Friday, March 25, 2011

A Day in Louisville

I was in Louisville today at Jefferson Community and Technical College to discuss developmental mathematics course redesign in KCTCS.  I was not too surprised that each of the sixteen colleges are in different places in the  process.

I was expecting some arm-twisting at this meeting, but there was none.  There was some application of peer pressure.

My college is in the planning phase of redesigning our Basic Math, Elementary Algebra, and Intermediate Algebra classes.  We will be piloting the program this summer, and implementing it in the fall for half of our classes.

I've got some thoughts about course redesign floating around in my head.  I hope to get them down in the blog next week.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My Opinion of Everyday Mathematics

Jason Buell writes:
If you find the time, I'm curious about your opinion of Everyday Math. Everybody that encounters it seems to either love it or hate it. It is amazing how polarizing. But I guess, I'm often amazed at how strongly people feel about how math should be taught. (Full disclosure, my oldest is off to kinder next year and EDM is their series)
Well, it's not called the Math Wars for nothing.  In fact, the Sears household is a bit divided over Everyday Mathematics ourselves.

First, I should offer a disclaimer, I am only familiar with Everyday Mathematics from a parent's perspective.  I see the worksheets that my son brings home, but I have not reviewed any of the other materials.  I don't work with my son much with math, as he does pretty well without me.  (We spend most of our time on spelling.  That's my boy.)
A worksheet from Everyday Mathematics, Second Grade
My wife, an elementary school teacher most years, does not like Everyday Mathematics as much as other mathematics series.  She thinks that it introduces too many topics during each grade, and does not give enough time for mastery of topics.  That does not mean that she hates Everyday Mathematics.

I like the applications.  One worksheet had Connor looking around the house for objects that were approximately the size of his arm span.  I have warmed up to a spiral curriculum, where topics are repeated from one grade to the next with increasing depth.  I know that there are some topics in mathematics that you don't grasp the first time through.  Infinite series is one topic that I needed to see twice before I understood it.  Also, I think that the spiral curriculum can fill in some gaps in the students knowledge that would be propagated throughout the student's educations.

I think the polarization caused by Everyday Mathematics comes from the fact that it was one of the first reform series (as far as I can tell), and thus was subject to all of the misconceptions of mathematics reform.  I found this video early on in my YouTube explorations.

If you watch this video, you will see that the woman speaking has a limited understanding of what is mathematics and how people do mathematics in "real life".  If you see mathematics as little more than arithmetic performed by strict algorithms, then you will agree with this speaker.  (By the way, I really like the method of multiplication of whole numbers that the speaker criticizes.  I'm glad that she showed it to us.)

The response that I liked was from fellow Kentuckian James Blackburn-Lynch.  He got a copy of two of the books from Everyday Mathematics, and he gives a good explanation of what the series is trying to accomplish.

I have no reservations about Everyday Mathematics at all.  I know that my son will do well with the program.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why Teachers Like Me Support Unions

Today, is collecting blog posts from educators expressing their support for unions.  I recently wrote a few of posts about unions and collective bargaining.
I was reminded by Sue VanHattum's post of a story about a teacher at my wife's school.  This teacher was belligerent to other teachers, and not much better to students.  The school tried to fire the teacher, but the Union backed the teacher because due process was not followed.  Now, you are probably saying to yourself, "I saw Waiting for Superman, I know how this story ends."  Actually, the teacher was placed on probation for a year, did not improve, and then was fired.
[Edited to correct the time line of events.]

I support unions because America was built on the principle of fairness.  Fairness has expanded since America's founding, as slavery has been abolished, women have gained the right to vote, and more recently, gays have been allowed to serve in the military openly (sort of, we'll see).  Unions help preserve fairness by making sure that teachers, like Sue, who are fired unfairly are protected.  That also means that teachers who have no business being in a classroom are given due process before being fired.

Teacher unions help preserve the fairness inherent in the relationship between teachers and the communities they serve.  Teachers have little opportunity for advancement throughout their career, and only if you count department head as advancement.  Teachers are compensated for this lack of advancement by receiving benefits after their careers are over.  However, since the community, usually at the state level, is paying for those benefits, teachers become targets once the other politically convenient avenues of budget balancing are exhausted.  Unions give teachers the strength to demand that communities hold up their end of the bargain.

Teachers need a collective voice to keep the public discourse fair.  Corporations and billionaires have media outlets at their disposal, but no individual teacher in America has enough money to get Fox News at their beck and call.  A single teachers does not have a large audience for 24 hours each day.  (Although larger class sizes will help grow our audience.)  Unions provide a collective voice to teachers and other workers.

