kitchen table math, the sequel: 11/25/07 - 12/2/07

Saturday, December 1, 2007

"Teachers Swamp a Parley on Preschool"

from the Sun:

At least 10 Upper East Side nursery schools are closing their doors today to make time for a conference on an Italian teaching philosophy that is challenging American methods.

Nearly 900 people will crowd the 92nd Street Y to learn about Reggio Emilia — named after the small Italian town, population 140,000, where the approach was developed and that is known for its fine wines and parmigianas — and hundreds more are scheduled to tune in to the 92nd Street Y's first major Internet broadcast of a conference.

Unlike many foreign countries, Italy does not outscore America on standardized tests (its children score about the same), but its approach to teaching 4- and 5-year-olds has captivated educators across this country. They say the philosophy elicits more from the young children than ever seemed possible.

Reggio eschews traditional lesson plans and instead encourages 4- and 5-year-olds to develop their own projects.

About 500 Americans visit Reggio schools in Italy every year to marvel at these projects, and a traveling exhibit of the projects has been making its way across the country. The U.S. liaison to the nonprofit Reggio Children group that organizes the exhibit, Lella Gandini, said interest appears to have grown "immensely" in the past several years, especially in New York.

The director of All Souls School on the Upper East Side, Jean Mandelbaum, one of the school directors who allowed children to skip a day so staff could attend the conference, said that when she first visited Reggio she was astonished to see the quality of work produced by the schools' method. "It looks like they're geniuses, but they're not geniuses. These Italian kids who are wonderful are no more wonderful than our American kids," she said.

By giving children more time to do longer projects and allowing them to dictate their own curriculum, the Reggio method brings out the best in them, she said. At her school, she said, children have created a life-size penguin; several robots, and a model of the 79th Street cross-town bus — all through their own ingenuity. Through the process, teachers make sure to pass on certain skills. They also push students to revisit projects, making them months-long endeavors rather than the fancy of just a few hours.

"The idea is not to just splash something off and bring it home to mommy. Rather, most of the work is considered work in progress," she said.


Oh yes. Yet another "challenge" to American teaching methods. Nobody here in America has ever heard of the project method.

It's hopeless.

We're all going to have to band together and start charter schools to teach the liberal arts disciplines via direct instruction. We'll hire Siegfried Engelmann and the precision teaching folks to oversee.

We'll also recruit a disciplinary specialist or two to see to it we're teaching the actual disicplines as they exist in the real world, not the fantasy interdisciplinary world of the American ed school.

When it comes to the liberal arts disciplines, the "real world" is the world of the professors and researchers who produce the knowledge our schools are supposed to teach.

the liberal arts disciplines:

  • mathematics
  • English
  • science
  • philosophy
  • history
  • foreign languages
  • music
  • art

Ed says many colleges include the social sciences as a liberal arts discipline.

Ed speaking:

Each discipline has a corresponding set of skills that emerge from the discipline. In mathematics you have quantitative reasoning; in science you have the scientific method; in history you have historical analysis. Some form of competency in writing is usually attached to English.

Ed thinks it's important to have the disciplines "first" and the skills second, because it's too easy to get into "interdisciplinary mush" when it's the other way around. If your requirement is "social scientific reasoning" as opposed to history, then a student can take a smorgasbord of courses in anthropology, sociology, etc, without taking a history course, thus missing a fundamental discipline in the liberal arts canon.

Ed again:

There's no question there are social scientists who would disagree with this, but it's not for nothing that public and private schools both require history not social science. That's true because most people see history as a fundamental liberal arts discipline. Most people also make the rightful assumption that every citizen needs to know something about the history of his own country to exercise his citizenship rights effectively. The social studies movement agreed with this premise, but got rid of the study of history and kept the study of citizenship.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Rubric Burn

My wife and I just got back from our 15 minute parent-teacher meeting. We might have seemed rude, but we couldn't chitchat. We dived right into our biggest concern - making sure that our son gets the rubric before working on the assignment, knowing the exact due date, and getting the results and grade back in a timely fashion so that we can go over them with our son. These things haven't been happening. Many assignments don't have rubrics. Our son can take some of the blame, but there needs to be a process that is designed to make it easy for us parents. They expect involved parents, but they have to give us the tools.

