Sunday, December 15, 2013

3D Printing December 13

Here are some things I've learned about my Replicator 2 since it arrived. I hadn't had time to work with it since the first day, so I set aside time after school Friday, and invited any of my Calculus students who cared to help explore.

Sticking issues (or, more properly, non-sticking issues)
The day I unpacked my Rep2 (with my 3rd period calculus class) we attempted each of the designs pre-installed on the included SD card. Bracelet -- success. Linked chain -- fail. Mr. Jaws -- success. Comb -- fail. Nut and bolt -- success. The failures were the result of the build becoming unstuck from the build plate mid-process, effectively ruining things.

My hypothesis was that I hadn't fine-tuned the build plate level well enough, so perhaps the extruder nozzle was knocking into builds, causing my issues with comb and chain. Friday I tried the chain once more, and had similar failure. So I went through the utility menus to re-level the build plate. My first time, I had 25 students clustered around me asking questions, so perhaps I got distracted. I was alone Friday, and so could focus well on how much friction there was between my sheet of paper (leveling gauge) and the extruder nozzle.

I tried the chain again, and it worked fine. Leveling seems to have been the issue.

Students loved watching the build process. It took about 20 minutes each to print the bracelet and Mr. Jaws, and I had some students staring at the motion of the print head for the entire time. Since I had just introduced the concept of a definite integral to them, I was hoping they would make the connection to the notion of accumulating infinitessimally thin layers to build the area under a curve. I had to raffle off the builds (using pseudo-random number generator in my TI-Nspire, tying it to statistics lessons). I had as much male as female interest in the bracelet.

Two students spent considerable time examining the packing materials, and were fascinated to realize some of it had been 3D printed. We talked a bit about recursion.

My last build Friday was the lid to a "bunny box" that I found on thingiverse.  Successful, but, man, when I started I didn't realize how long it would take.

File formats
Due to computer issues, I haven't installed makerware on my laptop. It's just too finicky lately, and I don't want to introduce another variable into its operation until I figure out what's wrong.  I'll have to install on my home computer to try to explore designing or modifying on my own.

So, I've limited myself to things I can download. I've noticed that most of the designs on thingiverse are in .stl format, whereas my Rep2 only understands .s3g format. Maybe that's a big d'oh to everyone else, but it took some research to understand why I couldn't print the things I was downloading. Now I know the limit my search to the proper file format, until I download and install software to convert for me.

Build time
The display on my Rep2 is friendly enough to tell me what percent of the build is done. But as I was building the box lid (see above) I was dismayed to see that, after almost an hour, it said I was only 20% complete. Yikes!

Less than 30 minutes later the build was done. So now I know that % complete calculation doesn't refer to the build. I'm guessing it refers to the final build height.

I opened the door to my room while building, and had windows open, but there was still a distinct aroma of melting plastic and I was coughing. I wonder about the health effects of volatiles from melting PLA.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Team Effort. Maybe Not.

Perhaps I'm overreacting. But I don't like the way my school's guidance department is treating me.

I teach Advanced Placement Calculus BC. I have 25 students. We are an urban district, and though I have some strong students, I also have a number who struggle. Not all students are getting stellar grades in the course.

I offer tutoring three days a week. I stay at school until 6 PM to make sure I'm available even to students who may have other meetings or team practices. About 25% of my students take advantage of tutoring.

Our Guidance office has also decided to make tutoring available to my students. They did not offer me the job. They did not offer me the job (they say) because they know I'm busy. I'm busy because I'm tutoring my students. Their plan is to take my students out of my tutoring sessions to go to another tutor.

This other tutor is not a teacher at our school. They have not offered the position to any teacher at our school. They say they have not offered the position to any teacher at our school because they don't think any teacher at our school is qualified to tutor AP Calculus BC.

They say they must have 100% participation of my students if they are to offer tutoring. I suggested that they would save resources by getting 100% participation to the tutoring I already offer. If they do get 100% participation, I will have no students to tutor, so I'll be available to tutor for them.

