kitchen table math, the sequel: 2/23/14 - 3/2/14

Friday, February 28, 2014

Debbie at RJ Julia tomorrow morning

From Debbie:

I'll be speaking/q & a'ing tomorrow (March 1 at 11 a.m.) at RJ Julia in Madison, CT. Come say hello if you are in the area.

Donna Jackson's new(ish) book

The Last Best Cure: My Quest to Awaken the Healing Parts of My Brain and Get Back My Body, My Joy, and My Life

Donna and I have been out of touch way too long!

Blast from the past

The Tri-State Consortium tries and fails to Trailblazerize my district

Really existing Common Core

Part 1: Help Desk, Common Core edition

Our high school principal explains the centrality of modeling to high school math:
55:23 This is a very important slide and one that you’ll hear me talk about a number of times.

Because modeling, we really look at modeling as the way to really permeate through all of the different levels of mathematics at the high school level. And we really look at it from a standpoint of pedagogy. When we talk about modeling, what we’re really talking about is the conceptual side of mathematics. Recently, and there’s been a shift to a very computational format for teaching mathematics, especially at the high school level. And that’s where we would start to break things down and scaffold them into very fine points. But what we have found is mathematics teachers over the last 10, 15, 20 years, when this pattern was happening, was that students were starting to learn their broader understandings of mathematics. 56:19 There was a big need to pull back and get back to the point of teaching to deeper understanding and to the conceptualization of math, not just about being able to compute the correct answer. So modeling we really look at as the link to be able to do that. It’s the opportunity to create real-life problem-solving situations where students need to understand the conceptualization of what’s going on in the math as well as how it relates to the real world.

Geometry, obviously, is when we start talking about shapes and sizes and the relative position of objects, and statistics and probability gives us the opportunity to start looking at mathematics and creating analysis and really looking into the chances of opportunity and things occurring.

57:07 So again, as I mentioned, modeling becomes a real important focal point for us. And the phrase that we’ve been talking about is it becomes this umbrella for us. It’s the umbrella that brings the whole mathematics curriculum at the high school level together, and a way for us to keep progressing through and thinking about how it matches up. So when we think about constantly naming and reinforcing the work that the students are doing we want to constantly bring them back as well to these broader-scale concepts. 57:39 So this slide and the next slide starts to talk about that even within those conceptual designs that I mentioned before, even within algebra, there’s an aspect of modeling that’s critical and important for them to understand in the algebra as well as the other mathematical concepts within.

Similarly you have functions here, and again, there are pieces of it that we pull out and we understand how do we create real-life conceptualization and contextualization for our students so that when they’re working through this, they understand again not just the specific calculation of an equation or formula but what it really relates to.

Similarly we do the same things in geometry and we do the same things in statistics and probability. Again, for me, this is about teaching to big ideas and perspective. We’ve been talking at the school about deep understanding and I said that would be one of those shifts that we keep coming back to, and I think that that’s really one of the most important messages that we can deliver about the mathematics instruction and how the Common Core starts to create a shift for us.

Irvington UFSD School Board Meeting - February 11th, 2014
This strikes me as fundamentally wrong, but if you guys tell me it's sound, I'll have to revise my view.

My understanding of math, of what math is, is that …. mathematics is not essentially, or even first and foremost, a system for representing empirical reality. The fact that math so powerfully -- and so eternally -- does capture many aspects of empirical reality is, in my view, either a) beside the point, or b) creepy.

Math, as I think of math, has a mathiness that cannot be reduced to modeling; math is a thing unto itself and should be taught as a thing unto itself -- or, at least, students should be made aware of the fact that to a mathematician math is not just a code-writing tool.

(Again, setting aside the possibility that math is just a code-writing tool.)


Constructionism is a philosophy of education in which children learn by doing and making in a public, guided, collaborative process including feedback from peers, not just from teachers. They explore and discover instead of being force fed information, or subjected to a regime of social control as in the Prussian system adopted in the US and elsewhere, sometimes called Instructionism. Constructionist guidance has to be informed by a knowledge of what there is to explore and discover, including our ignorance, and of a variety of approaches that can be used for children at different developmental levels with various degrees of preparation.

