kitchen table math, the sequel: 1/25/09 - 2/1/09

Saturday, January 31, 2009

meet the parents, part 2: classroom discipline

Robert Pondiscio has a post up about James Rogers' tantrum on the subject of parents & kids.
What, then, has made the Nevada education system go from good to average to less than average since the 1960s when Nevada's high schools won multiple awards for being the best in the nation....The state of K-12 education in the state of Nevada is where the public - that is you out there - has allowed it to sink. Your only relationship with the education system is to ship your unprepared kids to school not with the expectation of success, but with the demand that an education system, inadequately funded, develop and/or repair children that you as a parent did not prepare for school or support while your children attended school.
And so on.

Teacher Anne's response caught my attention:
I have been a teacher for 35 years. When I started teaching, the children I taught were eager to learn, respected me, and other adults, had manners, and worked hard. Now, I have children who do not do homework, who have no bedtimes, who talk back, who have little or no desire to actually get an education, and who do not understand the values of hard work or accountability.
I've been thinking about classroom discipline lately.

It seems to me that all students should be entitled to attend cheerful, orderly schools.


A cheerful, orderly school should be the bare minimum.

So, assuming that kids today really are more difficult to deal with (I don't doubt it), schools have to adapt. It's that simple. Teach the kids you have.

Someone else may have a better idea, but my thinking is that schools need to hire behaviorists to perform functional assessments of student behavior, create positive behavior plans for students who need them (regardless of whether those students are or are not "classified"), then teach teachers how to use the plan -- and support teachers while they're learning.

Since Palisadesk has told us that ed schools no longer teach classroom management (which seems to be the case), it falls to public schools to provide this training, which mean teachers must have real "professional development" when it comes to classroom management. By "real" I mean a person like Mary Damer who comes into the classroom, directly instructs teachers in how to keep a group of kids on task & well mannered, and supports the teacher while he or she is mastering the skills involved.

The behaviorist should also help administrators develop a school-wide plan for hallway, restroom, and playground calm, as well as for orderly and efficient trips to the principal's office.

Basically, I think schools should forget about hiring "school psychologists" and get into the business of hiring school behaviorists. We'd all be a lot better off.

Last but not least, students whose difficulties can't be managed by one teacher heading one classroom without help should be taught in smaller classes elsewhere in the building. That classroom, too, should be cheerful and orderly -- and this I know schools can do because my two autistic children have been taught in cheerful orderly classrooms by teachers who know what they're about.

Of course, that's not what's happening. I've heard from teachers who have worked in urban schools where children with severe behavior problems were kept in classrooms on the orders of central administration. Neither the teacher nor the building principal had the authority to remove these children, who in some cases were so violent and erratic that all learning stopped and classmates lived in a chronic state of stress and fear.

Such policies -- the teacher called them "radical inclusion" -- are unethical.

Students should be entited to attend school in a cheerful and orderly environment, and the people who are responsible for creating and sustaining that cheerful and orderly environment are the grownups in charge.

the parents

Which brings me to the parents.

Yes, in the best of all possible worlds children would have two-parent families in which Mom and Dad see eye to eye and the kids go to bed on time at night.

But we don't live in the best of all possible worlds, and there are limits to what a parent can do from home to control his child's behavior at school.

Special ed parents are always dealing with this. I remember talking to a mom who was working as an aide in her developmentally disabled daughter's special needs school. The daughter had all kinds of behavior problems in addition to delays (ditto that), and every time the child acted up in school the teacher would pick up the phone and telephone the mom, who was in another part of the school dealing with another child in another classroom. She'd get these calls all day long! Finally she finally told the teacher, "I am here, I'm not there. I can't do anything about my daughter's behavior over the telephone."

Of course schools should be pow-wowing with parents and working together with them on behavior issues if possible. But even when you have competent parents who are doing their best, the fact is that nobody trains parents, either, and because we parents are our own bosses, it can sometimes take a while to realize we're on the wrong track. At least, that has happened to me at times. "The bad gets normal," as Temple says: when problems develop gradually, you don't notice them. Instead, the new bad situation becomes the new normal. The parent may not even realize there is a problem.

