kitchen table math, the sequel: 11/9/14 - 11/16/14

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Froggiemama on gatekeeping

I can remember being gatekeepered out of 8th grade algebra back in the 70's, and the memory still makes me boil. In my case, I was a year younger than the other kids, so the teachers said I wasn't "developmentally ready" for abstract mathematics. So I wasted a year in consumer math.

Fast forward to today - I was utterly shocked to find out that my kids school gatekeepers 8th grade algebra (as well as a whole slew of other "advanced" courses). I had thought gatekeepering at such a young age had been discredited in the 80's. Why are they still doing it? We end up with a school system that is as tracked as the German system. And worse yet, in my district, the tracking criteria has nothing to do with whether a kid is good at math or not. It is all based on whether they are diligent at submitting homework that is neat and organized according to teacher standards.

However, this has nothing to do with Common Core in our district. They have been doing this for eons. At parents night at our high school last spring, the principal was complaining that we don't send enough students to schools like MIT and CMU. Well, you know, if you gatekeeper out all your most talented students in 8th grade, the messy, creative, smart ones, you won't have much talent left in the 12th grade.

Froggiemama on gatekeeping, part 2
At our middle school, when Chris was there, 7th-grade kids were gatekeepered in and out of Earth Science on the basis of "maturity."

"Maturity" meant, among other things, that the student was proactive (I think that was the actual term, proactive) in "seeking extra help."

(Code for: hire a tutor.)

One of the most talented students in the school was gatekeepered out of Earth Science on grounds that she was "anxious."


As I recall, this student had one of the highest scores on the enrollment test. But she was anxious, so no.

Ed and I got involved in that case because we happened to know the parents, who told us what was going on. (Involved in the sense that we could figure out the relevant statutes and knew people to consult.)

What it boiled down to:

Number one, if a high-achieving student has an emotional issue so disabling that she can't take Earth Science, the school is legally obligated to "identify" her as having special needs, which the school had not done (and was not proposing to do).

Number two, if the school had identified this student as having special needs, it could not keep her out of Earth Science on grounds that she had special needs.

Basically, the building principal was wrong on every conceivable ground.

The assistant superintendent intervened and the girl was enrolled.

Unfortunately, the assistant superintendent didn't last long in our district.

The College Board is betraying our trust

From a teacher at a high-performing high school:
To teach a class called AP anything, you have to have your syllabus approved by the College Board. They want to ensure that you are covering the content that they require. This already annoys me: let my students take the test and see how they do. Their results will indicate whether I am covering the material or not.

But it's their name so it's their rules. I submit my curriculum. First try, it comes back rejected: I have not provided evidence that my course is "student centered" and that I use "guided inquiry" to develop "critical thinking skills."

So to use the AP label, you give the College Board authority to define what you teach and how you teach it.

 Fortunately (as I ranted to my students), educationists use undefined buzzwords that can mean anything we want them to. So I announced that from this day forward, my class is now 100% student-centered. Can you smell the fresh clean scent? We then continued with the lesson as planned...

We can not make "critical thinking" the goal. Whatever critical thinking may mean (and I don't really know), we better hope that it emerges as a result of the careful work that we do teaching our specific subjects. But the goal should always be to teach the subjects!

When you make "critical thinking" the goal, then someone is going to say: so math/history/French/science is not that important -- let's just teach them how to think critically. What follows from that is nearly always some inane, time-wasting idea for an "activity" that is disconnected from reality and certainly disconnected from the subject I thought we were trying to teach.
If the College Board is now simply an outpost of Teachers College, it should say so, out loud.

Is this the work of David Coleman?

And is the ACT the last man standing?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog

I'd forgotten that!

Maria Konnikova mentions the cartoon in an interesting piece about online comments.

I've always been amazed by kitchen table math commenters. Smart, funny, and civil for years on end.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Famous last words

Steve Leinwand, principal researcher at the American Institutes for Research’s education program, also argues that America’s math teachers should embrace the shift away from right answers. “Common Core has the audacity to use the word ‘understand’ 218 times,” said Leinwand.

Why so many parents are freaking out about Common Core math
Using the word "understand" 218 times while using the words "right answer" 0 times seems a tad out of whack to me.

Speaking of right answers, I was going through a stack of Education Weeks yesterday & found this:
Ask a child to name a favorite class, and odds are you’ll hear two letters: P.E. Ask an adult which subject has been most valuable in life, and the most popular answer turns out to be math.

That’s according to new survey results by the Gallup organization. About one-third of adults (34 percent) picked math. The next in line was English, at 21 percent, followed by science at 12 percent.

"Gallup Poll Social Series: Work and Education" September 18, 2013
Dollars to donuts, every one of those respondents thinks getting the right answer is a major reason why math is valuable.

Constructivists seem to want authentic, "real-world" problems without authentic, real-world right answers.

I will never get that.

Steve Leinwand, btw, has been singing the same song for decades.

Here he is in 1994:
It's time to recognize that, for many students, real mathematical power, on the one hand, and facility with multidigit, pencil-and-paper computational algorithms, on the other, are mutually exclusive. In fact, it's time to acknowledge that continuing to teach these skills to our students is not only unnecessary, but counterproductive and downright dangerous.


Shouldn't we be as eager to end our obsessive love affair with pencil-and-paper computation as we were to move on from outhouses and sundials?

It's Time To Abandon Computational Algorithms By Steven Leinwand | February 9, 1994
Outhouses, sundials, paper and pencil.

