kitchen table math, the sequel: Wash U professor on Reed Hastings' really bad idea

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wash U professor on Reed Hastings' really bad idea

As a physicist, educator and father of five, I can say that Messrs. Duncan and Hastings do not understand education or the role of computer and Internet technology in it. A well-thought-out textbook or a live classroom demonstration does a much better job of conveying understanding than anything that can be done with computer or Internet technology.

Anyone who has watched students using these technologies will recognize that they are distractions from the hard work of education.

Jonathan Katz
Professor of Physics
Washington University
St. Louis

More technology isn't the answer to our educational needs
WSJ | September 24, 2011
Speaking of well-thought-out textbooks, one of the most oppressive aspects of "technology" in the schools is the replacement of textbooks by packets, which are fantastically difficult to keep track of, not just for the student but for the teacher, too. I speak as a creator of packets: I'm driving myself crazy.

It wasn't always thus. Back in the day, teachers ran off those damp, great-smelling, purple-print mimeographs. But mimeos were a limited production; teacher packeting didn't take off until the advent of the Xerox machine. I predict things are only going to get worse as people start buying personal scanners.

Add Google to photocopiers and scanners and you get all-packets-all-the-time. What a mess. Yet another rolling calamity on the horizon!

I tutor a boy in a neighboring town who doesn't appear to have a math textbook at all, and not because the school is using Terc. Last I heard, the school is using Terc, but the only book the teachers are actually using (it appears) is a test prep book from one of the test prep book companies. The teachers Xerox one-page review lessons out of the test prep book for the kids to collect in their binders. The paper-punch holes last a couple of weeks, then the sheets tear loose and slip out of the binder and down to the bottom of the backpack, where they live until the summer, when Mom goes through the crumpled wads of paper and tosses it all out.

Or, alternatively, when Mom goes through the crumpled wads of paper and discovers her child has failed two out of six units in math this year. On fractions! tofix to revise to fix torevise

Speaking of worksheets, does anyone know where to get a complete set of Prentice-Hall's fantastic grammar worksheets? (pdf file)

and see:
the founder, chair, and CEO of Netflix has a really bad idea
Larry Summers has a really bad idea
Wash U professor on Reed Hastings' really bad idea

David Brooks has a really bad idea

David Brooks has a really bad idea, part 2
David Brooks has a really good idea

why students have to memorize things
extremely fast learning & extended working memory


Anonymous said...

I think that you are confusing mimeograph machines (which force ink through a stencil) with ditto machines (which used alcohol to dissolve small amounts of ink from the master and transfer it to the print). The mimeographs were more expensive but made more copies from a master. The ditto machines produced copies that smelled of alcohols.

My school certainly used ditto machines (or perhaps some other brand of spirit duplicator).

Anonymous said...

Ah, memories...

The last time I used the ditto machine was in grad school (87-90), when I would make up quizzes for my recitation sections and run them on the ditto machine.

Kids today don't know what they're missing ;)

Bonnie said...

Oooh, I remember ditto machines! When I was a kid, I just loved the smell of a fresh ditto. Later, in grad school, I had to run off the ditto copies for a large course. I always ended up with blue streaks all over my face!

SteveH said...

Digital Promise talks about funding and validating killer educational apps, but it's really about pushing products. Even if they do focus on these apps, will they focus on ensuring the basics, or will they focus on glitzy computer graphics.

Much depends on the assumptions one makes. Given our full inclusion educational world with curricula like Everyday Math, an application that helps kids master required math skills would be a great add-on. Pedagogically, it might work because teachers can have the program do the dirty work of drill and kill for 20 minutes a day. Kids can work at their own speed and level. Even if they still allow kids to move along to the next grade, the program could generate specific mastery reports that parents could see online. The worst thing happening now is that parents don't see the problem and schools care only about the very low cutoffs of the state tests. Schools want to be pumps rather than filters, but what that does is to delay the problem until it's too late. By then, it's also easier to blame the student, parents, society, and anything else.

My son's high school now uses Aspen X2 for reporting scores. Importantly, the school also pushes teachers to get the grades online immediately. I can see my son's individual scores along with the high grade, low grade, median, and average. I don't know, however, how meaningful it would have been to see his rubric scores online in K-8. If you don't define education in specific terms, then online access is not going to help much.

