Town Square

Post a New Topic

Finland's teens score extraordinarily high on an international test. American educators are trying to figure out why.

Original post made by Jane, Professorville, on Apr 22, 2008

High-school students here rarely get more than a half-hour of homework a night. They have no school uniforms, no honor societies, no valedictorians, no tardy bells and no classes for the gifted. There is little standardized testing, few parents agonize over college and kids don't start school until age 7.

Yet by one international measure, Finnish teenagers are among the smartest in the world. They earned some of the top scores by 15-year-old students who were tested in 57 countries.

American teens finished among the world's C students even as U.S. educators piled on more homework, standards and rules. Finnish youth, like their U.S. counterparts, also waste hours online. They dye their hair, love sarcasm and listen to rap and heavy metal.
But by ninth grade they're way ahead in math, science and reading -- on track to keeping Finns among the world's most productive workers.WSJWeb Link

Here's how 15-year-old students performed in the most recent PISA exams, tests of academic proficiency given in 57 countries. The average score was around 500 for science, math and reading. In each category, a perfect score is 1000.*Web Link


Comments (82)

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Kids
a resident of another community
on Apr 22, 2008 at 10:44 pm

Their kids go to school for at least 215 days per year, and for at least 1 additional hour per day. They have classes 'till 4:00 PM. None of this going home at 2:50 PM. For much of the year they go to school in the dark and come home in the dark!! Also Finland is a homogeneous society.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 23, 2008 at 12:42 am

Okay, so I can see the difference between U.S. society and Finland, but what about countries where the kids are also going to school all day most of the year--isn't this also the case in Japan and Korea?

And aren't those societies also homogenuous?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 23, 2008 at 11:23 am

Those highly educated Finns do socialized medicine. Is there a lesson here?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Greg
a resident of Southgate
on Apr 23, 2008 at 11:44 am

The Finns support nuclear power, and are currently adding to their inventory of plants. This proves that they are smart.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by PA parent
a resident of Stanford
on Apr 23, 2008 at 11:52 am

Finns don't have Bush/Cheney running their country into the ground.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Greg
a resident of Southgate
on Apr 23, 2008 at 12:19 pm

Actually, the Finns have been able to fend off the greens, who want to shut off nuclear power. Bush and Cheney support nuclear power, so they are in line with the Finns. Bush and Cheney and the Finns are smart.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 23, 2008 at 12:54 pm

Cheney and Bush support nucular energy? These oilpatch types promoting the competition? That's smart? C'mon. Looks like a couple of closet warmies to me.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Greg
a resident of Southgate
on Apr 23, 2008 at 1:07 pm

Ah, come on, Paul, Bush and Cheny DO support nukes. They are smart enough to know that money is to be made on both sides of the energy divide. But, I do appreciate that you now recognize nukes as part of the solution for the "warmie" issues.

Good job, Paul. Your intellect is maturing. This just proves that there is always hope!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 23, 2008 at 1:14 pm

To get back to the points made at the beginning of the thread, Fins are in school more days and for longer days at all age levels. We can't even get FLES without concerns of an extra 10 minutes a day longer and I wonder how many languages Fins learn at school.

No, we have to take education more seriously. We have too many field trips, too many assemblies for non academic reasons, too many parties/parades/specials. What advantage is a pumpkin patch trip where the pumpkins are not even growing, a halloween parade or a trip to a chinese restaurant to celebrate chinese new year? I know they make nice memories, but they do take away from instructional time in the classroom.

We can't expect our kids to compete well internationally when they are not spending the same number of hours in the classroom.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 23, 2008 at 1:21 pm

Because it is cold outside most of the year and the kids spend more time inside studying and playing board games which teach.

Demographics is another. The cold weather keeps a lot of the Third World Immigrants away


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 23, 2008 at 1:36 pm

"Ah, come on, Paul, Bush and Cheny DO support nukes. They are smart enough to know that money is to be made on both sides of the energy divide."

Well Greg, Cheney has made money peddling energy-related services, even if his sock puppet hasn't. Go Arbusto!

So now that the dynamic duo has hooked up with the Finns they must be all for socialized medicine too.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Greg
a resident of Southgate
on Apr 23, 2008 at 3:35 pm

Now really, Paul, George and Dick support nukes, just like the Finns. That makes them smart. However, this does not mean that they need to do something crazy, like supporting socialized medicine. Most of Europe supports socialized medicine, but only the Finns and the French are big on nukes. BTW, that makes the French smart, too.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 23, 2008 at 3:40 pm

I thought that this was going to be a good discussion, until the nukes and politics came in.

Our education system is appalling compared to the rest of the world and all that most of you are worried about is complaining about democratically elected leaders and educational red herrings such as health care and nuclear power. It seems to me that this is a great example of why the education is so bad, people care more about the big issues they can't do anything about instead of really caring about the schools and why they are failing our kids.

I hope the next generation sees education issues in a better light.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Free the schools
a resident of Monroe Park
on Apr 23, 2008 at 3:59 pm

Parent,

You say "people care more about the big issues they can't do anything about instead of really caring about the schools and why they are failing our kids."

Excuse me, are your really suggesting they we can do something about public education that is controlled, completely, by the government educational establishment, and the teachers'union? Are you serious?

When was the last time a public school administrator supported educational vouchers or even charter schools?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by What no Mandarin?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 23, 2008 at 3:59 pm

Do they teach Mandarin? If not, they're doomed.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 23, 2008 at 4:10 pm

Parent: You must be a newbie to the blogosphere; you take it and bloglodytes much too seriously. This is an intellectual sandbox; I like to come here for some comic relief from an intellectually demanding day job.

