kitchen table math, the sequel: 3/16/14 - 3/23/14

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Off-topic: the plane

This pilot, as I say, was a hero struggling with an impossible situation trying to get that plane to Langkawi. No doubt in my mind. That's the reason for the turn and direct route. A hijack would not have made that deliberate left turn with a direct heading for Langkawi. It would probably have weaved around a bit until the hijackers decided on where they were taking it.

Surprisingly none of the reporters, officials, other pilots interviewed have looked at this from the pilot's viewpoint. If something went wrong where would he go? Thanks to Google earth I spotted Langkawi in about 30 seconds, zoomed in and saw how long the runway was and I just instinctively knew this pilot knew this airport. He had probably flown there many times. I guess we will eventually find out when you help me spread this theory on the net and some reporters finally take a look on Google earth and put 2 and 2 together. Also a look at the age and number of cycles on those nose tires might give us a good clue too.

Fire in an aircraft demands one thing - you get the machine on the ground as soon as possible. There are two well remembered experiences in my memory. The AirCanada DC9 which landed I believe in Columbus Ohio in the eighties. That pilot delayed descent and bypassed several airports. He didn't instinctively know the closest airports. He got it on the ground eventually but lost 30 odd souls. In the 1998 crash of Swissair DC-10 off Nova Scotia was another example of heroic pilots. They were 15 minutes out of Halifax but the fire simply overcame them and they had to ditch in the ocean. Just ran out of time. That fire incidentally started when the aircraft was about an hour out of Kennedy. Guess what the transponders and communications were shut off as they pulled the busses.

Get on Google Earth and type in Pulau Langkawi and then look at it in relation to the radar track heading. 2+2=4 That for me is the simple explanation why it turned and headed in that direction.

Smart pilot. Just didn't have the time.

MH370 A different point of view. Pulau Langkawi 13,000 runway.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Getting creaky

This blogger interface is getting seriously creaky. It's ancient; no one's updated the code in a gazillion years, and glitches I can't fix crop up.

The latest: I no longer see the "Sign in" menu at the top right-hand side of the screen.

Does anyone have any opinions on the possibility of moving to Wordpress?

I've been using Wordpress for quite a while now, and I love it.

Among other things, on Wordpress I can attach pdfs files.

Crimson Wife and Anonymous on teachers instilling grit

Crimson Mom and Anonymous.

Think how much grit kids will develop once you flip all the classrooms.

Jean on Common Core in California and the history of us

I have a Common Core math question. My 8th grader daughter (a homeschooler) is taking algebra I this year. She was talking with her friend, who is in 7th grade and wanted to take algebra this year but was not allowed--for the first time they were only letting 8th graders take it. (This kid btw is older than her classmates, owing to a late birthday and having started school in another state with an earlier cutoff date.) So she wants to take it next year, but now they won't let her do that. From now on, algebra I will only be taught at the high school. This is said to be a CC thing.

We are in CA, and for years they've been pushing algebra in 8th grade. I am, of course, against kids taking it if they're unprepared, but I can't see why they won't let prepared students do it. Does anyone understand this?

At dinner tonight, we were joking that my husband should start an underground algebra class...
I wonder whether the history of 8th-grade algebra in my district is scattered across the two ktm blogs? It might be.

I first got into the afterschooling business when I discovered, at the end of the school year, that Chris had flunked a test on fractions in 4th grade. I found a crumpled test in his backpack. (I was working under an insane deadline -- actually, an insane missed-the-deadline-by-a-mile-and-now-everyone-wants-to-kill-me deadline, which is worse -- so I found out after the fact.

As it turned out, he hadn't just flunked a test. He had flunked a unit. And it wasn't just one unit, it was two, both involving fractions, as I recall. (I discovered the crumpled test from the other unit at least a year later, maybe longer -- short attention span theater.)

The school had told us nothing about any of this, and intended to do nothing about it, a fact I simply took for granted at the time. Why would our fantastically well-funded suburban school district concern itself with whether children actually learned the math teachers were teaching?

Not only had the school told us nothing, but on the one occasion I did acquire evidence, in real time, that Chris was collapsing in math his teacher told me, "Don't worry about his grade. He understands." That sounded wrong to me, but, on the other hand, what did I know? His teacher said he understood, so fair enough.

But now it was summer, and I was in possession of a test on fractions with a grade of -- was it 39?


Pretty sure the exact numerical grade is findable via the About Kitchen Table Math link.

