Month: March 2008

Total 32 Posts

Keeping Me Up At Night


If you’ve got a dozen well-trained educators on this blog asking double the amount of critical questions about this cute little NAEP Excel doppleganger, most of which questions completely debunk not nuanced “implications,” but the very parameters of one’s x (math curriculum being assessed) and y (use of technology) values– I mean, come on. The *X and Y* values?!? Doesn’t that indicate on its face that we should throw out the whole damn graph?

She’s right, though the questions undergirding this sketchy data still intrigue me:

  1. What constitutes computing use in fourth-grade math? Rote repetitive drill software? Number Crunchers?
  2. What elements of math’s 12-year plan are outmoded, concessions to universities and textbook publishers? Does it lack coursework? Does it comprise too much coursework?

The Sealed Envelope

We all suffer from confirmation bias and earlier I wondered how the hardcore edutechnophiles would rationalize findings that the US fourth graders who used the most classroom tech performed the worst on standardized math exams?

My best attempt to crawl inside their heads:

Standardized exams are inaccurate assessments, moreover, they assess irrelevant skills.

Do I have that right?

Standardized Exams Are Lousy Assessments

I can’t spend much time on this assertion. Exam validity varies from state to state, content area to content area, and I can’t speak for the fourth grade assessment, but if California’s Algebra and Geometry assessments are any indicator, the ground just fell out beneath you. They’re extremely challenging and extremely fair assessments of prescribed coursework.

Standardized Exams Assess Irrelevant Skills

I can’t cozy up to that first objection but I spend a lot of free time wondering if we’ve prescribed the wrong coursework, especially after the concluding paragraph from Roger Schank’s recent post on math education at The Pulse:

I know this is a hopeless fight, but algebra really matters not at all in real life and the country will not fall behind in any way if we simply stop teaching it. That is not a fact, it is just a former math major’s, UT graduate’s, and Computer Science professor’s, point of view.

There is truth to this, I’m positive. There are studies to be conducted and evidence to be found concluding that, along with the current buffet line of alternative education options, we’ll move to an a la carte mathematics curriculum, even while textbook manufacturers, math teachers, their unions, and parents fearful of the global boogeymen dig in their heels and pull.

Careful, Though

Depending on the strength of your biases, that last one is an ugly rationalization, one which says the only tasks which matter are the ones which involve technology.

It’s worse than, “When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” It’s, “When a hammer is your favorite tool, the tasks which don’t involve nails are pointless.”

There is a very rich, very nuanced conversation to be had here about the math students need (one which I am trying, and failing, to resolve internally with my foundering Feltron Project) and then there is a separate conversation, one which I will find very boring.

The Rationale Which Few Will Cop To

It will impress me a great deal if one of the usual tech proponents steps up to suggest that the implementation of technology in a majority of these classrooms simply sucked, that tech use in math classrooms simply isn’t “there” yet. That’d be totally reasonable and somewhat courageous given the forum.

Courage Aside

It’s obvious to me that this discussion will go nowhere – idealistic tech coordinators and their traditional colleagues permanently gridlocked – if we don’t first resolve the question, “Just what exactly are we supposed to teach here?” and then select some best practices, everyone agreeing to be cool in advance if those practices involve wikis or no. 2 pencils, ’cause we’re sure to find bothI reckon I’d quote some passages from Understanding by Design here if I’d ever read it..

But these emotional appeals to decency and child welfare, my criticisms of which have clogged this blog for the last time for at least a week, treat education’s sore throat with a colonoscopy, demonizing a whole lot of decent educators without much result.


Okay. okay. I feel like we’re getting somewhere w/r/t lesson and resource sharing online.

Swing by Ben Wildeboer’s hurricane investigation. I’ll cop to a lot of personal preference in this arena but no matter who you are or what you prefer, you’ve gotta notice what an advance this is on the traditional model.

  1. He presents his lesson plan as a narrative, stripping it of the usual prescriptive vibe (ie. “do [x] for twenty minutes; assess [x] now.”) which vibe is something like wearing a milkweed boutonnière on your first date. (Or, I guess, wearing a boutonnière on your first date period. Don’t do that.)

    [The usual explanations] didn’t cut it for my students. 15-year olds don’t have great appreciation for the subtleties and complexities of meteorological research. They wanted answers.

    I’m feeling it, y’know? The tension. Will they find answers? Will they?! HOW!?!

