Seattle Public Schools Administration Response to the Discovery Math Public Lawsuit Loss

602K PDF.

Respondents focus their brief on arguing that no reasonable school board would adopt “inquiry-based” high school mathematics textbooks instead of “direct instruction” textbooks. There are “dueling experts” and other conflicting evidence regarding the best available material for teaching high school math, and the Seattle School Board (“the Board”) gave due consideration to both sides of the debate before reaching its quasi legislative decision to adopt the Discovering series and other textbooks on a 4-3 vote.
The trial court erred by substituting its judgment for the Board’s in determining how much weight to place on the conflicting evidence. Several of the “facts” alleged in the Brief of Respondents (“BR”) are inaccurate, misleading, or lack any citation to the record in violation of RAP l0.3(a)(4). The Court should have an accurate view of the facts in the record to decide the important legal issues in this case. The Board is, therefore, compelled to correct any misimpressions that could arise from an unwary reading of respondents’ characterization of the facts.

Much more on the successful citizen lawsuit overturning the Seattle School District’s use of Discovery Math, here. http://seattlemathgroup.blogspot.com/. Clusty Search: Discovery Math.
Local links: Math Task Force, Math Forum Audio/Video and West High School Math Teachers letter to Isthmus.

Seattle Discovery Math Lawsuit Update

Martha McLaren:

On Monday, June 21st, we filed our “Brief of Respondent” in the School District appeal of Judge Spector’s decision. (Sorry to be late in posting it to this blog; our attorney left town after sending me hard copy, but neglected to email an electronic version of the document we filed.) A link to the brief can be found in the left-hand column, below, under “Legal Documents in Textbook Appeal.”
There’s no new information, either in the District’s brief or our response. You might notice that, rather than acknowledge the catalog of unrelated miscellany in the Seattle Public School District’s brief, our attorney, Keith Scully, chose to essentially restate our original case, upon which Judge Spector ruled favorably. He did emphasize certain statements which pertained to claims in the District’s brief.
I think Keith has, once again, done a masterful job.

5.4MB PDF file.

Seattle School District Files Appeal in “Discovery Math” Lawsuit Loss

Martha McLaren:

The District’s Appeal Brief is in — A link to the appeal is shown on the lower left.
The Seattle School District’s first brief in its appeal of Judge Spector’s decision was filed on Friday. To me, it is not surprising that its arguments are weak. I don’t think we could ever have scored this unprecedented victory had our case not been extremely well founded. Nonetheless, one can’t predict what the appeals panel will rule.
Basically, the brief restates the district’s original contention that, because the specified process was followed, any decision made by the board, (I might add — regardless of how it flouted overwhelming evidence) must stand. Also, the brief misstates and misinterprets many aspects of our case. One of the most egregious examples is the contention that the court overstepped its authority by making a decision on curriculum. Not so – the court simply remanded the board’s decision back to the board on the basis of the lack of evidence to support the decision.
We have 30 days to file our response brief (by June 21), and SPS has 15 days after (by July 6) to file its rebuttal. Our attorney tells me that a hearing will be scheduled after all briefs have been filed.

Much more on the initial, successful rollback of Seattle’s Discovery Math program here

Seattle Public Schools Appeal Discovery Math Implementation Court Loss

Martha McLaren:

Today we received notice of the Seattle School District’s decision to appeal the Decision of Judge Spector which required the SPS board to reconsider its high school math text adoption vote.
I am deeply disappointed that SPS will funnel more resources into this appeal, which, I suspect, will be more costly than following the judge’s instruction to reconsider.
Our attorney tells me: “…. I’ll put in a notice of appearance, and then we wait for the District to complete the record by having the documents and transcripts transmitted to the Court of Appeals. They write the first brief, due 45 days after the record is complete.

More Rhetoric on the Seattle School District’s Court Loss on the Use of Discovery Math

Melissa Westbrook:

For entertainment value read the Discovering Math Q&A in this article in the Seattle Times. The Discovering Math guy (1) doesn’t always answer the question asked, (2) answers but doesn’t address the topic properly – see the question on if Discovering Math is “mathematically unsound” and (3) sounds like he works for the district.
Here’s one example:
The Discovering books have been criticized by parents, but they’ve been the top pick of a couple of districts in our area, including Seattle and Issaquah. Any thoughts on why the textbooks seem to be more popular with educators than with parents?
Ryan: I think because (parents) lack familiarity — this doesn’t look like what I was taught. I don’t know how you get students to a place where more is required of them by repeating things that have been done in the past. That’s not how we move forward in life.
What?

Much more on the successful community lawsuit vs. the Seattle School District’s implementation of Discovery Math. Math Forum audio / video.

Skydiving without Parachutes: Seattle Court Decision Against Discovery Math Implementation

Barry Garelick:

“What’s a court doing making a decision on math textbooks and curriculum?” This question and its associated harrumphs on various education blogs and online newspapers came in reaction to the February 4, 2010 ruling from the Superior court of King County that the Seattle school board’s adoption of a discovery type math curriculum for high school was “arbitrary and capricious”.
In fact, the court did not rule on the textbook or curriculum. Rather, it ruled on the school board’s process of decision making–more accurately, the lack thereof. The court ordered the school board to revisit the decision. Judge Julie Spector found that the school board ignored key evidence–like the declaration from the state’s Board of Education that the discovery math series under consideration was “mathematically unsound”, the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction not recommending the curriculum and last but not least, information given to the board by citizens in public testimony.
The decision is an important one because it highlights what parents have known for a long time: School boards generally do what they want to do, evidence be damned. Discovery type math programs are adopted despite parent protests, despite evidence of experts and–judging by the case in Seattle–despite findings from the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Key Curriculum Press Response to Seattle Discovery Math Court Decision

Charlie Mas:

Key Curriculum Press is in quite a snit over the Court’s decision about the high school textbooks.
Check out this web page they wrote in response.

Much more on the recent successful community vs. Seattle School District Discovery Math court case here.

Seattle Court Reverses School Board Decision to Implement Discovery Math

Judge Julie Spector’s decision [69K PDF], via Martha McLaren:

THIS MATTER having come on for hearing, and the Court having considered the pleadings, administrative record, and argument in this matter, the Court hereby enters the following Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order:
FINDINGS OF FACT
1. On May 6, 2009, in a 4-3 vote, the Seattle School District Board of Directors chose the Discovering Series as the District’s high school basic math materials.
a. A recommendation from the District’s Selection Committee;
b. A January, 2009 report from the Washington State Office of Public Instruction ranking High School math textbooks, listing a series by the Holt Company as number one, and the Discovering Series as number two;
c. A March 11, 2009, report from the Washington State Board of Education finding that the Discovering Series was “mathematically unsound”;
d. An April 8, 2009 School Board Action Report authored by the Superintendent;
e. The May 6, 2009 recommendation of the OSPI recommending only the Holt Series, and not recommending the Discovering Series;
f. WASL scores showing an achievement gap between racial groups;
g. WASL scores from an experiment with a different inquiry-based math text at Cleveland and Garfield High Schools, showing that W ASL scores overall declined using the inquiry-based math texts, and dropped significantly for English Language Learners, including a 0% pass rate at one high school;
h. The National Math Achievement Panel (NMAP) Report;
1. Citizen comments and expert reports criticizing the effectiveness of inquiry-based math and the Discovering Series;
J. Parent reports of difficulty teaching their children using the Discovering Series and inquiry-based math;
k. Other evidence in the Administrative Record;
I. One Board member also considered the ability of her own child to learn math using the Discovering Series.
3. The court finds that the Discovering Series IS an inquiry-based math program.
4. The court finds, based upon a review of the entire administrative record, that there IS insufficient evidence for any reasonable Board member to approve the selection of the Discovering Series.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
I. The court has jurisdiction under RCW 28A.645.010 to evaluate the Board’s decision for whether it is arbitrary, capricious, or contrary to law;
2. The Board’s selection of the Discovering Series was arbitrary;
3. The Board’s selection of the Discovering Series was capricious;
4. This court has the authority to remand the Board’s decision for further review;
5. Any Conclusion of Law which is more appropriately characterized as a
Finding of Fact is adopted as such, and any Finding of Fact more appropriately
characterized as a Conclusion of Law is adopted as such.
ORDER
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED:
The decision of the Board to adopt the Discovering Series is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Dated this 4th day of February, 2010.

Melissa Westbrook has more.
Seattle Math Group Press Release:

Judge Julie Spector today announced her finding of “arbitrary and capricious” in the Seattle School Board’s May 6 vote to adopt the Discovering Math series of high school texts despite insufficient evidence of the series’ effectiveness.
Judge Spector’s decision states, “The court finds, based upon a review of the entire administrative record, that there is insufficient evidence for any reasonable Board member to approve the selection of the Discovering series.”
Plaintiffs DaZanne Porter, an African American and mother of a 9th-grade student in Seattle Public Schools, Martha McLaren, retired Seattle math teacher and grandparent of a Seattle Public Schools fifth grader, and Cliff Mass, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington, had filed their appeal of the Board’s controversial decision on June 5th, 2009. The hearing was held on Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

On Seattle’s “Discovery Math” Lawsuit: “Textbook argument divides us”

Danny Westneat:

Can an algebra textbook be racist?
That’s what was argued Tuesday in a Seattle courtroom. Not overtly racist in that a book of equations and problem sets contains hatred or intolerance of others. But that its existence — its adoption for use in Seattle classrooms — is keeping some folks down.
“We’re on untested ground here,” admitted Keith Scully.
He’s the attorney who advanced this theory in a lawsuit challenging Seattle Public Schools’ choice of the Discovering series of math textbooks last year.
The appeal was brought by a handful of Seattle residents, including UW atmospheric-sciences professor Cliff Mass. It says Seattle’s new math books — and a “fuzzy” curriculum they represent — are harmful enough to racial and other minorities that they violate the state constitution’s guarantee of an equal education.
It also says the School Board’s choice of the books was arbitrary.
Mostly, Mass just says the new textbooks stink. For everyone. But he believes they will widen the achievement gap between whites and some minority groups, specifically blacks and students with limited English skills.

What’s your experience with the new (Discovery) math textbooks?

KUOW.org:

Last year Seattle Public Schools selected new, “inquiry-based” math textbooks. Now there’s a lawsuit against the district over the Discovering Mathematics series of textbooks.
Do you have a child in school who is using the new textbooks? What is your experience with inquiry-based math education? KUOW’s Ross Reynolds is planning a show on Wednesday, February 3 in the 12 o’clock hour. We’d like to hear from you by Wednesday morning. Share your experience with KUOW by filling out the form below, or call 206.221.3663.

