kitchen table math, the sequel: 9/2/07 - 9/9/07

Saturday, September 8, 2007

swimming and writing: William J. Kerrigan

from Kerrigan’s first chapter:

Chapter 1


Step 1 is simple. But before we begin with Step 1, I’d like to say something helpful about the method in this book. It is a method, a step-by-step method—and that is what makes this book different from others you from others you may have used. The book itself, as you’ll see at once, talks directly and familiarly with you, instead of formally to your instructor; so it is not so much a book as a conversation.

Now the method taught in this book has proved useful to everyone from grade school students to graduate students in English. (As a matter of fact, one excellent writer, the head of a college English department, told me gratefully that he had learned some things of value from it.) But what you’ll really like to hear is that out of the thousands of college students who have studied this method, not one has failed to learn to use it. And after learning it, not one has failed to write themes that, as both the student and the instructor could see, were quite acceptable—better than the student imagined possible. You too, at this point, can’t imagine how much more impressive and effective your writing will become after you put this simple method to work.

I suspect that what lies behind this method is my experience with swimming. Efforts to teach me to swim, beginning back in my grade school days, had time after time proved utter failures. In crowded municipal pools, in small private pools, and in swimming holes in rural creeks, my friends told me to do this and do that, gave me one piece of advice and then another, held me up as I waved my arms and legs, put water wings on me, demonstrated for me again and again. No use. I couldn’t learn to swim a stroke or to keep myself up in the water for one second.

But one day when I was in my twenties and was paddling my hands in the water in the shallow end of a pool—while other people swam—a friend of mine got out of the water and said, “Walk out there ten or fifteen feet, and turn and face me on the deck of the pool here. OK. Now raise your hands above your head, take a deep breath and hold it, close your eyes if you want to, and just lie face down in the water. You absolutely can’t sink. Then, when you’re out of breath, stand up again.”

I followed his directions and, to my surprise, I didn’t sink.

“Now,” he said, “when you lie down again in the water, just kick your feet up and down. You’ll come right to me at the edge of the pool.”

I did as he told me. When my hands met the side of the pool and I stood up again, I realized that after years of vain effort, I had—in less than five minutes—learned how to swim.

It was the simplest kind of swimming, to be sure; and I need not take you through the steps that followed, in which I moved my arms, lifted my head to breathe, and developed various strokes. Let me say only that today I have an acceptable swimming technique.

When it came to teaching theme writing, then, I wanted a method like that—a method that was going to work for all students, good, fair, and indifferent. What was needed was a set of simple instructions that any and every student could follow, that would lead—like “lie face down in the water”—to automatic success. Other writing textbooks contained plenty of good advice, but not a method of organizing the advice so that it would lead step by step to a successful theme. So I had to figure out the instructions myself. The foolproof method I developed is fully contained in this book.

But before turning to that method, I have a few more helpful words. First, remember that it guarantees that you will write acceptable themes. That is because it is automatic: it relies not on any special skill of yours, but on what you already must know if you are able to read and write. it does not depend on your having good ideas, a good vocabulary, or good expression. For that reason, it cannot guarantee that the themes you produce will be literature. (To produce literature you would ordinarily need to have done a lot of reading and writing, besides, of course, having been born with unusual gifts.)

But after all, what call will there ever be for you to write literature?…


Some of you, however, will protest that you do intend to write literature later on. Good for you! If so, you will find this book a solid foundation for it. Meanwhile, if we are all to achieve the modest goal of this book, you will have to do some work—though I must keep assuring you that it will be work that you, whoever you are, can do, if you can read these words. Remember that the fundamental secret of swimming was revealed to me by my friend in a flash. But I did not immediately become a decent swimmer! No, it required hours of practice in the pool. We learn to swim by—and only by—swimming; we learn to skate by skating; and you—as you don’t recall but I’m sure believe—learned to walk by walking. It should not surprise you, then, that we learn to write by writing.
pp. 1-2

Writing to the Point Fourth Edition by William J. Kerrigan
Fourth Edition
William J. Kerrigan
Allan A. Metcalf
ISBN: 0-15-598313-X
New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1987

Kerrigan taught composition at the University of Iowa in the 1950s.

Apparently you have to go back that far to find a writing instructor with a method.

That's not quite true; the text reconstruction people, who appear to have enjoyed a brief heyday in the 1980s before the process tsunami swept them away have a method I think is terrific thus far. (Will get around to posting my results with Analyze Organize, Write by Arthur Whimbey and Elizabeth Jenkins. ISBN-10: 0805800824 ISBN-13: 978-0805800821)

But Kerrigan's method is the whole package, start to finish, including choosing a topic and creating a thesis.

Writing to the Point Fourth Edition Table of Contents
Amazon review Kerrigan & home program
Writing to the Point, first installment
William J. Kerrigan and the sentence
writing and swimming: pp 1 & 2 Kerrigan
To the Instructor

why God does the stuff He does

Andrew is playing a DVD or YouTube or who-knows-what at top volume in the family room.

It's Barney, singing "Happy Kwanzaa."

The reason God thought it was a really good idea for me to have two autistic kids, instead of just one, is that I am possibly the only person on the planet who would find Barney singing Happy Kwanzaa at top volume in my family room in September amusing.


Now we've cycled through Oh Come All Ye Faithful and have moved on to a song about menorahs.

oh. I see. We're back to Kwanzaa. Barney is singing about the Kwanzaa menorah.


We Wish You a Merry Christmas.

And now Andrew is crying along with We Wish You a Merry Christmas!

Barney's probably singing the wrong thing. Andrew hates when that happens.

William J. Kerrigan & the sentence

Copying my comment from the earlier post on Kerrigan:

Kerrigan's book is life-altering.

His fundamental insight is:

the sentence

A sentence is a paragraph is a chapter is a book.


His book has altered my way of thinking about writing -- and it's making my book-writing better and easier. Thanks in part to Kerrigan's book I now have a thesis sentence; I can state a fairly complex thesis in a single, declarative sentence.

Before reading the first 20 pages of Kerrigan, I was coming to a thesis for Temple's & my new book; I had an implicit thesis.

Kerrigan's insights told me an implicit thesis wasn't enough.

I needed to be able to write one sentence that stated the thesis of our new book.

And I did!


Step 1.

Kerrigan's method has six steps, which he asks his students to memorize. Step 1 is:

Write a short, simple declarative sentence that makes one statement.

Writing to the Point Fourth Edition Table of Contents
Amazon review Kerrigan & home program
Writing to the Point, first installment
William J. Kerrigan and the sentence
writing and swimming: pp 1 & 2 Kerrigan
writing and swimming: pp 1 & 2 Kerrigan
To the Instructor

Real world vs mathematics for math's sake

Arguments about how math should be taught frequently include the issue of "real world" math problems. I.e., students need relevance, otherwise they'll tune out. This attitude excludes a whole host of problems that one might find in a geometry book, let's say. So a problem that is real world and makes use of the Pythagorean Theorem is OK, but a proof of the Pythagorean Theorem is not. Well, no, people might object to my extension. So let's use another example. "For any point within an equilateral triangle, the sum of the perpendicular distances of the point to each respective side of the triangle is constant, and equal to the altitude of the equilateral triangle."

