22 November 2010

Maybe it's not cheating, but it definitely lacks academic integrity

The news that hundreds of business students, from the same class, at the University of Central Florida, cheated on their mid-term exam has by now been discussed and dissected.  The term "cheating" is rather petty, though, almost as though it's something that only young children do, and that's probably why a lot of students there don't like being labelled cheaters even though they must know full well that what they did lacked academic integrity and that they are culpable.

The gist of the whole thing, in chronological order, is that Professor Richard Quinn had stated a long while prior to the midterm that he wrote the exams himself. Just prior to the midterm, a test bank had been circulated around a large portion of the student body, so a large portion (from a third to a half) of the students got to study from a test bank.

Later, during the midterm, students discover that the questions all came out of the test bank! After the midterm, Prof. Quinn looked at the marks and discovered that there was statistical anomalies, strongly suggesting that something was amiss. Then some anonymous individual printed off and dropped off the test bank to Quinn, exposing the reason for the statistical anomalies Quinn found in the marks.

So what is Quinn to do?

19 November 2010

emacs search and replace over multiple files

The built-in emacs search and replace facility is pretty great, but doing the same thing over multiple files is a bit of a pain.

There is a great package that makes it easy though: FindrPackage.

Install it using elpa package manager, but I had to do some manual adjustment of my .emacs file afterwards (not sure why the installer didn't automatically do this). The adjustments are documented under the heading "Installation" here.

One thing to note though. Findr's search and replace is interactive, so that's great. But the recursive find isn't obviously interactive, and after the first search result, you may be confused as to how to go to the next result. The key is to use the M-x tags-loop-continue command.

You may want to remap a key binding to make tags-loop-continue easier, by inserting into your .emacs file this line:

(define-key global-map [(meta ,)] 'tags-loop-continue)

Then a simple M-, after using Findr's search function will let you incrementally search for the next result in the files you indicated to be searched through.

15 November 2010

Can you get success without hard work? On average, no.

It's fascinating how the importance to success that long hours of hard work is, is so often missed or dismissed.

In "Your Child Left Behind", Ripley forwards the notion that standardized tests and curriculum is important to improving education in the USA.  And that, in fact, it's more important than controlling the inputs to education (money spent, teacher/student ratio, etc).

Now, I don't doubt the importance of standardized tests and curriculum at all.  What I was actually struck by in that essay was this comparison:
Last year, a study comparing standardized math tests given to third-graders in Massachusetts and Hong Kong found embarrassing disparities. Even at that early age, kids in Hong Kong were being asked more-demanding questions that required more-complex responses.
This comparison seems to imply something about standardized curriculum and tests, but it completely ignores a major difference in the input to the education system of Hong Kong.  That of private tutors.  Private tutoring in Hong Kong is a big business, and more than half of Hong Kong's students get private assistance outside of school [1].  This is something that is pervasive, occurring at almost all grade levels [2].

My sense is that tutoring is still not a major contributor to the education "system" in the USA, and certainly not in Canada.  Based on my own experience in Canada, I know a fair portion of teachers even actively discourage the students and families from seeking tutors.  This difference in outside of school, tutoring style, input to students' education is an absolutely important difference.

Working out the numbers, if a student attends an hour of tutoring a week for, say, 40 weeks of schooling, that works out to an extra almost 7 weeks of focused, adult supervised and assisted learning.  Many students in Hong Kong attend tutoring sessions more frequently than that.

14 November 2010

Getting a handle on the bullying issue

I'm just trying to get a handle on the bullying issue. It's such a complicated problem, and it's a bit naive to think there's a single answer to solving it, because it's not even just one single problem. The problem of bullying exists only insofar as there many many problems in bullying.

Two polar opposite singular answers that I read of recently: Marshall is on one extreme end of aggressively confronting bullies, while Pearce is on the other end of loving bullies to stop them (but be sure to see also his second and third responses).  There's also a good, balanced, discussion over on Hacker News, but it still seems very one dimensional in understanding the bullying issue.