Teachers of today are asked to solve problems that we did not create.  Teachers are held accountable for the performance of students who are coming to school hungry.  Teachers have to attempt to undo in eight hours the damage that is done to children in the other sixteen hours by broken families.  Teachers are only asking in return for the support of the communities that they are asked to build.  Unions are there to make sure that teachers get that support.  After all, it's only fair.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

New Video: Pairwise Comparisons

Here is my fourth video on voting methods.  I did finish it before midnight, so I am still on schedule.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

How My Son Gets Out of Cleaning

It's cleaning day at my house, and my son was supposed to be cleaning his room.  Instead, I found him working on this.  (He's in second grade.)
So far, so good.
This is the first page of our first skills exam for Prealgebra, the lowest level math class that we teach at the college.  The skills exams are used to test mastery.  The students take it without a calculator, and they must get 70% on all four skills exams to pass the class.  I've had lower scores than this on exams before.

We usually keep the tests secure, so that is why I don't keep the extras in my office.  I let my kids use the backs as drawing paper.  However, we are dropping the skills exams this summer when our course redesign is implemented.

Friday, March 18, 2011

New Video: Borda Count Method

I'm keeping pace with my goal of one new video each day.  This one took a while because I was tripping over my tongue as well as tracking down typos at each step.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Meeting With Robert King

Last Thursday, our college was visited by Robert L. King, President of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.  The CPE oversees the programs at all of Kentucky's institutions of higher education, including KCTCS.  Dr. King addressed the faculty and staff of the college.  I was impressed by what he had to say.

One of the initiatives for the CPE is on improving K12 education in Kentucky.  K12 education is not part of the CPE's mandate, but the CPE can work to improve teacher education in Kentucky as well as offer meaningful professional development to current teachers.

I met him in the hallway after the meeting, and we talked briefly.  One of his previous jobs was as Chancellor of the State University of New York.  I was raised in Upstate New York, and many of my family has attended SUNY schools.

It was a good meeting, and I have good reason to be optimistic about the future of higher education in Kentucky.

New Video: Plurality Method

This is the first video on the first voting method for my Liberal Art Mathematics class. 

I am hoping to get at least one video done each day.  The challenge will be to continue this pace after spring break.

For this video, I got better audio because I figured out that I had to select the recording device in Camtasia.  The last video used the microphone built into my laptop, even thought it was not the default recording device.  This video finally uses my Logitech microphone.  I was holding it too close to my mouth, and I have a few percussive P's.

I bought my Logitech microphone used GameStop for $10.  It is for the video game Rock Band, but it also works on a PC.  The audio is nice, but it still smells like what I hope it tobacco.

Happy St. Patrick's Day from NASA

Here is a view of the Emerald Isle that only NASA could provide.
Photo Courtesy of NASA
If only they could detect leprechauns from space.

New Video: Preference Voting

I just finished a video giving the background for preference voting.  You've come across voting methods if and only if you've taught liberal arts math.  It's a fun topic.  The video is posted below.
I tried to let go of some of my perfectionist tendencies with this video.  There is one place when I say "restaurant" when I mean "office".  You can hear the clicks of the keys as I go through the PowerPoint.

The music was provided by Kevin McCloud on his website  He has a good selection of royalty free music.  Just be sure to give him credit if you use it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Parents' Crib Sheet for Fractions

My son, who is in second grade, brought home the following page from his math workbook.
Everyday Mathematics Worksheet

The page is from Everyday Mathematics, Second Grade.  It contains all the answers for the worksheets in Chapter 8 on fractions.

I cried a little inside that parents would need help getting answers to second grade math problems.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Now There is Even Less Time to Get Things Done

I just came across this article explaining how the day got shorter from the earthquake in Japan.  The difference it not noticeable, it's only 1.8 microseconds shorter. NASA has some amazing satellite pictures of the flooding.  Of course, it does not show the true devastation.  Our thoughts go out to the people affected by this disaster.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Happy Pi Day!

I was working late in the office last night.  I had to get my Pi Day decorations up.  Have a happy Pi Day.  Our college is on spring break, so I will be having a good day with my daughter at home.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

What's Wrong with This Picture

I took this screen capture from The Daily Show from March 3rd.  It compares the average worker's salary nationwide to the average teacher salary in Wisconsin.  The graphic was originally broadcast on Fox News.
A Fox News Graphic via The Daily Show

Why is this not a correct comparison?  Whose salaries should we compare to teachers?

The links to the video clips are below.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


I just got back from the annual meeting of KYMATYC (Kentucky Mathematical Association of Two Year Colleges).  KYMATYC is a regional affiliate of AMATYC.  The meeting was held at General Butler State Park in Carrollton, KY.

