Pythagorean Day

You may have heard of Pi Day (March 14) to celebrate the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter or e day (February 7) to celebrate Euler’s constant, but have you heard of Pythagorean Day?

Pythagorean Day occurs when the digits in the date satisfy the Pythagorean Theorem. Recall that the Pythagorean Theorem states that in any right triangle with sides a and b and hypotenuse c, it is true that a² + b² = c². This year, Pythagorean day is August 15, 2017 because the digits 8, 15, and 17 satisfy the Pythagorean Theorem: 8² + 15² =17².

Now that you know, how will you celebrate Pythagorean Day? Here are some fun ideas:

  • Throw a triangle party! Make and eat triangle-shaped foods, decorate with triangles, and play games such as seeing who can list the most Pythagorean triples.
  • Watch a short video of a conceptual demonstration of the Pythagorean Theorem.
  • Make your own proof of the Pythagorean Theorem.
  • Listen to a fun song about the Pythagorean Theorem.

The next Pythagorean Day will not happen until December 16, 2020 (12² + 16² = 20²). Have a happy Pythagorean Day!



Another Vote That Parents Can Support Mathematics Instruction

Jason Zimba shared the struggle of helping their children on weeknights in spite of the busy schedules of the family members in his article “Can parents help with math homework? YES”. His article is encouraging for the hopeful parents who really want to help their children with their academic progress with his indications that such activities as flash cards, games, or just checking homework is a positive gesture to instill for the children the importance of success and gratification when they work hard in their studies.

As mathematics educators, others might think it is effortless for us to prepare activities, listen to our child’s methods for solving problems (even when we would do the problem differently), or sit down and check the answers in the homework. But I can testify as a mathematics educator that it all takes time, which I don’t have an abundance of, to prepare games, flash cards, puzzles or to check homework. In addition, it is also a struggle for us to listen, without interruption, while a child is explaining a process for solving a problem, particularly when the method is different from our own.

To help to expedite some of these responsibilities that might save the parents time and promote the child’s understanding of the math is to have the child prepare the flash cards. Certainly as parents we can check the cards, but the child can make the corrections and begin to memorize the material while working of the flash cards. Puzzles and activities in the child’s homework might get some creative juices flowing if the child is encouraged to make up a similar activity and then explain the rules to the parents. The child will begin to understand how important it is for directions or definitions to be clear. Some of this places the responsibility for developing and learning the material on the child.

But let’s not restrict the enjoyment of mathematics to homework assignments or puzzles that came from the classroom. Our jobs, games, and hobbies often involve mathematics as well. Sharing with the children where activities such as carpentry, sports, preparing spreadsheets, knitting, or cooking involves understanding measurement, fractions, formulas, proportions, statistics, or sequence characteristics. Families who play board games or card games are promoting logical or inferential thinking, as well as counting, probability, counting money, geometric relationships, or using percent. Teaching and sharing the function of mathematics in these pursuits will instill an appreciation and enjoyment of mathematics’ role in everyday activities.

Certainly our children need our support and sometimes instruction to complete homework and projects for school. We try to make reading fun by reading to our children or sharing enjoyable books. Science is often fun with minimal lab activities in our kitchen or backyard. Enjoying mathematics is in many places. It is just a matter of recognizing when we are using the math and sharing those moments with our children.

Dewey Decimal Day

Happy Dewey Decimal Day! Each year on December 10th we honor the birthday of Melvil Dewey (1851-1931), a respected librarian, educator, and the inventor of the Dewey Decimal System. Dewey first published his groundbreaking library classification system in 1876 as a four page pamphlet. Through the years the Dewey Decimal System (or Dewey Decimal Classification as it is officially named) has been expanded and revised through 23 editions, the most recent iteration, a four volume set, was published in 2011.

The Dewey Decimal System is the most widely utilized library classification system in the world. Over 200,000 libraries in at least 135 countries use it to organize their collections and it has been translated into more than 30 languages. The system is maintained by the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC). Learn more about the Dewey Decimal System including licensing options and monthly updates by visiting the OCLS’s Dewey website.

