Since it is the weekend, I decided to blog about weekend stuff. Look for more statistics tomorrow. For most of the past quarter-century, I have been roped into being a volunteer for one organization or another. Here is a very, very partial list:
- American Association on Mental Retardation
- National Council on Family Relations
- United States Judo Federation
- Community Outreach Medical Services
- American Youth Soccer Organization
I’ve been everything from Chair of the Board to chaperone. I’ve spoken at more conferences than I can count, certainly giving a few hundred presentations. I’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Given that experience, I’ve concluded that volunteers fall into three broad categories. Recognizing that fact is probably key to having a successful non-profit organization, because for most non-profits, volunteers are essential.
Category 1: People who are very excited to be a volunteer. These individuals derive a lot of their self-esteem from their position in the organization. Their enthusiasm may stem from a genuine passion for the mission of the organization, be it youth sports, individuals with disabilities or health care. Alternatively, the volunteer position may be an exciting departure from a boring day job, an opportunity to use more of their talents. Generally, it is both reasons. They are willing to do a lot of work. They are also willing to put up with authoritarian and unprofessional interactions with the organizations, because they are so enthusiastic and often, they are accustomed to being bossed around and devalued on their “day jobs”. There is a limit to their tolerance, though.
Category 2: People who are not at all excited to volunteer but have skills and talents your organization needs. These individuals are there out of obligation – they have a child on the team, a friend on the staff, or they really care deeply about the mission of the organization. These people do valuable work for the organization like raising money, providing free legal or accounting services. They have very little tolerance for authoritarian and unprofessional interactions with the organizations, because they would rather be somewhere else in the first place and they are accustomed to being the boss or highly valued on their “day jobs”.
Category 3: People who show up and don’t do any real work.
It seems pretty clear to me that organizations need both of the first two categories, and the more the better.
Not everyone sees it that way, obviously. Let me give you just a few examples, and again, this is a very partial list. I have witnessed
- Volunteers told how to dress for an event,
- Week-long required continuing education classes costing several hundred dollars,
- Required training held hundreds of miles away,
- Required drug testing (this was after I had been asked to coach for free at an event and pay my own way. My response was “Are you fucking kidding me?”),
- “Two-hour” meetings running six hours late,
- Volunteers told to “Show up at 7 a.m. , don’t be late and be sure you don’t leave early”,
- Volunteers chastised, yelled at, berated by a board member or staff member
Do’s and don’ts
Well, first of all, don’t do any of those things above.
Second, say “Thank you.” A lot.
Think of these individuals just like donors who are giving you thousands of dollars, because they are. It would costs you a lot of money to replace their services. Treat them as you would professionals providing services for you. Would you ask your accountant to take a drug test? Would you tell your attorney to be sure he dressed professionally when he represents you in court? Don’t assume just because someone is working for free that he is a degenerate or an idiot.
It’s funny that most organizations seem to think what volunteers want is an engraved plaque or a certificate printed out from PowerPoint. Really, a little common courtesy goes a long way.
I find it weird when I make people nervous. I’ve had people shake and stutter so much that I thought they had some sort of disability, only to find out later that it was a reaction to meeting me!
My family and friends say I’m intimidating, which I also find bizarre. I am, literally, a little old grandma.
Are you kidding? You’re just amazing! Do you think we forget that you were the FIRST American to win a world judo championship, have a Ph.D. , published a book last year, started a company that made a million dollars in less than two years, then started another company to make games, came out with your first game this year, published scientific articles. Oh, and you raised four successful kids, one of whom is also a world champion and making movies.
He went on to an embarrassing degree about a lot more stuff. I’m not one of those fake humble-brag people, like the super-models who claim to be “so fat”.
It’s just that …. it’s not like that when it’s happening. Even to me, if I stopped and piled it all up like that, it sounds impressive, but day to day, it’s not really like that at all.
Whether it’s winning a world championship, earning a Ph.D., building a company or making computer games, it’s not amazing when you’re in the middle of it.
