Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Reflections on my Schools

I have not really contributed much to this blog so far this school year. Since we are almost finished with first semester, I would like to share some thoughts and observations about Ingraham and Rainier Beach.

I can see why there was such outrage at Ingraham last year over the termination of Mr. Floe. He is a very good principal (and in case Mr. Floe reads this, I’m not just saying it because he is my evaluator!!!) He is a very strong leader, but at the same time gives the staff as much freedom as they need to do what is best to educate the students. He has assembled a very strong faculty who really knows what they are doing. This strength goes beyond the faculty and includes the other administrators and support staff. I am very impressed and I feel very supported. There is calmness to Ingraham that I feel that makes it easy to teach.

I have the same schedule that I had last year. I am teaching Algebra 1, Algebra 2 and Algebra 2 Honors. My observation about Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 is that the students at Ingraham are no better or worse prepared for those classes than the students I had in those classes at Rainier Beach. Most of the freshman in Algebra 1 at Ingraham are in over their heads and should not be in Algebra 1. This is no different than Rainier Beach. I think it points directly to the lack of quality middle school and elementary school math preparation and the total failure of the discovery math curriculum. As I testified at a school board meeting during the high school math adoption, we are sentencing a whole generation of students to failure in math.

In Algebra 2, the quality of the students is no greater at Ingraham is no greater than that at RB. These are mostly kids who know how to do school, do their homework, and get by. There is a handful who truly understands Algebra 2 and they earn A’s, but that number is small, just like at RB.

The big difference is in the Algebra 2 Honors class. At Ingraham, this is the math class for many of the APP freshmen. It is a very interesting class. The students are 2 years ahead in math, but they (particularly the boys) still act like freshmen. It can make for really weird days for me. We will be doing a really interesting and challenging story problem involving logarithms, for example, the class will be working really hard and then out of the blue, one of the boys will chuck his eraser at someone across the room because that person made a face at them. Now the thing is, both of these students have totally solved the problem correctly and understand what we are doing. It is hard for me to be mad at them. I find myself saying this weekly, if not more, “Stop acting like freshmen and start acting like Algebra 2 students.” Yes, I understand the irony of that statement. That being said, I feel I have done a really good job in challenging these students and making sure they are not bored. The e-mails I receive from the parents tell me I am on the right track.

Ingraham and Rainier Beach played a basketball game at RB last Friday. I attended the game and it was great to see some of the remaining faculty and seeing some of my former students made me get misty eyed because I know they are not getting the same quality instruction that the students are getting in general at Ingraham. They replaced the departed math teachers with one veteran teacher (who I know is very strong), and 3 very inexperienced teachers. I was told by some of my former students it is not going as well as it should be. I knew that was going to be what happened and I feel terrible about this, but the commute was killing me and I needed to change my lifestyle or I was not going to make it to retirement age. I wish the new principal and administration all the best. I know they have taken on a very difficult job.

I feel honored to teach at Ingraham and I love what I do. I feel very lucky because I get out of bed in the morning feeling energized. I walk to work one day a week and on days when the light at 130th and Aurora is in my favor, it takes me longer to walk from my car to my room than it does to drive there.

I wish all of you nothing but the best in the New Year. I think we will be seeing some major, positive changes to the district over the next two years and I am excited to be a part of it.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

You're my hero! Thanks for every word of this!

Are you able to cover the same material now as in earlier years (before Connected Math), or do you need to take more time to explain basic concepts the kids should have had in middle school?

Can you offer advice to parents of eighth graders in what they can do at home to get their kids ready for high school math?

Thanks again Mr. Rice! Wish you a great 2012.

Math Mom

Anonymous said...

melissa has a xmas list diary for the district.

I wish that ALL k-12 education policy people in colleges, schools and departments of ed who've spent more than 10 years NOT at a k-12 school were fired. (my apologies to the 1 or 3% who are useful)

I wish that ALL the broad gates walton funded kipp kopp sfc lev over 50 grand a year "leaders" are forced to work for minimum wage for the rest of their adult lives - they deserve jail, but, I like to reach across the table & compromise.

Hiding

Syd said...

We lost a great teacher at Graham Hill last year for the same reason - the commute. Maybe we should consider housing subsidies for teachers in the south end.

