kitchen table math, the sequel: 1/18/09 - 1/25/09

Friday, January 23, 2009

The constructivist MIT: doing away with the big lecture

Fascinating article on MIT's shift away from teaching physics in the "standard" way, with a professor doing a main lecture 3 hours a week.

The physics department has replaced the traditional large introductory lecture with smaller classes that emphasize hands-on, interactive, collaborative learning. Last fall, after years of experimentation and debate and resistance from students, who initially petitioned against it, the department made the change permanent. Already, attendance is up and the failure rate has dropped by more than 50 percent.

Some bits you might find interesting: clickers! Homework due several times a week! And the biggest of all: attendance counts!

The new approach at M.I.T. is known by its acronym, TEAL, for Technology Enhanced Active Learning....A $10 million donation from the late Alex d’Arbeloff, an M.I.T. alumnus, co-founder of the high-tech company Teradyne, and former M.I.T. corporation chairman, made the switch to TEAL possible. The two state-of-the-art TEAL classrooms alone cost $2.5 million, Professor Belcher said.

The article says the failure rate is down, and performance is up. But then again, with required attendance, the failure rate could easily drop.

Is this constructivism? Are the teachers teaching any more? Or guides on the side? Well, guess what? The students hate it.

from the MIT paper, The Tech, in 2006:

"Most students do not bother to hide their dislike for TEAL. Their list of grievances is long and oft-repeated: the physical set-up of small tables makes it difficult to see the lecturer, the numerous homework assignments are tedious, the in-class problems are gone over too quickly, the students strong in physics end up doing all the work, and so on."

it continues:

Though student complaints are numerous, a number of changes have in fact been integrated into TEAL since its inception. Professor Eric Hudson, course administrator for 8.02T, has worked on modifications including more undergraduate teaching assistants in the classroom, fewer experiments (a drop from 18 to 10), and an emphasis on faculty training. Still being tested is the new AIM screenname iheart802, which will allow students to instant message a TA during class.

But even with the changes, the irrefutable fact remains: students are uninspired by the course. Dourmashkin admits that “students don’t like to go to class,” while Professor John Joannopoulos, who teaches a section of 8.02T this semester, said that there is a “tendency for students to be lax and lose concentration.”

Freshman Sarah Levin ’09, currently a TEAL student, said that “all of TEAL is so unmotivating because it’s so tedious that I don’t put any effort into the class and because of it I’m losing a good percentage of my grade just by lack of attendance.”

Shaw sees this problem as well. “Students come out of TEAL with a dislike for physics, and they seem less inclined to major in physics. TEAL has never done a good job in instilling a sense of why [learning] this is important.”

but I think this is the giveaway:

There are “lots of ways to do active learning,” Belcher said, citing a study conducted at Harvard that exhibited stronger learner gains than TEAL in a lecture environment with regular student involvement. “The important thing is to have students interact with students,” he said.

ah, yes, that's why I was such a poor student at MIT. Because I interacted so seldomly with STUDENTS! exactly.

another student's comments on TEAL:

I strongly suspect the NOOLT ("No One Likes Teal") phenomenon occured because TEAL, as I overheard someone whose name I can't remember say, "is the perfect example of when too much technology can be a bad thing."

We sit in tables of nine in groups of three. Each group has a computer to enable the learning process. Most of the time, though, it's used to watch the power point that's already projected in four (or more) different places around the room. (Sometimes these computers are used for Facebook. We're going to ignore that data.) In the beginning of the year, we took a diagnostic test and we were assigned to tables in a fashion that would keep an even distribution of physics background at the tables (meaning that all the people who took AP Physics in high school wouldn't sit in the same place).

This is all geared towards collaborative learning, which is nice in theory, but what happened in my experience is that the people at the table who knew what they're doing would work through the problem, and I would be left in the dark in terms of where this equation came from and what that one means. The idea was to learn from eachother, except that I feel that we do plenty of this while working on p(roblem)-sets. Personally, I'd like classtime to be geared more towards learning from the teacher.

And finally, this one culled from the comments on the NYT article:

This article is wildly misleading about the success of TEAL. As a member of the class of 2009, I was one of the first students required to participate in TEAL of I chose to take 8.01 (Mechanics). I then took TEAL again for Electricity and Magnetism (8.02).

If you notice in the pitcure, the TEAL classroom is a windowless, dark room that causes drowsiness better than any cold medicine. Each class is 2 hours long and you work with two other people that you have not chosen yourself. On fridays, you are to complete a small quiz with these people and all three of you recieve a grade for it. What ends up happening is the one person in the group does the problem and has no real motivation to explain it to you other than common courtesy.

