Monday, May 28, 2007

Girl math

I got a good laugh out of this clip from the Simpsons.

I don't know if it is still being seriously argued in some feminist quarters that it is necessary to take the "male" bias out of math to make math accessible to girls. In my own experience teaching math to middle graders, I find that girls do very well with real math, for the most part better than boys.

In any event, the clip is funny at least as a museum piece.

Hat tip: Mindless Math Mutterings

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Costly fantasy

The NYT reports on the creation of a Creation Museum. In this fantasy version of evolutionary history, prehistoric kids get to mingle and cavort with dinosaur buddies. However, I don't like the look of these dinosaurs. Their legs look like corncobs.


NYC Educator demonstrates that teaching similes can take unexpected turns.

Fifth grade honors math

An Illinois school district in the Chicago suburbs reveals its Fifth Grade Honors Mathematics Curriculum.

This is nicely ambitious and to be accomplished with fuzzy math materials. From the first trimester:

Students will use the four phases of problem solving (understand, plan, carry out and look back).

+ Students will represent a problem and its solution by working backwards and by using logic charts.

+ Students will estimate reasonable answers using a variety of strategies including compatible numbers and high and low range.

+ Students will demonstrate an understanding of exponents, square roots, prime numbers and order of operations.

+ Students will demonstrate an understanding of fractions and how they relate to each other and to whole numbers using concrete models, drawings, and mathematical symbols.

+ Students will demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between mixed numbers and improper fractions.

+ Students will add and subtract fractions with like and unlike denominators.

+ Students will add and subtract mixed numbers.
From the second trimester (excerpt):

Students will be able to read, write, compare and order decimals, fractions and percents.
+ Students will be able to compute accurately with fractions and decimals.
+ Students will see the relationship between fractions, decimals, and percents.


Students will select appropriate computational strategies for solving ratio, proportion, and percent problems.
+ Students will conduct investigations involving rates.
+ Students will solve non-routine problems using a variety of strategies and resources.
There are also very helpful suggestions (including links to math sites) on how parents can get involved:

Work with your child in his/her acquisition of multiplication and division facts up to 12.

· Play games that use strategic skills, such as chess, Rush Hour, Mancala, and Set.

· Discuss real life scenarios where rate, ratios and proportions are used. For example compare similar items in a grocery story for content and price, how much distance can be covered at a certain mph and how many miles per gallon your vehicle yields.

· Mentally estimate sales tax, tips, and percent off in the real world.

· Cook and build with your child including measurement and proportion.

· Use logical reasoning and math skills when planning events such as parties. Include serving side, total amounts, price per person, etc.
I am teaching math to the disadvantaged in the city and can only dream of such proficiency.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Fallacious anti-testing arguments

Joanne Jacobs quotes Right on the Left Coast: Views From a Conservative Teacher on objections to a driver test. Seen this way, the case made by the anti-testing crowd evaporates into thin air.

I am completely against this new testing regime for the following reasons:

1. It stifles the creativity of drivers.
2. It's not testing the "whole driver".
3. There's plenty that goes into driving that can't be evaluated by a machine.
4. This is just "drill and kill"--why aren't they testing critical thinking skills, which the research shows is more important to driving than merely being able to see?
5. This is a one-size-fits-all, high stakes test.
6. Why should we test, anyway? Testing doesn't make anyone a better driver.

This is all very funny when applied to a driver test. But these are the exact same arguments the anti-testing crowd applies to academic subjetcs.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Soliciting ed guru advice

I need advice from constructivist ed gurus.

Over and over, I run into this bit of "insight" from constructivists: "Knowledge is constructed by the learner from experience." First, I was beaten over the head with this "insight" in ed school. Now I see it at constructivist sites like this one.

What does it mean? How does it work in practice?

I tried to put it to the test. I decided I want to know something about Tang and Song China. According to constructivists, I need to construct that knowledge from experience. What should I do? I don't have any experience with Tang and Song China. I live now, not in the era of Tang and Song China. Then I hit on a brilliant idea: time travel. I tried cranking up that rusty, old time machine. It didn't work. Now I am trying to construct without experience but with the help of a hat. I am trying to pull the knowledge out of a hat. Ain't working either. I guess I'll just settle for a book and ignore the constructivist piffle.

My conclusion is that either constructivists keep repeating the same nonsense (probably due to a lack of critical thinking ability), or there is something I am not getting. I suspect the former.

Ed guru advice welcome.

On the same site I find this gem:

Radical constructivists do not advocate goals, sequential instruction, aids to learning, or restrictions on content for learners because each learner is unique and educators do not know what the learners need or want to learn.
I've got news for these "educators": In my experience, a lot of "learners" don't know what they need either. As for wanting to learn: Forget it!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

"Social justice" assault

Sol Stern of City Journal wrote a lengthy and troubling report for on growing leftist indoctrination in public schools and ed schools under the "social justice" label. (Teaching for “Social Justice” -- The Leftist Assault on America’s Public Schools).

Publicly funded institutions should not be used as a vehicle for someone's political passions.

From the introduction:

Among all the ailments that America’s public schools face, one of
the least known but most menacing is the effort by the radical left
to bully present and prospective teachers into using their classrooms
to indoctrinate students in the anti-American and anti-democratic
ideology that goes under the name of “teaching for social justice.” This movement has already achieved some of its aims, as the proliferation
of social justice themed schools in many of our nation’s school districts shows. The teaching for social justice movement threatens not only the children who are targeted for leftist political brainwashing, but it undermines whatever is left of the common democratic ideal of American public education. If the social justice educators achieve their objectives, more and more parents are bound to lose confidence in the public schools. Without parental support there is no public in public education.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Math myths demystified

This excellent math myth debunking effort has been out now for two years and is still fresh. A sign that myths don't age easily. Educationists claim that knowledge (which educationists call "information") need not be acquired because it changes so rapidly that it virtually becomes obsolete overnight. Not true as I demonstrated here. Now if only myths would become obsolete as quickly as knowledge supposedly does. Reading myths are also nearly indestructible like viruses.