For example, I spent the last week fixing up our next game, Fish Lake. I improved the graphics, added gravity so that when a character walks off a hill, it falls down instead of walking around on the air. I added artificial intelligence to make the animals run around at random instead of just stand there. I modified the css so that the input boxes for the math problems stand out better. All of those are minor fixes in the grand scheme of things. The purpose of the game I was working on is to teach fractions, which are a super important part of understanding math, but if it’s not a fun game, kids aren’t going to play it.
Tomorrow, my day starts with reviewing the quizzes one person wrote, followed by reviewing a PowerPoint and video clip someone else wrote to teach about reading graphs and then testing some software for podcasts.
Hopefully, enough days like this piled on top of one another and we’ll have an amazing game.
It’s just like in my judo competition time, when I trained three times a day, every day. Looking back, winning a gold medal and being best in the world was amazing.
In the middle of it, though, it’s just getting up and working hard all day. Repeat a few thousand times.
Every day, every week, I face the same question that all entrepreneurs ask themselves -
“How do you know when you are done?”
Most days, I start work around 10 am and finish about 14 hours later. Usually, I take off an hour for lunch and an hour for dinner, or take a few hours in the middle of the day to get away from the office. Sunday, it was taking my grandchildren to the Natural History Museum and the park. I average 10-11 hours a day, seven days a week. Even then, there is no end in sight to the tasks I want to accomplish, goals I want to achieve. When there’s no time clock to punch, no boss looking over your shoulder, how do you decide when it’s time to hang it up for the day?
One answer is when you are just exhausted and making more mistakes than you are progress. Frankly, the prospect of just working every night until I fall asleep from exhaustion isn’t very appealing. I did that in the year after my husband died, and even though it was probably a preferable (and more profitable) way of coping than drinking myself into a stupor every night, I can tell you that it’s not a lifestyle I would recommend. The reality is that there is never, ever going to be a day at the office when I say,
Okay, that’s it. No more work to do here. Time to head to the beach.
Some people (who are not me), would say that you should take off to celebrate achievements. For example, last week, I
- found out that a project we had worked on for a client had been wildly successful,
- submitted a grant proposal to create a game for English language learners, including receiving written agreement from teachers in three school districts in three different states to assist with development,
- finished 1/4 of the lectures for a course I will be teaching soon,
- made major improvements in one level of the Fish Lake game, which we will be able to use for Spirit Lake as well,
- found out that a huge school district is now using Spirit Lake,
- renewed a consulting contract,
- created css to improve our web pages in the Fish Lake game,
- did the usual stuff of meetings, approving payroll, answering email, reviewing staff tasks on basecamp, updating a few things in the company wiki, approved a couple of employment contracts.
And all of this was accomplished with having spent all of Monday in airports and on planes flying back from Kansas City where I had been as coach for a judo team of seven students from Gompers Middle School. So … did I take off early? No, because I still needed to
- submit a revised budget for a contract,
- submit another revised budget for a grant,
- rewrite the PHP for a client database,
- get ready for an investors’ meeting,
- figure out what is wrong with the gravity in one level where the player is literally walking on air.
My unhelpful point here is that I DON’T necessarily take off to celebrate and I definitely don’t take off when I have something that could be very important to our company, like a meeting with a potential investors during which I want to get as much information (and not look like an idiot) for that time down the road when we do need to bring in outside investors.
What I DO try to to do is stop working by midnight every night. There just seems to be something dysfunctional about not leaving the office the same day you came in, even if you come in at 10 a.m. I don’t take off to celebrate so I can take off when I feel that I need a break.
One thing I can guarantee you for an absolute fact is that you will be less effective if you don’t get enough sleep. You’ll make mistakes you never would have made if you were not so tired. Knowing this, another reason that I try to quit working at midnight so I can be asleep by 2 a.m. That gives me 8 hours to sleep before I get up and hit it again at 10 a.m.