SteveH said...

Prof. Katz says that:

"It is the lack of single-minded dedication by their parents to demand better schools and teachers, and to require that their children become students of learning."

He is looking at Korean parents whose kids are faced with a make or break college admission test. I hope he is not saying that this is a good thing, or that Korean parents would demand as much if there were more college and non-college opportunities. I hope that the drive in the US of college for all doesn't go that way.

Actually, many US students and parents hold their own when it comes to preparing for college admission. What I find interesting is the great pedagogical and philosophical divide between K-8 and high school. Higher and specific expectations did drive out CMP from our middle school, but many educators and parents don't set high or specific educational goals in K-6. I've met many parents who like warm and fuzzy K-6 education and think that buckling down is only for high school. Many parents make a big deal about how GPA matters from the first semester in high school, but don't seem too concerned about the quality and rigor of K-8.

One member of our school committee, who is a middle school music teacher, talks about the "boondoggle" of NCLB and how " amounts to more than test scores". He thinks the focus should be on teaching youngsters good decision-making skills. This is a very common view in K-8.

However, most would never talk about the boondoggle of SAT and college admissions. There is no big movement to get rid of GPA in high school. Our guidance department has specific directions on long range college planning. They break it down by semester starting from the freshman year. They even make suggestions about what to do in middle school. There are no "general" classes in our high school. The average classes are called "college prep". The anti-drug speaker we had talked about the critical importance of college.

You would think that it would be easy to drive more rigor in math into K-6, but it doesn't happen.

K-8 = "no worries - everyone is equal"

High school = "buckle down - SAT will sort you"

SteveH said...

"Or, alternatively, when Mom goes through the crumpled wads of paper and discovers her child has failed two out of six units in math this year. On fractions!"

This is basic school competence. Technology can help if grades are required to be put online. It won't help, if, like our K-6 schools, everything is translated into a fuzzy rubric like "number sense". It's more meaningful if you see a raw grade of 65% correct on a fractions test, AND, the test actually comes home!

Duh! How difficult is that?

We used to get quarterly report cards with over 100 rubric numbers that had no known mathematical correlation with the few pieces of homework and tests that did come home. I tried to fight the portfolio black hole and was told that I could make an appointment to see the work at any time. I had to do this for each teacher individually. I never got an answer to how they thought parents could suppport learning if work never came home.

There is a fundamental disconnect going on in K-6. I remember talking to my son's 6th grade science teacher about the hundreds of 3X5 cards my son had to color for science definitions. She was surprised that each one took him about 45 minutes. He memorized the definition before he even began the art work. Ideas of learning styles sounds great, but do the artwork anyway. Don't even begin to believe that the grade doesn't reflect the quality of the artwork. Could my son just take a test on the definitions in place of coloring? No.

Blah, blah, woof, woof.

rocky said...

I don't know if it would help, but you could tell the teacher that you, also, are keeping a portfolio and ask if you could receive photocopies of your child's work. (You must be working hard, can I get you a little butter?)

Catherine Johnson said...

The ditto machines produced copies that smelled of alcohols.

Yes! Yes! Yes!

Writing that post, I **thought** there were two different machines, which I originally called "ditto" and "mimeograph," but then my trip through Google seemed to suggest otherwise.

Thank you!

I'm still not grokking it, though - which were the machines that had those funky dark gooey 'masters' ---- ??

Catherine Johnson said...

Kids today don't know what they're missing ;)

They don't!

Also, the smell of library books ----- wonderful!

Catherine Johnson said...

He thinks the focus should be on teaching youngsters good decision-making skills.


Anonymous said...

The gooey masters were the ditto machines ("spirit duplicating machines" if you want to avoid trademarks). They had colored wax on the back which gradually transferred to alcohol-wetted sheets. They were good for about 75 copies, depending on how much of the wax was transferred onto the master when it was made.

Mimeographs used a stencil and forced ink through the stencil. They were good for about 400 copies, before the stencil wore out. Mimeograph printing was generally higher quality than ditto machines, but more expensive.

Wikipedia has excellent articles on both mimeogrpahs and ditto machines.