Tuesday, July 15, 2014

50-cent solution to Car Seat Deaths

The Weather Channel has been making noise about kids left in carseats and dying from the heat ... an admirable cause, to be sure.  They had a short segment in which they talked to some people, ran a clip about some parent who forgot, and then tossed off an industry statement that "Monitoring the back seat for infants would be 'too costly'."

That is utter trash.

$0.50 and a bit of programming would knock down the rates by at least a half.

You know that beep that you get if your keys are in the ignition when you turn off the car and open the door?  It goes for maybe ten seconds and then the dome light and the beep shuts off.

Here's the Keep Your Child Alive Solution: (edited after first comment)
If the LATCH system has a seat installed, when you turn off the ignition or open the driver's door, a beeper located behind the driver (in the dome light or even further back) goes off for a few seconds. It has to be a distinctive beep and it has to come from *behind* the driver. If the LATCH system cannot have a sensor in it, then place a switch there that turns on the system when the seat is installed. Sure, someone could turn it off, but that would take a direct act.

That's all it would take. Most of these deaths are caused by harried drivers, in a rush, forgetting that their child is in the back because he immediately fell asleep and hasn't made a peep for the last thirty miles. A simple chirping noise from behind or a flashing light on the dash is all that the vast majority of these cases would need.

No child in the back carseat? So what? You still think to check.

You're getting out at the gas station? So what? You hear a chirping noise from the back and you remember he's back there. It will become instinctive for parents to hear the beep, turn and check.

All this BS with reminder cards and BESAFE lists? Useless.  It's not that parents don't care. They are forgetting that their kid is in the back - why would a checklist help?

Putting a stuffed animal in the front seat to remind you? Marginally better, until you have more than one thing in the front seat, or you forget to throw that toy in the front, or your son screams for that EXACT toy and you hand it to him ...

Hanging an air freshener from the mirror? In addition to it being illegal in most states and a bad idea to obscure your vision, this "reminder" is constantly in your field of vision and will quickly be ignored.

The car companies can put in 12 airbags that are linked to the seatbelts and pressure sensitive seat sensors, coupled with instantaneous triggering mechanisms, they have hundreds of computer chips that monitor everything about the engine, they are all furiously installing driver-distraction devices like phone and GPS screens and computer-driven window and climate controls that can't be operated safely while the car is in motion ... I think they can figure this one out, too.

Come on, car people. THINK.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Highly Ineffective Principal: Clerical Error

A certain principal writes a letter for the school yearbook.  In his message, Roosevelt Principal Dr. Steven Strachan tells the graduates how proud he is of them and that they are a class of “great leaders, articulate orators, brilliant scientists, breathtaking athletes and extraordinary artists.”

He plagiarized the message.

Word for word. All of it.

From a principal in CA, uncredited.

But, but, but, but ... he "asked permission to quote"!

Here's the best part:
"I sincerely apologize to the Roosevelt community and to the class of 2014 for the inadvertent clerical error causing mistakes to be printed in the 2014 yearbook. An unedited draft of my remarks was accidentally published rather than the final version, and I take full responsibility for the oversight."
 Clerical error? A clerical error is misspelling the name of the guy you're quoting, or writing that the year is 2041. A clerical error is the yearbook editor rearranging the paragraphs inadvertently. A clerical error does not include you plagiarizing the entire message from another principal and then congratulating the WRONG SENIOR CLASS at the WRONG SCHOOL.
The Roosevelt principal even concluded his message like Barone did, writing, “Congratulations to the Albany High School Class of 2013.”

Blaming your plagiarism on the yearbook editor's "clerical error" is low-class, especially when you phrase it "clerical error causing mistakes to be printed." Passive voice apology fuck-you?

My favorite part of this is that he takes "full responsibility for the oversight." If one of his students did that, suspension would be in order. Nothing is happening to him ... he doesn't even have to pay the piddling amount of money for the reprint: the last line of the piece mentions that the pages are being reprinted with $800 from the "Principal's Discretionary Fund."

In case you're not familiar with public school budgetary BS, that's a slush fund that the principal may use at his discretion. Usually, it's used for things like buying a poor senior her cap and gown, or funding some low-income students tickets to a show that other kids are going to. Maybe supplying the SpecialEd department with some bit of tech that they can't get under normal budgets. Feel-good stuff or charitable-type things.

Educator of the Year.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Daily Schedule, or Why do we do this?