The big issue was about rubrics for individual assignments and for overall grades. Our rubrics go from 1 - 5. I don't think anyone gets a 1 and kids only get 5s if, well, I don't know why and his teacher couldn't really explain when or why. I told her that 5s seem to something like an A+. She said it was more than that. The kids have to show how their assignment is somehow related or integrated with other subjects in an abstract way. Of course, the school doesn't teach them about this or show them how to do this. Some rubrics do tell the students what they have to do to get a 5, but there is always the proviso that there has to be something more. What that more is, they never say. I told the teacher that kids want to get 5s but they aren't taught how. She really didn't have much to say other than (in so many words) "That's the point".

A 3 indicates that the student is meeting state expectations. I told her that I have seen the state expectations and tests and consider a 3 to be a 'C' grade. She seemed surprised to hear me say that. I'm not sure why. A 2 grade indicated (in a very broad sense) that there is a problem that needs to be fixed. A 2 is a 'D' grade.

That leaves the 4 grade to cover the range of 'B' to 'A'. Some teachers have suggested that rubrics are just another form of grading like A, B, C, and D. They aren't. They are non-linear and very poorly defined. Kids struggle to get 5s because they think that it's an 'A'. My son can't always explain why he gets a 3, 4, or 5 on an assignment or test. Grades are supposed to give students some sort of feedback to help them with future assignments. This is not happening.

Even math tests are translated into rubric grades of 1 - 5. My son hasn't had enough graded assignments for me to plot rubric grade against percent correct on his tests. I'm betting that the relationship is nonlinear. The math teacher doesn't allow the test to go home. It has to go into their portfolio and stay at school. Don't they think these things through? I'd like to give them a rubric.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

New Elementary Algebra

I think I'm going to take tonight off and spend my time raiding the Comments for new posts.

from Myrtle:

I've only recently discovered this feature on Google. For example, I've been using this book for supplemental word problems in Algebra:

New Elementary Algebra (1879)

Word problems start on page 139 and go on and on and on.


Fifty Famous Stories Retold for free in Google Books

I've spent my share of time pouring over Google Books these past few weeks. Sometimes they decide I've abused my privileges & they cut me off.

a farmer and his sheep

A farmer has in his pasture 63 head of cattle, consisting of cows, calves and sheep. There are twice as many calves as cows, and twice as many sheep as calves; how many has he of each sort?

Ans. 9 cows; 18 calves; 36 sheep.
New Elementary Algebra

p. 139

logarithms shmogarithms

When I get my life back, I am going to conquer logarithms.

Thanks to Myrtle (lots of cool stuff at Myrtle's blog - I need to get out more), I have two sources outside my Saxon/Dolciani/Foerster stash here:

nominally high performing, part 2 ...

Mindless Math Mutterings posts the passage from Richard Elmore that has given me a formal term for the kind of affluent school district William Sanders calls slide and glide:

nominally high performing

One of the huge fallacies of performance-based accountability systems is the misconception that nominally low-performing schools don't know what they are doing and that nominally high-performing schools have something to teach them.


Most high-performing schools in our highly segregated society have gotten there not by knowing a great deal about instructional practice or improvement but by getting and holding on to students in high socioeconomic groups. The practice in most nominally high-performing schools is emphatically not about improvement but about maintenance of a certain level of confidence with the surrounding community. When I speak about improvement with people in these schools, they often look at me as if it had nothing to do with them. Most of the knowledge about improvement is in the schools where improvement is occurring, and most of those schools are, by definition, schools with a history of low performance.

A Plea for Strong Practice
Richard Elmore

The funny thing is that inside a high-performing district everyone "knows" the schools are high-performing because of the families. The families know it; the school knows it. It's an open secret.

But while people know this, they don't ask what value the school is adding to what the students brought with them to school. Instead the schools is assumed to be high-performing because the students are high-performing (and student performance is never seen in comparison to private or international schools).

Can't remember whether I've mentioned our middle school principal's Back-to-School-Night skit performed in the fall of 2006 a few short weeks after he'd taken his position here.

It was a skit inspired by No Child Left Behind.

