Sep 042017
 

I am all fired up and angry about a new graphing calculator app today. Not that the app exists, but the way they are selling it.

Reason number 1:

I don’t know what to say about this other than express my complete and utter revulsion at the ideas expressed by this new graphing calculator app called Graphlock. From the video on the site, “Want to save thousands of dollars on calculators while also helping to reducing distractions in the classroom?” That is the first sentence of the video.

Their solution? Charge students $4.99 a YEAR for a graphing calculator app that also locks down the phone so that learners can only do math. That’s right. Don’t trust the learners, don’t create better, more engaging lessons. Don’t actually do something that is better, just lock down devices so learners can’t use them for anything else.

And it gets better. The “don’t trust learners” statement? It is literally true. The video says that if a learner tries to do something else on their phone, it alerts the teacher so the learner can be punished for being bored and distracted during the boring lesson.

 

Reason number 2:

According to the article in Inc magazine, the “Real Problem” of math education is that,

There is an even bigger problem underneath the seemingly big problem of the rising cost of school supplies and it’s kind of shocking: when students can’t afford the supplies they need to finish their schooling, oftentimes, they give up or drop out. Mallory pointed out that she watched this happen repeatedly while in college at Central Arizona to become a professor of mathematics. Students in her Algebra class would realize they needed this graphing calculator that costs around $100, couldn’t afford it, and would give up.

That’s right. The real problem of math education is it is too expensive to learn math.

What?

No challenge of the assumption of the college to require learner to purchase a TI calculator. No, goodness sake, we can’t challenge that. We can’t show the college she taught at all the wonderful, free math learning software like Wolfram Alpha, Google (have you tried typing an equation into Google’s search bar?), or Desmos.

Nope, the requirement is inviolate. And besides, those other things that definitely help learning? They also allow the learner to do other things besides math.

 

How does this create punishment?

The assumption throughout the articles is that when learning math, the teacher is the absolute authority, and must be listened too at all times. The teacher knows all, and must be in full control of every aspect of the learners thought, actions, and technology. If the learner does something contrary to the teacher’s instructions, the learner must be corrected.

Math class, becomes a class of punishment and …. not sure about the reward. Certainly punishment. Some teachers will reward, but this software absolutely entrenches the observation state and punishment in the class.

It is the Panopticon on steroids, except instead of the observation state being built into the building, it is built right into the learners’ devices. Besides, from the award she won, it isn’t about math education at all. It is about winning seed money for a business. The Real Problem is companies making education more expensive through the corporatization of education.

This horrible software feeds into the reasons for the US failing behind in mathematics. Math class is one of memorization and regurgitation, not thinking, creativity, or joy.

Just so that I don’t leave this post angry and hostile, I will leave this here. “Math for Human Flourishing.” This article from Quanta Magazine about a talk given by Francis Su restores my soul a little bit.

 

As an aside:

Here is a college professor named Mallory Dyer. She is the creator and inventor of the calculator.

Yes, she has a name. You wouldn’t know it by the headlines about the software. Here are the two that came up in my reader and made .

Coolidge woman develops app to make studying math affordable (Casa Grande News, a local newspaper)

and

How one woman is making math affordable (Inc magazine, a national business magazine)

They wouldn’t even name her in the headline? No mention of her academic credential. She is just “a woman.” How about, “Professor at Coolidge develops app to make studying math more affordable.” Those 7 extra characters going to kill them? Or “How one professor is making math more affordable.” This isn’t an issue with software (more on that below) but the way this professional was treated. Stop the sexism, already.

Jun 082015
 

My learners have been using Plot.ly for a week, and have asked me a ton of questions on how to do certain things with their data. I wanted to add details to my last post on Plot.ly v. JMP and tell you the decision I made regarding the issue. All of the questions I have below are actual questions / issues  my learners ran into using Plot.ly.

Issue 1. How to add % totals to the columns of data in a graph?

One group of learners had a beautiful graph made in Plot.ly. It was nice, communicated well, but had lots of information in it. They wanted to put the % of each column in the graph to make it more informative.

In other words, they had this ……….and wanted this. (the reason for the arrow in a sec)

graph1 graph2

Yes, these are JMP graphs. Why? Because after an hour of looking, I could not find a way to have Plot.ly do it. Their help is silent on this issue, and I looked through a whole bunch of graphs shared on their website and found not a single one to do that.