Humor -- Automation gone wild

Among the things that bug me endlessly are stupid phone menus that give endless choices (press nine if you want help). The problem is compounded by the introduction of voice recognition. Very often voice recognition has a hearing impediment. Since computers are idiots savants who lack common sense, can't think and lack real-world knowledge and experience, the result is more frustration.

But of course it is cheaper to hire a computer than a real person who often can't think either, despite all the emphasis on "critical thinking."

Automation has also made inroads into an unlikely place: the Catholic Church. To cope with an acute shortage of priests, the Church in Spain is experimenting with the automation of confessionals.

(In Spanish)

I particularly like the part where the confessor punches in "one" twice and the computer reads "eleven".

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Bayeux Tapestry animated

To go to the original site.

Poison from China

Today's NYT has a huge story on how counterfeiters in China produce poison that ends up in medicine and is killing thousands, especially children.

From China to Panama, a Trail of Poisoned Medicine

The kidneys fail first. Then the central nervous system begins to misfire. Paralysis spreads, making breathing difficult, then often impossible without assistance. In the end, most victims die.
Many of them are children, poisoned at the hands of their unsuspecting parents.

The syrupy poison, diethylene glycol, is an indispensable part of the modern world, an industrial solvent and prime ingredient in some antifreeze.

It is also a killer. And the deaths, if not intentional, are often no accident.

Over the years, the poison has been loaded into all varieties of medicine — cough syrup, fever medication, injectable drugs — a result of counterfeiters who profit by substituting the sweet-tasting solvent for a safe, more expensive syrup, usually glycerin, commonly used in drugs, food, toothpaste and other products.

This makes me sick. Instead of executing people on demand to harvest their organs for transplants, Chinese authorities should concentrate more on clamping down on criminal counterfeiters. It's time to rethink the love affair with supercheap products from China made under horrendous working conditions and the exploitation of labor.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Obscurantism in academia

In an earlier post called History is knowable, teachable and testable, I called attention to the controversy surrounding the Florida legislature's view that history has a factual basis that can be taught. This seems like an odd controversy. Of course there are verifiable facts. Settlers did come to this country. The Founding Fathers did write certain documents. There was slavery and a Civil War. Lincoln was president and was assassinated and so on. It seems ridiculous to be making this argument.

What seems like a ridiculous argument turns out to be a necessary argument when one immerses oneself in the febrile, lunatic and obscurantist world of postmodernism that holds sway in the academy. In this hallucinatory postmodern world in academia, facts no longer have an independent, objective existence and don't count. Instead, they are produced at will. According to one professor, what counts as an argument is not that it be supported by verifiable facts but that it "coincide with our political convictions and cultural attitudes."

One can get a sense of this abandonment of reason by reading an article on the perversions of Middle East archaeology that appeared in All this seems esoteric and one has to be something of a masochist to expose oneself to the dreadful postmodern cant, but I think it is relevant because eventually this lunacy will trickle down to pre-collegiate education:

“Postmodernizing” Archaeology at Barnard
By Candace de Russy May 4, 2007
Nadia Abu El-Haj is an assistant professor at Barnard College who deserves more scrutiny from everyone interested in the degenerate methods by which great universities are destroyed.
The greatness of modern, western-style universities – the thing that separates them from all the academies that went before them – is that facts and theories asserted in universities must be supported by verifiable evidence. At the old academies, an appeal to Aristotle, Confucius, or the Bible was enough to support an idea. In the modern university, theories are judged by Occam’s razor, explanatory value, and verifiability of the supporting facts.
El-Haj is a young cultural anthropologist of the purely theoretical school. She has written a book entitled Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society, which was sent to me by a group of scholars calling themselves the Va’ad ha-Emet (Hebrew for Truth Committee). These scholars, wary of speaking out publicly against the shoddy and slanderous scholarship in El-Haj’s book for fear of retribution on their respective campuses – which they describe as “vituperative” – appealed to me for assistance in publishing a statement from them (more about which to follow).

In her introduction, El-Haj explains that she works by “rejecting a positivist commitment to scientific method,” writing, instead, within a scholarly tradition of “post structuralism, philosophical critiques of foundationalism, Marxism and critical theory and … in response to specific postcolonial political movements.” And the particular theory that El-Haj puts forward is that the “ancient Israelite origins” of the Jews is a “pure political fabrication” – a machination she proceeds to blame on “Israeli archaeologists” who were called upon to “produce … evidence of ancient Israelite and Jewish presence in the land of Israel, thereby supplying the very foundation, embodied in empirical form, of the modern nation’s origin myth.”

Deplorably, in the rarified air of Morningside Heights, some Columbia faculty appear to celebrate this sort of “liberation” of scholarship from any necessity to encounter verifiable facts. For example, Keith Moxey, the Ann Whitney Olin Professor Professor of Art History at Barnard College and one of five members of the committee that will vote on El-Haj’s tenure bid, lauds “The abandonment of an epistemological foundation for … history and the acknowledgment that historical arguments will be evaluated according to how well they coincide with our political convictions and cultural attitudes collapses the traditional distinction between history and theory.” (See Moxey’s The Practice of Theory: Poststructuralism, Cultural Politics, and Art History.) In other words, evidence, verifiability, probability and explanatory power become irrelevant, for what counts is that an argument “coincide with our political convictions.”