I've suggested that, if they insist they must use this other tutor, it would be polite if they offered the tutoring on days I'm not already tutoring. They could choose a day when they know I'm doing something other than tutoring. That way they could more credibly pretend the job was not offered to me because I'm not available.

I feel they are trying to undermine the respect my students have for me.

My Assistant Principal is unhappy with the Guidance Office for taking this action. He has voiced his displeasure to the Guidance Office and to the Principal. The person who runs the tutoring program I work for is unhappy with the Guidance Office. The students have signed up to be in the program for the entire year, and he will not lightly release them from his program.

I don't think they can get 100% participation anyway, so, if they were speaking honestly, they will not be able to go ahead with the tutoring. But it has eroded my respect for the Guidance Office. I know longer am under any illusion that they are working WITH me for the students.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

First Day with my 3D Printer

Thank you MakerBot, thank you DonorsChoose, thank you anyone who contributed to make this deal possible. Yesterday afternoon my Replicator 2 arrived.

MakerBot has announced a desire to have a 3D printer (one of theirs, of course) in each public school in America. They've partnered with to offer their printers for an incredibly low out-of-pocket cost to teachers. More details on that in my previous post 3D Printing. Funding isn't unlimited, so the first time they offered, I wasn't able to get it. Second round of funding I managed to get in. Now many teachers are waiting for a third round of funding. But that's a different story.

My printer, a MakerBot Replicator 2, was funded just under two weeks ago, and the actual printer arrived at my school Monday afternoon. I decided to set it up with my Calculus class today.

I brought the box up to my classroom and cleared enough space on my desk for the printer, which is roughly the size of a microwave oven. I unpacked the boxes, put the printer on my desk, and began working through the startup procedures in the user guide. I was not very far along when the period bell rang, and my students began filtering into the room.

I had mentioned the printer to them, and many immediately realized what that big black thing on my desk was. I was peppered with questions, which made it hard to continue setting up. I assigned tasks to students. Snake the power cord to the outlet. Work through the interface menus. Load the PLA filament (the "ink" the printer extrudes to do it's work). I really wanted to do it myself, but I also knew that my students would get a huge thrill out of helping.

Finally, set up, the question was what to print. I wanted to start small, since I don't know much about the machine. My students wanted to start big. The two most frequent requests were for Hello Kitty items, and Pokemon goods. They also read the news, and so there were a number of questions about printed guns. I brushed all suggestions aside (one benefit of being the teacher) and announced we would print one of the projects pre-loaded on the SD card that came with the Replicator. We looked through the items and decided on a flexible bracelet.

Go. It is so cool. The PLA filament feeds up from a spool hanging on the back, gets to the extruder, which melts it at 240 degrees C, and the gantry system maneuvers the extruder around to squirt out the design. We just started looking at Integrals, and I was really happy that all the students were watching us build up something from very very very thin layers (not really infinitessimally thin, but I think it was good enough to make the abstract idea concrete). It took about 20 minutes, but most of the students' eyes were glued to the printer for the entire process.

When done, I took the bracelet from the build plate and passed it around for students to inspect. It is amazing technology. I did a random number drawing (thank you TI-Nspire) to see who got to keep the bracelet. I had as many boys as girls interested in the bracelet.

Next we tried to print some chain links. This didn't go well. Partly through the build, the item separated from the build plate, which effectively ruined the job, so I cancelled.

Third we tried a fish-shaped fob called Mr. Jaws. This also took about 20 minutes, and we did another random number drawing to decide who kept it. I made an effort to lecture for a very short time, connecting yesterday's lesson about approximating the area under a function by drawing many thin rectangles. They weren't interested.  So I began a fourth print job. This one was a nut and bolt. I couldn't believe the threads would actually work.

The period bell rang, and the students left, but I could see it was one of the most interesting classes ever for them, even though we did very little formal learning.

