kitchen table math, the sequel: 12/7/08 - 12/14/08

Friday, December 12, 2008

Christmas & Chanukah presents

Wet Pots from Plow and Hearth

I love these things! I've been trying to keep house plants for years, with numerous plant casualties to show for it. Now, thanks to Wet Pots, I have three healthy, thriving plants in the near-dead of winter.



Just checked my asparagus fern, which emerged from three years of suspended animation as soon as it moved to a Wet Pot, and it's not looking quite as perky as it was last week. Will keep an eye on the situation.

The Wet Pots are less expensive versions of the Eva Solo "sub-irrigation" pot I've been lusting after for some time now.

I wonder whether the Eva Solo pot might work better seeing as how the ceramic pot isn't fully submerged in water. The potting mix in the Wet Pots always feels wet to the touch.

Is that bad?

The one problem with the Wet Pots is that they're awkward to keep filled if you don't have a watering can with a long, skinny spout. I used to have just such an item, but it's gone missing. So I use a mixing funnel from Clean Team when I refill the outer container.

I think I'm going to try a watering ball with the one fading plant we have that's too big for a Wet Pot. I assume it works on roughly the same principle as the Wet Pot & the Eva Solo.

from Plow and Hearth

The reason to possess - or create - one of these pots isn't primarily convenience, though they are quite convenient.

The reason to possess or create such a pot is that sub-irrigation planting is the way to go.

Inside Urban Green
Leafy Life
one, two, and three-liter pop bottle planters (photos & instructions)
making a self-watering [sub-irrigation] container (pdf file) - probably more complicated than need be

simple sub-irrigated planter
All Hail this Humble Container

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Paul is back!

A while back we had a vertical meeting with math teachers from grades 4-8. The agenda was to familiarize ourselves with the standards for fractions outside of our own grade levels. The facilitators cut all the relevant standards into little strips, removing any identity as to the grade levels they came from. Our job was to put them back together again in the proper 3-8 sequence.

It couldn't be done except at a gross level. Each year, and within each year as well, there are nuances on the nuances on the nuances. It was a good exercise in cross polination. In hind sight it was also a dramatic demonstration of the ridiculous nature of those standards. If the teachers charged with delivering them can't see clear annual goals then how can the kids?

I have our cities math curriculum from 1958 (I was in middle school then) and it reads precisely like the A+ international standard in the link. Interestingly, it is riddled with demands for mastery at key milestones, something that is totally absent in our present day constructivist, spiral curriculum.

Funny how 50 years of 'research' has taught us how to do what we already forgot.

And here's Barry:
Also funny how the math of 50 years ago is said (by those pushing reform math) to have failed large numbers of students.

That is funny!

data driven loops and noise
data driven instruction redux

spaced repetition

Someone posted a link to Mnemosyne, an online experiment in efficient memorization, on the Direct Instruction listserv. Sounds exciting, but unfortunately I have don't have an Intel Mac.

Here's Mnemosyne on spaced repetition:

Spaced repetition

When you have memorised something, you need to review that material, otherwise you will forget it. However, as you probably know from experience, it is much more effective to space out these revisions over the course over several days, rather than cramming all the revisions in a single session. This is what is called the spacing effect.

During the past 120 years, there has been considerable research into these aspects of human memory (by e.g. Ebbinghaus, Mace, Leitner and Wozniak). Based on the work of these people, it was shown that in order to get the best results, the intervals between revisions of the same card should gradually increase. This allows you to focus on things you still haven't mastered, while not wasting time on cards you remember very well.

It is clear that a computer program can be very valuable in assisting you in this process, by keeping track of how difficult you find an card and by doing the scheduling of the revisions. Let's see how this works in practice in the Mnemosyne program.

I still haven't gotten around to trying Wozniak's SuperMemo -- which I need to do for math and for Spanish.

This year's self-improvement projects, fyi:
  • Dolciani Algebra and Trigonetry Structure and Method Book 2 ISBN: 0-395-07725-8 (I'm tracking C's class at Hogwarts)
  • Fluenz Spanish (love it! This educational telepresence idea may have promise -- )

Last school year I worked through all but the last 10 lessons of Saxon Math Algebra 2 3rd edition. Am now relearning the same material in Dolciani & it's great.

