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Showing posts from 2009

Y2K + 10

How's this for an amusing trip down memory lane? Ten years ago, on the eve of the millennium, the big "Y2K," I was reporting for work in the basement of Gilchrist Hall at the University of Northern Iowa. I was to staff the university's "Y2K Command Center," the strategic hub of UNI's efforts to thwart any disasters due to Y2K.

As we now know, very little happened due to Y2K. The fear was that any digital device that recorded dates with only two digits wouldn't know how to properly handle a year "00" and would behave unpredictably. This was a valid concern, but not a surprise so almost all such problems were fixed months ahead of time.

Midnight came and went, and things were pretty quiet around UNI. One of our maintenance staff discovered a ventilation fan not working properly (for non-Y2K reasons) and that was it. All the professional staff went home a couple hours after midnight, but Robert Shontz (great student, individual, and co-worke…

I should have asked for ski karma for Christmas

Talk about your epic fail today. I decided several days ago that I wanted to ski Christmas day. I got close, but never made a single turn. Let's look at what turned out to be a waste of a day:

I was up before 7, checking the weather and road reports, and it's not exactly great. Chain restrictions at the tunnel and Vail Pass make me think twice about going. All I have is my car, as I don't trust my truck with its bad clutch and oil leak. At about 8:45 I get a positive road report from Lubin, who is headed to Vail from the west. I check some more reports and leave about 9:15. Way too late, but I've left late before and had great afternoons.

The roads are certainly passable, but I take it slow and arrive at Vail just after noon. I've heard from some that free parking is hard to find in Vail, but others have assured me that it exists and a bus will take you to the lifts. I explored all of Vail's three exits, and none have signs that clearly point to free parking. M…

Iowa-to-Colorado Translation Guide

It's not difficult to find Iowans in Colorado. We're everywhere. Even more, I'm sure more Iowans are getting ready to move to Colorado right now. As an Iowan-turned-Coloradoan myself, I thought I should provide this translation guide.
Coloradoan says...
Iowan hears...
Des Moines
Boulder/University of Colorado
Iowa City/University of Iowa
Ames/Iowa State University
Fort Collins/Colorado State University
Olathe Sweet Corn
Any sweet corn you can buy at a street corner from a couple of kids in the back of a pickup
The Post
The Register
The Gazette
The Courier
"I spent a winter as a ski bum in Leadville."
"I spent a summer as a detasseler in Osage."
Denver Broncos Football
Aplington-Parkersburg Football (based on fan loyalty and news coverage)
Pueblo Chile Frijoles Fest
Ackley Sauerkraut Days
Mt. Elbert
Hawkeye Hill
Castle Rock
Story City
Park Meadows
Jordan Creek
Royal Gorge Bridge
Kate Shelley Bridge
John Elway
Dan Gable
Fort Dodge

Why Teachers Should Require Students to Use Wikipedia

I've always been a fan of Wikipedia, and often I'm happy to see a Wikipedia entry as my top search result. As a math teacher, I never had many opportunities to direct students in the ways of research, including how to choose appropriate sources. Several of my colleagues who do teach research, however, not only discouraged Wikipedia use, but banned it outright. Why? The most common answer: "Because anybody can edit Wikipedia, students won't know if the information is true." It wasn't until tonight that I saw how shortsighted this reasoning really is, and how it gives students wrong ideas about research.
Let's assume we not only encourage, but require students to use Wikipedia. If a student only finds factual information, then we've preserved the status quo, and nothing really changes. But what if the student finds a mistake? (Or, more likely, you find it for them.) This isn't a crisis, this is an opportunity! First, students see this as a …

The Web of Social Bookmarking

At its very core, linking websites together is what makes the web the web. I've had my own website since 1996, and like many people, we all had a page dedicated to our favorite links. In 2001, my friend Brian Gongol (and he certainly wasn't alone) went a step further and provided not just a list of links, but rather a stream of updates, whether they be sites of interest or news of the day, each complete with Gongol's thoughtful commentary.
I liked the idea, and with my adoption of Delicious in 2002, I had an easy way to tag, catalog, and comment on links. Almost 900 links later, I'm still using Delicious, but I'm not sure if anybody has noticed. My RSS feed is picked up by FriendFeed, but not many more people pay attention to it. So what are people paying attention to? Twitter and Facebook, that's what. They each provide audiences I'd like to share with, but neither are good enough to make me leave Delicious behind.
Throw Google Reader (my favorite RSS reader…

On to the University of Colorado at Boulder!

