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Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Parable of Biting the Prada Apple--Math Reform In Greeley Schools

Last night my brother's child sat down to dinner after her second hard day back at school. She has been nearly impossible to live with all week she has been so excited. She has her heart set on being a geologist-archeologist-princess-rock star when she grows up. We've had many conversations on how important math is to her ideal. Tonight, she was seated at my famous Friday night table. The Friday night where I prepare the most grand meal my strange creative mind can assemble. Tonight I prepared her dinner.

I whipped off the apron and purposely sat her smaller plate down last as I took my own seat.

On her plate was a half-eaten beautiful red juicy apple and some macaroni-in-cheese. She looked at the chicken, rice, raisin, oyster sauce burritos on the adults plates and then at her own. She looked at me--delicate blue eyes seething at amused green ones. She looked at her mother, sullenly, seeking rescue from the strange Aunt thing across from her. No one said a word. She, my niece, looked back at me again certainly wishing I could be transported to another planet where they punish people for putting old apples on little girl's plates.

Instead of disappearing, I sipped my wine, spread the cloth napkin in my lap, and prepared myself for the ensuing game of Torture By Math.

To begin I pointed out to my extremely bright nine year-old niece that the apple is the one she had taken two bites of an hour ago but hadn't finished. I particularly noted this had happened after she had been reminded dinner would be served within the hour and she had proclaimed herself famished and in need of sustenance before dinner. There were other "lesser" apples around the kitchen but of course and they were offered to her. But she fancied the big red juicy new apples placed in the basket earlier that day and made her demands very clear.

I went on to add that the macaroni-n-cheese represented something she would eat instead of the burrito filling she had stood over and sneered at while it was cooking in the pan. I noted gently that I needed to beg forgiveness for having been temporarily idiotic in forgetting that she was a little girl and wouldn't be interested in eating adult foods.

She sneered again, at me, and withered the down on the yellow duckies painted on her plate by pouting down at them.

Now I happen to love this little girl very much. And overall she is exceptionally bright and well mannered. A bit of a Princess in her household but she has the talent and brains to overcome that early branding. Hence, I set out to make a point to my niece, understanding her long term plans laid at such a tender age, that her plate was merely a mathematical equation rather than food. Thus I countered the blame for her plight was one of her own making not mine. And it was entirely because she didn't do the math.

Knowing that math is the one area where this District 6 educated child feels she does not do well I now had her full attention. (She despairs of not making adequate progress in math as much as I despair for all kids learning math in the semi-performing district.) Another sign of a quality child in the making she perked up. A Princess willing to put her emotional temper aside for the sake of new information can't all be a bad thing. Some day I must note to tell her about eating cake.

I proceeded to explain. The apple you have chosen cost $3. When you chose to eat that apple you removed the opportunity of every one else in this house to eat that particular apple. Everyone else, if willing to create a drama an hour before dinner and state they were dying of hunger as you did, would, once your choice had been made, have been left with the little green ones worth $1 apiece.

Now it is fine that you have made such a good nutritional choice and no one here would decry you eating a $3 apple to fulfill your hunger pains. But the problem is that you didn't really eat the apple. You just licked it a few times and took a couple of small bites.

"Do you see the problem with the apple now?"

"No."

So I continued. The problem is that this afternoon when I went shopping I changed $3 of my money into $3 worth of Apple. So that apple now is worth $3 of value. It is my gift to those who eat in my household that they could consumer $3 worth of apple that I am willing to share with them.

"Do you see the problem with the apple now?"

"No."

Again I continue. In making the choice to eat that apple and picking it up you have just eliminated the possibility that someone else here, around the table, could eat that apple. You have subtracted $3 worth of food value opportunity from every one else. Each of us, now, only has the opportunity to eat a $1 apple. $3 is more in value and $1 is less.

"Do you see the problem with the apple now?"

"Everyone is mad at me because I took the apple?"

