Saturday, November 8, 2014

Voting and the ID Requirement

All citizens have the right to vote.  You do not need an ID to be a citizen.
You need a license to drive because driving is not a right, not essential to being a citizen, and the citizenry have said that safety requires a license to drive ... but it doesn't have to be a photo ID. If I don't drive, then why would I pay for a license?
  • Does my choice to not drive mean that I am not a citizen and cannot vote?
You need an ID to purchase alcohol because the law said so, but you do not have to have an ID to drink it (you only have to be of legal age) and again, you do not have to be a drinker to be a citizen. If I am in my 50s, why should I need an ID to purchase? If I don't drink, why do I need an ID?
  • Does my choice to not drink mean that I cannot vote?
You do not need an ID to serve on a jury. If that were true, anyone could get out of jury duty by taking the bus and showing up without it. Why is jury duty a prerequisite for voting, anyway?
  •  If I never get called for jury duty or never get empaneled because I don't fit the lawyer's criteria, do I lose the right to vote?

If I am old and no longer need an ID, why should I be required to purchase one just because you have this fantasy that I am someone who might commit voter fraud? If I have no other reason to have an ID other than voting, then we are talking about a poll tax.
  • Is getting old a reason to lose the right to vote?
If I am too poor to own a car, or have a disease or a disability that prevents me from driving, why should I buy a driver's license?
  • Is being blind or poor a reason to lose the right to vote?
If I get married and change my name, or simply decide that my real father isn't part of my life and my adopted parents' name is the one I will use, do I need to schedule things far enough in advance so that legal paperwork can be filed and processed to change my name, social security and IRS information, which then can be taken to the appropriate DMV for a new license, which then can be taken to the appropriate town clerk to change my name on the rolls? Because if I don't and the new name doesn't exactly match the old one, I can't vote.
  • Is a legal name change a reason to lose the right to vote?
And think about the mechanics of voter fraud ... I show up to vote and give my name, and get checked off the list. I vote and then come back in a attempt to vote again under another name - how is that supposed to work out? Do I just pick one at random? Someone who I know is dead but somehow that information isn't known? This scenario makes it a very difficult crime to get away with and easy to get a significant fine.

If I show up and my name is already checked off, then I have to prove who I am and vote provisionally ... if there was voter fraud happening, this would be prevalent. It isn't.

Real voter fraud is more than 1 extra vote.
  • It's denying the vote to huge lists of people based on criteria that have nothing to do with a citizen's right to vote.
  • It's denying the vote for lack of ID which many people have no use for.
  • It's denying the vote to citizens in certain categories that you wish to disenfranchise.
  • It's denying the vote to classes of people who would vote for your opponent.

Why should I have to prove my identity, anyway? Are you saying that I am not a citizen if I do not have an ID?

What you should be demanding is that no one votes twice, like the "dip the finger in ink" trick. What you are actually demanding is that a large number of people not be allowed to vote at all.

That is wrong.

Testing Paradigm Needs to Change

Testing in the United States is a sick, diseased system. It is a malignant tumor that must be excised if we are to ever use testing results to improve students, teachers, schools,

Testing in the USA is NOT intended to help teachers or their students. It is only done to give a number that can be used or not, at the whim of the reader. Since most testing is for evaluative purposes, testing provides numbers to punish people with.

As a teacher, I get absolutely no useful information from standardized testing.


None.

On our "Local Common Assessment", I get to know a RIT range and a corresponding percentile, and breakdowns in "Algebraic Thinking, Real&Complex Number Systems, Geometry, Statistics and Probability."

Then, consider that we have our kids taking a test and one of the categories is Real & Complex Number systems - Really? These are 9th graders in algebra 1 ... is the score range of 233-245 based on their less-than-complete knowledge of real numbers combined with no questions on complex numbers or is that 75%-ile based on questions that they would have no reasonable knowledge of?

Okay ... I'm ready to adjust my teaching for Algebra 1 ... What changes should I make?

