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Friendly Competition

April 16, 2014

I want to start this off by saying that I have an addiction to pub trivia.  It’s true.  It started in Colorado when I discovered Geeks Who Drink, and then flamed back up when I found Quizzo in Detroit.  I am by no means that smartest person in the room, I am not even close to the smartest person in my group of co-worker friends, but I have a completely different background and a healthy dose of competition.  So when I’m the one who turns in the answers at the end of the round, I’m the one who picks up the “speed bonus round”, and I like reading words, so I can’t help that I get excited and answer 8 of the 10 questions before the rest of my team gets a chance to even look at the paper.

In some ways, it makes me feel like a bad team member for answering all the questions, but I’m the one who walks the answer up every round, and so why not let me have the first crack at the answers?  In addition to the speed bonus rounds, I also get very competitive about answers that I suggested which turned out to be correct, but I was vetoed and a different answer was written down.  To be fair, I am not the only one who comes up with the correct answer, but it isn’t picked.  But some of that back and forth, and the risk of having the wrong answer, is what I love about pub trivia.  I love seeing the knowledge that my friends have, or the dumb luck of some random guess being the correct answer.  Actually, that’s a funny phenomenon, to randomly throw out a guess, and then have it be the correct answer.  Could that be a sign that the knowledge was learned at some point, whether directly or indirectly? Or is it just a case of dumb luck?

Back to my original thoughts,  pub trivia is one of the few areas where I get really competitive with someone other than myself.  And I can’t stop playing.  Anyone else have something that they just can’t stop doing?

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Changing definitions

April 15, 2014

I want to change the way a word is defined.  In my limited lifetime, I have heard about words that used to mean one thing, but now mean another, and I want to add to that change in vernacular.  The term “geek” used to be an insult.  If you were a geek, you were someone who was very smart, but socially inept.  You wore thick glasses, were either a skinny rail of an awkward guy, or an ugly duckling if you were female.  At some point, that mentality began to change.  Being a “nerd” is becoming more acceptable.  This is due in part by the internet, tv and movie, and by celebrities themselves.  While the new definition of being a “geek” has become something that is more socially acceptable, the mentality is that “geeks” are immature, that they’re just being silly children, playing at fantasies.

I think being a geek is more than that.  I think being a geek is about passion.  It doesn’t matter what the passion is, but it does typically lead to a person getting more knowledge on the subject.  Typically the label of geek is given when someone has a lot of knowledge, or spends a lot of time participating in the item that earned them the moniker of geek.  I translate this to being passionate.  Passion is a good thing.  Passion is what drives us to get up in the morning.  So why is being passionate about something a negative?  Why is it a sign of “not having grown up”?

There are plenty of people whom I would call a geek, that are not necessarily the stereotypical “geek”.  I think anyone that gets really excited and passionate about fantasy football, or “March Madness” brackets is a geek.  We should stop discouraging passion.  We should stop making knowledge something to be ashamed of.  I work with a guy that is so knowledgeable about cars, that it’s become a game to come up with something that he can’t answer off the top of his head.  I think it’s awesome.

Kids are curious and passionate about things, and then we drill it out of them.  We make the idea of reading for fun seem like a sign of anti-social personality.  It doesn’t matter what you’re passionate about, it’s important to have passions.  And having passions doesn’t make you less mature, or less of an adult, or less of anything.  Being a geek doesn’t define who you are, it’s only a part of who you are.  Let’s stop making being a geek a bad thing, and encourage everyone to embrace it.  Because face it, that young mother who says that she’s had to grow up and is no longer a geek, probably has something that she’s passionate about, and that means she is a geek, because being a geek isn’t something you grow out of, it’s part of who you are.

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I’m the only woman in the room

April 7, 2014

Most of the time, I’m the only woman in the room.  I’m the only female in my group, and usually in meetings, I’m the only female there too.  I hate that I’m drawing attention to this.  I hate that this is still a significant thing, but it is.  Women are starting to gain numbers.  In my group of 12 co-worker “new hires” 5 of us are female.  So the number is growing, but it’s still relatively lonely to be the only female, or one of the few females in a meeting.  I understand that outside of STEM, this isn’t as lopsided as it may seem, but engineering is my world, where I make my memories.

