kitchen table math, the sequel: 6/10/07 - 6/17/07

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Fourth Grade Research Homework

Email to the teacher:

Hi Mrs. X --

C did not complete her research homework. Unfortunately, her internet research skills are not up to the task of researching the four causes of the Revolutionary War (or the four most important battles fought in New York). Her brother and I did give her four causes and four battles (if she was given that information in class, she did not bring it home), but her attempts to research did not yield much good information.

I did not research for her because I usually try to avoid doing her homework, and I am helping her with her Winn Dixie project today.

I don't know what specific research instruction she has received in class, but clearly this is an area where she needs remedial help. Any ideas you have to help us with this would be appreciated. Maybe I can spend time with her this summer teaching her how to conduct internet research on historical topics.

Thanks again -- Tex

From speaking with a few other parents, it appears that many 4th graders are unable to sit in front of a computer, Google “Revolutionary War battles”, sift through the results and pull out relevant references for their project. No, the parents would be the ones doing this.

I am reminded of Catherine’s idea of a basic principle she would wish for her school:
Persuade the school to give homework assignments all of the kids can do completely on their own with ZERO "assistance" from mom and dad?

Of course, that’s wishful thinking. Schools expect that perfect parent who will support them by helping with homework in any way necessary, but who will never ask hard questions about the curriculum.

I’ve helped C with internet research before, many times. Starting in first grade, she’s had projects that required finding information about insects, history, stories, and more from the internet. I just didn’t feel like doing this time. I’m tired of spending time on these types of assignments.

Instead of formally building internet research into the curriculum, the schools just expect the parents to make sure kids learn it. At least, I think that’s the way it’s done around here. When school starts in September, I will ask C’s teacher what type of internet research instruction my daughter has received and how the school assesses student progress for this skill.

WOR podcast

Listen to the WOR podcast about reform math and New Jersey's troubles. They allude to religion.

Friday, June 15, 2007

math class in the 1970s

from Robyn:

I went to school during the 1970's. Back then, children did not have tutors in elementary school. Parents did not reteach at home. But I learned math and am proficient with everyday math.

Today, suburban schools depend on educated, affluent parents to pick up the pieces from failed curricula.

Robyn is right. Our district just took a "math survey" of K-5 parents. That's a good development, but the questions weren't what I would have wished, including this item:

"I am able comfortably to assist my son/daughter with math homework."

Ed and I told the new assistant super that this question on the survey shows that the district relies on parents to reteach math at home.

She said it didn't.

I said: "Assist" doesn't mean "give your child a quiet place to work." It means "know math well enough to reteach when necessary."

She didn't agree.

She herself had to hire a math tutor for her son in high school and pointed out that one-on-one teaching is far superior to group teaching.

That observation is a heads-up for all of us.

Is it the case that administrators now universally assume parents are hiring private teachers for math the same way they hire private coaches for soccer? (I'm certain the superintendent believes something of the sort.)

If so, I'm going to have to do a lot of spaced repetition to dispel this notion, which confuses tutorials with tutoring.

The distinction is simple.

tutorials: good

tutoring: bad

If Christopher had spent this year learning algebra 1 from Carol Gambill with zero "help" from me he'd know a lot more algebra.

Yeah, sure, he'd probably know more algebra if Carol Gambill gave him private lessons than if Carol Gambill taught him algebra in her class. But the choice between a good teacher working with a good curriculum and an ineffective teacher working with a bad curriculum remediated by mom is no choice at all.

We did manage to point out that for many, many years kids took math at school and succeeded with no help from parents. We said that Ed took calculus in his high school, then took calculus at Princeton.

He had a tough time of it at Princeton because he was placed in the engineering course which was over his head. Nevertheless, he passed the course.

He did well in his high school calculus course with no help with homework and no tutoring.

on the Today show:

This morning on the Today Show there was a special regarding parents hiring Internet tutors from overseas locations due to the fact local tutors were so expensive. One mother was interviewed saying, “I believe teachers should be paid well. I just can’t afford them.” I couldn’t believe my ears. There was no hint of why aren’t the schools teaching our children or why is there this huge need for tutors. Needing tutors was a given. The story was what people are doing to secure tutors. What a nightmare!

in California

The Today Show post showed up at almost the exact moment I had looked up the CA Mathematics Framework 2005 and found this:

Whether students are underachieving, average, gifted, or in need of individual attention, parents should recognize their own and their children’s role in learning mathematics and achieving optimal success. They should know the specific academic standards their children are to meet at each grade level, and they should be able to monitor their children’s performance and provide extra help when needed. Parents should be responsible for obtaining information regarding their children’s progress and know how to interpret that information appropriately. Above all, they should encourage a positive attitude toward mathematics.

Parents are their children’s first teachers. A child’s early experiences with mathematics at home can provide an important foundation for learning the content standards for kindergarten (Saxe, Guberman, and Gearhart 1987). Parents and other family members can nurture and stimulate mathematics development in their children and, for many children, will need to be involved in their children’s mathematics program at all grade levels (Stevenson et al. 1990).

However, schools must take greater responsibility to support the early mathematics development of children who are less fortunate and do not benefit from an educated, supportive family environment. Such support may require after-school homework, transportation services to bring children to school early for extra tutoring, extended tutoring support, and similar kinds of programs.

(Chapter 7: Responsibilities of Teachers, Parents, Administrators)

This is remarkable. Here we have the state of California officially telling parents they must:

  • "know" the specific standards for each grade level
  • "monitor" their children's math performance
  • "provide extra help when needed"
  • be "responsible" for getting info from the school about how their child is doing (hah!)
  • "know how to interpret" that information
  • be prepared to do this until he graduates from high school

This is bizarre.

What parent apart from a person working in a math-related field can do this?

And how many parents working in math-related fields can do this? Pedagogical content knowledge is different from domain knowledge.

Next question: are parents expected to be able to do this for every subject their child will be "learning" at school?

