kitchen table math, the sequel: 12/26/10 - 1/2/11

Friday, December 31, 2010

gone fishing

Hi everyone -

I'm spending New Year's Eve in Chatham, IL.

Gotta figure out my resolutions.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

kitchen table math

at Debbie Stier's house

email from a parent

Today I visited the best public school in the district. A school so good that they brought in Singapore math. All but one of the teachers at the school had more than 10 years experience in teaching. All of them had classrooms that indicated they had some autonomy, despite the district's top-down insanity--the principal had hired professionals, treats them as professionals, and in return, they behave as professionals.

But they teach Reading Workshop and Writing Workshop. Today, visiting K and 1st grades, I spoke with some teachers. The K teacher explained that they'd been doing guided/leveled reading for a decade, and RW was just catching up to have curriculur content. He said he assessed kids with Fountas Pinnell twice a year, then broke up kids into 6 groups (for 22 kids). He worked with groups every *6* days, though later in the year, every 3 days.

The idea was that higher abled kids in reading could decode well past their comprehension, basically which I don't doubt. [My child] can decode anything, for example. But obviously can't comprehend everything. So the teacher spent that time trying to teach the upper ones (I didn't ask about the lower able readers) things like inference--what else could have happened, how events would have changed the ending,  etc. He said with one kid who was reading at nth grade level he had the kid journal, and they swapped the journal every 2 days, trying to think more deeply about inferences in the comprehension.

My first thought was that in the hands of an excellent teacher, RW wouldn't be so bad. With enough nonfiction books teaching content, and enough interaction, this could be useful.

But my second thought was why do this now? Why not just wait until kids KNOW MORE STUFF to infer about? Why not wait until they are 8 or 9 and then ask about this stuff?

Third thought was that it reminded me of a comment in Martin Gardner's Annotated Alice (do you know that book? It's an annotated version of Alice in Wonderland, explaining the puzzles, puns, riddles, historical and mathematical references, etc.) Gardner wrote that he hoped his book would not be used to destroy children's interest in literature, as excerpts of it would be turned into such questions as "draw the chess board alice is walking on at the end of chapter 2. Is the white queen protected by the knight or not?" "Find five puns in the March Hare tea party about time." etc--wouldn't reading this way make reading miserable?

Then I looked at the WW stuff. and it was so dreary. They had taken a unit on Eric Carle and broken it down into the recognizable PATTERNS! "what's the pattern in the very hungry caterpillar?" "the days of the week" "what the pattern in Does a Kangaroo have a mother too?" "The pattern is the text "yes, an < animal > has a mother too, just like me and you."

Does this stuff just appeal to adults, and they have no idea how much kids hate it? Is it a boy thing to hate this stuff? [My son] would be excited he'd recognized the pattern, and then he'd be ready to move on, no discussion needed. It would take ten seconds, not 5 days. He'd rather be doing something.

I can imagine that RW and WW at least appear to make sense if a child is already a fluent reader. It must be impossible to become one, though, if you're doing this rather than learning to read.

good news!

What exactly is "Readers' Workshop"? My son's school just sent me an email announcing the apparently great news that we have cleared some sort of hurdle, so we will now be able to begin Readers' Workshop as of January. Woohoo! Given that it is the same people who were equally excited about adopting Everyday Math, I'm almost afraid to ask. 

Cleared a hurdle!

I love it!

We've heard similar things around here.

I remember a few years back being told that our then-superintendent had been able to get us accepted by the elite Tri-State Consortium.

Come to find out, the Tri-State Consortium is not elite and charges an arm and a leg for everything it does.

History in an Hour

Debbie Stier found this today.

No idea what it's like - but if it's good it's exactly what I need.

One thing I need, anyway.

Think I'll go Google Logarithms in an Hour.

onward and upward, part 3

also in the new Harvard Education Letter:
Other experts working to train teachers onlinoe agree. "One of the hallmarks of online learning is that it changes the onus of learning from the teacher to the student," obseves Dr. Lynne Meeks, who runs Alabama's portion of eLearning for Educators, a federally funded multistate ODP [sic] project.
Like Teacher, Like Student
by Dave Saltman
Harvard Education Letter
January | February 2011
p. 4

Federally funded, you say.

I'm pretty sure I don't want to pay for a multistate ODP project.

Or OPD, as the case may be.*

Heck, I don't even want to pay for a curriculum department for my own school district.

Also, I vote for the "onus of learning" remaining with the teacher, thank you very much.