As far as JMP, it took two clicks. I can’t show the menu because it is a drop down and as I tried to screen cap, it went away. You click the red triangle I pointed to, hover over to “Histogram Options,” and click on “Show percents.” If you want to “Show counts,” you can do that too. One or both! Two clicks. This was incredibly simple to do in JMP, incredibly difficult in Plot.ly.

Issue 2: Chi-Square test

I already dealt with the fact that Plot.ly calls graphs that use categorical information histograms in my last post. This has caused so. much. confusion.

But now my learners are trying to do the statistics for their data and see if there are significant differences in their samples. They are trying to DO statistical inferences. If their data is quantitative, they can do a t-test easily. Well, they can do a two sample t-test easily. They cannot do a one sample t-test or a matched pair t-test. They cannot do a z-test in Plot.ly, and as it turns out, you cannot do a Chi-Square test in Plot.ly unless you already have the summary counts.

Really? I can do the “histogram” to get the counts, but I cannot import those counts into the table to do the Chi-square? It won’t count the instances of words to count them for the test?

For example, if the learners data looks like this:

data1  Plot.ly will do a histogram for it and tell me what percent or what counts there are for Gender and AP/Honors.

If I want a Chi-Square test for these two columns, the only way I could make it work was to look at the graph of counts, write down the information into a two-way table, and enter the counts as a matrix in the graphing calculator.

To do the same thing in JMP, we do the following steps:

1.  Go to Analyze, Fit y by x JMP1

 

2. Click on OK. That’s it. The output contains the following:

JMP2  A mosaic plot of the graph which is nothing more than a stacked bar chart, except the width of each column is proportional to the total number of things in the column.

Next, we get the contingency table. If I click the red triangle, I can choose other values to include or exclude from the table.

Finally, the Chi-Square test p-value.

That was around 6 clicks, instead of making the graph, counting from the graph and writing a table, and then inputting the table to the calculator.

Issue 3: separating data by a response

The group who was doing the AP/Honors and work in Issue 2 had another problem. They asked for GPA and the number of hours you worked. But they needed the mean GPA of only those in AP/Honors and those not in AP/Honors, as well as the number of hours worked.

Plot.ly will give us the total 1 variable stats for the column of hours worked, but it will not give it to us in two groups of Y/N based on type of classes taken. It will not do it.

Enter JMP. 6 clicks. Analyze, Distribution, put the variable where you want them, OK.

JMP5

That’s it. You get a 1 variable stats for those who are in AP/Honors, and a separate 1 variable stats for those not in AP/Honors. Doing a two sample t-test is simple and easy once this information is obtained. This is not information Plot.ly can give us.

Issue 4: Linear Regression t-test

Last issue, and then I will stop. I have several learners doing quantitative projects that lend themselves to linear regressions and linear regression t-tests.

Plot.ly makes beautiful scatterplots. You can adjust the axis, overlay the regression line, insert the equation into the graph, etc. They are pretty.

But, if you want a residual plot. No go. If you want to reinforce the statistics of y=a + bx. No go.

This is what it looks like in Plot.ly.

plotly1 You have y=mx + b from algebra, you cannot do residuals, and you CANNOT do a linreg t-test.

In JMP, it looks like this:

JMP4 5 clicks, Analyze, Fit Y by X, put the variables in the correct spots, and hit OK. Notice this is the exact same dialogue box you use for categorical data. JMP uses the same path for different types of data, but tells you in the bottom left corner HOW it will act on your data.

You get output that looks like this:

JMP3 If you want the residual plot, hit the red triangle next to “Linear Fit” and show residual plot. That easy.

Bottom line

Although I fully understand that every single complaint I have had with Plot.ly can be solved by learning the programming language and learning to program the software, I don’t think I can ask high school learners, in the last 4 weeks of class, to learn it so they can do a project on statistics. Honestly, I don’t want to take the time to learn the programming language of Plot.ly so that I can do it for them, either.

Plot.ly makes BEAUTIFUL graphs. It is a powerful platform to show connections between quantitative data sets. But, it does a so-so to bad job on statistics.

JMP makes graphs that may not be beautiful, but the statistics is primary to the operation of the program and makes doing the statistics easy. I think without some major changes to Plot.ly to work towards the statistics side instead of the data representation side I will go back to using JMP next year.

It was just too difficult to teach the way Plot.ly handles or mishandles the stats.

 

Jan 242010
 

I attended the Southern NV Math and Science Conference  over the weekend. I presented part of the Advanced Algebra Applications course, but more on that in another post.

I also attended a session given by one of the major textbook publishers on 21st Century learning with their products. I was told by my boss to be quiet and let the guy speak because I was interrupting him so much. I have 3 main problems with what this publisher rep was telling / showing us about the upcoming editions of the math textbooks.

