teaching math

Tuesday 25 November 2008

So it looks like I shouldn’t worry about job security, at least not if I decide to get back into teaching math!

Study: Math Teachers 1 Chapter Ahead of Students

perfection (or: blogging a Quaker meeting)

Sunday 23 November 2008

(A preemptive caveat: No, I’m not saying attending a Quaker meeting is to experience perfection.  Read on.)

For the 7-8 months I’ve been in DC over the course of the last 15, I’ve somewhat sporadically attended some Quaker meetings for worship held at the Friends Meeting of Washington.  If you’ve never been to a Quaker meeting for worship, there are both programed and unprogrammed meetings, and FMW is of the unprogrammed kind.  However, that doesn’t mean there is not attempted at structure, at least to a minimalistic point.  The idea for the meeting I’ve attended in DC is that it will run about an hour, with the first 20 minutes as a hoped for centering time for all people where no one really speaks.  After this time, children typically leave for a First Day (Sunday) School, and others continue waiting expectantly for the Spirit to move inside, which may then prompt them to speak to the larger community assembled called a “vocal ministry.”

Depending on the number assembled and movement of the Spirit, there might even be no one who speaks (as I experienced in a meeting I went to in Toledo, Ohio last fall where about 10 of us assembled) but at the meeting in DC, every visit has included at least two or three people giving a vocal ministry.  Today, I can’t say I kept track of speakers, but I think there were about seven or eight in total, which is a substantial total.  And while it may be hoped for that first 20 minutes be silent, vocal ministries began today after about 10, which I think is good, actually, as it gives the children a chance to hear them, too.

Being an unprogrammed meeting, there are no readings or even a topic set forth for meditation (though they do provide printed “queries” that can be a guide), so you never know what one might say.  Today, the first vocal ministry revolved around the idea of striving for but never attaining perfection and a realization that that itself is actually a positive thing, and his vocal ministry gave way to an hour spent meditating upon and hearing vocal ministries regarding the idea of perfection.

The next speaker shared a quote by Robert Browning: “What’s come to perfection perishes.”  Bringing in my own personal thoughts to this vocal ministry, I was turned to contemplate the idea that then possibly what perishes accomplishes perfection.

Many who shared vocal ministries today reaffirmed that, in a sustained way, at least, perfection is unattainable on earth.  However, one of the members who I find quite perceptive of the Spirit also spoke today, and she shared that she does, in fact, believe in perfection on earth, in those fleeting moments where we truly do love unconditionally, which may be easier for a child than an adult, where we love in the way that God loves us and wants us to love God.

She quoted Matthew 19:14: “But Jesus said, ‘Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for to such belongeth the kingdom of heaven.’ ”

“When we are truly giving and receiving unconditional love from those around us,” she said (and I agree), “we are truly experiencing the kingdom of heaven here on earth.”

And if it’s possible for fleeting moments now, it then is not a large stretch for one to believe that after our hearts have stopped beating, we might then experience eternal and continuous unconditional love.  Let us all pray that such is so.

for those who like algorithms…

Friday 21 November 2008

If you like math or movies or human psychology, among other things, I’d highly recommend this particularly interesting article of the NY Times, titled If You Liked This, Sure to Love That.   It details at Netflix contest for individuals to improve upon their current program of movie recommendations such that it works 10% better than it already does (in the sense that it can predict 10% more closely how a viewer will like or rate a particular movie).  The article is nice, descriptive, in depth look at many ideas, so it might take you 15-20 minutes to read, but I wanted to delve into a few of the issues it brings out that I was intrigued by.

The article starts off describing the “Napoleon Dynomite” problem — basically that it’s extremely challenging to predict based on movie taste and past movie ratings whether or not a person will like this movie.  I, myself, still have yet to see this movie, but I definitely know people who loved and hated it, and as the article mentions that the ratings for “Napoleon Dynomite” are disproportionately 1 or 5 stars (the highest and lowest possible for the Netfilx scale).