If you want straight-ahead, sober discussions of issues try The Economist or Foreign Affairs or the New York Review of Books or other of the serious traditional media. This is not the place for intelligent exchange and it cannot be.

On the other hand, if you need a break, switch off your brain and jump in. The blogodogs bark a lot, but they can't bite.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jane
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 23, 2008 at 4:29 pm



Every decade we compare ourselves to other school systems.

Maybe they get better results because class time is spent teaching and not on cultural sensitivity, self-esteem, how to resist bullies etc.

Maybe they actually let teachers be teachers and not require them to be social workers.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 23, 2008 at 5:06 pm

"Every decade we compare ourselves to other school systems."

Yep, and every decade the US has been on top of the world innovation heap. Go figure.

(Answer: Innovation is the product of a small group of very smart people who learn on their own, not the kids who are having any residual love of math and science being drilled out of them at the insistence of an ignorant public that failed its turn in school one or more generations before.)

In 1957 the Russians launched Sputnik and guess who the USA blamed for losing the space race? Yup, the schools. I was in 6th grade and I knew I had let my country down by not beating those Commie Russkies to orbit. Soon afterward I figured it out: grownups like to blame their failures on children who can't fight back, same as they like to borrow heaps of money to spend on big government and leave the bills to the hapless kids.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Monroe Park
on Apr 23, 2008 at 6:09 pm

"In 1957 the Russians launched Sputnik and guess who the USA blamed for losing the space race? Yup, the schools. I was in 6th grade and I knew I had let my country down by not beating those Commie Russkies to orbit. Soon afterward I figured it out: grownups like to blame their failures on children who can't fight back, same as they like to borrow heaps of money to spend on big government and leave the bills to the hapless kids."

Paul, do you have any idea how deeply disurbed, and self-pitying that comment, by you, is? You doth protest too much! Time to grow up.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by reader
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 23, 2008 at 6:16 pm

Oh come on. Finland has just over 5 million people, almost all of whom are native and speak the same languages. The city of Los Angeles alone has almost 10 million people, and more than half a million Limited English Proficiency students. Improvements we can make to our schools in the US will necessarily have little to do with educational systems in countries like Finland.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by FREEDOM
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 23, 2008 at 6:32 pm

Finland is a homogeneous society.

yes they are and that is a good thing - they don't have to listen to this d-i-v-e-r-i-s-t-y crap all day long. There is no physics problem in the universe that is concerned with black or white or purple.

You people keep it up and you will not have a country.

One day you will wake-up and find that your government has outsourced the US Military to China.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 23, 2008 at 10:14 pm

"Finland is a homogeneous society. yes they are and that is a good thing"

Ignorance happens, but why do some people take such pride in theirs, and right on the web for the world to see? Gives American education a bad rep.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by More languages
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 23, 2008 at 10:32 pm

Parent,

Someone else agrees with you that education is unfortunately secondary to other "big issues"... Web Link

Free the Schools,

Finland and other countries that score higher than the US, do not operate with charter schools or vouchers. You can find their formula in "What is taught in Finnish schools and how" (Web Link).

The first thing is

Emphasis on language study

Finnish schools emphasize the study of foreign languages. The first foreign language is introduced in the third form of comprehensive school and the second domestic language (Swedish for Finnish-speaking and Finnish for Swedish-speaking pupils) in the seventh form, unless the pupil has already taken up the second domestic language in the third form. These two languages are the minimum, and in addition pupils may, depending on the range offered by the school, opt for various language studies beginning at various form-levels so that they may have studied up to six different languages by the completion of upper secondary level. The most common foreign languages studied in Finland are English, German, French, Russian and Spanish.

There are immigrants resident in Finland with native languages other than Finnish or Swedish. The children of these families are given special instruction in Finnish as a second language. If there is a sufficient number of children with the same native language in a municipality, instruction in this language is provided with municipal funds twice a week. In Helsinki, for instance, there are 2,600 children of immigrant origin, receiving instruction in some 40 different languages. Children's proficiency in their native language is supported, since it promotes development and growth and helps in learning Finnish."


 +   Like this comment
Posted by More languages
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 23, 2008 at 10:44 pm

I just noticed that the title of the original post on Finland's high scores, says,

".........American educators are trying to figure out why"

I hope my previous post helps.

In the meantime I also recalled a Finnish friend's' impeccable Spanish. I think Finland has always been notorious for their language skills.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2008 at 10:46 am

What? No Mandarin? How can they be so remiss, so blind, so uninformed?

C'mon people. Are their schools good because they teach languages? Is this really what you're trying to argue? Don't be so naive. They teach languages because they have good schools that can and a society that is taking care of their citizens which enables the schools to be good. We don't.

We might want to start by trying to teach everyone English and see how far that gets us. Then we might also want to make sure every kid has something to eat for breakfast and lunch and access to medicine, immunizations and a doctor when they need it.

The 'achievement gap'is NOT an issue of race, its one of socio-economic status. Not until we start taking care of our kids will our kids start doing well enough in school to pass 'the exam'. The US achievment gap.

But the US chooses to blow up a billion dollars a day on oil wells in iraq instead of a billion dollars a day on healthcare, education, and otherwise taking care of our kids here at home. Its sickening, disgusting, pathetic.