When Amnesty International works to ban a practice in prisons, you might want to rethink doing it in schools.

My school has 1.5 hour blocks separated by 3 minute passing times.  Long ago, I began to tell students that I didn't want to know when or if they were going to the bathroom, just go one at a time and don't dawdle.

"It's none of my business. The pass is right there. Carry it to get yourself past the AP.  I don't need to know why ... TMI, people."

You know what? They go if they need to. But the vast majority doesn't abuse that and class runs just fine.

"I know that sometimes you don't really need to go, but that you need to walk down the stairs, across the building and up the other stairs and then back.  Just realize that when you get back, we will be focused on something and you'll have to pick up the thread quickly. Be ready."

Yes, I admit. That kid in the third row goes every day. He's a wanderer and the AP gets on his case and wants me to restrict his movement, but I refuse. Having him sit and fidget and whine will only distract everyone -- far more than if I just let him go -- and letting him get it out of his system means that he can focus when he returns.

If the situation calls for it, I will ask him directly, "Do you NEED to go? These instructions are important and you'll need to be ready to start this when you get back. Can it wait?"

I don't like it much but it's necessary. 

Admin bitches about tardiness, yet we give them 3 minutes to move two floors and across to a different building. We are told to stand at our doors so we can greet the students but also to monitor the hallway and ensure the kids are moving in an efficient way.

Admin stresses about teaching "bell to bell" -- for 90 goddam minutes -- as if the stresses we put on students don't count. "Teach to the bell" means that kids have to write, think, or be doing something right to the last second, then collect all their stuff, make it down the hall or further, get into the next room and be seated before the tardy bell.

In three minutes?

Why do we torture kids in this fashion?

They have a cup of coffee in the morning to help wake themselves up ... and caffeine is a diuretic. who in their right mind thinks that students will be able to take care of business AND walk to the other building in just three minutes?  Apparently, we do.

At lunch, many will down a 3/4L bottle of Gatorade.

We're all instructed to let the kids drink as much water as they want. We're reminded that 8 cups of water is necessary, so water is the only thing we're all supposed to allow in class -- and many students have a water bottle and the school just installed those nifty water fountain extensions with the reusable bottle filler spout thing.

But you can't go to the bathroom? Does anyone understand how the human body works?

Apparently not.

What brought this up?  Taught by Finland, "For every 45 minutes of classroom instruction in Finland, students are entitled to a 15-minute break. This is guaranteed by law!"

I love this guy. He's an American teacher who moved to Finland and is a teacher there. Well worth reading regularly. What set him off? This Chicago Administrator's note:
In addition to scheduled restroom breaks, students will be given restroom passes to use if they need to use the restroom outside of the scheduled time. Students will be given two restroom passes to use between now and the end of the quarter. They can choose to hold on to them and trade them in for a reward at the end of the quarter. Following these guidelines:

Have students fill in their names as soon as they receive them. Passes are invalid if names are crossed out for another name.

 For the upper grades, students can use one teacher's pass in another classroom, but they still only get the same number of passes per quarter.

 Use a class roster to have student initial next to their name to indicate that they received the passes.

 Have students fill in the "time out" and "time in" and then turn the pass in to the teacher when finished. This will help them practice the [Common Core Standards] of telling time with both digital and analog clocks.

 Promote the benefit of not using the passes by reminding students that rewards will be given for left over passes at the end of the quarter.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Teacher Preparation in the US

from Pasi Sahlberg
In the United States, for example, there are more than 1,500 different teacher-preparation programs. The range in quality is wide. In Singapore and Finland only one academically rigorous teacher education program is available for those who desire to become teachers. Likewise, neither Canada nor South Korea has fast-track options into teaching, such as Teach for America or Teach First in Europe. Teacher quality in high-performing countries is a result of careful quality control at entry into teaching rather than measuring teacher effectiveness in service.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Questions for your 1:1 Initiative.

