Grading and Kidney Stones

My professor’s email: “The scores for Exam #1 are now posted online. The graded exams and a set of answers will be passed out in class tomorrow. The scores were quite good. The high was 103 and the average was 72.”

At reading that, high school me would’ve immediately passed two kidney stones. As is, I’m still a little shocked. I’m not used to the grading scale in this class- eighty through one hundred is an A, seventy through eighty is a B, and so on. You pass with just fifty percent. It’s bizarre. That hardly demonstrates any sort of passing mastery of the material.

Abreast (or two) his comfort zone

So I was chilling after school one night, relaxed in my room, listening to a video created by my Wellness teacher, playing some Minesweeper. The teacher was discussing various drugs and addictive substances. Here’s a transcript of the bit on anabolic steroids.

“… abuse of anabolic steroids has been linked with many health problems that range from unnattractive to life-threatening. They include acne and cysts, breast growth… *pause* Uh, male breast growth… *nervous snicker*”

I just found that amusing.

Busy busy bees

Last semester, Algebra II was fun. For homework, all we had were a couple interesting problems, maybe ten or so. Now? We get more like twenty or thirty problems- and these are in-depth, five-minute problems. If I can do these things five or ten times, I can do them twenty times (assuming skills are not introduced within the homework, which would be another problem within itself). This is why I rarely enjoyed classes in elementary school and why I used to read under my desk all the time.
I understand the teacher is trying to figure out how to help the kids who did poorly on the midterm by making them practice more, but this is not a solution. If they failed to understand the material before, what makes you think they will understand better once they copy even more of their friend’s answer, or follow the same set of instructions more times, but still come out with the wrong answer, thus teaching the kid the wrong solution, confusing him and undermining his confidence, and wasting everyone’s time? This just makes them hate the class more than they may have before. Busywork is (almost) never ever ever the answer.

A better solution would be to list problems in addition to a few for homework that are, say, extra credit, or even completely optional. If you fail a test, you must do more homework/worksheets than before the last test (not for extra credit, for a grade- probably just a completion grade). If you pass the next test, the worksheets are optional again.
This teaches kids responsibility- if they need to do extra work to pass the class, and they know it, it becomes their responsibility to work harder until they actually do fail a test, at which point the teacher intervenes. It gives the kid a fair chance to be mature and grow up (several chances, actually) while not leaving their success entirely up to them.

Naturally, special exceptions must apply, such as a kid who misunderstood one critical skill but otherwise excels, and once taught the missing skill demonstrates a good understanding of the material. That was just a summary of what I believe would work better.Богородица

Conversation: I do not think that means what you think it means…

[After discussing an upcoming project, then being released to 'free study' time...]

Teacher: “Noah, Doug, do your work. I know you both have something to do.”

Noah: “But I’m being creative and using my imagination and engineering skills in Minecraft.”

Teacher: “No. That does not count. Do your work here; you can play Minecraft all you want at home.”

Noah: “But at home I have to do my work.”

Teacher: “…”

Doug: “You know, he does have a point.”

We trust you. No, really.

I had a bad migraine yesterday. It was halfway through the day when I got a buzz in my head, but I shook it off, concentrating on my work and not wanting to leave the day after we got back from Christmas break. This… sometimes… works. This was not one of those times.

My head ached on and off through Government and Algebra II. I would have really enjoyed those classes had I been able to concentrate on them; as it was, I just wanted to lay down in a dark, quiet room and sleep. See, the thing is, I get migraines sometimes. I’m not sure what causes them yet, but I’ve had them for years. And when your head is internally combusting, it’s not pleasant to be stuck among many loud high school students.

The bus ride home was the worst. I managed to drown out all the noise of a bus filled with loud teens rattling along an interstate somehow, but it was still very unpleasant. All of this could have been avoided if I had been allowed to take some Aleve/Tylenol/whatever to get rid of the migraine. “You could just ask the nurse for some”, you might say. “Your parents can entrust the nurse with medication.” True, but that involves leaving class long enough for her to check my temperature, me to convince her I’m not lying, and, if the nurse is being stubborn, me lying down for five minutes after nibbling on crackers and sipping water. All of this could be avoided if I was allowed to slip into the bathroom, down some meds, and walk back to class- they are (usually) quiet and relaxed enough for the migraine to go away. The stress of facing the rest of the day with that pain certainly doesn’t help! I understand The Man (TM) doesn’t want us abusing substances, but there has to be some sort of compromise. If I’m old enough to ride a bus downtown then walk to school (alone) most every day, and I am to start making decisions about where I want to go to school, impacting the rest of my career, AND I am entrusted with a 700-dollar device for my studies, then surely I can be trusted with some headache medicine!

