EppsNet Archive: Education

Teaching Computer Science: Diversity for Girls Only

27 Oct 2014 /

NCWIT photo

I called the class’s attention to the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing, which honors young women at the high-school level for their computing-related achievements and interests. Awardees are selected for their computing and IT aptitude, leadership ability, academic history, and plans for post-secondary education.

The website features a photo of a black girl, an Asian girl, a white girl, and in case you’re not in any of those groups, there’s an ethnically ambiguous girl on the left you can probably identify with. Diversity and inclusiveness for all. All are welcome.

You still have to be a girl of course, they’re not that inclusive . . .


HIS and HER

24 Oct 2014 /

I work at an educational non-profit. Whenever I type the abbreviation HSI (High School Intervention), Microsoft Word automatically “corrects” it to HIS. When I worked at a healthcare organization and typed EHR (Electronic Healthcare Record), Word helpfully “corrected” it to HER.

There’s a nice symmetry to that: HIS and HER.


Common Core Testing

18 Oct 2014 /

A colleague posted this on the office discussion board:

OK. So a good friend of mine teaches Math in our Middle School and we’re constantly talking about the various standardized tests that we subject our kids too (he currently has my 7th grade daughter for Intermediate Algebra).

The students are taking ForeSight tests this week. Sort of a practice for the PSSA tests later in the year.

This morning he texted me a math problem from the 7th grade ForeSight test and asked if I could solve it.

So I solved it using simple amortization, but none of the possible answers match (or are close to) my solution. So I went online to solve it and got the same solution that I got by hand.

Anyone care to take a crack at this problem – a typical example of a 7th grade standardized test math question?

PS. My teacher friend couldn’t solve it either.

PPS If you feel like the problem might be missing some information, welcome to the club, nevertheless, this is how the kids have to solve it.

Math problem

I don’t have a kid in school anymore so I’m missing out on all the fun related to Common Core and whatever ForeSight and PSSA are. I hear a lot of parents and teachers complaining about Common Core. I know Bill Gates likes it and he’s a smart guy.

The complaints from parents, like the one above, seem to be mostly about testing. Most of the respondents on the office discussion board agreed that this was a terrible question but I don’t have a real problem with it. “Net worth” is used a little bit loosely as it doesn’t take into account the value of the car, but I think it’s obvious what the question is asking.

I remember when my kid was taking junior high math that there was an emphasis on estimation and “ballparking” calculations. Don’t do more work than you need to. So I’d expect to see someone solve the problem like this: After making 6 payments, Jessie shouldn’t owe more than he borrowed so eliminate B and C. Answer A suggests that he’s paid down 800-something dollars, which is wrong because 6 times 112 is less than 800. So the only possible answer is D. Trying to do an amortization calculation is not the right approach to the problem.


Teaching Computer Science: Applause

23 Sep 2014 /

Applause

We did an interactive exercise to write a simple program that prints numbers and the squares of the numbers — a for loop, basically. We went around the room with each student providing one element of the loop and me writing them on the whiteboard: for, open paren, int, i, equals, 1, semicolon, etc.

I thought it went very well. The timing was good and it was obvious that most of the class understood what was going on. When we got to a girl who’s usually ahead of everyone and knows all the answers, what we needed from her was “curly bracket” but what she actually said was “semicolon” and there was a collective groan from the rest of the class.

When the last student said “close curly bracket,” there was spontaneous applause, immediately, before I even wrote it on the board. It wasn’t like a concert at the high school auditorium where a piece ends and there’s a gap — “Is it over? Do we clap now?” It was like a classical concert with a high-brow audience that knows exactly when the piece ends and when to clap.


Teaching Computer Science: Asking for Help

15 Sep 2014 /

I’m not sure students are asking for help enough despite my repeated admonitions to do so.

On the first day of class, I said, “Ask for help early and often. If you ask for help when you’re in trouble, you waited too long. Ask for help when things are going well. That’s a good heuristic in this class and in other areas of life as well.”