Discovery learning in math: Exercises versus problems Part I

Barry Garelick, via email:

By way of introduction, I am neither mathematician nor mathematics teacher, but I majored in math and have used it throughout my career, especially in the last 17 years as an analyst for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. My love of and facility with math is due to good teaching and good textbooks. The teachers I had in primary and secondary school provided explicit instruction and answered students’ questions; they also posed challenging problems that required us to apply what we had learned. The textbooks I used also contained explanations of the material with examples that showed every step of the problem solving process.
I fully expected the same for my daughter, but after seeing what passed for mathematics in her elementary school, I became increasingly distressed over how math is currently taught in many schools.
Optimistically believing that I could make a difference in at least a few students’ lives, I decided to teach math when I retire. I enrolled in education school about two years ago, and have only a 15-week student teaching requirement to go. Although I had a fairly good idea of what I was in for with respect to educational theories, I was still dismayed at what I found in my mathematics education courses.
In class after class, I have heard that when students discover material for themselves, they supposedly learn it more deeply than when it is taught directly. Similarly, I have heard that although direct instruction is effective in helping students learn and use algorithms, it is allegedly ineffective in helping students develop mathematical thinking. Throughout these courses, a general belief has prevailed that answering students’ questions and providing explicit instruction are “handing it to the student” and preventing them from “constructing their own knowledge”–to use the appropriate terminology. Overall, however, I have found that there is general confusion about what “discovery learning” actually means. I hope to make clear in this article what it means, and to identify effective and ineffective methods to foster learning through discovery.

Garelick’s part ii on Discovery learning can be found here.
Related: The Madison School District purchases Singapore Math workbooks with no textbooks or teacher guides. Much more on math here.

(2009) What impact do high school mathematics curricula have on college-level mathematics placement?

James Wollack and Michael Fish: Major Findings CORE-Plus students performed significantly less well on math placement test and ACT-M than did traditional students Change in performance was observed immediately after switch Score trends throughout CORE-Plus years actually decreased slightly Inconsistent with a teacher learning-curve hypothesis CORE-AP students fared much better, but not as well as […]

Madison School District Middle School Math Specialist Program

Madison School District Administration (PDF): Project Description: MMSD has provided funding to support coursework in the content and teaching knowledge of middle school teachers of math. Toward that goal, a partnership was formed back in 2010 between the District, the UW-Madison School of Education, the UW- Madison Department of Mathematics, and the University of Wisconsin […]

The Economist’s Washington correspondent wonders why his offspring are being taught swimming so well and maths so badly

James Astill: Yet my children’s experience of school in America is in some ways as indifferent as their swimming classes are good, for the country’s elementary schools seem strangely averse to teaching children much stuff. According to the OECD’s latest international education rankings, American children are rated average at reading, below average at science, and […]

What’s so sexy about math?

Cédric Villani: Hidden truths permeate our world; they’re inaccessible to our senses, but math allows us to go beyond our intuition to uncover their mysteries. In this survey of mathematical breakthroughs, Fields Medal winner Cédric Villani speaks to the thrill of discovery and details the sometimes perplexing life of a mathematician. “Beautiful mathematical explanations are […]

In Mathematics, Mistakes Aren’t What They Used To Be

Siobhan Roberts: Vladimir Voevodsky had no sooner sat himself down at the sparkling table, set for a dinner party at the illustrious Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, than he overturned his empty wine glass, flipping bowl over stem and standing the glass on its rim—a signal to waiters that he would not […]

Undoing the ‘Rote Understanding’ Approach to Common Core Math Standards

Barry Garelick, via a kind email: A video about how the Common Core is teaching young students how to do addition problems is making the rounds on the internet: http://rare.us/story/watch-common-core-take-56-seconds-to-solve-96/ Much ballyhoo is being made of this. Given the prevailing interpretation of Common Core math standards, the furor is understandable. The purveyors of these standards […]

Teaching Math-Conversations on the Rifle Range 7: Winds and Currents, Formative Assessments, and the Eternal Gratitude of Dudes

Barry Garelick, via a kind email: All my classes were getting ready to take their first quiz later in the week. My second period class was the second-year Algebra 1 class. We were working on systems of linear equations covering the various ways of solving two equations with two unknowns. I was preparing for my […]

Mathematics in Ancient Iraq

Princeton Press (PDF): The mathematics of ancient Iraq, attested from the last three millennia BCE, was written on clay tablets in the Sumerian and Akkadian languages using the cuneiform script, often with numbers in the sexagesimal place value system (§1.2). There have been many styles of interpretation since the discovery and decipherment of that mathematics […]

Number sense in infancy predicts mathematical abilities in childhood

Ariel Starra, Melissa E. Libertus & Elizabeth M. Brannon:

The uniquely human mathematical mind sets us apart from all other animals. How does this powerful capacity emerge over development? It is uncontroversial that education and environment shape mathematical ability, yet an untested assumption is that number sense in infants is a conceptual precursor that seeds human mathematical development. Our results provide the first support for this hypothesis. We found that preverbal number sense in 6-month-old infants predicted standardized math scores in the same children 3 years later. This discovery shows that number sense in infancy is a building block for later mathematical ability and invites educational interventions to improve number sense even before children learn to count.

New Lincoln math pages suggest more education

David Mercer:

Two math-notebook pages recently authenticated as belonging to Abraham Lincoln suggest the 16th president, who was known to downplay his formal education, may have spent more time in school than usually thought.
And the Illinois State University math professors behind the discovery say the work shows Lincoln was no slouch, either.
Math professors Nerida Ellerton and Ken Clements said Friday at the university in Normal that they’d recently confirmed that the two pages were part of a previously known math notebook from Lincoln’s childhood. It was found in the archives of Houghton Library at Harvard University, where it remains.
The book, known as a cyphering book in Lincoln’s day, is a sort math workbook in which Lincoln wrote math problems and their answers. It’s the oldest known Lincoln manuscript.

Great Scientist ≠ Good at Math; shares a secret: Discoveries emerge from ideas, not number-crunching

E O Wilson:

For many young people who aspire to be scientists, the great bugbear is mathematics. Without advanced math, how can you do serious work in the sciences? Well, I have a professional secret to share: Many of the most successful scientists in the world today are mathematically no more than semiliterate.
During my decades of teaching biology at Harvard, I watched sadly as bright undergraduates turned away from the possibility of a scientific career, fearing that, without strong math skills, they would fail. This mistaken assumption has deprived science of an immeasurable amount of sorely needed talent. It has created a hemorrhage of brain power we need to stanch.
I speak as an authority on this subject because I myself am an extreme case. Having spent my precollege years in relatively poor Southern schools, I didn’t take algebra until my freshman year at the University of Alabama. I finally got around to calculus as a 32-year-old tenured professor at Harvard, where I sat uncomfortably in classes with undergraduate students only a bit more than half my age. A couple of them were students in a course on evolutionary biology I was teaching. I swallowed my pride and learned calculus.
I was never more than a C student while catching up, but I was reassured by the discovery that superior mathematical ability is similar to fluency in foreign languages. I might have become fluent with more effort and sessions talking with the natives, but being swept up with field and laboratory research, I advanced only by a small amount.
Fortunately, exceptional mathematical fluency is required in only a few disciplines, such as particle physics, astrophysics and information theory. Far more important throughout the rest of science is the ability to form concepts, during which the researcher conjures images and processes by intuition.

It’s Time to Turn the Page on Math in Seattle Schools

Rick Burke:

Days are getting longer, the weather is warmer. The smell of spring is in the air. But if you inhale deeply down by JSCEE, there’s another smell. It’s the smell of math. After years of sideways movement, the stars are aligned for systemic changes to math instruction in Seattle Public Schools.
When you look at Seattle kids’ math achievement against other urban districts, Seattle might seem to be doing OK. As a district-level statistic, we’re not too bad. But closer inspection of disaggregated data and the view from inside the system prompt a cry for help. Seattle still has a large number of struggling students and a persistent achievement gap which we can’t shake. Outside tutoring has become commonplace, with math as the most frequent remediation subject. However, recent national and state developments have identified common ground and outcome-proven methods which can serve as a model for Seattle.
This brings us around to a community support initiative for math education. Seattle has a math-focused School Board, and Seattle’s new superintendent, Jose Banda, came to Seattle from proven math success with a diverse student population in Anaheim. Recent news reports are that staff at JSCEE are planning a K-8 math instructional materials adoption soon. Examples of success are scattered through Seattle classrooms and it’s time for those successes to take root across the district.

Related: Math forum audio/video and Seattle’s “Discovery Math” lawsuit.

Common Core leading districts to adopt unproved math programs and failed approaches

Laurie Rogers, via a kind email:

Many of America’s public schools have incorporated “student-centered learning” models into their math programs. An adoption committee in Spokane appears poised to recommend the adoption of yet another version of a “student-centered” program for Grades 3-8 mathematics.
It’s critically important that American citizens know what that term means. Aspects of the Common Core State Standards initiatives are leading many districts to adopt new curricular materials that have “student-centered learning” as a centerpiece.
In Spokane Public Schools, student-centered learning (also known as “inquiry-based” learning or “discovery-based” learning or “standards-based” learning) has been the driver of curriculum adoptions for nearly 20 years. This approach has not produced graduates with strong skills in mathematics. Spokane now suffers from a dearth of math skills in most of its younger citizens.
Nor is Spokane alone with this problem. Student-centered learning has largely replaced direct instruction in the public-school classroom. It was pushed on the country beginning in the 1980s by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the federal government, colleges of education, and various corporations and foundations. Despite its abject failure to produce well-educated students, student-centered learning is coming back around, again pushed by the NCTM, colleges of education, the federal government and various corporations and foundations.

5 Recent Mathematical Breakthroughs That Could Be Taught in Elementary School (but aren’t)

The Suburban Lion:

In a previous blog post, I made the claim that much of the math curriculum is ordered based on historical precedent rather than conceptual dependencies. Some parts of the math curriculum we have in place is based on the order of discovery (not always, but mostly) and while other parts are taught out of pure habit: This is how I was taught, so this is how I’m going to teach. I don’t think this needs to be the case. In fact, I think that this is actually a detriment to students. If we want to produce a generation of mathematicians and scientists who are going to solve the difficult problems of today, then we need to address some of the recent advances in those fields to prepare them. Students should not have to “wait until college” to hear about “Topology” or “Quantum Mechanics”. We need to start developing the vocabulary for these subjects much earlier in the curriculum so that students are not intimidated by them in later years.

