EppsNet Archive: Education

Good News (for Teachers), Bad News (for Students)

22 Aug 2016 /


The People v. O.J. Simpson

31 Jan 2016 /
O.J. Simpson

There’s a miniseries coming out called The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. I’m not going to watch it, not for any singular reason — I don’t watch other TV shows either — but I don’t remember the Simpson trial having a great deal of entertainment value.

  1. The trial proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Simpson was guilty, even though a guilty verdict was not returned.
  2. Eight of the 12 trial jurors were black women. The prosecution believed that the jurors would identify with the female victim. The defense team believed that the jurors would identify with the black murderer. The defense was right.
  3. Conventional wisdom says that anyone who can’t get out of a lengthy term of jury service is not very bright. Only two of the Simpson jurors had a college degree. One never finished high school. The prosecution bored and confused them with DNA evidence. The defense gave them a nursery rhyme. You know the result.

Are You Smarter Than a Common Core Algebra Student?

1 Dec 2015 /

You can test your Common Core algebra skills against a 5-question sample test courtesy of the the New York Times. For all the controversy about Common Core, the questions seem pretty basic even for a person with an aging brain (I frigging CRUSHED it with a perfect 5 out of 5), the one exception being a graphing problem that should separate the mathematicians from the wannabes.

How hard is New York's high school algebra exam? 5 questions to test your math skills.

Posted by The New York Times on Monday, November 30, 2015


The Ceiling Seems Very Low

10 Sep 2015 /

http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2015/09/10/codeorg-hadi-partovi-computer-science-back--school-kids-teachers-women-minorities/71905738/

I don’t know if this is good news or bad news. It would help to know what “trains” means but I read the article and it doesn’t say. Reporters need to be more inquisitive.

Can someone with no knowledge of computer science or programming be “trained” to teach computer science or programming? What would that entail? How long would it take?

Can someone who’s never played an instrument or listened to a piece of music be “trained” to teach a music class?

Can someone who’s never picked up a drawing pencil or visited a museum be “trained” to teach an art class?

Can someone who doesn’t speak Spanish be “trained” to teach a Spanish class?

The ceiling on any of these approaches seems very low compared to hiring actual programmers, musicians, artists and Spanish speakers . . .

Thus spoke The Programmer.


The Bamboo Ceiling

7 Jun 2015 /

Michael Wang had a 4.67 GPA and a perfect ACT score. He placed first in the state of California at the AMC 12 – a nationwide mathematics competition. He performed with the San Francisco opera company, and sang in a choir that performed at Barack Obama’s first inauguration. He volunteered his free time to tutor underprivileged children.

He applied to seven Ivy League schools and was rejected by all seven.

I saw recently that a local kid from Fullerton High School here in Orange County was accepted at all eight Ivy League Schools. His name is Fernando Rojas.

Fernando Rojas

Here’s another young man, Harold Ekeh, who was also accepted at all eight Ivy League schools:

Harold Ekeh

Last year, Kwasi Enin was accepted at all eight Ivy League schools:

Kwasi Enin

A study by Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade examined applicants to top colleges from 1997, when the maximum SAT score was 1600 (today it’s 2400). Espenshade found that Asian-Americans needed a 1550 SAT to have an equal chance of getting into an elite college as white students with a 1410 or black students with an 1100. I suspect that disparity has, if anything, widened.

If you’re Asian and applying to Ivy League schools, don’t hesitate to check the box next to “Black” or “Hispanic.” Or Eskimo. Eskimos are kind of Asian-looking.


If Math Was Taught Like Science

4 Jun 2015 /


Now What?

15 May 2015 /
Sather Tower (the Campanile) looking out over ...

We’re in Berkeley for Casey’s graduation tomorrow . . . we got a text from him earlier this week saying “I just took my last two college exams.” Thus ends a journey that began 17 years ago on the first day of kindergarten, which I feel like I remember too vividly for it to have been 17 years ago, but it was.

Now what? I don’t mean for him . . . he’s got a job lined up in San Francisco. I mean for me. I’ve had the milestone birthdays — the ones where your age ends in zero — that seem to depress a lot of people . . . they didn’t bother me at all. But my boy becoming an independent person in the world is really disorienting me . . .