The nut and bolt eventually finished printing. I removed them from the build plate, and broke off the thin plastic the forms at the beginning and end of print. Twisting them together I found that, though tight, the threads actually worked -- the Replicator had printed a useable nut/bolt combination. Playing with it through the day, it got better and better. I suppose it wore off rough places in the build.

Later in the day we tried to print a comb. This item, too, came loose from the build plate, and so was ruined.

So, the question going forward, is how to use this effectively in class. I need to learn how to design things on my own. I cannot rely solely on other people's postings on I need to figure out why some items come loose during printing, and prevent that from happening. Math for America is going to offer a PLT in 3D printing this spring, which I intend to sign up for. In the meantime, I suppose I'll have to find some online user groups and begin studying.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

3D Printing

Most of us have heard the buzz about 3D printing. I never read very deeply, figuring it was a technology that I would not have a chance to experience for several years.

But two weeks ago I saw a post from an acquaintance about a project MakerBot was going to launch in conjunction with Interest rose, but the announcement said the promotion would only be for teachers in Brooklyn. Idle fantasies about somehow tricking them to thinking my Bronx school was in Brooklyn, but nothing real.

Then, mid-Veterans Day week I heard the promotion was expanded to every school across the country. What?! Request a MakerBot Academy 3D printing package, including the Replicator 2, 3 spools of PLA filament, and an extended warranty, and MakerBot would fund it down to under $100. Teachers would only have to come up with the remaining $100 to get their own $2300 3D printing package.

I am a volunteer screener for DonorsChoose. They were being flooded with proposals from teachers asking for the deal. Volunteers, like me, were asked to screen additional essays to help with the backlog. In between screening, I quickly wrote my own proposal. But I was way back in the queue by this point. Late Friday the 15th I noticed that my essay had been screened. But there was one more step before it went live, and I could fund it -- a DonorsChoose employee had to do the final approval. I waited.

First thing when I woke up Saturday, I saw that my project had been posted. Hurrah! I checked, and saw the deal was still available -- I only needed to contribute another $80 and the package would be mine (technically, it would be my school's, but I would be the one using it.)

I quickly logged in to my DonorsChoose account, entered the required information, and clicked "submit." I waited while the little clock image spun and spun. It finished. The page refreshed. I needed an additional $2400 on my project.

No! I clicked submit. It can't be. But it was. In the time I clicked the button, the funding had run out. I was so disappointed. If I'd only written my proposal earlier. If I hadn't slept so late Saturday. If, if, if.

Well, as it turns out, MakerBot came up with some additional funds this past week. I came home from school Thursday to find that my printer package was funded.

Since then I've begun researching the heck out of 3D printers, and the Replicator 2 in particular. Seems that the people who take the time to write online reviews are not all that in love with it. (don't get me wrong -- for what I paid out of pocket, it is the best deal on the planet.) But it seems there are some persistent issues with the extruder, and there seem to be quality problems with their PLA filament.

Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to my unit on Solids of Revolution, when I can actually print a solid using a physical process something very similar to a Riemann Sum.

Monday, November 18, 2013


An acquaintance is very excited at coming back from a "learning and the brain" conference last weekend. All weekend long, her facebook feed was crackling with one-liners from pedagogy gurus (people who get paid large sums of money to speak at conferences and overgeneralize about panacea fixes to education).

One idea my friend is very excited about is this: "We need to get away from pretty much any model of teaching we have been doing for the past 100 years."

First off, personally, I don't know anybody who had been teaching for the past 100 years. For my own part, it's not even one tenth that much. There are a few fairly senior teachers at my school, but I don't think any of them has more than 35 years in the system.

Second, what's wrong with the model I used last week? I thought I was having some good interactions using a mix of exploration, technology, guided questioning, and discussion. What am I to replace it with?

