kitchen table math, the sequel: 12/29/13 - 1/5/14

Saturday, January 4, 2014

They do what they do

In the Times:

Only weeks before a chemistry experiment sent a plume of fire across a Manhattan high school science lab, engulfing two students and leaving one with life-threatening burns, a federal safety agency issued a video warning of the dangers of the very same experiment, a common one across the country.

The agency, the United States Chemical Safety Board, distributed the video warning to its 60,000 subscribers, a spokeswoman, Hillary Cohen, said Friday, but it had no sure way to reach individual teachers at schools like Beacon High School on the Upper West Side. There on Thursday, Anna Poole, a young science teacher known for safety consciousness, used methanol as an accelerant to burn dishes of different minerals in the chemistry demonstration known as the Rainbow.

With about 30 students watching from their desks, a snakelike flame tore through the air, missing the students closest to the teacher’s desk, but enveloping Alonzo Yanes, 16, searing and melting the skin on his face and body, according to witnesses. He was in critical condition on Friday in the burn unit of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, Myrna Manners, a hospital spokeswoman, said.

Another student, Julia Saltonstall, 16, saw her thin T-shirt burned off her torso in an instant as some of her long dark hair went up in smoke, her father said. Though she was no farther from the demonstration than Alonzo, she escaped with only first-degree burns.


The safety board’s video, and an accompanying message, did not say the Rainbow demonstration should be banned, but warned that accidents have repeatedly occurred because of the volatile material involved.

“What we need to look at is why is this accident keeps happening across the country,” said Mary Beth Mulcahy, a former high school science teacher who is now an investigator with the safety board, which has documented at least seven similar accidents, including a 2006 case featured in the video that left a 15-year-old girl in Ohio, Calais Weber, with severe burns over more than 48 percent of her body. “What do we need to do to stop the cycle?”

As a 23-year-old teacher, Dr. Mulcahy added, she herself did the rainbow demonstration, unaware of the potential dangers. The visually exciting demonstration shows how different substances produce flames of different colors because of their varying properties. But she added, “I can’t imagine a teacher would do this demonstration if they knew the potential risk they were putting students in.”

Said Ms. Weber, now a pre-med student in Boston: “I read this article last night about the New York students and honestly, I cried. I can’t believe this keeps happening.”


Monday, December 30, 2013

Barry's book is out!!!!!

Letters from John Dewey/Letters from Huck Finn: A Look at Math Education from the Inside by Barry Garelick

Go order it right this minute!

I'm a sucker for Apple ads...

I'm 100% certain I shouldn't like this, but I do.

Revised post

For any of you getting posts by email …. I hit "Publish" too soon on the previous post, which is now finished:

5 years on

5 years on


I looked at my calendar today (for once)* and discovered I had entered a link to a 2009 Greg Mankiw post challenging Paul Krugman to a bet:
Wanna bet some of that Nobel money? (If that link doesn't work, try this one.)

Paul Krugman suggests that my skepticism about the administration's growth forecast over the next few years is somehow "evil." Well, Paul, if you are so confident in this forecast, would you like to place a wager on it and take advantage of my wickedness?

Team Obama says that real GDP in 2013 will be 15.6 percent above real GDP in 2008. (That number comes from compounding their predicted growth rates for these five years.) So, Paul, are you willing to wager that the economy will meet or exceed this benchmark? I am not much of a gambler, but that is a bet I would be happy to take the other side of (even as I hope to lose, for the sake of the economy). [March 4, 2009]
Apparently I was so struck by this challenge that I pasted the Mankiw post into my calendar on a date five years hence…..and today's the day.

From FRED Graphs:

Real GDP 7/1/2008: 14895.1
Real GDP 7/1/2013: 15839.3
Percent change: 6.3%

Not 15.6%.

If I had never had to teach my son math, I don't think I would have reached the point where I can fact-check the predictions of Nobel-prizewinning economists.

My now half-decade long preoccupation with macro also led me to tell Ed to get rid of ALL of the bonds in our Vanguard 401k last spring, just weeks before the Fed's taper talk crashed the bond market. Weeks.

Of course, we'd be better off today if I'd figured out the problem with bonds a few years earlier, but, on the other hand, if I hadn't taught my son math, & hadn't developed an obsession with macro, I wouldn't  have figured it out at all. So: silver lining.

At a family birthday celebration yesterday (my father-in-law's 94th!) Ed and his brothers chewed over the stocks-&-bonds issue for a while. The youngest brother has all of his and his wife's retirement savings invested in bonds. 100%.  Ed, a person with heretofore zero interest in the Federal Reserve who has spent the past five years being harangued on the subject, gave a fluent explanation of why nobody should have 100% of anything in bonds (short version: Don't bet against the Fed), at which point the middle brother said there was a middle position: the youngest brother should have some of his retirement savings in stocks.

Ed objected to the middle position, too, and on the same grounds: don't bet against the Fed. The Federal Reserve is the decider.

I learned that from Algebra 1.

S&P 500 Stock Price Index
1/1/2013 - 1462.42
1/27/2013 - 1841.4
Percent change: 25.9%

Ed, by the way, has developed an interest in the Fed and in monetary policy and monetary effects in general -- to the point that he has read Barry Eichengreen's book on the gold standard (a gift from me Christmas 2012) and was recently asked to expand a section on the Great Depression and the gold standard in a book review of a new history of Europe.

*I say for once because, this week alone, I managed to miss a) a scheduled phone call with Katie Beals and b) my friends F & J's Christmas party by not checking my calendar.