The Dewey Decimal System assigns a three digit number based on the subject of a non-fiction book, with decimal numbers providing further detail. This allows libraries to organize books in a meaningful way so patrons can locate the books they need and easily return them to their proper location. Before the invention of the Dewey Decimal System, libraries often organized their collections by acquisition date, not by subject. Imagine how difficult it would have been to locate the right books that way! To celebrate Dewey Decimal Day visit your local library and look for some books, start the Dewey Decimal Challenge or even stay in a hotel inspired by the Dewey Decimal System!

Should Student Education Encompass “Life Skills”?

There is no denying that discussions on Common Core and standardized testing, which have nearly monopolized education news in recent months, are warranted and in need of special consideration. But in the midst of these extensive debates have we overlooked other critical aspects of education, specifically the teaching of non academic skills?

While there is not yet a concrete name for these skills, they are commonly referred to as “non cognitive skills” or “skills for success”. They include abilities such as critical thinking, collaboration, communication, self-control, grit, persistence, emotional competence, punctuality, and numerous others. These skills cannot be measured by standardized testing, yet are essential for students to learn in order to be successful in higher education and the work force.

There has been an increase in support for teaching these types of non academic skills to students as studies have shown that a number of employers are growing more and more discontent with new employee skill sets. Particularly in a number of key areas such as oral communication, written communication, critical thinking, and being creative, students are more than twice as likely as employers to think that students are being well-prepared. This demonstrates a weakness in how we educate and prepare our students for the future. Students are not being taught the necessary skills that are vital for success and have thus created a gap between them and the workplace.

The implementation of these skills into school curriculums has gained momentum through avenues such as the 84.215H grant which is a Skills for Success Program that “supports Local Educational Agencies 1 (LEAs) and their partners in implementing, evaluating, and refining tools and approaches for developing the non-cognitive skills of middle-grades students in order to increase student success.” While programs and grants like the aforementioned have been implemented with success, there is still a looming barrier preventing progress for expanding the teaching of these skills — there is no widely accepted name for them. Because of this, policies have been hard to write and enact since the wording and intent are often vague and broadly interpreted. This has resulted in a lack of student preparation as well as the loss of time and resources — all because of simple terminology. So while it is still important to address educational issues such as standardized testing, maybe it’s time we dedicate more attention to defining and teaching these non cognitive skills. Skills that can provide a foundation for all other academic learning.

The Myths of Silent Reading

If you’ve opened up this blog to read it, chances are you aren’t doing it aloud. But have you ever wondered when silent reading became the norm? According to Paul Saenger in his 1997 book Space Between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading, ancient and early medieval European manuscripts were written in  scriptura continua. Inotherwordstextslookedratherlikethis. If that was hard to understand, imagine if, assuming you were one of the few fortunate enough to be literate, every text you encountered looked like that. Simply, it was hard to read without sounding out the syllables. Throughout early medieval Europe, however, Irish monks, and later British and continental monks, began to spend hours in tedium parsing out words in what we would now do with a space bar. Saenger argues it was with these spaces that scholastic philosophers began a novel practice: silent reading.

Now, before we ebulliently sally forth thinking that in the days before spaced words, all Europeans went around reading every text out loud, we must remember that with all historical debates (particularly on how people in history lived in a quotidian sense), there is debate. Quite a lot of debate. And often copious evidence for both parties to make a case. The Cambridge classicist, M.F. Burnyeat, has spent ample time cataloguing evidence in antiquity where people were reading in silent contemplation, not always in groups or muttering to themselves. Almost 50 years ago, the august scholar Bernard Knox offered great evidence that reading silently and to oneself was known and practiced in antiquity. However, as A.K. Gavrilov claimed, the idea that people have always read silently is rather less dramatic than centuries of people reading only aloud.

Of course, this debate to be made between tweed clad classicists and medievalists misses another side the polygon that is consciousness. That is, does silent reading really exist at all? When we read, is there anything silent? All of us who have read, which is to say, all of us reading this blogpost, know that to read means to contend with the other boisterous noises in our head. In a recent piece in the New Republic, John Biguenet recalls that the losing of his home after Katrina left him to a state where reading became impossible (though writing was not, as he wrote 15 columns on Katrina for the New York Times). Biguenet concludes that silent reading does not exist, that to silently read is to silence ones self, and to hand over consciousness to someone else. He cites numerous articles in the field of neurology which have illustrated how reading, itself, is processed similarly to auditory sounds. In other words, we read similarly to how we hear. However, if greatly condense and simplify the thoughts of the 20th-century Gilles Deleuze, all Ideas exists in the swarm of differential thoughts within the fractured I. Perhaps then, there is no silent reading as their is no silent thought (and how we read is really not quite through hearing, per say, but in thinking through the text). As Biguenet points out, when we are sick or in a state of great shock, it may be too hard to push our reading self through other worries. At the very least, this should remind us that reading is a dynamic and active use of time, not merely passivity nor escape. Even is if it done quietly.

