Thursday, December 18, 2014

Five Down, Five To Go!

Today I took the final exam for my 5th master's class, Discrete Optimization. 

In that class there were 5 tests, on which I earned 4 A's and a B.  My homework scores were in the 90%+/- range (I don't want to look them all up) and were worth as much as one test.  The final exam was worth two tests, and I'm thinking I probably got a B (maybe a high B?!) on it.

How will it all come out in the end?  No telling until the fat lady sings.  I'm pretty sure I got either an A or a B in the course.  Either way (and I hope it's an A!), I enjoyed learning this material more than I can recall ever enjoying a math class before.  Would that in itself make a B "worth it"?  The grade is irrelevant to how much I enjoyed the class :-)

I've completed 5 of the 10 classes for my Master of Arts in Teaching Math degree.  Now I'm free till mid-January, when I start History of Mathematics.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Crunch Time

I got 47/50 on my last test--and I dispute the points my instructor took off but he's not budging!  I'm taking the final exam tomorrow afternoon so it's all on the line.

Need to get lots of sleep tonight....

"College and Career Ready"

Some people chant it like a mantra, but this author calls it like it is:
The phrase “college-and-career-ready” dominates Common Core rhetoric, as if it is the Holy Grail of educational endeavors. Even kindergarten activities are now supposed to be college and career ready.

Who could possibly argue with wanting our children to be ready for college and careers?

Obviously, no one.

Making sure our children are college and career ready is the answer to all of America’s educational woes. All we need to do is aim everything done in our schools at reaching this goal. The Common Core standards are being promoted as the mechanism for achieving this.

There is only one set of standards, which must be attained by every school and every student; therefore, there must be only one definition for what it means to be college and career ready. Logically, that would mean that there is only one appropriate way to prepare for every college, every major course of study, and every career...

“College and career ready” is a marketing slogan, just like the musical “Bam ba dum bum bam bam bum” that follows the words “we are farmers” in the insurance commercial. And just like the syllables in the commercial, they have no actual meaning. They just sound good.

In the end, they are nothing more than gibberish.
Seems right to me.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Nuclear Energy

If Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace, can support safe, relatively-clean nuclear energy, so can you.  Here are some more professors of climate science and the environment doing the same:
As conservation scientists concerned with global depletion of biodiversity and the degradation of the human life-support system this entails, we, the co-signed, support the broad conclusions drawn in the article Key role for nuclear energy in global biodiversity conservation published in Conservation Biology (Brook & Bradshaw 2014).

Brook and Bradshaw argue that the full gamut of electricity-generation sources—including nuclear power—must be deployed to replace the burning of fossil fuels, if we are to have any chance of mitigating severe climate change. They provide strong evidence for the need to accept a substantial role for advanced nuclear power systems with complete fuel recycling—as part of a range of sustainable energy technologies that also includes appropriate use of renewables, energy storage and energy efficiency. This multi-pronged strategy for sustainable energy could also be more cost-effective and spare more land for biodiversity, as well as reduce non-carbon pollution (aerosols, heavy metals).

Given the historical antagonism towards nuclear energy amongst the environmental community, we accept that this stands as a controversial position. However, much as leading climate scientists have recently advocated the development of safe, next-generation nuclear energy systems to combat global climate change (Caldeira et al. 2013), we entreat the conservation and environmental community to weigh up the pros and cons of different energy sources using objective evidence and pragmatic trade-offs, rather than simply relying on idealistic perceptions of what is ‘green’.
No, I still don't believe that man is the cause of earth's climate change.  However, at least I can respect these people for acting reasonably on what they believe rather than relying on "idealistic perceptions" and civilization-destroying "solutions".

Monday, December 15, 2014

Two Groups. One's A Childish Bunch of Attention Seekers....

...the other is just a bunch of streakers:
Early Thursday morning, a group of 30 “Black Lives Matter” protesters interrupted the biannual naked Primal Scream run on Harvard’s campus and tried to force the streakers “to hold a silent demonstration” for Mike Brown, reports the Harvard Crimson.

