In Loco Parentis
Friday, June 10, 2005

The Parthenon (in Nashville)
Search engines and students
Robert Heiny at Tablet PC Education wonders whether teachers are influencing search engine development. It reminded me of something that's been bouncing around my head. When I was teaching (an aside about my job search: I found a summer school teaching job, still looking for full time position starting this fall), I witnessed kids resigned to answer with whatever digits appeared on the calculator. Yes, Virginia, that is an answer--just not the right one. I feel an analagous phenomenon will occur in other classes (it probably already has). Students will think the right answer is anything returned by a Google search.

After drafting the above, I came across Boards Get Brains, Chalk Vanishes on Wired (via Donna Lewis at School Technology Leadership Blog). I disliked the article for several reasons. First, a teacher once again claims that a new technology, here it's an interactive chalkboard, will increase student motivation. Second, it contains a ridiculous quote "My [Nancy Knowlton, President of Smart Technologies] speculation is over the next three to five years you'll see an interactive whiteboard in every single classroom." I don't have to speculate to say she's wrong. Third, the end story of a teacher responding to a kid's question about a worm's brain illustrates my point above. "[A] quick Google search" performed by the teacher (article doesn't say whether teacher or student formed the search query) may answer the question but how exactly does that help the student. My two queries to the question posed revealed nothing startling (see earthworm brain or worm brain). Equally effective would have been a "yes." The lesson learned: if you google it, an answer will come. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't doubt it if at least one student has displayed this picture of the "Parthenon" (note to readers: I couldn't figure out how to add a photo at the end of this post, look at the post immediately above this one for the picture).
Sunday, June 05, 2005
Traditional or Reform Math Education?

I've enjoyed two blogs that I've recently come across which address math curricula. Instructivist endorses a more traditional teaching approach (Core Knowledge and E.D. Hirsch, Jr. characterize that approach) while Over Education prefers reformed math education (see NCTM Standards and Trailblazers for k-5 math education).

This post is not about which is best for students theoretically but about the more fundamental question. Which approach puts teachers in the best position? I assume 20% of teachers could teach adequately under either approach, 20% will do a poor job regardless of curriculum. The large middle 60% is where the debate should be focused. Moreover, I think this debates falls away for math at or above the Algebra II or college algebra level. The relevant population of math teachers is reduced to the middle 60% of those teaching k-10. How do we ensure that this class has the proper materials to adequately teach students?

In this debate, it's hard to argue apples to apples. A charter school may achieve fantastic results with core knowledge but, presumably, the teachers and administrators were attracted by the curriculum. Thus, most comparisons to a traditional public school (where employees have a less philosophical interest in curriculum) are not valid. The better comparison is to a charter school based on constructivism. Who is doing the empirical studies and research on such questions?

I know the approach that works best for me. Though I won't do so in this forum, I could articulate reasons and arguments for my determination. I suspect many, many, many teachers would have trouble merely framing the debate. Arguing the best math curriculum has little relevance to those on the frontline. The arguments should begin from where the teachers currently stand, not where they should be in one's ideal world. Each side should be trying to convince teachers that their side's curriculum will transform mediocrity into first-rate teaching.

I know of only one Chicagoland school district committed to a traditional approach. Flossmoor [Elementary] District 161 outlines its Board of Education Instructional Philosophy on its website. I wonder if anyone is tracking District 161's successes and failures.

Next Post: What I think Dr. Henry Borenson's Hands-On Equations reveals about the debate.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005
Adding equations to Microsoft word documents
I realize it's late in the year; still, I have some tips for those of you who teach math. Just as you shouldn't swing a hammer too hard but let it do the work for you, when creating documents with math "stuff" let the word processor do the work (e.g. no more writing fractions by hand).

First, to insert fractions in Microsoft word:
1. Find "insert" across the top of the screen.
2. On the drop down menu under "insert", find "field"
3. After clicking on "insert field" you will have to choose the "Field name." To insert a fraction, you want to choose "Equations and Formulas" as the category and the "Field name" is "Eq."
4. You will then enter instructions to describe the fraction. Find the box where "EQ" is displayed.
5. Place the cursor after "EQ" and type "\F(" (just the stuff inside the quotes, i.e. forward slash, 'F', open parens).
6. After the "open parens," type the numerator and denominator separated by a comma, and then a close parens (e.g. the fraction 7/8 would appear "EQ\F(7,8)")
7. Hit okay and you should see the fraction in your document.