So I decided to teach my child fractions, not knowing that 4th-grade fractions are the math cliff; that's where all the kids plummet off the ledge to the rocky math shoals below. Ignorance being bliss, I sallied forth .... and I discovered right away that teaching fractions is not easy, especially when you had a mediocre education in math yourself. (I still remember feeling enthralled when I read H. Wu saying a fraction was a number! And I vividly recall Carolyn writing a post or comment quoting a boy who said a fraction was a division problem he didn't have to do.)

That was the genesis of kitchen table math: I needed help teaching Chris fractions. (Carolyn Johnston -- who co-founded the blog with me -- was in the same boat, except she happened to be a mathematician, so she did the rowing.)

Within a few days of discovering that I was not an elementary school math teacher, I had in my hands a copy of Wayne Wickelgren's Math Coach, and it was from Wickelgren that I learned that teaching algebra 1 in the 9th grade is not one of the 10 Commandments. After that my goal was to get Chris into the 8th-grade algebra class, which I did, but given how horrifically bad the teaching was in 7th and 8th grades, and how horrifically over-accelerated the curriculum was, that was probably the wrong way to go, in hindsight.

(On the old blog we used to call that class the Death March to Algebra, which should give you young 'uns some idea.)

Then again, the other kids who dropped out of the accelerated class fared poorly in the non-accelerated class, too. I was then in close contact with a mom who had been fighting the math wars for years; by the time her daughter was in 6th grade, she already had an appointment with the superintendent to discuss the situation.

Ed and I didn't make it to the superintendent's office till 8th grade.

(Have I mentioned our new superintendent isn't panning out, either?)

The other mom finally gave up the ghost. The daughter was desperate to get out of the accelerated class and her mom finally consented, and then promptly discovered that the kids who had moved down were struggling in the new class, too.

So the real hindsight question is: better to learn next to nothing in the accelerated class or the non-accelerated class?

I probably can't answer that, and having Chris take algebra in the 8th grade meant that he had me re-teaching nearly every concept, doing all of his homework sets every night myself (the publisher wouldn't sell me the Teacher Edition), and going over all of his homework and having him re-do problems he'd missed. I don't think I would have done that with Chris in 9th grade, especially not since he had by then enrolled in Hogwarts.

So, given the realities of an unreal situation, our decision to keep him in the accelerated track was either the right decision or 6 of one, half dozen of another. Plus, think of the grit!

(Which reminds me: I don't think I've told you Chris's story about unit multipliers. Unit multipliers were another revelation for me, writing the first kitchen table math. Will get to that later.)

So there I was, sitting at the kitchen table picnic table outside the kitchen, trying to teach fractions --  and then, 5 seconds later, trying to accelerate my 4th-grade son by a full year so he could take algebra in the 8th grade.

Without knowing a lot of math myself, and without hiring tutors.

The 5th-grade teachers were warm and on-board for the quest, and one of them told Ed and me that the middle school would not move Chris no matter how well-prepared he was. (She was right about that.) If we wanted him moved, she needed to move him up then.

So she did.

He wasn't ready. We needed the summer to work on math so he could move up come fall, a plan that made sense and had the potential, at least, to work beautifully. But, again, my extremely well-funded, nominally high-performing suburban school district does not concern itself with the fates of individual children. There will always be 10-year olds, and they will always score better on the state tests than underprivileged black and Hispanic children living in the city. So good enough.

Sometime during the move-up period I discovered how my district was handling acceleration.

My district was handling acceleration by having the 4th grade kids skip the entire 5th-grade textbook and, when they started 5th grade, go straight to the 6th-grade book, without telling the parents. All the parents knew was that suddenly their mathematically talented kids were struggling in math--for no obvious reason they could see--so they hired tutors. (I learned about the tutors from a math-teacher dad in town who told me the 5th-grade accelerated class was a disaster.)

Even without knowing a lot about math, I knew that skipping an entire year's worth of material was a terrible idea, so I went to talk to the interim principal about it.

He told me I was wrong. The 5th grade kids hadn't skipped an entire book, he said. Yes they did, I said. No they didn't, he said.

A couple of days later he called me in to his office and said, "You're right. They skipped an entire book."

Then he told me the class was a disaster, too. He didn't actually use the word "disaster." He used the nonverbals. His wife was a high-school math teacher, and he was obviously aghast.

Which brings me to the present.

