Teaching the subject’s vocabulary: literacy principles applied to promote both memory of terms and concept formation.

November 6, 2018

I have worked  with children who struggled with some concepts despite having memorised the terminology for the subject.  In dealing with the problem, I changed my own approach to teaching some subject vocabulary.  This entry is an example of this approach: teaching number names (Australian Curriculum, Mathematics, Number and Algebra,Number and Place Value )  in Foundation and Year 1, to prevent problems in Year 4 and above

Remember that items grouped together in time are linked together in memory.

Remember that items grouped together by name-form are linked together in memory – and that this form linkage aids rapid learning of items within the group, particularly if the name-form is meaningfully linked to the item’s qualities.

Remember that items linked together by pattern are remembered together.

Common practise:  We can count on our fingers and thumbs, making it easy to prompt 1,2,3, … 10.  Most classroom displays go 1 to 10, 11 to 20, etc.

Problems: Where is zero?  What concept of zero are is developed, when it appears as part of “10” and “20” but not alone except in special mentions.  Where does it fit in the number name pattern? Why did the children I helped remember 10 as a single concept-shape, not splitting the 1 and 0, grouping it with 1 to 9, not 20 to 90?  Why do they jump from 49 to 60, or 47 to 58?

Zero by itself seems taboo, a scary thing with great powers not to be approached by the uninitiated.  As Gahan Wilson asked,

Alternative teaching approach:  Counting practice starts with zero : zero, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9.

Ten is brought in with 11 to 19.  If both hands are used, 1 full set of digits and zero more (yes, it is a pun) is 10, ten; and one more, 11, eleven…

Twenty is  a word introduced with two, twin, and twice.  Twin-ty for twin tens makes sense. Then the number is “2 tens and zero left over.”  So we write the 20 group of the 10s family 20 to 29 ….  and they count 2 tens and zero left over is twenty,  twenty-one, twenty-two … twenty-nine (We have all 9, next is a 10 – how many tens now?  2+1 is 3…)   The digit form and verbal form are explicitly linked with the physical as we go (an example of manipulatives for this is below.)

Thirty is introduced with three, and third place, and twenty  –  if it ends in “ty” it is part of the tens-family

Forty follows (fourth place) and then they can guess fifty to ninety-nine.

Manipulatives emphasise  zero (none there) and limit group size to 9 objects – e.g. Linear Arithmetic “Blocks” like these:

The pieces are lengths of pipe, with washers for the smallest. 10 of the lesser are as long as 1 of the next length. The rods hold only 9 of the pieces. The organiser serves a similar purpose to the place value chart often used with MAB, holding pieces of the same size together and representing the left-right spatial arrangement of decimal numeration. (Beware – you must be looking from the front!)

Also, if there are ten or more pieces of any one size they will not fit onto the appropriate rod and so ten of them must be exchanged for a single piece of the next highest value. They can see how 100 must be written before they know the name for certain.

To emphasise the infinite nature of number, I have a very long pipe (as long as 10 of the largest) to show that the next rod would be too long for the classroom.

In later years, for introducing decimals, I also use pieces of paper to show that the next smaller rod would be too small to use in class, and then “zoom in” by introducing a blob of bluetack as the decimal point.   As multiplying / dividing by 10 “Zooms” by bluetack movement,  the place value/decimal continuity becomes clear.

I would like to see the big “Educational” display manufacturers making their posters show 0-9, 10 – 19, … and go up to 109 rather than 100.




From learning about plywood to translation: “NOT SAFE IF ANY BEAM FAILS.” Pretty, though.

