Monday, January 28, 2013

Math or Language? Which is more important?

Is this a good picture?  How do we know? (thanks tim o)
The Question:
During and assembly the other day, the students and I were discussing the great progress so far this year at WMS.  We mentioned our attendance was tops in the district last month, our grades are trending upwards, behavior is better and even our SRI/SMI scores are trending higher as well.  All this data seems to confirm we are #onthemap.  A question came up regarding math and English.  The question was asked regarding the merit of each, “What is more important, math or language?  The answer was a loud din.  It was clear that there was not easy answer.  This post will investigate this very question, examining the merits of mathematics, then we will investigate literacy.
 Mathematics is the language of the sciences; technology, research, time, construction, data, speed, weather, banking, business and… the list goes on.  Anything we quantify, count or assign a value needs a pre-agreed upon system of accountability.  We need numbers to tally, compare and determine value relative to other things of perceived value.   Thus we use money as the concept or idea and worth nothing but the stock it is printed on.  Society has to agree and assign the idea of exchange, hence banking evolves from one party wanting something another already has, then needing a method to barter till acquired, even though taxed.  A clear understanding of number sense, both in the concrete and abstract is necessary for success in modern society.  Concrete examples abound; arithmetic, money and banking.  However, abstract concepts like algebra begin to assign patterns and predictability, both vital skills for planning and forward thinking.
Imagine a news cast with a weather report void of numbers or predictions, or a sports announcer not sharing any scores or statistics.  Statistics permeate every aspect of our lives regardless or our acknowledgements.  Failing to recognize numerical influence in our world does not lessen the need to apply a scale or relativity to a condition.  For instance, it may be cold outside but should we worry about how cold?  Probably, especially if we don’t want our plants to wither. If it falls below 32°, we know things will freeze.  Numbers are vital to predict and plan accordingly.  To diminish their use, service or place in our world limits or governs the depth of understanding.  Those individuals striving to maximize their impact and influence on their world would be hard pressed to carry a campaign without some data or facts.  Any attempt to ponder a world without numbers forces us to recreate things like our stock market, retirement system and even our debit or credit cards.
Numbers help us describe the world we live in with accuracy and fidelity.  We think sizes, shapes and colors.  We consider the history of numbers and pay respect to folks like the Incas or Mayans that had a limited understanding of zero yet still thrived for ages.  A brief internet search for the history of zero reveals a rocky start or birth as it evolved.
Daily, regularly, daresay continuously, numbers matter and are in every portion of our life.  There seems no way we could exist independent of numbers.  Our awareness of their impact adds to our understanding of the world around us.
On the other hand…
Could the prior four paragraphs be written by substituting out the reference for numeracy and inserting a linguistic connotation?  Couldn’t the same things be said about words, like we just said about numbers?  With our starting point it seems there is at least equal importance or breadth pertaining to language, although numbers are in quantitative features of everything.  The qualitative aspect addresses everything also, and often more thoroughly.   Numbers describe the quantity but words describe the quality.
Consider abstract concepts like emotions, love or wind.  We could assign a rate or direction to describe the wind but descriptions like gusts, or breezes would not completely cover all the necessary details for a sailor.  What number could describe an emotion, like love, anger or stress?  A foundational sequential language is necessary to articulate abstract concepts.  Child development even suggests our brain maturity is aided by sufficient words being addressed to children.  The number is nearly 30,000.  From birth to age three, children need to hear 30,000 words a day.  Third grade success stems from this exposure, like a running commentary from the care-giver to the child.  During this stage, we hear about a baby’s first word!  We learn words first and counting comes later.
None the less, these are all examples predominantly anecdotal evidence.  None of this proves conclusively that math is more important than language.  For that, we would need to assign parameters of descriptors to determine the value of numbers and the value of language.
Even though this article was written in a verbal or linguistic prose, we did use numbers, in the binary code of zeros and ones that describes everything digitally!
Maybe there is no clear answer?  Maybe they are both interdependent and can’t be scored or rated?  Maybe together, math and language represent clear and effective communication?

Monday, January 21, 2013


Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Martin Luther King Jr

Defining tolerance, a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one's own. It seems we accept the person with their beliefs, ready to come together for a common benefit. Discretion is the quality of behaving or speaking in such a way as to avoid causing offense or revealing private information. While preparing our children for their future, it is hard to think about the future without considering other opinions, like terminator 2, back to the future or at least 15 other recent films about time travel. What would we change about the past?  What about today?  How could we instill those qualities we deem necessary for their future?  How do we identify those qualities?  Time travelers seem to go back and right an earlier wrong.  What if we could do the right thing the first time?
Reading MLK speech, we get the idea that he considered the past, 'five score years ago' and the future with 'I have a dream' quotes peppering the entire speech. How can we teach our children about their future? Comparing real life with the movies, the movies imply traits or characteristics, actions or even specific behaviors will 'change' the future. Are there characteristics that are common, universal or for all men?
Here is the question: How will we equip this young man above for his future, when we don't know ourselves? Think character education!


