kitchen table math, the sequel: 3/7/10 - 3/14/10

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Vicky S on U. of Washington

Cliff Mass of the University of Washington surveyed his Atmospheric Science 101 class at the University of Washington and found the following:

Consider these embarrassing statistics from the exam: The overall grade was 58%

43% did not know the formula for the area of a circle
86% could not do a simple algebra problem (problem 4b)
75% could not do a simple scientific notation problem (1e)
52% could not deal with a negative exponent (2 to the -2)
43% could not do simple long division problem with no remainder!
47% did not know what a cosine was.

Shocking does not begin to describe it. I recommend everyone go over the Seattle's "Where's the Math" website and take a look at the great stuff they've accumulated there as they have been involved in the lawsuit.

Cliff Mass: full post
Cliff Mass: the test (pdf file)
with answers (pdf file)

I'm taking the test now.

Unfortunately, I find I have forgotten what a rational exponent means - and I didn't manage to figure it out just by mulling it over briefly. Which is annoying.


I got everything right, and I believe I would have figured out the meaning of a rational exponent if I'd thought about it instead of Googling it.

The reason I got everything right is Saxon Math. I've worked my way through Saxon Math 6/5, 8/7, Algebra 1, and most of Algebra 2.

what school choice does and does not do

comment left on Rick Hess' blog:

Choice doesn't guarantee success. There are many restaurants to choose from in NYC. This doesn't mean all restaurants are good. Same goes for charters. This doesn't mean restaurant choice is bad. But if choice is to be used for schools, maybe we need a "health department" to shut down the bottom 10%, and spread "best practices" from the top 10%. And make sure the results are presented to the parents in a user-friendly manner so they can make good choices.

Accountability doesn't guarantee performance. You can grade restaurants as Los Angeles or Zagat do, but this doesn't make all restaurants clean or worth visiting. But it helps the consumer make better choices, and helps identify those that perform well, and give those under-performers a guide to which head chefs they may want to hire, or which restaurants they may want to visit to steal good ideas....

Why Diane and Duncan Are Making the Same Mistake

Steve H on choice

None of this would bother me if parents had the ability to go somewhere else. I don't care if a company has a union or how much Six Sigma training they have or if they are ISO 9000 certified. I can judge the product just fine, and I'll wager that most parents can do the same if schools weren't allowed to have such unknown products. Our school only publishes a very vague list of goals and topics for each grade, I don't know what goes on in classes, and everything gets hidden away in portfolios!

They want involved parents, but we don't get the tools to even help them do their job. We get questionnaires that ask us if we have enough information to help with our kids' math homework. It's an incredibly bad product for the price we pay. Clearly, parents will make better decisions when it comes to their kids' education, and it will be based on their individual needs, not the need to improve low cutoff test numbers.

I don't want to play their game and argue whether they should have coaches or not. Coaches could be a great asset if they were used to ensure consistency and mastery of basic math skills. Obviously, that doesn't happen, but arguing against coaches just means that I'm playing their game according to their rules.

The only thing that will really change schools is the ability of parents to walk away. No arguing. Just walk away.

Then, magically, the goal becomes a good education for your child and not fixing the schools, and schools will start paying attention to parents, not the other way around.
Steve's right about that: if parents could take their (tax) dollars and go, that would change things up considerably. Choice doesn't guarantee good schools. But it opens the door.

re: what is my school actually teaching & when?

Interesting moment at a school board meeting recently.

The Interim Curriculum Director was giving her report rejecting Singapore Math in favor of Math Trailblazers on grounds that "there us bi perfect curriculum." In practice, "there are no perfect curricula" means the district pays employees to "develop" the imperfect curricula we've bought. Citizens pay twice: once to buy the curriculum, then again to improve the curriculum. Because there is no perfect curriculum.

Virtually none of this activity is pegged to student achievement data.

Anyway, there was the Curriculum Director rejecting Singapore Math because there is no perfect curriculum.

At least two board members, of the four who were present, raised the question of international benchmarking and algebra in the 8th grade. At some point during the discussion, the new principal of the middle school said that we have 40% of our kids now taking algebra in the 8th grade. At an earlier meeting he had pegged that figure at 35% (which used to the case - he's right); but when he'd gone back and looked at this year's enrollment it was 40%.

Another board member said to the Interim Director: "Anecdotally, you hear that the accelerated course is less accelerated than it was. So we don't know what is happening. Are there more kids in accelerated math because accelerated math is less accelerated? What are your findings there?"

The Interim Director had no findings to share on that point.

Which begs the question. Why exactly do we need a central administrator to investigate whether the accelerated math track in the middle school is now less accelerated?

Why don't we have a published scope and sequence everyone can read and evaluate?

I fear I am going to have to pursue this issue.

Because I've got time on my hands.

what is "scope and sequence"?
Scope is the material or skills that is to be taught, and sequence is the order in which you teach the information.


instructional coaches & class size

from anonymous:
In my district out here in California we are cutting K-2 class size reduction (back up to 30 from 20), middle and high school counselors, and numerous other supports. We are however, KEEPING our 3.5 "literacy coaches" in our small district of 3 elementary schools, 1 middle and 1 high school.

Part of the argument is that coaches support new teachers. Problem is we are laying off all the new teachers. These lit coaches actually represent a hidden administrative cost, as it's the admins who want them. They are de facto assistant principals for principals who have next-to-no curriculum expertise. We've had coach positions for 12 years now... yet we are still seen as needing continuous prof. development. Unlike puberty, one never gets to the end of one's (professional) development.