Staying up until 5:30 a.m. as The Invisible Developer sometimes does strikes me as counter-productive. You’re just going to sleep later the next day, so why not just go to sleep now and start up again when you are rested enough to be more effective. Even if I do say so myself, this post I wrote about doing one more thing before you go to bed is worth reading. Often, that one more thing will be to make the list of the things that are a priority for tomorrow. I then can knock off with confidence that I’ll get on those things first thing the next day.
I work hard, I work a lot, but I have learned not to make myself crazy trying to get everything done, because … at the end of the day, there’s another day. That’s how time works.
Following a discussion using matrix algebra to show computation in a Multivariate Analysis of Variance, a doctoral student asked me,
“Professor, when will I ever use this? Why do I need to know this?”
He had a valid point. I’m always asking myself why I’m teaching something. Is it because it interests me personally, because it is in the textbook or because students really need to know it.
Let’s take some things about matrix algebra we always teach students in statistics.
What conformable means and why it might matter
Two matrices are conformable if they can be multiplied together. When you multiply two matrices, the row of the first matrix will be multiplied by the column of the second matrix. You sum the products and that is the first element in the matrix. You repeat this until you have multiplied all of the rows in the first matrix by all of the columns in the second.
So — you can multiply a 2 x 3 matrix by a 3 x 2 matrix but not vice versa.
Multiplying a matrix of dimension a x b and a matrix of dimension c x d will give you a resulting matrix with a rows and d columns, that is, of dimensions a x d .
This can give you results that sometimes seem counter-intuitive, like that the product of a 1 x 3 matrix and a 3 x 1 matrix is a 3 x 3 matrix.
It may seem weird that the result of matrix multiplication can either be a larger matrix than both of the matrices you multiplied, or smaller than both of them, but there it is.
If both matrices are square, that is, of dimension n x n, then the resulting product will also be an n x n matrix.
And, of course, any matrix can be multiplied by its transpose because the transpose of an m x n matrix will always be n x m .
If a square matrix is of full rank, it means that none of the rows are linearly dependent. If you DO have linear dependence, it means you have redundant measures. Now, I could go on to prove this mathematically and all of it is very interesting to me.
I question, though, whether you really need to know anything about matrix algebra to understand that redundant measures are a bad thing.
Do you need matrix algebra to explain that we are going to apply coefficients (do you even need to refer to it as a vector?) to the values of each variable for each record and get a predicted score such that
predicted score = b0 + b1X1 + b2X2 …. b.Xn
When I was in graduate school, calculators that did statistical analyses, even as simple as regression, cost a few hundred dollars which was the equivalent of three months of my car payment. Computer time was charged to your department by the hour. So … my first few courses, I did all of my homework problems using a pencil and paper, transposing and inverting matrices – and it was a huge pain in the ass.
Then, I got a job as a research assistant and one of the perks was hours of computer time. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. It took me less than half an hour to get all of my homework done using SAS (which ran on a mini-computer and spit out printouts that I had to walk across campus to pick up).
My students are learning in a completely different environment. So … do they need to learn the same things in the same way I did? This is a question I ponder a lot.
I’m pretty certain that I’m a woman in technology.
Last night, I was using SAS on a virtual machine through a remote desktop connection to prepare data from the National Hospital Discharge Survey for use in examples of MANOVA and multinomial logistic regression.
Next week, I will start on a contract to completely re-do the PHP/ MySQL database for a client to bring it to something more secure and up to date.
Oh, and I also was reviewing my notes for the graduate courses in biostatistics and advanced multivariate statistics that I’m teaching this fall.
Pretty certain that by any standard – writing code, founding companies, graduate degrees, university appointment, successful Kickstarter – I am definitely a woman in tech/ STEM whatever the day’s buzzword.
I read SO many articles, blog posts, tweets about the need for women in tech, women-led start-ups, women entrepreneurs.
If you ask me, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is the greatest proponent of women in tech that there is, because they have actually put up money and funded us to do a prototype of an adventure game that teaches math.
When results from that were positive, they funded us again with a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research award to develop the games for commercialization.
