US Schools Do Fine in International Rankings Except in Math

From US Schools Are Not Flunking Out:

“So the U.S. education system is actually doing fine in many areas and is not being outpaced by competitors. The one exception is math, where the U.S. really does underperform. Poor math education isn’t a problem for U.S. technological dominance;  the country can always take in more skilled immigrants to fill engineering and research jobs that native-born workers can’t do. But it’s not fair for native-born Americans to be shut out of high-paying STEM jobs because of the low quality of the nation’s math education. The U.S. needs to do better.”

Why do US students do badly in math?

“It might simply be because the US directs more resources toward reading and verbal education to the detriment of quantitative skills. It stands to reason that if American kids can learn to read better than kids from Taiwan or Germany, then they’re smart enough to make up some of the gap in math. Another problem might be a culture that believes too much in the importance of inborn ability rather than hard work and persistence. Students often tend to view math as an intelligence test rather than a skill to be learned, causing anxiety that worsens their performance. Additionally, evidence suggests that more active student participation and the cultivation of a mathematical mindset are effective approaches. It’s also possible that U.S. math education has never fully recovered from a failed experiment in teaching methods in the 1960s and 1970s.”

 

The Best Kawhi Paragraph

From Zach Lowe:

“And now they have the best wing combination in the league. Leonard, George, and Beverley are going to terrorize people on defense. My god. Beware dribbling anywhere in their vicinity unless you are an expert point guard. George and Beverley can split duty defending the best opposing scorers so Leonard doesn’t have to overtax himself before it counts.”

I chuckled at the lack of numeracy displayed by a current NBA player who tweeted that next season every game is going to be like a playoff game.

There has been no infusion of talent (draft minus retirements as per usual), just a drastic redistribution of existing talent. Which means some teams are going to be really bad, thus hurting the regular season. Maybe superstars on super teams will time their “load management” for especially weak opponents. Regardless, a basic math truism, the record of the most average team in the league will still be 41-41.

 

Males Last Bastion—Economics

Last week, after reading Tyler Cowen’s predictions of which men might win the Nobel Prize in economic science, I wondered why do males so dominate economics when females are steadily pulling away from males in educational attainment? Why do female economists find the upper echelon’s of the field so elusive? More specifically, where is the female half of Nobel Prize winners in economic science?

Increasingly, economics is applied math. I do not believe men are better than women at math. For me, if there’s some kind of proof of that contention, it simply begs more questions, particularly, why are men (allegedly) better than women at math. I suspect there are differences between men’s and women’s brains, but I don’t believe for a second that the part of men’s brains that do math is somehow superior to that part of women’s.

I suspect the All Star economist gender discrepancy lies in the male dominated cultures that typify elite economics graduate schools. For now, male privilege perpetuates itself in the top doctoral programs.

Here’s Cowen’s interesting summary of the winner’s work.

 

Math on the Brain

On this morning’s run to Priest Point Park, I was thinking of Ms. Z’s Marysville Middle School mathematicians. More specifically, I came up with a real world word problem for them. Maybe a “do not proceed to high school” until passing problem of sorts.

In Olympia, Washington there’s a beautiful little waterfront community called Boston Harbor. Visit it sometime. Rent a kayak, eat an ice cream bar at the marina, meditate on the Puget Sound. BH is 7 miles from downtown Oly. Traveling from BH to town on BH Rd. the first 5 miles are 40mph and the last two are 30mph. However, it just so happens that Thurston County doesn’t patrol North Olympia’s rural roads. Therefore, half the residents, the Rule Followers, do 40 and 30, but for the other half of Deplorables, like myself, the only deterrent is occasional deer on the road (for the record, I do 45 and 35).

On Monday’s run, a van passed me doing approximately 70mph, today a white Volvo wagon doing 65mph (yes, I am a speed estimating savant). Which got me thinking. How much time does a BH driver save on their way to town if they drive 60mph for the 5 miles designated 40mph, and then stuck behind a Rule Follower, 30mph for the last 2 miles?

I’ll wait.

Here’s my peabrain calculation. Sorry in advance to Ms. Z. for my unconventional approach. First, we need to calculate the Law Obiders travel time. As a cyclist that tends to ride around 18-20mph, I know that at 20mph, it takes 3 minutes to travel 1 mile. Therefore, if we double the speed, we can halve the time, so 40mph = 1:30/mile. So multiply 1:30/mile x 5 = 7:30. At 30mph it obviously takes 2 minutes to travel 1 mile, so 4 more minutes, so BH to downtown Oly in 11 minutes, 30 seconds.

Follow?

Now what about The No Regarders for the Law? 60mph is 1 minute/mile, so 5 minutes. Then our 4 minutes to cover the 2 mile stretch for a grand total of 9 minutes.

Here’s the tricky part, keep your columns straight people! 11:30 – 9:00 equals a grand total savings of 2 minutes and 30 seconds.

Now a message for my BH friends. If you’re so efficient with your time that you never waste two and a half minutes once you get to your destination, go ahead and speed away, just don’t look for any sympathy when your car is totaled by Bambi. Or leave for work 2-3 minutes earlier?

All good math lessons have extensions, so here’s mine for Ms. Z. Based on available government statistics, calculate the increased likelihood of an accident as a result of increasing one’s speed by 20mph. Then take that increased likelihood and calculate the approximate negative effect on the speeding driver’s life expectancy. I’m guessing it’s greater than 2 or 3 minutes.

Class dismissed.

 

Strange Math

From Bill Gates’s: The Billionaire Book Critic:

Mr. Gates says he reads about 50 books in a year, eschewing digital readers for old-fashioned books on paper. When he is busy with work, he reads about a book or two a week but will consume four or five in the same period while vacationing with family.

Let’s say he works two-thirds of the year or 35 weeks and vacations the other 17.

That would be (35 x 1.5) + (17x 4.5) or 52.5 + 76.5 or 129.

[Related: The Math-Class Paradox.]

Continuous Improvement

A bullshit workplace notion. Midway into artistic or athletic activities, jobs, careers, relationships, life, we plateau. Shortly thereafter, energy ebbs, and our performance erodes.

We improve for a bit, we plateau, we decline.

I observed a good second year math teacher today at the independent middle school. Then we conferenced. After listening to him reflect on the pre-algebra lesson, I listed his many strengths. Then I made a few suggestions. Call on Ben as soon as he puts his head on his desk. Give Robin your marker, take her seat, and have her teach everyone her prime factorization method by illustrating it on the board. Have two more students explain and illustrate their methods and then ask, “Which is most efficient and why?” Let the kite string out a bit and “guide from the side” for awhile. Remember, the educative effect is greater when students do something than when something is done to them.

He told me he likes it when I observe because he’s reminded of effective teaching methods that he has let slip. He’s a good second year teacher who has started to plateau because he’s rarely observed, and rarely gets to observe other, more accomplished teachers.

A small number of the very best teachers, artists, athletes, and people continue improving considerably longer than their peers by seeking out expert, critical feedback; by investing progressively more time and energy; and by surrounding themselves by other positive, hardworking people, who are trending upwards.

And the wisest teachers, artists, athletes, and people have a sixth sense for both when they’ve plateaued and when their performance has begun to decline. And then the wisest, most selfless, most financially secure of them, step aside to provide the next generation opportunities to improve, plateau, and decline.