I see none of the questions, none of the individual responses. I have no idea what kinds of things the test-makers considered to be "Algebraic Thinking" nor do I have any sense of what my students might have replied or understood or didn't, except for the kids who told me they just clicked at random just to be finished more quickly.

Okay ... I'm ready to adjust my teaching for Algebra 1 ... What changes are appropriate? Does the kid who scored "LO" really not understand or is she just lazy?


Yeah, that's the breakdown measurement: LO, AV, HI. Useful? No.

And this is a Pre-Algebra class with some 9th and some 10th graders. I would hardly expect them to get anything other than LO. If they could, they wouldn't be in the class.

Okay ... I'm ready to adjust my teaching ... What changes to my pre-algebra curriculum are appropriate here?

But at least I got those few bits of data within a week, because it was a local assessment.

When it comes to SBAC and PARCC, the problems seem to be the same as for NECAP, and before that, the NSRE.  Too few questions, coupled with long wait times for the scores (test in October, scores in April) and very dodgy scoring of the results for the constructed response questions ...

and we're still not allowed to see the questions, see the scoring, see the individual results ... 
And there was no way you could trust those scores because of the manipulation of the raw score conversion tables for "continuity reasons."

Can't have a big improvement year to year because reasons. The first year of every test has to have similar results as the final year of the test we threw away, so yr1 NSRE was first 58% passing, but was re-scored so we only had 30% passing.

If we're getting rid of a test because it isn't working appropriately, why do we insist that the new test's scores match up with the old test's scores?

And about those scores ... I have never understood how the entire public school populations of five New England states can show results in the way they did:

Highly Proficient: 3%
Proficient: 30%
Below Proficient: 40%
No Evidence of Proficiency: 27%

Really? 33% "passed" a test and you're looking at the teachers, not the test? Of all the kids in all the classrooms with all of the teachers (in VT, NH, ME, RI, and somewhere else that's escaping me right now), how is it possible that only 33% of the students passed a test?


At least the SAT is open ... maybe we should use it instead of paying Pearson far more for less information.

If you can so blithely manipulate scores so as to get a result that your statisticians declare appropriate, maybe the problem isn't in your teachers or your students ... your system needs to change.

If you can so blithely assume that the teachers are the only ones who are responsible for scores but shouldn't be allowed to see any of the test papers or any of the questions ... your system needs to change.

If you can so blithely assume that the students are always "participating fully" and that the results on this worthless and pointless (to them) test, then your system definitely needs to change.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

This is a test. This is only a test.

In teachers' professional development seminars and in-service meetings, We no longer use the word "test" very much, nor "quiz". It's always an "assessment". I suppose that the words "test" and "quiz" have become loaded with too much negative meaning, implying a bar that must be overcome to avoid "failure".

"Assessment" has no sense of "pass" or "fail" but merely a placement along a scale. It's funny because the kids live in a much more black and white world; they hate "assessment," perhaps because it's a complex word while "test" and "quiz" are short and pithy and to the point but also perhaps because it's non-judgemental to the point of insanity. They want to know, "Did I make it or not?"

Testing shouldn't always be one-shot ... and you're either a winner or a loser. There has to be growth opportunity, too.

When you learn to play soccer, you compete against your teammates to get better, failing over and over before you can ever learn and master the sport. Why should math be any different?

You failed this quiz? Take it again. You can't do this homework? Let's discuss again how to do it. Now take the quiz again. I'm not throwing you off the team because you can't beat the starter.

Parent Threatens Disruption over Islam

So this guy threatens to disrupt classes if World History continues to contain mention of Islam.
Wood told Superintendent Morris that the school is violating his daughter’s “constitutional rights” and threatened to “bring down a shit-storm on them like they’ve never seen.”
Oh, brother. "Lighten up, Francis."

