Category Archives: Technology

When Theory Matches Reality

Ever since I decided to become a teacher (for apparently the second time in my life, haha), I’ve paid a lot of attention to education as discussed by commentators and lawmakers.

Since I was a middle and high school student during “No Child Left Behind” and in college when “Common Core” was adopted, I heard a lot of adults and educators complaining about both because they’re too strict and don’t let teachers make decisions.

Now, at some point in college, I decided to consider myself a Non-Conformist. Pretty much, I do my own thing based on my own rules and am very good a “smiling and nodding” when I think other people’s ideas are bat-shit crazy.

When I first heard about “Common Core” the thing that struck me most was that it would mean that students in (hopefully) all 50 states would be taught using the same curriculum. This, I thought, would mean that a student could transfer from one school in one state into another school in a different state without much confusion due to repetition and stuff being “skipped”. I have a cousin who moved from SC to PA (or vice versa) in 4th grade and thought that the Civil War was 2 different wars because of the completely different way it was taught in both states. I think that this is the example that shows exactly how screwed up our education system is in America. Living in Southeastern VA means that there are a lot of military kids who move around a lot and they deserve to have one solid education, not a piecemeal one based on what the individual states think is important.

Anyway, so, I was loving Common Core and then I started hearing parents and educators complaining about the new way of teaching math. Mmmkay….

They started showing me examples. I agree: that crap is weird!!

But…is that a problem with the overall aspect of Common Core? Or is it an implementation problem?

Hehehehehe.

My education class this semester is Language Acquisition and Reading. This week we’re learning about lesson planning, which includes information on Basal Readers which has since become the educational idea of a “core reading program”. Essentially, teachers are handed a reading program that’s supposed to solve all their problems so long as they work through the program systematically with their students. The article we read this week explains why this doesn’t work (USING BASAL: From Dutiful Fidelity to Intelligent Decision Making by Peter Dezvitz and Jennifer Jones).

Essentially the problem is that no two children or classrooms are exactly the same (duh). The Basal can offer a great place for novice teachers to start, but teachers still need to evaluate their students to determine exactly what they need individually. The Basal can’t really differentiate for students.

Which, really, only serves to prove the point I’ve been trying to make for going on 10 years now: the school system can make all the mandates they want, but teachers are completely free to revise and plan on their own (“defying the school system’s mandates”) all they want so long as at the end of the day the student is learning exactly what they need to learn!!

Before “No Child Left Behind” and “Common Core” Virginia had it’s Standards of Learning (SOL) tests. Every student in 3rd, 5th, 8th, and various high school classes had to pass these suckers in order to graduate and the student’s scores had great influence on teachers keeping their jobs and schools getting accreditation.

This, of course, led to many teachers and administrators deciding that it was better to “teach the test” so that the schools kept up appearances of offering a quality education.

I call these teachers LAZY!

You see, even though I was in AP and dual enrollment classes in high school, I still had to take the SOL tests. Here’s the thing: as a class, we NEVER studied for the SOLs. This is because the AP and dual enrollment requirements are above and beyond what the SOLs ask and so without any special preparation, we AP kids easily aced or nearly aced the SOLs.

I had many friends in regular classes and they were given vast workbooks meant to prepare them for the SOL tests. I read through them and was fascinated and appalled by how little in depth knowledge was required of them! That’s not right!

Since I spent so much time with the “regular” kids, I could never understand what made me special. Sure, I had more knowledge, but that was because I was in classes that required me to go above and beyond and so the incidental facts were easily retained.

It’s easy to remember that the Revolutionary War was fought between 1775 and 1783 when you’re writing essays in 30 minutes on “To what extent is a Revolutionary War a literal revolution where society returns to the status quo after a short period of change?”. Memorizing dates is lot easier than trying to determine if everything after a revolution is actually just like it was before the revolution (I’m convinced that it’s more like a spiral where life is similar, but with a striking difference; like, American’s don’t drink as much tea as the English).

Anyway, since I think that students are much more competent and capable than school systems seem to give them credit for, I’ve always decided that if a teacher is complaining about too much regulation and testing by administrators, the teacher probably isn’t a very good teacher.

Do many kids get stressed out about taking too many tests? Yes. Can students be given the skills to make these tests so easy that they’re a joke? HELL YES! If a teacher is afraid of their students doing poorly on any given test, then the teacher hasn’t taught them properly. Period.

And any teacher who thinks that gathering meaningful data about their students and evaluating how that data should influence instruction is too much work should be fired. We did Running Records a couple weeks ago. Yes, they seemed awkward, but I just watched a YouTube video of a teacher performing one very fluidly as part of small group instruction. In other words, I see how easy performing a Running Record can be with practice and the data it provides is invaluable. To think of it as too much work undermines just how much work and care goes into teaching!

