Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Too Much Testing by Mike Siekkinen

Testing today is a hot topic, with recent legislation passed on the federal level to reduce the number of standardized tests given to students. Most states are even jumping on this, also reducing state and local testing. So with reduced testing, how can a teacher measure concretely that students are "getting" what they are supposed to "get?”

Remember that determining what a student has or hasn't learned does not need to be only assessed with a multiple choice test. There are many other options available to check on learning, such as:

  • have students write about what they have learned. They can even make it a story. Many students love to write, so let them!
  • have students "draw" about what they have learned. I often have students do this in the form of a comic strip. They make the picture and write captions for what is occurring in their comic.
  • write a speech as that person explaining how they feel about modern times or put them in a situation and have them write as this person would write.
  • do a poll or survey to see if whole class understanding is occurring or if you need to spend more time on an area. 
  • use personal white or chalk boards, or even sheets of paper. Have students respond during the lesson by holding up their board/paper.
  • quick quiz - no more than 5-10 quick questions as students leave your class to see if they "got it.”
  • think of something of your own. These are just some things I do rather than the formal pen and paper assessment. Students often don't even see these as "test.” So come up with your own methods to stay away from those "standardized tests.”

How else do you assess for understanding? Share your ideas with us.

Dr. Mike Siekkinen, a retired U.S. Navy submariner, became a teacher as a second career. He teaches history at St Marys Middle School as well as Adult and Career Education at Valdosta State in Georgia.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Level 10,000 Passed for the izzit-Quizzit Contest!!!

You guys are awesome!! We have finally passed the level 10,000 tier for the izzit-Quizzit contest!!! Using our online quizzes is easier than ever. All you need to do is:
  • Get your class code
  • Watch our videos
  • Have your students take quizzes
And you will be entered to win! Each tier has a different prize and we're giving away bonus prizes too! The more quizzes you take, the closer we all get to unlocking more tiers and eventually unlocking the grand prize which is $4,000 or a set of 20 Chromebooks for your classroom. What are you waiting for?

Learn more here.

Don't have an izzit.org account? Create one today, for FREE! Get started here.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

econlife - The Surprising Significance of Ping Pong by Elaine Schwartz

Twitter was regularly buying new ping-pong tables until the end of 2014. By 2016, the headlines said that their growth had stalled.

There might be a connection.

Ping Pong and Startups

In tech, playing ping pong is a normal part of the workday. Or, as one chief tech officer said, “If you don’t have a ping-pong table, you’re not a tech company.” We could add that when you stop buying ping-pong tables, your tech company might be declining.

To prove the correlation, one ping-pong table dealer tells us that when his store’s sales declined by 50% during the first quarter of 2016, startup venture capital funding dropped 25%. However, he was quick to point out that the table purchases are not a predictor. Rather they are “coincidental”:



Venture Capital (VC) Activity

If VC and ping pong (perhaps) relate, let’s follow the money.


In the following graphic, you can see that information technology got the most money from the most VC deals:


The San Francisco Bay Area was by far the top region for startup money and then the Boston/New York/Washington DC corridor.


However, New York is a distant second behind San Francisco:



Our Bottom Line: Venture Capital

Yes, we can look at the gargantuan dollar and deal totals for venture capital:



But what actually is venture capital?

Here is the perfect VC primer. I’ve summarized the list from BusinessInsider:
  1. Just like Shark Tank, venture capital is the money received by young companies that helps them to grow. In exchange for the dollars, the investors get ownership shares.
  2. On the other end, the VC firms get their money from investors like mutual funds and affluent individuals.
  3. Entrepreneurs go to the VC firms asking for cash. (You might enjoy Startup.com-an award winning documentary about a tech startup.) The initial stage of funding is called “seed capital.” Snapchat first got $485,000 in 2012.
  4. If the firm survives, the next step is the “growth round,” also known as Series A. Then the funding hits the multiple millions. For those millions, the VC investor gets a slice of the company. BusinessInsider compares it to an 8-slice pizza. Assume the pizza (the startup) is valued at $24 with one slice worth 12.5%. If that firm grows, the VC group retains its 12.5% stake and hope they have the next Google.
  5. The last stage is the “exit.” If all works out for the VC firm (which is rare), the startup could be acquired or sell its shares to the public through an IPO (Initial Public Offering).
And then, ping-pong table sales skyrocket?

