Common Core frustration and ignorance

March 29, 2014 § Leave a comment

I read in Yahoo a comment on a Facebook posting going viral. The title: ” Read Parent’s Facebook Response to ‘Ridiculous’ Common Core Math Homework.

What this tells me is that Yahoo is siding against CC. Not only the title but also reading the text of the article confirms that. What I see in the assignment and the comment is a profound disrespect on the part of the parent for the teacher and for knowledge, as well as bewildering arrogance in imagining that a bachelor degree in Engineering establishes  authority beyond discussing the actual content of the assignment.

Even without knowing the full idea behind this assignment, it seems to me that the question goes further than learning how to solve a simple subtraction, for which most people today would sadly turn to a calculator, or repeat a simple formula or technique (which the parent does). It offers the possibility of using a visual approach to allow students to dive into more abstract mathematical concepts.

One key difference between undergraduate and graduate education, is that in college (and before) students have been taught what we know about all kinds of things. Graduate school is about creative solutions to what we don’t know. This assignment seems to prepare students better for life-long learning and advanced intellectual inquiry than the traditional approach which conversely has resulted in the US lagging behind the industrialized countries of the OECD in many instances, and math in particular.

I can see how a person who dismisses being challenged to think through a new approach would be a technology user and information consumer, while the one who trains his or her brain to go deeper, could be a technology and knowledge maker.

Whether this precise approach should or not be part of CC is a discussion worth having, but it does not undermine the concept of CC in its entirety. It is crucial to realize that CC is not only an instrument of accountability. Specifying what one particular course or level has to cover, enables advanced classes to build on previous ones and frees them from having to re-teach again core concepts that not every student in the class has mastery of. It frees classes from being remedial, reduces the chances of students being bored to death when they have to review fractions for the seventh time throughout their k-12 years, and also allows them to get to more complex and sophisticated levels of intellectual practice. The fallacy of freedom for one program or teacher to teach only whatever he or she feels like, dooms the system to stay remedial and US k-12 and undergraduate education to be locked within the superficial.

This does not imply either that CC is all students have to learn. CC as I see it is a minimum not a maximum. Setting the minimum at preparing students to enter a non-selective community college is certainly too low, but inferring that kids in general are not prepared to enter college because of CC is such not only a fallacy, it seems to be an intentional strategy to mislead and deceive, which is much worse.

Stating the importance of a common core does not pretend to imply of course that extensive standardized testing, and linking teacher’s pay to student’s performance is not wrong. It does not mean either that CC solves the central problem of pervasive inequality in the distribution of resources in education and how the system reproduces class and socioeconomic differences across generations. It only means that common standards are indispensable to achieve higher levels of education for the nation.

My kids will be starting kindergarten soon and I find disheartening that ignorance finds so many pundits who rally behind such poor and arrogant attitudes. I really hope the parents in my kids classrooms will be more respectful of the teaching profession,  curious intellectually and willing to accept that the first principle of learning is to recognize there is something we don’t know.



Titillius demonio de las erratas

March 27, 2014 § Leave a comment

Titillius demonio de las erratasIn the Middle Ages typos and mistakes in books were attributed to the Daemon Tititvillius. They were not permanent, so once time you could see them and perhaps another time you couldn’t. I am sure he is still very active today.

Working in groups 2

March 25, 2014 § 2 Comments

Last time I wondered what was the best application for working collaboratively. The answer is that there are almost as many options as there are apps and that there are also many ecosystems that do not necessarily work well with each other. I see four ways of handling or presenting collaboration through the cloud:

  1. First, sharing files. This method is presented as placing a shared folder in the cloud and sharing access to it. Dropbox is the quintessential example, but Mac, Microsoft, Google, etc. all major players have a cloud exchange option.
  2. Second, synchronizing files. Many apps take advantage of folders in the cloud to synchronize documents. The philosophy of this approach is app-centered and not folder-centered. Examples of apps that use Dropbox are Quip, Simple note, Scrivener, etc.
  3. Three, real-time simultaneous edition. Only a few apps you work collaboratively in real time without creating multiple versions of documents and annotations. GoogleDrive excels at simultaneous collaboration.
  4. Four, the borrowing model. Collaborating on documents through annotations that are accepted or rejected by the owner of the document can be complemented with a metaphor of “library borrowing”. Apple iCloud, or Microsoft OneDrive, are examples of this. You create a document and share it by placing it in the cloud. Only one person can edit a document at the time. As in a library, a person “borrows” the document to work on it and then puts it back in the cloud. This avoids having parallel contradictory edits. Each major ecosystem has a cloud, Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, Google, etc. and each major app has the option of using either the cloud or our personal computers as the central node (think OmniPresence)
  5. Fifth, collaborative editing of websites through wikis. Essentially, a wiki is a web page with an open-editing system. Public wikis are mostly web-based: PBWorks, Wikispaces, Wikia, EduWikis. They can be open as Wikipedia limited to groups such as Google Apps), or even personal such as Notational Velocity / SimpleNote. which allows for opening one single note in your app to function as a wiki for collaboration.

GoogleApps. The good: Ranks the highest in collaboration and breath of tasks. The Bad: When you want more specific or aesthetic results it may be limited. In the practice Google unapologetic monitoring of user activity and “prosumer” focus. Many people I want to work with who are not necessarily neo-Luddites, don’t want to use Google because of resistance to accumulation of power and world domination. (Google+ really crossed the line for many) 😐

Microsoft OneDrive. The good: Microsoft Office set a standard for a reason. It can do many, many tasks and do them right. The online version is almost as powerful and versatile as the desktop one. There is almost seamless collaboration between platforms (Windows, Mac OS, Linux) The bad: Microsoft has a bad reputation for taking control over your personal computer, as well as attracting and being vulnerable to viruses and hackers. It can be clunky and overbearing with unnecessary options. It is also heavy in terms of hard drive space. In the practice: Microsoft doesn’t seem to be going in the right direction. Office for iPad and iPhone has been developed and not released for a long time, allowing other programs such as Quip, to eat up Office potential market share there. It seems that Microsoft represents the past, not the future, and as such it is not that exciting. Of course we are all aware of the “distortion field” Microsoft lovers claim affect the followers of the cult of Apple. Still, the hard fact is that many of the people I want to collaborate with outside my university, which uses Google Apps, do not want to sign up for Google or Microsoft whom they distrust for handling personal information. 😐

OpenOffice.The good: It is open source. Is similar to Google Drive only resident in your computer. The bad: It is open source, so it is not consistent or aesthetic as Apple apps. If you have Microsoft Office and Apple suits, it is pretty much redundant. Does not have any specific feature that makes it particularly attractive (such as Mellel-Bookends handling of non-western typographies, or ScrivenerScapleSente writer-studio approach) In the practice: OpenOffice is bland and unexciting 😦

Apple apps. The good: Keynote works great. They are aesthetic. Almost no viruses, malware or corruption. The bad: Apple suits are being streamlined and stripped of relevant tools. They take massive disk space, and cloud collaboration is too basic, tending to produce multiple copies of the same document in each device iPad, iPhone, cloud, and Desktop, every time you work with it. These copies then multiply further once you synchronize devices via iTunes. Apple does not offer real powerful tools to harness this proliferation of copies or reduce the size of email attachment folders other than go over each email separately. In the practice: Too poor to use for any serious collaborative project, even for a hard core mac user like me. This is not an isolated problem but rather pervasive in Apple handling of files. Think for example of how iTunes backs up your iPhone and iPad, creating copies of every app that is on them, which you could easily re-download from the App store if you needed.

Wikis. The good: Great if you work with Web 2.0 platforms, openly and to create crowd-based documents as in Genius or Wikipedia. Very good if you want to maintain collaboratively a project website. Very good for the « veille documentaire » and use of private Wikis. Very good if you want to keep information you are gathering through long periods of time. The bad: Seems good for collecting and publishing, not drafting documents or research. Google Sites still works best. In the practice: Good for keeping sponsors  and constituency informed, building a public image, or editing collaboratively a website with various types of files, images, texts, graphs, and videos. Could be a major time-robber. Possible use in the classroom to teach white papers and database construction as well.

The last piece of information to consider is privacy. The cloud is vulnerable, and several universities and private organizations prevent collaborations that put sensitive information in the cloud.


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