I was reading these tips for Homeschooling and thought it was pretty horrible that in the chart for analyzing different methods of education, the amount of parental involvement was listed under the disadvantages! I mean…if parents are going to be teachers, then they should be comfortable being teachers! That means lesson planning. That means evaluations. That means actually learning the content before you attempt to teach it! I think that there’s a reason why most of the homeschooling blogs I follow don’t have much information for teaching children after they’ve become “independent readers”. Once the kid can read it seems like the parent only exists to answer specific questions that the child has (which means Google?).

I’ve taken enough standardized tests from elementary to high school to know one thing: except for the writing example section, they’re always multiple choice tests. I highly doubt that Common Core has added short answer sections. Which means that even in the math section, with the crazy, seemingly made up techniques, the only thing that matters is that the student gets the correct answer.

So, in a real world classroom, if the school system mandates a specific way of instruction, the teacher can teach that, plus whatever other techniques that individual students may have an easier time using. Because, here’s the thing: most of that “crazy math” is just meant to help students better grasp the concepts of numbers and how they relate to each other. It’s supposed to help students rely less on memorization and more on why math works.

  • 1/16th=0.062
  • 3/8ths=0.375
  • 5/8ths=0.625

I hate rotely memorizing things! I don’t have the patience for drills and I find such isolated facts to be useless information. But, I’ve just listed 3 of the more obscure inches to decimal conversions that I know (skipping the obvious quarters and halves). Why do I know these? Because I work in a print shop and our line-gauges are in inches while our paper cutter is in decimals. If I’m measuring something to cut it, I have to do the conversions. We have a cheat sheet right on the wall behind the cutter, but after a few months, they started to stick. And once I have them memorized, I don’t need to look at the cheat sheet anymore. (In a classroom, a student would probably be required to carry out the long division to make the conversion).

If a Common Core tests asks the student to do a division problem, the answer will be in numbers; it will not be asking them to show their work unless the question requires them to use a specific technique! But, that means that the teacher should have taught that technique as something to be learned, and if the student doesn’t understand the technique, other techniques should be taught in conjunction, with emphasis that learning the technique that will be asked about on the test is as important to learn as how to find the correct answer.

Do you see what I did there? If there are 4 ways to solve a problem, then the teacher should teach all 4 ways, illustrating why each of the ways is different and giving each it’s proper name. In other words, the techniques are facts to be learned, not just what the answer to the problem is.

If Common Core doesn’t test specific techniques and those techniques are useless once the core information has been memorized (e.g. 7×8=56), then it really doesn’t matter how kids learn to do math so long as they learn the technique that works best for them.

See? Lazy teachers are part of the problem. It’s harder to teach 4 techniques instead of just one, so I’m sure many teachers are unwilling to add onto their already overflowing workloads, even though I’m personally convinced that it’s actually easier to teach 4 techniques instead of trying to force the wrong technique onto a specific student.

P.S. This of course leads back to homeschooling parents who don’t want the state to oversee their child’s education. Remember what I was saying about the SOLs? If you as a homeschooling parent are teaching your child above and beyond what the minimum requirements of the state are, then you should have no fear of your child taking state mandated tests to ensure that they’re getting a basic education.

And if you’re refusing the teach your child evolution because you’re afraid that it will hurt their relationship with God (and that is why you keep your child out of school and are afraid of state tests), you are a bad teacher. Teaching the science adequately will not alter faith since religion and science have nothing to do with each other. Science describes the what and how; religion gives reasons for the why. Science functions perfectly without getting stuck on why things work the way that they do; for science why doesn’t matter. Lying to your child about how old the Earth is because this information disagrees with your holy book only serves to disadvantage your child because you’ve most likely cut out or otherwise undermined the very foundation of scientific inquiry: The Scientific Method.

Pro-tip: teach everything from the standpoint of the Scientific Method. Background Information/Observation, Hypothesis, Design and Conduct the Experiment, Evaluate the Data, Draw a Conclusion. Repeat steps as needed. Seriously, it works for every subject (or so say’s this history and environmental science major :-))!

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Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Like many people, I’ve seen the movie a few times, but had never read the book before.

Up until the final chapters, this book reads like the movie. The only real difference is the age of the girl (I cannot remember her name in the movie to know if they changed that as well) and her being given some of Tim’s (the boy) actions. I think this was a good change because it gave us a second strong female character. Lex, in the book, is like 7 years old and for the most part she acts like a 7 year old, which is a good choice. She’s a strong 7 year old, but still a 7 year old.

