kitchen table math, the sequel: 10/19/08 - 10/26/08

Thursday, October 23, 2008

pick one

Lynn G and I watched the debate between Lisa Graham Keegan & Linda Darling-Hammond two nights ago, and now you can, too. The last 6 minutes are worth the time.

The debate was terrific, I thought, though the fact that curriculum and pedagogy, the twin issues that have driven my own family from the public schools, were barely mentioned goes quite a ways towards explaining to me why I've become an "Independent." I put "Independent" in quotation marks because I wasn't planning to become an Independent and don't consider it a badge of honor to be one. I am a believer in two-party politics, as a matter of fact; I just don't happen to have a party to believe in.

Of course, having become a person without a party and a parent without a public school, I'm thinking maybe now's the time to morph from small-l libertarianism to the real thing.

But I think I'll hold off on that. I can't be a libertarian; I have to carry on supporting NCLB if only to be the one parent in all of leafy suburbia who does.* It's my job.

Speaking of leafy suburbia, on the video you'll hear Linda Darling-Hammond giving a shout-out to Scarsdale superintendent Mike McGill and his strategic use of resources or some such. That is horsepucky. The secret to Scarsdale Mike McGill's success is tutors. Lots and lots and lots of tutors.

And don't you forget it.

* Me, and the hardy band of commenters and readers around these parts.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

dumb question

Does anyone know, offhand, how I post my contact info where it's easy to find?

If not, I will have to RTFM.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

portfolio assessment and grade deflation

I've left a comment at Flypaper re: portfolio assessments used to deflate high achievers' grades.

Grade deflation is a topic near and dear to my heart.

questions for Lisa Graham Keegan and Linda Darling-Hammond

  • Can children whose parents are committed to providing them direct instruction in the liberal arts disciplines be served by public schools? Or must these parents resort to homeschooling or enrollment in private and parochial schools?
  • Can you name the 7 liberal arts?

I'm emailing my questions to Susan Fuhrman at:

children don't like group learning

a comment left by Jane re: how did you get 3?---

I think I now understand why the first words out of my seven year old after school yesterday were "Mom, I don't want to be in any group in my class."

She is a second grader in a class with a range of skills from preK to 3rd grade. She has the 3rd grade skill.

It got worse last night when my fifth grader commented about wonderful it was that she wasn't in a group.

Where exactly was the fifth grade level math in the video?

As I understand it, teachers in the 4-5 school here are now required to teach children in groups. It's against the rule to seat the children in rows.

education debate tonight

Lynn G filled me in:

Education and the Next President

I can't for the life of me figure out why Barack Obama appears to be sticking with Linda Darling-Hammond, assuming that's what is happening. Flypaper has predicted she'll be gone, and I've been assuming the Flypaper people know what they're talking about in these matters. But perhaps not.

Here is Darling-Hammond twinkling her way through eight and a half minutes of blather re: [S]ocial and emotional learning is a crucial part of teaching the whole child. Darling-Hammond and her legions of colleagues, students, and disciples in the business world are the reason why parents like me who want a classical education in the liberal arts disciplines for their children are having to pay the Jesuits to provide one.

The word "parents" does not cross Ms. Darling-Hammond's lips.


When you think about how you want to educate the whole child, it’s critical to be sure that you’re helping kids be able to engage with one another, understand themselves and how they think, be able to handle the stresses and challenges in their lives which are increasing all the time.

We are still struggling to get past the factory model school that we inherited in the early 1900s, which adopted age-grading so that students go to different teachers every year. ... [M]uch of the environment, particularly in big, urban factory model schools is punitive and coercive because it’s about control of large numbers of people being asked to do things that are not natural.

Interesting, that.

Punitive and coercive are precisely the words I would choose to describe public schools in which children are forcibly enrolled in emotionally invasive project-based, experiential learning activities and graded on the outcome.

If you think about the ways we have to be functioning adults, it’s in context where we have to work in groups on hard problems that need creative solutions, that require problem solving, and it’s getting to do that work well that is really part of the major goal of education in the 21st century. So when you think about project-based learning, learning that results in demonstrations of performance, exhibitions of what kids can do in real tasks that have brought these kind of novel challenges to them to solve, you can see that when an individual student or a group of students come together to solve a hard problem to figure out how to do research how to do inquiry, how to investigate, how to put their ideas together, how to figure out which ideas have the most grounding, how to present what they’ve done, they have to do a lot of social, personally intelligent work. They have to be able to figure out how to relate to one another, how to divide tasks, how to solve problems, how to probably run into dead ends, pick up the pieces, reorient, and go in a different direction — all of that develops children’s abilities to be socially capable, emotionally capable and grounded, and, in the long run, also intellectually capable. And those pieces all come together when you’re working on project-based, experiential learning activities.

All your children are belong to us.

A constructivist approach to ratios and proportion

This is a video that purports to show how questioning can be used in teaching. In it, a teacher has a series of one-on-one conversations with a boy who is working on a math problem. I recognized the problem as coming from Connected Math. There are four recipes for an orange drink, with various ratios of orange concentrate to water. The problem is to find out, for each of the four recipes, how many cups of orange concentrate and water are required to make enough drink for 240 campers. Each camper is to have 1/2 cup.

