Thursday, September 21, 2017

New "New Math"

Yesterday I was helping my grandson with his second grade math homework. He's a bright little boy-GT identified, reading at a fifth grade level. He's good in science and has a great attitude. He's curious, excited and wants to know more. He's creative and innovative-but that's not what is valued in the new "New Math."

He doesn't understand the new math.
He doesn't understand why he's supposed to guess the answer when he can figure out the answer.
And nothing that previous generations knew about "carrying" numbers when adding applies. In fact teachers actively warn parents against teaching this archaic method of adding and subtracting.
I remember being that second grader-going through exactly the same methods of factoring.
It was 1965 and it was called "New Math." We had plastic slates with wipe off markers, a plastic abacus and an excited grad student leading through an array of math exercises.

I am a "New Math" victim. Although I understand how numbers work and I'm good enough with numbers to do my own taxes (although I have a professional check them....)I did lousy in Algebra1 and Algebra 2. I was great in Geometry and could easily use math in applied science classes, but the aim of "New Math" in 1965 was to prepare students for The Future, complete with the burgeoning promise of Computers. I couldn't do higher math. In fact the convoluted methodology of "New Math" I was fearful of even trying. I had a teacher who would mark correct answers wrong if I didn't follow the exact methods. This isn't how real problems are solved. Any mathematician will tell you there are endless methods to solve problems. Math is training in logic and logic is the product of the mind's organization. How can you read someone's mind? By eighth grade I had basically given up on math, trusting my ability with writing and reading to cover for me. That decision to monkey around with the way a seven year old sees the world can have terrible implications down the road.

I looked at my grandson's homework paper, which included breaking down numbers by ones, tens and hundreds and factoring the individual numbers to "find" the answer. I could show my grandson how to do it, but I could not explain why he had to do it in such a long winded and awkward fashion. What is worse is I know next year he will be expected to perform these twisted problems on the state STAAR test and if he doesn't solve them EXACTLY as taught he will lose scoring points even if he finds the correct answer. The problem is that like my grandson, I wasn't content with estimates and guessing. Bright kids wouldn't ever be content. Yet the methods being used insist that students deal with approximate answers rather than finding the definitive answers. What is worse is this denies students the very intellectual flexibility and independence that the system claims to foster.

If you look at this on a larger scale, this demonstrates what is wrong with our educational infrastructure. We have grad students and education wonks using social theory to impose ideology on everything from race to religion in the context of a school day. Teaching core subjects has become a side issue because from what it appears the methods of teaching every skill from writing and reading to adding and subtracting is being measured and monitored for everything but accuracy. Instead it appears that testing entities are trying to hit the sweet spot where they can congratulate themselves that key demographic groups are "finally successful." This is aligned with the insistence that teachers turn classrooms into entertainment venues complete with games and prizes. In the meantime the truly bright students are bored to tears and either test out or drop out. The rights of the normal kids are ignored in order to create a vast safety net for students who often choose not to excel.

Whatever happened to just teaching the material and expecting students to learn?
What happened to requiring students to attend class and participate?
What happened to administrators worrying more about overall student success than the failures of the random few?
I predict that like the 1965 "New Math" this too will be shelved. Unfortunately, like "Whole Language", by then five or six grades of students will have been negatively impacted. If you don't think "Whole Language" was a bust, ask anyone from age 26 to 30 how much they like to read and if they feel they were well taught or had to play catch up in high school.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Generation Hopeless

I've expressed my concern for awhile now on how young people have become so engrossed in their digital lives that they don't truly understand how to function effectively in the real world. It's more than an inability to speak coherently, dress professionally or interact meaningfully. It's a lack of basic life skills like balancing a bank account, cooking a meal, cleaning an apartment. I've talked here before about the scary inabilities of seniors in high school to look up information in an actual book. We are now faced with a generation that may not be able to write or read cursive, making them less knowledgable in spite of their digital access credentials.

My own children have complained about peers at work who use student loans to fund vacations, who are mystified that my kids have paid of their student loans, who switch jobs on a whim and take off whenever. What's sad is my own kids, some of whom work more than one job, show up ready to work and are impeded by policies that have to be implemented because of the ineptitude of their work peers. For example, my son has worked for five years for a very well known high end bike store. He's sold three million dollars worth of Treks and other triathlon bikes. He knows how to size a bike, how to repair one and how to deal with people in a way that everyone usually ends up happy. But because of new hires-some only a year younger than my 28 year old son-they now have to have a manager check every single transaction. This slows up service and prevents paying customers from having the attention they should. What's more, is that new hires are often being paid more than long time employees-which is what my daughter discovered at her job at a well known national bank. More and more it seems that responsible employees are penalized because of the goofball millennials who can't seem to do their jobs.