This wonderful theorem probably wouldn't qualify as "real world" and even though understanding the theorem and how it is proven opens up higher order thinking skills and mathematical reasoning, a math reformist would not teach it in its pure form. They would have to find some application, however contrived, to provide relevance.

Math for math's sake is out. All math must be relevant. In fact, when the Fairfax County Public School Board (in Virginia) was adopting math textbooks back in 2001, they argued about the criterion for "real world" applications. During the ensuing debates, two school board members found the following criterion too narrow: "Materials and concepts are related to real world situations". They argued for, and lost, the following (excerpted from the minutes of a School Board meeting found here):

"Mrs. Brickner moved, and Mrs. Thompson seconded, to amend the main motion to add the words, “mathematics and” to the eighth bullet under criteria #2, so that it would read, “Materials and concepts are related to mathematics and real-world situations.”

"Mrs. Brickner said that a mathematics textbook could not relate everything to a real-world situation; that there should be a balance between the presentation of math concepts and their relationship to the real world to help students understand the need for those concepts; that applications of mathematics should come from both within mathematics and from problems arising from daily life; that a strict application of the criteria, as originally written, would cause an evaluator to find a textbook less effective than they otherwise might on the basis that the text did not wholly focus on the real world; and that the objective was clearly to teach math concepts and skills.

"The motion to amend the main motion to add the words, “mathematics and” to the eighth bullet under Criterion #2, so that it would read, “Materials and concepts are related to mathematics and real-world situations” failed 4-7, with Mr. Braunlich, Mrs. Brickner, Mr. Reese, and Mrs. Thompson voting “aye”; with Mrs. Belter, Mrs. Castro, Mr. Frye, Mr. Gibson, Mrs. Heastie, Mrs. Kory, and Mrs. Strauss voting “nay”; and with Mrs. Wilson absent. "

So, the upshot is that math textbooks must base all examples and applications on real world situations; mathematics for mathematics sake does not count. That would make calculus textbooks rather challenging to write!

Friday, September 7, 2007

Redkudu’s English Department Meeting Excerpts: 9/9/2007

(I am the English III Team Leader (and only teach English III) in a suburban school which toppled over capacity by about 600 students students this year. We're currently over 2,900 students in one school. I teach just over 170 of them. These are some notes I made about this morning's department meeting.)

On Plagiarism and Its Handling Within the Department:

High school students should be allowed a second chance on plagiarized work because sometimes they don’t mean it, and sometimes they do it by accident. Also, if we fail them for just having plagiarized, is that an accurate assessment of their mastery of the content and skills? No, we need to see them attempt the concepts and skills even if their first attempt was plagiarism.

The Writer’s Notebook:

A new, district-wide initiative - all English students will have a Writer’s Notebook. At today’s meeting we received suggestions for Writer’s Notebook content.

Content Ideas:

1) Have students write about their name. Where did it come from? How did they get it? What does it mean? (Er, I researched the origin of my name in a project I still remember...FROM 4TH GRADE.) If students do not know the origin of their name, have them write questions about their name to ask their parents later.

2) Provide students with a concrete noun at the end of a class lesson. Have them journal in such a way that they connect that concrete noun (in any way, shape, or form) to the daily lesson or reading. Some suggested nouns: firefly, popcorn, basket, chain, bicycle, river, gift...

Wait, wait, lemme check...

Yup. Still teaching high school.

Writing to the Point by William J. Kerrigan (intro)

I wish I could remember, now, the path that took me to William J. Kerrigan's Writing to the Point. I suspect it started with a precision teaching web site somewhere, but then again, maybe not.

I don't know.

[update: I remember now. I found a reference to Kerrigan's book in Why Johnny Can't Write: How to Improve Writing Skills by Myra J. Linden & Arthur Whimbey, and looked it up on Amazon. The review posted there, which I believe is accurate, sold me.]

What I do know is that Writing to the Point is the single most brilliant book I've read on the subject of what writing is and how to teach it I've ever seen, second only to Why Johnny Can't Write: How to Improve Writing Skills by Myra J. Linden and Arthur Whimbey.

Naturally, Kerrigan is out of print. Lucy Calkins is earning untold millions suppressing childhood imagination and marching children lockstep through one memoir after another. (As my friend's son said in 8th grade, when asked to "write a memory of an afternoon,": I'm running out of memories.) But Kerrigan, the anti-Calkins, is out of print and unavailable.

Well, not for long.

As it turns out, my editor on Temple's and my sequence works for Harcourt, the house that published Kerrigan. So it will be easy to find out who owns the rights, if anyone; I may be able to persuade her to look into a reissue.

In the meantime I've begun typing the manuscript in full. I'll post it on the blog as I go.

Parents, students, and teachers need this book.

first installment

To the Instructor

It really works.

That is the lesson those of us in the English department at MacMurray College learned, more than a decade ago, when we took the first edition of Writing to the Point into our freshman composition classes.

There were seven of us in the department at that time, with widely differing backgrounds and approaches. Some were traditionalists, some innovators, some liked to lecture on grammar, others encouraged students to talk about their feelings; some emphasized mechanics, others structure, the reading of literature, or creative expression. We met weekly, as we still do, to argue for our respective emphases and to reach some understanding of what everyone else was doing.

But when Writing to the Point came along, we were amazed. Unlike the other attractive texts we had used for a year or two and then discarded, it actually made a difference in our students’ writing—a palpable difference.

With Writing to the Point, we saw our students—good, fair, and indifferent—making a point and generally adhering to it; supporting that point with usually relevant particulars; and, most of the time, making clear connections from paragraph to paragraph and sentence to sentence. Moreover, we found ourselves able to talk about writing with a consensus and precision previously impossible, not just with students but also with colleagues.

In the first year or two, we were still suspicious. Our initial inclination was to quarrel with the dogmatic certainty and authoritarian persona we found in the book, even as we instructed our students to follow along. We knew there were many different ways to write well and many competing theories about the teaching of writing. How could Kerrigan presume to know?

But he did. The evidence mounted, year after year: in testimonials from students, like one who took the course in 1977 and recently said, “That book saved me in college” (she went on to get A’s in later courses); and in papers written by transfer students, who turned out to be far behind our Kerrigan-trained students in simple expository writing. We the faculty, too, found ourselves consciously improving our own writing through one or another of Kerrigan’s lessons, as we had never done when using other writing books. And so we took Kerrigan to heart.

New faculty as they joined us went through the same initiation. At first came the shock of having to follow a stern and unfamiliar method Then followed the shock of seeing students learn it. And finally, after a year or two, came the realization that the Kerrigan method is unusual only in its approach and style,not in its content. What it teaches is what anyone would want in expository writing: unity, coherence, detail.

The approach of Writing to the Point is holistic. But it is holistic in a far different sense than the approach in those textbooks which simply offer chapters on the word, the sentence, the paragraph in the belief that the parts will somehow add up to the whole. In marked contrast, Writing to the Point has an organic unity. Each element intimately relates to the whole; in fact, the book begins with the whole (the thesis of the theme) and then shows how to develop the whole so that every detail relates to it.

