This is something that has bothered me for a long time. When I read tables and reports from the National Center of Education Statistics (yes, I do, don’t judge me!), it makes it sound as if all is well with rural education.
All is well in the heartland, yes?
As someone who has spent a good bit of my life freezing my ass in the heartland, I am pretty darn certain that all is NOT well when it comes to educational technology.
I read government pronouncements about what we should be doing and who we should be working with (reports I will not quote since I still maintain hopes of some day being funded by certain agencies) and I am convinced their recommendations will NOT work everywhere.
Let’s take the very different access to fiber optic networks in rural versus urban schools.
I read about and meet with Silicon Valley ed tech experts telling me that everything needs to be “in the cloud” and that our insistence on delivering software to schools via flash drives, downloading on to laptops or desktops, even apps installed on tablets, is outmoded.
Well, let me tell YOU something – 12 million children attend schools in rural communities, that’s 24% of the student population. Do you know what the difference is between cable and fiber optic speeds? It is so different that a game that takes less than two minutes to download in my office in Santa Monica takes two HOURS to download when I’m in many school sites in North Dakota. Of course, if your connection drops, you may end up starting all over again.
Since I don’t want to base my conclusion on a single state or my own experience, I asked a couple of teachers I knew, in central Missouri and in central California, to try the same download and tell me how long it took them. In both cases, it was about an hour. Now, just think about this for a minute –
Download speeds are 30 to 60 times slower in many rural schools than in urban areas.
As I said, this has been bugging me for a long time, because I have been working with rural schools for decades and just about everything I witnessed convinced me that this was a problem that many people at the national level never even considered.
So, I was actually relieved to come across this post by the FCC Chair, Thomas Wheeler who noted, “41% of rural schools could not get fiber optic access if they tried”.
It’s not just me and the people that I know! The fact is that it’s really expensive to install fiber optic connections in rural communities. This isn’t to say that it will never happen, nor that some other, as yet unknown technology might not emerge to supplant fiber optics and solve the rural-urban digital divide when it comes to download speed. However, it definitely hasn’t happened YET.
This is why, although we are working on complete web-based games, we are ALSO continuing those that download once, or install from a flash drive and then require minimal Internet speed to perform exceptionally well. Personally, I think 24% of the population is a whole lot of school children to leave behind.
When I first taught multivariate statistics, I was nervous. The material is more difficult than Statistics 101 so I assumed teaching the course would be more difficult as well. Over 25 years of teaching, I’ve found the opposite. The more advanced you get in a field, the easier the courses are to teach. You might expect it is because you have more motivated or capable students, and there is some of that effect. A bigger effect, I’ve found, is because once students have the basic concepts you have something to generalize from. Also, you have a common vocabulary. It’s much easier to explain that multiple regression is just simple regression with multiple predictor variables than to explain what regression is to someone who has never been exposed to the concepts of correlation and regression.
I’m in the middle of making a game to teach statistics to middle school students and was thinking how to explain to them why what they are learning is important and how to explain statistics to someone who has never been exposed to the idea. On top of this challenge is the fact that I know many of the students playing our games will be limited in English proficiency, either because it is their second language or simply because they have a limited vocabulary.
Why learn statistics? Did you even know that the type of mathematics you are learning at the moment has its own name? If you did, pat yourself on the back for being smart. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Statistics is the practice or science of collecting and analyzing numerical data in large quantities, especially for the purpose of making inferences.
We’re going to break down that definition.
Collecting numerical data.
Collecting: bringing or gathering together. Notice people don’t have a collection of one thing!
Numerical: Numbers that have meaning as a measurement. The fact that 1 bass can feed 2 people is numerical data.
Data : Facts or figures from which conclusions can be drawn
Analyzing: looking at in detail, examining the basic parts – like looking at each category of animal and how many people it can feed
Let’s take the example of the Mayans hunting, using this graph that shows how many people you can feed with each type of animal.