Second, common symbols used in math
1. Find "insert" again
2. This time select "symbol" on the drop down menu
3. Changing the font, brings up different math symbols

  • a mulitplication symbol (looks better than an 'x') is found in the "monotype sorts" font and is in the top row just right of center
  • a division symbol (looks better than a '/') is found in the "(normal text)" font and is in the 2nd row from the bottow in the middle
  • a pi symobl can also be found in "(normal text)" and is in the 3rd row from the bottom in the middle

4. For the advanced crowd, I'd suggest creating a shortcut key for the symbols you use most.
Thursday, May 19, 2005
Tablet PCs in Hinsdale
Chicago Tribune article on Hinsdale H/S/D 86 running out of money for Tablet PCs. They're now asking parents to pitch in roughly $2000 for one. Some parents, for a variety of reasons, are balking at that option.

Like claims in a weight loss advertisement, I look skeptically on an educator's claim that this new thing (whatever that thing may be) increases student engagement and attentiveness. I do not doubt that it does but how much is attributable to curiousity and how much to more substantive reasons. Though I lack any sources, I imagine Power Point once increased student engagement and attentiveness. Just as the business world has suffered through a Power Point backlash, I'm sure some students find it quite boring these days. That said, I still think educators should be bringing them into classrooms and using them to simplify the tasks so often groused about in the teachers' lounge.

Lastly, a once in a great while article in the Trib doesn't scratch the surface of Tablet PCs in education. I recommend
Tablet PC Education Blog for a more nuanced look.
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Administrative law primer for educators unfamiliar with admin law

To this point, I haven’t included many substantive posts. Any comments or questions are welcome.

Until recently, administrative law issues have not affected most people in education. The following briefly “talks through” some of the issues raised by the new policy on accountability under NCLB for students with disabilities. Hopefully, it will enlighten those unaccustomed to federal administrative law.

The new policy made me curious about the language which authorizes the U.S. Department of Education to create a 2% flexibility allowance for students with persistent academic disabilities—that is to say allowing states to use modified assessments for 2% of students. If the enabling language is in NCLB, then the question becomes whether the interpretation could be challenged in court.

Section 6311(b)(3)(C) of NCLB, which controls State plans, says that “[State] assessments shall … provide for … the reasonable adaptations and accommodations for students with disabilities ….” The 2% rate appears to be the Dept. of Ed’s understanding of what constitutes a reasonable adaptation. When administrative agencies make interpretations of statutes they are charged with administering, they can be reviewed and overturned by the courts. The courts are most deferential to administrative interpretations when an agency uses rulemaking procedures as the Dept. of Ed. will do in this case. Mere disagreement with the policy choice is not grounds to strike down the interpretation. Rather, it requires a court to find either the statute was not ambiguous (hence the interpretation is incongruous) or the statute was ambiguous and the policy is unreasonable. Here, the statute’s use of “reasonable” makes it ambiguous. Nothing I’ve read suggests the 2% rate is unreasonable. Assuming things go as planned and it becomes a federal regulation, the opponents of the regulation will have to either a) get Congress to change the language of the statute or b) elect a President willing to make a change. Neither option is a likely winner, so the time to be heard is during the rulemaking process where one can comment, offer amendments, or object.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Graduation Day 2005
Saturday, April 16, 2005
Tablet PCs a view from a techno-lawyer
Dennis Kennedy ( is a St. Louis attorney who often writes about technology for lawyers. He offers his thoughts (mostly positive, some negative) about Tablet PCs for Lawyers in this article. Different field but most everything applies with equal force for educators.
eTextbooks, profits to be made?
I happened to read this post from Tablet PC Education Blog just after reading this story in the Chicago Tribune (free registration). The Trib story is an example of why Tablet PCs and ebooks could be a vehicle of growth for Microsoft.

5 benefits of eTextbooks
1. Accessibility for people with vision, hearing and mobility needs (think of the student with a vision impaired parent)
2. Adaptability by the teacher, whose sense of curriculum sequencing may differ from textbook authors
3. Links within lessons
4. Year-over-year textbooks: as a student progresses he continually adds to his eTextbook. For example, a student at the end of 6th grade has all his math lessons for the year together; 7th grade includes new lessons but the student can go back in the archive to re-familiarize himself with a concept.
5. Less to carry in a backpack
Technology and Tablet PC Education Blog
I believe the connotative meaning of "technology" includes the idea that technology transcends the routine and ordinary. Therefore, the addition of a regular computer with standard software to a classroom should not be hailed as bringing technology into the classroom. (That is not to say computers in the classroom are not important especially for students who might not have one at home). My definition of technology leads to the statement: All teachers should be using computers though not all teachers are capable of intergrating technology into the classroom.

My brief introduction illustrates why I enjoy the posts at
The Tablet PC Education Blog. My return to teaching will include technology. I don't know the exact form it will take but am monitoring advances in software and hardware. Robert W. Heiny authors a great blog for good information on using the Tablet PC. He's providing a vital service for his readers. I also need to thank him for discussing my job search on his blog (here).

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