### It’s not a conspiracy theory if it’s actually true

At the risk of engaging in the premature counting of chickens, it looks like I’m going to be involved in something off-blog that will expose my rants about the fucking graphing calculator to a wider audience. Like, wider by a few orders of magnitude. Exciting stuff. Exciting enough that I spent some time today researching the link between Texas Instruments and the math textbook industry that I wrote about a few months ago.

It’s worse than I thought. It’s scandalous, and everyone who has a stake in what students are taught should be outraged.

Here’s a tiny subset of what ten minutes of Googling got me:

- An alliance between TI and textbook publisher Pearson Prentice Hall:
*Pearson Prentice Hall and Texas Instruments to Publish Educational Products for High School Math Market*. Never mind the creepy abundance of business jargon: far creepier are the repeated references to “increas[ing] student achievement”, “improv[ing] student performance”, “scientifically researched and standards-based instruction materials”, and the like, all waved around without either specifics or support. Just because you say it, doesn’t mean it’s true. Show me the data, Pearson Prentice Hall and TI.

- Here’s a beautiful example of technology making simple concepts complicated:
*…The directions for performing these operations differ from calculator to calculator. The steps for a TI-82 are given on page 663 of the textbooks. For other calculators, you will have to consult the manual for instructions. Learn how to use these important functions…*Oh,*allow me*to present a bold alternative to*that*shit: graph your bloody STRAIGHT LINE by*hand*, you goddamned*punk*.

- Fostering Children’s Mathematical Power: An Investigative Approach to K-8 Mathematics Instruction. Here’s Activity File 0.1 - ZERO. POINT. ONE - in a book about teaching math to children:
*It may surprise children to learn that some calculations are too hard for a calculator. Encourage them to explore the limits of their calculators for each of the operations. For example, what is the largest addend that can be added on a Texas Instruments (TI) Math Explorer?*I’ve got a word for this approach as a*zero point first step*toward fostering children’s mathematical power, and it ain’t “investigative”. Also: free cookie to anyone who can tell me why the TI in particular is necessary here. The $10 doodad I use to balance my checkbook could do just as well for this, maybe better.

- Probably the creepiest material of all comes from the TI site itself. Take this, for instance. What do MTV®, Sesame Street ®, the WalkMan®, the DiscMan®, the Game Boy®, and the Brave New World of Mathematics Education ® have in common? A whole hell of a lot, apparently.

- More from TI. Just…read the title, which I think is more fitting than the good folks at TI realize. I mean, just tie a bow around a big fat red foam A+, and it probably means about as much as a real A+ in a TI-based math class.

And there’s more. Much, much more. The skills-lite, calculator-heavy approach to mathematics education, which produces top high school students that are completely unprepared to do college-level math, won’t last forever. I just hope I’ll be around to bury it.

Do you want a TI-Explorer? I probably have at least 40 of the beasts sitting around my office in plastic bins. (Instead of inciting riots by banning calculators, I will bring a class set of my own calculators to the exam.)

The TI-Explorer is tons of weird calculator fun. It’s only slightly harder to find a GCD with it than it is by hand. With the added bonus of being a completely opaquely procedural activity completely devoid of meaning.

In defense of TI, though, the calculator-based-ranger is very, very cool. Unfortunately my department only has 6 of them, so I can’t use them in class. But they are very, very cool.

The device is a motion detector hooked up to a calculator. It puts a graph of Distance from Wall or (much harder) Rate of Change of Distance from Wall on the calculator screen, and the students have to walk back and forth trying to get their graph to match the one on the calculator screen.

Less TI, More MathMoebius Stripper, always able to supply a nice rant about how integrated calculators in math classes are producing students unprepared for college math, supplies a good set of links to articles about the connections between Texas Instruments and the ma…

Aaargh!

The TI site is terrible.

“Can science and math teachers hope to win the attention of the multimedia generation? How can these instructors capture the fancy of students in the era of the WalkMan®, the DiscMan® and the Game Boy®.”

