Sunday, April 29, 2007
Crime = Dorchester, not Beacon Hill
A Dorchester man was sentenced yesterday to more than seven years in jail for selling crack cocaine from a Beacon Hill apartment.Well, Chris Stanley observed that the DA Office’s 4/20 press release began like this, so we know where the Globe got it from:
A Suffolk Superior Court jury yesterday convicted a Dorchester man of selling crack cocaine out of a Charles Street apartment in the shadow of Beacon Hill last year, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley announced.Apparently the Globe, which is located in Dorchester, and the DA’s Office, which includes both Beacon Hill and Dorchester in its jurisdiction, both feel compelled to identify a crime with Dorchester just because that’s where this criminal comes from, even though this particular crime took place in tony Beacon Hill. Yes, crime is admittedly more of a problem here than there, but why make it seem worse than it is?
Saturday, April 28, 2007
My Favorite Year (II)
Friday, April 27, 2007
Mao: what are the rules?
“I can’t tell you that,” Alli replied.
That sounded ominous, but I agreed. So Alli rounded up several of her friends — another junior girl, two junior boys, and a senior girl — along with a couple of other math teachers and myself. All of the students already knew this game. None of the adults knew it.
“What are the rules?” asked my colleague Sharon.
“We can’t tell you,” they all replied. “Part of the game is to figure out what the rules of the game are.”
This was quite annoying, at least for someone like me. I like to know what the rules are. At least we could tell that it involved a regular deck of cards. The dealer reluctantly gave up one piece of information: in order to win, you have to get rid of all your cards.
So the game commenced. We were each dealt some cards and proceeded to discard them in turn — except that penalties were exacted for all kinds of mysterious offenses, such as “touching cards during a point of order” or “failure to have a nice day.” As a math teacher, I’m accustomed to looking for patterns, but these were hard to discern, to say the least. It turns out that my colleague Dan figured out almost all the rules very quickly, and that was because he is an experienced card player. Apparently Mao is based on Uno, which I’ve never heard of. Since Dan knew various discard games, including Uno, he had some idea of what sort of rules might exist, and that made all the difference.
Fortunately I had no time to look up the game online, or I would have discovered what it’s all about. That would have spoiled all the fun. When I have the time, I’m going to read the entire article about it.
There’s probably a moral here about the kind of patterns we expect kids to see when they’re learning math. If you don’t have some idea of the space in which the patterns exist, you’ll find it very hard to discern them.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Cinco de Mayor
Monday, April 23, 2007
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Dot chili cookoff (post-)
But, speaking of minorities, that wasn’t the real flaw. First of all, each group dished out three or four ounces of chili! Obviously it was impossible to taste every entry, so my considered judgment is based on a sample of four. Not fair, I suppose. Second, continuing the theme of yesterday’s post, I was deeply disappointed in the lack of diversity among the participants. Considering that Dorchester is about 50% black and Hispanic, why is it that everyone there — on both sides of the tables — was white (except for a tiny Asian representation)? Admittedly the event was held in Florian Hall, a bastion of white Dorchester, but still.... Were there no neighborhood groups in Codman Square or west of Washington Street that were interested in participating? Were there no African-Americans who wanted to join in the festivities and help pick a winner? Did they feel unwelcome? Is chili just a white, yuppie phenomenon? I don’t get it.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
But we're only a mile from Dorchester!
The discussion took a brief diversion as we realized that our significant Asian minority doesn’t “count” — apparently only blacks and Hispanics count toward diversity. But that’s a story for another time.
Though our student body does have more than a handful of blacks and Hispanics, it’s still unrealistically few. “But we’re only a mile from Dorchester!” exclaimed one participant in the discussion. That is true. And since Dorchester is about 50% black and Hispanic, why do so few take advantage of the wonderful educational opportunity that the Saturday Course offers?
Let’s look at a few figures. About 17% of our total enrollment comes from Boston, including 7% of the total from Dorchester and 10% from other Boston neighborhoods. That’s fairly respectable, though we invite many more — and plenty of those 17% are white or Asian. What causes this problem? Is it a vicious circle, where a lot of non-white families don’t want to enroll because there are so few non-white kids? Or is it a transportation problem? Is attending an enrichment program on Saturdays too much of a middle-class white-and-Asian thing to do? What’s the cause of the under-representation of blacks and Hispanics in programs like this?