The grades may have gotten better, but that is only because you get a grade for sitting there as well as about a thousand other assignments that are due at a thousand different times.

Here is a rundown of what you have to do for a TEAL class:

Weekly problem sets (4-10 hours), class time (5 hours), 1 quiz (1 hour), twice weekly "mastering physics" assignments online (each can take as little as 5 min and as much as two days to complete), Office hours, almost always necessary (3 hours)

The system does not foster an interest in Physics, but further enhances your distaste for it. My memories of the classes have nothing to do with the material, but with trudging through the snow to get to sunday office hours because despite all of this technology, the problems were STILL too difficult to do without help, with sitting in my room with 5 other friends trying to finish the online mastering physics assignment before the midnight deadline looking for the midnight deadline, and waking up at 8AM for a 9AM TEAL class knowing I'd be asleep by 9:15.

Do not be fooled by MIT's spokespeople. TEAL is very unpopular among students. Especially me.

Of course, MIT is an odd place, where the number one pastime is hating MIT. The unofficial student motto is "IHTFP", which stands for "I hate this place." So maybe this is just par for the course.

easy is better

from Steve:
My son has a teacher who is known for making her 7th grade social studies class hard. The idea is to toughen the kids up for high school. The assumption is that real learning is a difficult process. I feel like telling her that any teacher can make a class hard. It's more difficult, however, to make the class easy. There seems to be the idea that if you make learning easy, kids will never learn to do it on their own. You have to take an indirect, or discovery approach to really remember the material.

What if you came up with a direct, easy approach that could teach kids about fractions, percents, and decimals. Would you not use it? [answer: no] Thematic, real world, group discovery learning is supposed to be fun, interesting, and effective in both what you learn and how your learn. Too bad it doesn't work and wastes a lot of time. That's OK, because they want to emphasize the process and not the results. Perhaps that's why they don't like tests. Answers are not as important as the process.

I have no patience with educators who pride themselves on being "hard."

Hard work: yes, if (and only if) the kids are learning a lot. Hard to understand, hard to learn: no.

Ditto for the idea that a school's job is done once students have been "challenged." As I once told the now-retired science chair here: If I wrote challenging books, instead of books on challenging subjects that people can read and understand, we wouldn’t be living in Irvington. As a general rule, people don't like hard stuff. They like easy stuff, and rightly so:

Hyunjin Song and Norbert Schwarz wanted to see if they could motivate a group of 20-year-old college students to exercise regularly—not an easy task. They gave all the students written instructions for a regular exercise routine, but they used a simple but ingenious method to make the how-to instructions either cognitively palatable or challenging: Some got instructions printed in Arial typeface, a plain font designed for easy reading. Others got their instructions printed in a Brush font, which basically looks like it’s been written by hand with a Japanese paintbrush; it’s unfamiliar and much harder to read.

There are a lot of ways to make something mentally palatable, or not. You can used clear and simple language, or arcane vocabulary words; simple sentences or convoluted sentences with lots of clauses. The psychologists chose typeface because it’s easy to manipulate in the lab. After the students had all read the instructions, they asked them some questions about the exercise regimen: how long they thought it would take, whether it would flow naturally or drag on endlessly, whether it would be boring, and so forth. They also queried them on whether they were likely to make exercise a routine part of their day.

The findings were remarkable. Those who had read the exercise instructions in an unadorned, accessible typeface were much more open to the prospect of exercising: They believed that the regimen would take less time and that it would feel more “fluid” and easy. Most important, they were more willing to make exercise part of their day. Apparently, the students’ brains mistook the ease of reading about exercise for ease of actually doing the pushups and crunches, and this misunderstanding motivated them to actually think about a life change. Those who struggled through the Japanese brushstrokes had no intention of heading to the gym; the reading alone tired them out.

A Recipe for Motivation
by Wray Herbert
If schools were accountable for results, you'd hear a lot less twiddle-twaddle about "challenge" and "hard." Just ask KUMON. Or Fluenz. Or Pimsleur. Or hell, just about anyone trying to sell you an educational product of any kind. Do book publicists write ad copy telling folks, "Buy this book. It's hard"?

No. They don't.

Even Jay Mathews has modified his approach to the "Challenge Index." In the past, all schools made it onto the list if they had a high number of students taking AP courses & the AP test. How students actually did on the test wasn't part of the index; hence the term "Challenge." The Challenge Index measures challenge, not achievement.


Remind me again.

Exactly what are we paying these people to do?

make them struggle
education professors: students must struggle
KUMON: "work that can be easily completed"
handing it to the student

what is "eradicating the program before it is used"?

