kitchen table math, the sequel: 3/8/09 - 3/15/09

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Chappaqua budget

Chappaqua schools feeling the pinch

I'd love to know the thinking here, assuming there is any thinking apart from what the various actors have stated.

Is the proposed budget a tactic to press the union for concessions?

Is it a tactic to panic parents at the thought of class size increases and cuts to arts?


Something else?

nice work if you can get it
Chappaqua’s teachers currently average $98,206 a year. Next year, with a contractual 3.5 percent salary increase and other increments, that would rise to $104,029, school officials said. That figure includes automatic step-ups for years of service. According to school officials, because of such steps, 75 percent of teachers are scheduled to get increases of 7 percent or more.

Add 32% to that for benefits.

Ed's salary is frozen and (NYU) department heads have been instructed to cut budgets. His salary was frozen for 2 or 3 years cut 5% at UCLA during a downturn some years ago.

As for me, when times are bad I earn less.

ignoring parents in Palo Alto

Apparently the professional educators in Palo Alto think picking a fight with parents is a good idea.
Superintendent Kevin Skelly said he didn't want parents to leave the meeting dissatisfied, and asked if there was a way to get to the heart of the matter while remaining respectful to the teachers and other committee members who'd spent so much time discussing, evaluating and piloting the programs. Parents asked for a poll of which program they preferred. While Skelly came close to calling for a show of hands, he ultimately asked parents to write their thoughts on paper, indicating the strength of their preference or objection to different programs.

"I'd rather hear it now than I would at 11 o'clock on April 14 (during the school board meeting)," Skelly said.

Most of the notes expressed frustration with "Everyday Math," ranging from "What is wrong with regular, normal math being taught today? Why do we need 'Everyday Math?'" to, "I will fight 'Everyday Math.'"

Fair warning.

update 3-18-2009: It's possible this post is mistitled. This may be a case of ignoring parents and teachers in Palo Alto.

ignoring parents in Palo Alto
welcome to the Grand Canyon
a teacher-mom on Everyday Math
the plot thickens
Steven H on Everyday Math in Palo Alto

where parents get their information
"reality" in Palo Alto

Parents frustrated over math texts
Teacher committee recommends new math text
Ed Week on the ed wars

interview with my cousin re: her experience with EM

spelling test

25 most commonly misspelled words

via Mankiw, view Newmark's Door

I missed 3.

One of them I absolutely did not know.

Speaking of not knowing, Diane McGuinness has a section in Early Reading Instruction confirming as a universal my impression that a person's spelling deteriorates dramatically when he's exposed to misspellings.* This is why, she says, teachers should not give multiple choice spelling tests. **

Which is exactly the kind of test 25 most commonly misspelled words is. Two of the words I missed because I caught a glimpse of the choices and promptly forgot the correct spelling.

Not so with the third. I was as convinced of the correctness of my chosen spelling as I was of my chosen answer to what is 6 x 7? for God knows how many years. (you may have to hit refresh a couple of times)

* Seeing misspelled words strongly depressed spelling scores, and the probability of using the same misspelling was high (.76). p. 118

** Ditto invented spelling.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Culture Quiz

This week, my 7th graders have been grappling with straight lines. Now, mind you, we're in the second straight week of these straight lines so this is no intro lesson. We were having a sort of Socratic discussion on the meaning of slope and I was desperately trying to narrow my probative questions down to something they could hang on to. Finally I got down to one of those questions that has the answer embedded in it.

"If the value of y increases by 10, then what is the change in y?". I naively expected this to be the magic question that would kick off a real discussion. What I got was more like you'd expect if I had inquired about their favorite Frank Sinatra album. Nothing! Not one child could answer this loaded question. Now I'm not green, so I'm fully aware of the liklihood that 30% of the kids in the room never heard the question and another 30% were thinking about lunch and wouldn't answer to any question, but surely someone was out there, with enough listening skill to answer. Nothing but blank stares!

This isn't the first time I've reached this Socratic nadir. It happens a lot. It's always a puzzlement. Later, I was talking to a student about his video game prowess. I asked him what he liked so much about video games and he started to talk about how, when he's playing, he just sort of gets in a zone. His fingers just respond automatically to what is happening on the screen. "I don't have to think about it.". Could it be that Socratic fizzle is related to video anesthesia? Is my teaching competing with a video game?

Trying to connect these dots is probably a hopeless exercise but it brings to mind a larger, equally imponderable, but more interesting question about how we learn. Here's the question…

When does learning take place? Is it (on one extreme) just a school event or, (on the other extreme) is it a 24 x 7 x 365 process? And, wherever you land on that one, what is being learned in the various compartments of a child's life? What do you learn in a splatterfest like Gears of War versus playing marbles? What did you learn with a stereoscope that is different from what you learn clicking through 200 cable channels in an afternoon of diversions?

