50 years after algebra, teaching 21st-century math

Teaching Math in the 21st CenturyIt’s been 50 years since Barry Garelick took his first algebra course. Now launched on his second career as a math teacher, he writes about his struggles with the prevailing education philosophy in Teaching Math in the 21st Century.

As a long-term substitute in California middle and high schools, Garelick is witnessing the transition to the Common Core standards.

It’s all about teaching “habits of mind,” say the experts. Skills, schmills. Quadratic equations are so 1965.

Games students play

The Game Believes in You, writes USA Today ed writer Greg Toppo, who believes in digital learning’s power to “make our kids smarter.”

The key to gaming’s power is that players get quick feedback and the chance to try again, learning from their mistakes, writes Toppo. Players can take risks because the cost of failure is low.

“Students today need to know why they’re doing what they’re doing, how well they’re doing it and what it all means,” he writes. “They need to learn how to experiment with ideas.”

Some of the most intriguing games use few words. Players figure out what they can do.

Toppo visits schools that are using games to teach math, reading, U.S. history, world affairs and more. He looks at games that help players learn to work in teams, solve problems and improve their concentration and memory.

“What looks like a twenty-first-century, flashy, high-tech way to keep kids entertained is in fact a tool that taps into an ancient way to process, explore, and understand the world,” Toppo argues.

Done right, gaming can transform education, Toppo tells Ed Week.

In San Jose, Calif., he sat with a 4th grader matter-of-factly tackling complex math problems with the help of an animated penguin. In New York City, he watched a group of 8th graders during their final exam: playing Triple Turbo Ball, a game they had invented that blurred the lines between football, basketball, and soccer. In San Francisco, he played an early version of Throw Trucks With Your Mind!, a game being developed in the hopes of presenting a non-pharmaceutical treatment for ADHD, that rewards players with super powers when they are able to sustain calm and focus (measured through an EEG headset.)

Nearly three-quarters of K-8 teachers use learning games, according to a survey.

In an after-school program at Virginia Tech, a group of teenage boys created and performed an opera, Surface: A World Above, set within the virtual world of Minecraft. Mozart provided the music.

Would you eat this school lunch?

A student's mother took this picture of a lunch served at James Hurst Elementary School in Portsmouth Tuesday, April 14, 2015.Would you eat this school lunch? A mother took this picture at a Portsmouth, Virginia elementary school.

It may look like a giant snail oozing toward the canned corn, but it’s supposed to be a “spicy cajun fish” fillet topped with a bun.

Cafeteria workers will be trained on meal “presentation,” says the district’s food services manager.

If kids can’t improve, bad schools are OK

Is intelligence fixed — or can kids get smarter? The importance of a “growth mindset” applies to educators as well as students, writes Robert Maranto, 21st Century Chair in Leadership in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas.

“If you think that intelligence is a constant, then there is no point reforming schools because schools don’t matter,” he writes in the Baltimore Sun.

“Good” schools and “good” teachers either cherry picked or lucked into smart students. It’s unfair to compare schools or teachers on academic results because student learning is determined by who teachers teach, not what or how they teach.

When right-wing social scientists argue that genetics determines low academic performance, their views are marginalized, Maranto writes. But many on the left also believe some groups of children can’t learn.

I know prominent education professors who have not read any of the eight high quality scientific evaluations of the high poverty/high achievement Knowledge Is Power Program schools, nor set foot in such schools, but know that KIPP must be cheating in some way. They have no more interest in the research on KIPP than a creationist has in paleontology.

Our unwillingness to learn from success goes beyond ignoring successful charter schools. I do fieldwork in a reasonably good school district that has depressingly little success teaching its Hispanic minority; yet no one there bothers to check out a similar school district 10 miles away that has nearly eliminated its Anglo-Hispanic achievement gap. These educators believe, on the basis of no evidence, that Hispanics in the other school district differ from their Hispanics. They cannot imagine different tactics including parental outreach and after school tutoring yielding better outcomes with the same kids.

Urban superintendents aren’t more likely to keep their jobs when achievement rises, Maranto’s research found.

