Category Archives: madison

Selfie from the polar vortex

-13 Fahrenheit.

Polar snorkel

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Israel Story / Sipur Yisraeli

I just met Mishy Harman, who here in Madison is a mild-mannered visiting Ph.D. student in history but who back in Israel is a radio superstar!  He’s one of the hosts of Israel Story, a.k.a. the “This American Life” of Israel, which I’m told is one of the top-rated programs in the country.  The show’s in Hebrew, but for my non-Ivritophone readers (and for me!) the good news is that Mishy will be producing some segments in English in collaboration with WPR’s To The Best Of Our Knowledge:  here’s the first one, about the Alepo Codex.  If you want there to be still more English “Israel Story” than this, support their crowdfund campaign!

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Wisconsin and the Common Core math standards

I have been inexcusably out of touch with the controvery in Wisconsin about the adoption of the Common Core state standards for mathematics.  I present without comment the text of a letter that’s circulating in support of the CCSSM, which I know has the support of many UW-Madison faculty members with kids in Wisconsin public schools.  All discussion (of CCSSM in general or the points made in this letter) very welcome.

(Related:  Ed Frenkel supports CCSSM in the Wall Street Journal.)

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To whom it may concern,

We the undersigned, faculty members in mathematics, science and engineering at institutions of higher education in Wisconsin, wish to state our strong support for Wisconsin’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM).  In particular, we want to emphasize the high level of mathematical rigor exemplified by these standards.  The following points seem to us to be important:

  • We know that what we have been doing in the past does not work.  Nationwide, over 40% of first-year college students require remedial coursework in either English or mathematics.[1] For many of these students, completing their remedial mathematics (that is to say, high school mathematics) requirement will be a significant challenge on their path to their chosen college degree.  The situation in Wisconsin mirrors the national one.  Over the University of Wisconsin system as a whole, 21.3% of all entering freshmen in the fall of 2009 required remedial education in mathematics.[2]  Over the Wisconsin Technical College System, the mathematics remediation figure is closer to 40%.[3]
  • The CCSSM set a high, but realistic, level of expectations for all students.  It is unrealistic, and unnecessary, to expect all students to master calculus (for example) in high school.  That would be the “one size fits all” approach that is often brought up as an argument against the Common Core.  Instead, the CCSSM attempts to identify a coherent set of mathematical topics of which it can be reasonably be said that they are essential for students’ future success in our increasingly technological and data-driven society.  “College and career ready,” yes, but also life and citizenship ready.
  • It is easy to point to a certain favorite topic and say that the Common Core delays discussion of that topic, or places it in a grade level higher than it has been taught previously.  It is also dangerous.  There is no merit in placing a topic at a grade level where students are unable to do more than repeat procedures without understanding or reasoning.  (One example would be the all-too-frequent expectation that students compute means and medians of sets of numbers, with no significant connection to context, and no discussion of when it would make sense to use one rather than the other.)  It is necessary to look at any set of standards as a coherent whole, and ask whether students who meet all expectations of the standards have been held to a sufficiently high level.
  • Any set of standards is a floor, not a ceiling.  Any local school district, school or individual teacher may set expectations beyond the standards, if they choose to do so.  There are certainly many students who will need more mathematics in high school than is required by the CCSSM: Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM)-intending students, or students who hope to attend an elite college or university, are two obvious groups.  These students should indeed take more mathematics, and opportunities should be made available for them to do so. The standards question, however, is whether all students should be required to learn more mathematics than is in the CCSSM; our answer is “no.”
  • Even for talented students, the rush to learn advanced topics and procedures should not come at the expense of students’ deeper understanding of the mathematical content being covered. Talented students also need quality guidance; they should not be rushed thoughtlessly for the sake of advancement.
  • There are undoubtedly some professional mathematicians, scientists and engineers who claim that the CCSSM are insufficiently rigorous; it is our understanding that they are a small minority.

