kitchen table math, the sequel: Let's not and say we did, part 2

Friday, December 3, 2010

Let's not and say we did, part 2

Ditch the daily lesson plan
If you think about the “real world” that we’re preparing kids for, how often is the “real world” day broken up into science moments, math moments, writing moments, etc?
I don't know about you, but for me the "real world" day gets broken up into science moments, math moments, writing moments, etc. any time I happen to be doing science, math, writing, and 'etc' all on the same day.

Say I'm studying math for the SAT.

I just study math. Without any science or writing at all. (Also, if I can find a decent worksheet, I do a worksheet.)

Or say I'm writing a book proposal or an article for the local paper.

I just write!

I don't do any math or science to speak of, unless I happen to be writing about math or science. And even then, I don't do math or science. Writing about math or science isn't the same thing as doing math or science.
...science moments, math moments, writing moments, etc? We engage all of these things at all times.
No we don't.
Also, it’s not like integrated units are anything innovative…
True.
Kids don’t need a six-week unit on mastering quotation marks; they need to learn to master the quotation marks piece in the screenplay they write collaboratively about the people of Iceland solving problems around a catastrophic tectonic event that includes the gathering and analysis of quantitative data.
oh, man

Speaking as a person who is finishing up a semester teaching English composition to college freshmen, I would have a very hard time convincing my students that what they really need isn't to learn when and where to use a comma but to write collaboratively about the people of Iceland solving problems around a catastrophic tectonic event that includes the gathering and analysis of quantitative data.

I'd get some stony looks on that one.

Real stony.

let's not and say we did
let's not and say we did, part 2
let's not and say we did, part 3

19 comments:

ChemProf said...

I am on a committee looking at our college's writing requirement. One thing we've agreed is that a problem is that our second writing course is doing too many things at one, teaching writing and disciplinary content, and that what we need to figure out is how to create courses that focus on JUST TEACHING WRITING. (The problem as always is defining that, and figuring out how to pay for it). Just pointing out their writing errors in a class that is doing other things does not work.

And in my field, there are definitely distinct steps of collecting data, analyzing data, understanding results, and actually writing the paper. Trying to do all that at once is a recipe for getting nothing done.

Catherine Johnson said...

The college composition course is a real conundrum because writing requirements vary discipline to discipline, and writers write much better when they have knowledge in the topic they're writing about. In other words, background knowledge is as important to good writing as it is to being able to read well.

I've wondered whether there is one all-purpose kind of writing you could teach that would generalize across disciplines. If there is, I think it would be journalism. Ed says he learned to write in a journalism seminar during his senior year at Princeton.

The interesting thing about that course was that the professor, who had been the editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, I think, had each student in the seminar pick **one** subject to write every story about for the entire semester.

This approach meant that by the time the semester was over, they had a lot of knowledge about the topic of their pieces.

That makes a lot of sense to me.

Allison said...

For those so enamored with preparing kids for thereal world, why do they want school at all? Wouldn't child labor better? That would integrate everything.

Catherine Johnson said...

My two courses are both 'content-based' comp courses, which means that I'm teaching writing in the context of an English literature course.

On the whole, I like that idea (though I don't know how generalizable my students' new skills will be)....but it was also quite difficult in that they are novice to writing and novices to literature & literary analysis to boot.

If I had to choose, I'd pick the course(s) I was given to teach over a generic composition course, but it was very challenging.

Catherine Johnson said...

I've become a believer in 'controlled composition' a la the DBQ. If you need to teach writing to students taking science courses, just GIVE them the material they're going to write on; perform the data collection step for them.

I found a bunch of articles on this mode of teaching composition that were published back in the 1950s, I think. When I read them, I'll report back.

Catherine Johnson said...

In both of my classes, we created a set of 'X-1-2-3' sentences **in class,** which everyone was free to use as his or her own X-1-2-3s. Even then, students struggled trying to write English papers.

Catherine Johnson said...

x-1-2-3 posts

Catherine Johnson said...

chemprof- gosh

I just re-read the "Iceland" assignment ---- my students would be fantastically overloaded trying to do anything like that.

There would be no learning at all.

And these are college kids, not high school kids.

Catherine Johnson said...

hmmm.... I was thinking WordSmart was the same thing as the "Rocket" series but I don't see a reference ---

As far as I can tell, if you want to do SAT prep you should buy the blue book and start working your way through it.

That's "Xiggi's" advice over at College Confidential, and I've come to think he's right. (I've seen that advice elsewhere, too.)

Also, you can get access to 8 or 10 other real SAT tests by subscribing online.

