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Monday, December 23, 2013

Do Gifted Programs Improve Learning? (wow! really dumb question)

This is the actual title of an actual article published in the The Atlantic. I am saying this in this way because the question itself is absurd. What does it mean to “improve learning?” How can you improve learning? Does learning need improvement? I am upset by this question because in today’s world this almost seems like a meaningful idea.

Here is the link to the article:

What the writer means to ask, of course, is if gifted and talented programs improve test scores. This too is a silly question because you need good test scores to get into them in the first place. The right question is whether gifted programs make school any more interesting or relevant. My grandson Milo is in one at P.S. 10 in Brooklyn. When I ask him how school is, he always answers “boring.”

I was in one myself, although they didn’t call it that in my day. They called them the one classes. If you were in 6-1 in P.S. 247 you were in the smart class. If you were in 6-6 you were in the dumb class. (Also, given that this was Bensonhurst, this also meant that your parents were likely in the Mafia and you had been thrown out of Catholic School.)

If you asked me about school, I would have told you it was boring.

At the moment I am trying to learn how to improve my softball swing. I have a mentor I ask to look at what I am doing and occasionally he provides tips. He told me I was holding the bat wrong the other day. All these years of softball and no one had ever mentioned this to me. Now I am hitting better. I have improved my hitting not my learning.

We need to recognize that school should be about improving kid’s life -- about encouraging him to think new thoughts -- about giving him new abilities -- or about coming up with new ambitions. But, in this test crazed world we have created, we want to improve learning, which is not only meaningless, but insane.

In other news, the article says that gifted programs improve nothing. Not true. What they improve is a kid’s safety. What we have always meant by a “good school” is a safe school. I would have been beaten up regularly had I been in the 6-6 class. And that is why I am happy that Milo is in the gifted class, not because his learning will be improved.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

OECD should stop pushing math in the name of reasoning and do its job

As I write this I am at sea, both literally and figuratively. I was just getting away from it all for a week, but now as the week comes to an end, I see I simply can’t get away from it in any way. By “it” I mean the general absurdity of the nonsense we say and do about education.

Today I read an article about an OECD report:

The article talks about how terrible it is that  Sweden’s PISA scores are slipping and quotes the U.K. education minister blaming the U.K.’s poor performance on the labor party. Do really need international math contests? 
Apparently we do because OECD’s real mission seems to be to standardize teaching around the world. I have been loudly against Common Core’s attempts to do this in the U.S., an idea being pushed by Bill Gates for reasons best known to himself.

The standard canard that one hears in every report about low math scores is that math teaches reasoning and problem solving skills and is critical for surviving in the 21st century. OECD says that their “mathematics test required creativity and problem solving skills based on a deep understanding of mathematical concepts.” Uh huh. “Math teaches creativity and problem solving” has almost become a religious proverb.

I have this odd idea that one should have evidence for statements one makes, especially statements that large organizations make that affect everyone.

Where is the evidence that math teaches problem solving and reasoning? It doesn’t exist.

As an example, I will talk about myself for a minute. I was a math major in college. I liked math and was very good at it.

Now let’s talk about my math ability has helped me solve problems and reason in  my own life. We all do many kinds of reasoning but three areas most of us need to reason about are relationships with people, business/everyday decision making and decisions about our own health.

Let’s start with the last one. I am getting older and health decisions come up again and again. I find that I am not particularly adept at making them. I don’t know enough for one thing. Also doctor’s say contradictory things so I have to figure whom to trust. There are many issues I worry about and nearly as many answers from various sources about them. Maybe I am better at making my medical decisions than others and maybe I am not, but my math ability has absolutely nothing to do with it. If only I were a better mathematician than surely I would be great at making the medical decisions I need to make? Does this sentence make sense to anyone?

Oh, but personal decision making, my math ability has surely helped there right? I can’t think of any area of my life that it has helped less. Love is not an equation. Nor is parenting, Nor do relationships at work go well because you can do algebra.

Business? I suppose it depends on what kind of business you are in.