And we gradually learned that, despite its insistence on a very specific method, Writing to the Point offers both instructor and student room for individuality and creativity, even while ensuring that any student who can write a sentence (the starting point) will both learn and appy the basic principles of expository writing.

The flexibility is such that no instructor need abandon techniques that have worked in the past. Those who value prewriting will find ample opportunity to call for it, especially with Steps 1 and 4; those who favor rewriting will find occasion at every step, but especially in the chapter on “Correcting the Theme.” (Kerrigan calls it “correcting,” a term less daunting and more familiar to the students than “revising”; but the chapter requires, and demonstrates exactly how to undertake, thorough revision.) Sentence combining, though not treated at length, has a moment of special emphasis in this book. Grammar and style may be incorporated as the instructor wishes at many appropriate points of connection. Readings of fiction or nonfiction will be grist for the mill.

What makes this book different, then? What makes it work? The answer to both questions is the same. Kerrigan set out, not to make a textbook, but to teach writing. A man of much practical as well as academic experience (as the autobiographical vignettes scattered through the book will attest), he hit upon the first steps of his method while struggling to make the principles of exposition clear to composition classes at Iowa State in the 1950s. For two decades, there and at Fullerton College, he improved on the method, and finally in the early 1970s, at the suggestion of a student, wrote it as a book.

Writing to the Point, then, is an actual course written down—a course actually taught to students like yours and mine, good, fair, and indifferent. Consequently, its style is deliberately and strikingly oral: not just making use of “I,” “you,” and contractions, but also with emphasis supplied by italics and repetitions not usually found in writing. The result is a book that students can read; even as Kerrigan teaches them how to write (and read) the kind of formal prose with which they are less familiar.

Furthermore, because it reflects actual teaching, Writing to the Point has a structure quite different from that of a textbook that proceeds from an idea; it meets the psychological needs of students, not just their logical needs. It has the pacing of an actual course. So instead of chapters of equal size devoted to each of the six steps, Kerrigan makes some short, some long, according to the need of the student and the place in the course. He puts Step 1 in a short, simple chapter, to provide a confident start. Step 2, which needs much attention, requires a chapter three times as long. Immediate relief follows in the short, simple chapter on Step 3; that is succeeded by the longest chapter of all, on Step 4, which appropriately emphasizes the importance of going into detail. Then, instead of continuing with the last two steps, Kerrigan interpolates three chapters, two shorts and a long, to exemplify and review Steps 1 through 4. Psychologically, the student comes to realize that the earlier steps must be thoroughly learned before the mystery of Steps 5 and 6—those that do the most to make a student’s writing look professional—can be revealed. In practical terms, these chapters give the student time to write a few themes incorporating Steps 1 through 4 before going on to 5 and 6.

Finally, after Steps 5 and 6, four chapters remain. They contain further exemplification and practice for those last two steps, just as Kerrigan provided for the earlier steps after introducing Step 4. But these last chapters also do more. They complete the incremental, almost unnoticeable stages of development from the amazing simplicity of the early lessons to the complexity of writing an argumentative theme or a research paper. Thus, at the end, by sure degrees, the making of an effective expository writer is complete. And the lesson will not be forgotten.

If the book is an actual course, what is left for the instructor to do? The question answers itself in the reading. At each stage the student needs practice in doing the steps—in class discussion as well as in homework. The instructor is needed to provide intelligent, precise criticism of the student’s writing, just as Kerrigan provides for the examples in the book. Step 1, for instance, asks students to write a sentence of a certain kind. The class needs discussion of many such sentences so that students will have a sure sense of which ones work.

One of the virtues of Writing to the Point is that it has no pointless, supernumerary exercises. For the most part, the students’ assignments are simply to write themes or parts of themes, or to improve on themes already written. If there is opportunity for further assignments, the instructor can then simply ask for more of the same, because the way to learn writing is by writing.

Moreover, the Kerrigan method doesn’t get dull. Each set of sentences X, 1, 2, and 3 is a stimulating intellectual challenge for the instructor as well as the student: a triumph if all the sentences stay on the point, an exercise in revision if they do not. Each theme is a similar exercise in virtuosity. The method is simple, but its application to the actual matter of writing is endlessly challenging, and the visible development of students into sure practitioners is a recurring satisfaction. And Kerrigan’s book itself offers challenges to conventional nostrums about teaching writing, challenges that stimulate thinking anew each time the instructor guides a class through the Kerrigan experience.

This book does not attempt everything. It does not attempt to teach grammar, style, or the research paper, for example. Students who have trouble writing a grammatical sentence, or wish to improve the flow of their prose, or need the rules of research documentation, will have to turn to books designed for those purposes. But important lessons on all three topics appear in Writing to the Point just where experience shows students are most ready for them.

To Kerrigan’s own years of teaching, this Fourth Edition adds the wisdom of more than a decade of using all three earlier editions at MacMurray College. Those at MacMurray who helped me in this revision included both new and experienced instructors, with a combined 54 years of teaching Writing to the Point. Equally helpful were five reviewers from other institutions, who gave the draft of this revision the painstaking scrutiny it needed—and the benefit of their similarly long experience with the Kerrigan way. The result is a far better edition than any solitary reviser could have produced.

Yet this Fourth Edition will not at first glance seem different. My intent was not to make a new or different book, but to help an already excellent book live up to its fullest potential. There are changes, sometimes many changes, on almost every page, but my aim is simply to bring out the true Kerrigan that was already latent there.

In preparing this edition, I was assisted by MacMurray colleagues Richard McGuire and Philip Decker, with whom I have shared Kerrigan since the first printing of the First Edition; Elizabeth Crowley and Robert Seufert, who joined us during the Second Edition; and Ulrike Jaeckel, who came along for the Third. Eugene Laurent, who had also been with us for the first, died just before work began on the Third Edition that is incorporated here. At MacMurray Colllege, much-appreciated help has come at crucial times from Jeff Decker, Edwin Ecker, Richard McFate, and Teri Metcalf. At Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, my special thanks go to Paul Nockleby, who brought us all together, and to Bruce Daniels and Merilyn Britt, who guided the book into its final shape.

Finally and happily, I acknowledge the help of the man who started it all, William J. Kerrigan. This is my own revision, but it remains quintessentially his book. It has been a great pleasure to make the acquaintance of a person who is almost as fascinating as the persona of the book, a man who might be called the Nikola Tesla of English composition. After you read the book (and Chapter 9), you’ll know what I mean.

Allan Metcalf

excerpt from:
Writing to the Point
Fourth Edition
William J. Kerrigan
Allan A. Metcalf
ISBN: 0-15-598313-X
New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1987

1990 edition:
Lawrence Erlbaum, 1990
ISBN-10: 0805808531
ISBN-13: 978-0805808537

Writing to the Point Fourth Edition Table of Contents
Amazon review Kerrigan & home program
Writing to the Point, first installment
William J. Kerrigan and the sentence
writing and swimming: pp 1 & 2 Kerrigan
writing and swimming: pp 1 & 2 Kerrigan
To the Instructor

“Triplets” Homework, Part 2

I have learned more about the troublesome triplets homework of my previous post.

