kitchen table math, the sequel: 1/4/15 - 1/11/15

Friday, January 9, 2015

Wrong again: noise in the classroom

Progressive educators seem to like noisy classrooms, I've noticed.

Here's Carmen Farina:
“Once I was about to visit a principal,” [New York City Schools Chancellor] Ms. FariƱa said, “who told me, ‘You’re going to love coming here because you can hear a pin drop.’ I said, ‘I better not come because that isn’t going to make me happy.’ ”

Schools Chancellor Brings Joyful and Fierce Style
And here's reality:
...[E]merging research suggests that quieter noises can have varied effects on student learning and memory.


Low or barely perceptible sound—be it from a lecture in the classroom next door, a heating system that keeps turning on and off, or even a classroom aquarium filter—can increase stress and interfere with memory and learning....

“You can’t depend on the kids to complain,” said Ruth M. Morgan, a speech pathologist at Ephesus Elementary School in Chapel Hill, N.C. “Kids generally go with the flow, and they wouldn’t let you know there’s too much background noise.”

How Loud Is Too Loud?

Noise is measured in decibels on a logarithmic scale; every 10 decibels marks an increase in sound that is twice as loud. Normal conversation is usually in the range of 60 to 65 decibels, and children often speak more softly than adults, as low as 35 decibels.


...In a 2013 study in the Journal of Urban Health, a publication of the New York Academy of Medicine, 8- and 9-year-old students who had higher “ambient” noise levels in school performed significantly worse on standardized tests in mathematics and French language, after controlling for their socioeconomic backgrounds. A difference of 10 decibels of regular background noise was associated with 5.5-point-lower scores on average in both subjects.

Similarly, a prior study found students were highly distracted by a television playing in an adjoining room, even when it was barely audible, but they were unable to identify why they were having trouble concentrating.


The results don’t surprise Ms. Morgan in Chapel Hill. She noticed that while the classroom didn’t seem particularly loud, both she and her students seemed to be having trouble following conversations during sessions in which students worked in groups.

“So much of class now is the children speaking to each other, doing buddy reading,” she said. “And children’s voices are softer; I was having difficulty hearing them.”

Some sounds are also more vulnerable to distortion: s-, sh-, and ch- sounds in speech are particularly easy to mistake when competing with low-frequency mechanical sounds, such as the hum of a computer fan or heating system.

Ms. Morgan said she thinks her school’s noise issues may be common in older schools, where former “open concept” classrooms were later closed in with walls that typically have less noise insulation than new construction, allowing students to hear more lectures and mechanical sounds in other rooms.

Low-Level Classroom Noise Distracts, Experts Say

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Can teachers write their own curriculum?

A few years ago, our then-assistant curriculum director, a terrific woman and an advocate for children whom I miss to this day, explained to the school board that our math curriculum was not Math Trailblazers.

I was in the audience at the time, and I was annoyed, because our curriculum most certainly was Math Trailblazers.

"People say our curriculum is Trailblazers," she said, "but it's not. We write our own curriculum."*

At the time, I was somewhat regularly in touch with a parent who had worked as an editor for a textbook publisher. Apprised of the 'we write our own' exchange, she was aghast.

In the world of publishing, where curricula actually do get written and published, writing a curriculum is a massive undertaking that consumes months of effort and multiple bodies playing multiple roles.

Not here. In my district writing-our-own-curriculum meant giving teachers two-week stipends over the summer to meet with a Trailblazers specialist from Bedford (the only other district still using Trailblazers, everyone else having dumped it) and be briefed on tweaks.

Trailblazers finally disappeared last year, but the curriculum situation has not improved. It's probably worse; the old-time curriculum adoption process seems to have been scuttled in favor of unilateral decisions made by the central executives. And our current curriculum director's new Powerpoint, titled "Teaching for Understanding," includes the observation that "Conventional linear (text-book [sic] driven) scope and sequence is a major impediment to developing understanding."