The whole thing smacks of snake oil salesmen. My friend says, basically, she spent the weekend listening to lectures from people telling her that listening to lectures doesn't work.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Explore MTBoS Mission 5

The assignment for week 5 was, essentially, to participate in a twitter chat (about a math topic) and blog impressions. Perhaps I misunderstood something somewhere, but I have been unable to do this seemingly simple task.

I chose the Calculus chat, which is supposed to be hashtagged #calcchat. It turns out that hashtag is mostly associated with a twitter handle @calcchat. The profile for @calcchat seems to indicate that it is associated with Larson textbooks.

According to the assignment, calc chat happens on Fridays, but it isn't clear when. 1:30 AM EDT? Is that a typo? Well, it's Saturday now anyway, so it wouldn't be live. So the instructions say further that the chats are archived on the math chat wiki. But the calc chat isn't.  There's a placeholder with no content.

The next suggestion is to follow the chat moderator.  In this case that's @ajitmishra71. He is indeed a math educator, but doesn't seem to have any posts related to a calculus chat.

So, there you have it. My attempt to participate in this week's activity have pretty much failed.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Assignment from ExploringTheMathTwitterBlogosphere #1

A class I was in a few evenings ago mentioned the MTBos (Math Twitter Blogosphere), and I decided to try to participate in this project. I'm in my tenth year of teaching, having done a number of other things prior. Currently the greatest portion of my limited recreational time is spent trying to learn salsa dancing. Living in New York, I'm learning New York, or On 2, style.

The thing that makes my math class unique in my school, a large, comprehensive urban high school, is that I regularly incorporate technology in my lessons, not as an afterthought, or a rare, special activity, but as an integral part of the whole. I think my lessons exemplify the Common Core Math Practice #5 of using appropriate tools judiciously.

Reading and Mathematics

I openly admit that I love reading, both fiction and non-fiction. Many people think that, as a mathematics teacher, I must despise language arts. Perhaps this is due to their own insecurities regarding math and sciences, but it is far from the case with me.

One of my favorite writers is Mark Twain. It occurred to me that he has some sage advice for math students in his essay "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses." In particular, among the rules of "art" which he accuses Cooper of breaking are the following:
" ... the author shall:

12. Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.
13. Use the right word, not its second cousin.
14. Eschew surplusage.
15. Not omit necessary details.
16. Avoid slovenliness of form.
17. Use good grammar.
18. Employ a simple and straightforward style ... "

I think these seven rules also apply to the execution of mathematics.

If you care to read the entire essay, you can find one online source here.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Assistance in Taking Notes

I was covering what I thought was review material in Geometry class. We're on the section where they learn basic concepts of formal logic, preparatory to doing geometric proofs. I asked a question that I KNOW I had covered the previous day (about modus ponens, the law of detachment, one of the most basic logical arguments), and I was met by blank stares.

"What?" I asked. "We just did this yesterday! Turn in your notebooks to yesterday." Notebook pages turned, the students were obviously searching for some hint of the answer, but no answers were forthcoming. I began to wonder if I had only imagined teaching this topic. I went from student to student looking at notebooks. There was no sign any had ever seen the structure, "p implies q. p. therefore q." I took a quick glance at my previous day's lesson plan and saw that I, at least, intended to cover that. Yet, still, notebook after notebook had no hint of that core idea.

Finally, I found a student who had written it down, using the symbols correctly (as I thought I had written it on the board). I was happy for indication that I am not delusional.

But my real takeaway is a reminder of how weak many of my students are at taking notes. I need to be much more overt in telling them when I've written a key concept, and I need to give them time to get those key concepts transferred to their notes.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Interactive classroom

On September 28 I was fortunate enough to participate in a pilot of a workshop entitled Building a (Virtual) Learning Community: Social Media with purpose for teacher-learners. The workshop was hosted at the Westminster School in Atlanta, and facilitated by educator Jill Gough @jgough. I had wanted to write this post the evening of the 28th, while impressions were fresh in my mind and I waited for my flight at ATL, but my battery died, Instead, I'm writing a week later.