I might have some follow-up posts on this, describing possible compromises.

Contemporary Issues Final

Noah Caldwell (12/20/11)
Contemporary Issues Final

We live in a global society. All is connected, none stand alone, and everything affects everything. At any second of any day, one could easily choose to communicate with someone across the globe through text, voice, or even video. There are immense advantages to such interconnectivity of nations, but it also has many drawbacks.
The United States produces many crops. Out west, you would astounded at how much corn is grown there. You can drive on the freeway on a completely flat plain, and see nothing but corn and asphault to the horizon. Once upon a time, a few years ago, that combined with the cotton from Virginia and the southern states’ tobacco would be more than enough to make this country one of the most influential, wealthy, and powerful in the world. That was before the Information Age began. Now, food alone is not a viable way to success. Computers, oil gasoline, rare metals, and cars are just a few examples of more advanced industries. It takes all of these to make a country truly great- without them, that country is lacking. Another side effect of globalization is that no countries are truly independent. Legally? Sure. Do most of the people think so? Sure. But if you take a modern country, and you remove all the others off the map, that country could not live life the same way. Many would survive, but many would not be able to adapt. Do this to any country, and most of the time, they will find themselves very lacking- probably lacking many things. Because of this, it is more important that peace is kept between countries, which is is likely to persuade politicians to compromise. Unfortunately, when they refuse to compromise, it causes many problems, and any country that is truly self-sufficient has an unfair advantage over other countries because it can afford to wage war on any (disregarding what the attackee’s allies might do).
The people of the United States were once very different from who we are now. Part of that is so because of a different economic and political situation. Disregarding that, our culture has, in many ways, changed. We place a much greater emphasis on success and achievement, and owning things than others. We borrow money we don’t own to buy a car we can’t afford to impress people we don’t know (and who don’t know us!). As far as I can tell, it seems that we used to be far more patriotic of our country. In WWII, all the men left to go fight. If you stayed behind for any other reason than that you led a large business or otherwise helped the war effort, people would… I don’t want to say persecute, but basically, yes, that would happen. Now? If we were in a war as large as that, I do not believe there would be nearly as much social pressure to join the military and give our country honor. Success and achievement is more personal now. Many do feel extremely patriotic about our country now, and would sign up in a heartbeat to protect their family and friends. Unfortunately, despite their being many more of us now, I don’t think as many would enlist now as did then. That is, in my opinion, rather shameful. On the other hand, many would refuse to join because of their beliefs against violence, which is not such a terrible thing in itself.
One final effect of globalization is that politics are much more… extreme. The stakes are higher (many more lives exist to care for), the demands are higher (tangentially related to population), and it is harder. Media follow your every move, and any slipup is broadcast all over the world, causing billions to know about it. Worse, if you fix that mistake, you can’t be sure that the people who heard about your mistake haven’t already changed their mind and are no longer paying any attention to you, so they don’t hear of how you resolved the problem. There are many more people that will feel the effects of the government’s choice, and it must, in turn, become that much more effective. It is impossible to achieve a solution where every party is completely happy every time. Perhaps there is sometimes a way for that to happen, but most of the time, the leader just does the best he or she can.Unfortunately, that will never be good enough- nor should it be. Were the pressure to be lessened, the quality of the work might be lowered, which is unacceptable.
The United States has always stood as a symbol of freedom. Liberty. We still do. It is hard to bring the belief that people rule themselves to other countries when we cannot keep ourselves healthy and prosperous, however. We must be an example to others; a beacon for all to believe in. That will only happen if we can keep ourselves moving forward. If we stand still, others will pass us, and possibly destroy all we have worked for. We cannot allow the dreams of some of mankind’s brightest minds to fade away because it is too much work, or we are too preoccupied with ourselves. We must believe that it is possible, that we can do it, and that it will be done.

Hon. English II Finals Essay

The prompt went something like this:
“Current research has shown that 12th graders are leaving high school less and less prepared this year. Exit exams have been put into place in many school systems; if the senior does not pass these exams, they will not be allowed to graduate. How do you feel about this? In a well-developed essay, describe whether or not this is a good idea.”