Teaching Computer Science: Ask More Questions

20 Apr 2015 /
Primary School in "open air"...

English: Primary School in “open air”, in Bucharest, around 1842. Wood engraving, 11x22cm

You need to ask more questions. I think there’s a general fear about asking questions. There’s a risk of looking foolish in front of the whole group when it turns out that everyone else already knows the answer.

It’s actually very unusual for someone to ask a question to which everyone else knows the answer. If you find it happens to you a lot, you probably want to get that checked out, but normally it’s very unusual.

Another scenario: Somebody, maybe a teacher, says something and you think “That doesn’t make sense. I wonder if it makes sense to everyone else. Rather than risk looking foolish in front of the whole group, I’ll wait and see if someone else asks a question.”

So you wait for someone to ask a question and no one asks a question. Why? Because they’re all waiting for someone to ask a question.

Many people, including teachers, are not good at organizing their thoughts and articulating them with precision and that’s why you can’t understand what they’re saying. Don’t assume that it’s a problem with you. You need to move people to a position of clarity by asking questions.

Also, people love the person who’s willing to ask questions because it relieves them of the need to ask questions.

Education, like everything else, you get out of it what you put into it. Don’t sit in a class with unanswered questions in your head and let everything wash over you like a tidal wave.

My own kid, even in a good school district, I don’t feel like he got a good education because of good teachers, I feel like he got a good education in spite of bad teachers. He got a good education because he put a lot into it and he got a lot out of it. And his classmates who got a good education did so because they put a lot into it and they got a lot out of it.

All of which is a long way of saying “ask more questions.”

Any questions?


Teaching Computer Science: Combating Procrastination

6 Apr 2015 /

Students had a project due last week and I got a lot of messages and emails asking for help. Of course, when we handed out the assignment two months ago, we advised students not to wait till the last minute to work on it. Teachers and parents saying “Don’t wait till the last minute” is just an understood part of the process. It’s something that gets said but it’s background noise.

A couple of alternatives occur to me:

  1. Reverse psychology. Say “My advice is to start as late as possible. Try to do two months of work in the last week, or better yet, the last night.” This seems too easy to see through and therefore unlikely to work.
  2. Hand out the 20-page spec and tell the students that it’s due tomorrow. WHAT!? YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS! NOBODY COULD DO THIS IN ONE DAY! “You’re right. It’s actually due in two months. But now that we’ve agreed that it can’t be done in one day, I don’t want to see anyone working on it at the last minute.”

Teaching Computer Science: The Last Minute

1 Apr 2015 /

“Reminder that your projects are due tomorrow so don’t wait till the last minute. Oh wait, this is the last minute.”

Deadlines can be fun when they apply to other people . . .


Teaching Computer Science: Incentives (or Lack Thereof)

22 Mar 2015 /

According to this article on TechCrunch, “Every California high school must establish computer science courses as part of its core curriculum.” From the same article: “Most California teachers have little or no training to teach computer science.”

Do you see the problem there?

I’ve been a programmer for many years . . . I’d be glad to teach computer science to students, teachers or anyone who wants to learn it if there were even a modest incentive to do so. Which there isn’t.

One way to measure how much people want something is how much they’re willing to pay for it. There’s no shortage of people talking about teaching programming and computer science, which is free (the talking, that is), but without the incentives ($$$) very little is going to actually happen.


Big Fishes in Small Ponds

14 Mar 2015 /

Big fish, small pond

A colleague and I are discussing an article about too many kids quitting science because they don’t think they’re smart, in which Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford, says, among other things:

Being a good parent has become synonymous with giving out ability praise. Parents still think this is the greatest gift they can give to their children, and as a child gets more and more insecure, they give more and more of it. And, by the way, a lot of employers and coaches have said, “My employees cannot get through the day without accolades and validation.” Even professional coaches have said they cannot give feedback without these people feeling that they’ve crushed them. We’ve created several generations now of very fragile individuals because they’ve been praised and hyped. And feel that anything but praise is devastating.

My colleague mentions Malcolm Gladwell‘s book David and Goliath, in which Gladwell claims that while the worst STEM students at, say, Harvard may be as smart as the top third at a lower ranked college, the Harvard kids feel stupid and unsuccessful because they compare themselves to their Harvard peers. Gladwell then goes on to recommend attending non-elite institutions — to be a big fish in a small pond — in order not to have your dreams and confidence crushed.