I'm obsessed with my child's math education, and I can't do these things. I don't know what C. knows and doesn't know; I don't know how to assess his knowledge or when to assess his knowledge or how frequently to assess his knowledge; I don't understand the wording of the state standards; my ability to reteach math at home may not extend to helping with proofs in geometry (unless I can get there first & teach them to myself well enough to "assist"); barring a miracle I'm not going to be able to reteach calculus at home.

If I can't do these things, there aren't many parents out there who can.

where does this come from?

Why would these paragraphs appear in any state DOE document?

I have to assume we're seeing the effects of the past 25 years of ed school constructivism. This list isn't constructivism; it's the absence of instructivism. When educators spend all of their time in graduate school and professional development learning false theories of human learning..... and it comes time to write a Mathematics Framework..... maybe this is what you get.

Send in the parents.

CA Math Framework: responsibilities of parents

why do we have so many tutors?
parents are the problem

Anne Dwyer on teaching the game without the technique

Here's a comparison to playing soccer: it's like teaching the players how to kick the ball and then having them always play games. They don't necessarily learn the proper technique. And techniques that work when you are 9 and quick, doesn't necessarily work at 15 when the game gets very physical. Meanwhile, the players who have practiced proper technique have passed you by (Kumon anyone?) and you can't catch up.

Invented multiplication algorithims that work fine in 3rd grade will hold you back when you have to add (non standard) fractions in middle school.

When I get to it, I'll post the passage in Martin Brooks' book advocating giving students wholes they must disassemble into parts.

The idea that disassembling a huge, steaming mass of undifferentiated material into component steaming parts would be a riveting activity for K-12 students is nuts.

It's beyond nuts.

It's bizarre.

would you move to Ridgewood?

I would!

Actually, I wouldn't move from Irvington to Ridgewood, because Ridgewood has TERC (CMP or Core Plus t/k?) and Irvington has Math TRAILBLAZERS, & Irvington isn't making any moves to dig in deeper. I don't see any more fuzzy math coming to town.

Irvington, as far as I can tell, is innately conservative when it comes to progressive education. The curriculum committee document spelling out what the school was looking for in a math program said that the new curriculum:

a) had to be constructivist
b) had to teach kids their math facts and how to do computations

That's Irvington. (I think.) The district will trail alongside the ed school parade, but they won't be leading it, and they won't be twirling the batons.

Of course, this has the effect of causing us to adopt progressive programs and practices at the precise moment everyone else is dumping them, but I suppose that's the price you pay.

HOWEVER, if Irvington WERE twirling the batons, I'd be thinking about Ridgewood.

11D explains why.

(thank you, Amy P)


The postings at the Ridgewood Blog are a lot of fun to read. Things are still hopping in Ridgewood! The whole thing is making me feel as if Irvington, by comparison, is a sleepy little village in a Lord Peter Whimsey story.

Here's a question, though.

One of the commenters has said, twice, that it's not possible to change a monopoly from within — and that history shows this.

Seeing as how I was educated by wolves, I have no idea whether or not this is true or even whether it could be true; nor do I have the faintest idea what particular history this Commenter is alluding to.

Which means, contrary to constructivist doctrine (you knew I'd get that in there somewhere, didn't you?) I can't look it up.


Lynn G & Steve H on calculators & efficiency

Now, adults needing to perform calculations quickly and accurately have electronic tools that are both more accurate and more efficient than those procedures.

Why is that constructivist are only concerned about efficiency when it relates to calculators?

Why are they so anti-efficiency when it comes to pencil and paper computation?

Catherine speaking: Good question.


and from Steve H

Used properly, calculators should make math more difficult, not less. Instead of focusing on data sets that have only 5 numbers, they can ask the students to find the average of 50 numbers. They are so concerned about real-world examples, but they don't have the kids work with lots of numbers.

This is what happened for me when calculators took over sliderules in college. The techniques we learned became much more complicated and required many more calculations. However, in lower schools, calculators are used to avoid work.

When you get to algebra, one can use a graphing calculator. It may be a nice tool to quickly see shape changes in varying lines, parabolas and ellipses, but they are avoiding the development of symbolic algebraic manipulation skills. What happens if the calculator (black box program) can't do the job?

This is math for students who won't have a technical career when they grow up. The problem is that using this approach in the early grades guarantees that the students won't have a technical career.

a step in the right direction

from Eclectic Educator:

From MyCommunity: Ridgewood

TERC Parents

I want to emphasize in this blog that comments made by the board regarding the unfortunate and disappointing incident of Dr. Brooks resignation and my quote in the NY times article published today are in no way directed towards any parent that respectfully voiced their opinions, either at board meetings, via email or by phone.

Most parents like Mrs Elizabeth Gnall, Mrs. Joan O’Keefe, Mrs. Sarah Kate Maskin and Mrs. Linda Moran have been always respectful and insightful in voicing their opinions and we will make every attempt to address their concerns in the near future. Please respect their right to publicly voice their concerns.

The board needs to move forward to address the issue of hiring a interim superintendent by June 30. In addition, with the help of an independent facilitator find the best way to address the parents concerns about the math program.

thanks, Joe

from Robyn:

This is from the 1996 New Jersey Math Framework, which Joseph G. (Joe) Rosenstein reportedly had a hand in writing:

"The widespread availability of computing and calculating technology has given us the opportunity to reconceive the role of computation and numerical operations in our third and fourth grade mathematics programs. Traditionally, tremendous amounts of time were spent at these levels helping children to develop proficiency and accuracy with paper-and-pencil procedures. Now, adults needing to perform calculations quickly and accurately have electronic tools that are both more accurate and more efficient than those procedures. "

The 1996 NJ Framework also says this:

"The major shift in the curriculum that will take place in this realm, therefore, is one away from drill and practice of paper-and-pencil procedures with symbols and toward real-world applications of operations, wise choices of appropriate computational strategies, andintegration of the numerical operations with other components of the mathematics curriculum."

Thanks Joe! This is why I've got my kids in Kumon.

and from Anonymous:

Hey Joe .. you forgot to mention your NSF grant money ...

Its why I got my kids in Kumon too.