Of course, I don't have a vote.

* OPD = online professional development

let's not and say we did, part 3

My copy of the Harvard Education Letter arrived in the mail yesterday:
These days, everyone is trying to get students to think about their own thinking--and take that thinking to a higher level. To do this, educators are urging teachers to help students teach--and even assess--each other, since the success of so-called student-centered instruction is predicated on getting students to collaborate and take charge of their own learning.
Like Teacher, Like Student
by Dave Saltman
Harvard Education Letter
January | February 2011
p. 4

I'm sure we'll be seeing more of this in my district now that our curriculum department will once again have a full-time curriculum director.

onward and upward, part 2

Hainish writes:

I had a fantastic English teacher in grade 7. We did diagramming sentences, the whole nine yards. For me, it was the best part of ELA.

I found out recently that she had been under pressure more and more to abandon that sort of teaching and do more of the readers'/writers' workshop crap that took hold in my district. So she quit, or retired early. (She was not exactly young when she left, but it was a loss for the students.)

I got to see a grade 8 ELA classroom last year at the same school. A row of small, colorful clay models of various objects (presumably, revealing each student's inner soul) lined one wall of the classroom.

Martha Kolln's 10 core sentences

Tips for Teaching Grammar: Sentence Diagramming (pdf file)

E.D. Hirsch on the philosophical roots of progressive education

Hirsch writes:
In my mind, progressive educational ideas have proved so seductive because their appeal lies not in their practical effects but in their links to romanticism, the 19th-century philosophical movement, so influential in American culture, that elevated all that is natural and disparaged all that is artificial. The progressives applied this romantic principle to education by positing that education should be a natural process of growth that flows from the child’s natural instincts and interests. The word “nature” in the romantic tradition connotes the sense of a direct connection with the holy, lending the tenets of progressivism all the weight of religious conviction. We know in advance, in our bones, that what is natural must be better than what is artificial. This revelation is the absolute truth against which experience itself must be measured, and any failure of educational practice must be due to faulty implementation of progressive principles or faulty interpretation of educational results. Thus the results of mere reading tests must not be taken at face value, because such blunt instruments cannot hope to measure the true effects of education. The fundamental beliefs of progressivism are impervious to unfavorable data because its philosophical parent, romanticism, is a kind of secular theology that, like all religions, is inherently resistant to data. A religious believer scorns mere “evidences.”

The Chasm Between

There are many disputes within the education field, but none so vituperative as the reading and math wars—the battles over how best to teach children to read and to solve arithmetic problems. These aren’t just disputes over instructional techniques; they are expressions of two distinct and opposing understandings of children’s nature and how children learn. The two sides are best viewed as expressions of romantic versus classical orientations to education. For instance, the “whole language,” progressive approach to teaching children how to read is romantic in impulse. It equates the natural process of learning an oral first language with the very unnatural process of learning alphabetic writing. The emotive weight in progressivist ideas is on naturalness. The natural is spiritually nourishing; the artificial, deadening. In the 1920s, William Kilpatrick and other romantic progressivists were already advocating the “whole language” method for many of the same reasons advanced today.

The classical approach, by contrast, declines to assume that the natural method is always the best method. In teaching reading, the classicist is quite willing to accept linguistic scholarship that discloses that the alphabet is an artificial device for encoding the sounds of language. Learn the 40-odd sounds of the English language and their corresponding letter combinations, and you can sound out almost any word. Yet adherents of “whole language” regard phonics as an unnatural approach that, by divorcing sounds and letters from meaning and context, fails to give children a real appreciation for reading.

The progressivist believes that it is better to study math and science through real-world, hands-on, natural methods than through the deadening modes of conceptual and verbal learning, or the repetitive practicing of math algorithms, even if those “old fashioned” methods are successful. The classicist is willing to accept the verdict of scholars that the artificial symbols and algorithms of mathematics are the very sources of its power. Math is a powerful instrument precisely because it is unnatural. It enables the mind to manipulate symbols in ways that transcend the direct natural reckoning abilities of the mind. Natural, real-world intuitions are helpful in math, but there should be no facile opposition between terms like “understanding,” “hands-on,” and “real-world applications” and terms like “rote learning” and “drill and kill.” What is being killed in memorizing the multiplication table? The progressivist says: children’s joy in learning, their intrinsic interest, and their deep understanding.