Later I said, “Learn to distinguish between persistence and floundering. Persistence is good. Floundering is bad. Don’t flounder.”

Yesterday I said, “You may think, ‘Well, if I was a better programmer, I wouldn’t have to ask for help.’ That’s incorrect. As you get to be a better programmer, you’re given harder problems to work on. I’ve been programming for 30 years — almost — and I ask for help every day.”

Honestly I feel like a mental case repeating the same thing over and over and yet out of 34 students in the class, 12 didn’t turn in the first assignment, most apparently because even though they finished it, they didn’t know how to turn it in (via an upload link on the class website) and didn’t ask for help or couldn’t figure out how to locate Java files in a project directory and didn’t ask for help . . .


Teaching Computer Science: Remembering Names

3 Sep 2014 /

I’m teaching AP Computer Science . . . today was the first real day of instruction. Yesterday was just introductions and housekeeping.

The first kid I called on to answer a question was named Sean. The second kid? Also named Sean.

“Is everyone in the class named Sean?” I asked.

Unfortunately they weren’t. It would have made it a lot easier to remember everyone’s name.


Teaching Computer Science

1 Sep 2014 /
School

Tomorrow is my first day as an AP Computer Science teacher at Corona del Mar High School. It’s a volunteer gig through the TEALS organization.

Only about 10 percent of U.S. high schools offer computer science classes and at most of those schools, it counts as an elective, like Home Ec or Wood Shop, not as a class that can be applied toward graduation like math or science.

The most popular AP exam in 2013 was US History — 439,552 students took the AP US History exam. Only 31,117 students took the AP Computer Science exam. That’s about the same number as the AP Art History exam. I don’t want to denigrate the study of art history, but given the ubiquity of computers and software and programming in daily life, the study of computer science seems more likely to enable a person to be self-supporting and to contribute to the common good.

I’ve heard people say that computer science should be taught in every high school in America. That may be a good idea, but no one ever says where all the qualified computer science teachers are supposed to come from. The TEALS vision is to put high-tech professionals like myself in schools to teach computer science and to teach teachers to teach computer science.

I’m happy to have the opportunity but I’m also scared, I might as well put that out there. What am I scared of? Like everything else, that I won’t perform to expectations and that I’ll be exposed as a phony.


National Scholarship Award

13 Aug 2014 /

Alpha Tau Omega

It would be nice if modesty prevented me from mentioning that my kid’s fraternity, the Alpha Tau Omega (ATO) chapter at UC Berkeley, was awarded the National Scholarship Award at the ATO National Congress for having the highest GPA of any ATO chapter in the nation.

“Yeah, and we actually have hard classes,” he said.


The Smartest Kids in the World

12 Jul 2014 /

Via Philip Greenspun:

Amanda Ripley identifies the following major problems with American schools:

  • people who are poorly educated are hired as schoolteachers
  • teachers have limited autonomy (partly as a result of their low level of knowledge and ability)
  • schools have multiple missions, only one of which is education, which leads to a loss of focus
  • teachers and administrators dwell on student and family backgrounds so as to build up a catalog of excuses for poor educational outcomes
  • parents are complacent regarding the low expectations set for their children

If a Man Neglects Education

11 Jul 2014 /


Minimum Wage Proposal: $0.00

10 May 2014 /
Fast food strike

You can’t make ends meet on 8 bucks an hour? I can see where that would be a problem. When did fast food jobs become jobs for family breadwinners? Fast-food jobs are for high-school kids.

You want to make $15 an hour? Simple: get a job that pays $15 an hour. What’s stopping you? Other than your lack of skills, education, motivation and accomplishments? If no employer is willing to pay you $15 an hour, then guess what? You’re not worth $15 an hour. You need to do something about that.

Why is $15 an hour the magic number? Why not $16? Or $17? Why not $50 an hour? At $50 an hour, everyone would make a nice 6-figure income and poverty would be a thing of the past, right?