Ed took one look at Rosenstein's homepage and said, "He's deadwood."

That he is. Any scholar who stopped doing scholary research in 1982 is deadwood. What astounds me — what should astound all of us — is that Rosenstein publicly proclaims his deadwoodery on his webpage.

We need public disclosure of grants and consultation fees.

I don't object to professors collecting consulting fees from publishers (at least I don't think I do); I don't object to professors winning grants from the NSF-EHR, though I wish they wouldn't.

But we need disclosure. Joseph (Joe) Rosenstein's webpage should include an accounting of all grants and fees awarded him for study and advocacy of K-12 educational programs.

Joseph G. (Joe) Rosenstein homepage
Joseph G. (Joe) Rosenstein at ktm-2
thanks, Joe

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Vicky S on the old ways

“They want their children’s education to resemble their education because they are successful,” he explained. “They say, ‘It worked for me, why won’t it work for them?’ ”

Actually, I'd like to know what's wrong with this argument. Lots of kids in my school (1970's) went on to math/science careers (including me), and I'd wager even those who didn't enter those careers have a better understanding of math than most kids in today's reform math programs.

If the criticism of the "old ways" stems from the observation that most math/science types of my generation were/are white men, my answer to that is that the problem was a lack of opportunity. It had nothing to do with curriculum or instructional methods. I was a girl who was given the opportunity, and I thrived with the traditional methods.

And by the way, there was plenty of "conceptual understanding" back then. I would like to know who started the myth that there wasn't.

A logical, sequential, comprehensive math curriculum that is available to all children will equalize the playing field. This is what educators should be striving to achieve.

Reform math pushes us in exactly the opposite direction. Only the most privileged children (whose parents spend the time, energy and money to reteach the subject) will be ready for the high tech careers of the future.

you people

You people clearly don't appreciate creativity.

--rightwingprof re: Why we hate it

Joseph G. Rosenstein

“They want their children’s education to resemble their education because they are successful,” [Rosenstein] explained. “They say, ‘It worked for me, why won’t it work for them?’ ”

Battle Over Math in New Jersey Drives off a New Schools Chief


Joseph G. (Joe) Rosenstein

I have been a member of the Mathematics Department of Rutgers University, New Brunswick, for the past 37 (!) years.

(The photograph was taken at the launch of the MetroMath Center in November 2003; it looks like I was directing a performance of the MetroMath anthem, but I was just speaking enthusiastically about the Center's vision and goals. MetroMath is described later on this page.)

In the research portion of my career, I wrote a number of articles and published a research monograph Linear Orderings (Academic Press, 1982) in textbook form.

For nearly 20 years I have been heavily involved in K-12 education. This came about as a result of my serving as Director of the Undergraduate Program in Mathematics. (Details are in my vita.) In recent years, I have been involved in the following five major kinds of enterprises that are described in more detail below:

  • organizing and directing professional development programs for K-12 teachers of mathematics,
  • strengthening mathematics education in New Jersey through developing the NJ Mathematics Curriculum Framework,
  • directing the New Jersey Mathematics Coalition,
  • organizing and serving as founding director of the MetroMath Center, and
  • writing instructional materials for K-12 teachers focused on discrete mathematics.

(In another arena, I have developed and published a new prayerbook for the morning service of Shabbat and festivals entitled Siddur Eit Ratzon; it is available for review and purchase at


And see: Beyond TERC

Joseph G. (Joe) Rosenstein homepage

Joseph G. (Joe) Rosenstein at ktm-2
thanks, Joe

Steve H reads the TIMES

“You have to question how much further they’d be willing to go to advance their cause,” Mark Bombace, the school board president, said in an interview. “And that is very disturbing to someone who has spent his life trying to do the right thing for children.”
And the other side is NOT trying to do the right thing for children? If these parents cared only about their own kids, they would keep quiet, tutor their kids, and laugh all the way to the SAT test.

"...the parents flooded the Internet"
Boy, there are a lot of parents who apparently don't want to do the right thing for children.

“They want their children’s education to resemble their education because they are successful,” he explained. “They say, ‘It worked for me, why won’t it work for them?’ ”
Stupid or arrogant. They like to view the problem as what was done long ago versus what is done today, rather than Investigations versus Singapore Math. The real issue is low expectations versus high expectations.

“We’re trying to move this to a problem-solving process rather than having a fight or a battle,”

Why wasn't it a problem-solving process from the beginning? Could it be that the board didn't think there was a problem? Why did the battle begin in the first place?

Battle Over Math in New Jersey Drives Off a New Schools Chief

how it's done

I'm not feeling any too happy with the Ridgewood situation at the moment.

One of the issues is this page on the school website.

The board's statement (anonymous phone calls...not reflective of Ridgewood's supportive community and its values...) should not be there. It is inappropriate in every conceivable way and then some.

Some of you may remember the fields vote here in Irvington. Each member of our school board spent two years of his or her life putting the fields proposal together, dealing with the resulting conflict (neighboring homes with drainage problems, questions about costs), substantially scaling the proposal back, and finally campaigning for the bond when it came to a vote.

The bond's defeat was unexpected—for me, at least—and terribly disappointing to board members, all the more so because they took a tremendous amount of heat from 'yays' and 'nays' alike. Their experience had to be excruciating.

How did they respond?

Here's how:

As I am sure you are all aware, the final result of the December 20 vote on the Fields Improvement bond referendum was 845 against and 798 for. As everyone had predicted, the election was close and number of votes high. The referendum was the topic of discussion in all corners of our community. There was a spirited debate as the proposition and its merits were debated in the bagel store, on our fields, at the IEF Gala and on-line. In the end, there were many reluctant “no” votes, but there were also many “yes” votes with reservations.

Today the key question is: “What’s next?” We were asked “What’s the plan, now” only minutes after the vote results were announced. On the train platform in the morning and in town, we hear the same question. Community members on both sides of this issue have contacted us to offer their assistance in promoting a different solution, to help to find a way to address our athletic field needs.

So during the Winter break, the Board thought about how we could address the issues that arose during the community discussion surrounding this proposition.

