Saturday, December 31, 2005

Engineering: Is the U.S. Really Falling?

Engineering: Is the U.S. Really Falling?: "Is America losing its competitive edge in engineering? Top Silicon Valley executives, U.S. think-tanks, industry associations, and university deans have all pointed out dropping enrollment in American science and tech programs and warn of a brewing problem. And in a November survey of 4,000 U.S. engineers, 64% said outsourcing makes them worry about the profession's future, while less than 10% feel sure America will maintain its leadership in technology."

Scary stuff.

Tim & Jeni's - Seattle Civil Defense Manual

Tim & Jeni's - Seattle Civil Defense Manual

This is fascinating look at emergency preparedness.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Dealing with comment spam

Got a whole bunch of comments, but when I looked they were just link farm type sites so off they go. I've changed the comments so you have to word verify now, a pain but that is all I can do now.
I wonder if there is a way to kill more then one at a time.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Slacker or sick?

Slacker or sick?

Very interesting. Best to take a break from the keyboard.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Grand Opening of the Ziggurat Math Store and Blog

It has come time to stop talking and start doing.
Our public school system is failing us in the United States. High Schools now have dozens of valedictorians but universities are replacing college math and English courses with remedial courses. And our students are falling behind in international math and science and programming competitions.

Something must be done and I am going to do something about it. I can't do everything but I can do one thing and that is to help parents teach their children mathematics.

I have launched a new blog called ZigguratMath.

I have written a book the first in a new series of books to help mothers teach their children the language of mathematics. Book one is all about teaching your children how to count. It is available as a downloadable ebook (.pdf) at the ZigguratMath Store.

A free report on why mathematics is important plus lesson 1 from the book is available there too.

For the grand opening the book is on sale at the ZigguratMath Store. Hurry, This sale ends next Thursday.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Why math is important to the country


The United States lags behind other nations in the number of engineers graduated each year, says Norm Augustine, a retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp., A look at the numbers:
• United States : 50,000
• India: 100,000
• China: 100,000
• Japan: 200,000

The significant figure in there is not the US but Japan.
Japan is minting more engineers every year then India and China COMBINED!
India and China have half the population of the planet and Japan is stomping them in the creation of engineers, and completely wiping the floor when it comes to the US.

It is understandable that we are not graduating many new engineers, business keeps asking for more students, asking for more H1-B visas and the like. But when you look at the job postings of these companies it is not surprising that there is a backlash.

Companies are complaining but not putting their money where their mouths are. When you look at their jobs postings you see them asking for 5 years experience in over a dozen technologies, most of which are highly specialized and if you are experienced in one you wouldn't have had any time to have experience in the others. Though admittedly some of the problem is not with the hiring manager, he understands that, he really wants a set of engineers with all those skills combined not one engineer with all those skills, but HR doesn't understand, they get the checklist and eliminate everyone without all those skills. You can imagine what happens next.

In the very late 1990's it was obvious that tech was in a boom state, when secretaries and landscapers were trying to learn to program that was a warning sign I failed to heed. Just like when JP Morgan knew that it was time to get out of the stock market in 1930, because the shoe-shine boy was giving him stock tips.

Outsourcing isn't working all that well yet but they are learning, in 10 years they will have figured it out. Just like Japan did to the US car manufacturers and what Korea did to Taiwan in chip manufacturing.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

What should your children know by the time they are 8 years old?

In most news reports they report test scores going up except for a few poor districts. But when you look closer they are only reporting the percent change, sure a 19% increase in test scores is pretty good, but when I looked at the actual scores a 19% increase of an F- is still only an F+, better yes, but still a long way from actually being good.

It isn't that there aren't good dedicated teachers, there are many of them. It just that the public school system on the whole doesn't produce students that can read, write, do math or have many other life skills. And that is just not acceptable.

That is why I am homeschooling my daughter and why I am going to share our adventures with you.

What do I want her to know? There is quite a bit but I'm going to limit it to the time she is 8 years old.
By age 8 I want her to be able to:
Read on her own.
Do arithmetic.
Write in her journal on her own.
Read the scriptures on her own.
Learn a musical instrument.
Take part in a sports activity, like dance, gymnastics or martial arts.
Speak to a small group.
Be gracious.

There are so many I am going to have to stop short.

Something I need to do is to keep an eye out for her talents. God has given everyone talents and usually more then one. By watching her interests I hope I can identify them and then help her nurture them and hone them.

Grab hold of reality and give it a 90 degree twist

Something that has really helped me out of some tight spots has been to "Grab hold of reality and give it a 90 degree twist"

If I found myself thinking in circles I would do something to shake things up, to think outside of the box and all that.

I would ask myself silly questions like:
If I had 'Star Trek' level technology how would I solve this problem?
If I had $1billion dollars how would that help?
If I was a geologist how would I make this box work best for Brazilian Pythons?
If it was the size of a bread box how would that help? Sometimes thinking about the box worked wonders.

Basically change the nature of the game so winning isn't what everyone might think it was.
That leads into Creative Think, which has put a fun little app on their site based on Oblique Strategies, a product I am unfamiliar with but not the concept, as I have shown.

These are great little short sketches that help you break out of your rut. Reload Creative think or press the button to get a new one.

For example, and I like this one,

"What concerns me," remarked the philosopher Epictetus, "is not the way things are, but rather the way people think things are." If you think you're creative, you'll act that way -- and vice versa. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. As you think, so you are. In what ways are you creative?  What strengths do you have that you can apply to your issue?

Now, if your children are driving you crazy or you are frustrated because you want to do some special little thing for yourself and you just can't get to it because of a thousand little interruptions, this can help change how you think about the situation. It won't change the situation but it can change how you see the situation and then the inspiration can come.

Thanks to 43Folders for the links.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

3 Keys To Teaching Math

When you boil it down there are really only three keys to teaching math or anything really.
1. Concept: The idea behind what is being taught. For example: Numbers are a shortcut we use instead of quantities.
2. Problem: A common problem that requires understanding of this concept. For example: How do we keep trade of all the toys we have? A great way to use this is to add in history, when Isaac Newton was working out gravity he invented Calculus to explain what he was trying to say more easily then anything that was available at the time.
3. Practice: Using several related problems to see how the concept is applied. Algebra becomes a lot easier once I realized that a curve is nothing more then all possible solutions to a particular equation. I have to graph dozens of equations before that piece of inspiration came to me.

In most schools lectures generally start with the concept followed by lots of practice but ignore how the problem relates to real life. So students start asking, "what is this good for?" and too often the answer from the teacher is, "I don't know. " with a subtext of "I'm not going to find out what it's good for, I just got to get through this material for the test, if you pass the test I don't care any more." Which is why students start asking, "Will this be on the test?"

Some schools use just practice, hoping your children with somehow figure out the concept on their own, this is called discovery learning. Admittedly this happens all the time in real life but the people who do this are generally and rightly called geniuses. Discovering something for the first time is hard, really hard, amazingly hard, That is why the Nobel Prize is such a big deal, but once it is solved it can be really easy to do once you know all the things that went into the problem in the first place.

The combined lifetime efforts of Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Einstein and a hundred other has brought us to our current understanding of the universe, which is taught to kids in a few hours of Astronomy class. Trying to have all children do that from scratch is a silly waste of time.

How to use them

How you use these depends on how your children learn. Some children prefer to be given a problem to solve, other like the concept first and a few like to work things out for themselves from practicing. It will also depend on which subject that you are teaching as well. Obviously it is best to use all of them together.

"What would you do if..." is a great way to start. People like to solve problem, especially those that interest them, that is understandable since if a problem is related to something they have interest in they will retain thirty times the material then just a lecture, then you can bring in the concept to help them solve the problem and then the can practice solving other related problems.

Another great way is the historical approach. For example, If you were studying Ancient Greece or introducing circles or finding out more about the Earth you could use this story: Eratosthenes of Cyrene figured that the Earth was round, but how big was it? Well, he had a friend in a distant city with a well that was directly under the sun one particular day a year. He found out how far the cities were apart and measured the shadow in a local well on the same day. He was able to calculate the Earth's circumference to be about 25,000 miles, modern measurements put the Earth's circumference at 24,902 miles. He was off by only 98 miles or about 2%.

This is a great introduction for circles, pi, angles, measuring, averages and history.

Then do some practice to make sure that the concept sticks and to show how it applies to different but related problems.

This should make you a much better teacher.

Monday, May 09, 2005

School Arts isn't quite dead yet.

With all the auto shops, fast-food joints and boarded-up houses in the vicinity, it is somewhat disorienting to find Mr. Longest operating out of a $17 million performing arts annex, part of a recently completed $50 million renovation of New Albany High School that was financed by property taxes. With its airy glass lobbies and soaring curved roofs, its 24-hour radio station, television broadcast center, huge indoor pool and student bank, the building could be mistaken for the centerpiece of a college campus. But it's a public school. Despite local poverty (one-third of New Albany's 2,000 students are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunches), residents rejected a tax cut - by a ratio of eight to one - in order to pay for the improvements. Steve Sipes, the principal, said they had done so because the arts at New Albany had over the years brought a measure of pride, comparable only to that generated by the sports teams, to a city that's seen better days.

Mr. Sipes's superintendent, Dennis Brooks, who has occasionally borrowed costumes from the theater department for Halloween, concurred. "Arts programs nationwide are suffering because of the pressure No Child Left Behind has put on schools to move more resources into math and English," he said, referring to the federal law mandating testing standards. "If we were forced to do that here, you'd have quite a fight on your hands, because we agree with the research that says the arts help kids do better in school." Indeed, when Mr. Longest, who himself attended New Albany, was interviewed for the job of drama teacher in 1984, the crucial question everyone asked him was "Can you do the big musicals?"

It is so good to see a school sticking with the arts. and bringing it to the level of a sports team is even better. This is a great thing.

The story, not unsurprisingly, doesn't talk about the rest of the school, but I hope they are linking the play and all the work that goes into it into the rest of the curriculum. Learning by doing is far more powerful then sitting in a lecture. Doing it "for real" is even more powerful. Imagine studying waves and interference in physics class while trying to tame the audio board. History class comes alive while discussing the time when the play was first produced. The entire school could be studying the play while it is in production. Making it real is not so hard when you have everyone on the same page.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Homeschool is 30 TIMES more effective then public school

Homeschool is 30 TIMES more effective then public school.

That is a pretty outrageous statement.

Here I why I say so. In the book "Punished by Rewards" by Alfie Kohn. On page 145 he finds that how interested the students were in the passage was thirty times more important that how "readable" the passage was.

How can we test this? Well, how long was it before you or your children started public school before the answer to the question, "What did you do today in school?" was "Nothing." Months, weeks, days?
Did you ever ask the question, "Is this going to be on the test?" You ask that question to know if you can go off somewhere else in your imagination for a while.
Is school boring? Of course it is. Few teachers can find the common interests of 20-30 children and link it to the lesson. It is easier in classes like band or art because the students in those classes are interested in those subjects, oh wait they've been cancelled for more "teaching" time.

Is "Punished by Rewards" the only place that says this? No, another place is "Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience." He is not interested in education as such. The author was just looking for why some people excel and others don't doing the same task. Flow is found in a balance between challenge and skill otherwise known as being "in the zone". An example of flow, have you ever read a good book, a real page-turner, you start after dinner and the next thing you know you are closing the back cover and its 2 in the morning. Or playing basketball and you are hitting most every shot. That's flow.
It comes down to this, if you are interested in doing something it is much easier to do then not.

One more place, "The Design of Everyday Things" this is a book on how the way things are designed effects how we use them. He talks about taught helplessness, You are in a situation like math class where it keeps moving forward at a relentless pace and if you miss a simple point you are completely lost because it is expected that you have mastered everything that has come before. So you end up with arithmaphobia.

Even if Alfie is off by a factor of 10, I will still do a 3 times better job of teaching my children then any teacher will.

Is there any school district that doesn't say that students do better with parental involvement? Mainly because parents are interested in their child's success like no one else. Again if you are interested you will retain 30 times more information then otherwise.

If I am already interested with what my child is doing at school then why can't I just take over the whole thing and do it at home where I can make sure my child is learning things that are linked to her interests?

Online Homeschool Convention is open

There are a lot of great posts in this convention, including my own.

Get out there and learn something.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Teach the whole child.

Math has a long history and it is tied into business and government and science. No one can teach effectively to just one part, it has to be a whole, it makes more sense when you know what it is good for and how it is used in real life. Teach the whole child.

The most powerful way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. At first have your child teach you, you need to make sure he has completely understood the foundational material. Find someone to be a study buddy, they can teach each other how to do the material. If you cannot find a real study buddy use a teddy bear or rubber ducky or cardboard cutout or a plant to talk to, the talking to is important. I know that sounds weird but it does work and is very effective I have used it to work through problems that were stumping me.

Keep a learning journal. Write down what you have taught and learned today and what you think about it. This also comes in very handy if someone challenges what you teach your children. A record written in your and their own hand is powerful evidence and further supports the memory the lessons.

