The Math Wars: Oh No!

An editorial column in Time Magazine by Claudia Wallis about the emerging Math Wars in this country resonated with me, as our school district is in the midst of this battle raging in the classrooms and in the minds of our students.

Walls notes that, in a move that eerily echoes the whole language-phonics debate of the 1980s, educators and administrators, and government officials, are beginning to toss out the idea of creative and critical mathematical thinking skills (what Wallis calls “fuzzy math”) in favor of more rote learning and memorization of facts. This confusion over direction of a national math curriculum has led textbook publishers to packing their books with tons and tons of learning objectives to be covered over the span of a year … with impossible results for both teachers and students.

In my school district, a group of teachers spent years meeting and discussing and formulating an approach that balanced creative thinking and basic math facts, only to have the central office do a top-down move that is shifting us towards textbook-centered classroom instruction (read this page, do these problems, take this quiz, move on). This shift has not been viewed as positive by many classroom teachers. But the administration is under significant pressure from our state to increase our standardized math scores and they see this as a way to solidify the curriculum across all of our schools.

Wallis urges school districts and teachers to look to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics for guidance. The NCTM has begun issuing some grade-level guidelines for math skills, and they are streamlining expectations so that one year builds upon the next.

“If the script follow the Reading Wars, what comes next will be dreary times-table recitats in unison, dull new text books that faily to inspire understanding, and drill, drill, drill much like the unhappy scenes in many of today’s ‘Reading First’ classrooms . And that would be just another kind of fiasco … Kids will learn their times tables for sure, but they will also learn to hate math.” — Wallis, Time Magazine, November 27, 2006.

Peace (in numbers and words) ,
Kevin

Student Newspaper: Tigger Talk

Three years ago, I wanted to find a way to spark leadership in my sixth grade students and so I decided to start up a Student Council for fifth and sixth graders. The group has been very successful and popular. They have organized rock concerts, overseen toy drives for needy families and fostered school spirit.

This year, they decided that they wanted to publish a student-written newspaper — and they did a fine job with the first edition. The Student Council leaders (with only some direction from me):

  • Held a naming contest for the entire school and came up with Tigger Talk (a playful variation of the school newsletter, called Tiger Talk)
  • Went on morning announcements and encouraged young writers
  • Decided on which articles and cartoons would make it into the newspaper
  • Added original artwork to the pages
  • Did the lay-out the old-fashioned way — scissors, glue sticks and paper
  • Took pride in becoming real newspaper publishers

You can view Tigger Talk at our Student Council website (or click on the picture)

Peace,
Kevin

Peace Posters: A Short Movie

My students have just completed a big art project around the theme of Celebrating Peace and their work is now hanging all around the hallways of my school. We also have them writing about why peace should be important to young people and to explain the symbolism of their art. It is very interesting to see sixth-graders tussle with the idea of a peaceful world in a time of war.

I thought I would capture some of that work through video and so I am sharing that video with parents at another Weblog site but I figured it would be nice to share it here, too.

[googlevideo]4263936435492206329[/googlevideo]

Peace (in every way possible),
Kevin

Youth Radio: Teachers Teaching Teachers

I took part in a skypecast this week with Paul Allison and Susan Ettenheim on the Teachers Teaching Teachers network (which is a wonderful and insightful weekly program) and they just put the link up on their site. We talked about podcasting and the Youth Radio project that I am helping to lead with upper elementary students from my own school in Massachusetts and other schools across the country.

Take a listen to the podcast Teachers Teaching Teachers

Peace,
Kevin

Why Use Tech: Composition Considerations

In a few weeksl, I am heading to Nashville for the National Writing Project Annual Meeting and I am taking part in a workshop about writing in the digital age. (Here is my slide presentation using SlideShare — a new favorite) I will discuss a Digital Math Picture Book Project that I did with my sixth graders last year that used Powerpoint as the platform.

But the question is: Why use the computers to compose a picture book? Why not just stick to paper and pen?

Here are my thoughts:

One guiding question that I went into this math picture book project with was, how will the composing process change for my sixth graders as they create picture books using technology (Powerpoint) as opposed to previous years when it was all paper and pen? They had to write a story that taught a math theme to an audience of younger students.

First of all, the planning did not change much at all. We still did all of the brainstorming work and storyboarding on paper before the computers were even turned on. But early in the process, some students began to think about the various aspects of PP (images that can move in and off the screen and transitions and the integration of audio) as possible ideas for complementing their writing. (They had been introduced to PP earlier in the year). They also had to integrate their own art into the picture books — they could scan in images they drew or they could use Paint and then import. (Most of them used Paint, although that was a struggle for some).

The result was an interesting combination of old and new for my students.

Some composed “shows” that allowed the reader to listen for clues to math problems embedded within the story. Once the reader has some ideas of an answer to the question, they could use the mouse click to “remove” a picture and reveal the answer. Sometimes, the audio file was merely a word of encouragement and sometimes the audio was a narration of the story. We invited younger grades (mostly k-3) to our classrooms and set up computer stations. My students then not only shared their work but they also explained to the younger ones how they made their books on the computer and how the tricks were accomplished (such as moving images). Some made changes to the books after getting a reaction from one round of readers. Unlike paper, they could make changes immediately and in a few minutes time.

We did not go into hyperlinking to other pages in the book or outside of the books but that is something that might provide an even more powerful platform for extending their knowledge base (and the reader’s base of understanding) from the local (their book) to the global (the world).

The final step was publication. We actually printed out two paper copies of every book (one for the student and one for the school) and then I converted the books to PDF and posted to our Weblog site for families to view. (There were too many and they were just too large to post as PP shows but that would be have been ideal). What happened, of course, is that I had to flatten everything out to two-dimensional space, which meant that the audio files were deleted and any hidden answers had to be revealed or else they would be missing from the printed page, which led to an interesting discussion about the differences between composition on paper and composition on powerpoint. Many of the writers were disappointed but I encouraged them to bring in a blank disc or flashdrive to save their shows as originals, and some did just that.


Peace,
Kevin

Peace Posters: A Student Audiocast

This was originally posted to a new project I am starting called Youth Radio that seeks to connect upper elementary/middle school students via audiocasts.

The Peace Poster Project: Celebrating Peace in the World
Listen to the Audiocast

peaceposter1.JPG

Students in Southampton, Massachusetts, have been working on creating Peace Posters. The project is supported by the local Lion’s Club as a way to foster understanding of peace in the world through artistic expression.
Sixth Grader Kathryn takes you on an audio tour of the art classroom, asking these young people to explain the themes and symbols in their posters. Listen in as the students think about the meaning of a peaceful world.

Peace (really),
Kevin

Action! Adventure! Illustrations!

My sixth grade students just completed a short story project using the adventure story genre to put some characters through a typical plot arc (intro-risingaction-climax-fallingaction-resolution) and we pulled out the laptops the other day to create some illustration in Paint. I wanted them to get more comfortable with the program, as we will use it later this year. Then, I moved them to Flickr for a slideshow so that parents and family members at home could see what we were doing in class that day.

View the slideshow of illustrations b1

Peace,
Kevin

NetDay SpeakUp

I am continuing to find ways to not only introduce technology and writing to my sixth grade students, but also to engage them in some critical thinking. For example, the other day, I showed them a funny mashed-up photo circulating the ‘net, and then we discussed Photoshop and how nothing is quite what it seems in the wired world.

So I am interested in this project called NetDay, which seeks to gauge student understanding and knowledge of the digital world as a collective research project in the month of November. Here is an overview of guiding questions the group hopes the data can help us answer:

  • WHO are today’s students?
  • HOW are your schools supporting the teaching and learning of 21st century skills?
  • WHERE are students and teachers accessing technology and learning technology skills?
  • HOW are teachers using technology for professional activities, both for teaching and for their own learning?
  • WHAT are students’ ideas and concerns about technology use for their education?
  • WHAT are teacher’s ideas and concerns about technology use and their professional goals?
  • WHAT are parent’s ideas and concerns about technology use and their children’s education?

from http://www.netday.org/speakup/

There is also an invite to have parents participante in the surveys. Wouldn’t it be interesting to compare data from parents to data from students?

Speak Up logo

Peace,
Kevin

Culture Projects

Each year, my homeroom class works in small groups to create a new culture or civilization as a way to learn about teamwork and ways that people can come together.
The students invent a language, some sports or games, and brainstorm ways their culture could be defended. They create posters and PowerPoint slide shows to present their information to the class.
Follow the links below (or click on the posters) to view the slide shows.


The Cagbmimins

The Hotheads


Purple Dragon Warlords

Purple People Eaters

The Skitzfizzlians

Soccer! Rockers

Peace,
Kevin

Considering Elgg

Last week, I joined an online conversation with folks through Teachers Teaching Teachers that explores the convergence of technology and teaching in its many varied forms. I have been curious about the concept of Elgg communities and jumped into the conversation with some questions (for my own benefit and for my wife, who is a high school teacher). As far as I can tell, Elgg offers the possibility of a safe online community that links members together through shared interested and through related “tags” that they create in their profile. It mirrors Facebook and MySpace, but without the advertising and mess of those sites. Dave Tosh provides a good overview of Elgg at his site.
You can listen to the podcast of that conference through the Teachers Teaching Teachers site. Or you can find that link here:

microphone Listen to the podcast

Meanwhile, I notice that the authors of one of my favorite blog sites — Bud the Teacher — is posing his own inquiries into Elgg, so I hope to follow along that conversation, too. And I have joined a teacher Elgg, too, just to tour around and get familiar with the tools that are there.

Peace,
Kevin