I have written here before about the troubling nature of the Black Girls Code, Latina Girls Code emphasis that seems to completely overlook the grown women who are here now. I am NOT saying those aren’t good programs. I assume they are but I have no personal experience. What I am saying is pretty much what I said in January.
It seems to me that when people are looking at minorities or women to develop in their fields, they are much more interested in the hypothetical idea of that cute 11-year-old girl being a computer scientist some day than of that thirty-something competing with them for market share or jobs. If there are venture capitalists or conference organizers or others out there that are sincerely trying to promote WOMEN who code, not girls, I’ve never met any.
(Since then, I have met a couple of conference organizers.)
I suppose Ada Lovelace was cool – my two-year-old granddaughter has a shirt with her picture on it. Still, I don’t think a trending hashtag of #fuckyeahadalovelace did anything for me as a woman in tech.
You know what helped me as a woman in tech? Seed money from the USDA. You can see what we did with it here at our 7 Generation Games site.
One thing Sheryl Sandberg got right in her book, Lean In, was that women tend to be judged on their accomplishments where men are judged on their potential. Of course, you also don’t want to be “too old” to be an innovator so by the time women have those accomplishments, they are past their prime as entrepreneurs according to those VCs who believe that people over 30 are too old to do a start-up.
It’s hard for me to complain about my life when my morning starts out with reading technical books with lines like, “Figure 1 shows the sprite with the red and green blood particles for player and zombie”.
My point is that our company is in the situation we are in not because of any “help minorities code” program but because USDA and our backers on Kickstarter gave us cold, hard cash to develop our products.
Want to help women in tech? Back them on Kickstarter. Buy their products. Tweet about their products and companies to help their marketing. Invest in their companies.
USDA got it right.
Yes, I do realize that I’m probably far more excited about our new website coming on line than is normal. Several points here on a Friday night:
- I completely disagree with those entrepreneurs who say, “You sell the sizzle not the steak” when what they mean is that they really don’t have a good product but just a good story a.k.a. a line of bullshit.
- I think we have benefited from never hiring anyone in our company who has experience as a middle manager.
- You’re better off having a great product and a lousy website than the other way around.
- Not having too much money can be a benefit when starting a business.
Back in the paleolithic era when I was in undergraduate marketing classes, they drilled into us the four P’s – product, price, promotion and place. There were lots of things I learned in business school that I disagreed with, but one I have found to be true to this day is that the most important of those four P’s is product. If your product is terrible, you may get people to buy it once if it’s cheap enough, they live close enough or you advertise it enough, but they aren’t going to buy it again.
Since we began 7 Generation Games, our priority has been making math awesome. Our first game had a lot of problems, many of them due to incompatibilities with web browsers, being stopped by school district firewalls. Ever call technical support and the person on the other end of the line says to you,
“Well, it works on my computer.”
Yeah, it was like that. So, we have been working like crazy to add every feature, correct every bug reported by our infinitely patient and wonderful alpha and beta testers (we love you guys). We still have, literally, hundreds of improvements we want to make, and I expect we always will. I work on them every day. Spirit Lake: The Game works. It doesn’t crash, it has lots of math and kids like to play it. Fish Lake is in process. Making a good game was our highest priority and still is. We just hired another developer (yay!) to help us out, are ramping up the artwork for the next two games, hired people as testers, an audio engineer …
Now that we have more people working in our company we have started to implement some actual policies and procedures. We have a git repository, use a source management system, an issues tracking system, file sharing system. We signed up for Amazon Web Services, Google Apps for Work, basecamp, some payroll system Donna manages - a lot of stuff I thought would be useless for us at the beginning. This is why I am glad we never hired anyone who had been a middle manager – because I was right. That stuff would have been useless for us at the beginning. It would have wasted our time and kept us from doing the most important work of making a good product. When do you add that layer of management? When you find yourself swearing,
“Damn it, we NEED a way to make sure you’re not copying over the changes I just made!”
When you only have two people working, and both in the same house, one can holler upstairs to the other,
“Hey, I’m working on level 4 today, okay? So, don’t touch it.”