September 7, 2018
270 pages written by someone with a very dry, academic sense of humour. And ideas and details to inspire.
I like the Schwedler dome page 184
“A feature of this dome is that it can be analysed as a statically determinate structure.”
– which led me to find out what a statically determinate structure is, which led me to http://www.ae.msstate.edu/vlsm/truss/statically_det_indet_trusses/statically_det_indet_trusses.htm
“A truss is considered statically determinate if all of its support reactions and member forces can be calculated using only the equations of static equilibrium. For a planar truss to be statically determinate, the number of members plus the number of support reactions must not exceed the number of joints times 2.”
Key Observation
Since a statically determinate truss cannot have more members than the number required for stability, it is not a fail-safe structure. This means that if one member of the truss were to fail, then the truss will collapse. This is a major reason for introducing redundant members in truss structures, especially when public safety is of primary concern.”

Urinary tract infection – Hiprex may help, but ware pain! (And see your GP, it can maskinfection)

June 5, 2018
Urinary tract infection, ouch. 3 days to medical appointment, not bad enough for hospital emergency, but disinclined to any activity…
Previously used Ural (urinary alkaliniser), as it helps keep enough urine flow to wash tract clean and start healing (by reducing ouch-factor in urination so one can drink enough water, I think).  I do not have a good response to cranberry pills, though some find they help.
Pharmacy suggested hiprex (hexamine hippurate) instead of urinary alkaliniser, as “it will kill bacteria” – but also said “Don’t use an alkaliniser as it stops the stuff working.” Tried it – even more ouch.
Checked online: Hexamine hippurate relies on acidity in urine to break it into ammonia and formaldehyde, and if urine not acid (likely if vegetarian/low protein diet) best to take 1g vitamin C with each dose, to increase acidity. So acid urine plus ammonia plus formaldehyde running over open wound in urinary tract – kills germs, sure, but not much fun for the sufferer unless masochist.
Should be dispensed with advice on pain relief!
After a day, and with added vitamin C, much reduced discomfort but trace blood on toilet paper.  Second day, well enough to get out to do gardening.  Two days after that got to doctor, test showed active infection despite lack of symptoms, antibiotics cleared it.
Would use it again if unable to get to doctor for a while.

Bitcoin – not for me.

December 8, 2017

The recent enthusiasm for Bitcoin bothers me.

Not because it has got to the “taxi drivers are talking about it” indicator of bubble status.

Because it is being used widely enough to stay in use when the bubble bursts.

Many of the people using it are interested in the environment, and approve of replacing still-working globes with LED globes to reduce power consumption. They may have installed solar PV panels to contribute to low-emission power.

How will they feel when they understand the impact of the bitcoin computing approach?

The ConversationDigiconomist and IEEE   put it clearly.  A Bitcoin transaction uses 5,000 times as much energy as using a  credit card, and the energy cost will increase as the blockchain lengthens.  The multiple servers maintaining copies of the ledger, and comparing their versions, and doing the complex calculations to solve a puzzle  to be the lucky one to generate a Bitcoin (all the others’ discard the work they have done, wasted electricity) – all burn power and generate waste heat.

I believe  that cold climates are more ethical server locations, as the heat generated can at least be used for warming buildings or preheating for hot water systems, but even so the process leaves me uneasy.

I am glad that the alternative blockchain designers are testing less power-hungry approaches.  Until Bitcoin changes its approach, I think it should be avoided.

Why is it so hard to get a good tradie?

September 29, 2017

Letter to a roofing company, after quoted $495 to fix leaking flume and $3003 to fix badly-designed clear-roofed enclosed patio / sunroom area
Thank you for the quote.

I have delayed responding because I wished to consider my response.

As the property (a family home temporarily a rental) has several problems, and I wanted to get urgent ones sorted and budget for the others, I asked for someone to inspect the property to estimate both for the items you quoted and for other work – including things of which I might not be aware.

I was told that the inspection might be on the following week’s Thursday or Friday, and that I would be called so I could be there. Late in the next week I was doing a minor repair there, and one of the tenants told me that workmen had been “seeing to the roof” on the Monday – no card had been left, so I was unsure what had happened. I called your office, and was told that a quote had been sent (I check my spam, and had not seen it. I ran a search over our email in case it was in deleted or junk, and it was not.) I was sent a copy of the quote and was told that I had been called on the Monday but not responded – I did not remember a missed call, but had I had 2 from the same number I would have remembered. There was no text or voice message. In any case, it would not have been convenient for me to attend that day.