Thursday, April 19, 2007
My Favorite Year (I)
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Dot chili cookoff (pre-)
So Barbara patiently explained that although there is no official position of Mayor of Dorchester, this has long been an honorary post, the campaign for which serves as a fundraising device for the annual Dorchester Day parade. She refrained from observing that any local realtor should know more about the culture of the community in which he’s selling homes. She also refrained from pointing out the irony that Galvin is also a local realtor, so maybe the clueless one should know more about him as well. Dorchester Reporter editor Bill Forry writes about the history of the Mayor of Dorchester position:
The contest, which started back in 1998 when retired labor boss Pat Walsh seized the first-ever title by raising a still-unmatched sum of $23,000, has had its ups and downs. In some cases, the eventual winner has run unopposed, generating little, if any, interest, and even less money for parade organizers, who count on the contest to help them cover the estimated $50,000 pricetag of the annual jaunt up the avenue.Often there are two candidates for Mayor of Dorchester, who compete to see who can raise more money. But not this year. As Forry observes, an unopposed candidate generates little interest and less money. So, in a new twist as an additional fundraiser in this one-candidate race, the first annual Dorchester Chili Cookoff will be held at Florian Hall this Sunday, April 22, at 5:30 PM. Be there!
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
How Doctors Think
Of course it’s more sensational to focus on medical mistakes. The doctor who reaches a judgment in ten seconds rather than ten minutes can be alarming — and even ten minutes seems far too short. What especially interests me as a math teacher is that the two most common mistakes that Groopman discusses are the same as my math students’ two most common mistakes: they want a really quick answer rather than think about a problem in depth, and they want an algorithm they can follow rather than think about each problem individually. Surely it’s no coincidence that doctors and math students fall into the same trap. Groopman tells plenty of true anecdotes about medical errors of both of these types. Like any good story-teller, he writes about concrete examples, involving himself wherever possible, rather than using impersonal, “scientific,” third-person examples. These anecdotes are successful in bringing Groopman’s ideas to life without overwhelming the reader with too many examples.
Doctors are understandably reluctant to criticize each other. Groopman cites plenty of instances of poor judgment, though never by name, and plenty more instances of excellent judgment and devoted care, naming names in those cases. As an oncologist, Groopman is particularly moving in his long exposition of cancer cases in friends, acquaintances, and strangers, where we learn of the many alternatives that physicians have to consider and how they think about those alternatives.
We all need medical care, and we all want to trust our doctors. But we need to be our own best advocates. In some ways this highly readable book will scare you, but in other ways it will give you a glimpse into the mind of the doctor and will help you advocate for yourself.
Monday, April 16, 2007
Her students don't know how to work with percents!
I would like to say that.
But I would be lying. I know perfectly well that there are plenty of Weston High Schools who don’t know how to do certain problems involving percents — at least the ones like “7 is 6% of what number?” But surely they can do some of the problems that some of Hirta’s college students can’t do:
We did a problem where they were told the price of the item ($20), the sales tax rate (8%), and the percent discount (25%). The question asked whether getting a discount of 25% and then not having to pay the 8% tax could be thought of as a 33% savings from the usual, non-discounted, with-tax price. (This problem was based on an advertisement that I got in the mail claiming just that.) One student couldn’t figure out why the $20 item was $21.60 after tax. No one could decide whether or not paying $15 for the item would be a 33% discount from the $21.60 normal (with-tax) price.All right, maybe I’m just too optimistic. But I really do believe that almost all Weston High School students could calculate 60% of 495,000 — especially with the use of calculators, which these college students also had. In fact, I’m pretty confident that almost all Weston Middle School students could do these problems as well.
We did another problem in which we were calculating what percent of the positive tests from a medical test were patients who actually had the condition. We found that of the 604 patients who tested positive that only 10 of them had the condition (the remaining 594 were false positives). I calculated the rate as 10/604 and stated that it was about 1.7%. One of my students raised her hand and asked why 10/604 is about 1.7%.
In another problem, we were trying to calculate 60% of 495,000. A lot of students in my class didn't know how to do it.
Hirta also points out that her “students prefer to study the computational tasks that they're used to but can not do (and would fail if we spent significant time on) but despise working with the abstract concepts that they are smart enough to do a reasonable job of understanding.” That doesn’t surprise me either, but that’s an issue for another day.