My sources and more: When ping pong and VC connect, that means there is lots more to explore. So, I took the next step with Medium and then the leap in the VC world with VentureSource. But if you want more of the perfect VC overview, do go to the Business Insidersummary.

Ideal for the classroom, econlife.com reflects Elaine Schwartz's work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Pax Americana - New Release from izzit.org!

Click here to choose as your FAV (Free annual video). Click here to purchase.
Click here to stream to your device.

Technology and Critical Thinking by Jim Triplett

Like many others today, I rely on technology for many tasks I once reserved for my brain and a trip to the library, including problem-solving.  Many websites exist that offer to solve problems, including determining the root cause.  Many times the root cause of a problem may be lost in the noise of an issue leaving some to be less-informed than they think.  This bias can diminish the effectiveness of the steps used to refine the solution to a problem. Chabris and Simons (2009) addressed a number of cognitive illusions that lead people to misunderstand the world around them, one of which is the illusion of knowledge, one where a person thinks he or she knows more than he or she does as well as the illusion of cause.  These are also quite common and, thus, lead people to make decisions that are less-than-ideal.

Consider this TED talk from Dr. Simons on illusions.

Now, consider these additional videos from Chabris and Simons, with particular attention to the selective attention test, the movie perception test, and the door study, reminders that when it comes to thinking, we suffer from illusions that interfere with decision-making:
Many thoughts are present at any given time, some more prevalent and others that are subconscious. Research has shown that one's mental framework is a function of their education, experiences, religion, etc and these are also forms of bias as they are the filters by which we analyze and process information (Frew, 1981).  These biases are efficient in that they allow one to process large amounts of information quickly and they typically are pretty good at doing so most of the time (Gilovich, Griffin, & Kahneman, 2002).  The challenge is when these do not work well for us, especially when trying to identify the cause of a problem.  Being aware is a key to managing biases in critical thinking as it allows one to recognize when a problem may be created and one can then focus on the generation of alternatives with which one may solve the problem.

I’ve been studying biases and heuristics for nearly 15 years now and even with this increased awareness, I’m aware that biases may still be present when I conduct research.  When I’m aware of the presence of bias, I’m also keen to ensure it’s noted in my communications.  As you reflect on this, consider how active listening, as part of an active mind, helps with critical thinking.

Chabris, C. & Simons, D.  (2009).  The invisible gorilla.  New York, NY:  Broadway Paperbacks.

Frew, D. R.  (1981, November).  Diagnosing and dealing with task complexity.  Personnel Administrator, 87-92.

Gilovich, T., Griffin, D., & Kahneman, D.  (2002).  Heuristics and biases:  The psychology of intuitive judgment.  New York:  Cambridge University Press.

Triplett - cover pictureJim Triplett is an author, instructional designer, and instructor in the areas of finance, economics, ethics, and critical thinking. Jim holds Masters Degrees in Finance, Organizational Leadership, and Instructional Design Technology, is ABD / PhD in Organization and Management, and is currently completing a doctoral degree, Ed.D, in Educational Leadership with a focus on Educational Technology.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

econlife - What Not To Tell During a Job Interview by Elaine Schwartz

Assume that a new employee in a similar position will be earning more than you. Your attempt to get a raise does not work so you look for a new job. In most states, you could have a problem.

Only California, Delaware, and NYC have implemented a salary question ban that covers all public and private employees:



During a job interview, it is tough to dodge the salary question. If someone asks what you earned in a previous job, you could answer with a targeted salary range. But the dialogue could get uncomfortable, especially with unfair pay.

And that takes us to women and the gender pay gap. The media tell us that women earn 79 cents for every dollar that men are paid. Although the real gap is much more complicated, for today, let’s stick with that number.

At a new job, you could narrow the gap by starting on a higher rung of the wage ladder. However, your previous salary could diminish a pay offer. To eliminate the influence of your wage history, laws are multiplying that prohibit the salary question during job interviews.

You can see below where laws banning the salary question have been passed and proposed. Since the graphic was created, Delaware and Oregon passed legislation. The Delaware law kicked in last month while Oregon’s will not be in effect until January, 2019.