In response to my questions, the teacher informed me that she had clearly stated to the class that it was just something for them to try, not to worry if they can’t get the answers. I’m assuming my daughter didn’t hear those instructions, or misunderstood. She usually tries hard to do her best on her homework, and typically becomes quite unhappy when she has to struggle to complete her work.

In addition, I was informed the triplets homework was not an “academic assignment”. Ding, ding, ding! Okay, I’m a little slow, but I think I get it now. Apparently, there are two types of homework -- “academic” and “non-academic”. As the prayer says, I can only hope for the “wisdom to know the difference”. It can be very difficult to tell sometimes.

As some commenters on my initial post noted, there seems to be a growing trend of schools telling us how to spend our home time in activities that have no real bearing on academic learning. Do they think this a way to encourage parental support? I’m with the crowd that says to the schools please just focus on academics. I’ll decide how I want to spend our family time.

Anyway, after all this, I decided that playing the “triplets game” can actually be fun. (I have a vague recollection that there is a board game based on this premise.) For this triplet - “cross, wood, blooded” – I struggled a bit before I settled upon “red” as the correct answer. However, I liked my daughter’s response much better. She confidently answered “Jesus”. Her explanation? He died on a cross, it was wood and it was blooded all over. Somehow, I don’t think this is the answer the school was expecting. :-)

Goodness Gracious, it's Grammar

I have to say that I'm really liking Hake Grammar & Writing (Level 6) so far. In this first week of homeschooling my fifth grader we've covered 4 types of sentences (imperative, declarative, interrogative, exclamatory), simple subjects, simple predicates, identifying complete sentences, fragments, and run-on sentences. Rich vocabulary is worked into the program as well. There have been 3 journal entries, and dictation. The writing lesson for this week was sentence combining.

Last week we did also did Writing Strands and that was really well received by my "reluctant writer" as well.

For younger students, I really like First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind (Level 3). I'm using the workbook and teacher book to afterschool my second grader. From the get-go we've covered nouns, forming plurals, common and proper nouns and pronouns and done some dictation. By next week he'll be diagramming simple sentence. The lessons are efficient, long enough to work to mastery but brief enough to keep their attention. Review is built in but not overdone at all.

I think it might be easy to afterschool with either program because they are quite stealth.

Definitely worth a look.

other people's money

excerpt from my first email of the year to our new assistant superintendent of curriculum and technology:

Hi G. -----

Hope your summer was good!

Ours was great, but too short.

Quick note — I got a call today from a friend who was at the Middle School store.

A couple of things:

She has a middle-class income & was distressed by how much the supplies cost. She’d spent $175 at Staples; today she was asked for $80 at the school. When she questioned the price of a composition notebook, which is apparently double what we would pay at Staples, one of the secretaries told her the teachers had picked it out because they want “uniform” notebooks. (She and her husband are also spending thousands of dollars a year to IMS tutors on the recommendation of their guidance counselor, so I’m sure that’s part of it.)

In any case, “the teachers want uniform notebooks” isn’t the best rationale for requiring parents to purchase an expensive notebook....

G.'s answer was good.

This kind of thing has been the message to Irvington parents forever, in large ways and small.

I will never forget the president of the school board addressing middle school parents on Back to School Night two years ago.

The community had already voted in two enormous bonds, amounting to $49,000,000 I think (I have a terrible memory for numbers, but "many millions" would be the correct verbal description of the sum). The village has a population of 6500 people and virtually no industry; not sure what the tax base is. (I believe part of Tarrytown and/or Greenburgh also pay Irvington school taxes?? Though they may not -- there's some controversy over this. I AM IN SERIOUS NEED OF FACT-CHECKING)

Anyway, my point is: the community had already voted in two humungous bonds.

The president of the school board said, "We're going to ask you to reach into your pockets again, and support a $12-million dollar bond for fields." He said it almost the way a preacher would say it;* this was money for the Lord. Good people like us would naturally reach into our pockets to support very large school bonds one after nother, and we would do this because we are good; reaching into our pockets for very large school bonds is the thing that makes us good.

That may have been the moment I turned.

I remember thinking, you've got to be kidding.

The bond was subsequently whittled down to, I'm thinking, $9 million, through the unceasing efforts of residents who bordered the construction.... did it then go down to 6??


Is Alzheimer's setting in right this minute? If so, loyal readers will have a front-row seat. I'm going to be doing some serious editing of this post after someone tells me what I'm talking about.

Point is: the bond started at $12 million, went down to 9 or 6 or 5 million, and was then narrowly defeated.

So now we're getting some rhetoric about cost-cutting, and some action, too, though not nearly enough. The superintendent, in her letter introducing this year's budget increases, included the words, "This is not a frivolous budget." Not a frivolous budget isn't the standard we should be shooting for.

That's at the macro level.

But at the micro level it's, "the teachers want uniform notebooks."

Or "buy a one hundred dollar calculator and bring it to school the first day when we'll be so disorganized we won't assign lockers until the kids have had a chance to rifle through each other's backpacks for stuff to sell on ebay."

Assuming that is what in fact occurred.

I will investigate further.

TI 84 page on ebay
"instructional time issues"
hundred dollar calculator
178 days left 'til summer
email to the principal re: hundred dollar calculators
other people's money
what is the opposite of a silver lining?

* Not any preacher I know, but a cliche´ preacher, a preacher in a movie not friendly to preachers.

email to the principal re: hundred dollar calculators

Hi Joe ---

Christopher’s hundred dollar graphing calculator may have been stolen on the first day of school. He was missing it that night.

We’re hoping it will turn out to be buried inside his locker, but I fear the worst.

We talked to a friend last night whose high school daughter tells her that kids steal the calculators and sell them on ebay.

I’ll let you know whether he finds it.


TI 84 page on ebay
"instructional time issues"
hundred dollar calculator
178 days left 'til summer
email to the principal re: hundred dollar calculators
other people's money
what is the opposite of a silver lining?

Help Desk. Degrees of Reading Power. DRP.

Can anyone explain to me how I should read my daughter's fourth grade DRP score? There is a one line blurb with her "unit score" but no explanation or chart to go with it. I did manage to find this chart of DRP Scale of Text Difficulty. I'm not sure if this applies or not.

If it does, then I'm really perplexed. Before jumping to any crazy conclusions, I thought I would pick your brains.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

A Limerick

There once was a teacher, Dick Nipple,
His name it caused quite a ripple,
One day during autumn
He fell on his bottom
Which caused our laughter to triple!

Mr. Teacher
a limerick

178 school days left 'til summer


The graphing calculator.

Probably gone, most likely stolen. First day of school. Sturm, drang, etc.

Why did you take it to school?

I thought I had to. It was on the list.

You thought you had to have a graphing calculator on the first day of school? You told me you never do any work on the first day of school.

