Monday, May 26, 2014

Update on LCC and Federal Financial Aid

Mary Spilde, LCC's president, wrote an article for the local paper about the Federal loan problem that I blogged about last month.

This part was the most surprising news, new information to me:
"Federal regulations do not allow colleges to assess credit worthiness; we lack any reasonable latitude to deny or limit a loan. Instead, we are required to disburse financial aid to almost anyone who applies and yet, if a student defaults, colleges are held accountable for something over which we have little to no control. This disconnect needs to be addressed."
She also adds within e-mail to LCC employees:
"Currently we are challenging 37 factors used by the Department of Education to determine our default rate, one of which declared some former students in default after they had passed away. If those accounts alone were excluded from the calculations, our projected default rate for 2011 would lower to 29.8 percent.

"By our calculation we are now at 29.7% which is under the threshold. While I am cautiously optimistic, we will not receive our final rate until September."
So nothing finalized, but a hopeful update.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Pancake Letters

We are continuing to enjoy our pancake pen.  Ten dollars for a gimmick was too much to spend ourselves, but it made a great December present last year.

It is like breakfast in World World!

Or an edible captcha!

If you have not tried or tropical pancake recipe, you are missing out!

Tooth Trouble

Smiley had a dentist appointment last week.

His upper left center adult tooth was coming in above the baby tooth.  The baby tooth was very loose, but was refusing to come out with tugging or eating.

The dentist removed the baby tooth.  Now the adult tooth can more freely move down into its intended location.

Only two days later his other center baby tooth is already noticeably loose.

Donating Hair

I finally got my hair cut.

There were several reasons.  The main one was that hair down to the small of my back was often in the way when doing exercise or other physical activity.  But I had been putting up with that inconvenience (and my jiu-jitsu partners were also).  However, this summer is a family reunion to celebrate my grandmother's ninetieth birthday.  Since she never liked such long hair on me, the haircut is partially a present for her.

The last of my long hair photos, with ponytail from the front

and the back

and with my hair down, from the front

and the back

The charity Locks of Love needs at least ten inches.  My hair had enough thinning towards the very bottom that removing sixteen inches made sense.

Tangentially, my hair is the kind Locks of Love really wants.  Too many of their donations are hair damaged by heat or chemicals.  My hair was never blow dried, curled, straightened, or dyed.

I even used only silicon-free conditioner to wash it normally, so it did not dry out as much as most conditioned hair.

Now I have shoulder length hair.

My hair has never been like this before.

When I was growing it out, at the time the back got to my shoulders the front was still not nearly long enough to also be shoulder length.  It was dreadful!  The only way I could find that looked masculine at that stage was to always wear a yarmulke and keep my font hair tucked under that skullcap.


I am liking this length a lot.  It has a lot more personality, and even when I wear it down it is not nearly as much in my way during the day.

Zip Line

When Smiley turned six his big birthday present from us and his grandparents was a zip line and ratchet puller.

He loves it!  Here is his first time using it.

It took a month, but finally his brother was brave enough to try using it.

Which also meant he was finally old enough to use the circular seat on our back yard swing.

A few swings, and then back to the zip line!

After one month, Smiley is such an old pro that he likes to use it leaning funny, or without the seat just hanging from the handles.

(Without the seat is the easiest way to use it without adult help.  He can stand atop our little slide, hold the handles, and run off.)

The boys take turns well.  They also enjoy pulling each other by the trailing rope.

Counting the Omer, Day 29

A few weeks ago, one of my math students asked an intriguing question.

I will paraphrase:
"Imagine I am in a situation in which I know I will be reactive instead of proactive.  Perhaps the situation seems frighteningly difficult, or an annoying waste of time.

"Given that I am reactive, how can I react better?  What views or habits would help me?"
That seemed an excellent question.

I started an e-mail conversation with my LCC colleagues.  Someone recommended this chart from Skip Downing's book On Course, so I read most of that book from the LCC library.

I also pulled together a bunch of my ideas from my studies of appropriate masculinity, even though this was a pedagogical project.

The result is my new essay on reacting well.

My image for someone who reacted well is the Brave Little Tailor.