Based on the data that you have, you know you can feed more people from a peccary, than a bass, so you could draw the conclusion that an area with a lot of peccaries would be a better place to be looking for food than one with a lot of bass.
This is what a peccary looks like, in case you were wondering.
Here is what is important to know about the science of collecting and analyzing numerical data – you are making decisions based on facts.
Why on earth would you hunt peccary? They can be dangerous if threatened, and trying to kill one and eat it is certainly threatening it.
On the other hand, no one ever got injured by a bass, as far as I know.
You’re just learning to be a baby statistician at this point, working with really small quantities of data.
The same methods using bar graphs, computing the mean and analyzing variability are used everywhere with huge amounts of data. The military uses statistics, for everything from figuring out how many tanks they need to order to deciding when to move soldiers from one part of the country to another. One of the first uses of statistics was for agriculture, to decide what was working to raise more corn and what wasn’t. You’ll get to see for yourself when you get to the floating gardens of the Aztecs.
Here’s my question to you, oh reader people, what resources have you found useful for teaching statistics? I mean, resources you have really watched or used and thought, “Hey, this would be great for teaching? ”
There is a lot of mediocre, boring stuff on the interwebz and if any of you could point me to what you think rises above the rest, I’d be super appreciative.
If you want to check out our previous games, that teach multiplication and division (Spirit Lake) or fractions (Fish Lake) you can see them here. If you buy a game this month you can get our newest game, Forgotten Trail (fractions and statistics) as a free bonus.
Seven years ago, when I founded The Julia Group, I submitted a grant proposal to develop an online algebra course.
After 18 years of writing grant proposals for universities, tribal councils and other organizations, I wrote one just for me, for something that was near and dear to my heart.
I know that developing educational technology to reduce disparities in mathematics achievement doesn’t have the sexiest ring to it as a life goal.
Still, the fact is, whether you graduate from high school or not has a great impact on your probability of success in America, by just about any definition.
I believe math is important and performing poorly in math in middle school is where many people start to veer off the path to success, even more often for low-income and minority students.
I said that if it didn’t get funded, I would try again until I eventually got to do this project.
The agency hated my proposal. They gave it a really low score and it didn’t get funded. They said I didn’t have experience developing online courses, nor adequate partnerships with educational institutions.
I tried again with another agency, proposing to develop a bilingual game to teach mathematics to students with special needs, like learning disabilities. This agency hated my proposal, too. They said trying to teach mathematics and English and special education all at once was too much. They said a bunch of other discouraging words. It was not Home on the Range.
I talked to some people I knew at tribal colleges and on reservation school boards and they were convinced that it was important to intervene before algebra, starting with basic mathematics operations and particularly emphasizing fractions.
About the time I found out my proposal wasn’t funded, I took a job at a university where The Perfect Jennifer decided to get a masters and a teaching credential. Since they offered free tuition, I was there for about two years.
I worked on some other proposals to develop online courses for professional development. These did get funded.
If you looked at me in 2011 or s0, you might say I’d given up on the idea, that I’d quit.
In 2012, I submitted a grant to make educational games to teach math. It was funded and we developed the prototype for Spirit Lake: The Game.
In 2013, I submitted two more proposals. One was funded and we built out Spirit Lake to a commercial version, created Fish Lake and, along with help from a Kickstarter campaign, finished the beta version for Forgotten Trail.
In 2014, I submitted another proposal, for a bilingual game. This was funded and the prototype of Aztech Games will be done in about a month.
Someone said to me today that game design is “not about budgets and deadlines”. In a way, it is, though. You need money to pay people to do sound, art, coding, marketing. You can’t do it all yourself, and yes, you can do a kind of cool game with ASCII art, but not that many people are going to be playing it in 2015.
In 2008, when I took that job at the university, you might have thought,
“Oh, she quit. She gave up on her dream.”