I don't have answers here, I just want to write down some of my own thoughts to help organize a system of understanding of the issue.  There are, it seems to me, two sets of questions that needs to be addressed, one set centred on the bullied, and one set centred on the bullies.

What problems led the bullies to bully? They weren't born bullies, I don't think, so along the way, something happened to them.  This means that we shouldn't really be thinking of bullies, but on students who engage in bullying behaviour.  Bullies are not terrorists or "enemies of the state", they are our children; educators and parents have a responsibility to help them disengage from, or avoid engaging in, bullying behaviours.

What can we do, as educators and parents, to help students avoid engaging in bullying behaviour in the first place?  This applies especially to students who have had a history of bullying others.  Maybe we should be loving them to death, so to speak.  Maybe it's anger issues, or maybe it's some group mentality, that needs addressing.  Especially for very young students, they may sometimes just be ignorant of how to properly conduct themselves.

12 November 2010

Obscure and often used emacs key bindings

Nowadays I juggle programming Clojure in emacs on Ubuntu, and C++ in Visual Studio on Windows.  Despite using what emacs key bindings I can in Visual Studio, I still have to keep track of two very different text editors.

So I'm going to start collecting some emacs key bindings I often use here that are, well, obscure:

Formatting text:

C-M-\ for applying auto-indenting on a marked region
M-q for applying auto-hard-line-breaking on a marked region

Using registers:

C-x r s n for copying text in marked region into register n, for n between 0 - 9 (and apparently other single ascii char, but I'm not sure).
C-x r r n for copying text in marked rectangular region into register n.
C-x r i n for inserting text from register n to current point (be it rectangular or otherwise).

C-x r SPC n for copying the current point/location in the file into register n.
C-x r j n for jumping to the point/location in the file saved into register n.

(See also Registers and Bookmarks.)

In paredit mode:

C-u del or C-u C-d to force the deletion of a character (without paren matching getting in the way)
C-q x for arbitrary character x will force insert the character x (without paren matching getting in the way)

That's all for now.

10 November 2010

Book Review: Art and Science of Teaching


The Art and Science of Teaching by Robert Marzano is subtitled, "A Comprehensive Framework for Effective Instruction." I would suggest emphasizing "Framework" in that description over "Comprehensive", but that is not to say the book is bad. In fact, I recommend this book, especially for the big ideas it discusses in some detail on effective teaching.

I've been meaning to write a brief review of this book as it's been given to me as a gift a long time ago.  It's a solid book of big ideas with adequate examples of how those ideas might be implemented in a classroom.  Ideas regarding, for example, how a teacher can "establish and maintain effective relationships with students," and how to "help students practice and deepen their understanding of new knowledge."

The ideas are great, and examples are good, and the ideas are backed up by research (that's the science part of the book).  I'd love to try employing more of these ideas into my own classroom in the future.  There are, however, two major flaws in the book I should mention.

05 November 2010

Teachers using web technologies must stay agile

I'm not against using cutting-edge technologies in the classroom.  I'm all for teachers experimenting with new information technologies for student learning, but we need to recognize that in today's world, applied technologies is moving faster than any traditional research methodologies can plausibly keep up with.

That puts pressure on teachers to stay up-to-date in ways where educational technology research actually doesn't help very much. Case in point, Ferriter writes for Educational Leadership the article, Drop.io: One-Stop Sharing, sharing how Drop.io can be used to enable more effective teaching practice.  That was published in September 2010.

In October 2010, Drop.io is purchased by Facebook and then shut-down.  The relevant lifespan of that article has been only about one month!

Actually, educators everywhere are lucky that the lifespan of that article was so short.  Had it been a year, for example, there might have been a principal somewhere who reads that article, implements professional development for teachers to learn to use Drop.io, then only to find it was all for naught a year later.