At that point, you don’t need version control. Now, we do. When we did hire a project manager, we hired someone who had run a small business for ten years who shared our idea of having the degree of management you absolutely need and no more.
Finally, finally, finally, we are updating the 7 Generation Games website which, I believe, Maria originally put together in four hours one afternoon. It isn’t as if we didn’t know it needed a huge improvement. We believed our less than infinite time was best spent improving the game, meeting with customers, getting their feedback, designing more levels. We’re a small company. At Unite 2014, I attended a session where a developer mentioned they had 50 people working on their game for 2 1/2 years and it still wasn’t finished – that’s 125 person-years! That’s just people making the game – not managers, marketing, accounting. We’ve spent something more than 2.5 person-years developing ours, which explains why we constantly feel like we need to put every spare second into development.
Having the luxury to worry about the website says something about how we have matured as a company. With new people hired to take the non-development work off of us and additional people picking up some of the development work, we no longer can say,
“Having a spiffy new website is the least of our problems.”
In fact, it’s been bugging the hell out of me for a few months now. Did I feel bad about it? Yes. Like the source management system, when it got to the point where it felt like,
“Damn it, we need this!”
“Brother, I got 99 problems and that aint one of ‘em”
that it was time to get it done.
I’ve had people tell me that we should have been working on our website with bells, whistles and gold tassels before now because “VCs won’t be impressed if you don’t have a professional website.”
Hmm. Not sure VCs will be impressed if you don’t have a product, either. I know companies that started about the same time as 7 Generation Games and had terrific website, brochures, every social media account you can imagine, unbelievably honed pitches – and they evaporated because they were all sizzle and no steak.
I’ve written before about Paul Hawken’s recommendation that in growing a business that you do as much for yourself as possible. That’s a whole post in itself, but to cut to the point – you keep your overhead low, which means you don’t require external funding in the short run. You are more viable in the long run not just because you have low debt and low operating expenses, but you also have the asset of everything you have learned yourself.
But we still hired someone else to update the website (-:
It’s still technically the weekend so I’m not blogging about statistics until tomorrow. After some debate, I do think I have a multivariate stat textbook selected, though, so that’s good.
I got an invitation to go to a luncheon an old friend of mine sets up every few months for a bunch of us that used to work out together back in the 1980s. Almost all of those who attend are retired and three of the guys (they are all guys except for me) passed away in the past year or so. We’re getting to “that age”.
Ten or fifteen years ago, it was everyone’s parents that were dying. I competed in judo for 14 years, and taught it for another 30, so I have a lot of friends and acquaintances who are Japanese. At Japanese Buddhist funerals, at least here in Los Angeles, there is a song they always sing in Japanese. One day, after a half-dozen or more of our friends’ parents had passed away in a pretty short period of time, my friend, Hayward, leaned over to me during the service and said,
You know, I’m getting a little worried. I’m starting to know all of the words to that song.
Now, though, it is our friends and acquaintances who are dying, not their parents. That’s the sort of thing that gives you pause. Every time I go to one of those luncheons, we are talking about the people who we miss who aren’t there any more.
I’ve been working a lot of hours – as always. The Spoiled One talked me into going out with her twice this weekend,
once to have dinner at the end a pier in Malibu at sunset, and once to go hiking in the Santa Monica mountains. She can be a good influence sometimes. She goes to boarding school during the week and she asked,
I’m only home on the weekends. You have all week to work. Why do you have to work while I’m here?
I didn’t have a really good answer to that.
The Invisible Developer said to me,
You know, I think we’re getting to that age where I don’t think we should have to do much other than what we want to do.
Ignoring the fact for a moment that a) he may be correct and b) that does reflect that we have a privileged life that most people in the world don’t attain, I spent Sunday until midnight writing the budget justification for a grant which was decidedly something I did NOT want to be doing. I have made an adjustment now that at midnight, I try to quit working, no matter what.
