kitchen table math, the sequel: 2011

Saturday, December 31, 2011


Lake Superior State University 2012 List of Banished Words

In 1977, one year after Lake Superior State University Public Relations Director W.T. (Bill) Rabe released the first "banished words list," he said that the international reaction from news media and the public told him "it would go on forever."

Forever may be stretching it, but the annual List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness has been going strong since New Year's Day 1976 and shows no signs of stopping. People from around the world have nominated hundreds of words and phrases such as "you know," "user friendly," "at this point in time," and "have a nice day," to be purged from the language.

This year's list:

OK, so....this is not the list I would pick, but I see the logic.

Disagree re: amazing, however. An excellent word, overused or not. I'm keeping it.

Baby bump can go.*

Ditto the new normal. I am against the new normal, and I am against calling the new normal the new normal. Get rid of it!

I'm keeping ginormous. Also bazillion and gazillion, in case anyone has big ideas for next year.

Never heard of pet parent or trickeration; don't care about blowback, shared sacrifice, or occupy. I don't spend time around people who say "man cave." If I did, I'd put it on the list.

Which brings me to Thank you in advance:
"Usually followed by 'for your cooperation,' this is a condescending and challenging way to say, 'Since I already thanked you, you have to do this.'" Mike Cloran, Cincinnati, Ohio
Oh, man. That takes me back. Do any of you remember all the 'Thank you for your ongoing cooperation and support' communiques we used to get from our erstwhile superintendent of schools?

I sure do. I'm going to have to dig up the citizens' op ed I wrote on the subject of parents being thanked for their ongoing cooperation and support. I was against it.

Back to the Lake Superior State:
The first list was dreamed up by Rabe and a group of friends at a New Year's Eve party in 1975. The following day, he released the list and the rest, as they say, is history. Since then, nominations for words and expressions to be banished have been invited and accepted throughout the year.
I've already got my list for 2012 started.

Edu-words that should be banished from the queen's English:

Start with ENHANCED.

* Does anyone who is NOT an actress ever have a baby bump?

Happy New Year!


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

chemprof on masked deficits in high-achieving students

Absolutely. I think I've told the story of my first research student before, a very bright biochem major. She got a low C in biochem (after A's in organic) because of exactly this kind of problem. She was an early reader who basically memorized words, but really only read the first 3-4 letters. So she couldn't keep what she called the "glys" straight - glycine, glycolysis, glycogen, etc. all looked the same to her. She really needed explicit phonics, but no one noticed early enough.
That is an amazing story. Amazing, and chilling.

In the early grades, a strong ability to memorize, which C. had and has, is going to mask deficits if the only data anyone cares about is a passing score on the state tests.

C., too, was an early reader with a quick memory; he was one of those kids who 'taught himself to read.' But when he was in fourth grade, I discovered that he could not read a two-syllable nonsense word.

And he couldn't spell at all, which I knew was not right. Everyone in the household thought he'd naturally learn to spell if he just read more, but he had abruptly stopped reading, and his school didn't give many reading assignments.

Interestingly, at some point after C. enrolled in his Jesuit high school, he told me that "The kids are better readers" -- meaning they could read out loud better than kids in his public school. He also heard stories of parents who put their kids in Catholic school "because they couldn't read."

Catholic schools still teach phonics, I believe.


from the annals of All the answers are belong to us: trying and failing to buy a Direct Instruction spelling book

non-poor students doing fine in Princeton

From the Princeton Alumni Weekly, an interview with Earl Kim, Class of '93, now superintendent of Montgomery Township Schools:
When, exactly, did public education become a blood sport? Granted, there were vicious battles over busing in the 1970s. But now the whole American system of public education, which once made us so proud, seems to have become suspect. Perhaps it’s all those reports that show how far our students now lag behind their peers in places like Finland and Singapore — though Kim points out that once you adjust for poverty, we are still doing fine...
Affluent suburban schools, in my experience, don't have much truck with data. My own affluent suburban school district, for instance, grades itself on a strictly pass-fail basis. Percent passing the state tests, percent failing the state tests. Percent passing AP exams, percent failing AP exams. We have many more passes than fails, and we are doing fine.

The question is: what does "doing fine" actually mean in the larger scheme of things?

The Global Report Card, which ranks US schools against schools in 25 developed countries, puts Montgomery Township schools at the 76th percentile in math, 83rd in reading.

As to Finland and Singapore, here are the numbers for Montgomery Township:

Mind you, these aren't apples-to-apples comparisons. Montgomery Township is affluent and well-educated; assuming I understand the website, affluent children with well-educated parents in Montgomery Township are not being compared to affluent children with well-educated parents in Finland, Singapore, and Canada. Affluent children with well-educated parents in Montgomery Township are being compared to all students in Finland, Singapore, and Canada.

If Montgomery Township students are in, say, the 90th percentile of US students in math (they may be higher), is it "fine" for them to be in the 56th percentile in math in Singapore?

Maybe so.

Princeton trivia: Ben Bernanke served on the Montgomery Township Board of Education.

annual posting of Siouxsie and the Banshees

The French song Il est né le divin enfant is my favorite Christmas carol, and for some reason this performance by Siouxsie and the Banshees, which I discovered on YouTube a couple of years ago, is my favorite version. The trumpets, the choral round, the triumphal tone --- love it.


Is this video just one take?

About 3 minutes in, it came to me that I hadn't seen any cuts.

Don't have the patience to watch it again.

source: Small Business blog

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Six to Eight Black Men

I read the David Sedaris piece on Christmas in Holland a couple of mornings ago -- hilarious. Starts slowly, with a somewhat protracted rumination on gun laws in the hinterlands, but once he gets to Holland the piece takes off. (I would probably feel differently if I were from Holland, as opposed to the hinterlands, myself. Here's Leon De Winter on Santa Claus's Dutch Uncle in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. De Winter's account doesn't mention six to eight black men.)

From the Sedaris piece:
In France and Germany, gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve, while in Holland the children receive presents on December 5, in celebration of Saint Nicholas Day. It sounded sort of quaint until I spoke to a man named Oscar, who filled me in on a few of the details as we walked from my hotel to the Amsterdam train station.

Unlike the jolly, obese American Santa, Saint Nicholas is painfully thin and dresses not unlike the pope, topping his robes with a tall hat resembling an embroidered tea cozy. The outfit, I was told, is a carryover from his former career, when he served as a bishop in Turkey.