I'm thinking that if you're going to teach yourself math, two textbooks are better than one.

Am also limping along through GrammarTrainer with Andrew. I say "limping" because I'm not remotely keeping to a schedule. The program is fantastic. I strongly recommend it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

In case you need help with the transition to digital cable.

Wuh-wuh-wuh why we have computer class.

uh-oh, part 3

I should not be looking at stuff like this.

Diane Ravitch on coherent curriculum in MN

from Flypaper:

I would point out that Minnesota showed dramatic gains on TIMMS not because of “new, more rigorous standards,” but because of that state’s decision to implement a coherent grade-by-grade curriculum in mathematics. William Schmidt took the lead in developing that curriculum (pdf file) and deserves to bask in glory for what he has done for the children of Minnesota. That is the most important lesson of 2007 TIMSS for the United States.

I'd love to hear more about this.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

TIMSS Results

TIMSS has been released.
View a quick chart here: Average mathematics scores of fourth- and eighth-grade students, by country: 2007

Singapore moves to #2 at fourth grade and #3 at eighth grade in Mathematics. The U. S. improves. (Hello reform math?)

Singapore stays #1 for Science.

When looking at the trends in average mathematics scores of fourth grade students from 1995 to 2007, the U.S. score increases by 11 and Singapore by 9 . At the eighth grade, the U.S. improves by 16 and Singapore drops by 16.

Big jump by England too!

More analysis later.

Monday, December 8, 2008

US News Best High Schools 2008

Top 100

state by state statistics

states (find your school here) & best high school search page

New York & New York search


A three-step process determined the best high schools. The first two steps ensured that the schools serve all their students well, using state proficiency standards as the measuring benchmarks. For those schools that made it past the first two steps, a third step assessed the degree to which schools prepare students for college-level work.

Note: college-level work.

Not 21st century skills.

Westchester County:

Blind Brook High School - Gold #87 of 100
Rye Brook, NY

Bronxville High School - Honorable Mention
Bronxville, NY

Byram Hills High School - Silver
Armonk, NY

Edgemont Junior-Senior High School - Gold #51 of 100
Scarsdale, NY

Hastings High School - Honorable Mention
Hastings-on-Hudson, NY

Horace Greeley High School - Gold #46 of 100
Chappaqua, NY

Rye High School - Honorable Mention
Rye, NY

Saunders Trade & Technical High School - Bronze
Yonkers, NY

Scarsdale Senior High School - Gold #92
Scarsdale, NY

Yonkers High School - Gold #37 of 100
Yonkers, NY

update to Bloomington High


TIMSS Results Tomorrow

2007 TIMSS results will be released tomorrow. It will be interesting to see if Singapore students remain at the top. In 2004, Singapore implemented the "Teach Less, Learn More" initiative. From the MOE website:
"TLLM would mean less dependence on rote learning, repetitive tests and a ‘one size fits all’ type of instruction, and more on experiential discovery, engaged learning, differentiated teaching, the learning of life-long skills, and the building of character through innovative and effective teaching approaches and strategies."
Sounds a lot like some American mathematics programs.

The Singapore based materials used in the United States haven't been used in Singapore since 2001 and this will be the first TIMSS to truly gauge the effectiveness of the newer materials.

My guess is that Singapore will continue to be a mathematical powerhouse. There is so much more behind their success than bar model drawing and books.

Houghton Mifflin's Great Source division may be very eager for these results. They have creatied an Americanized version of the materials currently in use in Singapore that is expected to be available next fall. Tomorrow's results may impact the perception of their program.

Take a TIMSS test!

Bad Is Stronger Than Good

The greater power of bad events over good ones is found in everyday events, major life events (e.g., trauma), close relationship outcomes, social network patterns, interpersonal interactions, and learning processes. Bad emotions, bad parents, and bad feedback have more impact than good ones, and bad information is processed more thoroughly than good. The self is more motivated to avoid bad self-definitions than to pursue good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones. Various explanations such as diagnosticity and salience help explain some findings, but the greater power of bad events is still found when such variables are controlled. Hardly any exceptions (indicating greater power of good) can be found. Taken together, these findings suggest that bad is stronger than good, as a general principle across a broad range of psychological phenomena.

