kitchen table math, the sequel: 10/26/08 - 11/2/08

Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween at Hogwarts

C., home from the train station, reports that the school has been in an uproar, due to today being “Initiation into the Bloods Day” or some such.

Initiation into the Bloods, C. tells me, requires candidates for gang membership to run up to perfect strangers on the street and slice open their faces with a knife, starting just below the ear lobe and carving down to the corner of the mouth.

Plus which, “Nine women were raped in Queens!

“9 women were raped in Queens?” I said.

“Yeah, or Brooklyn.”

Everyone was scared, C. reported, and the boys had all planned to run to the train station after school instead of walking as they normally do. In the event, however, C. and his friend chose to walk, mostly because C’s other friend, an Irish boy from a semi-rough neck of the woods, told him the Bloods business was all a bunch of cr**. On the strength of that opinion, C. opted to walk, and lived to tell the tale. Good news!

Still and all, C., as soon as he got home, was off to consult Christian (hometown: Yonkers) on the matter of Bloods initiation rites and the 9 women raped in Brooklyn or Queens. Unfortunately, Christian is out with M., trying to take Jimmy to his program, and they’re stranded in Greenburgh because nobody’s there. Ed is dealing with that.

So we all await word on the Bloods and the fate of Jimmy’s program.

On the train home, C. sat across from 3 Irvington moms who were chatting about their kids’ YouTube videos and also about Village plans for the police to scare everyone straight. On Halloween, Irvington kids on Main Street get rowdy with shaving cream, and Irvington police always have the situation well in hand. That's what makes it exciting, really: knowing the kids and the police will both be there, along with the moms and dads escorting their smaller children to people's houses, knowing that the older kids will get rowdy and the police will prevail.

I know this because I spend every Halloween night in downtown Irvington with my friend P. Last year’s excitement was the news that J. had been picked up by the police and taken home in the back seat of the police car. A likely tale, I thought, but since half the kids in town claimed actually to have seen J. riding in the back seat of the police car, who was I to argue?

We found out the next day that J.’s parents hadn't let him go out for Halloween, so I was right after all.


M. and Christian are back sans Jimmy, so the program must be happening.

re: the Bloods, Christian had this to say: "Oh, you heard about that? They said the same thing at my job, too. Supposedly the Bloods are going to be slashing 38 people tonight for initiation. 'Cause New York gangs suck."

On that note, Happy Halloween!

Latin vs Spanish

Please tell Juan to recycle the plastic.


The centurion bravely slaughtered the barbarian.

choose one

Well....we may laugh (ha ha!) but, judging by events unfolding here in my own leafy suburb, twenty-five years from now we'll look back fondly on the days of Please tell Juan to recycle.

Twenty-five years from now schools will be teaching the critical languages and nothing but.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Have I mentioned Ed's a Phillies fan?

woo hoo!

Frederick Education Reform - for your school board, paper, & PTSA

I think the PowerPoint presentations at Frederick Education Reform are probably the single most important and most potentially effective grass-roots reform documents I've ever come across. These parents have managed to pull the whole thing together: not just the math wars but the reading wars and the education wars, too.

I'm going to forward several to my school board, the PTSA, and the local newspapers.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Seven Styles of Learning

I can't believe it.

My son came home today and told me that his (seventh grade) science teacher talked to them about seven styles of learning. I guess this was to justify having them draw pictures of science definitions. My son already has about 100 3 X 5 index cards with pictures from sixth grade science. I suppose I should be happy that they expect them to learn definitions, and that the seventh grade science teacher will not grade the artwork, but this adds to the book dust cover he has to draw for language arts and the diorama he has to do for social studies. Only in math does he have regular homework. All of the other classes have projects. (He has math with me, but that's another story.)

Linguistic learner
Logical/mathematical learner
Spatial learner
Musical learner
Bodily/Kinesthetic learner
Interpersonal learner
Intrapersonal learner

"Everybody has a preferred learning style. Knowing and understanding our learning style helps us to learn more effectively. Through identifying your learning style, you will be able to capitalize on your strengths and improve your self-advocacy skills."

Did you ever notice that they don't let kids decide on and use whichever style works best for them. Everyone has to do the artwork. Everybody has to work in groups. What about the poor intrapersonal learner who is no good in art and likes to work by himself? Tough s***. What about my son, who is extremely good in music. What the heck does that mean?

The school hands out questionnaires about this each year and I just throw them away. I try to ignore it, but this learning style formality is really getting annoying! Parents can't say anything about it because that would be questioning their competence.

Of course, drawing a picture for a definition should help one with memorization, but one can always trade speed for understanding. It's not as if they are covering more material using these techniques. They are slowing down. It took my son a lot more time to draw the science pictures last year (20+ minutes each) than it took him to memorize the definition.

Even if you believe that each child has a preferred learning style, schools really don't care. Everyone does art and works in groups.

