kitchen table math, the sequel: 9/19/10 - 9/26/10

Thursday, September 23, 2010

gone fishing

Off to Illinois for the weekend - back Monday!

autonomy, mastery, purpose

Dan Dempsey just left a link to this fantastic YouTube on the Irvington Parents Forum ---

"it's the culture, stupid" part 2

Deborah Kenny on Harlem Village Academies

the sorting machine

$100 million to Newark public schools

I'm against it.


Public schools need the things money can't buy.

Modern math is a river in Egypt

It's been decades since any sort of traditional math has been taught in most K-6 schools, but we still hear the same arguments. Our schools have used Everyday Math for years, and before that, they used MathLand. When schools and the state look at the testing numbers and whether they go up or down, it has nothing to do with any sort of traditional approach to teaching math.

Kids get to middle school and high school and still can't show mastery of very basic skills. Even those who favor discovery methods claim that mastery is needed. It still doesn't happen even though mastery of basic skills is much easier to check and correct than vague critical thinking skills.

My conclusion is that it's a huge case of denial.

It's Anti-Math. It's anti-hard work because hard work and expectations separate kids. They claim that kids will learn when they are ready, but that just keeps them from the hard work of figuring out whether there are other causes. It allows them to avoid working on things they don't like. That's why we parents get messages telling us to work on math facts with our kids.

In 5th grade, my son's Everyday Math teacher realized that many kids were struggling with simple things like adding 7+8. She knew these kids were "ready". She tried to fix the problems, but then didn't get to 35% of the material in the course. She believed in mastery, but the other teachers were happy enough to "trust the spiral".

Everyday Math facilitates this denial. They want math to be a pump and not a filter, but what they are doing is pumping along the failure until its too late and then dumping that guilt trip on the kids.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

LexAequitas on SAT Critical Reading

“As an instructor for TPR for several years, I had a breakthrough on the reading passages at one point after I made a realization. I was good at verbal sections before, generally able to complete them in just over 20 minutes with a 750+ score, but after the instructor training I could complete them in 11 minutes with a perfect score.

The SAT is rigorously vetted, and constantly challenged. For every answer, there needs to be a detailed explanation that ETS can just mail off to every student who challenges the question. They come up with these before the test is ever given. This means there *has* to be something that can be pointed to in order to differentiate answers. On difficult questions, it will be minor, even picayune. And I don't mean picayune in the normal sense, I mean picayune in the sense that you'd better start thinking like a 13-year old with Asperger's syndrome. Don't accept generalizations that people use in speech and writing all the time just to make communication more efficient.

It's also worthwhile to note that the SAT does not typically select great literature. The writing is often clumsy and arcane, and this is part of the challenge. I suspect a better exercise if you want casual reading that mimics the SAT is to pick foreign translations.”
This is fantastically helpful.

And fascinating on many levels....

David Kaplan on Sal Khan

In an undistinguished ranch house off the main freeway of Silicon Valley, in a converted walk-in closet filled with a few hundred dollars' worth of video equipment and bookshelves and his toddler's red Elmo underfoot, is the epicenter of the educational earthquake that has captivated Gates and others. It is here that Salman Khan produces online lessons on math, science, and a range of other subjects that have made him a web sensation.

Khan Academy, with Khan as the only teacher, appears on YouTube and elsewhere and is by any measure the most popular educational site on the web. Khan's playlist of 1,630 tutorials (at last count) are now seen an average of 70,000 times a day -- nearly double the student body at Harvard and Stanford combined. Since he began his tutorials in late 2006, Khan Academy has received 18 million page views worldwide, including from the Gates progeny. Most page views come from the U.S., followed by Canada, England, Australia, and India. In any given month, Khan says, he's reached about 200,000 students. "There's no reason it shouldn't be 20 million."

Sal Khan: Bill Gates' favorite teacher by David Kaplan

David Kaplan is one of the best writers on the Irvington Parents Forum. Probably the best, as a matter of fact, and that's saying something, because there are a lot of good writers on the Forum.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

why is SAT reading so hard?

I've just recently focused on SAT reading ---

It's hard.

Until two weeks ago, I took SAT reading for granted. I had high verbal scores in high school, and when I took a sample SAT test a couple of years ago, I missed two questions on the reading, only one of which was a real miss in the sense that my answer was clearly wrong. On the other miss, I disagreed with the CollegeBoard's answer.

So I hadn't thought about the verbal section until I started working with C. and a couple of other juniors on SAT prep.

Now I find that working through the verbal section is a wretched, miserable experience, and this is true in spite of the fact that I get the answers right.

Here's Hack the SAT:
You know how some people have a gift?


No one has a gift for Critical Reading.

Sure, plenty of people have a gift for reading.... [but] no one is particularly natural at critical reading, this seemingly endless stuff that jams the SAT full of tiny blue print and passages about the subtle revelations of medieval scientist nuns.


[E]ven those students who get high scores on Critical Reading find it more draining than the Math or Grammar sections. 


Working through a Critical Reading passage - especially a 'compare two passages' section (those are death) - I feel the brain equivalent of eye strain.

Why is that?

Hack the SAT: Strategies and Sneaky Shortcuts That Can Raise Your Score Hundreds of Points

Monday, September 20, 2010

a man after my own heart

Glen wrote:
I have my fourth grader do a hundred fraction problems while I do his "cut pictures out of magazines" homework for him. I have him work through middle school math contest problems, tossing him hints when he gets stuck, while I draw on his poster board. I had him learn every country in Europe while I built miniature teepees in a shoebox diorama.

He gets good grades on his schoolwork, but other parents--I mean kids, of course--often cut and paste better than I do.