I thought my teacher might ask to see it.


oh, brother

no common sense-y*

no common sense-y and short attention span theater, a deadly combination

I wasn't planning to allow C. to take his hundred-dollar calculator to school ever, but, in the general chaos that is my life, I forgot to tell him so, and then I forgot to remember I'd forgotten, if that makes any sense.

It makes perfect sense to me, which just goes to show.

C., who has never, in 8 years of schooling, been asked to show his supplies to a teacher on the first day of school, went off to 8th grade fully prepared to do so just in case.

Anyway, Ed talked to Gold Star Homework Mom tonight, who said one of her kids lost 3 twenty-dollar scientific calculators last year and she made him pay for all 3. Kids steal the graphing calculators, she said, and sell them on ebay. This happens all the time.** So this year her husband engraved their kids' names on their graphing calculators and then took the additional precaution of buying them both twenty-dollar calculators they can take to school while the hundred-dollar engraved extravaganza stays home.

So those kids now have personally engraved graphing calculators sitting on the kitchen counter in their house, while my kid's TI 84 awaits its closing bid on ebay.

Nothing like learning things the hard way.

Of course, what have I actually learned?

I've learned our family has no common sense-y and I have a short attention span.

That's not news.

* family motto

**Gee, do you think the school might have mentioned this in one of the gazillion greetings and newsletters and manila envelopes filled with forms but no class schedules it mailed out over the summer? Just a quick little heads-up, a "best to leave your hundred-dollar graphing calculator at home on the first day of school"-type deal?

TI 84 page on ebay
"instructional time issues"
hundred dollar calculator
178 days left 'til summer
email to the principal re: hundred dollar calculators
other people's money
what is the opposite of a silver lining?


Question. What do the following have in common:

Youth Service
Ladder Safety
Buying a Computer

Answer. They are the "Applications Highlights" from a chapter in a math textbook; the chapter title is Linear Equations and Functions.

Catherine is right; it's always worse than you think.

(This came up on a list about converting math textbooks to braille. I don't have the book title. It's published by McDougalLittell.)

triplets homework

calling all math brains

Any suggestions you may have about afterschooling geometry would be more than welcome.

More than welcome, because.....Irvington has purchased and is now implementing a new geometry text!

From Glencoe!

That's Glencoe as in Page-Splatter Glencoe. Glencoe Geometry, New York Edition ISBN: 0-07-873320-0.


So....moving right along.....we see, linked to a real-world problem on geometric properties of class ring design....a box!

More about school rings

Many companies that sell school rings also offer schools and individuals the option to design their own ring.


And, on page 90, a Key Concept:

Five essential parts of a good proof:

State the theorem or conjecture to be proven

List the given information.

If possible, draw a diagram to illustrate the given information.

State what is to be proved.

Develop a system of deductive reasoning.

One year from now, this will be my life.

That's one year from now assuming I manage to figure out some way to teach enough pre-algebra so my kid can maintain a B average in his "accelerated" math class this year.

speaking of which

I've already left this anecdote in a Comment, but this one belongs front and center. Here it is:

I was talking to a math-brain friend here in town.

Probably some of you recall that until a couple of years ago, for reasons now lost in mists of time, Irvington had 4 math tracks.

Phase 1 was the slowest; Phase 4 was the fastest. Kids were placed in a Phase at the beginning of 3rd grade in 3rd grade; that is to say, at the end of 2nd grade kids went into the track in which they would be expected to remain for the rest of their school career. Which meant that at the age of 8 my own child, placed in Phase 3, had been placed out of calculus in senior year without the school seeing fit to mention this fact to his parents.

Naturally I had always assumed that Phase 1 was SPED. I mean....I knew what was going on in Phase 3; it wasn't advanced work. I knew what the kids were doing in Phase 4, which was the same thing the kids in Phase 3 were doing along with some Math Olympiad problems the parents solved over the weekends. Then there was Phase 2, a whole other level also more or less doing the same material only slower..... which didn't seem to leave much room for a Phase 1 for regular-ed kids. A normal class divides into thirds: fast, medium, slow. Statistically speaking, the fourth track had to be outliers, which meant it had to be kids with real learning disabilities.

Talking to my friend, I said something about the teacher who taught the SPED kids in Phase 1.

She said, "Phase 1 isn't special ed."

"Yes, it is," I said. "It's Phase 1." I may not know much about statistics, but I have absorbed the concept of a normal distribution.

"No," she said. "Phase 1 is just kids who aren't any good at math. Or math isn't their thing." Then she told me one of the Phase 1 kids at the high school had just scored a 94 on Regents (algebra 1 & geometry)

Talk about it's always worse than you think.

We've got an entire lowest-possible-level class for kids with no discernible learning disabilities, no classification, no nothing --- an entire class of kids who, apparently, are simply assumed to be "no good at math" or "math isn't their thing."

"How the hell did that happen?" I said.

She didn't know.


This really is worse than I thought.

I've always thought the Irvington bell curve needs to be picked up in toto and simply moved down the field.

The fast kids take geometry in 8th grade; the "big middle" takes algebra; etc.

Turns out we don't even have a bell curve.

Is there a name for a distribution that has a huge bump at the bottom? I'm sure there is.

Lucy Calkins probe

from the Washington Examiner:

Top officials ask for probe into consulting group
Bill Myers, The Examiner
2007-09-04 07:00:00.0
Current rank: # 6,840 of 7,100

Top school officials have asked the District of Columbia to investigate allegations of fraud leveled against a private consulting group paid millions of dollars to train young teachers in the city’s schools.

On Friday, a special assistant to new schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee asked the city’s inspector general to investigate The Teachers Institute, according to a memo obtained by The Examiner. The institute has a $3.1 million “professional development” contract with the D.C. schools that goes back to 2004, records show.

“The allegations against Teachers Institute ... include: misuse of funds, waste and fraud,” wrote Rhee’s assistant, Richard Nyankori.

A source familiar with the investigation said Rhee has been asking questions about where the group got its startup money and how it used the millions of public dollars it has been paid.

Sheila M. Ford, the institute’s executive director, did not respond to requests for comment. According to its Web site, the nonprofit institute was founded in 2004 by a handful of former D.C. schoolteachers and principals. Its mission is to train young teachers in literacy programs. The group works in 22 D.C. schools and claims to have trained more than 300 teachers since it began its work.

Ford is a former principal at Mann Elementary, one of the schools that has an institute contract.

The D.C. schools have spent tens of millions of dollars on teacher training but continue to fail federally mandated tests in reading and math.

Rhee was the head of her own nonprofit group, dedicated to recruiting and training young teachers for struggling school systems.

Rhee wasn’t the only person to ask questions about The Teachers Institute.

Theresa Bollech, the mother of a special education student and a community activist, said she saw the group on the schools’ contractors list but couldn’t figure out what the District was getting for its money.

She sent a letter to Rhee in early August.

“No one could tell me what they were doing,” Bollech said. “Who is monitoring these contracts, and where’s the money going? My concerns are still unanswered.”

Got a tip on this story? Call Bill Myers at 202-459-4956 or e-mail

Lucy Calkins & The Teachers Institute

is this a joke?