"I don't like No Child Left Behind," he said. "But it does have one good idea, which is evaluating the quality of your school. It's a good idea to evaluate the quality of your school. So I'm going to tell you the 4 characteristics that determine the quality of a school."

Off to the side were standing 4 middle school girls holding poster boards flat against their legs.

"The first characteristic in evaluating the quality of your school," the principal said, "is the school."

Girl number 1 turned her poster over revealing characteristic number 1: School.

"But if you're putting it all on the school," the principal continued, "that's too much."

In retrospect, that was the moment I should have started sending away for applications to Catholic schools. That I didn't see this at the time can probably be attributed to the fact that I was curious to discover what other characteristic one could use to evaluate the quality of one's school besides the quality of the school.

"The second characteristic you can use to evaluate the quality of your school," the principal said, "is the quality of the students."

The second girl from the left turned her poster board over.


"The third characteristic is quality of the parents."

Poster board: Parents

"The fourth characteristic is quality of the community."


"You have a quality community," the principal said. "I've been driving around your town admiring all the nice lawns with the beautiful grass. In my old school, one day I was walking a student home and there were some boys standing in the street and one of them said, 'Principal, do you want to buy some drugs?'"

And there we left it. Proof positive that we have a high-quality middle school because we have high-quality students, high-quality parents, and a high-quality community.

All of which it is possible to determine by the quality of our lawns.

Climbing Mt. Parnassus

I had never heard of this book until Myrtle left this comment:

Tracy Lee Simmons "Climbing Parnassus" is even more divergent. It traces the history of classical education throughout the centuries and chronologically speaking should be read before Diane Ravitch's "A Century of Failed School Reforms" which picks up about in 1900 where Simmons leaves off.

The difference between Simmons and Wise Bauer is that Simmons gives you the "whys" of classical education and Wise-Bauer gives the "hows." I would summarize her hows as being for non-expert parents. Her area of expertise is writing and English, not physics and math and while her recommendations in those areas certainly won't send anyone into an educational death spiral, they also aren't nearly as clever and insightful as what she has to say about English, composition, history, and foreign language.

and here is an excerpt from Well-Trained Mind: left by Concerned Parent:

The Parrot Years:

Houses rest on foundations. Journalists gather all the facts before writing their stories; scientists accumulate data before forming theories; violinists and dancers and defensive tackles rely on muscle memory, stored in their bodies by hours of drill.

A classical education requires a student to collect, memorize, and categorize information. Although this process continues through all twelve grades, the first four grades are the most intensive for fact collecting.

This isn't a fashionable approach to early education. Much classroom time and energy has been spent in an effort to give children every possible opportunity to express what's inside them. There's nothing wrong with self-expression but when self-expression pushes the accumulation of knowledge offstage, something's out of balance.

Young children are described as sponges because they soak up knowledge. But there's another side to the metaphor. Squeeze a dry sponge, and nothing comes out. First the sponge has to be filled.


So the key to the first stage of the trivium is content, content, content. In history, science, literature, and, to a lesser extent, art and music, the child should be accumulating masses of information: stories of people and wars; names of rivers, cities, mountains, and oceans; scientific names, properties of matter, classifications; plots, characters, and descriptions. The young writer should be memorizing the nuts and bolts of language-- parts of speech, parts of a sentence, vocabulary roots. The young mathematician should be preparing for higher math by mastering the basic math facts."

If you haven't noticed yet, Amazon has a dandy new rotating-books carousel feature that lets you scroll through all the other related books people who purchased the book you're looking at purchased. What a fantastic research shortcut. If I know a book is good -- or, more importantly, that it's considered good by the experts whose work I'm writing about* --- I can instantly learn what other books are in its category.

I found Animals in Translation in the carousel for The Psychology of Learning and Behavior by Barry Schwartz, which is causing me to contemplate purchasing it just to find out what the connection is specifically.

Back to Mt. Parnassus; the carousel there has one book I own and like very much: The Laurel Wreath and Harp: Poetry and Dictation for the Classical Curriculum.

Another 3 I'm interested in:

* make that trying to write about

School performance info - your predictions?

I wanted to share information on an interesting experiment going on in Sumner County, Tennessee, and solicit predictions.

