kitchen table math, the sequel: 3/22/09 - 3/29/09

Saturday, March 28, 2009

uh oh

The Quiet Coup by Simon Johnson
May 2009 Atlantic

Haven't read the article yet; still trying to determine whether quiet coups that result in financial meltdown on a planetary scale fall under the heading No quiero saber que pasó.

3 decades of confusion and distortion

Does anyone have a copy of this paper?

Or an easy way to get one?

The justification advanced by teachers and curriculum developers for investing so much time, energy and resources in laboratory work in school science courses almost invariably includes the claim that it provides students with insight into, and experience and practice of, the methods of science. This paper traces the changing nature of laboratory work from the 1960s to the present, from discovery learning to process-led science to contemporary constructivist approaches, and argues that each of these styles of laboratory work has seriously misrepresented and distorted the nature of scientific inquiry. Some suggestions are made for the re-orientation of laboratory work to ensure that it projects an image of science that more faithfully reflects actual scientific practice.

Laboratory work as scientific method: three decades of confusion and distortion
Derek Hodson
Journal of Curriculum Studies,
Volume 28, Issue 2 March 1996

pages 115 - 135

...from discovery learning to process-led science to contemporary constructivist approaches...

Those babies belong in the Museum of Educational Fads.

being there

Barry left this passage from Kirschner, Sweller, & Clark's Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work:
Despite this clear distinction between learning a discipline and practicing a discipline, many curriculum developers, educational technologists, and educators seem to confuse the teaching of a discipline as inquiry (i.e., a curricular emphasis on the research processes within a science) with the teaching of the discipline by inquiry (i.e., using the research process of the discipline as a pedagogy or for learning). The basis of this confusion may lie in what Hurd (1969) called the rationale of the scientist, which holds that a course of instruction in science should be a mirror image of a science discipline, with regard to both its conceptual structure and its patterns of inquiry. The theories and methods of modern science should be reflected in the classroom. In teaching a science, classroom operations should be in harmony with its investigatory processes and supportive of the conceptual, the intuitive, and the theoretical structure of its knowledge. (p. 16) This rationale assumes "that the attainment of certain attitudes, the fostering of interest in science, the acquisition of laboratory skills, the learning of scientific knowledge, and the understanding of the nature of science were all to be approached through the methodology of science, which was, in general, seen in inductive terms." (Hodson, 1988, p. 22) The major fallacy of this rationale is that it makes no distinction between the behaviors and methods of a researcher who is an expert practicing a profession and those students who are new to the discipline and who are, thus, essentially novices.

From Kirshner, Sweller and Clark: "Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not
Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and
Inquiry-Based Teaching
" (pdf file) in Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 75-86; 2006.

Friday, March 27, 2009

group home 3.24.2009

first night

Faking it

In An Experiment with a Project Curriculum (1923) Ellsworth Collings reports on an experiment he directed as county superintendent from 1917 to 1921 at a rural school in McDonald County, Missouri, where the children themselves - not the teacher or the curriculum - determined the projects and topics they would study. Collings claims that the findings of his dissertation strengthened the case for the 'project method' as popularized by his doctoral adviser, William H. Kilpatrick, since the students at the 'experimental school' attained higher scores on standardized tests in writing, reading and arithmetic as well as in social skills, habits and attitudes than the students at the two 'control schools'. Collings's book is a classic of progressive education, and his story of how 10 students were successful in combating an outbreak of typhoid fever in their community is well known among historians and educators even today. A re-examination of the dissertation - in particular of the so-called 'typhoid project' - reveals, however, that the experiment never took place as described and that Collings reconstructed his data substantially in order to conform to Kilpatrick's frame of reference and to present convincing data on the possibility and superiority of child-centred education.

Faking a dissertation: Ellsworth Collings, William H. Kilpatrick, and the 'project curriculum'Michael Knoll
Journal of Curriculum Studies, Volume 28, Issue 2 March 1996, pages 193 - 222
These people really are reprobates.

constructivism doesn't work, part 1: little scientists

New study out from the University of Virginia re: science education, which David Klein once told me is in even worse shape than math education. Gauging by the first sentence in Tai & Sadler's report, David is right:
Inquiry-based instructional practises are a mainstay of the National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1996) and Benchmarks of Science Literacy (AAAS, 1993) in the USA.