This is what leadership looks like.

Leadership and grace.

Why we hate it . . .

Okay, so maybe this isn't the only reason, or even the best reason, for disliking reform math, but I think this graphic is a really good reason to hate it.

This graphic appeared along with a New York Times article about the recent turmoil in Ridgewood, New Jersey.

The caption notes that this was a 3rd grade assignment and the correct answer is 2450 (not 2550).

I see this assignment as a huge missed opportunity. Sure a kid could get the right answer by drawing 25 boxes (instead of 26) and skip counting her way to the right answer.

But if she only had some basic 3rd skills in multiplication and subtraction, this type of assignment could lead to a fantastic lesson on order of operations, something most kids struggle with. Instead, it is a drawing and counting assignment.

I just can't see how this leads to "conceptual understanding" or "higher order thinking skills." The child is counting and drawing and completely missing the conceptual aspect -- when do you multiply, when do you subtract, how do you know when to use each operation?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Congratulate me

I just ordered the 4th grade Singapore Math textbooks and workbooks (4a and 4b) from ebay. I intend to have my two soon to be 4th graders go through them this summer.

Any advice?

today in Ridgewood

things are hopping

the KNOWING diagram

favorite bubble on the KNOWING diagram:

Is there something to find out?


Then there is this: The goal of education is understanding rather than performance.

Certainly true of the Irvington math department.

Unfortunately, while understanding is the stated goal of math teaching here in our middle school, rapid and accurate performance remains the goal of math testing.

Which would explain why I have several hundred dollars-worth of math workbooks lying around my office.

what is the question?

From a response to Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work, which Ken discussed awhile back, one of the most pointed and useful statements of the constructivist take on content vs skills I've seen.

Useful as Exhibit A, I mean.

[M]y argument is that the concerns [with instructional effectiveness] of Kirschner et al.... are misplaced and that the most pressing concern facing educators and challenge to educational reformers is not in fact how to teach students but rather what to teach them. In other words, whether or not they have a correct answer, Kirschner et al. do not address the most pressing question.



Traditional answers to the question of what schools should teach children have become increasingly hard to justify. Beyond basic literacy and numeracy, [ed.: basic?] it has become next to impossible to predict what kinds of knowledge people will need to thrive in the mid-21st century. Like knowledge acquisition, another traditional goal—education for citizenship—is far from straightforward to characterize or implement. Examples across the world illustrate the dangers of ideological teaching that narrows students’ perspectives to the point of accepting only their own “right” way of understanding human affairs. [ed.: good point! let's forget the character ed & spend the time saved teaching the liberal arts]

A resolution has been in the direction of undertaking to teach not simply knowledge itself but the skills of knowledge acquisition—skills that will equip a new generation to learn what they need to know to adapt flexibly to continually changing and unpredictable circumstances (Anderson, Greeno, Reder, & Simon, 2000; Bereiter, 2002; Botstein, 1997; Kuhn, 2005; Noddings, 2006; Olson, 2003).


After examining possible alternatives, I make the case that the only defensible answer to the question of what we want schools to accomplish is that they should teach students to use their minds well, in school and beyond (Kuhn, 2005). The two broad sets of skills I identify as best serving this purpose are the skills of inquiry and the skills of argument. [ed.: also remembering stuff] These skills are education for life, not simply for more school (Anderson et al., 2000). They are essential preparation to equip a new generation to address the problems of the day. [ed.: unless it turns out you have to remember stuff to address the problems of the day]

We have only a brief window of opportunity in children’s lives to gain (or lose) their trust that the things we ask them to do in school are worth doing. [ed.: like remembering stuff; remembering stuff is worth doing] Activities centered on inquiry and argument enable students to appreciate the power and utility of these skills as they practice them. [ed.: they're pulling your leg] They learn for themselves what they are good for, without having to be told, and become committed to them as tools for lifelong thinking and learning. [ed.: snort]


Meanwhile, science educators have moved increasingly to the view that the most important thing children have to learn about science is to recognize science as a way of knowing the world, one that distinguishes it from other kinds of knowing and serves as a powerful tool for understanding (see Lehrer & Schauble, 2006, for review). [ed.: I guess you can pretty much accomplish that in a semester or two...]


As for the claim that engaging in problem-solving produces cognitive overload, isn’t problem-solving, often unstructured, exactly what students need to become equipped to do? [ed.: you have to remember stuff to solve unstructured problems] Surely a steady diet of “worked examples” cannot possibly prepare today’s students for what they will face in the 21st-century world.

Is Direct Instruction an Answer to the Right Question?
Deanna Kuhn
Teachers College
Columbia University

number one: Apparently these people have never met a middle-school aged child in person.

number two: The words parents, taxpayers, broader public, mathematicians, scientists, etc. do not appear in this article. That's too bad, because parents, taxpayers, the broader public, mathematicians, and scientists, etc. may have thoughts about what to teach America's children, possibly involving the importance of remembering stuff.

number three: The future, as imagined by constructivists, reminds me a bit of the old Future, the 1960s Future of Disneyland, G.E., and the Weekly Reader: spiffy, new, generic. In Professor Kuhn's 21st century, people will not have jobs or professions that require them to remember stuff. Jobs will be obsolete, and citizens will devote their lives to inquiring into and arguing about the issues of the day.

So I guess everyone will have a blog.

Center for Cognitive Technology
Education for Thinking Project

I've conquered getting on this blog!

I'm so excited. Solving a problem that's been bugging me for days--no matter how insignificant it is to others--is a natural high for me. Now that I can submit and comment to this blog, all you folks may REALLY be sorry-- 'cause I'm retired now and have SO much more time to offer viewpoints!


help desk

Can this problem be done?

What am I missing?

answer check:

An angle has a measure of 3x - 20. In simplest form, what is the measure of its supplement? Show all work.

180 - (3x - 20)
180 - 3x + 20
200 - 3x


Dan Willingham - Ask the Cognitive Scientis

Concernedctparent mentioned in a comment that she's going to read Dan Willingham's articles, so I'm posting the link here (it's on the sidebar as well).