I would love to find a more appropriate opposite literary character.  In my essay I strain and compare him to a Damsel in Distress even though they are not classic "reactive avoiders".  They do not try something, take a time out to recover, and repeats the exact same behavior hoping for more success.

After writing that essay I have been paying attention to where in my own life I need to react better.

I do fairly well, but have been learning to do better with how to use a to-do list in ways that (for me) make it harder to procrastinate activities that are scary because they are new.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Confidence when Entering College

A fascinating article from the New York Times is entitled Who gets to graduate?

The key bit seems to be that a certain kind of new college student receives huge benefit (at some colleges halving their chance of dropping out of college) from five resources:
  • discussions about their doubts, fears, and worries about belonging
  • advisors who monitor progress and keep in contact,
  • tips on how and when to ask for help
  • peer mentors, especially for encouragement
  • access to extra instruction

Specifically, this kind of new student tends to react to a obstacles with a success or failure mindset.

When they fail a placement test or a required to take a remedial class it prompts thoughts such as "Perhaps I am not smart enough to be here", or "I do not belong here" or "College is too different from high school".

The first three especially--those discussions, advisors, and tips about getting help--can retrain them to instead be like the other students who react to obstacles with a growth opportunity mindset.

When those fail a placement test or a required to take a remedial class they have much different thoughts, such as "This sounds boring, I hope the instructor is funny" or "What a waste of time, I hope I actually learn something".

Those responses might be pessimistic, but they are about opportunity and personal growth rather than dictates or predictions of success or failure.

I already wrote about the difference between a growth opportunity mindset and a success or failure mindset in my essay about social confidence.

What surprised the researchers is that only parental income mattered to statistically predict who was which kind of new student--and thus the chance of dropping out or earning a degree.

In my math class I already talk a lot about those discussion and tips.
"Anything new is hard.  But the math topics in Math 20 are not themselves hard.  All of them become okay, if not easy, with enough practice."

"Math 20 is about turning free time into grade points.  If you put in the time, you can pass the class.  Some students with jobs and kids are too busy to put in the time during a single term.  There is no shame in needing two terms if you have many real-life responsibilities.  It happens all the time."

"I have taught Math 20 or 25 for twenty-five terms.  Among all those hundreds of students I have only had one who could not pass the class after putting in the required time.  (She had her own circumstances.)  If you have a weak math background it might take you a bit more time than if you have a strong background.  But it is still just an amount of time.  Study, practice, do homework, do practice tests.  You can pass."

"We start each class with homework questions.  No questions are silly.  You will not ever be the only student with that question.  If you already knew all the answers, you would not be in Math 20."

"During this group work every group scored 85% or more.  Now, maybe you were faking it and just nodding your head while confused.  But I did not see that, except for a very few student with the one hardest problem.  Mostly I saw everyone leaving the room having understood 85% of those problems.  Think about what that means.  Your brain can understand 85%!  It did then.  It can again.  If it does not now, that just means you need more time to practice.  You all can earn a B or better.  Your brains can handle that.  The math will fit, if you have time to make it stick."

"In Math 20 we are learning two very different things.  We are learning a bunch of math topics.  And we are learning study skills for how to be a good math student.  The bad news is that you have a double curriculum this term.  The good news is that once you learn those study skills you're done with that.  In all the rest of your math classes you will only need to learn the math topics.  You classmates there will look at you and say, 'You're good at math!'  What they mean is, 'I am still doing a double curriculum but you're not.  You are passing the class while doing half the work.'"

"Never be ashamed of how many mistakes you make. I assure you that by the time I earned my masters degree in mathematics I had made more math mistakes than you will make during your entire life. In fact, unless you have a family member who also pursues a graduate degree in mathematics, by the age of 21 I had made more math mistakes than your entire family will ever make in their entire lives. You will never catch up! Bwahahahahaha."

"If your score on this midterm was not as high as you would like, I would appreciate you talking to me after class or coming to office hours.  I cannot require it.  You're not in high school.  But if you are not as successful as you would like to be, I can probably help you brainstorm ways to become more efficient with your studying and successful on your final exam."
All my students have advisors, and my quizzes and midterms keep them up-to-date on which topics still need more studying.

The Math Resource Center offers free tutoring, so extra instruction is available.