Ironically, our current coach is less experienced than most of the staff at our school. The coaching thing has become a sacred cow that should have dried up long ago.

Jerome Dancis on college readiness

In his essay College Readiness Made Simple, testimony delivered to the DC Board of Education, Jerome Dancis (University of Maryland) discusses the idea of multiple levels of standards:

The Common Core college ready math standards mean ready for a credit-bearing Math course in college; that is, not need remediation in mathematics (alias Arithmetic and Algebra 1). This usually means merely being competent in Arithmetic and real high school Algebra 1 (circa 1990). It does NOT mean ready for any STEM major (or other math intensive majors) in college. To be college Ready for any STEM major in college requires fluency in Pre-Calculus, which is way beyond this set of “Common Core” standards.

Low level Math Standard. DC’s Grade 10 NCLB mandated Math exam might be based on the Arithmetic and algebra questions on the U DC Math placement exam. Students scoring advanced on this exam would receive a certificate stating will they not need remedial Math when they enter college. (The cut score for proficient could be considerably lower.)

High level Math Standard: To be college ready for any STEM major in college requires fluency in Pre-Calculus. This, in turn requires fluency in Arithmetic and Algebra II. A grade of C is not sufficient; depending on curriculum and teachers’ standards a grade of B (or even A) may not be sufficient.

Warning. Probability and Statistics are two of the ten standards of “College and Career Readiness Standards for Mathematics”. But, Probability and Statistics are NOT necessary for college readiness.

Colleges do a reasonable job of teaching those subjects. So no need to learn them in high school. Also, allocating time to Probability and Statistics means less time available for students to become fluent in the needed topics of Arithmetic, Algebra and Geometry. Non-trivial Probability and Statistics is more sophisticated and far trickier than Algebra. It is easy for students to “learn” mis-leading statistics. It
may be the rare (fully certified) high school math teacher, who has sufficient content knowledge to properly teach Statistics.

Including Probability and Statistics in the Common Core Standards is NOT consistent with its claim that these are “fewer ... " standards.

Gotta agree with most of that.

He also has some thoughts on the ELA standards, including this one:
Goal for English classes Grades 4-12 should be that students can understand their science and social studies textbooks and be able to write a coherent summary of each chapter (one page or less).

Right on, if they only had textbooks.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Tri-State Consortium la la la

So I was saying that all of Westchester County, of a sudden, is gripped by the conviction that a high-quality school means a school with in-house, embedded professional development & plenty of it.

In-house, embedded professional development = instructional coaches. Teachers for the teachers. Tenured teachers for the teachers, no less.

Come to find out, Concerned Parent has seen the same over in CT:'s that stupid tri-state consortium mind-set. It's all the same buzzwords in my district: professional development, math coaches, no perfect curriculum, 21st century skills. My district actually believes we're falling behind because we have no math coaches-- it has nothing to do with Everyday Math and CMP2 and balanced literacy. Nothing.

something I have always wondered about

Why are narcissists so charming at first sight? Decoding the narcissism-popularity link at zero acquaintance.

Back MD, Schmukle SC, Egloff B.
J Pers Soc Psychol. 2010 Jan;98(1):132-45.


I have always wondered about this.

Are narcissists really more popular at first sight?
[answer: yes]

When perceivers were exposed to the full amount of information available from targets’ appearances and behaviors at zero acquaintance, a significant positive effect of narcissism on popularity was found. Narcissists indeed make a positive impression on strangers. This was found for uninvolved as well as for highly involved perceivers. Thus, despite the negative interpersonal consequences of narcissism in long-term relationships, narcissists are more popular at first sight.

Interestingly, recent findings also show that narcissism is detectable at zero acquaintance (Vazire et al., 2008). Observers thus seem to like narcissists at first sight, although they accurately perceive their narcissism. Perhaps, at zero acquaintance, people accurately perceive those aspects of narcissism that also lead to popularity (e.g., the narcissists’ charming expression) but do not detect or misjudge other aspects (e.g., the narcissists’ low trustworthiness). Future research might analyze this interesting pattern of results using diverse situational contexts as well as different sets of targets.

Which facet of narcissism fosters popularity at first sight?
[answer: sense of entitlement; tendency to manipulate & exploit others]

It is of interest that the positive effect on popularity depended on the facet of narcissism under consideration. In contrast to the consistent specificity hypothesis and in line with the paradoxical specificity hypothesis, the most maladaptive facet of narcissism (E/E) was most strongly related to popularity at first sight. People with a sense of entitlement and a tendency to manipulate and exploit others were liked more at zero acquaintance. This was consistently shown for uninvolved and involved perceivers as well as for the different levels of information that the judgments were based on. Future research might additionally examine a broader array of interpersonal perceptions to analyze in more detail how narcissists are perceived by others.

What are the physical appearances and behavioral cues that mediate the effect of narcissism on popularity at first sight?
[answer: flashy and neat clothing; charming facial expressions; self-assured body movements; humorous verbal expressions]

According to our lens model approach, narcissists were expected to be popular at zero acquaintance because they should look and behave in ways that are immediately perceived as positive. These predictions were fully confirmed. Narcissism was related to fancier clothing, a more charming facial expression, more self-assured body movements, and more verbal humor, all of which led to popularity. For understanding the interpersonal consequences of narcissism, one has to consider and analyze the physical appearances and the nonverbal and verbal behaviors that are actually observable.

