Thursday, August 21, 2008

What I learned in Elementary School

A really interesting article on the University level Mathematician teaching Math in Grade 1 in Northern Israel.

A friend of mine left a high-tech career in mid-life to work in mathematical education. In September 2000, just before the school year began, he called me: There is a project to promote mathematical education in elementary schools; come join. The project was in a development town called Maalot, in the far north of Israel. (Israeli development towns, built in the 1950s to settle new immigrants, are usually considered to be rather backward.)

I am a professional mathematician and, although I have been strongly interested in teaching (which is the reason that my friend had the idea of offering me the job), I had not set foot in an elementary school since I was a child. So I consulted whomever I could. The advice I got was uniform: Don’t do it. Elementary math education is a profession in itself. There is no connection between it and teaching math at the university level.

In hindsight, sobriety should have dictated listening to this advice. Yet, had I listened, I would have missed one of the most fascinating adventures of my life.


Anonymous said...

You would have to devote an entire blog for a discussion on a history of Israeli schooling. It can be separated into three educational systems: General Zionist, (Mizrahi) Religious Zionist, and Labor. Each system has a separate curriculum, as well as, ideology. Things quickly get heated and complex.

The most interesting movement are the schools run by labor since it represents the schools in the kibuttzim (US immigrants) - this is similiar to the labor movements that were strong in the US during the early half of the 19th century.

"... the heads of the labor trend stressed the importance of fashioning secular-socialist Jewish pioneers.

Ya'akov Halpern, one of the trend's leading officials, said: "[Our aim] is to fashion an independent, pioneering Jewish personality, imbued with a Zionist socialist vision, who is prepared and trained to fulfill the goals of the Jewish labor movement in the State of Israel."

Many of the teachers in this trend called on their students "to overturn the pyramid," to join the "pioneering" youth movements, and to engage in "fulfillment" in "labor settlements" (especially kibbutzim). Some of them vehemently objected to matriculation exams - and to any form of education that would lead to "bourgeois careerism."

From statements like this, I believe the US 'radical' influence on Israel education comes from this wave of immigrants stemming from US cities with large Jewish communities.

The key civil rights event was the report from the Frumkin Commission which preceded Brown v. BOE.

"In the summer of 1950 the Frumkin Commission demanded that the melting-pot policy be replaced by a policy of "cultural pluralism." In opposing the melting-pot policy and switching to cultural pluralism, Israel preceded other Western countries, including the United States. The commission of inquiry ascribed most of the responsibility for the melting-pot policy to the heads of the Department for Language Instruction and Cultural Absorption in the Ministry of Education and Culture and led to their dismissal.

A few months later (October 1950), the first Minister of Education and Culture, Zalman Shazar, was also forced to resign. The commission served as a catalyst for the fall of the first government, in February 1951."

The author makes some good observations, but you have to understand the entire complex picture before drawing even one conclusion.

Israel has had more than its share of difficulties and has done well when you consider its leaders needed to first decide on a national language.

Read on... guess who replaced US reform textbooks with Singapore?

IFMA: A few devoted people, realizing the catastrophe, joined to make a change. Indeed, over the last 4 years a dramatic change has occurred as a result of their intervention. In the academic year of 2005-2006 the organization they established, IFMA (the Israeli Foundation for Mathematical Achievement for All) is working in 157 elementary schools, which is over 10% of the Hebrew speaking schools in Israel. And the changes they initiated have permeated the mathematical education in Israel in general, also in schools not working with IFMA.

For the last 20 years, Singapore has consistently won first place in the international tests (those at which Israel is among the last). As a result, many countries have examined the Singapore books, to see if the reason for this unique success is the special quality of the books. The founders of IFMA also examined these books, and found that they are indeed of exceptional quality. Moreover, they discovered that the principles of the books are in remarkable agreement with their own principles, which they had been applying in their teaching. Using a donation of an Israeli-American donor, the books were translated, and since September 2002 they are taught in the schools in which IFMA operates. But more than that is true: other book systems adopt these principles in their own teaching.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

The problem with premillenials is they can't write math textbooks and their science is like nothing I've ever seen before.