How do we change that?  How do you get women into engineering when the stigma is that it’s a “boys club”?  I know that companies tried to target women by offering a perfume making kit, or other “girly” things.  That wouldn’t interest me.  What would have interested me was building a trebuchet and having some sort of target.  Once again, I think about the engineering class I took in high school and how I decided to take the easy way out, because I didn’t think people would have listened to me.  If I could go back and do that year aain, I would have participated in building the robot.  Maybe we could have actually accomplished the task if I had helped out.  Instead, I took the easy way out and decided that I should make the notebook because I’d be the only one to have a feminine touch.  That’s a cop-out and I kick myself for having used it.  But I can’t change the past, I can only hope that I’ll make choices from here on out that will break that mold.

So my first step in breaking through is that I’m going on a tour at work that will also include helping take apart an engine.  You heard me right, I’m going to help take apart an engine.  Boo.Yah.

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Starting conversations

March 20, 2014

When I first came up with the idea of this blog, I had a million ideas about what I was going to do.  And for awhile, I was able to keep up with the demand I had put on myself.  I was able to spend a little time during the day writing down my thoughts, and if I had comments on the blog, I thought it was a great day.  Time passed, and the blog stopped being a priority and I stopped having things that I really wanted to talk about.  But now I am back.  And this time, I want conversations.

I have really begun to value talking, but also listening.  There are so many other opinions and thought processes out there in the world, and I want to take them all in.  One of the things that I’ve really enjoyed about my job is that I get to work with people from all different backgrounds.  It’s fun to talk about conventions behind naming children, or how someone views ways to show company loyalty.  It’s all fascinating.  I believe that sharing these stories and having these conversations make my job more enjoyable.  I am able to relate to the people I work with, but also can walk away at the end of the day feeling like I’ve learned something new.  And maybe so has someone else.

To be honest, I’ve really struggled in writing this entry.  I left work with a great idea in my head, and then as I sat down to write, I started questioning whether I should go the route I wanted to or not.  The bottom line is this.  I work in a field that consists mainly of men, and I want to change that culture.  I want to change acceptance of phrases like “you know who really wears the pants in the relationship” not because it’s offensive, but because it doesn’t add anything to the conversation.  I read an abstract for a book that talks about gender differences, but when I first read it, my reaction was that the author was telling the readers to change who they are, in order to get ahead, and that’s not something I agree with.

One of my biggest complaints came with a bullet point in the abstract about how if a woman felt like she was being discriminated against as a result of her gender, that before she makes the report, she should think careful, because doing so could label her a troublemaker.  I get it, we live in a world where upsetting the cart, challenging the way people think, is considered troublemaking.  I get that because the cultural mindset hasn’t changed, the attitude is that the person being discriminated against, should consider that their comfort and success should only be taken into account, if they’re willing to accept the risk of being labelled a troublemaker.

This really makes me angry.  Every person should be free to say “Hey!  That’s not cool, just because I’m “x” doesn’t mean I’m not as capable as “y”!” without the worry of retribution.  I know a lot of people will probably start rolling their eyes here, and muttering about damn feminists, but I don’t care.  Just because it has been accepted for years that a woman is a nagging wife, does not mean that in society we should continue to make the joke.  And just because women laugh when the comment is made, does not mean that it is an acceptable comment.  I want to change this.  I want to make the world less hostile.

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More discussion of that Common Core Math Meme

March 11, 2014

Alright, so here’s the background.  My mom is working on a doctorate, that I believe will be in Math education.  Or at least taking classes, and doing a lot of research on math learning.  She is by no means, a published expert, but she does have a lot of information to bring to the table.  I wanted to talk to her about the Common Core Math Meme that floated around Facebook, and how some friends reacted to it.  In talking, she shared with me a paper she wrote on this very topic.  I would love to just copy and paste the whole paper, but I don’t think that would be beneficial to me posting a blog about my thoughts.  I’m going to copy and paste some parts of it, and discuss, and I hope that I can get a discussion going like I had on Facebook.