Although I suspect that a great deal of planning has gone into this initiative already, here are 10 important questions that parents should ask—and that school administrators should be able to answer.
  • What are the initiative's teaching and learning goals, and how will those goals be measured? Too many technology initiatives start with the technology, not the instructional goals. Clearly defined objectives should drive the choice of device being used. For example, if schools want students to read e-books, the screens and applications should support this use. In the planning stages of the project, the district should also determine how it will measure progress toward its stated goals, so that it will be able to answer the question, "What have we received for our money, time, and effort?"
 We went for the keyboard, low cost, natural integration with the Google suite ... Chromebook. After an initial bad phase of damaged hardware, it's evened out. Curriculum, teaching goals, measurement -- eh, not so much.
  • What training is in place for the teaching staff? Professional development is key to the success of any 1:1 initiative. The major shortcomings of most 1:1 professional development efforts are that they offer too little, too late—and focus too much on the device instead of on the pedagogy required for its effective use.
Damn little in our district. It's been hit or miss and mostly miss. Fortunately, there are a few people willing to train each other but that is an uneasy way to do this.
  • Is there a digital citizenship curriculum in place? Of utmost importance to many parents is their children's online safety. Schools can address this need by having a good plan in place to help students learn to use technology appropriately. Supplement the plan with a parent education program that includes guidelines—written in clear, understandable, and positive language—for when devices can be used in school, what applications and websites are appropriate, and how users must care for the equipment. (Our district's guidelines can be found on our 1:1 parent site. Like many districts, we have borrowed extensively from Common Sense Media.)
No. The AP will try to discipline students who cross an ill-defined line, but there is nothing in place that sets out any rules or guidelines to limit the students nor is there anything to guide them in using it more fully than for music videos.
  • What happens if a student breaks or loses the device? Clear procedures related to loss, damage, and theft of school-owned devices need to be in place. My own district, like many, offers parents a low-cost insurance plan that covers accidental damage. We also place mandatory, heavy-duty cases on student devices, dramatically improving their survivability.
We've got this covered. Admin tried to "go easy" at first and that was a total failure. Now that they have simplified things (replacement screen is $50; tough, you broke it, you pay) students are much more self-assured and they've come to understand what kinds of treatment will end up costing money.
  • How will these devices be managed and maintained? Unreliable technology is frustrating for both staff and students—and apt to go unused. The 1:1 plan should address the staffing and management systems necessary to troubleshoot hardware, update software, and install applications on student devices.
Yeah, covered. Important point.
  • What e-resources will accompany the hardware? Individualized instruction requires such resources as e-books and content databases, a course management system like Moodle or Blackboard, and software that enables students to access and process information. Cloud-based productivity and collaboration tools like GoogleApps or Office365 can support workflows and communication between teacher and students.
Google Applications Suite, Apps, Moodle (that I personally maintain, installed, support).  Yeah, this part is working really well for the faculty who've jumped in feet-first. For the others, it's been a struggle ... some people still want paper for everything.  The students are good for this. "Can I just share my paper?"
  • Is the network infrastructure in place to support the use of the devices, both internally and in the cloud? Although many schools have spent a good deal of time and effort in extending the reach of their wireless networks to all instructional areas of a school (coverage), they may not have the bandwidth needed to support dozens of devices trying to use the network at the same time (capacity).
Barely. Still takes time in the morning to navigate the wifi discovery, network login, etc. Once that's done, it pretty good. "Take out your Chromebooks." 30 seconds and we're using Desmos.
  • How will you ensure that all teachers use the devices to improve teaching and learning? Few of us like top-down mandates, so it's important that the teachers who are expected to implement this program have input during the planning process on goals, training, resources, and policies. Assessment of effective teaching using technology should be embedded in teacher evaluation practices.
First year ... a few teachers, most of the students. It's going pretty well and it's a definite positive slope.
  • What will happen in a few years when all these devices are obsolete? The plan should be specific about the project's long-term viability. Using one-time referendum dollars that will be repaid over 20 or 30 years to buy equipment that will need to be replaced in five years is like taking out a mortgage to purchase a car. A transparent budget for the project must clearly state both annual costs and long-term maintenance and replacement needs.
 It's handled.
  • Are other areas of the school's budget being cut to pay for this project? If the 1:1 initiative is being funded by general operating dollars, school leaders should be up-front about its potential impact on other programs. Given the zero-sum nature of most school budgets, somebody's priority program or resource may get reduced—and that somebody may not like it. If dollars are coming from places that will require less funding because of the initiative—such as textbooks, printing, or school supplies—the district needs to demonstrate these savings.
Nothing is being cut ... yet.  The textbooks are being replaced in part with FOS .... there are lots of math books out there. Some paper books that have  deteriorated over the years are being replaced - but pdf or active versions, rather than paper. We saved money by not buying the expensive version.