It's World History ... and WH has always taught the religions of the regions, from the Egyptian and Isis and the symbolism of the Ankh through the Greek and Roman religions (and mythology is actually an English course), Hinduism and Confucianism of the Far East, and of course, talks about Islam in the context of the development of Northern Africa and the Middle East, along with Judaism and Christianity.
After the meeting, Wood told reporters that his daughter, a junior at La Plata High, should not be forced to study a faith that she “does not believe in.”
Then take her out of school. Otherwise, World History teaches about History of the World and religion is part of that. But this statement from the teacher cracked me up:
“This is a world history class,” [O’Malley-Simpson] explained. “We are not teaching religion. Part of those world history studies involves the economics of a region and part of that is the religion which relates to the economy of that part of the world. In the Middle East, Islam is the only religion and it contributes greatly to the economics of the region.” (emphasis mine)
Oh, really? The only religion? I'm a math teacher and even I know that there are some other religions present in the Middle East.  Perhaps, you've heard of them?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Few Random Thoughts about the Time article.

Maybe you've read it.

A few things jump out at me. Here's a big one:
One research team relied on a "a controversial tool called value-added measures (VAM)" to measure teacher effectiveness, and they "found that replacing a poorly performing teacher with an excellent one could increase students' lifetime earnings by $250,000 per classroom."
That's a pretty big number alright, almost big enough to make you lose sight of the details ... if you're a low grade moron or someone with a axe to grind who doesn't mind being disingenuous.

Lifetime earnings of $250,000 per classroom works out to $10,000 lifetime earnings difference per kid.  Assuming the average person works for about 40 years, that works out to a difference of $250 extra dollars per year, a whopping extra 12.5 cents per hour ... and that's if you replace a poor teacher with an excellent one for all twelve years of schooling.

This is what is known in mathematical and statistical circles as an "insignificant" increase for which we have to use a tool that the Vermont Commissioner of Education (and pretty much everyone else) has said is a "broken measurement system" that "does not work". She went on to say that it would never be used in Vermont because of it's ineffectiveness. "It would be unfair to our students to automatically fire their educators based on technically inadequate tools."

And where, besides a hole in the ground, did that number get pulled from?

Let's not ignore the dubious premise that thousands of "excellent" teachers are just waiting to be hired ... ready and eager to take the place of the losers.


Funny thing is, we're doing pretty well despite the fact that we have been forced to label every single school in the state as "low performing": 
 In 2013, the federal Education Department released a study comparing the performance of US states to the 47 countries that participated in the most recent Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, one of the two large international comparative assessments. Vermont ranked 7th in the world in eighth-grade mathematics and 4th in science. Only Massachusetts, which has a comparable child poverty rate, did better.
So Time magazine interviewed a couple of billionaires about their opinions of public education and teacher tenure. "Shocking!" they said. "You can't fire a bad teacher."

Really?  Have they ever tried? The usual reason that principals can't fire a "bad" teacher is because the principal has no way of knowing which teachers are "bad" teachers - the new evaluation procedures are long on typing every word but very short on actually listening to the teacher teaching the class. If you are focused on typing every word said, then you aren't paying attention and you aren't "taking notes" - the inability to multitask is something I warn my students of constantly. Incidentally, and ironically, so does the principal.

The other reason that most "bad" teachers can't be fired? They're not "bad" teachers. Most of the time a teacher who is labeled "bad" is someone who has spoken up at a faculty meeting, stood up for themselves or others, worked against the desires of the principal.

The truly bad teachers are the ones who don't get noticed because they never improve, who hand out the same worksheets year after year, who don't say anything controversial, who allow students to wallow and get mired in an academic mudpit ... but who somehow get As so their parents don't say anything, who have a degree from a prestigious university but who are universally reviled by their students as lousy teachers, who dutifully fill out the silly paperwork and follow every administrative whim with fervor, never considering the best interests of the students, doing just enough to placate but never enough to teach.

