Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Old Weather

Pretty neat project to go through old Royal Navy logbooks and record weather observations from the scanned images and read the reports offered by the officer at the helm. It is tedious but pretty interesting, especially when you read about them taking prisoners, sighting a ship and pursuing it, or firing on ships. Check it out...

Friday, March 18, 2011

Khan part 2

I have an obvious criticism of my previous post about the guy who made lectures available on line as part of this new "revolution" in education:
Does he think that every kid will watch 6 hours of lecture video at home and go to school?

The other issue regards what the role of a teacher actually is. A teacher is there to provide guidance and help and knowledge. The teacher has not only subject matter knowledge, but experience in teaching to a wide array of students. They know what works, how it works, and they have time to perfect their craft. Often times the delivery is just as important as the messenger. So by using a different teachers' videos, you are adding a challenge for the student to learn the same material from two different people. This could be an advantage in some instances, providing perspective on problem solving skills.

But the reasons that Khan cited for why this system worked were somewhat enlightening:
1. They could pause and rewind at will wasting less of my time.
2. They could go slowly through the material taking time for mastery.
3. They could work around exploring the material.

Well, I am not sure I want students to forge their own path through the material not should I expect younger learners to do this on their own. As for the other two, we are to blame for that. The standardized testing contributes, and so does the need to finish school in a year, so to speak.

Perhaps this is just evidence that we are caving to the social norms of this generation. Immediate gratification. Or it means that we recognize that we have too many different types of learners mixed into our classrooms. Does this mean we should segregate them? Smart kids go to advanced school, while slower kids go to slower schools? But really we already do this by separating the kids within the school into what I knew as "tracks". I was in the college track and even the name was daunting for kids not in it. They immediately knew what it meant to NOT be in that track.

I will bet other kids feel that same way with regard to funding, especially in the inner city and probably in the rural areas too where the smartest kids stick out like a sore thumb.

I believe Europe has a very interesting approach to education. I have only heard about the process around pre-college level: At some point in high school you are deemed worthy to attend college. Others are sent to develop a trade or craft I presume through some sort of apprenticeship. College though is just the first step. After 2 years you are selected into a major based on your math and science skills. But the principle in college is simple. You have 1 year. Show up to class or don't. Your choice. There is 1 test at the end. Pass and you advance.

The demonizing of teachers and the lack of funds mentality we pass on to our kids is showing up in the classroom. The American dream is no longer attainable for the masses. It is for the smart, or the big risk takers, or the already wealthy. This too is entering the classroom. The process of education is suffering from societal apathy. It is also suffering from "it is their job to teach you" or outsourcing of responsibility mentality. It is the students' job to learn.

I know this country has an outsource mentality, but we can not outsource education to be delivered outside the classroom. The outsource mentality is that someone else will do the grunt work ... the jobs no one wants to do. We don't have that problem in the classroom. Teachers like teaching. Ask them. They will tell you and in the process will invariably mention: "well, its not for the money". And they are correct. They enjoy the process as much as the material. They want their students to be successful.

At the least Khan is identifying issues in the classroom and pointing out that teachers are overworked. At best he is providing some help for teachers. Whether this works for the student, I think, depends on parents.

I am surprised that no one has investigated how well tutor businesses are doing. Their business was booming in my former "affluent" educational community. We could really learn a lot by looking at the whole picture (public, private schools, tutor companies, individual tutors) instead of only addressing portions of the problem; and only then by applying band aids to stop the hemorrhage.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Education for thought

I stumbled across a working paper talking about incentives in Education through the freakonomics blog. The article basically states that incentives for teachers don't improve student performance.  It was an outlier among other studies in other countries.

The article, while a difficult read, referenced some data from the digest of education statistics which stated that student to teacher ratios were DECREASING from 17.3 in 1989 to 15.5 in 2007. It also stated that average class size was around 23 in secondary schools and 20 in elementary schools.

I find this hard to swallow, but data is data. There are obviously some things taken into account which I have no idea about. All I know is anecdotal evidence suggests that in SOME schools class sizes are increasing.

I feel out of my league here with all these stats. I am stubborn so I haven't changed my mind on what I think is wrong. But perhaps other components of education have been harmed such as student motivation and enthusiasm, poor student-teacher interactions, or overworked teachers (incentives can't solve time problems). Lets just remind ourselves that learning is up to students. Teaching is up to teachers. I wonder what teachers would say is going awry in student achievement?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Privatizing education

I have been thinking about  privatizing education, mostly because I believe this is what is behind the attack on unions.  It isn't an attack on education per se, but with how education is delivered. It is not an assault on teachers per se, it is a full scale offensive on acquiring the right to fire ALL teachers.

Getting costs on labor under control, to borrow that phrase, is an excuse to lower education costs such that states can issue vouchers. Vouchers which can be used so that students can pick the "best" schools and go to them. As if this is even a solution. Can you imagine if everyone wanted to go to the "best" school? Shouldn't they all be good? The only real option is specialization. But even the high school level is too early for specialization.

