kitchen table math, the sequel: 10/4/09 - 10/11/09

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Education Non-Myths

I couldn't resist sharing these maxims from a new blog :
whose author I know from a previous book he wrote entitled Power Teaching (it's in the list of books I recommended in a post a few months ago:

What follows is from the "Book of Right", the set of assumptions which will produce learning.

1. Although students come from different backgrounds, and some are much easier to teach than others, what education brings to the student is much more important than what the student brings to education.

2. All subjects are hierarchically arranged by logic and there is a sequence of instruction which must be followed by all but the most exceptional of high-performing students.

3. Reinforcement is a very powerful determinant of student achievement. The main reinforcer in education is the improvement the student sees in his skills. Ill-constructed curricula, the kind found in almost every government school, result in a steady diet of failure for most students.

4. Having a system of education which is not a civil servant bureaucracy is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for effective education. You can’t do it with such a bureaucracy, but just because you don’t have a bureaucracy doesn’t mean you can do it.

5. Higher order thinking skills are explicitly taught, not fondly hoped for.

6. Methods of teaching are determined by scientific research, not consensus based on experience and sincere belief.

7. Teachers use a curriculum and lesson plans which have been demonstrated to work best and are not expected to create their own.

8. Psychological assessments are used rarely, but assessment of student progress, which means assessment of the effectiveness of teaching, occurs at least daily.

9. Teachers are taught how to teach in detail rather than being expected to apply vague philosophical maundering.

10. Special education is rarely needed because students are taught well on the first go round.

11. If a student does not learn, the blame is not placed on neurological impairment, but on faulty teaching methods.

12. Self-esteem is not taught because it does not have to be.

13. Students are not given "projects" until component skills have been mastered and rarely thereafter.

14. No attention is paid to individual "learning styles" because these hypothetical entities have no effect on learning.

15. Academic success can be measured by reliable and valid standardized tests, although many of these tests are too simple.

16. Students are expected to perform correctly in spelling, writing, reading, and mathematics and it does not stifle creativity.

17. The precepts of Whole Language are not used to teach reading because these precepts are wrong.

18. Students are not expected to create their own reality because this leads to frustration and slow learning.

19. Students are not expected to learn when it is developmentally appropriate but when they are taught.

20. The concept of multiple intelligences is ignored because it has no positive effect on learning.

21. The teacher is a teacher and not a facilitator.

22. The spiral curriculum is not used because things are taught properly the first time.

23. The customer is the parent and the customer must have the economic power to move his child to another teaching situation when unsatisfied.

24. In private education, the cost of education is known. In public education, the cost can never be known because there is no motivation to tell the truth and every motivation not to.

25. The curriculum must be tested on children and provision must be made for mastery learning. Passage of time or exposure does not guarantee learning.

26. Students are not tortured by "creative problem solving" because this is just another crude IQ test and has no value aside from categorizing students yet again.

I'm not sure I agree that "special education will rarely be needed," because I have observed that students with certain exceptionalities (autism, some LDs, some language impairments) need the same effective instruction but can't benefit from it in an inclusive setting, at least not initially. However, I agree with the general case, that much "special education" is simply ineffective general education, watered down in in a smaller group. As Lloyd Dunne (I think) observed, "It's not special, and it's not education."

All students deserve better.

Parents are alike the world over

Shall we discuss our solutions for the problem included in the above article:

Jim bought some chocolates and gave half of it to Ken. Ken bought some sweets and gave half of it to Jim. Jim ate 12 sweets and Ken ate 18 chocolates. The ratio of Jim’s sweets to chocolates became 1:7 and the ratio of Ken’s sweets to chocolates became 1:4. How many sweets did Ken buy?


Friday, October 9, 2009

Thursday, October 8, 2009

6th Grade Math, Arts and Crafts Edition

6th Grade Math
Course 2 Math Project – Trimester 1
due Nov. 5

You will design and draw a simple blueprint for the house.

