kitchen table math, the sequel: why do students have to sit on the floor

Friday, October 19, 2012

why do students have to sit on the floor

I'm watching the Jo Boaler video, which I see was funded by the Educational Advancement Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to imposing its ideology on other people's children (1) the development and implementation of inquiry-based learning at all educational levels in the United States, particularly in the fields of mathematics and science, and (2) the preservation and dissemination of the inquiry-based learning methodology of Dr. R.L. Moore (1882-1974).

Immediately, it struck me: students sitting on the floor. Again. I see this constantly in informational videos about inquiry-based classrooms.


Has no one in our history managed the feat of inquiring while seated at a desk?

re: the "harrassment and persecution" accusations Boaler has posted on a Stanford University website.

I have been married to a university professor for my entire adult life, and I've never seen anything like this. Stanford should direct Boaler to host her complaints on a personal website, and Milgram and Bishop should consult attorneys.

The Bishop/Clopton/Milgram critique of Boaler's research is entirely professional in content and in tone. The following is an excerpt:
Dr. Boaler kept the names of the schools private and asked that everyone trust that she had faithfully recorded the outcomes of her study. We were able to determine the identities of these schools. Then we studied the considerable amount of data in the California data base relating to these schools, as well as data requested through the Freedom of Information act or the California Public Records Act. This data includes things like school rankings, demographic data, SAT I outcomes, AP outcomes and even student level outcomes. Further, the results of the students from each of these schools on the entry level CSU4 math skills test are available. The totality of this data does not support her conclusions.

Indeed, there is only one year in the last five where any of these various measures for any cohort of students gives any advantage to the Railside students - the CST5 Algebra I exams for the ninth grade students in 2003 - and this is the only test data from that California database which is reproduced in Prof. Boaler’s report even though these data cannot represent the cohort that is the focus of the report.

We also found evidence that Dr. Boaler obtained her results by focusing on essentially different populations of students at the three schools. At Railside, her population appeared to consist primarily of the upper two quartiles, while at the other two schools the treatment group was almost entirely contained in the two middle quartiles.

A Close Examination of Jo Boaler’s Railside Report
Wayne Bishop
Dept. of Mathematics Cal. State University, LA
Paul Clopton VAMC
San Diego
R. James Milgram
Dept. of Mathematics Stanford University
Jo Boaler should provide her data to other researchers.


Anonymous said...

However, their critique has not been accepted in any peer reviewed publication. They post it as if it were a publication, but it is not.

Barry Garelick said...

Milgram posted it on his website and has been careful not to represent it as a publication.

kcab said...

I thought I read somewhere that the critique wasn't published due to concerns about the student cohort privacy? In which case, I would think Boaler would still want to address the substance of the issues raised by the paper. I don't know if she's done so or not.

Paul Bruno said...

Re: sitting, the explanation I'm seeing on Twitter is that moving helps kids focus on complex academic tasks. ("Sitting" really meaning "better able to move around/fidget".) I think this is confusing correlation with causation - kids fidget more when they're distracted by mental challenge (reducing impulse control), but it doesn't follow that introducing additional movement into the classroom would help those kids. (I would actually expect the opposite.) That is, however, one offered rationale.

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Anonymous said...

Boaler did not make the schools identities public due to privacy concerns.

Stanford investigated Milgram's claims in 2006 because he filed a formal complaint. Their conclusion "We found no evidence of scientific misconduct or fraudulent behavior related to the content of the report in question. In short, we find that the allegations (such as they are) of scientific misconduct do not have substance."

Milgram & Bishop's report was submitted for publication but never published. They say that they didn't have time to make the required corrections. In academia, that is usually double speak for "couldn't get it published". They have been harrassing Boaler for years. If they disagree with her conclusions, they need to do it the normal way, by publishing high quality critiques. That is how research is done, not through Internet smear campaigns.

I don't even care much about the conclusions of either side. I am not especially invested in inquiry based learning. I just don't like to see smear campaigns. It happens all too often, and perverts the research process

Linda Seebach said...

R.L. Moore's method was much admired when I was a grad student in math (1960s) but not much imitated because it worked well only for top grad students, and only for topology (Moore's research interest and then quite a new field) where aspiring mathematicians really could discover publishable work. Using it for arithmetic is insane.

SteveH said...

"I just don't like to see smear campaigns. It happens all too often, and perverts the research process."

And that process works well in education? Hidden information that won't allow independent validation of results perverts the research process, especially for research in which the author has a vested interest. The problem is not the critique, but how the research got published in the first place.

Ideas like this are being foisted on our kids with minimal and unvalidated research. "Research says" in education is a joke. In many cases, schools choose whatever they want, and when parents complain, they are expected to provide the proof that the schools never had to provide. Parents have no input or choice.

Also, research makes assumptions but results are often applied to any situation. Educators point to What Works Clearinghouse as if statistically insufficient data is proof. I've had schools point directly to WWC. There are lots of things wrong with educational research and how it's used in practice.