A lens model perspective can also be used to reconcile contradictory findings concerning the short-term interpersonal consequences of self-enhancement, a trait closely related to narcissism (e.g., John & Robins, 1994). Paulhus (1998) reported that self enhancement is related to positive peer impressions at short-term acquaintance. Other studies, however, found that the negative interpersonal consequences of self-enhancement are already apparent at short-term acquaintance, concluding that self-enhancers “manifest behaviors that are immediately detrimental to their social interactions” (Colvin et al., 1995, p. 1159).

According to our model, the popularity of self-enhancers depends on the cues they produce in the given social situation. Self-enhancers’ popularity is thus dependent on situational constraints and affordances. When an interactive situation at shortterm acquaintance fosters more intense and controversial communication (e.g., a dyadic debate about the use of capital punishment with communication partners forced to argue for different positions; Colvin et al., 1995), the negative social habits of self-enhancers (e.g., disrupting others, hostility, and arrogance) are more easily observable and lead to more negative evaluations by others. In contrast, when the
social situation is less intense and controversial (describing a family member’s or friend’s personality in a group meeting; Paulhus, 1998), the positive first impressions that self-enhancers evoke in others might hold for a longer time.

How much information is necessary to make narcissists popular at first sight?
[answer: a full-body photograph will do. with the face removed ]

Across studies, a very consistent pattern of results could be revealed. Narcissists with a sense of entitlement and a tendency to exploit others (E/E facet) were more popular at first sight. This was true for highly involved perceivers in a real-life setting (Study 1) as well as for uninvolved perceivers exposed to the full information of the targets’ behaviors (Study 2), the physical and nonverbal information (Study 3), or the physical information only (Study 4).

These findings parallel research on the accuracy of personality judgments based on thin slices of the targets’ behaviors and physical appearances. In many cases, the accuracy of snap judgments only increases slightly when based on more information (Ambady & Rosenthal, 1992; Ambady & Skowronski, 2008; Kenny, 1994). Accurate personality judgments can result even when based solely on physical information (e.g., Borkenau & Liebler, 1992). Specifically for narcissism, researchers have shown that observers are able to judge targets’ narcissism on the basis of full-body photographs (Vazire et al., 2008).

Narcissists with a sense of entitlement and a tendency to exploit others were more popular at first sight.

I'm sure there's a very good explanation for that.

a School to Watch

Seventh-grade math students at Decatur Middle School recently spread out in the classroom and hallways to create a blueprint for a rain forest area at a zoo.

"We're learning about volume, depth, cylinders and cubes," said Tayaba Nadeem, 12.

She and group members Emily Siegman, 12, and Molly Cooper, 13, researched mammals, fish, amphibians, birds and reptiles in the real-life application for math.

"It's a different way to do stuff without using the textbook," Emily said.

That's exactly the point, said Principal Mark Anderson. Getting kids who are used to talking, texting and watching videos engaged in their schoolwork should lead to better test scores, he said.


In honor of their efforts, the Southwestside school has been named one of the state's first three "Schools to Watch."

The program, which was launched in 2002 by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform, recognizes successful schools so that their efforts can be duplicated elsewhere. Every three years, schools must reapply to keep the distinction.

The title doesn't mean the school has soaring test scores. In fact, ISTEPscores at Decatur Middle School are flat, with about 60 percent of students passing each year, Anderson said.

"It's not about test scores," he said. "It's about what you're doing to help the kids."

Decatur Middle School started changing the way it teaches three years ago, including more project-based learning in anticipation that Indiana would become a Schools to Watch state, Anderson said.

Decatur Middle School's engaging approach puts it on a select list
by Gretchen Becker
March 11, 2010
Someone needs to make a video of these kids "learning about" volume, depth, cylinders and cubes.

How are they actually learning about volume, depth, cylinders and cubes while they're "researching" [Googling] mammals, fish, amphibians, birds and reptiles?

And how are they using the formulas?

What do they know about the formulas?

Do they remember the formulas?

If they happen to forget one of the formulas, and don't have access to Google, can they derive a more complicated formula from a simpler formula?

Could these kids figure out the formula for obtaining the surface area of cylinder by grasping the fact that the surface area of a cylinder is composed of two circles and a rectangle?

I bet they can't.

That's the problem with applying math to the real world.

Kids don't learn to apply math to math.

national standards thread at Jaye Greene



Why Race to the Middle (pdf file)
by Ze'ev Wurman and Sandra Stotsky

palisadesk on teaching reading comprehension to kids with autism

We had to work on a lot of basic language comprehension tasks first. He needed to explicitly learn directional language, positional language, seriation. We worked on vocabulary in categories: parts of the body, vehicles, animals, tools. We practiced sentence frames for both oral and written language. We worked on the “question words” (where, when, who etc) with a lot of pictures, story strips, story maps. We used highlighters to go through very short texts to underline words or phases that tell who, or what or when. Although the experts say that children with autism are “visual learners,” this student was not. His auditory skills were far superior to his visual skills.

We had to teach pronouns, verb tenses and other syntactic features of text very explicitly. I got a number of good resources from Super Duper Publications and also used “Language for Learning” and “Language for Thinking,” which are DI programs, but modified somewhat in presentation – it was occasionally necessary to re-phrase the script, and to teach the lessons via back-chaining. My district is very big on teaching “inference” and “prediction” and other “comprehension strategies.” This was a big challenge. We used pictures and got to the point where the student could make statements about the picture that were inferential in nature (like, what season it was, how a person depicted was feeling) and explain his answer in a concrete way, but we didn’t get to the point where he could do this with text. “Prediction” depended on understanding verb tenses and cause/effect in a pretty abstract manner and I don’t feel we got anywhere with this, either. Working with informational text seemed more productive.