And our answer to the US achievement gap is, Gee, we need to start teaching other languages, like Mandarin!" How can people be so mangled up in their reasoning?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by More languages
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 24, 2008 at 11:08 am

enough with bashing Mandarin. Whether it is Mandarin, French or Italian, knowing a second and third language improves literacy. Literacy leads to a better education, and an improved educational system leads to reducing the socio-economic gap. The question is simply, why are teens in Finland scoring higher on these tests, and as you say, they have good schools that can teach all children a second or third language. There is a connection, there is a connection


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2008 at 11:15 am

Yes it appears that they are teaching languages and many Finns speak several languages excellently. They are also teaching math and science, history, geography and their own native language which the teens are performing well in. Yes, we do need to improve our teaching of language starting with English and then perhaps moving to other languages which would be useful to us here, but undoubtedly, we need to teach math, science, history and do not forget geography which is another subject that is taught abysmally. Most US people talk about Africa as being a country not a continent, does that show ignorance of the most basic level of understanding world geography.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2008 at 11:26 am

Typical. Its not a bashing of Mandarin. Its a bashing of the thick headedness that would place a second language education (particularly for something as non-useful as Mandarin) ahead of the real priorities that face this nation. Perhaps the real reason the US is so far behind is because the adults in this country have a real lack of ability to reason.

I notice in the above post that the 'foreign languages' they study by requirement are actually the domestic languages of that country with the other foreign languages apparently optional. Hey guys, Finnish and Swedish are not forieng languages in Finland!

And " There are immigrants resident in Finland with native languages other than Finnish or Swedish. The children of these families are given special instruction in Finnish as a second language. If there is a sufficient number of children with the same native language in a municipality, instruction in this language is provided with municipal funds twice a week."

This certainly doesn't sound like they've made teaching foreign language a top priority IN THE SCHOOLS. Its supplemental. Wow, what a concept!!!!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Wondering..
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2008 at 11:32 am

More Languages - you seem to be quite familiar with educatino in Finland. In the public school system would we see many Spanish Immersion schools in Finland? Russian Immersion? German Immersion?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jane
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 24, 2008 at 3:39 pm



Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once puckishly said that data indicated that the leading determinant of the quality of public schools, measured by standardized tests, was the schools' proximity to Canada. He meant that the geographic correlation was stronger than the correlation between high test scores and high per-pupil expenditures.

Moynihan also knew that schools cannot compensate for the disintegration of families and hence communities -- the primary transmitters of social capital. No reform can enable schools to cope with the 36.9 percent of all children and 69.9 percent of black children today born out of wedlock, which means, among many other things, a continually renewed cohort of unruly adolescent males.

For decades, schools have been treated as laboratories for various equity experiments. Fads incubated in education schools gave us "open" classrooms, teachers as "facilitators of learning" rather than transmitters of knowledge, abandonment of a literary canon in the name of "multiculturalism," and so on, producing a majority of high school juniors who could not locate the Civil War in the proper half-century.Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by More languages
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 24, 2008 at 6:05 pm

Parent,

You don't have to worry about anyone putting an emphasis on language study in the US, as they do in Finland, other than US private schools. No need to lose sleep over private schools', as you say, "inability to reason."

Studying anything over one language provides benefits (even for the elderly), lucky that Finnish kids have multiple languages to work with. Their emphasis on languages is not "supplemental." Finnish kids reading Harry Potter in English (as per WSJ article) may sound normal, but try reading Harry Potter in Finnish.

Again, the topic is why teens in Finland score so high, and I'm making a reference to the above link "What is taught in Finnish schools and how," - the first thing is "Emphasis on language study", they seem proud of it. I don't think they mean to say it's in competition with Math or Science, or a native language. With this, I bid all... Adios


 +   Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 27, 2008 at 12:25 pm

Jane,

George Will is neither objective nor an education expert. Just a quick read of his column reveals some obvious holes.

Yes, SAT scores peaked in 1964. However, how much of the score change affected by a much wider range of students taking the test and going to college?

What, specifically, is wrong with being a "facilitator" of learning? It seems to me that you want to teach kids how to learn, how to problem solve, how to seek out information on their own initiative--and that these are better lifelong-learning skills than just accepting what you're told.

Or read in a George Will column. It's good form, by the way, to name its author up at the top and use quotation marks to make it clear that nothing in the post was actually written by you.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Aaron
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Apr 27, 2008 at 12:54 pm

OP,

My initial exposure to problem solving, in school, was problems sets. The ones at the end of the chapter. However, you seem to be talking about forcing individual initiative to solve problems, at least that is how I interpret your "facilitator of learning", in the context that you use it. This approach is often driven by project-based instruction. In other words, instead of learning the facts about Gettysburgh, just build a diorama of the battlefield.

Projects should be left to those students who want to join the science fair or history fair, etc. (and not forced to do so). Motivated kids will do a good job on their projects; the unmotivated will just get an ulcer, if forced to waste their time on one.

Do the Finns foist project-based learning (aka facilitated learning) on their children? Or do they teach them that this is a very competitive world, and if we (Finns) are going to prosper, here is what you need to know?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 27, 2008 at 2:59 pm

Just exactly my take on project based learning. I think the projects should just be an introduction to the real facts and the real facts are the learning of the ins and outs of the subject. I have seen hours of time spent (often by the parents not the kids) on projects like building miniatures of a California Mission, but they have learned very little about why the Missions were built or even why they were not a successful method of colonising California by the Spanish. I have seen wonderful re-enactments of colonial days and no real knowledge of the history of that time period. The kids may have learned a lot about how the every day lives of the people were spent, but nothing at all about the politics of the time and how that time period fitted into history along with the other historical projects they do.

Education is understanding of what is being taught otherwise it is just entertainment. If the subject matter is little more than one fun filled project followed by another, it is not going to end up really educating the next generation. This follows whether they are learning history, science or math. I have nothing against the entertainment factor if it is just part or introduction to the real deal, but if we can't teach them the real deal then the entertainment might as well be let out altogether.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 27, 2008 at 4:40 pm

Ummm guys,

Project-based learning isn't what you think it is--done well, those projects require learning facts and concepts. The idea is actually a little different--that a child (or an adult) learns and *retains* concepts by using them in a hands-on practical way.