I made a major decision to write, at most, one more grant. If we get the Phase I that I’m writing now, I’ll write the Phase II. Other than that, I’m done. Over it. Seriously, after you’ve brought in $30 million or so, is getting $30,100,000 going to make a difference in your overall accomplishments? That’s why I quit keeping track of grants funded after the first $30 million and just put down the latest ten or so. No, I don’t get to keep that money, either. It gets paid out over the years in salaries, rent, supplies, student scholarships and all of the other stuff the grants were written to do.
Once this grant is done, I will be working on the games and doing nothing else in September and October. Then, there are a few months of teaching classes and another six months after that of just working on the games.
I’m saying, “No” a lot.
- No, I am not interested in another consulting contract.
- No, I don’t want to work on a journal article with you.
- No, I’m not writing another grant.
- No, I’m not teaching any more classes.
- No, I will not present at your conference.
I’m throwing all of my eggs in one basket, working on making our games better and better. We’re taking a risk, focusing just on this and hiring more people to work on the games to boot. There is actually a lot of statistics in it, too, both analyzing the data we’re in the middle of collecting and in our next game, under design, which teaches statistics.
Maybe someone else would retire and lay on a beach, but I’ve tried that a few times and I’m a completely failure at it.
What else would I do? This is what I do.
It seems like a good answer. As for me, what I do is game design, coding, statistics. I’m just going to do that. It occurs to me that I have just written either the last or next-to-last grant budget I am ever going to write. And that makes me very, very happy.
The new common core standards have statistics first taught in the sixth grade, or so they say. I disagree with this statement because as I see it, much of the basis of statistics is taught in the earlier grades, although not called by that name. Here are just a few examples:
- Bar graphs
- Line plots
- X,Y coordinates
- Fractions and decimals (since the mean is rarely going to be an integer)
- Ratios and proportions – in summarizing a data set, it’s pretty common to point out, for example, that the ratio of game fish to non-game fish was 3:2. We are often asking if the percentage of something observed is disproportionate to the percentage in the population.
It doesn’t bother me that these topics are not called statistics, I’m just pointing it out. Whether a line is considered a regression line or simply points in two-dimensional space is a matter of context and nothing else.
Speaking of lines and graphs, the very basis of describing a distribution starts with graphing it. So, those second grade bar graphs? Precursors to sixth grade requirements to summarize and described a set of data.
You might say I’m going to an extreme including fractions in there because I may as well throw in addition and division. After all, you need to add up the individual scores and divide by N. Actually, I wouldn’t argue too much with that view.
You can’t even compute a standard deviation without understanding the concepts of squares and square roots, so it would be easy to argue that is at least a prerequisite to statistics.
While I’ve heard a lot of people hating on the common core, personally, I’m interested in seeing how it plays out.
What I expect will continue to happen is that many children will be turned off of math by the third grade because it is generally taught SO abysmally. That isn’t all the fault of teachers – the books they are given to use are often deathly boring. This isn’t to say I am not bothered by the situation. It bothers me a lot.
Working mostly in low-performing schools, I see students who are not very proficient with fractions, proportions, exponents or mathematical notation. We are trying to design our games to teach all of those prerequisites and then start showing students different distributions, having them collect and interpret data.
Lacking prerequisites is one of the three biggest barriers I see in teaching statistics, or any math, to students. The other two are related; low expectations for what students should be able to learn at each grade, and the fiction on the part of teachers and students that everything should be easy.
People were all up in arms years ago because there was a Barbie doll that said, “Math is hard.”
Guess what? Math is hard sometimes and that is why you have to work hard at it. Even if you really like math and do well at it in school, even if it’s your profession, there are times when you have to spend hours studying it and figuring something out.
Today, I was reviewing textbooks for a course I’ll be teaching on multivariate statistics. I didn’t like any of the three I read for the course, although I found one of them pretty interesting just from a personal perspective. The one I liked had pages after pages of equations in matrix algebra and it would be a definite stretch for most masters students. I’m really debating using it because I know, just like with the middle school students, there will be many lacking prerequisites and it will take a LOT of work on my part to explain vectors, determinants before we can even get to what they are supposed to be learning.