Bad Is Stronger Than Good Roy F. Baumeister and Ellen Bratslavsky, Catrin Finknauer, Kathleen D. Vohs. Review of General Psychology 2001, Vol. 5 No 4, 323-70.

I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that only one book has been written on the subject of positive reinforcement.

Singapore Assessments

Comments from Paul B. pulled from a post on Obama's possible education secretary choices:
Paul B said...

The Singapore assessments are very very good in a lot of ways.

First, they ask really 'clean' questions. When a student gets it wrong you know precisely what their misconception is. I don't have to guess at two or three possibilities...

Second, they have a way of probing very efficiently to a deep level...

Third, they seem to use the absolute minimum of language and never waste time showing off the tester's literary acumen...

Fourth, they don't waste time with milktoast problem sets...

Lastly, they are very comprehensive and synchronous with the natural hierarchy of mathematical concepts...

And oh yeh, as long as I attribute the test it is free, wonderfully formatted, and readily accessible at their website.

December 6, 2008 4:41 PM
Paul B said...

One more thing I forgot to mention...

I used 4A thinking, incorrectly, that this would give me a normal distribution (based on what I thought I knew about their abilities). I was floored by the skew. I think some of it was due to their tendency to give up in the face of minimal challenge, yet even this tells me something.

Paul's comments bring up some challenges we're seeing with some of the Singapore Math materials available in the U.S.

The following information on assessment on Singapore testing comes from Teaching Primary School Mathematics: A Resource Book edited by Lee Peng Yee (ISBN: 978-007-125855-5) and is considered typical of what test scores mean in Singapore schools. I verified this also with my contacts at the National Institute for Education. I'm awaiting confirmation from the publisher if the Primary Math Standards Edition Tests books are written to this marking scheme.

Primary Grades 1 - 4
Mark Range followed by a brief description of capability.

85 % to 100% - The pupil is able to solve unfamiliar problems.

70 % to 84% - The pupil is able to solve problems but has some difficulty with unfamiliar ones.

50 % to 69% - The pupil can complete basic computations and routine tasks.

Below 50% - The pupil cannot complete basic computations and routine tasks to a satisfactory level.

Primary Grades 5 to 6 - regular track
Mark Range followed by a brief description of capability.

97 % to 100% - The pupil is able to solve unfamiliar problems including unguided ones.

75% to 90%
- The pupil is able to solve unfamiliar problems including some unfamiliar ones with some guidance.

60% to 74%
- The pupil is able to solve familiar problems.

50% to 59%
- The pupil is able to solve some basic familiar problems.

36% to 49%
- The pupil is able to do basic computation and routine tasks.

20% to 34%
- The pupil is able to do basic computation and routine tasks at a lower primary level.

Below 20%
- The pupil is not able to do even basic computations and routine tasks to a lower primary level.

The chapter on writing assessments from the book also includes information on what an effective assessment item should look like, how to write a table of specifications and planning unit tests. Teachers are taught how do write assessments in Singapore and rarely rely on publishers' provided ones.

I had a semester class at NAU as well
on writing effective assessments. I think the big difference is that I rarely, if ever, had time in my school day to sit down and write my own unit tests with a TOS, so I just used the ones in the Singapore books.

FYI - The Teaching Secondary School Mathematics: A Resource Book is good also!

Singapore Math Placement Tests

New Rochelle Schools Censor "Girl, Interrupted" by Tearing Out Pages

Susanna Kaysen's harrowing memoir, Girl, Interrupted, may have inspired Angelina Jolie to deliver an Academy Award-Winning performance in the film adaptation staring Winona Ryder but all the book inspired in New Rochelle, NY was an act of book mutilation intended as censorship.

After an as-yet-to-be-identified person complained, school officials took books from students, ripped pages deemed "inappropriate" out of the book and then returned them to befuddled students.  School officials declined repeated requests for comment on the incident.