He shattered mathematics with a single number

Marcus Chown:

TWO plus two equals four: nobody would argue with that. Mathematicians can rigorously prove sums like this, and many other things besides. The language of maths allows them to provide neatly ordered ways to describe everything that happens in the world around us.
Or so they once thought. Gregory Chaitin, a mathematics researcher at IBM’s T. J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York, has shown that mathematicians can’t actually prove very much at all. Doing maths, he says, is just a process of discovery like every other branch of science: it’s an experimental field where mathematicians stumble upon facts in the same way that zoologists might come across a new species of primate.
Mathematics has always been considered free of uncertainty and able to provide a pure foundation for other, messier fields of science. But maths is just as messy, Chaitin says: mathematicians are simply acting on intuition and experimenting with ideas, just like everyone else. Zoologists think there might be something new swinging from branch to branch in the unexplored forests of Madagascar, and mathematicians have hunches about which part of the mathematical landscape to explore. The subject is no more profound than that.

Rapid Improvments in K-12 Math Education Are Possible

Cliff Mass:

One of the most frustrating aspects of working on the improvement of math education is dealing with an educational establishment that makes decisions based on fads and opinions rather than empirical facts.
Now, let us accept that there are different approaches to teaching mathematics, with a major divide between the “reform, discovery approaches” and the more “traditional, direct instruction” approaches. Reform/discovery approaches became the rage among the educational community in the 1990s and I believe it is a major, but not sole, reason that math performance has lagged.
As a scientist, it would seem to me that the next step is clear: test a variety of curriculum approaches in the classroom, insuring the class demographics are similar, and find out what works best. In short, do a carefully controlled experiment with proper statistics and find the truth in an empirical way. But what frustrates me is that such experimentation is virtually never done by the educational bureaucracy. They seem to go from fad to fad and student progress suffers. Reform math, Integrated Math, Teach for America, Whole Language, and many more.

BioMathematics

Ian Stewart:

Biology used to be about plants, animals and insects, but five great revolutions have changed the way that scientists think about life: the invention of the microscope, the systematic classification of the planet’s living creatures, evolution, the discovery of the gene and the structure of DNA. Now, a sixth is on its way – mathematics.
Maths has played a leading role in the physical sciences for centuries, but in the life sciences it was little more than a bit player, a routine tool for analysing data. However, it is moving towards centre stage, providing new understanding of the complex processes of life.
The ideas involved are varied and novel; they range from pattern formation to chaos theory. They are helping us to understand not just what life is made from, but how it works, on every scale from molecules to the entire planet – and possibly beyond.
The biggest revolution in modern biology was the discovery of the molecular structure of DNA, which turned genetics into a branch of chemistry, centred on a creature’s genes – sequences of DNA code that specify the proteins from which the gene is made. But when attention shifted to what genes do in an organism, the true depth of the problem of life became ever more apparent. Listing the proteins that make up a cat does not tell us everything we want to know about cats.

Appeals court sides with Seattle schools over math text choice

Katherine Long:

The Washington State Court of Appeals has reversed an earlier decision in King County Superior Court that found Seattle’s choice of a new high-school math series was arbitrary and capricious.
The appellate court found no basis for the Superior Court’s conclusion in February 2010 that the Seattle School board “was willful and unreasoning in coming to its decision” when it chose the Discovering Math series of textbooks for algebra and geometry in high school math.
The school district has been using the series since the start of the 2009 school year.
Some parents have criticized the Discovering Math series, saying it is inferior to other series and that its emphasis on verbal descriptions makes it difficult for some students to understand, especially those for whom English is a second language.

Much more on the Seattle Discovery Math lawsuit, here.

Math Curricula

Charlie Mas:

I know that I’m inviting trouble with this, but something that Reader wrote in a comment on another thread piqued my interest. I would like to discuss only a narrow question. Please don’t expand the discussion.
Writing about Everyday Math and Singapore, Reader wrote: “The fact is, the newer curricula stress more problem solving and discovery. That is, it’s doing more than a lot of older curricula.”
Here’s my question: can problem-solving be taught?
I mean this in the nicest possible way and I don’t have an answer myself. I’m not sure, I’m asking. Can people be taught or trained in problem-solving techniques or is it a talent that some people just natively have more than others? Problem solving requires a certain amount of creativity, doesn’t it? It can require a flexibility of perspective, curiosity, persistence, and pattern recognition. Can these things be taught or trained?

Related: Math Forum audio/video links.

Hard to Find: Discovery and the Science of Science

Mesofacts:

have an article in this Sunday’s Ideas section of the Boston Globe entitled Hard to find: Why it’s increasingly difficult to make discoveries – and other insights from the science of science. It discusses a scientific paper of mine published recently in Scientometrics, which is the journal of the “science of science”. The journal article entitled Quantifying the Ease of Scientific Discovery (also freely available on the arXiv), discusses how to think mathematically about how scientific discovery becomes more difficult over time.

Seattle Math Group Update

Martha McLaren:

Thanks to all the people who have written, expressing your support and dedication to this effort, and also to those who have so generously made financial donations. We are many, many people nationwide standing in solidarity in our commitment to make effective math education accessible to all students.
I apologize to those who have looked for news recently on this blog: I’ve been following other math ed news, but little has been happening directly regarding our lawsuit, so I haven’t sat down to give updates.
In the last 6 weeks, there has been an outpouring of support for our lawsuit and its outcome, as well a surge of determination to deflect the tide of inquiry-based math instruction that has flooded so many of our schools. I’ve been very moved by letters from parents who have struggled (heroically, and often poignantly, it seems to me) to support their children in developing strong math skills despite curricula that they found confusing, unintelligible, and deeply discouraging. I strongly believe that, whether the Seattle School District’s appeal of Judge Spector’s decision succeeds or fails, the continuing legal action will only heighten public awareness of the tragic and devastating results of the nationwide inquiry-based math experiment. The public NEEDS TO KNOW about this debacle. I think/hope that our lawsuit and its aftermath are helping this to happen.

School Districts vs. A Good Math Education

Charlie Mas:

If you are a parent in cities such as Bellevue, Issaquah or Seattle, your kids are being short-changed–being provided an inferior math education that could cripple their future aspirations–and you need to act. This blog will tell the story of an unresponsive and wrong-headed educational bureaucracies that are dead set on continuing in the current direction. And it will tell the story of how this disaster can be turned around. Parent or not, your future depends on dealing with the problem.
Let me provide you with a view from the battlefield of the math “wars”, including some information that is generally not known publicly, or has been actively suppressed by the educational establishment. Of lawsuits and locking parents out of decision making.
I know that some of you would rather that I only talk about weather, but the future of my discipline and of our highly technological society depends on mathematically literate students. Increasingly, I am finding bright students unable to complete a major in atmospheric sciences. All their lives they wanted to be a meteorologist and problems with math had ended their dreams. Most of them had excellent math grades in high school. I have talked in the past about problems with reform or discovery math; an unproven ideology-based instructional approach in vogue among the educational establishment. An approach based on student’s “discovering” math principles, group learning, heavy use of calculators, lack of practice and skills building, and heavy use of superficial “spiraling” of subject matter. As I have noted before in this blog, there is no competent research that shows that this approach works and plenty to show that it doesn’t. But I have covered much of this already in earlier blogs.

Related: Math Forum audio / video.

Lawsuit Challenging the Seattle School District’s use of “Discovering Mathematics” Goes to Trial

Martha McLaren, DaZanne Porter, and Cliff Mass:

Today Cliff Mass and I, (DaZanne Porter had to be at a training in Yakima) accompanied by Dan Dempsey and Jim W, had our hearing in Judge Julie Spector’s King County Superior Courtroom; the event was everything we hoped for, and more. Judge Spector asked excellent questions and said that she hopes to announce a decision by Friday, February 12th.
The hearing started on time at 8:30 AM with several members of the Press Corps present, including KIRO TV, KPLU radio, Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times, and at least 3 others. I know the number because, at the end, Cliff, our attorney, Keith Scully, and I were interviewed; there were five microphones and three cameras pointed towards us at one point.
The hearing was brief; we were done by 9:15. Keith began by presenting our case very clearly and eloquently. Our two main lines of reasoning are, 1) that the vote to adopt Discovering was arbitrary and capricious because of the board’s failure to take notice of a plethora of testimony, data, and other information which raised red flags about the efficacy of the Discovering series, and 2) the vote violated the equal education rights of the minority groups who have been shown, through WASL scores, to be disadvantaged by inquiry based instruction.
Realistically, both of these arguments are difficult to prove: “arbitrary and capricious” is historically a very, very difficult proof, and while Keith’s civil rights argument was quite compelling, there is no legal precedent for applying the law to this situation.
The School District’s attorney, Shannon McMinimee, did her best, saying that the board followed correct procedure, the content of the books is not relevant to the appeal, the books do not represent inquiry-based learning but a “balanced” approach, textbooks are merely tools, etc., etc. She even denigrated the WASL – a new angle in this case. In rebuttal, Keith was terrific, we all agreed. He quoted the introduction of the three texts, which made it crystal clear that these books are about “exploration.” I’m blanking on other details of his rebuttal, but it was crisp and effective. Keith was extremely effective, IMHO. Hopefully, Dan, James, and Cliff can recall more details of the rebuttal.

Associated Press:

A lawsuit challenging the Seattle School District’s math curriculum went to trial Monday in King County Superior Court.
A group of parents and teachers say the “Discovering Math” series adopted last year does a poor job, especially with minority students who are seeing an achievement gap widen.
A spokeswoman for the Seattle School District, Teresa Wippel, says it has no comment on pending litigation.
KOMO-TV reports the district has already spent $1.2 million on Discovering Math books and teacher training.

Cliff Mass:

On Tuesday, January 26th, at 8:30 AM, King County Superior Court Judge Julie Spector will consider an appeal by a group of Seattle residents (including yours truly) regarding the selection by Seattle Public Schools of the Discovering Math series in their high schools. Although this issue is coming to a head in Seattle it influences all of you in profound ways.
In this appeal we provide clear evidence that the Discovery Math approach worsens the achievement gap between minority/disadvantaged students and their peers. We show that the Board and District failed to consider key evidence and voluminous testimony, and acted arbitrarily and capriciously by choosing a teaching method that was demonstrated to produce a stagnant or increasing achievement gap. We request that the Seattle Schools rescind their decision and re-open the textbook consideration for high school.