One of my clients, an organization called the Education Consumers Foundation, has been doing a lot of work with value-added data in Tennessee. (For those unfamiliar with value-added, it basically allows you to isolate and measure schools' contribution to student learning, regardless of the socioeconomic, etc. characteristics of their students.) Tennessee has the most advanced value-added system in the country and has been collecting data since the early 90s, so there's a rich pool of good data available from the state here.

While Tennessee offers great information on the performance of its elementary and middle schools, we've found that almost no one is aware of this data or understands what it means. So we've launched a pilot initiative to see what happens once parents and other community members are given this information.

Last Monday, we sent a package of information to every household in Sumner County - 55,300 pieces in all - containing an introductory letter and a brochure with school-by-school information on their value-added performance rankings, TCAP proficiency rates, and free/reduced lunch rates (a proxy for poverty). I've posted these materials in PDF format: you can download the letter here and the brochure here.

IMHO, I think this is powerful stuff, but we're just at the very beginning stage of the pilot. I'd like to think it's going to make a huge impact, but it's entirely possible that it will be ignored.

I'd love to hear thoughts on this initiative from other KTM folks, and your predictions for what will happen in Sumner County. Will the community at large ignore this? Is it likely to create a significant conversation in the community? Will people push their local schools to improve?

Essentially - is this the path to real school improvement, or is this mailing going to fall on deaf ears?

If anyone's interested, I'll share updates as we go along - as I mentioned, the mailing just dropped last week, so it will take a while for this to all play out.

(For clear and complete disclosure purposes, I'll repeat that ECF is a client, but I don't feel any conflict of interest in posting about this initiative - they're a nonprofit group and have nothing to gain from this. If there are any issues, I'll trust in Catherine to remove this post.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

brute memorization

Terrific post from Instructivist on the subject of memory and memorization.

This is something I've struggled with: how to distinguish "brute memorization" (my term for it) from "natural memorization" or, in instructivist's phrase, "thoughtful memorization."

Constructivist philosophy defines the word "memorization" as most folks do: the student sits down with a set of flash cards and commits material to memory.

I assume (don't know) that the flash card approach is essential in some realms: foreign language courses, law school, med school.....yes?

But "brute memorization," generally speaking, probably isn't the best way to go about acquiring knowledge, and is not the method a knowledge-focused curriculum like Saxon Math employs.

Unfortunately, we don't have a term for the kind of memorization Saxon Math induces.

Saxon Math produces memorization via spaced repetition, which is, I believe, the way everyday life produces memorization.

Here is my sense of the way in which natural memorization works:

  • content to be committed to memory is broken into the smallest meaningful units
  • the smallness of the units allows each unit to be held in working memory (or consciousness) in its entirety

  • in time the units being practiced naturally enter long-term memory

This seems to be the way most material enters long-term memory in the day to day. One repeatedly encounters and/or practices an idea or skill until one simply "has it."


I'm going to guess that quite a few ktm readers and commenters now possess a usable or at least semi-usable definition of the term working memory.

Did you acquire this by sitting down with a flash card and rotememorizing it?


You acquired a usable knowledge of working memory by repeatedly encountering the term in posts and comments until you remembered it.

This process is natural, and it is inevitable. Memory is a core function of the brain; people who don't remember things have brain disorders. Bad ones.

Constructivist antipathy to memory and remembering is quite perverse -- it is unnatural, as a matter of fact -- but it is consistent with constructivist antipathy to knowledge.

The brain naturally acquires knowledge. Yes, I know the brain does not naturally acquire knowledge of algebra absent a good textbook and teacher ( ! )

However, if you have a good textbook and/or teacher it is entirely natural to acquire knowledge of algebra whether you give a damn about algebra or not. As a matter of fact, it's entirely natural to acquire some knowledge of algebra even with a mediocre textbook and a so-so teacher. Repeated practice causes us to remember what we've practiced, period.

If you don't want students acquiring knowledge, you're going to have to oppose memory and memorization.


As to direct memorization and its place in formal education or in any training program, my sense is that it is often the fastest route to remembering. From time to time Saxon will tell the student, "Memorize this." His meaning is always: You're going to need this, you're going to use this, just go ahead and memorize it.

Direct memorization is a shortcut.

I think.



Direct memorization
probably isn't a bad term for the kind of simple, straightforward, put-it-on-a-flashcard-and-practice-it memorization constructivists call "rote."