So I came across this story which I am putting here: Generation Hopeless

Just a few quotes-and they will sound familiar:

A survey of American millennials by One Poll found 65 percent don’t feel comfortable engaging with someone face-to-face, and 80 percent prefer conversing digitally. As a result of this, they’re less likely to understand how they’re perceived by others in real life. They struggle to strike up a conversation and can’t navigate tricky problems like workplace conflict. Their time management is shocking and they desire senior roles they can’t possibly hope to hold down.
“They’re so used to being able to filter themselves before they post something online that they get stuck in a kind of real-life stage fright,” Launerts said. “I’ve spoken to teenage girls who are more frightened of eating in public than putting a provocative picture of themselves online. That’s so frightening to me.”

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

We are raising a nation of illiterates.....

This story.
I appalled by how unaware my high school students are about our own culture. They can show you how to take a selfie and post it on Snapchat, but they don't know how to formulate a basic letter. They run rampant watching all nature of things some of which are definitely beyond what someone under the age of 18 should be consuming. I have to assume parents don't care that most of these kids have all kinds of violent, provocative images on their cell phones. I have to believe that these parents are aware of the dangerous nature of online predators when they daughters post topless selfies and their sons post photos of someone's "junk." After all, for the most part parents pay for these phones, they see the overages for texting and apps, and yet I have parents who call their students while they are in class. Do these parents not know their kids are in school or is this just some weird demonstrating of parenting in the 2010's?

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Quest for Fame is Hurting Kids

I've worked for a long time in the arts. My daughter is an accomplished choreographer who has her college degree in Dance. Her degree plan required Anatomy and Physiology as part of her training. In addition her professors promoted teaching students to dance strong and safely. Many of the moves that we see from children's dance, cheer and competitive teams are not just provocative, they are dangerous.

My daughter and I share a love for dance. When So You Think You Can Dance started, we used to watch and call each other on the phone. At the time she was the artistic director for a rec league level dance company. The problem was the parents. More specifically the problem was the mothers who had watched So You Think You Can Dance as well as Dance Moms. Because of the lack of regulation, and the petty small world that dance consumes, girls were lured to other programs where it was promised they would learn the 'tricks' that would get them noticed. Many of the other teachers were older than my daughter and didn't have the benefit of her background in contemporary concerns in the dance industry. But the Dance Moms wouldn't buy into the idea of age appropriate dance and costume.

The competition industry bears much of the blame for this. It used to be that provocative costumes or actions for young children would lose points. There is something truly disturbing about seeing a seven year old bump and grind. Yet in their zeal to win, win, win, too many dance schools, often run by people who have next to no experience in the academic and professional dance world, are putting tiny children through their paces. Let's just consider for a minute the concept of dancing en pointe. To be strong enough to accomplish this you have to have trained your muscles to support your entire body weight. That doesn't happen overnight. Indeed my daughter's studio required a doctor's xray analysis of a child's ankle before moving them up. That is not the case in most dance schools.

My daughter just sent me a link to a story from Australia expressing many of the same concerns. You can read it here: Ambitious Child Dancers At Risk
Below are some quotes:

Friday, May 12, 2017

Boys, Pain and Silence

I've raised two boys into young men. I am proud of my sons.
And i thank God that my boys aren't growing up today.
I think of the way our society treats boys from kinder through college and it's a wonder they don't en masse rise up and slaughter us.

This year, through the kismet of computer humor, I ended up with an Art One class of 31 students, 24 of them being male. That's fine. It ends up boisterous and we usually take some odd side trips, but it's okay. What is strange is how some of them have attached themselves to me as a substitute Mom. I've had students do this in the past. It's usually not the star students or the worst of the worst, but instead the average kids who have quirky personalities and interests.

One kid in particular seems to enjoy trying to shock me with outrageous comments. He's a handsome kid, tall, but really goofy. He was complaining about not knowing how to pick out a tux for prom. I told him to get help from his Dad. He replied, "If my Dad actually spent ten minutes with me it'd be a miracle. He's an asshole who left my Mom when I was two months old." It was shocking and I told him I was sorry he had to go through that and his reply was "I'm over it," which of course means, he's not. He's hurting, and badly. Hearing this story, another kid stated," My Step Dad is okay, but I'm pretty much just a replacement for my step-brother who died of an overdose." Wow. So that kid doesn't even feel he's important enough to care about on his own merit. Then another boy talked about how his Mom and Stepfather travel and have missed most of the senior events even though he's heading to engineering school halfway across the country in June. What was strange is that as more boys spoke out, others were having conversations over the things they've experienced-one kid had to run away when his stepfather got so mad over a bad grade that he threw him against the wall. Another had friends buy an airplane ticket to his Dad's home when his Mom and Stepdad threw him out. Others were simply ignored over overlooked or acting out just to get someone to look.

