kitchen table math, the sequel: 4/24/11 - 5/1/11

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The opposition

The Wall Street Journal has an op ed on Race to Nowhere today:
Directed by parent and first-time filmmaker Vicki Abeles, "Race to Nowhere" is marketed through a kind of partnership with local schools. The film suggests that if there are problems in American education, they are largely due to standardized tests, overambitious parents, insufficient funding, and George W. Bush. It also offers possible solutions, which include abandoning testing and grading and giving teachers more autonomy. 


Parents in New Jersey suburbs have received numerous emails about the film and its upcoming show times from parent-teacher associations. Ms. Abeles and the schools split the revenue from ticket sales, but the director told the crowd in Bergen County that she is holding off on a DVD retail release while she explores a possible broadcast on PBS. She also said she is moving full speed ahead to hire companies in Washington to lobby for policy changes suggested in the film.


Ms. Abeles argues that U.S. education is focused too much on giving kids "things to memorize and regurgitate," instead of developing the critical thinking skills that will be most useful in solving problems and thriving later in life.

Jeanne Allen, who leads the Center for Education Reform in Washington, reports that her sister back in Bergen County is one of those Jersey parents receiving a blizzard of email pitches to see the movie. Ms. Allen says that if U.S. tests are flawed it is because they demand that kids memorize too few facts, not too many. "You can't teach critical thinking," she says. She argues that kids cannot possibly develop problem-solving skills without a base of knowledge. How can one analyze a piece of literature, she asks, without knowing any vocabulary? Can students solve math problems without being able to multiply and divide?

Whether Ms. Abeles is ultimately advocating necessary reform or simply the latest educational fad, anything that changes the subject from unfunded pension liabilities is probably good news for the New Jersey teachers union. But that doesn't mean all the state's teachers will be thrilled if Ms. Abeles is successful.

Some of the most passionate advocates for rote memorization of critical facts can be found among the faculty in New Jersey public schools, a state that has traditionally scored highly on the standardized tests that may be going out of fashion. To put it another way, New Jersey may have more to lose from another nationwide shift in educational policy than states that are consistently ranked near the bottom.

Do American Students Study Too Hard?
APRIL 30, 2011
...she is moving full speed ahead to hire companies in Washington to lobby for policy changes suggested in the film...

Well, more power to her - but what about parents and teachers who like memorization and standardized tests?

We're out of luck.

For me, this is further evidence that we simply must have choice. Let the teachers and parents who want critical thinking without memorization have critical thinking without memorization.

Let the teachers and parents who want memorization and knowledge have memorization and knowledge.

critical thinking without content

In a recent comments thread, I mentioned visiting a Cambridge Pre-U Global Perspectives class at a local high school. The teacher and principal told us proudly that the class was "not content-rich." That was the selling point. Not content-rich.

All of the other courses the school offered, they said, were content-rich. This was a bad thing. In the content-rich classes, they said, students memorized but did not think. In Global Perspectives, students engaged in "critical thinking" and did not memorize.

So what happens in a class that is content-poor?

Students Google op-eds and feature stories and look for "bias."

For me, the idea of spending a year and a half (the course consumed 3 semesters and replaced English) Googling op-eds and looking for bias is almost unspeakably drear: not enough to keep the mind alive.

But the principal loved it, and the two team teachers loved it, and the other parent in our group loved it.

So let them create and attend the schools they believe in, and let the rest of us create and attend the schools we believe in.

Live and let live.

Critical Thinking: Why Is It So Hard to Teach? (pdf file)
Dan Willingham

SAT resources

at Perfect Score Project

Friday, April 29, 2011

in the land of steady habits

(I learned the phrase "land of steady habits" from LG)
A math teacher, José Rios, used to take a day or two on probabilities, drawing bell-shaped curves on the blackboard to illustrate the pattern known as normal distribution. This year, he stretched the lesson by a day and had students work in groups to try to draw the same type of graphic using the heights of the 15 boys in the class.

“Eventually, they figured out they couldn’t because the sample was too small,” Mr. Rios said. “They learned that the size of the sample matters, and I didn’t have to tell them.”

In three years, instruction in most of the country could look a lot like what is going on at Hillcrest, one of 100 schools in New York City experimenting with new curriculum standards known as the common core.

Forty-two states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands have signed on to the new standards, an ambitious set of goals that go beyond reading lists and math formulas to try to raise the bar not only on what students in every grade are expected to learn, but also on how teachers are expected to teach.

A Trial Run for School Standards That Encourage Deeper Thought
New York Times April 24, 2011
I don't recall the Common Core standards "expecting" teachers to spend three days teaching what they used to teach in one or two.

Unless I'm missing something, which I could be.

Richard Elmore on time

chemprof on college curriculum

on the subject of college professors writing curriculum:
[F]aculty in the sciences do develop curriculum in that they set the topic order and that they often ignore the textbook's order (I think the order in most Gen Chem books is awful, as an example).