For a grade of C:

• House contains 5 rooms (kitchen, living room, bathroom, 2 bedrooms)
• Each room is labeled with its use
• On a separate sheet of paper, each room is listed with its correct area and perimeter (including feet or sq. feet)
• Room dimensions are appropriate for the given use
• Project is completed on quarter inch grid paper (1 sheet provided by teacher)
• A scale of ¼ inch = 1 foot is used
• Project is neat
• Project is turned in on time

For a grade above C:

• All requirements for a C are present, and
• Extras, such as color, furniture and appliances, fabric or paint swatches, additional rooms, etc. are included

Pre Algebra Course 3 Math Project – Trimester 1 due Nov. 5

Create a math dictionary that contains the following sections and terms:

Section 1: Number Systems
• Real numbers
• Irrational numbers
• Rational numbers
• Integers
• Whole numbers
• Natural (Counting) numbers

In this section include the term, its definition, and 3-5 examples.

Section 2: Rational Number Interpretations
• Part-Whole
• Division
• Measure
• Scalar
• Ratio

In this section include the term, its definition, and a word problem that represents the interpretation.

For a grade of C:

• All required terms, definitions, examples or word problems are present and correct
• Project is neat
• Project is turned in on time

For a grade above C:

• Everything required for a grade of C
• Extras, such as cover, color, illustrations that enhance text, etc.

NCTQ report recommends CO adopt Singapore Math

The National Center on Teacher Quality released a report entitled: Race to the top: Colorado may be used to high altitudes but can it compete in Race to the Top?

Commissioned by the Piton Foundation, the Donnell-Kay Foundation, the Colorado Children's Campaign and the Public Education & Business Coalition, the report suggests 7 strategies the state might take while applying for the RTT funds.
  • Strategy 1: Performance management (Teacher Evaluation, Tenure & Dismissal) - Given the tremendous impact teachers have on learning, no strategy a state will take on is likely to have a greater impact on student achievement than one that seeks to maximize teacher and principal performance.
  • Strategy 2: Equitable Distribution of Teachers and Principals - Schools serving children living in poverty are more apt to employ teachers with lower qualifications than schools serving more affluent children.
  • Strategy 3: Induction - CO should develop a statewide system of induction support for new teachers, particularly in its high needs and remote rural schools.
  • Strategy 4: Compensation Reform - CO needs to move away from lockstep salary schedules towards a system that differentiates salary on a number of factors, including teacher effectiveness, the relative difficulty of a school setting and the demand for teachers with particular skills or knowledge.
  • Strategy 5: Teaching in STEM fields: CO should develop a coherent state strategy to address the difficulty school districts face in attracting and retaining sufficient numbers of qualified STEM teachers.
  • Strategy6: Statewide Adoption of an Effective Curriculum: Students achieve when 4 elements are in place: Standards, Curriculum, Teachers & Assessment.
  • Strategy 7: Educator Preparation (Including Alternate Certification) - In spite of countless studies looking at the value of teacher education, we have only been able to learn (apparently) that no single method of teacher preparation yields more effective teachers than another.
I'll be honest, I haven't read through the entire report as yet, however I managed to get through Strategy 6, in which the authors recommend statewide adoption of Singapore Math at the elementary level. The report notes that:
...curriculum has been troublingly absent in conversations about education reform as well as ignored in the indifferent approach some educators take to curricula adoptions.

... the current emphasis on human capital and effective teachers has been at the expense of an equally urgent emphasis on the importance of good curricula.
And when discussing common standards, the report flat-out states:
We would go so far as to say that if the standards were in conflict with the Singapore curriculum, a state ought to consider opting out of the new standards.
Well, you don't hear that everyday!
Read and enjoy
(Cross-posted at Singapore Math Source)

I see Socrates

Niki Hayes sends a link:

When we consider constructivist teaching, or a constructivist approach to learning, what comes to mind? For me, I see Socrates standing not in the center, but to the side of his students.

I imagine him pondering their comments and questions, and carefully crafting questions of his own, which he contributes -- selectively. Most importantly, he doesn't lead, but follows the line of questioning of the students.

That's really what it's all about: being an questioner, an investigator side-by-side with your students. That doesn't mean we shouldn't have a solid lesson plan ready to go each day, but we should be ready -- and willing -- for the students to take the class into unchartered waters.

Let me give you an example from my own teaching experience. In an American Literature class I taught a while back, we had made our way through transcendentalism, stopping off at Henry Thoreau. Here, I had a few lessons on civil disobedience planned.

Day one, we watched a video excerpt on Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat...


Then, the students began talking about racial profiling and wouldn't move on.


Mostly African-American and Latino, my [11th grade] students began sharing stories of racial profiling from their own lives, and the lives of their families and friends.

