How to Fix Our Math Education – NYTimes.com

In the past two weeks, I have been reliving my middle school math nightmares, and it hasn’t even gotten tough, yet.  It all started with helping Joe, the 7th-grader, learn to work with negative numbers.  Correct that, we were learning to work with integers.  Oh, yeah, integers, numbers, and numerals are not necessarily the same thing, even though the little buggers look identical (in the future, I promise not to give my students a hard time over verb forms that seem self-evident to me).

Then, Amy, the 6th grader, needed help with long division.  I have to say I’m on much more solid ground there, but I’m already bracing myself for the mysteries of algebra and quadratic equations.  It was in the midst of these help sessions that I read the New York Times op/ed pice, How to Fix Our Math Education – NYTimes.com.  In it, the authors decry the rather abstract way we tend to teach math, divorcing it from real-life applications.  They also suggest the rather radical idea that not everyone needs to learn the same math.  It made me wonder if we don’t think of learning math the same way senior fraternity members view hell week: if I had to go through it, so do you.

It wasn’t until I took a math for non-majors course in college that I finally got quadratic equations.  When I did, they suddenly seemed beautiful–I learned to love that elusive X.  Ask me, though, how many times in the last thirty years I’ve actually had to use one in some practical way. 0, zip, nada.  In fact, I probably did encounter situations where I could have solved a real-life quantitative problem by solving for X, but I didn’t recognize it at the time.

So, here I am, back in the world of wandering through abstract concepts with no idea where this trail comes out.  I’ll be leading my kids, using a mish-mash of the New Math of my generation (“but, Dad, I have to show why that’s the correct answer!) and the shortcuts my engineer father tried to teach me (“don’t you see how much easier it is if you just switch all this stuff around?”).

I just hope and pray we get through it with a minimum of weeping and gnashing of teeth–oh, and that the kids don’t cry much, either.

Technology in Schools Faces Questions on Value – NYTimes.com

I came across this in today’s paper and found it interesting, especially since I just finished teaching an online course this summer and tend to use technology a fair amount in my teaching.  This article talks about the fact that school districts across the country have invested heavily in technology over the last decade and how difficult it is to know whether this investment has actually made a difference in learning.  One of the reasons it’s hard to come up with good data is the fact that there are just so many variables in any educational setting.  Good to think about in an era where we’re trying to figure out how to stretch a school dollar five ways.

Technology in Schools Faces Questions on Value – NYTimes.com.

Afterschool Debriefings

The kids began the new school year a week ago, so we are getting settled into a routine of sorts.  We now have two middle-schoolers (6th and 7th) and two in elementary (1st and 2nd), so we have consolidated the number of car lines we wait in (hallelujah to not giving in to road rage trying to beat the tardy bell).

Some of the best debriefing occurs in the car, I find.  When I asked Josh how his day went recently, he replied,

“Good.”

“Have you made any new friends?”

“Yes, I played with [ambiguous name] at recess.”

“Is [ambiguous name] a boy or girl?”

“She’s a girl.  We played chase.”

“So you chased each other around the playground.”

“No, she chased me.  She chased me the whole recess, and she didn’t even get tired.  I guess girls are good at chasing.”

I smiled and said nothing.

Last Day of School

So today was the last day of school for my four kids.  They all responded differently.  Lauryn was excited about the treats in her backpack–I had to wrestle it from her to keep all the summer activity stuff and her report card intact until we got home.  Josh was relatively blasé about the whole thing.  Joe started missing his school friends the moment he got in the car.  And Amy was in a philosophical mood, given that this was her last day of elementary school.  Her musings went something like this:

Amy:  I think it was kind of a sad day for the fifth grade.  I saw lots of girls crying.

Me:  Did you see any boys crying?

Amy:  No, Dad.  They were manning up.

Glad to see the ghost of John Wayne is alive and well in the 21st century. 🙂

Calm Between Two Storms

The school year for our kids is just about over, and I am feeling like I am coming up for air before taking a deep breath and plunging into summer activities.  Our foray into ballet, tap, and hip hop is culminating this week in Amy’s and Lauryn’s recital–record amounts of hairspray, bobby pins, and mascara will be used.

Joe has been on a camping trip all this weekend, and it has rained most of the time.  His troop’s plan to work on the campsite they will be using for summer camp had to be modified, I’m sure.

We are also looking at our activity calendar for the summer and deciding what stays and what goes.  Swim team?  Scout camp?  Church camp?  Family vacation?  I’m already into August and answering the question, “how was your summer?”  My usual answer is that it was a blur.

One new venture for me will be to teach a completely online section of the Western Classics course I regularly teach in a face-to-face format.  I’m excited to see how it goes.  It begins in June, and I still have a lot of preparation to do, converting things I usually do in the classroom to various online activities.  In the process, I am learning about new apps out there for putting various kinds of content online.  I thought I was pretty current, but it amazes me how much stuff keeps coming out all the time; some good, lots of it competing with other similar stuff.  Part of my job will be figuring out which ones work best for what I want to do.

Snow Days

IMAG0505 Today marked the ninth snow day for Jessamine County Schools this year.  My kids have stopped thinking of school as their default Mon-Fri daytime location—it’s now the exception.

IMAG0506On the plus side, it’s meant opportunities to bake cookies, play outside, have fires, and watch movies.  On the not-s0-plus side, it’s meant cabin fever, lots more clutter around the house at the end of the day, and a worn-out mom and dad.

IMAG0507Talking with other parents, it’s the unpredictability that makes it stressful, not having the kids at home.  I’d rather not have to wait until 5:45 each morning to find out how to plan the rest of the day.