ChemProf said...

"If you need to teach writing to students taking science courses, just GIVE them the material they're going to write on; perform the data collection step for them."

That's what I'd love to be able to do -- send our science students through a first semester general composition course, then a science writing course where we give them the references and data, and go over all of that together, then have them use that to put together a journal-style report. The problem is cost, frankly. It would cost nearly 300K/year to do something like that for all of our students. The current mixed approach is cheaper because courses that are already being offered do double duty (but as often with double duty courses, do neither job as well as it could be done).

Knowledge Based Science said...

my favorite is the comment that says that students "need to BE the search engine."

Yes, that's what teaching 21st century skills is all about. I can see it on a T-shirt now.

- Hainish

Crimson Wife said...

I happen to believe that there is some value in doing a certain amount of interdisciplinary work. In our homeschool, there are a lot of things we do that cross disciplinary lines. Right now my DD is studying electricity in science, the colonial era in history, and essay-writing in English. I recently assigned her a biographical report on Benjamin Franklin's experiments with electricity. Is that an English assignment, a science one, or a history one? The answer, of course, is "all of the above".

SteveH said...

The link is another excellent episode in the "It's all about me" teacher series. Who remembers worksheets? I want them to remember me.

Richard I said...

"Our students need to BE the search engines"

Core Standards for 21st century learning ...

.... maybe education needs its own Alan Sokal.

Glen said...

@Crimson Wife: I agree with you. The thing is, you're not trying to use the Ben Franklin bio as the electricity course, the colonial history course, and the essay writing course. Those courses are where she learns most of the material, I assume, while the Ben Franklin bio is where she gets to practice APPLYING what she has learned and, in the process, extending it to some extent. That sounds like a great way to do it.

SteveH said...

There is nothing inherently wrong with things like discovery learning, thematic learning, and hands-on learning. However, the premise is that these sorts of models are inherently good because they are memorable or interesting, whereas lesson plans, and worksheets, and direct memorizing are bad. It's a very superficial, and in this case, self-centered, view of learning.


"What about the field trips you took? What about that time your teacher dressed up as Jon Bon Jovi and sang the Periodic Table to you to the tune of “You Give Love A Bad Name?” (Which you can still remember verbatim, including the atomic weight of Carbon.)"

Wow. You remembered the atomic weight of carbon! This sort of "memorable" only works if you drastically lower expectations. Most of these ideas are not a better path to the same destination. They are a more memorable path to a worse destination. Happy, but ineffectual, learning.

Besides, why make a thematic approach the main learning path to all material? Isn't that what projects are for? Even projects can end up being a waste of time. The only project I recall ever having any effect on me was a senior-level college course (required) where we had to put all of our knowledge and skills together to design a complete system. It had to be presented at the end for academic and professional review. It was not low expectation.

Knowledge Based Science said...

There is nothing inherently wrong with things like discovery learning, thematic learning, and hands-on learning. However, the premise is that these sorts of models are inherently good...

SteveH, exactly! They confuse the means with the ends.

One of my most memorable experiences from middle school was interdisciplinary: we had to write a research report for U.S. History. This was a joint effort of our English and social studies teachers. We learned to paraphrase, quote, cite sources, write a bibliography (by hand!), take notes (on index cards!), create an outline, the whole nine yards. Yes, these skills were taught in isolation. We finally wrote out the entire paper, by hand, sitting in the ELA and social studies classrooms, over two days. There was no cheating. There was no outside help.

This doesn't happen anymore. The last middle school ELA classroom I was in had little clay sculptures all along one wall, made by the students (presumably) to express their inner essences.

PhysicistDave said...

Crimson Wife wrote:

>I recently assigned her a biographical report on Benjamin Franklin's experiments with electricity. Is that an English assignment, a science one, or a history one? The answer, of course, is "all of the above".

True, of course. Most of my kids' writing consists of reports on their science and history reading or fantasy stories which they write to amuse each other.

But, you and I are not making “interdisciplinary work” the ultimate goal. You and I are just helping our kids learn things that we think are worth learning, and, when opportunities arise, as they often do, to hit two subjects at once, we do it. (Another favorite of mine is, when we read the dates on a figure in history, I have the kids do the mental math to figure out how long he lived.)

Do we focus on substance and “interdisciplinate” when that fits naturally with the substance? Or do we make “interdisciplination” a goal in and of itself? That’s the real issue.

Dave

Independent George said...

In the real world, the only time we get anything done is when we break down complex problems into a series of smaller ones. It also helps to track the progress of each of those small problems, and reassign resources when necessary.