The issue of teaching reading comprehension to kids with autism is bound up with how to develop their language skills generally, and a lot of generalists like me don’t have a deep knowledge of the relevant research and resources.

resource on grouping

palisadesk recommends:

The Principals' Partnership
Research Brief
Tracking & Ability Grouping

Thursday, March 11, 2010

survey: best type of schooling

Forty-seven percent (47%) of all adults rate public schools as the best type of schooling for students. Thirty-five percent (35%) say private schools are best, while just nine percent (9%) think home schooling is the best way to go.

In August 2004, 42% of Americans said public schools provide the best education for children, but just as many (43%) said they offer the worst education.

Among those who now have children in elementary or secondary schools, support for public schools is even higher at 52%. Thirty-three percent (33%) of these adults think private schools are the best type of schooling for students, and five percent (5%) favor home schooling the most.

Seventy-two percent (72%) of these parents rate the performance of their child’s school as good or excellent, down nine points from September 2008. This includes 40% who say their children’s schools are excellent, but that’s a seven-point drop from the earlier survey. Just three percent (3%) now say their child’s school is performing poorly.


Those who earn more than $75,000 per year view public and private schools equally in terms of which is the best type of schooling.

Women are twice as likely as men to view the performance of their child’s school as excellent. Younger parents have a much higher appreciation of the schools than those who are older.

45% Say Parents Less Involved

I wonder if it's meaningful that more people said public schools are best today than in 2004. I haven't seen other surveys showing that confidence in public schools is rising - ?

Women twice as likely as men to view their child's school as excellent: jibes with my impressions.

And: only 52% of those who currently have children in public schools think public schools are the best type of schooling? Five per cent of parents with kids currently attending public schools think homeschooling is best?*


Of course, that perception fuels overspending on houses in areas with nominally high performing schools.

* Approximately 11% of US children attend private schools. (pdf file)

Autism and reading comprehension: the parents as experts

(Cross-posted at Out In Left Field)

One of the ways in which the usual rules don't apply when teaching autistic students is in picking appropriate reading assignments. Consider the following two passages:
Nobody gave The Treatment like Farquar. Palmer knew a kid who had his arm in a sling for a week after. Yet Farquar himself was maddeningly unpredictable. Some birthday boys he seemed to totally ignore, passing them on the street as he usually did, as if they were dog doo. On the other hand, he had been known to walk halfway across town, knock on a door and say sweetly to a surprised parent, "I hear there's a birthday boy in here."
Some kids turned into quivering zombies. They kept their birthdays as secrets as possible. In school, if their teacher announced their birthday, they denied it, claiming that it was a mistake. They refused to have parties. They stayed inside their house for a month so they would not bump into Farquar.
But there was another side to it. There was the honor. There was the respect you got from other kids, the kind of respect that comes to soldiers who survive great battles...
(From The Wringer, by Jerry Spinelli.)

Instead of fighting with weapons, Ghandi and the Congress Party began to use other methods of resisting the British. They taught the Indians to resist with "noncooperation"--meaning that Indians simply refused to pay taxes to the British government. They encouraged Indians to "boycott" British goods (refuse to buy anything made in Great Britain). Gandhi told his followers to make their own handmade cloth for their clothes, rather than buying British cotton. When the British put a tax on salt, Gandhi led his followers on a march of 240 miles to go collect salt from the sea, rather than buying the taxed salt. He started with seventy-eight people. By the end of the march, thousands of people were following him.
Gandhi told Indians to take their children out of British schools. He asked them to give up privileges given to them by the British. He himself sent back a medal that the British government had given him for his work in South Africa. When a factory refused to give its workers enough money to live on, Gandhi went on a hunger strike. He refused to eat until the factory owners agreed to the raise. It took too three days for the factory owners to give in and agree. They didn't want to be responsible for Gandhi starving to death!
(From The Story of the World, Volume IV, by Susan Wise Bauer).

Both The Wringer and The Story of the World are intended for the 9-12 age range. And according to the usual measures--vocabulary, sentence length, and sentence complexity--the second passage is unequivocally the more difficult of the two.

But in terms of the work the student must do to fill in the gaps in literal content to make sense of the text, the first passage is much more challenging. In particular, nowhere is it stated that Farquar beats kids up on their birthdays. If you don't infer this, you then won't understand why kids try to keep their birthdays a secret. And without this, and a grasp of the social meaning of "honor," you'll be completely baffled by the second paragraph of the excerpt.

In the second passage, on the other hand, much more is spelled out. The explanatory asides, while they contribute to the length and complexity of the sentences, offer useful definitions of key terms ("noncooperation" and "boycott.") In general, much less filling-in is necessary to understand the connections between sentences.

These differences between texts make sense when we consider their different settings. One is set close to home, and centers on schoolboy dynamics with which most neuro-typical children are familiar. Because of this, it can leave many things unstated and still make sense to most readers. The other text, on the other hand, is set in a faraway time and place, and involves issues that 9-12-year olds cannot be assumed to be familiar with. Thus, much more needs to be made explicit. For children with autism, many of whom pick up much less of the social dynamics of everyday life, this has the effect of leveling the playing field.