Nope. I was always working on it, sometimes in the background, building up skills, experience and partnerships. Sometimes, working on proposals that didn’t seem to go anywhere.
The educational games we do now are a shift from an online high school algebra course, but they are addressing the same needs in a somewhat similar way. Reducing disparities in mathematics achievement is still near and dear to my heart.
Here is a really funny thing – even when I was working full-time doing something else for years, I never got discouraged. I figured I would just keep working and eventually get to where I wanted to be one way or the other.
So, there you have it, Mama AnnMaria’s advice for the night: Quitting doesn’t have to be final.
Twice in the last week, I’ve had people say to me, expecting agreement,
Winners never quit. You know that, right? You’ve won a world championships, founded several companies, earned a Ph.D. You never would have done that if you quit.
I would like to go on record with my opinion.
That idea that winners never quit is complete and total bullshit.
I have accomplished a lot of things in my life and it would never have happened if I hadn’t quit other things.
- I started out as an Urban Studies major. I quit that and got a BSBA in business instead, where I was required to take Calculus and a couple of programming courses, market research and took an elective in statistics … all of which sparked my interest in software development, statistics and mathematics, which led to the career I have now. If I had followed the never quit mantra, I’d probably be a city planner.
- I had a job as an industrial engineer that I liked a lot. I quit that to take a job teaching computer classes in the corporate training department, because I wanted to live in the same city as my second husband. Then, because I really didn’t like that job, I quit it and got a Ph.D.
- I quit the marriage to my first husband and I am 100% certain that both he and I are much happier as a result. I certainly would not have had The Perfect Jennifer, Darling Daughter Number Three and The Spoiled One if I had stayed married. I doubt I would have gotten a Ph.D. or started a business.
- I quit competing in judo after I won the world championships. I had other things I wanted to do in life – have more children, get more education, start a business. I ignored everyone’s advice that I would regret it forever if I did not stick it out four more years and go to the Olympics. They were all wrong. I have not regretted it for one second.
- I quit my full-time job as an Associate Professor and moved to California to marry The Invisible Developer and start a business.
- I quit in the middle of a research grant to take a job that paid me a lot more money. Then, I quit that job for one that paid even more THEN, I quit that one to work for a university that paid diddly squat but gave free tuition to my children. If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have been able to pay for Darling Daughter Number One to attend a university that costs slightly more than buying an entire small town, nor for Darling Daughter Number Three to train for the Olympics, nor The Perfect Jennifer to attend graduate school.
- Then, I quit the university because, did I mention my annual salary was approximately diddly squat?
If I hadn’t done that all of that, I would never have co-founded Spirit Lake Consulting, Inc., never founded The Julia Group, never co-founded 7 Generation Games, never written grants for tens of millions of dollars that paid for college scholarships, tutors for high school students, substance abuse counseling, vocational rehabilitation, development of online courses and educational software.
I’m pretty certain that everything I accomplished in life has come about because I DID quit a lot of things when they were no longer rewarding, productive or the right choice for me.
Yes, there are people who give up at the first sign of difficulty, and this is a mistake.
There are also people who go down the wrong path for far too long.
In fact, you cannot pursue an infinite number of opportunities. It would be nice if a new opportunity presented itself exactly when you had finished the previous one, if there were no dead ends and never a need to make adjustments in plans, but that’s not how the world works.
There is also the possibility that quitting is not final – but that’s a post for another day.
I try not to be a hypocrite, so after a long talk this week with someone about the importance of admitting mistakes and not continuing to go down the wrong path, I sat down and asked myself,
Self? What mistakes have I made?
Certainly, if you can’t see any mistakes you have made, you are delusional, because everyone makes mistakes. I think the biggest, stupidest mistake I made for many years was feeling like I always had to be the smartest person in every room and everyone had to know it, by God. This was stupid for a lot of reasons. Let me enumerate them for you.