One thing leads to another, and 2 weeks later students hand in their culminating projects:

  • "One group made a brochure titled, 'How to Protect Yourself When DWB (Driving While Black/Brown).'"
  • "Another group created a presentation poster on the history and statistics of racial profiling"
  • "[Teacher's] favorite project was an instructional video for police officers on how to build trust with the community."
Letting Go in the Classroom by Rebecca Alber 10/6/09
So I guess the entire class is filled with visual learners.


You'd think there'd be a couple of verbal/linguistic types mixed in somewhere.

Guess not.


TerriW leaves this comment:
At what point do you really need to stop calling something an "American Literature" class -- what percentage of the class should be, I dunno, American Lit?

I mean, at a certain point, you have to start calling it "cheese food" instead of cheese...


I mentioned Tuesday that I have not been mentating so well of late.

It's been so bad I had to break out my Time Timer for the past two days running just to figure out when it was going to be time to stop doing whatever I was doing now and start doing whatever I was supposed to be doing do next.

Time Timer worked great. I recommend it.

I've also been using two iTouch apps every day, day in and day out: one for diet, another for positive reinforcement. Both are terrific. Fantastically useful and motivating.

I think Karen Pryor would approve.


Lose It!
Lose It! screen shots
Does This Pencil Skirt Have an App?

good news, sports fans

In the mail today:

Andrew has been invited to travel as Sports Ambassador to the People to People Tennis Invitational in Vienna, Austria.

I'm thinking about telling them yes.

don't answer that

Does Stew Leonard's pumpkin pie qualify as vegan?

Math problems of the week: Systems of Equations in CPM vs. 1900's math

(Cross-posted at Out In Left Field)

1. The only systems of equations that students are required to solve algebraically in the CPM (College Preparatory Mathematics) Algebra Connections "Systems of Equations" chapter (published in 2006):

y = 1160 + 22x
y = 1900 - 15x


y = 6 + 1.5x
y = 2x


y = 2x -3
y = -x + 3


y = 2x -3
y = 4x + 1


y = 2x - 5
y = -4x - 2


y = -x + 8
y = x -2


y = -3x
y = -4x + 2


y = 2x - 3
y = 2x + 1


y = -4x -3
y = -4x + 1


2. A subset of the over one hundred systems of equations in the Wentworth's New School Algebra "Simple Systems of Equations" chapter (published in 1898):

5x + 2y = 39
2x - y = 3


x/3 + y/2 = 4/3
x/2 + y/3 = 7/6


x + y - 8 = 0
y + z - 28 = 0
y + z - 14 = 0


6x - 2y + 5z = 53
5x + 3y + 7 = 33
x + y + z = 5


2x + 3y + 1 = 31
x - y + 3z = 13
10y + 5x - 2z = 48


1/x + 2/y - 3/z = 1
5/x + 4/y + 6/z = 24
7/x - 8/y + 9/z = 14


2/x - 3/y + 4/z = 2.9
5/x - 6/y - 7/x = -10.4
9/y + 10/z - 8/x = 14.9

3. Extra Credit:

(a) Discuss why CPM, but not New School Algebra, has to stipulate that the simultaneous equations be solved algebraically (rather than graphically or by "guess and check").

(b) Discuss the arithmetic and algebraic skills required by each problem set.

(c) Relate your answer in (b) to the final assignment in CPM's "Simultaneous Equations" chapter, the TEAM BRAINSTORM:

With your team, brainstorm a list for the following topics. Be as detailed as you can. How long can you make your list? Challenge yourselves. Be prepared to share you team's ideas with the class.

Topics: What have you studied in this chapter? What ideas and words were important in what you learned? Remember to be as detailed as you can.

5OSME: 5th international conference on origami in science, mathematics and education


I thought some on this blog may be interested in learning about the 5th international conference on origami in science, mathematics and education.

Please also see:

If there is sufficient interest among those who register for the conference, I may arrange for a small group of 20 people to visit Singapore schools the week of 19-23 July 2010.

5OSME (5th international conference on origami in science, mathematics and education) is scheduled for 13-17 July 2010 at the Singapore Management University in the heart of Singapore. English is the major language in Singapore, so there should be no difficulties in communicating with the locals.

Since Southeast Asia is a fair distance to travel for those of us in the northern hemisphere, we are extending 5OSME to include not only a research conference, but a folding conference and a merlion design challenge.

Separate messages have been posted about these events, but this message will include information for all three components:


The deadline for submission is December 1, 2009.

