EppsNet Archive: Teachers

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.


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

3 Links

26 Jun 2014 /
  1. 9 Things Bruce Lee Taught Me About Programming
  2. What a coach can teach a teacher, 1975-2004: Reflections and reanalysis of John Wooden’s teaching practices
  3. Wolfram Programming Cloud Is Live!

Expanding My Repertoire

22 Mar 2014 /
The only known photograph of Frédéric...

The only known photograph of Frédéric Chopin, often incorrectly described as a daguerreotype (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My piano teacher asks me if there are any pieces I want to learn . . .

“How about . . . ?” and here I name a piece by Chopin.

“This one?” she asks and starts to play it.

“Yeah.”

“It’s hard.”

“Well, it sounds quite impressive but I think if you break it down it’s just arpeggios and thirds.”

“No, it’s not just thirds,” she says and starts to play it again to show me. “And that’s with the left hand. Do you think you can play that with your left hand?”

“My left hand’s not very good.”

“I know.”

“So that one is too hard.”

“Yes.”

“OK, how about . . . ?” and here I name another piece by Chopin.

“That’s the only piece that’s harder than the first one.”

“How about this?” I ask, and play a YouTube video on my phone.

“What is that?”

“It’s from a film called The Piano.”

“Is that New Age music? It’s not classical music.”

“Is that bad?”

“IT’S TOO EASY! YOU COULD SIGHT-READ IT!”


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.


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.


The Obama Bounce Fades

12 Sep 2012 /

And through it all, there is no presidential leadership. He’s too busy raising money to run ads so he can tell us what a great leader he is.

Everywhere we see, in ruins, Obama’s plans for our country. His foreign policy has encouraged revolutions that have brought our worst enemies to power in the Middle East . . . His education reforms have no teeth and he sits by passively as they are challenged by his own local teachers union.

Credit much of the quick end to his bounce to Romney’s ads which, right off the bat after the Democratic Convention closed, rapped Obama for trying to convince us that we are better off than we were four years ago. Obama’s campaign essentially poses the question: What will you believe — your own eyes or my speeches?


Mac Wilkins: What The Discus Can Teach You About Life

28 Aug 2012 /
Modern copy of Myron's Discobolus in Universit...

Modern copy of Myron’s Discobolus in University of Copenhagen Botanical Garden, Denmark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Deadspin has an excellent “as told to” story on former Olympic discus thrower Mac Wilkins (What The Discus Can Teach You About Life: Lessons From One Of America’s Greatest Throwers)

Wilkins made four straight U.S. Olympic teams, winning a gold medal in 1976, a silver in 1984, and finishing fifth in 1988. He was also the first man to throw the discus more than 70 meters, and he held the world record for over two years, bettering his own mark three times between April 1976 and August 1978.

Some excerpts:

So one day I go out to train and I say, Oh, what the heck. Let’s just give it a little extra effort today. And I did, and I got better and it went farther. And I thought that was kind of fun. What if I could that again tomorrow? And so pretty soon, I’m hooked on, Can I do it better today? And it was fun. I knew I could get better and I enjoyed it.

It was all about, There are no limits. There are no limits. I have no restrictions. I have no inhibitions. And you can achieve anything that you set your mind to. There are no limits.

I thought that the [1980 Olympic] boycott was a stupid thing to do. We continued to sell wheat to Russia. We continued to sell Pepsi to Russia. We bought vodka from Russia. It was business as usual except for the Olympic Games. And, of course, we only boycotted after we won the ice hockey game in Lake Placid that year. So I thought it was very naïve, and I was very disappointed because I really liked Jimmy Carter. And there’s still a war in Afghanistan, even to this day. So it didn’t do anything.

Is there a moral to the story? Well, probably.

I have so many, so many times when I would fall down or fail. Being a teacher/coach, I have to be … well, it’s exactly like being a parent. You have to be a better person than you really are.


See You in Hell

2 Mar 2012 /
Romeo and Juliet

[See You in Hell is a feature by our guest blogger, Satan -- PE]

Modesto police are investigating if there’s a criminal case against a former high school teacher who resigned his job to move into an apartment with an 18-year-old girl he met while teaching.

