Thursday, August 25, 2011

An Argument for Teaching Applied Math in Schools

No time to expand on this now, but I want to post it so I didn't lose it. Sol Garfunkel argues in favor of teaching applied mathematics over the more abstract stuff in schools.

He mentions traditionalists who once(?) argued that we should teach Latin.

(I think I'm one of those traditionalists.)

The many comments at the end of the article are worth reading, too.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Halfway Through Week Two

I’m halfway through the second week of school, and I feel … calm. Balanced. Content.
The realist in me knows this can’t last, but the optimist in me (admittedly a very small part of my personality) is hoping it will.
Work is going well, and school is going well. At work, I’ve put together the development-season schedule for documentation, and I’ve begun working on some of the preliminary “what’s-new-this-year” documents that we’ll eventually supply to our Education and Support departments. Most of my job lately, however, has been a hodgepodge of smaller projects: editing some internal procedures, building a software patch or two, updating our intranet, editing articles for the company blog, etc. It’s been busy, but not overwhelmingly so. And that’s been nice. I like when work is this way.
School is going well, too; of course, I haven’t had to grade any major assignments yet. The stress will escalate pretty quickly when I the first drafts come in after Labor Day. I’m not looking forward to that; I have no contingency plans. My plan is to take everything one day at a time, and, if I have to pay the babysitter overtime and make the day last 18 hours so I can get all the grading done, then that’s just what I’ll have to do.
Something tells me that, by the end of this semester, I will be an expert in speed-grading of essays. Maybe. I can’t imagine grading a three-page essay in less than 20 minutes, but maybe I’ll work my way down to 15 minutes per essay. I’ll need to, or I’ll never sleep.
I’ve been making notes to myself after each class session this semester. So far, classes seem to be going really well, though they’ve turned out to be more teacher-centric and lecture-heavy than I want them to be. I want students writing and discussing and learning; I hate to stand in front of the room, flapping my mouth.
I’ve made an effort these last few days to talk less and have students contribute more. I think we’ll get more into that style of class as the semester progresses; at this point, we’re covering a lot of introductory information—what is a thesis statement, how revising is different from proofreading, etc.—so I’m explaining basic terms more than I’ll need to in the future.
So that’s my little update on life as a hack and a grunt.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Why the Japanese Surrendered

Here's an article from the Boston Globe about a theory of why the Japanese really surrendered to the U.S. in 1945. Historian Tsuyoshi Hasegawa of U.C.-Santa Barbara believes it was the Soviet Union's entry into the war in the Pacific that precipitated the surrender--not the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as many believe.

It's a good cause-and-effect article, particularly because it shows that determining cause and effect can be a messy undertaking, and that even long-accepted conclusions can be open to debate. The article also goes into cause and effect on another level: "If the atomic bomb alone could not compel the Japanese to submit," writes Gareth Cook, "then perhaps the nuclear deterrent is not as strong as it seems"--and perhaps we should re-think our conviction that the atomic bomb, horrific as it was, was a necessary means to an end.

I think this article could yield good discussion from both a historian's perspective and a moral perspective.


Interesting Slate article by William Saletan on many pro-choicers' ethical uneasiness with "half-abortions," in which one twin is aborted and the other is spared.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Stoop Sales

The NYT Op-Ed page is hopping with good stuff today. Here's a column by Abby Sher on stoop sales, and family, and loss.

A Story of Ghosts

"In those days, before we surrounded ourselves only with those who already agreed with us, my parents delighted in assembling people of divergent opinions over our dining-room table to argue about the Equal Rights Amendment or the Gary Hart campaign. At a certain point, my father would ding his fork against the side of his glass and command everyone present to begin arguing 'the reverse of their earlier position.'"       

I found this column by Jennifer Finney Boylan very moving. I'm not sure how I would use it in class, but I would use it. I will use it. Not only is it beautifully written, but it offers wisdom that most of us would benefit from hearing from time to time.

Friday, August 5, 2011

My Fall Schedule

I'll be working 30 hours a week as a technical writer, and roughly 25 hours a week as an English instructor. I have a huge spreadsheet that combines my work deadlines, my students' essay deadlines (thus my "grading days"), etc., to make sure I can orchestrate all this.

It's going to be crazy.

I'll be teaching three classes at the community college: two sections of English 101 (Freshman Composition), and one of English 105 (Business Writing).

It should be an adventure. Now, if I could just find time to blog about this adventure while I'm on it ...

Interviewing SMEs

Here's an article by Cheryl Goldberg of Pragmatic Marketing on how to interview subject matter experts. The advice can be applied to tech writers as well, and some of it might well have a place in a business/technical writing course.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Interesting Cause/Effect Situation

Several days ago, a big story hit the news, and everyone was talking about it:

Internet Explorer users are dumber than users of other browsers.

I first heard the story at my hack job, in a meeting at work. We were talking about the need to test our software using various browsers, and the subject came up of the difficulty of certain IE browsers.

"You know," said one of my colleagues, "A study just came out that said IE users have a lower IQ than Firefox users."

Several people whooped and cheered, and we all joked about which ones of us were smarter than the others. (I was a dummy at work, and a smartie on my home computer.)

The next day, my colleague who'd first mentioned the study sent us all an e-mail in which he sheepishly told us that he'd unknowingly perpetuated a hoax. The study had apparently been done by a bogus company with a bogus website.

The person behind the hoax came clean, as I read today. As I read his "confession," along with his list of reasons he thought the hoax would be discovered before it went viral, I marveled that the journalists of CNN and other mainstream news organizations hadn't checked their sources before publishing the "findings." (Perhaps they are simply IE users?)

Anyway, the reason I'm posting all of this is to point to this post by Christopher Budd, which looks at the various reason the hoax--unlike the thousands of other hoaxes out there--took off like wildfire.

I thought this whole thing, and Budd's post in particular, might be useful for discussion in a unit on cause and effect.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tea Partiers-Scary Monsters Analogy?

When I first started reading this editorial by Maureen Dowd, I thought it might be a good example of analogy to share with classes when covering the "analogy" portion of a cause-and-effect unit.

As I continued reading, the article got weirder and weirder. I totally don't get the last line.

So, this one might still be worth sharing with a class ... more for the entertainment value, though, than as an example of a good analogy.

Update: Here's a response to Dowd's weird article in which the author, Charlie Cooke, takes issue with her analogies.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Monday, August 1, 2011

Improving on "Chalk and Talk"

Food for thought from The Economist.

I can lecture when I need to, but I prefer to have students actively learning in the classroom—thinking, discussing, working on problems, either in small groups or as a class. When I taught high school, I learned that this was also the best way to minimize behavior problems. Students seem to enjoy it, too.

So I’m glad to read this article, which has some good things to say about the methods of the “educational hippies” out there.

HT: Mental Multivitamin