Here's how to get yourself fired in public schools WITHOUT tenure:
  • Be gay/lesbian, or any other LGBTQ. (Seen it.)
  • Be Experienced in a cost-cutting era. (Big pressure)
  • Be Muslim, or Black or Latino or other "minority" who is "uppity" or in some other way "doesn't behave" (actually has an opinion and isn't afraid to say something).
  • Get pregnant. (True story)
  • Speak up for the Rights of the students/ disagree with admin is any way.
  • Actually do something bad or criminal.
Except for the last one of course, that will never be the reason on the form letter. That would be discrimination. Rather, you'll find vague job performance metrics and "documented tardiness issues". You'll find overwhelming but never specified "evidence" of misconduct. You'll find everything but the actual discrimination.

Here are some ways you can get fired from a school WITH tenure:
  • Do something bad or criminal.
  • Be a bad teacher.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Stop Common Core (and replace it with what?)

Enough.

What utter dreck.

10. Your child is unique? Yeah, no two snowflakes are exactly alike, but they are all basically the same. After 30 years of teaching, I think I can lay this ego-driven, touchy-feely garbage to rest. Your child is special to you but he isn't different enough from the rest of the crowd to warrant special teaching.

9. Yup, CCSS was created by special interests. No, it's not perfect. No, I don't endorse all of it and I probably won't hold my breath and teach every part of it. I'm a math teacher. I have the intelligence to modify it when necessary. It is, however, better than that mess of garbage that it replaced.

8. I really don't want the legislature voting on math standards. They have zero experience in education. I don't want them to ask my opinion on the intricacies of healthcare for the same reason.

7. Does it matter that this is false? Does it matter that districts are spending that money on testing regardless?

6. The CCSS do not collect information.

5. The lack of attention for gifted learners is not the fault of the CCSS. And your child isn't gifted.

4. Again, not by CCSS. And again, this is false in many states. Mine for instance wrote definitively that test scores have not, are not and will not be used to rate teachers because it is inappropriate and wrong to do so.

3. Yup, this is the only thing you got right. We are not forcing them to read as much of the classics. Instead the English teachers are using SOME different works, such as essays and non-fiction. Unfortunately for your rather uninformed little screed, Shakespeare and Edith Hamilton Mythology are still very much in evidence.

2. No one changed who was in control. School Boards are still the only controlling bodies. Homeschoolers are not in any way, shape or form, under the control of any CCSS.

1. You have the power to stop common core but in #2 you didn't have any power? Come on, at least be consistent in your paranoid ramblings. The last people who should be exercising control over their kids schooling are people who can't even make a coherent argument.  Fortunately for me and my job, deluded paranoiacs like you are keeping me employed -- although usually I don't get your kid until after you've messed up his education and nearly ruined his chances at living a good and successful life.

But don't let me stop you. The Internet is free to use.


Missing the Point.

http://grantwiggins.wordpress.com/2014/10/10/a-veteran-teacher-turned-coach-shadows-2-students-for-2-days-a-sobering-lesson-learned/

Shadowing a student is a valuable idea, but she misses the point in the end.
I have made a terrible mistake.
I waited fourteen years to do something that I should have done my first year of teaching: shadow a student for a day. 
Which is a fine idea ... for an experienced teacher. The newbie? Not so much. That first-year teacher is just out of college and has no sense of what is appropriate for 15yo students, and probably would miss or misunderstand the important details in all of the other data and facts.

So, this teacher-turned-Learning Coach shadowed 2 kids ... for a day.
My class schedules for the day