Submission Guidelines:

Title of no more than 80 characters.

Contributed papers will be 25-minute oral presentations. Interested authors should submit an abstract of no more than 300 words. Submissions may include figures if desired, but both abstract text and any figure(s) must fit on a single standard letter page. Submissions should be in one of the following formats:

MS Word (.doc)
Plain text (.txt)
PDF (.pdf)

Submission categories (please include the category for your submission):

Any combination of the above categories

Your abstract should be sent to and include the following information:

Author(s) full name(s):
Institutional affiliation(s):
Corresponding author:
Email address:
Postal address:
Audio/Visual requirements*:

*We will provide an overhead transparency projector and a standard VGA-input data projector for each session. Any additional equipment needs will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Abstracts are due by *1 December 2009.* The corresponding author will receive an email acknowledgement of receipt of the abstract, and will be notified by mid-February 2010 of the status of the submission. The program committee may query the author(s) for additional information. Abstracts will be published on the web after acceptance and in printed form at the conference.

Authors of accepted abstracts will be invited to submit a paper (maximum length of 10 pages) by 30 June 2010 for publication in the conference proceedings.

See the following links for the program for 4OSME:


Origami enthusiasts/folders/creators from around the world are hereby
cordially invited to submit diagrams of their models for publication in
a diagram book in conjunction with the 5OSME convention.

Contributors whose models are selected for publication will receive a free
copy of the convention book. In caseS where the diagrammer and
creator are different persons, both will be acknowledged in the book,
but only the one who submitted the model for publication will receive a free
copy. If the contributor is unable to attend the convention, the book
will be sent to him/her via regular mail.

Due to copyright issues, only models that have not been published
elsewhere will be considered.

Please include your name and email address (for quick communication).
Contributors will be notified via email whether their models have been
chosen for publication. The organising committee will make the selection
based on the level of difficulty, the limitation on the total number of
pages in the book, quality of the drawings and subject matter.

Please submit your diagrams to

Deadline for submission: 31 December, 2009

Content of submission:
Title of the model (required)
Name of the creator (required)
Name of the diagrammer (if different from creator)
Country of origin (required)
A complete step-by-step guide of how to fold the model (required)
A black and white photo of the completed model (optional, .jpg, .gif,
.tiff format)
A crease pattern (optional)
A short introduction of the model, creator, inspiration, paper
recommendation, acknowledgment etc. (optional)

English is recommended, but we accept explanatory text accompanying the
diagrams written in other languages as long as the diagrams are clearly

Subject matter:
Any subject matter: living organisms, inanimate objects, modular, etc.

Preferred file format:
Pdf, MSWord (.doc), Inkscape (.svg). We apologise that we are only able
to accept electronic submission. If the diagrams are hand-drawn, please
submit a scanned copy with a minimum resolution of 600 dpi.

Page size:
A4, with 1 in. (25.4 mm) margin on 4 sides.

Model difficulty:
Any level. The organising committee will test fold all the models. If we
are unable to reproduce the creator's result, it may affect the model's
acceptance for publication.

Standard origami notation. Please refer to for guidelines.

Copyright policy:
The creator retains the right to the model as well as the diagrams, which
will not be published elsewhere without prior consent of the creator.
However, by submitting the model to the convention book, the creator
gives permission to anyone to freely fold and duplicate the model for
non-commercial use. Please refer to the website for
a detailed copyright policy.

Any queries related to the diagram submission can be directed to


You are invited to participate in an Oriami Design Challenge.
The theme is the Merlion, and the challenge is open to everyone.
Participation is free and there will be no restrictions on the number of
models you may submit.

The Merlion, originally designed as an emblem of the Singapore Tourism
Board, is an imaginary creature with the head of a lion and the body of a
fish. The lion head represents Singapore's original name "Singapura" or Lion
City in Sanskrit. The fish body comes from Singapore's ancient name of
Temasek meaning "sea town" in Javanese.

The Merlion at Merlion Park is one of the few Merlion sculptures seen around
Singapore. Pictures of this Merlion are uploaded at:

A page for photos of the models and their CPs will be created soon on the
5OSME website. Once your model is ready, please take photos of it from
different perspectives and send them to Merlion Challenge at: Include your name, and country (city) of residence in your
email. Please also provide some information about your model, e.g.
paper used, techniques applied and size.