Your office put me in touch with the tradesman, whose manner left me feeling both that he was certain that I was silly and that he was unwilling to consider that I needed to be present for the quote process “as I had been quite detailed about what I needed.” As one of the details was that I wanted to talk about work needed later, this was irritating; as one of the items I wanted to talk about for the quote was whether there should be sarking with the tiles, and as another was to find out exactly what changes would be recommended to the back room’s roof and gutters, I was beyond doing more than politely ending the conversation. I cannot agree to $3003 for work without a detailed explanation of the proposed changes and the reasons for them.

I have had a tiler visit, who said that the rear room and the longer-term items were better discussed with a business dealing in more roof plumbing and reroofing, but for $80 changed the way the leaking flume was collared and flashed – and lowered its hood, so that rain could no longer blow in sideways. Since then, there has been no water ingress in the room beneath. What happens with the next pounding storm remains to be seen.

I understand that the difficult weather will have put your company into a stressful period, and so have delayed responding – giving time for your work and my temper to calm a little. If you are interested in trying again to quote on the longer term problems, on changes (if any) the flume area might need to make it permanently watertight, on stopping another leak found the weekend before your inspection, and can provide a more detailed description of the proposed changes to the back room roof and gutters, I am interested in considering your itemised quote.

Lies, damn lies, Same Sex Marriage and press responsibility

September 25, 2017

Should there be some requirement for “letters to the editor” to be fact-checked? What is the editorial responsibility if letters misrepresent the law?

Subject: Editorial irresponsibility
Date: Sun, 24 Sep 2017 12:29:40 +0800

To: letters@sundaytimes.com.au

Dear Editor,

In “Your Say” 24 September, Leslie L Cummings suggested that same sex marriage imperils children, Andre Nel claimed that homophobic bullying is a “red herring,” and ID Smith claimed that legal marriage is required for access to IVF, artificial insemination, and adoption. As the “Indicative Survey” is being seen as a serious vote, and as anti-SSM speakers are verging on calls for children to be removed from same-sex couples, I feel it is irresponsible of your paper to print these letters without an associated factual article citing:

– the statistics which show greater psychological and physical
well-being in children raised by same-sex couples (the opponents of SSM generally cite stats from single-parent families to show ill-effects of lack of one gender in the house),

– recent reports of bullying at school of children of same-sex couples because their parents “shouldn’t have children” or are “unnatural,”

– statements of the legal situation in the various States of Australia, for example, lesbian couples can now start a family using IVF in every state and territory in Australia except the NT. 2014 Australian Census data indicate that 12% of same-sex couples have children (3 % of male couples.)

The amount of spreading of false statements about the welfare of
children and the rights to adoption and parenting is nearing
vilification. I hope someone whose children are bullied, or whose house is vandalised, brings a case under the protective legislation.

FYI, I am in an over-30-year hetero relationship, and have 4 admirable adult children. So no homophobic hatemail, thanks.

What if Trump was literally being honest for once?

July 10, 2017

President Trump tweeted “Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded..” Consider the literal meaning (assume prescriptivist semantics apply) : Putin and Trump get an “impenetrable” unit protecting their election hacking etc from detection and publicity.

What if he is telling the truth this time? If hacking is being guarded, rather than guarded against?

When political activism is triggered by falsehoods, what do we do?

November 6, 2016
I was curious about the alleged blasphemy which had been reported as triggering violent protest in Indonesia – none of our local news services cited the inflammatory words.
A bit of googling found several sites saying that it was because a Christian Governor had had electoral opponents citing the Koran to say Islamic believers should not vote for a non-Muslim, and he had responded that the voters were being misled by the use of the Koran verse. More digging found:

According to sites including the Sydney Morning Herald, some Islamic groups had urged voters not to re-elect Ahok, citing verse 51 from the fifth sura or chapter of the Koran, al-Ma’ida, which some interpret as prohibiting Muslims from living under the leadership of a non-Muslim. It is often translated as:

“5:51 O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends: They are but friends to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust.”