One doesn't want to be too much of a cultural chauvinist, but this seemed completely wrong to me. For starters, Santa didn't use to do anything. He's not retired, and, more important, he has nothing to do with Turkey. The climate's all wrong, and people wouldn't appreciate him. When asked how he got from Turkey to the North Pole, Oscar told me with complete conviction that Saint Nicholas currently resides in Spain, which again is simply not true.
Six to Eight Black Men

Chris can spell!

update: Here is Mary Damer on masked deficits & poor spelling in high-performing students.

Some of you who've been reading and writing ktm from the beginning may remember Chris's "psychotic" spelling as a 4th grader.

Well, great news: Chris can spell. I suspect he's still not spelling as well as I probably did at his age, but his spelling is completely 'within the realm,' if you know what I mean, and you probably do.

I've been thinking lately about the issue of how much you can learn about writing (and spelling) just from reading, and I think the answer is that you can learn a great deal ultimately. I say that with the caveat that school reading needs to be guided by a teacher and needs to be systematically increased in difficulty.

Those conditions have been true for Chris, who has taken all Honors and AP courses in high school, and who says he's done all the reading in his classes. The reading load in Honors/AP courses is pretty hefty, the books are quite difficult, and a teacher leads the way.

We worked our way through Megawords Grade 6, which helped tremendously, and Chris's high school reading and writing took him the rest of the way.

His handwriting still stinks, however, although it's better than it was. (Takes me back to our summer adventures with Write Now. Chris's handwriting didn't improve, but mine did.)

the Megawords posts at ktm, the sequel

from the "blooki" index:

    Merry Christmas Happy Holidays - 2011

    Friday, December 23, 2011

    oldies but goodies

    May 7, 2006

    my 21st century autistic son...

    employing 21st century technology...

    then and now

    4/2006 -  the first day .... and Catherine's story (all pages are frozen; I can't edit them)

    11/30/2006 - Christopher masters technology

    12/23/2011 - thick envelope

    thick envelope

    Just in time for Christmas!

    (It's from U Mass, which has put Chris in its Honors college and given him $10K in merit aid (unasked). Have I mentioned Scores are Gold lately?)

    December SAT Scores (aka, My Buddha)

    I'd characterize yesterday as an epically bad day in my 46 years of life, and while the turmoil had nothing to do with the SAT, my December scores did not help.
    Yes, I do realize (intellectually) that I should feel happy about my Reading and Writing scores; but honestly, that Math score feels crushing, like a bully.  Today, well, I'm trying to see it as my Buddha.
    The worst part was telling my son. I swear to you, he looked at me with these big, wide, honest to god eyes of surprise, and said "really?" --  like he truly couldn't believe his mom didn't do it.  I think I'd actually convinced him that hard work pays off (that's what I thought!).
    But he's a sweetie, and he quickly focused on my Reading and Writing scores, telling me how great they are, blah blah blah. In fact I got all sorts of encouraging emails from friends and family:
    "I know it's hard to remember at times like these, but these scores are not a judgment. They're just numbers ..... You did your best and gave it your best shot.  That's what's most important -- the process, not the outcome .... Your scores are fantastic – you’re 40 points away from an 800 on CR – do you know how many parents would kill for that score?? The 730 on writing just puts you in your range."
    They made me feel better, in a supported sort of way -- but deep inside I couldn't help feeling like a high school senior who just found out they didn't get into their first choice college, and everyone writes on their Facebook wall: "You're too good for them.... It wasn't meant to be..... There's a better school for you..."
    And that's all true, but it still feels devastating.  At least it does for me.
    At the end of the day yesterday, I received an email that truly did lift my spirits. It came from a high school senior whom I'd never met:
    SAT scores came out today! How did you do? I hope you did well. I know you'll get a good score, and congrats on completing the project! What you did was very inspiring, especially for high school seniors. I just thought that I would let you know that you motivated me to study, and I went from a 1630 (520R 600M 510W) (junior year) to a 2300 (700R 800M 800W) (senior year).
    I need to print that out and post it at eye level on my bulletin board.
    I haven't fully processed how it's possible that I spent dozens and dozens of joyful hours studying SAT math over the course of 10 months, and hardly improved at all from where I started without knowing a thing last January.  My friend Catherine says it's one more piece of evidence that a solid curriculum is essential, and without that, no amount of SAT prep in the world is going to improve your score.
    For all intents and purposes, I didn't learn a lick of math after 9th grade (until I began this project).  I'm thinking about taking a math class at my local community college -- and just starting from scratch.
    I'm not done.  I have to pause in order to write a book right now, but I'm not done with the math.  I feel incomplete.
    If there's anyone else out there feeling disappointed by their SAT scores, here's a quote that I have posted in a few places around my house that seems to help:
    If you have the privilege of being with someone at the time of his or her death, you find the questions such a person asks are very simple:
    • "Did I love well?"  
    • "Did I live fully?"
    • "Did I learn to let go?"                                                      
                                     -- Jack Kornfield

    llustrations by Jennifer Orkin Lewis
    Cross-posted on Perfect Score Project

    Thursday, December 22, 2011

    speaking of grammar to enrich and enhance writing

    re: Stop the multiverse, I want to get off

    Why do we have books called Grammar to Enrich and Enhance Writing?

    Seriously. How is "Grammar to Enrich and Enhance Writing" a sensible title for a book on grammar and writing?

    Grammar is writing. Without grammar, you don't have writing; without grammar, you have a list of words, which is not writing. (Not really.) Grammar to enhance writing is like paint to enhance painting or pianos to enhance playing the piano. If you don't have paint, you're not painting. Same thing with writing.

    Ordinary people get this. 

    That's why ordinary people tend to think schools should just go back to teaching grammar as they once did lo these many years ago and be done with it. Teach grammar in isolation, teach grammar out of isolation, teach grammar in and out of isolation.

    Just teach it.

    And make sure the kids have actually learned it.

    and see:
    the rules
    David Foster Wallace on the seamy underbelly

    stop the multiverse, I want to get off

    So I was propounding my theory that Something Happened in 1985, a world-jarring event that catapulted us all into a parallel universe where Not Teaching is Teaching and Salman Khan is the man you summon to help you spice up your presentations.