To take an obvious example, which child is more likely to retain knowledge about the lifecycle of a plant? The one who listens to a lecture on it and sees a picture in a book? Or the one who grows a plant?

Kids have different ways of learning (it's one of the reasons that I don't harsh on Hoover--it's a good method for some kids.) Personally, I hold on much better to the math skills for which there are practical applications. In a well-done project-based learning environment, using math to solve practical problems helps with comprehension and retention. Math isn't isolated from real life.

What's sort of humorous to me about the objections to teachers who "facilitate" learning is that the idea of getting the student to figure things out through directed inquiry is a very old one--it's also known as the Socratic method. When a child does the steps to reach a conclusion, s/he understands it in a way that s/he will not if s/he's simply told the conclusion.

This isn't to say that there aren't bad projects--but that's a very different issue than the validity of project-based learning.

I wouldn't underestimate the role of "fun" or "entertainment" either--burn out the most capable student and you'll get long-term disappointing results. A child who loves learning and loves school will move forward on his or her own steam. It's a question of internal v. external motivation. Who's likely to be the better read--the student who dutifully reads everything they're assigned, or the kid who's learned to love reading for its own sake?




 +   Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 27, 2008 at 4:50 pm

In the Utopian world of an ideal school (possibly Ohlone, I have no experience), your take on project based learning may be the take.

In the real world of the rest of Palo Alto elementary (and beyond) schools, I have seen kids put under a great deal of pressure to perform their project, present their project, and learn nothing but how well their parent performs, designs, projects, against the next. This is particularly true at science fairs, but also in other hands on experiences. I have even seen ridiculous gadgets for high school physics being worked on by a couple of really gung ho Dads, while bored teenage girls sit back and watch.

Yes, I am sure that many do learn a lot from hands on approaches, but forcing high school girls to make some physics gadget just to get them through the class doesn't count.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 27, 2008 at 4:58 pm

Aaron,

Just to follow up--what is it that you think are the "facts" about Gettysburg? Why does it matter?

I ask because history is a difficult subject--the facts, in and of themselves, do not tell us much--history is very much about interpretation. There are many ways to analyze the Battle of Gettysburg and, indeed, the Civil War. We don't teach the Civil War well, in part, because the meaning of the War tends to be in flux. The history you're taught in Alabama will be quite different than the history you're taught in New Hampshire.

Are you teaching the Battle of Gettysburg in terms of tactics? Overall war strategy? Political history? Lincoln's presidency? The effect of technological innovation on battlefield casualties?

As for that diorama--well, if you were teaching tactics and troop movements, a good diorama can teach a great deal, which is why you see such things in museums.

A diorama may well be worth a 1,000 words.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 27, 2008 at 5:12 pm

Parent, I'm sure there are bad projects (Ohlone skips the whole science fair thing and has science night where all the dads can do their cool science thing without hiding behind their kids--much more straightforward, don't you think? <g>)

Project-based learning's been around a long time and it can work very well at the college level (where I first came across it.) Ohlone's no-homework policy also means that kids there do their own work. That, in itself, probably alters the benefit ratio somewhat--I think it also creates more realistic expectations about what kids actually do.

It's not a question of utopia, it is a question of having everyone on board. Since it's a central form of instruction, I think projects aren't seen as make-work throwaways--which, if I understand you, is your big complaint regarding them? The projects are a form of busywork. So are lots of things in school. Unfortunately.

That said, I distinctly remember doing experiments in physics class--balance pins and mirrors to understand parallax views. Science classes come with labs--i.e. projects. In college, it meant I wrote endless papers and took few finals.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Aaron
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Apr 27, 2008 at 5:29 pm

OP,

The essential history of Gettysburgh was that it was the major high water mark for the Confederacy. Lee was attempting to make a right hook into Washington, from the north. If Lee had won, and taken Washington, there would now be two nations, instead of one. It does matter, OP.

Dioramas of battle scenes will tell students very little, even if they are forced to produce them themselves. They would learn a lot more by memorizing the Gettysburgh Address...and even remembering who made it...and where...and why.

Project-based education is a waste of time for most students. It is one of several, unnecessary, neurosis disorders in the current educational establishment. Even if it doesn't rattle the kid, it will rattle his/her parents. Just get rid of this stuff!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 27, 2008 at 5:54 pm

OP

It isn't just the throwaway busywork of the concept I was talking about, rather than the compulsion to throw the whole family into a frenzy for a couple of nights before science fair, or mission project.

We had a mission project due just as my last child was born and another while we had a child in hospital with appendicitis. We had a science fair project this year due and at the same time there was no let up on homework, part of which was a long term reading project which we got behind with which was due the following week. This of course meant two weeks of frenzy to get the work done.

Also, I really strongly believe in getting my kids to produce these things with minimal help from me. However, over the years they have been so badly embarrassed at their work while their peers have turned in wonderful projects completely produced from parents. At one science fair I actually saw wonderfully presented step by step procedures that included the following "Step 1, ask Dad and Grandpa to help me" and Step 2, go to Radio Shack and buy the following list of supplies....."
If this is to be really a learning experience for the kids, then their displays should be made by themselves (some undoubtedly are), the projects themselves should be age/grade level appropriate and the materials should be found at home or with very little purchase necessary. While some are of this type, the great majority of these are not.

During one recent science fair, the presentation to the class made the following day by at least one child was, "I don't understand it, my Dad did the work and I can't remember what he said".