If you raise the price of a product or service, the demand for the product or service goes down — at least a little bit. Is there a counterexample where raising the price of something makes the demand go up? I can’t think of one.

Let’s go a step further: If you set the price of a product or service at an artificially high level, e.g., double the market value that people are currently willing to pay, the demand for the product or service will fall off a cliff.

Example: Instead of setting a minimum price for labor, imagine setting a minimum price for cars: $30,000. What would happen? No effect on the market for cars that already cost $30,000+, but the market for Honda Civics, Toyota Corollas, etc. would dry up. No one wants to pay X dollars for something that’s worth a lot less than X dollars.

A lot of low-skill jobs have been or could be automated out of existence. Think about that the next time you pay a machine at a parking garage or tool booth, or use an ATM, or check out your own groceries at the supermarket.

I was in a sandwich shop the other day and there were no humans taking orders. Instead, there were several tablet-sized touch screens with card readers. Swipe your credit card and select your order.

Fast food restaurants can’t get rid of everyone overnight, but there’s nothing like doubling the cost of labor to get business owners looking at all possible labor-reduction options.

P.S. I didn’t cherry-pick that photo. It’s from a Salon article that’s actually supportive of a minimum wage increase.


NYT Misrepresents California’s Affirmative Action Results

23 Apr 2014 /

In reporting on yesterday’s Supreme Court decision to uphold a Michigan ban on the use of racial preferences in admissions to public universities, the New York Times looks at results in other states that have banned racial preferences.

Here’s what the Times says about my state, California, which voted to ban racial preferences in UC admissions in 1998:

Hispanic and black enrollment at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, Los Angeles dropped sharply after voters approved a statewide ban on affirmative action. Those numbers have not recovered, even as the state’s Hispanic population has grown.

That is a misleading analysis for a couple of reasons:

One: Affirmative action was banned at all UC campuses, not just Berkeley and UCLA. Ignoring all the other campuses allows the Times to say that black and Hispanic enrollment “dropped sharply” when there was actually only a 2 percent decline in black and Hispanic enrollment in the University of California system as a whole.

Among other campuses, black and Hispanic enrollment was

* up 22 percent at UC Irvine
* up 18 percent at UC Santa Cruz
* up 65 percent at UC Riverside

There’s been a redistribution of black and Hispanic students, but not a sharp drop in enrollment.

Two: It doesn’t make sense to look at changes in enrollment without also looking at changes in graduation rates.

The number of black and Hispanic students graduating from UC schools

* in four years: up 55 percent
* in four years with a GPA of 3.5 or higher: up 63 percent
* with degrees in science, mathematics and engineering: up nearly 50 percent
* with doctoral degrees: up 20 percent

UCLA and (especially) Berkeley are elite universities. Black and Hispanic students who were admitted based on genetics rather than academic qualifications couldn’t compete at that level and had to drop out.

Who was helped? The dropouts? No. The qualified applicants who were passed over? No. It was a lose-lose scenario.

Now that students are admitted, regardless of race, to schools that they’re academically qualified to attend, graduation rates are much higher.

Always look askance at analysis of college admission policies in the absence of information on graduation rates.


Everything I Need to Know About Being a Successful Executive in the 1950s I Learned in Kindergarten

20 Apr 2014 /

In 1957, The New York Times [published] two lists of skills. One was drawn from a corporate personnel manual, the other from a kindergarten report card:

List A: Dependability; Stability; Imagination; Originality; Self-expression; Health and vitality; Ability to plan and control; Cooperation.

List B: Can be depended on; Contributes to the good work of others; Accepts and uses criticism; Thinks critically; Shows initiative; Plans work well; Physical resistance; Self-expression; Creative ability.

A successful executive in 1950s America, in short, was expected to have essentially the same skills as a well-behaved four-year-old. (B is the kindergarten list, by the way.)

Matter

Why Do (Some) Smart Kids Fail?

