Friday, October 27, 2006

FAN Event: Good Liberal, Here's Biscuit!

The John Locke Foundation sponsored a Faculty Affiliate Network event here at Duke on Wednesday, October 25.

Here is a clip of all four speakers.

It was pretty fun. Thanks to JLF, and to Karen Palasek in particular, for all the hard work setting up everything.

No More Mr. Nice Prof.

So, happy students are bad students.

I must be a great teacher! My "C+ median grade" has been making students sad for two decades.

WASHINGTON - Kids who are turned off by math often say they don't enjoy it, they aren't good at it and they see little point in it. Who knew that could be a formula for success?

The nations with the best scores have the least happy, least confident math students, says a study by the Brookings Institution's Brown Center on Education Policy.

Countries reporting higher levels of enjoyment and confidence among math students don't do as well in the subject, the study suggests. The results for the United States hover around the middle of the pack, both in terms of enjoyment and in test scores.

In essence, happiness is overrated, says study author Tom Loveless.

"We might want to focus on the math that kids are learning and just be a little less obsessed with the fact that they have to enjoy every minute of it," said Loveless, who directs the Brown center and serves on a presidential advisory panel on math.

"The implication is not 'Let's go make kids unhappy,'" he said. "It's 'Let's give kids better signals as to how they're performing, relative to the rest of the world.'"

Other countries do better than the United States because they seem to expect more from students, he said. That could also explain why high performers in other nations express less confidence and enjoyment in math. They consider their peer group to be star achievers.

Even efforts to make math relevant may be irrelevant, says the study, released Wednesday.

Nations that try to teach math in terms of daily life have the lowest test scores.

All this is not easy to compute. Math teachers typically don't avoid enjoyment, confidence and relevance in their math lessons. They strive for those things.

Speaking on behalf of those teachers, one educator took exception to the study's conclusions.

"If I'm a math student and I don't perceive myself as confident, you think I'm going to major in it? The answer is no," said Francis "Skip" Fennell, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and another member of the federal math panel.

"Is enjoyment important? You bet it is. Is confidence important? You bet it is," Fennell said. "If we don't have those variables, we can't compete."

Yet Loveless says pleasing kids has comes at the expense of mastering skills.

His findings come from the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, a test of fourth-graders and eighth-graders across the globe. Along with answering math questions, students were asked whether they enjoyed math and whether they usually did well in it.

The eighth-grade results reflected a common pattern: The 10 nations whose students enjoyed math the most all scored below average. The bottom 10 nations on the enjoyment scale all excelled.

Japan, Hong Kong and the Netherlands were among those with high scores and lower enjoyment or confidence among students.


(Nod to MAG. Nobody EVER thought HE was nice)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Knowledge Problem

One of the most memorable nights of my sports life was this past week. Championship game for the city baseball league, 14-15 year olds. My younger son's team is down one run, bottom of the seventh (last) inning.

First guy up gets walked, bad pick-off throw sends him to third. Next guy gets walked.

My son Brian comes to bat. Takes a strike, fouls off a low pitch, probably out of the strike zone. Pitcher throws next pitch just off the outside corner. Brian takes it, ump calls it a ball (could have gone either way). Pitcher starts yapping, jumping up and down.

Next pitch is grooved, belt high down the middle. Brian hits a fly ball.

Now, atmospherics: I am so nervous I am hiding behind some bushes just outside the fence in center field. The night has gotten cold, and there is a thick mist rising in the outfield. Two feet thick, ghostly, roiled by passage outfielders. I see the ball go up, and think, "Oh, thank goodness, Brian did his job." Because in that situation, down one, no outs, man on third, you just have to hit a fly ball, or else a grounder to the right side of the infield. You MUST do this, as any ballplayer older than 8 knows. You fail, there is one out, still down one, and you may lose. Double play or a strikeout gets them out of it.

So, I'm watching to make sure the runner is tagging up at third. The coaches and fans are doing this, too. That runner is important.

The center fielder takes a step back, then another, to be in position to make the throw after he catches it.

Now, here's the cool thing: as soon as Brian hit it, he KNEW he had crushed it, and that it would in fact carry well over the center fielder's head. There was at least a full second when he was the ONLY ONE, out of more than 100 people present, who knew this.

The 2nd to realize it was the center fielder. He took another step back, then turned, then ran, then ran really hard, and then dove toward the fence. The ball still fell more than six feet out of his grasp.

I was the third person to know the ball would fall, because of my secluded position, about 15 feet from where the ball fell.

Fourth person to know was our third base coach, who was watching to tell the runner when to leave the base after tagging up, to run home. He starts jumping and shrieking, waving not just that runner on third, but the runner on FIRST to score.

Ball game over, we win the championship.

At McDonalds, afterward, my very interesting son focuses on the surreality of being the only one to know. "It was like it was totally silent, and all the world was in that little ball, getting higher and smaller. I knew it would carry, but no one else knew yet. It was like time stopped. I felt sorry for the center fielder. There was no way he could catch it, but he didn't know that yet."

The sort of thing you dream will happen someday, when the nurse tells you, "It's a boy!" Not just the game, but the conversation afterward. Pure bliss.