Because of this phenomenon, readings centering on other times, places, and issues tend to be much more accessible to those with autism than readings centering on everyday life. Unfortunately, however, in their zeal to make everything "relevant" to students' purported "personal lives," today's educators are biasing their reading selections more and more towards realistic texts about everyday life.

Any parent who spends any time reading with their autistic child knows about the problems this creates. But too few of those who teach autistic children in school settings--be they regular ed or special ed teachers--have either the training or the experience with one-on-one reading support to have much of an inkling about how autism affects reading comprehension.

Teachers must therefore be willing to hear suggestions from autism parents about appropriate reading assignments. But are they? I'm still waiting to find out...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Competitions and Scores?

I found this when I was investigating math competitions. It refers to the American Mathematics Competition.

"Major universities such as MIT are beginning to ask applying students for their AMC scores. Since the AMC tests a deeper level of math than the SAT, this can help identify students who are ready for a rigorous undergraduate curriculum."

Has anyone seen this requirement? My son's high school just has a club for the Math League. Any comments on this competition? I assume that the only way to compete in AMC is if the school participates. His school also participates in the Academic Decathlon. Any comments on this competition? Perhaps I should open up the question to any type of academic club and comments on whether it was worthwhile or not. How about groups or competitions that don't require the involvement of a school?

My son likes the Science Olympiad (middle school), but the high school doesn't continue on. It has nothing for science.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

survey: who should choose textbooks?

This is interesting:

When asked who should have the final say on what textbooks are used in the classroom, 34% of Americans say teachers, but 24% say parents should have the final say. Fifteen percent (15%) prefer giving the final say on textbooks to local government. Nine percent (9%) each designate federal and state governments as the final word.

Among those with children in the schools, 28% say teachers should have the final decision on textbooks, but just 21% say that decision should be made by parents.

Sixty-one percent (61%) of all adults say parents, if they don’t approve of the textbooks selected by a school, should be allowed to transfer their child to another school that uses other textbooks. Twenty-seven percent (27%) disagree, and 12% are not sure.

But only 29% say that if all public schools in a district use textbooks that are unacceptable to parents, the district should make arrangements for those students to attend an acceptable private school. Fifty-three percent (53%) oppose that idea. Eighteen percent (18%) are undecided.

60% Say Their Kids Textbooks Place Political Correctness Above Accuracy

Only 28% of people with kids currently in the public schools believe teachers should choose the textbooks.

That is tiny.

I wonder how this question would poll if you asked how many adults think curriculum specialists lacking a degree in the subject matter under question should pick the textbooks .....

Ron Aharoni on calculations & calculators

Calculation isn't just figuring out the result of an exercise: it is figuring out the decimal representation of the result. Therefore, the ability to calculate is in fact tantamount to a profound understanding of the decimal system. This is one of the reasons why calculation is so important, and why it should not be replaced by a calculator.

Arithmetical operations can be calculated in many ways. The methods currently taught in school are the result of generations of thought, and much wisdom has been invested in them. Most are based on writing the exercises vertically, so that the ones digits are one above the other, the tends digits are one above the other and so forth.

Calculations are based on the knowledge of the addition and multiplication tables -- the sums and products of numbers smaller than 10. These must be memorized. The addition table should be well established in the first grade, and the multiplication table in the second or third grade. In addition, the children should be familiar with the rules that govern the operations, such as the distributive law and the rules of change.

The operation of division is the most difficult to calculate. On the other hand, the algorithm of division, called "long division," includes fundamental principles and therefore it should not be passed over.

Arithmetic for Parents: A Book for Grownups about Children's Mathematics
by Ron Aharoni
p. 95

Middle School Mathematics Institute and MSMI 2010

The Middle School Mathematics Institute is taking shape. MSMI will be a 501(c)3 non profit corporation whose purpose is:

to improve elementary mathematics education, with a focus on grades 4-8,

* providing professional development in mathematics content for elementary school level math teachers
* supporting parents in understanding effective mathematics curriculum and support materials used in schools
*supporting students by providing the means for them to gain confidence and competence in their application of mathematics through improved instruction.

MSMI will focus primarily on teacher education, through workshops and institutes that teach mathematical content to teachers. Specifically, the workshops will be on school mathematics, but at a deeper level, so it is directly applicable to their classroom experience.

For now, that content will come from Wu, but I'm open to incorporating anyone else's clear, coherent, correct schoool mathematics for teaching teachers.

MSMI will have a second focus as well, which is parent education. MSMI will give talks and workshops to help parents understand the road to algebra: how important college prep math is, what the foundations are for that math, what should be learned when, how to evaluate a school's math program, and finally, what a coherent, concise, correct math program looks like. The hope is that the MSMI parent component will reinforce the teacher component and vice versa at a given school, with parents and schools coming to have a shared vision about what a college bound mathematics curriculum entails, and how best to teach that material.

The first institute is a week long mini course on fractions and decimals. It's June 14-18, 2010, in St. Paul MN. Prof. Wu will present the material for the week. It is based on his math textbook written specifically for prospective teachers.

I had hoped to get 30 teachers. I have already 23 confirmed participants with a week left for registration, and 3 other schools that are expected to send teachers but have not confirmed final numbers.

I hope to videotape the conference. I don't think the host facility will have enough outgoing bandwidth to live stream, but I hope to get a portion of the conference--say, an hour of Wu's talk--available as a stream on the MSMI website afterwards.