Yesterday, I visited a San Jose elementary school whose students — more than 80 percent are English Learners from lower-income families — excel at reading and math. It’s called Rocketship Brilliant Minds.

Teachers and students dance each day at Morning Launch.

Test prep isn’t key to success at Success

What Explains Success at Success Academy? asks Charles Sahm in Education Next. Test prep isn’t the answer, concludes Sahm, education policy director at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

The New York City charter network’s students — predominantly from low-income black and Latino families — outscore suburban kids, he notes. “If the network were a single school, it would rank in the top 1 percent of the state’s 3,560 schools in math and the top 3 percent in English.”

Like other “no excuses” charter schools, Success has created a culture of discipline and high expectations. “Scholars” wear uniforms. The school day and year are longer. What’s distinctive  is “a laser focus on what is being taught, and how.

Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz  at a Harlem school. (Photo by Benjamin Lowy/Getty Images)

Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz at a Harlem school. (Photo by Benjamin Lowy/Getty Images)

Success Academy has developed its own challenging, content-rich English Language Arts (ELA) and math curricula.

English classes involve “project-based learning” and writing workshops.  Reading selections expose children to “relevant, important, beautiful material … diverse cultures, economic backgrounds, settings, and characters.”

In math, students are encouraged to develop their own strategies to solve problems. Teachers “plan the lesson with a clear goal and use precise questioning and a carefully designed set of activities to lead scholars to learn, develop, or master a new concept each day,” says Stacey Gershkovich, director of math and science.

Starting in kindergarten, every student “takes a full-period, experiment-based science class,” writes Sahm. “No wonder 100 percent of Success 4th graders and 8th graders passed the 2014 state science exams, 99 percent scoring an advanced rating.”

Success uses experiential learning to bring history to life. Second graders, for example, take part in a multiweek unit on the Brooklyn Bridge. They conduct experiments to learn the engineering principles behind bridge construction, read a biography of the project’s field engineer, Emily Roebling, and visit the bridge to record their observations.

Success schools aren’t test-prep factories where kids are drilled in the basics, Sahm writes.

I toured a Success middle school in Harlem during a 90-minute “flex” period. In one room, the chess team prepared for the national tournament; in another, students worked on the school newspaper; down the hall, students rehearsed a musical; in other rooms, students worked on art projects or learned computer coding. Success’s debate and chess teams have begun to win national awards.

The schools prepare students for state exams by giving practice tests and requiring extra work sessions on Saturday for those who do poorly. However, test prep doesn’t crowd out authentic learning, says Eva Moskowitz, the network’s founder. “You cannot ace these Common Core tests with test prep. Our kids can interpret the meaning of a poem because they’ve read so much poetry. . . . When we are prepping for math, it’s open-ended math questions.”

The Times asked current and former Success parents to write about their experiences at the schools. Some love it. Others say their kids were under too much pressure.

Atlanta cheaters will do hard time

Former Atlanta educators convicted in the cheating scandal will spend years in prison.

Judge Jerry Baxter gave longer sentences than the prosecution requested to defendants who refused to plead guilty and apologize. Three top administrators will serve seven years in prison.

“I think there were hundreds, thousands of children who were harmed,” the judge said. “That’s what gets lost in all of this.”

A state investigation found that as far back as 2005, educators fed answers to students or erased and changed answers on tests after they were turned in. Evidence of cheating was found in 44 schools with nearly 180 educators involved, and teachers who tried to report it were threatened with retaliation.

Former Superintendent Beverly Hall was charged, but was too sick to go to trial. She died a month ago of breast cancer.

I’m surprised at the long sentences.

Hillary: Want a good school? Move

Hillary Clinton’s campaign announcement video features multi-ethnic, straight and gay Americans starting new things. “My daughter is starting kindergarten next year, and so we’re moving, just so she can belong to a better school,” says a woman.

Hamlet and Olesia Garcia were charged with education fraud for enrolling their daughter in a neighboring district.

Hamlet and Olesia Garcia were convicted of education fraud for enrolling their daughter in a neighboring district near Philadelphia.