Saturday, April 14, 2007
An Inconvenient Truth
Anyhow, I found An Inconvenient Truth an extremely compelling documentary, both as a film and as a piece of educational propaganda. Duarte Design’s visual representations of statistics were especially well done, being crisp, vivid, and devoid of chart clutter. Edward Tufte was probably pleased — relatively speaking, since Tufte makes compelling arguments against PowerPoint that carry over in part to Keynote, which is what Gore uses. But, for the techies among my readers, here are some observations about Keynote from designer Ted Boda:
Al Gore’s presentation was in fact using Apple’s Keynote presentation software (the same software Steve Jobs presents from) and did so for a number of reasons. As a designer for the presentation Keynote was the first choice to help create such an engaging presentation.Thousands of people have commented on the effectiveness and importance of Gore’s message about climate change and the environment, so I want to focus on the presentation of statistics. As a math teacher, I am always interested in multiple representations of mathematical objections — equations, functions, statistics, or whatever — and I am always interested in excellent teaching. Gore has some lessons to teach us here. I can do no better than to quote Garr Reynolds:
Apple’s Keynote anti-aliases its fonts and graphics, scales vector objects and supports QuickTime videos easily and without any plug-ins. Duarte used a combination of Keynote’s graphics and graph tools, Illustrator, Photoshop, AfterEffects (for more complex animations) and dropped in numerous videos from different sources to complete his presentation. Some of the videos dropped were up to 1920x1080 (HD), they played and scaled extremely well and was something our team could not even begin to think about doing in PowerPoint.
Three things stand out about Al Gore’s presentation:
(1) He looks relaxed, like he’s in his realm. It’s a serious issue, and he is serious, yet he’s a pleasure to watch and listen to. Where was this guy in 2000 indeed.
(2) The technology is transparent to the audience, as it should be. He’s got to be the only 50-something politician (former politician?) who can actually use slideware without stinking up the place.
(3) His slide images are photographic imagery of high quality. The design of the visuals are powerful yet complementary and subordinate to Gore and his message (though in many ways, the visuals are the message in this instance; certainly the visuals are crucial to his case).
Friday, April 13, 2007
Earth Day in Weston
Student responses were generally positive, though of course there were some who considered it all a left-wing plot and there were others who are too much in love with their SUVs to believe that they could be harmful. Actually, I shouldn’t say “others,” as these were probably not disjoint groups.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
The City of Falling Angels
Berendt recently spent several years living in Venice, and this leisurely book is the result. Don’t read it if you want fast-paced action! Although it’s written in the form of a novel — with a story line, three-dimensional characters, conflict, and resolution — it’s definitely not a novel. And it’s not a comprehensive view of Venice and Venetians; some reviewers justifiably complained about Berendt’s focus on upper-class Venetian society, but read the book for that particular perspective, that slice of life in Venice. It’s not only not a novel, it also isn’t a sociological treatise. What it does is bring Venice to life, along with many of its fascinating characters. (Unlike what he did in Midnight, Berendt has created no composite characters and no fictionalized events: this is totally non-fiction.) The principal narrative arc is the famous arson fire in the Fenice opera house, which frames the story line but in no sense dominates it. Yes, you do find out who (probably) set the fire, but that’s not the point: you have to enjoy hearing in depth about the many people Berendt meets or learns about in Venice, thinking about them as forming the big idea of the book, not as asides. There is a lot of focus on the ex-pat community — not surprisingly, since Berendt was temporarily one of them. Peggy Guggenheim and Ezra Pound may not spring to mind as true Venetians, but they’re an important part of the story. Read it before you go.
Monday, April 09, 2007
The various crafts of model railroading
Some model railroaders are really toy train enthusiasts; they “play with trains” as adults, having enough of a layout to be able to enjoy operating their not-particularly-realistic trains without worrying about scale realism or scenery. At the other extreme are the true railroad modelers, who can be fanatical about scale accuracy, faithfulness to the prototype, and detailed scenery and structures. There’s a whole huge range in between. But almost everybody finds himself (or occasionally herself) spending time on a wide variety of crafts, some of which may be more enjoyable than others, and all of which can turn out to have the side benefit of being educational and absorbing. There’s construction of benchwork, buildings, roads, terrain, and scenery; there’s the sometimes complex task of wiring an entire layout; there’s the artistry involved in creating backdrops and scenic details, as well as the routine painting of almost everything; there’s laying and ballasting track; there’s controlling the trains, with or without the aid of a computer. And there’s a large side of the hobby that I have very little to do with: realistic operation of a railroad, completing with timetables, picking up cargo, switching, and delivering the cargo. Quite an amazing variety of crafts for one hobby!