The schedule that day for the 10th grade student:
7:45 – 9:15: Geometry
9:30 – 10:55: Spanish II
10:55 – 11:40: Lunch
11:45 – 1:10: World History
1:25 – 2:45: Integrated Science
The schedule that day for the 12th grade student:
7:45 – 9:15: Math
9:30 – 10:55: Chemistry
10:55 – 11:40: Lunch
11:45 – 1:10: English
1:25 – 2:45: Business
Here we begin to get the glimmer of the real problem. The block schedule was sold to faculty in schools as an improvement on some or all of the following grounds:
  • The students could focus on fewer things throughout the day, making for more deliberateness. The phrase "Mile wide and inch deep" is usually tossed in here, as well.
  • They'd have fewer passing times and those minutes could be filled with instruction or projects or meaningful discussion or labs.
  • 80 minutes was a better chunk of time.
  • Teachers would have fewer preps.
In some buildings, including ours, the change was implemented over vacation and the teachers returned to a different schedule. "Surprise!"
  • It's better. We decided. The schedule has changed.
Not a single thought was spared to ask whether 9th graders should be in 80 minute classes or whether Special Education students would benefit from the extended periods. Nobody considered whether having 8 periods for which students could have one or two "free" periods was better than requiring the students to have four academic courses per day and no down time. And nobody dared to question whether 80 minutes was too much math for one day.

Anyway, back to our Coach.
Key Takeaway #1
Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting.
Thinking is exhausting. Focus is exhausting. Learning is exhausting.  If you're doing it right, education is hard, learning new things is difficult.  I'm not saying that students shouldn't move more, but that's not the issue.

Block scheduling is predicated on the idea that students will be allowed to focus on fewer things for longer periods, that mere "rote memorizing" of content would be subordinated to the intense, "deeper" thinking, critical thinking and problem solving.

If our coach could change the past, she would have implemented "a mandatory stretch halfway through the class", installed "a Nerf basketball hoop on the back of my door and encourage kids to play in the first and final minutes of class" and have built in "a hands-on, move-around activity into every single class day." 

In other words, 80 minutes is too long and teachers need to pretend it's really two 40 minute periods ... or 75 minutes, with a break in the middle and some games at the end.

The most telling comment? "Yes, we would sacrifice some content to do this – that’s fine."

Really? The block schedule selling point "Better use of time" goes out the window.  Her point in her article, and presumably to the teachers in her building, "I was so tired by the end of the day, I wasn’t absorbing most of the content, so I am not sure my previous method of making kids sit through hour-long, sit-down discussions of the texts was all that effective."

Instead of questioning whether or not students should get more of a break between classes, or have a free period to unwind, she is willing to advocate for giving that free time in the middle of the only time her students have to be with her. 
Key Takeaway #2
High School students are sitting passively and listening during approximately 90% of their classes.
So change that, if you feel that it's more appropriate to your discipline. The idea that you need to start
every class with discussion, blitzkreig-like mini-lessons is entirely dependent on what you're doing rather than an appropriate plan for every day.

Likewise, worrying overmuch about the length of time you speak (and setting a timer) is not terribly good practice. If you're talking *at* the students rather than talking *with* them, you have a problem. A good lecture, on the other hand, can keep everyone in the room engaged for hours. A constant droning lecture, like pre-recorded videos in a "flipped classroom" or a Rocketship academy or Khan Academy, won't work for much more than as a substitute in your absence.

The bigger issue is the admin's constant refrain that the teacher needs to fill the 80 minutes with something. My admin, for instance, mention that we should "teach bell to bell." I am certain that everyone reading this can also hear the drumbeat of "testing", "accountability", and the political pressure to "excel" and "fire the bad teachers". Remember, too, that one promise of block scheduling was that MORE would be learned, MORE would be retained, and MORE would be understood.
Key takeaway #3You feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long.
I lost count of how many times we were told be quiet and pay attention ... you start to feel sorry for the students who are told over and over again to pay attention ... that need to just disconnect, break free, go for a run,  ... That is how students often feel in our classes, ... because they have been sitting and listening most of the day already. They have had enough.
And what is part of that cause? In my mind, it's that we seem to have this idea that 80 minutes of math with no time between periods to unwind is a good idea. I am impressed that the schedule quoted above has 45 minutes for lunch - we have 22 - and that there is 15 minutes between classes - we have 3.