I rode down to the conference with my colleagues Dana and Mike on Friday.  Marty met us at the conference.  The talks I attended were:
  1.  Leslie and Gary Wash a Car... and Use the Tau Function - Gary Goodaker
    Gary started with a classic algebra problem and then developed it to include some number theory.
  2. Patterns and Connections in Developmental Mathematics - Pat McKeague
    Pat demonstrated some teasers that he uses in his basic algebra classes to introduce his students to topics in higher mathematics.
  3. Curriculum Spin Session - Jason Taylor
    This was an informative talk about how KCTCS got two calculus sequences.  All of the community colleges in Kentucky are under the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.  Some of the colleges have different opinions of how many credits each Calculus class should have.  Somehow, the directive to eliminate duplicate courses in the catalog lead to an updating of the courses inherited from the University of Kentucky and placing them side by side with the KCTCS developed courses.  More to follow.
  4. Online Spin Session - Gail Stringer
    This was a discussion session about teaching online classes.
  5. Let's Talk About Course Redesign - April Joy Spears and Jamie Foster
    KCTCS is moving all of its colleges toward teaching developmental mathematics with the Emporium Model.  This was one of three talks about the Emporium Model.  More on that in another post.
  6. The Human Cannonball, Ferris Wheels, and Trigonometry - Pat McKeague
    Pat gave the keynote speech at the conference.  He gave a good talk about applications of trigonometry.
The "After Math" part was after dinner.  I went for a while, but left because I was getting tired.

I have a tradition of waking up early on the Saturday of the conference to go geocaching.  I tried this morning, but the rain and dark kept me from getting too far down the trail.  I turned back and got a few more minutes of sleep before going to breakfast.  Here is some video of the Ohio River I shot on Friday to show you how wet it was.

The Saturday talks were:
  1. Emporium Model of Instruction - Fostering Student Success Through Independent Learning - Dawn Chumley, Stacie Gary, and Mark Hawkins
    This was another talk on the Emporium Model.  Most of the talks on course redesign follow the same format, give details about the grading, show a picture of the lab, and give the stats on the improved pass rate.  This talk was no different.
  2. Math Anxiety - Maranda Miller
    This was a good talk about fostering student confidence in mathematics.  Maranda has a personal touch in her teaching that came through in her talk.  I got a few good leads to follow up on her ideas.
  3. The Digital Age: Natives vs. Aliens - Nancy Sattler
    Nancy talked about the difference in how teaches use technology and how our students use technology.  I think that we should be focused on helping our students use technology in the correct ways as well as learning from them.
The weekend was good, as always.  The people in KYMATYC are a level-headed bunch who are out to do the best for their students.  I always feel better about teaching after the conference.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Pack 6201 Pinewood Derby 2011

This past Saturday was the pinewood derby for my son's cub scout pack.  There where twenty-nine scouts and one sister of a scout participating.  The event was very well run, and the participants were excellent sports.  It was a good example of what scouting is supposed to be about.

For those of you who are not familiar with the pinewood derby, the scouts (and their parents) build a car that is raced down a track that starts with a decline.  The only power to the cars is provided by gravity.  Our track used an electronic timing system that measured the times to one hundredth of a second.

The cars are supposed to weight less than five ounces, measure less than seven inches long, and use the official axles and wheels.  Other than that, there are very few rules about car construction.  Here is a picture of pinewood derby cars on the internet.  (I don't have a picture of my son's car on me right now.)
Pinewood Derby Cars
I was lucky enough to volunteer to record the times for the cars.  Most people would see that as work, but I got to collect all of the data on the cars and bring it back home with me.  Outside of the times, the weight of each car was recorded to the ten thousandth of an ounce.  There are more variables that control the performance of the car, but this at least gave me one independent variable to work with.

In addition to recording the times, I plugged a webcam into my laptop.  We had a projector hooked into my laptop to display the results, and when the cars were racing, I was able to display the image from the webcam on the wall.  (That's how I recorded the video.)  I called it the "redneck jumbotron".  One of the interesting aspects of the day was that parents wanted me to display the results on the screen so they could take a picture of the display.  The kids would get close to the webcam during their race, and would rather watch themselves on the wall than watch their race.
A proud parent
I've begun to analyze the data that I collected.  I have been working between two Excel spreadsheets, and the organization is slowly appearing.  I'll give the breakdown of the data soon.

P. S.  If you are wondering how Team Sears did, we were dead last.  I would be OK with last, but we were between two and three standard deviations slower than the mean time.  I'll be spending the next twelve months figuring out why.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

In the Thick of It

In my last post on Thursday, I talked about the protests in Wisconsin over the teachers maintaining the right to collective bargaining.  I mentioned that my wife teaches in Ohio, where Senate Bill 5 would also remove collective bargaining right for state employees.  Thursday afternoon, my wife came home with this sign.
Both sides of the sign

She had an emergency union meeting after school.  According to a tentative pay scale, if Senate Bill 5 does not pass, then Governor Kasich's budget will lower my wife's salary by $20,000.

This situation has me asking a few questions.
  1. How many experienced teachers will stay in the profession?  My wife pointed out that people will stay in teaching until they can get a higher paying job.
  2. How can we "fix" education when we are not supporting teachers?  In Wisconsin, the teachers gave into the wage reductions, and the Governor is still trying to remove collective bargaining rights.  It's bad enough that teachers are held accountable for their students' activities outside of school through test scores.
  3. Why does paying more to attract talent only work for investment bank CEO's?  Remember the corporate bonuses that were payed after bailing out the banks.  The justification for the bonuses was that they were necessary for keeping the best executives at the banks.
I'm too worked up to keep typing, so I'll let Jon Stewart finish for me.