First of all… WalkMan? Game Boy? Is this 2005 or 1985? There is nothing quite so pathetic as a corporation trying to be “hip” and “with it” and failing hilariously.

And secondly, shouldn’t that second sentence have a question mark?

InspiredI must say that about a month ago, when I found your blog, I was definitely inspired to start blogging myself. When will we learn about your off blog efforts? It does sound exciting, but would a post on reddit.comor digg.com be appropriate soon? Something like “TI and publishing industry conspire to ‘dumb down’ your kids.” Of course, I’m hoping your other effort is most successful, so maybe a more timely post is required.

Good Luck!

Some calculations are too “hard” for a calculator — so you need to know how to do it w/o a calculator! See? It all works out.

Hotmath.com??? Is that “hot” as in “stolen” as in “answers you don’t own, you are just borrowing them” from the “math educators”?

When I was working on my degree in math education recently, one of my classmates was champing at the bit to finish his dissertation on calculators in the math classroom. My classmate seemed (still seems) to be a straightforward sensible guy. He looks at calculators as a tool, to use or not use as circumstances warrant. However, he has done a lot of work for TI, his data comes from TI-sponsored workshops and field tests, and I dare say that TI would be most thoroughly unhappy if his results were to argue against the use of their product in math classes. I confess to being conflicted, because I would not expect my classmate to subordinate his honest opinion to the preferences of his sponsor, but I’ll bet you see the problem…

As for the separate topic of Hotmath.com, BeckyC, I can tell you that the founder of Hotmath was inspired by the name “Hotmail” and thought it sounded cool. I did some work for Hotmath a few years ago, and it’s all based on taking students through solutions step by step. It is vastly superior to a solutions manual that lays out the whole thing in front of the student. The folks at Hotmath are also working to collect and analyze data on how well students retain their math knowledge after working with Hotmath relative to other alternatives. They’re pretty good guys. Of course, they did pay me money at one time and I could be regarded as biased.

RH - thanks for the calculator offer; I’ll email you details, because yeah, I want one. As for that ranger thing, I’m suddenly remembering this seventy year old man from my old pottery studio. He spent around a year making this massive, kitchy Christmas ornament: it weighted around twenty pounds, and it was a bunch of gnomes and raindeer and Santa and Jesus all squished together. Godawful piece of junk, but it was meticulously formed and decorated, and there was obviously a lot of skill that had gone into it - which I admired a great deal. I sure wouldn’t want it anywhere in my home (or classroom), though. And that’s kind of how I’m feeling about that TI ranger.

I do not want to address the author of Comment #4 by name, because that ® after his name is making me wonder if there could be legal repercussions to using it without permission. But I agree with him, I do.

Severe Engineer - welcome, and thanks! But this project is a ways off and doesn’t involve either of those sites you mentioned…and I probably shouldn’t say any more at this stage, as I am not the only person involved.

Wolfangel - no, see, you need to use your calculator

differentlyin order to do those computations. Which is actually a rather useful skill, but 1) zero point one???, and 2) why the TI? WHY?BeckyC - ohh, touché. [ETA: Or not. I’m goint to trust Zeno on this one; this seems a lot more interactive than the “memorize the solution from the manual” method that seems to prevail whenever…students have access to solution manuals.]

MS: ain’t it just the

greatestfeeling to see one of your passions finally start getting some traction?i gleefully demonstrated the limitations of a (yes, TI) calculator to some pre-calculus students i used to teach via an extra credit problem on a test about logarithms: how many digits are there in 7^(7^7)?

it always worked like a charm:

step 1–student reads problem carefully.

step 2–student reaches for calculator with confidence.

step 3–student figures out how to enter 7^(7^7).

step 4–student’s shoulders and expression collapse when calculator reads “overflow error”.

step 5–teacher snickers softly.

i just saw ‘good night and good luck’. let me offer an analogy. MS would do the math teacher profession proud if

MS:graphing calculators::edward r. murrow:joseph mccarthy

This reminds me of one of my favorite limit problems to put on calculus tests:

\lim_{x \rightarrow \infty} \ln x

If I’m feeling very mean, I’ll do \ln(\ln x)).