White House Plans Campaign to Promote Science and Math Education

Kenneth Chang:

To improve science and mathematics education for American children, the White House is recruiting Elmo and Big Bird, video game programmers and thousands of scientists.
President Obama will announce a campaign Monday to enlist companies and nonprofit groups to spend money, time and volunteer effort to encourage students, especially in middle and high school, to pursue science, technology, engineering and math, officials say.
The campaign, called Educate to Innovate, will focus mainly on activities outside the classroom. For example, Discovery Communications has promised to use two hours of the afternoon schedule on its Science Channel cable network for commercial-free programming geared toward middle school students.
Science and engineering societies are promising to provide volunteers to work with students in the classroom, culminating in a National Lab Day in May.

Math illiteracy

This site continues to mention math curricula challenges from time to time, and as long as I am around, and have community math experiences, it will continue to do so.
I try to visit Madison’s wonderful Farmer’s Market weekly. This past weekend, I purchased some fabulous raspberries from an older Hmong couple. Their raspberries are the best. Unfortunately, while I made my purchase, they asked how much change I was due, something I saw repeated with other buyers. They periodically have a younger person around to handle the transactions, or a calculator.
Purchasing tickets at high school sporting events presents yet another opportunity to evaluate high schooler’s basic, but ESSENTIAL math skills. A Dane County teenager could not make change from $10 for three $2 tickets recently. I have experienced this at local retail establishments as well.
Unfortunately, the “Discovery” approach to math does not appear work….

What is Discovery Learning?

Barry Garelick, via email:

By way of introduction, I am neither mathematician nor mathematics teacher, but I majored in math and have used it throughout my career, especially in the last 17 years as an analyst for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. My love of and facility with math is due to good teaching and good textbooks. The teachers I had in primary and secondary school provided explicit instruction and answered students’ questions; they also posed challenging problems that required us to apply what we had learned. The textbooks I used also contained explanations of the material with examples that showed every step of the problem solving process.
I fully expected the same for my daughter, but after seeing what passed for mathematics in her elementary school, I became increasingly distressed over how math is currently taught in many schools.
Optimistically believing that I could make a difference in at least a few students’ lives, I decided to teach math when I retire. I enrolled in education school about two years ago, and have one class and a 15-week student teaching requirement to go. Although I had a fairly good idea of what I was in for with respect to educational theories, I was still dismayed at what I found in my mathematics education courses.
In class after class, I have heard that when students discover material for themselves, they supposedly learn it more deeply than when it is taught directly. Similarly, I have heard that although direct instruction is effective in helping students learn and use algorithms, it is allegedly ineffective in helping students develop mathematical thinking. Throughout these courses, a general belief has prevailed that answering students’ questions and providing explicit instruction are “handing it to the student” and preventing them from “constructing their own knowledge”–to use the appropriate terminology. Overall, however, I have found that there is general confusion about what “discovery learning” actually means. I hope to make clear in this article what it means, and to identify effective and ineffective methods to foster learning through discovery.

Virginia Parents Resist Math “Investigations” Curriculum

Ian Shapira:

A group of Prince William County parents is mounting a campaign to repeal a new elementary school math curriculum, using an Internet discussion group and an online petition to gather support and fuel criticism.
The group, whose members include parents from such elementary schools as Westridge, Ashland and Springwoods as well as teachers from various schools, plans to present the Prince William County School Board in February with its petition, which has about 500 names. Parents in the group, whose Web site ( http://www.pwcteachmathright.com) lists several of their complaints, say that the Investigations curriculum is putting their children behind grade level and is too convoluted.
The group’s formation comes right after the school system presented a year-long study of the curriculum that showed 80 percent of second-graders and 70 percent of first-graders are proficient on all 10 subtests of the Stanford Diagnostic Mathematics Test. The school system wants to continue studying the program and incorporate data from student performance on the state Standards of Learning exams.
School Board member Julie C. Lucas (Neabsco) said in an interview that she wants to examine the program inside a classroom to assess its effectiveness. She added that she has been hearing positive reviews from at least one principal in her district but that she wants to withhold making public comments until she visits schools.
The Investigations program has been undergoing a phased-in implementation since the School Board adopted its materials in 2006. In the 2006-07 academic year, kindergarten through second grade started the program; this year, third-graders began it; and next year, fourth-graders will use the material.
Investigations teaches children new ways of learning mathematics and solving problems. For instance, a student may not need to learn how to add 37 and 23 by stacking the figures on top of each other, and carrying the numbers. They may learn to add up the tens and then combine the seven and three to arrive at 60.

Related:

  • Math Forum Audio / Video
  • Madison School District’s Math Task Force
  • Clusty Search: Math Investigations
  • Teaching Math Right website:

    Why this website?
    …Because our children – ALL children – deserve a quality mathematics education in PWCS!!
    In 2006 PWCS directed mandatory implementation of the elementary school mathematics curriculum TERC – “Investigations in Number, Data, and Space” in all PWCS elementary schools. The traditional, proven, successful mathematics program was abandoned for a “discovery learning” program that has a record of failure across the country.
    Of all the VA Department of Education approved elementary math text/materials, “Investigations” least adequately supports the VA Standards of Learning. Yet it was somehow “the right choice” for PWCS children. Parents of 2nd and 3d graders are already realizing the negative impact of this program in only a year and a half’s worth of “Investigations.” Children subjected to this program end up two years behind where they should be in mathematics fluency and competency by the end of 5th grade. PWCS is committed to experimenting with our children’s future. We think our children and our tax dollars deserve better.

Minnesota’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Forums

John Katsantonis:

In the process of researching where the U.S. ranks internationally in science and math education, I discovered that one of the Democratic presidential candidates (the one who’s governor of a Southwestern state) keeps citing our nation’s current rank as No. 29 (or, on a good day, No. 28) after our having been No. 1 throughout the world.
Apparently neither statistic is true, however, which suggest that it may be Bill Richardson himself who needs a bit of remedial math.
This is not the first time our national educational system has been politicized. Fifty years ago, a global scientific effort called the International Geophysical Year (IGY) encompassed 11 Earth sciences: aurora and airglow, cosmic rays, geomagnetism, gravity, ionospheric physics, longitude and latitude determinations (precision mapping), meteorology, oceanography, seismology and solar activity.
The Soviet Union celebrated IGY by launching the first artificial satellite (Sputnik) one month into the event on Oct. 1, 1957. We countered with the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts and the discovery of mid-ocean submarine ridges, which was an important confirmation of plate tectonics.
Immediately following the successful orbiting of Sputnik, attendant paranoia regarding U.S. loss of the space race converted our collaboration with the country into a major retooling of the nation’s school curricula. The focus would now be on science and mathematics.
It’s impossible to deny a general decline in these areas nationally versus India and a handful of other countries that emphasize science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education on a cultural level. In recent years, Minnesota has been adamant and resolute about creating and maintaining collaboration between the private and public sectors to improve these areas of learning among K-12 students statewide.

Columbia (Missouri) Parents for Real Math

Math Excellence in Columbia Missouri Public Schools:

To: Columbia Public Schools Board of Education and Superintendent Phyllis Chase
An increasing number of parents and community leaders have expressed concern about the various math curricula currently used in the Columbia Public Schools (CPS). These experimental math programs go by the names of Investigations (TERC), Connected Math (CMP) and Integrated Math (Core Plus) and they emphasize “self-discovery” over mathematical competency. We are concerned because these curricula have been discredited and abandoned in other regions of the country after they failed to deliver demonstrable results. The failed curricula are currently the only method of instruction in the elementary grades and middle schools. At higher grade levels, CPS has actively discouraged students from enrolling in math courses that place more emphasis on widely accepted standard methods. And, while implementing and evaluating these programs, the Columbia School District did not provide open access to meetings or adequately consider the concerns of professional mathematicians, parents and community leaders.
Therefore, we, the undersigned, would like to express our deep concern with the following issues and to propose that the Columbia School District adopt the following goals:
1. Protect the right of students to become computationally fluent in mathematics. We expect students to receive direct instruction in standard algorithms of all mathematical operations and laws of arithmetic so that they can master the skills that allow fast, accurate calculation of basic problems. This goal cannot be met with the current Investigations/TERC math curriculum for lower grade levels.
2. Ensure that math instruction is flexible enough to allow for various learning styles and is age and grade-level appropriate. The elementary level should focus on math standards that will build a solid base of mathematical skills for ALL students. Middle school curricula should build a bridge between the fundamental arithmetic learned in elementary school and the more abstract concepts taught in high school. At both the elementary and middle school levels the curricula should allow teachers the flexibility to meet the needs of all types of learners. This goal cannot be met with the Connected Math program currently used in middle and junior high schools.

Related: Columbia Parents’ blog site, which offers a number of useful posts. [RSS]
Math Forum Audio / Video.
Via a reader.

The Declining Quality of Mathematics Education in the US

Leland McInnes: Mathematics education seems to be very subject to passing trends – surprisingly more so than many other subjects. The most notorious are, of course, the rise of New Math in the 60s and 70s, and the corresponding backlash against it in the late 70s and 80s. It turns out that mathematics education, at […]

“Too Little Math in Math?”