    Then a couple of minutes later I came across this: The Accidental Universe: Science's Crisis of Faith by Alan P. Lightman.

    Why are we living in a world where Writing to the Point is out of print and Grammar to Enrich & Enhance Writing is in print?

    I blame the multiverse.

    Steve H on node chairs

    "The Nodal Classroom"

    An amazing new educational paradigm! It's the Node™, brought to you by Steelcase. Ta Da! Music please.

    I'll bet they can add PC docking stations with connections to the Smartboard. Oops! It's time to scoot into your new formations. Beep, beep! Ha, Ha! Now that's what I call active learning. PE across the classrooms.

    Down with the Harkness Table. Up with nodal chairs. They can be so easily rearranged on the deck of the Titanic.

    Robyne Camp says PISA may be coming to my town

    How are we doing?

    speaking of inequality

    We haven’t been able to increase the share of our youth that completes college or high school. It’s really remarkable, and most people wouldn’t actually guess this, but in the US, the cohorts that had the highest high-school graduation rates were the ones that were graduating in the middle of the 1960s. Our high-school graduation rate has actually been declining since then. If you look at college, it’s the same thing.
    Daron Acemoglu on inequality
    Two words: node chairs.

    disappearing act

    The Race redux

    Two summers ago, I wrote a number of posts on The Race between Education and Technology, a book I found revelatory. Via Greg Mankiw's blog, I've just come across economist Daron Acemoglu's recommendation of The Race as one of the top 5 books to read on inequality:
    This is a really wonderful book. It gives a masterful outline of the standard economic model, where earnings are proportional to contribution, or to productivity. It highlights in a very clear manner what determines the productivities of different individuals and different groups. It takes its cue from a phrase that the famous Dutch economist, Jan Tinbergen coined. The key idea is that technological changes often increase the demand for more skilled workers, so in order to keep inequality in check you need to have a steady increase in the supply of skilled workers in the economy. He called this “the race between education and technology”. If the race is won by technology, inequality tends to increase, if the race is won by education, inequality tends to decrease.

    The authors, Claudia Goldin and Larry Katz, show that this is actually a pretty good model in terms of explaining the last 100 years or so of US history. They give an excellent historical account of how the US education system was formed and why it was very progressive, leading to a very large increase in the supply of educated workers, in the first half of the century. This created greater equality in the US than in many other parts of the world.

    They also point to three things that have changed that picture over the last 30 to 40 years. One is that technology has become even more biased towards more skilled, higher earning workers than before. So, all else being equal, that will tend to increase inequality. Secondly, we’ve been going through a phase of globalisation. Things such as trading with China – where low-skill labour is much cheaper – are putting pressure on low wages. Third, and possibly most important, is that the US education system has been failing terribly at some level. We haven’t been able to increase the share of our youth that completes college or high school. It’s really remarkable, and most people wouldn’t actually guess this, but in the US, the cohorts that had the highest high-school graduation rates were the ones that were graduating in the middle of the 1960s. Our high-school graduation rate has actually been declining since then. If you look at college, it’s the same thing. This is hugely important, and it’s really quite shocking. It has a major effect on inequality, because it is making skills much more scarce then they should be.

    Do Goldin and Katz go into the reasons why education is failing in the US?

    They do discuss it, but nobody knows....It’s not that we’re spending less. In fact, we are spending more. It’s certainly not that college is not valued, it’s valued a lot. The college premium – what college graduates earn relative to high-school graduates – has been increasing rapidly. It’s not that the US is not investing enough in low-income schools. There has been a lot of investment in low-income schools.


    Goldin and Katz’s book shows that the college premium was higher in the early 1900s than it was in the 1940s and 1950s. Then it remains stable for several decades, and then it starts increasing again in the 1980s.
    Daron Acemoglu on inequality
    in a nutshell:
    • the US education system has been failing terribly at some level
    • the cohorts that had the highest high-school graduation rates were the ones that were graduating in the middle of the 1960s
    He goes on to say that "What’s missing from the Goldin and Katz book is that they really don’t look at all at what’s going on in the top 10%," a point I think I recall Allison making (although Allison may have been talking about the the top 1 or 0.5%).

    yet another brilliant idea from the folks who brought you all those other brilliant ideas

    Jen writes:
    I was talking to a teacher friend the other day and he was lamenting that the curriculum is going to change yet again and that if they follow what they say they want to do, they'll move everything to a grade earlier.

    Mind you, this is an urban district with not great scores. Mind you, they spent years with EM which is likely the worst way to teach kids who come in without number sense, without support for education at home, and without a parent who can figure out what's being asked and more importantly, what's being missed.

    But, the new big idea (again, this is really part of the idea of spiraling) is that if kids aren't getting, 5th grade math in 5th grade it means you really need to teach those concepts in...4th grade! Brilliant! Bravo! Imagine how much better they'll do at it, not learning it at an earlier age!

    Now kids coming into K and 1st grade without any number skills, 1-3 years behind other kids of middle class, well-educated parents, will be expected to be getting through 1-3 more years of math in their first few years of school, too. It's genius!

    What teacher can't take 25-30 elementary students who are starting behind and teach them 2-6 years of math in a year? Whiner slacker teachers, that's who!
    I say, Whiner, slacker teachers of the world, unite!

    Wednesday, December 21, 2011

    Disappearing act

    Having now spent two fall semesters in a row trawling the web for research and advice on the teaching of freshman composition, I have come to the conclusion that all useful thinking on the subject ceased in 1985.*

    Prior to 1985, people are thinking and writing all manner of helpful stuff; after 1985 you get the rise of the boss compositionists and the erasure of the sentence.

    The compositionists are still busy erasing the knowledge we used to have:

    Before: Campus Writing Program | Indiana University - grading; sequenced microthemes; pamphlets for students, etc. Good stuff.


    After: Node Chairs Move Students to New Activity

    Honest to God: this is Indiana University's Campus Writing Program, and they've devoted an entire page to a furniture purchase.

