Saturday, April 18, 2015

Common Core - Yes; SBAC testing - No

I've said this before, probably many many times, but it's worth saying again because things are starting to happen.
The Common Core is great. In mathematics, the CCSSM clearly identify the math that students should be expected to learn in each grade level. What is not good are the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium standardized; computer based tests that students are expected to take starting in third grade. Having jusr watched four third grade teachers and their students suffer through these anachronistic assessment devices I think it's time for parents ad teachers and everyone involved in Education to say enough is enough. American students are the most tested and the least examined.

More and more people are beginning to boycott the tests or opt out such as these students. There is also a growing body of evidence that suggests that the PISA test scores that consistently show the US at a lower ranking than most would like are not true reflection of the quality of education in American schools. More and more research and opinion papers by scholars such as this one in the Guardian are casting doubt upon the authenticity of comparing tests in cultures that are so different. The most odious interpretation of these international results based on false comparisons is to say that higher test scores in many Asian countries are the result of better teaching. There are so many other factors that contribute to differences in test scores.

Perhaps if all the parents of third grade students were to go on-line and take the sample SBAC test items they would see why such testing is so invalid. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

It's a "Testing-Crazy" World.

So this might turn out to be a bit of a "blog-rant" but the constant testing HAS TO STOP!. The BBC reports today that 4-year-olds are to be tested in the UK in reading, writing and maths. It seems that politicians, in particular, see the only solution to the improvement of education is to do more testing; test infants, test children, test students, test pre-service teachers, test teachers. Why do we never test politicians?

As stated in the Beeb article the primary reason for testing 4-year-olds is to provide a baseline by which the education system can be evaluated. This is basically another cry for teacher testing and yet another example of politicians' lack of confidence in teachers and the teaching profession.

And all this happens, of course, at a time of a general election in the UK when each party needs an extra plank in their platform. Education is  an easy target because it is so easy, through the manipulation of numbers, to show how poorly students in one country such as the UK or US are doing compared to students in another country such as Singapore. The same is beginning to happen in the US as we gear up for the 2016 presidential election. International test score comparisons such as TIMMS and PISA are readily available and provide instant numerical comparisons. The unfortunate thing is that politicians, of course,  fail to mention the fine details such as in Singapore there are special schools where all students with special needs are sent so the scores do not reflect the effort that goes into teaching the whole student population.

Tests, such as the SBACS, currently being administered in Vermont schools, test only what is easy to test. They only provide a brief, momentary, narrow snapshot of what children know and understand. The scores are also heavily swayed by a students ability to master the computer skills required to take the test.

Nobody knows a student as well as the teacher who teachers the student. Nobody who lives 300 miles away can possibly be in a position to truly assess what a student knows and understands. 

Why the Bridges 2 Math Program is So Good

This morning I observed one of my student teachers teaching a lesson on remainders from the Bridges 2 Math Program. As the student teacher struggled with her understanding of the mathematics involved it became incredibly clear to me why the program is so good. The activities are so rich with mathematical opportunity  for what Bob Wright called the mathematization of children's minds.

The third grade activity I was observing involved rolling two die and multiplying the subsequent numbers to get a product. Then, using a neat worksheet, the students had to divide the product by 2,3,4,5, and 6 to see what happens. The demonstration roll the student teacher used was 4 x 4 for 16. Dividing by 2 yielded 8, but 8 what? The children were using tiles to make 2 x 8 arrays vertically. Here the 2 referred to the number of columns and the 8 to the number of rows. So the 8 was 8 rows. She could have shown 8 groups of 2 or 2 groups of 8, demonstrating the commutative property of multiplication. This is only true abstractly as the actual arrangement looks quite different. This is known as psychological non-commutativity.

She then went on to divide 16 by 3 getting 5 R1, then divided it by 4 getting 4 (proving 16 is a square number), then by 5 getting 3R1 (showing the commutative property), and finally by 6 getting 2 R4 .  
The interesting thing about the commutative property in division is if you then give the remainder as a fraction. 16 ÷ 3 would give 5 1/3. 16 ÷ 5 would give 3 1/5. So the question is; what do the fractions represent? 1/3 of what and 1/5 of what? A fraction has no value unless you know the size of the one to which it refers. It depends, of course, on what the referents for the 3 and the 5 are. If you had 16 cookies divided between 3 people, each person would get 5 and 1/3 cookies. If you had 16 cookies and divided them  into groups of 5, 3 1/5 people could get a group of cookies; which makes absolutely no sense at all.  

