Monday, April 29, 2013

How much math do we use at Work?

Shawn Cornally writes about this piece in the Atlantic.
So the survey results are out ... no one uses complex math in RealLifetm, so we probably shouldn't be requiring it of all the students in high school.
These numbers alone aren’t an open and shut case against teaching complex math to most high school students. But they do suggest that what we teach today has little relationship to the broad demands of the job market, and that we should at least be conscious of the possibility that we’re putting educational road blocks in front of students without a practical application for them.
I have a few observations about this rather simplistic interpretation, including a rebuttal of those who, like Shawn Cornally, feel that the problem lies in the way math was taught.
Cornally: There’s a case against CRAPPILY teaching complex math to high schoolers. The adverb there is really important. What that graph really means is that the way people were taught math disables them from ever actually using it.
Okay, let's start there. Cornally is a SBG guy through and through and that's fine. It works for him. But to assume that what works for him is the only possible way to teach ignores that lots of teachers are very good but never bothered with SBG. This graph says that large percentages of people never use complex math in their daily jobs ... it does not say that they can't or didn't learn it.

As for that graph:

22% use any of the advanced math skills.  It did not say WHICH of the skills were used, how often, or whether the job required it but they didn't know ... so they answered "No."

Let's look at a breakdown (and no snarky comments about the color choice ... whoops, too late.)

Of the 14% who used geometry, there is no indication of which of the geometry skills each person used. Let's arbitrarily designate the broad topics of geometry as A,B,C,D,E, and F. This person uses A,B,and C. That person uses D,E, and F. Both respond that they use geometry. A third person uses the ideas but not in any formal way; he's a mechanic who needs to keep certain parts perpendicular to other parts, or needs to maintain a 5° camber on that steering linkage and uses the "Diagonals of a rectangle are equal in length." Is this "Using Geometry"? Not many mechanics would think of it that way and most would say "No." What are the locations of the bolt hole in a seven bolt pattern with a diameter of 11" inches? If you can't say that but you can program the CNC milling machine, does that count? Despite all that, 30% of high-skill blue collar jobs use geometry.

Second, is enough "No" answers a valid argument for eliminating Geometry, anyway? I don't think so. Just because you don't formally use it doesn't mean you don't use it.

Third, I am of the firm belief that students will learn many things while in school but forget a lot of that after graduation. Isn't it's better to require Alg1, Geometry and Alg2 and have students forget the hardest aspects of those three courses (unless they specifically use them) than to only teach them basic math and have them forget the hardest aspects of that?

Fourth. I debate the idea that most kids can't do Alg1, Geometry, and Algebra2. Most students can learn something and many who thought they couldn't realize that they actually could. I have students constantly tell me that they "hate math but they like my class" and then, in the middle of something, "Oh, I get it!" Regardless of whether they ever use that specific skill again in a formal setting, they have learned something; usually the calculation methods get lost in time but the concepts remain and that's good enough for me. If they every truly "need" it, the re-learning is far easier than starting fresh.

Is the small likelihood of total mastery a reason to deny students the chance to learn something of each topic? Shouldn't all kids have the chance? I think they should because it's the small spark that gets ignited into a flame of interest in a field they didn't even know existed. If you refuse to let them stretch, they'll stagnate and wither.

Both is better than just one.
Fifth. "Here's How Little Math Americans Actually Use at Work" is the title. What about in life? Shouldn't ALL students be required to take probability and statistics, if only to understand how incredibly stupid the anti-vaccination movement is and how utterly wrong Wakefield's work was? Shouldn't all students be taught how to recognize the true risks behind everyday behaviors so they can judge their responses appropriately? Why should "Work" be the only measuring stick for value of an education? Isn't a knowledge of Dante and Shakespeare worth the effort?

Sixth. Who the hell says that THIS kid isn't going to be one of those who uses trig every day of his life? How do you know that all these kids are going to fail at advanced math without giving them a shot at it?

"These numbers alone aren’t an open and shut case against teaching complex math to most high school students." You're including Algebra Freaking One in "Complex Math"? 95% of kids can learn and understand algebra 1 by the end of 10th grade, geometry by the end of 11th. 100% of anything is stupid, but throwing out several perfectly reasonable courses because McDonalds cashiers and administrative assistants "don't use math" is idiotic.