    * a proposed factoid that supports my hit-by-a-meteor hypothesis

    parallel universe

    from the Annals of I read the news today, oh boy:
    Stanford Medical School, which allows its students to take lectures online if they want, summoned Mr. Khan to help its faculty spice up their presentations.
    Online Learning, Personalized
    Published: December 4, 2011
    I am happy Salman Khan exists. I'm glad he's doing what he's doing; I hope he keeps on doing it. His SAT videos weren't helpful in our case (though I can imagine they would be to many others), and he talks too fast in the one distributive property video I watched for me to use it with my middle school math student (who is now distributing the negative rather well, thank you for asking). I have high hopes for the videos on the American-Chinese Debt Loop, however.

    But here's the question.

    In what universe is Salman Khan the person you summon to "spice up" a presentation?

    Surely not the one I'm living in.

    Tuesday, December 20, 2011

    What do students say about 'online learning'?

    Last Thursday I was talking to 3 of my students about this and that when the topic of online learning and online courses came up. I don't remember why it came up, but it did.

    My campus is keenly interested in online learning. It looks to me as if the college hopes to increase enrollment in online courses substantially, although I don't know this.

    In any event, the topic came up, and instantly all three said they hate -- hate, that was the word -- online learning. They didn't just say it; they showed it. Their faces scrunched up the way mine does when I step in dog poop wearing my old Nike Free Run sneakers, the ones with the really deep, really tight, really white rubber cleats I must now attempt to power-wash with the garden hose.

    That look, the look of disgust (here it is, modeled using 6 "pseudo-muscles") is meaningful to me because I was once given an extended parent-of-an-autistic-child interview, which took hours to complete, and one of the questions asked was: Does your child display the facial expression of disgust? I vividly recall, to this day, feeling relieved and proud when I realized that Jimmy did indeed have a distinct facial expression of disgust, which came across his features when he saw disgusting things. (Mainly poop, as a matter of fact.)

    So last Thursday my students were saying they hate online learning, and their faces were exhibiting disgust.

    Where there's smoke there's fire: where 3-out-of-3 students inside one classroom express vocal dislike of online learning, there are more. Many more, no doubt.

    Why is no one listening to these kids?

    That is a rhetorical question.

    No one in the public school establishment ever listens to kids. Their misery in 'traditional' classes is simply assumed, and their future pleasure in flipped classrooms is assumed, too.

    what's to like about Khan

    from the same article:
    Khan Academy, for its part, teamed up last year with the Los Altos, Calif., school district to launch a pilot of the model. In it, students in grades 5-8 use Khan-produced online lectures as part of their math curriculum. The pilot has expanded from 150 students in five classrooms last year to 1,000 students in 40 classrooms this year.

    “It’s not just about the kids watching the same lecture the night before. For us, the big piece is having teachers use data to make instructional decisions about their students,” said Alyssa Gallagher, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for the 4,500-student district.

    Courtney Cadwell, who teaches 7th grade math at Eagan Junior High School and serves as a math coach to teachers in Los Altos, agreed that the rapid feedback on her students has been the best part of the model. The Khan program allows teachers to track what videos and individual exercises students spend the most time watching and working through, and how long it takes students to correctly solve 10 problems in a row for any given math concept.

    Last year, as one of the first teachers in the Los Altos pilot, Ms. Cadwell started all of the students in her remediation class on Addition 1, the most basic Khan unit, and asked them to work through all the units at their own pace while she watched using the program’s data-tracking system.

    Students worked through those initial units quickly, but she could see when they hit their “pain points”—sometimes on material covered several grades earlier.

    “In order for me to get that kind of understanding of a student, I would have had to sit down one-on-one and work through problems and see a pattern, which I’m happy to do, but it takes a lot of time,” Ms. Caldwell said. “This confirmed my suspicions and allowed me to remediate much more quickly.”

    “I was able to identify those learning gaps in real time, whether it was from 3rd or 4th or 5th grade, and I was able to remediate and saw those learning gaps begin to disappear,” Ms. Cadwell said.

    Before the start of the pilot, only 23 percent of the 7th grade remediation students were proficient on the state mathematics test, but after the first year, the proficiency rate climbed to more than 40 percent, according to district data.

    “The math class that they dreaded became something they really loved,” Ms. Caldwell said.
    Lectures Are Homework in Schools Following Khan Academy Lead By Sarah D. Sparks | Published Online: September 27, 2011
    This is the aspect of "technology" that strikes me as extremely useful: the possibility of immediate, and reasonably accurate, formative assessment of student learning.

    Speaking as a parent and a teacher of college freshmen, I have zero interest in a 'flipped' classroom. I don't think it's going to work, and while I normally avoid making predictions (even in private), in this case I have no qualms:
    I PREDICT: The flipped classroom - hot! hot! hot! - is going to be yet another edu-flop taking its place in a 100-year parade of edu-flops. 100 years and counting.

    COROLLARY: the flipped classroom is looking to be a big, bold, and brassy flop if everyone piles on before we have any indication whatsoever that a flipped classroom actually works. I.e.: before we have any indication that a) kids will actually watch the videos, and b) if they do watch, whether they actually learn anything.
    The assessment question is different, I think. As a teacher (and a parent) I have a near-desperate need for more information on what students know and don't know -- and acquiring that information is easier said than done. I can easily imagine the Khan site (or any similar site) being an enormous help -- so much so, that I'm planning an 'online component' for my course next fall. (Though, again, we'll see whether my students can - or will - manage it. That is a subject for another post.)

    Meanwhile C. is taking a physics course in which the teacher seems to have actually made "technology" work, also a subject for a separate post.

    Monday, December 19, 2011

    Flipping the Classroom: Hot! Hot! Hot!

    Susan Kramer watched her packed 10th grade biology class weave through rows of desks, pretending to be proteins and picking up plastic-bead “carbohydrates” and goofy “phosphate” hats as they navigated their “cell.” As they went, they explained how the cell’s interior system works.

    It’s the kind of activity her students love....
    Lectures Are Homework in Schools Following Khan Academy Lead by Sarah D. Sparks | Education Week | September 27, 2011
    10th grade?


    They're 15 years old and they love weaving through rows of desks pretending to be proteins and picking up plastic-bead carbohydrates and goofy phosphate hats as they navigate their cell?


    Granted, Flipping the Classroom is Hot! Hot! Hot!. But still.

    Sunday, December 18, 2011

    Christopher Hitchens, RIP

    Ross Douthat on "The Believer's Atheist":
    But in the world of journalism, among his peers and competitors and sparring partners, it was nearly impossible to find a religious person who didn’t have a soft spot for a man who famously accused faith of poisoning absolutely everything.