Where the movie ends, this book continues and there are distinct differences from the direction the movie went. I think I prefer the book in this, but I don’t remember how sympathetic I felt towards Hammond at the end of the movie, but he definitely learned his lesson by the conclusion of this book. And I think many readers will walk away with a more ethical approach to scientific advancement after reading Jurassic Park.

When it comes to Malcolm’s ethical preaching, I agree in the most general terms that we as humans should never seek to play God. BUT, whereas Malcolm seems to think that all scientific study is for the advancement of human ego, I think that study is inherently for good of humanity not just the prestige of the scientist. Take this conclusion Malcolm gives near the end of the story: “Let’s be clear. The planet is not in jeopardy. We are in jeopardy. We haven’t got the power to destroy the planet–or to save it. But we might have the power to save ourselves.” Add to it this part of a lecture I heard in college where the professor listed a dozen or so animals and plants that have gone extinct recently and the potential cures to disease that died with them. There is a distinct line when it comes to ethics and science and I think that “do no harm” is a good rule of thumb because for every harm we cause to the environment, we have had the potential to harm ourselves. We need to see things much more broadly than the “thintelligence” that Malcolm coined and we do have to admit the potential consequences of all of our actions and admit that there are dozens more that we could never dream of. But to stop all scientific advancement simply because it has a possibility of causing harm is also dangerous.

I consider myself an environmentalist. But I do not automatically oppose mining for natural resources or even pipelines for transporting them. But I approach these issues with a very specific set of questions. First and foremost is “What will you do WHEN said pipeline leaks?” Oil and gas companies and the governments that support them like to talk about “ifs” and “maybes” even though all the evidence points towards “whens” and “definitelys”. The Alaskan pipeline has been leaking since the day it was built. Offshore drilling platforms do blow up. We do everyone a disservice when we pretend that we can play God because then we’re not allowed to plan for the inevitabilities (anyone who does plan is laughed at for being paranoid).

Anyway, there were a few specific items within Jurassic Park that made me giggle or roll my eyes. The first giggle was the description of a CD-Rom as a laser disk run by a computer. I think that folks just a few years younger than me will read this and think “what the hell is a laser disk?!?”. ‘Course, I’m one of the few people my age who has actually met a real floppy disk (the one about 5 inches across that really did flop when you waved it). I eye-rolled every time someone “clicked off the radio”. Uh…that means the radio would no longer be able to send and receive transmissions because it’s OFF! Physically off–no juice flowing from the batteries, OFF. I was in a search and rescue group in college and learning how to use the radios was one of our lessons, jargon included. In our organization (a conference of 2 dozen groups across the state and surrounding states), we used the term “clear” to indicate that we were done with the conversation and were putting our radio away. “Out” meant we were going to turn our radio completely OFF. When we worked with law enforcement, we’d have to remember that they’d use “out” with a different meaning so base wouldn’t panic. Anyone who’s used a radio before knows that you don’t turn your radio off during an exercise. You’d turn the volume down to get relative silence, but you’d still keep it loud enough to hear when someone needs you. And with as often as you’ll read about the hiss of the radio being heard, you know that it was a writer error to say that they were turning their radios off.

There is one last poignant conversation within Jurassic Park that bares mentioning. When Wu and Hammond discuss the nature of the park and whether or not the dinosaurs are real and if they really “re-created the past”. One of the classes I took in college was on the history of museums and we discussed to what extent these creations were creations vs. reality. Colonial Williamsburg is an excellent example. I believe that just about every building there was built during the 20th century to try to re-create what it looked like during the 1700s. But, it can at best be nothing more than a snapshot. In fact, the way the park is run, the “date” that it on any given day changes depending on what the overall plan for the season is. One day they may be showing a world preparing for Revolution. On another, it’ll be acting as the national capital after the war. On another, it’s life under British rule. But in all cases, it’s constructed to be entertainment. The restaurants cater to modern tastes. The actors perform on schedule. Sure, they hold slave auctions, but only on proscribed days (this would be historically accurate), but true slavery would have been on display every day during the real days of Williamsburg in the real 1700s. Back then, you’d see slaves getting slapped in the streets probably daily. Now, you’d only see that during a scheduled event. “Attention guests: at 3pm please come to the main square to see William Turner get beat for dropping the gravy on the carpet in the Governor’s Palace”. Actually…change guests to citizens and under certain circumstances that announcement would also have been historically accurate.