Or, still worse, a logarithm with some other base.

Are you testing for knowledge of calculus, or for clues?

Oh, the old using-logs-to-find-number-of-digits is a sentimental favourite of mine. And RH, how many of your students actually get those?

I’m not sure of the curriculum in Ontario has changed in the 5 years since my last high school math class, but I never had much experience with TI-enabled learning methods. I remember getting to use some fancy fucking graphing calculator once or twice in grade 11 or 12. I don’t recall if it was really supposed to be a major part of the curriculum, it seemed like a novelty at the time, and we only used them maybe twice during the course.

I haven’t had any TI experience at the university level, since I went into Computer Science, where we use REAL calculators.

I thought everyone knew the log(10) trick to find the number of digits. And if you only have log(e), just divide by log of 10. Don’t they teach logs any more?

Come to think of it, after seeing someone who was victimized by one of these calculator-only courses, maybe not…

believe me, not everyone knows the #-of-digits-using-log(10) trick. the funniest part is how consistent the shoulder thing is…they

alwaysdroop their shoulders for the 8 seconds they spend looking at the “overflow error” in the hopes that the message might change.a few kids figured out some good ideas. most who thought of something took the log(7), which is a good idea, but it didn’t get them too far.

One more reason to support government funded, open-source textbooks. They wouldn’t (we can hope), be partly funded/written by the calculator companies.

Congrats/good luck on the of-blog ranting, give ‘em hell.

Polymath - I’m always amused at how many students are

genuinely surprisedwhen that ten-point test question involves something beyond plugging the expression you give them into a calculator.Declan - thanks. But I’m not sure that government-funded, open-source textbooks would be either necessary or sufficient in solving this problem. Mind you, I’m a bit biased, as I work in the private sector in the field of education, and I think that we’re doing good work there. But my company doesn’t trot out unsupported statements about “increasing student achievement”, because they can actually back up their claims of same. But I’ll say one thing: if you’re looking to make money, you should buy stock in TI, not in my company.

Thing is, I don’t think that Texas Instruments has influenced mathematics education against the will of educators. Yes, they’ll sell out a generation of kids for profit, and while that sucks and I hate them with the passion of a thousand suns for it, I can’t say that I expect any better of them. The deeper, and more serious problem right now is that educators in high places have bought into their philosophy wholesale. Remove TI from the equation, and we’d still have elected officials on the school boards and in politics who earnestly believe that the best way for children to learn math is with lots of fancy technology. (Granted, I’m cynical enough to wonder if these pro-TI educrats are getting kickbacks from TI to promote this crap - but if so, that’d continue to be a factor even if open-source, government-funded texts became a reality.)

My idealistic pie-in-the-sky proposal: put mathematics educators in charge of mathematics education. Oh, I know - I am

sonaïve.My hand-written RPN calculator (which I wrote because “dc” doesn’t have trig or transcendental functions) says 695975 digits in 7^(7^7).

7 7 ^ 7 log 10 log / * p

Yeah, no doubt the primary solution to the problem of calculator over-reliance has to be changing attitudes and no doubt also the main problem open-source textbooks would solve is economic, not quality related, but your post, and some of the links on the links between TI and textbook makers made me think that the former problem and the latter solution might not be completely orthogonal, that’s all.

Engineer-Poet: Y’mean you didn’t just write a dc program to calculate them for you? It is turing-complete, you know.

Me, I’m still trying to get around to writing a slide rule emulator. It shouldn’t be all that hard, and it’d be at least as useful as a calculator program. (I actually have a few other related things on my to-do list as well. Ordered sublist: sliderule, xsliderule, xrpn, xdc, xdc+. But those last few are getting into “before the heat death of the universe” territory.)

MS: Any chance you can get a “How to use your slide rule” section (or even “Why HP is infinitely superior to TI”) into a textbook anytime soon? I’d buy it just to help generate a market, even if I probably don’t have much use for it.