    Intellectually minded Christians, in particular, had a habit of talking about Hitchens as though he were one of them already — a convert in the making, whose furious broadsides against God were just the prelude to an inevitable reconciliation. (Or as a fellow Catholic once murmured to me: “He just protests a bit too much, don’t you think?”) This is not a sentiment that was often expressed about Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, or any other member of the New Atheist tribe. But where Hitchens was concerned, no insult he hurled or blasphemy he uttered could shake the almost-filial connection that many Christians felt for him.

    Some of this reflected his immense personal charm, his willingness to debate with Baptists and drink with Catholics and be comradely to anyone who took ideas seriously. But there was something deeper at work as well. American Christian intellectual life is sustained today, to a large extent, by the work of writers very much like Hitchens — by essayists and journalists and novelists and poets, from G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis to W. H. Auden and Evelyn Waugh, who shared his English roots, his gift for argument and his abiding humanism.

    Recognizing this affinity, many Christian readers felt that in Hitchens’s case there had somehow been a terrible mix-up, and that a writer who loved the King James Bible and “Brideshead Revisited” surely belonged with them, rather than with the bloodless prophets of a world lit only by Science.

    In this they were mistaken, but not entirely so. At the very least, Hitchens’s antireligious writings carried a whiff of something absent in many of atheism’s less talented apostles — a hint that he was not so much a disbeliever as a rebel, and that his atheism was mostly a political romantic’s attempt to pick a fight with the biggest Tyrant he could find.

    This air of rebellion did not make him a believer, but it lent his blasphemies an air of danger and intrigue, as though he were an agent of the Free French distributing literature deep in Vichy. Certainly he always seemed well aware of the extent to which his writings traded on the unusual frisson of saying “No!” to a supposedly nonexistent being.
    New York Times | December 17, 2011
    And here is Ian McEwan: Christopher Hitchens, Consummate Writer, Brilliant Friend

    Friday, December 16, 2011


    from Don Stewart: Preface to the Third Edition - Notes Toward a New Rhetoric by Francis Christensen and Bonniejean Christensen:
    I first asked [Bonniejean] to tell me about the research that her husband, a professor at the University of Southern California, had done that led him to discover the secrets of the world's great authors. She first had me conjure up in my mind an image of the classic English professor's study, lined from floor to ceiling with book shelves containing volumes of all sorts of writing, both fiction and nonfiction. In the middle of the room was a large mahogany table, and on that table stood dozens of glass canning jars, each with a label taped to it displaying the name of a particular grammatical construction and its placement in the sentence: participial phrase in initial position, adverb clause in medial position, absolute phrase in final position. In front of those soldier-like jars was a pile of coffee beans. Whenever he could capture a moment between classes or late at night, Francis would pull a book from the shelf, open to his bookmark, and read -- very carefully. Sentence by sentence. If the sentence began with an adverb clause, he picked up a coffee bean and dropped it into the jar labeled "Adverb Clause in Initial Position." He watched the jars as they filled up with beans, and at the end of each week he would pour out each jar's contents and count. He recorded the results and made charts that showed what types of grammatical elements these authors used, where they placed them, and how often each grammatical unit occurred. And from this most primitive of bean counting he discovered the answer to that most mysterious of questions, How do writers write?
    Reading this passage, I recalled a Grade 5 data-collection project from Math Trailblazers:

    So I'm thinking ... if you want 5th grade students to collect data, which apparently you do, why not have them collect data on number of participial phrases, adverb clauses, and absolute phrases and their positions in the sentences of professional writers? That would be interdisciplinary

    First we'd have to tell them what participial phrases, adverb clauses, and absolute phrases are, of course.

    Someone would have to tell the teachers, too. I myself had never heard of these things until two years ago, when I started teaching composition at my local college. 

    Today I have a reasonably firm grasp of participial phrases and adverb clauses. (Reasonably). 

    Still working on absolutes.

    No idea what contemporary linguistics thinks of these entities. It appears I have to acquire the old, outdated knowledge along with the new, updated knowledge in order to know what I'm doing inside the classroom.

    Thursday, December 15, 2011

    'Writing, writing, writing' - a skill lacking among too many college graduates

    Jeff Selingo wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Ed about what he learned from employers who are having a difficult time finding qualified employees to hire among recent college graduates.  This was just one problem he found.
    Writing, writing, writing. We keep throwing around the word “skills,” but it seems the one skill that almost every job requires is the ability to write well, and too many graduates are lacking in that area. That’s where many of the recruiters were quick to let colleges off the hook, for the most part. Students are supposed to learn to write in elementary and secondary school. They’re not forgetting how to write in college. It’s clear they’re not learning basic grammar, usage, and style in K-12.
    Why are students not learning to write before they get to college?  Maybe a different type of writing instruction is needed?

    (Cross-posted at Cost of College)

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    Absent Teachers

    This is getting to be a real big issue with me. What are typical contract rules about this? My son has soooooo many substitute teachers. Nothing happens in those classes. His teachers talk of dire consequences for students who miss school without following protocol and keeping up to date. Some of the rules are draconian. You even have to come after school to make up gym or you will get a zero for that day.

    I just got an email from my son (he got it out during advisory) saying that his English teacher is not in today. This is the teacher who doesn't put any explanation on homework or exams and expects students to come in after school to get any sort of feedback or explanation. You have to sign up for this meeting, and if you fail to come, he will add a zero into your grades. I'm not making this up. My son was emailing me because I had to pick him up from school after one of these scheduled meetings. The teacher and school don't care that getting normal feedback on tests requires special transportation. I don't know what they expect from parents who work far away.

    And in precalc, they are on their third teacher while the regular teacher is on long-term leave. The latest teacher was complaining that her stay was longer than anticipated and that, in effect, she was not prepared and had no lesson plans. This was in response to students' questions that she couldn't answer or had answered wrong. That was her excuse to the students.

    Monday, December 12, 2011

    SAT - For those still interested

    This is something I meant to post before. It's the relationship between the raw score and the SAT score for the May 2011 SAT. It demonstrates how much your SAT score will drop with each error.

