kitchen table math, the sequel: Venn diagram lollapalooza

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Venn diagram lollapalooza


Venn diagrams.

Going to be on the state test.

C. has not been taught Venn diagrams. He's been tested on Venn diagrams, once, but the subject never actually came up in class.

Math Dad got really activated on that one. Goldstar Homework Mom (this is the mom who's blowing me out of the water on homework supervision, reteaching, and tutoring) actually called me up to commiserate: "The reason J. did well is he just happened to ask the tutor about Venn diagrams the week before the test. That's the only reason he could do them."

As I recall, Math Dad had also just happened to teach his son Venn diagrams before the test....and now my friend Kris tells me she is able to guess what's going to be on the test that hasn't been taught in class ------


What is my problem?

Why didn't I just so happen to teach my kid Venn diagrams before the test?

There's an answer to that, and it has to do with short attention span theater.

when you're offered a solution, take it

Have I mentioned that Ed and I asked the new principal to move Christopher out of accelerated math and into regular-track math for the remainder of the year?

Then move him back to accelerated math next fall?

Ed came up with this plan. That's "Ed" as in not just another pain in the tuchus parent, Ed.

Don't get me wrong.

Ed is a pain in the tuchus.

Ed is also a person who has spent his entire adult life successfully teaching subject matter content to students ranging from young adult GED students in Newark (Ed taught algebra) to Ph.D. candidates at NYU.

Ed, a person holding a Distinguished Teaching Award.

Ed, a guy who knows a thing or two about education.

When Ed came up with this plan I thought: Fantastic plan! It works! It works for everyone! Win-win! YAYYYYY!!!

We'd be out of Ms. K's hair; Ms. K would be out of our hair; Christopher would learn pre-algebra to mastery in his new class and algebra at home; in the fall he would enter a class taught by a teacher who would be getting:

a) a student who knows his stuff

b) a set of parents so grateful to be done serving as Emergency Math Reteachers that teacher & principal could count on not hearing one word from them all school year

Sounds like an offer you can't refuse, right?


School can move Christopher down. Here in Irvington, that's a lock. No request to move down is ever denied. Quite the opposite, in fact. Requests to move down are encouraged.

So Christopher can move down.

School can't promise to move him back up come fall. Maybe he'll move back up, maybe he won't. School will decide, not us. School won't be consulting with us, either. School is the decider.

That's Irvington.

No promises.

No consultation.

Certainly no guarantees of achievement - no guarantees child will even be allowed to try to raise his achievement.

We've worked long and hard on our goal of having Christopher take algebra in the 8th grade.

Christopher has worked long and hard.

Hell, people here at ktm have worked long and hard. I've taken just about every piece of advice anyone here ever offered me, up to and including instructivist's recent Comment about doing circle graphs using classroom grade distributions.*

The whole family has been committed to this effort. We've invested hundreds of dollars in supplemental workbook and texbook costs, thousands of dollars more in lost work time for me.

School can't promise to help us reach our goal, a goal 80% of 7th graders at KIPP can be reasonably confident they'll be reaching next year.

$21,000 per pupil spending; highest property taxes in the country; school is not interested in our goals for our child's education.

Actually, it's worse than that. School is openly indifferent to our goals for our child's education. On occasion school has been openly hostile to our goals.

School can't promise to move him back up.

No reason given.

result: Christopher is staying put.

And I'm teaching Venn diagrams.

back on topic

As advised by our math chair, I am cruising "free worksheets online;" plan to post what I find. If any of you has resources, I'd appeciate your letting me know. Thanks!



* Christopher loved that problem. He insisted on doing a circle graph of what he surmises to be a typical distribution of grades in Ms. K's class. After he did it he said, "Wow. You can really see how many kids aren't learning math very well."


Anonymous said...

I don't have any resources for you but I will gripe.

I HATE Venn diagrams. They don't even end up in math class they end up on reading "comprehension" tests of all places. I've been wrong many times before and perhaps I'm wrong with this one, but are they teaching Venn diagrams in class because they really plan on using set theory to teach math? I doubt it.

I think it's more along the lines of what Ralph Raimi said, (way cool link in your side bar, by the way) that it's a hold over from New Math.

He has some interesting things to say about the topics that make it into math education and set theory in K-8 is one of them.