Part of teaching the whole child is to teach them how to work. Math is mainly Knowledge Work, work of the brain. But they also need to know the physical side as well. Chores are the simplest way of doing it. Provide them with a choice of chores to do, if your children are anything like mine they will gravitate toward certain chores rather then others. Suit the chores to the abilities of your children their innate talents and physical and mental maturity, you know them far better then any stranger ever will.
At first the chores will get done slower then if you would have done them but speed is not the issue the issue is are the children learning the benefits of work and asking the question "Is this the fastest, cheapest, easiest way of doing this?" "There must be a better way!" is the engineers rallying cry.

Don't be fooled by numerical legerdemain

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics."
Benjamin Disraeli

"Math is hard." as Barbie used to say. Math isn't hard. English is much harder then math and teaching english to your children is easy. You do it without even thinking about it.

Too often in public schools the way they teach math ends up with students knowing less math at the end of class then when they came in. It is called Taught Helplessness.

It was brought home to me when I was reading a book quite unrelated to mathematics, "The Design of Everyday Things" It is a book on User Interface Design or the study of how people and machines interact. He talks about something he ran into quite be accident and only as an aside.

There are two places he noticed that people have big problems: Computers and mathematics. computers used to be really cryptic and hard to use, so hard many people taught themselves how to not use the computer, because it always told them they were wrong and if you do that enough times they believe it.

Public schools teach math so badly that student taught to be helpless when it comes to that subject. Math becomes magic to them. Tutoring a student that has a textbook that has problems that make no sense, makes it very hard for them to understand the concept. All they really know is, "I did it wrong therefore I am stupid."

If you mention numbers or equations then their minds go blank and static fills their ears. It is like they become allergic to numbers. Arithmophobia is what is it called. They are afraid of numbers. Balancing a checkbook is impossible for them.

Then the media comes on with their polls. Have you ever noticed that all their polls have an error of +/-3%. You cannot specify the error rate beforehand, no matter how hard you try, reality gets in the way. A 3% error is basically a perfect score, that just doesn't happen in the real world, I would expect the error to jump around a lot, closer to 10% with 3% only being seen occasionally. My wife worked at a place doing telephone surveys, let me tell you they were in no way getting 3% error rates.

How easy is it influence someone when they hear something along the lines of : "Americans approve of whatever because 49 per_pshshshauairere_ (static fills their minds as the anchor starts talking about numbers and numbers pop up on the screen)? Pretty easy don't you think.

Don't let yourself or your children be fooled by numerical legerdemain Math is a powerful, powerful tool that lets you break through junk science.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Math is one of the success skills.

There are only a few skills that appear necessary for success. They appear to be: reading, writing, mathematics, fitness, problem solving, interpersonal, and face & name memory.

I am going to focus on mathematics.

Mathematics is a very badly taught skill in schools, that was really brought home to me when I was reading "The Design of Everyday Things" where Norman talks about Learned Helplessness. Students actually end up knowing less math coming out of school then when they went in. They learn to become dependent on the teacher for explanations. This is very bad in my eyes.

I have tutored many people in math and other subjects plenty of times, starting in high school. If you count other students cheating off my tests, it goes all the way back to the 1970's when I was in elementary school:)

Math is simply a language. And there is an important thing you have to learn first. Numbers are stand-ins for actual quantities. 1 is the same as *, ** is the same as 2, and so on.

Numbers are just an abstraction to make writing numbers a lot faster and easier. We could make our numbers be anything at all. Many early number systems, such as Greek and Hebrew just used letters to represent numbers, but unlike how we use letters to represent unknown quantities in algebra, they were constants. It would be similar to us saying a=1, b=2, c=3, and so on.

Just by counting things I've been able to teach my 2 year-old daughter to count.

Addition is straightforward enough. a group of ** and a group of **** put together are ******. but that would be a real pain to do the national budget with. so we use numbers instead of tally marks. The Roman numerals are little more then tally marks and doing calculations in that system is very hard.

So ** added to *** are *****, or 2 and 3 are 5, or 2+3=5. It is easy to see that the last is very easy to write. If you are starting to teach a young child to do math then start with physical quantities: blocks, pennies, pens or other small easy to move things. I would save candy for subtraction.

