Reading Assignment August 31st

We get kids on Tuesday, so obviously my body is choosing now to have a sucky cold. Luckily for the blog, this means all I feel capable of doing is sitting still. Let’s read some stuff!

The Costs of Neighborhood Schools In a Washington Post op-ed, Neerav Kingsland reacts to proposed changes to the school assignment boundaries. In order to understand his points, it’s helpful to understand a little about the geography of DC (although I’m sure every city has similar wealth distribution issues). The district is divided into four quadrants, with most of the wealth concentrated in Northwest, and most of the poverty concentrated in Southeast, to the East of the Anacostia River. Kingsland argues that by continuing to assign schools solely on where students live, students in Anacostia are cut off from a better-resourced school on the other side of the river. He says “for much of our nation’s history, neighborhood schools have been bastions of exclusion, not inclusion. And this exclusion persists to this day.” That’s just a fact. But I’m unconvinced that shuffling kids around, making them take long metro rides every morning, and failing to address the underlying reasons why certain schools are underperforming will help. In reaction, Peter Greene at Curmudgucation has an eloquent argument for strong community schools. As further evidence that just moving kids around won’t inherently solve any problems, DCist has a graph showing changes in DC CAS scores for students who’d be assigned to new schools. Only students in Wards 4 and 6 (that’s where I live!) would be moved to a “better” school, whereas everyone else would either be at a comparable or a worse school. #notworthit

Schools in Los Angeles to End Zero Tolerance Policies
Zero tolerance does not work – this is good news.

A Kids Space Designed for the Re-Imagination of Drawing Tools
Is this not an amazing space? What student body would not benefit from a friendly, open space where creativity is not just encouraged but necessary.

Do Public School Students Need Special Ed. Anymore?
… uh, yes?! Providing students with the support and resources they need is NOT the same as having low expectations.

Students Aren’t Getting Enough Sleep – School Starts Too Early
Thank you, American Academy of Pediatrics!

Acting French
Ta-Nehisi Coates spent his summer learning French, and he has this great reflection about learning that goes in many different directions. I wish I could be more surprised that such an eloquent and thoughtful writer struggled in school, but the school system does not usually reward being curious and creative. As Coates mentions when he’s talking about his high-performing classmates, the ability to succeed in school is usually determined not just (or not at all) by intelligence and curiosity, but the ability to play the game of school. This creates a huge problematic disconnect between those with valued skills, probably passed down from successful parents, and bright students who are nevertheless cut off from an education. This becomes especially important for minority communities – Coates mentions the Cherokee Nation – who recognize the importance of education in order to gain political influence and status. As usual from this author, this is a thought-provoking piece.

Summer Reading August 20th

Secretly, I’m a little excited that summer is going to be over soon.This is the first time since I turned 16 that I didn’t have a job over the summer, and I feel like a less-than productive member of society right now. I know this will soon change, however. I did seize this opportunity to visit the Great Lakes, which are glorious in August. Here’s Lake Superior at Pictured Rocks:


So this will be the last of the summer readings for this year, but I want to keep this going throughout the year!

Developing the Question & Why Students Don’t Like MathDaniel Willingham’s book Why Don’t Students Like School? was required reading in my Education Psychology class. He has a lot of great insight about how to ensure students are invested in inquiries and thinking about things in a way that encourages real learning. If you don’t have time to read the whole book, read his twitter exchange with Dan Meyer.

The Teen Who Woke Up Her School
Our school, for reasons based on science, begins at 9:15. I’m encouraged that more schools are taking this research into consideration!

Teaching is Not a BusinessDavid Kirp’s New York Times op-ed points out that the most important factor in a child’s education is having a supportive environment and relationships with important adults. He is critical of reformers without an education background trying to apply ideas from other fields. The piece drew borderline-vitriolic criticism from a former department of education official, if you want the opposing view. The tendency for reformers to quash dissent rather than enter in a dialogue with educators does not help their arguments.

Fun With Food Trends
I’m always on the look out for interesting, real data to share with students, and this has some good stuff. I’m particularly interested in the two graphs about pants. This article and Daniel Willingham’s suggestions could combine quite nicely.

And Open Message to the Teachers of Ferguson
Alyssa Hadley Dunn, a professor at Michigan State University (at a time like this, it’s not appropriate to disparage my alma mater’s in-state rival so I won’t say anything) reminds us that all this started with the death of a very recent graduate. To echo her sentiment, my thoughts go out to anyone who taught or knew Michael Brown, and all residents of a shaken community. Stay safe.

Compton School Police to Soon Be Armed with AR-15s
What. Reminds me of this. And also this.

Summer Reading August 7th

Two weeks is way too long! A lot has happened, so I’ll just post the my six favorites.