The most important one is Inflexible Knowledge: The First Step to Expertise.

I think my pick for number two is Practice Makes Perfect - But Only if You Practice Beyond the Point of Perfection.

After that I think I'd read Allocating Student Study Time.

The Privileged Status of Story is fantastic, too.

They're all good - enjoy!

Willingham posts from ktm-1 (you may need to hit refresh a couple of times to bring these posts up)

Willingham on boys and girls

how knowledge helps

declarative memory

learning modalities

different learners

Left Back

practice and overlearning

how much practice and for how long?

coherent curriculum

getting better all the time


Ms. K has been away for nearly 2 weeks; no classroom instruction occurred in that time; no homework was sent home; worksheets were done in class but answers were not checked.

Then of course there was Monday's punishment-by-polynomials event. This occurred, I gather, because C's class has 3 or 4 of "the rowdy boys," who are rough on subs. So I'm told.

Tuesday — yesterday — the kids took a pop quiz.

This may be C's only A on a quiz or test all year. He has an A on this quiz because I have required him to complete polynomial multiplication worksheets at home.

Everyone else could have been multiplying polynomials at home or — and here's a thought — at school during Ms. K's protracted absence.

But no.

I think this situation is going to change. It's too late for these kids, but it's good news for the younger ones.

in which Mom senses a pattern

I hadn't quite grokked the fact that Christopher's math class had the rowdy boys.

Now I'm curious. I don't have a problem with rowdy boys; I like rowdy boys! I know they can slow down a class, but my own extended family has so many kids with behavior "issues" that I feel a sense of relief when, for once, my kid isn't the one upending the apple cart. Also, Christopher has such a strange family life (for newbies: 2 autistic siblings) that when it comes to social life at school I've always thought the more rowdy boys the better.

That said, I'm thinking: hmmmm.

Christopher has been telling me all year long that his ELA class is "bad." I think that's how he puts it - "bad."

That class also has the rowdy boys.

Third data point: at the Civil War Museum exhibit the other night I was telling one of C's teachers how fantastic the class had been, and the teacher mentioned that he/she had "used Christopher as a buffer." That class is loaded with rowdy boys.

So now I'm wondering whether the school balances classes by putting the most active kids in with the most compliant kids.

I don't know whether that would have made sense when placements were being done last spring. Christopher talked in class too much last year, though I don't know if this was still the case by spring. I should find out.

In any event, I'm curious whether this is a factor in classroom placement decisions. I'm thinking a school would want to spread the active kids amongst the classes, rather than concentrating them in one classroom.

But maybe not?

Maybe it sometimes makes sense to balance the most active kids with the most cooperative?

come to think of it

I just realized: I would love to know whether the kids who were punished-by-polynomials did better on the quiz than kids in the two classes that were rewarded for good behavior with games and chat.

The punishment worksheet was a series of embedded FOIL problems so complicated that Christopher completed only 2 in 45 minutes; the smartest girl in the class, I am reliably told, completed 3.

The pop quiz was on FOIL multiplication of polynomials. Even an overly complex worksheet of embedded FOILs is probably going to provide practice for a test of reasonably simple FOIL problems.

2 weeks off
the return of Ms. K
getting better all the time

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

he's back!

Critical Thinking

Why Is It So Hard to Teach?

By Daniel T. Willingham

Mathematics Navigator

large, readable version Not quite sure what this is yet; came in an ASCD SmartBrief Niki Hayes forwarded. Seems to be a summer school close-the-gaps program.

Mathematics Navigator
Mathematics Navigator brochure
(pdf file)

congratulations, Ridgewood



Reid Lyon on dysteachia:

When we look at the kids that are having a tough time learning to read, we went through the statistics: 38% nationally, disaggregate that, 70% kids from poverty and so forth hit the wall ... 95% of those kids are instructional casualties.


95% of the kids hitting the wall in learning to read are what we called “NBT”: never been taught.

from l-squared

I e-mailed a teacher last week about a rubric for a Language arts assignment (off topic, sorry). 10% of the points were for the written article, and the other 90% were for following instructions on how to assemble it into a "magazine" (it seemed to me that in a language arts class, at least 50% should be for the writing). She e-mailed back and told me that a major concern was that children learn how to follow instructions for a complex task like this, so the grading scheme was what she wanted.

It was most discouraging. Is my child learning anything academic?

The answer is no.

Your child is not learning anything academic.

We've had quite a bit of success, of late, and thanks to the new assistant superintendent for curriculum, telling the school that C., now in 7th grade, has to do academic work in academic classes.

I've just learned that next year, in 8th grade, all the kids are required to do a movie or a slide show as their big final project for ELA.

We're going to start objecting now.

The argument I stumbled onto is that if C. is to do these things he needs a certified teacher to instruct him.

Somehow it never occurred to me until a couple of months ago to use the word "certified" and/or "qualified."

In fact, ELA teachers are not certified to teach graphic design; nor are they certified to each filmmaking.

I suspect we're going to make a huge amount of headway with this specific argument. [update 5-26-2008: wrong]

I don't know quite how it would go if we didn't have a new ass't super who in fact wants students to be doing academic work - but I think we could take it to the board.

Our board prides itself on having 100% certified teachers.

If teachers are teaching subjects in which they are not certified, that's going to raise some issues for the board.

I presume.



School board has signed off on adoption of middle school model for next school year (2008-2009); all subjects to be integrated beyond recognition or repair.

Lots of release time for teachers (aka: shortened school days for students) so teachers can Meet in Interdisciplinary Teams to devise a curriculum rich in Histogeomegraph Studies that will meet the needs of young adolescents.

Bonus: Exploratory courses.

On Darfur.

I'm pretty sure nobody in our school - or any school - is certified to teach Darfur to young adolescents.

But what does it matter?

Nobody's going to be teaching Darfur anyway.

Young adolescents are going to explore Darfur. On the internet. In groups.

