Archive for the ‘Seguin’ Category

New Teaching Blog!

I have decided to start a new teaching blog called On Learning Curves.  Don’t worry.  I’ll still post for the Crockett because Cody Brown is too awesome.  But this isn’t the right forum for my thoughts on the day to day life of a new teacher.  subscribe and enjoy!


What makes something interesing?

An interesting piece on interestingness.

Apparently, humans find things interesting that are both complex but comprehensible.

The first appraisal is an evaluation of an event’s novelty–complexity, which refers to evaluating an event as new, unexpected, complex, hard to process, surprising, mysterious, or obscure. This appraisal isn’t surprising: Intuition and decades of research show that new, complex, and unexpected events can cause interest. The second, less obvious appraisal is an evaluation of an event’s comprehensibility. Appraisal theories would label this appraisal a coping-potential appraisal because it involves people considering whether they have the skills, knowledge, and resources to deal with an event. In the case of interest, people are “dealing with” an unexpected and complex event—they are trying to understand it. In short, if people appraise an event as new and as comprehensible, then they will find it interesting.

What is the purpose of interest?

Interest’s function is to motivate learning and exploration. By motivating people to learn for its own sake, interest ensures that people will develop a broad set of knowledge, skills, and experience. The need for learning is pressing in infancy. Baby humans are cute but ignorant—they have a lot to learn. Early research on infancy found that exploration, play, and diverse experience enhanced motor and perceptual learning. Beyond infancy, interest is a source of intrinsic motivation for learning. When interested, students persist longer at learning tasks, spend more time studying, read more deeply, remember more of what they read, and get better grades in their classes.

Interest attracts people to new, unfamiliar things, and many of these things will turn out to be trivial, capricious, dangerous, or disturbing. Some people … might understandably see this as a dark side of interest. Nevertheless, it is because unfamiliar things can be harmful that people need a mechanism that motivates them to try new things. One never knows when some new piece of knowledge, new experience, or new friendship may be helpful. Interest is thus a counterweight to feelings of uncertainty and anxiety.

It seems to make sense.  Perhaps this can explain why I spend hours on the internet everyday.


Economists in the Classroom

As a future teacher, and a fan of the dismal science, I love the recent Freakanomics post about the BASIS charter school is n Arizona.

The BASIS Educational Group, run by two economists, requires every 8th-grade student to take a year’s worth of economics.  Many BASIS students, who are all required to take at least six AP exams before graduation, go on to take AP Economics in 9th grade, and average a 4 (out of 5) on their AP exams.  ”Our students learn to love economics early on, and we hope that passion will continue long into life.”

And my favorite part:

BASIS also offers incentive-heavy contracts to teachers; and all staff members are on one-year contracts.

You do not have to be an economist to recognize the benefit of school competition.  I believe that a firm command of economic reasoning greatly improves human capital.  I find it encouraging seeing a school does too.  But the beauty of school competition is that I could be wrong.  Perhaps when everything is said and done an Art History heavy curriculum from some other charter school beats out BASIS.  Perhaps studying economics early does little good for students when they enter the work force.  So what? These kids have gotten a fair amount of college credit, and policymakers learn more about what curricula create the most human capital.  Doesn’t the world just feel better when we find Pareto efficient outcomes?


Lockhart’s Lament (Seguin’s response)

I just read Meusebach’s post on Lockhart’s paper on mathematics education.  As someone who will be teaching high school math in the near future I feel like I should make my critique.  In many ways I agree with Lockhart.  Mathematics education as I remember it sucks all of the creativity and artistry out of mathematics.  I hated math class all through middle and high school and I never excelled in the subject like I did with History and English.  It was not until college forced calculus on me, did I actually enjoy the subject.  I realized that math was not a spirit crushing exercise in monotony.  In my classroom, one of my overarching though nebulous goals is to show that math is not a game of following directions, but as creative as poetry, art, and music.

However I disagree with Lockhart on a number of points.  First he asserts that the true value of mathematics is its artistry.  This is wrong.  Mathematics is valuable because it is extremely practical.  The labor market makes this fact painfully clear.  Simply compare the salaries of mathematicians, engineers, statisticians, economists, and actuaries to careers that do not require the same quant skills.  The market rewards quantitative reasoning very well.  In fact one of the most accurate predictors of lifetime income is the number of math courses a person has taken.  Math may be beautiful because it is the art of reasoning, but it is valuable because it can do a lot of good to the world around us.

Furthermore, Lockhart doesn’t understand the challenge of teaching, or teaching math specifically.  He writes:

Teaching is not about information.  It’s about having an honest intellectual relationship with
your students.  It requires no method, no tools, and no training.  Just the ability to be real.  And if
you can’t be real, then you have no right to inflict yourself upon innocent children.
In particular, you can’t teach teaching.  Schools of education are a complete crock.  Oh, you
can take classes in early childhood development and whatnot, and you can be trained to use a
blackboard “effectively” and to prepare an organized “lesson plan” (which, by the way, insures
that your lesson will be planned, and therefore false), but you will never be a real teacher if you
are unwilling to be a real person.

Lockhart demonstrates the common misconception that teaching is simply an exercise in engagement.  Teaching is damn hard.  Students do not walk in as eager pupils ready to learn for the pure sake of learning.  The vast majority do not want to be there, and would leave at the drop of a hat if given the chance.  One of the most difficult challenges for teachers is not figuring out how to “be real” but getting control of their classrooms.  Lockhart’s brand of teaching describes an organic discussion where topics are introduced as they are discovered.  It sounds great and very Dead Poets like, but it is completely unworkable in a real classroom.  To say that all lessons are to be improvised  is like saying an essay should be written as a stream of consciousness.  In fact, the data is very clear that the best teachers meticulously plan lessons.  Lesson plans are effective because they provide order to an extremely chaotic situation.

I think, in my very limited experience, that the best teaching model will merge the current curriculum with many of Lockhart’s recommendations.  I agree that math, as it is taught now, fails to engage many of our most creative students.  But teaching in the real world requires much more than a passion for math.

Save the Catus Cafe!…or not

The Texas Tribune reports that Austin’s beloved Catus Cafe is set to close this coming August.  UT administration cite budgetary constraints as the reason to shut down the modest but tradition rich venue.  As a semi-regular, it hurts me to see the place go.  It still is one of my favorite places to enjoy a drink, and the only place that I can between class.  However if the cafe is struggling it should not be permanently propped up by the administration.  It is shocking how few students know about the place tucked away in a corner of the Union.  I have not seen the management put any effort to engage the student population (in fact I have seen the management do little else than read the newspaper at the bar.)  I am all for letting the place be took over by the Texas Exes, or allowing private donations to subsidize the place if it cannot turn a profit.  But at the end of the day the Catus Cafe cannot cite its tradition as the only reason to keep the doors open.  The place needs to find a way to make money, or at the bare minimum, look like it is trying to.

Tough Guys

Every year Perton,  Staffordshire UK hosts the manliest endurance race ever.  Flaming obstacles? Check.  Barbed wire? Check. Under water tunnels? Check.  Death waiver? you bet.  The best part though is the bloke who hosts it.  Watch the you tube video.  You will not be disappointed.

How to blog

read and take notes.