That can happen with kids and families, and I know it's happened to me.

The point is: the school has to be responsible for student behavior while students are at school.

Whatever it takes.

stereotype threat redux

If you're interested in the not yet peer reviewed study of Obama's inauguration and its effect on test scores, it's probably worth reading this (long) 2-year old post on stereotype threat.

Stereotype threat is real; I've experienced it myself more than once in my life.

My worst experience, which is mortifying to this day, happened at Dartmouth.

When I was at the college, there were a tiny number of women attending classes as the first group of co-eds.* Everywhere we went, we were surrounded by a sea of men. This meant that I rarely opened one of the remarkably heavy doors to the big old buildings on campus, because if a Dartmouth boy got to the door first -- and a Dartmouth boy always did get to the door first -- he opened the door for me.
's always
So I was used to having the enormous, heavy, old wood doors opened for me by Dartmouth boys.

One day I found myself walking alone towards the student center, nobody around but me. The student center was a new building, and its entry door was a standard-issue, see-through glass job, weighing what all such doors weigh and easily opened by a 4-year old child.

I clutched. There was no one around me to open the door ---- and I spent a split second thinking that if there was no one to open the door, I wouldn't be able to get in. This was a conscious thought.

It was appalling.

Worse yet, I was a raging feminist at the time. Mary Daly,** Andrea Dworkin -- you name the angry feminist author & I'd read her, underlined her, & annotated her up the ying-yang. I wanted a career & success, and I wanted a career and success in a world filled with men who had careers and success. I was on a Mission from God.

So there I was, Mary Daly aficionado; I'm walking to the Student Center, and I'm consciously asking myself, "How will I get inside the building if nobody opens the door?"

Ever since that moment, and especially in light of my revelatory experience of stereotype threat on a television game show, I've wondered about this phenomenon.

First of all, how conscious is stereotype threat most of the time? I have no idea. All I know is that there have been 3 occasions in my life during which I have become consciously aware that I (apparently) believed I could not do things men can do. Like open doors, for instance.

But how many times did I unconsciously activate this thought?

And second: does overcoming stereotype threat require a certain personality?

I've thought about that a lot. I was a scrapper, and have always been happy to scrap with myself, if need be. (Not coincidentally, I'm sure, very often I do need be.) The only reason I managed to prevail on the game show was that I was so furious with myself that I was more or less able to get out of panic mode and into battle mode.

But suppose I hadn't been a scrappy person?

Suppose I'd been a meeker sort of person?

I think the outcome of the game tells me the answer. All three contestants appeared to be scared witless, and the contestant who won was the contestant who managed to work up a bit of wrath. (Which reminds me: I've got to get a post up about the research on success and "Agreeableness," one of the five personality factors psychologists seem to have reached consensus on.*** Turns out super-successful people really aren't as nice as not-super-successful people, just like everyone thinks. Research shows.)

Back on topic: I'm very keen to see the effects of an Obama presidency on young black people ... and in fact I have already seen one such in my own house: C. (the other C.) has cut his dreadlocks! He said it was time for a change. I told him: OK, now you have to go to law school.

Funny thing: I have changed my blonde hair back to its original brown, and I have done this entirely because Michele Obama is a black woman who has black hair. Don't ask me why.

Fortunately, it's working out fine. I say "fortunately," because it doesn't always. Back when Hillary was First Lady & she cut her hair, I cut my hair, too, and I looked like he**.

That's not all. When George Bush was elected president, Ed bought me a pair of cowboy boots; plus I have two Sarah Palin skirts, which I bought on sale and wear to school board meetings.

Point is: people are weirdly social & sociable, and we spend a lot of time copying the folks around us or above us. That's the moral of Alex the parrot, who couldn't learn one-on-one, but learned brilliantly when he had a model to copy & compete with.)

These are interesting times.

That said, I still don't like the stimulus bill.

Obama and the stereotype threat (Frontal Cortex)
D-Ed Reckoning on the nitty gritty
Stimulus Bill Would Provide Flood of Aid to Education

* aka "co-hogs," which was not a term of affection. You could be sitting in a lecture hall, minding your own business, and suddenly, from behind, you'd hear: "Look at the co-hog taking notes."