The National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression have condemned the school's actions.

The pages removed from the book (pages 64-70) contain a scene where the rebellious Lisa (played by Angela Jolie in the movie) encourages Susanna (played by Winona Ryder) to break up with her boyfriend and circumvent hospital rules against sexual intercourse by engaging in oral sex with a fellow patient at a Massachusetts mental hospital where the story is set.

Read the whole disgraceful story here.

Facing Firestorm of Criticism, New Rochelle Schools Relent on "Girl, Interrupted" Censorship

Another victory for free speech, still no explanation of the district's book challenge policy or who exactly challenged the book.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

a high school we know and love

Congratulations Bloomington High School!

Goldin and Katz have this to say of the schools of the Midwest in The Race between Education and Technology:

From 1910 to 1940 secondary schools mushroomed all over the nation and youths began to go to high school in ever-increasing numbers fo learn skills for life, not necessarily just for college. Certain parts of the nation experienced the high school movement earlier than others and were educational leaders. The state in the West North Central portion of the United States were among the leaders and one of them--Iowa--figures prominently in our analysis.
p. 72
[T]here has been remarkable persistence in the leading and lagging states from the end of the high school movement until today...The persistence of educational excellence is demonstrated by graphing the high school graduation rate by state in 1938 against n index of educational performance by state in the 1990s, where the index incorporates high school graduation rates and various achievement test scores. The raw correlation of the two variables by state for 1938 and the 1990s is 0.72.
p. 343
Path dependency. The Midwest started out ahead and they're still ahead today.

Unlike the country's education system as a whole, which started out miles ahead of the rest of the world and has now fallen behind.

update 12.8.2008

from a parent whose kids have attended Bloomington High School (& long-time ktm commenter & member):

I haven't had a chance to review the report at length, but my preliminary read is that it seems to mean that our district has taken to heart the challenge/mandate to leave no child behind. Thirty percent of our district's student population is African American or Hispanic; forty percent qualify as disadvantaged. What I think the bronze medal status means is that our district is making strides in educating "harder to educate" populations. The data comports with what my own sense of what has been happening in our district in recent years.

I have not seen a corresponding decrease in the quality of education for students at the higher end of the spectrum. This is not to suggest that all is perfect (far from it); but good news is always welcome, and this recognition was most definitely good news.

Here is a link to the full report

Our high school hosted a speech tournament yesterday, and we took a turn at concessions (which is our speech team's primary fundraiser). There was a positive buzz about the ranking amongst the parents who were volunteering.

Congratulations, Bloomington High.

Steve Levitt summarizes The Race in 2 sentences
Jimmy graduates

The anemic response of skill investment to skill premium growth
The declining American high school graduation rate: Evidence, sources, and consequences
Pushy parents raise more successful kids

The Race Between Education and Technology book review
The Race Between Ed & Tech: excerpt & TOC & SAT scores & public loss of confidence in the schools
The Race Between Ed & Tech: the Great Compression
the Great Compression, part 2
ED in '08: America's schools
comments on Knowledge Schools
the future
the stick kids from mud island
educated workers and technology diffusion
declining value of college degree
Goldin, Katz and fans
best article thus far: Chronicle of Higher Education on The Race
Tyler Cowan on The Race (NY Times)
happiness inequality down...
an example of lagging technology diffusion in the U.S.

the Times reviews The Race, finally
IQ, college, and 2008 election
Bloomington High School & "path dependency"
the election debate that should have been

Jingle Bells in Latin

Jingle Bells in Latin

Nantes per nives
in apertā traheā
trans agros imus
omnes ridentes. (ha! ha! ha!)

Tintini tintinnant.
Animose sic
Lætissimi nos canimus
Canticum hac nocte.

(O!) tinnitus, tinnitus, semper tinnitus!
O tantum est gaudium dum vehimus in trahā!
Tinnitus, tinnitus, semper tinnitus!
O tantum est gaudium dum vehimus in trahā!

C.'s Latin class is going to go caroling through the halls of Hogwarts. In Latin.

(Sorry to be missing in action - lots going on here. For the next post).