I must say, the middle school model doesn't come cheap. The district is hiring a whole new duplicate middle school math teacher so we can even-up the Interdisciplinary Teams. If we didn't, one of the Teams wouldn't have a math teacher, and then how would they create a proper Histogeomegraph Studies exploratory hands-on curriculum to meet the needs of young adolescents?

Have I mentioned we have declining enrollment?

our hero in action

Siegfried Engelmann on a rant!

"When they read the words in lists they make fewer mistakes than when they read the same words in context.


Because in grade one teachers did eminently stupid stuff like have them look at the picture, discuss the picture, and then read the words. I'm sorry, Virginia; pictures do not generate specific words, but specific words generate certain features of pictures.

So the proper order is: Read the words, what are you gonna see in the picture -- here's the picture! Not the other way around.

Then another thing they do is it's always discuss, discuss, discuss. Frame, think, then read.


And that's what these poor readers are trying to do. They're trying to figure out, like there's some kind of crazy rules for them."

from Verghis

Some in the community took exception to the Board’s decision and have undermined the process.

Alas, O Babylon!

When will these malcontents realise that even though it's their money, these decisions should be left to uninformed professionals?

Aim low, avoid disappointment

UCSMP: Everyday Mathematics:

"Helping children learn the basic facts is an important goal in the Everyday Mathematics Curriculum. Most children should have developed an automatic recall of the basic addition and subtraction facts by the end of the second grade. They should also know most of their 1, 2, 5, and 10 multiplication facts by this time. By the end of the fourth grade most students should have an automatic recall of all the basic multiplication facts and be familiar with the basic division facts. Multiplication and division facts are reinforced at the beginning of fifth grade.[emphasis mine]
Anchorage uses Everyday Math. This is what I have to look forward to... most (not all) children having automatic recall by the end of 4th grade (not 3rd grade).

I fully intend to start a parental revolution like that happening in Ridgewood, NJ, Washington state, and New York.

Plan of attack:

1. Start website
2. Letters to editor
3. Raise issue at PTA
4. Raise issue with school board

I know, I know, I promised to stay out of education reform, but it looks like so much fun.

Constructivist superintendent declines Ridgewood position

From the Ridgewood, New Jersey, School District web site:

Brooks Declines Ridgewood Superintendency

Dr. Martin Brooks has informed the Ridgewood Board of Education that because of personal reasons he will not accept the Superintendency in Ridgewood. It is the position of the Board that before Dr. Brooks’ arrival he was made to feel unwelcome. Anonymous phone calls, emails, blogs, and web postings by some community members questioned his integrity, ethics and educational philosophy.

The Board considers this to be a most unfortunate situation for the Village and schools. It is not reflective of Ridgewood’s supportive community and its values.

After an extensive nine-month process, using criteria and specifications developed in collaboration with the community, the Board selected Dr. Brooks to be the next superintendent. Some in the community took exception to the Board’s decision and have undermined the process.

At its June 18, 2007, meeting, the Board will discuss the hiring of an interim superintendent and the initiation of a second superintendent search. As always, the Board will continue to focus on the education of more than 5,600 students in the Ridgewood Public School system.

Fifth Grade Everyday Math - Part II

Vicky S. seems to have the same problem I have.

Everyday Math can't be done.

Part 1 - Student Math Journal - two volumes, 12 units, 441 pages.

This seems to be the workbook they do in class. (Only rarely have I seen it come home.) From what my son says, the teacher gives them a little bit of introduction and then they work on it individually in class. This is a big waste of class time. They look like ordinary math worksheets, but with the usual EM spin. Some good and some strange, like "What is the One?" No group discovery here.

I need to find Volume 1 to see how many pages weren't done, but for Volume 2, out of 230 pages, I have 176 pages not done! They must have completed a higher percentage in Volume 1.

How can you cover 441 pages in class when the students are spending most of the time working by themselves really, really slowly? Even with direct instruction for the whole class time, the teacher would have to move right along. The problem is that the Math Journal is not a textbook. It's a workbook with a little bit of explanation. This is more like homework. The kids are wasting precious class time doing what should be homework. They do it very slowly, so you can't go fast enough to cover all of the material.

Part 2 - Study Links - one volume, 12 units, 275 pages.

This is what the students do at home for homework. The pages are torn out and put in the child's folder. Almost all of these pages are one-sided, even though the blank back side is numbered. There are 275 pages, but only 126 assignments. Almost all assignments have less than 10 questions for the kids to answer; many only 3 or 4. Math homework NEVER took very long. There is no mastery here. My son has 55 of these assignments not assigned, mostly from units 8 - 12. He was given (126 - 55) 71 EM homework assignments. The teacher gave some of her own to remediate skills that should have been learned in earlier grades, but he did not have math homework every night. They need to have a textbook that the teacher can teach from, and they need a workbook that they use for homework. (I really don't know why they can't just have one reusable textbook like the old days. I guess this makes more money for the book companies.) They need to have the kids do worksheets (mostly) at home and not at school. The teacher should be controlling the pace in class and have all of the students follow the examples on the board.

Does anyone have a teacher's guide? What do they tell the teachers to do? Do they have suggestions about how a class period should work? Do they say anything about how to cover all of the material? With 441 pages to cover in class, that's about 2 1/2 pages per class hour. Let me pick out some pages at random:

Student Math Journal, volume 2, pages 270 and 271 (by the way, these weren't done in my son's class.)

Page 270 - An Area Model for Fraction Multiplication. Eight rectangles and problems like 2/3 * 3/4.

Page 271 - An Algorithm for Fraction Multiplication. Two short answer and 8 problems to do.

Two pages. Not too bad, but it's in workbook form as if they expect the kids to do the work in class, and that's what they do. If the teacher is using direct instruction, he/she could control the pace and do the problems on the board. The teacher could ask questions or have students come to the board and do it there. According to my son, the teacher gives them a brief intro, and then they are on their own. It must be great to have a pedagogy that requires less work. Student! Discover it thyself!