Same Science for All? Interactive association of structure in learning activities and academic attainment background on college science performance in the USA
Robert H. Tai; Philip M. Sadler
International Journal of Science Education
Vol. 31, No. 5, 15 March 2009, pp. 675–696

Here's a nice summary of where things stand, drawn from O'Neill & Polman:
In recent years, a number of curriculum reform projects have championed the notion of having students do science in ways that move beyond hands-on work with authentic materials and methods, or developing a conceptual grasp of current theories. These reformers have argued that students should come to an understanding of science through doing the discipline and taking a high degree of agency over investigations from start to finish. This stance has occasionally been mocked by its critics as an attempt to create ‘‘little scientists’’—a mission, it is implied, that is either romantic or without purpose. Here, we make the strong case for a practice-based scientific literacy, arguing through three related empirical studies that taking the notion of ‘‘little scientists’’ seriously might be more productive in achieving current standards for scientific literacy than continuing to refine ideas and techniques based on the coverage of conceptual content.

Why Educate ‘‘Little Scientists?’’ Examining the Potential of Practice-Based Scientific Literacy
D. Kevin O’Neill, Joseph L. Polman
VOL. 41, NO. 3, PP. 234–266 (2004)
I have not read O'Neill & Polman's study as yet.* However, a mere glance at the final section turns up the phrase "student-designed research projects," accompanied by a vote for Deborah Meir, "the principal who has led school reforms in New York and Boston [and recommended] that educators foster 'the capacity to hazard an opinion on matters of science that may pertain to political and moral priorities, and a healthy and knowing skepticism toward the misuse of scientific authority'** (Meier, 1995)."


"Student-designed research projects" and "the capacity to hazard an opinion on matters of science that may pertain to political and moral priorities" have nothing to do with each other.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that the typical student-designed research project is likely to render a teen-aged student less able to hazard an opinion on a matter of science that may pertain to political and moral priorities than a solid, book-based, content-rich science course would do, while at the same time causing him to consider himself more able. Not knowing what he or she doesn't know: that's your little scientist.

In any event, Robert Tai and Philip Sadler's analysis of survey data from more than 8000 high school students produced the following conclusion, which will come as a surprise only to ed-school trained educators:
Self-led, self-structured inquiry may be the best method to train scientists at the college level and beyond, but it's not the ideal way for all high school students to prepare for college science.
This is the kind of thing parents and taxpayers do not need a peer-reviewed study to figure out, mostly because parents and taxpayers have a clue.

Data show that "autonomy doesn't seem to hurt students who are strong in math and may, in fact, have a positive influence on their attitude toward science" Tai said. However, "Students with a weak math background who engaged in self-structured learning practices in high school may do as much as a full letter grade poorer in college science," he said.


According to Tai, many secondary science classes are turning to a self-structured method of learning with the notion that students will discover science on their own. "Advocates should be sobered by this study's findings," Tai said.

Sobered, hell.

Advocates should be overcome by guilt and remorse; advocates should get down on their hands and knees and beg forgiveness of parents and taxpayers for the countless thousands of young people lost to scientific and science-related careers because they arrived at college having spent 13 years pretending to be little scientists instead of acquiring the content knowledge they needed to study science in college.

But I don't see that happening.

* If you'd like me to send you the study, email me: cijohn @
** I guess pure research is out.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

He's Back

I just happened across the Connecticut Academy for Education and a reference to the Algebra I Curriculum Project. You know, just doing my five minutes of Google research and such. Channeling the eternal optimist, I wanted to believe that perhaps there was hope and that CT might finally be on the path to joining the ranks of those states with world-class algebra standards-- or any algebra standards at all for that matter.*

One click led to another and I ended up learning that in December 2008, the CT DOE opened up the bidding process for a curriculum grant for the Connecticut Algebra I Model. They don’t appear to have had an overwhelming response given that of 25 available spaces at the bidder’s conference, only 4 were taken. Four.