Subtraction is much the same. Though you have to make sure that at first you only subtract smaller quantities from larger quantities. Once they are familiar with that concept you'll see something interesting happen. They'll ask you, "What happens if we subtract a larger number from a smaller number?" Then you know they are ready for introducing negative numbers. You don't need to introduce number lines or anything like that. Number lines are important later, but so much later so learning them now doesn't really help. Negative numbers are just that negative. They'll deal with them just fine.

Math is a language. 1+1=2 because we defined it that way. Children learn to speak because we use words around them, they imitate us and we correct them. We don't even have to think about doing it. Math is a little more difficult for us to teach because we tend not to use it explicitly. We have to change, but it is worth it to help our children be successful.

Online Homeschool convention

This is a totally cool idea an online
homeschool convention.
This could be fun.

Monday, April 18, 2005

What we study so our children have the right to study good things

In 1780 Massachusetts patriot John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, outlining his vision of how American culture might evolve. ''I must study politics and war," he prophesied, so ''that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy." They will add to their studies geography, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, he continued, so that their children may enjoy the ''right to study painting, poetry, music . . . "

That is a great quote but, why is it worth sending my child to school if all the teachers quit.

An article in my local paper from the local school administration was encouraging parents and students to create a self-actualized education, "... to be the loudest chick in the nest" to get the best education you can.

If you are going to "self-actualize" your education you might as well homeschool, where you actually can.

Our children can be so much more, it is time to take them back from the schools and get to teaching them.

I am studying education and learning and history so I can teach my children so they can study language, music and art.

What Do You Want Your Children to Know and What Skills Do You Want Them to Have When They are 18-years-old?

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects." - Robert Heinlein

That is the fundamental question you are facing in the education of your children, and it doesn't matter if your child is in public school, private school or home school.
No matter the answers to that question you will have to take action to make sure your children have that knowledge and those skill, because no one loves or cares more about your children then you do.

You have two things to do:
Find and nourish your children's innate talents.
Impart the life skills necessary so your children can life a happy life and support their talents.

Everyone has been gifted with at least one talent that they can use to enrich everyones life with. As a parent your job is to find those talents and help your children develop them to the highest level they can.

What talents do your children have? I have no idea but just be observant, provide a wide range of activities, take note of your children's favorite activities in your learning journal and you will start seeing patterns emerge. The things your children are good at will be related to their talents.

Many talented people become complacent about their talent, since it comes so easy to them they don't work to improve. Help them to strive for perfection.

You May Only Be One Or Two Skills Away From Success.

Having a talent is not enough, they also have to a good balance of life-skills. There are many stories in the news of highly paid professional athletes who have no money management skills and end up in debt because they don't understand that their careers will end sooner rather then later.

I have met many young adults lately that are missing basic life skills, Sure, they can read—slowly, and write—with the help of a spelling and grammar checker. Their cooking skills top out at scrambled eggs and toast, and getting common stains out of clothes is a stumper. But cleaning the bathroom, and changing the oil in the car is something completely new to them. Balancing the checkbook is a process they don't understand at all. Maybe they have all lead sheltered lives, but I want my children to be able to function in day to day life.

Learning most skills is not all that hard: to pick up a new skill and get pretty good at it takes about 100 hours, to become expert in a skill all it takes is practice about 1000 hours of practice. To master a skill takes about 5000 hours.

My short list of skills for my children:
Literate: She should be able to read and write and get her point across.
Numerate: She should be able to balance her checkbook, and see how physics plays a major role in everyday life.
Articulate: She should be able to talk to people: alone or in front of a group and be understood.
Fitness: She should be able to take care of her body.
Homemaking skills: She should be able to take care of her clothes, house, car and cook meals.
Goal-setting skills: She should be able to set and achieve goals.
Time-management skills: She should be able to manage her time and energy effectively.
Memory skills: She should be able to remember names and faces.

In 1780 Massachusetts patriot John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, outlining his vision of how American culture might evolve. ''I must study politics and war," he prophesied, so ''that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy." They will add to their studies geography, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, he continued, so that their children may enjoy the ''right to study painting, poetry, music . . . "

That is a great quote but, why is it worth sending my child to school if all the teachers quit.

An article in my local paper from the local school administration was encouraging parents and students to create a self-actualized education, "... to be the loudest chick in the nest" to get the best education you can.

If you are going to "self-actualize" your education you might as well homeschool, where you actually can.

Our children can be so much more, it is time to take them back from the schools and get to teaching them.

I am studying education and learning and history so I can teach my children so they can study language, music and art.