Bush: Global warming is caused by the sun warming the earth.

Bush: Higher oil prices are caused by an increased demand of oil.

Bush: US dollars buy less because everything is more expensive.

Bush: Kids don't learn math, because teachers don't teach kids.

Simple Simon has an explanation for everything and all you have to do is believe in Him.

Signed 343

dan dempsey said...

A post was removed due to name calling and unsupported allegations of repeated lying to the public.

If someone wishes to attack Uri T. please no name calling and please detail the instances where Uri T. was untruthful. Given Uri T's and Phil Darko's segment on You Tube of their Bellevue session a year ago there certainly are available instances to sight.

Let us keep this more civil.


Anonymous said...

That's not a prob - they're not coming back. B. should be moving out pretty soon - how far ahead is Dorn. I hope they take that whole place apart and clean out all the bedbugs.

This fight has been anything but civil. What a shame, that a bunch of crackpots can hold this state by its ankles for so long.

Anonymous said...

It seems you cannot have a good government without good propaganda, but then, you can't have good propaganda without a good government. However, you cannot lie! We must never lie! - H.

Here's some math reform trivia -

What is the connection between SRI, the Laughing Guru, and Ernst Rohm?

Anonymous said...

If we can nationalize the banking industry by bailing out banks; then why not nationalize curriculum and bail out the textbook writers.

They've managed to bankrupt schools and create an oppressive society that is ruled by superstitious fools.

Anonymous said...

The Big Lie is a propaganda technique lie so "colossal" that no one would believe that someone "could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously".

OSPI and the mathsmores certainly have cheek.

Washington's 'revised' standards are no different than the original standards. Show me a curriculum that fits their dogma, not fit for feeding termites.

Anonymous said...

Here's an example of a myth - white flight.

Uri Treisman, director of the Charles Dana Center, an education research center at the University of Texas at Austin, said that many school districts overassign less-challenging schoolwork to immigrant and minority students and that eventually this takes over the culture of the school.

He said good teachers can become part of "white flight" from the schools.

The Star-Telegram analysis found evidence of Anglos moving away from Hispanic students.


Let me point out that the trend is not 'white flight', but rather 'hispanic flight' - the reform math curriculum does not work well in districts that have above average numbers of Latinos.

Burlington and Mount Vernon are excellent examples that show Latinos prefer traditional textbooks over reform textbooks. Latinos moved their children to Mount Vernon five miles away so their children could pass high school. It wasn't going to happen in Burlington and the entire valley knows about it. Even teachers left, very disgruntled.

How else can you explain that almost half the student population of MVHS is Latino - yet the community supports a smaller percentage of Latinos than Burlington?

White flight is a xenophobic myth or it must also be given a balanced treatment. Minorities definitely are more mobile due to their economic and social insecurity.

You know the situation is unstable when parents are dropping of kids in different areas of the high schools and gangs are showing colors. ICP is also 'lost boy' movement that seems to be flourishing in certain areas of Western Washington.

It is no coincidence that the same year, Latinos were rioting in MV cafeterias, the community overruled the adoption of Core Plus and replaced the Superintendent.

One ICP member explained to me small communities are targets because they lie between larger communities and allow gangs more privacy to manufacture drugs.

So Washington leaders might be in denial, but there are some serious issues that need to be dealt with and soon.

California is another example, where teachers and leaders realized early in the game, that reform math was not going to educate minorities.

Bellevue was another example where large numbers of Hispanics were forced to move out of the community due to below average math curriculum. Curious now that the community has adopted traditional curriculum and the old sup has moved away. Even the alternative school, once a Hispanic magnet, has changed its name, since there are now hardly any Hispanics left.

Defacto segregation...still legal.

Washington schools lead in discrimination.

Anonymous said...

Districts overassign less challenging work to immigrants and minorities and this takes over the culture of the school.

Myth and conclusion: White students and experienced teachers leave districts because the work is not challenging enough.

This defies credibility. There is absolutely no logic that can connect these two statements as true. Yet who spoke first and repeats it forever as the truth. That is what a big lie is all about.

Anonymous said...