The romantic poet William Wordsworth said, “We murder to dissect”; the progressivist says that phonemics and place value should not be dissected in isolation from their natural use, nor imposed before the child is naturally ready. Instead of explicit, analytical instruction, the romantic wants implicit, natural instruction through projects and discovery. This explains the romantic preference for “integrated learning” and “developmental appropriateness.” Education that places subject matter in its natural setting and presents it in a natural way is superior to the artificial analysis and abstractions of language. Hands-on learning is superior to verbal learning. Real-world applications of mathematics provide a truer understanding of math than empty mastery of formal relationships.

Romancing the Child
E.D. Hirsch
Education Next
Spring 2001 / Vol. 1, No. 1
This is where whole math comes from.

Also, this is why it's illegal to teach sentence diagramming (pdf file - Martha Kolln's 10 core sentences) in public schools.


I see I've posted this passage before: E.D. Hirsch on "spilt religion."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

under the Christmas tree, part 2

Over-administered and under-taught

(I didn't write the title!)

under the Christmas tree, part 1

Google inflation tracker

A second inflation measure comes from Web behemoth Google and is a pet project of the company's chief economist, Hal Varian. As reported by the Financial Times, earlier this year, Varian decided to use Google's vast database of Web prices to construct the "Google Price Index," a constantly updated measure of price changes and inflation. (The idea came to him when he was searching for a pepper grinder online.) Google has not yet decided whether it will publish the price index, and has not released its methodology. But Varian said that his preliminary index tracked CPI closely, though it did show periods of deflation—the worrisome incidence of prices actually falling—where the CPI did not.

Do We Need Google To Measure Inflation?
Economists are creating new methods for tracking prices.
By Annie Lowrey
Posted Monday, Dec. 20, 2010, at 5:10 PM ET

pop quiz, part 4

There’s a certain country where everybody wants to have a son. Therefore each couple keeps having children until they have a boy; then they stop. What fraction of the population is female?

A Big Answer

Monday, December 27, 2010

the secret of my success, part 2

re: weight loss, Bill Clinton, and books

These are the books I read:

The China Study by T. Colin Campbell

Reversing Heart Disease by Calwell B. Esselstyn

Dr. Neal Barnard's Program for Reversing Diabetes by Neal D. Barnard, M.D.

Eat to Live: The Revolutionary Formula for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss by Joel Fuhrman

the secret of my success - weight loss

Every few years I think I've found the secret of weight loss and maintenance.

One year it was Strattera.

Another year it was Seth Roberts and eloo.

Both Strattera and eloo seem to work, but eventually one of two things happens to people following any sort of diet regimen: either the effects wear off or your ability to stick with the program wears off.

This time around, I think it's possible I've found the secret not just to getting thin but to staying thin: quasi-veganism.


I adopted a heavy-duty vegan diet (no animal food, no added salt, sugar, or fat) at the end of September 2009. I didn't stick to it altogether, but pretty much.

Over the next six 5 months, I lost 11 pounds. Which for me is huge. The most I've ever lost on a normal calorie-counting and exercise diet is 5 to 7 pounds. While I was on the vegan regimen, fat just melted away; you cannot be overweight - you cannot even be middle-aged chunky - eating all plant foods with no added salt, sugar, or fat. Guaranteed. (update: or maybe not)

So I lost 11 pounds over the next six 5 months.

Then I promptly lost all desire to carry on eating all plant foods with no added salt, sugar, or fat.

So I switched to a quasi-vegan diet. Veganism (with salt, sugar, and fat) is my default setting, but I eat meat* when the spirit moves me, or when I'm out and about.

"Out and about" means "in a restaurant." It's almost not possible to be a vegan inside an American restaurant. Inside a restaurant, everything is meat. The appetizer is meat, the salad is meat, the main course is meat, the side dishes are meat, the dessert is meat. Just about the only things in a restaurant that aren't meat are the alcohol and the rolls.

If you want to know just how much meat everyone is eating, try opening up a menu and asking yourself what you would order if you wanted to be a vegan. Which I realize you don't. But try the  experiment and you'll see.

We're eating a whole lot of meat.

When I switched to quasi-veganism, I figured: this is it. This is the point where I go off the wagon and gain everything back.

That was last spring. 

Now it's Christmas 2010, and I'm still thin. (Which you can kinda see here.)

As far as I can tell, quasi-veganism works. We'll see.

The weird thing is: I seem to be the only person on the planet who knows this. Assuming I do know it, of course.