    54 - 800 No errors or skipped problems.
    53 - 790 One strike (error).
    52 - 760 Two strikes.
    51 - 740 You can’t get here for most cases. You round down.
    50 - 720 Three strikes - this error drops you 40 points.
    49 - 710
    48 - 700
    47 - 680

    For the Student-Produced Response section, you don't get the extra quarter point penalty for a wrong answer and the rounding jump is delayed. Skipped problems will also cause a delay in the rounding jump. However, at some points the roundings kick in. It's a real killer in the 700 range.

    Sunday, December 11, 2011

    More posts up on Kerrigan 'Writing to the Point'

    I've completed two more assignments in my project to work my way through the Kerrigan Writing to the Point method of writing instruction.
    I continue to appreciate how the Kerrigan method teaches writing by systematically moving through a hierarchy of skills.

    Here's my original post in this series.

    Thursday, December 8, 2011

    Schools find Khan Academy works better than group learning

    More schools are trying Khan Academy videos in their classrooms, and initial results look promising.  But when you start with an instructional method that includes lots of time-consuming group work, maybe almost anything else will work better.  Here's how it's going at one school.
    In the past, math class at the Summit schools was always hands-on: the class worked on a problem, usually in small groups, sometimes for days at a time. But getting an entire class of ninth graders to master the fundamentals of math was never easy. Without those, the higher-level conceptual exercises were impossible.
    They found that Khan Academy did a better job.  Not too surprising to me.

    You can read more at Cost of College.

    Monday, December 5, 2011

    SAFMEDS instructions

    SAFMEDS = Say All Fast a Minute Each Day

    SAFMEDS on the web

    The best set of directions I've seen so far: SAFMEDS cards: Instructions - begins with the words: "I’m going to show you a method that will make it easier to learn the NEW terms (i.e., facts or rules) contained in the CLM Course of Study."

    Is Fluency Free-Operant Response-Response Chaining? by Ogden R. Lindsley - inventor of SAFMEDS; explains the rationale

    Ogden R Lindsley and the History of Precision Teaching

    update: Youtube video explaining SAFMEDS -- and, about 6 minutes in, celeration charts

    Sunday, December 4, 2011

    Help Desk - Best online flash cards

    Any suggestions on the best websites for using and/or creating online flashcards for a Spanish language course?  There seem to be so many.

    from the archives: grading student writing

    from 2009:
    Students have long believed (on good evidence) that if the same paper is submitted to two teachers in two different sections of the same course, the paper is likely to receive two very different grades. In 1961, Paul Diederich and his colleagues proved that this student belief is no myth. When 30 student papers were graded by fifty-three graders (a total of 15,900 readings), more than one third of the papers received every possible grade. That is, 101 of the 300 papers received all nine grades: A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, C-, and D. Diederich also reported that

    94 percent [of the papers] received either seven, eight or nine different grades; and no essay received less than five different grades from fifty-three readers. Even when the raters were experienced teachers, the grades given to the papers by the different raters never attained a correlation greater than .40. Diederich, P.B., French, J.W., and Carlton, S.T. "Factors in judgments of writing ability." Research Bulletin RB-61-15. Princeton, N.J.: Educational Testing Service, 60 pp.
    The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them
    E. D. Hirsch

    palisadesk on inclusion issues

    Part 1
    Part 2


    in the Times today:
    Great things were expected of him. His math teacher at Greenwich High School in Connecticut, Stephen Willoughby, now a retiree in Tucson, Ariz., says he was a math prodigy. “I always expected Chris would win a Nobel. I just wasn’t sure what field it would be.”

    Mr. Sims’s classmates voted him most likely to succeed. “In a class of intelligent people, he was exceptional,” says Joyce Tracksler, a high school friend who is now a mystery writer in Kittery Point, Me.

    His parents were exceptional, too. His father, Albert, was a diplomat, and young Chris lived in Germany a few years as a child. The family later moved to the Washington suburbs before settling in Greenwich. His father became an executive at the Institute of International Education and at the College Entrance Examination Board in New York. During the Kennedy administration, he helped start the Peace Corps.

    Because of his father’s College Board connections, Mr. Sims got hold of an old SAT exam, which he and Mr. Willoughby used to conduct a statistical analysis. They found that on multiple-choice questions in English and social studies, the “longer answers tended to be correct.” In math, they determined that the number that was “closest to all of the other numerical choices” was probably the right one. Mr. Willoughby says Mr. Sims got perfect scores on SATs, and his teacher assumed that the young man would later “do something involving math, statistics and probability.”
    Good Morning. You're Nobel Laureates by Jeff Sommer | December 3, 2011

    Friday, December 2, 2011

    STEM careers and the small liberal arts college

    I've just come across a passage that is relevant to this exchange between Mark R anonymous. and ChemProf:

    Mark anonymous:
    With STEM degrees and with physics undergraduate degrees in particular I'd be a little wary of the large research institutions. As an example Cal (UC Berkeley) is the top rated graduate school in chemistry but I sure wouldn't send my kids there as undergraduates with the 500 person classrooms taught by grad students with three weeks of training.

    There are a few top notch undergraduate-centered places (Harvey Mudd leaps to mind) but failing getting into there I think there's a lot to be said for finding a strong 2nd tier liberal arts college with one or two solid STEM departments that are actually doing some research as well as teaching. Strong students get lots of attention and opportunities as well as stronger and more personal letters of recommendation.
    I was one of those chem grad students at Cal, and we got two days of training. But yeah, for STEM and given the current economic environment, I'd suggest looking at second tier liberal arts colleges and see what scholarship money was out there, as well as which departments have a strong history. It does take a little more searching, but there are some gems. I used to think it was a problem to be the big fish in a little pond, but at least for now, that seems to be a good strategy for students.
    from Liberal Arts Colleges in American Higher Education: Challenges and Opportunities (pdf file):
    Liberal arts colleges have produced disproportionate numbers of career scientists, as the surveys conducted by Oberlin and Franklin & Marshall Colleges have shown over the years. This fact alone ought to be grounds for enormous federal investment in small colleges. What has not been as obvious has been the role of less well known liberal arts colleges in meeting the national need for scientists. For example, Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania has a biology department that in 1985 consisted of six faculty members and 73 majors. Now it has nine faculty members and 195 majors. Elon University in North Carolina has steadily increased the number of mathematics majors, with two (of 10) majors going to graduate school in math in the year 2000, three (of nine) going to graduate school in 2001, four (of 12) in 2002, and eight (of 12) in 2003. Hendrix College in Arkansas ranks 24th in the nation in the number of its graduates per total enrollment who have received Ph.D.s in chemistry. Most dramatic may be Whitworth College in Washington State, which has increased the number of physics majors by almost 400 percent in five years, from 11 in 1997 to 41 in 2002.
    I happen to know about these lesser-known liberal arts colleges that are doing such a good job of producing career scientists because the Council of Independent Colleges has, for the past three years, run a prize program that recognizes outstanding achievement in undergraduate science education. What has been interesting about the applicant pool for these Heuer Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Undergraduate Science Education (as they are called) is that only five out of the 60 institutions that were nominated in 2002 and eight out of the 47 institutions nominated in 2003 had enrollment of over 3,000 students. Almost all of the institutions that have good reason to believe that they are making significant contributions to society’s need for high-quality career scientists are very small.