I smiled this time. No, everyone at the table loves you dearly and wishes you the best. But when you considered taking that apple did you think about the value you were removing from every one else in the room or did you think only about your need to taste that big red juicy apple? Did you consider how the change you made by saying you would consume the apple changed in a very small way the way other people in the room would be eating today? Basically by making a single decision you changed several relationships other people had with the apple at the same time. Did you think about that?

"No." The pout returns.

Well that is why the apple is now on your plate when everyone else has a tasty burrito. So you can think more about how the apple on your plate effects other people in a mathematical way and make better decisions in the future.

"Do you see the problem now?"

"I didn't eat the apple and now no one else can either."

Bingo. You have almost entirely wasted a value of $3 not only for yourself but for everyone else too. by eating the apple you would have gained $3 worth of value and the adults here wanting to share good value with you to help you grow into a successful adult would be fine with making due with the lesser apple choices. It is about always keeping in mind how we effect each other and the world around us when we make our own personal choices. Everything has a relationship that can be based on math. People can get upset when you take value away from their plate, put it on your own, and then prove (by not eating it) you really didn't need that value at all. You simply wanted to capture it for yourself before any one else could. Bad math can start negative emotions flying around a room and doing damage.

To which my niece replied, "I'm sorry. But couldn't you have just told me to eat the apple? It hurts to think that hard."

"Yes I could have. But I love you enough to teach you the type of math skills you need to survive in this world." I replied.

To which my niece's beautiful and very loving mother with all her gorgeous Prada-wear, weighed into the whole conversation, by reaching over, taking the apple, and promptly eating it for her daughter.

The meaning of the parable gained voice when my brother leaned over to explain his wife's actions as he munched a bit from his burrito. "Maybe Greeley School District 6 is gambling that the children of Greeley will not need math and science to compete for survival in the future."

To which I replied... "You think?"

Comments :

15 comments to “The Parable of Biting the Prada Apple--Math Reform In Greeley Schools”

Anonymous said...
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I do not wear Prada :)

Anonymous said...
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And, Jane, if District 6 elected not to gamble with the proposition that the children of Greeley would not need math and science to compete for survival in the future....they would do what,in your opinion, specifically?

Jane Paudaux. said...
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I am assuming you mean how would they improve the current 39.1 percent of students that can meet standards.

You screen for the highest math and science backgrounds possible coming in with new teachers. Get a grant to fund it there are plenty of private and federal resources out there for math training. Get the local private foundations to chime in as it is in the community interest. And if none of that works--bootstrap it up.

Then you target teachers coming in with experience and theory in both fields with specialty consultants in the summer and more emphasis and mandatory update classes on current methods from the highest performing universities (not just those universities reflecting similar political beliefs). Start teaching the older teachers current strategies to integrate and build logic and reasoning skills at an early age.

I went through teacher training in the late 90's. I know what is required of teachers to pass the program and gain a credential and it is sad to say the least. I wrote my own graduate program and went through several additional math and logic courses. But admittedly, I'd have to say that the greatest effect was having a superb professor and graduate training in applied math skills. Including, but not limited to, training sixth, seventh, and eighth graders how to run their own business (to raise funds for the school field trip), putting mentors with students to go into community organizations and see how math works inside an actual business, and (at that time) writing programs and actually testing them out in a network environment.

It is like this, if you are talking about Beethoven and the music he wrote, then there is an opportunity to talk about patterns, the eighth, quarter, half and whole notes provide an excellent division lesson as well. If you are talking about Mickey Mantle and other records in Baseball there is a great opportunity to explain velocity and physics. Yes, even third graders get it if you know how to reduce it into their world. Build a house of cards at recess time and let the students figure out which shapes create the greatest strength and why. There are so many opportunities just in a regular school day to teach and fully integrate math into a daily world experience.

I'd be partnering with both the broader business community and all the higher learning resources, colleges, organizations around this area. I'd start a math foundation or symposium for all Colorado teachers yearly to come to Greeley. There are so many thing that can be accomplished. I was dismayed when I heard that UNC and D6 don't have a relationship for training new teachers.