ERIC #:EJ761676
Title:What's Right with Writing
Authors:Rief, Linda
Descriptors:Writing Skills; Writing Processes; Writing Instruction; Writing Improvement; Writing Difficulties; Formative Evaluation; Student Needs; Writing (Composition); Teaching Experience; Middle School Teachers; Writing Research
Source:Voices from the Middle, v13 n4 p32-39 May 2006
Publisher:National Council of Teachers of English. 1111 West Kenyon Road, Urbana, IL 61801-1096. Tel: 877-369-6283; Tel: 217-328-3870; Web site:
Publication Date:2006-05-00
Pub Types:Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Abstract:Writing--and lots of it in all genres--is at the heart of the language arts curriculum and the skills of critical thinking that students need to develop to become prepared consumers and citizens. In this article, the author reflects on her growth as a writer and teacher, and offers an overview of what people know about writing, what they need to do it well, what the students need to learn to do it well, and what obstacles are challenging teachers' ability to make it happen. She also shares what she has learned from educators, philosophers, researchers, her students, and her own practice. (Contains 3 figures.)
Reference Count:27

The purpose of writing and lots of it is to create prepared consumers?

Prepared consumers and citizens?

Off the top of my head, I'd say the proper way for our schools to prepare future consumers is to teach them what 10% off means.

But that's just me.

Here's a question

After doing those articles on stats for teachers, I've gotten email from several people who have told me they don't know enough about Excel to really use it. So I'm thinking about doing a series of Excel for teachers articles, starting maybe with how to set up and maintain an Excel gradebook. (I'm not really very excited about dealing with all the &^$@#^! screendump graphics, but that's another story.) Do you think this is a good idea, or would I be wasting my time?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Carolyn is in Redmond!

Home of Microsoft and Where's the Math.

When Carolyn told me she & Bernie were moving, I completely forgot that Washington state's math standards are rated F.

That's OK. It's time for Carolyn to get back in the game. When I told her about C. not being able to calculate 10% off a price, she said, "How did that happen?"

Clearly, our Miss Carolyn has been away from the wars too long.

about Carolyn

“Triplets” Homework – What does it teach?

I hate to start the school year with such a cynical attitude, but I had a negative reaction to my fifth-grader’s homework today.

There were no written instructions, but apparently the assignment was to write down what each set of three words have in common. Here are a few samples of the “triplets”:
1. 4-GHI, 8-TUV, 2-ABC
2. Antonio, Francisco, Juan
3. beaver, tasse, greave
4. pumpkin, city in Florida, 7th U.S. president

For some of these, looking up the words in a dictionary can help you find the answer, so that’s good. (I learned that another meaning of beaver is “a piece of armor covering the lower part of the face”. This was the fifth meaning listed right after the slang term for, uh, you know what.) Maybe one reason why I didn’t like this homework is because it reminded me of my daughter’s need to improve her dictionary skills.

Anyway, she was struggling with this and it was taking too long so I began to question if it was a waste of time.

Maybe someone here can enlighten me and explain how this is more than a type of trivial pursuit game.

Answers: 1. buttons on a phone, 2. add “San” and these are cities, 3. parts of armor, 4. “Jack"

triplets homework


re: the four goals

(The four goals being: 1. "writing, lots of writing"; 2. "I forget number 2"; 3. "character education. We're going to have a character education assembly every month"; 4. "using technology")

Matthew says:

Wouldn't it be most efficient to require students to type essays about character and morals on a Blackberry?

That would knock out 1, 3 and 4 in one blow. I'm sure 2 can be worked in as well.

An excellent suggestion!

One day into the new school year the principal has already had...... is it 5 emails from me?

Yes. Five.

I'm pretty sure.

I bet he'd appreciate getting one more before the week is out.

Mr. Teacher

C. met his new teachers today & is wildly enthusiastic about them all, each and every one.

Mr. So-and-so #1 (yes, he has his first male teachers in core subjects) is "the coolest teacher ever," and Mr. So-and-so #2 will answer questions via email and notify them of any changes in assignments.

C. loves school. Partly, that's just him. He's a school kid; he's liked school from the first day he set foot inside a school building, back when he was 3.

But it's also a credit to his school and to the district.

So anyway, there we were at the dinner table, getting the blow-by-blow on C's excellent day, when Ed reported that back when he was in junior high, his social studies teacher was named Dick Nipple.

They called him Mr. Nipple.

Mr. Teacher
a limerick

Andrew returns to school

We had word at the end of summer that Annie, Andrew's fantastically competent aide for lo these many years, has taken a job teaching in a private school.

Annie is gone.

A new aide was hired in Annie's place, but yesterday we had an email from his also-fantastically competent teacher, Clarice, reporting that the aide had quit. So apparently the final day of summer vacation for the kids was the new aide's first and last day on the job. Ed said, "Well, at least he didn't quit because of Andrew."

I was thinking to myself what an excellent development it was that Andrew's new aide quit before meeting Andrew, not after, when Ed added, "Unless he quit because of Andrew's reputation."

four goals

C. tells me that the middle school principal says the district has 4 goals for the school year:

1. "writing, lots of writing"

2. "I forget number 2."

3. "character education. We're going to have a character education assembly every month."

4. "using technology"

I've sent an email to the principal, requesting clarification.

the one hundred dollar calculator

C., age 13, 8th grade, was required to purchase a 100-dollar calculator for school this year.

Today was the first day of school. It is now 5:05 pm.

"Do you know where my calculator is?"

No. I do not.

Nor does his father.

"It's probably in my locker."

TI 84 page on ebay
"instructional time issues"
hundred dollar calculator
178 days left 'til summer
email to the principal re: hundred dollar calculators
other people's money
what is the opposite of a silver lining?

citing the polysyllabists

John Trimbur cites Lunsford and other polysyllabists as arguing that composition studies, a postmodern pastiche resistant to "the positivist certainties and foundational accounts that shaped the older disciplines," follows "the cultural logic of postmodernism" and "situates itself in a nondisciplinary or postdisciplinary place where multiple, heterogeneous, and polyvalent discourses, projects, and interests intersect" ("Writing Instruction" 136).
Return to Service
by James Sledd
A postdisciplinary place?

Doesn't that sound like middle school?

Meet the new boss

The charge that their research is chaotic does not, of course, disturb the complacency of the boss compositionists. Their easy but empty response is to give chaos an honorific name. Andrea Lunsford sees the nature, the space, of composition studies as "large and loosely bounded, informed by cross-disciplinary, trans-institutional, multiply mediated, multi-geared, multi-voiced, and radically democratic principles" (11) principles which understandably do not console exploited TAs and parttimers.
Return to Service
by James Sledd

A brief history of the compositionists

In this necessarily brief essay, I argue again that the supposed revolution in composition has in fact been a conventional campaign for academic status and privilege-a campaign that has eventuated in a culture richly comic. Instead of the compositionists' struggle for upward mobility in the academic pecking order, I propose 1) a meltdown of academia's detestable frozen hierarchies by the abolition of rank and tenure, 2) the formation of militant, inclusive unions of faculty with staff to battle swarming administrators in corporatized education, and 3) the serious teaching of the general-purpose prose that our students need and our colleagues want. Proposal, of course, isn't prophecy; but something is accomplished just by speaking the officially unspeakable-namely, that composition's "revolution" has left all the old hierarchies intact while producing a new group of hierarchs, the boss compositionists. I make no apologies for undignified concern with maligned Freshman English, a course whose careful teaching is infinitely more important than the further development of "composition theory."
Return to Service
by James Sledd
where is Vlorbik?

