Curriculum and Instruction

Is there a place for boredom in education?

By Stuart A. Singer, author of The Algebra Miracle

In 2014 does all learning have to be entertaining?

In a recent Slate article Konstantin Kakaes, a Schwartz Scholar at the New America Foundation, argues that is not necessarily the case. In response to an editorial in the New York Times Mr. Kakaes, strikes a blow for an occasional dose of tedium in math education:

“This weekend, after American students failed to impress on the international PISA exams, the New York Times editorial board ran a piece asking ‘Who Says Math Has to Be Boring?’ By ‘boring,’ the Times apparently means any math that is substantive in a traditional sense: ‘arithmetic, pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, trigonometry.’ So let me answer the question: Anyone with an understanding of what math actually is believes it must sometimes be boring.”

Mr. Kakaes does agree with the Times on one point—there is a severe crisis in math education in this country. Unfortunately, he includes that newspaper’s editorial board among the mathematically challenged.

“(The NYT editorial writers) do not appear to understand what mathematics is, how it is used in the sciences, or why it is important. The Times’ solution, ‘a more flexible curriculum,’ is euphemism for (more…)

More than just numbers

By Stuart A. Singer, Author of The Algebra Miracle

Perhaps because I am a former math teacher I cannot help myself. Maybe my extensive coaching background is what makes it even more compelling. Regardless of the precise motivator the fundamental conclusion seems so obvious.

Education needs to utilize data analysis more effectively.

Stats are bursting out all over

Data analysis can be a powerful tool for innovation in a multitude of endeavors. It can illuminate the path to better outcomes and accurately affirm success and failure. It is not, however, a static process. In order to maximize its effectiveness constant reevaluation is required. Otherwise conclusions made based on statistics can quickly become inaccurate and irrelevant.

One powerful example of such numerical evolution was evident in the aftermath of the gubernatorial election in Virginia. When the final results had been tabulated several newscasts explained the victory in these terms—the Democrat won the women’s vote by a larger margin than the Republican won the men’s. From there the speculation became focused on what specific issues had caused this “gender gap”.

But a day later another set of numbers presented a significantly different perspective. When one statistician divided the same voters into the category of either “married” or “unmarried” new conclusions emerged. A majority of married men and married women favored the GOP; unmarried men and women did not. Suddenly, because of these numbers the conversation and potential suppositions veered in a very different direction.

Similar numerical adjustments are occurring in the world of sports. A recent article in the Washington Post explained that the Nationals new baseball manager Matt Williams based a large portion of his improvement plan on the introduction of something new to the organization—data analysis. The plan is basic. An individual will be hired who will filter through the statistics provided (more…)

What is Too Much Help?

By Stuart Singer, author of The Algebra Miracle

The contradictory nature of comments drew my attention.

“This is the perfect school – really. They do great things – very innovative, research-based practices. They support us a huge amount. Too much, really. Part of the problem is how much support I am given. I am constantly being observed and offered little suggestions. I have to sit down and take apart my thoughts of each class with my mentor, my department head, and fellow teachers. I don’t have the time for that. I just got assigned yet another mentor who wants me to start writing self-reflections. My reviews have been outstanding, but yet, as all new teachers (defined as under 3 years’ experience) have, I have many mentors and an abundance of help. It’s killing me.”

The speaker, a first-year social studies teacher, was reflecting on his first week of school.

Drowning in a sea of good intentions

There is little question that inexperienced teachers need as much support as possible. As stated in previous posts there are few professions that treat their newest practitioners in the same manner as education. No law firm, medical practice or public accountant would assign their least knowledgeable employees the same workload as the savviest. And yet on a regular basis first-year teachers are given the same number of sections, students and preparations as their veteran colleagues. Sadly, in many cases they are not given their own classroom, while being assigned some of the most challenging students and classes in the building.

But while solutions to these problems do exist—give these educators fewer classes and more time to observe and plan—the realities of fiscal restraints work against their implementation. Consequently, (more…)