Wednesday, February 28, 2007
It looks like more and more schools are coming up with a simple solution to this time debacle. They are adding back those hours to the end of the day. Rather than go home mid-afternoon, a throwback to the days when students helped tend the farm, some students now work a full eight hour day, just like their parents.
I see little to no downside to this. Students have another two hours to learn the skills they will need. Teachers have another two hours to mold young minds. Critics will say that the new schedule eliminates much extra-curricular time, but those extra activities can now easily be worked into the formal day. There will be more time for all the "extras" that are being cut from the budget. Field trips, art and music classes, etc. Socially, this prepares the students for the oft cited "real world." It also saves money for parents. No more day care. Your kids get home the same time you do.
This is a step in the right direction. If we are going to keep up with the students in developing nations like China and India, we have to work both harder and smarter.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
Thursday, February 22, 2007
For most, "accountability" is a synonym for testing. Test them until blood rolls out they're ears; that will somehow make them smarter. Never mind the time spent preparing for the tests might be better spent elsewhere. Ignore the ongoing incentive of teaching to the test. Pay no attention to the fact that the test designers intentionally create a test that will give traditional bell-curve results. But above all, no matter how important it may seem, do not under any circumstances mention that not a single, solitary shred of evidence exists to clearly demonstrate the efficacy of these tests. Not one peer-reviewed article, not one scientific study, nothing, nada. Ignore all this because testing is cheap and efficient for the schools, a win-win situation for politicians, and big business for testing companies.
In fact, i can go you one better. Write all the kids names on individual pieces of paper. Be sure to use a number 2 pencil. Now, throw all the papers down a flight of stairs. Those landing on the top step are in the 99th percentile, the second one down 98th, and so on. It's even cheaper, wastes less time "studying" for the test, and about as statistically meaningful.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
A teacher in Trenton, NJ did just that recently. In this case, an offended student caught the whole thing on tape so I'm sure the teacher will be reprimanded or removed. Still, the students may be losing an otherwise fine educator, simply because he or she can not keep his or her mouth shut about things that ought to be personal. As I read it, the teacher claims to have been answering questions from students and did not deliberately broach the subject of religion. Still, it is inexcusable. I doubt very much that the teacher would answer questions concerning personal sexual activity, and the at least the same amount of discretion should apply here.
This won't be the last time something like this happens. I know that. I just don't understand why.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
From what I can tell, it will spend some two hours posing irrational conundrums, deifying coincidences, and bastardizing mathematics in the hope of scoring at the box office. As much as I would like Jim to succeed in a dramatic role, I wish he would be more choosy. This one promises to have all the disjointed temporal craziness of Eternal Sunshine without the quirky humor. Hollywood occasionally scores with math movies like, Pi, Proof, or An Innocent Mind, but I don't think I'm going out on a limb by predicting that this one will be a big zero.
In short, unless you are referring to the greatest basketball player that ever lived, leave the number 23 alone.
Monday, February 19, 2007
School always came fairly easy for me. I could have gotten straight A's if I had applied myself. Instead I spent my evenings watching Cheers reruns and playing on the computer. Still, I got enough AP credit under my belt to test out of my entire freshman year of college. I scraped by, always willing to settle for the highest grade with the least work. It wasn't until much later that I realized the magnitude of the opportunity I wasted, and even later when I realized that most others never get that opportunity to waste.
I read today of a program in Vermont that is succeeding under the worst of conditions. It is an experimental high school run by the state correction department. It specializes in catching kids before they fall through the last cracks. I don't know if I will have what it takes to make this kind of a difference, but I will certainly keep these teachers in mind.
Community High School Board member Dwight A. Davis said that when he asks inmates if anyone had ever taken an interest in their education, they say "no."
"As an educator, that's difficult for me to accept," Davis said. "A lot of our kids, if they had one caring adult, they would succeed. Unfortunately, they don't. If we can correct that we've corrected a gross error."
Sunday, February 18, 2007
As long as communication has occurred and meanings are understood, who cares whether things follow the rules. Who makes these rules anyway? So what if Latin doesn't allow infinitives to be split or sentences to end in prepositions. This isn't Latin. If someone chooses "to boldly go where no man has gone before," I say more power to them. To hell with Harbrace and Merriam-Webster. The more I read about the etymology of language, especially English, in books like The Language Instinct or The Mother Tongue, the more I realize how silly I have been.
Saturday, February 17, 2007
A man and a woman were engaged in a tutorial session for the calculus. The man was berating the young woman for not practicing between sessions, pointing out that she was wasting his time and her money. At first, I was on his side. I am well acquainted with the frustration that comes in watching a student struggle with a concept they showed near mastery of the week before. But gradually, my feeling started to change. (I am aware that many of you are judging me for my rudeness. I'm certain none of you have ever eavesdropped, especially when the topic is of particular interest to you.)
The tutor was, for want of a better term, being a dick. His method of instruction differed little from what she could have read in her textbook. It was dry, authoritative rather than explanatory, and lacking completely the level of personal attention possible in one-on-one tutoring. Teachers with thirty students are forced to teach to the center of the curve. ( Well, strictly speaking, they don't have to, but there certainly is a strong incentive to do so.) When you have only one student, you have the ability to tailor your teaching technique to a style that works for that one student. Take the time to explain why any number raised to the power of zero is one. Show on a graph why the derivative of all constants is zero. These are examples from this particular lesson; I'm not pulling them out of thin air. Give examples that the student can understand and that will be meaningful to them. The only analogy this guy used was a lengthy one concerning Tiger Woods, and this girl was not a golfer.
With guys like this on the loose, it's no wonder people hate and fear math.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
I am constantly hearing phrases like "Isn't that weird?" or "What are the odds of that?" The answers are invariably "Not really" and "Pretty darn good." I completely understand where people are coming from. It's not like evolution has prepared us all that well for this kind of thinking. In fact, we kind of suck at it. That's why we have to be taught the required tools and concepts in school.
Here it is, only my second post, and already I'm ranting. I would like to be able to say this will be an exception, but that would be a lie. I am frustrated with the lack of math reasoning I see in the world around me, and I want to do something about it. Hopefully, I will calm down a bit.
Monday, February 12, 2007
As you may have guessed, this is the first post of my very first blog. Like everyone else, I expect to learn as I go. But I thought it important to lay the foundation for what this will one day become. I have a lot of things to say about a lot of subjects, but I think it best to narrow things down a bit. So to that end, Pencils Down will be devoted to the condition of public education in the US with an emphasis on Math and Science.
I will admit to being a layperson when it comes to this topic. Other than having attended grades K-12 as a student, I have no authority whatsoever. But I intend to change that, and this blog is the first step of my journey. I will return to college in the Fall in the hopes of becoming a Math/Physics teacher. As I continue to learn and grow, I will use this forum to post queries and observations on the subject of education. Hopefully, I won't just be talking to myself.