kitchen table math, the sequel: 12/20/09 - 12/27/09

Monday, December 21, 2009

A bottom up approach

After spending years worrying about k-8 math education, and a couple years on this blog clarifying for myself what the problems were, and what solutions had already been tried and found wanting, I mostly wanted to start my own private school. But after more time and wisdom, I realized I didn't have the skill set I wanted to do that now, nor did I know the people I'd need to do it with.

So, what could I do RIGHT NOW, to help improve math ed here in St. Paul?

And then it occurred to me: well, I'm a big fan of Hung-Hsi Wu; I believe his work teaching teachers is about the only thing that could make a difference in a classroom or school; so I could promote Wu.

I emailed and asked Wu if he'd come out to St. Paul for a week long institute (as he calls them) to teach fractions to middle school math teachers; he said he would, but pointed out that in his usual institutes, he does 5 days of followup throughout the school year. I agreed that I would do those for this institute, using his materials.

Then I started pounding the pavement at some local parochial schools, pitching the idea that their teachers needed to learn some math, specifically on fractions, decimals, percentages, and that we could get Wu to come do it.

I made essentially cold calls, but I did so to schools that I thought would be interested, who would see this as an opportunity to improve on their already strong academics. In each case, I had reason to believe that their ideas about education were in line with KTM's, shall we say. One school is a Core Knowledge school; one has a classical curriculum model in place; one is moving in that direction and is making lots of changes. I was not disappointed; one of the schools immediately offered to host the event; another offered whatever financial help was necessary. Another looked forward to creating a consortium of teachers between these schools to keep moving their professional development in a good direction--and to work on their struggles with their current textbooks.

After getting a small contingent in place, we called up Wu and set a date. Voila! An institute is born!

So, we're on: June 14 - June 18, 2010, in St. Paul MN, a 5 day institute with invited speaker Hung-Hsi Wu for middle school math teachers on fractions, decimals, percentages.

I will pound the pavement some more in the new year, offering the institute to a few more schools. I am hoping to find other schools that are equally interested in doing something based on content. In the end, we'd like to have about 30 teachers attend, though with some attrition, we may have to start out a bit higher. If we don't get that high a number, it will still be worth it though; the already committed schools are thirsty for this.

I picked parochial schools for a couple reasons. First, I'm Catholic, and the state of Catholic ed here in the Twin Cities metro is just dreadful--it's almost exactly the same as what the public schools offer--and that's truly saddening to me. I want Catholic education to thrive. Next, Catholic schools are much less connected, as they lack a district (most dioceses don't act anything like public school districts) and much less likely to be able to avail themselves of professional development opportunities, both positive or negative; they are much less likely to have a math specialist on their staff, etc. So there was less likely to be competition with other kinds of PD already in place. And finally, I'm doing this for free as part of my charity. The schools I've picked couldn't afford this without my doing it for free. Other privates could afford to hire someone to do this (and maybe they do), but these schools wouldn't have that option.

I will post more when I've got a few more things formalized. We have to work out the registration costs and funding details; I need a web site that looks professional; we'll need some professional posters, etc.

If anyone here is interested in attending, please feel free to email me. (my blogger profile has my address.)

And perhaps we could use this as a starting point for a KTM in person get together?