Thursday, December 31, 2015

Favorite comments of '15: Anonymous

Who speaks for children with special needs?

Anonymous said...
Very true. An older member of my family with Down syndrome became a fluent reader and pretty decent writer, by taking 2 years for each grade until he was 16. This was not, of course, ideal but he lived in a tiny rural town and the school had no special ed resources at all. He became used to the fact that he would be exposed to material and start to master some of it in his first year in a grade, and would master the rest of it during the second year. The important part, to me, is that he was never being expected to master material that was more than a few months (in grade level) beyond what he had already mastered.

Favorite comments of '15, cont: SteveH

On It’s not just the Common Core: how vagueness and complexity entrench current practices:

SteveH said...
At my son's high school, all of the teachers, including honors and AP teachers, had to align their content with the book, chapter, and verse of CCSS. One teacher was so pissed off that he gave it to the students to do as homework. My son had an assignment where he had to not only do the assignment, but break it into CCSS tasks or goals - citing specific sections, and explain why each part fit the CCSS standard. I remember helping him with it. Our reaction was "Whatever."

Education is the only public policy area that I ever analyzed (and experienced) in detail. I'm still amazed by how stuck and entrenched it is. I am also amazed at the bias, the shallowness, and amount of misunderstanding. I call it a turf thing. That's all they have, and ironically, ed schools directly teach it to their students by rote. The problem is that if you take that away from them, they have nothing. However, when my son got to 7th grade, when our state required subject certification to teach, things began to change. High school was a completely different world (which is not true everywhere) where none of his classes cared about CCSS. For those parents who know better, CCSS is meaningless. They will have to ensure learning at home. For other parents, high school content focus comes too late.

Since "education" is now its own separate content (devoid of subject content), they assume that it informs them about best practices in other areas. I found it astounding to be lectured by a first grade teacher about understanding in math and why it's good for kids to explain why 2+2=4. Their position seems to be that content experts were naturally good in the subject so they don't know what's best for most other students. They also claim that parents only want what they had when they were young - that they just don't understand modern ideas of learning. Critical thinking? No. Bias and turf.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Favorite comments of '15: Anonymouses, Barry Garelick, lgm, and concerned

On Boredom and time sinks in child-centered classrooms:

Anonymous said...
And here's the thing: it's one thing to be bored because you have finished the work quickly. At least then, you can be alone with your thoughts or with a free choice book. It's another level of awful to be bored by a clunky process of "exploration" and student-led discussion.

Barry Garelick said...
A recent twitter dialogue that I read had Dan Meyer (aka dy/Dan) talking about how the open-ended question "Come up with an equation with 5 and 3" is worthwhile. He stated:

"Kids like those questions because they feel creative in math class. They're exposed to other students thinking. They get the generation effect with minimal extraneous load. They get to see lots of worked examples..." and so on.

In my experience some kids may like it, but many tune out. If it's welcomed it's because it's a good way to pass the time until class is over. They get to talk, to BS a bit, and "feel creative" but not much math is learned.

Auntie Ann said...
Kids love class when the feel like they are getting away with blowing the whole thing off, when they think they are pulling one over on their teachers, and when they instead spend the day chatting and gossiping. Yes, kids love that.

It's torture on the kids who actually want to learn something, but for the majority, it certainly is "fun",

lgm said...
It is a waste of time for a proficient student to be sitting in a whole class discussion with students who are academically behind. Those students do not learn from the solutions offered by others, and disrupt instead of respectfully listen. They get angry, and they take their anger out on the proficient students when the aides dont have quick reflexes. With whole class, the on grade level or advanced child cannot leave and do his personal project. He must retreat into his mind. Is that what we want? Our top children to zone out, never working at school in their zpd?

Anonymous said...
I didn't find out until college that I was offered acceleration - skipping first grade - but all of my 1-8 teachers obviously knew, because they all were fine with my reading/working on my own in class - and would make suggestions for new books. They'd just tell me which page/problem/paragraph to read/solve at board etc. I learned far more that way than I ever would have, if I had been expected to pay attention to material I already knew. Today's group work would have been torture. My own kids hated it, and they were in leveled classes most of the time.

concerned said...
Students can be cognitively engaged in group settings and individually, but some administrators (evaluators) seem to believe that cognitive engagement can only happen in a group setting or through student to student interaction.

Favorite comments of '15: SteveH

 On How traditional math is more progressive than today's math

SteveH said... 