** I wish to heck I'd kept my old copy of Gyn/Ecology. I'd love to read all the stuff I wrote in the margins. otoh, how excruciating would that be? Thank God I never kept a journal.

*** Personality: What Makes You the Way You Are by Daniel Nettle

Conflicker follow-up

follow-up from Allison & redkudu on "eradicating the program before it is used":

...they would be sending instructions to the infected computers the same way that you distribute a virus in the first place. essentially, they'd be trying to infect your computer with a "good" worm that replicated itself and sent itself to everyone on your email list, etc.

And while it sounds cool, think about how badly it could go wrong.

...if it's illegal for someone to commandeer your computer into a botnet, it's probably illegal to create something which also gets into the computer to give you a warning, maybe?

I just got a virus (several actually) a few weeks ago that ripped my computer to shreds and I had to get support. I had to give all kinds of agreements to allow the support folks to get in my computer from where they were and try to chase the virus down. (I could see what they were doing on my own screen, and she was in Asia somewhere.)

Does anyone know what's going on with Conflicker now?

Friday, January 30, 2009

my thoughts exactly

Last year, two labor economists, Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz, published a book called “The Race Between Education and Technology.” It is as much a work of history — the history of education — as it is a work of economics. Goldin and Katz set out to answer the question of how much an education really matters. They are themselves products of public schools, she of New York and he of Los Angeles, and they have been a couple for two decades. They are liberals (Katz served as the chief economist under Robert Reich in Bill Clinton’s Labor Department), but their book has been praised by both the right and the left. “I read the Katz and Goldin book,” Matthew Slaughter, an associate dean of Dartmouth’s business school who was an economic adviser to George W. Bush, recently told me, “and there’s part of me that can’t fathom that half the presidential debates weren’t about a couple of facts in that book.

The Big Fix by David Leonhardt
The New York Times February 1, 2009

That's what I said!

And, just in case you were thinking I'd slacked off on my mission to bring Goldin and Katz to the masses (or, failing that, to the long-suffering readers & writers of kitchen table math, who have now been exposed to a couple dozen posts on the topic of Goldin and Katz)....well, I haven't.

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
the golden age: a NYC teacher remembers
the White House cites Goldin & Katz

New Rochelle School Refuses Emergency Medical Care for Student with Multiple Fractures

We have a story up on the Talk of the Sound in New Rochelle which is both sad and disturbing. I thought it worth sharing here.

Last fall, a Latino student in evident pain was brought to the nurse’s office by a fellow seventh grader at a local middle school in New Rochelle, NY. The boy told the school nurse he had slipped with his arms outstretched onto a concrete surface and was in severe pain. The nurse handed the boy a bag of ice and called the boy’s mother to come pick him up from school. The mother, although a legal resident, does not speak English well. The nurse did not speak spanish. When the mother tried to ask the nurse to call for an ambulance. the nurse refused and hung up. At the school, the mother asked again for an ambulance. The nurse demanded the mother leave and, according to the mother, threatened to call Child Protective Services on the mother for - get this - failing to get her child medical treatment. It turns out the child had multiple fractures - both arms, from the wrist to the elbow. When the mother called the next day to notify the school that her son would be unable to return to school due to two broken arms the district shifted into damage control mode. The boy was absent from school for more than two months and only recently returned.

You can read about the whole sorry mess at Talk of the Sound. KTM readers will recall the name Anthony Bongo as the school principal and serial violator of the New York Indoor Clean Air Act who allegedly looked the other way when a white supervisor hung a stuffed monkey on a noose as a "joke" to the school's black employees.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Interview with Jay Mathews on "Work Hard. Be Nice."

Radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt did an hour with Jay Mathews tonight as Jay promotes his new book about KIPP, and the rising stars that come out of Teach for America. Here's a transcript. Here's a podcast. It's a nice interview, largely because it's long enough to tell a lot of stories.

SMART Tables?

scroll down

What Homework is Necessary?

I know there's been plenty of discussion on the efficacy of homework here. Just wanted to point out a post on Dy/Dan, for those that don't already subscribe:

I Do Not get Homework At All Sometimes

The comments are interesting. Most lean to the Alfie Kohn view: homework=worthless. I know I'm not alone in believing that math takes practice.

