Halloween: Too pagan for schools?

When some parents complained Halloweeen is a pagan holiday, a New Jersey school canceled the annual celebrations.

But Halloween is back on the schedule at Seth Boyden Elementary School in Maplewood.

District officials decided they needed more time to discuss the issue.

Each year, students whose parents object to celebrating Halloween are given an alternative activity.

Parents who think Halloween is the work of the devil must be frustrated by how much fun the holiday is for its celebrants. It’s tough to compete.

Subtraction made complicated

One page in his daughter’s third-grade math book explains the “counting up” method of subtraction, writes Erick Erickson, editor in chief of RedState.com. It’s one of four methods taught.

The traditional method of subtracting, borrowing and carrying numbers, is derisively called the “Granny Method.” The new method makes no freaking sense to either my third grader or my wife.

We send our child to a Christian private school. We thought our child could escape this madness. But standardized tests, the SAT, and the ACT are all moving over to Common Core. So our child has to learn this insanity.

Parents and kids feel helpless, writes Erickson. And, in his wife’s case, homicidal.

Alternatives such as “counting up” are supposed to supplement traditional methods, not replace them, responds Andy Kiersz at Business Insider. Common Core’s fourth-grade standards say students should “fluently add and subtract multidigit whole numbers using the standard algorithm.”

The “counting up” method . . . captures some of the underlying aspects of subtraction and place value that allow borrowing and carrying to work.

. . . The student starts counting by ones from the smaller number up to the nearest multiple of 10. Then she counts by 10s to 100, then by hundreds to the first digit of the larger number, then takes the remaining two-digit part of the larger number. These are all just a different way of subtracting in different place values. Adding these intermediate steps together, the student gets her result.

The point of these alternative methods is to provide a different perspective on a problem, which is often useful in learning math at any level.

Ideally, these alternatives build students’ understanding of key concepts,” making it easier for them to work with the standard algorithms later,” writes Kiersz.

Ideally, perhaps.  What does it do in reality?

Carnival of Homeschooling

Freedom is the theme of this week’s Carnival of Homeschooling.  Homeschooled Mom writes:  “I don’t really see a point in having the legal right to homeschool, only to check with everyone and their mother before deciding on a curriculum, event, or even a political stance.  Homeschooling is an individual endeavor, and I believe that while input and opinions are nice, they are just that.  We have to remember that as parents, WE ARE IN CHARGE.”

On Core

John Stossel looks at education issues and discusses the Common Core with pro-Core Robert Pondiscio and anti-Core Joy Pullmann.

Pondiscio’s The Making of a Literacy Myth defends the Core’s approach to reading, which is under attack by proponents of “leveled” reading.

In The Federalist, Pullmann lists the Top Ten Things Parents Hate About Common Core.

Parents can’t do their kids’ homework

Sixty percent of parents have trouble helping with their K-8 children’s homework, according to a new survey by the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL). That’s up from 49.1 percent in 2013. One third say they don’t understand the subject matter, while others don’t have the time or can’t persuade their kids to let them help.

I almost never helped my daughter with homework. I figured I’d already done elementary, middle and high school. It was her turn. And, apparently, they’ve invented more geometry since I was in school.

What’s missing?

image from scholasticadministrator.typepad.com

Parents euthanize brain-dead teen

From The Onion: The parents of a brain-dead 13-year old have decided on euthanasia, saying their daughter is only capable of rolling her eyes, texting and whining about things being “gay.”

“She’s totally unresponsive when we talk to her,” says Caitlin Teagart’s mother. “Her eyes just roll back in her head.”

Bad credit? Proposal eases student loan rules

People who’ve fallen behind on their debts will be able to take out federal Parent PLUS college loans under a proposed regulation relaxing credit requirements. Borrowers don’t have to show their income, employment status or ability to repay the loan.

Yale designs robot ‘trainers’ for kids

Some day, robot “personal trainers” will teach kids to speak, read, exercise and eat their vegetables, say Yale researchers. A $10 million federal grant is funding the five-year project.

“Socially assistive” robots will help children “learn to read, appreciate physical fitness, overcome cognitive disabilities, and perform physical exercises,” the Yalies predict.

“Just like a good personal trainer, we want the robots to be able to guide the child toward a behavior that we desire,” said Brian Scassellati, a computer science professor at Yale and principal investigator for the study.

“We want them to help children learn language, we want to help them learn better eating habits, we want them to learn new social or cognitive skills through their interactions with these robots,” he said.

The robots will support the efforts of parents and therapists, Scassellati said. Robots will be designed for children with special needs — and for average kids.

Support or replace? I suspect someone thinks robot trainers will act as competent parents for kids whose human parents are inferior models.


Is it wrong to want to know which way is right?

A second-grade math work sheet. Credit: Edmund D. Fountain for The New York Times

Is it wrong to want to know which way is right? asks Katharine Beals on Out in Left Field.

In a story on parents’ frustrations with Common Core standards, a mother says her four children, ages 7 to 10, must do math work sheets with pictures, dots and multiple steps.

Her husband, who is a pipe designer for petroleum products at an engineering firm, once had to watch a YouTube video before he could help their fifth-grade son with his division homework.

“They say this is rigorous because it teaches them higher thinking,” (Rebekah) Nelams said. “But it just looks tedious.”

She plans to homeschool her children in the fall.

The Times “proceeds to regurgitate the Common Core’s tired rationale,” writes Beals.

The new instructional approach in math seeks to help children understand and use it as a problem-solving tool instead of teaching them merely to repeat formulas over and over. They are also being asked to apply concepts to real-life situations and explain their reasoning.

She’s dubious.

When did math students ever repeat formulas over and over again? And when did students ever not apply concepts to real-life situations? And when did “explain your reasoning,” ubiquitous to American Reform math and rare everywhere else, become the one, one-size-fits all path towards, and the one, one-size-fits measure of, conceptual understanding?

Core math’s call for writing explanations of answers will be hard on students with learning or writing disabilities and those who aren’t fluent in English.

Parents of mathematically gifted students also are complaining, reports the Times. In a New Orleans suburb, Janet Stenstrom says her daughter can’t move forward quickly.

Anna Grace, 9, said she grew frustrated “having to draw all those little tiny dots.”

“Sometimes I had to draw 42 or 32 little dots, sometimes more,” she said, adding that being asked to provide multiple solutions to a problem could be confusing. “I wanted to know which way was right and which way was wrong.”

Some will see Anna Grace “as overly rigid in her mathematical reasoning and problem solving skills,” writes Beals. But “wanting to know which way is right” is a “reasonable desire.”

In Why Do Americans Stink at Math?, also in the New York Times, Elizabeth Green blames faulty implementation by untrained teachers.

The trouble always starts when teachers are told to put innovative ideas into practice without much guidance on how to do it. In the hands of unprepared teachers, the reforms turn to nonsense, perplexing students more than helping them.

One 1965 Peanuts cartoon depicts the young blond-haired Sally struggling to understand her new-math assignment: “Sets . . . one to one matching . . . equivalent sets . . . sets of one . . . sets of two . . . renaming two. . . .” After persisting for three valiant frames, she throws back her head and bursts into tears: “All I want to know is, how much is two and two?”

“American institutions charged with training teachers in new approaches to math have proved largely unable to do it,” writes Green. A skilled teacher can use “arrays of dots” to explain multiplication, she writes. Or dots can “become just another meaningless exercise” to bore and confuse students.