kitchen table math, the sequel: 6/17/12 - 6/24/12

Friday, June 22, 2012

in the leafy suburbs

Eighteen months into my job as the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department, a foreign-policy dream job that traces its origins back to George Kennan, I found myself in New York, at the United Nations’ annual assemblage of every foreign minister and head of state in the world. On a Wednesday evening, President and Mrs. Obama hosted a glamorous reception at the American Museum of Natural History. I sipped champagne, greeted foreign dignitaries, and mingled. But I could not stop thinking about my 14-year-old son, who had started eighth grade three weeks earlier and was already resuming what had become his pattern of skipping homework, disrupting classes, failing math, and tuning out any adult who tried to reach him. Over the summer, we had barely spoken to each other—or, more accurately, he had barely spoken to me. And the previous spring I had received several urgent phone calls—invariably on the day of an important meeting—that required me to take the first train from Washington, D.C., where I worked, back to Princeton, New Jersey, where he lived. My husband, who has always done everything possible to support my career, took care of him and his 12-year-old brother during the week; outside of those midweek emergencies, I came home only on weekends.

Last spring, I flew to Oxford to give a public lecture. At the request of a young Rhodes Scholar I know, I’d agreed to talk to the Rhodes community about “work-family balance.” ... What poured out of me was a set of very frank reflections on how unexpectedly hard it was to do the kind of job I wanted to do as a high government official and be the kind of parent I wanted to be, at a demanding time for my children (even though my husband, an academic, was willing to take on the lion’s share of parenting for the two years I was in Washington). I concluded by saying that my time in office had convinced me that further government service would be very unlikely while my sons were still at home.
Why Women Still Can't Have It All
by Anne-Marie Slaughter
Atlantic Monthy | July-August 2012
Anne-Marie Slaughter is talking about a phenomenon I never see addressed in popular articles about "balancing work and family": the teen years are the hard ones. Or can be. When I was young the feminist model was: stay home for 3 or 4 months while you're nursing, then go back to work. The demanding years were assumed to be a child's pre-school years; once the child reached school age, you were 'done,' in a sense. It made sense to work outside the home at that point.

That always struck me as wrong, even before I had kids. My question was always: so when your child turns 13 and goes sprong, where are you? Not that all children go sprong at age 13. C. didn't, and thank God for that. Nevertheless, plenty of kids do go sprong, and if you have more than one child, that would seem to raise the odds of your someday being the parent of a teenage kid who has come unglued.

So I like the fact that this high profile woman has actually spoken, out loud, about what happens to a high profile career when a teenager is in distress.

That said, I was struck by the list of problems Ms. Slaughter's son is having:
  • skipping homework
  • disrupting classes
  • failing math
  • tuning out adults who try to reach him
With the possible exception of the fourth item, all of these issues are school problems, requiring school solutions.

You can see this easily if you imagine a 14-year old student who has no parents, or, alternatively, has parents who are dysfunctional. When that student skips homework, disrupts classes, fails math, and tunes out helpful adults, who deals with it?

The school. At least, it's the school that is going to have to deal with the problems if they're to be dealt with at all. There's no one else. And, over the past ten years, some schools have come to see things just this way.

But word hasn't reached the leafy suburbs (Slaughter teaches at Princeton and presumably sends her boys to Princeton public schools.) Nominally high-performing schools believe it is up to parents to solve school problems. More accurately, nominally high-performing schools believe students don't actually have school problems. Students have student problems, which stem from the student's upbringing and genes and have nothing to do with the school one way or another. *

The problem with this philosophy is that parents can't solve school problems from home, no matter how engaged and well educated and emotionally stable they are themselves. Most obviously, parents can't fix disruptive classroom behavior from home. And while in theory a parent can make sure homework gets done, in practice it's not easy and in some cases it's not possible. (I've seen the not possible scenario firsthand.) Typically, parents have no idea what the homework assignments are or when they're due (echalk notwithstanding), and a parent who has no expertise in a subject can't tell whether her child actually did his or her homework property, or just wrote something down on paper.