Exciting news in yesterday's Times: a digital Pearl Harbor is on its way.

A new digital plague has hit the Internet, infecting millions of personal and business computers in what seems to be the first step of a multistage attack. The world’s leading computer security experts do not yet know who programmed the infection, or what the next stage will be.


Worms like Conficker not only ricochet around the Internet at lightning speed, they harness infected computers into unified systems called botnets, which can then accept programming instructions from their clandestine masters. “If you’re looking for a digital Pearl Harbor, we now have the Japanese ships steaming toward us on the horizon,” said Rick Wesson, chief executive of Support Intelligence, a computer security consulting firm based in San Francisco.


Computer security researchers expect that within days or weeks the bot-herder who controls the programs will send out commands to force the botnet to perform some as yet unknown illegal activity.
Here's the part I don't understand:

The worm has reignited a debate inside the computer security community over the possibility of eradicating the program before it is used by sending out instructions to the botnet that provide users with an alert that their machines have been infected.

“Yes, we are working on it, as are many others,” said one botnet researcher who spoke on the grounds that he not be identified because of his plan. “Yes, it’s illegal, but so was Rosa Parks sitting in the front of the bus.”

Worm Infects Millions of Computers Worldwide
New York Times 1-23-2009

What does this mean?

Wall Street Journal says it's not time to panic.


I'm counting on the Wall Street Journal to tell me when it is time to panic.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

advertisements for myself, part 2

But to remark that “Animals Make Us Human” is a slightly lesser book than “Animals in Translation” is like saying Randy Newman's “Good Old Boys” is a slightly lesser album than “Sail Away.” If you liked the first one, you’re going to like the second.

The Joys and Pains of Being an Animal


I'm having a very good week.

Ed and I heard Temple speak at the 92nd Street Y last night. She was wonderful. Her mom was there, too. She's 80 years old, I believe, and she told us she's speaking to parents of children with autism all over the country. She'd taken the bus in freezing snow and slush to come see Temple.

That was a funny autism thing.

I had wangled free tickets by asking Temple to get them for me, but I didn't ask for anything else, so Ed and I went early and stood at the front of the line so we'd get good seats. When the lady standing behind us found out I was Temple's coauthor, she asked why we weren't already inside.

Why we weren't already inside was: Temple is autistic & doesn't think of these things, & I'm so used to autistic people that it doesn't occur to me to think of them, either.

Meanwhile Temple's mom had taken the bus in freezing snow & slush and bought her own ticket. When she got there someone was aghast that Temple's mom had purchased a $27 ticket to hear her own daughter, so they told her she could have a free ticket to something else at the Y, an offer she snapped right up.

She told us something interesting.

She said the Bettelheim era hadn't affected her because she lived in Boston and everyone was a Calvinist. They didn't believe in Freud, and they didn't get on the couch.

The Creation of Dr. B by Richard Pollack

7th grade depression starts in first grade

Students’ successes in the first grade can affect more than their future report cards. In a new study, University of Missouri researchers found links among students’ weak academic performance in the first grade, self-perceptions in the sixth grade, and depression symptoms in the seventh grade.

“We found that students in the first grade who struggled academically with core subjects, including reading and math, later displayed negative self-perceptions and symptoms of depression in sixth and seventh grade, respectively,” said Keith Herman, associate professor of education, school and counseling psychology in the MU College of Education. “Often, children with poor academic skills believe they have less influence on important outcomes in their life. Poor academic skills can influence how children view themselves as students and as social beings.”

In the study, MU researchers examined the behaviors of 474 boys and girls in the first grade and re-examined the students when they entered middle school. Herman found that students who struggled academically with core subjects, such as reading and math, in the first grade later showed risk factors for negative self-beliefs and depressive symptoms as they entered sixth and seventh grade. Herman suggests that because differences in children’s learning will continue to exist even if all students are given effective instruction and support, parents and teachers should acknowledge student’s skills in other areas.

Recognizing Children's Successes In All Areas May Prevent Teenage Depression

This is a case of naturalizing what is. If schools grouped kids homogeneously and used precision teaching or Direct Instruction, you wouldn't see the less-talented kids developing depressions 5 years down the line. Even without precision teaching or Direct Instruction, you wouldn't see depression. You wouldn't see it because these kids wouldn't be struggling. They'd be taught at their level, they'd be given the time they needed, and they'd learn.

Here's Engelmann:
Rule 3: Always place students appropriately for more rapid mastery progress. This fact contradicts the belief that students are placed appropriately in a sequence if they have to struggle—scratch their head, make false starts, sigh, frown, gut it out. According to one version of this belief, if there are no signs of hard work there is no evidence of learning. This belief does not place emphasis on the program and the teacher to make learning manageable but on the grit of the student to meet the “challenge.” In the traditional interpretation, much of the “homework” assigned to students (and their families) is motivated by this belief. The assumption seems to be that students will be strengthened if they are “challenged.”