It's back to school time again, and this year I'll be returning as a student instead of a teacher. While the decision seemed sudden, this has been in the works ever since I left UNI. I was so influenced there by Dr. Bonnie Litwiller, my academic advisor, and Dr. Ed Rathmell, my thesis advisor, that I knew someday I'd want to go to graduate school and pursue higher degrees in math education. But first, for reasons of experience and credibility, I went to Colorado to teach, learn, and explore.
Six years later, the time has come to pursue that earlier goal. After evaluating some of the best math education programs in the country, last week I visited CU-Boulder and met with Dr. David Webb. He was extremely generous with his time, working with me for over two hours, and by the time I left we had a plan and any doubts about my decision were gone. Not only is CU-Boulder a great school, it makes sense for me academically, socially, and geographically.
So I'm a student agai…

School Compensation Systems: Salaries vs. Grades

Schools reward their inhabitants in two amazingly different ways: teachers get salaries, and students get grades. Not only are these systems vastly different, but I'm not sure teachers would accept a pay scale that's built like a grading scale, nor would students accept a grading scale that's built like a teacher's pay scale.

The vast majority of schools pay teachers according to a "salary schedule," a rigid, two-dimensional matrix of dollar amounts with credits across the top and experience down the left side. The more credit hours you've earned, and the more years you've taught, then the more you'll make. I don't feel it's a fair system, but it's a system that most teachers will agree to use, putting it ahead of most any other pay system available. It's a simple system, perhaps too simple. Its simplicity allows us to easily print and read the salaries on a sheet of paper, and I think that's one reason we continue to rely …

A Look Into the Future (From 1998)

While digging through some old papers, I came across a copy of PC World magazine from January 1998. The headline on the cover reads, "YOUR NEXT PC: What's New for 1998 -and Beyond." Predictions are fun to make, and more fun to make fun of looking back. Let's see where PC World hit, and where they missed.

In one section called "The Desktop Computer in Ten Years," PC World asked Mark Weiser, chief technologist at Xerox PARC what to expect by 2008. Here's his list:
The PC will move into a closet, and we can expect gigabytes of RAM and terabytes of storage.Displays will be flexible and you can fold them up in your pocket.Voice recognition will not replace the keyboard and mouse for privacy reasons.Wires will become built into walls and the furniture and we will have wireless mice, keyboards, and phones.E-paper will be standard for everything from books to business cards.We will have "pocket net computers" that allow us to log on to the internet …

Switching Back to Kubuntu 8.04 "Hardy Heron"

About a week ago I replaced my well-worn installation of Kubntu 8.04 "Hardy Heron" with the sleeker, newer, Kubuntu 9.04 "Jaunty Jackalope." I hadn't made the jump to Kubuntu 8.10, the first to include KDE 4, because there were plenty of reports about bugs and incomplete features. After waiting through another release cycle, I figured it was time to stop falling behind the tech curve and upgrade. Surely I had been missing something.

Instead of finding a bunch of new indispensable features and conveniences, I'm afraid KDE 4.2 is still not ready for my desktop. My biggest gripe? File management. It's not so much a debate between Konqueror and Dolphin, but frankly neither are doing what I want them to do. In KDE 3, I could hover over the icon of a picture, and a pop-up would give me all sorts of good information: date, owner, filesize, image dimensions, and a little bit of EXIF data. Neither Konqueror or Dolphin do that now, although I've read t…

The Myth of the Slipping Math Student?

I've been teaching in Colorado for six years, and there's always been a troubling pattern in our state standardized math scores. As students progress from 3rd to 10th grade, the percentage that score proficient and advanced declines dramatically. Here are the percentages of students scoring proficient and advanced by grade level, averaged over all the years the test has been given (typically 2002-2008):

GradeAvg. % P+A

The easiest explanation (and the one I've tended to believe) is that students' abilities are, in fact, slipping as they got older. That would be a good assumption if the test at each grade level was equally difficult. But what if the test questions were, on average (and adjusted for grade level), more difficult as students got older? Is it fair to assume a test with increasingly difficult questions would result in lower scores, even with sophisticated score scaling systems that take question difficulty into account?

Fortunately, th…

Spring Break 2009

Today is my last day of a much-appreciated spring break, one that I spent working on some school work and hanging out with my nephew. I picked Huston up Wednesday night and we went skiing on Thursday at Breckenridge. Huston had never skied before, but, being a hockey player and ice skater, he picked it up quickly, making is 3rd and 4th runs without falling. (We were on Peak 7, easy intermediate terrain.) We skied a ton - everything on Peak 7, including Pioneer twice and Lincoln Meadows four times, Northstar (the toughest for Huston), Springmeier and 4 O'Clock on Peak 8, and Briar Rose on Peak 9. I think that might have been a total of 14 runs.

We've spent most of the rest of our time relaxing and watching movies. The list of movies watched in total has grown almost as fast as the list of ski runs on Thursday. We started with "Anchorman" (Dorothy Mantooth is a saint!), "Warren Miller's Fifty" (in preparation for skiing), then moved on to all four R…