Others say the scripture should be understood in its context – making allies a time of war – and not interpreted literally – its context excludes those who respect the ways and beliefs of Islam. e.g. http://www.answering-christianity.com/sami_zaatri/friends.htm and http://seekershub.org/ans-blog/2009/09/07/friendship-with-non-muslims-explaining-verse-551/

I wondered whether it was extreme sensitivity to allegations of anti-Muslim bias which led the newspaper and TV  reports I came across to avoid dealing with the misinterpretation of sacred words as a basis for violence. If so, it is a pity – much of the world’s politics is shaped by invincible ignorance or deliberate lies, and we really need some mechanism for dealing with that.

This is a serious topic which has not been addressed by our parties’ policies.  It is time we wrote to our representatives and called for legislative action to protect the ignorant from falsehoods in the political arena as well as in the commercial world.  Maybe even time to picket or pillory those who are caught out misleading the public.  If they should have known better, if they could have checked with reputable experts, if they chose to speak from ignorance while acting as demagogues – they are as culpable as if they had lied.

In this case it is worse than usual, as the protests could be used by those already nervously aware of the Koran’s approach to those who are not of the Christian or Jewish faiths (why not to be an active atheist or pagan in Indonesia or Dubai…) to fear that Muslims could be led to vote for radical candidates purely on the basis of their faith, and thus destabilise our political system.

Australian Poverty Line

October 17, 2016

Recent reports of 3 million Australians below poverty line (where defined as below 50% of median income) – currently $426.30 per week for a single person – have started some public response. One person commented online that increasing welfare wouldn’t help, as it would drive up the average income and thus leave them still below par – another voter who does not know the difference between mean and median. Depressing that they can vote…

My immediate thought was different: have a major depression, and weaken Unions so more workers join the 32% of below-current- poverty-line whose main income is paid employment. Then the dole will be above that definition of poverty, while the executives stay on salaries giving over the poverty level weekly income per executive hour!

To compare with cost of basic needs: The March 2016 Henderson poverty line for a single person, including housing, is $425.61 for a single not in work, $524.89 for a single in the workforce. (The Henderson poverty lines are based on a benchmark income of $62.70 for the December quarter 1973 established by the Henderson poverty inquiry. The benchmark income was the disposable income required to support the basic needs of a family of two adults and two dependent children. Poverty lines for other types of family are derived from the benchmark using a set of equivalence scales. )

Australia’s Newstart Allowance (single person over 22  unemployment benefit) currently is at best about $335 per week, including rent assistance, and the Government is proposing to cut the Energy Supplement from it – about $8 per week. That is why I keep calling for those on welfare to have the right to surrender 90% of their income for guaranteed, supervised basic living provided by the Government.

Don’t diss dyslexics

September 30, 2016

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So we needed a bed base for a queen-size mattress, strong enough for a big man who had shattered slats on a standard single base. It had to be high enough for airflow and access for sweeping under it, but low enough for access to the bookcase’s lower shelves. It also had to be brought around a tight corner and fit into minimum space when assembled.

The dyslexic genius who volunteered to do it has worked through books on many crafts, has applied what ve has learned, and has recently studied a book on campaign furniture – partly from interest in British Imperial history. It takes ver longer to read, but ve remembers details well: reading is so tiring, get it right so it doesn’t need re-reading!

Three days from request to installation, including design, purchase of some materials, repurposing of others, cutting, gluing, bolting, labeling, transport to the nook, and assembly.

A queen-size bed which can be disassembled and transported in a medium-size car – longest parts (with folding) are 1.5 metres.

Damn fine work.