Unfortunately for them, the streakers did not want to comply. They continued hollering and chanting in preparation for their streak. This angered the protesters, who then began screaming, “Silence. Silence.” The brave streakers fought back by yelling, “U.S.A., U.S.A.!”

Life Update

No word yet on my performance on the test I took last Friday.  Studying for the final exam continues unabated.

3rd period seemed gleeful at the prospect of being allowed donuts in class during the final exam.

My signature chocolate banana pie for tomorrow's "dessert lunch" is ready to go.

My last present as Secret Snowman is ready for delivery tomorrow.  I've received two nice gifts, a Star Trek communicator and a 49ers t-shirt.

No word yet on whether or not my son will get leave to come home at Christmas, since he's still in-processing at the post and has not even been assigned to a unit yet.  If he can't come home, I'll drive up to Washington to go see him.

That's it for now!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Final Stretch

Tonight we're going to celebrate my dad's birthday.

Tomorrow after work I have to make one of my chocolate banana pies for a "dessert party" we're having in the staff lounge in which I eat.

Tuesday night I can devote entirely to studying with no other commitments.

Wednesday night I have to make another chocolate banana pie for our Thursday afternoon staff luncheon.

Thursday after the luncheon I'll take the final exam for the discrete optimization course I'm taking.  Ohmigawd, the number of proofs, definitions (and he's a stickler for perfection on those), and algorithms we have to know is phenomenal, and that's before ever even solving a problem!

If I can just make it to Thursday evening, I'll be fine!

I need to remember my 2 rules of finals week that I learned at West Point:
Well rested, well tested.
Study too long, you're wrong.
The first is self-explanatory but the second, not so much.  It merely means not to cram, but to spread out your studying in reasonable-sized chunks so the material, along with understanding, stays in your head.  To do well, make it a marathon and not a sprint.  That's why I'll start my studying tonight, before my dad's party.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Delicate Flowers

Is this new, or have university students always been such delicate little flowers?

First I learned that students at Harvard, Georgetown, and Columbia were so "traumatized" by the Ferguson and NYC grand jury decisions that they must have their final exams postponed in order to "process" what happened.   Look at the picture here and tell me if there's not something just a little silly about white students at an expensive, elite university trying to lecture the rest of us on "social justice".

Then comes this story out of UCLA:
Law school exams often present legal conundrums ripped from headlines of the day, but one UCLA law professor is apologizing for basing a test question on what is apparently a taboo subject -- the fallout from the police shooting of a black man in Ferguson, Mo.

Professor Robert Goldstein said the exam question was designed to test students’ ability to analyze the line between free speech and inciting violence. It cited a report about how Michael Brown’s stepfather, Louis Head, shouted, “Burn this bitch down!” after a grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown.

The question then asked students to imagine that they are lawyers in the St. Louis County Attorney’s office and had been asked to advise the prosecutor “whether to seek an indictment against Head” for inciting violence. The exam reads:

“[As] a recent hire in the office, you are asked to write a memo discussing the relevant First Amendment issues in such a prosecution. Write the memo.”

But students complained, and writer Elie Mystal at the popular legal blog “Above the Law” opined that the test question was “racially insensitive and divisive.”
I don't see "racially insensitive and divisive", I see "real world" and "practical application".   Sometimes you need to, as former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings used to say, "put on your big girl panties" and deal with things.

Some people want to wear the badge of victimhood.  I find it sickening.

I don't see an "epidemic" of white cops killing unarmed black citizens any more than I see an epidemic of black cops killing unarmed white citizens.  I don't see the racial motives that so many others just want to see.  If you want to find problems in the situations above, I posit these two:
1) the racial problem we have in this country is not racism, it's the tremendous amount of crime committed by black citizens in this country relative to their numbers in the population, and
2) the problem we have in law enforcement is not racial, it's power itself.  Law enforcement officers are too often seen, and treated as, above the law rather than the tool through which the state enforces the law.
Both of those are serious problems and need to be addressed.  Silly little "hands up don't shoot" demonstrations, especially in light of all the evidence from Ferguson, create a fake problem while simultaneously ignoring the real problem(s).

One would think that university students in general, and law students in particular, would be smart enough to grasp that fact, but one would be wrong.

Update, 12/16/14:  Beware of the "violent language" used by one professor in refusing to postpone final exams.  I'm not as contemptuous of the student as the author of that article is:
But I don't mean to pick too much on this student, an Oberlin freshman. This is the environment she's inherited and set of social cues she's learned from people who should know far better—like professors and administrators at Ivy League law schools, for a start. 
She's still an idiot.  And a delicate little flower.  One wonders how she'll be able to handle the lawnmower of life.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Hanging Chads

For as long as I've been at my current school, and who knows how long before, the students in our school's AVID program have collected presents for elementary students at a school not too far from ours.  Ours is in an upper-middle-class neighborhood with many well-to-do people, the elementary school in question is not in the best of neighborhoods.  Oh, there are far worse neighborhoods in the world, but every year we're told of students who say that the present they got from the high school kids was the only one they'll get for Christmas that year.  It's kind of a big deal.

This year our 3rd period classes collected presents.  The top 3 classes in gift donations get a donut party--and if you know me, you know I want a donut.  I only agree to participate in the program, though, if my 3rd period class votes overwhelmingly to participate.  I explained that this is one of those times where it's not enough to have good intentions, that since they voted overwhelmingly to participate that they actually have to bring presents in.

Setting the example, I brought in the first one, a race car set.

We got off to a slow start, but as the deadline neared more presents came in.  Each day or two the AVID students would come in and clear out the presents, and near the end they told us that we were very nearly in the lead.  Today, the last day to bring in presents, we had a veritable Leaning Tower of Presents in the classroom and it took several students to clear them out.

At the end of 6th period today an announcement was made--we didn't win.  We weren't in the top 3.  In fact, I found out a little later that we were ever so slightly edged out of the top spot by another class, putting us in 4th.

I want a recount.  (or a donut.)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Is Anyone Surprised By This?

Go ahead, defend requiring people to say something they don't believe, and do so while holding their grade over their head.

Why do we never hear of conservative professors doing stuff this outrageous to liberals? 
If you’re going to be a student of professor Charles Angeletti, you’ll be required to do something unusual:
Angeletti, a professor of American Civilization at Metropolitan State University of Denver, has been making his students recite his own spoof of the Pledge of Allegiance.
It's not what I'd call a spoof, I'd call it a denigration of people who don't think like he does. 

Final Test Tomorrow

Tomorrow after school I'll take my last "test" in this course.  I've been working to understand and memorize 7 proofs, 5 definitions, 3 algorithms, and a partridge in a pear tree.  I guess I'll find out then if my studying has paid off.

Then it's on to the final exam!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Educational Malpractice

Long-time readers of this blog know that I'm not in the camp that reflexively calls schools or teachers bad.  I'm in the "culture" camp, believing that schools are a microcosm of the communities they serve and that low-performing schools are low-performing not because their teachers are bad (most probably aren't) but because there's a culture in the community that doesn't value school.  Here and there, hither and yon, there are schools that are able to turn out well-educated students despite the odds, but such schools require a Jaime Escalante or a Joe Clark and sadly, educators like them are *not* plentiful or even easy to find.

But I also don't shy away from identifying when schools (and districts) shoot themselves in the foot with stupid ideas or, worse, educational malpractice.  My own district is, for change's sake, switching from "American traditional" math in high schools to "integrated math", and that's a disaster waiting to happen.  But what I heard today just made my heart melt.

Twice today I heard reference to taking a course online (from a major university west of the Rockies).  It's one thing to take California's required "health" class online in order to free up a class in a student's schedule at school, it's another to take a math class online--and the reasons for doing so are painful.

As someone who's busting his hump getting a master's degree in math online, I can tell you that one class a semester takes 1 1/2-2 hours of work per weekday--I'm pretty good at math and I'm motivated to learn, and that's what it takes me.  I can scarcely imagine how a math class delivered online could be as good or as effective as one delivered in person.

The first student to talk to me today wants to drop my statistics class at the semester.  This student is working very hard and earning a C, and I've made it clear that next semester's curriculum is "mathier".  As I said, this student works hard but admits to not being "good at math", and then told me that he/she took Algebra 2 online via the west-of-the-Rockies university in order to pass it.

Later in the day a second student came to tell me that he/she would be dropping my other class at the semester.  This student is not earning a passing grade and I'm not surprised that I won't be seeing him/her next semester.  What bothers me, though, is that the student then informed me that he/she would be taking the course online via west-of-the-Rockies university.  I asked, why take it at all?  The reply:  I can pass it there.

These are not mere incorrect perceptions.  In fact, they're very accurate perceptions--students can pass those online courses, even though they wouldn't stand a chance of passing the "same" class at our school.  Our school district knows this, too, and still approves such classes for credit.  And note that the first student mentioned above took Algebra 2 there, do you think that's coincidental?  Or do you think it's because Algebra 2 is a required class to get into almost every university in the country?

Our school district also has a computerized "credit recovery" program.  Like "the miracle of summer school", students who have failed classes--in many cases, failed so many that they'd never graduate on time were it not for credit recovery--can make up their classes via online programs.  One of our teachers taught/supervised that program for a semester and refused to do it after that, saying there's no education taking place in that program.  I exaggerate only slightly:  a student can read a couple things on the computer screen, answer a couple questions on the next screen about what they just read, and voila! Instant education.  That's how they "pass".  I've seen students make up semesters of failed classes in a month or two and then come back to our school in time to graduate.

So the school district in which I work allows students to bypass the already low bar we have for a high school diploma.  It seems that getting students to graduate is far more important than getting them to learn.  In effect, we're selling hollowed out and debased credentials.  Let me say that again:  We're selling. meaningless. credentials.

Would it be better if kids who aren't educated didn't get a diploma?  What's the value in a diploma if we give them to everyone?

In this instance my school district participates in educational malpractice.  We could, and should, do better.

Update:  Now that I think of it, I haven't heard of the credit recovery program this school year.  To be honest I don't know if it still exists in our district, I'll find out and update.

Update #2, 12/11/14:  Yes, we still have it at our school.

Campus Sexual Assaults

One of the more noteworthy parts of Emily Yoffe’s thorough analysis in Slate of the campus response to sexual-assault allegations is her interviews with the authors of studies frequently cited by administrators, elected officials and victim advocates.
To summarize the article from which the above quote is drawn:
*the "1 in 5" number for sexual assaults is not a statistically valid number,
*assuming an accused male student is guilty or is a serial predator is "sloppy thinking",
*the Dept of Education's Office of Civil Rights needs to be reined in, and
*the prohibition about linking alcohol consumption with any type of sexual assault needs to go away.

You might consider reading the whole thing.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The Real #WarOnWomen

The real #waronwomen is waged by President Obama, who tries to shut up women reporters who dare to say something against His Eminence.

CBS' Sharyl Attkisson:
Sharyl Attkisson, the ex-CBS investigative reporter, whistleblower, and author recently spoke with Paul Bond of The Hollywood Reporter about her book Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama’s Washington. They discussed her computer hacking, the struggles she experienced getting her stories televised,  media bias, and the existence of an Obama “Enemies’ List.”
Yes, her computer was hacked by the government.

ABC's Ann Compton:
According to retired ABC News journalist Ann Compton, Barack Obama launches into "profanity-laced" tirades against the press in off-the-record meetings with reporters. In a C-SPAN interview, Compton also derided the President for leading "the most opaque" administration of "any I have covered."
As the Instapundit said,  President Obama is "like an unholy crossbreed of Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon."