Monday, January 31, 2011

Why Don't Women Contribute to Wikipedia?

I've had a terrible muscle cramp or something in my right shoulder blade today, so I'm not really up to much blogging tonight. So I thought I would just post an article that I found intriguing, even though it doesn't really deal directly with high schoolers, although it does have some impact at all ages....

The Wikimedia Foundation, the organization that is responsible for Wikipedia, did a study that showed that only 13% of people who write Wikipedia entries are women. The question, of course, is why such a collaborative, community-driven, and open-access project as Wikipedia is so male dominated. There have been a rash of articles written investigating this subject, but my favorite is this one by the New York Times.

Does it matter? Well, I think it probably does (which is how I connect it to high schoolers). Wikipedia is just such an important resource in our digital age. A recent Pew survey reported that over half of the adults who regularly use the Internet rely on Wikipedia for information (with usage skewed towards the younger adult population). I use it with my son at least several times a week. It is one of the resources that I've taught him is relatively reliable as an information source. But while I trusted the community vetting of information, I had never imagined that there would be such a gender difference among the writers.

With such an overwhelming percentage of male contributors, however, I now have to assume an underlying male bias. The New York Times article reports several instances of topics of interest to women that contain only a few paragraphs, whereas topics of interest of men have much more extensive entries.

Is this really a problem? I'm not sure, but intuitively, I don't like it. What should we do about it? I don't know. But I'm just glad to be aware of the issue, and to perhaps be a bit more careful about recommending it to my students as an exclusive or definitive information source.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Art Competition: Doodle 4 Google

Google is running an art competition that will result in some K-12 student having his or her design as the logo for the Google home page for one entire day! Entitled "Doodle 4 Google" ("Doodle" being the name Google gives for the specialized adaptations of its corporate logo that are displayed for special days on its home page), a panel of celebrity judges will select up to two designs from each of four age groups from each state (with Washington DC students competing with the Maryland students). The four age groups are Grades K-3, 4-6, 7-9, and 10-12, so high schoolers are definitely invited to participate. Also, the contest rules specifically state that homeschooled students are eligible to compete. The design should illustrate the theme, "What I'd like to do someday...."

Besides having her/his work displayed on the Google home page for a day, the National Winner will receive a $15,000 college scholarship, a laptop and digital drawing tablet, and a tee shirt printed with the winning design. The three National Finalists (one of whom came from North Carolina last year) each get a $5,000 college scholarship, a digital drawing tablet, and a tee shirt of their design. There will be 40 Regional Finalists who will all be sent to New York to participate in an event to honor their artwork.

To enter, students must register by March 2, 2011, and have their artwork postmarked by March 16, 2011. There will be an online vote by the public on May 4-13, so even if you don't enter, you can help select the ultimate winner.

For complete details, see the contest web page here.

As I've stated in earlier contest announcements, let us know if any of our reader families enters, especially if you end up as a finalist. We would love to see, and maybe even get to vote for, your artwork!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Free Online Class for Parents and Teachers on the Psychology of Math Learning

Can psychological theories, such as personality type and learning style, help explain why some students take naturally to math while others struggle? This is a subject of a FREE online class that I will be leading for the next six weeks through the School of Math Future in Peer-to-Peer University (called P2PU).

Actually, while it is called a class, it is more like a technology-facilitated discussion group. The philosophy behind P2PU is that people with common interests all have something to share with each other, even if some have more experience or schooling than others. So I am setting up the structure of the classes and giving us all some exercises and/or reading so we have some common ground to talk about, but all the participants will be equally involved in coming up with answers, or at least suggestions, to the discussion topics.

The structure of the class is that each week we will focus on one type of psychological theory and see if it can help to explain why some of us find math to breeze while others just don't seem to "get it." The proposed theories we will be exploring are:

Myers-Briggs Personality Style
Left-brained/Right-brained Learners
Learning Modalities
Gender Differences
Participants will take online assessment tests and post their results to the group, along with a written reflections whether they think that assessment has any baring on their success or failure in math. Thus, most of the class will take place asynchronously through sharing written statements on the class forum. However, there will be one "real-time" web discussion each week, which will take place on Tuesday evenings at 9:00 PM Eastern time. Class members who are available at that time will pose questions and exchange thoughts on that week's assignments; the other members can review the discussion at their convenience, since the "live" sessions will be taped. I expect that participating in the class will require approximately 2-3 hours per week (doing the assessments, writing posts, engaging in the "live" discussion, etc.).

Here is the official description of the class:

More than almost any other discipline, mathematics can cause real angst for those students who just "don't get it" (have you ever heard of "history anxiety" or "art anxiety"?). But why do some students find math to be a fun, natural, and creative discipline, while others struggle and just can't seem to figure it out, no matter how hard they work on it? To answer this question, educators tend to focus on the "nurture" factors, such as the parents' abilities and feelings about math, whether the student lives in a math-rich environment, the quality of the math teachers, or the type of curriculum followed. But in this class, we'll be exploring the "nature" side of the question. We will look at psychological theories, such as personality style, learning style, and gender differences, to see if they can illuminate why some of us think math is joy, while for others it seems more like a nightmare.
Learning objectives

The objectives of this course are:
to learn some basics about psychological theories such as personality styles, learning modalities, and gender differences;
to assess our own styles within these theories and consider whether they had an influence on our experience with math;
to share our assessment with each other to see if we can find any general trends that relate specific psychological traits to math success or failure.
If you are interested in joining us, please follow the signup instructions on the P2PU website at: . But the class starts next week (this session runs from January 26 - March 9, 2011), so be sure to respond soon if you are interested.

The School of Math Future also has some other free classes running on P2PU. They include

Math-rich baby and toddler environment
Introduction to Math Art
Create+Share Math Interactives
Mathematics for Game Designers
Short Calculus
Mathematics Curriculum Development
CPD through Twitter for Mathematics educators

All are free and still have space available as of this evening, although space is limited.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Two Stories on Martin Luther King Jr.

Happy Martin Luther King's Day! Of course, today is just the official celebration; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s actual birthday is January 15--same as my son! For the past several years, we've done some community service on this day, but we're kind of under the weather this year. So I guess my community service is passing on these two stories from recent articles that I think really speak to who Martin Luther King was as a leader and to the vision he had for our country.

The first is a tale told by Clarence B. Jones, Dr. King's friend, lawyer, and assistant speechwriter. The Washington Post printed a condensed version of the story behind King's most famous speech as explained in Jones' (with co-author Stuart Connelly) new book, Behind the Dream: The Making of he Speech That Transformed A Nation. According to Jones, King and his associates were so busy managing the logistics of the huge March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, scheduled for August 28, 1963, that they didn't even get to start working on the speech until the night before. Numerous different constituencies--civil rights groups, unions, academia, churches, and community organization--had all been collaborating in pulling this off, and each had ideas about what needed to be included in the speech. So Jones drafted a preliminary speech that tried to incorporate all those points of views, which MLK eventually took to his bedroom that night to work on and pray over.

The next day, the event seemed to be unfolding without a hitch--wonderful weather, well managed logistics, and no violent encounters as had been feared. All that remained was for Dr. King to put his personal capstone on the gathering. That epiphanal speech started out virtually as Jones had written it. But then that butterfly wing that changes the world happened. In this case, the butterfly was gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, one of Dr. King's favorite singers and closest supporters who had performed earlier in the day. Jackson spontaneously called out, "Tell 'em about the dream, Martin, tell 'em about the dream." And Dr. King, inspired by her comment, put aside his prepared speech, and spoke to this massive crowd off the cuff, from his heart, and repeating what are some of the most famous words of the 1960's, if not of the entire century--I have a dream.

It was a brilliant performance by a brilliant speaker, and it delivered exactly the message that the crowd--and, really, the world--needed to hear at that time. But it shows what courage, what confidence, and what faith the man had--and the risks he was willing to take to listen to what his heart, and not his head, told him to do. The religious, of course, believe he was taken over by spirit. But even if you don't believe in a spiritual power, you have to believe that he was completely in touch with, and totally surrendered to, the needs of the people at that moment in time.

The speech is a marvel, regardless of where it came from or by whom or how it was written (you can read or listen to the speech at the American Rhetoric Top 100 Speeches website). But I think this story demonstrates his other leadership qualities besides just his suburb speaking ability.

The second story is more of an anecdote told by actress Nichelle Nichols, the African American woman who played the TV barrier-busting role of Lieutenant Uhura in the original Star Trek series. In an article for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nichols confessed that after the first year of the show, she planned to leave to pursue her personal ambitious to perform on Broadway. However, the weekend after she had told the show's create, Gene Roddenberry, about her desire to quit, she attended an NAACP fundraiser where she met Dr. King, who informed her that he was "the biggest Trekkie on the planet." Dr. King waxed eloquently about Nichols' role on the show--her grace, dignity, strength, and character. So when Nichols admitted that she was leaving the show, Dr. King told her she couldn't. He convinced her that Star Wars was giving people a picture of the kind of future society he was trying to describe in his speeches (such as the "I Have A Dream" speech). Black, white, Asian, and Alien men and women working together where competence, rather than color, culture, or country, mattered--that was something that the American people needed to see at that time.

And like King himself at that tremendous rally, Nichols surrendered to the moment. If Dr. King thought it was that important for her to continue doing the show, then she decided to turn aside her personal desires and commit herself to the role for as long as it took. Between the TV show and the Star Trek movies, Nichols never really realized her goal of singing and dancing in Broadway musicals. Yet she says that, looking back, she doesn't regret a moment of it. And the scores of people, particularly black women, who looked up to her as role models as they were growing up (including Whoopi Goldberg and the first African-American female astronaut, Dr. Mae Jeminson) are glad that she didn't.

I love both these stories about Dr. King because they show a man who not only got the big things right--like the plans and speech for the March on Washington--but also the little ones....hearing the wisdom in a random statement, or seeing the possibility in a (then) little known television show.

These are great stories to teach our children how a great leader works--no matter what his or her gender, background, race, country, or political or religious persuasion.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Why Wake County Board Should Continue Accreditation with AdvancedED

All in all, it hasn't been a good week for the Wake County Board of Education.

After the first three days of the week being either early release, cancelled, or opened late due to ice, school were having a rocky week. Then Wednesday night, the Board had another public meeting filled with angry and concerned parents. This time the contention was over statements by some of the Board that they might just choose to drop their accredited status, rather than answer the questions being posed by AdvancED, the accrediting agency for the Wake system. The Board majority's compromise decision was to write a letter to AdvancED regarding the restrictions under which they would agree to cooperate with the agency's attempts to investigate charges of racial discrimination and improper board procedures lodged by the state's NAACP chapter. Less than 24 hours later, the Board received AdvancED's response, which was basically "Sorry, Charlie." I'm sure it was stated in more appropriate legalese, but AdvancED could have reduced it to the immortal words of the Jeffrey Rush character in my favorite movie of the moment, The King's Speech, when he said, "My game, my turf, my rules." That is, the whole point of accreditation is to have an experienced, unbiased, outside team of educational experts look at the operation of a school to assure the public of its quality (or alert them to lack thereof). They can't really do that if the schools they are examining tell them what parts of the system they can and can not look into.

Then, on Friday, the head educator in the entire country, the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, chose to single out Wake Country among all the public school systems in the country to question its commitment to racial equity. And this was not an off-hand comment captured on someone's iPhone; it was stated in a Letter to the Editor of the Washington Post expressing his concerns about the WCPSS as depicted in a Washington Post article that I mentioned earlier this week. (Click here to see the letter in the Washington Post.)

Although it may not seem like it, I really try hard to understand the point of view of the Republican majority on the School Board, and I do my best to see them in their best light. Nonetheless, I have to say that I think it would be foolish for the Board to continue down this destructive path towards non-accreditation. There are three major arguments against pursuing this course of action:

1. Lack of Accreditation Will Hurt Graduating Students

Accreditation is the accepted procedure for colleges to know you are coming from a respectable school system. Losing your accreditation--or voluntarily withdrawing from accreditation when under an investigation--makes the system look fishy. Board Chair Margiotta, in his ignorance?arrogance? I don't know, I'm having a hard time finding a more neutral term here, states that since Wake County is so big, he is sure that colleges won't stop excepting Wake County graduates. He's probably right--for schools in North Carolina. I'm sure there's no way that NC State or UNC is going to ban all Wake County schools from their campuses, nor will ECU or probably Duke or other colleges in the state. But that understanding of this special situation will fade the further from North Carolina the high school students are looking to roam. Some colleges, especially the highly competitive ones, have an automatic "kick-out" of candidates from non-accredited way to keep the numbers manageable. Will they go back and make an exception for Wake County students? I don't know, but if I had a child graduating in the next year or so, I wouldn't want to count on it.