Lynn Thompson: But they strongly believe that their math textbooks should include actual math. Donald’s “Connected Mathematics” book at Harbour Pointe Middle School in Mukilteo asks him to arrange a list of 20 cities in order of their populations, all in the tens of millions. Yes, he concedes, he must recognize differences among numbers, but […]

Math Forum Audio / Video and Links

Video and audio from Wednesday’s Math Forum are now available [watch the 80 minute video] [mp3 audio file 1, file 2]. This rare event included the following participants: Dick Askey (UW Math Professor) Faye Hilgart, Madison Metropolitan School District Steffen Lempp (MMSD Parent and UW Math Professor) Linda McQuillen, Madison Metropolitan School District Gabriele Meyer […]

More on the CMP Math Curriculum

Celeste Roberts: The problems with CMP go far beyond failing to reach parents. One big problem is that the edifice of mathematics is so huge. Think of how long it took mathematicians to discover all of it. When one tries to use the discovery paradigm as the sole model for math lessons, all of the […]

More Math Links

Ben Feller: Science and math have zoomed to the top of the nation’s education agenda. Yet Amanda Cook, a parent of two school-age girls, can’t quite see the urgency. “In Maine, there aren’t many jobs that scream out ‘math and science,’” said Cook, who lives in Etna, in the central part of the state. Yes, […]

More on Math

A reader forwarded this article: Jay Mathews, writing in the Washington Post: So when I found a new attack on the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), the nation’s leading association for math teachers, by a group of smart advocates, I saw a chance to bring some clarity to what we call the Math […]

Discovery Learning Thread

Interesting thread on discovery learning, with notes from Alan Siegel’s study of videotaped Japanese Math lessons: Discovery learning is fashionable in math reform circles, writes Seebach. The Japanese are supposed to be the models. But the Japanese teach traditionally — with “beautifully designed and superbly executed” lessons. The videotape shows, Siegel says, that “a master […]

Lack of fiscal discipline in Seattle Public Schools

Lynne Varner:

The latest state audit of Seattle Public Schools didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know: The district is stuck in a culture of lax indifference when it comes to taxpayers’ money.
Despite the last decade’s phalanx of highly paid budget and money managers overseeing the district, few inroads have been made in transforming this culture.
Let’s start with the audit’s biggest discovery for the 2008-09 school year. The district overpaid at least 83 employees to the tune of $228,860. The district says the number of accidentally overpaid employees could be as high as 144.
Repayment plans have been set up for most of the employees. But others left the district, requiring costly measures, including collection agencies, to recover the money. Expect this debacle to reverberate as tax implications and impacts to the state retirement system unfold.

There’s a great deal of citizen activism underway in Seattle, including: a successful lawsuit that overturned the District’s adoption of Discovery Math, a recall drive for 5 of the 7 school board members and a lawsuit regarding the New Student Assignment Plan. Melissa Westbrook offers additional comments.
Spending and governance questions are not unique to Seattle.

How Silicon Valley Plans to Conquer the Classroom

Natasha Singer & Danielle Ivory: Silicon Valley is going all out to own America’s school computer-and-software market, projected to reach $21 billion in sales by 2020. An industry has grown up around courting public-school decision makers, and tech companies are using a sophisticated playbook to reach them, The New York Times has found in a […]

Madison Teacher / Student Relationships and Academic Outcomes?

Karen Rivedal: “Kids aren’t going to be able to take risks and push themselves academically, without having a trusting support network there,” said Lindsay Maglio, principal of Lindbergh Elementary School, where some teachers improved on traditional get-to-know-you exercises in the first few weeks of school by adding more searching questions, and where all school staff […]

6 Baltimore schools, no students proficient in state tests

Chris Papst: A Project Baltimore investigation has found five Baltimore City high schools and one middle school do not have a single student proficient in the state tested subjects of math and English. We sat down with a teen who attends one of those schools and has overcome incredible challenges to find success. Related: Math […]

Ortega y Gasset and You Tube

John Minehan Professor Vlahos concludes that elites (which he defines more broadly than “the One Percent”) are acting to their own advantage, as elites have done in other times moving towards the point when things fell apart (for example, at the end of Classical times in 6th through the 8th Centuries or after the Black […]

Deja Vu: Madison School District Agreement with the US ED Office of Civil Rights

Last October, Madison Superintendent Jen Cheatham signed a resolution agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights regarding OCR’s compliance review of access to advanced coursework by Hispanic and African-American students in the District. The resolution agreement was presented at the December 5, 2016 Instruction Workgroup meeting (agenda item 6.1): http://www.boarddocs.com/wi/mmsd/Board.nsf/goto?open&id=AFL2QH731563 The […]

The Hungarian Approach and How It Fits the American Educational Landscape

Ryota Matsuura: Home to eminent mathematicians such as Paul Erdős, John von Neumann, and George Pólya, Hungary has a long tradition of excellence in mathematics education. In the Hungarian approach to learning and teaching, a strong and explicit emphasis is placed on problem solving, mathematical creativity, and communication. Students learn concepts by working on problems […]

No One Can Figure Out 1917 Multiplication Wheel

NPR: Math teacher Sherry Read’s classroom is a total mess. The students are gone for the summer, and light fixtures dangle from the ceiling. The floor has a layer of dust. Down the hallway, workers make a racket while they renovate the school, which dates back to the 1890s. They’re working in what has become […]

A Message To Our Teachers

Eva Moskowitz: Teaching is everything. You build relationships, you inspire, you draw out human potential. There is no more important job or work than teaching and learning! While this week is Teacher Appreciation Week, in my mind, every day is teacher appreciation day. As the leader of this organization, I appreciate you; as a parent […]

Social Studies Standards: “Doing” Common Core Social Studies: Promoting Radical Activism under the Obama Department of Education

“Were the Common Core authors serious about ‘college-readiness,’ they would have taken their cue from publisher Will Fitzhugh, who for decades has been swimming against the tide of downgraded writing standards (blogging, journal-writing, video-producing). To this end, he has been publishing impressive student history papers in his scholarly journal, The Concord Review. The new (CC) […]

A Conversation with Leigh Turner

Jim Zellmer: Good afternoon, Leigh Let’s begin with your education. Leigh Turner: Like increasing numbers of people in today’s modern world, I grew up in several countries, in Nigeria, in Britain, then again in Lesotho, in southern Africa, and then again in Britain. I went to several different, as we would say in English, schools […]

A Wretched Defense of the Humanities

Peter Wood:

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences has just issued the Heart of the Matter, a 61-page report (plus appendices) aimed at persuading Congress to spend more money on the humanities. This is one of the report’s immediate goals, phrased of course in the financial imperative, “Increase investment in research and discovery.” The report as a whole is presented as a response to a “bipartisan request from members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives” in 2010. The American Academy took up this request and appointed a 54-member commission to figure out what “actions” are needed to “maintain national excellence in humanities and social scientific scholarship.”
Let’s see. That works out to 1.1296 pages of report per commissioner. Many of the commissioners also appear in a 7-minute accompanying video, which begins with the actor (and commissioner) John Lithgow explaining that the humanities are the “beautiful flower” at the end of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math.) With a piano softly playing Christian Sinding’s Rustles of Spring in the background and a camera exploring the petals of a yellow gerbera, Lithgow continues, “Without the blossom, the stem is completely useless.” Cut to George Lucas, Rustling Spring pianissimo: “The sciences are the how and the humanities are thewhy.” Cut to the Milky Way with Lucas’s voiceover, segueing to architect Billie Tsien, “The measurable is what we know and the immeasurable is what the heart searches for.”

It has been an exciting week here for those of us in Washington who are following the education scene.

John Dickert writes from Mount Vernon Farms, Virginia:

It has been an exciting week here for those of us in Washington who are following the education scene.
In one of the counties in Maryland adjacent to Washington, the county executive (in this case, an elected position) has taken over more control of the school system, after first trying to completely override the school board and the office of the school superintendent. Part of what drives this effort is that while that county’s academic scores are not high, its neighboring county to the west has the highest academic scores i the state of Maryland. The first linked article (released April 1st) will relate to that.
Then there was the test scoring scandal which broke in Atlanta. The next two articles (released April 4th) relate to that. The first was by Bill Gates. The second was printed next to it on the Op-ED pages of the Washington Post and relates to an educational incident in Wisconsin. I find that the ideas in the Bill Gates article will run into two roadblocks. The first is teat score envy, the concept that our district needs to keep up with the scores of those of our neighbors. The second is that in Education at the college (or university) level, success is measured by pushing the edge of the envelope in teaching methodology, in a field where success can not be measured until the suggestee is long graduated. When my children went through their pre-collegial schooling they were subjected to several new innovations in education, some of which worked and some of which were disasters. The creators of all these programs were rewarded before any of their programs were proven in the field.
The final attachment was released in our (Fairfax County VA) public library weekly newsletter. It is a recently developed program for aiding parents in assisting with their child’s homework. As it seems very involved, I can posit that only the most helicopterish of parents will be willing to use it.
As a window into my view of high school education when my oldest son entered high school back in 1996, Fairfax County Public Schools only required 3 years of social studies. Our high school offered a 4th year of the program, offered in the Sophomore year, the AP Modern European course. About 150 students would take the course each year offered in 5 periods by one teacher. It was highly sought after. In part due to this program our high school was one of the highest placing high schools on Jay Mathew’s early High School Challenge listings, back when it was only published by the Washington Post. At the time the school was offering only some 5 or 6 AP courses, 2 of which were electives. In the intervening years the AP Challenge Index has gone national, and the AP course offerings have grown geometrically, with the situation that for many courses the only effective college-prep version of a course is the AP course. Initially the AP program was promoted as a way to give high school students a means to have a taste of college. Many high school seniors now are driven to take 4 such courses. AND none of these courses in the social sciences or English, requires the creation of a researched paper. When my youngest child was in high school (she graduated in 2007) I served on a school education committee, and wrote locally about this issue. I never could convince anyone that high school was really about preparing our children for college, not directing them to take the maximum number of College like courses as possible.

Parents: A New Way To Help Your Kids with Their Homework

Library customers can now access a new resource to help with homework. To learn more about it, teachers and parents can sign up for a 30-minute demonstration on April 17. Online registration required: Wednesday, April 17 at 2 p.m.
This new online service by Literati includes a host of resources such as educational content for K-12 students and adults, informational videos and tutorials and interactive discovery tools. Literati Public has been specifically customized for Virginia libraries. Online tutoring help from certified teachers is offered through the “Homework Help” tab Monday through Thursday from
3 p.m. – 9 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. This service is offered to all students in Virginia (Grades 3-12) needing help in math, reading or writing. You can access this resource here. Select Fairfax County Public Library and Go; on the second screen enter your library card number.
There are multiple ways to access this new resource from the library website; here’s one:
Go to the library home page: www.fairfaxcounty.gov/library;
Select Homework help under Library Services in the center column;
Select Find an Online Teacher to Help/Find Resources;
Then follow the steps above (select FCPL and Go/enter your card number).