I'm going to ignore her comments about sarcasm, because they don't really matter to this discussion beyond the fact that kids not paying attention is a problem for us and that the whole multi-tasking thing is messing the students up something fierce.

We do need to pay attention to that but also remember that kids are kids, they're not allowed to vote, drink, smoke, drive a car, rent, sign a contract, go to war, or make decisions that matter ... and they're learning something entirely new.  Why should we be surprised that Johnny is not focused on the math for 80 straight minutes?

We need to remember that not every kid will be as enthusiastic about math, or learn at the same pace, or be 100% proficient by the year 2014, or care about all subjects equally, or have a home life that's stable, ... and so on.

But let's explore the aspects of Block Scheduling that our Coach didn't touch on, mostly because she seems to feel that it's "obviously" the correct schedule.

To a man, block schedule proponents claim that "more will be done" and that "students will understand the topic better because they'll have more time to work on it and discuss it" and be able to avoid that dreaded "mile-wide and inch deep curriculum."

As someone who has had roughly identical groups -- in the same year -- in 40 minutes classes yearlong and in semester-long block classes, I can tell you that the block classes do less, achieve less, learn less. Other teachers in my district report the same thing.

The differences are subtle but one thing sticks out to me: students in blocks run out of steam. You can't do twice as much all the time. You can't do lesson 6.1 for 30 minutes, stop and stretch, do a little practice, and then do lesson 6.2 immediately and expect that the two sets of homework are possible. Simply doubling the expected work isn't feasible. Sometimes, it works, but not always.


What you often get is Teach, practice, try a little more, and then let them get started on homework. The long period is just too long. If you restructure your course and completely change the way you teach, you can improve things a little but I would maintain that you should be doing that anyway ... and in 50 minute periods.

Other issues? The school's habit of constant interruption for assemblies, sports dismissals, announcements, calling students to the office, and so on. Snow days get in the way, too, as do Fun-time Fridays, and all of the days previous to holidays and days off.

And what of the Special Ed kids, the ADD/OCD/Ed/ODD and the kids who just aren't really thrilled to be there? Why 80 minutes? They have enough trouble settling down for 20; 40 is a stretch but 80 is unfair.

Look at those schedules above. 1.5 hours each of Geometry, Spanish, World History and Science. We don't even do that to college students. It's no wonder they're tired.

And yet, with no significant change to standardized testing or SATs or ACTs or even the state-wide final exams, you get vastly "improved" grades. Interesting, no?



Sunday, September 14, 2014

Data Point #934 Showing Why Teacher Education is Problematic

I was perusing the blog feed and I come across my favorite source for "interesting" teacher education issues. Okay, most of what he writes seems flawed, but at least he's advocating to "Burn The Textbooks, Shred The Worksheets, Teach Math", but I digress.

Click to enlarge that image.

It's measures of central tendency from a stack of pennies. How far down the list of values can you get before you reach an inconsistency in the numbers?

How is this a sample of what you, as a real math teacher, would want to show the world as exemplar of your students' work? Why would this page be the one that you put out to the world ... unless you were deliberately showing how you gave feedback, a la @mpersham's mathmistakes.org.

The project itself is a fine one ... I did the same thing when learning to use Fathom, and I plan on using it with my class this year.  But, really, if showing teachers "cool" or useful projects, wouldn't you want to display ones that are at least mostly (>50%) correct?

While this page would be great to show the relationship between sample statistics and population statistics, it's not at all clear to me whether our blogger noticed any of the problems.

Here is the population, if anyone is interested:


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Reason #438 why kids have trouble.

During the passing time, Student is telling a story of how she had $20 in her backpack and then couldn't find it. Thinks maybe her father took it when he drove her to her friend's house. Another kid chimes in, "Yeah, my father always takes money out of my purse to go buy beer."
Kind of a shame when they trust their math teacher more than their parent.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Why do Teachers Get the Summer Off?

Funny you should ask. We don't actually get the summer off ... the students do. Our time off is the logical consequence.

