kitchen table math, the sequel: Thesis statements are really, really, really hard & you're-not-special (& Facebook)

## Friday, May 9, 2014

### Thesis statements are really, really, really hard & you're-not-special (& Facebook)

oh, man!

Finally finished my semester (grading still to do, but classes & exit exams are done...) and am immersed, with Katie B, in a now-nearly-desperate attempt to finish the exercises for Chapter 3 of Ed's European history textbook.

Subject: the thesis statement.

We've been trying to create a thesis-statement algorithm. And not just an algorithm, but a foolproof algorithm. I'm the guinea pig.

I thought we had it nailed -- finally! -- and......

We don't.

So: starting over.

....................

It's a good thing I went to school in the days before commencement speakers telling students they're not special and classroom teachers creating opportunities for students to fail against an exemplar of excellence (an actual comment I saw an actual teacher actually make on a Facebook thread concerning the you're-not-special commencement speaker, who is also a teacher.)

I would be in big trouble if my high school teachers had spent a lot of time creating opportunities for me to fail against exemplars of excellence.

That would be way too much failure for one person to surmount.

Ed and Katie and I were dealing with the failure of our algorithm (actually, the failure of my algorithm, which I'd come up with while dealing with the failure of the previous algorithm the 3 of us had hammered out just a couple of days ago).

Today's algorithm involved telling the student to start by picking a sentence in the textbook and turning it into a who-, which-, why-, or how- question.

Sounds simple, right?

So, the sentence we tested (on me) was:

It is difficult to determine which country was most responsible for WWI.

Which I instantly turned into the following question, while exclaiming 'This is easy!:

Which country was most responsible for WWI?

Wrong.

The question I was supposed to turn it into:

Why is it difficult to determine which country was most responsible for WWI?

So then Ed and I got into a whole long argument about whether a college student would or would not make the same boneheaded mistake I had just made, since any fool (we're foolproofing, remember?) could plainly see that "which country was most responsible for WWI" was not the whole sentence.

The whole sentence was "Why is it difficult to determine which country was most responsible for WWI?"

So there I was, the progenitor of an algorithm I myself could not use, having to argue, at length, that 18-year olds who are taking their first college-level history course are as dumb as I am.

Which I successfully did.

....................

Change of topic: I've become a Facebook person, heaven help me. Mostly because Debbie S. said I should: that's where the moms are, she said.

Facebook is pretty fun -- and it's different from a blog, somehow. Different in a good way.

I'm thinking of putting up a ktm Facebook page, but I want to keep it relatively separate from my Irvington life & have to figure out exactly how that works.

I think ktm readers would actually have to join the FB page (which is fine with me but possibly annoying for you --- ?)

Back to work.

Jean said...

All the moms are, in fact, on Facebook. Including me.

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm laughing!

Come find me! (I would find you, but I don't think I know your last name...)

Or email me: hillisjohnson@gmail.com

Debbie always knows these things.

Auntie Ann said...

I assume the lessons pre-planed to cause failure are an attempt to teach "grit"?

Jean said...

There, I 'liked' you. Despite the fact that I live nowhere near Irvington. :)

Hainish said...

Maybe you could include that as an example of how NOT to use the thesis-generator algorithm?

Also, if a student were to read ahead in the textbook from "It is difficult to determine which country . . . " (and I'm assuming the textbook would spend a few sentences, at least, discussing why this is), would the student STILL think it would make a good thesis statement? After all, the question has been settled...right?

(I know that's what I would think, were I student reading that textbook. FWIW, I was always mystified by what is a thesis, vs. what isn't.)

linsee said...

Mandatory Facebook is impossible for many people, because of their consistent failures to respect privacy.

Catherine Johnson said...

Jean - thank you!

Catherine Johnson said...

linsee - sorry, I don't understand your comment (I'm still not quite grokking FB)

Catherine Johnson said...

I assume the lessons pre-planed to cause failure are an attempt to teach "grit"?

You got me!

linsee said...

You said, "I think ktm readers would actually have to join the FB page (which is fine with me but possibly annoying for you --- ?)" which I unerstand to mean that only people with Facebook accounts would be able to see ktm. Facebook has a long history of privacy problems, which makes it troubling for many people, and actually dangerous for some, to have a Facebook account. No matter how strictly you set your privacy levels, they're likely to change them without notice. (You can google -- lots of coverage -- or ask by email, you have my address.)

Anonymous said...

"I'm thinking of putting up a ktm Facebook page, but I want to keep it relatively separate from my Irvington life & have to figure out exactly how that works.

I think ktm readers would actually have to join the FB page (which is fine with me but possibly annoying for you --- ?)"

As an example of what linsee is talking about ... I amnot on Facebook. And won't join. I have the technological ability :-), but I won't join Facebook. Iaccept that I'm in a pretty small minority, but I'm probably not quite alone.

-Mark Roulo