kitchen table math, the sequel: 11/15/09 - 11/22/09

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Rubric Rant

My son brought home his first quarter report card yesterday. It contains 61 rubric grades covering two different scales, 1-5 and 5-10. The numbers are virtually meaningless. Much of his homework and all of his tests never come home. They are put in his portfolio to be presented to us in our December school meeting. This is the one he is supposed to lead and explain how he will try to be a better student. My head is going to explode.

The 1 - 5 rubrics are for academics (as opposed to effort) and are non-linear. A '3' is like a 'B', but some teachers really don't like to give out 4's or 5's. Some teachers seem to use a sort of differentiated grading technique where they hope that a low grade will get kids to work harder. Even my son commented on it. "The grades always start out low in the first quarter."

I would like to ask teachers to show me where each number came from. For example, in social studies, he gets a rubric grade for "Analysis and Connections". I want to see the homework and tests and how the teacher figures out this score. I can't imagine that any teacher likes rubric grading. There are a lot of numbers, but less information. I want to see the raw data (homework and tests) and see how those grades translate into the numbers on the report card. When we ask our son about what the numbers mean, he has no clue. At best, we can track whether the numbers go up or down, but that won't give us any indication as to why that is happening.

Do they really think this is a good feedback loop? We don't know what's going on in class, the homework and tests don't come home, and the quarterly grades have a heavy dose of subjectivity. Even if we did see a number that looked particularly bad, why on earth would they wait until the end of the quarter to let us know?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Mathematics 6 out of print?

Does anyone know what's going on?

I've sent an email query.

I was just telling a friend to get Mathematics 6 for her son --

"Russian Math" at ktm-1.

Learning vs Teaching: Part I

Many educators, parents and others in the educational debate continue to focus on the question "How do children learn?". We can see this in references to fMRIs showing how some people process information in different parts of the brain, and in discussions about learning styles.

This question, while interesting, leads down a blind alley when we're trying to educate children because it assumes some teaching environment that we know nothing about, or at least haven't quantified.

The more useful question when we're trying to educate is "What are the most effective ways to teach?". This question is helpful because it can be answered using applied science: we can try different methods for teaching and determine, based on our observations and data that we collect, which methods work and which don't.

The applied science method was used to develop Direct Instruction (DI). When Zig Engelmann developed DI, he tried many approaches to teaching. When methods didn't work in his field research, he tried other methods. By assuming "if they aren't learning, then we aren't teaching" he was open to finding novel ways of instructing children (e.g., ability grouping, teaching one concept at a time, focusing on flawless communications) that were proven superior in Follow Through.

And Precision Teaching is applied science for individual students. It tells the learner and instructor if the chosen teaching method is working.

And here's the crux of the issue: As parents, I believe it's critical that we keep any debate with educators focused on the proven effectiveness of educational methods, not on a particular child's learning styles or other issues.

What say ye?? Do you think this matters? Are we doing a good enough job in this area?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

advice for curriculum committees everywhere

We've got so much going on here in town (posts t/k) that I'm only dimly aware of what is or is not happening at state & federal levels .... so I was surprised to discover this Daily News editorial yesterday while paging through looking at whatever it was I was looking at post-tennis lesson, no less.

I assume this is what they're referring to.
The Regents are authorizing the development of a performance-based approach to teacher certification and inviting – on a trial basis – new entities to prepare teachers for certification. As part of this new approach, the Regents will support the development of new performance-based assessments for teacher certification (including the eventual use of value-added assessment as a component of professional certification), will develop new methods to recruit and retain teachers for high needs schools in subject shortage areas and will allow additional content knowledge demonstrations for prospective teachers to bring new talent into the teaching field.
I'm interested to hear from teachers on this.

I would dearly love to see different teacher training programs (I'm guessing most teachers would dearly love to see different teacher training programs), and I think David Steiner is the person to do that.

But why does Kendall Hunt get off scot-free?

Or Heinemann?

Shouldn't these folks have to show a value-added value or two?

I guess this is a policy question, really. Targeting teacher-ed programs seems like a good idea to me. At least, it's a reasonably novel idea -- and I think that, historically speaking, a reform effort directed at medical schools may have had an enormous effect (yes?)

Data is good; value-added is good. In my view.

But targeting teacher ed programs and pushing through value-added measurements without reference to New York state's vendor-driven curricula is a different matter.