The New Reading

The experience of reading is expanding and the idea that only the act of processing words on the printed page (or screen) qualifies as ‘reading’ has been upended in the face of interactive technology that blurs the distinction between reading and other modes of processing information.   Greg Toppo writes in The Atlantic how new technologies are allowing students a more immersive experience.

Today, publishers are opting for works that combine video and audio components as part of the reading experience.  Rich graphics and embedded URLs are as much a part of the reading experience as the printed words on the page.  The most compelling example of the way new technology is transforming the reading experience is Inanimate Alice:

Created by the British novelist Kate Pullinger and British-Canadian multimedia artist Chris Joseph, Alice is a book that blinks, buzzes, hums, sings, jitterbugs, plays games, and, on occasion, rains and snows. Using her laptop, Fleming projected the first Alice story onto a library whiteboard … and her fifth-graders went nuts. The story was immersive like little else, the first piece of fiction that helped them see life through a character’s eyes. A few students approached her afterwards to thank her, tears glistening in their eyes.

Welcome to the brave new world of reading: the clickable, interactive future of books. Just as digital technology is transforming people’s work, social lives, and family ties, it’s naturally transforming the slow, solitary act of reading. Think beyond paper versus pixels—this technology cuts to the very core of what it means to read a book.

There is still much debate on whether such enhancements actually support the text or simply serve as flashy distractions.  But as more research emerges on the specific features that best support a text, we’re more likely to see an increase in the number of interactive texts.  That’s a good thing.  For reluctant readers, anything that brings them to the page and keeps them there is likely to do more good than harm.  And these new text types may just help reluctant readers become passionate about books, or more precisely, information.

Happy National Clerihew Day

Each year on July 10th we mark National Clerihew Day. What in the world is a Clerihew? It’s a light-hearted, four line biographical poem intended to poke a little fun at the subject. The Clerihew was created by novelist/humorist Edmund Clerihew Bentley, supposedly while as a student at St. Paul’s school in Hammersmith, England. The following is believed to be his first Clerihew:

“Sir Humphrey Davy

Abominated gravy.

He lived in the odium

Of having discovered Sodium.”

Clerihews are meant to be absurd and the rhymes intentionally forced. The poems follow four classic rules:

-Four lines in length

-The subject’s name in the first line

-Line 1 rhymes with line 2 and line 3 rhymes with line 4

-It should be silly!

The rules aren’t meant to be strict, just have fun with it! I wrote this one in honor of Mr. Bentley:

“Mr. Edmund C. Bentley

Made his name a bit differently

Schoolboy poems at Hammersmith

But that may all be myth”

What makes a “good” Clerihew is a relative term, many great writers have penned terrible Clerihews, including E.C. Bentley himself. Why not try writing your own today?

Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic… and Grit?

For thousands of students across the country, the next step after graduating high school is attending college. They spend their time in high school building their resumes, making sure they’ve taken the required amount of credits, bolstering their GPAs with AP classes, and filling their free time with extracurriculars. But what if that wasn’t enough? A growing number of experts believe this is true. There is increasing evidence that, despite fulfilling all the requirements for admission, many students aren’t quite ready for college. This is because of a lack of development of a different set of skills, one that is separate from how well you take notes or perform on a test.

Nonacademic skills are becoming of increasing interest to educators across the country. Experts are finding that these types of skills, such as conscientiousness and agreeableness, have just as much impact on a student’s performance in college as their grades or reading ability. As the first time students are really on their own, college requires a lot of different skills and intelligence to navigate successfully. Although they are not part of a school’s regular curriculum, these skills can be taught, giving students giving students a chance to thrive in college and beyond.