29 Mar 2014 /
Bored of Education

A woman is telling me about her two sons . . . they’ve grown up to be fine young men, she says. It’s disappointing, of course, that neither of them managed to finish high school but it was really unavoidable because the older boy was much smarter than his peers and so he was always bored and academically unengaged and finally dropped out completely, and the younger boy just imitated whatever the older boy did.

I’ve heard this type of woulda-coulda-shoulda before and I have to admit I’ve never been totally receptive to it: this happened . . . then that happened . . . the kid did such-and-such . . .

It sounds very passive. Parents aren’t supposed to be passive observers. There are intervention points every day. If things aren’t going in the right direction, you do something to take them in a different direction.

Look in any classroom in America . . . you’ll see kids with a range of abilities. Are you telling me that all of the smartest kids are destined to fail because they’re smart? That because they’re smart, they have no option but to get bored and check out and fail?

Lots of smart kids do very well in school . . . they get good grades and test scores and they go to good colleges. What is the difference between those kids and the kids who get bored and check out and fail?

Think about it . . .


The Hardest Available Challenge

22 Feb 2014 /

One of my colleagues at work has a son in 6th grade. She’s trying to figure out which math class to put him in for 7th grade.

Yuna Kim

Working backward, we know that “normal” kids take Algebra I in 9th grade, the smarter kids take Algebra I in 8th grade, and the smartest kids take Algebra I in 7th grade. Placement depends on how a kid scores on the math placement test.

My co-worker’s concern is if her kid gets a top score on the placement test and he’s eligible to take Algebra I in 7th grade, does she want him to do that, or to wait till 8th grade?

If he takes Algebra I in 7th grade, that would mean he’d be taking the hardest math classes all through high school. Would it be better from a college admission standpoint to take easier classes and get all A’s, or take the hardest classes and maybe get a B+?

Our kid has already been through the Irvine schools. He’s in college now so I can answer questions like this with the benefit of experience.

“I like to see kids push themselves to take the hardest challenge available,” I said. “Colleges are not impressed with kids who get A’s in easy classes.”

“But what if he takes hard classes and gets a B+?” she asked.

“My advice is, don’t get a B+.”

If your kid takes hard classes in high school and gets B’s in them, he or she may not be able to attend a top university, but it wasn’t their destiny to attend a top university. Your kid is not that kind of a kid.

 

That reminds me . . . Olympic figure skating is on TV this week. Are you watching it? Neither am I, but I’ve heard that some of the skaters actually fall down during their program.

They’re supposed to be the best skaters in the world. Even I could go out there and skate around for a few minutes without falling down. Granted, I couldn’t do any spins or jumps or skate backwards or anything like that.

The point is that to be recognized as the best at something, you can’t just do easy things well. You have to risk doing things that are hard to do. In the skating scenario, it’s not enough to say “I didn’t fall on my ass.” No, you didn’t, but you didn’t even try to do anything hard.

In any endeavor, you won’t impress people of discernment simply by avoiding anything that might give you some difficulty. Step up to the challenge.


Kids Should Study Math and Science, Say Adults Who Never Studied Math or Science

17 Dec 2013 /

The New York Times has been editorializing recently on the nation’s need to enlarge our pool of science and math students, with a particular focus on girls and minorities, and to encourage them to pursue careers that will keep the country competitive.

Here’s a list of the members of the NYT editorial board, including academic major(s), which I obtained from their online bios. See if you notice anything unusual.