James Hooker, 41, was placed on administrative leave Feb. 3 by Modesto City Schools and resigned less than three weeks later, according to a report at the Modesto Bee.

The newspaper reports that the man, who had taught business and computer classes, left his wife and children, to move in with Jordan Powers, an Enochs High School senior whom he met when she was a freshman at the school. One of Hooker’s children also attends the same high school.

“In making our choice, we’ve hurt a lot of people,” Hooker told the Bee. “We keep asking ourselves, ‘Do we make everyone else happy or do we follow our hearts?'”

Follow your heart, you magnificent selfish bastard!

Follow it right out the front door of the family home and into a Modesto apartment with a high school girl whose poor single mom, from the looks of the photo, couldn’t afford to buy her a set of braces.

DON’T LOOK BACK!

And make yourselves available for interviews and photo ops. YES! YES! YES!

(Let me add parenthetically that, despite what you may have heard, being raised by a single parent does not screw kids up in the head and more people should be doing it.)

One of your own kids goes to the same high school as your new live-in girlfriend?! Oh, the collateral damage is going to be prodigious!

Wait — I’m now being informed that the two of you appeared on Good Morning America this morning?!

Brilliant move, Romeo! A sane person would have said, “No, I think I’ve done enough damage already,” let things play out as just a local scandal in the backwater of Modesto, and missed out on the opportunity to traumatize everyone involved at a national level.

If this doesn’t result in at least one suicide, then my name is not Satan.

See you in Hell, professor.


Donald Bren Can Kiss My Ass

25 Sep 2011 /
Donald Bren

Look at this picture. Donald Bren is almost 80 and yet his face looks like a snare drum with eyes.

Forbes has an interview with Bren — the billionaire chairman of the Irvine Company — on how to fix up K-12 education:

When state funding for Irvine public schools began to diminish some time ago, my Irvine Company colleagues helped me to provide private funding support . . . Additionally, we have developed annual teacher recognition and reward programs that provide financial awards for teachers who demonstrate outstanding results in educating our students.

By making capital available for unfunded programs and providing a balanced curriculum and financial incentives to teachers based on results, Irvine Unified School District continues to rank among the finest educational systems in the nation . . .

The interview goes on in this vein: I, I, I. Me, me, me.

Donald Bren is kidding himself, along with the staff and readers of Forbes. The Irvine Unified School District’s rank among the finest educational systems has nothing to do with money, and very little to do with teachers.

As far as I can tell, it results from two things and two things only: the effort of the students and the support of their families.

My kid was in the Irvine Unified School District from second grade through high school. I’m worn out by the number of people in Irvine who would like to take credit for what happens in the schools, when at best they have no effect at all, and in some cases are actually making the schools worse by impeding the progress of the students.

I have more to say on this subject. Stay tuned . . .


This Explains a Lot

31 Aug 2011 /

When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.

Albert Shanker, President of the United Federation of Teachers (1964-1984) and President of the American Federation of Teachers (1974-1997)

Wisconsin’s Smoking Gun

1 Mar 2011 /

If you cut the pay of an overpaid worker, he’ll generally scream bloody murder. After all, overpaid workers like to stay overpaid. But if you cut the pay of a non-overpaid worker, you haven’t really damaged him. He just quietly leaves and gets a job elsewhere. After all, the ability to find a comparable job elsewhere is pretty much the definition of not being overpaid.

Now how are the Wisconsin public workers reacting to projected pay and/or benefit cuts? As if the rug’s been pulled out from under them, that’s how. Every time a worker says “These cuts will cause me severe pain,” that worker is saying, in effect, “I can’t get anyone else to pay me at the level I’m accustomed to,” or, in briefer words, “I am overpaid!”

So yes, they’re overpaid. And the louder they get, the surer you can be.


Orwell in Wisconsin

27 Feb 2011 /
Save Are Teachers!

On Saturday, February 26th, Americans in all 50 states rallied to show solidarity with the people of Wisconsin, and to save the American Dream.

Ha ha — George Orwell couldn’t have said it better!

MoveOn.org doesn’t stand with the people of Wisconsin, they stand with the people trying to rip off the people of Wisconsin.

