kitchen table math, the sequel: What Kitchen Table Math Means To Me

## Thursday, September 13, 2007

### What Kitchen Table Math Means To Me

I decided to write a reflective post on what KTM means to me. I first discovered KTM several years ago while trying to track down the state cutoff scores for the PSAT. During this process, I remember somehow discovering Number 2 Pencil, which led me to KTM. I started to read some of the posts and comments and in very short order, just had the feeling that I had "come home."

Several years previous to that, I had fought my own version of the Math Wars. Our junior high did eventually return to a more traditional approach to math, but the elementary school was using a spiraling, non teach to mastery textbook (I have no idea what it was), and as a result, we took our younger daughter to Kumon for 2 1/2 years.

But, in the truest sense of the word, I think KTM represents a "community of learners." (See, I can throw that eduspeak around with the best of them.) But it is a community that is genuinely interested in education, and not just the education of their own children, but in the education of all children. Catherine is the professor, as she is constantly presenting us with information and challenging us to think, really think, about important issues. The commenters (except for the occasional comments from Anonymous), are amazing. I feel like I learn something new every day, and not just about learning theory, but about math and other subjects as well.

KTM has also caused me to think about my own teaching style and methods--am I presenting information in the most direct way possible? Am I constantly on the lookout for the gaps in their learning? Are my instructions as clear and unambiguous as possible? And so on. . .

But, perhaps the most important benefit is that I understand how important it is to not sit on the sidelines when I think there is a battle to be fought. In an earlier post, Catherine commented about the enormity of the battle, and wondered if all of her actions had made a difference, and concluded that they probably had. Maybe that's the message--we have to stay in the game. Spaced repetition of important messages, over and over. Ever vigilant.

Anonymous said...

Karen,

I like this post a lot. This week I received an e-mail from a blogger who I respect a great deal. He seemed to have some reservations about continuing in the face of such an enormous task and, I'll admit, I've wondered about the impact of my site as well.

... and then I read a post that validates all of it, see a link or get a call/e-mail generated by discussing these issues and I'm ready to go again.

I especially like KTM because, as you said, it's a community of people who investigate for the right reasons and then share/discuss what they found. There are no agendas and no one is thin-skinned. Of the 261 blogs I currently track in my RSS reader, there are about 10 I go to first when I start the day - KTM is on that short list.

Sitting on the sidelines stinks anyway.

I'm not even a parent, but I discovered KTM from a Technorati link from the Eclectic Educator, which seemed to share my hatred of the "integrated math" syllabus found in my school.

Also, how many readers are teachers? I've been trying to convert some of my teachers against the trend in math education, and at least they partially concur with me, haha.

I don't think the issue is so much the idea of reform (math does need reform) as the type of reform to be carried out.

To tell you the truth, I think the state of education today (even in the US) is better than what it was 50 years ago.

The difference is that you have more kids. In addition to population growth, you have strata of society that wouldn't have been studying this stuff 50 years ago. They didn't need to know how to solve for the roots of a quadratic function. They would have learnt how to work in a mine like his dad did.

Then of course with ever-increasing technology, manual jobs became less and less relevant. To have a secure job assembling cars wasn't considered "successful" anymore.

Sometimes, this trend of "technology" is seductive, and you end up focusing on trivial technology usage exercises (how to access an interface) while they miss out on the mastery that will actually lead them to highly-skilled uses of technology (like say, genetic engineering, or object-oriented programming). It is kind of seductive to think that 50 years ago, many students in the education system wouldn't even be in the position to use graphing calculators, even if they had existed back then.

The 1950s textbooks are probably not going to work. They were designed for an elite segment of the population who had the opportunity to even go that far in their education (I ask many common Americans around these days -- especially those 50 years old or more -- and often they say the farthest they went was Algebra II or something and they can't remember much of it).

So a change of books is definitely needed. The issue is what sort of books to choose.

I am not satisfied with Singapore's -- my own country's -- math syllabus either. I can identify routes of improvement. But reading your blog has made me appreciate my own country's syllabus more. Most of my concerns are with streaming -- simply because a kid struggles with additional mathematics should not keep him from philosophy or epistemology (topics in the International Baccalaureate).

So in the sense we've been fighting this math war since the beginning of time. Though the Greeks produced great mathematics, probably only 5% of the ancient world would have probably understood what they entailed.

The war then, is not against reform math per se, but the wrong type of reform math.

concernedCTparent said...

Thanks for posting this Karen. I couldn't agree with you more. KTM has been life altering in my own case. I can't explain how valuable it is to have a place to learn so much, share something of interest once in a while, and sometimes even vent a little. Mostly, I appreciate that whether posters and commenters agree or not, ideas are considered, interchanged, and elaborated with respect. That is the true spirit of a "community". So thanks professor, I'm truly enjoying this course.

concernedCTparent said...