I predict V is going to LOVE this thing....
Reading that blurb closely, I take it as evidence for my conclusion that upward mobility for a minority of lower managers has been mistaken for deep change. The mobile managers-good professionals sincerely devoted to high principle-have lacked only the imagination to escape professionalism. They've made themselves upwardly mobile, but in so doing they've duplicated the wider society's division into haves and haven'ts. They now are boss compositionists, overseers (obishas) on Pomocompo, the plantation of postmodern composition. Under their administration, exploited field hands (TAs, part-timers, and untenurables) still teach the vast majority of the thousands of sections of the freshman course in writing.

teach your babies to write

A poem about the five-paragraph essay.

By a middle school teacher.

From what I can see, the situation in writing instruction is far grimmer than that in mathematics instruction -- that is, it's far grimmer if you discount the fact that many people can teach themselves to write (I think), while not many can teach themselves math.

More evidence of writing instruction grimmery: things get worse in college, not better.

At the college level, people have entered the "post-process" era, "post-process" meaning "post-process writing," i.e. post-Lucy Calkins & her kin.

That turns out to be a bad thing.

Thank You, Whole Language
this is Lucy Calkins
Lucy Calkins Day
Becky Does Cargo Cult Lucy
stupid mayor trick
stupid mayor trick, part 2
stupid mayor trick, part 3

Theory Into Practice
Process, Post-Process, a bibliography
Writing Beyond the Headline: Building a Writing Program at Princeton (pdf file)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

IQ subtest scores are not increasing at the same rate

In this very interesting post by Steve Sailer on James Flynn's (of Flynn Effect fame) on his new book, What is Intelligence? Beyond the Flynn Effect, I noticed something regarding the Flynn effect I never noticed before. Namely, that while IQ's have been on the rise, not all aspects of IQ have been rising at the same speed. The three slowest areas of improvement are for information, arithmetic, and vocabulary, and comprehension.

I don't think it's a coincidence that these four areas involve some aspect of academic content while the remaining faster growing areas generally do not.

According to Flynn, massive IQ increases are not seen in all types of cognitive functioning, just in a couple of areas, which explains why kids these days don't seem all that much smarter, except at programming their new gadgets. The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) is one of the most popular IQ tests. Here are its ten subtests, ranked in order from smallest to largest IQ gain over 55 years:

WISC Subtest

IQ Gains in

Sample Question


On what continent is Argentina?


If a toy costs $6, how much do 7 cost?


What does "debilitating" mean?


Why are streets usually numbered in order?
Picture Completion


Indicate the missing part from an incomplete
Block Design


Use blocks to replicate a two-color design.
Object Assembly


Assemble puzzles depicting common objects.


Using a key, match symbols with shapes or
Picture Arrangement


Reorder a set of scrambled picture cards to tell a story.


In what way are "dogs" and "rabbits"

We see only small changes in the first three mental skills: general knowledge, arithmetic, and vocabulary. And
yet these are the skills that come up most in our casual conversation

However, there have been substantial improvements in the next six subtests, most of which involve visual logic. The proliferation of visual imagery was one of the major changes in the social environment in the 20th Century. People have much more practice at decoding images quickly than in the past.

Catherine here, diving into Ken's post.

This is the "fuzzy math makes you smarter" issue. All of those "find the pattern" constructivist math textbooks resemble the items on the Ravens Progressive matrices.

"The tide is turning too slowly for parents"

"The tide is turning too slowly for parents." That's just one pithy comment in Heather Sells' report for CBN News in a story that features Ridgewood's math woes.

As some of you already know, Ridgewood, New Jersey, (where I live) has been featured in the New York Times for its math woes. I was approached by Heather for an interview, but turned it down.

Below find two links. The first is the CBN video, which was aired today.
The other one is the article on the CBN web site.

It seems the evangelicals are just as concerned as anyone else about the dumbing down of math. That's not surprising, as one of their hallmarks is a high regard for scholarly pursuit.

The video

The article

Susan J's brilliant lesson on per cent

Susan's lesson is wonderful.

Read these two lines:

Remember that it doesn't make any difference whether you write a fraction with a slanted division line between the numerator and denominator or with a horizontal division line between the numerator and denominator:

This direction comes exactly where it should, arriving at the precise moment in which a student may be starting to feel confused by the horizontal notation 33% = 33/100.

The use of light violet highlighting is fantastic, too:

Don't forget that in word problems, is almost always means equals and of almost always means times.

This next line is a terrific example, IMO, of the proper way to teach a procedure:

You can probably divide 300 by 100 in your head. But it is useful to remember that an easy way to divide a number by 100 is to move the number's decimal point two places to the left. You should also remember that when a number isn't written with a decimal point, you put the decimal point just to the right of the number.

One of the problems with "traditional" math, which I'm sure plagues a lot of reteaching parents, too, is that teachers & parents fall back on purely procedural teaching whenever a student is struggling with a concept. You can see that your student's working memory is already maxed out just dealing with the new material, and you know there's no point adding even more information to the load. He's not going to absorb it, and he may lose focus on the concept he's trying to master.

I've thought about this a lot, because I do more "straight" procedural teaching than I would like.

I'm constantly looking for an "in" to offer an explanation or make a connection between the new material and something C. (presumably) already knows. But if I were actually writing a curriculum, explanations wouldn't be an "add-on," and I wouldn't be looking for an "in." The explanation would be a seamless part of the sequence of instruction and example. My starter examples would be simple enough to do two things:

  • incorporate an explanation within the structure of the example
  • leave enough working memory free to allow the student to read and understand a simple explanation accompanying the example

The Singapore Math books work this way. Rarely do they give a student "too much" at the same time. In Singapore Math, the examples are the explanation to a large degree. The written text is spare, even terse.

That's what Susan has pulled off. She has set up a simple per cent problem that gives her a fraction with a 300 in the numerator and a 100 in the denominator. Both of those numbers -- 300 and 100 -- are already "chunked"; the load on working memory is extremely low. The student can hold them in WM while reading Susan's reminder that moving the decimal point two places is another way of dividing by 100.

In short, having set up the correct teaching example, she can in two sentences express and distinguish between two ideas that trip up many a middle school student:*

  • moving the decimal point two places to the left is the same thing as dividing by 100
  • moving the decimal point two places to the left is just an easy way of dividing by 100, a shortcut, no more & no less**

This is agile writing.

I would describe my own efforts to teach per cent this summer as clunky.

First of all, I don't write my own problems. I use whatever problem happens to be on the page before me in whatever workbook I'm using.