His teacher thinks he's a "natural" at math, but there's nothing natural about it. It's man-made. It's training--the same sort of training you'd do if you needed to teach someone to cut hair or build birdhouses: show them how, help them a few times, and put them to work.

She would be shocked if she actually knew the level of difficulty of the math and science work he can do, but we're careful not to let her find out. Last year the teacher found out and was nasty to him for the rest of the year. She liked him when she thought he was a natural, but when she found out that he had to work at math, she was outraged.

"It's not fair to me that you are willing to do that much work for your father, but aren't doing the same for me!" I thought that I--I mean my son, of course--was cutting enough pictures out of enough magazines for her, but she apparently thought she deserved more.

She wanted to discuss the "problem" with me. She was concerned about how I was using his time. (How ironic.) She said that their Everyday Mathematics emphasized "conceptual understanding" and was concerned that my approach might not lead to "actual understanding." The previous night he had solved,

"We have four times as many cows as horses on our ranch. If we sold 280 cows, we'd end up with twice as many horses as cows. How many cows do we have?"

He was in third grade. I almost asked her to go to the board and show me how SHE would have taught him to solve it, with "actual understanding," but that would have been cruel. I held my tongue to keep my son out of trouble and said that I tried my best to help him understand. We left it at that.

This is one of the top 5% of elementary schools in Silicon Valley, so almost all the kids are performing at grade level--and that's where they want to keep them.

And I've now found out that at higher levels, middle school and high school, it's almost standard practice for parents to take the mindless homework load off their kids' shoulders to free up time for them to do the portion of homework that is actually useful.

If I have to do even more mindless homework, I may have to outsource it to India.

Using sentence combining to improve reading scores

from Arthur Whimbey and Myra Linden:
Let us now examine the problem mentioned at the beginning of this chapter: the difficulty that some students have comprehending textbooks containing sentences with relative clauses. Here is a paragraph from the Encyclopedia Americana.
Infectious diseases are the only ones that can be transmitted. They may be spread by infected animals, infected people, or contaminated substances, such as food and water. Infectious diseases that can be transmitted to humans from infected animals are known as zoonoses. Zoonoses may be transmitted by carriers, such as insects; by the bite of an infected animal; by direct contact with an infected animals [sic] or its excretions; or by eating animal products.

College freshman were asked to read this paragraph and then answer the following questions.
Zoonoses are:

a. insects that carry diseases.

b. infected animals that transmit infectious diseases to humans.

c. infectious diseases that man gets from animals.

d. carriers that transmit infectious diseases.
College students with weak reading skills often pick alternative b. When asked why they picked b, some reply that zoonoses sounds like zoo and animals are kept in zoos, so they figured zoonoses are animals. This explanation reflects the thinking style of nonanalytical readers. They base their conclusions on superficial associations among bits of information rather than on careful step-by-step interpretations of chunks of information and gradual reconstruction of total meaning.

Other students who chose b explained that they got this answer from the last six words of the third sentence: infected animals are known as zoonoses. This, too, reflects the thinking style of weak readers. They read a little bit here, a little bit there, and then jump to a conclusion.

The correct answer is based on the third sentence, which reads:

Infectious diseases that can be transmitted to humans from infected animals are known as zoonoses.

This sentence contains the following relative clause:

that can be transmitted to humans from infected animals

Good readers work step-by-step through the sentence in obtaining its correct meaning. They begin with the subject: infectious diseases. Then they go on to the relative clause, an essential relative clause that indicates the type of infectious diseases being considered; those that animals can transmit to humans. Finally, they come to the predicate: are known as zoonoses. Therefore, in answering the question they pick alternative c.

Research studies have found that students with weak analytical skills can understand only simple sentences, just as they can solve only one-step math problems. They have difficulty understanding complicated sentences, just as they have difficulty solving multi-step math problems. In other words, they can handle just small chucks of information because they have not developed skill in working step-by-step through complicated information. They can understand sentences such as this:

Some infectious diseases are known as zoonoses.

But they cannot understand Sentence 3 in the paragraph.

Other research studies (reviewed in Why Johnny can't Write: How to Improve Writing Skills) have found that having students construct complex sentences from simple ones improves their scores on standardized reading tests. these studies have not explored whether having students add relative clauses to sentences improves their ability to comprehend specifically sentences with relative clauses. They have only found that constructing various types of complicated sentences from simpler ones (using the types of exercises shown in this book) improves overall reading comprehension ability, with the weakest readers making the greatest gains. As the P-C Approach* is used more widely in our schools,** we can expect the average reading comprehension ability of the nation to improve. And as this improvement becomes evident, researchers may conduct additional studies to determine exactly how and why having students manipulate, construct, and write sentences improves their reading skills.

Teaching and Learning Grammar: The Prototype-Construction Approach
pp. 90-92

Teaching and Learning Grammar: The Prototype-Construction Approach

*prototype-construction method
** I'm not holding my breath

help desk - sentence diagram

In the passage below, Terkoz the ape has kidnapped Jane; Tarzan is tracking Terkoz through the treetops.
At boughs’ ends, where the anthropoid swings from one tree to another, there is most to mark the trail, but least to point the direction of the quarry, for there the pressure is downward always, toward the small end of the branch, whether the ape be leaving or entering a tree. Nearer the center of the tree, where the signs of passages are fainter, the direction is plainly marked.

Tarzan of the Apes
Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature

p. 74

This was a fantastically difficult sentence for my college composition students to read; it was difficult for me to read, too.

Can someone diagram the first sentence?

You hear constantly that sentence diagramming doesn't help with writing, but I'm wondering whether it would help with reading. I'm tutoring a high school junior on the SAT, and the sentences are fantastically complex. The reading passage we worked on this weekend actually contained two sentence fragments in a row, both of which modified the complete sentence before them.

The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature: Reading, Thinking, Writing