kitchen table math, the sequel: 4/19/15 - 4/26/15

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Barry's book is out!!

Teaching Math in the 21st Century

I got my copy in the mail this week, opened it up to a random page, and instantly found a paragraph to post:
Well, OK, I like open response questions too, but I get rather tired of the "it's inauthentic if it's multiple choice" mentality. I took the math exam required in California to be certified to teach math in secondary schools. The multiple choice questions were not exactly easy; I would hesitate to call the exam "inauthentic." What I find inauthentic is the prevailing group-think which holds that judging math ability should be based on how well students in K-12 are able to apply prior knowledge to problems that are substantially different than what they have seen before. In the working world (which the education establishment tries to emulate by insisting that students be given "real-world" problems) most people employed in technical fields are expected to apply their skills to variants of well-studied problems. For those who need to solve problems of a substantially new nature, it takes weeks, months and years--they are certainly not confide to a two-to three-hour time limit.
I love that.

The real real world is so different from the real world constructivists imagine.

Speaking of which, my district is now committed to "instilling a culture of entrepreneurialism in our students."

Flipped classrooms, stations, and now pretend entrepreneurialism.

20% discount for KTM readers - Debbie's Critical Reading course

I'm copying the post I put up this morning at the Parents Forum.

So as not to bury the lede:

Discount: 20%
Coupon code: KTM20%off (case sensitive!)
Coupon expires: May 3, 2015

NOTE: Students can take the course whenever they wish. The coupon expires on May 3, but once students have used the coupon, there is no deadline for enrolling in the course.

SAT Critical Reading course

The Coupon Code applies to everything on the page & works the way Coupon Codes work on sites like The Gap & J.Crew.

Debbie's email:


Hi everyone -

Some of you will remember Debbie Stier, whose kids went through our schools, and who is the author of The Perfect Score Project: One Mother's Journey to Uncover the Secrets of the SAT.

(Debbie is one of my closest friends. I did a 'polish' of her book.)

Here's the New Yorker article about Debbie's experience & book.

In January, Debbie finally sat down and wrote a sequence of 28 critical reading lessons (partly because I bugged her to do it!), & so far her results are amazing.

She's also started tutoring via Skype.

Debbie's highest student score gain so far is 260 points.

Her student started with a Critical Reading score of 370. After 5 weeks of tutoring with Debbie, the student has reached 630, and it looks like she's going to improve on that.

The same student has also moved from 400 to 650 on Writing, and from 560 to 690 on Math. (Debbie is handling her math prep as well.)


These are fantastic results because almost nobody is able to move the needle on reading scores. Test prep & tutors can raise math scores, but not reading. (This is a big issue in charter schools, btw. Good charter schools work wonders in math, but their reading scores are just so-so.)

I have a theory about why Debbie's approach is working.

I think Debbie is teaching students a specific skill I hadn't realized was a specific skill until we started talking about it.

I think she is teaching students how to 'read things they can't read.'

She's teaching students to suss out the meaning of passages that weren't written for them, and for which they don't possess the necessary background knowledge or even the necessary vocabulary in many cases. (She uses essays from the New York Times—entire essays, not excerpts—which have very high vocabulary levels.)

Being able to 'read things you can't read'—articles and books that are over your head—is a major college requirement. In his first semester in college, our son Chris took John Sexton's course on religion and the public schools, for which the assigned reading was Supreme Court cases. Lots of Supreme Court cases.

Supreme Court justices and their clerks are fantastic writers, but still. You don't come out of high school knowing how to read a 100-page Supreme Court opinion.

(Fun fact: there were two students from Irvington in Sexton’s course – ! They both did well.)

Students need to graduate high school able to read well. That goes without saying.

But they also need tools for reading things they aren’t prepared to read, and that’s not really part of most schools’ curriculum.


One more thought about the SAT (and the ACT).

For me, reading-things-I-can't-read is a job requirement. Here's the kind of sentence I have to parse for the book I'm writing now:
Current models postulate that the basal ganglia modulate cerebral cortex indirectly via an inhibitory output to thalamus, bidirectionally controlled by direct- and indirect-pathway striatal projection neurons (dSPNs and iSPNs, respectively) 2, 3, 4.
If you're a neuroscientist, that sentence is easy to read.

If you're not, it's hard.

Over the years I've figured out ways to read 'hard things,' and I think that's what Debbie is teaching her students to do.

To a 16-year old, a lot of passages on the SAT are as difficult as the sentence above would be for most college graduates.


Anyway, I think Debbie's course is fantastic. Plus I've seen the results she's had with her own two children, so I know she's doing something right.

So .... 15% discount for Irvington Parents Forum 20% discount for ktm readers and their friends!