If that doesn't answer the question repost and I'll try again.

Anonymous said...
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Thank you. What is the evidence for the effectiveness of your recommendations?

Jane Paudaux said...
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I am not sure there is a single source. Since you asked my opinion I gave you a comprehensive answer which incorporates, mostly, teacher training paradigms. There have been several US studies published in the last three or four years on teaching training in the United States school system but I don't know of one that directs the entire contents to Math. There are also a couple sociological studies done on language development in the home and math skills but some of their links I thought were kind of weak. It was geared more to primarily the ESL market. Originally the data I saw returned on the correlation between increased teacher training in math and student test scores were done in Japan and Germany around 2002, maybe 2003, and I'd have to hunt to find those again and see what the current updates look like with better statistics. A fully integrated program would take a longitudinal study I imagine and I think the Clinton administration, late, was one of the first to embark on long term studies in math and science. I wonder though maybe the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has one that is longer. But they are just getting started they gave a few hundred mill to fund studies on teacher effectiveness and training but I don't think any target just math or science specifically. Here is one of my general database links though if you'd like to look around. It is a pretty awesome tool once you know how to use it. http://www.zentralblatt-math.org/matheduc/

Anonymous said...
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In all honesty, I'd like to see the studies upon which you have based your assertions (opinion). While I am grateful for your advocacy and passion about the futures of our kids and the community, it would be helpful to get beyond correlations and arrive at solutions that address the instructional practices and programs that are currently in place in the district. I suspect we could use correlations to suggest that things like house numbers or parents income and occupation are associated with test score variations. For our teachers, however, I would think we would be interested in factors, under their control, which cause the outcomes we are after. You indicate underwent teacher training. Did you ever successfully teach any level of math or science in the public schools? Thanks.

Jane Paudaux said...
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If I had the one and only solution I would agree with you. What are you looking for if not correlating evidence between cause and effect? A school isn't an isolated variable. What raises a CSAP score? I wish you had cut to your chase to begin with then if that is what this is all about. If you want to attack me for being snarky and opinionated then do so. I am no wilting flower. I thought you had a true professional or parental interest. If you want me to give you my expertise in the field I guess that would take about eight years to provide you with all the evidence and background I have depending on whom you really are. I am not being paid to teach in this district nor am I being paid to manage the district. Nor is this blog commercial. If the district, or you, whomever you are, would like to pay me to consult on the topic I will gladly do the time and research to provide you with the studies and evidence you "request" for the sake of education "of course". If you are really more sincere than your last posting suggests then I sincerely apologize and while I understand your problem I certainly don't have the perfect one-size-fits-all solution either. You asked me what approach I would take, assuming with my own knowledge, and I answered to the best of my ability.

Jane Paudaux said...
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Yes I have taught successfully both subjects.

Jane Paudaux said...
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Also, let me add, myopic concentration on one math model paradigm doesn't equate to overall consistently improved scores (if you want to use this as a measurement). A direct modeling, as you infer, excludes the dynamic learning styles of a classroom, the previous history and background of content before the scoring, and other variables which are not in the distinct control of the teacher but are knowns. If you use a methodology which has shown direct increases with all variables controlled for in the lab, the classroom (application model) drops substantially once the other variables are introduced again. In other words, theory by itself is rarely the answer but experience and theory together are powerful tools. Most good teachers know this already.

Anonymous said...
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I wouldn't have questioned or asked for the basis for your opinions if I weren't both a parent, and professional in my purpose. It's your blog, you can be as snarky and opinionated as you want. You can also choose to defend your opinions with evidence or not...if you want your opinions to be taken as something other than unsupported opinion (prejudice)that would seem a reasonable step to take...especially if you want readers to ponder the logic and basis for your recommendations. Look closely at your last posting. "Myopic concentration on one math model paradigm......". "Direct modeling, as you infer, excludes the dynamic learning styles...." I never stated or implied anything of the sort, yet you launch into an entire paragraph of meaningless, but fancy sounding edubabble (math model paradigm, direct modeling, dynamic learning styles) in creating your straw man,.....to what end...if not to appear you are knowledgeable and have expertise to be accepted at face value...rather than questioned? Further...no one, certainly not me, asked you for an answer or "the one and only solution" to anything. Your words,again. I am disappointed in the defensive nature of your responses and wish you had opened the door to a constructive exchange, instead of closed it. Good luck with your advocacy and blog.