However, for a lot of classes, there is a national curriculum or at least a consensus in the field. Someone who taught a class called general chemistry who decided to skip stoichiometry or gas laws would be doing his/her students a serious disservice, as would someone who decided to skip kinematics in physics. That may not be as true in upper division classes, though, where there is often less agreement about exactly what needs to be taught.

portfolio districts

Jal Mehta writes at Education Week:
I see three reasons to support a portfolio district type model, whereby schools are freed from many top down regulations, parents are given choice across public schools, and the role of the district and state is to support this system of schools rather than to run a school system.
Mehta cites Mapleton Public Schools as a portfolio district. Looks like they've got at least one "back to basics" school.

A friend tells me that Louisville, Kentucky had a portfolio system in the 1960s.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Why Connecticut Schools are Lagging

Throwing Curves has a new post on Why Connecticut Schools are Lagging. For those of us that follow CT education policy, this comes as no surprise. Still, it is nice to see new news sources picking up on what we've know so long.

Tiger Mothering on the Daily Show

In case you missed it. Enjoy and don't forget your chopsticks.

Michael Goldstein on teacher choice and micro-schools

terrific post by Michael Goldstein on teacher choice: teacher choice in the sense of teachers making choices

I like the idea of micro-schools especially:
Those who want to cut loose administration entirely, and run their own "micro-charter" -- which could be as small as two teachers and, say, 40 kids. Let's make up some numbers. A number of large cities spend $15,000 per student per year, and often allocate charter schools 20% less. So let's work with a number like 40 kids * $12,000 = $480,000 annual budget.

If two skilled buddy teachers chose to run their own little "log cabin school," they would: pay an organization to manage the "back office" stuff (everything from insurance to payroll to inspections to compliance); rent two single classrooms from a church; buy supplies and books and computers off Amazon; maybe snag a couple of student teachers from a nearby college; and perhaps pay themselves $100,000 per year.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

a fact you might interesting

The Singaporean general elections are going to be held 7 May 2011. The Opposition is contesting every seat except 5 seats in Tanjong Pagar GRC (there are 87 total) because the Elections Department, a subset of the Prime Minister's Office, disqualified the Opposition for being 35 seconds late [the team had to raise the minimum funds on short notice].

Friends from Singapore who study at my school who I thought were apathetic (because they were rich, well-off, finance students who celebrated the good life) have been surprisingly energised. People I long thought would never care about democracy and political progress are now chatting excitedly. Long-standing ministers from the PAP, used to no-contest elections or easy victories, may be facing some of the hottest political contests of their careers.

Friendships are being forged across the country and across the internet. The Opposition coalition holds a wide array of parties (SDA, SDP, WP, RP, etc.) working together. My friends and their friends, either going into or are who already have been in fields such as law, journalism, finance and the like -- previously reliably supported the PAP, or previously did not get to vote at all due to election walkovers.

thank you facebook, I guess?

When this all ends, the Opposition better have more than two elected seats. (The number of seats it had last election.)

deliberate practice

Debbie Stier just pointed me to this terrific passage on the nature of deliberate practice:
What separates experts from the rest of us is that they tend to engage in a very directed, highly focused routine, which Ericcson has labeled "deliberate practice." Having studied the best of the best in many different fields, he has found that top achievers tend to follow the same general pattern of development. They develop strategies for consciously keeping out of the autonomous stage while they practice by doing three things: focusing on their technique, staying goal-oriented, and getting constant and immediate feedback on their performance. In other words, they force themselves to stay in the "cognitive phase."

Amateur musicians, for example, are more likely to spend their practice time playing music, whereas pros are more likely to work through tedious exercises or focus on specific, difficult parts of pieces. The best ice skaters spend more of their practice time trying jumps that they land less often, while lesser skaters work more on jumps they've already mastered. Deliberate practice, by its nature, must be hard.

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything
by Joshua Foer

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything

The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance (pdf file)
K. Anders Ericsson
Psychological Review 1993, Vol. 100, No. 3. 363-406

Monday, April 25, 2011

gone fishing

We're visiting SUNY Binghamton tomorrow.

Back Wednesday!

A really bad idea I hadn't heard of

In today's Wall Street Journal:
Assemblywoman Nancy Calhoun, a Republican of Orange County, introduced a measure mandating that school textbooks of all subjects be authored by current or former New York schoolteachers. The bill memo says that such a law would help "provide equal and balanced learning opportunities for K-12 students" and cut down textbook costs by up to 80%.

No Elephant in the Room With These Laws
by Jacob Gershman
APRIL 25, 2011
A law that would actually make it illegal for New York school districts to adopt Singapore Math.

Or any textbook written by an actual mathematician.

fun SAT Question of the Day

What is the largest possible integer value of n for which 5n divides 507?

(A) 2
(B) 7
(C) 9
(D) 10
(E) 14

Sunday, April 24, 2011

help desk - probability

from Art of Problem Solving Introduction to Counting and Probability by David Patrick, p. 128:
8.2.4 A penny, nickel, and dime are simultaneously flipped. What is the probability that heads are showing on at least 6¢ worth of coins?
I can do this by brute force, but I don't see the math.