The voyage I am on as I write this has taken me to some very rich places and some very poor places. In one of poor places, a place I have been to many times, I met with a university president. He is worried about the education he his offering to his students because there really are no jobs for them where he lives. We discussed teaching practical business and entrepreneurial skills. We did not discuss the need for more mathematics.

Later I visited a very wealthy place, a place where people who are rich have second and third homes. The other people there are people who work for low wages to help rich people live easier lives. More mathematics would have helped the poor people there I am sure. They could reason better and then...  Ooops. They would still be stuck living where they live in the economic and cultural situation that exists there. Surely the rich people got there by reasoning so well because they have learned mathematics. 

This sounds so silly it is difficult to write it without laughing. Rich people become (or are born) rich for many reasons. Were they all good at math?

Just as I was asking myself this question, my ship passed by a private island that I recognized because it belongs to a friend of mine and I had been there. Is my friend very good at mathematics? Yes. It turns out he is. Does he make money from being good at mathematics? Yes. It turns out he does. So how is my friend doing in other areas of his life and in other decisions he makes? To my mind -- not so well -- but it is not for me to judge. 

Suffice it to say that mathematics ability does not teach reasoning in general. Why don’t we teach reasoning in general? Everyone agrees that it is very important. Maybe we don’t know how.

But we do know how. The problem is that mathematics is easier to test. Reasoning would be more amorphous, there would be less certainty about right answers, in fact there would be many possible answers. There is also a cultural component. Reasoning about how to fix a social or economic problem would be different in any given place because the answers would depend upon the many factors that make up that place. There are good places and bad places to build a luxury hotel for example. While certainly some simple mathematics would be part of the decision making process about such a business idea, the answer would depend upon many factors most of which would be difficult to assess in a multiple choice test.

OECD has to get smarter. Pay attention to your own name. Teach economic and cultural development. Stop the nonsense about PISA scores and start thinking about what kids in different populations need to learn to do. Reason? Solve problems? Sure. Teach them to solve real problems, ones that exist in the environment in which they live. Forget the math problems.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Frank Bruni thinks kids are too coddled; I think kids are too tested; The Times fight for Common Core again

It seems if you write for the NY Times you must about why Common Core is wonderful.  I don’t know why. Sunday Frank Bruni wrote a column about how today’s kids are coddled. I couldn’t agree  more. Every game ends in a tie. No one can walk anywhere by themselves. Now I am done agreeing with Bruni. Here is some of the nonsense he wrote:

I behold the pushback against more rigorous education standards in general and the new Common Core curriculum in particular. And it came to mind when Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently got himself into a big mess. Duncan, defending the Common Core at an education conference, identified some of its most impassioned opponents as “white suburban moms” who were suddenly learning that “their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good.”

So, this is absurd. Common Core is being fought against because it means school is testing testing testing and  what is being tested it boring at best and basically stultifying.
 If you follow the fevered lamentations over the Common Core, look hard at some of the complaints from parents and teachers, and factor in the modern cult of self-esteem, you can guess what set Duncan off: a concern, wholly justified, that tougher instruction not be rejected simply because it makes children feel inadequate, and that the impulse to coddle kids not eclipse the imperative to challenge them.
More nonsense. People are fighting because mathematics is being rammed down the throats of kids who will never use it. Because science has been reduced to rote memorization and because reading has been made in to a painful activity.
The Common Core, a laudable set of guidelines that emphasize analytical thinking over rote memorization, has been adopted in more than 40 states. In instances its implementation has been flawed, and its accompanying emphasis on testing certainly warrants debate.

NO. They emphasize memorization and testing. How would like to take test sall day Frank? How would like to learn things that you didn’t want to learn just because some testing companies  have realized that that stuff is easy to test?
What’s not warranted is the welling hysteria: from right-wing alarmists, who hallucinate a federal takeover of education and the indoctrination of a next generation of government-loving liberals; from left-wing paranoiacs, who imagine some conspiracy to ultimately privatize education and create a new frontier of profits for money-mad plutocrats.