If you applied this same reasoning to every discipline, you wouldn't have any education above the 8th grade.
  • Certainly poetry would be out. Milton? Chaucer? Odyssey? Short Stories? Poe? Wharton? Dickenson? Useless to most American jobs. Research papers? Gone. Creative writing? Most Americans don't read or write anything nowadays so we shouldn't teach either?
  • History? Forget about it. It's in the past. Nobody uses that in their jobs.
  • Science? Just as useless for most American jobs as Math is. I mean, really. Chemistry? Unless you're building a bomb or something and we can certainly do without that. Biology is another useless field.
  • Languages? Spanish is the only language you'll ever possibly need and not the kind they teach in schools. You'll swear words and a lot of macho mixed in with your Spanglish. Grammar is only an impediment.
  • Art? Music? Nobody cares about any of that except artists and musicians and none of them has a job that makes any money ...
  • Logic? We don't need anything other than than "Reductio ad absurdum", "Ad Hominem", and "Gun Control is a Slippery Slope to Banning All Guns and That Just Leads to a Police State."
Fortunately for all of us, the opinions of The Atlantic isn't relevant. Leave education decisions to the people who are qualified to make them. The Sociology professor at Northeastern who performed the study isn't at fault here; he reported what he found. It's Jordan Weissmann, an associate editor at The Atlantic, who came up with this piece of brilliance.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


The Band Played Waltzing Matilda
When I was a young man I carried me pack
And I lived the free life of the rover
From the Murray's green basin to the dusty outback
I waltzed my Matilda all over
Then in 1915 my country said: Son,
It's time to stop rambling, there's work to be done
So they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun
And they sent me away to the war

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
When the ship pulled away from the quay
And amid all the tears, flag waving and cheers
We sailed off for Gallipoli

It well I remember that terrible day
When our blood stained the sand and the water
And how in that hell they call Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter
Johnny Turk, he was ready, he primed himself well
He rained us with bullets, and he showered us with shell
And in five minutes flat, we were all blown to hell
He nearly blew us back home to Australia

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
When we stopped to bury our slain
Well we buried ours and the Turks buried theirs
Then it started all over again

Oh those that were living just tried to survive
In that mad world of blood, death and fire
And for ten weary weeks I kept myself alive
While around me the corpses piled higher
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head
And when I awoke in me hospital bed
And saw what it had done, I wished I was dead
I never knew there was worse things than dying

Oh no more I'll go Waltzing Matilda
All around the green bush far and near
For to hump tent and pegs, a man needs both legs
No more waltzing Matilda for me

They collected the wounded, the crippled, the maimed
And they shipped us back home to Australia
The armless, the legless, the blind and the insane
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And when the ship pulled into Circular Quay
I looked at the place where me legs used to be
And thank Christ there was no one there waiting for me
To grieve and to mourn and to pity

And the Band played Waltzing Matilda
When they carried us down the gangway
Oh nobody cheered, they just stood there and stared
Then they turned all their faces away

Now every April I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me
I see my old comrades, how proudly they march
Renewing their dreams of past glories
I see the old men all tired, stiff and worn
Those weary old heroes of a forgotten war
And the young people ask "What are they marching for?"
And I ask myself the same question

And the band plays Waltzing Matilda
And the old men still answer the call
But year after year, their numbers get fewer
Someday, no one will march there at all

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
Who'll come a-Waltzing Matilda with me?
And their ghosts may be heard as they march by the billabong
So who'll come a-Waltzing Matilda with me?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Arrested Over a T-Shirt.

and the rules didn't specify that an image of a gun was "illegal", they just prohibit violence. In my mind this incident is wrong on many, many levels.

In a minor way (pun intended), the boy probably figured he was going to exploit a loophole and knew someone would react. In that very small sense, he takes a bit of the blame for initiating this incident.

The much, much bigger problem is the over-reaction by the teacher ("arguing"? Really?), the drastic over-reaction by the administration in calling the police.
Jared Marcum showed up at his West Virginia middle school Thursday wearing an NRA shirt with a picture of a hunting rifle on it, and ended up getting arrested over it. He and a teacher argued over the shirt, and the 8th grader was eventually suspended, arrested, and now finds himself facing charges of obstruction and disturbing the education process, WOWK-TV reports. The 14-year-old's dad says school policy doesn't forbid images of guns on T-shirts; the dress code does prohibit clothing displaying "violence," but gun images are not listed specifically.
Once called, the police have to put everything down on paper, but they should have toned this down instead of raising the stakes ("arrested?" "charged?"). And the judge should throw out the case entirely.