"...inspired as they are by educational progressivism, are supposed to favor child-centered discovery learning. And yet, in many ways, they are less child-centered than ever."
I've seen so many cases where what they say and what they do are completely different. They want child-centered, but that really means group-centered in class. They talk about different learning styles, but don't let the students decide, especially if the student wants to use traditional algorithms rather than something like the lattice method. They talk about discovery, but they can't do this for everything so only a few topics get that in-class, group approach. They assume that it works and don't care if the light bulb goes on for one student who proceeds to directly teach it badly to the others in the group. Apparently, students can't discover anything with individual homework assignments. They talk about differentiated instruction, but that never gets done and it's not acceleration. My son had to draw crayon pictures of science terms in sixth grade even though he memorized them in very short order.  
They want students to discover what they want them to discover. They make it clear to the students that the teachers favor some techniques and explanations over others. It was a big problem for me when my son was in K-6. How do you tell them that they are completely wrong? They don't even do what they say they are going to do. I came to the conclusion that their only goal is group work in class with the teacher as the guide on the side. They want to follow a rote process and assume that it works by definition. I don't see any arguments that would get these people to understand anything else.  
I thought that maybe if they knew what the parents of the best students did at home with ensuring basic skills, that it would make a difference. They don't want to know because if you take their beliefs away from them, then they have nothing.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Favorite comments of '15: Anonymouses, Auntie Ann, momof4 and Emily

On Right-brained science, again: the myth of the finches:

Anonymous said...
I am a scientist turned homeschooler (who has also had kids in school). I can't stand the K-12 focus on having students become "little scientists" at the expense of teaching real science content.

IMO, the best way to prepare kids for STEM careers is to give them four things.

(1) A solid math education that stresses problem solving *and* automaticity

(2) An ability to read difficult, complex text

(3) An ability to detect rhetorical arguments and restate them clearly as well as an ability to form clear arguments in response

(4) A content rich education across all disciplines
Anonymous said...
It seems like many homeschooling science curriculums assume the parents want lots of projects in elementary school. They don't seem like an efficient use of time to me. Maybe I'm missing something, but my 3rd grader and I have learned a lot from library books and middle school level science textbooks.
Anonymous said...
Exactly, Anonymous @ 7:03.

This idea that K-12 science must be predominantly hands on, where students play with materials, and make wild guesses about outcomes, is at best a waste of time and more likely counterproductive.

It takes *a lot* of background knowledge--background knowledge that is *not* acquired by playing with materials--to become a real scientist. Most lab work, frankly, should only come to dominate a scientist in training's time in graduate school.
Anonymous said...
And it's not just homeschool science programs that do that. The school district here uses Foss kits, which assume that hands on, anything goes science is good science.
Auntie Ann said...
Here's an earlier thread on schools and labwork:
momof4 said...
"It's not an efficient use of time" - three cheers and amen! I've posted this before, but I've not seen any sign that the edworld is even aware of the concept of efficiency, let alone any appreciation for it. Even if the "little scientist" stuff (or any kind of group/discovery) works - and I don't think it does - it wastes huge amounts of time. Kids need to learn lots of academic content, in all subjects, and wasting time means they learn less of it.
Anonymous said...
I think one of the problems is that the people who make the decisions about how science is taught in K-8 especially don't actually know anything about what it takes to be a scientist and in fact, have probably been avoiding science (and math) because they found it difficult or boring (or likely both) in school.

In fact, my sense is that most education majors have never had to learn anything that is not, at its core, intuitive for them. They have never had to wrestle with anything that derives its order from something outside of the human mind. Sure, scientific models are really just human constructs to allow us to understand the universe, but what scientific models are attempting to describe is something that is fundamentally non-human, and for most people, that makes much of science non-intuitive. Since these people have never had to fully understand science before, they don't realize that applying a discovery approach in K-8 (and probably K-12, or even K-16 if a nonscience major) is not only a total waste of time but that it also makes a mockery of the scientific method.

Far better than creating "little scientists" would be to have the goal of developing *science literacy* in all students.
Anonymous said...
The hands-on elementary science activities I remember weren't true experiments, but demonstrations of concepts that aren't intuitively obvious, like taking a flashlight to a globe to show how day and night happen, etc. (which, I should add, my parents did with me, not something we did in school.)

As for actual experimenting, baking seems like a better real-world, hands-on activity than trying to be a "real" scientist. My mom (who had studied food science in college, so I think baking can be real science) allowed me to try making cookies without flour, baking soda, etc... The results were predictably inedible. Of course, between using ovens, tasting something with raw eggs, and the actual mess and clean-up, I doubt most teachers would want to deal with real experimenting... And, of course, the lesson I learned was that the people who write cookie recipes know what they're talking about, and I shouldn't waste my time trying to make major changes, at least not until I had at least an undergraduate-level knowledge of food science...