Come on. Common Core is not right wing issue any more that it is a left wing issue. It is a business issue. Bill Gate is behind it and big money is at stake. The idea that kids can learn what interests them to learn is out the window. How is that a political issue?
Then there’s the outcry, equally reflective of the times, from adults who assert that kids aren’t enjoying school as much; feel a level of stress that they shouldn’t have to; are being judged too narrowly; and doubt their own mettle.
That is a weird idea. Kids should enjoy learning. Of course not. Terrible idea right Frank?
Aren’t aspects of school supposed to be relatively mirthless? Isn’t stress an acceptable byproduct of reaching higher and digging deeper?  
No, stress and learning are unrelated. Were you stressed from writing this column Frank? Did you learn anything from writing it? Will you learn anything from what I am writing? Will you find it stressful?
Before we beat a hasty retreat from potentially crucial education reforms, we need to ask ourselves how much panic is trickling down to kids from their parents and whether we’re paying the price of having insulated kids from blows to their egos and from the realization that not everyone’s a winner in every activity on every day.
This has nothing to do with the Common Core issues. The curriculum is awful. See if you can pass any of the tests.
David Coleman, one of the principal architects of the Common Core, told me that he’s all for self-esteem, but that rigorous standards “redefine self-esteem as something achieved through hard work.”

Achieved through hard work that you want to do not that you are being made to do. Hard work that accomplished a goal that you have not that someone else has for you.

And they’ll be ready to compete globally, an ability that too much worry over their egos could hinder. As Tucker observed, “While American parents are pulling their kids out of tests because the results make the kids feel bad, parents in other countries are looking at the results and asking themselves how they can help their children do better.”

They will be able to compete globally? In the math competition? We aren’t teaching them computer skills or business skills or entrepreneurial skills or invention skills or even social skills. We are teaching them test taking skills, so maybe they will win the math prize. Hooray!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

People are excited about or afraid of online education because…

I learned something yesterday. (This is not an everyday experience at my age.) I met with a group of faculty from a university that was thinking about adopting some of my online learn by doing curricula. I don’t typically meet with faculty about this because in general faculty don't care about educational change and they aren’t the decision makers anyway. I learned that I had been invited to talk with the faculty to allay their fears about online education.

I hadn’t really thought about this before. Of course, I know that faculty at places like San Jose State are objecting to MOOCs for a valid reason. MOOCs are providing canned lectures to students that are essentially faculty job eliminators. Stanford may be pushing MOOCs but they surely won’t be using them much. Faculty need to lecture in order to pay the bills. At places like Stanford, the faculty care about research and… did I mention research? They should be happy to not have to lecture. But, if they don’t who will pay their salaries? Some superstars can pay their own salaries from their research funds, but the average faculty member is actually being paid to teach, despite the fact that they get no respect for it and often do it badly. Stanford will muddle on and will be around for a long time. Not so San Jose State, which could easily disappear if State officials widely adopt MOOCs.

So, at the meeting I had with a good, but hardly Ivy League, private college, the faculty were afraid. I didn't realize what they were afraid of exactly for a while.

It was me.

They were afraid of me. They were the kind of faculty that dominates the educational landscape but not the kind of faculty that I have encountered in my professor’s life at Stanford, Yale, and Northwestern. While research dominates the life of faculty whom I have lived with, teaching dominates the life of the faculty with whom I was talking yesterday.

They were worried that if their university adopted my online master degree programs they would lose their jobs. After listening to me talk for a while (I was still at this point oblivious to their concerns,)  they started making odd statements like:

So you think that the problem at universities is that their isn’t enough good teaching?


Your on line courses wouldn’t take away our jobs?

Hardly, we would need you to supervise the new mentors you would have to hire.

And my last and favorite:

Isn’t this the way people have always learned and universities always used to teach?

Yes. Exactly. Mother chimps teach their children by showing them what to do and then helping them do it. Professors teach PhD students one on one, supervising their work as they try things out. No one gives lectures to their children at home.