I'm curious to know what folks think about this. Has a cultural shift occurred that changes the learning paradigm for any or all of these compartments? Does our culture 'wire' kids differently today than it did years ago, or for that matter, how does what you learn in one compartment drive or spill over into others? Does any of this have a connection to why my kids can't answer a question that's a 'gimme'?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Extracurricular gifted programs threatened as well!

I've just learned that the principal has faulted our Continental Math League for "widening the achievement gap."

It's been suggested that, instead of running a math club for gifted students, I instead run one for struggling students.

Maybe I'm being unreasonable, but I tend to think that it's the school's job, not mine, to educate struggling students.

A first step for the school would be to follow in the footsteps of the following school districts and drop the Investigations math curriculum: Framingham (Massachusetts), Inner Grove, Little Falls, Staples-Motley, Stillwater, & Waconia (Minnesota), Columbia (Missouri), Fairport, Greece, Penfield, Pittsford, & Syracuse (New York), Lebanon, Painesville, Three Rivers, & Wickliffe (Ohio), Gervais, Sutherline, & Chariot (Oregon), Arlington, Bellevue, Clover Park, Eastmont, Lake Stevens, Oak Harbor, & Richland (Washington), Black River Falls, La Crosse, River Falls, & Superior (Wisconsin).

If the Powers that Be have the guts to do this, I will be so grateful that I may, indeed, be willing to sacrifice additional time in the name of math education.

The more likely resolution, I'm afraid, will be that--for all our enthusiastic support among math-starved math buffs and their parents--said Powers will not grant us permission to resume our Continental Math League next year.

hot off the presses!

Discovery learning in math: Exercises versus problems (pdf file)
by Barry Garelick

Our fourth example offers a sharp contrast to the other three. This problem comes from the fourth grade textbook in the series called Primary Mathematics from Singapore.6 It is well posed and requires students to apply their prior knowledge.

“What is the value of the digit 8 in each of the following?

a) 72,845 b) 80,375 c) 901,982 d) 810,034 e) 9,648,000 f) 8,162,000”

Students cannot escape the lesson about place value since they cannot simply note where the 8s are, they must know what the various positions of the 8s mean. Preceding this problem in the Singapore text are other problems that introduce the concept of a number being a representation of the sum of smaller components of that number by virtue of place value; i.e. 1,269 can be expressed as 1,000 + 200 + 60 + 9.

Similarly, students are asked to express written out numbers, such as ninety thousand ninety, using numerals in the standard form (i.e., 90,090). They are also asked to write numbers in numeral form, such as 805,620, in words.

In short, students are asked no ambiguous questions, and the underlying concept of place value is indicated clearly via examples that can be applied directly to problems. By the time students reach the problem asking for the value of “8” in the various numbers, they have a working knowledge of what the numbers in various positions represent. This problem pushes them to apply that knowledge, thereby revealing any confusion they may have and also providing enough guidance for them to see that the position of the number dictates its value.†

Advocates of complex problems that get students “off the script” may think this problem is not challenging enough. After all, any discovery students make is inherent in the presentation of the problem and the solution clearly comes from work that the students have just completed. But as anyone recalls from the early days of having to learn something new, it feels a whole lot different answering questions on your own, even after having received the explanation. In fact, such experience constitutes discovery. So I have to ask, what is wrong with acquiring incremental amounts of knowledge through well-posed problems? It is, after all, much more efficient than discovery-type problems that require Herculean sense-making efforts and leave most floundering for a solution, without a clear sense of whether they are right or wrong.

herculean sense-making ----

woo hoo!

Chester Finn on 21st century skills

[S]peaking of 21st Century skills, the more I learn about this woolly notion, the clearer it becomes that this infatuation is bad for liberal learning; a ploy to sidestep results-based accountability; somewhere between disingenuous and naïve regarding its impact on serious academic content; and both psychologically questionable and pedagogically unsound.

Chester E. Finn, Jr.

Have I mentioned lately that my district, now at $26,000 $27,700 per pupil spending, does include 21st century skills on its newly approved 20-page Strategic Plan but does not include college preparation?

I believe I have.

As for me, I think 21st century skills are going to be cold comfort in the next few years.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Senate Votes Down More Federal Funds for School Vouchers

from the ACLU:
March 10, 2009

CONTACT: Mandy Simon, (202) 675-2312;

WASHINGTON – An amendment that would continue an expiring program to provide federal funds for private and religious school vouchers in the District of Columbia was defeated today in the Senate. The amendment would have extended the federally-funded District of Columbia school voucher program, the nation’s first and only federally-funded private and religious school program of its kind. Federal funding for private and religious school vouchers are currently set to expire at the end of the next school year. The amendment, number 615, was proposed to H.R. 1105, the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 by Senator John Ensign (R-NV), but was defeated by a vote of 58-39.