First of all, I want to clear up a little misconception that this meme presented. “In fact, the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics calls for students to understand “the standard algorithm” for mathematical computations (Fuscon & Beckman, 2012-2013). This presumes that all educators know what “the” standard algorithms are.” Common Core does not dictate what methods or algorithms teachers should use.  Common Core is a set of standards, what the meme was showing, was curriculum, not Common Core.  My mom described the algorithm used in the meme as something called “mental math”.  I’m going to leave this here, and hope that I come back around at some point to explain what mental math is, but if I don’t someone in the comments please call it out.

I want to now post a little story about me, that was written in this paper.

My daughter’s fourth grade teacher enjoyed teaching mathematics and used

manipulatives extensively as an introduction to new concepts. Students worked in small groups

to discuss problems before the teacher ever demonstrated a mathematical algorithm. When the

teacher was confident that students had built conceptual understanding, she assigned practice

problems for homework. So, both the teacher and my daughter were puzzled when Jamie,

normally a high-achieving math student, missed every single problem on a multi-digit

multiplication worksheet.

Error analysis (Ashlock, 2010) helped the teacher and me identify Jamie’s essential

misunderstanding of the multiplication algorithm she was using: she had transferred the concept

in the addition algorithm of “carrying the one (ten)” to her multiplication process. When the

product of two numbers was greater than nine, Jamie always “carried the one” to the next place

in the multiplicand, even when the product of the multiplier and multiplicand were greater than

19. In other words, when Jamie multiplied 18 x 5, she started with 5×8=40, wrote the 0 in the

ones place and placed a “1”, rather than “4,” in the tens place as a placeholder. Then when she

multiplied 5×10 and added in the “carried” number, she added one ten to get “60” rather than 4

tens to get “90”.

To her credit, the teacher reflected on how her instructional practice might have

contributed to Jamie’s misconception about the multiplication procedure. She realized that

during class, in each problem she had modeled, with and without manipulatives, all the interim

products happened to be less than 19. The teacher had not modeled what to do when the number

was greater than 19, and Jamie’s misconception showed up among other students as well. I

admired the teachers’ professionalism in analyzing what may have contributed to the problem

and recognized how easily, despite a teacher’s best intentions, students can build conceptual

misunderstanding.

Reprogramming Jamie’s understanding of multiplication took intense work. The more

Jamie and I worked together, the clearer it became that Jamie lacked essential number sense.

As a second grader, she had internalized procedural knowledge of the addition and subtraction

algorithms without essential conceptual knowledge of the reasons for ‘carrying’ and ‘borrowing.’

She did not know that she did not know: she followed procedures that gave her accurate answers

and A’s on the report card. The incorrect transfer of the addition procedure to multiplication

illuminated her misconceptions, but had her teacher and I not used error analysis, even that may

have gone unrecognized. That incident in fourth grade precipitated a gradual slide in Jamie’s

mathematical confidence that Jamie overcame only as an adult when she decided to become an

engineer. That’s a long-term impact for a simple misconception about a computational algorithm.

At the time, I wondered how Jamie could have avoided the conceptual confusion about carrying

and borrowing numbers.

The thing about math, is that there is no one right answer.   In the United States, the “standard” algorithms align vertically in columns (McIntosh, et al., 1992; Stanic & McKillip, 1989); are solved primarily right-handed (from right to left) except for division (Pearson, 1986; Van de Walle, n.d.); include the concepts of carrying and borrowing (Hatano, Amaiwa & Inagaki, 1996; Kamii & Dominick, 1998); and reduce calculations to a series of operations on single-digit numbers (Carpenter et al., 1998; Fuson, 2003).  Other countries, do not use the same algorithms.  Along those same lines, some of these alternative methods being taught that are described as the “new way” are not actually new at all.  The lattice method was used in India, many many years ago, and was brought to light in the US in the early 1900s.  This Common Core meme that I keep bringing up, actually uses a method that has been around for decades.  This is not new a new way of doing math.