The reasons why are more interesting than the "It's a farmer thing" line of reasoning.
If Education Secretary Arne Duncan has his way, kids would be spending a lot more time at school — and a three-month summer would be a thing of the past. He continued by explaining that the American school calendar is antiquated and must be modified so that American students can compete at the highest levels internationally. “Most people realize that our current day is based on the agrarian economy, and we don’t have too many kids working out in the fields nowadays,” Duncan said. 

Most people realize, huh? Then most people would be wrong. And so is Arne.

The summer months are hot. The temperatures throughout the Northeast rise regularly into the 80s and 90s, the humidity is choking, and closed-in spaces like classrooms are no fun when you've got 25 kids sweating and fidgeting. It's bad enough in late May and mid-June.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, when a lot of school policies were first considered, it was easier to heat buildings in the winter than to cool them in the summer because, you know, duh, there wasn't any air conditioning. Factories closed. Schools closed. Offices closed. Congress closed. Everything closed. People with the wherewithal escaped the cities and went to the Adirondacks or Vermont or the Catskills, with all their servants and entourage.  People who didn't have money went to Coney Island. That's why everyone traditionally gets two weeks in August ... because it's the worst damn time to be in NY and Boston and Washington D.C. and since that was where the decision-makers were, that was the decision. Time off for major holidays and the occasional week or two here and there - Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter - and the rest is school ... and everyone escapes in summer.

Sorry to all you "It's all based on the agrarian calender" believers - it's obvious you were never on a farm.

Think about it ... if the whole thing was done for farmers benefit, wouldn't it make more sense to have the time off when the real heavy work was done on a farm? Like planting and harvest?

You don't see vacations in October, do you? You know, when the harvest occurs for most of the major crops in the northeast. Halloween and all the corn stalks and pumpkins -- ringing a bell?  Thanksgiving is in November - the only time you get is for the feast, not the work that leads up to it.

The summer months are busy (the definition of farmer is 'a busy man') but nowhere near as busy as other times of the year. About the only farm work done around here in the summer is haying, watching the corn grow and fixing stuff. 

I'm going to go out on a limb a bit here ...

... Kids need a break from school; we have to let them do things OTHER than school. You know that old saying, "Most of what I know, I learned outside of school"? That's a big part of what summer is about. Parents, by and large want their kids to have summer break, want their kids to be able to get a part-time job and learn to be responsible adults, be able to hike the Appalachian Trail, laze about or go swimming, etc.

And why should kids be in school for every week of the year? Shouldn't we let the parents raise them for a while?

There are some schools that have installed a full air-conditioning system and choose to go year-round ... but they still tend to stick to the same 180 days. The only difference is that they have more one-month vacations or they do a four-on, one week-off schedule.

If my school system ever decides to change to that, I'll adapt but I have confidence the students and their parents won't let that happen.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Regular Class work is so Helpful.

I find that a regular activity is a good thing. The students look at it as a useful digression and happily go about working on it ... then they realize it fits right in with what you've been doing.
@fawnpnguyen: "I was brainstorming with a couple of 6th grade math teachers at another district, and we were listing out a possible warm-up/math talk schedule, something like Monday: number talk; Tuesday: visual pattern; Wednesday: estimation 180; Thursday: fun fact, or WYR, or Keeping Skills Sharp, or SBAC/review question; Friday: personal reflection.
Here are a couple of those ideas and one or two others:

Estimation180 - building number sense by estimating values from images or video. This is valuable because so often we say "Does that answer make sense?" If the students have little to no experience with the subject of the question, and no practice making estimates, then answering our "Sense?" question is an exercise in random answer generation.

One Hundred and One Questions - An image or video is presented and students ask any question that comes to mind. While I personally wish the prompt was "What math question comes to mind here?", it is a good place to help them develop the ability to ask questions of the world round them and to see that math isn't just a classroom activity. Browse beforehand and record the links of the ones that fit your current material or your mood.