Funny velociraptor tee
Funny velociraptor tee by AnimalsForYou
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Predator Dinosaur iPhone 5C Case
Predator Dinosaur iPhone 5C Case by FantasyCases
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Stegosaurus Bones Dinosaur Dig
Stegosaurus Bones Dinosaur Dig by happygotimes
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Old School Dinosaur
Old School Dinosaur by LVMENES
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Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice by Adam Benforado

“It is better one hundred guilty Persons should escape than one innocent Person should suffer”

–Benjamin Franklin

I first heard about Unfair via NPR (not sure which program the author was speaking on) and was amazed at the idea of using Avatars and recorded testimony to better present information to a jury at a trial. Turns out that this book is full of a lot more than just this idea for reforms.

This book looks into the science behind why people do what they do: the perpetrators, the judges, the lawyers, the witnesses, the jury, the public. While reading it, I started wondering which of my extended family members (a group that succumbs to many of the fallacies listed here) would most benefit by reading this. My conclusion was probably none. Even if they were able to finish reading it, they’d still probably label it “liberal rubbish”. What I find ironic is that these types are covered within: the ones who when presented with overwhelming evidence that their beliefs are misguided (at best) they will still find a reason to reject the evidence.

I don’t know if I’m simply more educated than the general public, but a lot of what I read in Unfair seemed to be common knowledge now. I thought people were aware that eye-witness accounts are more often than not limited if not completely incorrect. Benforado makes it seem like no one in the public sector knows this, but I can imagine that in especially a trial setting, lawyers will overstate the importance of eye-witnesses and other facts.

I certainly will forever question the validity of an eye-witness after reading about at 74 year old woman who identified the wrong man even though the actual rapist was also in the line-up (put there simply as filler by the police). Especially when you look at a photo of the line-up and only the real rapist looks like the original description, given 5 weeks prior.

In this era of what appears to be more police brutality, I thought that there were a few quotes that maybe some folks should take to heart.

The first comes during the chapter on why the public seeks to find someone to blame when a crime is committed, even if that means taking a pig or dog literally to court, or the public thinking it’s okay for a pitcher to hit an innocent player during a baseball game in retaliation for one of his own teammates getting hit. “[W]hen a harm has been committed, our desire to find a culprit and reset the moral scales by inflicting punishment may sometimes override out commitment to fair treatment.” I was immediately reminded of watching the latest video evidence of the shooting of Walter Scott. Officer Slager claimed that it was in self-defense or otherwise was in defense of the public, because they’d just emerged from a scuffle on the ground when they got up and Scott started running again so Slager used his gun. You see, when I hear that story (of a scuffle and the retaliation), I picture me acting in “hot blood” to hurt the person who just hurt me. Officer Slager had just (probably) gotten hit in the nose (or somewhere else that resulted in injury or at least insult) and in anger pulled out his weapon and fired. I suspect this “hot blooded” approach to justice occurs in more cases of police brutality than anything else (Unfair does touch on the Rodney King case, but only from the perspective of the expert witnesses).

The second quote that stuck out to me was “Numerous studies have shown that those who have murdered a white person are more likely to be sentenced to death than those who have murdered a black person.” Well, this is a statistic that the Black Lives Matter cause should pick up. Currently the debate seems to be centered on police brutality towards black suspects with opponents saying “well, what about Black on Black violence?” It seems to me that the Justice Department is making a statement that White Lives are more important than Black Lives simply because they go after harsher punishments when the victim is white rather than black.

The third quote is “In one recent experiment, researchers had two groups of participants read about a fourteen-year-old with seventeen prior juvenile convictions who raped an elderly woman. Participants were then asked to what extent, in general, they supported sentences of life without parole for juveniles in non-homicide cases. The texts given to the groups were identical, aside from one word: for the first group, the defendant was described as black; for the second group, he was described as white. Participants who had read about the black teenager expressed more support for the severe sentence and for the notion that kids are as blameworthy as adults.” I think this should give EVERYONE cause to stop and reflect on their own preconceptions. Of course, this is also discussed in Unfair: jurors are told repeatedly that they are completely capable of being impartial and most of us want to believe that even though there is mounting evidence that at least some amount of bias skews our judgments. People are so certain that they would never discriminate that they are blind to the fact that they do it daily.

I think this is one of those books that should be required reading. Even if it doesn’t have an effect on the Criminal Justice department, at least it will shed more light on the social issues that cause crime. Armchair politicians like to admit that lack of education and poverty contribute to the crime problem, but when it comes to saying where tax dollars should be spent, it’s usually on a bigger prison rather than a new school. I’ve heard more people talk about the waste of throwing money at education, but not the same about the waste of throwing money at jails. Except when some new jail can’t be used because of a wonkie law–then the complaint isn’t that the jail was built, but because it cannot be used.

I received this book for free via Blogging For Books, but as always the review/commentary is all mine.

You Just Look Guilty
You Just Look Guilty by tpenry
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Christmas Jury
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