For those of you in the know, where's the research?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

another satisfied customer

re: the fields bond

The local news is filled with reactions from Irvington's many & myriad administrators and assorted higher-ups (2000 kids; 11 administrators; 2 Teaching-Learning Facilitators; 1 Chief Information Officer & Technology Coordinator*).

My favorite commentator thus far: the soon-to-be-tenured Athletic Director, who is quoted in the high school newspaper saying, "For me it’s not about having the best sports programs, but being able to give our students the first-rate facilities that they have in all their other school-related activities."

First rate facilities, so-so programs -- makes sense to me.

Then tonight I found this letter to the editor, which I'd missed.

The budget process has begun, and it won't be pretty. The district will raise taxes as high as it is legally able to do without voter consent, and it will spend the money on the things administrators want, not the things parents and taxpayers want. Thus our 11 administrators and our 3 tenured non-administrators will devote their time to infusing 21st century skills & media literacy -- both of which appear in our newly approved 20-page Strategic Plan -- into the curriculum.

College preparation & SAT skills will be left to the tutors, as per custom.

That's not good.

from the letter:
Irvington must focus on attracting home buyers to our village. I sold real estate for ten years. The prevailing reason young families want to buy a home in a community is based on the school's academic programs and SAT scores. Never did a buyer ask me about the condition of a field. They also weigh the tax burden.
I have made that very point to the board! College prep and SAT scores, I said: win-win. Good for kids, good for parents, good for taxpayers who don't have kids in the schools. Put 'em on the Plan.

Nope. No such luck.

Twenty pages of Goals, Objectives, Activities, Resources, Person(s) Responsible, Timelines, and Evidences of Attainment, and there's no room for college prep.

* Who has tenured Technology Coordinators?

the sky is falling

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

enough with the hands-on collaborative 21st century group learning

Vicky S on group learning:
Here's another reason not to use group work in instructional settings. Instructional groups by definition contain no experts. In real life groups (at work, for example) each person brings a specialty to the table. That's what makes group work preferable to individual work in selected circumstances. But when the object is to supply the students with a body of background knowledge and a framework within which to analyze newly acquired knowledge, there is nothing more efficient than good lecture by an expert in the subject. Oh, and let's not lose sight of the fact that the information delivered will be correct.
Thank you.

Jeanne Chall on decline at the top

The 1970s and 1980s brought additional reasons for discontent. The first was the continuing decline of scores on the Scholastic Achievement Tests (SATs), the decline having begun even as early as the 1960s. Another cause for growing concern was the low achievement particularly among poor and minority children on the National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP]. Since 1969, NAEP (also known as "The Nation's Report Card") has conducted periodic assessment of the academic performances of fourth, eighth, and twelfth graders in a range of subjects. At first it was thought that the SAT score decline resulted from growing number of low-income students taking the SAT for the first time. Later, it was found that the absolute decline in scores was even greater among the most able students (Chall, 1989). After years of debate as to whether SAT scores had significantly declined, the College Board changed its standards (permitting a "pass" with lower scores.)

Recommendations to improve educational achievement varied widely. Some championed a stronger focus on open education--calling for greater emphasis on student motivation and interest--while others called for more instruction-centered solutinos--higher educational standards and greater rigor. The most influential of the many proposals at the time was A Nation at Risk, the Report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education (NCEE, 1983). Its proposed solution was largely teacher-cntered: a more rigorous curriculum, reintroduction of traditional courses of study, and more-difficult, challenging textbooks.

Other proposals for teacher-centered solutions appeared during the late 1980s and early 1990s. In a series of studies that compared achievement in public schools with that in private and parocial schools, Coleman and Hoffer (1987) found that students in private and parochial schools tested higher on academic ahievement than those in public schools. The investigators attributed the differences to the heavier focus of the private and parochial schools on teacher-centered practices such as the use of discipline and assigning homework and grades.

