kitchen table math, the sequel: A bottom up approach

Monday, December 21, 2009

A bottom up approach

After spending years worrying about k-8 math education, and a couple years on this blog clarifying for myself what the problems were, and what solutions had already been tried and found wanting, I mostly wanted to start my own private school. But after more time and wisdom, I realized I didn't have the skill set I wanted to do that now, nor did I know the people I'd need to do it with.

So, what could I do RIGHT NOW, to help improve math ed here in St. Paul?

And then it occurred to me: well, I'm a big fan of Hung-Hsi Wu; I believe his work teaching teachers is about the only thing that could make a difference in a classroom or school; so I could promote Wu.

I emailed and asked Wu if he'd come out to St. Paul for a week long institute (as he calls them) to teach fractions to middle school math teachers; he said he would, but pointed out that in his usual institutes, he does 5 days of followup throughout the school year. I agreed that I would do those for this institute, using his materials.

Then I started pounding the pavement at some local parochial schools, pitching the idea that their teachers needed to learn some math, specifically on fractions, decimals, percentages, and that we could get Wu to come do it.

I made essentially cold calls, but I did so to schools that I thought would be interested, who would see this as an opportunity to improve on their already strong academics. In each case, I had reason to believe that their ideas about education were in line with KTM's, shall we say. One school is a Core Knowledge school; one has a classical curriculum model in place; one is moving in that direction and is making lots of changes. I was not disappointed; one of the schools immediately offered to host the event; another offered whatever financial help was necessary. Another looked forward to creating a consortium of teachers between these schools to keep moving their professional development in a good direction--and to work on their struggles with their current textbooks.

After getting a small contingent in place, we called up Wu and set a date. Voila! An institute is born!

So, we're on: June 14 - June 18, 2010, in St. Paul MN, a 5 day institute with invited speaker Hung-Hsi Wu for middle school math teachers on fractions, decimals, percentages.

I will pound the pavement some more in the new year, offering the institute to a few more schools. I am hoping to find other schools that are equally interested in doing something based on content. In the end, we'd like to have about 30 teachers attend, though with some attrition, we may have to start out a bit higher. If we don't get that high a number, it will still be worth it though; the already committed schools are thirsty for this.

I picked parochial schools for a couple reasons. First, I'm Catholic, and the state of Catholic ed here in the Twin Cities metro is just dreadful--it's almost exactly the same as what the public schools offer--and that's truly saddening to me. I want Catholic education to thrive. Next, Catholic schools are much less connected, as they lack a district (most dioceses don't act anything like public school districts) and much less likely to be able to avail themselves of professional development opportunities, both positive or negative; they are much less likely to have a math specialist on their staff, etc. So there was less likely to be competition with other kinds of PD already in place. And finally, I'm doing this for free as part of my charity. The schools I've picked couldn't afford this without my doing it for free. Other privates could afford to hire someone to do this (and maybe they do), but these schools wouldn't have that option.

I will post more when I've got a few more things formalized. We have to work out the registration costs and funding details; I need a web site that looks professional; we'll need some professional posters, etc.

If anyone here is interested in attending, please feel free to email me. (my blogger profile has my address.)

And perhaps we could use this as a starting point for a KTM in person get together?


concerned said...

Is the venue large enough to open the registration to out-of-state attendees?

Are there any hotels within walking distrance?

Allison said...

It's going to be held at a school.

We're keeping the numbers small because a) I've never done this before, b) the host hasn't ever done this before, and c) I don't know that Wu's class can really scale to a large size.

The big issue for Wu's class is that he has small discussion sections each day that need to be led by mathematically strong teachers. So if we open it up too large, and lack those teachers, we hurt our attendees. Right now, it's difficult to gauge how many attendees are strong academically.

I don't think there will be hotels within walking distance, though public transportation should be good in the area.

If there are out of state KTMers who want to come, I am sure we could work out some transportation arrangements.

farmwifetwo said...

Hopefully, it is well attended.

Locally (rural) the private schools are parochial. Mennonite - not interested outside of their own world. And Christian reform - the local one here is doing Arrowsmith programming this year. Which interests me.

The Catholic board is Province wide and provincially funded but they are interested in family as part of their team. But since they still have to teach provincial curriculum to get their $$$$.. they aren't going to change.

Ontario Teacher's... Laughs, sputter's, chokes....
Are not going to change. They'll just dumb it down farther.

Hope you have better luck.

Anonymous said...

How expensive is it to host? I would love something like this in GA, but I'm afraid I wouldn't be able to find a school receptive.

Anonymous said...

In Georgia, it really does depend on what school district you are in.

The high school math coordinator for one of the largest districts in the state was bragging in the hallway at a recent presentation how they would be cracking down on any school or teacher who was trying to teach "sequential methods for solving math problems".

Think of the hundreds of thousands of lives such ignorance will impact.

Allison said...


re: costs: I'm not in a position to say just now on the blog, until it's firmed up. But i'd be happy to talk to you about it by email.

in a couple weeks I hope to post that we've pushed ahead and gotten such things worked out. first i need to get through Christmas...

Ben Calvin said...

Allison, I would be interested in doing something like this in San Francisco. I'd say the quality of math ed here is a bit higher than in the Twin Cities, but could certainly be improved.

Last year I talked to the Archdiocese about Singapore Math, but it seemed like that was too big a leap to actually be implemented. A seminar like this could generate some interest.

Can you forward me some particulars as this comes together?



Allison said...

Hi Ben,

I'd be happy to. Send me an email, too, though, please. I'd be happy to tell you about my experience in our diocese, and why I didn't go that route.

I'll post an update in a couple weeks, at the latest. Thanks to everyone interested, and feel free to email me with more questions.

r. r. vlorbik said...

this is inspiring. thanks for posting!

Catherine Johnson said...

Incredibly exciting!

On my calendar - !

TerriW said...

I can't go to this, but I'm in the Twin Cities, and I would certainly be interested in a KTM meet-up during that time if one goes down...