Am I a geek or a nerd?

Lonestar 70.3 and standardized testing
April 14, 2010, 2:09 pm
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In an attempt to keep this education related but still express some frustration with triathlon I’m going to build a tenuous link between Standardized Testing and Wave Starts at Lonestar 70.3.

As with any ‘test’, you need to know what you are measuring. In this case, Lonestar measures my ability to complete a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike ride, and 13.1 mile run. While any 70.3 courses may have different challenges (hills, wind, currents) all competitors must complete the distance. The argument is made by many that the playing field at any given race is level; all the entrants deal with the same terrain and constraints of the given course.   Most races have leveled the playing field further by using electronic timing chips so that each individual athlete’s completion time is precise–my chip timer electronically starts when my feet cross the start line, not when the first of the 1500 entrants crosses the start line. This is also a method to prevent cheating and provide data–at certain points on the course (swim finish, bike start, bike turn around, bike finish, run start, run turnaround or lap, run finish) the athlete and his chip will pass electronic markers.  In this way, the race officials can start 100 or so athletes at a time, instead of a 1500 at once, every 5 minutes, lets say and still have accurate completion statistics for each entrant.  They do their best, the race organizers, to keep us all happy, out of each other’s way (that’s why the pro athletes start before the rest of us–we would simply get run over) but sometimes the standardization methods make the playing field not so level.  Those for whom the event counts as work (sponsored athletes) get a very level field–they start first, with people who are of the same caliber. The rest of us are lumped by age with no concern for our ability or level of preparation.

Take my Lonestar 70.3 wave. My group is last. I start at 8:15AM. Sounds fine, right. Except that there are 14 or so other groups starting before me, the pros at 7AM, the young guys at 7:05 etc. Again, you ask, what’s the big deal?  There are three things here that can negatively affect my performance and that are out of my control.

1. The winds in Galveston get stronger as the day goes on. Starting 75 minutes later than others means I will probably face a windier and therefore more challenging course.

2. It’s also hot in Galveston, the later the day, the hotter it gets. Again, beginning my race 75 minutes after the official start means running in higher temps than some of my competitors.

3. I’m an above average swimmer. I always catch up to the average and below average swimmers in the previous waves and find myself either running into them or navigating around them. Certainly others in earlier waves have the same problem, but they may only have 1 or 2 or 3 groups in front of them. I have 12.

What’s the connection to standardized testing? I ask you if the playing field for the entrants is actually level. Does every ‘competitor’ face the same circumstances that are beyond his control-like quality of teacher, temperature of the building, instructional material, parental involvement, breakfast? While I can’t control my start time in these events, I am participating voluntarily. Our kids are not.

PS: you can track my progress on 4/25 by going to and following athlete number 1444!


Texas, why must you toy with me?
March 18, 2010, 9:53 am
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Texas has been a constant lately. I’ve never been, I don’t know that I’ve ever really wanted to go. I’m sure its lovely, I’ve seen Austin City Limits on PBS.  I taught the Mexican-American War (false pretenses, anyone?). I once had a layover in Houston on my way to Costa Rica. That’s about it.  And then we get two evil forces converge to bring Texas front and center.

Evil Force #1: WTC/Ironman and My Coach.  WTC is evil. Everyone knows it. Where do they get off charging over $500 for Ironman races, denying prizes to pros due to crazy rules changes, and not enforcing the draft rules at Clearwater? And yet I register for their events. My coach is clearly in cahoots with them. I don’t even remember why I registered for Lonestar, I just know that I’m going to Galveston in 5 weeks and I’m practically living on my bike right now. Saddle sores anyone? However, I just want the Lonestar IM to know, I’m working hard to break you, my FTP is up, my miles are up, my running is the best its been in years and my swimming is putting you to shame. Bring it.