Last week, I had someone seriously ask me if we could make our games “look less like math so that students are learning it without realizing it”. No, we cannot. There’s nothing wrong with learning math that you need to disguise it to look like something else.
Whenever I catch myself thinking in designing a game, “Will the students be able to do X?” and I think they will not because they are lacking the prerequisites, I build an earlier level to teach the prerequisites and go ahead and include X anyway.
Here is why — I’m sitting at the other end teaching graduate students where the text begins like this:
root mean square residual (RMR) For a single-group analysis, the RMR is the root of the mean squared residuals:
is the number of distinct elements in the covariance matrix and in the mean vector (if modeled).
For multiple-group analysis, PROC CALIS uses the following formula for the overall RMR:
“The probability distribution (density) of a vector y denoted by f(y) is the same as the joint probability distribution of y1 …. yp . “
“It is easy to verify that the correlation coefficient matrix, R, is a symmetric positive definite matrix in which all of the diagonal elements are unity.”
I’m working on a section of a game that teaches fractions. If a player misses the question about where to meet up with the returning hunter, he or she gets sent to study. There is a movie that plays before this about needing to get back to the camp before dark.
Here is the question,
“The sisters begin to worry their brothers won’t make it back by dark. They start down the trail to meet them. They decide to stop and wait at the spot where their brothers will be 3/4 of the way back to camp. How far FROM the camp will the girls be?”
I used this question because I want students to think about a few ideas:
- Distance between two points can be thought of as a whole.
- If you are a/b distance FROM point X, the remaining distance TO point X is 1 - a/b . Of course, I don’t expect them to state it like that.
- 1/4= 2/8
- Number lines can be numbered in either direction. You can have 0 on the left or 0 on the right. The distance will be the same. The size of each interval will be the same.
These are kind of important ideas in math – equivalence, the arbitrary nature of labeling points on a line.
Students can click on GIVE ME A HINT, and a hints page pops up that explains, among other things, why you were wrong if you answered that the sisters would be 3/4 of the distance to the hunting grounds FROM the camp. If, even after reading the hints, (or if they skip the hints and just guess, we’re talking kids, after all) they get the problem wrong, the player is sent to watch a video clip explaining the problem, and then has to take a quiz to get back to the game.
SO … I had the thought instead of writing the quiz questions out of thin air, I might read what some more experienced teachers were giving to students in this grade as math problems. After all, I haven’t taught middle school math since the 1980s. I went to several sites, I even purchased some things like “One year of fifth-grade homework problems” etc.
When I looked at page after page of what students are being given as homework assignments, the only thing I could think was “Are you fucking kidding me? No wonder kids hate math.”
All of the homework was like this:
1/4 + 1/3 = ?
For FIFTY problems. That’s it! Then, the next day, it would be another fifty problems like this:
5/6 – 1/4 = ?
Okay, you need to learn to add and subtract fractions, but is that ALL you need to learn? Obviously not. How boring must it be to sit and just calculate answers to the same type of problem over and over? This stuff made me start to hate math and I LOVE math.
How can you possibly think that is teaching kids math? That’s like making them copy down all of the words in the dictionary and pretending you taught them literature.
Don’t even get me started on teaching statistics – wait, too late. I’m started. That is my rant for tomorrow.
I’m upset that I’m not perfect and I’m also very tired.
The Invisible Developer asked me tonight if I had a list of all of the grants that I’d had funded in my career. For some reason, he thought I should have kept track of that. I told him that no one cared, not even me. The first few years, I would list in my c. v., “Over two million in funded projects.” “Over three million in funded projects.” Eventually, I felt like one of those McDonalds signs that keep changing, “Over 427 billion served.”