This issue couples with another idea question brought up of whether a computer can do better at making recommendations than a human.  While the computer has tons and tons of data at it’s “hard drive” tips, to mangle a phrase, there is something about the human perception that does a pretty good job at discerning likes and dislikes of another person, even if the person doing the perceiving is the clerk at the local DVD store (we’re past video stores now, yes?).  The article mentions, too, that a computer is more likely to play it safe while a person draws upon their own likes and dislikes as well and may go a bit more on a limb that could be much more accurate than a computer, but may also come up short more regularly.  So the question becomes, “Can anyone’s enjoyment level truly be determined based on their previous levels of enjoyment of similar and dissimilar events?”  And if so, would we be doing ourselves a disservice to never experience things that might actually cause us dis-enjoyment?  Isn’t it good to experience both?

The other piece of the article I liked was the math – and it’s one of the reasons I might recommend it to someone :)  It was interesting to read how different algorithms were used and combined to do the math of movie suggestions.  Even more interesting was reading that as things got more or more complex, even those writing the computer programs no longer really recognized what the program they had written exactly was doing, but just knew that it seemed to be working than the one that preceded it!  To me, it’s curious that we throw in some data to an algorithm we really don’t understand and receive back a satisfactory answer that then can be tested for accuracy and reliability, but in between we’ve lost sight of what’s happening.

Is an answer worth getting if you don’t know how you got it?  The math teacher in me says no, but the movie lover in me doesn’t care as much.  If you’re able to take me love for “Hoop Dreams,” “A Clockwork Orange,” and “10 Things I Hate About You” and provide me with an enjoyable way to spend a Saturday evening that I wouldn’t have found on my own, I just might take it.  Or maybe instead I’ll just take it up with my friends.

violence in the South Hebron Hills

Monday 17 November 2008

To tell you the truth, I’m not sure of the right words to describe my feelings when I read the news below: sadness, anger, dejection, frustration, disbelief.  These all get at some of my basic thoughts when I read the news.  Please read for yourself:

CPTnet  (www.cpt.org) 17 November 2008
AT-TUWANI: Israeli settlers attack Palestinian shepherds, kill donkey, injure internationals.

On 15 November 2008, around 9:00 a.m., approximately fifteen masked Israeli settlers from the illegal outpost of Havat Ma’on attacked three Palestinian shepherds who were grazing their flocks in a valley south of the outpost.  The settlers came running down from a ridge above the shepherds, hurling rocks. The shepherds were able to get their flocks away before the rocks injured them.

During the incident, the settlers were able to steal two of the shepherds’ donkeys.  The settlers killed one donkey with a knife wound in the chest area.  They slashed another across the throat, but the donkey survived.

Settlers also hit two internationals from Christian Peacemaker Teams—who were accompanying the shepherds—with large rocks.  One CPTer sustained minor injuries.

The Israeli police were called four times before responding to the incident.  They did not initially respond to reports of settlers attacking Palestinian shepherds and internationals, but only responded when they learned of the attack on the donkeys.

The assault occurred on land the shepherds graze daily and which the settlers hope to take for the expansion of Havat Ma’on.  Replacing the donkey will cost around 1000 NIS, or $265.  The Israeli occupation has impoverished the shepherds of the area, and they are currently dependent on outside food aid.

For additional photos, see http://cpt.org/gallery/Settlers-Kill-Donkey.
See also a video containing a small portion of the event and aftermath: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFPaPaURfI0.
(Warning: pictures and video both contain graphic images of slain donkey.)
No matter one’s feelings about the situation in the Middle East and Palestine/Israel, I would hope you, as a reader, can recognize the horror of the event above.  While this is not something that happens every day, the idea that such a situation exists where a people daily encounter threats or the possibility of violence as large scale as this or even the “simple” harassment of throwing rocks at children on the way to school, with seemingly no reaction from the International community, is almost as much a scar on us as it is to those who commit such actions.