Michael, what would make it possible for you to consider moving to be near Rainier Beach? I know I am putting you on the spot, but we have a real problem down here in the SE. I take Charlie's point that socioeconomic factors need to be considered, but there are other issues. Based on my conversations with teachers in 3 southend schools - as teachers gain experience, and years in the system, they migrate to northend schools. I am not saying this happens in all cases, we have some really experienced teachers in our schools. It may just be the perception of a few educators, but like I said, I have heard it a number of times.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. Can you recommend a way to supplement EDM for elementary kids who are good at math? We do math at home b/c they aren't challenged at school, but I feel like I am casting about for the best way to build a good foundation, just trying this or that workbook or subject on Kahn. Is there a more methodical way, that can be accomplished in a reasonable amount of time each day (I'm looking to supplement, not supplant).

Thanks to you or anyone for suggestions.

SPS mom

Patrick said...

SPS Mom, I've been using Singapore math at home from partway through 3rd grade to now in 5th grade. There are enough fully worked-out examples that it works well for home study. The first couple of months I tried just using it as extra practice, but I found it worked much better following the Singapore books closely. The topics are covered in different order in Singapore and EDM, and when I was trying to use Singapore just as extra problem sets they kept using techniques that had been introduced earlier in Singapore and later in EDM. The frustrating thing about EDM is that the spiral development model didn't let me know which topics need to be practiced to mastery, and which are just a taste to be revisited for mastery a year or two later.

Following Singapore Math may or may not permit skipping a grade, but is giving my student much more confidence and accuracy than just EDM and what's taught in class.

The Singapore Math series covers through 6th grade. I would be interested in what math books people are using for 7th and 8th grade work. Does Saxon work well at home?

dan dempsey said...

Patrick you are using the Singapore Primary Series. At grade 7 the Singapore Elementary series begins.

There were several different series available.

The one with the most examples was the Math Counts series instead of 4 books for grades 7-10,
New Math Counts had 5 books and more explicit instruction. I do not think it is currently available.

the New Syllabus series is quite fast paced and requires a more knowledgable teacher.

I believe that Kahn Academy has videos matched to Singapore math .... I do not know if they cover New Syllabus books.

dan dempsey said...

Patrick there is also the Singapore Discover mathematics series for grades 7 through 10 of four books.

I know nothing about this one.

Anonymous said...

For specific math topics - fractions, decimals, percents, etc - Math'n'stuff on Roosevelt carries some inexpensive workbooks from Key Curriculum Press, by Steven Rasmussen, et al, called "Key to Fractions[Decimals...Percents...]." These are good for solidifying skills and work well for doing a couple of pages at a time after school.

For more challenge, we have purchased traditional math texts (not Saxon or Singapore, and gently used from Amazon sellers, so they are quite affordable) that cover pre-algebra concepts quite thoroughly. The "B" and "C" level problems provide enough challenge for now.

Speaking from personal experience, as much as I like both the Saxon and Singapore math texts, neither worked well as a supplement for us. Saxon skipped around too much, making it hard to know if skills were being covered. The texts we have go through topics chapter by chapter (Percents, Factors and Multiples, Geometric Figures, etc), so it's easier to just flip to the chapter/concept you're trying to cover. For whatever reason, our kids weren't so interested in Singapore.

Anonymom

worried mad valley parent said...

"The students are 2 years ahead in math, but they (particularly the boys) still act like freshmen... really interesting and challenging story problem involving logarithms, for example,...both of these students have totally solved the problem correctly and understand what we are doing."

That's APP students in a nutshell. They are light-years ahead of their "age" peers academically and intellectually. Heck, many of them are more than 2 years ahead.
Socially and emotionally, they are still kids with all those crazy, mixed-up feelings. Their hormones are causing them as much angst as the next kid.

Oh, the girls act like freshmen too. Just not as obviously.

Worried Mad Valley parent

Anonymous said...

Thanks Anonymom, that's helpful. Patrick, did you use the textbooks and teacher guides too, or just work through the workbooks in order?

Has anyone used Kahn or Alcumus? We are having fun with them but I don't know if the progression of skill development is right. I'm almost afraid of doing more harm than good in some way. I get the math but I am not a teacher and don't understand how to develop the skills they need.

Thanks,

SPS mom

Anonymous said...