I would like to know how my district is handling acceleration now that we have engageny math.

I would like to know, but I don't know. Finding out is going to take a lot of badgering of yon superintendent.

Fortunately, I'm good at that.

Funny how you never hear "badgering the superintendent for a straight answer" mentioned as a 21st century skill.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The joke's on you

So I've finally delved into the Common Core ELA standards, and....yikes. Always worse than you think.

Reading the standards in the wake of attending 3 district Common Core presentations (a fourth awaits on YouTube) is like a good news/bad news joke without the good news.

The bad news is Common Core.

The other bad news is my district has no idea what Common Core actually says, and they're doing it all wrong.

e.g.: nowhere in the Common Core will you find the words "21st century skills."

It's like that old Woody Allen joke, The food is terrible and the portions are too small.


Sorry to be MIA...I've been thinking this winter, which continues apace, has actually affected me metabolically.

I need SUN.

And more DEGREES.


Birth of a meme

The new character education, coming soon to a district near you: grit.

Students need grit, and it's the school's job to foster grit.

Because grit is more important than knowledge.

Also: grit is best fostered by means of teachers telling students to do something they don't know how to do, then refusing to answer questions. In any other context, that would be rude, but never mind.

Our new superintendent, the one who was to bring accountability and every-child-every-dayness to our district, is a big fan of grit. Hosted a book club for parents on How Children Succeed the week after winter break.

He's a fan of Tony Wagner, too, while we're on the subject of expensive new superintendents with bad instincts. Vintage, pre-crash Tony Wagner, even better. (With increasing abundance, people want unique products and services!!!! So it's time to redefine rigor!!!)

Wrong again.

Here's Hirsch. And here's Peter Meyer.

At Education Week:

Unlearning Learned Helplessness

"I need help," several students said in their geometry class at Esperanza Academy in Philadelphia.

"I don't think so," teacher John Roman replied.

Roman had just given students a handout with several unmarked triangles on it, and asked them to determine which of the triangles were congruent. He also gave them patty paper (tracing paper), and said that it might help them complete the task. He did not, however, show or tell students what to do with it.


[K]nee-jerk calls for help are indicative of a common reason students don't learn to their potential: learned helplessness. They encounter an unfamiliar task (or word, formula, etc.), and immediately shut down or seek help.

The good news is that because it's learned helplessness, it can also be unlearned. And because students have learned it from enabling educators like me (until I stopped spoon-feeding them), we're in the best position to help them unlearn it....Turns out, for example, that John Roman's students had sufficient prior knowledge of congruent triangles. They were also more than capable of figuring out how to use patty paper to perform the assigned task. What they lacked was a problem-solving mindset. They lacked qualities such as determination and resourcefulness.

Yet students will only acquire those qualities if we put them in situations that require those qualities. ...After commiserating for a couple of minutes, a few students picked up the patty paper and began tracing triangles. Soon all students did this, with no help from Roman besides subtle reminders to a few students that the patty paper might be helpful.

The value for students of experiences like this has more to do with confidence than content. The more they learn with little or no help from us, the more they believe in themselves and their abilities. Sure it's important for students to learn math and science and social studies. But the real lesson for kids when teachers do what John Roman did is that confusion is where learning begins, not where it ends.

And the lesson for us as educators is that students will only unlearn helplessness when we unlearn helpfulness.
Bad character comes from sages on stages.

Good character comes from guides on sides.

A likely story.

For the record, actual learned helplessness has nothing to do with the scenario described above.

The term comes from Martin Seligman's experiments with dogs in the 1960s, which entailed giving the dogs electric shocks and inducing a state of "learned" helplessness, learned in the sense that after being repeatedly shocked with no means of escape, the animals learned not to even try to save themselves, not even when the avenue of escape was directly in front of them. Instead, when the shocks came on again, they trembled and cried, and displayed all the signs of human depression. The experiments were cruel, though I don't think the experimenters knew they were cruel, going in.

I was taught the learned-helplessness experiments in college, and the image that formed in my mind of the cowering, crying dogs too distraught to exit the shock zone -- or even try to exit -- has stayed with me.

(On the other hand, having since experienced a very similar scenario on two separate occasions, I now see things a bit differently. But that is a story for another day.)

For a teacher to appropriate the term "learned helplessness" as a description of his own students is wrong in so many ways.

UPDATE 3/17/2014: See Crimson Mom's comment. (And don't miss the never-to-be-missed Anonymous.)