Andrew Rosenthal, Editor
(American History)
Terry Tang, Deputy Editorial Page Editor
(Economics, Law)
Robert B. Semple Jr., Associate Editor
(History)
David Firestone, Projects Editor, National Politics, the White House and Congress
(Journalism)
Vikas Bajaj, Business, International Economics
(Journalism)
Philip M. Boffey, Science
(History)
Francis X. Clines, National Politics, Congress, Campaign Finance
(none listed)
Lawrence Downes, Immigration, Veterans Issues
(English, Journalism)
Carol Giacomo, Foreign Affairs
(English Literature)
Mira Kamdar, International Affairs
(French Literature)
Verlyn Klinkenborg, Agriculture, Environment, Culture
(English Literature)
Juliet Lapidos, Culture
(Comparative Literature, English Literature)
Eleanor Randolph, New York State, Northeast Region, Media
(none listed)
Dorothy Samuels, Law, Civil Rights, National Affairs
(Law)
Serge Schmemann, International Affairs
(none listed)
Brent Staples, Education, Criminal Justice, Economics
(Psychology)
Masaru Tamamoto, International Affairs
(International Relations)
Teresa Tritch, Economic Issues, Tax Policy
(German, Journalism)
Jesse Wegman, The Supreme Court, Legal Affairs
(Law)

Did you notice that no one on that list, including the science editor, has a degree in anything related to math or science?

Now you might say, “Well, I’ve never heard of any of these people so why should I care what they think?” That’s a fair point.

But still, one has to give them credit for having made it in the big city, despite their lack of interest in math and science. So why encourage students to pursue educational goals that they themselves had no interest in, when this lack of interest has evidently not been a hindrance? Why is this a credible course of action?


ADHD in the Making

9 Dec 2013 /

My family and I are enjoying a meal at a Japanese restaurant. In the booth behind me are a husband and wife and five kids, the oldest of whom looks to be about 12.

Adderall

One of the kids, a boy of about 5, is standing up and running a toy car back and forth along the divider between his booth and our booth. He gets bored with that after a while and starts drumming on the divider with a pair of chopsticks.

The boy’s activities don’t bother me much . . . what bothers me is that it takes 15 minutes for one of the parents to tell him to stop it and sit down. He doesn’t do either and nothing else is said or done about the matter.

In the near future, this boy’s inability to sit still and follow directions will get him “diagnosed” by a schoolteacher as an ADHD kid, even though the real reason he can’t sit still and follow directions is that his parents never taught him to sit still and follow directions.

And folks, don’t have five kids. Raising a kid requires more than 20 percent of your attention.


We’re Still Smarter Than You Are

7 Dec 2013 /

Teens from Asian nations dominated a global exam given to 15-year-olds, while U.S. students showed little improvement and failed to reach the top 20 in math, science or reading, according to test results released Tuesday.

Harvard emblem

Why am I not shocked by that?

Because Americans on the whole are dumb and lazy. We have lots of dumb, lazy parents raising dumb, lazy kids. The average American kid doesn’t compare well academically to the average kid in an Asian country where academics and hard work are valued, or to the average kid from a small, homogenous European country where it’s easier to get everyone pulling in the same educational direction.

The U.S. is a big, diverse country and the average academic results are pulled down by a lot of dummkopfs.

But still, the smartest people in the world are Americans. Our smartest people are smarter than the smartest people in other lands.

You don’t think so? I’m looking at the list of winners of the 2013 Nobel Prizes . . . out of 11 recipients (I’m omitting the winners of the literature and peace prizes because those aren’t academic awards), eight are from the U.S. The other three are from Belgium, the UK and France, and the Frenchman is affiliated with Harvard University.

No one in Asian countries is winning any Nobel Prizes. Q.E.D.


Waving Bibles at Scientists

1 Dec 2013 /
James Freshwater

James Freshwater

The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that a public school district was legally justified in firing science instructor James Freshwater, who waved a Bible at his students, distributed religious pamphlets and talked about creationism in evolution lessons.

Personally, I’d fire him just based on the look of smug, benevolent certainty on his face. He doesn’t look like a man who struggles with doubt, which is the essence of science.


Fast Work

17 Nov 2013 /

A junior high school math teacher posted this on Facebook:

math-test

That makes perfect sense to me. Work gets done a lot faster if the results don’t have to be correct.

Thus spoke The Programmer.


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