As to math, teaching math has got to be the school's job, period. It doesn't matter what emotional problems a student is having; the school has to teach math to struggling students, too.

Affluent schools won't be good schools until they ask themselves Richard DuFour's question: "What will we do when students aren't learning?"Ask, and answer.

the leafy suburbs: School Reform Moves to the Suburbs by Mike Petrilli

* True of the bullying issue, too. Bullying is something kids do, and parents are responsible for kids, so parents need to stop their kids being bullies. Not sure what this means for parents of the child being bullied, of course. 

Help Desk: algebra remediation

A friend of mine is a special ed teacher at a highly selective science-oriented magnet school. She has observed a number of incoming freshman who are unable to handle beginning (9th grade) algebra. I'm guessing that some (most? all?) of them have no inherent math disability, but have merely been poorly instructed (most come from elementary schools that use Everyday Math/Investigations and from middle schools that use Connected Math).

Anyway, when she asked me what I knew about math remediation programs that might help prepare these kids for algebra, I realized I had absolutely no ideas and should turn to ktm for help. Any suggestions?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

a chicken in every pot

SINCE the new government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra took office last July, Thailand has been treated to a soap-opera about the supply of tablet computers to all children starting school. Ms Yingluck’s “one tablet per child” pledge during the campaign was probably her single most vote-catching policy, yet fulfilling it has turned into a national ordeal.

A few weeks ago a deal was at last signed with Shenzhen Scope Scientific Development, a Chinese firm, for the provision of 400,000 tablets. On June 7th a beaming Ms Yingluck gave the first batch to a group of smartly dressed pupils.

Some argue that the focus on the tablets has distracted attention from a deeper malaise affecting Thai education. Although the proportion of children attending school has grown over the past decade, the quality of their education has deteriorated.

The chief problem is that children’s educational attainments are falling, even as more money is being lavished on the schools. Thailand now spends about 20% of the national budget on education, more than it devotes to any other sector. The budget has doubled over a decade. Yet results are getting worse, both in absolute terms and relative to other countries in South-East Asia.


Why does Thailand fare so badly? Somkiat Tangkitvanich, an expert at the Thailand Development Research Institute, claims that there is no mystery. Most of the swelling education budget has gone on higher pay for teachers (who now often earn more than the starting salary of a university lecturer), yet no improvement in performance has been extracted in return.

Let Them Eat Tablets
THE ECONOMIST | June 16, 2012

and then there was one

Bedford drops Trailblazers, adopts Singapore Math.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

IQ & dyslexia

The Brain Basis of the Phonological Deficit in Dyslexia Is Independent of IQ

Although the role of IQ in developmental dyslexia remains ambiguous, the dominant clinical and research approaches rely on a definition of dyslexia that requires reading skill to be significantly below the level expected given an individual's IQ. In the study reported here, we used functional MRI (fMRI) to examine whether differences in brain activation during phonological processing that are characteristic of dyslexia were similar or dissimilar in children with poor reading ability who had high IQ scores (discrepant readers) and in children with poor reading ability who had low IQ scores (nondiscrepant readers). In two independent samples including a total of 131 children, using univariate and multivariate pattern analyses, we found that discrepant and nondiscrepant poor readers exhibited similar patterns of reduced activation in brain areas such as left parietotemporal and occipitotemporal regions. These results converge with behavioral evidence indicating that, regardless of IQ, poor readers have similar kinds of reading difficulties in relation to phonological processing.

The Brain Basis of the Phonological Deficit in Dyslexia Is Independent of IQ
Hiroko Tanaka, Jessica M. Black, Charles Hulme, Leanne M. Stanley, Shelli R. Kesler, Susan Whitfield-Gabrieli, Allan L. Reiss, John D. E. Gabriell and Fumiko Hoeft
Psychological Science
Vol. 22, No. 11 (NOVEMBER 2011) (pp. 1442-1451)
Page Count: 10

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Help Desk: Home Strategies for the Very Mathy Child

I am looking for some advice in how to best help my very, very mathy child.