Online learning, in my mind at least, was always supposed to make learning more fun, more relevant to each particular student, and was meant to require a heavy investment from faculty to improve the nature of the university by better teaching. This does not necessarily mean more teaching, but rather individualizing teaching just in time in a way that online learning makes possible. 

So this is another thing MOOCs have screwed up. They have put faculty in fear of losing their jobs (rightly so) when the real issue is how to use online learning to improve the teacher-student experience.

Here is a picture of me doing one on one teaching with my grandson. I am teaching him how to handicap a horse race:

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Charlie Trotter taught us what creativity and entrepreneurship are all about; school has nothing to do with either

I don’t usually write obituaries and this isn’t one, but it starts off that way. Charlie Trotter died yesterday. For those that never heard of him, he was one of the most inventive chefs I ever met. Here is the obit in the Times:

I met Charlie when I moved to Northwestern. He had opened his restaurant a year or two earlier. I loved his originality. Everything he prepared was unusual and unique for you. By that I mean he never served a customer something he had served him before. He once forced me to eat Halibut. I said I didn’t like Halibut and he said it was coming anyway and if I didn’t like it I wouldn’t have to pay. It was great and I happily paid.

I held my 50th birthday party at Charlie’s. I handed him the menu for my 40th (which was in Paris at Robuchon, the best in Paris at that time). I said he needed to beat what Robuchon had done because most of my current guests had been to my 40th as well. And beat it he did. He was  a great chef. I really liked him.

But that is not why I am writing this. I am writing this for all the young people out there who don’t know what to do with their lives and who think the answer is more school. 

While his food was great, for me he serves as a lesson to people who want to entrepreneurs, who want to be creative, or who simply have a passion for something. Here is a brief bit about him from the Chicago Tribune:

“I thought cooking out of a cookbook and following a recipe was not unlike doing a math problem: You had to measure everything out; you had to follow the directions meticulously; you couldn't deviate; otherwise the recipe wouldn't work,” he says. “So I cooked that way for about six months, and then I began to realize: Hey, tomatoes are out of season, so I'm not going to use tomatoes — I'm going to find something else to use. Or, I don't want so many mushrooms in the dish, so I'm going to cut back on the mushrooms.”
Trotter worked as a waiter, a bartender and a host at some Madison restaurants before ending up back on the North Shore. At that time restaurant work was considered more of a blue-collar pursuit — it certainly wasn't among the preferred professions for the New Trier set — but Trotter found his experiences “really cool” and considered having a go at it.
“What's the worst that could happen?” he says he thought. “I can always go back to graduate school or business school or law school or something.”
Full article to be found here:

School isn’t going to get you where you need to go. You yourself will have to do that. You have to decide what you care about, who you are, and jump into it with both feet. When you are ready, find a great teacher. And when you are find you are good at it, do it your way and don’t be dissuaded.

Charlie Trotter was the best at what he did and he loved doing it. He had to learn how to cook, how to manage people, how to deal with customers, and how to run a business. He had his own unique style that he kept improving. I ate there four or five times a year while I was at Northwestern. During those 11 years the restaurant was constantly changing. A 1989 meal was not very much like a 2000 meal. He was clearly satisfying his toughest critic (himself) all the time.

Eventually he spawned so many imitators (including many people he had trained,) that he created a lot of competition for himself. This happens to people with a strong vision who have great drive. It doesn’t always end prettily but the ride is great fun.

To be a creative, successful, entrepreneur never stop learning. School has very little to do it with it. 

As I said to Milo the other day “do you know who your most important teacher is?” He looked at me and said “you?”

“No,” I said, “it is you.” Be your own best teacher. Charlie was.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Do we invest in preschools or prisons? Really Mr Kristof?

Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times writer who writes interesting columns about human rights issues around the world, every now and then veers off into talking about education, a subject he clearly doesn't understand. Maybe he thinks he understands it because he went to Harvard, or maybe the Times is telling him to push their schooling agenda. I don’t know. What I do know is this week he wrote the following column:

The headline of this column was:

Do We Invest in Preschools or Prisons?