This is NOT the proper use of the criminal justice system.

The Irony? "Protect Your Rights"
I don't care how disruptive this kid may have gotten, or how much he argued. He is a 14 year old middle school student. Discipline is the job of the administration and the administration failed because this should not have even been an issue. This shirt does not depict violence.

And it's West Virginia, for crying out loud. If they're anything like us Vermonters, kids wear these shirts or camouflage or other hunting gear all the time. What's the big deal?

Highly Ineffective Principal: HIPster of the Month.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Education News is having trouble with numbers.

Education News ran this story:
The promise of technology in education has not been fulfilled — at least not in schools like Seminole Ridge High School, according to The Palm Beach Post. When the school spent millions to equip its labs with 25,000 new computers, little did the administrators or students expect that most of that machine time was going to be taken up by nothing else but testing.
Yeah, I get it. Evil testing. Bad, bad, bad. Using up computer time and such.

But then I noticed "25,000" and I wondered because that's a damn big number for a school.  I wondered if that was the entire district but that doesn't seem to be the case - the high school is specifically named several times. I googled it and found it had 2478 students.

Tell me again why I should trust their numbers?

Another student whining about School

From Dangerously Irrelevant comes this sad tale of woe and student repression that needs another point of view.

Here's the story. A student named Jack Hostager went to the "Coastal America Student Summit on the Oceans and Coasts. So far, I'm loving the sound of this.
[It] was indisputably the best learning experience I have ever had. I learned more than I could have ever learned in a classroom about how the planet works, ways in which humans depend on and impact the ocean, and efforts being undertaken to conserve them. 
This is awesome, though I have to point out that few classrooms will ever be the same as a Student Summit on the Oceans and Coasts because they are not designed to be so specific.  Rather, school curricula are usually designed to be an underlying foundation that provides the students with the knowledge and skills to appreciate and learn from something such as this.  
Equally important, I discovered how to work well with others, connect with people, be persuasive, speak in front of an audience, answer questions under pressure, juggle competing priorities, and follow through with a project.
Okay, but hardly new in the annals of education. Overall, he's still on a good theme here, though a bit misguided about what makes for effective education. Then he gets off track:
These all sound like skills that every student should have. Yet because I didn’t practice them in a classroom, I was punished by education’s systems of grading for this. 
Punished? Because you learned something while not being in school? Did you think somehow that school was the only place you could possibly learn?
When I got back to school, my grades had dropped (some considerably) since I missed a few assignments and a test. It was as if the whole experience meant nothing because I learned the wrong thing. But it would have been irrelevant even if it directly related to what I was studying because I still would have had to make up the work, listen to a lecture, and eventually take a test.

The main thing: You missed a test and some assignments. What did you expect your grade would be based on? Random behavior rubric? A report on "What I learned at the Conference"? If the teacher had said, "That sounds like a neat symposium, you get an A" he would be okay in your book? Instead, he said "That sounds like a neat symposium but irrelevant to our study of the Kreb Cycle and so you still have to take that test" and that makes him a bastard?

This symposium was irrelevant to the course and that is what you are graded on.

It may be relevant to your life (sounds like it will be and THAT's why you should have done it) but it was irrelevant to the course. 

Even if it were directly relevant, you can't expect a teacher to give you a grade based on self-reported and vaguely stated "learning" from a conference that the teacher did not attend. As much as possible, grades need to be based on objective standards not on participation rubrics and happy feelings.

Shut up and study hard.
But, please continue:
After returning inspired and ready to change the world only to be thrust back into the invariable cycle of desks, worksheets, textbooks, and lockers, education’s expectation for me hit me painfully hard. I realized that apparently my job is to shut up and study hard. If I’m so inclined, I can go out for a sport or join a club, but my schoolwork should trump all. 
Now THAT is funny. You went to a single conference and when you returned, you expect that the entire school would have changed to reflect and resemble a two-week student symposium. What did you expect, "Sure, you can skip all this material" or "Jack went to a conference, so we're changing the curriculum to match"?
I’m not supposed to contribute anything noteworthy to the world, but instead lay low and consume it until after I’ve graduated. Sure, adults applaud when we do something great outside of school. But ultimately school only cares if it meets some curriculum standard that can be measured. Oh, and it has to be the one we are studying right now, and it has to be part of an assignment that’s going in the gradebook. If not, I don’t get credit and therefore it’s a waste of my time.
No one is stopping you from contributing anything. Knock yourself out.

