Wednesday, May 28, 2014

StartUpNY? Only politicians could make this up

So the problem in NY state according to our state government is high taxes.

Solution? Run a lottery for businesses in which the winners will pay no taxes! (Provided that you meet their criteria, of course! See http://startup.ny.gov/)

Will that help the business climate in New York? No.  As a matter of fact if these businesses do start up and pay no taxes, their existence will in effect increase the tax burden of the businesses already in place. Great solution!! That is, overlooking the fact that business "startups" usually don't generate a profit for a number of years, making the income tax issue kind of moot, and overlooking that a successful startup generally is at its smallest size when it is beginning, so the property tax issue isn't that big.

Spoiler alert: When all is said and done, these businesses are supposed to bring in new jobs. These people will presumably be voting in new York State. Whom do you think they will vote for? Perhaps the politicians who created these tax-free jobs for them? Remember, a business cannot vote but people can. The voting employees will be getting a meaningful tax break from day one.

What happens when the 10 years are up and the tax breaks are gone? Well, expect our creative politicians to have a solution! After all, they won't want these voters to follow the businesses out of state.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Common Core Needs a Rewrite

Fluently multiply multi-digit whole numbers using the standard algorithm.
Thus states 5.NBT.5 of the Common Core standards.

No doubt, I find it positive to include multiplication of multi-digit whole numbers, and I believe the intention of the statement is that people should be able to do it mentally or on paper, but without calculators.  But to mandate "the standard algorithm", whatever that is, and require "fluent" use is way out of line.
I suspect that by standard algorithm they mean something like this:

What I find interesting is the inclusion of the phrase "using the standard algorithm". That, together with the word "fluently".

I learned it that way. So did millions of others. But many did not master it.

In my teaching days it hit me that in a world that reads and writes left-to-right, we were expecting students to work right-to-left in their arithmetic.  I consider that one of the great fertilizing factors of math phobia.  Left-to-right processes can be helpful for several reasons:
  • The chance of error increases the further you get in an algorithm, and with numbers the most significant figures are to the left.
  • Estimation is much easier for a brain trained left-to-right.
  • Mental calculation skills improve when using the ability to read, write, and say numbers the same way.
  • When using the above algorithm, the brain focuses on digits and not numbers.
Now, when it comes to standard algorithms, there are many. A neat one, perhaps easy for those accustomed to it, is a Japanese technique using drawing segments and counting intersections. A video sample form YouTube is here.

Lattice multiplication is kind of neat, but I would not call it an algorithm that leads to greater understanding. 

Back to Common Core: time to do a rewrite. Get Pearson out of the way, get big business to the sidelines, and get some math people covering the gamut from K to 12. Just make sure that they all have at least a BA in math.  Just because Common Core means well doesn't mean it is doing it yet.

The web site freetestprep.net  acknowledges this on one of their pages (see here).

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Common Core is Fine, But its Application is Terrible

In my meanderings around the common core story, I came across a shocker. Here is one question from a snapshot of a test posted online. (the story is here and the snapshot is here)
The article this came from refers to the test as a first grade test. If that is the case, I am amazed and shocked.

Are typical first graders that good at reading? I just popped the problem into my word processor and came up with a Flesh-Kincaid reading level of 6th grade.

Here is another:
I am just a retired career math and computers teacher with BA and MA in Math and I can honestly say in my lifetime I have never seen such a question: indeed, I have never seen an addition fact referred to as a "subtraction sentence."

Back in February I posted an entry here question Pearson's role in Common Core. (It is here.)  I question their role even more now.

The two examples above are not the worst part. Question #1 is the worst, but I will let you click the link and see that for yourself.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Do your tires travel in circles?

The above animated gif is a recording of a file created in GeoGebra. (Find the file here)

This creation used a bit of basic sine and cosine together with knowledge about rotations and translations.

More importantly, though, guided creation of a file such as this can be good way of firming up a student's basic knowledge and even, at times, a means of introducing such concepts.

With such technology the dynamic nature of mathematics can be used as a prime teaching tool, with textbooks being primarily supportive in nature.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Ebooks are great! Or are they?

Here I am sitting at my desk at my computer. Bookshelves full of books are to my left, as well as upstairs and in boxes in the basement.  But not all the books I have bought are even in the house. Some are not even owned by me anymore.

Over the years ( lots of them since graduating from grad school in the 70's) I have dispensed many books in many ways, from library donations, deposits in a school's "drop box", garage sales, yard sales (are they really different?), and so on. Some have been given directly to friends and acquaintances who ask about a book I am reading after having seen its cover. Others were loaned to friends in that ubiquitous eternal one-way form of lending.

I still read lots of books. But now a number of them are present on my Kindle, or should I say "Kindles", as I have two Kindle devices and can also read them on laptop, tablet, and phone.  Upstairs I have a Kindle Paperwhite so I can read at night without turning the light on.

These ebook readers are very very friendly to the reader.

But not so friendly to the book owner.

I no longer can drop my book off at the library as a donation. I have yet to find any means to donate an ebook to a library.  I cannot drop a book I have read at the local school.  I could sell my Kindle at a garage sale, but not any ebooks!  Nobody has asked to borrow a book I am reading after seeing the Kindle's cover.

Do I really even own the ebooks?

This issue has been around for a while, but the frustration with being unable to share a book that I thought I owned is increasing. This "licencing" of books rather than just selling them is slowly going to push me back to paper books. For any "Shark Tank" watchers out there, I am beginning to dislike Mr. Wonderful.

During this Common Core crisis that is happening as we speak, I must add to my concerns the fact that major companies, such as Pearson, could easily be handed the opportunity to licence texts to the schools, which might seem nice. But what does that mean when compared to multi-year use of standard textbooks? I cannot but sense that whatever direction these companies push will have their bottom lines in mind.

This also brings to mind another thing that gets me: search through Amazon's help section and you will not find Amazon answering questions: only customers trying to explain Amazon's process as they see it. Why is that?