Furthermore, there are some programs, loans, internships, and scholarships that have legal requirements that students graduate from accredited schools (sometimes with exceptions for homeschoolers). They don't have any choice about it--Wake County students will not be eligible for those. So, sure, if you have a child who graduates from Wake County, is only interested in going to a North Carolina college, and doesn't need these restricted loans or scholarships, whether the schools are accredited or not probably doesn't make that much difference. But I think there are a lot of North Carolina high schoolers who don't fit into that category.

2. AdvancED is NOT Your Enemy; They Could Even Turn Out to Be Your Best Friend

AdvancED is not reviewing the operation to come in and tell the Board what to do or to tell them how to assign students to schools. AdvancED is supposed to be like a mediator or arbitrator; someone from the outside who can look at the issues with an impartial eye and give a ruling on which side is right. For months now, the NAACP, leading the charge for many other critics, has charged that the Board acted against its own established procedures and agreed to a policy that will lead to racially discriminatory education. The Board responded that they followed the correct procedures and have their arguments about how the new school assignments will benefit all students in the county. The NAACP has one set of statistics backing up their side; the Board has another set backing up their contentions. Whose figures are right? Were procedures followed or not? The latter question, at least, seems like there should be a simple yes or no answer to it. But we have been given no answer, nor even a suggestion of how we are going to achieve such an answer; instead, we have month after month of each side arguing over the same points and making no headway in proving their points.

Enter AdvancED. THAT is their job--to answer that question (among others). If the Board REALLY believes they have followed the appropriate procedures, and they REALLY believe their statistics are more valid than the ones of their critics, they should welcome AdvancED to come and tell the public, The Board is right, they did things properly, and their figures are appropriate. If AdvancED backed up their decision, that would take a lot of the wind out of the sails of the critics. Maybe we could even move on and get something accomplished. However, as I stated in an earlier post, this is not the first time that the Board majority acts like people outside their own ranks are out to get them.

3. Guess What? You're Going to Have to Answer those Questions Even If You Drop Your Accreditation

Let us not forget that this fight with AdvancED is not the only regulatory problem the Board has on their plate. The U.S. Education Department's Office of Civil Rights has not just one, but TWO, investigations of Wake County pending--one for racial discrimination, another for sexual discrimination (in interscholastic sports). And while you can chose to drop your accreditation rather than answer those pesky questions from AdvancED, you can't just opt out of a Civil Right discrimination suit brought by the US government....a suit that will be bound to ask all those same questions and MORE.

This is where Secretary Duncan's letter is so significant. As I've said before, I grew up in the Washington DC area, so I am fluent in DC-ese. Therefore, allow me to translate this letter. This letter is a warning to Wake County not to try to blow off and bluster through these discrimination complaints. There is NO WAY Secretary Duncan would mention Wake County in that context without someone in his office having checked into the case and decided that there were legitimate reasons for concern that the system was racially discriminating.

So the Board can stick their heads in the sand if they want and force AdvancED to leave--at the expense of Wake County graduates. But you can bet your bottom dollar that there will be at least an investigation, if not a lawsuit, coming from the federal Office of Civil Rights. And refusing to cooperate with AdvancED will make the suits in DC even more suspicious that there is something rotten in the county of Wake.

The best thing the Board could do for the schools, the public, and particularly for ITSELF is to get out of its own way and cooperate with AdvancED. But will it? As my Magic 8 Ball says, "Cannot predict now."


On a happier and less complicated note--today is my son's 12th birthday! Happy Birthday to Him! But it makes me kind of sad to think that this is the last year before he turns into a teenager...

Friday, January 14, 2011

Applications to Be a 2011 JASON National Argonaut Due February 28

The JASON Project, a science, math, and engineering education program geared to middle schoolers that I've mentioned before in my blog for their fantastic curricular resources, is accepting applications for students who want to be 2011 JASON National Argonauts. In this highly competitive program, students spend up to 10 days in the summer working in the field with professional scientists investigating some real topic in oceanography. The rest of the year, they work with The JASON Project through speaking engagements, podcasts, posts on forums, and such. All travel, equipment, food and boarding, and other expenses of participating (and the field experiences are international) are paid by JASON.

To be eligible, students must be 14 or 15 by June 1, 2011. However, if you have younger students who may want to apply in the future, I suggest you check out the application now. Students have to show great promise in math or science, as well as demonstrating a good academic and community service background. However, they are also looking for students to have some physical skills, including swimming, snorkling, diving, rock climbing, and the like. So if you are serious about applying for this program, you could spend the time until you are old enough working on some of those experiences to help you be a more competitive candidate.

