Friday, March 25, 2011

PA Education Budget...Am I reading this correctly?

To all my fellow educators in PA, readers in PA, and educators nationwide, please visit the link below and open the Excel file.

PA Dept of Education Budget

Check out line 10, the line for "PA Assessment".  Yes, that 36, 590 is in thousands.

Compare with line 9, the line for "Information and Technology Improvement".  4,266.

Pick jaw up off floor.

A statewide system of standardized testing is costing us $36, 590,000, yet they are calling for teacher layoffs?

Am I reading this correctly?  Please tell me if you have a different interpretation. If I am reading this correctly, then every person in the state of PA needs to see this.

Big props to Scott (Tuesday's With Swindy) for pointing me towards this.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

You Say It Best When You Say Nothing At All (about Hypothesis Testing)

I really like sharing things that work really well.  I don't know if it's a good idea on it's own, but this worked great considering we've done a lot of remediation (for students that needed it) and a lot of projects that delve deeper into statistics.  They are working with basics of statistics all the time, so tying it together into making statistical inferences is fairly easy when they have a good foundation.  I'd also like to think it has something to do with the way we've interacted with hypothesis tests in class.

Thumbtacks - Introduction
It begins with this form (Inference for Proportions) and handing out one thumbtack.  In their own brain, students decide what they think it is and what it would take to convince them it was wrong.  Then they toss the tack to be able to compare their observations to a model they've developed.  Sounds a lot like your entire hypothesis testing/inferential statistics unit.

The NCAA Basketball Tournament - A Basic Example
Kids then made predictions for the NCAA tournament and we tested just how good they were at doing so by comparing their proportion of correct first round picks to randomly guessing (p = 0.5).  A big question that came up was "Are we just doing this for the first round?" and in true teacher fashion I said, "Yes.  Now how come we're only doing it for the first round?"  Cue a killer discussion about large enough sample sizes and the Success/Failure condition.

Back to Thumbtacks - Put it into practice
Fire up the laptops and open up what the rest of your classmates thought (What They Thought).  Immediately they began to think "Why did this kid think they were incorrect when they got a lower proportion that what they thought they needed to be incorrect?"...a not so formalized way to think about a standard of proof and a low enough p-value to reject the null hypothesis.  This was one of those points in class where I said nothing and let their brains piece together what they were looking at.  I clarified what we were looking at, asked them to pick case that they thought was theirs and test the original hypothesis.

On the board, write your p-value and whether or not you rejected your original hypothesis.  As a class we'll have a look at everyone's p-values and decisions, then decide who has correctly rejected/not rejected.  They all argue about what p-value is considered "low enough" that you have to reject.  One of those moments where again, I say nothing and they develop an understanding of alpha-levels.  Not so formal...yet.

Pick another one of those contexts from the Inference for Proportions form and investigate it.  I think I'm going to add some more situations/contexts.  I'm also not sure that they ever need to fill out that form more than once...

What's Left to Do?
Sit back, relax, and let the 5's on the AP exam roll in.  Dress it up.  Put all the formal AP Exam terms/vocab/stuff to what they've already understood.  Then....
1.  So what really is the true proportion (Confidence Intervals)
2.  Is what we got really that different? (two proportions)
3.  Repeat procedure for sample means instead of proportions

Feel free to go to our class wiki for any supplemental exercises/materials.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Homework? More like "1st Period"-work

At our school, the typical student will take 7 courses for the entire year.  If that student has AP Stat with Mr. C on their schedule, this means that a student has 6 classes in which they will have homework.  6 other classes with one hour of homework assigned each night means approximately 6 hours of homework.

Some careful accounting as to how those 6 hours that could be spent working on homework are actually spent.
Hour 1: Facebook
Hour 2: Call of Duty
Hour 3: Facebook
Hour 4: Facebook
Hour 5: Facebook
Hour 6: Being a 17 year old....and throw in a little Facebook

I don't think that I"m very far off for the general population of high school students.  Knowing that this is the truth, just why do we assign homework again?

Where do those hours get made up?  During the 6 hours they are in school, simply because that is how  you earn the points for homework completion.  Do it in AP Stat, show it in Pre-Calc, consume points, repeat tomorrow morning in AP Stat.  And it's Trigonometry Worksheets.  Is my AP Stat class really less exciting than trig worksheets?  Not a chance, but the homework "points" are more exciting as they appease the grade monger in all of us.

I'm all for allowing my students to make a choice about what they will be working on in class, as long as that choice involves learning.  Consistently in my 1st period class (and each other class that I teach), the choice is made to fill in some unknown quantities for some triangles that nobody cares about (not even the teacher that assigned the homework) Why are you assigning homework if it's getting done in AP Stat?  Can't they do that work in your class?

I don't assign homework.  I don't plan on ever assigning homework again.  I plan on assigning worthwhile assignments that students can make the choice to complete at home if they want to make it even more awesome.  I plan on doing things that are valuable in class so that students do not need to work at home.