If anyone else from KTM is interested in attending, or learning more, let me know!

Monday, March 8, 2010

palisadesk on Fred Jones

Fred Jones ... had imbibed the “born teacher” myth and had a rude awakening when he was called upon to do some consulting at a school for incarcerated teens. The principal directed him to a classroom, where he entered to find students standing on tables, throwing things, climbing on windowsills, some huddled under tables, all kinds of ruckus, and the teacher yelling ineffectively at the front. Well, they were juvenile delinquents after all.

He went to some other classrooms and a period or two later noticed something. He was in a class of students who could have been from Groton or Phillips Exeter. They were seated, attentive, raising hands to answer, deeply engaged – in algebra, no less. It was a few moments before he realized that these were the exact same students as he had seen in the first classroom. Only the teacher was different.

That set him on the path to learn what it was that made one teacher highly successful with these (unlikely) students, while another was not. He learned over time that there are identifiable skills, behaviors and practices that teachers can learn that will make them much more effective, regardless of their baseline at the start. Those who are “natural born teachers” just do more of these things without being taught – but others can learn.

I took a week-long course from Fred Jones a few summers ago in Maine. It was worth every penny. His book, Positive Classroom Instruction, is now out of print (but available on secondhand book sites) and an excellent one on instructional issues, while Positive Classroom Discipline has some extremely good ideas and practical ones for managing student behavior not only in a positive way but in an instruction-friendly way. – so that more time is spent on effective learning.

His book Tools for Teachers is an excellent handbook for any new teacher (or one changing assignments, grade levels, etc). I refer to my copy frequently.

His website has lots of good articles and resources.

This is the point that is so difficult to get across to administrators and school boards.

Students are better or worse, depending on the environment.

So are parents.

In our middle school, I was a PITA and then some.

At Hogwarts, I barely know what's going on. As a matter of fact, it's entirely possible I don't know the last names of all of C's teachers.

That's because they're doing the teaching.

the final word

This may be the best comment Barry has ever written.

Re: Success Adds Up for D.C. Schools' Math Program by Bill Turque
The myth that teaching algorithms and procedures deprives students of conceptual understanding is as prevalent as the myth that saltpeter quells sexual appetite and is put into prisoner's food. Procedural fluency leads to conceptual understanding. Procedures are not taught in isolation and even a sidelong glance at math textbooks used in the 50's and 60's (an era that was supposedly dominated by rote learning) will illustrate the fact that explanations for procedures were given, and that such books contained many word problems to ensure that students could apply procedures and concepts to problems.

For a description of Everyday Math that is not quite as flattering as this Post piece, see my description of how I countered the effects of EM with my daughter and her friend:

More information on how Clifford Janey managed to get EM adopted in Washington DC
Seriously, what more is there to be said on the subject of Success Adds Up!!!!!

DC scholarships

Arne Duncan... proffered an argument that would be funny if it weren't so sad: Scholarships for poor students aren't worth supporting because not enough of them are given out.

Note to Duncan: You could give out more.

What's an education secretary in charge of $159 billion (and counting) to do?

Duncan had the temerity to admit that Opportunity Scholarship students "were safe and learning and doing well . . . [but] we can't be satisfied with saving 1 or 2 percent of children and letting 98 or 99 percent down." This is a false choice. But, were it fair, his answer would be to let down 100 percent instead?

Fortunately for the secretary, his children won't be in that 100 percent; he moved his family to Virginia. For the schools. He explained that he "didn't want to try to save the country's children and our educational system and jeopardize my own children's education."


Ending Opportunity Scholarships would be a tragedy for low-income parents everywhere because it says: Even when an education program works, the powers that be will tear it from the hands of children if it threatens their hold on the system.

Congress shouldn't betray D.C. scholarship program
By Kelly Amis and Joseph E. Robert Jr. WAPO March 8, 2010

A Singaporean perspective on Singapore Math

I recently came across an online article by a Singaporean named Justin Lee, the founder of two education businesses in Singapore. In reaction to many articles "fussing about Singapore Math on the Internet," Lee writes:
While many authors bemoaned or even whined about the difficulty American kids had with Math, it made me at times sympathetic or even amused. You see, Math in Singapore was highly enjoyable in my time and we dreaded other subjects like English and Science instead. Why is this so?
One reason, Lee points out, is that, for about 50% of the Singaporean population, English is not the native language. As a result:
Math in primary school (for 7-12 year olds) was one of the easiest subjects to ace. It did not involve language application as extensively as Science. Although the word problems in Math papers still involved the English language, it required us only to write one-liners as conclusions. Many friends of my age then scored above 80 marks out of a 100 in Math on a regular basis. Being able to score so highly in Math (as opposed to barely passing English or Science) easily made Math our favourite subject in school!
This, of course, makes me think of all the language impaired math buffs who suffer under Reform Math's much more language-intensive "story problems" and verbal explanations requirements.

Lee goes on to lament a development in Singapore that is taking math standards in Singapore in the opposite direction as that which American math standards have followed. Apparently, "there has been a rising trend of schools setting impossible-to-pass Math tests and examinations in the late 2000s." Instead of parents being upset that standards are too low, Singapore parents are upset that standards, which have long been higher than ours, have now risen too high.