Anchoragegifted’s Weblog

Anchoragegifted’s Weblog

Last night I ran across the Anchorage School Districts Gifted Blog. It's a great idea for communication, but I hope to see it updated a bit more.

I posted a comment asking for more information, so hopefully I can spur some debate.

Update: sorry, I had meant to post this to my site, but selected the wrong blog. And yes I know I haven't been very active... blame it on the move to Alaska.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

homeschooling is good

Now, keeping in mind that I’m a second grade teacher and that MY American History teacher taught in the EXACT same manner as above and I don’t remember a THING about American History, here’s a proposed list of assignments that I would have liked to have seen on the board.

* Who lived in pre-colonial America? Choose one people to read up on, create an artifact relevant to these people and be prepared for show-and-tell.

a teacher's reaction to a high school history class in which assigned textbook chapters had been written on the board

I've come to the conclusion that today's educators are anti-book. [update: this is way too sweeping and cranky. Cranky is bad. So is sweeping. Obviously, "today's educators" do not speak as one. And, as Dr. Stipes points out, it would no doubt be equally correct to assert that today's students are anti-book. So I take it back. I may have to stick with the claim that "today's educators administrators" are pro-SMART Board, however. Because I'm cranky.]

Pro-technology, anti-book.

Take my district (please!) The high school and middle school share a brand-new, two-story, Barnes-and-Noble-esque library that has very few books. The library has so few books, I'm told, that this year the school removed shelves to make the absence of books less glaring.

Parents at the 4-5 school are raising money to buy books for the library there.

High school kids come home and tell their parents the reason they're not reading more books in Honors English is that there aren't enough books to go around. (Teacher says it's not so, but if teacher is correct, why aren't the kids reading more books?)

And we've all heard tell of textbook shortages. Some of us have experienced textbook shortages firsthand (Spanish books that couldn't come home with kids because there weren't enough to go around in the case I know of.)

Occasionally people send emails concerning the book situation to the school board. The school board responds saying the book shortage has been addressed and we have all the books we're supposed to have.

Technically that may be true, though I have heard two stories of textbooks not showing up until, in one case, 2 months into the year; not until mid-year in the other. The students made-do with packets until the real books showed up.

Why would that be?

If we have all the books we're supposed to have, shouldn't we also have them when we're supposed to have them?

So we seem to be experiencing a degree of mystery where books are concerned.

There is no mystery when it comes to technology. We have vast heaping quantities of technology; we have rooms bursting at the seams with technology. We have computer labs (where middle school students can access at least one X-rated web site, I'm told); we have music labs; we have SMART Boards up the ying yang.

How many SMART Boards is that you ask?

Forty five.

The district's goal for last school year was the purchase and installation of 45 new SMART Boards and we met that goal.

No word on number of books purchased or read.

more fun with WAC

re: If WAC sweeps the country as I fear it may, we'll have our public schools producing kids who hate writing as much as they hate math, Concerned Parent has this to report:

I have anecdotal evidence for that, and then some. The scenario you describe was happening to A. She was developing acute writing phobia by fourth grade. This extremely verbal, well read, talkative child would have almost nothing to say when presented with a writing assignment or prompt. She would virtually shut down. Her confidence was almost completely eroded. Having a clear road map has been life altering. She's actually relishing her writing assignments and no longer goes around saying "I'm a terrible writer." This is where we were not too long ago. What's most amazing is how quickly things have turned around.

Last year in fourth grade there were mostly shoebox type "writing" projects dispersed through the year. There was one big writing project about a U.S. state that was to be done completely at school which ended up a total disaster. The rest were really psuedo-writing with it becoming more of a presentation that didn't really require structured writing (she dressed up and acted out the characters of Sacagawea and Elizabeth Blackwell.)
It got more serious around testing time in the spring when everything was in preparation for the CMTs. It got to the point that this child, who reads and comprehends at about a twelth grade level, was having breakdowns over short answer response questions at the fourth grade level. This shouldn't have happened, but it did.

