Saturday, September 28, 2013

Redheads #hashtag

Are 19% of the redheads living in Scotland?Someone made up the fact that 19% of the world's redheaded population lives in Scotland and it showed up in a BBC News report. It turns out that only 1% of the world's redheaded population live in Scotland. There is an evolutionary advantage to having light skin/red hair for people living outside of the tropics; pale skin is much more efficient at using limited amounts of sunlight to produce vitamin D.

Also, Left-handed people do not die 9 years later. Also surprisingly, left-handed are on average younger than right-handed people.

Game on Wayne (ED504)

It's good to be back to blogging.

One of the takeaways from Peter Pasque Prezi presentations was a sort discussion he had about the difference between games and puzzles. Puzzles are something that we only solve once. Having worked on quite a few jigsaw puzzles in my life, I could not agree more. Those 1000 piece puzzles are essentially disposable items. I have never met anyone who solves a puzzles, then mixes up all the pieces and immediately tries again. On the other hand, I have spent hours playing the same game only to go to sleep thinking about the next time I will get to play. In fact, I am forbidden myself from playing any Sid Meier game until I have completed the MAC program. I do not have the self-control to stop playing.

Games and puzzles are different in what they give us and what they asks of us. A puzzle asks one questions, "How does this fit together?" A game gives us a couple of answers and then asks us to find our own questions. The rules for "Axis and Allies" are extensive, but they offer no insight into whether invading Australia is a good idea or not. As paradoxical as they sound, the rules to games tell us "how to play", but they do not tell us "how to play" a game. They set up boundaries, but we are free to explore anywhere inside those boundaries. It gives us infinitely more options to try and to evaluate than a puzzle.

In terms of evaluation, I am not entirely sure how badging would work. On the one hand, the older I get, the less value I see in grading courses. As a high school student, I was always excited to get my report card. I can contrast that with the MAC Program, where I have yet to check on my final grades from the summer term. Looking over returned assignments gives me an idea of what I know and where I could improve. Reading through my notes from last semester will give me an idea of what I know and what I still have questions about. Looking at a letter A through F is such an inaccurate measure of knowledge. If I get an A, assuming accurate measurements, it tells me I have displayed knowledge and skill of all the required material. If I get a B or a C, the grade tells me that I am missing somethingAt this point, the advantage of badging becomes apparent. Instead of getting a grade in Geometry at the end of the semester, my students would collect a badge for Trig-o-Mastery, a badge for Constructions, and a badge for Proofiness. Students and I would both have a better idea of what skills they had demonstrated.

The problems start to creep up when comparing students. Both Usain Bolt and I could run 40 meters without falling over, but one of us is clearly better at it than the other. The problem with badges becomes one of setting standards. If we want to create a meaningful badge for running 40 meters, what becomes the dividing line between an acceptable performance and unacceptable performance? If a student just barely meets the requirements for Trig-o-Mastery badge, then they might struggle when they start in a trigonometry class the following year. Two students could earn the same badge but still have huge differences in their current ability level. Another problem with a badging system is that the binary nature of the system makes it difficult for students to see progress. A student who improves might still not improve enough to earn a badge and feel an undeserved feeling of failure. Finally, there is the permanent nature of badges. Badges should operate like CPR certification or driver's license, they should expire at some point. Just because one of my students can consistently solve a quadratic equation in grade nine does not mean that the knowledge will be retained.

Well, there we are. This is blog posts #50. I should get a Blogger badge.
Master of Blogging

Saturday, September 14, 2013

My Desk #hashtag

I took a picture of a few items around my desk at my school. I know it is illegal to post pictures of students. It might be of questionable legality to post pictures of my classroom. I feel pretty safe showing pictures of these closeups.

I have a few quotes on my bulletin board behind my desk. They are mostly from Winston Churchill. There are also some math cartoons. I also have a picture of CUJO on my bulletin board. The content really isn't for the students. It's more for me. It's my six square-feet of sanctuary. 

On my desk, I have a coffee mug with pens in it. I have to fix the three-hole punch (it is currently broken). I have a power cord and extra monitor for my laptop, although I rarely use my laptop at school. You can also see my window.