This is a design challenge and there are no prizes. The winners will be
decided by voting based on the picture submitted and uploaded on the
website. Voting is open to everyone, and further information on voting will
be put up on the website.

The pictures submitted will only be used for the purpose of the Challenge.
Any requests for commercial use will be referred to the model creator.

Deadline for submission of pictures from participants is 13 June 2010.

Thank you. We look forward to receiving your submissions.

Best regards,

The 5OSME Organizing Committee

Recommended Algebra 2 materials

I'm looking for recommendations on Algebra 2 materials. A little background- Both of my sons are in geometry. The 8th grader is at a rigorous middle school. The 9th grader is at the local high school in an IB program. Back in 7th grade, he attended a strong school in AZ that refused to differentiate in math, so he basically repeated the 6th grade Singapore program in a class considered Pre-Algebra.

He is currently acing Geometry using a Prentice Hall text. He never has homework and has missed 10 points out of 400+ all quarter. At back to school night, the teacher told us how excited she was with the text because it had all these online lessons(!). The school is also using Prentice Hall for Algebra 2.

My son would like me to homeschool him in Algebra 2 over the summer so that he can begin Pre-Calculus next year. I figured he could just sign up at the local community college, but they don't really offer anything like this, unless he tests into College Algebra. To do so, he must also test at college level for reading & writing.

I'm guessing it will be up to me (and him). I'll start by giving him the New Elementary Mathematics level 2 placement test. Although I saw the Teaching Company program recommended, I'm wondering if anyone can suggest a strong Algebra 2 text for us?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

is arithmetic math?

I was kibbutzing with a compatriot in the high school parking lot last night. He's a math person who is an administrator with a major college. Very knowledgeable.

He told me he wants kids to be taught math, not arithmetic; "arithmetic isn't math."

I've heard that before but still don't know what it means.

Speaking of arithmetic, Hung Hsi Wu's article "What's Sophisticated about Elementary Mathematics" (pdf file) is out!

And remember Ron Aharoni: What I Learned in Elementary School.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Recollection of a Diaspora.

I remember water, lots of water -- warm, cleansing, refreshing. Opening your eyes after rinsing off the shampoo to the sunlight streaming in is a lot like waking up – and you see, that’s my first ever memory of rinsing my hair.

I’m sitting at the kitchen table, watching my mother slicing cucumbers. She’s showing me how to remove the bitter sap by rubbing the tops and bottoms with the chopped ends. I think it’s the oldest piece of advice that I still remember. One day, when you’re old enough, I’ll teach you to cook, she says.

My sister was born after me, but I can’t recall a memory where she wasn’t already there yet. Did you know, she once coloured the living room wall with crayons? I can’t remember what my first memory of a book is. Too many books. I apparently once drew in some of their pages, but I can’t remember doing that. There’s one showing occupations - - bricklayers, doctors, farmers, painters, police officers – and then, kings and queens. What does a king do? What does a king do?

Here comes a book in Chinese! (What do my parents call it? Ah, huawen.) Oh boy! I’m a bit intimidated. How does this work? Well here’s a picture of a little sister. Mei-mei. A picture of an elder brother. Gorh-gorh! But what about big sisters and little brothers? Do they exist, or are brothers always older than sisters?

My parents spoke mostly English to me at home, save when they were explicitly trying to teach me huayu. A curious fact you see, since now I realise that English wasn’t their native language. Chinese came from another dimension, far far away, and came up whenever people wanted to talk about stuff from long, long ago. You used it whenever Chinese New Year came around – it was like a birthday, only for everybody.

I remember my mother stuffing two large oranges into my hands as my family knocked on a large wooden door. “Give to Pohr-Pohr!” she said. I can’t remember what I asked – something along the lines of, “Why does she want them?” or “Why do you want me to do it?” She hushes me. The door opens and out pour the greetings in Chinese. I wait to say my line before stretching my arms high above me to give my oranges to a familiar and kindly old woman. Inside lay a kitchen table full of food, old-fashioned but good: the reward for putting up with all the Chinese.