Auntie Ann said...
There is one math experiment I'm sort of shocked doesn't get done. All it takes is a gym with the right paint on the floor, some string, and something to measure length (if a gym floor isn't available, teachers can probably do it with chalk on the playground). I suggested it at our school, but they didn't do it.

Have the kids go to the gym with some string. Have them lay the string around the big circles on the floor (usually, there is one near the center line and two more around the free-throw lines.) Mark or cut the string to the length of the perimeter of the circle, then measure the length of the string to find the circumference. Use a measuring tape or another length of string to measure the diameter of the circle. Divide the circumference by the diameter to calculate pi.

The big circles make it easy to get quite accurate results. I did this once with our kid using a car tire, and we calculated it to within a couple hundreths, something in the 3.12-3.15 range, I think. The tire was really a messy way to do it, and the bigger the circle, the more accurate the measurement will be.

You could also use it as a statistics exercise, averaging the results across the classroom and among classes to improve accuracy and teach how redoing an experiment repeatedly improves the results.

Favorite comments of '15: Auntie Ann

On Knowing, Doing, and Explaining Your Answer

Auntie Ann said...
English class: explain Captain Ahab's obsession with the whale, make sure to use at least one text-to-self and one text-to-text reference, also use math to explain your answer, the math must include diagrams of how it relates to the book.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Favorite comment of '15, cont: Anonymous and Anonymous

On Math problems of the week: Common Core-inspired math vs. Singapore Math

Anonymous said...
The new problems are much wordier and demand wordier answers. Are they trying to disfavor boys, AS kids and ELL?
Anonymous said...
I found that drawing diagrams for the CC problems was far more cumbersome that simply working them numerically because conceptually they were very straightforward. Not so with the Singapore problems which are not straightforward at all unless you draw a diagram.

Why couldn't the US simply adopt Primary Mathematics as the "standard" and be done with it?

Favorite comments of '15, cont: Hainish, Anonymous, Barry Garelick, and SteveH

On How deeply do UCARE: “Going deep” in 21st Century, Common Core-inspired math

Hainish said...
I agree with everything you've written here, BUT I think it's a bit unfair to pin the problems on CCSS, which is being used as a Trojan horse to get to do the kid of teaching these people wanted all along. If anything, having common standards solves a massive coordination problem -- they can be fixed for many states at once, instead of piecemeal.
Anonymous said...
Are we to understand that this BS is the result of collaboration, persistence, critical thinking, and creative thinking?
Barry Garelick said...
While CCSS is being used to advance the constructivist and other faddish trends, they are not entirely without blame. They lend themselves to such interpretations, particularly through the Standards of Mathematical Practice which are the old and recast NCTM Process Standards.
Hainish said...
Barry, I found the Practice Standards here:

(With the exception of 3, they don't seem unreasonable to me.)

I thought I would see "Students should be able to solve problems in more than one way," but I didn't find that particular phrase on the page I linked to. Do you know where it comes from?
Barry Garelick said...
They are not unreasonable if implemented sensibly. But requiring lower grade students to critique and analyze the reasoning of others is nonsense, but that's what some are doing. I wrote a series of articles on how the SMP can be implemented sensibly, compared to how they are be implemented in the real world.

There's nothing wrong with having students persevere in solving problems, but this has been interpreted as "struggle is good", and giving students problems without much help or guidance and having them "struggle" so that they can learn. There are ways to do this productively, of course. But the "struggle is good" philosophy is one that's been around for a while, and the SMP's are gasoline on the fire of bad math practices that have been around for 20+_years.
SteveH said...
Is it possible for CCSS to be anything but what lies in the hearts and minds of ed school pedagogues? No. Testing companies, like PARCC, define what CCSS is or is not. It doesn't matter what the SMP says. PARCC says that the highest level of achievement ("distinguished") only means that one is likely to pass a course in college algebra. This highest level of expectations starts in the earliest grades, so CCSS is a non-STEM curriculum by definition no matter what the SMPs say.

However, MCPS defines accelerated tracks on their web site. Acceleration opportunities start in grade 4, and in one option, this leads to algebra I in grade 7. Considering that CCSS, at most, expects only pseudo-algebra II content, it's not clear how they prepare these kids for algebra in 7th grade. (They don't.)Whatever they do has to be something not based on anything to do with CCSS. They can use their fuzzy UCARE words, but something else has to happen.