It’s nice she and her mate can afford to buy a house in a good school district, but what about all the ordinary Americans stuck with a so-so neighborhood school? Dropout Nation’s Rishawn Biddle calls this “zip code education.” Good public schools are free for those who can make a big enough mortgage payment.

Is the video a calculated nod to charter-hating teachers’ unions, a sign Clinton will reverse Obama’s education reform agenda? Or, as Jonathan Chait suspects, is moving for a better school a middle-class reality that Clinton’s advisors never thought to question?

It’s odd to see neighborhood-based education defined as liberal writes Chait in New York magazine.

Hoping to push Clinton to the left, the Nation posed 15 questions it wants the candidate to answer, notes Chait. Anti-reformer Diane Ravitch asked: “Secretary Clinton, would you please state where you stand on the expansion of privately managed charter schools, which drain funding from public schools that accept all children.”

Charters have to accept all applicants, holding a lottery if too many apply, writes Chait. Traditional public schools “accept all children whose parents can afford the property fee.”

In my city, like many cities, the most desirable neighborhood schools are located in expensive neighborhoods. . . One of the things you pay for when you buy an expensive home is the right to live in a school district where most of the children will come from highly educated two-parent families. Schools that are tied to residential property patterns will inevitably reflect the racially and socioeconomically segregated pattern of American housing.

Turning “public education into an adjunct of private property rights” is “a very strange value system for the left to embrace,” concludes Chait.

Another liberal, Kevin Chavous of American Federation for Children wants Clinton to support school choice.

Are you smarter than a Singaporean?

When is Cheryl’s birthday? This logic question went viral after Hello Singapore TV host Kenneth Kong posted it to his Facebook page, saying it was aimed at fifth graders. Actually, it’s a Math Olympiad question for secondary students.


Singapore’s math students are the best in the world in problem solving on PISA, writes Terrance F. Ross in The Atlantic. But they don’t solve this sort of problem in fifth grade.

I figured out the answer, which I thought was pretty good for an English major who’s 45 years out of high school. The answer is here.

Fun with ‘gross science’

NOVA’s “Gross Science” features Sea Cucumber Evisceration.  The YouTube series “will examine everything from bizarre parasite life cycles to cutting-edge toilet technology.”

‘Trauma-sensitive’ approach cuts suspensions

“Trauma-sensitive” schools are suspending less and graduating more, writes Hechinger’s Meredith Kolodner in the Washington Monthly.

When a sophomore screamed and swore at his English teacher at New Haven’s Metropolitan Business Academy,  Principal Judith Puglisi asked,“What do you need?”

After she quietly repeated her question close to a dozen times, he turned to her and said, “I need to come to your office.” There, Puglisi and the assistant principal listened to him shout until he began to cry, telling them that his stepfather had beaten him since he was 7. “I am sick of people calling me a loser,” he said.

The student met with a drama therapist trained in trauma at Metropolitan the next day, then apologized to the teacher and returned to class.

Metropolitan and a dozen other schools in Connecticut work with Animated Learning by Integrating and Validating Experience (ALIVE), which provides drama therapists to “identify trauma, prevent problems from escalating and respond effectively when students do act out,” writes Kolodner.

Metropolitan’s team now includes a school social worker, six social work interns and three part-time drama therapists from ALIVE.

Over the past three years, the school’s suspension rate has dropped by two-thirds to 3 percent. Fights are way down.  The graduation rate rose to 90 percent in 2014 and 70 percent of graduates enroll in college.

All ninth-graders take a course that deals with issues such as homelessness, gun violence and drug addiction.

One freshman class on a snowy March afternoon began with a happy celebration of a student’s birthday, but then took a darker turn. The group of 20 usually boisterous freshmen sat silently for 15 minutes as the birthday girl, encouraged by her teacher, related why she almost didn’t come to school that morning. “My mom told me she never wanted me,” the girl said, looking at the floor, determined not to cry. “She said what she always says. That I’m kinda worthless. A waste of space.”

Just cutting suspensions and expulsions isn’t enough, says Susan F. Colege, who directs the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative at Massachusetts Advocates for Children. Schools must “create a place where students feel safe enough to learn.”