Talking about the Computational Future at SXSW 2013

Stephen Wolfram:

Let’s start from some science. And you know, a lot of what I’ll say today connects back to what I thought at first was a small discovery that I made about 30 years ago. Let me tell you the story.
I started out at a pretty young age as a physicist. Diligently doing physics pretty much the way it had been done for 300 years. Starting from this-or-that equation, and then doing the math to figure out predictions from it. That worked pretty well in some cases. But there were too many cases where it just didn’t work. So I got to wondering whether there might be some alternative; a different approach.
At the time I’d been using computers as practical tools for quite a while–and I’d even created a big software system that was a forerunner of Mathematica. And what I gradually began to think was that actually computers–and computation–weren’t just useful tools; they were actually the main event. And that one could use them to generalize how one does science: to think not just in terms of math and equations, but in terms of arbitrary computations and programs.
So, OK, what kind of programs might nature use? Given how complicated the things we see in nature are, we might think the programs it’s running must be really complicated. Maybe thousands or millions of lines of code. Like programs we write to do things.
But I thought: let’s start simple. Let’s find out what happens with tiny programs–maybe a line or two of code long. And let’s find out what those do. So I decided to do an experiment. Just set up programs like that, and run them. Here’s one of the ones I started with. It’s called a cellular automaton. It consists of a line of cells, each one either black or not. And it runs down the page computing the new color of each cell using the little rule at the bottom there.

In defense of direct instruction: Constant constructivism, group work and arrogant attitude are abusive to children

Laurie Rogers:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. … Those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
— C.S. Lewis
Many educators believe children should learn math by struggling and failing, inventing their own methods, drawing pictures and boxes, counting on fingers, play-acting, continually working in groups, and asking several classmates for help before asking the teacher. This process of learning is called constructivism (also known as “discovery” or “student-centered learning”). Developed in the early 1900s, it was foisted on the country about 30 years ago, along with reform math curricula.
Proponents call constructivism “best practices” (as if calling it that can make it so). The supposed value of heavy constructivism is one of the most pernicious lies told today about education. Having listened now to students, parents, teachers and proponents of reform, I’ve come to see heavy constructivism as abusive to children. I don’t choose the word lightly.

A ray of hope for the children in Spokane Public Schools

Laurie Rogers:

In 2008, I met with Spokane Public Schools’ superintendent, Nancy Stowell, to discuss the district’s weak academic outcomes. Stowell was accommodating, but during our meeting, she consistently sidestepped any critique of the district’s “reform math” curricula or its heavy dependence on constructivism (i.e. discovery learning). Her go-to answer for weak results was to wish for more “alternative” programs to keep students in school. She appeared to see no problems with the district’s delivery of academic content.
I didn’t know how to break through that with her. Over the next four years, I never figured it out. But one thing she said in 2008 stuck with me. While discussing the high number of families leaving the district, Stowell said, “Sometimes I think people don’t want to know (why) because when you know … you have to … do something about it.”
Truer words were never spoken. Nancy Stowell didn’t appear to want to acknowledge the children’s academic suffering. She kept telling the public that things were improving, even as her administration obstinately fought doing what was necessary to fix the problems. That was her failure. Good leaders accept the blame and pass the credit, but Stowell and her administrators had a habit of accepting the credit and passing the blame.

The Headless Horseman (Teacher-Proof Rides Again)

Jeremehia Chafee:

The high school English department in which I work recently spent a day looking at what is called an “exemplar” from the new Common Core State Standards, and then working together to create our own lessons linked to that curriculum. An exemplar is a prepackaged lesson which is supposed to align with the standards of the Common Core. The one we looked at was a lesson on “The Gettysburg Address.”
The process of implementing the Common Core Standards is under way in districts across the country as almost every state has now signed onto the Common Core, (some of them agreeing to do in hopes of winning Race to the Top money from Washington D.C.). The initiative is intended to ensure that students in all parts of the country are learning from the same supposedly high standards.
As we looked through the exemplar, examined a lesson previously created by some of our colleagues, and then began working on our own Core-related lessons, I was struck by how out of sync the Common Core is with what I consider to be good teaching. I have not yet gotten to the “core” of the Core, but I have scratched the surface, and I am not encouraged.
Here are some of the problems that the group of veteran teachers with whom I was with at the workshop encountered using the exemplar unit on “The Gettysburg Address.”

Each teacher read individually through the exemplar lesson on Lincoln’s speech. When we began discussing it, we all expressed the same conclusion: Most of it was too scripted. It spelled out what types of questions to ask, what types of questions not to ask, and essentially narrowed any discussion to obvious facts and ideas from the speech.
In some schools, mostly in large urban districts, teachers are forced by school policy to read from scripted lessons, every day in every class. For example, all third-grade teachers do the same exact lessons on the same day and say exactly the same things. (These districts often purchase these curriculum packages from the same companies who make the standardized tests given to students.)
Scripting lessons is based on several false assumptions about teaching. They include:

  • That anyone who can read a lesson aloud to a class can teach just as well as experienced teachers;
  • That teaching is simply the transference of information from one person to another;
  • That students should not be trusted to direct any of their own learning;
  • That testing is the best measure of learning.

Put together, this presents a narrow and shallow view of teaching and learning.
Most teachers will tell you that there is a difference between having a plan and having a script. Teachers know that in any lesson there needs to be some wiggle room, some space for discovery and spontaneity. But scripted cookie-cutter lessons aren’t interested in that; the idea is that they will help students learn enough to raise their standardized test scores.
Yet study after study has shown that even intense test preparation does not significantly raise test scores, and often causes stress and boredom in students. Studies have also shown that after a period of time, test scores plateau, and it is useless, even counter-productive educationally, to try to raise test scores beyond that plateau.

Another problem we found relates to the pedagogical method used in the Gettysburg Address exemplar that the Common Core calls “cold reading.”
This gives students a text they have never seen and asks them to read it with no preliminary introduction. This mimics the conditions of a standardized test on which students are asked to read material they have never seen and answer multiple choice questions about the passage.
Such pedagogy makes school wildly boring. Students are not asked to connect what they read yesterday to what they are reading today, or what they read in English to what they read in science.
The exemplar, in fact, forbids teachers from asking students if they have ever been to a funeral because such questions rely “on individual experience and opinion,” and answering them “will not move students closer to understanding the Gettysburg Address.”
(This is baffling, as if Lincoln delivered the speech in an intellectual vacuum; as if the speech wasn’t delivered at a funeral and meant to be heard in the context of a funeral; as if we must not think about memorials when we read words that memorialize. Rather, it is impossible to have any deep understanding of Lincoln’s speech without thinking about the context of the speech: a memorial service.)
The exemplar instructs teachers to “avoid giving any background context” because the Common Core’s close reading strategy “forces students to rely exclusively on the text instead of privileging background knowledge, and levels the playing field for all.” What sense does this make?
Teachers cannot create such a “level playing field” because we cannot rob any of the students of the background knowledge they already possess. Nor can we force students who have background knowledge not to think about that while they read. A student who has read a biography of Lincoln, or watched documentaries about the Civil War on PBS or the History Channel, will have the “privilege” of background knowledge beyond the control of the teacher. Attempting to create a shallow and false “equality” between students will in no way help any of them understand Lincoln’s speech.
(As a side note, the exemplar does encourage teachers to have students “do the math:” subtract four score and seven from 1863 to arrive at 1776. What is that if not asking them to access background knowledge?)
Asking questions about, for example, the causes of the Civil War, are also forbidden. Why? These questions go “outside the text,” a cardinal sin in Common Core-land.
According to the exemplar, the text of the speech is about equality and self-government, and not about picking sides. It is true that Lincoln did not want to dishonor the memory of the Southern soldiers who fought and died valiantly. But does any rational person read “The Gettysburg Address” and not know that Lincoln desperately believed that the North must win the war? Does anyone think that he could speak about equality without everyone in his audience knowing he was talking about slavery and the causes of the war? How can anyone try to disconnect this profoundly meaningful speech from its historical context and hope to “deeply” understand it in any way, shape, or form?

Here’s another problem we found with the exemplar: The teacher is instructed in the exemplar to read the speech aloud after the students have read it to themselves; but, it says, “Do not attempt to ‘deliver’ Lincoln’s text as if giving the speech yourself but rather carefully speak Lincoln’s words clearly to the class.”
English teachers love Shakespeare; when we read to our classes from his plays, we do not do so in a dry monotone. I doubt Lincoln delivered his address in as boring a manner as the Common Core exemplar asks. In fact, when I read this instruction, I thought that an interesting lesson could be developed by asking students to deliver the speech themselves and compare different deliveries in terms of emphasis, tone, etc.
The exemplar says, “Listening to the Gettysburg Address is another way to initially acquaint students with Lincoln’s powerful and stirring words.” How, then, if the teacher is not to read it in a powerful and stirring way? The most passionate speech in Romeo and Juliet, delivered poorly by a bad actor, will fall flat despite the author’s skill.

Several years ago, our district, at the demand of our state education department, hired a consultant to train teachers to develop literacy skills in students. This consultant and his team spent three years conducting workshops and visiting the district. Much of this work was very fruitful, but it does not “align” well with the Common Core.
The consultant encouraged us to help students make connections between what they were reading and their own experience, but as you’ve seen, the Common Core exemplar we studied says not to.
Was all that work with the consultant wasted?
At one point during the workshop, we worked with a lesson previously created by some teachers. It had all the hallmarks of what I consider good teaching, including allowing students to make connections beyond the text.
And when it came time to create our own lessons around the exemplar, three colleagues and I found ourselves using techniques that we know have worked to engage students — not what the exemplar puts forth.
The bottom line: The Common Core exemplar we worked with was intellectually limiting, shallow in scope, and uninteresting. I don’t want my lessons to be any of those things.