My idealistic pie-in-the-sky proposal: put mathematics educators in charge of mathematics education. Oh, I know - I am so naïve.We got to where we currently are from that starting point.

What went wrong along the way? I suspect the core of the problem is economic; the difference in value contributed to society by a good mathematics instructor as opposed to a bad one is far larger than the difference in market value, and we all know the consequences of this kind of mispricing…

See, here’s the thing - I’d be a lot more sympathetic to this economic argument if we were talking about a subject other than math - that is, a subject in which it made some sense for there to be many new books published every year. But the content in elementary school/high school, modulo the technology, has not changed since the Newtonian era. And while certainly, TI and its ilk want to profit, schools have been cutting programs for years in order to save money, and a very natural (and harmless) place to do so would be to use old math textbooks. Hell, there are some perfectly good ones - ones that could be used today - that are old enough to be in the public domain already! I have a feeling that new, government-funded, open source texts, while promising to be better than the TI-funded crap I’ve taught from more times than I particularly care to remember, would at best reinvent the wheel. (Though if anyone can present me with solid data that indicates that there are tested methods that improve on fifty-year-old ways of teaching math at the primary, secondary, and undergraduate levels, I may reconsider.)

I realize that the market creates demand as well as responds to it…but it does not say much for our educators that TI has managed to develop such a huge market for its products. Shouldn’t folks who have studied education have the brains, and the guts, to reject this crap?

Food for thought: until about mid-20th century, the standard high school geometry text was excerpts of Euclid’s Elements.

Last time I checked, the essentials of plane geometry hasn’t changed in thousands of years, which previous generations recognized. So they went with the definitive text.

I’d have to agree with Dogs of Justice that we did get to where we are because mathematics

educatorsgot into the bag. I’m not saying they don’t know how to explain math, but mathematicians are much more rigorous in terms of looking for understanding than mathematics educators are.I know I’m going to get a bunch of backlash for that one, but realize that these people are also taught that girls are not good in math, you should alter your teaching style to account for different learning styles in the classroom and that some people just can not get mathematics and it’s ok for them to give up on it.

Just because things are difficult doesn’t mean we, or anyone else for that matter, should give up. Instant gratification and laziness have made our society stop doing mathematics. If someone can’t get it the first time around, they feel like they are stupid (which is usually not true) and they can’t get the material. Normally, people don’t try because they want to do something else, something easy, or at least easier. The message I’d like to give students, starting in elementary, is that some subjects are harder for us to learn than others - but that doesn’t make us stupid or anything we just have to try harder.

I think calculators are the easy way out that a LOT of people use, even some with Ph.D’s (not in mathematics) and Masters. How can we expect high school students to not want to use calculators when their instructors in other areas admit to not being math-savvy and having to rely on these “tools”? If an adult they know can admit to not being able to “do math” then why can’t they? Society has a lot to do with this, TI, HP, Casio and other companies are filling a need and as long as a strong work ethic has gone down the drain in our society, they will continue to profit.

I hope I didn’t offend anyone, although I can very clearly see how this comment might offend someone, it’s just that I see students every day who could work a little bit harder and get the grades they want, if they spent their time efficiently on mathematics. Heck, I could get the grades I want if I spent enough time on all my subjects and didn’t procrastinate - but I don’t use calculators to do my work for me, I use my brain (but I don’t think I could have told you how many digits there are in 7^(7^7) in my head…).

Schools do what the school boards want and the school boards do what the parents what, or new school boards are voted in. Parents want the latest and greatest, especially if they don’t understand the contents. You can’t blame this one entirely on math educators.

