Thursday, November 7, 2013

Yes Virginia, You do Use Algebra Everyday... you just don't know it.

***Disclaimer... I'm sure this post needs editing... but I'm going to have an 18 month old wake any moment and I wanted to get it out there while the thought was still hot!

This was posted on a friend's page (a friend, who is rather brilliant in my opinion). It made me sad that so many people think this is true. The reality is they use algebra every day and they are good at it. They just had to learn it in context and didn't realize the technical name for what they are doing. In school they were taught that it happened in a vacuum where math only happened in written equations on a chalkboard or on lined paper. Algebra in its simplest form is finding the missing number. Little kids can do it. 4 + x = 5. I had 5 batteries now I only have 4, one is missing... I better check to see what the toddler is playing with... I just did algebra. I had a $87.45 discrepancy on my bank statement, what check or checks didn't go through... I just did basic algebra again. I had to figure out how many yards of fabric my child's Halloween costume would take based on the measurements of my child... did it again.

Here in Alaska, the Anchorage School District had a brilliant elementary math curriculum for over a decade - Everyday Math by McGraw-Hill Education, they got rid of it this year. Now I'm not one to embrace most canned textbook programs, in fact you'll usually find me railing against them... but this one, this one is different... this one I fully support. Here's why (I've taught the 3rd, 4th, & 6th grade levels of it): It spirals and builds on knowledge from year to year, multiple ways of solving a problem are taught, strategies like partial product and partial quotient teach why the numbers work and aren't just an algorithm learned by rote. With the multiple strategies, students find problem solving skills that fit their way of learning, and also begin to understand that some strategies are more efficient than others. Math games are as much a part of the curriculum as practice pages, in fact they are more important. I know great teachers that took years rounding up the games that automatically come with the program. Through the games students learn how to apply the math in real world, everyday ways. Especially in 6th grade I learned so much more about math through this program. I had many aha moments, where I thought to myself "If only I had been taught this way!" I highly suggest home school parents try to get their hands on this program!

So what was the problem? Why did the district change programs? The first and understandable problem is that the texts and program assume that a student started the program in Kindergarten and have built upon their knowledge each year since. Fine for a town in Massachusetts, where families date back to the Mayflower, but not in a transient place like Alaska. A larger systemic problem in our society today.... FEAR OF CHANGE is the biggest reason this program was canned. Parents and teachers alike balked at it all along. "This isn't the way I learned math." was heard regularly. Well if I'm correct I haven't seen an abacus used lately.... math evolves. Our culture is so self-centered that if we can't relate to it, then we aren't going to allow our kids the opportunity to learn a better way. A deeply rooted fear of math that has been instilled in the last few generations because of bad pedagogy, has created parents who are scared of it and throw up a wall before they even try to understand it.

My biggest beef with letting go of EDM was the middle school and high school teachers who swore it was ruining the students. I'm pretty sure my kids understood why their algorithms worked better than their teachers when they moved on from elementary. This math in a new dialect was not carried over in texts in middle in high schools across the district. They still used the old ways and didn't continue on with the program.

Knowledge evolves! It seems so ironic to me that in a time of so much technological  advancement, we get in our own way, or more importantly our kids' way of learning better! Maybe it's a sign that our society is too fast paced, if we can't take the time to just try to learn a new way of long division.

Another reason for learning in context! Now isn't it nice to know you are smarter than you thought! You use algebra everyday to solve a myriad of regular old problems.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Outdoor Preschool Group

We have been fortunate to join an amazing group of welcoming families involved in an Outdoor Preschool. This group meets weekly at the same location, no matter the weather, throughout the year. The format of every meeting is: begin with a greeting song, hike down the trail to the story knoll (about .25 mile), read a book (the story knoll is under the cover of some large fir trees so it is dry even on rainy days and there are fallen trees that provide seating), a little further hike to beach (another .25 mile) picking huckleberries & blueberries in season, at the beach parents often make a fire and roast hotdogs, snacks are shared. there is an island that at low tide is accessible by a tombolo, trees along the beach provide as great shelter against the wind and precipitation. Tide pools are also accessible at low tide. In the summer salmon can be seen splashing around, with seals bobbing up in down in search of them and curious as to what the kids are doing. We've only been here about 2 months, and haven't seen it ourselves, but whales can be seen in the cove too! Last week the kids spotted and caught a wood frog they only slightly terrified and gently put back after they scrutinized him.

I've participated and even started groups similar to this, but with less structure. The key to picking a good places to regularly meet is choosing one that has options such as protection from the canopy of the forest. Meeting in the same location every time is a a great way to learn about place intimately through the seasons and all the changes it cycles through.

I love how welcoming and accessible this group is. Its future is a little shaky right now. The moms who originally started it a couple of years ago, now have kids that have moved on to elementary school, but the torch has been carried on by a few other parents. The mama who has recently been carrying on has her kiddos moving into the school world this fall and no one has picked up the baton yet. I would, but I'm being good to myself and my family, by not over stretching myself. I will gladly help where I can though.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

We've Moved!