We used the JUMP Math book for 7th grade math over the summer and I was very happy with it (we were preparing our daughter to move from 5th grade elementary math to 8th grade APP math). The NY Times had a great article about the JUMP Math books in April 2011.

http://jumpmath1.org/

My Christmas wish for the school district would be to get rid of the CMP math books used in middle school. I'm so glad my daughter only has to use these for 1 year.

Cath

Josh Hayes said...

Last year when I taught a motivated group of 8th graders 8th and 9th grade math in a single year, we used the district-provided texts, but I taught them "wrong", using the problems as examples, doing a couple, having THEM do a couple, and then making up a bunch of practice problems for them. If you're working on, say, factoring polynomials, it's easy to just make up a couple dozen problems, and that will be enough to illuminate where your kids are struggling.

BTW, thanks for the note, Michael - my son will probably be in your honors class next year (he's doing the honors geometry class in this, his freshman year), so I look forward to that. He too has remarked on how smoothly things seem to go at Ingraham: he reports a near-total lack of drama. And that's a good thing.

WV reports no teers THIS year!

seattle citizen said...

Blog Admins - the conversation here reminds me that there are many parent/guardians, educators, and yes, policy makers who are very interested in materials to supplement/surplant classroom instruction.

Perhaps a link could be designed and placed on this blof where people could find various ideas for materials, texts, methods, etc that would help them at home or in the classroom.

Suggested topics there:
What is currently being taught where - with linked supplementary materials;
Curriculum ideas;
Career/college/tech/etc prep materials - things to help post K-12;
etc.
This seems like a topic that should have its own, ongoing link from this website. Maybe ArchStanton can design it so it will have a slightly gonzo flavor and make it more fun?

Anonymous said...

When will the district acknowledge that the current math materials are simply not adequate? Mercer students have done better with other materials, parents are asking for supplements, and JH is suggesting direct instruction and additional practice made CMP usable.

Anonymous said...

Is Honors Algebra a class one has to test into? My currently private-schooled kids may end up in public HS (Ingraham) due to the vast difference in cost between private K-8 and HS.

My older daughter is an A student and does Math Olympiad, happily getting up early twice a week for it. She'd surely be up to honors, but would I need to have her district-tested to qualify?

--former SPS mom

Anonymous said...

There isn't a test for Algebra I placement, but it instead seems based on some mysterious combination of previous class taken, teacher recommendation, unwritten school policies, and MAP scores. When I asked what the placement process was for those new to the district I was given a non-answer.

Former SPS mom - Spectrum level math takes Algebra I in 8th grade, and APP level typically takes Algebra I in 7th grade. If your daughter is in Math Olympiad, you may want to look into math placement options now to determine if Algebra is the right placement.

dan dempsey said...

Anonymom,

You nailed it. The actual Saxon and Singapore programs are not great for Supplements.

Singapore especially so. SM teaches an incredible amount of material. If I had young children, I would go 100% Singapore and ditch anything else. I especially like the challenging word problems. That series is an amazing supplement.

I used Saxon Algebra I as a supplement when my #1 son was taking algebra. (back in 1986). He did one Saxon lesson every Saturday and we skipped lessons to hit every fourth lesson. It took him 2.5 hours to complete the first lesson. Things proceeded to move much faster after a month. He had a traditional Algebra book in class .... but it did not have enough review. He needed the extra spaced practice provided by Saxon to make things solid. It worked out well, which was great because we began this when he was really struggling.

He went on to take Geom, Alg II, and Pre-Calc.

Eventually took University Calc and got a B on his way to a BFA in Drama. (Go figure)

dan dempsey said...

NOT a strict placement test for Algebra but ...

Back in the day .... we once used the Orleans-Hanna Test as one measure to predict Algebra Success.

Now published by Person Publishing HERE

Anonymous said...

Math in elementary is all skills and little thinking. EDM spirals and you never really get deep. I prefer the NCTM standards (if they are still the same!) wherein first concentrates on geometry, data and number sense I believe.

However, Lebanon, OR does it differently. Lebanon schools turn algebra into child's play Third graders are doing high school algebra.

There is so much good stuff out there. What are we doing with Everyday Math?

northender

Patrick said...