Jane Paudaux said...
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Thank you. Process is an important thing. For example if the District has not gone through the appropriate steps to hire outside objective parties to assess educational outcomes, in the context of each budgetary solution proposed, and instead just decided which budgetary scenario they "thought" would be a good idea that wouldn't be professional. If I had been recommending a specific set of math solutions or strategy for the District then providing evidence would have been appropriate. But what I have repeatedly emphasized is the process of the District, missing information, poor performance outcomes, and poor decision making structures. You have chosen to post in response to my opinions on the topic of math literacy but the generalizations above leave it unclear what your exact problem is other than I have declined to spend the time look up the studies for you.

Anonymous said...
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Edubabble? I hate the Orwellian anti education stuff why didn't she read the other stuff you posted on the budget and test scores instead of just being so snotty. I think you ruffled some feathers girl. Its about time more question get asked. They stink in math and science even their own teachers know it

Jane Paudaux said...
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He/She did okay. They didn't come through those specific pages. But I get their point. I don't agree that it is appropriate for this particular situation. I raised the vocabulary for my own reasons to get a handle on the poster's level of knowledge. I mistook them as an ordinary Joe/Jane at first. My mistake not their's necessarily. It is good to have all kinds of posts and viewpoints going on. It doesn't hurt the idea of discourse. If the poster is a professional currently working in the field they'll have better access to paid private studies than I would have anyhow and the debate could be enriched. The studies online that you can access without special permissions and/or fees are predominantly public studies or outdated private ones. A good study controlling for variables can be used as an effective tool in creating a comprehensive program. But if the answer were simply using specific analysis to build a comprehensive program then we could just build machines to deliver the content correctly and in a reliable way. Kids don't want to talk to a machine when it starts raining outside and they want to understand why water condenses on the inside of the glass. They want understandable answers right then and there and in context. Educators have varying levels of degrees of control in the classroom dependent on their own background and training and abilities to perceive and translate a complex world. If we go simply on what can be measured on a spreadsheet the solution to education becomes easy--it is mechanization and treating each student like a clone. Education wouldn't face half the problems it does if we simply could wave away the problems clinically. And teachers wouldn't be needed any longer. That is another reason I focus on the damage caused by the collective cultural and process problems that have been institutionalized in the district there are few looking at the breadth of the situation. The organizational problems are much more difficult to root out and are like a slow poison. A 39.1 percent proficiency performance score in Math for this District is a truckload of evidence produced by the District's own hand. Unless of course the highest mark on the scale is 40. It isn't. But don't bag on the poster they weren't rude and building a program by optimal model performance would start to begin to make a toolbox of good tools. Of course then I think back to when schools forced the adoption of sight reading over phonetics because they thought the modeling would play out in the classroom too. Duh, the administrative authorities soon learned that was a bonehead move, after a generation of kids suffered. If they'd trusted the instinct of highly experienced teachers it might have been avoided. Then again there are times teachers are reluctant to adopt new ideas that are proven. It is a tit for tat. A check and balance I guess it might be called. I'm just not into doing the administrative work for the sake of an administrator who is peeved and knows the public is reading the blog and wants to put my opinions and experience on trial instead of the District leadership.

Anonymous said...
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Okay Jane but I still think it was pissy why haven't they said anything before?

Jane Paudaux said...
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There could be many good reasons. Public figures don't have the same discretion we do to put anything in writing they want. Let it go. If the poster comes back that is fine and if they don't that is fine too. Most the posts here come privately through email anyhow. As you know.

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