Really? Is that our choice? Lately the Obama administration has been pushing pre-kindergarten as something the government should invest in and force  upon all children. Just what kids need -- more school. The idea that the choice is preschool or prison is an interesting one. It comes from the fact that people in prisons are disproportionally undereducated, poor, and not likely to be white. While all of this may be true, pre-kindergarten would not solve the problem.

As it happens, my granddaughter is in pre-K right now. The other day she recited the planets to me. She had no idea what a planet was, but she knew their names. Well, that will certainly keep her out of prison. Oh, wait. She wasn’t going to be going to prison because she has caring, educated parents and she is not poor. 

How is pre-K supposed to fix the very serous problem of the giant underclass that we have in this country? One way to understand this issue is to listen to the parents of these underclass children speak. They sound as you would expect, not educated and incapable of speaking English clearly or forming coherent thoughts. But would they speak better English and have clearer thinking if we made them go to school more? 

Actually, adults who have these at risk children (who need pre-K) did go to school.   Typically they are high school graduates who still can’t speak well, can’t think clearly, and they cannot parent well either. Probably they weren’t parented well themselves. School did not fix this.

Why is that?

It is because the high school curriculum they took is absurd. The issue is not teaching kids the names of the planets when they are four nor is it teaching them about amoebas or George Washington when they are fifteen. The issue is teaching teenagers how to manage their own lives. Could we teach them how to be parents? Could we teach them how to make a living? Could we teach them how to have better human relationships? No, clearly we cannot, because that is not what high school teaches.

Mr Obama and Mr Kristof don’t seem to understand this because there is a school lobby run by Bill Gates and the testing companies that has effectively taken over education. That lobby wants to sell more school, more tests, and less freedom to determine what it is you may want to learn about.

Let’s imagine for a moment that instead of teaching every teenager algebra we taught them how to reason clearly about their own lives. Let’s imagine that instead of teaching them English Literature and asking them to write papers about what DIckens’ main themes were, we taught them to speak well, diagnose their problems, and write a clear plan about how to accomplish something they want to accomplish. Let’s imagine that instead of teaching them to memorize facts about plants or planets we taught them to take care of their own health needs or taught them to reason from evidence.

Mr Kristof, here are some curricula, any one of which would be better than what we have in our high schools now. 

  1. Criminal Justice
  2. Software Development  
  3. Run a Small Business
  4. The Music Business
  5. The Legal Curriculum
  6. Create a Webzine  
  7. Robotics 
  8. Medical Decision Making 
  9. Scientific Reasoning
  10. Community Planning
  11. The Fashion Industry
  12. Engineering
  13. Computer Networking
  14. Homeland Security
  15. Medical Technology
  16. Construction
  17. Computer Technology
  18. Television Production
  19. Real Estate Management
  20. Landscape Architecture
  21. The Banking Industry
  22. Automobile Design
  23. Architecture
  24. Biotechnology Lab 
  25. Film Making
  26. Travel Planning
  27. Financial Management
  28. Parenting and child care
  29. Animal care
  30. Urban Transit
  31. Hotel management
  32. Health care industry
  33. Food industry
  34. Graphic Arts

Make better parents and you won’t have to shove pre-K down everyone’s throats. Keep teaching more math and science and you will need more prisons. Why? Because only a small percentage of students will care about, or will succeed at, math and science. Teach parenting and job skills in high school, and you will need less prisons.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Milo fights the Common Core again -- this time his mother responds

my daughter is getting upset now; she wrote
this column; for some background on her -- 
she has written a book, published 
many articles, and designs web sites

here is a link to some articles

and here is a link to web sites she built for me

Every night when Milo asks for help with his homework I get a little nervous.  As long as he needs help with a researching a report or writing something or practicing spelling words I feel on safe ground - these are things I know how to do -  but I've been waiting for the day when I have to tell him I simply don't know the answer to something.  That day turned out to be yesterday.