Are Healthier School Lunches Winning Over Students?
It’s not surprising how politicized school lunches are. Our nation in general has such a weird relationship with food, more concerned with trends than with learning to develop healthy eating habits. This mixed with debates surrounding subsidized lunch programs and other funding issues makes school lunches a controversial topic. Education week has a report that investigates one central question – how are students reacting to “healthier” options? It seems like a significant amount of schools are seeing more waste, which does not seem healthier to me.

Why Do Americans Stink at Math? Maybe you’ve heard about Elizabeth Green’s New York Times Magazine article. There has been some criticism from voices opposed to her use of unrepresentative statistics. I agree that her conclusion shouldn’t necessarily have been “people in the US are inherently bad at math,” but she presents some really interesting anecdotal arguments. Although really great resources have been generated by the NCTM (I just got my first Mathematics Teacher magazine, what up!), there is a gap between what’s out there and possible, and what’s actually taking place in many classrooms. I think that has a lot to do with this phenomenon Linda Darling-Hammond wrote about earlier this summer.

My Son Has Been Suspended Five Times. He’s 3. The Washington Post has a piece by Tunette Powell describing her personal experience with racial bias. Through her own experiences and by citing studies, Powell makes an un-ignorable case that we absolutely do not live in a post-racial society.

Coaching Mrs. Pierre
I want a coach! And 10 years experience. Then I’ll be this good.

Campbell Brown: Lame
Did you see Campbell Brown on Colbert? She went on the show to promote a lawsuit, suing to abolish teacher tenure. Jersey Jazzman isn’t exactly unbiased in his coverage, but then again I have seen absolutely nothing on this topic that isn’t inflammatorily adamant that the other side will devastate children’s futures. The article links to the video of the interview and does a very thorough take-down, so all I will say is that making it easier to fire teachers will in no way solve any problems. As though teaching in an under-resourced school isn’t a hostile enough work environment…

The Real Reason Why Kids Fidget
Angela Hanscom is speaking the truth! Kids need to go outside and move around way more than they are now. The article mentions ADHD in the beginning but never comes back to it, and I wish it had. I want to see more distinction drawn between people with ADHD brains and people impacted by a less active lifestyle. Still, this brings to light a non-obesity issue with a lack of movement, which I like to see.

Project Runway and the Tower of Hanoi

I have most of a vision for my intro to math week this fall. Like last year, we’ll be practicing group norms with a task separate from the content. This year, I’m assigning four fours, which I first heard about this during Jo Boaler’s How to Teach Math course last summer. I found it really engaging, and with a low floor and high ceiling. Perfect for this! I’m also working on a set of stations that allow students to use the standards for mathematical practice. However you feel about the Common Core, this is a great list of things effective math practitioners do.

As my idea stands right now, students will rotate through untimed stations, either in pairs or individually. Each task corresponds to a different mathematical standard, although I have not decided if and when I’m going to make that clear to them. For example, for “construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others,” I have some examples of logical fallacies I want them to argue against. For “look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning,” I made a tower of Hanoi!


How I love being able to crochet math-related objects. I found several crochet patterns online, as well as several sets of wood-carving instructions, but nobody else seems to have done both – I blame gender roles. Admittedly, to create the platform I hammered a screw into a thin plank, twisted it enough that a hole formed, and then hammered the dowel section – that I had cut with scissors – into the barely-adequately-sized hole. The crochet part actually involved a pattern-recognition task:

I crocheted each ring from the inside out, starting with a loop of 7 stitches. The top green one has 2 rows of stitches, the light blue one has 3, the white one has 4, etc. To make flat circles rather than tiny hats or hyperbolic planes, for the second row I did two stitches every other original stitch. So around the original 7 stitches I did 2 + 1 + 2 + 1 + 2 + 1 + 2 = 11 stitches in the second row. The question is: how many stitches are there around the outside of the lime green ring?


I actually had to determine this pattern, in my real life! I had to know that after 7, there were 11 stitches, so that I knew how many stitches to do for the light blue ring. And I needed to keep the pattern going for the rest of them! It gets interesting, too, because while 7, 11, and the next number in the sequence are all odd, the next number is even, which changes the pattern a little bit. And if the pattern continued, how often would there be an even number in it?

(Not to mention that honestly, I got about 2/3’s of the way around the lime green one before I realized that it wasn’t sitting flat anymore, so I just did one stitch around for the rest of the circle)

The one I haven’t quite settled on an activity for yet is “attend to precision.” The best example I can think of for this one is on Project Runway when the fit of someone’s garment is off by probably millimeters and looks terrible. I think Project Runway has a lot to teach us about math education, really. Whenever they form them into teams there is a significant amount of eye-rolling and lack of communication that leads to poor results. All of our students could probably heed that as a warning.

What I’ll probably do for that station is ask them to cut a dowel rod or a piece of cardboard or something so that it perfectly fits in a particular space.

I’ll be back soon with some articles!