The information about applying is on the JASON website (you will have to create an account in order to access it, I believe). You can also address additional questions to The application deadline is February 28, 2011.

Good luck to anyone who applies. Make you that you let us know if you make it!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

FREE and Half-Priced Curricula at CurrClick Secret Sale

Shhhhhh CurrClick has a secret...
CurrClick, one of the largest providers of e-book and other online curricula for all levels and disciplines of undergraduate study, is having a Winter Whisper sale. The deal is that they have a "secret" page of FREE and half-price curricula that you can't find just by going to their normal website (like the links above), but only by having access to the special sale links. However, they encourage those who have access to the links to share them with their's kind of a "word of social networks" kind of sale.

The good news is that for those of you who didn't win the Hands of A Child give-away I had on my blog at the end of the year, you can get a free HOAC lapbook unit on Snakes by going to this page. There is another free lapbook unit on Amphibians from A Journey Through Learning, so you can combine them into a nice herpetology lesson. But my favorite on the Freebie page is a comprehensive set of forms that you can use for homeschooling record keeping....attendance, book lists, lesson plans, even high school transcript forms! Once again, click here to get to the special Freebies page.

There are also HUNDREDS of other curricular packages that are discounted to half price or so on this special sale page. For example, one that I just purchased was by A Journey Through Learning called "An Overview of the 19th Century (A Unit Study with Correlating Copy Work and Games)." Geared for upper elementary through middle school, it is the spine of American history in the 1800's. While I think it needs some supplementing for the middle school level, it has some great visuals and timelines and such that help the students link together the various aspects of this busy time in American history. This is exactly the kind of curriculum that I wouldn't necessarily buy at the full price of $17.00, but since we are studying 19th century history this year, it is worth the sale price of $8.50 to me not to have to go find all these timeline images and such on my own. But you have to go through the sale page to get it for this price (which I why I can't give you a link to go directly to this particular package).

Anyway, there is lots of good curricula at a really good price, so go check it out. But the sale is only running until January 19, 2011, so you only have about one week to download the freebies or buy the others at a discount. And feel free to forward this information to your friends, colleagues, or other networks. I know we can all use some bargains at this time of the year!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Movie Review: The King's Speech

Last night, my husband and I went to the The King's Speech, the movie about how Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue helped King George VI overcome his stammer when he was forced to give public speeches upon gaining the throne after the abdication of his brother, King Edward VIII. Like almost all the critics, we loved this movie. It features terrific actors, it captures the look and feel of the time perfectly, it is based on true events, and it has an uplifting ending. My husband and I don't get out to the movies much, but if we do, this is exactly the kind of movie I want to see.

The subject matter is appropriate for middle school and high school students. It provides some background on the lead up to World War II, and certainly gives Americans a better picture of the family of the current Queen, Queen Elizabeth II, and of the institution of monarchy altogether. Even more importantly, I think it gives some great lessons about heroism. It is a great example of how we might admire someone famous or from a great family or with great power, and never realize that they, just like all of us, have their own challenges to overcome, their own demons to face. Colin Firth's "Bertie" is a man who is surrendered to his duty, who is noble and persistent and struggles to live up to what his nation and his people need him to be, even if it is not the path he would have chosen for himself. Helen Bonham Carter makes a wonderful wife to the would-not-be King, sweet and strong and stoic and compassionate all at once. (Her performance is especially delightful since the last time we saw her, she was playing Bellatrix Lestrang in the latest Harry Potter movie, where she is pretty much the polar opposite of the role she plays here.) And Geoffrey Rush's Lionel Logue is an eccentric commoner who never loses his dignity and refuses to be pushed around in the face of the royal juggernaut of honors and procedures, facing down the issues of power and class differences that were quite a big deal at the time. It is really a film about everyone striving to be their best selves under trying circumstances, which is a message that none of us, but especially our middle and high school students, can hear often enough.

The issue in sharing this movie with students, however, are several instances of extreme profanity. The swearing scenes, which are a great contrast to the language in the rest of the movie, serve a dramatic purpose. Nonetheless, many of us may not feel comfortable taking our children to a movie with language that is profane enough to have earned the film an R rating.

So you may have to wait until it comes out on DVD, and then fast forward over a couple of bits. Other than that, however, it is a great movie for teaching students a variety of lessons, historical and otherwise.