- I missed out on making some good friends. I worked at universities much of my life with really smart people. I was so busy trying to prove how smart I was, that statistics was harder than history or some stupid nonsense, that I missed the opportunity to get to know those people better. When I look back and think about some of my former colleagues, I think, damn, Dr. X was pretty nice and interesting. If I hadn’t been so intent on proving I was smarter, we could have had some good conversations.
- It hurt my career. No matter how good you are at programming, statistics, grant writing, whatever, no one wants to work with a jerk. Yes, maybe Billy Bob wasn’t as good at something, didn’t go to as good of a school, didn’t write as many articles as me. So damn what? What was the point of constantly bringing it up so I could feel like I was winning? I never got fired from anything, but I’m sure I would have gotten promoted faster if I was better at getting along with people when I was young.
- I was being a jerk. What if I was right and Billy Bob was marginal at his job and I was super-amazing? Again, so damn what? He had a job. He was there before me. Who died and left me the God of pointing out everyone’s inadequacies? What did I expect people to do, pass out little post-it notes to me when I came in every day saying that I win and everyone else in the department should bow down before me because I brought in $ 6 million in grant funding this year?
- I was often wrong. Sometimes I really was the smartest person in the room. More often than not, though, there were a lot of really smart people and some of them knew more than me about certain things and less about others. Once I finally learned to shut up and listen, I learned a lot more.
I thought I would pass along this bit of knowledge because it was a hard, painful lesson. I had my reasons for always feeling that I had to prove myself, and if you are in the same situation, I bet that you do, too.
There wasn’t a particular day when I woke up and thought, “I’m acting like an ass and I should just stop.”
Oddly, (or maybe not), the more I actually accomplished, the less I felt I had to prove I was smart, competent, whatever.
I married well – twice. You might think that I mean I was married to people who continually reinforced me, told me how brilliant I am. You’d be wrong.
Both my late husband and The Invisible Developer had this in common – they (felt) feel comfortable in their own competence. They don’t have to put anyone else down to feel important. They don’t need anyone else to tell them they are brilliant.
That’s why it’s called SELF-confidence and SELF-esteem. You get it from yourSELF .
Role modeling. After living with someone for years who was brilliant and didn’t at all feel the need for EVERYONE to acknowledge it, maybe some of that just kind of wore off.
So, anyway, that is the biggest mistake I think I made over the years. I’m probably doing something equally stupid now that I can’t see, but five years from now, I will look back and wonder what the hell was I thinking.
Thirty years ago, I was a wet-behind-the-ears young industrial engineer working at General Dynamics. The production line had been shut down a couple of times in the past few months and I was sent to investigate. I met with the division manager and he told me that they had run out of material X, a small amount of which was used on each missile. So, all the workers on the line were sent home until more X was procured, and since we were a union shop, they were all paid for the day. He explained that X had a very short shelf life.
I asked him,
How much does it cost? So what if it expires and we have to throw some away? Wouldn’t that be cheaper than sending everyone home?
I don’t know but it must be very expensive, otherwise, they wouldn’t be always cutting it so close and sometimes running out of it.
I concurred that he was probably right but recommended he check. So, just to placate the silly young woman (women engineers were even more of a rarity back then) the manager called in some ordering clerk from inventory control and asked just how much was material X anyway. The clerk went to a terminal and looked it up.
Five dollars each, sir.
The manager looked a bit surprised at the low cost.
Five dollars an ounce?
The clerk shook his head,
No, sir. Five dollars a gallon.
I will admit that I did not help the situation at this point by bursting out laughing.
It was what happened next, and later, that was really interesting. He proceeded to yell, swear at and berate that clerk up and down. The clerk was a middle-aged man who was kind of a mousy guy to begin with. He was on the verge of tears before it was over and ran out of the office.
I looked the manager in the eye and said,
You had no right to treat that man the way you did. He was just doing his job. There is an inventory control system with a program that determines lead times and orders. You didn’t think to ask how much material X cost, either. Regardless, no one should be talked to the way you just did. You owe him an apology.