Although many educational experts agree on the need to teach and foster nonacademic skills, there is debate on what to call them. Some simple terms such a “character” and “grit” have been suggested, but face criticism because of their connotations or over-simplicity. Other names can be misleading, such as “soft skills” or “21st century skills,” which may lead people to believe this skills are not important or only deal with technology. Others are just plain unwieldy, like “noncognitive traits and habits,” which, other than being a mouthful, is a bit of a misnomer, as all traits and habits are cognitive, in that each “involves and reflects the processing of information of some kind in our brains.”

Until this dispute can be settled, there will likely be a mish-mash of terms in publications about this subject, accompanied by a group of disgruntled researchers and policymakers. But make no mistake – although they may disagree on the jargon, all agree that these skills are worth developing.

AP Enrollment Provides Performance Benefits For Low Income Students

AP courses and tests have long been seen as benchmarks for students’ academic success in high school. Yet many underprivileged students who are capable of doing well in AP courses or on AP exams do not enroll in courses or take exams.  According to the The College Board, which runs AP testing, a participation equity gap exists between privileged and underprivileged students on AP tests. The College Board estimated some 286,403 students did not take the AP course for which they showed potential. Conservatively, the College Board estimates that only 4 out of every 10 Latino and White students and just 3 out of every 10 African-American and Amerindian students enroll in the AP science courses for which they are deemed compatible.

AP course enrollment may have more significance than just offering students a chance to receive college credits in high school. As Leonardo Bursztyn of UCLA and Robert Jensen of the University of Pennsylvania noted, peer pressure in the classroom can have major implications on whether or not  students choose to take more rigorous courses. Looking at two projects— one where students who did well appeared on a leaderboard of success and one where students signed up for SAT prep courses— Bursztyn and Jensen discovered that teens are less likely to do well or take opportunities like free SAT prep courses when their peers might ostracize them for academic success. In environments where peers were overtly more driven, such as AP courses, the students more often wanted to be shown as achieving well and were more likely to sign up for SAT prep courses. However, in general education courses the same students were less likely to sign up for free SAT prep courses. They were also less likely to score well on tests where their performances would be shown to other classmates. In other words, most students want to appear to be the norm, and the peer-environment around them determines the norm. Similarly, enrollment in AP courses may be seen by some as making an ostentatious display of “nerdiness” but, if students are convinced to enroll, the environment may offer a place for them to excel further. At a time where many elite schools offer great incentives, such as greatly reduced tuition or full-scholarships for underprivileged students, which are often not taken advantage of, putting students in an environment where they are encouraged to apply to better schools could have great benefits.

Several organizations come to alleviate the gap in AP enrollment and exam success. The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation has offered incentives and financial assistance to urban schools which raise AP enrollment and student achievement on tests. Equal Opportunity Schools, an education non-profit which partners with school districts, has recently enacted a $100 million dollar project, Lead Higher, to help schools identify and enroll 100,000 low-income students in AP or IB programs.

Celebrating 175 Years Of Public Education In North Carolina

On March 23rd, the North Carolina Association of School Administrators (NCASA) hosted a celebration of the 175th anniversary of the opening of North Carolina’s first public school. The event also marked the debut of a website-publication Every Child’s Chance, Every Community’s Future ( Every Child’s Chance highlights the vast scope of North Carolina public schools, past and present, and celebrates their measurable and immeasurable successes. NCASA hopes we can take this time to reflect on 175 years of growth in public education and the future ahead.

MetaMetrics was proud to partner with NCASA on this project. We hosted incubation meetings, where stakeholders from diverse backgrounds in education gathered to brainstorm the best ways to celebrate North Carolina’s first public school, Williamsburg Community in Rockingham County. Together, we formulated a message that is both reflective and relevant.

Members of the MetaMetrics team also contributed research to help create a historic and timely message. At Every Child’s Chance, you can walk through an interactive timeline of public schools in North Carolina, view video messages from educators and distinguished NC public school alumni and imagine the vibrant futures made available through a quality public school system. We’d love for you to visit Every Child’s Chance and celebrate the great achievements of North Carolina’s public schools.

MetaMetrics is an educational measurement organization. Our renowned psychometric team develops scientific measures of student achievement that link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.