Typical of CMP, the student in the video has received minimal instruction on ratios and proportions. What's more, the problem is a multi-step one, that requires one to figure out the total amount of cups needed of orange drink, given that of 240 campers, each receives 1/2 a cup. This is not in itself hard, but given that he has minimal instruction, it is all one big jumbled mess of a problem in his mind. He has four such recipes and therefore four problems to do, but as is evident from the first dialogue, he has mushed all four recipes into one.

This problem is not difficult to teach with a systematic direct approach. Singapore Math approaches it using bar s. As an example, if the recipe is 2 parts orange concentrate to 3 parts water, the 2:3 ratio is illustrated as follows:

[ ][ ] Orange drink
[ ][ ][ ] Water

There are a total of five parts that make up the orange drink. If there are 120 cups needed (1/2 cup for 240 campers = 1/2 x 240, which Singapore Math students have learned how to do in 4th grade), then each part is 120/5 = 24 cups, and then it is easy to see that the amount of orange drink is two parts, or 2 x 24 = 48 cups, and water = 3 x 24 = 72 cups.

It doesn't take a long time to teach this, and based on my experience with my daughter, the Singapore approach is quite effective and leads to extensions of the concept whereby students can set up ratos between amount of orange concentrate and total amount of orange drink.

When you view the video it is apparent that it is taking this boy quite a while, through quite a few one-on-one dialogues with the teacher. Personally, I don't know of many classrooms where a teacher is going to have that kind of time to have a one-on-one like that.

Monday, October 20, 2008

technology I'm willing to pay for

laptop smackdown

synchronicity alert: I just bought a new Neo for Andrew a month ago. I liked it so much I kept it for myself & gave him my old AlphaSmart. Now he has two & his teacher can keep one at school, thus eliminating the daily scramble to locate the thing & put it in his backpack before his bus arrives at 7:12.

Be sure to click on the photos of kids at the bottom of the screen.

re: photos of kids at the bottom of the screen ---- I am constantly amazed that school districts apparently want students to spend more time on the internet than they already are. Of course, when you're being heavily lobbied by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, then I suppose it's inevitable you're going to be buying 4000-dollar SMARTBoards & 1000-dollar laptops instead of 219-dollar Neos.

After all, when the business community, education leaders, and policymakers want you to do something, you better do it.

how did you get 3?


In any classroom anywhere you go, you’re going to have an incredibly broad range of kids, socially, academically, all across the spectrum. And so how does a single person as a teacher, as a manager, teach 20 to 30 kids in a single classroom when that ability range is so wide. I personally believe that the social skills and more importantly the students building social skills to help them work together to talk about math, to explain their thinking, to offer help when another student is struggling, and just as importantly for that child to be able to accept help — that’s a really difficult part of that equation. All of those skills are part of the social arena that we’re working in and without them I don’t know how you could teach a classroom with such a broad range of abilities.


5th grade girl: “How did you get 3 when if you did the half of 8? That’s 4.”

5th grade boy: “I don’t know how I got 3.”


Say we provide a math problem. Many students can find the answer very quickly. But can they explain the process that was happening in their mind? Can they explain it to somebody that doesn’t understand it? Take a really gifted kid, for example, and you have them try to explain a multiplication problem, a very basic one. They know the answer like that. And try to have them explain it to somebody that it doesn’t come so quickly to. It’s an amazing activity to watch, to see them think through the process. Oh well I know that 3 x 4 is 3 groups of 4 or 4 groups of 3 and here’s how I see it and here’s what it looks like visually and that’s how I get to this answer. It’s an entirely different skill to be in tune with your own thinking. And so in order to do that in the classroom, those social skills need to be in place.

brought to you by The George Lucas' Educational Foundation
(If the video doesn't load, you can watch it at edutopia.)


Here's the Singapore Math 4B placement test, which is the test kids take after completing 4th grade. (pdf file)

Here's the second part of the 1st question on the test:

1. (b) Arrange in increasing order.

5/8 0.602 3/5 0.66

I really want to see that one done with plastic squares.

OK, here's the first word problem on the test:

6. A meter of lace cost $0.40. Mrs. Jacobs bought 5.5 m of lace. She used 1.3 m to make a dress. She used the rest to make 4 cushions of the same kind.
(a) How much change did she receive if she paid for the lace with $10?
(b) How much lace did she use for each cushion? Give your answer in meters and centimeters.
Compare that to the problem tackled by the 5th graders in Alaska:

Mike has $8.00. Kelly has twice as much as Mike and Joe has half as much as Kelly.

The teacher's sole intervention, in the video, is to ask one of the students:
“Do you know what that word twice as much means?”

tripping up the gifted kids

It seems to be a big win for the teacher, figuring out a way to trip up a "gifted" kid on a simple multiplication fact. I wonder if this teacher forces the gifted students to define "twice" for their less able peers along with teaching them multiplication?

Of course, the idea that a 5th grade child who can answer "What is 3 x 4?" just like that is gifted may be the central Decline and Fall moment in this video.

Which is coming to us from George Lucas.

Parents have to get their kids out of the public schools if they can. Sauve qui peut.