I am not knocking truly beneficial programs and certainly growing a plant is better than reading about it, but some of these home projects are an intrusion into home life way and beyond the call of normal homework projects. If the project is being done in the classroom and the teacher is using it as a tool then this is fine as long as the whole picture is taught rather than just the hands on aspect. But, getting families to compete against each other to create the best mission or the best artwork on a shop bought project is not teaching the child anything.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 27, 2008 at 6:16 pm

Okay Aaron, I can't stand it any longer. If you're going to pontificate on Gettysburg--spell it right. The rest of your post is filled with other basic writing errors. I gave you a free pass the first time round because everyone makes typos, but you make me wonder if you took too many multiple-choice tests and wrote too few papers.

Goes with your simplistic interpretation of the importance of Gettysburg--how the Confederacy lost Gettysburg and the time period in which it lost Gettysburg (at the same time as Vicksburg--heavy casualties at both) are key in understanding the battle. Fewer losses and no loss at Vicksburg would have altered the importance of Gettysburg. Those heavy losses? Well, that's largely because battle tactics were behind the technological curve. Also--and this is where an understanding of the larger social context of the war comes in--even if the South had won Gettysburg, it's not clear they'd have won the War. The South had limited manpower, the Union didn't. The North could afford pyrrhic victories, the South could not. The Union had the slower learning curve, but it could *afford* a slower learning curve.

Would constructing a diorama teach this? Some of the tactics stuff, yes, the rest, no. Would a standard history textbook teach this--again probably not. It would teach what you know--short shrift tends to be given to multiple interpretations.

Would a research project on Gettysburg teach this? Quite possibly. Research papers are also "projects" at a higher level. Your problem, in part, is that you don't understand what project-based learning is--to you, it's simply time-wasting projects.

Now, go proof your post and try again.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 27, 2008 at 6:29 pm

I have to laugh when I recall the 7th and 8th grade science projects back at Jordan, displayed en masse in the Cafetorium. This was several years back - I don't know how this is handled now. Some of the projects were made with items clearly coming out of professional labs (Stanford, I assume!) I recall some lovely lab equipment about 4 or 5 years ago - that dazzled everyone. It is true, for my younger child, some edict was issued that materials were supposed to come "from around the home..." I hope this is being enforced nowadays if they are going to make these projects learning experiences for the children.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 27, 2008 at 6:30 pm

Parent,

What you describe sounds awful. As I said, the irony is that the project-based learning school doesn't tend to do this because all projects start in the classroom.

That mission horror stuff has been going on since I was a kid. Ever read Beverly Cleary's Mitch and Amy? Then as now, California history is fourth grade--and Mitch, at one point, is trying to make Sutter's Fort out of toothpicks. Another minor character known as Miss Perfect has made a mission out of red-painted sugar cubes. It is rumored her mother helped her . . .

My fourth-grade teacher spared us that horror (my brother's didn't), so we were limited to a large mural of the Ohlone Indians rendering acorns edible.

Personally, I think the missions are one thing that do work as a field trip--read about it, see one, write something, be done with it, move on to the Gold Rush. Though the Ohlone Way on this one gets into native plants. Fortunately, I don't have to grow them.

I don't like the sort of stuff you describe because it is busywork. We're in agreement there.



 +   Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 27, 2008 at 6:35 pm

Didn't Addison cancel its science fair because it became insanely competitive and they couldn't keep the adults out?

One thing I noticed in that Finland school article--the kids are really independent and the adults aren't doing their work--very little homework (yes, I know, more time in school.)




 +   Like this comment
Posted by Aaron
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Apr 27, 2008 at 6:58 pm

"even if the South had won Gettysburg, it's not clear they'd have won the War."

OP, where did you pick up that little nugget?

If Lee had punched through Meade at Gettysburgh, it would have taken a supreme effort for Linclon to reorganize, in order to prevent his death or capture in Washington, D.C. Perhaps Grant could have declared marshall law, and taken over the government, in order to make a push from the west, but that is just speculation.

BTW. I like the original spelling of Gettysburgh. That is the spelling I learned from the old gentlement who taught me seventh grade history. He was born in the town.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by One missed point
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 27, 2008 at 7:51 pm

Lots of valid points here, and perhaps too many tangents.

But here's one the PC crowd will never mention.

Finland hasn't been invaded by Mexico.



 +   Like this comment
Posted by Shamus
a resident of another community
on Apr 27, 2008 at 8:23 pm

I like Ireland - Mexicans don't swim to Ireland.

The Finns have the Russians to deal with, Russian people good, Russian government/gangsters bad.

At least a good Irishman can out drink a Russian and a Finn and still spell shillelagh.



 +   Like this comment
Posted by One missed point
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 27, 2008 at 9:40 pm

Shamus,

I like China, indeed, all of Asia. Mexicans don't swim there either.

Our 20% Asian population is the only thing that makes our schools top notch. Asian cultures that revere scholarship and higher education for it's own value stand in stark contrast to the (properly) guilt ridden liberals who push their children to become robber-baron CEO's or social parasite lawyers.

The 21st century is Asia's century. If Palo Alto and Silicon Valley are going to prosper over the coming decades, it will require a "sea change" of social thinking.

Without it, we will be on our way to becoming EPA.



 +   Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 27, 2008 at 9:52 pm

Aaron,

So you can absolutely predict what would have happened if it had happened? Interesting, but flawed fundamentally.

I haven't said anything that is factually incorrect--the North and South lost similar numbers of men at Gettysburg--but the North had a longterm population (and industrial) advantage. The South's fundamental weaknesses were noted in a famous letter by Sherman at the beginning of hostilities.