Monday, January 14, 2013

WYSIWYG = Vision?

What you see is what you get?
With a layer of snow over everything, it is hard to tell exactly what we have underneath!
Regarding a vision, when things are clear and crisp, we know exactly what we want, where we are going and how we are going to get there.  Holding the vision, steward of the direction and guiding the group is a role of the leader.
We all hold some sort of leadership position.  Some lead classrooms full of students, often times on a great educational adventures.  Some lead teams though physical and athletic adventures, traveling, improving and competing against rivals. Some lead districts or buildings though policies, procedures and committees in academics, safety, behavior and attendance.   But as leaders, we often articulate our ideas to our followers through our actions and our words.
To share the vision, we talk about it.  We paint examples through stories, examples and conversations about a bigger purpose.  Reminiscent of E. Roosevelt’s quote: "Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people," the leader brings the vision to the people.
The better a leader knows the people on the team, the better the examples, and the more applicable to their lives and more effective the words are at conveying the direction!
Another way to share the vision is to act on it.  By acting according to the ideals behind the vision we demonstrate consistency and integrity.  This adds to our credibility and supports our words as well as our actions.  So we end up in a cycle of communication and behavior.  We say one thing and behiave like we believe it and so we back our words with our actions.
This brings us back to the question of “what occurs first?”  belief or behavior?  action or attitude?  thoughts or deeds? 
More on that later.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Right people on the bus, in the right seats! #onthemap

We all know who Jim Collins is?  He wrote a book called Good to Great!
In this pic, my wife and I are at the Bixby Bridge.  Does anyone know where this bridge is?  Picking a partner like her is an example of getting the right person on the bus!  With her, along, I could go anywhere and do anything!
Collins had five premises for the book regarding things such as leadership, focus, communication etc.  My current favorite is: “First Who – Get the right people on the bus” (Then get them in the right seats.)

I believe this staff is filled with the right people, in the right seats. Throughout the day, so many things happen here at Winfield Middle School and I look around and over and over again, see the right person on the bus, in the right seat, doing the right thing!  Watching folks come together as a team.  Watching individuals step up in times of stress.  Watching folks attend to their daily duties with care and diligence.  So many things are done that I could never say thanks every time I see something good.  I would get little else done!

It is wonderful to watch so many good people do so many things, above and beyond normal that the new normal is now an even higher bar.  From hall duty to detentions to health issues to committee work to cafeteria duty, the list continues and there is no way this place would be nearly as successful without the individuals.

They fill in whenever necessary, helped out even when it was not their job, stepped up into a gap that only they knew was there and asked for nothing in return.

Folks don’t toot their own horn.  Folks are willing to apologize.  It flows over into the students as they see the right way to do things by just looking at this group of sincere adults all modeling professionalism!  Thanks for putting WMS on the map.  #onthemap


Thursday, January 3, 2013

January 3rd. Resolutions still holding?

The First of the Year...  January, New Beginnings, Resolutions and Changes
A barn this old just doesn't happen, but develops a patina over time, weathering but still doing a fine job.  We too are developing and often times, working through problems along the way.

What does it look like as we start the new year?  What does it take to build changes in ourselves as we'll as others?  This humble discussion of resolutions is by no means the authority but purely observations.

First, we identify areas of concern.  We look for a few things that we can address, sort of like a debt counselor might suggest start paying off the little bills first. Don't spread things too thin, but focus on a few smaller goals to ensure success.  Tackling too much often overwhelms even the most committed.

Second, a few actions step, easy to put in place, simple to accomplish with little support and verifiable make up the traits of a good plan.  Often times, benchmarks along the way help pacing and monitoring progress.  This may be easy or tough but often a single step, when repeated enough becomes a life changing pattern or behavior.

This brings us to the third step: repetition. Forming a new habit is essentially a great way to practice changing behavior.  After this new behavior is repeated enough, it becomes a habit and lives will come to reflect changes.  During this repetition, the mind often changes as well.  Daily habits and new patterns are foundational to successful life changes.   Changing the mind is the hard part but it can be done.  This is called by many names; centering a locus of control, affirmations, self-talk, strong self-esteem and positive nature are all examples and phrases referring to some aspect of positive perspectives.

Finally, the changed behavior along with the changed belief together form the combination necessary to identify, articulate, integrate life changes, also called resolutions.  Looking back over time, noticing the differences, some intentional and some naturally following maturity adds extra confidence for forming additional goals.

Change is constant.  Our roles could be active or passive.  Making resolutions is a great ways to set a goal, practice, fail, retry, and maybe fail again but remaining focused on the outcome, knowing distractions will happen but success is our goal.