Prince Elsa

Caiden tries on his Elsa costume

Caiden tries on his Elsa costume

A three-year-old Virginia boy will dress as Princess Elsa from Frozen for Halloween, his father posted on Facebook.

“He wants to be Elsa,” wrote Paul Henson of his son, Caiden. “He also wants me to be Anna. Game on.”

“Halloween is about children pretending to be their favorite characters,” Henson wrote. “Just so happens, this week his is a princess.”

Nobody cares if a girl wants to be Batman, but a boy in a princess costume is a bit startling. If I were Dad, I’d hold out for Olaf rather than Anna.

Was the father wrong — or just unwise — to put the photo online?

California dumps exit exam — retroactively

California has ditched its high school exit exam because it’s not aligned with Common Core standards. (It’s much easier.) Furthermore, the state will grant high school diplomas to anyone who met graduation requirements but failed the exam since the class of 2006, reports Sharon Noguchi for the San Jose Mercury News.

Nobody knows how many people might qualify for a diploma. Some 32,000 people didn’t pass the exam by the end of 12th grade, but some may have passed later in adult ed, while others may have failed other requirements.

Britne Ryan, 25,  finished high school in 2008, but couldn’t pass the exam, reports Noguchi. She “hopes to go back to school and get into the medical field or work in an office.”

Erika Ortega, of Oakland, hopes a high school diploma will enable her to earn a certificate in early childhood education. Photo:  Anda Chu, Bay Area News Group)

Erika Sandoval hopes a high school diploma will enable her to qualify as a preschool teacher. Photo: Anda Chu, Bay Area News Group

“I am really happy,” said Erika Ortega Sandoval, 25, of Oakland. A learning disability made it hard to master English after arriving in the U.S. at age 14. She failed the exam multiple times.

“Now she’s hoping to study child development at Merritt College in Oakland, and become a preschool teacher,” reports Noguchi.

Not surprisingly, failure rates were higher for students with disabilities and English Learners. Critics said that was unfair.

But here’s the problem: Anyone who couldn’t pass the exit exam, with multiple tries, is going to find it very hard to pass community college classes.

The math portion — which had the highest failure rate — was based on sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade standards. It was a four-option multiple-choice test. Students needed a 55 percent score. If they knew arithmetic and guessed on everything else, they could pass.

The English section, which was based on eighth-­, ninth- and 10th­-grade standards, required a 60 percent. Solid eighth-grade skills and guessing should have been enough.

“How many millions were spent creating the exit exam, training us on its use, actually giving the exam for all those years, grading that exam, and reporting its results?” asks Darren, a California math teacher, on Right on the Left Coast.

In an e-mail, a colleague also wonders about the wasted money and time.

Well, give ’em all diplomas and trophies, too, and I’m all right with it. But I hope that our esteemed education leaders forgive us lowly classroom teachers if we don’t get excited about the next big thing that is going to really make a difference this time . . .

The pendulum has swung back to “it’s all good as long as you try,” writes Darren.

In theory, the state could design a new exit exam aligned to Common Core standards. It would be a much harder exam with a much higher failure rate, so it will not happen.

Why do students — and teachers — hate history?

Why Do Students Hate History? asks Grego Milo, a world history teacher in Ohio, in Ed Week.

The textbook covers 5,000 years — from the origins of civilization to the 21st century. He focuses on some time periods and goes lightly on others, but worries that students don’t care about DaVinci, the Roaring Twenties or Sun Tzu.

Students who dislike his class tell him it’s boring. “How is learning about the Treaty of Versailles going to help me in life?” they wonder. (I wonder if they’re fans of Don’t Stay in School.)

That’s a “good question,” writes Milo. Strengthening his students’ “thinking skills” is his top priority.

I want them to make reasoned decisions that consider the many variables of an event. I want them to understand a decision’s consequences, for the long term as well as the short.

Students can “practice decision-making skills with any subject,” so why chose “a boring one,” writes Milo.

He doesn’t like teaching history as a chronology of topics.

Why do my students have to learn about the fall of Rome or the East India Trading Co.? Maybe one of them would like to focus on elections in Burundi.

History “only becomes interesting when you know enough about it so that new information makes sense,” responds Pax Britannica in comments. “It is also impossible to make sense of the past if we study it out of sequence.”

Why do some history teachers hate history? asks Katharine Beals on Out in Left Field. She continues here and here.

The fall of the Roman empire or elections in Burundi?

Why teach about the Roman empire, if some students would prefer to study elections in Burundi?

Students have to learn some basic history before they can know what topics they might find interesting, she writes.

Chronology creates a story. What happened next? That’s inherently interesting, writes Beals. Chronology also makes things easier to remember and helps clarify an event’s causes and effects.

I’ve always loved history. But I didn’t love social studies. Our world history class consisted of hopping here and there around the globe with no sense of what might have led to what. There was no history.

Don’t Stay in School?

Don’t Stay in School,” which has “gone viral,” attacks schooling for teaching useless knowledge, such as the fate of Henry VIII’s six wives, rather than how to find a job, do taxes, manage finances, vote or understand one’s rights. The lyrics include my favorite science factoid: “Mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell.”

Here’s some parents’ reaction to the rap by musician/producer Dave Brown — with his reaction to the reaction.

The video misses the point, writes Michael T. Hamilton, a former English teacher and a homeschooling parent, on PJ Media. Reading Shakespeare and dissecting a frog doesn’t preclude learning real-world knowledge.

“Brown’s allegedly useless knowledge enabled him to create this viral video,” writes Hamilton.

. . . my wife has newly plastered our walls with Classical Conversations historical timeline cards, with which she is successfully teaching our 5-year-old “useless” facts about ancient Sumeria and Mesopotamia, the creation of the alphabet, the Pax Romana, and the division of the Roman Empire.