I think our feeling is that we'll save a little here and a little there while providing the students with tools they wouldn't otherwise have been able to get. It might not be a monetary zero-sum, but the benefits are worth the cost even though we haven't come close to fully utilizing the resource.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Things We Need You to Stop Saying, part 1

There are a couple of things we really need you to stop saying. The first:
"The right answer isn't important. It's knowing what you're doing."
No matter how you parse this, it's ridiculous. The right answer is the whole point of doing the problem ... has always been, is now, and will always be. The "knowing what you are doing part" leads to the right answer. If it doesn't, then you don't know what you are doing.

Variations on this include: "It's the concept that matters" and "We're putting the emphasis on the method." It shows up as sarcastic responses from Institute Professionals and college professors, too:
What we should be saying is "The right answer is vitally important ... so important that we also want students to explain the method and how we all know the answer is correct; they must be able to detect an error if it occurs and describe how to fix it so that the solution IS correct."

If you go to the trouble of having the students communicate, verbally or in writing, how they solved a problem, then you are focused on the right answer ... there would be no need to explain anything, or fix errors, if you didn't care about it. You'd take any randomly achieved answer as long as it was correct, and move on.

Just cancel the 6s.

Does anyone ... ANYONE ... seriously think that the right answer doesn't matter here? I don't consider this a "right answer" even though it looks like it.

I'm going with "No."
You'd take a wrong answer that looked like a right answer if you weren't paying attention.

Just cancel the x² from numerator and denominator.
One hallmark of mathematical understanding is the ability to justify, in a way appropriate to the student’s mathematical maturity, why a particular mathematical statement is true or where a mathematical rule comes from. There is a world of difference between a student who can summon a mnemonic device to expand a product such as (a + b)(x + y) and a student who can explain where the mnemonic comes from.
That is a far cry from " The right answer isn't important."
For example, mathematically proficient high school students analyze graphs of functions and solutions generated using a graphing calculator. They detect possible errors by strategically using estimation and other mathematical knowledge.
You can't detect errors unless you know the right answer, or at least have a sense of what that right answer should be.

Even the infamous "Letter to Jack" assumed that the kid could get the right answer, then could find the error made by the other kid ... the assignment took this two steps beyond the right answer: explain the error to the other kid and help him fix it.

JD2718 banned FOIL, Dan Meyer used immediate feedback, countless teachers rearrange PEMDAS (as BEDMSA) to avo
id this:

We need them to explain what and why.

I often "let them in on a secret" and share the mnemonics after they get the understanding ... especially if the mnemonics speed up computation so we can get on with what we are actually doing, but every teacher worth his salt knows that you have to periodically make sure that random, blind luck isn't at play.

The last reason that we need to stop saying "The right answer isn't as important as knowing what you're doing" is that too often we teachers are speaking to people who don't know that it is merely step 1, namely school boards, administrators and parents.

I watched a young teacher from another school give a presentation to her school board. Among other weird things, she came out with this statement ... immediately, board members latched onto it.

"What do you mean? Of course the right answer matters."
"I've been in business for forty years; every time, the right answer matters."

She doubled down ... "No, they need to know HOW they are solving the problem." No one was buying it, nor should they have. Whether she didn't understand their concerns herself or honestly didn't believe that the right answer was so vital, she certainly couldn't communicate her stance to the Board.

A blind acceptance and repetition of poorly-understood Twitter broadsides and mindless slogans is the rhetorical equivalent of canceling the sixes.

That makes us all look bad and we're gonna need you to stop saying it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Doing Things the Hard and Expensive Way

So this school had an election. Desperate to justify their purchase of enough TI-Inspire Navigator calculators for the whole school, they used them for voting for StC, because apparently:
  • the cellphone that every kid carries around were ... IDK ... banned, 
  • the free Socrative.com website was shut down undergoing maintenance at that exact moment, as were all of the similar, related websites, also free. .. like SurveyMonkey.
  • Google Forms was suspiciously locked and inaccessible ... 
  • the supplies budget didn't allow for 100ct note card pack at $0.39 per ...

but did allow for the Inspires:

For this misuse of funding, we hereby award them the US Armed Forces Monetary Memorial Medal, emblazoned with the image of Our Rich Uncle Pennybags.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Snap Judgements

I love the kinds of conclusions people make on Twitter.

"Which looks more like a 21st century classroom?"