There were no traditional book reports and I rarely saw drafts going through any type of editing process. There just didn't appear to be a method for teaching writing going on at all. She was overwhelmed and really began to hate anything having to do with writing.
I agree that remediation with the right methods can make a world of difference in a short amount of time, particularly if the child is a good reader. Having a process puts it all together and it just sort of "clicks".

This jibes with Vicky's and Susan's experience.

I'm going to have to go into the writing remediation biz: go into it or invent it. Either one.

the process

David Klein's AP/IB grades changed by Fordham

This is distressing news.

Based on my own n of 1, I'm sure David's original grades were correct. C's camp counselor last summer, who is attending Rensselaer Polytechnic, told me the IB math sequence he'd taken in high school was a joke. He didn't learn much calculus, but he did write a "research" paper. Looked some stuff up and slapped it together.

I wish to heck I knew what I did with my notes on the conversation. He gave me a rundown of the many topics IB didn't mention while students were busy slapping together low-quality papers.

If I run across them, I'll post.

A few years ago I checked out the IB web site. The lower grades IB curriculum was entirely constructivist, which made me think the upper-grades curriculum couldn't be far behind.


It was a lot of fun having C. in camp with a math-brain counselor. The counselor would tell him things like, "I don't like to read and write papers. I just like to do math." This was an utterly novel concept to C, who quoted it to me verbatim on a number of occasions.

Barry's letter to the NY Sun

Will get the Sun story on Texas rejecting Everyday Math (subscription required, I presume) posted at some point (horse chapter takes precedence). The Sun carried the story as front-page, banner-headline news. The word "fuzzy" appeared in the subhead.

In the meantime, here is Barry's letter to the Sun:

I am very happy to see that the New York Sun ran a front-page story about Texas' challenge of Everyday Math [Front Page, "Texas Challenges City on Math," November 20, 2007].

To my knowledge, the New York Sun is one of the few papers in the country that has covered this development. Given that Everyday Math commands a 20% market share of textbooks for K–6, Texas' decision is an important one.

The Everyday Math program does not cover math well and certainly does not pursue mastery of the material as other programs do such as Saxon, or Singapore's math program.

By placing this story on the front page, the New York Sun has done a great service and perhaps the story will be viewed as a long overdue wake up call to the educational damage such dangerously lacking programs have caused to our children.

National Advisor
McLean, Va.

This letter is a hoot:

Kudos for covering the important story of the Texas Board of Education rejecting Everyday Math, Grade 3 for its schools [Front Page, "Texas Challenges City on Math," November 20, 2007].

I have lived through Everyday Math with three children who are now in high school and beyond.

In my community, students flock in huge numbers to Kumon Math or other tutoring services because of the deficiencies in Everyday Math. Everyday Math and other Reform Math or Standards Based Math curricula have done a woeful job of preparing students with a sound math education.

Students who are taught by these curricula are typically calculator-dependent, and unable to perform basic math functions because they are deemphasized.

Greater emphasis must be placed on making math fun and expecting the students to discover how to solve math problems on their own. This topic needs more exposure across the country if we are to produce well-educated students capable of competing in our global world. Thanks for drawing attention to it.

St. Louis, Mo.


Students don't get to discover stuff in Everyday Math and it isn't fun.

Who knew?

I'm a big fan of the Sun.

Today's banner headline:

Talks are set on ending battle of Iraq
Quiet Announcement Signals Start of U.S., Iraq Parley

And so the Battle of Iraq is to be brought to an end, in T.S. Eliot's phrase, "not with a bang but a whimper."

With the eyes of the world focused on the Middle East peace talks in Annapolis, Md., President Bush's war tsar, Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, quietly announced that the American and Iraqi governments will start talks early next year to bring about an end to the allied occupation by the close of Mr. Bush's presidency.

Meanwhile, over at the Times, we've got:

Seeking a Mideast Path, Bush Offers a Nudge and After a Rough Start, Spitzer Rethinks His Ways.

This reminds me of another Times episode years ago when we were living in L.A. We subscribed to both Timeses: the NY Times & the LA Times.

The annual AIDS conference was on and both papers were covering the proceedings on the front page.

Early on, possibly on the first day of coverage, the LA Times reported that there had been a breakthrough in AIDS treatment. My memory (not fact-checked) is that one of the presenters had reported on 6 HIV positive patients he'd treated, not one of whom had progressed to AIDS.* They were reporting a miracle. To this day, I remember sitting at the table, pouring over this story, wondering if it could possibly be true.