The Academic Achievement Challenge: What Really Works in the Classroom
by Jeanne S. Chall
p. 41-42

in a nutshell:
  • Jeanne Chall's 1989 study of the 16-year decline in SAT scores (1964-1980) found the largest decline in scores amongst the top students
  • A Nation at Risk recommended teacher-centered classrooms and the "reintroduction of traditional courses of study"
  • Coleman and Hoffer found that classroom discipline and teacher-centered instruction were the reasons why private & parochial school students did better than students in public schools

Until tonight, I hadn't made the connection between classroom discipline and direct instruction.

Of course, it's obvious that if you're in favor of the latter, you're in favor of the former. You have to be; you can't do direct instruction without classroom discipline.

But it hadn't occurred to me that if you're opposed to "drill and kill" you might also be ambivalent about teachers maintaining law and order inside the classroom.

Jeanne Chall

Jeanne Chall (1921-1999)

Born in Poland, Chall emigrated as a girl to New York City with her family. She graduated from the City College of New York in 1941 with a B.A. (cum laude). She became an assistant to Irving Lorge, who directed educational research at Teachers College, Columbia University. She then served as research assistant to Edgar Dale at the Bureau of Educational Research at Ohio State University, where she received an A.M. in 1947 and a Ph.D. in 1952. Her review for Dale of the existing research on readability led to her Readability: An Appraisal of Research and Application (1958) and a keen appreciation of the value of historical synthesis. Dale's and Chall's collaboration culminated in their Dale-Chall Formula for Predicting Readability (1948), which combined vocabulary complexity with sentence length to evaluate text readability. (Chall updated it in 1995.) Between 1950 and 1965 Chall rose from lecturer to professor at City College. These years brought a lifelong collaboration with Florence Roswell on the diagnosis and treatment of reading difficulties, and led Chall to question whether some methods were superior to others in preventing reading failure.

In 1965 Chall moved to Harvard University to create and direct graduate programs in reading for master's and doctoral candidates. An excellent clinician herself, she founded the Harvard Reading Laboratory in 1967 (now named after her), directing it until her retirement in 1991. She was a member of numerous scholarly organizations, editorial boards, policymaking committees, and state and national commissions. She served on the board of directors of the International Reading Association, 1961 to 1964, and on the National Academy of Education's Commission on Reading that resulted in the report Becoming a Nation of Readers (1985). She received many professional awards, the last given by the International Dyslexia Association in 1996.

Chall was engaged in both practice and research, often at the same time. For more than fifty years she taught students of all ages, including remedial ones, and advised schools. She was a consultant for children's encyclopedias, an educational comic book, educational software, and educational television, including the children's literacy programs Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and Between the Lions.

Chall's most important professional contribution was a byproduct of the professional furor over Rudolf Flesch's Why Johnny Can't Read–and What You Can Do About It (1955). Flesch attacked the prevailing sight word methodology of teaching reading, claiming that reading professionals had ignored their own research. With beginning reading instruction now on the national agenda, the Carnegie Corporation funded a study that Chall conducted from 1962 to 1965. She reviewed the existing research, described methods of instruction, interviewed leading proponents of various methods, and analyzed two leading reading series of the late 1950s and early 1960s. The results appeared in her Learning to Read: The Great Debate (1967).

Chall identified what she called "the conventional wisdom" of reading instruction: that children should read for meaning from the start, use context and picture clues to identify words after learning about fifty words as sight words, and induce letter–sound correspondences from these words. Like Flesch, she concluded that this conventional wisdom was not supported by the research, which found phonics superior to whole word instruction and "systematic" phonics superior to "intrinsic" phonics instruction. She also found that beginning reading was different in kind from mature reading–a conclusion that she reaffirmed in her Stages of Reading Development (1983), which found that children first learn to read and then read to learn. She recommended in 1967 that publishers switch to a code-emphasis approach in children's readers, which would lead to better results without compromising children's comprehension.