Neither. They're booths at a conference. I understand that the snap judgement goes against the top booth because the 21st century classroom isn't supposed to be about one person "lecturing" and 30 students quietly absorbing new information without "collaboration"; it's also missing a lot of misunderstood 21st Century Learning New-Age Idealistic Pedagogical Folderol.tm

But I digress.

In the Upper portion of the composite photo, we see a booth set up to present a lot of information. The people are encouraged by the layout to be seated, which means that they can all see because they out of each others way; no one is standing in front of the screen.

Think about this for a second. TI has a mission: sell calculators, at $150 each, with crappy screens and SLOOOOOOOW processors. They need to get you in a seat and show you the WOW factor. They need to get you past the basics fast and sell you on the tech because that $4500 classroom start-up fee is huge.  "Those regression functions don't come cheap, and aren't in any other package."

This is crying out for exactly what they've got here: a booth with a presenter who knows the machine inside and out, delivering information to as many people as they can, as efficiently as they can, in as little time as possible.

You put them in a seat where they can set down their stuff, see the big screen, write something down if they want to, hold the Inspire, swap out the faceplate, photograph it with their phones, set it down and tweet about it ... tables and chairs arranged in an efficient pattern, making best use of the space. Additionally, once seated, it's tough to leave politely before the end of the spiel and it's easy to control the technology and prevent theft.

Over on the side, some tall tables (which don't force you to lean over) for people who are browsing and don't want the whole presentation, or who want to stand and watch from the side.

BOOTH SCORE: 8 out of 10. Great for information transfer and for sales promotion. This booth is designed to have you linger and explore, try out and figure out, and to convince to you agitate for a major purchase back at your school.
CLASSROOM SCORE:  7 out of 10. "Boring" if you are looking for new-age learning styles, but effective as an organized setting for 30.

In the lower one, there is a guy on the left, holding a laptop in an awkward stance. One of the people he's talking to can see the screen. The other one can see the keyboard and be part of the conversation but unless he leans in and gets in the way of the other listener, he can't see much.

In the lower right, three people are crowded around a computer that desperately needs to be on a higher platform because all the people who want to look at it are standing -- it should be at eye height or, if not eye height, at least not "lean over and peer through the top part of your bifocals and then crane your neck back so you can see through the lower half of your bifocals" height - as the guy in white shorts is being forced to do.

In summary, a badly designed booth for this function, unless that function was "quick information shot and move on." This booth is designed to NOT allow you to linger and deeply explore the product.

There is no marketing director here trying to maximize anything, because there doesn't need to be. They only need to let you convince yourself that Desmos is cool - it is its own selling point. The website is free and doesn't have a large initial classroom purchase required, as TI does.

As a classroom, this booth is crap, too. There's nowhere for people to get comfortable. There's a giant graphic with some expression art. The displays / workstations are placed too low without any chairs so students have to type at weird angles. If the intent was for people standing, there should be some podiums so they can set down their devices and use both hands. If the intent was for people to sit, then the tables are at the right height, but there are no chairs.

This would be a horrible "classroom" for teacher/guide or for students.

BOOTH SCORE: 3 out of 10. (or 8 out of 10, depending on intent)
CLASSROOM SCORE:  1 out of 10.

But I guess I don't see things in the same way as other people do.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


Thanks to a sale at Jo-Anne Fabrics, I got this heavy-weight craft paper, 100 sheets of 12"x12" for about 5 bucks. Unfortunately, they were out of heavy weight linen for fighting tunics and cotton duck for banners. Satisfy one addiction, develop patience for the other.

Print the base functions.


Same function photographed with foil crane. Looks creepy, doesn't it? Like Giant Spider in a Colosseum model.


Sunday, March 30, 2014


I agree, mostly, which is why I have retests. 

However, many students need incentive to study now; instead of "I'll wait til after the first try at test. Then, I'll know what's on it." That's test-prep that won't last, not understanding.

Additionally, I do have other things to work on. Take algebra. Section 3 is writing and graphing linear equations. Section 4 is systems of linear equations.  Johnny can't do 4 if he truly doesn't understand 3.

I get the idea that students take different amounts of time to master material, but at some point, it is better to tell him that retaking the course would be a better option than retaking every test.  I don't mind if he completes algebra I in two years.

That image is being very disingenuous, though. Those exams don't lead to more learning ... they're the end-of-course exit exam, the final exam, the high-stakes test that so many reformers hate.

Common Core math thing, round two ... a mathematician.