I remember sometime later I had the epiphany that my immediate family had four people – one day we were all standing together in the lift and I decided to count them, taking care to include myself. It would be much later before I realised that Pohr-Pohr was my mother’s mother. It was weird at the time to think your parents had parents. It was also weird because I only saw my father’s mother once, in a land called Malaysia, and I never thought of her as Pohr-Pohr. Pohr-Pohr only ever spoke in huayu to me – she would falter if she tried to use English. Her flat was from another era; everything about it was old, and huawen was found everywhere. Outside, the housing estate was surrounded by a forest of tall, thick trees that arched above the roads – trees that had probably been there forever. My grandfather, who I called Gong-gong, spoke neither English nor huayu. He would speak to my mother and Pohr-Pohr in a language no one ever tried to teach me.

Out of the alternatives to English, I think I liked Malay the best. It was enchanting, charming, and perhaps most importantly, it was written with the alphabet. Some people spoke it, though they tended to be old-fashioned like my Pohr-Pohr. You found it on placenames (like Kembangan, or my Pohr-Pohr’s place, Telok Blangah), and in songs I learnt to sing. You’d also find it in the names of foods, like katong laksa, but that didn’t really count, because there it was part of Singlish, and everyone spoke that. A lot of Malay was shared with Singlish, in contrast to huayu, which was rarely shared.

I probably would have been an enthusiastic Malay student, but my father generally refrained from teaching it. I didn’t really like Chinese class in preschool. If one thing epitomised everything I dreaded about “Chinese” for me at that time, it was my laoshi: a towering plumpish woman with a haughty, fearsome voice, dressed in a weird and gaudy floral fusion of a sari and a silk robe from the Chinese dimension. While the rest of my friends enthusiastically chimed in the right words and phrases, I always felt it was a miserable game of playing catch-up and being too scared to ask the laoshi what was going on (in huayu of course). My laoshi was a good taskmaster though, because I remember writing a fair bit of huawen under her, carefully tracing strokes with my neatest handwriting. Tracing huawen was a bit like colouring – you had to make sure you didn’t deviate from the lines.

One day, my parents decided to move to a land called America.

I was told it was a big, big place, far away across the sea on the other side of the world, more far away than Malaysia or China, where my Gong-gong came from. Some of my friends (and my teachers) knew about it. “America is better than Singapore. You should be excited!” they essentially said.

(We’ll miss you though.)

We visited first. I remember my first sights of Cape Elizabeth, and my first visit to the Lobster Shack. The people there spoke differently; the adults liked to call you “honey,” initially a source of constant puzzlement, and likewise they appeared confused when you tried to address them as “auntie” or “uncle”. In the summer, America didn’t feel very far away – it was like any other place your parents took you to, only instead of being whisked off to Telok Blangah, Jurong or Bukit Timah by bus, you were being whisked off to America on a plane.

In Singapore, we packed and I watched my toys and books disappear into boxes. Sometimes, my sister and I would be left at my Pohr-Pohr’s house while my parents did very important business elsewhere, collecting us only at night. This was cool at first, but the toys were strange, the books were all in huawen, and my Pohr-Pohr’s flat was just too old, too repressive, too Chinese. It’s one of the most dreadful feelings in the world, not knowing why your parents won’t come back for you yet, and when none of the adults can understand what you really want to say. Outside of my Pohr-Pohr’s windows lay the world, full of high-rise flats and tall city buildings that rose in the distance. Despite my searching eyes, none of them contained my home; none of the people in them were my parents. Of all the places I had been to, my Pohr-Pohr’s flat felt the furthest from home. I broke down – I bawled, I cried – and then my Gong-gong took me in his arms and sung me a beautiful song I never heard before, in a language that was not huayu.

Our second flight to Maine occurred during a big blizzard of a Nor’easta. Los Angeles didn’t feel very different from Singapore; I had to put my coat on upon touching down in Chicago because it was truly the Windy City, though I saw one lady wearing a fruit basket for a hat; but in Maine it was pouring snow, and before I had previously thought snow was only found in fairy tales.

I remember my first day at an American kindergarten. First, there was the ride on a yellow school bus, which I had never seen before. The whole playground was shrouded in fog – “like clouds, but on the ground,” my mother had said, and I discovered how the clouds became see-through as you got closer, breaking any hope of ever resting on one. It was a vast playground compared to what I had known in Singapore, and I remember the Ciocca twins pushing each other on swings, and how I couldn’t keep straight which one was Alicia and which one was Sonia.