Milo reported that his class had taken a practice "assessment" (they don't call them tests because they don't want the kids to freak out about being tested all the time, so they call them assessments so that instead the kids can eventually freak out about being assessed all the time).  He had gotten two answers wrong on the assessment so his assignment was to change the answers to the correct ones and explain why those were the correct answers.  Since he wasn't sent home with an answer sheet this meant his homework was really to guess at the correct answer, make sure I agreed, and then come up with an explanation for the answer we'd agreed upon.

Much to my dismay, the assessment he brought me wasn't math homework, which I still feel pretty confident with since we're at a 3rd grade level, but reading comprehension.  I totally, totally suck at reading comprehension.  Or, more accurately, I suck at reading comprehension "assessments."  I scored the same on the math and verbal SATs despite the fact that I never really got math and spent huge quantities of my childhood with my nose in a book. 

I took Milo's reading comprehension assessment and sighed.  This was going to be okay now, right?  After all, I'm an adult.  I read lots of books and one assumes I comprehend them or I would have stopped reading long ago.  Not only that, Simon and Schuster and the New York Times agree that I'm a writer.  No published author could be bad at reading comprehension, right?

The first thing I did was look over the questions and the answers, which was how I always approached reading comprehension as a kid.  The passages they give you to read are always so mind-numbingly boring that my usual strategy was to see if I could answer the questions without actually reading the passage (wait, maybe that explains why I never did well on these things ... but I digress).  My heart sank as I realized in order to help Milo with his assessment I was going to have to actually read the passage.  It turned out to be a mind-numbingly boring passage about a kid who went to camp to learn to swim.  He didn't want to be in the group with the non-swimmers, even though he couldn't swim, so he kept asking when he could be moved up into the group for swimmers.  Day after day he goes to the camp, does the stuff he's supposed to do, and asks if he can be moved up to the group with the kids who can swim.  Eventually he learns to swim and gets moved up into the group.  The end.  ARE YOU STILL AWAKE??  Just checking.

So the first question Milo had gotten wrong was something like: 

The kid in this story is:
a. lazy
b. keen
c. reckless
d. angry

Milo had put down that the kid was lazy. 

"I get that," I said to him.  "I totally get that.  You put down that he's lazy because he didn't want to have to do all the things he had to do to learn how to swim, right?"

"Yes," said Milo.  "He just wanted to go right to the group for kids who knew how to swim."

"Here's a tip that it took me a really long time to learn," I said.  "The answer is never that the main character is lazy.  Or mean, or evil, or a slob.  The main character in these things is always something nicer than that.  I can't explain why, but that's how they write them.  Even though you're right.  He is kind of lazy."

"So maybe it's reckless?"  Milo said.  

"Maybe," I said.  "I mean, anyone who doesn't actually take the time to learn to swim and just tries to swim is a little reckless.  It's not angry, though I could make an argument for why it could be angry.  Maybe he's angry about having to be in the group for non-swimmers."

"Is it angry?" Milo asked.

"It's not angry," I said.  "Let's look up what 'keen' means."  Milo was shocked that I didn't know what it meant.  I explained it's a word that no one has used in the last fifty years, so it makes perfect sense that it would appear in a reading comprehension assessment for eight year olds.  The definition for "keen" is 'confident'.  The answer was "keen."

We moved on to the next question.  And for the life of me I couldn't figure out the answer.  I found myself making an argument for every single answer.  They all seemed equally valid.  And then I remembered why I couldn't do reading comprehension as a kid.  No matter how hard I tried I couldn't stop arguing with the people who wrote the test.  I always felt like if they would just give me the chance to make my case in person I could convince them to see it my way.  I wanted to accompany my responses with long essays about how all answers could be right if viewed in the right way.  It wasn't that I didn't care.  It was that on some level I cared too much about writing and reading to fill in a letter on a bubble sheet and move on.  I always found myself editing the passages as I read them, thinking about how I would rewrite them.  As I read through the answers I saw them all as correct because writing is fluid and open to interpretation and that is what makes it such a joy to experience.  One person may see a kid in a story as lazy and another may see him as angry and they are both right, and if you don't understand that then you haven't comprehended anything about what you've read.