ROOTLESSNESS

Two of our overriding efforts in Lower Education in recent years have been: 1) raising the low math and reading scores of black and Hispanic students, and 2) increasing the number of our high school and college graduates capable of employment in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics [STEM}.
Very recently evidence has been allowed to surface pointing out that while students in the bottom 10% of academic performance have indeed improved, students in the top ten percent of academic performance have stagnated, where they have not dropped out from boredom. Related evidence now suggests that complacency with secondary public education in our more affluent suburbs may have been quite misplaced as well.
As Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum point out in their recent book, That Used To Be Us, “average is over.” That is to say, students in other cities (Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai) and countries (Finland, South Korea, Japan) take their educations so much more seriously than our students (and teachers) do that their economies are achieving gains on our own that are truly startling, if we take the time to notice.
If we are to retain good jobs, restart our manufacturing, and otherwise decide to compete seriously with others who seem to take both education and work more seriously than we have come to do, it might be wise to increase the interest of our students in STEM fields. According to the Kaiser Foundation, our students aged 8-18 are spending, on average, more than seven hours a day with electronic entertainment media.
Now of course we want our young people to buy our electronic entertainment hardware and software and we definitely want them to have a good time and be happy, but probably we would like them to be employable some day as well. Friedman and Mandelbaum point out that not only blue collar jobs and white collar jobs, but increasingly sophisticated professional work can be done to a high standard at a much lower cost in other countries than it can be done here.
Having our students spend 53 hours a week on their electronic entertainment media, while their high school homework tops out, in many cases, according to ACT, at three to four hours a week, is not a plan that will enable us to resume our competitive position in the world’s economies.
So perhaps we should assign students in high school 15 hours a week of homework (which would reduce their media time to a mere 38 hours a week) and pass on to them the information that if they don’t start working to a much much higher academic standard they will probably face a more depressing future in a greatly diminished nation than they currently imagine they will have.
But, is STEM enough? I remember the story told about a visit Sir Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin, made to the gleaming new Salk Laboratory in La Jolla. A young biologist, thrilled to be a guide to the Nobel Prize-winner, was very proud to be able to show off all the bright new spotless expensive state-of-the-art research equipment. When they finished the tour, the young man could not stop himself from saying, “Just think, Sir Alexander, with all this equipment, what you could have discovered!” And Sir Alexander said, “not penicillin.”
Because the discovery of penicillin relied on serendipity and curiosity. Fleming found some petri dishes contaminated by something that had come in, probably, through one of the dirty old badly-closed windows in his lab in England. Instead of washing the dishes so he could start over with them, as most scientists would have done, he asked himself what could have killed off those bacteria in the dishes. And a major breakthrough was made possible.
Just in passing, amid the rush for more STEM, I would like to put in a word for serendipity, which often fuels creativity of many kinds, by making possible the association of previously unrelated ideas and memories when in contact with a new fact or situation not deliberately sought out.
I argue that serendipity is more likely to occur and to be fruitful if our students also have a lot of experience with the ROOTS of civilization, that is, the history, literature, art, music, architecture and other fields which have provided the background and inspiration for so much that we find worthwhile in human life. Steve Jobs found his course in calligraphy useful when he came to think about Macintosh software, but there are countless examples of important discoveries and contributions that have been, at least in part, grounded in the ROOTS of civilized life. So let us push for more STEM, by all means, but if, in the process we neglect those ROOTS, our achievements will be fewer, and our lives will be the poorer as a result, IMHO.
Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

Madison’s Proposed 4K Program Update: Is Now the Time?

Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad PDF:

The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) recently made a request for proposals (RFP) for early childhood care and education (ECE) centers interested in partnering with MMSD to provide four year old kindergarten (4K) programming starting in Fall 2011. In order to be considered for this partnership with the district, ECE centers must be accredited by the City of Madison or the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) to ensure high quality programming for MMSD students. The ECE centers can partner with MMSD to be either a 4K Model II program (in an ECE center with an MMSD teacher) or a Model III program (in an ECE center with the ECE center’s teacher). The budget for 4K will support only 2 Model II programs, which aligns with the proposals submitted. There are 2 ECE centers who applied for Model II participation and 2 that applied to be either Model II or Model III. The ECE center proposals that have been accepted in this first step of the review process for consideration for partnering with the district to provide 4K programming are explained further in the following section.
II. ECE Center Sites
The following ECE center sites met the RFP criteria:
Animal Crackers
Bernie’s Place
Big Oak Child Care
Creative Learning Preschool
Dane County Parent Council
Eagle’s Wing
Goodman Community Center
Kennedy Heights Neighborhood
KinderCare-Londonderry
KinderCare-Old Sauk
KinderCare-Raymond
LaPetite-North Gammon
MATC-Downtown
MATC-Truax
Meeting House Nursery
Middleton Preschool
Monona Grove Nursery
New Morning Nursery
Orchard Ridge Nursery
Preschool of the Arts
The Learning Gardens
University Avenue Discovery Center
University Houses Preschool
University Preschool-Linden
University Preschool-Mineral Point
Waisman EC Program
YMCA-East
YMCA-West
Of the 35 ECE center sites, 28 met the RFP criteria at this time for partnerships with MMSD for 4 K programming. Seven of the ECE center sites did not meet RFP criteria. However may qualify in the future for partnerships with MMSD. There are 26 qualified sites that would partner with MMSD to provide a Model 111 program, and two sites that will provide a Model 11 program.
At this time, the 4K committee is requesting Board of Education (BOE) approval of the 28 ECE center sites that met RFP criteria. The BOE approval will allow administration to analyze the geographical locations of the each of the ECE center sites in conjunction with the District’s currently available space. The BOE approval will also allow administration to enter into agreements with the ECE center sites at the appropriate time.
The following language is suggested in order to approve the 28 ECE center sites:
It is recommended to approve the 28 Early Childhood Care and Education centers identified above as they have met the criteria of RFP 3168 (Provision of a Four-Year- Old Kindergarten Program) and further allow the District to enter into Agreements with said Early Childhood Care and Education centers.

Much more on Madison’s proposed 4K program here.
I continue to wonder if this is the time to push forward with 4K, given the outstanding K-12 issues, such as reading and the languishing math, fine arts and equity task force reports? Spending money is easier than dealing with these issues…. I also wonder how this will affect the preschool community over the next decade?
Finally, State and Federal spending and debt problems should add a note of caution to funding commitments for such programs. Changes in redistributed state and federal tax dollars may increase annual property tax payments, set to grow over 9% this December.

Literacy in Schools: Writing in Trouble

Surely if we can raise our academic standards for math and science, then, with a little attention and effort, we can restore the importance of literacy in our public high schools. Reading is the path to knowledge and writing is the way to make knowledge one’s own.
Education.com
17 September 2009
by Will Fitzhugh
Source: Education.com Member Contribution
Topics: Writing Conventions
[originally published in the New Mexico Journal of Reading, Spring 2009]
For many years, Lucy Calkins, described once in Education Week as “the Moses of reading and writing in American education” has made her major contributions to the dumbing down of writing in our schools. She once wrote to me that: “I teach writing, I don’t get into content that much.” This dedication to contentless writing has spread, in part through her influence, into thousands and thousands of classrooms, where “personal” writing has been blended with images, photos, and emails to become one of the very most anti-academic and anti-intellectual elements of the education we now offer our children, K-12.
In 2004, the College Board’s National Commission on Writing in the Schools issued a call for more attention to writing in the schools, and it offered an example of the sort of high school writing “that shows how powerfully our students can express their emotions”:
“The time has come to fight back and we are. By supporting our leaders and each other, we are stronger than ever. We will never forget those who died, nor will we forgive those who took them from us.”
Or look at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the supposed gold standard for evaluating academic achievement in U.S. schools, as measured and reported by the National Center for Education Statistics. In its 2002 writing assessment, in which 77 percent of 12th graders scored “Basic” or “Below Basic,” NAEP scored the following student response “Excellent.” The prompt called for a brief review of a book worth preserving. In a discussion of Herman Hesse’s Demian, in which the main character grows up, the student wrote,

“High school is a wonderful time of self-discovery, where teens bond with several groups of friends, try different foods, fashions, classes and experiences, both good and bad. The end result in May of senior year is a mature and confident adult, ready to enter the next stage of life.”

It is obvious that this “Excellent” high school writer is expressing more of his views on his own high school experience than on anything Herman Hesse might have had in mind, but that still allows this American student writer to score very high on the NAEP assessment of writing.
This year, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) has released a breakthrough report on writing called “Writing in the 21st Century,” which informs us, among other things, that:

The truth about grit
Modern science builds the case for an old-fashioned virtue – and uncovers new secrets to success

Jonah Lehrer:

It’s the single most famous story of scientific discovery: in 1666, Isaac Newton was walking in his garden outside Cambridge, England – he was avoiding the city because of the plague – when he saw an apple fall from a tree. The fruit fell straight to the earth, as if tugged by an invisible force. (Subsequent versions of the story had the apple hitting Newton on the head.) This mundane observation led Newton to devise the concept of universal gravitation, which explained everything from the falling apple to the orbit of the moon.
There is something appealing about such narratives. They reduce the scientific process to a sudden epiphany: There is no sweat or toil, just a new idea, produced by a genius. Everybody knows that things fall – it took Newton to explain why.
Unfortunately, the story of the apple is almost certainly false; Voltaire probably made it up. Even if Newton started thinking about gravity in 1666, it took him years of painstaking work before he understood it. He filled entire vellum notebooks with his scribbles and spent weeks recording the exact movements of a pendulum. (It made, on average, 1,512 ticks per hour.) The discovery of gravity, in other words, wasn’t a flash of insight – it required decades of effort, which is one of the reasons Newton didn’t publish his theory until 1687, in the “Principia.

Writing in Trouble

For many years, Lucy Calkins, described once in Education Week as “the Moses of reading and writing in American education” has made her major contributions to the dumbing down of writing in our schools. She once wrote to me that: “I teach writing, I don’t get into content that much.” This dedication to contentless writing has spread, in part through her influence, into thousands and thousands of classrooms, where “personal” writing has been blended with images, photos, and emails to become one of the very most anti-academic and anti-intellectual elements of the education we now offer our children, K-12.
In 2004, the College Board’s National Commission on Writing in the Schools issued a call for more attention to writing in the schools, and it offered an example of the sort of high school writing “that shows how powerfully our students can express their emotions“:
“The time has come to fight back and we are. By supporting our leaders and each other, we are stronger than ever. We will never forget those who died, nor will we forgive those who took them from us.”
Or look at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the supposed gold standard for evaluating academic achievement in U.S. schools, as measured and reported by the National Center for Education Statistics. In its 2002 writing assessment, in which 77 percent of 12th graders scored “Basic” or “Below Basic,” NAEP scored the following student response “Excellent.” The prompt called for a brief review of a book worth preserving. In a discussion of Herman Hesse’s Demian, in which the main character grows up, the student wrote,
“High school is a wonderful time of self-discovery, where teens bond with several groups of friends, try different foods, fashions, classes and experiences, both good and bad. The end result in May of senior year is a mature and confident adult, ready to enter the next stage of life.”