What did the NY Times have to say about the 6 patients?


The TIMES had a story on insurance discrimination against people with AIDS or some such.

I was horrified. How could the LA Times be reporting the first effective treatment for AIDS (and back then it was AIDS) and the NY Times have nothing? That had to mean the LA Times was wrong, I thought.

Next day, same thing. The LA Times had a second story on the new treatment for AIDS; the NY Times had another dreary prejudice-against-gays or AIDS-in-Africa boilerplate feature, the kind of AIDS story they'd been running for years and could write in their sleep.

By then I was getting nervous for the LA Times. I was thinking they had to have gotten the story wrong and were going to be Humiliated on the World Stage. (I had only a foggy notion of how newspaper journalism worked.)

I wish I could remember now how long it took the New York Times to pick up on the treatment story. I think they finally figured it out on Day 4. Meanwhile I was getting up every morning and grabbing both papers to see which world we were living in.

Were we living in a new world, the world in which AIDS would become HIV?

Or were we still living in the old world, the world of the epidemic?

The answer was that we were living in the new world and the New York Times had missed it.

* I'm pretty sure the presenter was David Ho.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Kendall/Hunt values your feedback!

They must have seen me coming.

it is important that Trailblazers is not put down

Scarsdale to try new elementary math programs
by Carrie Gilpin

In an effort to "see what's out there,” Scarsdale is trying out four math programs in 30 K-5 classrooms this year, according to assistant superintendent Paul Folkemer, and will settle on one of them, or remain with the existing program, Trailblazers, by spring. A few teachers at Scarsdale Middle School will also participate in the pilot math program.

"We have been very happy with Trailblazers and it has served us well for 10 years, but change is healthy and we want to see what is out there," said Math Committee chairman Nancy Pavia.

“The process is energizing, and puts the subject area on the front burner," said Folkemer. "It is good for us, and at the end, we could come out of this staying where we are with Trailblazers."

Implementing any new program next fall would also be "a budget issue," said Folkemer. "We don't want to get ahead of ourselves, but we won't be able to make any decision until a draft of the budget is completed. We will go in under the assumption that we have the funds to move forward by fall."

Each of the 30 volunteer teachers will test two of the four programs, substituting units of Trailblazers for similar units of one of the test programs. The district is awaiting materials and will begin the first of the pilot program trials at the end of this month, said Pavia.

Pavia said the timing of the pilot is excellent since Trailblazers' second edition is out and needs to be purchased by the district. or a different program purchased.

"This has been very thoughtfully done," she said, stressing there is broad representation of teachers within all five elementary schools and in all six levels from K-5.

A few teachers in middle school will also participate in the pilot. "Increasingly, we have been trying to invite them into conversations with us about elementary school math," said Folkemer.

Some teachers involved in the pilot program announced it to parents at the elementary schools' open houses. Folkemer said he is scheduled to give a report on the pilot program, as well as other district initiatives, to the Scarsdale Board of Education on Tuesday, Oct. 9, during the board's regular business meeting at 8 p.m. The board will meet that night at Edgewood School.

Pavia said parents would see different materials coming home in their child's backpack during the year, and that nothing would be sent home for homework that hasn't already been covered in class.

Will pilot program math students be confused? "I don't think so at all," Pavia said. "The methodology is slightly different but that shouldn't make it confusing. If parents have questions, of course they should address them with the teacher," said Pavia, stressing that naturally it will not be "perfect."

Both Pavia and Folkemer said it would not be possible to test out a new math program without actually teaching it to students.

Pavia said teachers have been discussing a change in program for several years. They considered many possible programs and came up with the following four: Everyday Mathematics, a program from the University of Chicago; Think Math!; Scott Foresman"s Investigations; and Singapore Math. The programs all have slightly different approaches and the National Council of Teachers of Math has endorsed the first three.

“Singapore Math is the one that is slightly out of the box. It is very rigorous and is written by the Ministry of Education there. It is structured slightly differently and has many positive aspects,” said Pavia.

Folkemer said that many teachers “really like” Trailblazers, a program felt by many parents to be heavily language-based.