Also, I have my African violet. I'm not sure she is going to make it. I have to go do some research and figure out what it means when the leaves start to curl up. I'm not sure if she gets enough sun/too much sun or enough water/too much water. The note on the pot is a lotto ticket. It says, "Don't be afraid to fail." Even if failure is likely, it might still worth a shot, if the prize is worthwhile.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Come up with a great idea, then go home and get things done #hashtag

Read WIRED: Balance Creativity and Productivity

Is letting employees telecommute a good idea? It turns out that the answer is maybe. Studies show that employees are more creative when they have opportunities to serendipitously interact with one another. On the other hand, they tend to be more productive when they are allowed to work from home. Why does this matter?

If the same is true for office workers and students, then it gives us an idea about what type of work should be done in class and at home. If students are more creative when they are with a group, then students should be assigned problems (new tasks) during class time. Homework should focus on exercise (repeated tasks designed to develop mastery) or other assignments that the student needs to get done.

The article also gives us ideas about how to study. When it comes to writing a paper, we should work with others long enough get a set of good ideas. Then we should go home and write the paper.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Read/Write and Math (ED402) & #hashtag

Our discussion in ED402/Literacy got me thinking about the differences between reading and writing. Originally, I thought of reading and writing as two distinct activities. Reading was inputting information and writing was outputting information. Then I thought more about the topic. Reading is much more complex than that. When we read, we are taking some sort of external stimulus and thinking about it. However, the information is not all new. What we often do is read something and relate it to something that we already know. At no point while reading this paragraph has the reader encountered a new word. Instead, a series of words in this text is being rearranged to communicate ideas. So, reading is less about input and more about arranging ideas and making connections.

What is writing? Well, writing is arranging ideas and making connections. In that way, reading and writing are the same cognitive task. The biggest difference is medium. When we read, it is a cognitive task. Physical manifestations like the movement of the eyes along the text or the mouthing of words might occur, but what is really going on is in the brain. Similarly, when we write, we are still arranging ideas and searching for the right word. It is the same activity as reading, it is just that there is a different, more overt, set of physical manifestations. Whether I am thinking about what sentence I am going to write next or evaluating the sentence I just wrote, I am doing the same thing.

Related to literacy, I gained a new idea of the components of literacy. Being literate means knowing how to navigate, understand context and extract meaning. I think that the part about being able to extract meaning is the part that most people understand as being literate. If I can take this jumble of stick figures and curves and turn into sounds or ideas, that is the basic aspect of literacy. The idea of navigating was something completely new for me. It is about knowing where to look for information. Part of that concept is related to syntactic literacy, the ability to understand grammar and sentence structure. If I write that "Alruk is welderl", then English speakers will be slightly confused. They will have no idea what "Alruk" is, but they will still know that it is a person, place, thing or idea. More specifically, they will know that "Alruk" is not just any noun but also the subject of the sentence. Furthermore, they might not know what "welderl" means, but they will have a good idea that is is an adjective.

Literacy has the potential to be a rather complex topic. We'll see how the semester goes.

Education in the News #hashtag

Greetings Mr. Ross. Last time it rained really hard, it started raining inside the second floor hallway in the School of Education. I'm not sure if they fixed the roof or if next time it rains really hard, we're going to have a similar leak. I am just saying... in case you hadn't noticed.

In unrelated news, I like Arne Duncan. He's talking about how high schools should start later in the day because the science indicates that students learn better when they have been able to sleep a full night. What Arne is talking about matches up with what I read in Brain Rules. In Chapter 7, Medina writes "When sleep was restricted to six hours or less per night for just five nights, for example, cognitive performance matched that of a person suffering from 48 hours of continual sleep deprivation." So, that means that means that by the time Friday rolls around, students are hardly functioning.

It makes me wonder if giving a test on a Friday is a good idea. How accurate would the results be? If I give students a test on Monday, then I might see lower scores because students would forget things in between the previous class's review session and the exam. However, the lower scores might be a more accurate gauge of their long term retention. If I give a test to a sleep-deprived adolescent on Friday afternoon, then the lower score might be the results of the environmental stresses from a lack of sleep rather measuring diminished cognitive functioning.