A win at Gettysburg wouldn't have guaranteed winning the war for the Confederacy--losing it and Vicksburg did, however, deal it a critical blow. The North and South, as I've noted, weren't evenly matched. And the South lost capable leaders, while the North developed some. Basically, the longer the war, the worse for the South, the better for the North.

But, you see, you learned something in seventh grade from a source biased in favor of making Gettysburg look as important as possible. My interpretation differs--Gettysburg was important--but the loss for the South was more important than a win would have been. But then I think of the Civil War as something one continues to learn about and reconsider as time goes by. There's very little history that isn't subject to multiple interpretations. Pretty much any history we learned in school was pretty simplified--has to be, really.

As for your old-fashioned spelling, sorry, that won't wash anymore than would writing a post in Middle English. You're not living 150 years ago.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Another country
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 27, 2008 at 9:57 pm



"using math to solve practical problems helps with comprehension and retention" This is an unproven assumption that has driven one side in the long-standing debate over how to teach math. There is no evidence for this type of claim--just a gut feeling.

"the facts, in and of themselves, do not tell us much" Yeah, but the problem for American kids is not that they are incapable of interpreting history. The problem is that they do not know any history. They don't have a command of any facts which they can interpret.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 27, 2008 at 10:01 pm

One Missed Point,

Then explain why neighborhood elementary school scores in PAUSD reflect SOE status of the neighborhood instead of ethnic make-up.

PAUSD had high scores when it was lily white; it has high scores now. My personal observation has been that Asian immigrants are brand conscious--they move to districts that *already* have a strong reputation. They then reinforce that reputation, but they do not create it.

We have Mexicans in this country because businesses like cheap labor--Mexico's a cheap labor source. It's not accidental that there's been poor enforcement of our immigration laws under a very pro-business administration. If you think organized labor gets too uppy, you should want lots of poor immigrants.




 +   Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 27, 2008 at 10:17 pm

Another Country,

All American kids, eh? And you know this because? Oh, never mind, you don't.

No evidence? Funny, I found plenty when I bothered to look. Not surprising, really--math didn't evolve in a vaccuum. Are you *really* trying to argue that using math in real-world situations is irrelevant?

The fact that you acknowledge that there's debate within the teaching community over this indicates that there is, indeed, some evidence involved.

But, hey, prove that there's no evidence. Let's do some basic logic here.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Another country
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 28, 2008 at 8:55 am

"All American kids, eh?" Er, it's called statistics. You could look it up. Most high school kids can't locate the civil war (within 50 years). So, sorry, no, the last thing these ignorant children are capable of is "interpreting" history despite your towering confidence in them and their overweening self-esteem.

I do agree you need some help with basic logic. You didn't follow my claim above--scroll up and try again. (In particular, I didn't claim using real-world math is "irrelevant.") It's just that there is no solid evidence for claims of the sort you make.

As to the debate, in fact it has moved on: it's not either or. It's pretty well understood now that no amount of conceptual work and no number of concrete examples will help Johnny to memorize his times tables. (The over-reliance on this approach is one reason American kids do so poorly at math.) It's also clear that kids who get conceptual practice on top of basic drilling do great at math. (It's part of the reason for the success of Singapore kids in math.)

It'll take years for this to make its way into the classroom, though California has approved the Singapore math books for classrooms....



 +   Like this comment
Posted by GR
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 28, 2008 at 10:26 am

Another country, I'd say you need some help with grammar in relation to statistics and basic logic. In statistics, "all" does not equal "most" or "many". Although you have a valid point, it's lost in your patronizing tone. You lose more than a few credibility points by arguing about definitions that you yourself have wrong.

Incidentally, there are better ways to learn a times table than relying solely on rote memorization. One could argue that another reason American kids do so poorly at math is an over-reliance on rote memorization rather than building a solid conceptual understanding.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Another country
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 28, 2008 at 11:53 am

GR,

Urhm, have to say you need help with reading comprehension. Note I never said "all." That was Ohloneparent.

Also, those "ways" of learning times tables that are "better" than rote memorization turn out kids who are poor at basic math skills. There's just no substitute for memorizing them so they are second nature.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Another Engineer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 28, 2008 at 12:06 pm

"One could argue that another reason American kids do so poorly at math is an over-reliance on rote memorization rather than building a solid conceptual understanding."

Yes. Yes. Yes. You can drill 'em 'til you kill 'em and beyond, but they'll never come near the capability of a five-dollar hand calculator.

As the mathematician Richard Hamming (Google him) put it: "The purpose of computing is insight, not numbers."


 +   Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 28, 2008 at 2:02 pm

Another country made a blanket statement about "American kids"--so I asked him to qualify it--does "American kids" mean all American kids? The way he wrote his comment does not contain qualfiers--"American kids" does not mean "some American kids"--it's an inclusive phrase.

Another country, your writing needs work--it's imprecise. It's "Civil War"--if you care about it, capitalize it correctly. And if there are statistics, supply the reference. You made the claim, you support it.

As for memorization of times tables and understanding math concepts--what has that to do with whether using math to solve practical problems helps with comprehension and retention? It neither validates nor invalidates what I wrote, which was:

"In a well-done project-based learning environment, using math to solve practical problems helps with comprehension and retention. Math isn't isolated from real life."

Now, you leapt to the rather astonishing conclusion that this is the end-all, be-all of math teaching at a school where project-based learning is used. I said math is *used* to solve practical problems--I never said that math is only taught via practical problems.

Please learn how qualifiers work in English.

















 +   Like this comment
Posted by sue
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 28, 2008 at 4:19 pm



From Rev. Wright's address last night to the NAACP:

"Africans have a different meter, and Africans have a different tonality," he said. Europeans have seven tones, Africans have five. White people clap differently than black people. "Africans and African-Americans are right-brained, subject-oriented in their learning style," he said. "They have a different way of learning."


So does this mean we have to have different teaching styles based on the race of the students?

Do we need different schools?

And what about mixed race students? do we teach them 50% right brain, 50% left brain, or 25%- 75% etc etc


What utter nonsense, yet people believe this and Wright has made it legitimate. Bring on Ebonics immersion for PA VTP students?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by another country
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 28, 2008 at 4:47 pm

This confusion is the result of your ignorance and sloppy thinking.

To recap: you said the problem with history in the schools is that the kids don't learn to give multiple interpretations since "the facts, in and of themselves, do not tell us much." I pointed out that this is ludicrous to anyone familiar with the knowledge base of American kids. Since you were yammering about interpretations of the civil war, I pointed out that American kids don't know the basic facts (a majority of HS kids cannot locate the war to the nearest half century). The facts may not tell us anything, but without them we cannot draw conclusions.

So please, do flesh out your suggestions for how to elicit multiple sensible interpretations from kids who do not know what they are talking about.

Still waiting. Your suggestion is nonsense, of course, and the wrong-headedness has nothing to do with your far-fetched attempts to re-interpret what I wrote. You made a silly, uninformed suggestion.

As for math, you have again left the rails. My point was that the schools do not need any urging from you to teach math via practical problems. In fact, this (together with concepts) is the dominant mode of instruction. The problem is that this has supplanted drilling and rote memorization entirely, so that kids know what 123 times 857 means but cannot perform the algorithm with consistency. The whimsy that using only this approach (practical problems, concepts) is the best way to teach math is driven by gut instinct on the part of educators and not evidence.

Despite engineer, we do need more drill.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Another Engineer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 28, 2008 at 5:49 pm

"Despite engineer, we do need more drill."

You are quite wrong. A 19-th century education, as satisfying as it might be to ultraconservative educational theorists, cannot prepare students for 21-st century realities. Computers and calculators have made the process of number crunching trivial. It is the knowing what to compute that is important today, and that takes experience and insight which rote drills cannot develop.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Another country
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 28, 2008 at 7:17 pm

Rustle, rustle, someone's making a strawman: 19th century/ultraconservative/blahblah.

The point is not to train kids to ourperform calculators (speedy arithmetic). It is knowing what to compute AND giving them a good number sense, something that ONLY comes from lots of hands-on doing calculations and getting to know numbers intimately. No amount of chatter about concepts can develop number sense.

If you were right, the Singapore kids wouldn't be showing up at our colleges so much better prepared to apply math. (Creativity and initiative are another matter.)

More drill.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Engineer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 28, 2008 at 9:09 pm

This has become a slightly interesting discussion, vis-a-vis numbers fluidity and math concepts. IMO, it is not an either/or. Number facts, established through drill can enhance creativity, just like good footwork can help a ballet dancer interpret his or her art. In fact, I think that being quick with numbers probably helps the creative impulse. However, it should only start with numbers, then go into more complex math. Teaching set theories and n-dimmensional arrays, at an early age, will probably only benefit a very few students. JMO


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Another Engineer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 28, 2008 at 9:13 pm

Let's be civil. I could as well yell strawman over your little Singapore fiction, but I will stick to the facts from my perspective as a practicing electrical engineer.

Classroom time is far too valuable to waste on obsolete skills. 19-th century educational notions, however useful in their era, do not prepare students for today's world. Another country wanting to sabotage the US scientiftc-engineering leadership would push exactly this deadly "drill and kill" miseducation, to nip in the bud any interest in pursuing a science or math career.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Another country
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 28, 2008 at 9:24 pm

Strawman's back.

Your prescription for math is why we have problems now, why kids can't do computations. Lots of computation will give you number sense and provide a base for creativity. Feynman would agree with me.

As for Singapore, talk to anyone in engineering at Stanford--they'll tell you exactly what I said.



 +   Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 28, 2008 at 9:40 pm

Interesting discussion on maths, I lean a little towards both camps.

But, getting back to history, the same could be said. Take for instance the War of Independence. It is taught here in the US with one interpretation of facts. In Britain, the same facts are taught, but the interpretation and flavor is different. One would have to go to say Germany or perhaps, Finland, to get an unbiased interpretation of the same facts. So, teaching history needs facts but it also needs as many interpretations as can be found to get the best picture of how things really evolved, then you can put the slant you want on it.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Another missed point
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 29, 2008 at 10:04 am

One missed Point,

"But here's one the PC crowd will never mention.
Finland hasn't been invaded by Mexico."

Cute, you miss the bigger point, and one your ignorant crowd will really never mention. Mexicans were in this part of the world long before anyone else. Numerous Mexican families in both California and Texas have the longest lines of generations here. Illegal immigration is not the only reason Hispanics are here, the roots of Mexican heritage here are deep, and should be acknowledged. Invasion needs historical perspective. Next time you look at a Mexican face, in Texas and California, take a look at ancient history of this land. Texas does a better job of respecting these roots, AND they have better schools than California, and other states, despite all their Mexicans.







 +   Like this comment
Posted by Another Engineer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 29, 2008 at 12:42 pm

"Feynman would agree with me."

First a strawman, then a dead man. That's nice and safe. Neither can confront his accuser.

It's funny you should mention Singapore, because my 1966 college roommate was an engineering student from Singapore. He was very very sharp, here on a full-ride Singapore government scholarship, but had to overcome the baggage of a lifetime of rote schooling to learn the original thinking and problem solving needed get him through an American college education. He did. I wonder how many American kids recovering from the "back to basics" fads had to do the same.