I’m not saying they don’t know how to explain math, but mathematicians are much more rigorous in terms of looking for understanding than mathematics educators are.Actually, I’m not gonna let mathematicians off the hook either. AIUI, the “New Math” fiasco 30-odd years ago was pretty much the fault of idealist mathematicians lacking understanding of how most human brains work. Set theory is not terribly useful to elementary school students…

Friend and reader saforrest pointed me to TI’s list of alliances with various “leading organizations”. It’s something of a relief that although the National Association of Elementary School Principals is among them, there are no associations of mathematicians or mathematics educators who have formed a “strategic alliance” with TI. However, TI “proudly supports” these educational organizations, including many groups of mathematicians and mathematics educators. Among them: the

IMO. I guess I shouldn’t object to the IMO taking TI’s money, but it doesn’t seem like TI’s getting much out of them, other than some exposure. I hope.Have you seen Steinmetz’ “Engineering Mathematics”? He spends a lot of time on working out approximate answers, so that when your slide rule says “362″ you know it’s really around 3 1/2 and not near 360. I think it’s still in print (orig. 1911), and worth looking for. He starts very near the beginning - the early chapters can be used in high school.

Among them: the IMO. I guess I shouldn’t object to the IMO taking TI’s money, but it doesn’t seem like TI’s getting much out of them, other than some exposure. I hope.For what it’s worth, unlike MathCounts, where I got my first TI graphing calculator from, I don’t remember seeing anything TI-related at the IMO. (Then again, that was a decade ago, things may have changed since then…)

dave: I was working on my Pentium emulator written in dc and didn’t have time, but I gave it up after I found my version of the microcode was the one with the divide bug.

Oh, yeah:&nbps; ;-)

Dog,

You’re exactly right, of course, but other problems with the “new math” included using the correct terminology (who needs that extra memorization in grade school?) and the fact that it was never properly implemented as a curriculum. It have worked for the upper half of students if implemented as proposed, but it failed even them.

Speaking of set theory, though, what other than Venn diagrams is useful in set theory (in “real” life, I mean).

MS, re. DOJ’s comment # 23, I think you misread him. I read his economic argument as being that good math teachers and bad math teachers get the same pay. When that happened in the USSR, they still had good math instruction because there was nowhere else for people good at math to go. In our free market it means that the people who are really good at math and who also have people skills go into private enterprise. You’re a good case in point. As the good people leave, the sample gets enriched in idiots, until good people don’t even want to enter the profession. As the idiots gain in seniority, their idiocy ultimately manifests itself as the poor textbook choices and excuses for calculator dependence that you see around you today.

My mom was a public school teacher for over 25 years. (Being in a rural school district and having lots of “split grades, she taught me for three freaking years in a row, but that’s a topic for a blog post…) Her take is that part of this is unintended consequences from the women’s lib movement. When she graduated college, she had three real career choices: school teacher, stewardess, or secretary. As more careers opened up to women, talented women who otherwise would have been forced into teaching went elsewhere. Mom saw a real shift around 1974 or 1975, when the ditzy teachers began to outnumber the thoughtful ones coming out of college. She likes to talk about the time that Maryland revised their math tests. They called for volunteers to help (sans pay, of course). The dedicated teachers didn’t have time for that crap. So who went to volunteer? The dumbest, perkiest, social climbingest (and generally most inexperienced) teachers. The test was so badly written that the test was withdrawn from the graduation requirements that first year, and wasn’t re-instituted for three years. Imagine that dynamic happening in the textbook selection process, and a lot becomes really clear, doesn’t it?

As for getting teacher pay and performance in sync, that’s tough, because of the politics and difficulty in measuring the effects of a good teacher this year, from a good one last year that covered similar material, and in measuring a teacher with a class of goof-offs against one with a room full of kids with parents like I had. And my mom can give you plenty of stories about kissing butt (and other body parts, but I don’t like to go there in thinking about my grade school teachers) that make merit pay a very, very difficult issue. We don’t do a perfect job in the private sector, but imagine a government-run performance review, and you see why it hasn’t really taken hold. From the arguments about what exactly to measure to the fights over who actually gets to sit on the review board, it will be a mess. Not that I don’t think we should try to institute merit pay: we should, we just need to enter into the project with our eyes open.

Mea culpa; you’re right, John. I was still thinking about Declan’s open-source, government-funded texts idea when I read DoJ’s comment about economics.