My family and I have relocated to Juneau, Alaska for my husband's work. We are excited to be in the Capital "City" and have already dug in and started to figure out what makes this place tick. As an educator working towards a career in policy, there couldn't be a better place for me to be than the center of government for this great state!

Here are some pictures from our recent hike on the Perseverance Trail. One of the most infamous and important trails in the history of Alaska. It's roots in the Gold Rush that shaped the economy of this state are deep. The landscape stunning and imposing. The ruins intriguing... especially for our curious 4 year old!

Taiga Teacher (Harmony) and her 2 boys (one is on her back) on the Perseverance Trail - Juneau, AK

Friday, April 5, 2013

An Exciting Outdoor Education Opportunity in the Works!

An exciting educational opportunity is in the works for middle school aged students in Anchorage. The Anchorage STrEaM Academy  is a charter school in the making, with " a middle school curriculum infused with outdoor, long-term laboratory investigations." As a former 6th grade teacher, I can tell you, this could not be a more appropriate way to connect and engage students of this age group! What makes me even more excited about this school is that it will be housed on the east side of town, and hopefully provide an option to families of kids currently moving on from Title 1 elementary schools.

They are having an informational meeting on May 2. Here's the text from the email they sent me:

"The folks at Anchorage STrEaM Academy are excited to extend an invitation to you. We are hosting an informational meeting for interested community partners, families, and stakeholders at The BP Energy Center on May 2nd at 7pm.
 We would love to have you join!    
Come learn more about our proposed Charter School for 6th-8th graders, inquire about our timeline, see faces behind the scenes, and share what you would like to offer.
The gathering will be informal and welcoming."

Friday, March 8, 2013

Not a Hater

One might get the impression that I find no place for standardized tests in our schools... I encourage people to speak up against them. I praise those who boycott them. I too will probably not allow my children to go to school on test days... but I don't hate them. I hate how they are being perversely used. Standards Based Assesments, SBAs as they are often called, do have a legitimate purpose - to use as a dip stick for a very vague baseline. They are great for a teacher who is having concerns for a child in a general area refer to them from the past year, they are helpful for a teacher to see his or her own trends. They are important for understanding developmental norms. I was even one of those sick in the head kids that liked taking standardized test because I liked following the logic of test taking.

Here's the thing though...

When teachers are asked to pour over a students test scores and know there students by a number before they ever lay eyes on their curious or skeptical faces, I see a problem.

When teachers in low-income schools, where every child qualifies for free lunch, pay is based on the results of the same test as the teacher whose students are primarily professors' kids, I see a problem.

When teachers are so stressed out about making the right number they don't teach social studies or science until after testing in spring (here in Alaska), I see a problem.

When teacher's take positions in Title 1 (low-income) schools to get their foot in the door and then transfer to schools in more affluent neighborhoods where test scores are higher and the stress lower. Leaving kids/families who need consistency with a revolving door of rookie teachers and but a few dedicated veterans, I see a problem.

When truly gifted students should be placed in a gifted school are held on to because they elevate a school's scores, I see a problem.

When kids are withheld services or IEPs because the SPED department is the category "bringing the school" down from making AYP.

When a 6th grade teacher is held accountable for a student's score who has been in at least three other school's before hers, I see a problem.

When school districts become reactive instead of proactive and mandate, mandate, mandate to put band-aids on things, I see a problem.

When good schools aren't making AYP because they already have great test score and have no where to go but 100% and have to waste money on PR to explain that fact, I see a problem.

When teachers with masters degrees are looked over like "Big Brother" to make sure they have the right posters in their rooms for the reading program they must teach with "fidelity" - read a script, instead of given the autonomy to really tailor their lessons to their classroom.

Tests are not inherently bad, but when their data is mined for purposes other than to get a simple dip stick reading... we have a major problem.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Just 2 More Days to Show Your Support!

If you feel strongly that outdoor education is important in our children's education please make your voice be heard! AKELP is looking for your feedback on the Alaska Environmental Literacy Plan! Please go to the link below to show your support and thoughts! Comments are due this week, by February 15th! Please show them some love for this amazing initiative!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Alaska Environmental Literacy Plan

Yay! Taiga Teacher (Harmony) will be an adviser for the Alaska Environmental Literacy Plan! I am so very excited to be part of such an important step in the right direction for public schools in Alaska! I'll be posting information about its development and how you can help with input! It's just a volunteer role, helping where I can, but a foot in the door of the ed. policy world. It is also special to me because it is directly linked to the No Child Left Inside Act, initiated by Senator Jack Reed from my home state of Rhode Island. My brother actually worked for Reed in DC at the when the act was introduced and spent some time working on it.