Starting school an hour later seems like a great idea. The only problem is that it would mean that school ends an hour later. That means football practice runs an hour later. The practice for the musical runs later. Students work an hour less at their part-time job. In the end students might just end up sleeping in an hour later but staying up an hour later, too. There is a simple fix. Make the school day shorter. Now, a new problem has arises. How do you fit in the necessary number of instructional hours? Simple. Make the school year longer. Summer vacation suddenly becomes a month shorter. It sounds inconvenient for teachers, but it is important to remember the purpose of schooling. A school system should be focused on educating children, not making life easier for it's employees.

I wonder how much more expensive it would be to have a longer school year.

Moving on to the next topic, one Arkansas school district is arming teachers. This just seems like an awful idea. I can imagine why large schools might want to have an armed security guard. I can even fathom rural school districts, where police response time might be slow, arming certain administrators. I cannot begin to understand how a school with dozens of guns is going to create a safe environment for schools.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Bawitdaba with Economics #hashtag

I was listening to Kid Rock on NPR the other day when I realized that I was listening to Kid Rock on NPR. In my head, I'm picturing a Venn diagram with one circle labeled "People who listen to NPR" and the second circle labeled "People who Listen to Kid Rock." I am trying to figure out how small the overlap between those two circles is. In the podcast, Kid Rock and the hosts talk about the market failures related to concert tickets. Musicians sell their tickets for X. Scalpers swoop in and buy a bunch of tickets and then resell them for X+Y. In this market, fans are more than willing to pay X+Y, but only part of their money is going to the artist (the actual product they are buying). There is a substantial sum going to people who add no value to the product.

When I purchase a TV at the electronics store, there is an obvious margin for the store. They make a profit. However, I also benefit from buying from the store. I get the TV at the moment that I want it, without having to wait for shipping. I can buy accessories with the set easily. I can ask questions of the (sometimes) knowledgeable sales associates. If I am undecided about which product, I have the opportunity to get advice on which item would be a better choice. I can try the product before I buy it. If I have problems I can usually, easily return the item. When I buy a TV from a store, there are all sort of ways in which the product is improved. When I buy a ticket from a scalper, there is no value added. Instead, the scalper is just taking advantage of arbitrage. He was able to buy the ticket at a low price and sell it at a high price. He is like a hedge fund manager, but he doesn't even provide the benefit of risk aggregation.

You can read further or listen to the podcast. If you are interested in the topic. You can listen for my favorite moment in the podcast near the 13:16 mark when Kid Rock says, "...whatever the market dictates..." It's funny to hear him talking like an economist.

The article brought an interesting idea into my head. In the place of offering scholarships to students, U-M should just give away football and basketball tickets to students in need. It would probably be cheaper for the University and offer more benefits to the students.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Kick off #hashtag

This time when I go back to high school, I'm going to be one of the cool kids. Ok, probably not.

Student teaching has officially begun. Through a quirk in the placement process, I ended up being placed as a teaching intern at the high school from which I graduated. Back in high school, I kept a blog. It just wasn't called a blog yet. The first recorded use of the word blog was in 1999. According to the people at Merriam and Webster, the word existed, but from my experience, the word blog had not reached the place of universality that it now occupies. I was blogging way before it was cool to blog.

My blog was mostly a journal about my life mixed in with my expert coverage of the NHL. Originally, I started copying over the old posts. Eventually, someone talked me into saving them. I have a complete record of my ramblings for three years, including the second half of my senior year of high school. In the August after I graduated, I went back to visit my high school. I wrote about it on August 22:
...Walking around the halls felt a little funny. Everyone seems so small, so young. I'm a couple of months older than a lot of the people there, but it feels like there is a big difference. They fixed the main entrance of the school [part of the school was renovated my senior year]. I sneaked in via a side door to avoid the authorities, so I only saw it as I looked down the hall. The rest of the school remains its ugly self. Although I enjoyed high school, I don't think that I'm going to miss the brown (formerly orange) lockers or the heating system that only worked during the summer...
I was going to write about how I feel awkward walking around the halls of the high school I attended so many years ago. Then I realized, wait a second, I feel awkward walking around [insert the name of any location here]. When I left high school, I wrote about starting the next paragraph in my life. While the idea of my life as a manuscript might work, I think a math analogy might now be more appropriate. The circle is now complete. When I left high school I was but the learner, but now I'm working on a master's.