Math Arguments 180 - The goal is to have students question their assumptions and bring those assumptions to the front of their minds for conscious consideration instead of letting them hold on to common misconceptions that mess up their thinking.  Still in the development stages. The Math Concepts Challenge is also for teachers, though your students might be charged up for it.

Visual Patterns - Practicing the art of understanding the pattern and setting an equation to it in order to predict the value at step 43. I've been thinking it needs more patterns that aren't straightforward linear functions, but if that's the age you're working with then here is a bunch.

Math Talks - Prompts for discussion with your students.

Would You Rather? - students are presented with a choice. They choose and then have to justify their choice. "Would you rather have a bag of nickels that weighs as much as you do or a stack of quarters as high as you are?"

Graphing Stories - a video is shown and the students need to create a graph of some data from it. The video contains a graph blank that shows the independent and dependent variables. Usually, these are time-series graphs of height or altitude, but if you only show the "action" portion, you can have them graph whatever quantities that come to mind.

The UVM Math Contest - Problems from the University of Vermont High School Math Contest. These are given in the spring of Pre-Calculus and are meant for mature students who have had a good algebra II background. These questions are to be solved without a calculator or technology of any kind; figuring out the method is the whole point. Attempting a whole test in the allotted two hours would challenge even the best math teachers. Scores of 15 out of 41 are considered excellent.

Drilling basic facts pays off.

"Practice makes perfect."

Okay, we do have to differentiate between mindless drill & kill and what really makes kids better at math - focused practice, error correction, and repetition of correct processes.  Just as hacking around on a soccer field doesn't help the team nearly as well as a directed practice, endless pages of addition problems aren't useful in developing math skills.

Do ten at a time until you get them right. Examine the work, identify errors and don't repeat them .... which sounds like what Common Core asks math teachers to do and what math teachers have been doing for a long time.

This all sounds like what you've been doing, unless you have Curriculum coordinators like mine who denigrate practice as "drill and Kill. We should have the kids do critical thinking", as if critical thinking and error analysis were two different things.
"Healthy children start making that switch between counting to what’s called fact retrieval when they’re 8 to 9 years old, when they’re still working on fundamental addition and subtraction. How well kids make that shift to memory-based problem-solving is known to predict their ultimate math achievement. Those who fall behind “are impairing or slowing down their math learning later on,” Mann Koepke said. 
So, those teachers who insist that the kids should have a calculator and an internet connection so they can look it all up are really doing a job on their kids.
It turns out that adults don’t use their memory-crunching hippocampus in the same way. Instead of using a lot of effort, retrieving six plus four equals 10 from long-term storage was almost automatic, Menon said. In other words, over time the brain became increasingly efficient at retrieving facts. Think of it like a bumpy, grassy field, NIH’s Mann Koepke explained. Walk over the same spot enough and a smooth, grass-free path forms, making it easier to get from start to end. If your brain doesn’t have to work as hard on simple math, it has more working memory free to process the teacher’s brand-new lesson on more complex math. source.
So the next time someone says that elementary students should have a calculator, that "you can look that up" and "all we need is to teach them information retrieval skills", remind them that the brain needs to have some basic facts to work with before it can handle more complex tasks.


Currently, the argument point brought up here is the Japanese education system, which has been moving away from drill and practice and turning to the higher-order thinking that reformers here in the States are always going on about.

Remember, however, that a typical Japanese high school teacher does NOT have to do as much of this preparatory drill and skills practice ... because of the ubiquitous "jukus" - after-school academies that nearly every Japanese student attends to make sure that he/she has a shot at higher education.What do the "jukus" do? Drill. Basic skills. Practice, practice, practice. Because it works.

Here's a description of one of these "cram schools":
"This school broadcasts lectures to its 800 satellite schools all over Japan and supports students via telephone, fax and the Internet. Students can take math training menu and other drills on the Internet through a service called Toshin Home Lesson. They can choose from one series of lectures to a whole package."

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.