In the end I had to ask Steven what the right answer was.  He knew.  He always knows what the people who wrote the test are really asking for; it's a skill I will apparently never acquire.  

When I was a kid I took my failure at reading comprehension personally, as though the test takers were telling me that I'd never be a writer, that my love for reading was misguided, that the one thing I thought I was good at was a lie.  I don't take it that way any more, but there is still a small part of me that wants to print out the list of places I've been published and mail it to the makers of this assessment, along with a clearly thought out essay on why "lazy" could be the right answer.  Because really, it could.  Take another look, Common Core people.  Open your minds a little.  You might find the main character a little lazy.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Milo and the Park Slope Parents group meet Common Core; everybody loses (except Bill Gates and Big Pharma)

Milo has finally met the Common Core, that brilliant new basis of our education system that will kill traditional schooling better than anything I could propose.

Take a look at the math vocabulary words Milo and his third grade comrades had to memorize last week.

rectilinear figure
square unit
standard form
unit fraction
number line
Order of Operations
place value
area model
arithmetic patterns
Associative Property of Addition
customary system
Distributive Property
expanded form
fact family
Identity Property of Addition
line plot

Before I start getting upset here, let me just point out that vocabulary tests are not mathematics education. Now for the part where I get upset. 

My daughter sent this list to me because the Park Slope Parents group (this is an upscale part of Brooklyn, so parents are generally well off and well educated) was extremely upset by all this. It seems very few of the parents knew any of these mathematical terms. Now, I have to admit, I do know them (not sure what “expanded form” is though) because I majored in mathematics in college. That is where this stuff comes up. Even in that context, I never found any of it useful in my actual life. 

So, parents in Park Slope are busy learning math vocabulary to help their kids who have been confounded by Common Core. What the point of all this I am not sure. But here is something I am sure of. There is big money behind all this.

Today the New York Times printed the following:

I tweeted that article to my followers and one of them (the head of a Day School in New York) tweeted her favorite line from that article:

@rogerschank "A.D.H.D. diagnosis increased by 22 percent in the first four years after NCLB was implemented."

This is hardly a surprise for those of us who have been following the ADHD thing for years now. ADHD is a convenient diagnosis because it sells a lot of Ritalin and Big Pharma is happy; it quiets down unruly kids so the school is happy; and, it makes everyone much more focussed on testing so the big testing companies are happy. More Ritalin better test prep sales.

Common Core will surely help everyone make more money. But poor Milo. Milo suffers, big business wins.

Who cares about any of this mathematics anyway? Who needs it? 

Here is a homework question from Common Core that he had to do last week (among many others):


  1. Fred has 10 pears. He puts 2 pears in each basket.

  1. Draw an array where each column represents a basket of pears.
  2. Redraw the pears in each basket as a unit in the tape diagram. Label the diagram with known and unknown information from the problem.

2.Ms Meyer organizes 15 clipboards equally into 3 boxes. How many clipboards are in each box? Model the problem with both an array and a labeled tape diagram. Show each column as the number of clipboards in each box.

My daughter said that parents were watching you tube videos in order to figure out what any of this meant. Of course, it is now the parents who are doing the homework (as well as teaching mathematics that they themselves do not understand.)

Just in time for all this I read a good interview with a mathematician from Berkeley here:

This is his answer to one of the interviewer’s questions:
What is wrong with the way most of us are introduced to math?

The way mathematics is taught is akin to an art class in which students are only taught how to paint a fence and are never shown the paintings of the great masters. When, later on in life, the subject of mathematics comes up, most people wave their hands and say, "Oh no, I don't want to hear about this,
I was so bad at math." What they are really saying is, "I was bad at painting the fence."

