I need some quick help for my Master’s program…

If you can spare a minute or two, please take my survey on movement in the classroom.  This is an assignment of mine for my Master’s program. It’s only 10 questions long!!!

So far, the results are fascinating. I’d love to have more!


Thanks in Advance!


Quantifying Red Plank

Red Plank

Red Plank

Breaking things down into their component parts and analyzing them comes very naturally to me.  I happen see things in structures and, usually, with some impartiality.  Art, on the other hand, is very challenging for me. 

While I have a certain very broad sense of what might be considered not very good and what might be considered very good, even those assumptions are wrong maybe 20% of the time.  There is also a context to art; the history, the movement of ideas and experiments, what has come before.  I am not unread in this regard, but the subtleties frequently elude me as does the answer to the question, “But why would anybody do that?”  Jackson Pollock and cigarette butts on canvas falls into that category.

Most of modern art leaves me baffled.  I distinctly remember a trip to Chicago’s Art Institute when I was a child.  There was a lacquered red 2 x 6 board on a pedestal called “Red Plank.” http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/33775.  Even my memory gives it more structure than it had; it had no pedestal, it was “leaning.”  Apparently, its worthiness for display in one of the Nation’s best art museums is due to its being “striking in (its) monolithic simplicity and characterized by pure, monochromatic surfaces, McCracken’s handcrafted ‘planks,’ which rest on the floor and lean against the wall, successfully blur the boundary between painting and sculpture.”

What I wonder is this: is the art world rigorous?  If we were to craft a survey, asking recognized art experts to explain the reasons certain pieces of art cross the boundary into “art,” would they agree?  More interesting still, if we had these experts analyze a number of unknown works, would they agree on which were worthy?  However, there is a flaw in that study, by definition “unknown” means either undiscovered or not noteworthy.  The art world is constantly encountering works at its lowest end and making decisions as to which get elevated to higher and higher degrees of regard.  “Red Plank’s” artist somehow made it from garage to art festival to small galleries to large museums through a filtering process.  Other artists who initially displayed with John McCracken may still be showing their art at neighborhood events.

My suspicion (and I mean suspicion in the sense of when you’re having a conversation where you fear that someone is pulling your leg, but you aren’t sure) is that the process is all too human and that much of becoming recognized “art” involves succeeding in an echo chamber of people, all of whom are trying to look good or smart or visionary, trying to get onto the right side of every evaluation.  “Hmmm, it’s interesting.  What do you think?”   “Oh, I like the simplicity of lines.”  “ I like the brilliant monochromatic pallet.”  “Yes, it does blur the line between painting and sculpture.”  It just would not be cool to say, “Uh, guys, it’s just a 2 x 6 somebody lacquered red, for God’s sake!”

To conclude, I have no sense for this (or for music or for wine, for that matter) but I wonder if anybody else does either, really.  I would like to see a rigorous standard applied and I would like to see how the art on the periphery does when held to that standard.  I do believe that everything is quantifiable, even if subjectively (e.g. take a poll of art critic, list their reasons, etc.).  It might even be useful to run a study to discover the list of criteria to poll on (e.g. originality, quality of execution, importance within an artistic movement, place in art history, brilliance of vision, aesthetics, etc.).  It would also be interesting to run a study of how the experts line up versus the public.  Is there a gap between the professional and the amateur?  Where are the fault lines?  I suppose too it would be interesting to track art’s valuation (not price but the rating of its artistic merits) over time to see if art follows a fad-like pattern or a more informed sorting algorithm.

Data Collection

What are some different ways you can document a problem within your setting? How will you collect data?

There are many ways to document problems in a school environment. Really, it is among the better environments for data collection. One way is with the results from summative assessments. Another, perhaps less rigorous, would be using formative assessments. Personally, I would track my disciplinary system, trying to match disciplinary actions to causal factors I could control to reduce the need for disciplinary action. Health and absences can be a subtle but powerful indicator of problems; I would track that by pupil too. One thing that is hard to track is volunteering to answer questions. It would be useful to know who is putting their hands up to be called upon and if that inclination changes by subject. In addition, given a benchmark hand raising score, ebbs and flows of attention could be tracked.

The only way I know to do this is with a SMARTboard and the little student controller thingies that look like remote controls. With that, and the right software, tracking student participation would be easy. Having those devices also allows a much better model for calling on students randomly, making sure each student gets an equal chance to talk, and even for quick formative assessments throughout the day. They really could be cool tools in the classroom; however, I hesitate to introduce that much technology into the process. I worry that the essential humanism of the classroom would be harmed. I look forward to experimenting with the technology to see whether its benefits outweigh the costs.

Are Fathers Necessary?

What are some typical errors that a researcher should look for when reviewing journals?

One error I encountered recently was in a magazine article, “Are Fathers Necessary?” in Atlantic Magazine.  (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/07/are-fathers-necessary/8136/)

The article appears to be about an idea that is gaining more widespread acceptance: that a having a male present while raising children is statistically linked to better outcomes for those children.  I will not rehash the arguments.  Obviously, there is some inherent appeal to those of us who believe that the average male and the average female learn and, to a surprising extent, think and behave differently.  Not better or worse, but differently.  This idea that fathers are necessary is very important because fewer and fewer homes with children actually have fathers or adult males present.  Of course, it is simply not possible in many cases to have males present, but that is not the discussion.  Like so many difficult questions in science, the “problem statement” is about what happens when fathers are not present, for better or worse.

Anyway, this is very threatening for a lot of people, particularly some single mothers who feel this disrespects the herculean effort they make every day to be the best parent to their child they possibly can be.  Apparently, it also bothers some radical feminists and lesbians who believe in the old Wellesley College motto: “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle” and do not like to see themselves contradicted.

Therefore, this brings us back to the Atlantic article.  It purports to question whether the absence of fathers does statistically lead to poorer expected results for children, but what it actually argues is mostly that two lesbians can raise a baby successfully.  That is great info, but largely independent of the question the article claimed to address and claimed to debunk.  Unfortunately, in spite of the logical argument that one cannot be true if the other one is, in real life the two questions are largely independent from each other.  Proving one does not disprove the body of evidence in support of the other.

Therefore, one error to look for is articles that purport to disprove something but which instead simply prove a different point, leaving the inference but not the proof that the initial argument is wrong.