. . . my son will know the laws, how to represent himself to job interviewers, and how to vote. But my son need not (and will not) learn these to the exclusion of Shakespeare, abstract math (which the ancients deemed one with philosophy–also useless in Brown’s book, I presume), or the frog thing.

Learning about history is a good basis for learning about human rights.

What does it mean to be an educated person? asks Marc Tucker. Few colleges and universities have “given serious thought” to the question and fashioned “a serious integrated, coherent curriculum in response to that analysis.”

Distribution requirements — a little of this and a little of that — don’t do the job.

U.S. students specialize earlier, instead of taking general education classes in high school and the first two years of college, he writes. “With every passing year, our college and university programs are more vocational in nature.”

Perplexing puzzles

Professor Povey’s Perplexing Problems include math and physics problems.

Science, math teachers love ‘The Martian’

The Martian could turn kids on to science and math, teachers hope. The astronaut hero, played by Matt Damon in the movie, is stranded on Mars, left for dead by his crew mates. He figures out how to survive and communicate with NASA, so he can be rescued.

“Teachers love it,” author Andy Weir, a programmer and space buff, told Ed Week. “It’s full of math word problems.”

Scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson has called the plot a “celebration” of scientific literacy. The Mars mission and Watney’s survival tactics—he creates water by burning hydrazine and he turns about a dozen Thanksgiving potatoes into a crop of potato plants using Martian soil and his own waste, to name two—are scientifically vetted and largely possible.

Teachers are turning the book into a study aid, says Weir. Some teachers “download illegal copies of the book and print it up as worksheets and stuff for their kids.”

A good simple algebra problem in the book is Mark has enough food to last this long and can grow potatoes at this rate. Every potato has this many calories. How long now until he runs out of food? It works out to be like a bucket with a hole in it [problem, in which the bucket is leaking and being refilled]. It’s exactly that same format just with calories and time. That’s a good one for 9th grade algebra.

Damon hopes the movie will inspire students.

I enjoyed the book without trying to follow the science, math or engineering. It was about ingenuity, grit and courage.

Is The Martian “competence porn?”

Straight Outta Homeroom

In Straight Outta Homeroom on the Reason site, Remy makes fun of zero tolerance rules and safety scares.

Learning to teach from a teacher

Medical school graduates work as residents to learn how to be competent doctors. The Boston Teacher Residency is training Renee Alves, 22, in an experienced teacher’s classroom, reports Christopher Booker for PBS NewsHour. She “will spend 10 months watching, emulating, and learning as much as she can” from Kayla Morse, who teaches third grade at the Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School in Roxbury.

Jesse Solomon, who taught math in Boston public schools for 10 years, co-founded the program in 2003.

One thing I saw a lot when I was teaching was– a number of brand new teachers coming into the profession. Smart, committed, hard-working, kind of willing to do whatever it takes– but not really knowing how to teach that first year.

My concern was always that they were learning on the backs on the kids that had them that year, right? So if you’re a first-year teacher in Algebra 1 class, you get another shot next year. For those kids taking Algebra 1, that was their shot at algebra 1. So had in my head that there’s gotta be a better way to do this.

Three of four residency graduates in the past 12 years are teaching in Boston — including Morse, who completed her residency four years ago.

The program “has shown success not only retaining more teachers but hiring more science and math specialists, and placing more Black, Latino, and Asian-Americans in the classroom,” reports Booker.

The program was redesigned when a 2011 Harvard study found that first-year residents’ students earned lower math scores than students of first-year teachers  from traditional programs.

Now, residents are concentrated in fewer schools, says Solomon.

So if you have, you know, seven math residents and seven math mentors and a math clinic teacher educator, you have 15 people all in the same school talking together on a daily basis about what, like, does good math teaching look like– for– for the kids in this school.

Residents assist a mentor teacher four days a week and spend the fifth day taking graduate classes to earn a master’s in education.

Ed schools try to reform themselves

It’s time to remake teacher education, declares Deans for Impact, two dozen deans of education schools. The group released The Science of Learning, a report by Dan Willingham and Paul Bruno on how to apply cognitive science research to classroom practice.

The deans have “committed themselves to a common set of principles, including data-driven improvement, common outcome measures, empirical validation of teacher preparation methods, and accountability for student learning,” writes Robert Pondisco.

Too often, teacher ed programs “fetishize theory, teachers’ dispositions toward learners, or soft pedagogical skills at the expense of subject matter depth,” he writes.

Schools of education have largely received a pass in our accountability-mad era. Attempts at even modest reform typically bring howls of protest. That reality prompted Robert Pianta, the head of UVA’s education school and one of the Deans for Impact, to write recently that he was “embarrassed that professionals responsible for the preparation of teachers seem to oppose so adamantly efforts to evaluate the competence of the workforce they produce.”

Of course, ed schools have pledged to reform before.

Schools vs. play

“When we see that children everywhere are required by law to go to school, that almost all schools are structured in the same way, and that our society goes to a great deal of trouble and expense to provide such schools, we tend naturally to assume that there must be some good, logical reason for all this, writes Peter Gray in A Brief History of Education in Psychology Today. There isn’t, he argues.

Gray is the author of Free to Learn, which is subtitled “why unleashing the instinct to play will make our children happier, more self-reliant and better students.”

The teacher says, “you must do your work and then you can play.” Clearly, according to this message, work, which encompasses all of school learning, is something that one does not want to do but must; and play, which is everything that one wants to do, has relatively little value.

“Children whose drive to play is so strong that they can’t sit still for lessons are no longer beaten,” he writes. “Instead, they are medicated.”