I was floating around the Internet and came across The Mindful Mathematician's A Letter to Frustrated Parents
I was never taught to make sense of numbers, I was taught one way to solve every problem, every problem had ONE way, memorize these steps and you will be able to solve this problem.  Sorry if you can't remember the steps.  This is how we do it.  I was robbed.  I was not taught to persevere and try to make sense of the problem... who cares what it means, here's how you do it, just do this.  
I would feel sorry for you, but I cannot accept that this is truly what happened to you in school. As much as I get irritated by some of what I hear about elementary school teachers, I cannot believe that anyone took this approach.

You are flat-out misrepresenting what the "traditional" approach was in order to bolster support for the New way of doing things - to the exclusion of the algorithm. "I call Shenanigans."
Hold on, why am I crossing out this number and changing that one? 
Because you don't have enough to take away.  Just do it!  
But wait, I have 453 and I'm just trying to take away 17. I think there is more than enough to take away.  
No you can't take 7 away from 3... Just cross out the 5. Just do it!
But wouldn't 3 take away 7 be negative...
NO! You can't take a bigger number from a smaller number, sit down, JUST DO IT MY WAY!
Bullshit. Or, to put it more kindly, IF this is a true and accurate transcript of the conversation, this teacher is not very good and probably would teach everything in the same tyrannical fashion. Rather, it sounds like the kid with a poor understanding and this is the "excuse" for why.
"Hold on, why do I have to have common denominators? "Because you can't add apples and oranges! Just do it"
"I was wondering... why do I have to flip the fraction upside down if I'm dividing?" "It's not your place to reason why, just invert and multiply!  JUST DO IT!"
Elementary teachers have enough problems teaching math, without your strawman argument and fairly obvious projection.

Second, isn't it interesting that you claim this fictional teaching method is the reason that all of our students hate math, yet you are the first counterexample among many ... most math teachers included. If you are looking for a cause-effect relationship, you've disproved it.

The probable causes for the lowered "love of mathematics" are the lack of enjoyment of the subject by those teachers, the nervousness and trepidation with which they approach math, and the over-reliance on discovery methods of teaching and the "Guide on the Side, not a Sage on the Stage."
The "new" methods you're seeing are not being taught.  They are methods that students naturally invent.  Just the way that mathematicians invented them before our formal mathematics system existed.  
That is the crux of the problem. Too much of teaching now is centered around letting the kids "discover" a way of their own. Having the kids to "discover" their own way does not create "better understanding", it merely forces them to re-invent the wheel ... and then go through the trouble of learning. (I guess this is the next post.)

But I digress.

Students find comfort in tried and true methods that work without major thinking. They'll accept the  struggle with any method at first, because it is new. Once learned, there is a sense of pride of ownership, of knowing that they've got something to call their own, something that eliminates the need to count by ones on their fingers. They could subtract 37 from 63 by counting but it's slow, so we give them new methods. One in which you count up like a shopkeeper making change and the other, the "algorithm."

The algorithm, originally developed for simplicity, required the student subtracting 37 from 63 to "borrow 1 ten from the tens place to make 13, and 13-7 is 6. Then 5-3 is 2. Ah, 26." That requires understanding of place-value. That's very important.

The "new method" takes a different kind of thinking. "Add 3 to get to 40. Add 23 to get to 63. Ah, 26." This thinking is also very important.

These two methods are not mutually exclusive in a student.

For 63-37, method 2 works better. For 8569 - 6325, the first one is superior because there's no cancelling and because the numbers are larger.
When people say that "borrowing" is unnatural, I present the addition to the right. Go.

Did anyone add 3 to one of the 27s to get to 30, then add 24 to get to 54? Probably not. That's the method for subtraction, done in reverse.

Did you add the twenties and then add the sevens? 20+20 = 40 and 7+7=14. Ah, 54." Maybe. Depends on how old you are. For 27+27, it's the most efficient.

More likely, you added 7+7 = 14, carry the 1; 1+2+2 = 5; Ah, 54.

If we're okay with "carry the one" why are we so all-fired-up about "borrow a 1" when subtracting?
Should kids be able to do it all three ways? Yes. It's math, and math is fun.

I'll leave you with this final example, from our intrepid mathematician -- right at the top of the page -- that exemplifies the best time to use the old algorithm.

Students must be able to do both. (or all three, or four).
Which they choose is up to them.