This belief is flatly wrong. If students are placed appropriately, the work is relatively easy. Students tend to learn it without as much “struggle.” They tend to retain it better and they tend to apply it better, if they learn it with fewer mistakes.

Student Program Alignment and Teaching to Mastery
by Siegfried Engelmann
July 1999

I think it's time to look into the emotional costs of heterogeneous grouping. Having lived through 3 years of my own child struggling through a class that was over his head, I can tell you that it's not good for the child. Heterogeneous grouping is no picnic for the kids on the bottom.

ability grouping & SAT score decline
ability grouping in Singapore
stagnation at the top - Fordham report
Tracking: Can It Benefit Low Achieving Children?
Linda Valli on tracking in 5 Catholic high schools, 1
Linda Valli on tracking in 5 Catholic high schools, 2
"school commitment" in Valli's study of tracking in Catholic high schools
7th grade depression starts in 1st grade

always worse than you think

In July, the 9th Circuit court ruled that a strip-search of an 8th grader by school authorities looking for prescription-strength Ibuprofen pills violated the student’s rights under the Fourth Amendment.

A panel of the court ruled 8-3 on July 11 that officials at an Arizona middle school “acted contrary to all reason and common sense as they trampled over” the privacy interests of Savana Redding. By a vote of 6-5, the panel held that the assistant principal who ordered the strip-search was not entitled to qualified immunity from liability in the student’s lawsuit.

Ms. Redding was searched in 2003 as part of an investigation into the possession of over-the-counter and prescription medications by students at Safford Middle School in the Safford school district.

After receiving a report that Ms. Redding, who was 13 at the time, had been distributing Ibuprofen pills to fellow students, school officials searched the girl’s backpack, then asked a female administrative assistant to go through her clothing. Ms. Redding had to remove her pants, lift the waist band of her underpants, and lift her shirt and pull out her bra band, according to court papers. No contraband was found.

Ms. Redding and her parents challenged the school officials’ actions as a violation of her Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches. They lost before a federal district court and before an initial three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit court. But the 9th Circuit granted a review by a larger panel of judges.

In that decision, the 9th Circuit majority said the strip search was “excessively intrusive,” especially considering that school officials were relying on an uncorroborated tip from another student who had been caught in possession of the pills.


The school district’s appeal of that decision in Safford Unified School District v. Redding (Case No. 08-479) was also supported by national school groups. The NSBA and the AASA called for the Supreme Court to provide greater guidance to school administrators about the legality of student searches.

The 9th Circuit court’s ruling “unfairly places school officials in the position of being sued and held personally responsible for good faith decisions intended to protect the health and safety of students entrusted to their care and tutelage,” the education groups said.

Supreme Court to Weigh IDEA, Strip-Search Cases
Published Online: January 16, 2009
EDUCATION WEEK Vol. 28, Issue 19
You have to love the fact that the National School Board Association, aka "elected representatives," is weighing in against the child and her parents, aka "voters."

You also have to love the fact that this girl was strip-searched on the say-so of a kid who actually had prescription-strength Ibuprofen in her possession.

liveblogging the inauguration

Ann took a job teaching English at the U.S. embassy. She woke up well before dawn throughout her life. Now she went into her son's room every day at 4 a.m. to give him English lessons from a U.S. correspondence course. She couldn't afford the élite international school and worried he wasn't challenged enough.

The Story of Barack Obama's Mother
By Amanda Ripley
Wednesday, Apr. 09, 2008

Monday, January 19, 2009

Varmland Waltz


Click on Muji Play.

I discovered Muji at the JetBlue terminal - beautiful!

Muji pens give Energels a run for their money.

This concludes my Vacation Report.

Muji in Soho

Muji global

coming soon to a school district near you, part 2

reading workshop

What did you learn about reading today?

What did you learn about yourself as a reader?

I spent two hours Googling "Reading Workshop" and "Writing Workshop" this weekend. I don't know why.

The amazing sameness of it all (assist - enhance - reflect) got me to public education a cult?

A half-trillion dollar a year, taxpayer funded, government monopoly cult?

"Seinfeld teaches history"

at the Cooperative Learning Community

I'd never seen this before. (A Karen H find)

here's what trade winds look like

The winds blow all the time.




The Amsterdam Manor Hotel has been renovated, I think.

This is what it looks like these days.

Here are people talking about it.

worst Monday of the year

it's today!