Our Bottom Line: The Anchoring Effect

In Thinking Fast and Slow, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman discusses a supermarket sign that limited soup purchases to 12 cans. When the sign was up, shoppers bought more soup than when there was no cap. Similarly, when asked how long Mahatma Gandhi lived, the question made a difference. Respondents offered a higher answer when they were asked, “Was Gandhi 144 years old when he died?”

The anchoring effect links soup purchases and Gandhi’s life span. As a number that influences our subsequent behavior, the anchoring effect can justify the salary history ban. When told a lower number, a prospective employer might offer less.

My sources and more: Thanks to NPR for alerting me to the dreaded interview question. BusinessInsider was also a handy source through their states overview. But for some insight, do look at the XXfactor at Slate.

Ideal for the classroom, econlife.com reflects Elaine Schwartz's work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

econlife - China’s Recycling Reversal by Elaine Schwartz

People living near Portland, Oregon were recently told to hold on to many of their plastics. 

The local recycler was no longer accepting them.

Where are we going? To a massive shift in waste.

The World’s Waste

China has told the WTO (World Trade Organization) that it will no longer take 24 kinds of waste. The decision was a whopper. As the prime destination for the world’s recyclables, China gets a lot of our waste.

China had two reasons:
  1. The waste was too dirty. After all, our Amazon boxes are okay but not all of the plastic and foam inside. And beyond that, we discard our clothes hangers, shoes and garden hoses. Most then go to sorting machines that inadequately separate the filthy and hazardous materials from everything else. China used to get it all. Now they are saying “No.”
  2.  They are more affluent. China can afford to purchase the new materials they need to make carpets and pipes and all they send us. They can import new plastics.

This is what China’s imported solid waste looked like in 2013:


As polyethylenes imported from the U.S., the images will soon be very different.

Our Bottom Line: Externalities

China recycled 56% of the world’s plastics. It received 20 million tons of US scrap metal in one year. It got hundreds of thousand of tons of waste paper.

No more.

Last year, it told the WTO that, “By the end of 2017, China will forbid the import of 4 classes, 24 kinds of solid wastes, including plastics waste from living sources, vanadium slag, unsorted waste paper and waste textile materials.”

The result will surely be a ripple of externalities. Hong Kong’s elderly waste paper collectors will lose their income. Portland and other municipalities will lose the income they received from selling recyclables. On the other hand, makers of virgin polyethylene (like DowDuPont) will have a new market. In the EU, Australia, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and the U.S., countless businesses will rethink the flow of waste.

Quartz said that when China sneezes, the world…you know.

My sources and more: Always interesting, Quartz reminded me that it was time to return to China’s recycling role. The Quartz article had multiple superb links. It took me to documents that ranged from a WTO notice to an Oregon metro article. I also read what is happening to communities in California and this Bloomberg analysis.

Hazlegrove-6763_6bIdeal for the classroom, econlife.com reflects Elaine Schwartz's work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

We Heard You.....New & Improved Quizzes from izzit.org

We kept hearing how much of a hassle it was to use our online quiz system, so we decided it was time to make some improvements...

Since we are running one of the BIGGEST contests ever - the izzit-Quizzit contest, we knew removing some of the problems with our old quiz system would make everyone happier.

Still Need More Convincing?

Watch the video here to see how easy it really is.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Six Drinks that Changed the World by Andy Jobson

I’m grateful to my sister for sending my A History of the World in Six Glasses as my birthday present this year.  I highly recommend it to you, no matter what you may teach.  Tom Standage examines various epochs by considering the role of a particular drink.  For the ancient world (think Sumer and Egypt), he provides a discussion of beer.  (In particular, I was intrigued to gain some insight as to why we offer toasts at ceremonies.)  The Greeks, of course, grew in power in part due to the wine they were able to produce and trade.  World history teachers would learn some interesting tidbits and find some useful materials for students to read.

I teach British literature from a sequential, historical perspective, and so one unit is on the Enlightenment.  Standage’s discussion of coffee houses as the ‘internet’ of the seventeenth century, helping to spark the scientific advancements that took place, was quite interesting.  There was also some very interesting material about how western Europe managed to procure and grow its own coffee when the Arab world proved to be very proprietary over its resources.  He also noted the resistance to coffee posed by various religious leaders.  No discussion of Britain would be complete without reference to tea, and Standage provides a helpful unit explaining the rise of the East India Company.  I couldn’t help but think of “Too Big to Fail,” izzit’s video on that company, as I read.  Those chapters provided some very helpful additional information about the collusion between the British government and that behemoth company, including some very unsavory dealings.