Background: She's 8.  In her April Peabody, she scored as a 50th percentile 9th grader, 4th month, in math.  (That's how they score you -- which grade/month your child would be 50th % -- the tester said she only started to miss questions when it was clear she had never even seen it before, like exponents.  Technically, she hadn't "seen" algebra before either except for reading the Basher book about it, but was apparently able to reason out how to do the single variable stuff on the test.)  As of yet, we haven't come across a concept that she hasn't immediately "picked up." The only troubles we have ever had were, for instance, when we were doing multi-digit addition and subtraction -- not because she didn't "get" it, but she was frustrated with having to line up the numbers, etc.  (Her handwriting is weak.)  

Currently, we are finishing up Singapore 2, we are also halfway through MathUSee Gamma (mastery of single and multi-digit multiplication -- though we're flying through it as fast as she can get her facts memorized), and do daily work in Math Whizz and Dreambox.  She reads Life of Fred for fun (and a whole stack of other math books floating around).  She's working through Art of Problem Solving's Beast Academy 3A and all of the Critical Thinking Company Math/Logic books.  I got her the Hands On Equations iPad game a few days ago and she immediately chewed through it and now is all, "Hey, mom, look at me solve 4x + 5 = 2x + 13; can you find me more algebra stuff?"

So.  I'm not 100% sure how I should be handling this.  On the one hand, I don't want to hold her back or have her bored, on the other, I want to make sure she's solid on, and doesn't miss any, fundamentals.  Right now it feels like I'm throwing stuff at an insatiable math monster and I'm not sure how best to teach this girl.  (Ha!  Like *I've* actually taught her any math.)

My current strategy is to plod along with our "regular" daily curricula (Singapore and MUS), to ensure proper drill and mastery of her foundational skills-- though I'm trying to stay sensitive to the fine line between useful practice and mindless busywork.  (I do let her "test out" of some sections.)  And then, after that is done for the day, she can go crazy with whatever else she wants, like the resources I mentioned above.  Then I was also looking at the physical Hands-On Equations set if she really wants to do some early algebra.  (Challenge math?  EPGY?  Math contests?)  I got her a Khan Academy account and occasionally look in to see that's toodling around with absolute value and symmetry and ray lines or whatever else she stumbled upon.

Any thoughts or recommendations?

Raymond Chandler on writing & school

from Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney:
Chandler had his own system for turning out The Big Sleep and other classic detective stories. "Me, I wait for inspiration," he said, but he did it methodically every morning. He believe that a professional writer needed to set aside at least four hours a day for his job: "He doesn't have to write, and if he doesn't feel like it, he shouldn't try. He can look out of the window or stand on his head or writhe on the floor, but he is not to do any other positive thing, not read, write letters, glance at magazines, or write checks."

Thie Nothing Alternative is a marvelously simpe tool against procrastination for just about any kind of task....Just follow Chandler's regimen:

"Write or nothing. It's the same principle as keeping order in a school. If you make the pupils behave, they will learn something just to keep from being bored. I find it works. Two very simple rules, a. you don't have to write. b. you can't do anything else. The rest comes of itself.
Write or don't write, but if it's don't write, don't do anything else, either.

Never thought of that. 

all about motivation

For years, I've been wanting to know who is doing the major research on motivation and what I should read.

I think I've found the answer:

Gabrielle Oettingen's homepage

"Mental contrasting" is key: mental contrasting and "implementation intentions."

If you're trying to persuade your kids to study for high-stakes exams, both are probably good to know about.

Monday, June 18, 2012

the problem in a nutshell

Why does accelerating algebra for everyone not help? Moving on the same curve with a relabelled x axis does not change the curve.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

sounds promising

from Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change by Timothy D. Wilson:
Several companies now market [educational] videos for kids and millions of children have watched them. As a result, these kids are now exceeding smart, right?

Unfortunately not, because it turns out that toddlers do not learn very well from disembodied voice-overs on videos. 
I guess this changes when kids turn 5 and go to school in flipped classrooms.


from Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength  by Roy F. Baumeister :
Asian-Americans make up only 4 percent of the US population but account for a quarter of the student body at elite universities like Stanford, Columbia, and Cornell.