Also, I seem to be the only person on the planet who can even conceive of quasi-veganism being the Holy Grail of weight loss and maintenance. I'll be sitting around a table or a living room filled with  middle-aged people who've gained weight over the years, and I will be obviously, manifestly thinner than everyone else except Ed, and when the topic of middle-age weight gain comes up and I mention that the reason I'm thinner than everyone else except Ed is that I have become a quasi-vegan, people stare at me blankly. Most of the time, no one expresses the slightest curiosity as to what I'm talking about.*

Which is weird, don't you think?

If two years ago someone thin had told me "I've found a diet that's easy to follow and works even when you're cheating" I think that would have piqued my interest.

Anyway, assuming quasi-veganism does work - or, rather, will continue to work for me - I have an idea about the mechanism or mechanisms:
As to appetite, you can test the proposition that animal fat stokes appetite for yourself just by observing what foods people do and do not binge on.

I binge on butter; I don't binge on peanut butter. That's what it comes down to.

If I eat one toasted English muffin dripping in melted butter, I want to eat another English muffin dripping in melted butter.

If I eat one toasted bagel dripping in melted peanut butter, that's plenty.

If I eat ice cream, I want to eat more ice cream.

If I eat a bag of potato chips before dinner, which I do, I spoil my appetite.

That's another thing. Remember when parents used to worry about kids "spoiling their appetites"? I have never uttered such a warning to my own kids because until I discovered quasi-veganism, I had never seen an appetite actually get spoiled.

I have now discovered that it is in fact possible to spoil your appetite, but not by eating ice cream. Ice cream makes me hungry for lasagne. Bring it on.

Junk food made with plant fat spoils my appetite.

Junk food made with animal fat does not.


These things may or may not be true:
  • tofu makes you fat - no idea whether this is true, but when I come across photos of overweight vegans on the web, they seem to be of people who've put a fair amount of time and energy into knocking off fatty desserts using tofu as a substitute for butter and eggs.
update: I am not the only person on the planet who knows that quasi-veganism causes weight loss. It's me and Bill Clinton.

Junk Food Makes You Eat More

* By "meat" I mean fish, chicken, eggs, meat, and dairy.
* No one except Susan S, that is. Susan S was willing to read several dozen emails on the subject of veganism during my phase of maximum obsession. Thank you, Susan!

let's not and say we did, part 3

“Look, this is what you need to do. So like it or not, do it.”
A principal pushing teachers to raise expectations and adopt an inquiry model

quoted in Marshall Memo 307
A Weekly Round-up of Important Ideas and Research in K-12 Education
October 26, 2009
Raising expectations AND adopting an inquiry model is going to be H-E-double hockey sticks for the kids.


"Like it or not, do it" is pushing?

Not shoving?

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

Adlai Stevenson High School

On the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum is affluent Adlai Stevenson High School—a one-school district in the Chicago area. Students and teachers there worked in the same team-based professional learning communities and benefited from the same honest, tough-minded leadership advocated here. They relied exclusively on in-house expertise as teams met, by course, to share and prepare lessons and units that they continuously improved on the basis of common, team-made assessment results. Over a 10-year period, under the leadership of Richard DuFour, Stevenson broke every achievement record on school, state, and college entrance exams. Advanced placement success increased by 800 percent (Schmoker, 2001b).

Results Now
by Mike Schmoker
Introduction: The Brutal Facts About Instruction and Its Supervision

I've spent a good two years trying to interest my district in, say, just finding out what it was Richard DuFour actually did at Adlai Stevenson High School.

No sale.

Though I'm told we do now have a professional learning community room at the high school. Apparently there's a sign on the door that says: "professional learning community."

I've gotta get a picture of that.

Revisiting Professional Learning Communities at Work: New Insights for Improving Schools

Sunday, December 26, 2010

under the Christmas tree, part 1

Yesterday morning I got up, came downstairs, and there under the tree was a bright and shiny new curriculum administrator wrapped up a red bow!

Sesame Street

apparently being barista also means being neoretrosoulculture DJ at this Harlem Starbucks, two blocks from the A-train Express station on 125 St. Their murals romanticise graffiti. You can see gentrification slowly creeping up from the south, bringing fashionable billboards and storefronts -- but then again before the Great Migrations this place probably was gentrified anyway, to some extent. I am told that the well-to-do south of Central Park used to buy summer houses up here, because they were cooler. The houses 20 blocks north, probably built more than a 100 years ago, have grand marble staircases and dumbwaiters inside. Even in a single residential area, the demographic can range from working to upper middle class. A working mother comes home late at night while luxury cars are parked along her street. It is perhaps a juxtaposition that has arisen as an effect of rent stabilisation laws in the midst of gentrification. The sidewalks of the avenues are wide (alas, unchalked) and at 7:30 am are full of busses full of people on the commute.