“Any program we use must have a balance of a strong skill base with conceptual and problem-solving elements,” said Folkemer.

“Language is all around us, and mathematics requires language. But to calculate accurately is critical. Algorithms and fact work is just as important,” Pavia said.

Trailblazers functions on a "spiral” method, where a unit of say, fractions, is touched upon, then students move to another topic, and then com around to fractions again.

“Math by its nature is a spiral, but Trailblazers is a very tight spiral. The programs we are looking at are not quite as structured. Whatever program we use, we will modify it to match it with our own curriculum,” said Pavia.

Folkemer said a presidential commission on math teaching led the NCTM to come up with a list of “Curriculum Focal Points”—important math topics for each grade level, pre-K through grade 8. Focal points are areas of emphasis that serve as organizing structures for curriculum design and instruction at and across grade levels.

“When we Trailblazers years ago, we adopted it as our curriculum,” said Folkemer. “Now, we have written our own math curriculum and any program we use will be modified to fit within our curriculum.

So why does the district need to purchase any program if it has written its own curriculum?

Pavia said it would not be a good idea to teach math without a purchased program. “Teachers are generalists. I’ve always had a program, which is critical for consistency among the schools. It is a foundation upon which we will build and teach our own curriculum,” she said.

“I think it is important that Trailblazers is not ‘put down,’” said Pavia “Change is forward movement and we are looking and learning if there is a better way to teach math,” said Pavia.

Scarsdale Inquirer 10-5-2007

Kerrigan & test prep

Speaking of test prep, Kerrigan is superb test prep for the essay portion of a standardized test. Amazing.

C. wrote two practice test essays yesterday using the X-1-2-3 set-up for both. The first was pretty bad, but he improved dramatically on the second.

Bonus points: X-1-2-3 results in mini-essays that can be easily typed up and edited by the parent/teacher, like so:

C's version is on the left; our lightly edited version is on the right. Ed says it helps tremendously to see your work edited and I think he's right.

I wonder whether a teacher would find it faster and easier to edit student's mini-essays rather than comment on them? (Teachers could copy-edit/revise just one paragraph or one aspect of the essay, etc.....)

C's X-1-2-3 sentences

X People who rescue animals from bad conditions are heroes.
1. They give animals a second chance at a good life.
2. They punish people who are cruel to animals.
3. They provide people with a new pet to love.

X Video games do not cause children to act out violently.
1. Video games do not cause school shootings.
2. Video games let children act out their emotions on screen and not in real life.
3. Video games limit the violence you can do to yourself by allowing you to simulate risky activities instead of acting them out.


Some of you will remember back when we coached C., then age 10 I think, to answer all open-ended math questions with the words:

I used a strategy of guess and check and then I looked for a pattern.

Yesterday we were frantically trying to teach C. how to write in time for him to take the ISEE test next Saturday, and we came up with two sure-fire trucs:

  • The final paragraph should being with the word "Finally."
  • The concluding sentence or paragraph should begin with the words "For all of these reasons."

It works.

Singapore Math approved for use in CA


This is news.

model method

I came across what may be a terrific web site for non-math majors trying to teach the Singapore Math curriculum the other day:

Teach Kids Math Using the Model Method

I could have used this site when I first started working through Challenging Word Problems Book 3 lo these many years ago. My knowledge of arithmetic was so fragmented at the time that I didn't immediately perceive the various "genres" of bar models. Each problem I solved seemed almost to call for a whole brand-new, never-before-seen bar model. (Not quite, but close enough.)

I needed a map of the world.

One of the blinding revelations that came to me via bar models was the reason for the word "difference" as in the expression: "Find the difference." It had simply never occurred to me that subtraction was two things (scroll down - may need to hit refresh a couple of times):

  • how much is left when you take away "X"?
  • what is the difference between two numbers?
The great thing about the "Teach Kids Math" site is that it lists "Comparison" on a separate button on the sidebar. You can take one look at that page and realize: nobody ever mentioned "comparison" back when I was in school.

I'm not so crazy about the way they draw the comparison model, though. In all of the Singapore books I've seen, they've drawn the comparison model the way I did (though the bars aren't "stacked" the way I stacked them...don't know why I did that.)

I'll probably have C. take a look at the site.