Now there's an analogy that hasn't panned out.

As it turns out, it was the analogy between outhouses and paper and pencil that was not only wrong, but counterproductive and downright dangerous.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Debbie Downer, Nervous Nancy, and Unprofessional Sally

From the latest installment of Barry's "Conversations on the Rifle Range":
Like many school districts, mine instituted “late-start Mondays”, in which school started an hour later and periods were shortened from one hour to 47 minutes. We reported at 7:30 (as always) and had to attend a meeting or other activities as announced. On one of my first late-start Mondays, the math teachers were told to meet for a discussion of the upcoming parents’ “math night” scheduled for later that week. The District would present and discuss the various pathways in math under Common Core and answer questions. There was growing concern among parents regarding the increased limit on the number of eighth grade students who can take Algebra 1, and questions about how students could progress to calculus in twelfth grade.

We met in the core area of the module my classroom was in—a hallway/workspace common to all the classrooms in the module. Sally, the District person I had met at the high school earlier, led the meeting. Her talk was similar to what she told us when I last heard her at the high school in the fall: Algebra 1 for eighth graders would be limited to the “truly gifted”.

“I imagine we’ll have the usual Debbie Downers and Nervous Nancies in the audience on ‘math night’. We want to make two things clear: that there’s no shame in taking Grade 8 math; under Common Core it’s equivalent to the traditional Algebra 1. And secondly, placement in eighth grade Algebra 1 will be more difficult. Fewer students will qualify—Common Core is very challenging.” Which all sounds plausible but leaves open the question of why an elite corps of students is then allowed to take the traditional Algebra 1 course in eighth grade.

Conversations on the Rifle Range 14: Late Start Mondays, Debby Downers, Nervous Nancies and a Tiger Mom
Time for a parent uprising.

Speaking of agency

Speaking of agency .....
Giving a student control over their learning has theoretical and intuitive appeal, but its effects are neither powerful nor consistent in the empirical literature base. This meta-analysis updated previous meta-analytic research by Niemiec, Sikorski, and Walberg by studying the overall effectiveness of providing learner control within educational technology, the characteristics of instruction along the continuum of learner control, and elements of the instructional environments that may play a role in the effectiveness of educational technology. The search terms identified 85 distinct articles, 18 of which met the inclusion criteria (29 effects were computed). The overall effect of including learner control within educational technology was almost zero (g = 0.05), and were also near zero when examining most characteristics of control and classroom contextual factors. Moderate effects were reported for providing learner control within social studies/history courses and for comprehensive technology instructional programs. The effects were larger for behavioral outcomes than academic outcomes, but both were small.

Updated Meta-Analysis of Learner Control Within Educational Technology
Abbey C. Karich, Matthew K. Burns, and Kathrin E. Maki
Review of Educational Research
September 2014, Vol. 84, No. 3, pp. 392–410
Yet another fruitless attempt to transfer adult authority to children.

Meme alert

Agency is the new thing.

The Windward School on "self-determination" and direct instruction

My copy of The Beacon, The Windward School's newsletter, arrived today. Here's what the heads of school have to say on the subject of grit, resilience, self-determination theory, and the like:
Autonomy in the classroom does not necessarily mean students roaming at will between workstations, working in groups, and self-directing their own learning. Autonomy, more essentially, is seen in the student who attends to her work with a personally chosen sense of purpose and self-agency. (In this context, we refer to agency as the power taken by an individual to make "decisions regarding their preferences and actions.") Although not obvious, the direct instruction methodology that guides the Windward classroom is fundamental to the development of autonomous learners.

Every direct instruction lesson begins with three elements:

  • the presentation of an aim for the lesson;
  • the review of prior lessons, clarifying how the current instruction connects to knowledge and skills already learned; and
  • a motivation that gives students an anticipation and incentive for the day's lesson.

By ensuring that every lesson has a purpose, builds upon prior knowledge, and engages the motivation of the students, teachers invoke a volitional engagement of students with the curriculum. Students attend to their work and stick to their work with grit, not as a result of fear or dread or the promise of extrinsic rewards, but because they discern and embrace the purpose of their learning.
The Windward School costs ... at least $40K/year, I think. Somewhere in there.

It's incredible, when you think about it.

The only children in Westchester County who can count on receiving direct instruction every day at school are kids who a) have a learning disability and b) have $40K to spend on tuition at The Windward School.

What happened to Khan Academy?

I wasn't a delighted fan of Khan Academy. Every time I wanted to watch, I found an uncorrected error in his video, or a mess on the blackboard. But at least it allowed you to look up a technique for how to compute something.

Salman Khan became a darling of the ed establishment, which only made sense if they were sure they could co-opt his product.

Well, yesterday, I looked at Khan Academy. And the only redeeming feature it had, that it let you just look up whatever technique you needed to see, is gone. Now you must sign in. Now it tells you how to do the whole third grade Common Core standards, it seems, and you can work your way through.

I haven't had time to look to the Wayback Machine, so maybe it's still accessible there.  But really, is what's offered now any different than what IXL and ALEKS and the rest of them claim to do?

Am I missing something? Wasn't there once a whole set of Singapore math problems he was supposedly doing and tracking for you? Is that gone, too?

I keep trying to warn schools that parents are going to revolt against this kind of big-data nonsense. They don't believe me. But I think Khan's complete change into yet another of the same-old-same-old will be another nail in that coffin.