SPS Mom, so far my daughter and I have been doing fine with just the Singapore Math textbooks and not using the workbooks or home teaching guides. However, my daughter will need some more exercises as we encounter more topics that she hasn't seen before. As the problems get more complicated and the problems take more than a few seconds to make up, I might need to get the workbooks too.

Anonymous said...

Michael,

I'm so glad you came to IHS. I appreciate your enthusiasm and your genuine regard for students. We are lucky, very lucky, to have you. Cheers,

DWE

Michael Rice said...

I have some responses:

Math Mom writes: Are you able to cover the same material now as in earlier years (before Connected Math), or do you need to take more time to explain basic concepts the kids should have had in middle school?

Since I have to deal with the EOC, I try very hard to work in basic skills and concepts as we do Algebra 1. I will admit, that I am not as successful as I would like to be. The IHS math department is talking about a couple of strategies for our incoming freshman next year, that we hope will make them more successful on the EOC.

Syd writes: Michael, what would make it possible for you to consider moving to be near Rainier Beach?

I don't think there is anything (short of me winning the lottery and being able to afford to live on Lake Washington) that can get me to move to Rainier Beach. I really like we we live. We are on Bitter Lake, in a quiet condo community, right next to a park and Linden Ave is going to be redone next year to make it even more walkable.

For everyone asking for math suggestions, I strongly recommend Math 'n Stuff at 8926 Roosevelt Way NE, 522-8891. I love that store. Talk to the people there and they will set you up with all that you need and you will find things that make you go wow.

Former SPS Mom writes: Is Honors Algebra a class one has to test into? My currently private-schooled kids may end up in public HS (Ingraham) due to the vast difference in cost between private K-8 and HS.

My older daughter is an A student and does Math Olympiad, happily getting up early twice a week for it. She'd surely be up to honors, but would I need to have her district-tested to qualify?

Let me know when you plan on enrolling at IHS. I can give the powers that be a heads up. Is your daughter in Geometry or Algebra this year?

I am also a big fan of what Sal Khan is doing with his videos. I would like to incorporate them into my class, but have not figured a way to do that yet. I think his method is very easy to follow.

DWE writes: I'm so glad you came to IHS. I appreciate your enthusiasm and your genuine regard for students. We are lucky, very lucky, to have you. Cheers,

Thank you for your kind words. I really like it teaching at Ingraham.

Anonymous said...

Michael,
Thank you for your insights. If you like Khan, do check out Artofproblemsolving.com and his Alcumus problems and his videos. I like him even better than Khan.....he is a true math geek and I appreciate that! But far fewer videos.
SPS mom

ds said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ds said...

Brightstorm.com puts out another set of free online videos for Algebra through Calculus. The videos are organized by topic and each shows an instructor working out problems on a whiteboard. For each topic, there is usually a concept-introduction video and one or more videos showing a problem being worked out (I almost missed these when we first started using this series). Videos are linked to a number of different textbooks but, unfortunately, the Discovering series is not linked. Brightstorm also has videos for biology, chemistry, physics, grammar, and writing.

Anonymous said...

Josh,
My daughter also mentioned the lack of drama at Ingraham. With all of Ingraham's different programs, APP, IB, IEP, ELL, it all just seems to...work.
Mike,
Is this your opinion? Why?

Band mom

dan dempsey said...

I saw that Jump Math article in the NY Times. Jump Math was developed in Canada ... which is kickin' our USA math ass these days.

I believe a third grade teacher at Concord may be "supplementing" with Jump Math.

Linh-Co said...

It's hard to supplement. Effective supplementation is based on assessing the student(s). The benchmark assessments and end of course assessments in Saxon are useful.
I think Singapore placement tests are beyond our state standards and don't necessarily match up to appropriate grade levels.

If you are doing more than supplementing, Saxon is comprehensive and is all you need for single subject homeschooling. I am an elementary math specialist and have a math degree and find the scope and sequence complete and thorough. My 6th grader is doing algebra and has a strong foundation. It is hard to supplement with Saxon since it is not written as chapter units. However, the spaced practice does reinforce different strands and provide sufficient practice.

Singapore problem solving with bar modeling is very handy for introducing algebraic reasoning and solving multi-step problems. I don't find the middle school Singapore is as friendly unless your students are mathies, it kicks up drastically.