The neat thing about the Bridges Program 2 activities is that they are so rich with mathematical possibilities.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Teachers Need Support with NGSS

We are living in a time of unprecedented change in the teaching profession. While we are still incorporating the changes brought about by the Common Core State Standards we are now getting ready for the implementation of the new Next Generation Science Standards. Current times in Education are also characterized by a significant lack of support for public education brought about primarily by politicians jumping on band wagons and looking for political planks or angles in preparation for the upcoming national election. It is so easy for a politician to compare test score results by waving pieces of paper about which they know nothing, and so difficult for those who are experts in education to correct all the misinformation that is spread in the name of political advantage. 

Amidst all of this, I recently volunteered to teach a new course; a Science Practicum that places students in public schools to learn how to teach science and engineering at the elementary K - 6 level. It will involve introducing students to the new Next Generation Science Standards and helping them learn how to implement inquiry-centered science activities based on these standards.

To do this I am hooking up with the Flynn Elementary School in Burlington, Vermont, which recently became a STEM Academy. It will be the third specialized K - 5 academy in Burlington joining the Integrated Arts and Sustainability Academies. The more I think about this partnership the more excited I become. I want to use this course as a way of supporting teacher and the school as they begin to implement the changes required of becoming a STEM academy. I want my students to be able to gain all sorts of experiences such as creating inquiry activities, science and engineering units of instruction,  bulletin boards and web-sites, as well as working in the after-school STEM program and the anticipated garden project.

I want to be able to support the teachers at the school as they adapt their curriculum materials to incorporate the NGSSs and I can't think of a better way to do this than have my students work to undertake all the time-consuming things that need to be done. The experience of doing this will provide my students with unique opportunities to develop their own skills and understanding of what it means to teach science and engineering.

 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Student Teaching; Spreading One's Wings



At this time of the semester my student teachers are completing their solo classroom experience. This means they are teaching their classes of student by themselves without the assistance of their cooperating teacher. For some it is a time to fly; to stretch the new wings they have been growing in their coursework for the past three and half years. One such student is Miranda who has been working with a class of 24 rambunctious third graders. Interestingly, the solo week always coincides with the onset of Spring, a time of great excitement for young children, who for the first time in months, are able to get outside in the warmer weather.

I want to celebrate Midanda's successful solo week by sharing one of her journal entries:

          "I think this experience also reminded me of why I wanted to be a teacher in the first place. Children, I believe, have a nature and energy that is unmatched by adults. They are curious, energetic, thoughtful, and innocent. They are good-natured, enthusiastic, and empathetic. I think that even on my worst days as a teacher, I need to remember why I wanted to become a teacher in the first place. Children are incredible and they are the key to a better future. I believe that part of my job as a teacher is establishing relationships with my students and helping to mold them into thoughtful, respectful citizens of a community. Tonight I was able to share experiences with my students and their parents outside the classroom that will hopefully remain with them as a positive time with their teacher."  

Isn't that a wonderful way to think about the young students she has been working with this semester?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Have Courage and Be Kind

Having just watched the current movie version of Cinderella wouldn't it be great if our education system and schools helped children to "have courage and be kind" instead of developing grit.

The ugly step sister and step mother certainly showed a lot of grit and look where it got them. Is this really what we want for our children?  


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Harriss; a Fractal for St. Patrick

Here's something you don"t see every day; a new fractal named after the creator, Edmund Harris, a professor of mathematics at the University of Arkansas. It also seems like a very appropriate fractal for St. Patrick's day as it has a certain Celtic feel about it.

As remarkable as it might seem this fractal is based on the Golden Ratio rectangle as explained in this very informative article in the Guardian. You can  see similarities between this fractal and the one created by the squares of the number s in the Fibonacci sequence which, of course, also follows the golden ratio.

The patterns created by fractals are based on numerical  relationships and provide us with an incredible insight into the structure of mathematics and our number system, not to mention the mathematical structure of the natural world. I think this is what the creators of the Common Core state Standards for Mathematics had in mind when they came up  with the wonderful math practice standards, especially numbers 6,7, and 8.