...and by "community" I refer to a community of learners.

SteveH said...

"Catherine is the professor, ..."

Catherine is the one who makes KTM work and gives it life. Few blogs achieve that goal.

PaulaV said...

Thanks Karen for the post. I always look forward to coming to "class" every single day!

SteveH said...

"I am not satisfied with Singapore's -- my own country's -- math syllabus either. I can identify routes of improvement."

When my son was in pre-school, I thought about all of the things that weren't good about the traditional math I had when I was growing up. Then, his teacher told me that the school was using MathLand. THAT changed my focus very quickly to survival. And that's why I really kind of like my son's Glencoe Pre-Algebra textbook this year. It's a textbook. It's all in one place. There is a (reasonably) coherent approach. He gets lots of problems to do at home. Mastery is important. Finally!

This is part of the change leading to more traditional courses in high school. The problem is that grades K-6 never prepare kids for this change. They go from fun, thematic, low mastery learning to better content and higher expectation learning, but you better have the brains or the support to make the transition.

As one "anonymous" said in a previous thread, kids have to learn how to "bust their asses" ... with no help from the school.

Tex said...

Boy, I have learned so much from KTM. I credit my daughter’s positive attitude and math expertise to my discovery of KTM. Also, I must put in a plug for the Eclectic Educator whom I found at about the same time and who has informed me in many exceptional ways.

I think I found KTM via googlng, but I really don’t remember. I distinctly remember reading about Catherine’s experience with summer schooling her son due to her shocking realization of how he was being taught. That story, and many others since, has been my inspiration to do the hard work of supplementing my child’s math education.

The knowledge, insight and willingness to share that I have found on KTM has been life altering for me, and probably for my daughter.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Karen,

I would have been completely lost these last couple of years without KTM and the commenters. I had already felt like a nutcase trying to patch up the various holes in my kids' education. It was such a relief to find so many parents across the country who felt the same way I did.

I am so grateful for all of the expertise I find here, particularly in math.

And, of course, thank God for Catherine, who somehow brings it all together while mothering three kids and writing books. One of those jobs alone would be overwhelming for most of us.

Brett Pawlowski said...

I found KTM through a mention on another blog (I believe it was D-Ed Reckoning) - Karen's post was a reminder to update my blogroll with a link to KTM so that others can find it. Done and done.

Catherine Johnson said...

Maybe that's the message--we have to stay in the game. Spaced repetition of important messages, over and over. Ever vigilant.

Oh, gosh, I love that!!!

I'm going to tattoo it to my forehead.

Catherine Johnson said...

ok, I'm not going to tattoo it to my forehead.

But it's beautifully put.

"stay in the game" is exactly the way I feel about things

I have a corollary

from time to time parents who've been politically active in their school districts will tell me they can't take it any more; the conflict is unwinnable; they're going to concentrate on their own kids.

these parents are right

Conflict with one's own district, especially, can be quite painful, and, really, there's no winning with these folks. (We've just had another subversion-of-reform around here that's actually kind of funny -- will post later.)

my corollary to the "staying in the game" principal is that you need to enjoy the game in some way, too

Or, if not "enjoy" the game, gain meaning from it...learn from it, draw inspiration, whatever it takes

Actually, I guess I have a second corollary.

That is that you should try to recognize the fact that you enjoy the game, so you can remind yourself that you're doing this stuff because you want to, not because someone forced you to!

At least, these two things work for me.

I guess this gets back to Mt. Everest and why people climb it.

In this country and elsewhere we have a math war, a reading war, and soon t/k a writing war, not to mention a tax war, a school choice war, and just about every other kind of edu-war you can name. These "wars" have been going on for at least one hundred years, and I expect they'll go on for another.

They're probably part of what makes a democratic country work.

Catherine Johnson said...

I had a very nice moment talking to my doctor the other week.

She asked me, "Do you ever have fun?"

I realized that, for me, ktm-2 is fun.

And it is.

Wrangling with my school district isn't especially fun, but writing about it is a blast.

Catherine Johnson said...

Sitting on the sidelines stinks anyway.

yeah, that's me, too

I'm a jumper-inner

Which gets back to my feeling that different people have different natural strengths and roles in life.

If you're naturally scrappy, and I obviously have a fair amount of natural scrappiness, then jump in!

If you're not, that's good, too.

Catherine Johnson said...

This week I received an e-mail from a blogger who I respect a great deal. He seemed to have some reservations about continuing in the face of such an enormous task and, I'll admit, I've wondered about the impact of my site as well.

Of course I do ask myself whether I'm having any effect on anything at all. (The real issue, though, is probably unintended consequences....and I know this.)

Anyway, I do ask myself whether this is all a colossal waste of time and energy.

I have the strongest sense that it's not -- some changes are taking place here.

I was trying to express this to Ed, who said that what writers do is "mobilize opinion."

That's it!

That's what all of us are doing here, along with learning & refining our perceptions and ideas.

We are attempting to mobilize public opinion, and we are mobilizing public opinion.

Since I don't understand political science, I don't know how "mobilizing public opinion" relates to "producing tangible change in the real world."

But we know from history there's a connection.

Catherine Johnson said...

Of the 261 blogs I currently track in my RSS reader, there are about 10 I go to first when I start the day - KTM is on that short list.

wow!

Catherine Johnson said...

I can't explain how valuable it is to have a place to learn so much, share something of interest once in a while, and sometimes even vent a little. Mostly, I appreciate that whether posters and commenters agree or not, ideas are considered, interchanged, and elaborated with respect. That is the true spirit of a "community". So thanks professor, I'm truly enjoying this course.

Actually, that's the one part of Karen's post I would probably alter....I wouldn't characterize myself as a professor, even an acting professor.

I don't know exactly what role I personally play here....it's part nonfiction writer (that's a large part of it, obviously), part party host, part rabble rouser, and part salon "leader"....

It's definitely true that this is a learning community -- absolutely true for me.

But I'm not the person with the knowledge.

I'm one person who's busy acquiring knowledge & sharing or even publicizing it.

Catherine Johnson said...

I must put in a plug for the Eclectic Educator whom I found at about the same time and who has informed me in many exceptional ways.

YES!!!!

Catherine Johnson said...

Jo Anne C said...

"Wrangling with my school district isn't especially fun, but writing about it is a blast."

I couldn't agree more!

Reading of your accounts has kept me hanging on the edge of my seat wanting more, more, more!

(BTW) Ditto what everyone else has said so far.

I have learned a great deal from you Professor Johnson!

and when you say...

"I do ask myself whether I'm having any effect on anything at all."

YOU MOST CERTAINLY ARE!!!!

Thank you for all you are doing, and please keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

The Eclectic Educator. KTM-2. Mindless Math Mutterings ...

A thank you from VORMATH Founder as its been enlightening and entertaining to read these blogs.

Barry Garelick said...

Catherine has kept me sane as I try to avoid the various train wrecks in my daughter's educational journey. Long may she prosper!

Karen A said...

Amen to all of the above comments! Ken's blog at D-ed Reckoning is also a valuable resource, as is Joanne Jacobs' blog. I think Ken's blog was spawned by KTM, and I found Joanne Jacob's blog via KTM (I think).

Steveh's comments are invaluable. Every now and then (but the moment quickly passes), I find myself thinking that I could take, and possibly even enjoy, a math class taught by Steve.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not a math phobe, having survived two semesters of college Calculus. But at my age, I would want to take a math class as pass/fail.

Karen A said...

I forgot to mention Instructivist! I enjoy his blog as well (other commenters have already mentioned the eclectic educator and mindless math mutteings).

I think that's the beauty of this blog as well. So many people are sharing their experiences and offering their advice that it genuinely feels like an amazing learning community. But, it's also a supportive environment, and as others have said, an opportunity to realize that we really aren't going it alone out there. It seems like that at times, but I have found that there are many like-minded people out there, but few who are willing to do the heavy lifting that is oftentimes required to effect change.

I think PaulaV made a comment on another thread about another mom starting to pick up on the fact that her son wasn't really learning the fundamentals. I think parents sometimes jump to the conclusion that it means something is wrong with their kid.

It can be life-altering when you say to that parent, "Well, it may be that nothing is wrong with your kid; it may be the curriculum." And then a conversation can be launched about the characteristics of the particular program. It opens the dialog and gets that person thinking about it in a whole new way.

One of the most valuable tools that I have learned from KTM is the language to use to frame the issue. When our junior high introduced a fuzzy math curriculum years ago (since replaced, I might note), I just had a gut feeling that it wasn't going to prepare the kids for Algebra. I spent a considerable amount of time reading math sites like "Mathematically Correct," which helped me start to develop the understanding of why my gut reaction was correct.

But it's invaluable to hear the people on this blog with math-related degrees in math-related professions not only confirm, but explain, the importance of the fundamentals. It has also helped me clarify my own thinking.

Catherine Johnson said...

But it's invaluable to hear the people on this blog with math-related degrees in math-related professions not only confirm, but explain, the importance of the fundamentals. It has also helped me clarify my own thinking.

This has been ESSENTIAL for me.

On my own, I have a fair amount of confidence in my ability to evaluation quality of instruction.

But I have NO ability to know what topics should and should not be taught.

I had no idea - none whatsoever - that long division is a difficult procedure for many children to learn. (Ed is still amazed by this.)

That lone made it unlikely I would be an effective "champion" of the inclusion of long division in the curriculum.

I didn't see long division as being any different from addition, subtraction, and multiplication -- and I didn't relate it to factoring polynomials.