Here is an excerpt from this article:

"To take an example, the language of the "theory of sets" has been basic among mathematicians for a hundred years, and can ease enormously the path to much that people find perplexing in school. Anyone should be able to learn enough about sets and this vocabulary in a very few hours to permit him in consequence to understand an honestly presented course of high school mathematics including all the traditional material and more; his savings in time will have exceeded those few hours a hundredfold, and in understanding immeasurably. SMSG introduced set theory into its first books, which as it happened were for the high school level. Later books, written for grade-school years, also introduced the subject of sets, hoping later to make use of it when revised high school books were written. It therefore turned out that for a time -- all the time SMSG had, alas, in its short career – a chapter on sets appeared at the opening of every year's textbook, unfortunately making it appear as if sets were the be-all and end-all of Newmath. This redundancy was copied into the commercial texts of the time as well, and teachers leaped on it to the neglect of more prosaic matters, like getting a correct answer in arithmetic."

And their presence in an English class is even worse. A friend of mine who is a fourth grade teacher tells me she has spent too much valuable classroom time teaching kids who otherwise DO understand what they read Venn diagrams. So, it's not really about reading comprehension either.

Furthermore, when I gave a test to my son with Venn diagrams on it, (reading portion, not math) in the third grade, he missed the question. He's now in the fifth grade and a few days ago he came across another test item with a Venn diagram and got the question correct. He "understands" them now that he's a couple of years older even though I've spent no instructional time on this. So why push it so young if the kids will get it in a matter of minutes any way when they are a bit older? When there is such a thing as AP Abstract Algebra I'll start taking Venn diagrams a little more seriously in the curriculum, otherwise we'll spend our English class time on grammar and reading and any extra time in math class will be spent on tougher word problems.

SteveH said...

"...a chapter on sets appeared at the opening of every year's textbook, unfortunately making it appear as if sets were the be-all and end-all of Newmath."

I remember this when I was growing up. Every year we got a bit of set theory. Now, everyone thinks of "sets" when the old New Math is brought up. However, it did cover a lot of math and required a lot of mastery. With a rigorous course in algebra in 8th grade, I made it to the calculus (pre AP days) track in high school without ANY outside help. You can't do this nowadays. This doesn't mean that there were no problems back then, but at least there was a proper path.

Catherine Johnson said...

They don't even end up in math class they end up on reading "comprehension" tests of all places.

I just discovered that today!

I think they're a holdover.

Our math books were written back in 1966, and still have a lot of New Math elements (or sets!)

In C's book this year all of a sudden there's a whole section on....some arcane thing about sets being closed under some circumstances & open under others...something like that.

Came out of nowhere, then went back to nowhere.

I don't mind Venn diagrams only because the middle school curriculum is so profoundly procedural and fragmented that they teach something real to Christopher.

He couldn't do a simple two-intersecting-circle Venn diagram: 41 kids play football, 33 kids play soccer, 8 kids play both.

He put 41 in the left-hand circle, 8 in the intersection, and 33 in the right-hand circle.

Getting him to see that he had just "double-counted" the kids who played both was important & certainly easy to demonstrate using the diagram.

Apart from that....I did a lot of them as a kid, I think.

No idea whether they helped.

I also have no idea whether there would be any reason to teach them in a sound curriculum. (Can't remember if Saxon teaches them - he may - but if he does there's no way of knowing whether he put them in to meet state standards or because he thinks they're an important topic...)

Catherine Johnson said...

And their presence in an English class is even worse. A friend of mine who is a fourth grade teacher tells me she has spent too much valuable classroom time teaching kids who otherwise DO understand what they read Venn diagrams. So, it's not really about reading comprehension either.

Actually - I haven't seen this!

How do they use them for reading comprehension?

Unknown said...

Ricky's Venn diagram worksheet wasn't nearly as rigorous. It was nothing more than "color the intersection of A and B in red" and so forth.

Catherine Johnson said...



Ricky's in 8th grade, right?

This is an 8th grade Venn diagram sheet?

Catherine Johnson said...

He was supposed to color the intersection?

Karen A said...

Regarding Venn diagrams . . .

If you want a chuckle, check out this website. The author uses Venn diagrams and graphs in ways that are quite humorous.

Karen A said...

I'll try this again and see if I can make it a live link.

Catherine Johnson said...

That reminds me!

I had a cool Venn diagram joke to post?

Where the heck is that...

Anonymous said...

My contribution ... the best pie chart ever!

-Mark Roulo

Catherine Johnson said...


Anonymous said...

I am a new teacher, and I have never visited this site before. I found it looking for info on Venn diagrams. I am using them in language arts to help kids organize ideas for essay writing. For instance, if the essay question is "Compare Mark Twain and Tom Sawyer," then a Venn diagram can make it a lot easier to see what they have in common and where they differ.

Anonymous said...

I am new also, but deeply in awe over the energy and resources exhibited here.

I am also looking for Wenn Diagram problems, but your whoa: motherlode link seems to be broken - it leads to a simple algebra problem - nothing to scroll down to. Is it fixable??