Imagine if your job gave you a minimal amount of time each day to complete everything for the next day for your 6 different classes and your boss told you, "Just do the rest of it at home."  Oh, wait.....

Well, anyway, back to my 46 minute planning period :)

What defines "failure" in education?

This week is state testing week in our school district.  Watching these kids go through this procedure, I can't help but feel bad for them.  This is what their schooling career comes down to, in the eyes of the people giving out money and deciding whether or not they are a part of a failing school.  Read that last sentence again.  Really?

So you're telling me if the students in my class decide they want to solve the world hunger crisis using what they're learning and what they know, this won't be factored in to the final decision as to whether or not they fail? What if we decide to use our knowledge to assist those in need in Japan?  Just how much of an impact do we need to make before this is acknowledged before test scores?

Those two outcomes get us a nice article in the newspaper, but we could still be considered "failures" without the right test scores.  How is this right?  How does it change?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Crazy Idea for Professional Development

We are required to do 14 hours of documented professional development.  I'm sure that this hour requirement is similar at most school districts.  I could do 14 hours of professional development standing on my head.  My estimation is that I spend 5 hours a week reading the professional writings of my colleagues, and another 5 on Twitter engaging my colleagues in professional discourse.  Not to mention the discussions I have with colleagues that I actually work in the same building with. 

When will professional development be more than just an accumulation of hours?  It is a necessity in our classroom to differentiate instruction so that we nurture the interests of our students and provide them with a customized learning experience.  The extent of differentiation that goes into our professional development is the variety of 2-hour workshops in the district catalog to pick from (as long as you pick 7). 

Everybody choosing from the same pool of workshops leads us to a situation in which we have a large number of people with an average skill level.  What better way to generate organizational inefficiency than not nurturing experts? 

So my proposal for professional development: A Portfolio.  A teacher and a principal can have a discussion that begins with "Show me what you've done to become a better educator."  What follows is a look at the portfolio, talk about what's been learned, talk about interest level, what was good, what wasn't so good.  The principal can provide some feedback and suggestions as to where to go next.  Maybe this conversation is a little bit better than putting a check mark next to the teacher that has successfully completed the 14 hours?

A district would still offer the same catalog, but employees would not be limited to taking just those courses.  You can expand your offerings as need be, when you find there are a number of educators looking for something that just isn't offered.  The district catalog becomes customized for the individuals that need it, not the other way around. 

I'm not even going to mention how happy this proposal would make the educational outsider that thinks teachers have no incentive to improve when they get tenure.  Okay, I mentioned it.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Challenges of Project Based Learning (PBL) in AP Stat

Doing project based learning (PBL) in AP Stat this year has been a challenge. Ultimately, the best part about it is the learning experiences and opportunities it provides students. Every time a project is completed I think of 300 things that could be changed to make it, excuse me for using the phrase "100% better" (kind of an inside joke).  Below I've listed my major concerns about these projects, and the solutions I'm considering.  Your input on any of these is greatly appreciated.

Concerns and Solutions
1. The project was not rigorous enough. It covered too many skills too broadly, or too few skills in unnecessary depth.
     I want to make sure I create a sample project for each project to see just how in depth the projects go. I'm guilty of doing a bare-bones project example (okay, sometimes not even one at all).  There, I said it, I don't always do the project I assign.  The reason for this is to learn alongside of my students.

2. Some kids put a lot of work into a project that just doesn't really address much content, does so incorrectly, or doesn't really get into depth.
     Do it over. It's worth the learning experience of starting from scratch and completing the project again. 

3. What are they actually learning and can they replicate it
     Most of the time a project will involve them learning a new piece of technology as well as learning an AP Stat concept in greater detail.  I'm not sure these projects translate very well to getting an answer correct on the AP exam. Honestly, I want my projects to be far removed from getting right answers on an AP exam.

The Stat Project Process
1. Skills Organization - lay out the content related skills you will be addressing in your project
     Example: conditions for using the binomial/geometric probability distributions, calculating probability for each distribution, determining expected value and standard deviation for a probability distribution

2. Place context on each skill - group brainstorming to see what context fits each skill the best
     Example: highlight the difference between the two probability distributions by filming students walking downthehallway until we observe one of them wearing earbuds (geometric). Compare with a binomial distribution, showing 10 kids walking down the hall, 5 of which are wearing earbuds. 
3. Storyboard/Product: what multimedia can we put together, how does it flow, how does everything fit together?  
     Here's where students choose a tool that meets their project's needs.  

4. Edits - does anything need to be rethought or redone as something better?  
     High school students seem to miss this step in almost everything they do, once the "be done" mentality takes over. Sometimes the "do it over" option is the best learning experience.  I've found I've spent more time suggesting they edit and critique their own work and each others' work, and it's made a world of difference in overall quality of product and understanding of statistics.  

Since I don't believe in giving deadlines for learning, when a student asks when their projects are due, I tell them that they may turn them in whenever this process is completed.  With most projects I honestly don't think this process is ever completed.