“Model railroading today is a great exercise in systems integration,” says joe.daddyo in the Layout Construction Yahoo newsgroup.
Labels: model railroads
Saturday, April 07, 2007
The Children of Room E4
It’s also not surprising that the radio interview didn’t do the book justice: paradoxically, it’s both broader and more specific than I had expected. A great deal of the book is devoted to the long history of school desegregation in the north, especially in Hartford. As an effective journalist, Eaton brings this history alive by telling the stories of a variety of participants. This is where the breadth comes in. On the other hand, the main arc of the narrative is really what the book’s title promises: it’s about the children in Room E4 — students of color in inner-city Hartford. Under the amazing instruction of their dedicated teacher, they studied and studied and prepared and prepared for Connecticut’s standardized test, on which they did astonishingly well. The achievement gap disappeared.
For one school.
For a year.
For a price.
The price was the abandonment of science, of social studies, of art, of music, even of recess. Somehow the middle-class, predominantly white, suburban school was still able to achieve, without abandoning those important endeavors. I suppose one could argue that it’s impossible to succeed later on without basic skills in the three R’s, so it was worth giving up everything else in pursuit of the standardized test. But the results didn’t last and weren’t replicated, despite all the great promise of the No Child Too Far Ahead Act. Oops, I mean No Child Left Behind, of course. Anyway, read the book!
Thursday, April 05, 2007
The Shape of Space
- There’s a lot of content from various two-dimensional topics, such as congruence, similarity, angles, polygons, and area. Much of this rehashes what was already done in middle school, though (we hope) in greater depth.
- In some schools there’s some right-triangle trigonometry.
- Usually there’s a lot of time devoted to proof. In honors classes this becomes the principal focus of the course. Some students love proof; it gives them a real sense of power. Many students hate it and can’t make sense of it.
- There’s a bit of content from the third dimension, such as volume. It’s a pity that there’s so little, since we live (apparently) in three dimensions, as Tom Banchoff has eloquently pointed out.
- And what about non-Euclidean geometry? What is the real shape of space, anyway? For some reason this topic is treated as appropriate for honors classes but too abstract for everyone else.
And...why is this topic considered so abstract? Probably it’s because seeing isn’t believing. The principal advantage of geometry — that one can draw and examine figures — seems to go away. And yet MacArthur-award winner Jeff Weeks has produced exciting and concrete mathematics materials that can be explored by kids as young as ten. Shouldn’t we be including this sort of content in regular high-school geometry? Let’s spend less time on rehashing middle-school material and more time challenging our students to think about the universe in new ways!
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Mifune...is open! My GF and I swung past there last night and discovered they had literally opened that day. The new decor is lovely, nice burnished wood accents, a classy-looking sushi bar, etc...Oddly enough, I ate there two days earlier, and they definitely took my credit card. Oh, well.
It was clear that this was opening night and everyone seemed just a little... well, not entirely relaxed. That said, the service was attentive and pleasant.
The menu is extensive, with both Chinese and Japanese foods well-represented, not to mention a few curveballs like a Jamaican Salad (?). We shared some sushi followed by the House Special Pan-fried Noodles. The sushi was above-average, and they had some interesting rolls like tuna/asparagus. I liked that they went a little easy on the rice on the inside-out rolls, and the spicy tuna was very zingy. We both liked the noodles a fair bit — they were crispy on the edges and well-cooked in the middle, with a good mix of meats and veggies.
All in all a solid addition to the neighborhood, but I didn’t think it was hugely special. I will definitely be back for take-out lunches and to sample more of the menu.
...They weren’t taking credit cards yet so my GF had to run to CVS and buy us some toothpaste with cash-back :). I’m sure this will be resolved very soon, after all it was opening night...
I have nothing to disagree with in the content of the review. We had an unusual and delicious appetizer, Tiger’s Eyes, which consisted of grilled squid stuffed with smoked salmon and asparagus, and ordinary but competent miso soup. My bento box contained the aforementioned sushi, the usual vegetables, and beef teriyaki. I agree that nothing was “hugely special,” but it was all excellent, so we too will definitely be back.
Monday, April 02, 2007
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