So, Bill Gates, you have succeeded. At what or why you did it I do not know. But you will make every child and their parents miserable. You will create students who hate school (even more than they do now.) 
Bill and I, as it happens, have a mutual friend. My friend asked me if I wanted to meet Bill. I said “would he listen?” 
My friend said “no.”
My advice to parents: Fight Back. Refuse to drug your kids and refuse to have them take common core. As they used to say in the old days: “In Union there is Strength.”

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

So, you want to build an online learn by doing course; now you can; our new GBS tool is free; build away


The world of teaching and learning has changed, but as the saying goes “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

The media are full of stories about companies that are putting courses on line for universities which means that they are basically putting lectures on line. If you want to put your lectures on line and deliver them to large numbers of students, read no further as I have nothing to say about that (except to say that good lectures are typically just good entertainment, no one retains much from them. If you don’t believe me try re-telling a lecture you heard in college.)

What will change everything is something we call the GBS tool, the details of which will be explained later. The GBS tool enables anyone to build an online course that will teach a student to do something. What I mean by this is that the courses built using the GBS tool are not intended to convey information. The telling of information and testing to see if the student retained that information for a short period is an education model that has seen its day.

What will replace it?

When you learned to ride a bicycle, some older person held on to you when you started, guided you, gave you tips and eventually let you go on your own. This model of learning, guided practice, has been with us for a very long time. The “you listen while I tell you the latest theory and you take notes and then there will be test” model has been around for much less time. That model will go away when institutions that offer up the alternative model can find a way to exist financially. Right now lectures are money makers. (1000 students, one lecturer -- universities can do the math.)

The GBS tool allows anyone who wants to, build an online learning by doing course that includes guided practice and help from human mentors. In other words, the GBS tool lets you do on line what everyone does naturally with their own kids prior to sending them off to school.

Who is the GBS tool for?

There are many potential users of the tool.

1.    Professors, who know full well that students learn by doing and who would like to help students in their institution or possibly anywhere in the world, learn to do what the professor has expertise in doing.
2.    Teachers, who, although they may not have a lot of extra time on their hands, really have something they would like to kids to be able do, that they like to teach how to do, and would like to make their expertise available outside of school, inside of school, or wherever that skill might be sought after.
3.    Business experts, who would like to train employees or the general public to do something but are hampered by their training departments who want to do things the way they have always been done.
4.    Government employees, military officers, EPA officers, Parks department people, whomever, who’d like to train their people better but don’t have the budget to do it right and don’t know how to get started.
5.    Regular folks, who simply have something they would like to teach people how to do.

So how can you do this? First the good news. It doesn’t cost anything.  How is that possible? We have built this tool in order to change how people think about teaching. The tool is easy to use and will produce a high quality learn by doing course on line, if and only if, the person using the tool knows how to teach somebody how to do something that can be taught on line. (It would help if a user had read Teaching Minds first however so they don’t try to teach the same old stuff in the same old way with the tool.

How can the GBS tool be free? Let’s look at the five categories of users again.

Professors. You can have the GBS tool and use it inside your university. No cost. If you need help from us in the form of advice, we would charge you for our time. (We are a consulting company after all.)

Teachers. The same as professors. Use the GBS tool for your students and its free.  

Business experts. Nah. Not necessarily free. If you are teaching people in your company or other companies we offer only to drive down radically the cost of production of training. We will provide consulting (for a fee.)  If you sell what you built we will want a piece. If, on the other hand you want to give away your expertise to people outside of your company and you don’t charge them for it, then we expect nothing in return.

Government employees. We will deal with this on a case by case basis.

Regular people. Same deal. You can give it away.  

To see some courses built using the GBS tool, go here.

To use this new tool send an email here: describing who you are and how you will use it.

Courses can be any length, an hour, a year, it makes no difference. The GBS tool has within it advice from experts (in the form of short videos) who have been building GBSs for years. I am in there too.

Designing a good GBS is not easy. We have a range of services (course design consulting, fiction writing, video production, expert interviewing, art, and course review and editing, hosting) that we can provide (for a fee.)

GBS stands for Goal Based Scenario. It is an idea we have been writing about and doing for more than 20 years. To learn more about GBSs click on one or more of these.