Evil Force #2: The Texas Board of Education. Are you kidding me with these people? The crazy changes I posted about last month have passed. Never mind expert historian advice. Never mind reality even.  For the love of God (or not) they’ve managed to cut Thomas Jefferson out of a list of figures whose writing inspired revolutions in the 18th and 19th century.  I’m all riled up becuase I know what their intent is. Look at the language changes they made:

See, you can see what they are trying to do, changing words like “role” to “leadership” trying to sway the direction of the content and remove any opportunity to debate whether the role really represents leadership. The Econ bit is an oversimplification and might leave the someone less knowledgable to think that free enterprise never ever existed before Americans demanded it. But at the same time, I’m not as panicked as I was when first read about TBofE. See, if I were a teacher in Texas I probably would change nothing based on this language change. I would still ask my students to examine the presidencies of Nixon and Reagan by discussing various view points, solutions, programs, and outcomes. Its unlikely that most US History teachers will change their tack, start talking up Nixon and Reagan as leaders without flaws, and spend a bunch of time on Schlafly. Seriously, if I had a nickel for every teacher who hauled ass at the end of the school year in order to fit in the 70s, 80s and 90s I’d have a shit ton of nickels.

So nice try Texas. But I’m winning.

Triathlon and Teaching Cross Paths Again-AYP, FTP, NCLB, ESEA…
March 17, 2010, 3:01 pm
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Sometime I’m dumbstruck by how stuff I learn from my coach and triathlon training are so related to things we do in the classroom.  Chuckie V (over there on my blogroll) had a great post today that, to translate for educators, was essentially about what tests measure and what we can learn from them. To sum up: the only thing we know for sure about tests is that they measure the ability to perform on said test, and even then sometimes the results change for reasons that are unrelated to preparation for the test.

There is this number many of us in cycling/triathlon shoot for, consider it the AYP of the bicycle world, called Functional Threshold Power, or FTP. To get this number you ride your ass off for 60 minutes as hard as you can or you extrapolate from a shorter, probably harder ride. This number then sets the basis for future training. Sort of like when we pre-test kids or do lots of practice tests for the real test, then see where they struggle and try to fix it. The goal being that next time the numbers are better. Unfortunately, we often use these test numbers as measurements of other things. For example, some might think that if I have a high FTP I must be in good shape and will do well at longer distances than someone with a lower FTP. Just like one might think that a school with a high proficiency percentage a better school than one with a lower proficiency percentage.  But there is the rub. The test measures the test circumstances but leaves everything else out.

Heavier riders have higher power numbers than lighter riders. Certainly sometimes I can push bigger numbers than out of shape fat guys, but in general, I’m never going to have numbers like the men, or like the women with 20 pounds on me. Doesn’t make me slower though, just means I’m using less wattage.  My FTP for one hour also doesn’t  indicate how I’ll do at 5 hours. Maybe I’ve just trained and trained to have high numbers for one hour.  I can only really get information when I compare my old FTP to my new FTP and use it plan my paces for future workouts. And then measure again…

Sound familiar?

Like maybe kids have just trained and trained to get the test questions right. Or that maybe we should consider some other factors, like native language or poverty or transience. Or maybe even compare a student’s current numbers to his past numbers. And then plan our instruction around where the students are…

Will the NCLB-The Sequel do this or will it just mean more testing at more grades in more disciplines? Will we get away from days of test prep? Will we hold up meaningless numbers and say they represent performance?

I don’t know, but I’m off to do a workout based on my FTP of 235: 30 minutes at 145 watts, 15 minutes at 200 watts, 10 minutes at 145 watts, 30 minutes at 200+ watts and a cool down. Ideally next time, my FTP will go up. Who knows what that really means…


Race to the Top…Literally!
February 25, 2010, 8:43 am
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AtotheB and I are doing the American Lung Association Detroit Climb on sunday at the Ren Cen. Its 70 flights, 1035 stairs and I’ve challenged AtotheB to keep up with me. In truth, I think she’ll smoke me. She’s the stair master queen and while I run and bike and swim, there are pretty much no stairs involved. For heaven’s sake, there aren’t even hills in SE Michigan!!  So I’ll be relying on my endurance and the big gear rides I’ve done lately, while A will be relying on the hours upon hours of simulated stairs…

If you’d like to donate to the Lung Association (and help our team!) you can click on the link below.