The Structure of Everything

Marc Kaufman:

Did you know that 365 — the number of days in a year — is equal to 10 times 10, plus 11 times 11, plus 12 times 12?
Or that the sum of any successive odd numbers always equals a square number — as in 1 + 3 = 4 (2 squared), while 1 + 3 + 5 = 9 (3 squared), and 1 + 3 + 5 + 7 = 16 (4 squared)?
Those are just the start of a remarkable number of magical patterns, coincidences and constants in mathematics. No wonder philosophers and mathematicians have been arguing for centuries over whether math is a system that humans invented or a cosmic — possibly divine — order that we simply discovered. That’s the fundamental question Mario Livio probes in his engrossing book Is God a Mathematician?
Livio, an astrophysicist at the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, explains the invention-vs.-discovery debate largely through the work and personalities of great figures in math history, from Pythagoras and Plato to Isaac Newton, Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein. At times, Livio’s theorems, proofs and conundrums may be challenging for readers who struggled through algebra, but he makes most of this material not only comprehensible but downright intriguing. Often, he gives a relatively complex explanation of a mathematical problem or insight, then follows it with a “simply put” distillation.
An extended section on knot theory is, well, pretty knotty. But it ultimately sheds light on the workings of the DNA double helix, and Livio illustrates the theory with a concrete example: Two teams taking different approaches to the notoriously difficult problem of how many knots could be formed with a specific number of crossings — in this case, 16 or fewer — came up with the same answer: 1,701,936.

High School Elites (no HS history scholars need apply)

The Winning Projects
Wen Chyan won the top prize, and a $100,000 college scholarship, for his bioengineering research of antimicrobial coatings for medical devices. Mr. Chyan looked to design a specialized coating for medical devices aimed to prevent common hospital infections, called nosocomial infections, which afflict more than two million patients each year, killing more than 100,000 of those patients. Mr. Chyan’s project is entitled, Versatile Antimicrobial Coatings from Pulse Plasma Deposited Hydrogels and Hydrogel Composites.
“This research was not only a creative idea, but required a proactive approach where cross-disciplinary initiatives had to be taken. The fields of electrochemistry, material science and biology all had to be explored in depth by Mr. Chyan,” said W. Mark Saltzman, Goizueta Foundation Professor of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering at Yale University, a competition judge. “With further testing, these findings have the potential to improve a wide range of medical devices from intravascular devices at hospitals or catheters used in insulin pumps.”
Mr. Chyan would like to major in Chemistry or Chemical Engineering once in college. Upon completing his studies he would like to pursue a position in academia, preferably at a research university where he can continue conducting research and teach at the same time. His various honors in science include recognition from the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad, U.S. Biology Olympiad and Texas Science and Engineering Fair. He is the recipient of the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science Summer Research Scholarship (2008), and also founded a student chapter of the American Chemical Society at the University of North Texas. He also composes music and plays piano and violin in his spare time.
Mr. Chyan developed an interest in science with the encouragement of his parents, both scientists, whom would take him to tour their laboratories and perform demos since an early age. His mentor for this project was Dr. Richard B. Timmons, of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Texas at Arlington.
Sajith Wickramasekara and Andrew Guo won the team category and will share a $100,000 scholarship for their genetics research that has the potential to easily identify new chemotherapeutic drugs and greatly improve existing ones. Their project is entitled, A Functional Genomic Framework for Chemotherapeutic Drug Improvement and Identification.
“Mr. Wickramasekara and Mr. Guo used a modern way of screening for drugs with yeast to address an important problem regarding the limitations of chemotherapy including resistance, toxicity and discrimination,” said Dr. Jeffrey Pollard, Louis Goldstein Swan Chair in Women’s Cancer Research, Department of Developmental and Molecular Biology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, a competition judge. “The project required a very large amount of work, organization, and discipline to obtain and then fully verify these results, which the team did in three ways. Sophisticated, innovative bioinformatics also enabled them to identify new therapeutic targets and potential drugs. Not only is this a process currently done by many large pharmaceutical companies, with much more resources, but my own graduate students have done similar work for their graduate theses.”
Mr. Wickramasekara is the team leader and heard about the Siemens Competition in 2006 when seniors from his high school were selected as Regional Finalists. Mr. Wickramasekara is Captain of his school’s Science Bowl and has participated in various science competitions including the 2008 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the North Carolina State Science and Engineering Fair as well as the North Carolina Junior Science Humanities Symposium. He is an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America and dreams of one day owning his own biotech startup, specializing in personalized medicine.
Mr. Guo is a Science Olympiad winner and Co-Captain of the Quiz Bowl. Mr. Guo received First Place State Team in the Goldman Sachs National Economics Challenge. Mr. Guo was captain of the 2008 State Champion Varsity Tennis Team and plays Ultimate Frisbee as part of his extracurricular activities. Mr. Guo speaks Mandarin Chinese and aspires to manage his own company one day. Mr. Guo’s mother works in the field of genetics and sparked his interest to study the sciences by discussing her work and activities at home, and he credits his father with helping him become who he is today.
Both team members co-founded the Student Journal of Research of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics; they both serve as Editors of the publication. Additionally, Mr. Wickramasekara and Mr. Guo were recently named 2009 National Merit Scholarship Semifinalists.
The team’s project combined traditional genetics with cutting-edge computational modeling to streamline the gene discovery process. Their project addresses the need in the field to identify new genes to target for cancer therapy. The team worked on this project with the help of their mentor, Dr. Craig B. Bennett, Assistant Professor, Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC, and their high school advisor, Dr. Myra Halpin, Dean of Science, North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, Durham, NC.
The other national winners of the 2008 Siemens Competition were:
Individuals

  • $50,000 scholarship – Eric K. Larson, Eugene, Oregon
  • $40,000 scholarship – Nityan Nair, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York
  • $30,000 scholarship – James Meixiong, Evans, Georgia
  • $20,000 scholarship – Ashok Cutkosky, Columbia, Missouri
  • $10,000 scholarship – Hayden C. Metsky, Millburn, New Jersey
    Teams

  • $50,000 scholarship – Eugenia Volkova of South Salem, New York and Alexander Saeboe of Katonah, New York
  • $40,000 scholarship – Erika Debenedictis and Duanni (Tony) Huang of Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • $30,000 scholarship – Christine S. Lai and Diyang Tang of Acton, Massachusetts
  • $20,000 scholarship – Raphael-Joel (RJ) Lim of Indianapolis, Indiana and Mark Zhang of Sugar Land, Texas
  • $10,000 scholarship – Aanand A. Patel and William Hong of Fullerton, California
    The Siemens Competition
    The Siemens Competition was launched in 1998 to recognize America’s best and brightest math and science students. In another record setting year, 1,893 students registered to enter the Siemens Competition with a total of 1,205 projects submitted – this includes an increase of more than 10 percent in team and individual project submissions and an increase of more than 16 percent in the number of registrations. Entries are judged at the regional level by esteemed scientists at six leading research universities which host the regional competitions: California Institute of Technology; Carnegie Mellon University; Georgia Institute of Technology; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; University of Notre Dame; and The University of Texas at Austin. Winners of the regional events compete at the National Finals which take place at New York University in New York City, December 5 – December 8, 2008. Please visit http://www.siemens-foundation.org/en/competition.htm for more information.
    About the Siemens Foundation
    The Siemens Foundation provides more than $7 million annually in support of educational initiatives in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math in the United States. Its signature programs, the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology and Siemens Awards for Advanced Placement, reward exceptional achievement in science, math and technology. The newest program, The Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge, encourages K12 students to develop innovative green solutions for environmental issues. By supporting outstanding students today, and recognizing the teachers and schools that inspire their excellence, the Foundation helps nurture tomorrow’s scientists and engineers. The Foundation’s mission is based on the culture of innovation, research and educational support that is the hallmark of Siemens’ U.S. companies and its parent company, Siemens AG. For more information, visit www.siemens-foundation.org.
    ==================
    “Teach by Example”
    Will Fitzhugh [founder]
    Consortium for Varsity Academics® [2007]
    The Concord Review [1987]
    Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
    National Writing Board [1998]
    TCR Institute [2002]
    730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
    Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
    978-443-0022; 800-331-5007
    www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org
    Varsity Academics®

Contentless Writing

Mr. Fitzhugh [fitzhugh@tcr.org] is Editor and Publisher of The Concord Review and Founder of the National Writing Board and the TCR Institute [www.tcr.org].
Abraham Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg was short. Indeed, the President had spoken and taken his seat before many in that large crowd gathered outdoors even realized that he had spoken. Fortunately, an alert reporter took down his words. Short as the speech was, it began with a date and a fact–the sort of factual content that is being drained away from student writing today.
The very idea of writing without content takes some getting used to. I was taken aback not long ago to read the comments of a young woman who had been asked how she felt about having a computer grade the essays that she wrote on the Graduate Management Admission Test (Mathews, 2004). She replied that she didn’t mind, noting that the test givers were more interested in her “ability to communicate” than in what she actually said.
Although style, fluency, tone, and correct grammar are certainly important in writing, folks like me think that content has value as well. The guidelines for scoring the new writing section on the SAT seem to say otherwise, however. Readers evaluating the essays are told not to take points off for factual mistakes, and they must score the essays “holistically”–at the rate of 30 an hour (Winerip, 2005).
Earlier this year, Linda Shaw of the Seattle Times (2006), reported that the the rules for the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) do not allow dictionaries, but “when it comes to the writing section, there’s one rule they can break: They can make things up. Statistics. Experts. Quotes. Whatever helps them make their point.” According to Shaw, the state’s education office announced that “making up facts is acceptable when writing nonfiction, persuasive essays on the WASL.”
Lest you conclude that writing without content, or writing nonfiction with fictional content–think James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces–is limited to the Left Coast, think again. Across the United States, even the most prestigious writing workshops for teachers generally bypass the what to focus on the how.
All writing has to have some content, of course. So what are students encouraged to put down on the page? In its 2003 report, The Neglected ‘R’, The National Commission on Writing in America’s Schools and Colleges, gave us a clue. According to the report, the following passage by a high school student about the September 11 terrorist attacks shows “how powerfully children can express their emotions.”
“The time has come to fight back and we are. By supporting our leaders and each other, we are stronger than ever. We will never forget those who died, nor will we forgive those who took them from us.”
Or look at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) the supposed gold standard for evaluating academic achievement in U.S. schools, as measured and reported by the National Center for Education Statistics. In its 2002 writing assessment, in which 77 percent of 12th graders scored “Basic” or “Below Basic,” NAEP scored the following student response “Excellent.” The prompt called for a brief review of a book worth preserving. In a discussion of Herman Hesse’s Demian, in which the main character grows up and awakens to himself, the student wrote,