The American Civil Liberties Union has strong objections to the voucher program based on First Amendment principles that bar funding for religious education.

“The Senate’s rejection of continuing to provide federal funds for private religious education is welcome,” said Christopher Anders, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel. “The government cannot and should not be directly – or indirectly – funding the religious education of our children. Private religious schools have a clear and undisputed right to include religious content in their school curriculum when those schools are privately funded, but not when they are taxpayer funded. Vouchers are a problematic because once government dollars enter the equation it becomes impossible for the government to avoid funding religious activity or favoring one religious or non-religious program over another.”

The voucher program allows schools to take federal funds while infusing their curriculum with specific religious content without being subject to many civil rights statutes that protect students from discrimination. Students that participate [in what?] are exempt from compliance of laws like the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Since the principal recipients of these federal voucher funds are private religious schools, every American’s tax dollars are going toward schools that bring specific religious content into their curriculum. Moreover, congressionally-mandated evaluations by the federal government itself have shown that students receiving vouchers have shown no improvement in academic achievement when compared to similar students in public schools.

“Federal funds should mean adherence to federal law and that is simply not the case with voucher programs,” continued Anders. “Students of these programs are not guaranteed the same protections of civil rights statutes as their public school counterparts. How can we say we’re helping our nations’ students when we’re not properly safeguarding them? There must be a better way for our taxpayer dollars to serve all students in Washington, D.C.”

Where is President Bartlett when we need him?

West Wing & the Jesuits

Cutting Honors and AP Classes

Due to cost cutting in their school budget, a non-urban high school in our state is cutting 31 mostly honors and AP classes.

A comment from another high school considering the same problem was:

“We do a lot for special needs students, as we should. But one of things that were not doing is enough for our gifted and talented students."

Another comment was:

"Since the state doesn’t provide any funding for gifted student programs, each district has to find a way to get the job done."

They offer these kids nothing in K-8, and now they want to offer them nothing in high school.

Do you want to know what their solution is? On-line courses.

What bothers me the most is that they call these kids gifted and talented. I ran into this with a parent once. She called algebra in 8th grade the "high honors" course. I told her it was the course that most students should be taking. Now, apparently, kids who take honors courses are gifted and talented. The implication is that it would be nice to do something "special" for them, but it can't be done now. The schools aren't getting "extra" money from the state to do this. Once again, they blame it on money, not bad choices.

Lower expectations means lower accountability and less work for schools. It's self-fulfilling; you get what you expect.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Spanish teacher listmania

I collect Listmanias.

Also ISBN numbers.

If you're interested in learning Spanish, this is a great one.

stumble upon

Searching for Spanish meetups nearby, I came across this:

Dispuestos a arrasar vuestra salvage civilización si oponeis resistencia.

According to it means: "We are prepared to raze your civilization to the ground if you put up resistance."

I love Google.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Fluenz, lesson 11

Sonia Gil pre-lesson:
Hola, welcome. ¿Como están? Bien. I’m sure you’re ready for a super review session. Today we’re not going to learn anything new. We’re just going to practice and practice and practice until everything seems absolutely natural to you. Or at least as natural as we can possibly make it. So get ready to – practice. And get ready to dramatically improve what you already know.

Sonia Gil post-lesson:
That was really good work. I’m sure you’re getting faster and faster at it. Funny how no one thinks of speed training in language teaching. But how fast you understand what you already know, how fast you can formulate a response, and how fast you can catch the colloquial rhythms of Spanish are perhaps as important as how much grammar and how many words you know. And fast is all about practice. All of this to make a simple suggestion: do this session one more time. Yes, because practice makes perfect. So good luck and hasta luego.

Fluenz part 2

missing voc ed

comment left by Anonymous:
In the district where I now live, many kids go from high school to a technical school. Cosmetology, auto mechanic and other shop-type fields, various IT fields, various medical fields (medical and nursing assistant, surgery tech, radiology or lab tech etc.). Many of those fields used to be offered in high school; now it is up to the families to pay for them afterwards. The cost can be significant; I was told by one medical assistant that her 10-month program cost $10,000. How is that progress? BTW, these jobs not only pay decent wages, but can't be outsourced, either.

I see a need for strong college prep, but some districts also need strong vocational prep. Pretending that all kids should go to college and watering down the college prep curriculum accordingly serves no one well. The military does a great job of vocational education that translates into good civilian jobs.