So, if I mentioned grant writing at all, I would just list a half-dozen or so funded projects. Really, once you’ve brought in over $7.5 million, people don’t care so much about the details. Dr. Erich Longie, who was president of Cankdeska Cikana Community College when I worked for them used to say we had gotten over $30 million. I honestly forget. I sat down and wrote whatever I could remember and came up with about $19 million, but I’m sure there are some from 15 or 20 years ago that I forgot. Of that $19 million, $15 million were grants I wrote with no help whatsoever. That is, I sat in front of computer, swore, wrote, added numbers, wrote some more, swore some more and in the end produced 100 or 200 pages that were good enough that someone gave the funding to run a program and pay people’s salaries for five more years. The other $4 million, I wrote large parts of but other people helped with budget or some other part.
I know I have forgotten a bunch, and I don’t even care to look. When I was trying to come up with a list, I saw one grant for $1.5 million in my list of examples and thought, “Oh yeah, I had totally forgotten about that.”
And yet, today I made a mistake on a grant and I kept thinking what an idiot I am.
I used to make a lot of money writing grants for people. There was one year when every single proposal I wrote got funded. I was the flavor of the month. Everyone wanted me to write grants for them. Of course, the first time I wrote one that didn’t get funded, the client was pretty upset. How could that happen?
In an average year, 85% of the proposals I wrote got funded. I’m not as great as that makes me sound. I was selective in what competitions I chose. If there wasn’t at least a one in seven chance of getting funded, I didn’t apply. When I started, my cut-off was one in five, but things have gotten more competitive. (That is, I would look at the number of proposals they funded last year and the number of applications they received and calculate the odds. Some competitions fund as few as 3% of the applicants. I wouldn’t bother with these.) Still, hitting 85% when only 14-20% get funded is a pretty good track record.
I don’t think the mistake that I made will keep the grant from getting funded. It was possible to submit a revision, since it was before the deadline, and I did that, on time. Still, I felt like an idiot.
Confession: I don’t really like grant writing
I’ve never liked grant writing and I’ve only ever met one person who did. He was very good at it but he’s retired now and probably nearly 80. It’s tedious work. You read 100+ pages of instructions, write 100 pages to fit a formula – Needs Assessment, Objectives, Project Design, Evaluation, Adequacy of Resources, Personnel. Fill in every box and bubble. Cite research to back up everything.
This is probably why I’ve never been very sympathetic when my children complained about their schoolwork being boring or hard. The fun, easy stuff we do for free. The boring or hard stuff, you need to pay. Grant writing is both boring AND hard. I did it for years because I was a widow with three young children and I needed the money. I’m grateful that I was able to support my children through private schools, good universities and the Olympics.
The only grants I write any more are for people I have worked with for years. Don’t call and ask me if I will write one for you because the answer is “No.”
No matter how many millions I hit, I feel terrible when I miss
Often, I’m writing grants for institutions where people are on soft money. That means, if the grant I write isn’t good enough, people lose their jobs. So, people somewhere else who did get the grant keep their jobs, but I don’t know THOSE people.
My point, and I do have one
I was going to write about PROC DATASETS today, but I wrote about this instead because it has been on my mind.
I think I have this in common with a lot of successful people – no matter how much money I bring in, how many good papers I write, no matter how many keynotes “knock ‘em dead”, no matter how many grants get funded – if I slip once, I think I’m a failure.
Realistically, I know this is not true. If this particular grant doesn’t get funded, I’ll still have written tens of millions of dollars in successful proposals. This struck me the LAST time I had something not funded, over a year ago. I was feeling bad about it, and happened to be looking for something in a filing cabinet. (Yes, we have filing cabinets.) Going through those, I came upon file after file of data, reports, budget reports, from one funded project after another. It occurred to me that I had a LOT of successful projects over the years. It’s like this proposal I just finished. I think it was excellent work but there were one or two mistakes, and they weren’t even fatal mistakes (I hope!)
Here is my advice – successful people tend to immediately forget their successes and focus on the next challenge. That may be part of what makes them successful but it can also be a bit depressing if you forget the successes of the past when you are confronted with a failure in the present it looms unrealistically large. So, yes, fix your mistakes, learn from them, but also take some time every day to pat yourself on the back for the many, many mountains you’ve climbed in life.