Naturally the words "we write our own curriculum" make me crazy because, as an adjunct who actually does write her own curriculum, not to mention an author who writes her own books, I know exactly how time-consuming writing a curriculum is.

Writing a curriculum takes forever.

Here's Siegfried Engelmann on the subject of writing and time:
As part of the endorsement of whole language, the ["Report Card on Basal Readers"] concludes that teachers should throw out basal readers and teach without them, using literature. The baseless are seen as an evil that deprives reading specialists of their right to make instructional decisions.

There are several problems with this solution: The first is that teachers are typically slaves to instructional programs and follow them very closely (even when they tell other that they don't). The second is that there is no evidence to support the assertion that typical reading specialists are capable of designing instruction that is effective (and a lot of data to suggest that they aren't). The third and most serious problem is that a reading specialist who designed even one grade-level of a program that worked well with the full range of kids, wold have to work on it no less than 6 hours a day for a minimum of two years.

War Against the Schools' Academic Child Abuse by Siegfried Engelmann, p 24
Six hours a day, five days a week, for two years.

Sounds about right to me.

Full disclosure: I am writing part of a textbook.

It's taking forever.

Later on one of our school board members, whom I had lobbied heavily on the subject of Singapore Math, took to calling our curriculum "Irvington math."

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Je Suis Charlie

Charlie Hebdo website back up

Charlie Hebdo, RIP

UGH: NY Daily News CENSORS image of Hebdo’s Muhammad Cartoon in report on attack

Ed just spoke to a French friend whose mother lives on the same street as the Charlie Hebdo offices.

She says she grew up reading the writers who were killed. She can't believe they're gone.

Still here...

Thanks to Palisadesk, Surfer is still with us!

Of course, now he has a tumor the size of a grapefruit on his spleen, so .... it's always something.

I love our vet.

He told me: "As your vet, I have to tell you to remove his spleen. But as a person, I don't think I would."

Then he told me his wife is a vet & she would smack him if she heard him give me that advice because "she whips spleens out of dogs all the time."

Our vet is hugely entertaining. I like that in a vet.

He's also a good soul.

Two days after Thanksgiving, Abby (the Labrador) had a near-death experience. Blood all over the basement floor, emergency room, bladder infection, all of it leading to -- surprise! -- liver failure.

I don't know whether bladder-infection-to-liver-failure is a Thing, and neither did my vet, though I have since heard from the mother of one of C's friends that her own aged dog recently went through the same sequence.

Two Monday's after Thanksgiving, Abby was so sick she looked like the photographs I remember seeing of starving people in Biafra, or in the death camps. One of her liver enzymes was supposed to be 200-ish; that day it was 12,000 and rising. The vet said he'd never seen a number that high.  She was dying.

He kept her in the office all day, on IV fluids and antibiotics. Later on, he told me he'd expected to put her down that day, but by evening she was still alive, and a bit restored.

Which created a new problem: she was still desperately ill and, by rights, needed to spend the night in the hospital. Probably several nights.

The vet called & danced around the problem. He said he would drive into the office in the middle of the night to check on her, but otherwise, if she stayed there, she would be alone.

That's what I call a good soul. He doesn't live close to his office; he has young kids get to school first thing in the morning. Waking up in the middle of the night to check on a possibly dying dog who has already lived longer than the norm for her breed is above and beyond.

I said I'd keep her home overnight & bring her back the next morning.

When I arrived to pick her up, our vet took her down the stairs to the parking lot himself, then pointed out she'd walked them on her own, which she hadn't been able to do that morning.

Then he lifted her into the back of my car. The vet's aide was there, too, standing with us in the parking lot, but the vet lifted her himself.

Abby survived.

She is amazingly restored: chipper, tuned in, and hungry as only a Lab can be. She was no longer eating or drinking

Her poor legs are done for, and she seems awfully thin. She's probably done for, too, but she has a vet who will get up in the middle of the night and drive 20 miles just to look in on an old dog, and that has made all the difference.

Happy New Year!