Not yet ready to abandon all hope, I trudged on to the winning proposal submitted by the Connecticut Academy for Education folks. I was stopped dead in my tracks when I hit page 8, regarding personnel:

“The Steering Committee includes a diverse group of individuals, respected within the state, nationally, and internationally, who will provide vision and guidance for the work. The committee members are Steve Leinwand…”


This would be the same Steven Leinwand who in February 1994 said, It’s Time to Abandon Computational Algorithms.

"It's time to recognize that, for many students, real mathematical power, on the one hand, and facility with multidigit, pencil-and-paper computational algorithms, on the other, are mutually exclusive. In fact, it's time to acknowledge that continuing to teach these skills to our students is not only unnecessary, but counterproductive and downright dangerous."

The same Steven Leinwand who in September 1998 sealed our doom with CT Math PIRK. The very man who can take all the credit for our failing math standards -- earning an “F” as well as a place on the list of “states to shun”. His hand in our state standards is glaringly obvious and the result of his handiwork makes it no surprise that 40% of incoming freshman at Central, Eastern, Southern and Western Connecticut state universities are ending up in remedial math. (Courant)

The same Steven Leinwand who made decisions on which math programs recommended by the Department of Education to the tune of billions of edu-dollars, would be rated “exemplary” or “promising” despite having “personal connections with ‘exemplary’ curricula.” (Math Problems) The very programs which have prompted districts such as my own to sink boatloads of taxpayer money into well-hyped and expertly marketed snake-oil.

Yep. He’s back.

He’s crept back into the Connecticut math standards game and that’s a very, very bad thing.

In fact, I'd say it's counterproductive and downright dangerous.

*Not surprisingly, not only does Connecticut not have world class math standards, it seemingly has no standards for Algebra I and II courses at all. (National Mathematics Advisory Panel Final Report: Report of the Task Group on Conceptual Knowledge and Skills- Figure 2)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Behind the Wheel

Interesting thing (must get lefty to weigh in on this).

Normally, Jimmy chants all the time.

He's chanting right now, in fact. Did you pour? Did you pour? You're not playing with the hose. You're not playing with the hose. Want that. Want that. You started cry. You started cry. You're not playing with the hose. You're not playing with the hose. Later. Later.

You're not playing with the hose is an Andrew thing. Andrew likes to play with the hose, which he calls water rope on his Neo; when it's 20 degrees outside Ed likes Andrew not to play with the hose. Hence: you're not playing with the hose.

Point is: the chanting is constant.

Driving home from White Plains this afternoon, though, listening to Behind the Wheel's native speakers banging on about I would like to get a job with more vacations but I can't now and I am sitting down on the floor in front of my television set, I realized Jimmy had fallen silent. When I looked over at him I saw that he'd closed his eyes & seemed to be listening, a small smile on his face.

Now I'm thinking of getting a Pimsleur CD (a secret of the FBI and the CIA for years!) to send along to the new home, maybe.

And I'm trying to think whether he chants when he's watching TV.

is this a sign?

I find most of the sentences on Behind the Wheel Spanish Level 2 challenging to repeat after the native speaker.

All except for "I don't want to know what happened."

That one's a cinch.

where parents get their information

I've left this comment in response to Sean Cavanagh's post on Palo Alto:


"This is a difficult choice," one parent said in written comments about the math curricula, which the board asked for. "Well-meaning parents should not be able to vote based on five minutes of Google research."

Which raises another question, in all of these skirmishes: Where are parents getting their information about the various math curricula? Is there any emerging consensus on the math curriculum at early grades? What do debates like the one in Palo Alto say about where these debates are going?


Here is a source of parent information:

April 24, 2008, 5:30pm - 7:30pm, Port Discovery
Dr. James Milgram
Dr. William Schmidt
Dr. Stephen Wilson

I think it would be worthwhile asking where administrators and teachers are getting their information about the various math curricula.

In my own district, "information" about math curricula comes from ed schools and textbook publishers.

Mathematicians and those employed in math-related professions are not consulted, and when such individuals attempt to offer their expertise regardless, they are ignored.


Concerned Parent put me onto Leading Minds/Baltimore Curriculum Project.

