kitchen table math, the sequel: Allison on Math Nights

Friday, December 12, 2014

Allison on Math Nights

MSMI has done several parent math nights.

When we are asked to give a math talk by a school and it is well attended, it is because the parents are upset. If it is very well attended, it is because the parents are in an uproar about the math program.

Since we generally are going in to fix the math program, or to support a math change to it, our goal is first to name the problem. We explain the issue (nationally, not just locally, not just here, wherever we are, but nationally) is that US curricula are not preparing kids for algebra. We tell parents what they know intuivitely but can't name. We tell them what they've watched their older kids suffered through. Then we explain we need to change what we teach, when we teach it, and what the teachers know about the maththey teach to fix it. When we are done, generally, parents calm down and give us the benefit of the doubt.

Usually, the second math night (a followup) has 1/4 of the turnout the first one had.

If a math night has no attendees, it is because math is doing just fine--the parents are concerned about some other problem.

Parents don't have time to go to meetings if things are fine. They go to indicate their disapproval or their concern.

We also found if the *children* put on the math night, as one of the grade night programs, it is well received--so if we want parents to learn about the math program, learn the games to practice math facts, etc. then it needs to be a child-centered event. Parents come when kids put on a math carnival. They even enjoy it. It does not need to be fuzzy math--kids LOVE stumping their parents at mental math calculations and bar modeling.
We tell parents what they know intuivitely but can't name.

Knowing intuitively that something is amiss: this is the chronic problem parents face. You know something--your cognitive unconscious knows something, rather--but you can't name it.

I remember, when I first became politically engaged here, living in a state of chronic anxiety that a) I didn't know what I was talking about and b) I was about to be publicly called out on not knowing what I was talking about. I spent hours Googling and reading, and reading and Googling, to make sure everything I said and wrote in my district had already been said and written by someone who did know what they were talking about.

Kitchen Table Math was incredibly important to that effort. I wrote posts to put into words what my cognitive unconscious already knew (or suspected), and I said nothing, in district, without ktm commenters vetting it first.

Funny thing: at some point I stopped feeling anxious, and I stopped obsessively fact-checking myself.

I hadn't become an expert on math or math instruction or public schools in general, but somehow I knew enough to feel confident that anything I said -- even something I said off the top of my head -- would be in the realm. Which it generally was.

I also, and I hesitate putting this in print, developed a sense of how thin my adversaries' knowledge was. That's not a criticism. Administrators can't possibly know everything about every subject (that's the problem with central administrators choosing math curricula), and an administrator who went to ed school before constructivism was in full bloom may not actually know that much about the doctrine and its history, however committed s/he may be to "rolling out" one constructivist initiative after another.

In short, at some point it dawned on me that I could pretty much say whatever I wanted and get away with it. I could get sloppy and no one would know but me.

That came as a bit of a shock.

I see politicians and pundits differently now.

Politicians and pundits are churning out an awful lot of content.

How often do they actually know that what they're saying is true?

How much fact checking happens in politics?

I'm guessing not too much.


Auntie Ann said...

For educators, jargon hides a lot of sins. We had an administrator talking about how they don't just use one type of assessment anymore; now, they use "formative and summative" assessments. How many parents knew what that meant? And how many were swayed by the high-falutin'-sounding jargon?

I cringed, but might have been the only one in the room who did.

Barry Garelick said...

When someone uses the "research shows" BS with me, I not only ask to cite the research (which in many cases they cannot, but when they can it's usually very easy to poke it full of holes) but come back with "That's funny, I've seen some research that shows the opposite." If you're arguing with someone skilled in such arguments, that's when they'll come in with "I think we're all really saying the same thing."

Which is when I say "No. We're really not."

Doug Sundseth said...

I ... developed a sense of how thin my adversaries' knowledge was. That's not a criticism. Administrators can't possibly know everything about every subject...."

Since you're not willing to make that a criticism, allow me: it is inexcusable for a school administrator to not understand math education.

School administrators claim to be, and are certainly paid as, professionals. An important part of the definition of a professional is that he is responsible for continuously educating himself in his field. A doctor is expected to keep himself abreast of new research and approved treatments. A lawyer is expected to track court decisions. And I expect (and every state formally expects, unless I'm much mistaken) a professional educator to expend similar effort in tracking the state of his profession.

We're not talking about a fringe subject. Math is, and is understood to be, as fundamental to education as reading and writing.

Further, we pay teachers for, and provide time on the clock for, continuing education in education. "In-service days" are often (usually? always?) used for exactly that.

So I consider administrators not understanding what's going on not to be merely worthy of criticism, but to be a damning indictment of their professionalism and competence.

Auntie Ann said...

When arguing with pretend experts, Google Scholar is your best friend:

Google Scholar

It's an online search engine which searches scholarly journals. When we were told that they were the experts and that we had no right to an opinion (really--in those words,) we were able to deliver a 6-inch high stack of journal articles that said we were right and they were wrong. About 2 or three years later, they actually changed the way they did things.

Change is slow.

SteveH said...

I suffered from the Murray Gell-Mann amnesia effect for a long time. I assumed that journalism and public debate in areas outside of my area of expertise were somehow better. I also suffered from the idea that others think like I do - trying to be honest with myself and my assumptions. I still have a hard time understanding how people interpret reality via their beliefs. Educators love to say "research shows" after they have already adopted something they believe in.

And some people deliberately manipulate things for what, the greater good? For their political party or slate? Some believe that education is a political battle, and you just can't talk to some people.

I claim that we have won the blog battle on education. Nobody disagrees any more like they once did. Now we are just ignored. This is not a battle where if we came up with just the right research or knowledge, things would change. This is not about (mere) facts. This is a battle of who gets control, and my vote is for parents.