For Singapore Math, you have the 5A and 5B "textbooks" that look more like real textbooks and not worksheets. There is something for the teacher to do. There are 192 pages in the textbooks and 206 pages in the workbooks. For a 180 day school year, that's a little over one page a day; very reasonable. The textbooks have some practice problems, but I would do a few in class and assign the rest (or a few) as homework, along with the workbook.

On top of having too many pages to cover, Everyday Math students are still behind Singapore Math students.

Monday, June 11, 2007

the return of Ms. K

Ms. K. returned today. The final assessment happens Thursday and today is Monday, so one might have thought she'd give the kids a hint about what the assessment will cover.

But no.

The kids in the other sections "played games," according to C. and his friend M.

C's class, on the other hand, had been "bad" with the sub, so Ms. K. punished the lot of them by making them do a worksheet filled with nested FOIL problems none of them had ever seen or attempted before.

C. worked 45 minutes and finished 2 problems.

I'm sure he got both wrong, but we'll never know since Ms. K does not collect or correct homework blah blah blah.

Two more days and then freedom.


Ms. K punished her students with math.

It's going to take awhile for that one to sink in.


Goldstar Homework Mom just called: do I know what's going to be on the final assessment?

This is a measure of how completely fed up I am.

I have no freaking idea what's going to be on the final assessment.

Actually, that's not the measure.

The measure is: I don't care to track Ms. K down to the ends of the earth to find out what's going to be on the final assessment.

I haven't written an email.

I haven't written a follow-up email.

I haven't blind-copied the teeming hordes of ticked-off Irvington math parents on my efforts.

I haven't posted anything to the Forum.

I've had it.


That doesn't sound like me, does it?

Maybe I'll cook something up tomorrow morning.


all the answers are belong to us
email to the math chair
second request
teacher's manual
it would be unusual
more stuff only teachers can buy
2 weeks off
the return of Ms. K
getting better all the time

it could always be worse

And tonight, in the village of Ridgewood, it is worse.

update: 6-12-2007

scratch that

our Mr. Brooks

from Chapter Two:

Take, for example, two 7th grade science lessons on photosynthesis. In Mr. Randall's classroom, middle school science is taught through a combination of textbook work and teacher demonstration. Students perform experiments from time to time.... Students read a widely used 7th grade science textbook (Heimler, Daniel, and Lockard 1984), which explains that:

Photosynthesis (foht oh sinh thuh sus) is the chemical change that produces food. In photosynthesis, carbon dioxide gas and water are combined to produce sugar and oxygen. The sugar may be changed to starch. Sunlight is necessary for photosynthesis. It supplies the energy for the chemical change. The energy becomes locked in the sugar and starch molecules that are produced (pp. 176).

Mr. Randall then talks about the role of chlorophyll and presents the chemical equation for photosynthesis: 6CO2 + 6H2O —> C6H12O6 + 6O2. The written explanation of the chemical equation indicates that when carbon dioxide and water are in the presence of energy (sunlight, in the case of photosynthesis), sugar and oxygen are produced. The sugar is used by the plant to make the cellulose that forms its cell walls and to make food for self-repairs and storage for later nourishment.


This is the mimetic approach to learning. Students commit new information to their short-term memory for the purpose of mimicking an understanding of photosynthesis on an end-of-chapter test. There is little in the presentation of the information or the assessment strategies that challenges students' current beliefs about the way plants grow and the relationships among plants and other life forms. [ed.: do they have current beliefs about the way plants grow?]


Contrast this approach to a second classroom, one in which the teacher, Ms. Martina, not only deleted the molecular equation and references to cell walls in her introductory lesson plan, but actually deleted all references to photosynthesis. Ms. Martina asked her students to think of systems with which they might have some experience and familiarity, and to indicate the product created, the energy source needed, and the raw materials used. She asked her students to consider, for example, their art classes and what they create there. Several students taking a “home technologies” class at the time were making malted milkshakes. They combined ingredients (malt, milk, and cocoa) in the presence of an external energy source (an electric blender) to produce a product (the milkshake). They did not readily come up with a by-product. But when they lit on an “appetite-wetting aroma” [sic] as a possibility, they became quite animated. [ed.: dollars to donuts these students are "animated" because they think this discussion is a joke] Another student, thinking of his health education class, described exercise as a system consisting of ingredients (a human body, weights, and exercise machines) acted on by an energy source (one's muscles) to generate a product (increased strength and muscle tone) and a by-product (a sense of well-being). These analogies generated enthusiasm about the students' home technologies and health class activities. [ed.: a class which, I guarantee you, these students refer to as "Homo and Health" outside the earshot of Mr. Brooks] The students engaged in interdisciplinary discussions with each other and Ms. Martina. [translation: the students horsed around in class; their parents taught them photosynthesis in time for the test]


Though Ms. Martina's students didn't construct a biochemical understanding [ed.: check] of photosynthesis, and their examples were not completely analogous to the system of photosynthesis in terms of reversibility and complexity, [ed.: check] they did begin to appreciate that one way of trying to understand photosynthesis is as a systemic process yielding both a product and a by-product. [ed.: like an appetite-wetting aroma]

Chapter 2: Considering the Possibilities
In Search of Understanding: The Case for Constructivist Classrooms, Revised Edition

Why would the parents of Plainview Old Bethpage want to give this fellow the boot?

And why would the parents of Ridgewood object to his sudden appearance in their district?

I ask you.

Reading Last

This is depressing.


Well, at least the program the Dems want to switch the money to is moderately effective, as opposed to "Ineffective."

Surprising, isn't it, that a program that "integrates early childhood education, adult literacy, and parenting education into a unified family literacy program" would be ineffective.

And here I would have said the ONE SINGLE THING POOR PEOPLE NEED MOST is family literacy.

I wonder if David Brooks knows about this?

Reading First has worked
Reading Last
Head Start, Piaget & me

help desk - word problem resources

I've got to try to teach Christopher the classic algebra word problems this summer, and I think Susan S is on the same track - are there any good resources we should look into?

We both have Mildred Johnson's How to Solve Word Problems in Algebra -- is there anything else?