How many people cannot get published because of politics and pedagogy? How many get research dollars because people want "proof" of certain ideas? In education, the goal of research is to prove one's ideas and pedagogy. Research money flows to ideas like inquiry-based learning. They really don't want to see negative results, and they usually get what they want. Why does WWC have very few meaningful research results?

Boaler is being funded by EAF,

"a nonprofit dedicated to imposing its ideology on other people's children (1) the development and implementation of inquiry-based learning at all educational levels in the United States, particularly in the fields of mathematics and science, ..."

Was it ever a possibility that Boaler would come up with unfavorable results? What kind of critical review process did her original research pass through? Even if the results are valid, what pedigogy and curricula are they being used to to support by saying "research shows"? What are the assumptions? What does success in math mean?

SteveH said...

In the video, we have kids dressed up in black and white in a sterile white room on white bean-bag cushions. These are high school kids and we don't know where they are coming from or where they are going to in math.

Near the end, one student holds up a formula, but we don't know if just one student came up with it or many. Did one student discover the result, but directly teach it to the others? After they spent half a class doing this, how are all of the other topics covered using the same discovery process? Is this a process for learning all subject matter, or just a way to motivate students to do the homework sets at home? Which material requires discovery and which does not? Does this process work? What does work mean?

Nobody argues with the idea of engagement and motivation. Nobody argues with the idea of providing students with chances to explore mathematics and to apply their skills to real world problems. The big question is whether they are promoting this discovery top-down process for all material in all grades. If so, then how are basic skills ensured? This is a classic case where "research shows" that active hands-on learning with real world problems is effective, but they want to apply it as the fundamental driving force of teaching, not as an add-on to a traditional bottom-up skills approach. The goal is not to increase inquiry-based opportunities, but to have it become the main driving force of education.

concerned said...


Thanks for opening this discussion!

Just gotta luv anonymous comments... (smile)

I'm looking forward to following Paul Bruno on twitter. Is anyone else there yet?

Does KTM have a twitter feed?

Lisa Jones
@proudmomom on twitter

FedUpMom said...

As to sitting, one of the big complaints we heard from Younger Daughter's first-grade teacher was that she wouldn't sit still during "circle time". "Circle time" is spent sitting on the carpet. It's uncomfortable! Of course the kids fidget and move around. There's a reason humans invented chairs.

Michael Paul Goldenberg said...

When you've already decided you're categorically opposed to something, you can find a billion details that irk you. When you've already decided that you're completely in favor of something (e.g., Singapore Math), no sins are sufficiently mortal to bother you.

No matter what evil worms like Bishop and Milgram say, there are of course laws and professional rules that bar researchers from revealing identifying details about human subjects. That you group of ostensibly educated folks manage to pretend that there's something peculiar about Jo Boaler following those regulations (after signing agreements that she would unequivocally do so), speaks volumes about your absurd biases and prejudices. Because if Singapore Math, Saxon Math, Direct Instruction, etc., held to those same regulations, as by law they would have to to get grants in this country (in Singapore, maybe they just cane anyone who won't reveal the names of human subjects?), you'd be screaming bloody blue murder should some "fuzzy progressive" try to get information the way these academic thugs did. Bishop's been doing so for years, but of course only when the results don't fit his mindset: in other words, when there are results that don't prove that, as he's written more than once, "There's nothing new under the sun that's good, and nothing good under the sun that's new." Of course, it reads better in the original German.

Regardless of the anonymity of the commenter (and I agree that people shouldn't comment without identifying themselves, but plenty of folks on your side of the Math Wars do it all the time), there's no doubt that the reason the Bishop-Milgram-Clopton garbage isn't published research is that no peer-reviewed RESEARCH journal would lower itself to publish something that belongs in the National Enquirer. I'm frankly surprised it hasn't shown up there.

Meanwhile, your Lisa Jones blathers on about why there are no standards for educational research. Yet, she has no compunction about seeing standards of research practice violated. Funny group you are.

Anonymous said...

1. There is nothing wrong with identifying individual schools. To say otherwise is ignorant.

2. Whine about Bishop and Milgram all you want, but the fact remains that Boaler doesn't even defend herself against most of the charges of inaccuracy. She instead wants to change the subject to how Bishop and Milgram aren't nice to her.

Fine, but can she show how her math tests were actually correct and defensible? Because they show devastatingly that her math tests had mistakes and were too easy.

Can she show better evidence that this one school actually did improve in math to the point of any meaningful results in AP Calculus?

Not so far. She's promulgating junk science.

SteveH said...

"Funny group you are."

As with your politics, you see everything in black and white terms; either people are on your team or they are the enemy. That makes it easier to assign group blame with a broad brush. That makes it easier to avoid dealing with details. Apparently, this isn't working for you, even with some of your pedagogical teammates.

