Monday, April 27, 2015

Direct Instruction

I have long been a proponent of direct instruction in the classroom.  I operate on the theory that my school district pays me a moderate amount of money on the supposition that I know more about math than the students in my classes and should therefore impart that knowledge to the dumplings, and not expect the students to create the knowledge from thin air:
The Chinese favour a “chalk and talk” approach, whereas countries such as the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand have been moving away from this direct form of teaching to a more collaborative form of learning where students take greater control.

Given China’s success in international tests such as PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS, it seems we have been misguided in abandoning the traditional, teacher-directed method of learning where the teacher spends more time standing at the front of the class, directing learning and controlling classroom activities.

Debates about direct instruction versus inquiry learning have been ongoing for many years. Traditionally, classrooms have been organised with children sitting in rows with the teacher at the front of the room, directing learning and ensuring a disciplined classroom environment. This is known as direct instruction.

Beginning in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, teachers began to experiment with more innovative and experimental styles of teaching. These included basing learning on children’s interests, giving them more control over what happened in the classroom and getting rid of memorising times tables and doing mental arithmetic. This approach is known as inquiry or discovery learning.

Based on this recent study of classrooms in the UK and China and a recent UK report titled What makes great teaching?, there is increasing evidence that these new-age education techniques, where teachers facilitate instead of teach and praise students on the basis that all must be winners, in open classrooms where what children learn is based on their immediate interests, lead to under-performance.

The UK report concludes that many of the approaches adopted in Australian education are counterproductive:
Enthusiasm for discovery learning is not supported by research evidence, which broadly favours direct instruction.
Especially during the early primary school years in areas like English and mathematics, teachers need to be explicit about what they teach and make better use of whole-class teaching.
The Chicoms are doing it right.  I expect opponents of this philosophy to go slippery slope and reductio ad absurdum any moment now.

University Removes "Straight Pride" Posters

I was going to post on this but Joanne (and her commenters) have said everything I would have.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

You Cannot Register Until You Have Undergone Our Indoctrination

Several years ago the University of Delaware required incoming freshmen to complete an indoctrination program.  Yes, it was indoctrination, and as soon as the program became public the university was shamed into stopping it.  Just a few short years ago, such blatant biases were considered more than untoward.  People are now so inured to liberal excess that I wonder if the public will even bat an eyelash at this, given how exhausting it is to constantly fight such tyranny:
All CSUN students registering for the 2015 Fall Semester are being forced to participate in an online, SIMS-style character game about sexual assault before being allowed to claim a seat for any course.

The game, titled “Agent of Change” and designed by feminist activists, does not allow students to complete the game until they have given enough “correct” answers as per the designers’ stated philosophical influences, such as “norms challenging,” “feminist theory,” and “social norms theory.” According to the Agent of Change website, the program helps users “see the connections between these power-based violations, how these problems affect their lives, and what they can do to challenge the cultural norms that help sexual violence flourish.”

If Rape Is So Bad, Why Do You *Not* Want The Legal Process Involved?

Lefties prefer these university kangaroo courts to actual courts because "niceties" like due process and evidence aren't required in the sham courts:

Vice President Joe Biden was in Illinois today talking about campus sexual assault. I agreed with almost everything he said. Why? Because he was discussing things that no one except the worst among us could disagree with.

Having sex with a woman who is passed out is rape. Of course. Beating a woman is wrong. Of course. Rapists should go to jail. Of course.

What Biden didn't discuss was that the issue of campus sexual assault isn't as simple as he makes it seem. The black and white examples he gave are not the norm on college campuses. There is no "discussion," as Biden claimed, about whether it's rape when a woman is passed out.

Where the discussion lies is in he said/she said situations where there's evidence and witnesses that say she was not passed out or incapacitated, and where the accuser appeared to be a willing participant until months after the encounter...

Biden also said that campus rapists shouldn't just be facing expulsion, but "should go to jail." Absolutely. The problem is that if expulsion and jail are possibilities, as they are with crimes, then both accusers and accused should have due process rights. But that might cut down on the number of students suspended or expelled, as evidence and the presumption of innocence are less valued in disciplinary hearings than accusations are.