More on this topic can be found by exploring Google using keywords such as "constructionism", "education", "philosophy". See for instance openworldlearning, Seymour Papert's website, , and the wikipedia article on constructionist learning. Constructionism is implemented on the OLPC XO in the form of collaborative discovery.

"I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." - Attributed to Confucius.

Constructionism is built on the foundation of Constructivism, the theory of childhood learning created by Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, and many others.

One Laptop Per Child
No fun.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Help Desk, Common Core edition

Two weeks ago, when our high school administrators gave a presentation devoted exclusively to Common Core "shifts" ("shifts," not "curriculum areas") the principal told us that henceforth math will be taught as modeling first and foremost. All math, it seems, in all math courses.

That strikes me as a terrible idea. Dreary, too.

Math for math's sake, math as a liberal art, math as a thing of beauty...math in my district is apparently a vocational art, not a liberal one. Kids are going to be explaining their answers a lot, too. (The explanation we saw opened with the words "We used the rules we have learned about discriminants.")

If you have thoughts, let me know.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Helicopter parent thread at the Atlantic

The possibly-inevitable helicopter parent thread has erupted at the Atlantic, so if any of you has the time or inclination to leave a comment, I hope you will.

I've just left this one:

I'm Catherine, a 'character' in the book (for the record, I tutored my own son for SAT math & took the test myself, once.)

Reading this passage I see that a fairly important section of the chapter has been omitted, and that is Debbie's attitude toward her son's grades.

The problem wasn't the Bs.

The problem was that her son was sliding by. He was underachieving, as his math teacher says.

Actually, I have a copy of the manuscript - here's the section that appears in the book but not in the excerpt:

"For me–and this was where I parted ways with the school–the issue wasn’t grades. I would have been proud of Ethan’s B’s if the math teacher had bounced in and said, “Ethan’s a hard worker.” But that’s not what he said, and it wasn’t what I was seeing. Ethan was taking the easy path, and the school was in his camp. The administrators thought Ethan, a happy-go-lucky, disorganized middle school boy with ADHD, should determine his own academic goals."

The boy whose parents were told they should be happy with Cs (in high school) is a friend of my family; I contributed his story to the book. That boy also has ADHD and his case was one of very significant underachievement.

With both boys, the school's approach to an underachieving student with ADHD and a 504 plan was to push back against the parents instead of providing the "accommodations" the boys needed to function as well as their peers (and which the school is obligated to provide).

And in both cases, too, the boys ended up transferring to Catholic schools where they did much better without any SPED 'services' at all. (Neither family is Catholic.)

Judging by some of the emails Debbie's been receiving, parents of kids with ADHD seem pretty often to be the target of 'helicopter parent' judgments made by school administrators.

I'm love to know how many parents have this experience.
Debbie has now had several emails from parents with the same story: an underachieving child with ADHD, a school administrator conveying the message that a) parents shouldn't "push" and b) they're the only parents who are pushing.

I'm now wondering how many people with kids on 504 plans are explicitly told, by school personnel, that "letting" their child "fail" is a good motivator for children with ADHD.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Google speaks...

...through Tom Friedman, no less:
The least important attribute they look for is “expertise.” Said Bock: “If you take somebody who has high cognitive ability, is innately curious, willing to learn and has emergent leadership skills, and you hire them as an H.R. person or finance person, and they have no content knowledge, and you compare them with someone who’s been doing just one thing and is a world expert, the expert will go: ‘I’ve seen this 100 times before; here’s what you do.’ ” Most of the time the nonexpert will come up with the same answer, added Bock, “because most of the time it’s not that hard.” Sure, once in a while they will mess it up, he said, but once in a while they’ll also come up with an answer that is totally new. And there is huge value in that.

How to Get a Job at Google
FEB. 22, 2014 | NY Times
I am praying our superintendent doesn't see this.

UPDATE: Daniel Willingham on the actual research. Thank heavens we have him.