I somehow ended up with the solution manual to Anita Harnadek's Algebra 1 Word Problems; maybe I'll spring for the problems themselves; who knows? (title of solution manual: Algebra Word Problems Teacher's Manual and Detailed Solutions - doesn't' seem to have an ISBN)

Actually, no. I think I'll skip Harnadek for the time being.

I have the 5th & 6th grade Challenging Word Problems books from Singapore Math; that's going to be plenty to keep me busy. has all the classic problems, too. $20/yr basic subscription fee; $40/yr for everything. Fantastic resource

Any other recommendations?

Primary Mathematics Challenging Word Problems 5
Primary Mathematics Challenging Word Problems 6

D-ed Reckoning

Just wondering--Ken hasn't posted anything over at D-ed Reckoning for awhile and I miss his commentaries. I hope he is okay.

Meeting With The Principal

About a week ago, I noticed a one-line notice on the reverse side of my daughter's 5th grade newsletter letting us parents know that COGAT testing results were available if a parent sends in a written request.

I don't always read these newsletters, especially at the end of the year when nothing is going on in the classroom anyway, but I read this one because I knew there was a field trip coming up that I'm chaperoning and I couldn't figure out the day it was on (I'm sure I'll get a couple more notices home about the field trip though).

However, I suspect this one line in a multi-page newsletter is all the notice most parents will get that 1 - IQ testing was done, 2- you need to make a written request for the results or you'll never see them.

It's even worse than that, because the notice only said "COGAT" and unless you know what that is, you wouldn't know that your child had an IQ test available. This feels dishonest to me. We are so worried about equity and down-playing of intelligence differences, that the school is going out of its way to make it difficult for parents to find out a piece of information that many will find valuable and helpful. But the school doesn't like IQ testing and they don't like kids being labeled "smart" so they try to hide the information and put up hurdles to getting it.

Well, I made my written request. Rather than just give me the results (which is all I wanted), I had to have a meeting with the principal where she would give me a copy. Another hurdle.

At the meeting, the principal expressed her amazement that my child's IQ score had risen 21 points in 2 years. She felt this was an indication of their fabulous job teaching her and of getting her to care about school.

I had a different take. My kid has a mild ADD diagnosis and hated 3rd grade. I think a distracted, bored kid doesn't do well on group tests. We've had lots of independent testing done recently, and shared all of that information with the principal, so this should not have come as a huge shock. I don't know what her IQ is, but I don't have a lot of confidence in the school's measurement system -- 21 points in 2 years? Something is wrong here. IQ doesn't shift that much no matter what you are doing in school.

Anyway, I thought it would be a good time to ask about class composition for next year (6th grade). They remain committed to heterogeneous classes with differentiation.

I made a pitch for clustering and flexible ability grouping. I decided to try Catherine's approach to forcing slow change -- I'm going to repeat "cluster" and "flexible ability grouping" at every opportunity and expound at length if given the opportunity.

I remarked -- the research is unequivocal. Flexible ability grouping boosts achievement for all students. Heterogeneous classrooms and differentiation have not worked.

Now I need to find the research. I've got some of it here, but I need to just keep chipping away at this. Clustering and flexible grouping will not solve all the problems (a better curriculum might help too), but it would be progress.

update - from Catherine

The La Salle post describing La Salle High School's "student assignment" policy may be a good place to start.

We're probably going to urge our own district to adopt La Salle's policy.

Tom Loveless' book on tracking is probably the best summary of the research; The War on Excellence also has a summary (I'll post some of it).

Wayne Gretsky explains the world to you

re: intelligence as prediction, not computation:

A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.

Wayne Gretzky

Jeff Hawkins' Bold Brainstorm
21st century skills
On Intelligence
Wayne Gretsky explains the world to you

Sunday, June 10, 2007

On Intelligence

100 pages into On Intelligence and.... wow

If this guy is right, and he sounds right to me, our constructivist friends should quit while they're ahead. They are sooooooo not 21st century.
The book is a manifesto for a theory based on an elegantly simple premise: that intelligence is rooted in the brain's ability to access memories rather than in its ability to process new data.
Access memories.

Not process new data.

That would mean.... knowing stuff is the essence of intelligence.
Hawkins complains that thinking machines do not exist because scientists have been sidetracked. Too many subscribe to the widespread view that the brain is essentially a powerful computer, constantly processing and integrating incoming data. [ed.: processing and integrating incoming data - kind of like Piaget! except that's not what makes you smart! knowing stuff makes you smart!] Many computer experts believe that thinking machines will arrive once there are processors as powerful and as integrated as human neurons. There is a problem with this brain-as-computer analogy, however: Computers are already faster than brains. A neuron can manage 200 operations per second; a modern computer can race through 1 billion per second.

fast and stupid
Processing speed doesn't matter in the brain, says Hawkins, because the basis of thought is not data manipulation but memory retention and prediction. The brain, he says, accesses previous experiences, compares them with existing circumstances, and predicts what is most likely to happen next. When a ball is thrown, for example, we know from experience where it is most likely to land and move our hands to that spot. It's a simple action, but it has proved nearly impossible to build a robot smart enough to perform it. "The brain doesn't compute the answers to problems," he says. "It retrieves the answer from memory."
Very cool.
Intelligence, posits Hawkins, is essentially the capacity to remember and then predict patterns in the world.

Redefining Smart
Business Week
November 8, 2004
I joined the mailing list.

Jeff Hawkins' Bold Brainstorm
21st century skills
On IntelligenceWayne Gretsky explains the world to you

moving right along

I got an email from a mom with a child in the high school the other day asking me if I know any chemistry tutors.


I do not know any chemistry tutors.

Nor do I wish to know any chemistry tutors.

With that end in mind, I have ordered and received my own personal copy of the Chemistry Problem Solver by A. Lamont Tyler.

I'm hoping both Christopher and I can know how to solve a chemistry problem or two before sophomore year.

More media coverage concerning fuzzy math

This article appears today in The Bergen Record, concerning fuzzy math instruction in Ridgewood, New Jersey.

Read the article.