We entreat you to keep Wisconsin in the group of States that are adopting the CCSSM.  We see the consequences of failed educational policies in our classrooms every day, and we only have the well being of our students in mind. The CCSSM is the right balance: already far higher than our previous State standards but not beyond what one can expect from a majority of students.

 


[1] Beyond the Rhetoric: Improving College Readiness Through Coherent State Policy, accessed from http://www.highereducation.org/reports/college_readiness/gap.shtml on October 3, 2013.

[2] Report on Remedial Education in the UW System: Demographics, Remedial Completion, Retention and Graduation, September 2009, accessed from http://www.uwsa.edu/opar/reports/remediation.pdf on October 6, 2013.

[3] Findings of the Underprepared Learners Workgroup, accessed from http://systemattic.wtcsystem.edu/system_initiatives/prepared_learners/Findings.pdf on October 6, 2013.

The dream of professional ultimate is alive in Madison

On the spur of the moment I took CJ and AB to see the Madison Radicals, the local francise of the brand-new American Ultimate Disc League, which is apparently one of two competing leagues vying to make pro ultimate a mainstream US sport.

Six bucks a ticket, kids get in free.  There were at least 500 fans cheering the Radicals, most of whom clearly know the rules of ultimate much better than I do.

It was extremely wholesome and I highly recommend it.

The game also featured a truly great halftime contest, in which spectators competed to see who could throw a Roman Candle pizza, frisbee-style, farthest down the field.  Now that was already great, but then, at the end of the contest, the contestants scooped the pizzas up off the turf and  tossed them to clamoring fans in the stands, who picked the grass off them and ate them.  I felt honored to be present.

Other notes:

  • Ultimate is traditionally played without a referee, but they’ve added refs for the pro game.  To maintain the spirit of the game, he AUDL has instituted the “integrity rule:”  if both teams agree that a call on the field is wrong, the referee is overruled.  I can’t think of any reason this isn’t the rule in every sport.
  • Apparently, one of the players (“the guy with the goatee,” according to a nearby fan) is the owner of the team.
  • Almost forgot to say — the Radicals battled back from a 12-8 deficit but eventually lost 16-15 to the Windy City Wildfire.

 

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The best breakfast sandwich in Madison is the Breakfast Ricardo at Cafe Cortadito

Brand new at 418 E. Wilson, sharing space with the Cardinal bar.  Madison has not had a really good Cuban sandwich the whole time I’ve lived here; this seems very likely to have changed, if the Breakfast Ricardo at Cortadito is any indication; it’s a lot like a cubano, except it’s on a round Cuban sweet roll instead of grilled bread, and there’s an egg on it.  It is worth a special trip.

Cortadito is still working out some kinks; my croquettes were cold in the middle, and the kitchen forgot the guava pastelito I ordered with my sandwich.  I was going to comment that the fried plantains were more like potato chips than the dark, sweet long-cut plantains I was expecting, but it turns out that’s just the difference between tostones and maduros, and both are totally reasonable interpretations of “fried plantains.”

But who cares about that because as I mentioned this is the best breakfast sandwich in the city.

 

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Madison pastrami report, sadly brief

Stalzy’s is a new east-side deli that makes its deli meats in-house.  Stalzy’s pastrami is very good, but is not exactly pastrami.  It is, instead, what someone very skilled at making barbecue would make if someone gave them a recipe for pastrami.

Gotham Bagels remains the only real pastrami option, but I’m pretty sure they sell only by the sandwich, not by the pound.  Update:  Ben Tillman, in the comments, corrects me — Gotham does sell pastrami a la carte, at $18/lb.  So that’s next Passover taken care of.

Do not I repeat do not go to Ella’s.

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Chazen 1934

Gold Is Where You Find It by Tyrone Comfort

[photo by flickr user Chris Tank]

CJ and I went to the superb 1934: A New Deal for Artists show at the Chazen this weekend.  Highly recommended if you like American representational painting from the first half of the 20th century at all, or you have an inquisitive kid who likes to see what the world used to look like, or both.  Very good, historically informative title cards, too!  The best special exhibition we’ve seen there, I think.

A couple of good new pieces in the permanent contemporary collection upstairs, too:  a new Beth Cavener Stichter, this one a deer’s body with a rabbit face turned toward the viewer in an unimpressed way, and a funny Gregory Scott painting/movie about Roy Lichtenstein, which you can watch on vimeo:

 

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Even Ian nods

Readers of this blog know I am a major booster of Ian’s Pizza, so I was thrilled a few months ago when Ian Gurfield announced he was opening a more upscale pizza place, S2 Pizzabar, just a few blocks from campus.  And S2 Pizzabar lived up to my expectations, serving individual-sized pizzas on a good thin crust with locally sourced toppings in a big handsome bricky room.  At last the cursed address, home to dead restuarants Opa, Maza, and the Saz, could serve lunch in peace!

But no — apparently even Ian couldn’t make a living at 558 State, and S2 Pizzabar will close on March 17.  The place was pretty full both times I ate there; I’d be curious to know in more detail what made this business fail so quickly.  Even Opa lasted longer, and Opa was always kind of empty and confused.

If you’re on State in the next couple of weeks, stop in and get a pizza while you still can; it’s good pizza and I’ll miss it.

 

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Wisconsin puts the MOO in MOOC

UW-LaCrosse started it, launching an online math course, “College Readiness.” with the help of a grant from the Gates Foundation.  A lot of the energy around MOOCs has centered on advanced courses:  machine learning, business analytics, and so on.  The kind of thing that gets funders and nerds excited.  But funders and nerds are already educated!  If MOOCs are to provide the educational equity they promise, they’ve got to do it at the low end — giving kids access to a better math course than their understaffed, underresourced high school can provide.  Is there a demand for basic, unflashy math instruction online?  Seems like it:  a thousand people have signed up, twice as many as UWLC expected, including an 83-year-old and an 11-year-old.  Those are much smaller numbers than Coursera gets for its sexy machine learning course, but I’ll bet the gap in number of finishers will be much narrower; this course is an “I need to,” not an “It would be cool to.”

And now UW-Madison has gotten into the act, announcing yesterday that UW would be offering four courses with Coursera, two to start this fall.

Readers:  would it be a good idea, a bad idea, or some combination of both, for me to propose to teach a number theory MOOC?

 

 

 

 

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Mabuhay is worth a try

Years ago I wondered where all the Filipino restaurants were.  Now there’s one in Madison!  Mabuhay, at 1272 South Park in the same strip mall with the Taj, is a small operation, no waiters, just a husband-and-wife team and a small buffet. The atmosphere is very casual (mismatched plates, bottles of sauce still with the price tags on them from the supermarket) but the food is pretty serious.  Not fancy, but homey and good.   I liked a fried, smoky fish something like a big sardine, and the split pea soup with fish chunks and vegetables, but my favorite dish was a simple one, just little chunks of grilled meat in a sweet, dark brown glaze.  I could have eaten three plates of this stuff (where I hope it’s understood that  “could have eaten” means “did in fact eat.”)  None of the dishes are labeled so I don’t know what it’s called, but it looked a lot like the Filipino barbecue described here; if that’s what it is, then the glaze is made of soy sauce, brown sugar, lemon juice, ketchup, and a lot of 7-Up.

Now that is home cooking.

Update:  On my last trip I asked the chef and she confirmed, yep, it’s 7-Up barbecue I was eating.  While researching this point I also learned that 7-Up contained the mood stabilizer lithium citrate until 1950, which makes you wonder why they didn’t call it 7-Neither-Up-Nor-Down.

Mabuhay also sometimes serves laing, which is much better than the linked photo makes it look.

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