Saturday, October 28, 2006

Lego my dishwasher

It seems to me that we should have one of these; a lego branded dishwasher that washes toys. Full story at Gizmodo.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Educator quality and pay

This week saw two discussions of teacher aptitude and educational quality. The first began with a Slate article by Emily Brazelon on whether we need pre-school teachers with college degrees. The second was a new study by Andrew Leigh on whether raising pay will give you smarter teachers.

Let me begin with pre-school

So, do you need a degree to teach preschool? Study after study shows that 3- and 4-year-olds are better served by more-educated teachers in myriad ways. As you might expect, these teachers tend to offer superior curricula and formal teaching. But they’re also, on average, “more stimulating, warm, and supportive” and “provide more age-appropriate experiences.” That finding is from a 2004 overview of the relevant research by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and it represents the consensus view. The experts disagree over how much college coursework preschool teachers should have—a two-year associate degree vs. a four-year baccalaureate. The more vexing question is how to take what is now an underpaid, low-skilled workforce and magically restock it with college-educated professionals.

The problem, of course, is that the pay for pre-school teachers doesn’t quite encourage higher education. Of key issue is that pre-school teaching requires other qualities — patience and stamina — that are not for everyone. So in undertaking a college education path, you would really have to be committed to obtain the education required for pre-school. The obvious solution is to run things more like apprenticeships. Get the teachers in and then educate them later. The only issue is whether the budget will handle the extra pay from that. (Here is a nice write-up of the pre-school issue).

For the rest, Andrew Leigh discusses the pre-committed pay option: that is, how well would pay now and hope for supply later work? The answer is: well, OK.

A 1 percent rise in the salary of a starting teacher boosts the average aptitude of students entering teacher education courses by 0.6 percentile ranks, with the effect being strongest for those at the median.

That means that boosting pay will encourage University-goers to think more about a teaching path; particularly, if they got high test scores coming in.

This suggests to me that boosting pay and on-going education are likely to be complementary policies. Boost average pay by a bit to get smarter people going into teaching and then educate later on so those that cut it for other reasons reach their potential.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Child asleep in car

As I write this, my 2 year old is asleep in the car. I am in the car too. We are at a friends and she was supposed to have her nap there but alas, didn't make it. Faced with the difficult trade-off between waking her and going inside and getting that nap, we opted for the nap. However, this left one of us stuck in the car.

In the olden days (circa 1999), this would have meant at least an hour of bordom and resentment towards the parent having a merry time inside. If you had the foresight to have brought a book then things would be better. And let's face, GPRS service on a mobile isn't going to get you lots of happy time.

Today, I was fortunate. We were travelling. I had my laptop and the 3G card and thanks to us being in Canberra with a hulking big communications tower, I am on the net at broadband speeds. Now I see the reason to get broadband in the car. The other alternative is to kick in the video iPod and watch some TV.

Of course, give us a year and we will be out of this dilemma. But dare I say it, that technology, if only we remember to bring it, solves all ills.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The hard line on games

This post was provoked by an article in the New York Times that near as I can tell has no point (click here). It is about one parent's experience with Hungry Hungry Hippos for their 3 year old which, suffice it to say, did not go at all well. In my mind, he was lax on game play.

My attitude to playing games with children is simple: I play to win. Put simply, I see no need to coddle my children in game playing. If they want that they can go elsewhere; say, to their mother. Now I have posted before on how my children play games with eachother (click here). It is very personality driven. But how they play with me is another matter.

At the age of 3, children form the cognitive ability to play games. They understand the rules and seem to understand the difference between winning and losing. The first game off the rank for us was 'snap.' Nominally, a card game, you pick up cards and put them down until two match and then you compete by quickly saying snap and snapping your hand down to claim the lot. The game continues until one player holds all of the cards.

My daughter (you might remember her as Ms Strategic in chess) learnt this game from her mother. It was a rather relaxed affair. Then she turned her attention to me. I snapped the snappiest snap one could imagine. The game was over pretty quickly and she didn't get a look in. She, not surprisingly, claimed it was all unfair and she need her turn. I took a hard line. The snap playing ended for the day.

The next day, it might surprise you, she was back to try again. This time the result was the same but the back of my hand was sore. She had quickened up and while she didn't end up snapping the cards she was just shy and snapped my hand on those cards.

A little while later, we got to Round 3. She worked out that information was key. Ms Strategic then was born and she developed a new action. She would look at her own card first before putting it down. The result was that on half of the occasions a match might come by she knew it first. She would look at the card, then move her hand down to the pile. Turn it over and snap instantly.

This strategy had me beat; at least until I worked at the 'attell.' When she had a match her action would be much slower than otherwise and so I became a little quicker. But it wasn't enough. Ms Strategic had learned to cheat. She had changed the rules of the game to suit her competitive situation. I was very proud.

We put a clamp on that rule change after that but let me tell you we have games of snap far more interesting than other parents have to endure. Moreover, my daughter ruthlessly defeated all other children including older ones.

Now you might be reading this horrified that I have created a competitive monster. But let me tell you, when I hear other parents complain about how boring or frustrating it is to play games with their children; that is the alternative life. I would rather have the competition. More game playing occurs as a result.

Of course, when it comes to some games -- specifically, the junior variety such as Junior Monopoly -- the sheer random element combined with the length of time for a game makes me want to behave quite differently. However, that is a problem with junior games per se. More on that some other time.