He looked at him and snarled,
Who the hell do you think you are? I run this place and you’re just a little piss-ant engineer.
I told him,
Maybe so, but I’m right and you’re wrong.
I went off to my next meeting. Several hours later, the same manager and I happened to be walking next to each other through the same plant. We walked by Mr. Mouse and he looked like he wanted to duck behind the nearest plank mills. The manager walked over to him, cleared his throat and said,
I just wanted to apologize to you for the way I acted earlier. You were just doing your job and I was wrong to blow up like that. In the future, though, I would like to be sure that we don’t run out of X because it shuts the line down. If it hurts your performance numbers in inventory control or something like that, just go ahead and charge any expired product you have to throw away to my department.
Then, he shook the man’s hand, and walked away, leaving Mouse staring after him with a stunned look on his face.
He fell back in step with me – we were heading to the same meeting, and I turned around and said,
I’m really impressed, Mr. Rousey. It takes a strong man to admit that he was wrong.
Yes, that was Ron Rousey. Even though at that moment my opinion of him started to turn around, the feeling was not mutual. He told me later he thought I was a conceited smart ass who made him look bad in front of his crew by laughing at him, didn’t know that it wasn’t my place to talk back to him and that he could not believe that I was not impressed by his professional accomplishments but that apologizing to some guy who was scared of his own shadow earned my respect. He must have got over it, though, because a few years later, we were married.
I was thinking about this today because it occurred to me that probably everyone could have a better life by admitting faults and mistakes. If you don’t admit that you are wrong, you are going to continue to make the same mistakes and have the same problems.
It occurred to me because it brought to mind a mistake I made for many years …
… but for that you will have to wait for my next blog post.
Ironically, just after posting that I was going to get back to blogging, and my first post back on how grateful I am, I got really sick, didn’t do anything, fell behind at work and so didn’t do any blogging while I caught up.
So, here we are again and now I am really grateful that I’m not sick.
Recently, I went full circle, spending two days in San Diego, where my first daughter was born and where I moved away from thirty-one years ago, to attend a soccer tournament for my fourth daughter.
It’s been an eventful year. We received our third research grant, completed our second Kickstarter and our first accelerator program. Raised our first seed round.
Thirty-one years ago, I was an industrial engineer at General Dynamics. I’d just won the world judo championships. I’d also just gotten divorced. That was an eventful year, too.
You’d think after all this eventfulness I would have figured this whole life thing out. To some extent, I think maybe I have.
I have worked full-time since I was 15 years old, much of that time either going to school full-time, competing as an international athlete or working a second (third) job.
One thing it took me an unreasonably long amount of time to figure out was this:
The work will always be there. The time will never come that at the end of the day you say, “That’s it. My work here is done. I’m finished.”
Do a reasonable amount of hard work. Then quit worrying about it.
You are not going to run out of work. Don’t think you have to take every contract that comes across your desk, accept every job offer, even if it requires you to work until midnight six days a week. There may be intervals, say, when you need to do that to pay for your child’s college education or found a startup but those should be INTERVALS in your life, not your whole life.
You are never going to be good as you want to be. Even if I knew everything possible to know about a software language, I still wouldn’t be satisfied. There would be another language that I didn’t know.
Enjoy the accomplishments. We were standing in line in a restaurant in San Diego when I just happened to glance at the jacket my lovely daughter had borrowed from me. It had a the logo of a tribal radio station on the back. I commented, “That radio station exists because I wrote the grant to fund it. It’s been there for years.” There are a lot of programs and products that exist because I wrote the grant, wrote the code, designed the program. The second each is over, I forget about it and go on to the next one. I’m learning to pause every now and then, pat myself on the back and say, “That came out well.”
Strive to be better. Don’t strive for perfection or you’ll just make yourself crazy.