Click here to view the team page for Chickens
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I spoke too soon about my training hours…
February 18, 2010, 11:42 am
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I should know better than to say things about triathlon training (like I did here).  As soon as I do that, things of course get harder and I regret pointing out to anyone how much easier A or B or C is than D or E or F. Case in point: this week’s schedule.  Its my longest week in several months and its very clear we are getting to the meaty part of this training cycle, but since we still haven’t started bricks (that’s when you bike and run in immediate succession as a workout, not a race) I know its going to get worse…

Monday: Day off. That’s not good. It usually means ‘rest up sister, I’m about to give you a beat down’

Tuesday: Swim 3000 yards (included the dreaded tennis ball drill) and bike 60 minutes (with 3 sets of 10 minutes in my hardest gear)–okay, not so bad

Wednesday: run 45 minutes, with 8×30 second sprints peppered in, lift wts for 30 minutes and bike ‘easy’ for 60 minutes–again, by itself not so bad, but my legs were feeling yesterday

Thursday: swim 3000 yards with gigantic paddles and hard too (my arms feel like lead now) and bike 90 minutes at the cycle lab included 3×15 minute sets at tempo pace (harder than a long race, easier than a short one…)–not at all looking forward to this sweaty group workout in the basement of Fraser Bicycle.

Friday: have mercy, only 60 minutes of running and 30 minutes of wts.

Saturday: here it comes…2 hours and 30 minutes on the indoor bike trainer, with alternating 20 minute sets of hard and easy–honestly, way harder mentally than physically, 150 minutes of going nowhere…

Sunday: 90 minute run, with the stupid sprints mixed in.

Its Thursday and I’m 5+ hours into the 12+ hour week and I’m pooped. Hungry and pooped. It’s not the workouts so much as the combination of the workouts with my efforts to correlate assessment questions with HSCEs, load them into Data Director, edit Unit 6 of US History with Amy, finish writing Unit 3 of Civics with Amy and two teachers, and complete our 25 page narrative for the Teaching American History Grant I’m sure we won’t get…

I’m going to give it all up and sell shoes. Or maybe I’ll go back to school and learn how to grow grapes. Or maybe I’ll be an illegal immigrant in Italy and make money as an under the table tour guide.

Or maybe I’ll just get back to work.

Don McLeroy, put down your agenda and back away from the curriculum….
February 16, 2010, 11:21 am
Filed under: Geek | Tags: , ,

I love me some Sunday NYT. Its my favorite thing about the weekend and I pay to get it dropped at my doorstop at 4AM every Sunday. The hardest part is not reading it right away. If I had my druthers, I’d grab the paper, a diet coke (what ever, you have coffee, I have DC) and climb back under my big fat down filled duvet to read the whole stinkin’ thing. Sadly, I don’t have my druthers, I have a coach who plans long workouts for Sunday mornings. By long I mean longer than most people’s weekly workouts combined. During Ironman training, Sunday workouts could hit 7 hours. Fortunately, I don’t do Ironman anymore, just Half Ironman, so Sunday’s max out around 3 hours. Nice. So, I wait 3 hours to read my paper. Well, usually more, what with the shower and gorging on food that happens after the workout. It’s delayed satisfaction at its finest.