So if you were white and you could choose between Burlington or Mount Vernon, which school would you choose? Well it depended on if you were educated in a public school or a parochial one. That's not surprising.

What's even more interesting is that students from the Catholic school preferred Mount Vernon because it had a traditional math program and math teachers preferred using the traditional textbooks.

The parochial students that were interviewed in the music program at MVHS usually opted to attend both Running Start and MVHS mostly for the experience in performing arts and the better academic classes at SVC.

Anonymous said...

Here's an article that explains Dr. Treisman's research and pedagogical approach at Berkeley.

This often gets incorrectly cited as evidence that minorities learn best in groups and that Socratic or discovery learning is a preferred mode.

Most Asians I've talked to prefer lectures, just like Whites, African Americans, and Latinos.

What often goes unnoticed is that the African Americans studied, although failing calculus at Berkeley (1983) had been successful when they graduated from their high school and they were motivated to achieve.

Often they had at least one parent who was a teacher and they were driven to be high achievers academically.

Treisman observed that failing students worked alone and so he put them in study groups. Why? Well he was observing the Asian students who were sitting in groups and reading?? This is certainly a myth and it doesn't contain anything that can be proven with a certainty.

Treisman also observed that successful students (the Asians) were reading the textbooks mostly to help themselves learn English, while failing students were not reading the textbook, but using the examples to help them solve the problems.

The link goes into slightly more detail, and Treisman is able to show some pretty good results, but this is enough I think to show how what might have been useful research can get twisted into a producing some fabulously big lies.

1. The study concerns motivated college students. It makes some presumptions about learning among minorities, especially Asians, that are simply not true.

2. Even presuming that some ethnic groups prefer group work over lecturing is completely inaccurate.

The picture is incomplete and what we do as populists is apply this model over and over to different age groups and curriculum without no controls and twist the message in order to make it serve our own interests.

Another slightly better explanation is to imagine it is the teacher's responsibility to vary the activity structure which depends on a variety of factors, not ethnicity, which would be a very poor thermometer for measuring student interest.

As a student, there are times when individuals enjoy group work, but there are also times when a lecture is more helpful. Also, there are times that Socratic teaching is fine, but it can't be done everyday and especially when students are met with continual failure (double bind hypothesis).

Add to this classroom soup, test preparation and now teachers are walking on eggshells. Its more than a three ring circus.

Observation: Failing students in college calculus were isolated, they studied hard, but didn't use their time as effectively.

Myth or conclusion: African Americans and disadvantaged whites worked better when they copied the Asian strategy and were put in small groups to work together.

Myth: Asians got better grades because they studied in groups.

Myth: Asians did better because they read the book; while African Americans copied the examples.

Myth: Reading textbooks are an acceptable strategy for learning what you are expected to know.

Lets start with the last myth.

ESL students read college level math textbooks to learn English better also got better at math because they read the textbook.

Practically speaking, this can't be true. College courses demand students develop skills for skimming textbooks. High school classes help develop those skills. Lets presume Asians and African Americans used similiar reading strategies. Asians then worked in study groups to help with translating what they were reading.
It was a strategy or a tool based on their need, not a cultural preference. A common error in teaching.

What would account for one group's success over the other group's failure? I could say by guessing that probably it was better math preparation in high school. But we don't have enough information and we have yet to verify what Treisman described thirty years ago.

Treisman does not delve deeply enough for us to know for certain. I've read his research and it is very interesting, but it is primarily ethnographic that I can recall and weak in terms of examining the big picture.

I've already covered textbook reading - which no one reads a book entirely from cover to cover, there isn't enough time and so students learn to skim - they work out examples, memorize diagrams, and use pictures to help solve problems. (common methods of skimming for college students, including Asians)

Group Work Myth: Tudge goes to great lengths to dispell this myth for educators. Group work is appropriate for certain tasks, but not all.

A group can be skewed in such a way that they will agree on a wrong answer, at least as much as they will agree on a right answer.

Were the groups in effect all of the time? Was an entire book covered in this fashion? We don't know from the research, but I don't believe it could have been possible.

AVID reminds me of the Treisman model and it was started in San Diego by an English teacher. It was an attempt to build success at an earlier age, for kids who hadn't really thought about college.

That's what I'm building on. Treisman's students were completely different from the ones selected originally by AVID.

I was an AVID tutor (150 hours) and I went through 3 years of training to be an AVID teacher. The model used at Terra Nova was second generation, pretty much an exact copy of the original AVID class.

Each day of the week, was a different subject and students would sit around a table with a college age tutor, very much like the model used in college, where a teacher lectures 3-4 times per week and then you went to a once a week seminar that was run by a senior or a graduate.

I have observed hundreds of AVID classrooms and none have ever looked like the original one, not even close. The worst examples look like study halls and the teachers did daily notebook checks. Sorry, that's not AVID...

In addition, a UCSD study discovered AVID lost its effectiveness if students enrolled early in the program (definitely for longer than 4 years). However, very little of this seemed to sink into the AVID leadership or its groupies.

AVID seemed most effective in the 11th grade, when students needed to begin filling out application forms, apply for grants and scholarships, and take college entrance exams. It was also useful for helping to accelerate students into advanced math and science classes (jumping the tracks).

One criticism is that not all students stayed in AVID and we don't know exactly how many dropped out of the program, except that many students decided they didn't need AVID to go to college. It was very complicated to track down students.

Now how you take the conclusions drawn from teaching minorities learning calculas at Berkeley to early elementary inquiry based after-school programs in Houston (Project Seed and William Webster) to remedial math programs at the University of Washington and then push everything under one creative umbrella involving disadvantaged students is the real mystery, except it has to do with funding in order to promote an idea, we'll call for the sake of brevity, constructivism.

So there are two things here - testing learning theories should be blind studies, to account for ethnic differences (there ought to be none) meaning curriculum that was used has to be identified and separated. The complexity is vastly more difficult than what some of this research is tending to overlook.

Anonymous said...

Treisman's study (1985) of African American students placed in groups after class showed significant improvement, but one could argue the principal modality was direct instruction through lecture. My argument is that the teacher directs the activity structure, not culture or the invisible hand of an administrator.

To do a controlled study, involving populations of Hispanic 13 year olds from three different populations for linguistic purposes requires researchers to account for almost 50 variables, which includes giving tests on the same day of the week, dressing in the same clothing, giving the same set of directions, etc...

We have computers to do our analysis, so why are we jumping to conclusions when the interpretations of what we see occurring in classrooms could be completely wrong. (e.g. making gross judgements of others based on their culture.) Don't be a muddle-headed dope.

In fact, some studies that include minorities show their populations were so small that no conclusions could be drawn. Yet some of these weak-minded researchers proceed onward as though they've met all their obligations. That's academically dishonest.

For instance - What is the likelihood of finding a diverse group of average ability eighth graders learning algebra in Washington? I don't think one exists - Even the idea of average can be twisted as we've witnessed with standardized testing. Or as in the case of Core Plus what constitutes an algebra class. Core Plus has no business being used to teach first year formal algebra. It is more like a senior level class combining calculators, statistics, and applied algebra.

Anonymous said...

The reverse of white flight is gentrification. There are many reasons for white flight - however, poor math programs should not be made one of them, because there are so many paths for getting assistance in a city that are not provided for in a rural community. Whites left cities during the 60's for many reasons - I don't believe they left because they thought rural schools were better. Sum it up, these families had more free time.

However, gentrification is another matter. For one, minorities have lower paying jobs with fewer assets at their disposal and they are already fairly mobile.

These are also families that have a mainstream set of values - and educated with traditional textbooks. It would not take much to destabilize the minority community, so they would leave.

This is exactly what has occurred in Washington where the movement of students has been localized and you see resegregation occurring in neighborhoods within cities and between rival communities.

The policies of school districts actually aid in resegregation.
It has long been argued that better results will be obtained from intra-district transfers, rather than a transfer to a school within the same district. Very interesting and how many people can afford to do that? Not many.

The kids in that town have no self-control. (How many times did I hear that catch-all phrase? Coming from the townspeople of a nearby rival.) Its an indirect reference to a minority community and these people think its better to live this way. ...

“Bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant. education and free discussion are the antidotes of both.” - TJ