    Richard Ekman, "Selective and Non-Selective Alike: An Argument for the Superior Educational Effectiveness of Smaller Liberal Arts Colleges" in American Council of Learned Societies, ACLS OCCASIONAL PAPER, No. 59.

    what is curriculum support specialist, please?

    I was sitting here on the sofa going through ancient Education Weeks when I heard Pat Sajak introduce a contestant as "a curriculum support specialist."

    "A curriculum support specialist," he said. "What is that?"

    answer: "It's a teacher that goes into the classroom to support the curriculum and other teachers."

    Who says times are hard? Back in the real Depression, curriculums and teachers didn't have support! Curriculums and teachers had to make do with a principal, a superintendent, and the occasional school nurse.

    How fortunate we are today, here with our civilian employment ratio of zilch.


    I spoke too soon.

    The curriculum support specialist just went bankrupt.

    another question

    Thanks SO much for the comments on teaching students how to distribute a negative -- I can't tell you how much I appreciate your taking the time.

    You are all good deed doers!

    Unfortunately, I haven't actually read all you've written.

    I was in the midst of reading when I had to break off mid-stride, load Andrew into the car, and drive the two of us around a sketchy part of Yonkers* for one hourafter dark (not a lot of street lights in Yonkers, not a lot of street signs, either), with cars honking at us and drivers yelling out their windows (RUDE DRIVERS IN SKETCHY YONKERS!) searching for and not finding ARC,* where we had an appointment to try and get Andrew's weekend aide hired because the agency she's been working for is kaput. Ed called the guy who runs it and reported back that the owner had been 'vague' as to what has transpired. Distressing, because we thought the world of the guy, and so did everyone who worked for him, it seemed.

    Anyway: Mission Not Accomplished.

    Next time I am going to ask Garmin to take me to 265 Saw Mill River Road in Hawthorne. We'll see how that goes.

    No time to read this morning, either, as I am attending a two-hour workshop at my local college on how to pass the course I teach. My college gives exit exams to students taking the remedial courses, which I think is a great idea. The workshop is for students, not teachers, but still. I figure I'll attend and find out what it is they think I'm teaching.

    Then, if it just so happens that I am somehow not teaching what it is they think I'm teaching, I'm going to start teaching it right away.

    For the moment, I have a quick follow-up question: what do you think of I discovered last night that yourteacher has an algebra app (update: a pre-algebra app, too!) Fifty bucks, but I'm seriously considering springing for it. I'm not experienced enough to be teaching the distributive property on the fly.

    * No numbers on the buildings and a paucity of signs announcing who was inside or why: a neighborhood in which a number of the local establishments appeared to have concluded that it makes good business sense not to advertise their whereabouts or even their existence. Curious! Question: what kind of enterprise is housed in a run-down, low-rise office building with a dozen shiny late-model cars crammed together outdoors beneath an oversized carport? I spoke with the two proprietors, who came outside to ask me what I wanted (I wanted directions), and wish now I had asked what they wanted. 

    Thursday, December 1, 2011

    The Day of Reckoning, brought to us from India

    Together, the rise of Reform Math, the reduction in ability-based grouping and AP classes, the demise of the close reading and the analytical essay (see also this), and the growing rarity of instruction in the finer points of English grammar and sentence construction, have caused current and future American high school graduates to be decreasingly prepared for college. As more and more American college students display skills in math, writing, and reading comprehension that are way below expectations (ending up, even in some of the more selective colleges, in remedial math and writing classes), college admissions committees are increasingly looking abroad.

    While much of the news about overseas applicants centers on China, with its thousands of Ivy League-aspiring applicants and their glossy, high-production value applications (and the growing suspicion that a fair amount of cheating is involved), it's India, I predict, that will bring to the American K12 education system the day of reckoning that we so desperately need it to have. First, unlike their Chinese counterparts, college applicants from India face no linguistic barriers; many speak and write a much more eloquent English than American (and even British) students do. Second, there are apparently tons of extremely well-qualified Indian applicants pinning their hopes on America's top colleges.

    Indeed, as an October New York Times article inadvertently suggests, the Day of Reckoning may be close at hand:
    Moulshri Mohan was an excellent student at one of the top private high schools in New Delhi. When she applied to colleges, she received scholarship offers of $20,000 from Dartmouth and $15,000 from Smith. Her pile of acceptance letters would have made any ambitious teenager smile: Cornell, Bryn Mawr, Duke, Wesleyan, Barnard and the University of Virginia.

    But because of her 93.5 percent cumulative score on her final high school examinations, which are the sole criteria for admission to most colleges here, Ms. Mohan was rejected by the top colleges at Delhi University, better known as D.U., her family’s first choice and one of India’s top schools.

    Ms. Mohan, 18, is now one of a surging number of Indian students attending American colleges and universities, as competition in India has grown formidable, even for the best students. With about half of India’s 1.2 billion people under the age of 25, and with the ranks of the middle class swelling, the country’s handful of highly selective universities are overwhelmed.
    True, another reason--indeed, the only reason mentioned in the Times article--why American recruiters are seizing on this opportunity is because so many of the crème de la crème of overseas students are wealthy enough to pay full tuition, unlike many of their American counterparts. But it also helps that the K12 schools they attend aren't using Reform Math, aren't renouncing ability-based grouping, and aren't failing to provide college prep classes that are truly college preparatory. Indeed, if it were primarily her parents' pocket books that make Moulshri Mohan so attractive to Dartmouth and Smith, why are they offering her so many thousands of dollars of scholarship money?