Lee proceeds to describe how he and his classmates found Singapore math to be easy and enjoyable, with plenty of time left over for fun:
It is true that the Mathematical concepts are built year upon year and concepts that have been taught are not taught again, but merely revisited briefly. This is as opposed to the slightly incoherent system in the US, where kids can sometimes wonder why they are doing the same things again. While this arrangement may appear to be harder on Singapore students, I actually felt it was very easy on us. In fact, we felt that it was a gift from heaven to be able to do fractions at primary 6 again, right after we learnt something similar the year before.
It might appear as though a Singapore student would have had to spend many hours poring their beady eyes other Math textbooks and Math problems to acquire such ‘astounding’ proficiency in the subject. The truth is, the pace of learning was rather fine. I could do quite well in school without having to attend extra lessons (tuitions), and school only lasted from 730am to 1pm, Monday to Friday. There was still ample time for monkey business after 1pm.
To sum up, I am positive that Math in primary school was enjoyable for most students in the 1990s. This may not be so after internal Math examination standards were revised upwards in the late 2000s, but we shall address this issue in another article.
I look forward to more! In our self-absorbed, American-exceptionalist country, the Singaporean perspective, which should be a key element in the debate over math reform, is all too often overlooked (le radical galoisien?).

Sunday, March 7, 2010

the ingredients to good teaching

When Doug Lemov conducted his own search for those magical ingredients, he noticed something about most successful teachers that he hadn’t expected to find: what looked like natural-born genius was often deliberate technique in disguise. “Stand still when you’re giving directions,” a teacher at a Boston school told him. In other words, don’t do two things at once. Lemov tried it, and suddenly, he had to ask students to take out their homework only once.

Oh, check out these amazing videos.

The idea behind the whole article is that great teaching doesn't have to require the skills of a charismatic extroverted genius -- it's a set of concrete techniques combined with deep understanding of the subject you're teaching.

community college is the new high school

from K9Sasha:
My son went to school until Spring Break of his 8th grade year. At that point, I had had it with him not knowing how to write, and not even knowing his basic math facts. I told him that we had four years to get him ready for college and that it would take all four.

I was a little concerned about him getting into college from a homeschooling situation, but he applied to 6 schools and was accepted at all 6. He was strong enough academically to take Chemistry at the community college his junior year, and Writing and Physics there his senior year. The school I removed him from felt good if their students were ready for the community college after high school. I used the community college as part of high school to get him ready for university. What a difference in expectations!

One of the things that really stands out for me: When my son came home from taking his first PSAT test, the first thing he said was, "Thank you for making me learn my math facts. The first math problem was a simple doubling problem and I had it answered by the time everyone else got their calculators out."
My sister has done the same thing with one of her daughters. They did a California variant of homeschooling for 8th grade,* then public high school for 9th. Most of the subjects in 9th grade were so low level that she enrolled in community college for 10th. It's worked out well.

* It's not homeschooling....consultant schooling, maybe? I believe this option was created for students who are acting or perhaps homebound. There is a consulting teacher & texts are provided by the state. On the other hand, the parent can choose which textbooks his child uses. It's similar to what we would call Independent Study.

New York vs ALEKS

I've just finished topic number 210 in ALEKS geometry. One topic left to go.

ALEKS lets you compare what you're learning from ALEKS to your state standards. According to ALEKS, New York state geometry standards includes 101 of ALEKS' 211 standards.

I don't know whether New York's geometry standards include topics ALEKS doesn't cover.

palisadesk on instructional time

I have homeschooled and homeschooling family members, and we all see how much more rapidly children can learn in the 1:1 (or even 1:3 or 4) environment, with materials at exactly their instructional level. My sister was surprised how much her not-very-academically-inclined daughter could get done in the one or two mornings they worked on "school" per week. When they came back from their sailing odyssey, my niece had to take a test to ensure she was ready for fifth grade (had been a low average kid in third). She aced it -- was ready for sixth grade! And my sister admitted she was closer to an "unschooler" than a "homeschooler" and got serious about schoolwork in fits and starts.

Beyond that, although we think of the school day as 6 hours, it isn't 6 hours of instructional time in most places. My district's school day is 300 instructional minutes, although the actual time kids are in school is 8:30 to 3:00 -- six and a half hours. 50 minutes for lunch, 15 minutes each for morning and afternoon recess, and entry/dismissal times eat up that hour and a half, so we only have 5 hours of instruction, of which maybe 60% (if you're lucky) is dedicated to "the three R's." There are many interruptions -- PA announcements, assemblies, fund raising events. Students also have music, gym, library, art, science, social studies and health -- all important, too. The science and social studies are often incorporated into the literacy and math by very good teachers, but doing this well isn't easy, and the curriculum materials available are little help. Many teachers have to "write their own curriculum" because they don't have materials ready to hand. What a waste of time!

Then there's the whole issue of so many levels in one classroom. This means that inevitably some students' needs will be overlooked. My district is firmly committed to "differentiating instruction" and "full inclusion" of all but the most violent students, but they do not put their money where their mouth is. Every time I get the opportunity, I suggest to the higher-ups: WHY doesn't the district commission a cadre of experienced teachers/curriculum experts to produce units for different grade levels that match the curriculum and have differentiated reading materials, problems, activities and assessments? For example, a unit on explorers for fifth grade could have reading material from a first to a seventh grade level, map work, project topics and materials for kids from the very beginning level (they could learn the continents and make a globe model, for example) to challenge activities for the high achievers. They could have these for every major curriculum unit, and sell them to other districts and make money. Why are teachers having to write their own curriculum for 6 different grade levels in multiple subjects? It absolutely doesn't work. No wonder they use foldables.

So five hours of instructional time quickly gets whittled down. In classrooms with many levels, the actual teaching time at the student's level for those at the extreme ends of the spectrum (true for the gifted AND the very challenged) is only 1 or 2 % of the time available. No wonder that studies have found that students with the lowest level of reading skill read only about two or three minutes a day. Yikes!
How much time do pull-outs consume, I wonder - ?

indies nominees

Animals Make Us Human is on the list!

I didn't even know. A friend found out and sent me the link. Then my sister had to send them an email and ask them to add my name to the book, since they'd only listed Temple as the author.


I'm filing this under schmuck with an Underwood.

palisadesk on the math police - & parents teaching math facts

A propos of Kindergarten children being asked to write journals and stories without any instruction in spelling (or even in pencil grip or how to form the letters), and also children being taught -- or not -- number facts and algorithms, this discussion has come up on a couple of other boards I read. One important issue stands out: there is enormous variability in what is required and/or permitted to be taught in these areas.

I advise all parents to get a copy of your district's curriculum documents, if you can (many have them online) and see what teachers are being told to do. It may surprise you. In many places, expectations for teaching the mechanics of writing -- pencil grip, letter formation, manuscript or cursive writing styles, even spelling -- have been *completely* removed from the curriculum. Teachers can of course model them or give instructions en passant, but cannot actually focus on these things as objects of lessons.

Catherine has brought up the use of "instructional coaches." This is becoming more and more common, and one of their (unstated) roles is to act as "literacy police" or "numeracy police." If they see teachers doing spelling, or printing, or teaching math facts systematically, they are to discourage these things and also discuss it with school administration. My district no longer requires math facts to be taught, and teachers have actually been forbidden to practice them in class. They can assign math fact practice for "homework" which is another way of outsourcing to parents, as Catherine has pointed out in the past. This disproportionately penalizes low-SES kids whose parents don't have the time or sometimes the expertise to teach these things to their children.

It's very often not a matter of teachers not wanting to teach "the basics," but of their being prevented from doing so. Many of my colleagues grumble quietly about it, but because it is ordered from on high it can't be openly flouted. It's not clear to me who makes these curriculum decisions higher up the ladder, but sometimes it does seem (as an anonymous person said earlier) that the goal might just be to keep the proles in their place! In my darker moments I am tempted to think this is so.
Outsourcing math facts to parents handicaps all children. I know we've talked about this a lot over the years, but I don't have the patience to go hunting the posts. Easier to write a new post now---

At least two high-SES, highly-educated parents we know told us they were never able to remediate their sons' deficiencies in math facts or in long division. One of these parents went to Harvard. They tried, but they did not get the job done. Even Kumon didn't get the job done for one of the kids. (Not sure why -- possibly because the parents realized what the situation was too late -- ?)

I was lucky because the Saxon Math "Fast Fact" sheets worked for C. after 2 other approaches I tried failed outright: flash cards and flash card software. When I switched to the Saxon worksheets, he learned rapidly.

I had no idea what to make of it. Can't learn his math facts using flash cards? Can learn them practically overnight using worksheets?

Later on, I read a Rafe Esquith passage advising parents that students need to practice material in the format they'll use it on the test. That makes sense. It's consistent with everything I know about animal training and with Dan Willingham's explanation of flexible and inflexible knowledge.

But how many parents know this?

I sure didn't.

At a board meeting recently, our new part-time Interim Director of Curriculum and Instruction made one fantastic observation. She said she'd told teachers that "If we were serving a low-SES population, with parents working two jobs to make ends meet, we wouldn't expect parents to be skilling and drilling the math facts. Our parents have busy lives and many demands on their time, and we shouldn't expect them to do it, either."

Then she added, diplomatically, that in fact parents here, nearly all of whom are high-SES and well-educated, are not getting the job done.

Last year, the 6th grade accelerated math class had to stop dead in its tracks so the teacher could teach math facts & the standard algorithms. The kids were all high-SES and their parents are well-educated.

Teaching math facts isn't simple or obvious. Skilled teachers do it far better than most parents.

Blind Side

If you haven't seen Blind Side, you should. For anyone who has spent years of his life struggling to give his children an education, this is the movie. It's the movie for teachers waging the same struggle, too.

There's a moment, at the end, when Leigh Anne asks Michael if he even wants to play football. By this point he has been famously recruited by dozens of college coaches across the country and has committed to playing for Ole Miss, his new parents' alma mater. And only now does his mother ask him whether this is what he wants.

Michael answers, simply, "I'm pretty good at it."

For many of us, that's what education is about. A good education takes a small child and makes him good at reading, writing, and arithmetic whether he wants to be good at these things or not. The truth is, as Michael begins life with his adoptive parents, he doesn't want to play football. He's not suited to the game emotionally. But he learns to play because his parents and his coach and even his little brother painstakingly teach him to play, and they teach him to play because they know he can do it and because football matters to them. And now he plays well.

There's a lovely moment where Michael's new dad, Sean, recites The Charge of the Light Brigade. Michael asks why the 600 have to die, and Sean tells him it's because the leaders have made a mistake. So Michael writes a paper about what it means to trust your leaders, and to follow them.

At home, parents are the leaders; at school, teachers are.

But the real education leaders in this country, the ones deciding what our children will and, more importantly, will not learn, have made a mistake.

They've decided our children don't need to be in the game.


Have I mentioned Ed has a stand-up desk?

Well, he does.

That's gotta be next on my list.