DeeDee on French immersion schools

We are in Toronto, Canada. The French "immersion" stream in our public school system is full of kids whose parents think they are too smart for the regular stream but they haven't tested into gifted. It's generally acknowledged as a way of providing extra challenge if the parents think their kids will be bored at school.

However, anyone I know that has graduated from the immersion stream admits that it did them no good - there is a real dearth of teachers who meet all 3 requirements of a good immersion teacher (especially in the higher levels): they know their subject material, they are natively fluent in French, and they are good teachers. So the farther you go in the immersion stream, the worse the teaching gets and the less the kids learn.

My husband was researching this and came across the term "interlanguage fossilization" which describes one result - kids learning a second language from each other and from non-native speakers, who end up creating a language that is not a natural language spoken by anyone.

On top of that, the reasons for parents choosing the French has the further effect of devaluing the regular English-stream, creating all kinds of problems in the student populations of schools where both streams are offered.

I haven't read the book you mentioned, but if it disparages the Canadian immersion system, I wouldn't be surprised.

Fluenz & lefty book recommendation

Fluenz, part 2

I've just this moment finished Lesson 11 of Fluenz Spanish and I love, love, love this program.

I love it so much I don't even need to write a post explaining why, because every word on the Fluenz web site is true.

The only thing they've left out is the fact that Fluenz Spanish is a fun way to while away the weeks and months of our recession-slash-depression. In Fluenz Land there is no recession-slash-depression, just vibrant, focused young people traveling to South America to learn Spanish, and Paris to learn French, and China to learn Chinese, & then coming back to America to create a language teaching software that smashes the unnamed competition to smithereens via direct instruction, "leveraging" of the (English) language you already know, and fabulous design. In short, the Fluenz people don't just have a software product, they have a mission and, even better, a story. So while you're learning how to say My suitcase is the big one you're rooting for Sonia Gil and her friends to slay Goliath, or at least survive long enough to pay off the venture capital and peaceably co-exist. And you're hoping that when the dust settles Fluenz is still here.

Extremely simple to use & virtually no software glitches.

Here's hoping I have the sense not to order Fluenz French.

Even though I really want to.

(This is probably Mom, right?)

Fluenz & the educational telepresence
lefty book recommendation & Concerned Parent on Rosetta Stone
Fluenz: 10 reasons to love us
Fluenz & Rosetta Stone
Fluenz at flickr
Fluenz on YouTube "Language is a human right"

Gilbert Highet on competition

Amy P pointed me to Gilbert Highet's The Art of Teaching, which has a number of passages on Jesuit education:
The Jesuits, who worked out in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries one of the most successful educational techniques the Western world has seen, used the spirit of competition very strongly and variously. They treated it not as a method of making the boys learn, but as a way of helping them to learn by bringing out their own hidden energies. As well as pitting the best individual pupils against each other, they used the technique familiar to modern leaders of mass meetings, and balanced groups against groups, half the class against the other half, teams of six against each other, and finally the whole class against another class slightly more or less advanced. They got the best boys to challenge each other to feats of brainwork which would astonish us nowadays. A top-notch pupil would volunteer to repeat a page of poetry after reading it only once; another would offer to repeat two pages. (The Jesuit teachers paid the greatest attention to the development of memory. Even their punishments were often designed to strengthen the memorizing powers, making a late or lazy pupil learn a hundred lines of poetry by heart, and the like.) A group of specially gifted boys would challenge another—always under the smiling, flexible, encouraging, but canny Jesuit supervision—to meet them in debate on a series of important problems, and would spend weeks preparing the logic, the phrases, and the delivery of their speeches. Perhaps the fathers overdid it, although we do not seem to hear of nervous breakdowns among their pupils. Certainly they made more of the spirit of competition than we could possibly do nowadays. Yet that was part of the technique which produced Corneille and Moliere, Descartes and Voltaire, Bourdaloue and Tasso. No bad educational system ever produced geniuses.

It is, then, the teacher’s duty to use the competitive spirit as variously as possible to bring out the energies of his pupils. The simple carrot-and-stick principle does not work, except for donkeys. Really interesting challenges are required to elicit the hidden strengths of really complex mind. They are sometimes difficult to devise. But when established, they are invaluable. It is sad, sometimes, to see a potentially brilliant pupil slouching through his work, sulky and willful, wasting his time and thought on trifles, because he has no real equals in his own class; and it is heartening to see how quickly, when a rival is transferred from another section or enters from another school, the first boy will find a fierce joy in learning and a real purpose in life. In this situation—and in all situations involving keen emulation—the teacher must watch carefully for the time when competition becomes obsessive and the legitimate wish to excel turns into self-torture and hatred. Long before that, the competition must be resolved into a kindlier co-operation.

The Art of Teaching by Gilbert Highet
p. 131-132

This reminds me of something I once read about race horses.