How does it all stack up?

A parent and I recently started up a Continental Math League team at our school, which uses Investigations math.
The response?  Enthusiasm from students and parents; skepticism from teachers.

Specifically, about "stacking." (Today's word for how we used to add, subtract, and multiply numbers by placing one number on top of the other.)

Kids love it. And not just the ones on our team. As as friend writes:
When I showed one of my sons how I had learned addition, i.e. the "stacking" method, he was very impressed. "Wow, that's so cool! That works great! I wonder if my math teacher knows about this?" was his innocent comment.
Yes, she does, and she doesn't like it. At least if she resembles the teacher who approached me after math practice yesterday and recounted the dismay she felt when she caught one of her students stacking numbers, thus abandoning the more "meaningful" and "faster" way he used to solve problems.

My co-coach and I tried to explain that the Continental Math League numbers are big enough, and random enough, that Reform Math's methods aren't faster and more meaningful, but inefficient and confusing. It's one thing to add 48 and 39 by reasoning that:
48 is 2 less than 50, and 39 is 1 less than 40, so add 40 and 50 and get 90 and then count backwards by 3 and get 87."
But take one of the problems we did at Continental Math League practice yesterday: 825 - 267. Restricting myself to the kinds of calculation that these second and third graders are able/expected to do in their heads, here's the most efficient non-stacking method I can come up with:
The closest friendly number to 825 is 800, and the closest friendly number to 267 is 250. 825 is 25 more than 800. 250 is 10 more than 260, and another 7 gets you 267. 10 plus 7 is 17. So 267 is 17 more than 250. So subtract 250 from 800. Well, 800 minus 200 is 600, minus 50 more is 550. Then subtract 17 from 25 by counting up from 17. Seventeen plus 3 more is 20 plus 5 more is 25. 3 plus 5 equals 8. Add 8 to 550* to get 558."
*By this point in the problem, how many people remember what they should be doing with this 8?

Anyone with a more efficient non-stacking method for subtracting 267 from 825 (no calculators allowed!) is invited to share it here.

(Cross posted at Out in Left Field).

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sum Swamp--fun adding and subtracting

We recently ordered "Sum Swamp," an addition and subtraction game, from Amazon. It is helping with basic math facts, and also covers odd and even. It's a fun game, and very cute. It only has two 6-sided dice, however. I'm planning on buying two 10-sided dice to make it cover all the basic addition and subtraction facts.

There is an "endless loop" where you have to land on the exit to get out. For a shorter game, we don't make the endless loop endless. You could play with multiplication as well, and then either add the digits or for any answers 10 or over, divide by 10 and round to the nearest number.

We lost a bit of math knowledge this summer, this game will be a fun way to keep up basic math facts during holidays.

Now, if I could only find a fun DVD! Something along the lines of Leapfrog's "Talking Letter Factory" for letter names and sounds would be great. Unfortunately, leapfrog's math circus doesn't teach much, although it is cute.

21st century skills

from Susan S

That's what I call a race between education and technology.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

One small answer to the engineering gap?

Johnny Chung Lee made the NYT today .
My favorite part of the article, on building an interactive whiteboard with a wii remote:
An after-school Lego robotics club for fifth graders at Clara Byrd Baker Elementary School in Williamsburg, Va., built a Wiimote whiteboard in four one-hour sessions. “Once it was done, the kids were so excited,” recalls Kofi Merritt, then the school’s computer resource specialist, who suggested and advised the project. “They recognized themselves as innovators and demonstrated the whiteboard in classroom after classroom.”
Lee provides specs and instructions for all his inventions free online. What a great way to introduce students to engineering as the U.S. engineer gap is growing.

According to Sheila Riley of the EE Times:
The population of experienced engineers is aging, he (Albert Helfrick, chair of electrical and systems engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University said. "There's a serious problem in our country with people like me: gray-haired people who could retire tomorrow," he said. If large numbers do retire, the U.S. faces a severe engineering shortfall.
Joe Sciabica, executive director of the Air Force Research Laboratory, agrees:
"We are facing a crisis in this nation," Mr. Sciabica said, referring to a loss of technical talent and experience as an aging workforce of scientists, engineers and mathematicians prepares for retirement.

"What alarms me more is that the professors to teach the next generation are also retiring," he added.

Looks like loss of quality teaching isn't just an ed school issue.

I'll take a piece of that action

…it is possible for students to construct for themselves the mathematical practices that, historically, took several thousand years to evolve…

source: A Constructivist Alternative to the Representational View of Mind in Mathematics Education Author(s): Paul Cobb, Erna Yackel, Terry Wood Source: Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, Vol. 23, No. 1 (Jan., 1992), pp. 2-33; p. 28.

I've posted this line before, but had always drawn it from secondary sources. So I had wondered whether perhaps the authors had been misquoted.


This is the precise claim Cobb, Yackel, and Wood are making. In these exact words.