Union-elected legislators provide sweet contracts for public-sector unions, who in turn kick back a share of the money to the legislators. Government employees take both sides of the action and the tax-paying fools who pay for everything are not represented at all.

That’s the American Dream?


Union Sundown

21 Feb 2011 /

Wisconsin public schools are among the lowest performing in the country. So it makes sense to me that this is one of the first teacher’s unions to get dissolved. And, this is a great example of how a union has outlasted its usefulness to the community.


We Are All Wisconsiners Now!

19 Feb 2011 /
Save Are Teachers!

Wisconsin has figured out a way to get all of its Democratic legislators to flee the state without so much as a BRB. How can we expand this nationwide?

Elected officials hiding out in undisclosed locations to prevent a quorum should wake everyone up to the extent to which public employee unions control our political destiny.

I have three words for the “sick” teachers in Wisconsin: Air Traffic Controllers.

We live in a top-notch school district in Irvine but it’s not because the teachers are so great. It’s the effort of the kids and the support of their families. Even in a good district, the teachers are very replaceable.

You’ll have to take my word for it but I could easily teach English, math or computer science at the high school level, even though I’m not government-certified to do so, and there are plenty of people in Wisconsin who could do the same.


Three Words for Teachers

18 Feb 2011 /

The state’s largest school district has joined those that have canceled classes due to teacher shortages caused by union protests at the state Capitol.

I’ve got three words for protesting teachers in Wisconsin: Air Traffic Controllers.


High School Confidential

17 Oct 2010 /
Napoleon Bonaparte

I ask my boy how school’s going this year, his senior year in high school.

“It’s okay,” he says. “I don’t enjoy it that much but I do it anyway.”

When we get to the subject of his English teacher, he says, “He’s fine, other than he’s got a Napoleon complex and spends the entire class talking about himself. I know everything about him and I’ve learned nothing about poetry.

“He has a two-year-old daughter and another daughter six months old. He coaches a cross-country team. He considers himself the greatest runner of all time. We don’t know what pain is because he has a messed-up knee and he runs on it anyway.

“He thinks Mr. Plette [the AP History teacher] is soft because Mr. Plette give higher grades than he does but don’t tell Plette he said that because Plette’s his boy.

“He’s a San Francisco Giants fan. He’s missing class on Thursday to go to the Giants game.

“Did you know that he has a principal’s credential? When he took the test, other teachers were hanging their heads and walking out of the room, but he knew immediately that he passed it because he knows how to write essays.”

“I hope you’re not pointing these things out to anyone but your parents.”

“Are you kidding? It’s all I talk about.”


Teachers Unions

3 May 2010 /
Teacher

In our biggest school systems, it’s become virtually impossible to fight the teachers unions and fire bad teachers. The giant Los Angeles Unified school system, with 33,000 teachers, fires only about 21 a year, or fewer than 1 in 1,000, according to the findings of an L.A. Times investigation. Now either Los Angeles has the greatest teachers in the world or something is very wrong. Talk to parents and you’ll know the answer.


Schools on Strike

2 May 2010 /
Boy doing math problems

“Can you take me to the Barnes and Noble by your work?” my son asks. “I need to get AP study guides.”

I work in Aliso Viejo but since it’s Saturday and I’m not going to work, I ask why we can’t go to the Barnes and Noble right here in Irvine.

“Asian kids are running rampant on the selection,” he says. “I’m guessing there’s not as much hustle and bustle in Aliso, especially since our schools don’t go on strike.”


Tips for Test Takers

3 Mar 2010 /
Boy doing math problems

My son has a math test today. He was up till 3 a.m. studying for it.

In my experience, a positive mindset is essential to successful test-taking, so on the drive to school, I give him a piece of advice.

“Walk into the classroom,” I say, “look at the teacher and lay down a challenge, like ‘Let’s do it.'”

“It’s not her test,” the boy says.

“What does that mean?”

“It means every class takes the same test — Schneider, D’Antonio . . .”

“THAT DOESN’T MATTER,” I say. “The important thing is to lay down the challenge. ‘Stop bitin’ on my styles.’ Granted, that one doesn’t make any sense, but it gives you the positive mental framework that you need for mathematical success.”


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