I want to get back to the point that I brought up on Facebook.  Many of the people that commented talked about concern that this “new method” would make learning math more complicated, and take people away from pursuing STEM careers.  I disagree.  I firmly believe that anyone who was taught the “standard method” cannot see any other method as acceptable, because we were taught in such a way that there is only one right answer.  There is not one right answer when it comes to solving math problems.  There are many methods for getting to the answer.

I have a question for you the reader.  When you’re trying to figure out how much money you have, and how much an item costs, chances are, you do not pull out a piece of paper and do the “standard algorithm”.  If I were to have all readers comment with how they do that, there would probably be a variety of answers.  And no one way is right.  No one is going to return a check if you don’t calculate the amount using the correct method.  So why should we be forcing students to believe that there’s only one right way?  The “standard algorithm” may be the most efficient, but with the example that my mom described, it actually caused some rather detrimental effects to my long term mastery of math.

So in the end, here’s my point.  Just like with education as a whole, there are many different ways to get to an answer.  What works for one person, does not work for another.  I want to get away from the idea that there is one true way for how to get an answer in math, and accept that there are many ways to get to that answer.  As a student pursuing engineering, I thrived on the idea of partial credit.  In most cases, if you got the right answer, or had a logical method but the wrong answer, you got some credit for the work.  Why can’t we do that in grade school too?

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Current event applicable to Colorado

June 14, 2012

I live in Colorado, and as some of you readers may know, there’s a rather large fire in the northern part ofColoradothat is less than 25% contained.  ((I think the value is 20%, but I’m not entirely sure)).  The fire was started by lightning, which is good and bad.  It’s good in the sense that some idiot didn’t try to burn love letters in a barrel and then never verify that the fire was out. ((Slightly fuzzy memory of what caused a massive fire a decade ago)) But, there’s no one to blame for the damage and devastation, sort of.  One of the things being tossed around by people with knowledge is that the rise in “super fires” is a result of people not letting nature run her course.  At least inColorado, there are thousands of acres of trees lost to beetle kill, and because the weather is so dry, no one is going out and clearing those trees.  So the first has plenty of fuel.  Logging isn’t being done as much, so forests are thicker, with more trees together, which mean the fires keep spreading.

So this becomes one of those situations, where we police things so heavily that we are forced to deal with devastating losses to wildlife, buildings, and even people.  On the one hand, people want to protect the environment, but at the same time, nature has been “trimming” the fat for significantly longer than we’ve been around, and by preventing the natural course of things, we end up with even larger problems.  I’m not advocating that laws change and entire forests get leveled by loggers, so that we don’t have “super fires”, but I’m not sure I’m such a fan of people deciding how forests should be maintained.

I’m reminded of engineering classes where we learned that the universe tends toward equilibrium.  We shift that by interfering, but at the same time, we can’t avoid interference.  So what do we do?  Or do we just shrug our shoulders and consider this a casualty (of war)?

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Did you know about the unmanned space station?

June 11, 2012

Chinais getting ready to launch a manned rocket to dock with their unmanned space station in orbit.  Not only is that a major accomplishment, but they might have a female in the 3-person crew.  I’m a little confused on why the female taikonaut is going to be chosen last minute though.  That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.  I know, from my internships at JSC, that astronauts go through at least 1 if not 2 years of training, for one mission.  If the astronauts have a space walk, they spend 10 hours in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) for every hour of the space walk.  Everything is rigorously planned and rehearsed and practiced, well in advance, so why would someone pick the crew last minute?  Perhaps everyone has already been training together and it’s a matter of which person will fill that third slot, or maybe that’s just how the Chinese have chosen to do things.  I’m not in the minds of the decision makers, so I can’t say what they’re thinking of, but I can say that to me, it makes no sense.

However, that one of the crew may be female is wonderful news.  I hope it remains true, and thatChinasends a female taikonaut up on this ground-breaking mission.  What do you think?  Do you have an opinion on why the decision may be so last minute?  Or perhaps you have something to say aboutChina’s space program.  Let us discuss!

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