  1. The rep was really excited about the 21st Century tools his books will have. I mean they will have VIDEO to teach the problems. Video featuring actual high school age learners, CREATED by actual high school learners. And avatars to explain the math. You can’t get more 21st century than that, right?
  2. The problems are all going to be “relevant” to today’s learners. Really. They are going to re-write all the problems and they will be relevant and therefore more interesting. Honest.
  3. Finally, the research shows that learners are not reading the explanations because the math comes first. If the words came first, then the learners read the words, and they learn more of the math. (Think 2 column explanations, where traditionally, the math is on the left and the explanations on the right.)

Those are my observations. Here are the problems I had with them.

  1. The video they showed was of 2 high school age learners discussing exponential growth of sharks. Right, they made the video with no help, no script writing by adults, no props brought in by a major company. Bullcrap. It was so obviously staged, the language was directly out of a textbook, stilted and lame, and the average HS learner would spot it as a joke immediately. As to the avatar, having a 4th grader explaining exponential functions is very disconcerting. The voice was horrible, and the graphics were even more lame.
  2. Is taking a problem like this:
    • “John goes into the store to buy garden hose for his cousin. John spends $85 total for 4 hoses and 1 spigot. The spigot cost $15. How much did John spend?“ and re-writing it to say:
    • “John went to a concert and spent $85. He bought 4 shirts and 1 cd. The cd cost $15, how much were the shirts?” really relevant?
    • No, seriously. He went on for 10 minutes as to how this is so much better because the kids actually go to concerts. 
    • Like the kids wouldn’t just say, “Dude look at the sign posted on the shirts! If they don’t have a sign, don’t buy them!” How incredibly lame.
  3. Finally, and this one really upset me, he said the research shows the kids need to read the explanations first. Research has shown they do better when they can read the words first, then the math. And that makes TOTAL sense to me. BUT, they will only do this to the LOW LEVEL TEXTBOOKS! Yup, it is good for all learners, but they won’t do it for all  learners, just the books focused on Special education and ESL.

What total crap. I asked him why, if the research shows it is advantageous, they won’t do it for all their books. The answer was, teachers won’t buy the books because they want them to be traditional.

Yup, teachers want what is best for them, not their learners, so the textbook company caves and follows research only for the low level books. Even though the research shows it is good for all learners. I would like to see the research, but I have no reason to doubt it.

And this is a company I like. They have the better online resources out of the 3 books I use. Their software is better, and they are trying more than the other companies. That does not bode well for our ability to get change in the textbooks we use.

Jan 202010
 

I like my school district, I really do. I think they try to focus on the learning of kids more than other districts (granted, I haven’t taught in other districts but my district doesn’t do some silly things I have heard from other teachers).

But, and this is giant, big but, they use some really restrictive software for their filtering. And before you think this is a rant against filtering YouTube or other sites, read on.

Our district’s filtering modifies the SSL certificates of all sites. That means every time they upgrade or update their filters, every teacher who uses Gmail, Google Docs, Google Reader, myYahoo, or any other site that uses SSL for the login has to re-download the SSL certificates.

No big deal right?  Unless you happen to use Firefox. Then you can not do it. Firefox doesn’t let you just re-download the certificates. You have to go to Tools, Options, Advanced button, Encryption tab, and then hit the “view certificates” button, then the Servers tab.

6 clicks to get there, and then FIND all relevant Google certificates and delete them. THEN go to the site and re-download the certificate which is clicking yes to several prompts that say things like “This site is not trusted” “It is trying to steal your data” “Are you sure you want to accept this, it will steal your babies and eat your heart!”

Well, okay, slight exaggeration.

And yet, after doing this 5 times today, Firefox still won’t let me into Gmail because the certificate is invalid. Chrome just yells at me, Explorer says it is not trusted, but goes there, but Firefox is a no-go entirely. Thank you school district for keeping me safe from … nothing? You just blocked my email, the one every one of my learners uses to communicate with me. And you did this during finals, no less.

But it gets worse. Probably the most useful and depended on piece of software I use is Dropbox, which uses SSL to send the files back and forth.  Yup, you guessed it, it is severely broken now as well. Crap.

Is it really necessary to do block sites at all? It really does make me think of Tom Johnson’s Pencil Integration site. This posting says it all. We want to teach our learners to think, but we don’t dare let them think too much. And we don’t dare let our teachers actually use judgment. Imagine the chaos!