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Wednesday
Jul122017

Statistical literacy

In my school days, "consumer math," was a euphemism for dummy math. If you couldn't hack algebra or trig, Consumer Math class was for you. Ironically, today's graduate needs "consumer math" a heck of a lot more than trigonometry. In such a course I would include: 

  • Calculating interest rates on credit cards and other consumer loans.
  • How to do your own income tax returns - state and federal.
  • Determining both the rate of return and maintenance cost on mutual funds and other investments.
  • Reading and interpreting statistics in the media.
  • How to spot a Ponzi scheme (or how to run one).
  • Applied statistics: chance of wining the lottery, odds of paying higher taxes because you make over $250,000,  likelihood of inheriting a large sum of money when none of your relatives are rich, etc..
  • Creating a personal budget and retirement plan.
  • Understanding the current federal, state and local tax codes and determining the percentage of total income paid by different levels of income earners,
  • Doing cost/benefit comparisons of medical, life, health, car and home insurance policies.
  • Converting measurements from metric to English - applied especially to medications.
  • The fundamentals of entrepreneurship
  • And just a dose of bullshit literacy for good measure.

I'm sure you could add to this list rather quickly. I don't know who is qualified to teach it - maybe curmudgeons after retirement? Can we please get alternative licensure? If they let me design the math curriculum, Blue Skunk blog, February 8, 2011.

I need to add another competency to my math literacy curriculum: statistical literacy. While I mention interpreting and using statistics above, I think I give it far too short shrift. Increasingly statistics should be a class required of all educators in their well-intentioned attempts to use "data-driven" decision-making.

I shudder when I see educators make critical decisions on numbers derived from test scores, survey data, course completion rates, etc. without understanding and being able to use concepts like:

  • statistical significance
  • valid sample size
  • standard deviation
  •  mean and median
  • data bias
  • correlation and causation
  • graphing accuracy

Now I am not claiming that I personally have these abilities myself. The graduate stat course I took was about 37 years ago. It was an excellent class, taught by a middle school math instructor teaching adjunct at the University of Iowa.

But what has stuck with me from that class is the importance of viewing numbers as somewhat tricky beasts. W.I.E. Gates is attributed with the old saw "Then there is the man who drowned crossing a stream with an average depth of only six inches." When we as decision-makers refuse to admin our ignorance, we become dangerous to those who depend on our good judgement.

Monday
Jul102017

Will school-issued devices stop the summer slide?

In Mind/Shift's post "Schools Let Students Take Laptops Home in Hopes of Curbing 'Summer Slide'" (June 27, 2017), author Mollie Simon writes:

“Summer is the most unequal time in America,” said Matthew Boulay, the interim CEO of the National Summer Learning Association. “I think we tend to have this idyllic view of what childhood summers are, but the reality is that for kids living in poverty, summer can be a time of isolation and hunger.”

While some students head off to camps and family vacations, others are left without the resources that accompany a school year, including school lunches, sports teams and a place to go while parents are at work during the day.

Creating more equitable summer learning opportunities is why our district decided to let our 9-11 grade students keep their Chromebooks over the summer.* With the Chromebook, the hope is kids will continue to read the online resources both we provide as a district and those they find of personal interest and relevance at the public library and other places online.

Infographic source

For me, using a device to access reading materials outside of school (including over the summer) is one of the most powerful reasons for our 1:1 program. A long time devotee of Stephn Krashen and his book The Power of Reading, I am convinced that keeping kids reading over the summer will do more to close achievement gaps in our district than summer school.

Yet another part of Simon's article gave me pause when she observes:

Letting students leave for break with their laptops in hand is not enough to cut back on inequality though, New York University professor Susan Neuman said.

“One thing we too often focus on is the sexy interventions like sending home a mobile device, but those people who haven’t had the experience will use them differently,” she said. “In low-income groups the kids would use the games and cheap thrills [available via computers], whereas those kids that had been mentored with a parent next to them use it as a prep school in a box.”

Neuman said it’s important for schools to provide parents with information on the best way to use the devices. Since not all parents are equally familiar with technology themselves, schools can level the playing field by telling them about good online learning sites and best practices for limiting screen time.

This is an area on which we need to continue to work - parent education. We will be starting this fall with offering "Digital Parenting" classes through community ed. but they will focus on safe and ethical use, not necessarily extending the conversation to positive educational uses as well.

Any suggestions for programs that help parents, especially those in lower socio-economic levels, become more proficient in helping their kids use their devices to eliminate the summer slide?

 

*This decision was not made without some concerns on the part of staff members - What about the kids who move over the summer? What about the kids who will just use the device to watch movies? What if the device gets lost, broken, stolen? Each are probably legitimate concerns for some students, but it seems to me we should make decisions based on the behaviors of our best students who are the majority of our kids.

Sunday
Jul092017

BFTP: Fairness - remove the word from your vocab

...fairness isn't an objective feature of the universe. It's a concept that was invented so children and idiots can participate in arguments. Scott (Dilbert) Adams

As with most districts, our technology needs and wants outstrip our technology budget. So too often the question of "fairness" comes up when allocating resources. Is such an allocation fair to the elementary program? fair to the kids at ___________ middle school? fair to ________ teacher or _________ department?

Like Adams, I don't believe fairness should be a factor in making budgeting decisions. The concept of fairness is so situationally dependent, it really has no meaning at all. 

Is it fair when the slow running zebra is caught and eaten by the lion? Seems fair to the lion; not so much to the zebra.

If two classroom computers are given to a teacher who uses them well and no classroom computers are given to a teacher who does not use them at all, should the term fairness even enter the conversation?

Instead of asking if an allocation decision is fair, what if we asked if it:

  • Creates equity of opportunity?
  • Advances district-wide goals and proven learning strategies?
  • Supports a proven best practice?
  • Enables an experiment with a high chance of success and replication?
  • Provides children with special needs a means to achieve?

Remove the term fairness from your vocabulary - even if it doesn't seem fair.

Image source

Original post May 21, 2017