Education of the situation in Palestine, especially in the West Bank where settlement expansion continues to take place, is extremely important for everyone.  I call upon you to learn for yourself, tell others you know what you have read here and what you learn elsewhere, write letters to the editor of your newspaper, do whatever it takes so you and others in your life know the details or the situation (feel free to ask me, too, if you’d like).  But no matter what, it is clearly time that we as a nation and as fellow human beings with all people around the world recognize the oppression of the Palestinian people and work toward a non-violent, peaceful end to the situation that creates an environment where such horrors go unnoticed by the world community.

Some resources to get you started:
Christian Peacemaker Teams (Palestine teams): www.cpt.org/work/palestine
Michigan Peace Team (Palestine teams blog): mptinpalestine.blogspot.com
International Middle East Media Center (general news of Palestine): www.imemc.org
Haaretz (Israeli newspaper with news from another point of view): www.haaretz.com
(Read here an interesting article from Haaretz regarding US opinions of the peace talks)

letting the questions fade away

Sunday 16 November 2008

“We are called to act with jutice,
we are called to love tenderly,
we are called to serve one another,
to walk humbly with God.”

— David Hass (paraphrase of Micah 6:8)

Over the past month or so, I’ve been asked and asking myself questions about some of the particulars regarding my faith and faith in general.  Some have been small in magnitude, but others much greater, like, “Do you believe in an afterlife?” or “Is there a ‘god’ that created everything?”  Many times I try to duck these questions, especially when I’m asking them to myself, but if they come from someone else, it’s a bit more of a challenge.

Recently I was asked a tough question in a group discussion, and it’s one that I usually answer to myself, “It really doesn’t matter,” but this wasn’t sufficient for those collected, so I decided to verbalize the “if I have to say something” answer I usually refrain from in an attempt to avoid going deeper into what that means for me and my faith.  After I got it out, it was OK, because what I said was only the truth of what I feel deep down, an opportunity to be honest with myself in a way I usually avoid.

In the past few days, since verbalizing that uncomfortable answer, I’ve been contemplating what exactly it means that some of my personal beliefs might conflict with some seemingly significant (doctrinal?) pieces of the faith I claim when I call myself a Christian.  Am I really fooling myself and others?  Calling myself “Lutheran” anymore is probably a stretch and likely now more of a cultural connection for me than anything, but Christian?  Is that no longer true, too?

But singing the words from Micah 6:8 (above) this morning at a Christian (though non-Lutheran) service, I was reminded again that while there may be questions out there I answer differently than others who consider themselves Christian, and which might cause certain other Christians, if they knew my answers, to tell me I’m not, in fact, one of them, that doesn’t matter to me.

For me, being a Christian is all about following Christ, and following Christ to me means living a life full of love and grace, of kindness and hospitality, of justice and peace.  Does any of that have to do with being “saved” or believing God created the earth in a certain number of days or even believing in a “tangible” afterlife where people or souls or spirits or whatever spend eternity?

My “philosophy,” as someone termed it in a question to me last month, is simply one thing: love.  I believe following Christ — him bing for you the “Risen Lord” or just another great guy — is about the love.  I may not answer some questions of faith in a way you might expect or agree with, but I believe that following love and seeking, as much as is humanly possible, to be love is what makes me as much a Christian as those who sat humbly at Jesus’ feet, listening to His teachings and going forth to do likewise.

So instead of letting the questions I may answer “wrongly” or not have the answers to get in the way, I hold firm in that which I do know — God is Love, Christ is Love, and by putting Love above all other things, I truly am following The Way.

Peace and love as you discern how The Way might be calling you, too.

Palin McCain sign brings me joy

Saturday 1 November 2008

So while I’m sure this kind of switch-a-roo may have already happened on photoshop in various forms, when I was driving down a rural Ohio road Friday afternoon, I saw this sign in a yard and just busted out laughing and decided I must turn around and snap a picture.

At first I thought that the campaign had actually created this sign, which seemed ludicrous, but then I realized that if one looks closely, you can see this supporter has carefully removed each name from its previous location and reversed the order, putting Mr. MCain as the under-card.

I’ll let you be the judge of interpreting what exactly this means, both for the person whose yard this can be found in, and for this election as a whole.  Feel free to comment and link this page as desired.