This Sunday was not much different, except that I woke up in Western NY and drove to the big D and then read my paper. And that’s when I learned about Don McLeroy and his six allies on the Texas Board of Education. I’m typically not one to buy that there is an agenda or a conspiracy or evil plot to mess with education. Yeah, I was wrong. Evil plot might be a little strong, but to read that this faction of the board clearly has a point of view it wants expressed in schools and that that point of view includes rejecting/altering/denying ideas that are well accepted by scientists (evolution) and historians (the Enlightenment as a foe to religion in Europe, for one) may have swayed me on the conspiracy idea. Throw into the mix the impact that Texas has on the textbook market (aside: stop using your text book as the source and organization for teaching content) and I’m pretty much deflated.

So I wrote a letter to the editor. I sent it this morning, but as I’m sure it won’t get published, here it is:

Russell Shorto’s article “Founding Fathers?” elicited out a range of emotions and thoughts for me. As a social studies educator who trains social studies teachers I was thrilled to see our subject matter treated to such a long and thorough discussion when typically test scores, mathematics, and AYP consume headlines. I shook my head knowingly when reading about textbooks as the backbone of education (how I wish I could convince teachers to use them as resources rather than ‘the sources’). I actually gasped when reading that Don McLeroy not only “stood up to” 800 scientists, but then insisted on defying historians evidence regarding the Enlightenment and Mosaic law.

Ultimately I’m left saddened by the debate focusing exclusively on the content of our history courses. Certainly students need people, places and events to think about, but where in the TEKS does it ask students to construct historical arguments, evaluate claims and accounts, analyze primary and secondary sources? What good is any list of names and events (Christian or otherwise) if we’ve neglected to teach our students to think critically about them?

I encourage the teachers of Texas (and everywhere else too!) to use the cover question as a guide: How Christian Were The Founders?  Imagine a unit of study based on attempting to answer this question! Students would have to learn about the American Revolution and the Enlightenment, they would have to find evidence of Christianity in influential documents, letters, and accounts from founders and citizens, they would have to evaluate historians’ accounts, consider the time period accounts came from, and even compare new and old textbook versions.  In the process these students will certainly meet the expectations of the Texas Board of Education. Fortunately, they will also be engaging the true work of citizens–questioning, researching, and supporting ideas with evidence. As board member and Christian activist Cynthia Dunbar stated “the philosophy of the classroom in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next.” Certainly we don’t agree on the philosophy, but the statement rings true.

What Happens in Texas, Won’t Stay in Texas
January 13, 2010, 2:20 pm
Filed under: Geek | Tags: , ,

The Texas State Board of Education is preparing to hear testimony prior to voting to accept or reject new social studies curriculum  standards.  I haven’t read their standards, but as you likely already know, there will be rapid debate about what has been included and what hasn’t. People will tally references to historical figures and declare the number  insufficient or excessive. They will throw the terms liberal and conservative around, they will misunderstand historical interpretations, and completely miss the point of the standards altogether.

You can read about it here.

Much of the debate to seems to center around the inclusion or exclusion of references to Christianity. I agree that it would be inappropriate to ignore the role of religion in American History, but it is equally important that students understand that our while our constitutional principles have a Judeo-Christian background, they are also based on philosophies of government espoused by Locke, Montesquieu and even Polybius (200 BCE!!!).  There has been little conversation about what skills are included in this curriculum.

Why do we care about Texas? Because Texas practices state adoption of textbooks. As goes Texas, so go the books. Not that I think we should even be using textbooks, but thats an argument for another day.

In other Texas news (and totally unrelated to SOcial Studies, curriculum or the Board of Education), I’m in my second week of training for the Lonestar Triathlon in Galveston, TX on April 25. I’m very much looking forward to it, and hoping to knock it out of the park. My previous best at this distance is 5:43 and that race had a 90 minute delay at the start (throws off your fueling plan, especially if you already ate your pre-race meal), a rainy bike ride and a mandatory dismount/walk section on the bike course. I’d like to think that with the right weather I’m 5:30. That requires a 33 minute 1.2 mile swim, a 3 hour 56 mile bike split, and 1:50 13. 1 mile run plus transition time. All things I can do, but it seems not on the same day!!

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