In some ways, integration into the American education system was not difficult. Americans spoke English, and I spoke a different form of English, and this fact usually wasn’t a great hindrance. Best of all, there was no dreaded Chinese, and the truths of math and science didn’t change from country to country. We grew monarch caterpillars on milkweed and watched them make chrysallises to then emerge as monarch butterflies, flying away in the wind to a place called Mexico. By now I had been given a world atlas, which I had devoured; I had mapped the distance from Singapore to Maine and felt like I was the only one who appreciated the distance the butterflies travelled.

Nevertheless, for a while I was placed into ESL, though for a while I did not recognise it for what it was, since it was just another class. Perhaps it was standard practice for any migrant child who didn’t come from the UK, Canada, Australia or New Zealand. I remember the lady who worked with me, who couldn’t keep straight where I came from. “You’re from China, right? You look Chinese.”

I remember being self-conscious of how I looked like for the first time: that realisation of I look like people in China but not like people in America.

It was funny how I didn’t realise until then how Chinese and China were related. China, I learnt, had a shameful history, defeated in countless engagements with the West because of its backwardness and old-fashionedness. And while the American Revolution was championed and the English Revolution was literally glorious, my mother told me the Chinese Revolution “wasn’t a good one.”

Some years later I was told that my parents had purposely refrained from teaching too much Chinese at too young at age to me. English was more important for getting by in the world, and people who spoke only Chinese were marginalised. And it was thus from common experience they had concluded that, “it is easy to learn Chinese once you have mastered English, but to learn English knowing only Chinese is difficult.”1 And in America, smugly proud of my increasing strength in English and my increasing deficiency in Chinese, I marvelled at the brilliance of my parents’ decision while my command of huayu slowly died away.


1. Most linguists would now reject this idea, because of what we now know about language acquisition.

Letter from a Child

Thomas Sowell from the Hoover Institution takes time out to write about one of those inane letter writing assignments, but from the perspective of a recipient. It's a nice piece, except don't you think he should have complained to the teacher instead of the parents?

He starts be recognizing the general problem:

Parents send their children to school to acquire the knowledge that has come down to us as a legacy of our culture — whether it is mathematics, science, or whatever — so that those children can grow up and go out into the world equipped to face life’s challenges.

Too many “educators” see teaching not as a responsibility to the students but as an opportunity for themselves — whether to indoctrinate a captive audience with the teacher’s ideology, manipulate them in social experiments, or just do fun things that make teaching easier, whether or not it really educates the child. (Emphasis mine.)

But then he brings in parents as complicit:

Unfortunately, the dumbed-down education of previous generations means that many parents today see nothing wrong with their children being manipulated in school, instead of being educated.

Such parents may see nothing wrong with spending precious time in classrooms chit-chatting about how everyone “feels” about things on television or in their personal lives.

Well, okaaaayy, but a lot of parents have a big problem with's just that we have had our collective hands slapped enough to know that that any objection will either (1) fall on deaf ears or (2) result in some type of subtle or not-so-subtle retaliation played out on our kids.

But while our children are frittering away time on trivia, other children in other countries are acquiring the skills in math, science, or other fields that will allow them to take the jobs our children will need when they grow up.

You betcha. It would be nice if someone pointed that out to the NCTM which reportedly just issued its high school guidelines. Now to the letter from little Johnny:

[S]chools are supposed to prepare children for the future, not give teachers opportunities for self-indulgences in the present. One of these self-indulgences was exemplified by a letter I received recently from a fifth-grader in the Sayre Elementary School in Lyon, Mich.

He said, “I have been assigned to ask a famous person a question about how he or she would solve a difficult problem.” The problem was what to do about the economy.

Oh yeah, we've been there. Stupid, stupid assignment. We tell our kid, just do it and get it over with. So what does Tom do? He's well-intentioned, but he writes back to the PARENTS!

What earthly good would it do your son to know what economic policies I think should be followed, especially since what I think should be done will not have the slightest effect on what the government will in fact do? And why should a fifth-grader be expected to deal with questions that people with Ph.D.’s in economics have trouble wrestling with?

Damn straight. But, ah, the parent didn't come up with the assignment.

The damage does not end with wasting students’ time and misdirecting their energies, serious though these things are. Getting students used to looking to so-called “famous” people for answers is the antithesis of education as a preparation for making up their own minds as citizens of a democracy, rather than as followers of “leaders.”


The fad of assigning students to write to strangers is an irresponsible self-indulgence of teachers who should be teaching.