“Why don’t kids just forget about four-year institutions completely and attend their local community college?” I reply. “They can test their mettle against classmates with no academic qualifications whatsoever. That should provide a much-needed confidence boost.”


Teaching Computer Science: Pro Tips for Finishing a Project

5 Mar 2015 /

Woman teaching geometry, from Euclid's Elements.

  1. For many (most?) students doing an object-oriented development project for the first time, this assignment is too difficult to do without a lot of guidance. Therefore: ask for help early and often.
  2. If you wait till the night before a checkpoint, you won’t have enough time to finish and we won’t have enough time to help you effectively. Therefore: ask for help early and often.
  3. I’m seeing students struggling to write code that we’ve already given you. That’s not a good use of your time. Know what we’ve given you and use it.
  4. This is what your program needs to do: [Feature list goes here].
  5. Pick a feature and try to implement it (or part of it). If you can’t do it, come to class tomorrow and ask a question.
  6. Repeat Step 5 until done.

Teaching Computer Science: Ski Week

3 Mar 2015 /

Skier

Corona del Mar High School doesn’t just take Presidents Day off . . . they take the whole week off and call it Ski Week.

It’s a total non sequitur in terms of paying tribute to our nation’s greatest leaders. George Washington didn’t ski. Abraham Lincoln didn’t ski.

“How do you know Abraham Lincoln didn’t ski?” a student asks.

“He was too busy writing the Gettysburg Address.”

“He wrote that in 20 minutes.”

“There was the whole Civil War thing going on. He didn’t have time for ski trips with his buddies.”

It’s hard to think of a notable historical figure who also a skier. If you want to accomplish great deeds, you have to give things up. You can’t get bogged down in nonsense.


Lasts

14 Jan 2015 /

End-of-winter-break dinner at BJ’s Brewhouse, after which the boy headed back to school for his final semester . . .

BJ's Brewhouse


Teaching Computer Science: Today Was Not the Best Day to Say What You Just Said

14 Jan 2015 /

Class website

I asked the class to pass in today’s homework and a student said, “I couldn’t figure out what homework was due today.”

I wasn’t feeling at my best to begin with. I was tired because I was up late making sure the class website was updated with all relevant materials, homework assignments were listed at the top of the page under the Homework header with due dates listed in bold font next to each assignment so that there’s no way anyone looking at the website, assuming they’re old enough to read, could fail to understand what is the homework and when is it due.

So when that kid said that he couldn’t figure out what the homework was, I felt the futility of life grabbing me by the throat and I was mad . . .


The Public School Monopoly Provides Little Incentive to Supply Good Education

31 Dec 2014 /

[The public-school monopoly] is yet another scam that inflicts disproportionately great damage on people who are the poorest and least advantaged. How could it not? Those who run K-12 government schools aren’t paid by customers who voluntarily send their children to those schools and who could easily choose to send their children elsewhere. Instead, these teachers and officials are paid by governments that tax citizens regardless of how many children those citizens have in schools and regardless of how well the schools perform. Therefore, with funding that is independent of customer choice — and with each child assigned to a particular public school — public-school officials have little incentive to supply good education.


60 Million Students

29 Dec 2014 /


Teaching Computer Science: Those Who Don’t Like to Read

16 Dec 2014 /

Students with books

I recommended a couple of books that I’ve read recently and liked — Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman — to the class in case anyone was looking for a book to read over winter break or maybe as a holiday gift.

“What if you don’t like to read?” someone asked.

“Well, in that case you can spend your entire life inside your own head and never know or care what life looks like to other people.”

In hindsight, it occurred to me that I could have suggested audio books for people who don’t like to read, but . . . woulda coulda shoulda, you know what I’m saying?


Many Have Long Known …

14 Dec 2014 /

Many in academia have long known about how the practice of student evaluations of professors is inherently biased against female professors. . . .

 
  1. Group A getting better evaluations than Group B is not evidence of bias.
  2. Asserting that something is true doesn’t mean it’s true.
  3. Asserting that many people know something to be true doesn’t mean it’s true.
  4. Most college students (i.e., the people evaluating professors) are female. What, if anything, does this fact suggest?

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