Following school on Friday September 27, I headed to LaGuardia and flew to Atlanta. Saturday morning I made my way to the school for the daylong workshop. I have some transportation stories, but that isn't the focus of this post. Should you see me in person, and be curious, feel free to ask me to tell you.

First off -- omg what beautiful facilities! Gorgeous grounds, attractive architecture, and well-kept grounds. Our group was in the middle school building. The classroom was a double room that could be subdivided with a partition made up of whiteboard panels. Each "half room" by itself would have been larger than my high school room with 32 desks crammed in.

I arrived a bit late (see my reference to transportation issues, above) and things had already started. Jill was running things. The rest of the participants were other T3 instructors #t3learns and consultants, many of whom I knew from various conferences and events, mostly that annual T3 International conference. The morning topic centered on twitter, and how it might be used with classes and teachers. I don't think classroom use is particularly relevant to me -- my school does not allow students to carry cell phones or similar mobile communication devices. With my population, I think that's a good thing.

One of the uses that was intriguing was the idea of crowdsourcing conference notes. By sharing tweets at a conference with others, I can get a taste of what may have been happening in sessions I couldn't attend. By sharing our twitter handle on our conference name tags, it could be easy to get feedback from people. The key is to find an appropriate hashtag to filter through the, often loud, background hum of twitter. I think that will always be a limiting factor for me. More on that later.

The other major topic covered was blogging. I've been trying to blog lately, having been encouraged by a friend to record impressions of some of the things going on around me. I think reflection is a good thing, and writing a blog, even if some entries never get published, is a good way to formally reflect in a concrete way. That's something that one of my professors at Lehman College, Serigne Gningue strongly suggested I do many years ago. At the time I just said I don't have time, and he pulled out notebooks to show me how he made time almost daily to write at least a paragraph of reflections.

So, here it is, a week later. I'm not at the point that Dr. Gningue suggested, of writing every day. I do find that the software at blogger makes it easy to start a draft with a few thoughts, and save. I've only published four items since I began this blog in September. That's okay by me. I don't feel the need to publish. I have several other items in draft mode. Some I hope to come back and complete (as this one which I began a week ago). Others, maybe will remain as seeds of ideas, only for me.

As for twitter, for a few days after the workshop I was paying more attention to it. But it doesn't seem such an efficient medium for me. I like seeing the daily math puzzles from MAA, and I like the occasional updates from MfA. I like getting music updates from WFUV. I like hearing from friends who post a few things now and again. But, looking at my twitter feed more often also made me realize how much I dislike the tweeters who feel the need to tweet dozens and dozens of times a day. I realized that there was one person in particular who I was simply ignoring -- tweet overload had made me filter him away. Once I realized I was doing that, I also went in and unfollowed him.

So that's the idea I'm trying to understand about twitter and me. I think it's the same way I view conversation from people. I think silence can be a good thing. And so can talking. But I'm trying to understand where my balancing point is.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Conditionals in the News

For a unit on logic, isolate the conditional in each paragraph by identifying hypothesis (p) and conclusion (q). Then write the converse, inverse, and contrapositive of each.

Mr. Obama, in the interview, said he must resist the Republican demands this time because a precedent is at stake. “If we get in the habit where a few folks, an extremist wing of one party, whether it’s Democrat or Republican, are allowed to extort concessions based on a threat of undermining the full faith and credit of the United States, then any president who comes after me — not just me — will find themselves unable to govern effectively,” he said.
Obama Sets Conditions for Talks: Pass Funding and Raise Debt Ceiling, New York Times online edition, 10/2/2013

Mr. Levison said he set up Lavabit to make it impossible for outsiders, whether governments or hackers, to spy on users’ communications. He followed the government’s own secure coding guidelines, based on the N.S.A.’s technical guidance, and engineered his systems so as not to log user communications. That way, even if he received a subpoena for a user’s communications, he would not be able to gain access to them. For added measure, he gave customers the option to pay extra to encrypt their e-mail and passwords.
Snowden’s E-Mail Service, in a Legal Tug of War, New York Times online edition, 10/2/2013

