick:
Short of troops to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan a decade ago, the California National Guard enticed thousands of soldiers with bonuses of $15,000 or more to reenlist and go to war.

Now the Pentagon is demanding the money back.

Nearly 10,000 soldiers, many of whom served multiple combat tours, have been ordered to repay large enlistment bonuses — and slapped with interest charges, wage garnishments and tax liens if they refuse — after audits revealed widespread overpayments by the California Guard at the height of the wars last decade.

Investigations have determined that lack of oversight allowed for widespread fraud and mismanagement by California Guard officials under pressure to meet enlistment targets.
A decade later? Really?

It's clear those bonuses were what was necessary to get the soldiers to reenlist--and fight. To take that away now should be criminal. It's certainly unjust.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Just Filled Out My Ballot

I'm a permanent "vote by mail" person in California--which probably means that I'll be voting Democratic after I die--and I just filled out my ballot.  California has some election peculiarities:

1.  There are only 2 options for US Senator, and they're both Democrats.  We hold our primaries in the Spring, and the top two vote-getters in the primaries advance to the general election ballot.  Can you guess which party runs California?
2.  Voters can submit initiatives to vote on, the most famous being 1978's Proposition 13 (which limits property tax increases).  I don't know how many initiatives have been submitted over the years, but I do know that we reuse the numbers (so we don't have Proposition 1,857).  This year propositions ranged from #51 to #67 and covered topics as varied as legalizing marijuana, requiring porn actors to wear condoms when filming, banning plastic grocery bags, eliminating the death penalty, and pricing prescription drugs, among others.

Clearly, I didn't vote for senator.  And my default position on initiatives is to vote "status quo", which is usually "no".  Unless I'm absolutely sure that the initiative has no chance of "going wrong", that it's so simple and obvious that it cannot be corrupted, I vote "no".  Unless somethng is simple and obvious, big money will no doubt have its own way.  I will only vote "yes" on an initiative if I can see no harm coming from it.  As a result, on the 17 initiatives, I voted "yes" on only 2.

My school district put a bond measure on the ballot, one that's expected to win with 65% of the vote.  It's for the equivalent of two years of the district's entire budget to upgrade, repair, and build new facilities.  As they put such measures on the ballot every few years--measures that pass every time, despite obvious evidence that the district doesn't budget for maintenance properly--I voted "no".  It doesn't matter, though, as it's only a protest vote, because as I said, it's expected to pass handily.

I almost always vote down bond measures.  If there's an issue, the legislature should address it.  If our schools are falling apart, the district and the county office of education should lobby the legislature for more funds.  That's what the legislature is for.  If the county wants to repair streets and expand light rail, the board of supervisors should vote on it and vote to raise taxes.  Initiatives are the coward politician's way out of doing what they're elected to do.  If Proposition 53 passes, which would require a statewide vote for state bond issues over $2 billion (direct response to the bullet train fiasco), politicians should vote for the project first, and then ask the public for the money.  Make them go on record justifying an expenditure.

That's just my fantasy world, living as I do in the People's Republik of Kalifornia.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Logarithm Test, Part 2

They're good at pushing buttons on a calculator.

The second half of the test, given today, was a "calculator allowed" test.  Most of the questions didn't require a calculator, even for a decimal/fraction-written exact answer.  But there were a couple of problems that required them to pull variables out of an exponent, and they were able to do that just fine.  With a calculator.

But they couldn't do similar problems yesterday, on the "no calculator" portion of the test.  What gives?  The steps are exactly the same!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

What Is It About Logarithms?