They start compacting the material in fourth grade, but the acceleration is based on the same fuzzy content and ideas of K-6 curricula. The only real change is when they get to a real algebra textbook that is far above what CCSS expects. Instead of a proper pre-algebra course, they force kids to suffer through "Investigations in Math." In other words, the only kids who will be on a STEM track are those who get math help at home or with tutors.

K-6 math ignorance has not been fixed by CCSS. It is just hidden by acronyms like UCARE. MCPS can make a connection to Calc AP as a junior in high school, but the onus is completely on the students and parents to make the nonlinear transition from K-6 fluff math to the real math textbook high school sequence.

CCSS is a one-size-fits-all (algebra II) expectation and anything above that is left up to the students and parents. MCPS can define the paths and students can make it onto those paths, but educators don't (want to) know how kids get on those paths.

I went through this exact process with my son. I worked with him on the (stupid) 6th grade Everyday Math material in the summer before 6th grade so that he could take pre-algebra in 6th grade. I know exactly what that nonlinear transition is all about. CCSS fails in that it does not address the transition from the fluff ideas of K-6 to the real world STEM options of the calculus track in high school. When I was in school, I got to calculus with absolutely no help from my parents. This is impossible to do now. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Favorite comments of '15, cont: Auntie Ann and Steven

On Math problems of the week: PARCC vs. the Maryland State Assessment

Auntie Ann said...
The two are also fundamentally not equivalent in different way. You could have a kid do about 5 different problems, showing different skills and knowledge in the time it would take them to do the PARCC problem.

A better assessment of the strengths of the two tests would be to show the number of problems a child can reasonably do in a set amount of time from each, and see how many skills the child has to master to do well on those problems.
Steven said...
The PARCC problem has an even greater difficulty: A a student who is truly thinking critically might waste time puzzling over the following issues:

1) The problem specifies the number of seats in each vehicle type, not the number of passengers it can carry. Does the correct answer presume that you have added a driver for each vehicle when calculating the total number of people transported?

2) If you need to make room for drivers, are the teachers driving a vehicle? So is the number of people in the vehicles equal to 69 students plus 3 teachers plus a driver for each vehicle, or three less than that total since the teachers could double as drivers.

Admittedly, the three "correct" answers all exceed any the total number of students, teachers, and drivers, but how much valuable time might be wasted by a student who thinks about this issue?

In addition, there is a third issue:

Who is driving the vehicles? The problem only mentions three adults (i.e., the three teachers), but no combination of vehicles can accommodate all the teachers and students with only three vehicles. So a student who is thinking critically might well conclude that it is impossible for all the students to be taken on the field trip.

Favorite comments of '15: FedUpMom

On The "normal child inside" (fourth installment): being autistic vs. "having autism"

FedUpMom said...
This discussion reminds me of a movie called "My Kid Could Paint That", about a little girl who paints sophisticated abstract paintings -- or does she? It's a similar story about people projecting their own fantasies and desires into a powerless child.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Favorite comments of '15, cont: S Goya

On Asian” collectivism vs. “Western” individualism: what does the fish tank experiment really show?

S Goya said...
However as a teacher whose has spent 3 school years in China, teaching math (not English), I do not think you need to completely abandon your explanation. I have a similar explanation for why Chinese schools rely so much on rote compared to Western schools. The long-term effect of both the quantitative and qualitative memory training means Chinese kids have an ability to memorize that far outshines Westerners. I observed a number of fourth graders who memorized the entire Robert Louis Stevenson poem "My Shadow" (in English, of course), in one evening and could recite it without pausing.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Favorite comments of '15, continued: Anonymous

On more maps and fewer portraits:

Anonymous said...
Speaking as one who has loved maps since early childhood, I found that reading about Lewis and Clark while looking at a map like the one you show made the journey MUCH clearer to me. I think maps have been pushed aside to some extent because it's hard to teach children how to understand and learn from them. In fact, one of the ways that full inclusion classrooms modify the curriculum for children with developmental delays is to excuse them from having to learn much about maps or how to use them.

Favorite comments of '15: Auntie Ann

On Math problems of the week: Common Core-inspired test questions.

Auntie Ann said...
About 50% of the problems with the Common Core tests could be fixed by just doing the things on paper.