Have I ever mentioned my rule of thumb for school districts buying curricula?

Buy whatever homeschoolers are buying.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

This Thursday: "Raising a Left-Brain Child" book talk in Boston

(Tomorrow!)...specifically in Waltham, north of Boston, at Back Pages Books.

We'll discuss concerns and anecdotes about Reform Math, social classrooms, projects and "personal reflections," and grades, as well as strategies for parents and teachers.

Please spread the word to parents and teachers of shy, unsocial, analytical, academically gifted, math-inclined, science-inclined, and/or autistic spectrum children.


Fire-induced flooding hit the bookstore while the owner was away for a family emergency, which my publicist only found out about today because she herself is out sick.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A parent discovers what passes for education in her daughter's HS.

Alaskan Blogger Michelle Mitchell of Scribbit wrote about a conversation between herself & her daughter: No Child Left Behind. Because They ALL Need to be Watching Television at School.

"How many movies do you watch a week?"

She thought a bit, counting up on her fingers and trying to remember. "Oh--I don't know--five or six, maybe more. We watch t.v. pretty much every day in at least one class and any time we have a sub they put in movies or something. We watch stuff like Mythbusters a lot and call it chemistry."

I checked with my son, the IB freshman. He claims to watch "3 movies or tv videos a week, max".

The comments are pretty interesting, from teachers who agree & homeschool their OWN children to teachers who take Mitchell to task for implying they have a "cake" job.

Here's hoping that revolt against lousy instruction goes viral for all subjects.

Monday, November 16, 2009

the whispers around me

I love this: Nancy Koehn on Steve Jobs

Everyday Math author defends his program against Katharine Beals

In today's Philadelphia Inquirer Letters to the Editor, excerpted here:
Katharine Beals' article on the use of "reform math" with students with autism contains many misperceptions about Everyday Mathematics that, as the program's coauthor, I want to clarify ("The 'reform math' problem," last Monday).

Everyday Mathematics was designed for general education students, but it has been effective in special education, including with students with autism.

Beals' claim that students spend large chunks of time working in unsupervised groups is untrue. A teacher supervises student group work at all times. While some assignments are "open-ended and language-intensive," many are not. A balanced curriculum needs simple exercises to build basic skills, as well as more difficult problems.

Beals writes that students "lose points for failing to cooperate in groups, explain their answers, and comprehend language-intensive problems." While decisions about how to grade students are made at the local level, many people believe it's reasonable to require students to work cooperatively, explain their work, and understand word problems.

Everyday Mathematics is not just a "sequence of themes," but a carefully organized sequence of lessons resulting in mastery of a specific set of goals. Its approach is well supported by research, the authors' experience, and decades of classroom experience.

Naturally, accommodations for teaching children with autism must be made, and that's what professionals always do. As with any tool, Everyday Mathematics must be used with professional judgment.

Andy Isaacs


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Make a Teacher Crazy

A recurring theme here is the interaction between parents and their schools and teachers. As a teacher who has parent conferences coming up this week I've been giving this some thought for selfish reasons but in so doing I've had a flash that it makes sense to toss around here. Here's the flash.

As consumers, parents have no idea what they are 'buying', i.e. there is no objective measure of what a 1st quarter, 2nd grade or 3rd quarter 7th grade (pick your own quarter and grade if you like) student should be able to do. Hell, truth be told, I'm not sure I know what a student should do either. You wouldn't go to the store to buy a dozen eggs without insisting on a definition of 'dozen'. Yet, with our kids we've created a mushy narrative for what we define as learning goals that leaves us talking around each other.

Here's what I mean. Below, I've extracted the Massachusetts standards that are relevant for addition. Before you read them, understand that you are looking at a spiraling standard and also, gulp, know that these are highly regarded in the educational establishment and have even been touted as a model for national standards. Also, ignore the creeping growth of the standard as it incorporates division and multiplication goals. Just focus on addition. Read them carefully and then be prepared for a quiz...

Grade 2:
Know addition facts (addends to ten) and related subtraction facts, and use them to solve problems.

Grade 3:
Add and subtract(up to four-digit numbers) and multiply (up to two-digit numbers by a one-digit number) accurately and use them to solve problems.

Grade 4:
Add and subtract (up to five-digit numbers) and multiply (up to three digits by two digits) accurately and efficiently.

Grade 5:
Accurately and efficiently add, subtract, multiply whole numbers and positive decimals. Divide, whole numbers using double digit divisors with and without remainders

Grade 6:
Accurately and efficiently add, subtract, multiply, and divide (with double-digit divisors) whole numbers and positive decimals.

Here's the quiz.

1. For any grade of your choice, what speed should be used as a proxy for efficiency?
2. For any grade of your choice, what is the definition of accuracy?
3. For grade one, should students be accurate or efficient?
4. Why are grade 3 students required to be accurate but not efficient?
5. Are manipulatives, pictures, or fingers allowed in any grade to achieve the goals?
6. Are calculators or tables allowed in any grade?

What's your grade? Could you even answer the questions? This is mush and I submit that a sixth grade student whose addition facts come from his fingers is meeting these standards provided he consistently gets correct answers and doesn't use up a lot of paper to achieve a result.

Of course neither parents or teachers are going to change these standards. But, here's a thought to put some pressure on this part of the education puzzle. When you go to a conference, go with one simple question, "What should my student be capable of doing right now?"

This should provide a wonderful jumping off point for a more meaningful discussion than the standard fare. "Johnny's doing quite well" won't cut it, will it? When you get an answer, drill down and insist upon accuracy and efficiency parameters that pin down the objective goals. Don't settle for subjective answers. Find out how fast he should be doing things. Find out what the acceptable error rate is. Inquire as to the remediation Johnny is getting if he is not meeting the objective measures. Be ready for heavy spin. I'd be really interested to know what you get for answers.

And BTW, I really hope none of my parents are reading this right now because I'd have to make up stuff to answer this kind of interrogator and that wouldn't be pretty.

Barney adopts a healthy new eating style

Yesterday, Ed and I were experimenting with our groovy new, life-extending Vita Mix blender when we noticed Andrew systematically emptying the refrigerator of vegetables. We did what we often do: ordered him to Stop and then, after spending a few seconds discussing the mystery that is Andrew (deciding in this case that Andrew must be collecting vegetables because he wanted to watch us blend stuff he wouldn't drink on a bet), went back to what we were doing and forgot all about Andrew, who had by this time left the kitchen. Out of sight, out of mind.

Andrew has never eaten a fresh vegetable in his life. He ate baby food vegetables when he was little, but when he stopped eating baby food he stopped eating vegetables. He doesn't eat fruit, either. Or noodles or rice or eggs or Chinese or Japanese food or hot dogs or hamburgers, and so on. In short, Andrew has an eating disorder. Two eating disorders: his autistic eating disorder (eating disorders seem to be common in autism) and his feeding-tube-as-a-preemie eating disorder (not sure whether doctors believe such a thing exists, but I do).

The reason we have a groovy new, life-extending blender, in case you're wondering, is that my sisters and brother and I have been scared straight by my mom's heart failure,* and my brother's scheme for not getting diabetes and also not getting heart failure was to buy a commercial-strength blender that makes commercial-strength smoothies and the best potato soup my California sister says she's ever eaten.

That ought to do it.

After I'd spent about 60 seconds considering the life-extending properties of the Vita Mix, I realized that the person in the household who really needs a life-extending commercial-strength blender is Andrew. For years I've been worried about his horrifically poor diet, and I've hatched various schemes to try to force some vegetable juice down him, none of which got off the ground. Andrew will have no truck with V8 juice.

But a commercial blender -- wow. Suddenly I could see a way to start small and work up. Start with something Andrew likes (grocery store apple juice), combine it with a tiny bit of something he doesn't like (any form of actual fruit) and have him drink it the same way he drinks pink antibiotics when he has to. Not willingly, but he gets it down.

Then I had a second brainstorm: positive reinforcement!

the plan: Blend half a box of apple juice in the Vita Mix and show Andrew that the other half is still inside the box, unadulterated & correct, waiting to be his once he swallows the blend.

It worked!

Andrew has now eaten (well, drunk) the first 7 grapes of his entire life. Also the first 3 slices of banana.

It's a miracle.

So back to yesterday afternoon. As I say, we forgot about Andrew and went back to what we were doing, which was figuring out how to make commercial-quality smoothies in the privacy of our own home.

A little later in the day I went upstairs to Andrew's room and found a brand new Barney tableau: vegan Barney.

Somebody's going to have to tell Andrew tyrannosaurus rex was not a herbivore.

* update 7/3/2011: My mom didn't have heart failure as we learned much later.