I'm all in favor of seeing top-down, discovery, hands-on schools. Just give parents a choice. I will be one of the parents saying no thank you. Since this isn't the case, then the math education discussion changes dramatically, but I'm in nobody's group but my own.

Auntie Ann said...

Our school likes to quote that they are using "best practices" in the classroom--they think that this is enough to make parents nod in agreement and feel secure. Unfortunately, for the most part, their jargon works and the parents go back to sleep.

When actually pressed to define these and to explain the sources and research behind these practices, they get very vague, very fast. I am absolutely certain that no one on the school's staff is spending any time reading journal articles--except the ones we've pelted them with over the years.

So, where are they getting their "best practices"? The only answers I can come up with is from teacher conferences and a consultant or two hired by the school.

Never having been to a teachers' conference, I can't really say what they are like, but considering the group-think that seems prevalent in the ed community, aren't they just massive echo chambers, reverberating with the same ed-school chic that teachers have been fed for decades? Looking over the agenda at a couple of them, they seem more like reviews of specific classroom and school applications, and not a presentation of statistically-significant research.

As for the consultants, the suggestions you get depend entirely on the consultant you hire. Hire a DI-style consultant, and your teachers will learn DI. Hire a consultant on formative assessments, and hold on to your hats.

So much for "best practices."

Anonymous said...

I'm all for the idea that real learning comes from inquiry, and that the child must be the protagonist of his own education.

I just don't buy the idea that you can sit thirty kids down on the floor and expect them to inquire on demand about the topic on the schedule.

There's a fundamental contradiction in the theory. What part of following a more loosey-goosey math book on the teacher's schedule instead of a more rigorous, fact-based math book on a teacher's schedule makes the learning student directed?

My kid applies his inquiry assiduously to things he really wants to know about (such as which mods do what in Minecraft, or how lungs work). But being a teacher's jumping inquiry monkey isn't going to happen. Class time would be better spent actually teaching kids things, and let them start their own inquiries on their on time and on their own subjects.

SteveH said...

Inquiry-based learning requires much more effort (as homework) by students to be effective. Unfortunately, many educators implement only the process in class and not everything else that is required to get the job done, especially when the method is applied to K-12 education. One can argue that the method becomes untenable when students don't have basic skills. The inquiry process isn't designed to ensure the required individual mastery.

The Academy of Inquiry Based Learning says:

"Boiled down to its essence IBL is a teaching method that engages students in sense-making activities. Students are given tasks requiring them to solve problems, conjecture, experiment, explore, create, and communicate... all those wonderful skills and habits of mind that Mathematicians engage in regularly. Rather than showing facts or a clear, smooth path to a solution, the instructor guides and mentors students via well-crafted problems through an adventure in mathematical discovery. Key components across effective IBL courses are (a) deep engagement in rich mathematical activities, and (b) opportunities to collaborate with peers (either through class presentations or group-oriented work)."

A lot of "sense-making" can only be done with homework sets. I see nothing about ensuring mastery of basic skills for individuals. Is there no linkage between skills and understanding? Are skills supposed to flow smoothly from concepts? If one member of a group discovers and understands something new and teaches it to the rest, how is that different from direct teacher instruction? How do you know that the rest learned anything? When that one member makes a grand presentation for the group, is that supposed to reflect the level of understanding for all? Are the rest supposed to have some sort of warm, fuzzy feeling that gives them the motivation to do it at home?

Given that this process takes so much time, what topics get the inquiry treatment and which ones do not? What happens to understanding and mastery of those other topics?

This was clearly written by an educator with no idea of what mathemeticians do. As an engineer, my skills to "solve problems, conjecture, experiment, explore, create, and communicate..." were built on mastery of lots of problem sets. That doesn't mean that I didn't have to do projects and apply the skills. That doesn't mean that some level of IBL wouldn't be useful, but most want to use IBL to drive the entire K-16+ education process. This is a top-down process that will never get the job of individual mastery done unless it is carefully taken into account, and I see no evidence of that.

IBL doesn't translate from advanced math to K-12. Rigor and mastery are lost. Educators will see "active learning", but just pump the kids along and not have to deal with the results. They care about process and not results.

What do kids and parents get in K-8? Kids get time-consuming, mixed ability, inquiry-based learning for a very limited set of problems, and parents get notes telling them to practice math facts with their kids. They have this backwards. Enough parents will do their job that the poor results will be hidden. Educators will continue to do research that hopes to show some tiny level of relative improvement while ignoring the question of why so many kids get to fifth grade not knowing the times table.

lgm said...

I'm with you fedupmom. Not only is sitting on the floor uncomfortable, it has two other problems that promote movement:
1) it's cold. The floor sucks the heat right out of the body, and the draft is noticeable.
2) the other children are so close that one has to split one's attention to deal with those who can't keep their hands to themselves.