The legal process goes both ways:

The Columbia University student being called a rapist by members of the media and a woman who has been carrying her mattress around for performance art is suing.

Paul Nungesser was accused by fellow Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz of brutally beating and raping her during a sexual encounter he insists was consensual. Despite a police investigation that failed to charge Nungesser and the university finding him "not responsible," Sulkowicz and her enablers — including Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, have continued to harass Nungesser by calling him a "rapist."

Now, Nungesser is suing his university, its president and trustees and the visual arts professor that allowed the mattress project to go forward.

Nungesser and his attorneys, Nesenoff & Miltenberg LLP, allege that the university was complicit in allowing the harassment to commence, which "significantly damaged, if not effectively destroyed Paul Nungesser's college experience, his reputation, his emotional well-being and his future career prospects."

We'll see how the legal process works on this side of the equation, but I certainly hope he wins. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Free Speech, "Rape Culture", and Soft Minds

If university students cannot bear to hear an opposing opinion, if hearing one induces the vapors, perhaps they're neither strong enough nor mature enough to attend college.

In November last year, anti-rape activists at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, erupted in outrage when it was announced that libertarian feminist Wendy McElroy had been invited to take part in a debate about sexual violence. McElroy, as it happens, was herself the victim of a rape so violent it left her with permanently impaired vision. But she has since incurred the wrath of those who claim to speak for rape victims by vehemently disputing the existence of what radical feminists call ‘rape culture’. Rape culture, McElroy has written, is ‘a lie [which] has been successful in spite of reality’ and is now being used to justify an illiberal and sinister attack on due process. Whether one agrees with this view or not, it ought to be obvious that transparent debate of this issue is not only legitimate, but vital. McElroy’s activist opponents disagreed. The very expression of opinions like hers, they insisted, constitutes an intolerable threat to student safety.

This dismal scenario is now being re-run following an invitation extended by Oberlin College Republicans and Libertarians (OCRL) to feminist writer Christina Hoff Sommers. Sommers – a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and author of the 1994 polemic Who Stole Feminism? – also considers ‘rape culture’ to be a dangerous moral panic. And, like McElroy, she believes it must be discredited with the careful marshalling of evidence and argument. Her opponents, on the other hand, while maintaining the truth of their own claims to be self-evident, have preferred to marshal only disgust and invective, the most recent manifestation of which has been an open letter published in the Oberlin Review beneath the maudlin headline ‘A Love Letter To Ourselves’...

Instead, what follows is an example of question begging in its crudest form:

By denying rape culture, [Sommers] is creating exactly the cycle of victim/survivor blame, where victims are responsible for the violence that was forced upon them and the subsequent shame that occurs when survivors share their stories, whose existence she denies. This is how rape culture flourishes. By bringing her to a college campus laden with trauma and sexualised violence and full of victims/survivors, OCRL is choosing to reinforce this climate of denial/blame/shame that ultimately has real-life consequences on the wellbeing of people who have experienced sexualised violence.

Or, in other words, it is dangerous to challenge the existence of rape culture, since to do so inflames rape culture. 
Why would people want to believe such things?  What do they get out of it?

Bright Blue California Can Get Obamacare Right, Right?

Health Reform: Back in 2013, ObamaCare supporters couldn't talk enough about how California was a showcase for how the law would succeed. Isn't it funny that nobody is making such claims any more?

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote a few months into ObamaCare's first open enrollment period that "What we have in California, then, is a proof of concept. Yes, ObamaCare is workable — in fact, done right, it works just fine."

It turns out that California is a proof of concept, but not in the way Krugman thought.

As Californians are discovering to their dismay, their state's ObamaCare program is a nightmare of technological glitches, bureaucratic ineptitude and overpriced plans that under-deliver care.
California can't even get socialism right.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Earth Day?

Dr. Perry reminds us of 18 "spectacularly wrong" predictions from Earth Day 1970 (by the way, we should be living in a Mad Max scenario according to many of them):
In the May 2000 issue of Reason Magazine, award-winning science correspondent Ronald Bailey wrote an excellent article titled “Earth Day, Then and Now” to provide some historical perspective on the 30th anniversary of Earth Day. In that article, Bailey noted that around the time of the first Earth Day, and in the years following, there was a “torrent of apocalyptic predictions” and many of those predictions were featured in his Reason article. Well, it’s now the 45th anniversary of  Earth Day, and a good time to ask the question again that Bailey asked 15 years ago: How accurate were the predictions made around the time of the first Earth Day in 1970? The answer: “The prophets of doom were not simply wrong, but spectacularly wrong,” according to Bailey. Here are 18 examples of the spectacularly wrong predictions made around 1970 when the “green holy day” (aka Earth Day) started....
There's plenty of evidence that the earth, and humanity, are doing just fine, at least as far as survival goes:
Since the first Earth Day back in the 1970s, the environmentalists -- those who worship the creation rather than the Creator have issued one false prediction of Armageddon after another and yet despite the fact that their batting average is zero, the media and our schools keep parroting their declinism as if they were oracles not shysters.

Here are the factual realities we should be celebrating on Earth Day.

Talk About Making Lemonade

This seems like a very smart idea:
LiveCode is raising money to teach people with autism to code mobile apps.

The software development company has a goal to raise $350,000 through a 45-day crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. The money will pay for 3,000 young autistic adults to take a six-month online training course.

The program is a modified version of LiveCode's Create It product, which teaches people with no coding experience how to create basic apps like messaging, calculators, and clocks. LiveCode says the goal is to give people on the autism spectrum an opportunity to develop job skills.

Autism is a developmental disability caused by a neurological disorder that affects a person's social and communication skills. But most people with autism are highly skilled in other ways. Many are particularly adept at recognizing patterns and paying close attention to detail.

"That can make coding tasks ideal," LiveCode says.

The company launched its Indiegogo fundraiser on Thursday, to coincide with World Autism Awareness Day.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Steely Dan Will Be So Disappointed

Do you remember this awesome song?

FM, no static at all, and it's going away in Norway:
The death knell of FM radio has sounded in Norway, but fortunately for listeners, that doesn't mean radio is going away. Instead, Norway is shifting to Digital Audio Broadcasting, a system already used by half the country, Ars Technica reports.

The country is the world's first "to decide upon an analogue switch-off for all major radio channels," as puts it. The end of FM is due on a rolling basis in 2017.
What will a Norwegian Steely Dan sing about?  DAB, no analog at all...

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Progress on the Research Paper

Yesterday I sent the rough draft of my research paper over to one of our exceptional English teachers.  I knew she wouldn't understand the math, I just wanted her to check it for adherence to the MLA formatting rules.

I'm tired of these different formatting rules.  Seriously?  APA, MLA, EIEIO?  Oh, and toss in Chicago for good measure, damn them!

There was much red ink.  I followed some of the formatting rules too slavishly, and she showed me references which stated I didn't have to be so rigid.  She had me rewrite a sentence or two and they now sound much better than they originally did.  I open the paper with a reference to Isaac Newton; her suggestion also to close with a tie-in to Newton was great and I will incorporate that into my final draft.  Mostly, though, she focused on formatting issues and those should be easy to fix--but there were plenty of them.

One thing I will not change, though, is my British style of putting punctuation in quotations.  The American method is "If I have seen further it is by standing on the sholders (sic) of Giants," even though the comma (at least in my mind) doesn't belong to the quotation.  The English method makes more sense to me: "If I have seen further it is by standing on the sholders (sic) of Giants", with the comma outside the quote.  When it comes to commas, I'm a limey.

I Teach Some Artists

We have some very talented artists at our school.  We have an internationally-recognized music program and very high quality art and ceramics programs.  One of my students, who often doodles dragon-type creatures in class, was absent today but sent me the following picture:
It's an amazingly good likeness!

Getting a very cool, completely unexpected gift like this is one of the perks of being a teacher.

Monday, April 20, 2015

What If Teachers Did This?

Is dark humor allowed only for medical personal, or can others jump on the "denigrating others" bandwagon?
Nurses make fun of their dying patients. That’s okay.

The laughter of the ER staff echoed down the hall as Lauren, a nurse in Texas, talked about a patient who had ingested “a thousand ears of corn,” requiring her to repeatedly unclog kernels from the oral-suction tubing. The episode had earned Lauren surprise gifts of corn nuggets from a respiratory therapist and a can of corn from an EMS technician. But not everyone found the story so funny. When Lauren entered a patient’s room nearby, the patient said to her: “I hope you’re not that insensitive when you’re telling your friends about me later.”

Although patients typically don’t overhear it, a surprising amount of backstage joking goes on in hospitals — and the humor can be dark. Doctors and nurses may refer to dying patients as “circling the drain,” “heading to the ECU” (the eternal care unit) or “approaching room temperature.” Some staff members call the geriatric ward “the departure lounge.” Gunshot wound? “Acute lead poisoning.” Patient death? “Celestial transfer.”

“Laypeople would think I’m the most awful human being in the world if they could hear my mouth during a Code Blue,” Lauren told me when I was reporting my new book on nursing. (I agreed to use only her first name, so she could speak freely about behind-the-scenes hospital life.)

Indeed, while people may readily excuse gallows humor among, say, soldiers at war, they may have a lower tolerance for it among health-care professionals. “Derogatory and cynical humour as displayed by medical personnel are forms of verbal abuse, disrespect and the dehumanisation of their patients and themselves,” Johns Hopkins University professor emeritus Ronald Berk contended in the journal Medical Education. “Those individuals who are the most vulnerable and powerless in the clinical environment ... have become the targets of the abuse.”

I strongly disagree. The primary objections to gallows and derogatory humor in hospitals are that it indicates a lack of caring, represents an abuse of power and trust, and may compromise medical care. But in my reporting, I found that nurses who use this humor care deeply about their patients and aren’t interested in abusing their power. Their humor serves to rejuvenate them and bond them to their teams, while helping to produce high-quality work. In other words, the benefits to the staff — and to the patients they heal — outweigh occasional wounded feelings...

That’s not to excuse all humor by health-care professionals. For example, mocking disabilities and using racial, ethnic or other cruel epithets go too far.
I accept dark humor, or any other kind, when it's kept within the group it's intended for, but let's not pretend that this isn't mockery of people in their care.  As the Instapundit said, "Okay, so let me get this straight:  It’s okay to make fun of the dying, but not their ethnicity or race.  Because racism and stuff."

Can teachers get in on this, too?  Can we get an officially-sanctioned Washington Post pass to mock students?  Can we be told it's ok, it's entirely good for morale, and the public should accept it because our important work outweights "occasional wounded feelings"?

Extolling A Holocaust, or Vilifying A Saint?

Pick a side, any side:
The Vatican is mounting a campaign to defend an 18th century Franciscan missionary who will be canonized by Pope Francis in the U.S. against protests from Native Americans who have compared his conversion of natives to genocide.

The Vatican is teaming up with the archdiocese of Los Angeles and the main U.S. seminary in Rome to host a daylong celebration May 2 at the North American College to honor the Rev. Junipero Serra, who introduced Christianity to much of California as he marched north with Spanish conquistadors. Francis will celebrate Mass in his honor.

For the church, Serra was a great evangelizer and a model for today's Hispanics. Many Native Americans, though, say Serra helped wipe out native populations, enslaved converts and spread disease as he brutally imposed Christianity on them. They have staged protests in California and there is a move to remove his statue from the U.S. Capitol.

Vatican officials on Monday defended Serra's record, saying it shows he worked in defense of Native Americans, often intervening to spare them from the more brutal colonial officials.

The Rev. Vincenzo Criscuolo, a Franciscan at the Vatican's saint-making office, said it was important to look at Serra as "a man of his time" who, like many others at the time used corporal punishment as an educational tool.

