Monthly Archives: January 2013

How much spoon feeding?


I have children. Yes, they’re big now. But they were once little.  And I’m not sure they ever did what they were told (not sure where they got that from…)

So when they were learning to feed themselves, they got cheerios (I understand that these are now tantamount to death traps, but so are those walkers on wheels which are awesome), noodles, bananas, blueberries, rice… basically if it was edible, was able to be picked up and flung on the floor by tiny fingers, they got it.  It’s what you do with babies.

But they also got spoon feeding. I would have not even considered requiring my recently weaned babies to provide 100% of their nutritional requirements, based on the idea that they would enjoy food more if they had to forage for it. I have the same issue with students and math. Really, you think 14-year olds are going to spontaneously invent a system of algebra that some really clever people managed to put together over centuries of learning? And you think they’re going to do it in 9 weeks? I have news.

So I am looking at the spoon feeding. How much do I think they can do on their own? Last semester I provided links to web pages of instructions, that almost nobody used. I talked people through steps in Excel, over and over again, but nobody ( not a single person) could make a pie chart from a  set of data ( first they had to make a bin set), even though the course work had them make the bin sets at least 6 times. Is this because I did not spoon feed enough, or because I helped at all? More than half my students chose to sit and do nothing rather than try, even when I did go to walk them through the beginning steps. Conventional discovery learning says there’s no point walking them through the instructions as a whole class, but letting it go feels like a defeat. And too much feeding leads to vomit down your back (yes, you young parents, it’s not new). No gain.

I blame the kids’ lack of short term memory. No short term, no long term, every day is new again.  Scary.


Feeling the Love


Mike Pershan is a king. I asked him to fix my erroneous post. He did. Then he asked me how I was using his good work on  – I am totally stealing it and he’s acting as if I am contributing to him!

I use his mistakes as a daily warmup for my students. They see the mistake projected, and need to tell me what was done wrong, as well as how to make it right. Some of my students took the initiative to search for where the mistakes came from, so I gave them his site info. I thought it couldn’t hurt for them to see how puzzled all the adults are at what they’re doing. Plus, my high schoolers operate at about the 5th grade level, so it’s nice for them to be able to correct those little kids’ mistakes on the site.

Not only does Mike teach high school, apparently without any texts or curriculum, he also runs this magnificent site, where he usually puts up at least one new post a day,and he kindly showed me how to use LaTex in wordpress,  (and has put up with my constant errors).

He looks like he’s about as old as my son, and I’m totally grateful that he treats an old lady so well.

What boys need in school


One of my classes has 15 year old boys. Why should they learn Algebra? When are they ever going to need it? How dumb is this? Etc. And in my class, I have been mainly teaching how to use Excel for math, because I think it’s actually useful.

carton-squirrel-thicker-lines-thOn Wednesday, when I heard the moaning again, I had an answer. I have squirrels in my attic. Again. I finally called in the squirrel relocation service. So I told my boys, the squirrel relocators come for an initial visit for $119, and then charge $65 per squirrel. So I wanted to know how much I would have to pay if there were 10 squirrels. The boys thought this was great, and asked if they could use this for their warmup. Sure can.

After the initial visit, I found that they would also fix the squirrel damage for another $200, and that they expected no more than 6 squirrels. So the next day, I went back in and changed the question. The boys thought this was great. They were asking how much you could make every year by doing squirrel relocation, obviously you don’t have to go to college ( a plus, by the way), and there was no shortage of squirrels. Especially if you relocate them near someone else’s house.

So, I learned that boys like (a) squirrels, (b) ways to make money, (c)not going to college, and (d)honesty. Sadly, girls had no interest in the squirrel problem.

I think I’ll tell them more financial troubles and see if they like them. I’m told we’ll have snow, so perhaps we can address how to make money by shoveling sidewalks.

I definitely blame the squirrels.

(cartoon from

The week before exams


I hate the grade grubbing. I want students to learn because they want to learn. I don’t really feel sorry for anyone who sat for 18 weeks and did nothing (really nothing) and thinks they can do what everyone else has done, in the last 3 days.

Not going to happen.

But I wonder what use this educational system is, really, where teenagers pretend that they can do 100 hours a work in three ( do they think they’re that good?) and teachers are “urged” to pass students who “try” for those last 3 hours. Is it any wonder that kids grow up disillusioned with the schooling system

And yet, none of them are interested in the concept of apprenticeships. To a person, they are determined that everyone should go to college. If we can brainwash them that well about college, how come we’re doing such a bad job brainwashing them in math?

I blame the conspiracy.

Academic honesty and who’s “passing”


Principal: So, how come they’re all not passing your class?

Me: Well, m’lud, many students are taking E2020 catchup classes, and they have (rightly) determined that they need to pass those classes to graduate, they don’t need mine.  And they have (rightly) determined that it’s not possible to complete the E2020 in the allotted time. So, sensibly, they’re using the computer in my class to complete their E2020.

P: We can’t have this, then you look like  a bad teacher. They’re doing really well in all their other classes.

M: They should be. They’re doing the other work in my class, to pass the required classes.

P: Tell them they can’t do that in your class.

M: Oh, and have them not graduate? You really want that? Who am I here for, me or the kids?

This is what we have come to. It makes me so cross.  The adults set up the stupid system, the kids know how to work it. What’s the problem? I was struck by something after Sandy Hook – if you’d take a bullet for your kids, why not stand up for them against this onslaught of evil? (sorry, don’t know who said it, and I’m sure I’m paraphrasing). So I have decided I will.

Not to mention that I am using continuous projects. In our district, they put together the marking period grades by GPA. So a C plus an E makes a D. 73% +0% =D passing. 58%+58%=E+E=116%= E fail. This is a nonsense for me. I told my principal that if the kids got over 70 out of the 200% available, they would be passing. I know how to click that little button underneath the final grade and change it.

Meanwhile, ooh, we really want to increase the academic outcome for our students. And 18 teenagers have been shot in the last month in our small city. They aren’t rich, white or cute, and they aren’t all in one building when it happens.

Under the hierarchy of need, I think the kids have it right.

I can only blame the adults, who don’t have  a clue.

The weirdness of it all


In response to the Sam Shah challenge, I started this blog. For me. Write as if nobody else will read it, he advised. So i did. Somehow, in the last 4 months, 1000 or so people have clicked to here somewhere. How odd.

2012-12-28 17.34.02I spent the last 2 weeks in California, where my son is now. We went to Monterey, and I learned about jellyfish. How the medusa ( the jellyfish bit) is merely the wanderer for the polyp phase that just sits in insignificance, and spins off medusas when it thinks there’s a threat. So there is my son, the jellyfish, spun off to wander, while I sit here, the polyp. I wonder if the real polyp thinks, “Ooh, great job by me, sending them all off. Look how beautifully they swim.”  Notice on the picture (as in real life) you can’t see the technology, invented at Monterey, to keep these delicate creatures in captivity.

Tomorrow, back to school, where someone elses’ jellyfishes will be held captive in my classroom. The biggest thing I learned? Jellyfish are always “head-in” to the current, long strings trailing behind. They live a long time in the right conditions. I wish we had some hidden technology to keep the delicate creatures effectively – too often I feel we are shriveling them up into sad empty floaters.

I wish I could make their lives better, and send them spinning in beauty into a gymnastic dance against the current.

Oops, and I blame the polyp phase of course (don’t we parents always get the blame?)