There is a sense of pride in this neighbourhood. Not swagger, but hold-your-head-up-high pride -- the pride I suppose a UVA student gets walking past the ampitheatre in the morning on their way to Cabell. An elderly man holding a Macy's bag (walking north) looks like he's shuffling to a beat. Even at 11 pm stepping off onto the subway stations here, you get the homely vibe you get from stepping off at the Redhill MRT station in Singapore. In the night, off the avenues into the streets, the blocks are quiet residential areas and while the buildings look old, their exteriors are kept immaculately neat. That man in a hoodie loitering on the corner is actually a guy hired to make sure passersby don't miss his underground candlelit restaurant. There is a vibe here that you don't get in Times Square or Flushing -- no one is on their guard. The baristas (a girl and neoretrosoulculture DJ -- a guy) are singing to a mean beat.

A writer-looking chap (Ice Cube beard, Malcolm X glasses) writing in the corner has just quietly protested the actions of Neoretrosoul DJ who had expelled an aging chap with a green ski hat reading the NYT at a table.

"I lost my job, I'm on welfare," green ski hat guy had said.
"Please leave the store," sternly commands neoretrosoulculture DJ, almost shouting. Green-hat guy turns to leave quickly; he seems used to this treatment, but probably didn't expect to be noticed so soon.

As he was halfway through the door, neoretrosoulture DJ cries, "Loser! buy your own paper!"

It was then that I could see, that despite his seeming musical literacy and sense of good taste, that neoretrosoul DJ could not be much older than a high school student. But he micromanages the place; this Starbucks is /his/ baby. Writer-looking chap disagrees with this aspect of management though. Did you really have to expel him? His voice is low and I can barely hear -- but with his expression and stern eyes, I think I can make out -- "What sort of example are you setting for our community?"

At 8:45 am the demographic changes; it was initially occupied by a handful of people looking for quiet morning solace -- none of the 7:30 am commuting demographic bought coffee. Now come in the cashmere scarves, tight jeans and Northface jackets; a woman on her way to work with a tomboyish haircut and pearl earrings, but also with Estee Lauder to hide her wrinkles; a large Italian tourist family.

The Payless "Shoesource" across has a street mural painted on its shutters. It's a street message about Liberation and the Struggle of Our People -- but it's tasteful and among its many images, has exquisite 3D detail of children's faces gazing onto some promised land. There must be several dozen shades of colour; it's not gaudy like the murals you can see from the 7 train in Queens (before you disappear underground into Manhattan.) I can see why the owner hasn't done anything to remove it. The shutters go up and down several times before the store finally opens. Many of the other stores don't have shutters, but glass windows with metal blinds -- even though the store is closed, they are open, and they are in pristine condition. One boutique is outfitted in shiny marble, right next to the gaudy "We buy gold and diamonds!!!" store with two graffiti tags painted on its shutters.

The writer-looking chap acquires a pretty date for morning coffee; they study a notebook. She animatedly makes suggestions and inquiries, but writer-looking chap retains a rather stoic expression though his mouth moves passionately. He looks at her with a stern gaze as he explains carefully why he can't implement her suggestion; she looks back at him, locking his eyes in her gaze for half a minute, talking slowly but with an air of protestation . She continues talking more confidently as the conversation progresses. His stoic face breaks into a smile.

9:30 am and the customers stream in; a serious line forms and the Starbucks is full. I'm now not the only Asian in the store. The suitcases walk south; the Times Square shopping bags move north. The bass rhythm underscoring a spoken word piece blasts in the background. The cars streaming by now outnumber the busses 30:1. I converse with a woman with a gospel voice, librarian glasses, a leopard hat, and a drawstring bag with three different cloth patterns -- about computers. With loose strands of brunette hair dangled in her face, morning coffee date suddenly lights up and points out to writer-looking chap that it's snowing. The store's customers now don't seem very different from the SoHo demographic.

But something is different.


What does it mean? A promised land? A selling out? A reintegration? A disenfranchisement?

Can you integrate without losing your culture?

tidbit: Harlem is the centre of education reform in NYC; 18 out of 25 charter schools in NYC are in Harlem.

an interesting article: