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

School Site of the Week

I’ve been following (through Bloglines) a feature of TechLearning.com called School Site of the Week that provides a wonderful glimpse into the web presence of schools.

The archive page goes back to 2002 and is a great resource for any teachers or administrators seeking to gather ideas about a meaningful web face in the world of increased interactivity.

The most recent feature is Rockburn Elementary School, which is located in Elkridge, Maryland. The description says: “Originally designed as a fifth grade student project in 1996-97, this site continues to reflect student contributions in every area and serves as a place for them to showcase a variety of work.”

Head off to the Techlearning school website archives.

Peace,
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

The Laws of Jim Grey

Jim Gray founded the National Writing Project in California in the early 1970s as a way to gather teachers together to share best practices in the teaching of writing and to become writers themselves. He passed away in the past year. (He published a wonderful book called Teachers at the Center about the early days of the writing project).
The Voice, a publication of the NWP, recently published some wonderful reflections on Jim Gray’s impact on our network of teachers, and this retrospective included the so-called unwritten Gray’s Laws that seem very insightful.

The First Law:
No one, in any way, at any time, or under any circumstances, likes criticism.
The Sixth Law:
If you become defensive, you lose.
The Second Law:
Everyone, without qualification, is starved for recognition.
The Seventh Law:
When issues are controversial, communication between opposing sides is mostly impossible.
The Third Law:
Incompetence flourishes in all fields and in all walks of life.
The Eighth Law:
The Macbeth Family Factor — It pays to consider the consequences, lest you go mad.
The Fourth Law:
No one can see ‘the truth’ unless predisposed to see it.
The Ninth Law:
The Iago Factor — There really are a lot of mean-spirited people in this world.
The Fifth Law:
No one wants to be told what to do or what to think.
The Tenth Law:
Anyone who has made up nine laws will add a tenth.

You can read some of the stories about Jim Gray through the Bay Area Writing Project site.

A Poem Gets Published (the new way)

I just got a poem of mine published at a site called The New Verse News.

The poem, called Incognito: Front Lines, was written for a friend of mine who was in the Middle East as a military police officer and the poem was inspired by the publication of some written memories of soldiers in The New Yorker magazine. Thousands of soldiers are taking part in a large project to document the experience of the war in Iraq through writing and the magazine published bits and pieces of some of that writing. It was very powerful and shocking, and emotional unnerving.

I wrote my poem this summer and then used the e-Anthology to get feedback from the National Writing Project teachers to revise it, and so I thank everyone who helped me along the way.

You can read a copy of my poem or listen to it, too. Incognito

Peace (for real),
Kevin

The Teacher: A Musical

While I was in Nashville, wandering around the aquarium-like Gaylord Opryland, I picked up a flier for this show, which is called The Teacher: A New Musical by Ken Stonecipher. Apparently, Ken, who is a teacher, wrote a full-length musical around the act of teaching (!). I tried to find a web presence for the musical (which Ken says will soon be moving on to Broadway) but I came up empty.

In the flier, this is how Ken describes it:

“For those who love teaching, it is the most exciting career of all. Where else does one get to play the role of educator, creator, counselor, baby-sitter and prison guard all in one day? In what other profession does one have to balance the behavior of 165 hormone-raging adolescents with their need for quality education?”

Well said …

I guess Ken also presents pieces of his musical as a professional development tool. The flier calls the sessions “… a brutal yet honest look at the evolution of teaching … ” Now that would be different, wouldn’t it?

I love the idea of intersecting music, arts, writing and teaching all in one — although I can’t comment on the quality of his writing (the flier was a bit sketchy) or the production values (I didn’t see any of it).

Peace,
Kevin

National Writing Project: Nashville Podcasts

While I was in Nashville for the National Writing Project Annual Meeting, I decided I would create an audio postcard for some of our writing project fellows back home in Western Massachusetts. These audio files are also being linked to our WMWP Online Newsletter for others to listen to.

Here are the two audio postcards:

  • Day One: some workshop presentations, interviews and reflections Day One
  • Day Two: general assembly of NWP, interviews and reflections Day Two

Here I am with a Jason, a good friend and colleague from Colorado, who is part our Youth Radio Project.

Jason and Kevin

Peace,
Kevin

Lost Songs of Paradise: Vol. 2

I continue with my expedition into the world of audiobooks with a second chapter in my story called Lost Songs of Paradise: Tales from Mac’s Music Shack.

Listen to the second installment called The Saxophonist’s Tale Sax

You can also read along and see some video introductions to the story at the main Story Page. And Bella will read once again (good dog).

bella-headshot.jpg

Peace,
Kevin

AudioBook Project: Lost Songs of Paradise, Vol. 1

As I have been listening to some audiobooks with my children lately, I have been wondering how it would be to create an audiobook of my own via podcasting. So, as with other ventures on this Weblog site, I figured I might as well try it.

So here goes: This is the first installment of my book called Lost Songs of Paradise: Tales from Mac’s Music Shack. The story revolves around music (a common theme of my writing) and uses classic English Literature as the organizing structure behind the stories. I’ll post a reflection on the experience of creating this audiobook at another time.

Meanwhile, my dog Bella will serve as the virtual narrator of this book. (woof)

bella-headshot.jpg

Listen to the Introductory chapter of Lost Songs of Paradise or you can read along with my audio by using the Story file I have started here.  Introduction

As I go through this project, I am keeping in the back of my mind that this is something I want my sixth grade writers to experience. Thus, it is more than personal here, although self-publishing this way is certainly a motivation for me, too.

 

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