And I agree with your comment - I’ve heard the argument that smart women used to have to become teachers, but now not so much, before, and it rings reasonable to me. There’s got to be a solution other than turning the clocks back to the early 70’s, though. I’d like to start with cutting all of the “elementary school math for people who plan to teach it next year”-type courses from the el-ed-school syllabus. We’d end up with a hueg shortage of elementary school teachers, but probably no fewer

qualifiedones than we have now. Then we might see some serious talk about attracting good people to the profession. I reckon folks would be more receptive to paying primary school teachers well if it ceased to be the case that people who aren’t qualified to do anything go into such work. (You were the one who posted the average GRE scores for education majors versus other programs, right?)Of course, I’m tired and sore and should go to bed, so this might not make any sense in the light of day.

IBM seriously needs to be applauded for their efforts on this front. I believe it should become a cultural norm for many older sci/tech workers to move into teaching, to functionally replace the “school teacher, stewardess, secretary” norm.

No doubt the new government books would re-invent the wheel in all subjects, not just math, but the re-invented wheel would (in theory) be new and shiny enough to find general usage, while still saving schools and students a lot of money.

I’m guessing that while there probably are perfectly serviceable old math texts no longer under copyright, they are out of print, or they have gender-biased language, or they don’t line up with modern curriculums or they don’t have solutions to the questions in the back, or there is some stupid problem which prevents school boards / professors from adopting them.

The new book would also have added credibility because it is funded by the government so that teachers/boards wouldn’t be so open to attacks on why little Billy is using some out of date textbook which doesn’t even have instructions for how to do multiplication using his T-Infinity Calculator.

CW over at NoSuchBlog has a good post on merit pay right now:

http://nosuchblog.blog-city.com/tipping.htm

And Declan

“The new book would also have added credibility because it is funded by the government”

Do you live in the same country as me? ‘Cause I can pretty much guarantee that anything the US government gets its hands on will be effed up. Not to mention one-sized fits all. Which will not do in a country as big as the US. It would also be dumbed down to fit the lowest common denominator, and only cover subjects contained in the asessment tests.

I’m reminded of Ben Frankin and his friends setting up the first US Public Library in Philadelphia. Those men deliberately rejected going to the government for a hand out - they did it themselves. Where is that spirit? Are we free people, or slaves to the Govenment dole? Can we not do anyhting without public money? Where are the educators stepping up to the plate and writing a chapter or two for a Wiki text? The time spent on one chapter would be neglegible for an expert. Profs get paid year round on their government grants already, which allows them to neglect their students. Why should I give them more tax money to do what they should be doing anyway?

dave (and whoever else) — why make a sliderule emulator? Why not either build a sliderule or buy one? I’ve got my dad’s sliderule from the 70s (K&E?) and I’ve still got the instruction book for it, too. It was in an orange leather case (my dad went to Clemson). I actually used the rule in trig class, as my sisters kept stealing my calculator.

I have a slide rule, and even use it on occasion (though I have an annoying habit of mostly wanting to do math that it’s not very useful for).

The sliderule emulator is more Just Because I Can than because it would be useful, but there’s also the geek value in pulling up a slide rule emulator on the computer instead of a calculator program, when going to the computer is easier than reaching for either the slide rule or the calculator on the other side of the desk (or, rather more likely in my case, buried in the backpack or left at home).

Ugh, I just wrote a long and rambling post about the inane assumption that everyone celebrates Christmas, and yet somehow I missed this rhetorical question, from John to Declan:

John…just click on the link to Declan’s blog, eh? Because…well, just go,

eh?That said, I am inclined to agree with you, John, insofar as your rejection of government-funded open-source texts

in the USgoes. Not because government is inherently destined to screw up everything it gets its hands on, but because it’s destined to screw up with regards to addressing the problem of TI-funded and -written textbooks when it’s in bed with TI:In other words: meet the new texts, same as the old texts.

Money is polluting education, but it’s not the cause of the mess we’re in, and it’ll contiunue to pollute education as long as education is controlled by legislators and educators who lack either or both of guts and brains.