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

Steve H on Everyday Math in Palo Alto

responding to Sean Cavanagh on Re-examining a Math Skirmish:

Cavanagh: 'Focal Points' reflects a growing consensus that A) the current math curriculum is overcrowded and confusing for teachers and students; and B) creating a more focused curriculum and encouraging students to master certain key topics lay the groundwork for their foray into more difficult math later.

Steve H: Everyday Math does not meet either condition A) or B). But then again, "encouraging" mastery is just so wishy-washy it could mean anything. The Focal Points are just used to get others to go away so that schools can continue to decide on all of the details.

Cavanagh: Which raises another question, in all of these skirmishes: Where are parents getting their information about the various math curricula?

Steve H: You can't pick and choose your arguing points. You know quite well that there are many serious, well-founded objections to these math curricula. By not focusing on real problems, like ensuring mastery rather than "encouraging" mastery, you either don't understand what's going on or you're trying to change the subject.

The Focal Points is an educational turf manifesto. It's designed to make others go away. It won't work. Details matter. It's time to move beyond the simple argument that parents just want what they had when they were growing up. Let's talk about why parents have to care about this in the first place. Because schools aren't getting the job done.

March 18, 2009

The notion that Well-meaning parents should not be able to vote based on five minutes of Google research is going to be hard to sustain given the fact that Google now supplies a very large portion of the "curriculum" to which American children are exposed.

In my district, which has adopted every known "initiative" promoted by ed schools and their ancillary consultants and vendors,* "research" means Google and teachers routinely pull "projects," assignments, and tests from the internet.

e.g.: recent Advanced Placement writing assignment given to high school students: Google 10 pieces of nonfiction writing on the web -- any kind of nonfiction writing written by anyone at all -- and summarize each.

If Google is good enough for AP Comp teachers, it's good enough for parents.

What's Google for the goose is Google for the gander.

* differentiated instruction, 21st century skills, media literacy, balanced literacy, reading workshop, writing workshop, Assured Writing Experiences (AWEs), middle school model, exploratories, interdisciplinary teaming, cross-curricular everything under the sun, character education, and so much more!

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


windows to the soul

photo by álfheiður erla

Bootstrapping their way to mediocrity

The National Science Foundation offered grants to school districts starting in 1995 (and whose funding ended in 2002) called Local Systemic Change (LSC). These grants provided professional development to science and math teachers. To be brief, the NSF funded PD programs were party-line instruction in "standards-based" teaching; i.e., how to teach the crap programs that NSF's Education and Human Resource Division funded (like Everyday Math, Investigations, IMP, CMP, Core Plus, etc).

There is a report that came out in 2006 that I just discovered. It evaluates the effectiveness of the LSC program. (It was written by Horizon, Inc., under a grant from NSF). I wish I had found it earlier. It can be found here.

This excerpt taken from page 43 of the report is quite telling:

"Other evaluators cited changes in teachers’ beliefs about who can learn science and mathematics. For example, prevailing attitudes among some teachers before LSC workshops included low expectations and the need for ability grouping. LSC professional development helped change these beliefs. Said these teachers about the impact of LSC professional development:

"Before IMP, I felt that there were mathematically unreachable students. I felt that students could not go on to more challenging ideas like algebra, statistics, probability, or trig without basic skills. Fortunately, with my IMP training, I have a different feeling about students. I strongly believe in access to mathematics for all. (Teacher, 6–12 mathematics LSC)"

The above quote from a teacher (in italics) is amazing. Before this teacher started using IMP, he/she felt that basic skills were necessary in order to proceed in mathematics. After IMP, which essentially avoids content whenever possible, he/she saw the light. Yes, wonderful things happen when you pretend that content doesn't matter, and that higher order thinking skills occur just by giving students "authentic" problems without the bother of all those and boring drills and instruction. They are able to reach for the stars. Unfortunately they do so by standing on a two legged stool. But NSF has done its duty and the people who wrote this report have confirmed what NSF always knew: Their reform math programs are an unparalleled success.

The only thing this report lacks is a chorus line kick and the ritual singing of Kumbayaa.