"It is not to be excluded, but it wasn't 'genocide,' it wasn't a death penalty," he told reporters.
Columbus is such a bad guy these days, but wasn't he, too, just "a man of his time"?

I'll let the Native Americans and Hispanics battle this one out on their own.  I'm not Catholic, (ethnic) Native American, or Hispanic, so I'll just watch this from the sidelines.

Why Should I Pay For Public Universities?

The theory behind publicly-financed higher education is that there's some perceived societal good that comes from having a more educated public.  That view doesn't jibe well with this piece from the major Sacramento newspaper:
UC Davis administrators christened them as “the seven inviolate principles.” They added the extra point later to make “the eight core principles.” For more than a decade, they’ve guided the Aggies into the world of big-time college sports.

Campus officials came up with the principles around the same time the student body in 2003 voted a fee hike on itself, partly to fund the transition to Division I competition. The principles were a promise of sorts the school wouldn’t sell its academic soul to achieve athletic prominence.

Last week, athletic director Terry Tumey left UC Davis to pursue other opportunities, administrators said. Like all such departures, his created an opportunity to inspect a public institution amid transition, which led to an examination of the inviolate cores – and a conclusion that maybe they need to be compromised...

(ESPN broadcaster and UC Davis alum Mike) Bellotti thinks UC Davis has to give way to lower admission standards, if you want more and better players. He also shudders at the principle that coaches are required to teach on the side.

At UC Davis, neither basketball’s Jim Les nor football’s Ron Gould are exempted.

Said Bellotti: “I was astounded.”
I'm astounded that I should pay tax dollars to support a university that would lower admission standards for football players. What, exactly, is the purpose of college, and what, exactly, is the purpose of college football? Why, exactly, should I pay for the latter at all, and for the former if it exists merely to support the latter?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Left's Latest Methods of Stifling Debate

I'll just lift the entire brief post from the Instapundit:
SARAH HOYT: Take Your Nose Off My Fist. ” If your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose, what if I move my nose and rest it on your fist, so you can’t move?” Well, that’s the whole point of “safe spaces,” “trigger warnings,” and the like.

Two Months From Today

The big summer trip starts two months from today--it seems so far away!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Right To Work

“There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him.”
― Robert A. Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

"To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical."
-Thomas Jefferson

Friday, April 17, 2015

Infinity: Why I'm Pursuing The Master's Degree That I Am

Yesterday one of my students, one who almost never engages me in conversation, asked me a question right before class was over:  he wanted to know how "infinity" could have different sizes.

My degree was in applied math, not theory.  I did calculus, differential equations, partial differential equations, separable differential equation, numerical solutions to differential equations, some math modeling (probably with differential equations), etc.  Math history, number theory, set theory, graph theory--those weren't the classes I took in college.

Interestingly, they're covered in varying degrees in the courses I'm taking for my master's degree.  Yes, I could have gone to National University and in 10 months picked up a Master's in Education with an Emphasis on Curriculum and Instruction and gotten a mambo-sized pay raise, but instead I chose to pursue a degree that would make me a better math teacher rather than just a better-paid one.  I can't fault people who did go the National (or similar) route, as they just played by the system's rules, I just want more.

And it's working.  I'm a much better statistics teacher than I was because now I have both a broader and a deeper understanding of what I teach, I can answer the "why" questions and tempt students with a taste of what university math could have in store for them.

So when this student asked me about infinity, I was able to answer his question somewhat.  I told him I'd like to review my notes and to check with me tomorrow, which was today.  Last night I consulted my notes and wrote up 2 pages of commentary and examples to show how the size of the infinity that encompasses the set of natural numbers (1, 2, 3, ...) is the same size as that of the integers or even the rational numbers, but the infinity of the set of real numbers (or even just the numbers between 0 and 1) is larger than the infinity of the natural numbers.  When my instruction was done today, he and I got together and went through the integers and rational numbers but didn't have time to go through the real numbers.  I told him if he couldn't figure out my examples by Monday, we'll meet again then and go through it.

A year ago I wouldn't have been able to answer his question, now I can.  That makes me a better math teacher.  That's why I'm getting the degree I am.