    So here are my dire predictions. In the next ten years, as the effects of Reform Math continue to percolate up the American school system, and as the number of highly qualified Indian students continues to outpace the numbers of spots at the best Indian universities, there will be a the growing displacement of American students by Indian students. Only then will a large enough proportion of the Powers that Be start realizing how urgent it is to enact actual education reform--reform, that is, that reverses the century's-long tide that has pushed our K12 schools further and further away from what's happening in the most successful school systems overseas.

    (Cross-posted at Out In Left Field)

    Wednesday, November 30, 2011

    help desk - 'distributing the negative'

    I'm working with a boy in a neighboring town who can solve equations with positive values like the following:
    3 + 2(x + y) = 9
    He is having difficulty solving equations that require him to distribute a negative:
    3 - 2(x + y) = -3
    I remember C. having trouble distributing a negative, and I remember stumbling over minus signs myself when I was a kid. At some point, I solved my problems by deciding to treat minus signs as either a -1 or the addition of a negative, depending on the expression I was dealing with.

    Thus -x became (-1)(x) and x-8 became x + (-8).

    I don't think anyone ever told me to translate expressions in this manner. Quite the contrary; I have vague memories of reasoning it out for myself on more than one occasion.

    Here's the way a sheet I have from Glencoe says to teach distribution of the negative:
    Use the Distributive Property to write each expression as an equivalent algebraic

    a. 3(w – 7)
    = 3[w + (-7)] Rewrite w – 7 as w + (-7).
    = 3w + 3(-7) Distributive Property
    = 3w + (-21) Simplify.
    = 3w – 21 Definition of subtraction
    Unfortunately, this sequence doesn't solve the problem. My student can simplify 3(w-7); what he can't do is simplify 3–2(x+y).

    Today I tried having him draw huge brackets around 2(x+y), then simplify the 2(x+y), and then simplify the remaining expression:
    In effect, I was turning the problem into two distributions: first the 2, then the negative sign.

    This approach always worked for me, but the logic of it wasn't obvious to my student.

    One more thing: this student probably had Everyday Math in elementary school, and his current class seems to be intensely procedural. The only textbook his teachers are using seems to be a NY state test prep book.

    I'm eager to hear any thoughts you have both about procedural teaching (including mnemonics) and about how I might help this student make some sense of the math he's learning. Moreover, and I hate to say this, but if I'm going to help him make some sense of it, I have to do it on the fly. Our time together is extremely limited.

    If anyone knows of a good set of "instructional worksheets," that would be fantastic. I'm combing through my own collection.

    Last but not least, what do you think of this video?

    ture and flase

    In the thread on reading kcab and the SAT, Glen writes:
    As a child, my bête noire was always true-false tests. The more details you know about a topic, the more likely you are to see every answer as, "well, yes and no." True or False: Lincoln was well-educated? Well, he had very limited formal education, which the teacher mentioned and which is what people today tend to mean when they say "educated," so maybe she wants me to say false. But he had extensive self-education, which she also mentioned, and this may be a trap where she's going to argue, "No, education doesn't have to mean formal education, and I told you he was self-educated" which would make it true. But if I answer true, she'll end up marking it wrong and telling me, "Oh, come on, you know what I mean by 'educated'", and someone will tell me--they always do--to stop "overthinking" it. What does "overthinking" mean? Does it mean that answering correctly requires answering as if I knew less? How much less?

    And what does "true" mean? Does it mean 100% true? In formal (binary) logic, something that is mostly true is false. So, on a true-false test, if something is mostly true, is it true or false?

    Those %#$@ true-false tests drove me nuts.
    I'm laughing!

    Glen's story calls to mind my first year freshman rhetoric at the University of Iowa. I was young and wide-eyed.

    I was so young and wide-eyed that I vividly recall to this day my shock at one of the older T.A.s* telling a group of us that his students so often misspelled "true" and "false" on true/false tests that he had once required everyone in the class to write "ture" and "flase"(which he pronounced "flace") instead of true and false.

    Later on, he became my boyfriend, but I don't think the ture-flase episode had anything to do with it.

    * I'm pretty sure there's supposed to be an apostrophe after "T.A.s," but I don't like an apostrophe after T.A.s, so I'm not putting on in.

    Tuesday, November 29, 2011

    Charles Murray on abolishing the SAT

    Murray writes:
    For most high school students who want to attend an elite college, the SAT is more than a test. It is one of life's landmarks. Waiting for the scores--one for Verbal, one for Math, and now one for Writing, with a posible 800 on each--is painfully suspenseful. The exact scores scores are commonly remembered forever after. So it has been for half a century. But events of recent years have challenged the SAt's position. In 2001, Richard Atkinson (2001), president of the University of California, proposed dropping the SAT as a requirement for admission. More and more prestigious small colleges, such as Middlebury and Bennington, are making the SAT optional. The charge that the SAT is slanted in favor of privileged students--"a wealth test," as Harvard law professor Lani Guinier calls it--has been ubiquitous (Zwick, 2004).

    I have watched the attacks on the SAT with dismay. Back in 1961, the test helped get me into Harvard from a small Iowa town by giving me a way to show that I could compete with applicants from Exeter and Andover. Ever since, I have seen the SAT as the friend of the little guy, just as James Bryant Conant, president of Harvard, said it would be when he urged the SAT upon the nation in the 1940s.

    Conant's cause was as unambiguously liberal in the 1940s as income redistribution is today. Then, America's elite colleges drew most of their students from a small set of elite secondary schools, concentrated in the northeastern United States, to which America's wealthy sent their children. The mission of the SAT was to identiy intellectual talent regardless of race, color, creed, money, or geography, and give that talent a chance to blowwom. Students from small towns and from poor neighborhoods in big cities were supposed to benefit--as I thought I did, and as many others think they did. But data trump gratitude. The evidence has become overwhelming that the SAT no longer serves a democratizing purpose. Worse, events have conspired to make the SAT a negative force in American life. And so I find myself arguing that the SAT should be abolished. Not just deemphasized, but no longer administered. Nothing important would be lost by so doing. Much would be gained.

    Murray, Charles. (2011). Abolishing the SAT. In Soares, Joseph A. (Ed.), SAT Wars: The Case for Test-Optional College Admissions (pp. 69-81). New York: Teachers College Press.