Why do we have so much trouble with that?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Subtraction MathWars

I'm sure everyone has seen this "letter" from a"frustrated parent" who claims that despite having a degree in "electronics engineering", can't figure out the child's homework.

I call "Shenanigans", both on the letter and on the responses.

First, we must accept that the "parent" can't read instructions, is pre-disposed to being an asshole over the ways in which our children are taught math, and is probably not all that capable of understanding basic principles.

In addition, when claiming that "simplification is valued over complication", he failed to note that , in business, "Completing the Assigned Task" is given far more weight than "Over-simplification and pedantry."

 ... but I digress.

In the "Bad Old Days", I recall many instances in which people browbeat math teachers with the anecdote, "I went to the store and bought $13.82 of stuff and the kid behind the counter couldn't make change for a $20. You teachers need to teach them the basics."

The standard algorithm vs. The New Way (which isn't so new; it's "Making Change") - look at that problem up there. Pretend you just bought something worth $111 dollars and you handed the clerk a $427 check. How much money do you get back? Follow the little jumps and imagine someone slapping bills into your hand. Makes a lot of sense now, doesn't it?

So here's what needs to happen: Kids need both.

Sorry, Reforministas, the standard algorithm is more useful and easier sometimes.
Sorry, Ostrich-Headed Blowhards, the "New Way" is more useful and easier sometimes.

Let's face facts.
- 316
is much easier when done vertically. No borrowing, no hassle.

Even a problem that contains a "borrowing" is often easier done with the standard algorithm. It's more compact and it's cleaner. 492 - 327, for example. On the other hand, the "Counting Up or Down" is easier when you are close to certain values, such as the infamous 30001 - 29999 question.

A professor suggests that anything that can't be done with the New Way should be done with a calculator or WolframAlpha, but I disagree completely. He provides research that states teaching algorithms to young elementary students is harmful. I read the studies but I don't agree that we should NEVER teach the standard algorithm and borrowing; I just feel we should be more intelligent about it.
  1. Kids should eventually be comfortable with both ways. 
  2. Timing is critical. Maybe the New should be taught before the Standard Algorithm. 
  3. Also, be more willing to MAKE kids learn the SA, even if it's temporarily painful. If they understand place value and the counting up and down, they can learn the SA.
  4. Be less anal-retentive about the size of the problems and the difficulty of the subtractions (7 digit from 8-digit is extreme).  
  5. Stop insisting that the calculator is the Deus Ex Machina of mathematics. It is a tool and should be used to make already-understood work easier, but not if it replaces the understanding with No-Think Monkey Push-Button
Teach them both and then let them choose. Each method has advantages and each has disadvantages.

We can't be doing this:
DC: "Go ahead, use your standard algorithm to compute: 4,000,002 - 3,999,999"
Me: "This problem is better solved by counting up. 41036 - 28569 is easier solved by subtraction algorithm.
DC: "That is better solved with a calculator. #justsayin"

No. NO. Goddamn it, NO.

"There's no longer a reason to memorize a mindless math algorithm."
What if it's NOT meaningless?
Jumping to the calculator the instant the problem gets slightly weird can only lead to disaster for students. If I gave the student four hundred of these, I'd expect him to cut and paste into a spreadsheet or WolframAlpha, but one problem and he gives up and reaches for a calculator?

"There's no longer a reason to memorize a mindless math algorithm. There's plenty of reasons to understand thinking behind them." I agree with that. Proper teaching starts with understanding ... but then, once you understand the method, the algorithm is no longer meaningless; memorization occurs organically. The algorithm NEEDS understanding of place value.

When I reply that "Algebra, messes it up for many: 410x - 36y - 285x + 69y, as does calculator madness" (see the madness) and the response is, "Thankfully WolframAlpha", well that's when you know someone is not dealing from the top of the deck.

Yeah, Wolfram gives you the answer, coupled with

How in the bloody blue blazes of hell is that useful to someone who can't subtract?

Friday, March 21, 2014

CK-12 Stealing Images Again

NPR.org's Planet Money ran "74,476 Reasons You Should Always Get The Larger Pizza" and graphed things out pretty nicely.

Then CK-12 took it, converted the format to a lossy jpg, branded it with their own logo and has been reposting it as if they had done the work and owned it:

If you're going to use an image on a webpage, very few people will mind. If you go to the trouble of taking the picture and changing it and then claiming it as your own ... that's not cool.