Month: July 2014

Total 9 Posts

Your Mid-Week Must-Read: Why Do Americans Stink At Math

Elizabeth Green compiles the history of math education in the United States from New Math to the Common Core:

Americans might have invented the world’s best methods for teaching math to children, but it was difficult to find anyone actually using them.

She also tours through some of the best ethnographic research you’ll read in math education but doesn’t cite two of them explicitly (that I counted) so I will.

Featured Comment:

Daniel Schneider:

It might be worth noting that the paragraph about ‘answer getting’ seems to be referring to Phil Daro and his whole take on answer-getting.

Simon Terrell writes about his trip to Japan with Akihiko Takahashi.

Dan Goldner on his resolutions:

Of all the great things to focus on in this article, this is the one that spoke to me where I am now. Student-initiated in 40%, not 100%. 41% of time practicing, not 5%. Half the time on invent/think, not all the time on invent/think. I’ve been working so hard on making “invent/think” the dominant activity in my room, that practicing, which is also a cognitive requirement for learning, has been de-emphasized. The next paragraph in the article acknowledges that Japan isn’t perfect, either, and these percentages certainly aren’t a perfect recipe. But as my personal pendulum finds its equilibrium it’s great to read this and take from it the encouragement that that all the modes of learning have to have a place during the week.

A Better Definition Of “Personalization”

David Wiley:

For me, personalization comes down to being interesting. You have successfully personalized learning when a learner finds it genuinely interesting. Providing me with an adaptive, customized pathway through educational materials that bore me out of my mind is not personalized learning. It may be better than forcing me through the same pathway that everyone else takes, but I wouldn’t call it personalized.

Held to that standard, most groups that are attempting to personalize learning through software are pretty screwed.

Jai Mehta:

But what I can tell you from visits to blended classrooms and schools, in both traditional public and charter schools, is that students tend to find what exists thus far as fairly dull, lacking both the community and the accountability that comes with good face to face learning. A number of students told us at one highly celebrated blended school that they liked everything about the school except for the online learning!

That last link via Justin Reich, who confidently predicts the results from the 2017 Khan Academy study.

Featured Comment

Jane Taylor:

Another aspect of personalization is the relationship between student and teacher, and I found that as blended learning decreased the amount of face to face whole class instruction in my class last year, I didn’t get to know my students as well and as quickly as I had in the past. When I know my students and find out what “works”, what engages, each particular group of students, as well what works for individual students, then my classroom can better meet individual needs, not just in the way I teach math, but in the way I encourage students to manage their time, to grow in their work ethic and study habits, to overcome math anxiety, and many other things. Whole class interaction is a lot of fun for me and, I believe, for students. Resources, such as videos, are great for motivated students to review or move ahead, and I will continue to provide them, but I am returning to primarily whole class instruction this year.

Rotonda West & Capturing Curiosity

Two anecdotes about curiosity, followed by a challenge:

1. Nana’s Lemon Water

I facilitated a workshop in Atlanta a few weeks ago and a participant had one of these enormous Thirstbuster mugs. I asked, somewhat nervously, “Whatcha got in there?” She replied “water with lemon.”

I wondered, as I’m sure others might, “Well how much lemon would you need in that enormous thing to even taste it.”

It’s natural for humans to have questions and seek to answer them. Once I heard her answer, though, an unnatural, teacherly act followed. I tried to recapture the question, something like mounting a butterfly in a shadow box or preserving a specimen in a jar, so that a student could experience it also.

That’s this video and the attached lesson.

2. Rotonda West

Another example. It takes very little curiosity to appreciate the gorgeous, curated satellite images from, such as this image of a Florida housing development:


What’s trickier for me is to format that appreciation, that awe, into a question, to capture that question so I can share it with students.


Making that image (and the answer) required a certain technological know-how, sure, but the really challenging part is training myself to probe interesting items for the curious questions they contain. It’s one of teaching’s unnatural acts and it requires practice and feedback.

3. Challenge

Curiosity is cultivated. Curious people grow more curious. These are examples of how I cultivate my own curiosity.

With that said, what curious questions can you find in this interesting story and video about the tallest water slide in the world? How can we capture that curiosity and make it accessible and productive for our students?

Previously: How Do You Turn Something Interesting Into Something Challenging

Reformers On Motivation

Bill Gates, via Tom Hoffman:

… the one thing we have a lot of in the United States is unmotivated students.

It’s astonishing to me how many people develop their pet education theories assuming there is little or no interaction between motivation and learning, or that motivation is somehow outside the teacher’s job description. The assumption that motivation is entirely the student’s job leaves us no way to check ourselves for de-motivating pedagogy. If students don’t like sitting in warehouses, watching lecture videos, and clicking away at multiple choice questions, it’s either their own fault, or the fault of Miley Cyrus, social media, or Kids These Days, but not ours. Our theories can’t be impeached. We just need a better class of students.

Related: Rocketship charter schools (which were last seen on this blog here) are abandoning their enormous warehouses where elementary students click away at multiple choice questions:

Teachers — who are at-will employees who can be fired at any time — also criticized Rocketship’s intolerance for dissent, saying it contributed to the disastrous redesign that placed 100 students in a classroom.

“Teachers raised concerns,” said one ex-teacher, “and no discussion was allowed on the subject.”

Those who privately expressed doubt feel vindicated [by the removal of the warehouses] although sad, by the resulting test decline.


Featured Comment

Tom Hoffman:

I was thinking that you can tell a lot about a person’s view of education by exactly when they realize the importance of motivation. From the beginning, in the middle or at the end.

I think one thing that probably strikes teachers about Gates’ quote there is how much it sounds like a cranky old teacher in the break room.

Jay Fogleman:

I find the idea that “today’s youth” are “unmotivated” is bizarre. When teenagers are “hooked” one topic or activity, they are darn near unstoppable.