I certainly won't hold you back.

If I seem underwhelmed by your obvious brilliance, it is because that brilliance isn't so apparent. You aren't the first student to come back inspired from a summit and you won't be the last. What will set you apart from the rest is what you do from now on.

Will you spend your time whining about oppression by The Man or will you actually do something noteworthy?

Are you one of the crazy ones?

There's a big difference between being a rebel because you know something better or have done something important and being a rebel because you're immature.

Certainly, I wouldn't give you credit for something you haven't done. When I give grades, I do so based on things that I have direct knowledge of, like the tests that I write. I don't give credit for attending a conference I know nothing about, because that's what the students, parents, and school demand.

The grade is something you earn, not something I give. As best as possible, it reflects what you know and have learned.

I am required to address a certain number of curriculum standards, not because I have this random, indeligible list of checkboxes but because I know that students from this Algebra I class are going to be expected to know various things before going to Algebra II, before attending symposia, or before they can "contribute something noteworthy."

Was this symposium a waste of time? For you, it might have been. If the only thing that makes this type of experience worthwhile is a grade in the gradebook, I truly feel pity for you. If, on the other hand, you spent the summit "messing with perl" ...

Monday, April 15, 2013

Cops in school cause changes.

But not the changes everyone was hoping for.

Police are police. They've been trained in a certain way to do a job that is more often than not dealing with criminals, very often dangerous as hell, and involves the chance (remote though it may be) that the officer will have to use his weapon to kill someone. To keep checks and balances aligned, police operate under strict rules and the laws are written to protect the innocent, etc.

Students are not criminals. Students are not committing "assault" but rather are "horsing around".  Johnny didn't commit "assault and battery", he hit Jack because Jack said his mother was fat and neither boy was serious.

When the administration gives up its responsibility and hands over discipline to the police, then you have created a bad place. Putting a school under police patrol changes the attitude, mood and responses of the administration in the 99.995% of the day that doesn't involve actions serious to warrant police action. The rest of the time? That hired gun wouldn't do jack squat.

From NYTimes, via Joanne Jacobs:
Since the early 1990s, thousands of districts, often with federal subsidies, have paid local police agencies to provide armed “school resource officers” for high schools, middle schools and sometimes even elementary schools. Hundreds of additional districts, including those in Houston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, have created police forces of their own, employing thousands of sworn officers.
. . . “There is no evidence that placing officers in the schools improves safety,” said Denise C. Gottfredson, a criminologist at the University of Maryland who is an expert in school violence. “And it increases the number of minor behavior problems that are referred to the police, pushing kids into the criminal system.”
In the wake of Newtown, many districts are hiring police officers to guard schools. But once they’re on campus, cops usually end up enforcing discipline. We are criminalizing our children for nonviolent offenses,” Wallace B. Jefferson, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, said in a speech to the Legislature in March.
And you wonder why the kids don't take the administration all that seriously. It has abdicated in favor of the guy with the gun.
When a 14-year-old boy “angrily” threw a football at another boy’s leg, middle school officials called the police, who arrested the boy for assault. The other boy was not injured. There was no real explanation as to why the incident was considered serious enough to involve police. The police report states that the unnamed juvenile suspect appeared “angry.”

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A did not cause B.

The fallacies are so obvious:
"Earlier this week a train carrying tar sands oil derailed in Minnesota, spilling tens of thousands of gallons of toxins. This is just days after an oil pipeline burst in Utah, spilling similar amounts of oil into a stream. SHARE this if you agree: there's no such thing as a safe tar sands.
Tar Sands Oil Spill After Train Derails
Look, people. I actually agree that there are a lot of things wrong with tar sands oil but you can't just spout illogical nonsense to try and make your point. 

Oh, and one other thing, if all you can do is SHARE, then you have lost the argument.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Seriously, wordpandit?

It makes me cry because it's not a typo.

Here's a sample of the quality of their proofreading.