Like everyone else, I’m heir to the prejudices of my culture. So even though I know firsthand that teaching is a profession, on some level I see it as an act of self-sacrifice, as a hard path undertaken for the greater good.
This might not sound like a prejudice. Not a damaging one, anyway. It paints a generous portrait of teaching as noble and virtuous—a useful antidote to the too-common caricature of educators as lazy, union-fed bureaucrats. This ethic of “the greater good,” in fact, helped draw many of us into the profession. What we lack in salary and prestige, we make up for in civic-mindedness, in moral conviction, in feeling we’ve taken a high road through our professional life.
But all this high-mindedness has a dark underbelly. In painting the choice to teach as an act of self-sacrifice, I believe that we may harm our schools more than we help them. Continue reading
Every month, I comb through the Google search terms that have led people to my blog. Then I reply to them as if they were letters. It’s a thing.
Q: equation of ugly funny?
Obviously, our senses of humor are as distinct and individual as our handwriting, our Facebook profiles, or the shapes of our noses. But in my view, this is the equation:
Q: how to make gf feel good about bad grades?
A: First, I’m glad you care about your girlfriend’s happiness (or, depending what “gf” stands for, your ghost-friend’s happiness). But rather than helping her feel good about low grades, try this.
Step 1: Help her feel good not about the grades, but about herself. Prove to her (or, in the ghost’s case, “it”) that you value her as an intelligent person, regardless of what her report card suggests.
Step 2: Help her raise the grades. Bad grades really are—as the name implies—bad. They can close off opportunities and create a harder path through your teens and early twenties. Whatever the way to raise her grades—tutoring, getting more sleep, finding a reliably quiet workspace, dropping expendable time commitments—it’s better than just throwing up her hands (or ghostly mist-appendages) and accepting bad marks.
In an email, Bonny Becker asks: How do I go about gaining a better understanding of what my math PhD-seeking son is talking about?
This question haunts those of us with a beloved mathematician in our lives. While most professions have a few dark rooms mysterious to outsiders, the field of mathematics feels like a palace in which every room is dark.
My first stab at a “cheating is bad” speech came when I realized the magnitude of over-the-shoulder copying on my daily trigonometry quizzes. It was epidemic. So, turning reluctantly from teacher to orator, I sat down the juniors and gave them two basic arguments.
First, cheating is bad for the cheater. It circumvents the very purpose of school, which is learning. When you cheat on homework, you deprive yourself of the chance to learn. And when you cheat on tests, you deprive me of the chance to measure your learning—and thereby to help you learn better.
And second, cheating is bad for others. How you perform in school determines your access to resources and opportunities in life. Thus, when you cheat, you’re lying to steal resources from honest folk.
A sharpshooting student can leave both these arguments riddled with bullet-holes. Continue reading
I believe no mathematical formula should remain a mysterious black box. So, in this post, I endeavor to explain one of high school math’s most notorious and opaque tools: the formula for the number of combinations of a given collection of objects.
I also believe every human pursuit can be made sweeter and more majestic by the mystic power of dance. So, in this post, I share with you the meticulously cultivated dance playlist from my wedding this June.
The result is a choose-your-own adventure blog post.
- If you’re generally curious about combinatorics (i.e., combinacurious), read 1-4.
- If you’re comfortably counting permutations but stuck on combinations, skip to 4.
- And whenever you’re ready to start dancing, jump straight to 5.
1. The Challenges of Counting
Counting is one of the hardest parts of math. I don’t mean 1-2-3-4-can-I-have-a-little-more counting. I mean counting groups. Collections. Possibilities. I mean counting permutations and combinations. Continue reading