Friday, June 18, 2010

More Support for AP and Indirectly Newsweek's Rankings

Online cheating on graded school work is a real problem.  Sites like answers work very well for many assessments taken at home and at school.  Even math problems are solved online.  My more open students love to take an online class, they claim "[they] finish in a day, get an A.  What are friends for?"  With more and more students taking online courses, the irregularities in grading remain unresolved.

AP, IB, and Cambridge tests are proctored and are identical to all takers.  Their results have integrity, if not validity.  As a teacher who has offered courses from many online curriculum providers, I deeply know how believable an A or B is from an online course completed at home.  Zip.  It is what it is.

Taking an AP test is far, far better than taking an online assessment.  Newsweek and Jay Mathews have it right from the standpoint of a beneficiary of a school's rigor, which is what really matters.

Wolfram|Alpha and Online Math - A Wonderfully Unfortunate Fit

Wolfram|Alpha brings much of Mathematica to everyone.  It is a wonder of the 21st century, and it greatly helps doing math homework in Algebra, Algebra 2, Trig and more.  As a result, grades must be determined by classroom testing and work alone.  Online, distance learning in mathematics is more than compromised - it's obliterated, if grading with credit is an outcome.

Consider StudyIsland, one of the best online programs.  One student completed the entire course with an A in a matter of a few class periods by placing each question into WolframAlpha - every possible problem.  It takes far longer to type a problem such as Solve 3/(x+6) + 2/(x+1) = x/(x^2+7x+6) than to get the answer.  Copy the problem yourself, paste it into Wolfram|Alpha and see.  The plot is a bit funny, but the answer is clear.  Obviously, this would be grand for instruction, but not evaluation.

In short, teach online, but grade in class.  Perhaps regional centers for proctored exam taking with video cameras on students and their computer screens will be the next growth industry.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Costa Mesa High School Ranks in Top 6% of US Schools

Costa Mesa has joined Corona del Mar and Newport Harbor in the top 6% of US high schools according to Newsweek's easy-to-understand 2010 list based on Summer 2009 data.  CdM ranks in the top 1% and Harbor ranks in the top 3%.

For reference, Irvine's exceptional University High School is included in the chart below.  The lower the score, the better.  Only 1,600 schools out of 27,000 made the cut.

Jay Mathews, an education reporter for the Washington Post and Newsweek, developed the structure of the data.  However, the Newport-Mesa Summary, source of the chart above, is solely the responsibility of Dennis Ashendorf.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Thank You - DonorsChoose - Robots

The following thank you also outlines how a DonorsChoose grant can morph.

Dear Lisa, Michael, Joel, Vicki, Duane, Terry, Christine, Arnie, Maria, Mike, Kristian, George, Shelly, Sy and anonymous donors,

Finding the right level of robotics with programming for continuation students poses challenges. Without your support, the sweet spot wouldn't have been found. Furthermore, your commitment help makes our robot curriculum transferable to conventional schools which may enhance their students's destinations such as First Robotics or VEX. In the future, this effort may lead to summer internships in university labs; where masters of Python, Labview, Matlab, and JMP/Minitab software are in demand.

It would have been easy to start with LEGO Mindstorm robots which use a simplified Labview language. Our continuation students are familiar with LEGO's, but that's about it. None have assembled models or wired electronics. Our school's solar panel installation program would benefit from students who know the difference between open and closed circuits. Parallax Sumobots and BOE-bots provide the needed mechanical and electrical background at low cost. These robots have built-in breadboards that force students to install LED's and speakers, for example.

The tradeoff is that their BASIC software doesn't employ graphics, just text. Students would have to start by puzzling over code, which was an open question before the DonorsChoose grant was submitted. To mitigate this concern, a cardboard robot and several plastic analog robots, OWI Sumobots, "programmed" with variable resistors, were included in the grant. The cardboard robot died a quick death and the analog robots were inconsistent. Students didn't learn much. However the Parallax robots were simple to build and actually easy-to-program: students merely copied other programs and tweaked them to see how robots would respond to modified software. Fun and learning resulted. Showing off robot battles and robot travels impressed friends and teachers.

In the future, two or four students per math lab (3-5 per day) will work on a robotics/software/wiring curriculum. They will start with MIT's Scratch and Microsoft's Small Basic. Next they will work with MIT's Picocricket and inexpensive Parallax microcontroller breadboards. Finally, they will program and fight with the Parallax robots. As an option, they can either venture into greater depth with sensors on the Arrick Arobot platform or move into VEX robots.

None of this would have been possible without your help. You encouraged a few students today and many more at the start of next year. If you have questions, please contact me. Thank you for assisting DonorsChoose in its efforts to assist teachers directly. You made a difference.

With gratitude,
Mr. A