I find logarithms to be one of the most interesting topics in the math I teach, along with matrices.  For some reason, though, students freak out about logarithms.  On the test they make the goofiest mistakes, unlike any they've made before (e.g., on quizzes), such as
log(x-6) = log x - log 6  
or, one of my personal favorites,
x ln x = ln
I'm at a loss.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Freedom of the Press

Too many people today have either forgotten, or never understood in the first place, what "freedom of the press" was intended to guarantee:
I’ve often argued that the freedom of the press was seen near the time of the Framing (and near the time of the ratification of the 14th Amendment, as well as in between and largely since) as protecting the right to use the press as technology — everyone’s right to use the printing press and its modern technological heirs. It was not seen as protecting a right of the press as industry, which would have been a right limited to people who printed or wrote for newspapers, magazines and the like. I discussed this in great detail in my article on the history of the free press clause.
After explaining that the freedom of the press is not redundant with the freedom of speech, Professor Volokh continues:
Likewise, George Hay — who was soon to become a U.S. Attorney, and later a federal judge — wrote in 1799 that “freedom of speech means, in the construction of the Constitution, the privilege of speaking any thing without control” and “the words freedom of the press, which form a part of the same sentence, mean the privilege of printing any thing without control.” Massachusetts Attorney General James Sullivan (1801) similarly treated “the freedom of speech” as referring to “utter[ing], in words spoken,” and “the freedom of the press” as referring to “print[ing] and publish[ing].”

And this captured an understanding that was broadly expressed during the surrounding decades. Bishop Thomas Hayter, writing in 1754, described the “Liberty of the Press” as applying the traditionally recognized “Use and Liberty of Speech” to “Printing,” an activity that Hayter described as “only a more extensive and improved Kind of Speech.” (Hayter’s work was known and quoted in Revolutionary era America.) Francis Holt (1812) defined the liberty of the press as “the personal liberty of the writer to express his thoughts in the more improved way invented by human ingenuity in the form of the press.” William Rawle (1825) characterized “[t]he press” as “a vehicle of the freedom of speech. The art of printing illuminates the world, by a rapid dissemination of what would otherwise be slowly communicated and partially understood.”
Remember, Thomas Paine published Common Sense as a pamphlet.  He was not a newspaperman, but he used the "press" to create his work for distribution.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

My New Favorite Phone App

My pre-calculus classes are comparatively small, but my statistics classes have 35, 36, and 36 students.  That's a lot of teenagers in one classroom, and in one stats class in particular, the volume can get exceedingly loud.

I'm usually pretty good at classroom management--it was one of the few worthwhile classes in my credentialing program--but keeping a classroom volume down to a reasonable level has not been one of my strong suits.  I don't have many of the difficulties other teachers have, but noise level is one of my issues.  It's also one of my pet peeves.

This past weekend I downloaded a sound meter app onto my phone.  After instruction was over today, and when it was time for students to work on the practice problems I'd assigned, I told them I didn't want the volume to go over 60 dB.  I projected the face of my phone up onto the screen where they could see the decibel meter in action.  I don't care how accurate it is, what I cared about was keeping the volume reasonable--and on that meter, 60 dB seems reasonable.

It actually worked!  For a time, at least.  But this time, when the volume creeped up, I didn't have to raise my voice in order to be heard.  "Note the volume, please," in a soft speaking voice, was all that was needed.  Or, if one group started getting a little loud, I'd walk over to them and merely point to the screen.  Yes, this really worked.

Of course, it could just be the Hawthorne Effect, but I choose to believe that being able to see objective and measurable evidence of loudness, rather than just "noticing" (or, more likely, not noticing) that it's getting louder, made it easier for the students to modulate their volume.

I just don't want a loud classroom.  If this app helps me get there, I'm ok with that.

Whose Culture Is That Of A Gorilla?

"Cultural appropriation" is one of those silly, lefty, paternalistic ideas that deserves no more attention than is required by mockery.  Cultures adapt and change all the time, and to assume that one person--often by virtue of skin color--cannot participate in anything related to another culture is just silly.  I'm going to have some chips and salsa in a bit, is that acceptable?  No, according to the most outlandish of the "cultural appropriation" crowd.  It's probably not acceptable when students tell me good-bye when they leave class and I respond with "adios", either.

Halloween is one of those times when the "cultural appropriation" types screech the loudest, what with their "my culture is not a costume" posters and the like.  My question is, whose culture is that of a gorilla?
According to a display at Florida State University, dressing up as Harambe for Halloween is an example of “cultural appropriation.”

The warning is one of many on a “My Culture Is Not a Costume” bulletin board hanging at the school’s Deviney Hall residence, a picture of which was provided to Campus Reform.

