Algebra: Not 'If' but 'When'

From NCTM President Linda Gojak in the December 3rd 2013 edition of Summing Up: "So, when should students take algebra? Many students and parents interpret taking algebra in the seventh or eighth grade as an indication of a level of superior intelligence—a status symbol. My experience, both as a student and as a teacher, leads me to believe that we do more harm than good by placing students in a formal algebra course before they are ready, and few students are truly ready to understand the important concepts of algebra before eighth grade. Many students should wait until ninth grade." I agree about the "algebra early as a status symbol" part, but I'm a little surprised this article takes for granted Algebra as a stand-alone course in either 8th or 9th grade. If anything, NCTM has nudged us towards more integrated courses, and I think the CCSSM gives us reasons to think about how different algebra content can be spread across multiple years, with some of what we usually call "Algebra 1" in 8th grade and some in 9th grade.

Common-Core Needs Dominate Districts' Curriculum Priorities, Survey Finds

I find it interesting that, without much centralized organization, such a large proportion of districts are adapting to the Common Core State Standards by supplementing their current curriculum with online materials. That's the case for the district I'm working with in my research, and I imagine tight budgets are one of the factors in that strategy.

Effective Instructional Time Use for School Leaders

I don't follow much in the educational leadership space, but there are some interesting results in this article by Grissom, Loeb, and Master in this month's Educational Researcher. Principals in their study spent only 12.7% of their time on instructional activities, with only 0.5% of time spent coaching teachers, 1.8% of time evaluating teachers, and 5.4% spent on classroom walkthroughs. The total amount of instructional time was found to have no correlation with schools' effectiveness or growth as shown on state standardized tests. Furthermore, classroom walkthroughs were shows to have a negative association with achievement and improvement in high schools, particularly when the walkthrough does not serve any professional development function. Spending time on the school's education program, teacher evaluation, and coaching of teachers showed positive associations.


As someone who dabbles in social media research, a tool that quickly formats tweets into APA citations can come in handy.

literacy beat

I don't study literacy, but if I did I'd probably be following this blog. One of the authors, Bridget Dalton, is one of our new literacy faculty at CU-Boulder.

Tools for Ambitious Science Teaching

This site, assembled by the great science ed folks at the University of Washington, has some great information about modeling in the classroom, promoting quality classroom discourse, and inquiry into student thinking. This group is also working on ways of using technology and social media to create "networked improvement communities" of teachers and supporters across institutions.

Who will tell the colleges if we skip synthetic division?

There's an interesting discussion going on at the Mathematics Teaching Community about the usefulness of synthetic division. For the record, I never taught it to my Algebra 2 students, nor am I sure I can do it myself. I'm pretty sure I know three or more other ways to divide polynomials and I'm going to assume that's plenty, especially since it's not exactly something I do everyday.

Math Problems for Problem Based Learning - Google Drive

Sam Shah (@samjshah) created this Google Doc for people to suggest sites with rich tasks. It's a pretty good list and I've used several of these in my searches for tasks to use at the Algebra 1 level.

'I'm Not A Math Person' Is No Longer A Valid Excuse

There's nothing surprising in this article: when people don't like something or feel they aren't destined to do it, they typically aren't very good at it or interested in learning it. Somehow this message resonates well in articles about learning math, but unfortunately such articles tend to focus on the problem instead of the solution. That's probably because the solution is rooted in a cultural shift in perceptions about mathematics, and cultural shifts of perception are not easy things to perform.

Evie Hudak resigns: Colorado state senator avoids recall election

I sat next to Evie Hudak when Diane Ravitch came to speak in Denver last September. She took notes and was visibly and audibly moved by Ravitch's speech, and I appreciated how passionate she was about public education. Sadly, a debate over gun control in Colorado has forced Hudak to resign instead of facing a recall election. That means Colorado Democrats can appoint another Democrat in her place and retain a slim majority in the State Senate, but I worry public education lost one of it's biggest advocates in the process.

How to escape a monster

Once you figure out that a solution exists, the mathematics in this problem ramps up quickly. If you feel like flexing your trigonometry muscles, this could be a good place to do it.

Wiping Yourself Out of History

In an attempt to "protect" their content, CBS tried to wipe the internet clean of Walter Cronkite's famous announcement of the death of President Kennedy. So what's the internet to do? Forget CBS and look elsewhere, of course. Ira Socol says there's a lesson here for all publishers, not just of news but of entertainment and academic content as well: "So, you have your choice. Hide behind paywalls and attack lawyers, or share your works with the world. Be part of the global conversation or confine your thoughts to an increasingly irrelevant elite. Figure out how to live via a culture of sharing and communication or sit back and imagine royalty checks rolling in."

Simpson's Paradox

Simpson's paradox is easier to understand with a good visualization. Here are several.

Udacity's Sebastian Thrun, Godfather Of Free Online Education, Changes Course | Fast Company | Business + Innovation

The "M" in MOOCs was supposed to represent massive enrollment, but in many ways it represented some people's massive expectations. Most educators I know where suspicious of MOOCs from the start -- not because you can't learn something from them, but because they're not well-designed to replace the role of a classroom and in-person teacher. Sebastian Thrun, after running Udacity for a few years and seeing the data, has realized this. Less than 10% of students finish courses, and many of those who finish are already well-educated. Thurn is responding by narrowing Udacity's focus on workforce training, and hopes to find an audience more in need of just-in-time education for employment and a more realistic set of goals for what MOOCs can and can't do well. For a good perspective on this story, I recommend reading Audrey Watters's post at

Under My Thumb |

This NYT op-ed made the point that Washington's $500 million/year, 16-year subsidy to Boeing seems disproportionate when compared to the $250 million the state gives the University of Washington. What if the university threatened to leave the state like Boeing did? Can you measure the economic impact of a university in ways comparable to a company like Boeing?

Chris Christie’s demented “you people” movement: The right’s school-for-cash obsession -

David Sirota's article might come off as alarmist or paranoid, but it makes clear that education, like most systems, institutions, or people, can be influenced by big money. Some of that big money surely does some good, but many of Sirota's examples are strings-attached kinds of deals where the funders' motives are questionable.

Are private schools better than public schools? New book says ‘no’

"When adjusted for demographics" is an important detail in this book, which claims that public schools outperform private schools. I'd like to read it to better understand the methodology used and the details the authors provide (I've read stuff from both Lubienskis) but part of me also realizes that as a strong advocate of public schools I don't mind the self-affirmation.