links for 2009-02-14

  • "Sometimes, a day of interacting with the rest of the human race on the roads and streets leaves you convinced that the world would be a much nicer place if most newborn humans were tossed in a burlap sack with some stones and then deposited in the nearest pond.

    But hereâs the funny thing - thereâs the rest, which we tend not to notice. "

  • "That Johnny Cash thing is the one thatâs going to keep the developers of Songsmith awake at night, staring at the ceiling and hoping thereâs no afterlife in which theyâll have to answer for what theyâve created."
  • "Although he isnât a fraternity brother, Nicholas L. Syrett has immersed himself in the world of Greek history. Syrett, an assistant professor of history at the University of Northern Colorado, is interested in much more than pledging and bonding. His new book is The Company He Keeps: A History of White College Fraternities (University of North Carolina Press). Through fraternities, he writes about definitions of masculinity, evolving ideas about gender, and changes in the way college men identified themselves. Using fraternity records (campus and national), diaries, interviews, and a variety of other sources, Syrett offers a history that is at times sympathetic and at other times critical."
  • "Itâs only when you ask why faculty in many fields donât just do without textbooks that you realize a bit of what that price is standing in for. (Iâve never used a conventional textbook, and Iâd say thatâs generally true in a lot of humanities courses.) Compiling a series of reliable and clear readings on the full range of topics covered in a survey course is hard. If you had to write them all yourself, that would be an enormous undertaking. If youâre also putting together problem sets which you intend to use for grading purposes, thatâs harder still, because not only do you have to compose those problem sets, you have to change them, or have a very large group of them from which to draw every year. Making up your own textbook, if your pedagogy needs to be based around one, would be a tremendous amount of labor well above and beyond your ordinary responsibilities as a teacher or researcher."
  • "The truth is that while lots of people in the building âknowâ who the good teachers are, very few people in the building actually know much about what is going on in anyoneâs classroom. If thatâs not true in your building, then you already have a pretty good school, and while you should try to improve you should also understand that you canât get much better than pretty good. If it is true, then the way to improve is to find out what is going on in the classrooms so you can improve it. The teachers who are successful should be observed by those who are less so, and should mentor them; the teachers who are especially successful with particular sub-populations should be assigned to them more often than they currently are."
  • "Previously, I talked about science fairs. One of the problems is that students donât really have a good understanding of data analysis. For me, statistical analysis is just something to do with data. It isnât absolutely true. So, it doesnât really matter that students use sophisticated tests on their data. The important point is they use some type of test to compare data.

    "I just made up some arbitrary data analysis rules. Maybe if students and judges accept something like this, it could really improve science fair projects and judging."

  • "I thought that it might be fun to have a discussion about "rules to live by" in experimental physics. Here are a few that I think may qualify, and of course I'd appreciate your suggestions for others...."
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The Crooked Timber analysis is right on target.

Yesterday I was observing 3 High School Math teachers in excruciating detail Friday the 13th at a charter school "Stern Math And Science School" from 7:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m.

They draw a 98% Hispanic student body from down-scale East Los Angeles, and get spectacularly good test scores and college admissions. I'm keenly interested in finding out how they do it.

The two most interesting comments that I got from teachers after their students left, and I was putting away my 30+ pages of hand-scribbled narrative and dozens of pages of assessment instruments, were these.

JVP: Do you have any comments on Classroom Environment Warmth and Control?

Teacher #1: "Behaviorally, they can't help themselves, because their brains are simply not like our adult brains." She then went into a profound summary of the Amygdala as it is involved in behavior, per fMRI data and her analysis.

Teacher #2: "What I have here is 'controlled chaos.' When I started teaching, I thought that a 'good' teacher kept the students at their desks and quiet. Now, you saw that when you observed my Algebra class a couple of weeks ago, but in the AP Calculus class, they are bouncing around the classroom, communicating with each other all the time. It is noisy, but noise is NOT chaos. So long as they are getting the material, and happy about it, I've learned to accept abandoning rigidity, not cooling them into a crystal, not letting them be a hot gas, but right on the edge of the phase transition, they are creative and grasping things well, each in a different way. Today's transition from antiderivatives to integrals -- I didn't think they'd get it, but they seemed to. We'll know in May with the AP exams, but they are combining the algebraic and the geometric viewpoints better than I expected, so I go with the flow and allow for surprises."

Since my 100+ pages of notes towards an Ed.D. dissertation for a program I've been informally invited to, but haven't applied, deals with Neurophysiology and Chaos Theory as the foundations of a New Pedagogy, I could hardly have been more delighted.

It was pouring with rain (snow level down to 3,000 feet) but my heart was filled with sunshine.

the teachers who are especially successful with particular sub-populations should be assigned to them more often than they currently are.

No. Just no. You will burn them out even faster than the already short time the average teacher burns out in if you do that. The mentoring is fine (Fairfax Co. does this already, and the teachers who mentor get extra pay for taking it on), but constantly overloading anyone is just not a good idea, and it's not good management (not that the average school administrator knows fuck all about managing people. It's not something they ever get formal education in, and it shows...most of them suck at it).

Chad, I'm not sure whether to thank you or to curse you. I'm now hooked on the By the Bayou blog. Mostly it's the blog's own fault, with its cursed intelligent writing and unfortunately interesting topic set.

But it was you who set me on it, blast your eyes!

By Wilson Fowlie (not verified) on 17 Feb 2009 #permalink