The move to computer-based testing is a disaster. I tried taking an online sample, and the computer interface was incredibly time consuming and frustrating. How are kids supposed to show their work on a computer screen? Something that can be quickly done with a pencil and paper becomes unwieldy and aggravating on a monitor. (My grad school thesis contained equations long enough to fill an entire page, I know how hard it is to do math with a computer!)

We've seen a lot of math problems from the tests, but I would think the language arts part are just as bad. Does the 8 year old touch-typist have an enormous advantage over the kid who actually knows grammar, spelling and has good reading comp, but who hasn't spent much time at a keyboard? Probably.

It's a case of the shiny new thing being adopted because it's shiny and new, not because it is actually useful.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Favorite comments of '15, continued: gasstationwithoutpumps

On Bad things:

gasstationwithoutpumps said...
I help students learn to present their science every day (actually, only 4 days a week this quarter).

Some would benefit from improv classes if only to help keep them freezing when they make a mistake.

Others need to work on voice and intonation (suffering from the low-volume mumble or monotone that ruins so many academic talks). Again, acting classes could help (I take the grad students out into the woods once a year to practice speaking loudly.)

But most of the students need help in structuring their talks—in figuring out what the audience already knows, what they need to know, and what order to put the material in for smooth flow. That is not something that improv classes would help much with.

Favorite comments of '15, continued: a ten-comment thread

On Bases for Conceptual Understanding:

James A said...
In the old days, (pre 15 February 1971) there were 12 pence to a shilling, and 20 shillings to the pound, 12 inches to a foot and 3 feet to a yard, and sixteen ounces to a pound, and ... Different bases were simply the air we breathed.
C T said...
Ah, you convinced yourself with your own eloquence when you wrote the ironical comment.
A person must be careful with what he/she writes. Long ago, I didn't want to go to law school, but I applied at my mother's urging; after I wrote an application essay about "why I wanted to go to law school," I had changed my mind and genuinely did want to go. ;)
Anonymous said...
I am all for teaching different bases for enrichment. However, there is actually a school of thought that Americans are not proficient in math facts because we persist in using the English system. Most people cannot calculate the ounces, and inches, etc in their head and they don't find mind math practical. Whereas in places with metric system, mental math are more useful because everything is base 10. Chinese speakers particularly had it easy because their 11 and 12 literally says ten one and ten two, make understanding place value easier for kids as well. 
GoogleMaster said...
@Anonymous, I doubt that switching wholesale to the metric system would magically enable Americans to perform mental calculations. After all, our money is metric, but very few people can calculate a 15% tip in their heads, and many can't even do simple change-making (i.e. subtraction of decimal numbers).
Mnemosyne's Notebook said...
I remember learning bases back in sixth grade also - though in Bakersfield, not France. I think it's sad that there is nothing about teaching non-base 10 in the CCSS. Part of the dopey jargon is to prepare students for the 21st century - but the first time they'll see binary or hex is when they take an intro Computer Science course as a freshman? Granted, some of the better high schools will have CS classes, and I suspect those bases are taught then. But this is basic math. Leaving it up to a CS class is like punting fractions to Home Ec/Life Skills (Sally, the recipe is for 4 people, how would you modify it for only 3 people?).

I suspect that even the chowderheads who made the CCSS realize that most sixth grade teachers today would just die if they had to teach something as arithmetically intense as translating between bases. 
Katharine Beals said...
As far as alternative bases in daily life go, we still have (besides the American non-metric system) seconds, minutes and hours; hours, days, and weeks...

What's challenging is that we represent these things using the Base 10 number system: it's the clash between the underlying number system and the number system used to represent it that makes the arithmetic especially messy.

Of course, it's also messy to use dozens of additional symbols, which is what you'd need whenever the underlying number system has place values involving powers of numbers greater than 10 (e.g., the powers of 60 seen in seconds, minutes, and hours).
lgm said...
Bases may be taught here as an aside when Roman Numerals are explained in 6th SS or scientific notation explained in 7th accel science. Really though, students who grow up in households with parents who involve them in upgrading computers dont seem to have an issue figuring binary out on their own....the rest will probably never get to the point of looking under the hood, so a lesson on bases would be wasted time given their lack of interest and issues with mastering fractions. 
Auntie Ann said...
My niece at least know how to count in binary. I got her started by showing her the joke: there are 10 types of people in this world, those who understand binary, and those who don't.

From there, she learned the rest.
Anonymous said...
I learned bases in 6th grade as well--in Pasadena, CA in 1979. It was the most interesting thing I had learned in math...well...ever to that point.
Auntie Ann said...
the tyranny of Base 10? Oh, my.