Yeah! But, honest, I didn't ask for this assignment!
Then, predictably, his final pronouncement:
[T]hat practice will not end until enough parents complain to enough principals and enough elected officials to make it end.

Yup, it's our own darn fault. Blame us for that lousy education our kids are getting! But that's a little unfair to Mr. Sowell, because he really believes (no snickers now) that parents have power.

Parents need a union.

in case you'd like to share my pain...

Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman

The China Study by Thomas M. Campbell
20-year study of Chinese diet & health – “this project eventually produced more than 8000 statistically significant associations between various dietary factors and disease...”
Introduction (pdf file)

Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Caldwell B. Esselsstyn

The Engine 2 Diet: The Texas Firefighter's 28-Day Save-Your-Life Plan that Lowers Cholesterol and Burns Away the Pounds by Rip Esselsstyn (son of Caldwell: 28-day before & after photos!)

Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes by Neal D. Barnard

And don't forget: Younger Next Year

Congratulations, Katharine!

Raising a Left-Brain Child in a Right-Brain World: Strategies for Helping Bright, Quirky, Socially Awkward Children to Thrive at Home and at School

I can't wait to read!

I miss you guys!

Well....I'm in Irvington, clearing my head.

I've been so fogged in by fear, grief, and suspense over my mom's health that I can't come up with a proper metaphor and/or clinical term to convey the situation and have been on radio silence. Although I did, during my mom's first ICU stay, acquire the term mentating. As in: Your mother is mentating so well!

I have not been mentating well.

quick update: Since August 12, when my mother fell and fractured her pelvis, she has been:
  • in Evanston Hospital ER
  • in Evanston Hospital CCC (cardiac care)
  • in Evanston nursing home for rehab
  • back to Evanston Hospital ER
  • Evanston ICU
  • back to Evanston CCC
  • in Highland Park skilled nursing care facility
  • in Highland Park Hospital ER
  • in Highland Park Hospital
  • back to Highland Park skilled nursing facility

Has it been 56 days?

I'm grateful I have 3 siblings to help me deal with all this. I just wish C. had 3 (typical) siblings, too.

scared straight

My mom has heart failure.*

She didn't start out with heart failure; she started out with a weight problem, which apparently led to high blood pressure. In middle age she developed Type 2 diabetes, and then, three years ago, she had a heart attack. After that, heart failure.

In short, she seems to be a classic case of what is now called metabolic syndrome.

Of course we kids are horrified not just by the prospect of losing our mother but by the possibility of going through what she is going through ourselves -- and of putting our kids through this, too.

Hence: scared straight.

Which seems to mean becoming a vegan.

When I told a friend that the vegans appear to be right, she said Anthony Bourdain called them a "Hezbollah-like splinter faction" of vegetarians.


* update 7.3.2011: My mom didn't have heart failure. Her PCP thought she did, but she didn't. A year before she died, I went with her to see her cardiologist, who gave us a blank look when we brought up her heart failure and told us she didn't have it. The only reason this exchange took place was that I'd read an article about left ventricular assist devices, and I wanted to know whether my mom could have one. Turned out she wasn't a candidate for a left ventricular assist device because she didn't have heart failure. 

I'll probably never know why we all lived with a fatal diagnosis hanging over our heads for -- how many years? I don't remember. Also, I'm pretty sure the fact that everyone thought my mother had heart failure led to everyone mistaking symptoms of kidney failure for symptoms of heart failure. The extreme pain she was experiencing from kidney failure severely constricted her life and caused the fall that ultimately killed her. 

I know this will sound obvious, but it bears saying: when you're dealing with a parent's health issues, make sure you understand the diagnosis. As I understand it now (and please correct me if I'm wrong), there are two forms of congestive heart failure: chronic and acute. It's entirely possible that both my mother and we kids were told that she had the acute form and no one explained the difference.

It's also possible she was misdiagnosed -- or that she was correctly diagnosed by her original cardiologist, who left town, but there was some kind of miscommunication with the PCP.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Hello KTM Community
My family and I are starting to attend high school open houses with our 7th grade daughter. We are mostly looking at private schools in SW CT, we went to Chase Collge Preparatory last week. I will be looking at our public high school (Monroe, CT) as well as the local Catholic High School.

After reading KTM for all these years, I feel very confident in evaluating an elementary program but I find myself at a loss in evaluation criteria for a high school.
Does the community have any advice on what criteria we should be looking at?
Thanks so much-
Dee Hodson