I am currently exploring ways to create some student-to-student mentoring at LCC.

The technologically easy idea would be a discussion forum that I could invite my old students to join if they earned an A or B.  The students could talk amongst themselves about tips for higher-level math classes.  Which instructors are best for students with certain learning styles?  Which classes require more homework time than the number of credits would suggest?  Etc.  And my current students would also be forum members, to get encouragement and math advice from students who have proven themselves capable.

Unfortunately, at LCC only Moodle has online discussion forums and these will not work.  They must be re-created each term.  There is no easy way to invite past students to join.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Math Pages Mirrored

Twice this term my website has been unavailable from LCC.

This was some sort of local DNS issue.  The website continued working fine from my home and from the University of Oregon.

In case it happens again, the LCC IT folks have kindly helped me set up a mirror site on their Plesk server.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Mock Test for Teachers

At yesterday's math meeting I shared my funky Midterm Rubric with my math colleagues.

I had prepared a short "midterm" to give them for five minutes, in case they wanted to experience the rubric first-hand.  (They didn't.)

It was an interesting challenge to create a few questions that my fellow math teachers would find interesting enough to want to discuss in groups.

How do you do on my mock test?

Answers are in white.  Highlight the blanks with the cursor to make them visible.

1. What is the sum of three hundred seventy two and one thousand two hundred fifteen?  Show your work in base negative ten.

(Hint: three hundred seventy two = four hundreds minus three tens plus two ones = 432.)


 19627 (one thousand, five hundred, eighty seven)

2. Usually it is most proper to say a three-digit number using place value, as in "four hundred twelve".  Think of at least two situations in which it is proper to say a three-digit number by naming each digit, as in "four one two".

license plates, street addresses

3. A fatally ill goldfish breeder decides to give away all his fish.
(a) First he gives his niece a third of what remains, plus one-third of a fish.
(b) Then he gives his brother a fourth of what remains, plus one-fourth of a fish.
(c) Then he gives his friend a fifth of what remains, plus one-fifth of a fish.
(d) Lastly, he sells the remaining eleven goldfish.
No fish was divided or injured in any way.  How many fish did he start with?

For part (e) use the equation 1/5 y + 1/5 + 11 = y
11.2 = 0.8 y
14 = y
and so on, working backwards

eventually get (a) 29 fish -> (b) 19 fish -> (c) 14 fish -> (d) 11 fish

4a. A circus has a certain number of horses and riders.  Between them there are 50 feet and 18 heads.  How many horses and riders are in the circus?

4b. The pet shop Vince's Vertebrates sells jungle animals.  There are twice as many four-footed animals as two-footed animals.  There are 11 heads and 20 feet.  How many animals of each type are at the pet shop?

18 heads means 18 total, so 36 haunches, so 50 - 36 = 14 forefeet
To make 14 forefeet there must be 7 horses
Then 18 - 7 = 11 riders


There must be at least one snake with no feet!
4 four-footed makes 16 feet
2 two-footed makes 4 feet
5 snakes makes a total of 11 heads

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Counting the Omer, Day 20

Yesterday I wrote about how reconciliation with God should include my being compelled by Yeshua to draw from God's Kingdom righteousness, peace and joy, so I can distribute these into people's lives.

This reminded me of an old blog post about how representation, advocacy, and leadership are very different and in some ways in opposition to each other.

When I represent Yeshua, I think and act more like him and less like my old self.  I better represent him by spending time with Yeshua and developing a deeper relationship with him.

Being an advocate for Yeshua does not require relationship.  An advocate merely supports and recommends Yeshua's teachings and invitations.

(A group focused on representing Yeshua together would live similarly and harmoniously.  But a group focused on advocating for Yeshua might have disagreements about how to best share the reality of his life and teachings.)

Being a spiritual leader involves activities Yeshua never did that help others learn to think and act like him.

Organizing a weekly scripture study group or helping casting a congregation's vision are not things Yeshua did.  They are "meta" activities that might help other people represent Yeshua even though the activities themselves are not how Yeshua thought or acted.

You cannot represent the target while leading someone to the target!

I am no longer running a congregation or hosting a scripture study group.  This is kind of nice because the ways I am a spiritual leader are less often "meta" activities.