If one combines the segment that wants a more liberal approach to health care reform with those who approve of the law, a plurality of Americans view health care change favorably.
Closer Look at Polls Finds Views of Health Law a Bit Less Negative, New York Times online edition, 10/1/2013

Though he has faced seven years of Republican attempts to frustrate his agenda at every turn, this latest fight, which he believes could have been stopped if the party’s leaders had only stood up to their more junior members, has convinced him that he has no viable Republican partners on either side of the Capitol.
Reid Pushing Tough Strategy in Showdown With G.O.P., New York Times online edition, 10/2/2013

“He is not going to let this crisis make us give away something that is part of what we believe in,” said Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, and a member of Mr. Reid’s leadership team. “He feels passionately that if we allow our country to be run by hostage-taking — ‘I feel passionately about an issue, and I’m going to shut down the government unless I get my way’ — it is bad for today, it’s bad for tomorrow, it’s bad for democracy.”
Reid Pushing Tough Strategy in Showdown With G.O.P., New York Times online edition, 10/2/2013

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Sailing Into the Storm

When I was 16, right after finishing high school, I attended a course at Hurricane Island Outward Bound School. I don't necessarily trust all my memories from that time, as I've retold things in my head enough, and I've changed enough, that I'm sure some things in my head have altered from historical fact. But I am confident it was a powerful experience for me.

In particular, I remember an incident that occurred on the final expedition. For those unaware, the Outward Bound schools provide a variety of wilderness experiences to their participants. The Hurricane Island school, off the coast of Maine, was focused on sailing experiences in 30 foot ketches. Our time was organized into increasingly longer sailing trips, culminating in a five-day final expedition.

As luck would have it, a hurricane was moving up the coast right about the time we were to leave on the expedition.We had bunked on the island and prepared to sail, but were not even sure the expedition would not be cancelled (or delayed) because of the weather. As decision time came closer, the hurricane lost structure and was downgraded to a tropical depression. The expedition was on.

We sailed out of the harbor. It was blustery and raining. We were all decked out in our yellow foul-weather gear. Each of the twelve people in the boat was assigned a task, and with the fog and rain, we were quickly out of sight of land. I remember feeling very cold.

Even though we were in the Atlantic, it was still coastal, and there were rocks and shoals we had to be careful of. The rocks off the coast of Maine are not friendly, soft rocks, but could put a hole in the hull and would be very dangerous to strike. One of the most important jobs in the boat was bow lookout, to watch for those rocks. I was given that job.

I wear eyeglasses.  I've worn eyeglasses since just before third grade. If you are not familiar with eyeglasses, let me assure you that they do not work well in wind-driven rain and fog. The lenses quickly become speckled with water and mist, and you essentially cannot see through them. The cold wind was blowing, the rain was coming down, I was supposed to keep us away from the rocks, and I couldn't see.

I was unhappy, because I was aware I could not do the job I was supposed to be doing. I told our watch leader (was his name Geoff? don't recall anymore.) so he assigned another person to help as bow lookout. He assigned Miles.

Miles and I were the only two people in the watch who wore eyeglasses.

The two of us were in the bow of the boat looking for rocks. I asked him (I think I had to shout, because the wind was so loud) "Can you see anything?" "No." he said. "You?" "No, I can't either."

This is something that may not have actually happened, but I remember right about them feeling the wind calm just a bit, and turned warm. It was somehow just comforting. Miles and I looked at each other, laughed, and just did the best we could, taking turns wiping our glasses.

I'm writing this story now, 41 years later, so obviously things did not end in disaster. But I remember this story sometimes when I'm harried, and it continues to calm me.