Noah Caldwell (12/20/11)
Hon. English II Midterms

Research has suggested that modern 12th graders are leaving high school less and less prepared each year. In an effort to prevent this, some states require that all graduates pass assigned exams to leave high school. I think this is rather misguided- tests don’t make kids learn, teachers do.
If we ignore the research pointing towards kids not learning very much, we have a basic situation: kids go to school, learn something (hopefully), and go home. Tests are considered an important part of education now, because our society places emphasis on knowing who is better at what (even though you can’t really assign numbers to knowledge or intelligence). The tests are there as a message to kids, teachers, and prospective employers to tell how much this kid understood the lessons in this course.
Now consider the research. It implies that high schoolers are learning less and less each year (or that standards are being raised; in any case, the kids are less prepared). Oh no! Why is this happening? The first step to solving a problem is finding the root of it. Are parents placing a lesser emphasis on learning, or are they accepting poorer results? Are the teachers of a lower quality, or are they teaching more and more every year? Is this just standard deviation that will even out in time? Is the research faulty somehow? Possibly. Any one of those questions could hold the solution to this problem. It seems that the student is being blamed for this: obviously they are not studying enough.
Perhaps that is true- I would certainly believe it. But placing more tests to ensure that high schoolers are learning enough is not an ideal solution, nor a universal one. Many kids simply do bad on standardized tests. Many teachers fail to teach all they are supposed to, but instead teach what the class can understand. I sympathize with them- sometimes the requirements for those classes can be very difficult. Most importantly of all, tests do not teach anything. Teachers teach, and tests test. Sure, if the test is failed, we can sentence the child to another year of high school- but will they really want to stay another year? And would they learn anything new this time around? It is no secret that the vast majority of high schoolers are biased against learning new things (in my experience). If we keep shipping them through the system because they cannot pass our mandated requirements, we have an eventual clog.
A much more effective and longer-lasting solution would be to get kids interested in learning, and then they might put more effort into school. They might even do independent research on a subject that interests them! Instead of talking about how important college is (not to downplay that), talk about how much fun knowledge is, and all the cool things you can do with it! Hold mock trials in Government. Build rockets and bridges in Chemistry and Physics. Predict how far the rockets will go in math. Reenact important events in History, and build software that everyone has interest in (like a city planner, or a simple but addictive game) during computer classes. Build an engine in automotive classes, and play the latest hits in band. The most important thing a kid can learn in high school is that learning is fun, and does not have to be a chore. If they know that, then a teacher’s work will be complete.

Educational Punishment

In class today, one of my teachers sent a girl out of the room to do her unfinished homework. If a kid acts up and won’t stop misbehaving, she sends him/her outside of the room for several minutes. Those solutions seem to defeat the purpose of school: to learn. I think that, when deciding how to punish students, they should keep one main objective in mind: keep the student learning. One of the best ways to do this is to keep the student in the room. Then, the teacher can frequently call on them, so that even if they don’t know the answer to the question they are asked, the teacher can kinda-sorta deduce what the student does not know and explain to them what they’re missing. If the student is stuck outside twiddling their thumbs or doing a worksheet, they’re not really learning anything. They probably don’t know the answer to worksheet questions anyway.

If a student fails to complete their homework, do not send them outside of the room to complete their work because of the reasons above. Give them incentive to do it after class (along with any further homework) by perhaps saying that they must sit through ISS or otherwise be punished. Avoid extra homework, because that could easily stack up, creating far too many worksheets to keep track of.

Landmark III

иконографияHere’s some more stuff:

AP Euro: We looked at a map, and took some notes.
Band: Percussionists played games while wind players warmed up; at the end of class, she told us how to e-mail a playing quiz to her.
STEM I: After brainstorming locker designs, we looked up a few sample designs, and took pictures of potential areas for the lockers.
Chemistry: We took a quiz on the Metric system, and e-mailed it to the teacher.

So we didn’t do anything totally awesome. It’ll take time to transition to paperless; the teachers have been using paper all their lives.
I like the multitasking system the iPad has; you can double-tap the Home button to bring up a list of all the apps currently loaded. So I can leave the game I’m playing (cue World of Goo), glance at my e-mail, then go back without having to load the whole thing again, or even restart the level. I wish you could split the screen into two. Or perhaps if they sold a second screen you could just connect with Bluetooth or a cable. It could even have a bit of extra RAM to offset the extra screenspace and support the additional data.
As a tablet, it’s extremely convenient. It’s very light and compact, and it’s masterfully simple design (though personally I’d sacrifice that for more versatility). The drawbacks are that it’s very fragile and has a short battery life (depending on what you’re doing).
I think that an iPad would be a better choice for most classroom settings, excluding any but the most basic technology courses. Those need a PC or a Mac.
For my personal use, I still haven’t decided yet. It IS extremely convenient, and every app launches very quickly. As far as games go, if I’m playing a 3D game, give me a mouse & keyboard or a controller over a touch screen any day. That said, there are many, many creative apps out there that are incredibly innovative, and would not work as well on any other type of interface.