Another unit deals with distilled liquor (‘spirits’), in particular rum.  While there is discussion of the triangular trade and reference to the American colonial period, there is also some entertaining material on the British navy.  Did you know that “grog,” that sailor’s mixture of rum, water, and limes, may have played a role in British mastery of the seas?  Read the book to find out why!

You might not be surprised to learn that Standage chooses Coca-Cola for his sixth influential drink, noting how it came to be inseparably associated with American values in the “American Century.”  These chapters provide quite useful fodder for discussions about the values of capitalism vs. communism (or the potential pitfalls, to some people, of a truly free market.  Throughout, Standage tells interesting and entertaining anecdotes, mixing in some broad ideas of how cultures change and adapt.

So whether you teach economics, history, or literature, you may find this to be a valuable book.  If you teach none of these things but use the izzit videos in your classroom, you may find portions of it helpful in providing additional background information.

Happy Reading!

An educator of 22 years, Andy Jobson has taught government, economics, and U.S. History. Currently teaching English literature at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, GA, he’s also been an administrator, a STAR teacher twice, and taught elementary school with Teach for America.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

econlife - Elon Musk’s Tunnel Vision by Elaine Schwartz

It appears that Elon Musk’s year-old Boring Company has tunnel vision. The firm has proposed a high-tech tunnel between NYC and Washington D.C. that got a verbal okay from the White House:


Where are we going? To new tunnels and the old Erie Canal.

Boring Business

Meanwhile Maryland gave Boring the go ahead for a 10.1 mile tunnel under a section of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Also, Chicago is considering Boring for a speedy connection between its downtown and O’Hare International airport. And, close to SpaceX (near Los Angeles), construction has begun on a 2-mile long underground tunnel that Musk hopes he can extend another 15 miles.

Below, Elon Musk described a bit of what he would fund, build and operate for Chicago:


Musk’s current projects are not quite what he ultimately seems to have in mind. His LA project is drive on/drive off with cars and passengers carried along by an electric “skate” moving on magnetic rails. Ultimately though, the Musk vision is tubes in which capsules move as fast as 750 mph along a cushion of air.

I believe that this is the “skate” concept planned for the LA tunnel:

Here is a Hyperloop rendering:

People with tunnel knowhow wonder if any of this can work. After all, the 35-mile Gotthard Base Tunnel took 17 years and $7 billion to slice through the Swiss Alps. There also is London’s recently completed $19.4 billion, 26-mile underground rail connection to Heathrow. A 9-year project, it won’t be entirely operative until 2019.

But they thought the Erie Canal was impossible too.

Our Bottom Line: Transportation Infrastructure

His last name was Clinton, he wanted to be president, and he became known for “Clinton’s Folly.” This Clinton lost the presidency in 1812 (James Madison won), and later in his political career, as governor of New York, he wanted to dig a 363-mile canal. Because no canal in the nation was longer than 2 miles, people ridiculed the proposal.

DeWitt Clinton proved them all wrong. Between 1817 and 1825, using (what was then) revolutionary technology, the Erie Canal was dug. Its impact was immense. By connecting Albany to Buffalo, New York, the canal completed an all-water route between the port of New York and the Great Lakes, thereby permitting eastern manufacturers to trade with western suppliers of raw materials. Instead of traveling via slow and expensive overland routes, goods could move across the Erie Canal more cheaply and quickly.

Like DeWitt Clinton, Elon Musk says his Boring Company can inspire and enable our transportation infrastructure to take a leap forward.

Maybe Musk is on the right track.

My sources and more: Having discovered the Boring Company in Gizmodo, it was impossible to stop reading. From there, Quartz is perfect as a second stop and after that, the possibilities include BloombergMashableCurbed. Then finally, I felt obligated to convey CNN's concerns.

Our Bottom Line includes an excerpt from the revised edition of The Foundation Econ 101 1/2 Part 2.

Ideal for the classroom, econlife.com reflects Elaine Schwartz's work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.