You may wonder why this is on my math teacher blog. I'm attending a workshop on building virtual learning communities, and this is my response to an assignment prompt to write about a peak learning experience.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

What's So Bad About the Common Core?

Three years ago I was invited to be in the audience for NBC's first Education Nation extravaganza.  For the most part it was scripted ho-hum. But, by chance, I wound up sitting next to and had the chance to chat with Jason Zimba, one of the lead authors of the Common Core State Standards.

Back in those days CCSS was just a dream for me. The notion of agreement across most of the US on a rigorous set of standards, broken down clearly by grade level seemed so commonsensical as to be a no-brainer. Who could object to having high expectations for the students of our country?

At that point, I had already been teaching for six years, and I had seen wave after wave of 9th graders come into my school lacking in skills that I associate with elementary math (e.g. fractions, measurement, multiplication tables). I'd been on grading committees for dozens of Regents Exams for which New York State decided that a 35% was passing grade. In the effort to out-Wobegon Lake Wobegon, it seemed the passing criteria had been watered and watered and watered so all the students could be above the redefined "average."

With that background I was excited about the ideas behind CCSS. Specifically, "a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn" that are "robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers." (see CCSS Mission Statement) I was sure it would decrease the chances I'd get students whose 8th grade test results showed them "significantly above grade level" only to find that they can't work with signed numbers, as was frequently the case with the then current NY Standards. Obviously, common rigorous standards are a good thing for me, as a teacher, and us, as a nation, and us, as a global community.

My rant today is prompted by the surprising number of criticisms I'm seeing directed at CCSS (or Common Core Learning Standards, CCLS, as they're called in New York) coming from educators! What? Just yesterday a friend posted a reductio ad Hitlerum video, as though to say rigorous common standards must be bad because they claim Hitler would have liked them. (no, I'm not going to link that video, because I find that sort of fallacious argument personally offensive) There was an uproar when New York published the results of last year's 8th grade testing, which showed that 70% of students had not mastered the basic foundation for 9th grade mathematics. That was no surprise for me, since I see that year after year in my incoming 9th graders.

But the surprise is that otherwise reasonable people think the solution is to ease up on the standards. No! That was the problem in the first place. The standards are good, and the test scores seem to reflect reality. I'm sorry if you don't like reality, but pretending that unprepared students have a good quantitative foundation doesn't help anybody in the long run.

We've got some good standards. Better than 90% of the US has accepted these standards. Now let's apply them rationally and consistently, and work with reality.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Starting a Turnaround

DeWitt Clinton HIgh School has to improve if it is to survive. Both city and state have consistently given us poor ratings in  recent years. Last spring, due to a precipitous drop in enrollment numbers, budget was slashed and massive numbers of staff were excessed (that's DOE terminology for a layoff). Math department staff was decreased by 1/3.

Although the administrative staff have been working on this for a bit longer, as a classroom teacher, I've only seen my first two days of the attempted turnaround. There appear to be two major factors driving this. First is a new principal. Second is assistance from some consultants.

Our longtime principal, Geraldine Ambrosio, retired, and her expected replacement is Santiago Taveras. I say expected although Santi, as he likes to be called, is already in place and working. But his official title at this point is something like "acting interim principal" while he waits for official appointment to the position. I would describe what I've seen of his style as more actively engaged in the operation of the school (a good thing) and very organized (another good thing).

The second factor is the consulting firm. We met Brad Darling, who works for Pearson (the publishing company). But his division has nothing to do with publishing, and instead helps schools become more effective.  He's worked with a number of large, comprehensive, urban high schools, and so he's got experience with the type of issues and strengths such schools have. Over my time as teacher, I've seen a large number of consultants come in, and some of them disappeared before I could even remember their names. But Brad shows no signs of disappearing.  He's even given us a schedule that goes all the way through June 2014 of what meetings are happening when. I'm strongly encouraged.

So, we still have a long ways to go before we can determine whether or not there was a turnaround, but I think we have some key elements in place, and I'm optimistic.