People have talked for years about the pain girls go through in school. But girls, in my experience, are more than willing to tell you about it. Boys generally do not. They carry their pain around until it erupts in ways that are destructive to themselves and to others. Counselors, by and large, are dismissive of boys' problems until they develop to the level where students are shipped to alternative school or juvey. The same people who will intervene for girls when they feel threatened or diminished will rant and rail at boys who are experiencing the same emotions, but don't have the same outlets for their pain. I listen to the teacher next door who nurtures bunches of needy girls, but who regularly screams at her class which has many boys in it. I worry because we only have two and a half weeks of school and these boys are showing the type of pain that manifests in binge drinking, drugs, risky behaviors of all kinds. And I fear that the quirky kid who plays jazz and grows bonsai trees or the kid whose father is a radio guy on a large national sports show will do something that will cause me to cry when I see their names associated with some summer tragedy.

Our society, our schools, our nation have failed boys. The push to make things more acceptable for girls has permitted an entire system to ignore the growing problems boys experience. Bullying, learning deficits, special ed and at risk labels are all more often directed toward boys. More boys succeed at suicide. Fewer males than females are in college. We are letting them fall through the cracks.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Ack! Spinners!

I want to offer my sincerest thanks to whatever idiot invented "spinners". As if my high school students aren't distracted enough chatting on their cell phones and playing games and movies on their IPads, now I get to contend with the type of behavior I thought I would avoid in high schools.Right on the heels of Pokemon Go, distantly related to the perils of Pogs, Pokemon cards and Tamagotchi, Spinners were promoted as a way to get ADHD kids to stop fidgeting.

It's a lie.

Instead those same populations, AND OTHERS WHOSE PARENTS PERMIT THESE TOYS, are more distracted, more fidgety, less engaged than they were before. I've seen this before when I found Tech Decks in my briefcase. The same kids who come to class with reams of paperwork for 504, IEP's and BIP's are also loaded for bear with every electronic gadget and toys they can carry. It's a wonder our district electric bill hasn't soared beyond all reason.

As a teacher, please, please, please don't buy these stupid things. Don't let your children take them to school. And don't believe any "professional" who claims these are a cure for your child's lack of attention.

"The alleged mental benefits of the toys have helped fuel their sales, but even a cursory look at the nonexistent science — and the history — of the spinners makes it clear that these claims are specious at best. Fidget spinners weren't created by behavioral scientists with a deep knowledge of intellectual disability nor were they created by experts in a lab; they were first patented by an inventor from Florida named Catherine Hettinger who wanted to promote world peace. She began imagining the spinner while visiting her sister in Israel. What if the young boys throwing rocks at police officers played with something calming instead? she thought. Hettinger's spinner never took off: Hasbro passed on it, her patent expired in 2005, and the spinner toiled in obscurity until earlier this year, when a series of YouTube videos featuring teenagers doing tricks with them went viral."~Time Magazine

Spinner History

Spinners' Questionable Science

Friday, May 05, 2017

Throwing Shade

I've taught for a long time.
I've taught kids who were rich and kids who were poor.
I've taught kids from trailers and kids from mansions.
I've taught white kids who thought they were black, Asian kids who claim to be Mexican and Hispanic kids who are really Americans.
But we have a problem in this country and it comes when anyone thinks how they look entitles them to be treated differently. I'm sorry if this offends, but there are reasons that African American  kids are in trouble more is because in too many cases whatever good lessons they get at church and home are undone by the music they listen to, the movies they watch and the examples they see in their own homes. How can we stop violence in schools if at home it's the norm? How can we expect to see respect given to us from kids who don't even respect each other?

Today, during the misbegotten period known as Block Lunch, I asked several students who were lying, yes you read that right, lying on the floor of the hall blocking the way during lunch to move to allow people walking to pass. See for some reason even though there are ample seats at tables and desks around the building, kids prefer to sit and eat on the floor. Why? No clue. I asked them to sit up and one young man decided to respond, " I don't have to listen to you." Oh was the wrong day to pick that fight. Then he got others the chime in. I seldom write up kids, mostly because it does no good, but this type of Lord of the Flies gang mentality is disturbing. Kids take up causes for other kids they don't even know based on God knows what evidence. What is more, because of this, teachers and other students are intimidated into tacit approval. I watched these same kids blocking the hall from one of our special ed students who is wheelchair bound. It appears that intimidation is seeping down from universities to high schools.