After careful consideration, I think we would end up with the same problems. Labor costs are not going to go away. More kids require more teachers. More kids require more buildings. More buildings and more teachers  require more money. Its not a labor problem. Its a population problem.

Idaho has taken some bold steps. This includes stripping tenure, increasing pay and increasing classroom size to compensate. They are also going to offer bonuses for performance. How exactly do you increase student performance while adding more students?

To borrow some of the economic terms, have these people really assessed the indirect cost? Teachers who love to teach will HAVE to work harder to maintain performance with larger class sizes. More brains in the room demand more teaching time since the old methods don't have an efficiency rating of 100 percent. May be something in the forties. Which forces an innovation component to teacher prep. This alone is time consuming because it relies more on the delivery than the long term plan. The more focus on delivery the less time you have to advance through the material you wish to teach. And the more methods you use to deliver to reach a wider audience, the more short term a teacher is forced to consider. Diminishing returns springs to mind.

The other indirect cost is the loss of older more experienced teachers. What if you have a bad year as an older teacher? Will they even consider your body of work or just label you as ineffective? Experience is difficult to quantify. There is a collective classroom management skill to consider, not to mention the skill of dealing with individual problems from student issues to teacher issues.

So without tenure or job security, what will teachers resort to? They will be virtually forced to teach testing skills to keep their job. Skills that have absolutely nothing to do with LEARNING. Education hinges on class size and quality of teachers. But sometimes you have to have bad teachers to know what good teachers do so well. There needs to be perspective. I could not possibly imagine a school where every teacher was rated as "A" level. There are just too many different learning styles and personality types and preferences for how students learn and who they learn it from.

The public model is not failing. Just our ability to cope with the actual problems of an increasing populous and rising costs.

The legislation looks more like self sabotage.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

5100 critics

UPDATE: Controversy abounds because of the journal in which it was submitted; the fact that the work did not undergo internal review; the fact that it did not pass a "more prestigious" journals' peer review.

Here is an example of unprecedented peer review work involving Dr. Richard B. Hoover, a NASA scientist, who claims to have found life in meteorites that have landed on Earth.

I find it awesome that before the paper is published, the work will be distributed for comment to 100 scientists, while another 5000 have been invited to review the work. Dr Hoover is clearly outnumbered! But he welcomes the challenge, precisely because this is about science, and scientific discovery. He is simply looking to explain what he has found and make some sense of it. Science is a remarkable process and whatever the outcome of the peer review and comments process we are sure to learn something new.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Uncertainty and skill

I was reading about what the National Hurricane Center will be doing this year. It was quite interesting:
1. Watch lead time to 48 hours; warning lead time to 36 hours
2. The size of the cones will be based on 5 year running mean of 2/3 of track error.  The cone size radius varies in the Atlantic basin from 36 to 59 miles from 12 to 24 hours and grows about 35-40 miles per 24 hours thereafter.*

This means they have skill out to 48 hours in advance. They will be communicating actively their uncertainty via the graphical product (cones).

My foolish expectation would be to shy away from any sort of climatological cone of uncertainty and use ensemble guidance. This may not be the best option since it could provoke the so-called meteorological cancer i.e. over-dependence on models which have little value, not necessarily little skill. On the plus side it allows forecasts to be naturally consistent ... fairly certain in their ability to track where storms are, where they are going in the immediate future. To be fair the cone widens for a reason: tropical storms and hurricanes can encounter harsh or favorable environments quickly and these types of environments are hard to recognize over the ocean at longer lead times. Of course these environments can bring about changes to the inner workings of tropical storms in which case certain status quo forecasting rules may not work so well, and of course models also tend to not be spot on with hurricane intensity changes.

If nothing else, just seeing the products and how they are discussed should be interesting. It will be worth paying attention to see how the "public" reacts to be under "threat" for longer periods of time.

* I have not seen what this will look like but it will certainly be interesting!

budget impacts to schools

I have more questions than answers.
Has anyone in charge of the budget crisis given any thought to their actions from the perspective of young students or teenage students?

Villifying teachers by saying their benefits and salary are too large is just plain non-sense. Does anyone realize that teachers are on a 9 month pay schedule? Or that they work from home at least 2-3 hours per evening? And they do these things because they believe that education makes a difference in the relative success of our young people.

Do your children think about Teachers after school? Do they wonder where homework is graded, or how many classes are taught, or how many students are in their classes? Can they fathom the willing sacrifices that are made to achieve success as a teacher? Do parents teach their kids to "Walk a mile in someone elses shoes"?

If we say education matters but cut funding from schools, what does that say to kids?

 Kids are listening to what we say about education and are watching we do about education and it does not compute. They know education is important but they act like it isn't. I hope you aren't wondering where they get that from.