As a result, C. ends up with a fraction along the lines of 286/100, which he can't divide mentally. When he forgets he can move the decimal point, I remind him; then, as he's laboriously writing out 2.86 (because his handwriting, along with everything else, has also not been learned to fluency), I say, "What are we doing when we move the decimal point?" At this point he's focused on getting the number right and only vaguely registers the move-the-decimal-point explanation, which he's sick of hearing in any case.

It doesn't work (not well, at any rate), because the explanation is an add-on.

writing is all about structure

That's the famous William Goldman slogan about screenplays: structure, structure, structure.

Structure is practically impossible to "see" when we read, and it is the single hardest trick of the trade to pull off.

The answer to Susan's question -- Are math books too verbose? -- is yes, for the same reason the answer to that question is yes with nearly any piece of writing. Remember the UK writing assignment:

[Judith] Koren describes how two British women she knows became effective essayists and speakers. “Each week, they’d had homework exercises like this: While preserving every essential point, reduce a 100-word essay to 50 words, then to 20, then to 10. Reduce 500 words to 50, 1,000 words to 100. Week after week, year after year...."
(appeared in American Enterprise Magazine)

The reason you can keep cutting a piece of writing after you've already cut it down to the bone, the reason it gets better with each cut, is that you are correcting and refining the structure.

In a piece of educational writing about math, the structure is refined and the verbiage trimmed by choosing the correct example or sequence of examples of the concept being taught.

Singapore Math for afterschooling

This reinforces my decision to use the Singapore Math books for formal afterschooling. They are superb.

I don't think you can find an unnecessary word anywhere in the series.***

* The article The Effects of Cumulative Practice on Mathematics Problem Solving by Kristin H. Mayfield & Philip N. Chase has a fascinating observation about "stimulus discrimination training" in math practice sets -- will post ASAP.

** This is so important for students just learning math. Especially when I was relearning arithmetic, I found myself constantly confused over the question of whether a particular procedure was "real" or just a shortcut. (Can't explain better than that at the moment.)

*** This may be true of the Saxon books, too. However, the Saxon books cover all the standards in all the states, or nearly so, which makes them too unwieldy for the time I have to work with.

Are Math Books Too Verbose?

I'm moving something I tried to say in a comment. I'm starting to wonder whether there is too much extraneous information in today's pre-calc math such that students are missing the forest for the trees? I was shocked by the story about the boy in 8th grade algebra who couldn't figure a 10% tip.

To me one of the cool things about math is that once you understand a concept, you can often summarize the whole concept in a very few words. Would it help if the students wrote their own summaries?

I tried writing a summary of per cents that covers everything you need to know to figure a tip. It's only a page long. Here's the link.

Monday, September 3, 2007

"you won't be able to maintain a B average"

C's friends told me yesterday that, towards the end of last school year, Ms. K told their Phase 4 class* that some of them wouldn't be staying in accelerated math in high school, because they "wouldn't be able to maintain a B average" in 8th grade algebra this year.

C's friends came away with the impression she was telling them they were bad students. They should "face facts."

Regardless of what she had in mind making this statement, the message the students got was: a significant number of you -- enough for me to bring it up in class -- won't be able to do algebra 1 next year.

You can't do it.

Well, she's probably right. After two years in her class my own child can't tell me what 10% off a price is,** so where are we on algebra?

My experience is not unique, as I've mentioned on innumerable occasions in the past. A friend of mine, last year, whose son was in the 8th grade algebra class, asked her son to figure a 10% tip on a pizza delivery. He couldn't do it. Even with pencil & paper, he couldn't do it. He had no idea how to go about figuring 10% of a dollar amount -- and this kid hadn't had Ms. K for 2 years running as C's group has. He had spent one year with the erstwhile chair of the department, the legendary middle school math teacher who has retired and is now charging $80/hr (I believe) to tutor IMS students in math.

compare and contrast

Irvington Middle School has approximately 150 students per class.

We have 2 classes of 8th graders taking algebra this year, perhaps 40 students in all. 27% of the class

All of these kids tested into the program. For many, many years I've been hearing about "pushy parents" who get their children into Phase 4 when "they don't belong."

That's not the case here. These kids passed a difficult entrance exam and were recommended for the course by their teachers. The entire student body ought to "belong" in algebra in 8th grade as far as I'm concerned, but these kids definitely belong.

Apparently, after 2 years in the middle school accelerated math program, their ability to master algebra in 8th grade has declined.

Which brings me to KIPP.

How many 8th graders at the KIPP Academy will pass the Regents Math A exam at the end of this school year?


of Irvington Middle School students master algebra in 8th grade, per pupil spending $21,000

of KIPP students master algebra in 8th grade, per pupil spending roughly $10,000

Speaking of KIPP, Here's David Levin:
And also what’s amazing is, our kids come in in fifth grade and we start with the time tables. We start with basic addition and subtraction and the eighth grade, all of our kids are learning algebra one. Last year [2003], 80 percent of our eighth graders passed the high school level exit exam in math here in New York, the Regents, the math A (ph). Eighty percent of our eighth graders passed the high school level exam, exit exam and less than 40 percent of our kids who are coming in in fifth grade on level. So it’s really, really exciting to see how this works.

We're running at about $9,900 per student, which is about $500, $600 less than what the Department of Education spends in New York City for middle school students. And part of what we try to do at KIPP is all the "buts" in education -- you know, but you can't do it with these kids, but you can't do it with this money, but you can't do it in this neighborhood, but you can't do it with this size class -- we're trying to take away all those "buts" in our schools. So you know, we're doing it with class size of over 30. We're doing it with the kids who, you know, traditional public schools may not have been successful with. And we're doing it with the same amount or less than the regular public schools.
Source: Interview, David Levin, Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), Co-Founder
December 12, 2004 C-Span

* accelerated math, 7th grade
** At least, he couldn't tell me at the beginning of the summer. Now he can.

middle school cuts number of students in Phase 4 (2005)
Doug Sundseth's IMS-KIPP graphic

Sunday, September 2, 2007

U.S. Open

Watched the beginning of the Blake-Koubek match last night 'til midnight, then saw the rest on TIVO today -- amazing! People talk about matches being hard fought. This one was so hard fought the expression stopped feeling like a metaphor. At one point the two men were pounding away at each other so hard I found myself thinking, "These guys need to stop playing tennis and go kill some terrorists."

Two men enter, one man leaves
. Woo-hoo!

Koubek was like nothing human I've ever seen. The man moves like a cat. An extremely fast cat. He was so limber, agile, and ferocious I started rooting for the guy. Couldn't help myself.

Ed's a Blake man, of course. C. says his tennis teacher played doubles with Blake's father for years. He thinks they played a professional circuit.

We have tickets for tomorrow.


progress report

My rate of progress has slowed a lot.

Since I began reteaching myself K-12 math in the summer of 2004, I have worked my way through:

I worked through all 5 books between summer 2004 and summer 2006.

Started Saxon Algebra 2 on 9-2-2006.

Today, 9-2-2007, I did Lesson 112 out of 129 total.*

17 left to go.

* Plus two long review lessons at the beginning of the book.... progressreport