jrtom: (Default)

It makes me feel a little bit better to know that he won't touch math. (Or, presumably, the other hard sciences.) But, you know, not a whole lot.

I've gone on in this space about my own experiences, as a TA, dealing with cheating. (If you missed out, it's not that hard to get me to recap. *wry smile*)

If this really is as widespread a phenomenon as the author suggests--and I suspect that while he exaggerates somewhat, perhaps not much--this really does point to something broken in our educational system.
jrtom: (Default)

Interesting. Don't know if it will get enough traction, but it's a nice concept.

I'm now wondering how hard it would be to write an automated tool that would convert articles with more complex language into something appropriate for this site.

Incidentally, to get the flavor, this is where I encountered this concept: http://xkcd.com/547/
jrtom: (Default)

Speaking as a sometime educator and parent...the HELL?

If I were still in academia I think that I would have just been strongly tempted to cross Carnegie Mellon University (a very highly regarded research university in my research areas) off my list of places to consider working at. I have kids, and I want them to get good educations, if possible at public schools. (If you want to tell me it ain't possible, you've come to the wrong store, considering the HS that I attended.)

To those that might think that this is a good idea, I will say this:

You can argue that percentages or letter grades are an unfortunately 1-dimensional view of performance, and I'll agree with you wholeheartedly.

You can argue that teachers should be given some latitude to give a letter grade that is not directly in line with a specified range of percentages, and I'll concur that this is reasonable in principle (although there should be checks for abuse, i.e., required justification in writing for exceptions).

You can even argue that teachers should have the latitude to entirely ignore one or two assignment or quiz grades in determining a quarter/trimester percentage or letter grade; I've seen that work OK (with the above caveats).

But if your argument (as chronicled in that article) is essentially that one 20% (or, worse, 0%) can torpedo a kid's entire grade...my answer is that in the small, it should not be able to do so: there should be evaluations (tests, quizzes, homework) on a frequent enough basis that one bomb shouldn't cause you to flunk if your other grades are decent. In the large...if you've got 20% on _all_ of the assignments for the quarter, then, yes, you're going to have to hop to it in order to pass for the semester. This is as it should be.

If we believe that percentage grades are a metric that we want to use at all, we should not be compromising their validity in such a fundamental way.

(And to the chairwarmer in that article who asserted that they were worried about a sense of helplessness leading to behavior and attendance problems...what kind of behavior and attendance problems do you suppose that _this_ policy is going to entail? You've just told kids that if they skip half the assignments that they can still get a C. How do you suppose that will affect the students that put in the work every time to get those 75% scores?)

I remember my fifth-grade teacher pointing out that bombing (or skipping) a few assignments or tests, even if you ace the rest, can get you a worse grade than doing middling-to-good the whole time. I was pretty sure that she was talking (at least) about me, and I took it to heart. Kids can figure this out, folks, or at least recognize it if it's presented to them.
jrtom: (Default)

Haven't read it yet (placeholder) but it looks interesting. (And I agree that mathematics is often taught poorly, e.g., the curricula are generally structured so that unless you go to a lot of trouble (i.e., take math in college) you get the impression that math is limited to arithmetic, geometry, algebra, trigonometry, and calculus..._none_ of which are what I spend most of my time doing when I'm doing mathematics. Probability and statistics? Graph theory? Combinatorics? Algorithm design, analysis, and optimization? Yes, some of these require some bits of the others as prerequisites...but seriously, let's at least give HS students a _taste_ of what else is out there.)
jrtom: (Default)

Just _reading_ through this transcript gave me flashbacks to incredibly painful conversations I've had with some of my math (and CS) students.

And this isn't calculus...it's not discrete mathematics...it sure as hell isn't amortized complexity analysis, which admittedly can be a bit of a pain...it's not even algebra. It's ARITHMETIC. On MONEY. (Plus about the simplest case of unit analysis that one could ask for.) Units of currency, anecdotally at least, are the units that you do math problems in if you want people to have the best chance of getting the answer right, because almost everyone deals with money enough that they feel comfortable with it (sometimes more comfortable than if no units are used).

(For the record, I got to this through another article(http://gadgets.boingboing.net/2007/11/16/damning-video-verizo.html) which provides evidence that almost no one at Verizon gets this right.)


I have never been so happy that I am no longer a Verizon customer. Having read this, I'm not sure that I could resist the impulse to ask them about their data rate costs the next time I had to call their customer service line.
jrtom: (Default)

Very interesting, indeed. I like the idea of giving students a way to feel like they're creating something with some impact as a class assignment. Certainly there are potential pitfalls...but I'm glad that this is being explored.
jrtom: (Default)
via boingboing: http://www.boingboing.net/2007/07/08/toypography_blocks_s.html



The especially cool bit is the ability to use the _same pieces_ to render a given word in both English and Japanese (kanji).

Now if I can just figure out how to actually order these...
jrtom: (Default)

I'm all for giving people ways to approach math that aren't dull as ditchwater: games, applications, story problems, visualizations, you name it. And perhaps it's simply the case that the example used in this article is kind of dumbass. But I don't really particularly see the value in taking the slope-intercept form of a line and reinterpreting it as a hamburger recipe:

Aesthetic computing attempts to reach those frustrated by traditional math instruction by presenting abstract mathematical concepts in a more creative and personal way. Students break down difficult mathematical concepts, such as algebraic equations, into their basic parts, figure out how those parts relate to one another, then recreate the equation creatively. For example, a standard equation for graphing lines on a slope such as y = mx + b might become a hamburger, with y representing the whole burger, m referring to the meat, and x standing in for spices. Multiplication is indicated by the fact that the meat and spices are mixed together, and b is added to represent hamburger buns.

Students then write a story about the burger or draw a picture of it. (See "Five Easy Steps to Aesthetic Computing," in the sidebar below) Not only does the process enable students to understand the equation in a more meaningful way, the art and stories they create can later guide and inspire them when they need to solve the same equations using standard notation later on.

So I'm with them up to the "creative" recreation of the equation. I can imagine this being an interesting way of constructing a jumping-off point for the creation of art, but I don't see how the recreation, in this case at least, will help them do anything but remember that such an equation exists. In the case of this formula, I'm guessing that's not the usual problem.

If anyone sees more to this than I have, I'd be curious to know your reactions.
jrtom: (Default)
Top 10 Strangest Lego Creations

Not sure I believe that these are the top 10--what happened to the Lego chocolate printer? (Plus, that Lego car at Legoland? Only the exterior is made out of Legos, although it's still impressive.) But interesting.

Very cool optical illusion. Brains are weird.

Why Schools Don't Educate

Not new--it's from 1990--and I'm not sure that I agree with his conclusions (and I'm not sure that what he proposes works on a large scale). But very interesting reading.


jrtom: (Default)

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