Yeshua did lead by encouraging people to pray, answering their theological questions, and making short teachings.  I can do these things to be a spiritual leader for my family and sometimes for my friends while still thinking and acting like Yeshua.

Counting the Omer, Day 19

My old essay about favored status described our role as people helping God distribute his Kingdom's good promises and help.
We should recognize that we have favored-status because we are now children of God. This puts us beyond concerns of honor and shame, and gives us responsibilities to help God distribute his blessings and other good things from his Kingdom.
The past few days I have been thinking about this more.

Let's put together three scripture verses: Matthew 6:33, Romans 14:7-8, and Second Corinthians 5:14-20.

Together these tell us to continually seek God's Kingdom.  In particular, God is pleased when we draw righteousness, peace and joy into our lives from his Kingdom .  We should feel compelled and driven by Yeshua to do this.

Moreover, when we live this way we should see people differently.  People are either fellow-helpers in this effort of distributing God's good things, or folk who not only need a lot more righteousness, peace and joy but who can be changed by receiving from God's Kingdom.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Blender Ice Cream

We finally have developed a nice chocolatey blender ice cream recipe.

Hooray for warm weather!

Monday, May 05, 2014

Counting the Omer, Day 15

Second Timothy 2:17-18 has always confused me.  Were two guys really leading some early believers astray by claiming that the resurrection has already happened?  That seems like a lot of gullibility!

But today I noticed that Paul appears to only use the Greek word anástasis (and the related words anístēmi and exanástasis) to literally to mean "stand up" when quoting from the Tenach (as in Romans 15:2 and First Corinthians 10:7).

Normally in Paul's letters those words refer not to literal rising but metaphorically to the power and purity of the now available "resurrection life".

This is most clear in Philippians 3:9-14, where Paul says he wants to know the power of Yeshua's anástasis to increasingly attain his own exanástasis.

So the heresy in Second Timothy 2:17-18 is probably the claim that complete access to "resurrection life" is available now.  Paul knows better.  Through faith and participation in Yeshua's sufferings we can gain more and more "resurrection life", but having it fully remains a distant goal until we reach the World to Come.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

LCC and 4J Support Services Comparison

I just wrote an analysis about the 4J School District budget and learned that instruction is only about 60% of the 4J school district budget.

I then wondered how my own LCC classes compare.

This term is typical.  My Math 20 class has 28 students.  Each student is paying $93 per credit x 3 credits = $279 for the class.  Thus the college gets a total income of $7,812.

My pay is roughly $3,000 per class.  I will estimate $100 of other instructional expenses of equipment maintenance, photocopying, electricity, etc.  (Those projector bulbs are quite pricey.)  So LCC only uses about $3,100 ÷ $7,800 = 40% of my class tuition on instruction.

All the rest of my class's tuition can go to "support services" and to compensate for less lucrative classes.

Whew!  It seemed amazing that the 4J school district was spending 33% of the district's cost per student on (non-retirement) support services.  But LCC gets to spending almost twice that percentage on expenses other than instruction.

Yet I am not complaining.  I have already invested countless hours creating my online lecture notes and tests, and setting up Moodle to do homework grading.  So teaching each class requires about 30 hours of class time and about 10 hours each for grading, preparation, and corresponding with students (mostly by e-mail, sometimes by phone).  So each class is only about sixty hours of work.

My take-home pay rate is thus about $46 per hour.  That is sufficient for a worry-free job that allows me to also be home with my boys as much as I want.

But the pay rate is actually not that great.  I do not get retirement account money since I am part-time.  I could be getting health insurance, but by waiving it and using my wife's policy I have slightly greater take-home pay.  Since most jobs have 30% of their compensation in benefits my comparable pay rate is only $46 ÷ 1.3 = $35 per hour.  Not impressive for having two Master's degrees, in a city with a slightly highter cost of living than national average.

School District Preliminary Budget

Note: If anyone has a better understanding of these financial documents, please feel free to correct me!

A Preliminary Budget Gap

In April the 4J school district Superintendent and board released their preliminary budget.

Unsurprisingly, it has a projected budget gap.

The district spends an average of
$152,200,000 annual budget ÷ 15,843 students = $9,607 per student
The national average is about $12,740 per student.  Our school district is spending only 75% of the national average.  No wonder it has a budget gap!

Pension Problems?

Of course, the word pension does not ever occur in the preliminary budget main document.  Is the school district in a pension crisis?  Maybe that is why our schools seem low on money.

I can go to the district's archive of financial documents to find the 2013 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.  It provides details for the school year that ended in 2013.

The postemploymet benefits fund had income of $2 million (page 145).  This is the money taken from other funds because part of planning salaries is set aside money for retirement costs.  $1.7 million came from the general fund support services category.  $0.3 million came from the support services category of the various other district funds.

The postemploymet benefits fund had expenses of $5.7 million (pages 146-147).  So it is costing the district an extra $3.7 million.

This $3.7 million expense does not seem to be actual payments.  If I am understanding the financial report, all pension payments are been made through $50 million of pension bonds (page 174) which that year cost the district $3.7 million of principal and interest (page 71).

Is it just me, or does only allocating $2 million for retirement out of the $137 million for instruction and support seem awfully low?  I would expect public sector salary planning would allocate more than 1.2% to retirement expenses.  Perhaps the previous superintendents thought such a low percentage was sufficient, which is why now bond money must be used?

$3.7 million of extra pension expense sounds like a lot of money.  After all, it would close the projected budget gap.

But it is only 2.4% of the preliminary 2014 budget.  It works out to $234 per student.

That does not seem to be an enormous strain on the school district's finances.  Sure, 2.4% hurts.  But it should not be crippling.

UPDATE: My numbers are way too low.  More recent information is here.

Support Services

That year the district's general fund income was $68 million from local sources, $64 million from state sources, and $0.9 million from Federal sources.  (Those categories are broken down on page 117.)

Instruction cost the general fund $82 million.  Support services cost $55 million.  (Those categories are broken down on page 118.  Teacher salary information is here.)

The teachers hopefully get nice benefits.  For both instructional and support employees their benefits are 34% of their total cost.  The national average is 30%.

So support services costs $3,394 per student, of which only $234 is the previously analyzed retirement costs.

Why is 33% of the district's cost per student on (non-retirement) support services?

That is an enormous amount spent on administration, health, guidance, and busing!

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Counting the Omer, Day 12

If truth is beauty how come nobody has their hair done in a library?
  -Lily Tomlin
A few days ago I mentioned that we should see God's beauty.

What is beauty?

You can make your own definition.  For me, beauty is delicate yet inspiring sublimity.

Some things are inspiring and sublime but not delicate.  Mountains can be majestic.  Marching band music can be uplifting.  It seems less accurate to me to call them beautiful.

Some things are delicate and sublime but not inspiring.  Candle flames are fascinating.  Crystal goblets are elegant.  Ladro statues are exquisite.   Again it seems less accurate to me to use the word "beautiful", although I might do so sloppily in casual conversation.

Beauty reaches to gently touch us.

How do we see God's beauty?

In what ways is God sublime, inspiring, and delicate?

God has sublime down pat.  No trouble there.

Not everything God does is inspiring.  I will put that part on hold for a moment.

What does God do that is delicate?  What an interesting question!

In my life, the spiritual things most delicate and inspiring are how God responds when I flirt with him.  That needs some explanation.

Scripture instructs me to sometimes think of myself as (part of) Yeshua's bride.  As a happily married man this is not so strange.  There are some aspects of flirting that married couples should keep alive.  These are usually not as wild and attention-seeking as teens first meeting and flirting with each other.  But it is more spontaneous and nonsensical than the rest of married life.

Romance is inefficient!  There are wiser ways to spend time and money than on flowers, fancy chocolates, hiding little notes in your spouse's lunches, and writing poetry.  But that inefficiency demonstrates that you do not take your relationship with the other person for granted, and do not treat it as business.

A healthy spiritual life does include taking God's presence for granted.  We are supposed to rely on God!

It also includes some business meeting type activity.  We pray some intercessory petitions day after day.  We read scripture even when not in the mood to do so.

But it must also include giving ourselves to God in spontaneous and inefficient ways.  Then God responds, and we see God's beauty.