Other “examples of appropriation” on the board include “headdresses” and “Latinx alien.” Below that are suggestions for “great Halloween costumes” including “extraterrestrial alien,” “Steve Jobs” (what?), and “any animal,” despite the fact that Harambe is previously listed as an unacceptable option...

After all, exactly what kind of culture would dressing up like Harambe be appropriating? Gorilla culture? No, that can’t be it, because “any animal” is on the “great Halloween costumes” list — meaning that gorillas by other names would be okay. African culture? No, that can’t be it, because even though gorillas are African animals and the name “Harambe” is a Swahili name, no other African animals (or animals of any other African names) are advised against.

So what culture, exactly, would dressing up like Harambe be appropriating?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Writing Tests

I'm currently taking a testing/measurement/assessment course for my master's program.  While lately I've been poring over research to see if there's any consensus about what makes for a math teacher (and which teacher candidates might become great math teachers), and the results are about what I expected.

Leaving those lofty research heights, however, I'm compelled, by virtue of living in the real world, to continue to teach and assess my students--and that means writing tests and quizzes.  Putting some of the practical lessons I've learned to good use, I spent quite a bit of time today writing a test on basic probability.

One thing I've learned:  be explicit about what I expect.  Rather than saying, "what is the probability of drawing, without replacement, 2 consecutive kings from a deck of cards?",  my wording is now somewhat different:
What is the probability of drawing, without replacement, 2 consecutive kings from a deck of cards?  State the applicable formula/rule, substitute numbers into that formula, and then solve.
Clarity and specificity are the keys.

And if you're wondering, the answer would be:
P(A and B) = P(A)*P(B|A)
P(K and K) = 4/52*3/51 = 4/884 = 1/221

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Northern Lights

Saw a deal online, talked to a friend about it, told him that the deal ends tonight, and his reply was "book it."

Over "ski week" in February we'll be traveling to Reykjavik to (hopefully) see the Northern Lights.

The only time I've seen Reykjavik before was when there was next to no darkness; this time I'll be going when there's very little light.  It'll be interesting to note the differences.

How 1066 Changed English

I've read compelling arguments that the defeat of the English in 1066 turned out to be the best thing that could ever have happened to the English.  Saxon law was pretty good, but the combination of Saxon law and efficiency with Norman law and customs made for a good melding.

I'm not in a position to say if that's true or not.  It happened, 950 years ago, and we live with the results today.  I'm quite sure that every event in history has both good and bad results.  When looking at history, though, I like to look for the changes.

In this post I wrote about how English is currently changing.  In this article the author, while bemoaning the Norman victory, discusses how the language changed after 1066:
Englishness became, almost by definition, a badge of subjugation. Human nature being what it is, people soon began to adopt the names and manners of their overlords. On one English farm in 1114, records Peter Ackroyd, the workers were listed as being called Soen, Rainald, Ailwin, Lemar, Godwin, Ordric, Alric, Saroi, Ulviet and Ulfac. By the end of the century all those names had disappeared.

The status of the defeated English is often illustrated with reference to the vocabulary of meat. The Anglophone farmer in the field used plain Saxon words for his livestock: cow, pig, sheep. But by the time these animals found their way onto his Norman master’s plate, they had acquired French-derived names: beef, pork, mutton.

More telling, though, is the political vocabulary introduced under the Normans. Out go witan, folkmoot and folkright. In come fealty and homage, fief and vassal, villein and serf.

Saturday, October 15, 2016


Water fell from the sky yesterday, which was novel enough that a couple of kids at school carried umbrellas--even though the amount of water that fell was barely enough to make the ground wet.

It was supposed to rain today, too, and it still might tonight.  Today ended up being somewhat overcast and warm enough not to need a jacket, but it feels like rain tonight.  It doesn't smell like rain, it feels like it, and I don't know how to describe that.  (couple minutes later:  I'll be darned, it's just starting now!)

I've spent a lot of this afternoon watching movies and drinking hot tea.  Not a bad way to spend a Saturday.

Update, 10/16/16:  It's been raining lightly for awhile this morning.