  2. He embeds photos, attachments, and links.

    Y’know: multimedia. The stuff that makes good teaching great, even when your students are teachers.

Obviously it doesn’t hurt Wildeboer at all that:

  1. he has enthusiasm for his content,
  2. he knows how to write,
  3. he leaves a few questions tantalizingly unanswered,
  4. his lesson has broad appeal, easily appropriated for math (via graph interpretation) and history (via Katrina & the environmental movement),

but, otherwise, a great, shared lesson plan really is this simple:

Present it as a multimedia story.

Which isn’t at all to say it’s easy, just that the ROI is spectacular when done right.

Dodging My Tech Coordinator

a/k/a Linear Fun #4: Hit ‘Em

She wants her laptop cart back so I’m ducking her calls, trashing her e-mails, employing idle freshmen to shield me as she walks past.

I don’t know how this happened. I reached for those laptops to show my tech detractors I could, to inoculate myself against charges of Ludditism the next time we went to the mattresses, debating the relevance of the read/write web to math education.

“But Some Of My Best Friends Are Laptops.”

But then, after our first investigation into the flight data, after they selected their own data sets for regression analysis, after we investigated the data from the Department of Motor Vehicles (which y’all positively killed in the comments, thanks) I roughed up an interactive activity in Microsoft Excel:

Punch in a slope and y-intercept. Do your best to hit a set of targets. Get ready to give me several sentences explaining both.

There were positive, zero, negative, rational, and impossible slopes.

This was, like, the fifteenth extension on the mobile lab return deadline I begged off my tech coordinator and I realized this laptop thing was no longer an affectation. I wasn’t posing. It was real, more or less.

The Lonely Criterion

If you’re a tech proponent, coordinator, evangelist, or whatever, I’d like to break my complicated, conflicted, highly emotional experience (seriously: who am I anymore?) into small pieces for you.

  1. I had to accomplish a specific instructional objectiveWe can debate the merits of my state’s content standards, fine, but you can’t ask me to defy my employers, simultaneously setting my students up to fail in their next class, all so BJ Nesbitt won’t think I’m a lousy teacher. I mean, if that’s integral to the master plan, we have some work to do.. My students would a) model some part of their world with a linear equation, and b) explain the significance of the equation’s parameters.
  2. Microsoft Excel (coupled with a web browser) was the best tool to accomplish those objectives. And by “best” I’m balancing more factors than I have time or eloquence to describe but a) student engagement (are their brains working hard?), b) student enjoyment (are they having fun?), c) seat-hours expended (could I use our in-class time better?), d) planning hours expended (could I use my out-of-class time better?), and e) assessment scores (how well can they demonstrate mastery of the objective?) certainly round out the top five.

That is my uncomplicated flowchart, my lonely criterion for working technology into my classroom or not. I can’t imagine it is uniquely mine.

Your Job, Simplified

See, this is great. You don’t have to email your entire faculty a link to Mike Wesch’s latest call to educational actionFor serious: if I never saw another stony-faced child staring grimly at the camera, holding a hand-scrawled sign denouncing her out-of-touch, digital-immigrant teacher for not letting her SMS her iPod playlist to her Facebook group (or whatever) during class it would be too soon.. You don’t have to throw statistics at me. You’ve convinced me that my students need different instruction this century than they did in the last – check. got that. – yet you’ve satisfied only one-tenth your job description.

See this is the bummer. Now you have to immerse yourself in my content standards and use tech to help me satisfy the same instructional objectives in some way that’s a) more engaging, b) more fun, c) less time-intensive for my students in-class, d) less time-intensive for me out-of-class, or e) sturdier upon assessmentReally, if you can show me gains along any of those vectors without losing the others, you’ll be my valentine..

But this is also a bummer because, assuming your background wasn’t in every content area your school offers, you have to build a robust network of prolific educators pushing every content area in every direction but down.

And that’s the final bummer for y’all School 2.0 sectarians I’ve hectored these last fifteen months: unless I’m missing several platoons of math teacher bloggers, we’re stuck with each other.

‘Cause I’m starting to enjoy these Internets of yours, and finding a place for them in my classes.

2015 Nov 9. This might be the most belated update ever on this blog. Ms. Mac asks why there isn’t a Desmos Activity Builder-enabled version of this task yet. (Note to my past-self: you now work for an edtech company. Take the day off while you process that turn.) There should be. She made one.