Chall's Learning to Read quickly became a classic. Major textbook publishers reacted by emphasizing more phonics earlier in their series, although no publisher already committed to initial whole word instruction switched to systematic phonics. Chall's book was updated in 1983 (and 1996) with even stronger research findings to support its conclusions, but by 1983 textbooks of all kinds were under attack from the Whole Language movement, which condemned textbooks as a genre. The climate was an unsympathetic one for Chall's coauthored study Should Textbooks Challenge Students: The Case for Easier or Harder Textbooks (1991), which explored the relationship between the decline in difficulty of textbooks between 1945 and 1975 and lower SAT scores. Chall's coauthored study of thirty low-income urban children, The Reading Crisis: Why Poor Children Fall Behind (1990), was also not universally well received. Whole Language proponents criticized it for relying on outdated tests; social scientists complained that it did not adequately explain its ethnographic techniques.

Chall showed her regard for the reading instruction of the past by reissuing, largely for home schooling use, stories from school readers of the 1880s to 1910s, titling them the Classic American Readers (1994). She had already given her own collection of over 9,500 imprints related to the history of reading research and the teaching of reading, spanning more than two centuries, to the Harvard Graduate School of Education's Monroe C. Gutman Library.

Chall's last work, published posthumously, was The Academic Challenge: What Really Works in the Classroom (2000). In it, she divided American instruction into "child-centered" and "teacher-centered" approaches, suggesting that the twentieth century was dominated by the former (discovery approaches) in spite of research that supported the superiority of the latter (explicit teaching). Earlier, Helen Popp had persuaded her to coauthor a contribution to explicit teaching: a handbook for teachers, Teaching and Assessing Phonics (1996). The Chall-Popp Phonics program was completed after her death (2000).

Written in a climate in which many members of her own profession still disdained explications of the English writing system, the 1996 handbook is true to many of Chall's core concerns: teaching reading, particularly to at-risk children, and research-validated explicit instruction.

Are the Classic American Readers still available?

A Tribute to Jeanne Chall by Gail Kearns
Jeanne Chall Shows What Really Works in the Classroom by Linda Bevilacqua (Core Knowledge)
tributes: American Educator 2001

Monday, January 26, 2009

kids & online learning - please send stories

Palisadesk found a Forbes excerpt of Clayton Christensen's Disrupting Education , which sparked some emailing back and forth about people's experiences with online learning.

This is mine:
I don't understand why online learning has been such a flop thus far. Colleges & universities sank a fortune into "distance learning" in the 1990s & it didn't work. Hasn't worked for me, either.

I think it might have to do with a social element in learning, a la Alex the parrot, who learned virtually nothing in one-on-one, stimulus-response teaching. Irene Pepperberg adopted a "model-rival" learning situation in order to teach Alex. In "model-rival," you have the bird, the trainer, and another "student," who is a person. Pepperberg taught the lesson to the human student and when Alex watched his rival learn the answer and get the reward, he learned.

No one had ever been able to teach birds until trainers changed the paradigm to a social learning set-up.

Parrots are highly social, and so are we.

I subscribed to ALEKS a couple of years ago &, while I thought it was great, I stopped using it. I went back to my math books, which seem "warmer," somehow (maybe because I use them sitting in a room with people?)

Otoh, I'm sticking with Fluenz. I've grown to like the educational telepresence, and books don't talk or record my voice so Fluenz has the advantage there.

Where I can see online learning making a big difference is in homeschooling, where a parent is managing the curriculum.

from Concerned Parent:
I'm certain you're on to something with the lack of social aspect of online learning. As much as ALEKS has been a good supplement, it's definitely not a replacement for math learning. My kids perform better if I'm nearby. They'll actually call me over because they think they're stuck and once I'm there they don't need me to help. I end up watching over their shoulder while they quiet my help with, "I get it Mom." And yet, they don't want me to leave. They'd rather have me there.

me again:
I'm positive there's some weird social "thing" about online and computer learning. Online learning is one of those things that makes perfect sense ---- until you actually try it.

My own case is so "illogical."

I've never UNsubscribed to ALEKS; I'm still paying for it on grounds that it's a terrific program and I'm going to get back to it. Now that I don't have to teach math to C., I'm not in emergency mode; in theory I never have to look at a math book again. And yet I'm plowing through the Dolciani Algebra 2 book, in spite of the fact that I've already plowed through the Saxon Algebra 2. I'm repeating Algebra 2 using a book, not ALEKS.

Why am I doing this?

I don't know why.

My guess is that I'm doing Dolciani's Algebra 2 because C. is doing it! People do what other people do.

back to Concerned:
Absolutely. I hadn't really thought about that aspect of computer learning until you brought up the social aspect. Another interesting observation I didn't mention ocurred when S. was working with Headsprout. She could do the whole thing on her own without a hitch (it's designed that way), but she much preferred if one or preferably both of her siblings watched her do it. They giggled at the silly images, and encouraged her to keep going. I didn't realize that this is probably a need common to most of us. We're very much like Alex the parrot, indeed.

here's my sister:
Online learning is really not going to work for many learners unless it is “live,” say a skyped in lesson. My daughter took her 8th grade Algebra I, among other things, on line through a canned program. She found it very difficult. She said she absolutely preferred having a teacher she could talk to. We tried several on-line programs while we home schooled – three different ones in math trying to find a good fit. She was most comfortable with a program where the instructor was actually standing there teaching and switching back and forth to an artsy chalkboard where examples popped up as he continued talking. She did best with it, but still struggled and wanted a teacher. She missed raising her hand and asking for clarifications. All she could do was stop the program, rewind, and replay. I do fret a bit about the on-line hype.

and, later on:

I really am worried about the new buzz of on-line instruction. I spoke to a 50ish man in his PhD program for education. He has a masters in music and taught music at the middle school for years. He said on-line learning was absolutely the next wave and that the classroom was failing miserably. He left mainstream education to serve as a principal of a continuation school and he knows education is a mess. However, I don’t think on-line is the answer either. I’m afraid it will end up the way of the SMARTBoards. We’ll spend tons, revamp all our programs for on-line, only to later find out it doesn’t work as well as a live classroom. M. is very bright; she's 15, taking all her high school classes in junior college and earning As in courses designated by the UC system as transferable to 4-year universities. If struggled with on-line education, you have to wonder.

I talked to Tex, too:
...What about courses where there are scheduled class/discussion times online. I've read about them, and my only experience with anything similar is participating in "webinars."

Webinars that I've been part of include a screen presentation and a conference call format, with discussions monitored by the leader. I imagine sometimes the discussions are only online, but this would seem to address some of the social issues.

Kids, and many adults, feel a strong sense of community with their online chat friends, who may or many not be friend in RL (real life). Couldn't this carry over to successful online learning for teens?

That's my question.

Obviously, people spend a lot of time hanging out on the web, chatting with friends, Twittering, updating, etc. (Which reminds me: I have to figure out LinkedIn, finally.) My social life is mostly online these days.

So would Skyped-in courses work for a lot of kids?

Or is there some funky in-person effect in teaching & learning that we aren't aware of and don't understand? (Speaking of which, some of you may remember the various times I've mentioned that C. couldn't learn his math facts using online flash cards but mastered them at once when he wrote them on the Saxon work sheets - turns out there is research connecting handwriting to learning! I'll get that posted.)

If you or your kids have had experience with online learning, I'd love to hear about it.

I'm finishing up with another mention of The Logic of Failure by Dietrich Dorner, a life-altering book about solutions that seem logical in theory and fail in reality.

Thanks to Dorner, I am now a committed fan of pilot studies and test cases; I believe that in most walks of life nothing should be "implemented" on a grand scale before it's been tried locally & on a small scale first.

I think this blog post is a pretty good summary of the book:

The thesis: "...we have been turned loose in the industrial age equipped with the brain of prehistoric times." Simply stated, most human beings are terrible at managing complex systems. Dorner's students run a model of a small fictitious African village -- changing variables like cattle stocks, food stores, arable land. Invariably the students kill off the entire "population" through their miss-planning

As it turns out, good managers of complex systems showed common approaches:

1) They started by laying out clear, measurable goals -- they didn't just jump in and start pulling levers.

2) Good managers acted "more complexly." Their decisions took different aspects of the entire system into account, not just dominant factors.

3) They tested their hypotheses. The bad participants failed to do this. Instead of generating hypotheses, they generated "truths."

4) The good participants asked more "why" questions.

5) They showed high capacity to tolerate uncertainty. They didn't get caught up in the "methodism" of bad managers.

George F. Colony's blog

I love this book jacket.

Engelmann's rules for installing a new curriculum