If you're truly interested in Mr Feynman's approach to math and arithmetic you really should read his stuff. I highly recommend: Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman; Classic Feynman, All the Adventures of a Curious Character; and What Do You Care What Other People Think?: Further Adventures of a Curious Character. They are the furthest antipode from the traditional rote drill and kill I've ever seen. He very readably introduces what the D&K gang does not/will not understand: the insiders' computational methods used by mathematical physicists and many electrical engineers. Enjoy.

You could also try his professional-level publications, but you will find precious little at the "9 times 7 is 63, carry the 6..." level.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Another country
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2008 at 2:08 pm

Funny you should mention Feynman's books--you really need to look at his account of how he bested the top tech tool of the day (abacus) in a cube root contest, if memory serves. You'll actually find exactly the 9 times 7 stuff there--and his account makes clear that he was on intimate terms with numbers in a way today's kids are not because of the faddish conceptual approach to teaching math. Sorry, but I'm afraid he'd be the first to tell you to memorize your times tables.

Wow--you trot out an anecdote about a single person from 1966, and you want to hang an educational theory on it. Neat. Unfortunately, you've just made another strawman. Do note I was the first to indicate that Singapore's approach was not perfect and impacts on original thinking--so thanks for jumping on my bandwagon, but don't exaggerate.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Another Engineer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 29, 2008 at 3:17 pm

"[Feynman] bested the top tech tool of the day (abacus) in a cube root contest, if memory serves."

Good start. Now let's do the rest of the story. First, the top tech tool of that day was not the abacus, but the slide rule (I highly recommend a Pickett model N 3-T Power Log Exponential for precision cube roots). Feynman's foil was a street hustler in Brazil challenging unsuspecting marks to arithmetic contests against his abacus, as memory serves. Now, do you recall how Feynman did the cube root? Hint: can you say Taylor Series? (Hint to students: learn this math gem ASAP.) And for extra credit, do you recall (or even realize) what was specially contrived about the problem? Mathematics literates recognize it immediately.

"Wow--you trot out an anecdote about a single person from 1966, and you want to hang an educational theory on it."

I see what I'm dealing with here. The story is true, but I just related it as it happened. Any theory hung on it is yours. Spin is not truth. Bye.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Another country
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2008 at 3:57 pm

Well, you missed the point of the Feynman story: His win depended crucially on familiarity with numbers--he could not have won if he was slow with his times tables. No amount of theory will help you if you cannot apply it.

By top tech tool, you mean top tech tool you are familiar with. The slide rule is much slower than the slide rule, but I guess you're not familiar with it.

I'm glad you backed down on the Singapore story--it was more than a little silly to use such an anecdote in that way.

More drill.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by on Math debate
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 29, 2008 at 5:22 pm


Report Urges Changes in Teaching Math, NY Times March 14, 2008

Web Link

......"The report tries to put to rest the long, heated debate over math teaching methods. Parents and teachers have fought passionately in school districts around the country over the relative merits of traditional, or teacher-directed, instruction, in which students are told how to do problems and then drilled on them, versus reform or child-centered instruction, emphasizing student exploration and conceptual understanding. It said both methods had a role.

...For example, the report found it is important for students to master their basic math facts well enough that their recall becomes automatic, stored in their long-term memory, leaving room in their working memory to take in new math processes......"


 +   Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 29, 2008 at 7:25 pm

Another Parent,

You're still not really paying attention, are you? I mentioned a reason why a diorama of the Battle of Gettysburg might be helpful if you were studying the tactics of the war--which is one thing studied about the Civil War.

My point about the teaching of history is hardly unusual--anyone's who's studied history at the university level would be familiar with the issues I've raised.

By the way, I've actually *looked* at the Singapore math curriculum. It's not a bunch of rote drilling. It's one clear concept at a time, reinforced by practice *and* various tools to make those concepts clear (such as block groups--it's not dissimilar to some of the Montesorri methods, actually). Some Ohlone teachers are looking at it to see how to incorporate it. One issue with the curriculum is that it is dependent on teachers being well-trained to teach it--another indication that it's not a bunch of rote memorization.

So clear concepts grasped and then built upon. So what stands out about the Singapore math curriculum is *not* rote work, but the spareness and clarity of the texts.

Here's a quote from Wikipedia on its key features:
___________________________________________---
. An approach that builds upon succeeding levels, and assumes that what was taught need not be taught again. By contrast, the typical U.S. curriculum uses a "spiral" method of teaching that revisits at each level, so that each school year begins with a review of place value.

2. Frequent use of word problems, and the strategies towards solving them, rather than repetitive drilling. The assumption is that the drilling is being done elsewhere.

3. The use of bar-models in teaching problem-solving (a form of pre-algebra) rather than the trial-and-error methods being practiced in the U.S. national curriculum.[clarify] The bar method is a problem solving strategy which simplifies the list of 11 or more problem solving skills suggested by NCTM (Guess-and-Check, work backwards, make an organized list, make a table, use a formula, make a graph, draw a picture, etc). For more information click on the NPR link below.
__________________________


I find it interesting that with all your emphasis on facts, stats and rote memorization that you seem unable to provide any stats and facts. (I mean, I know you're not going to provide me with any info on the Civil War. The Civil War is pivotal and Gettysburg is an extremely important battle for a variety of reasons.)

Parent,

Well, it's not surprising that the American War of Independence in England is taught very differently than the American Revolution in the U.S. . . . I suspect you'll find that there are different spins in Germany and, particularly, France as well.

The war has one role in the study of American history, but another when considered in terms of European history. I wouldn't consider either *wrong*. I think for Americans, understanding the issues and political points being argued matters more than the military tactics (though they're interesting) simply because our country was created within this framework. We're its heirs.

From a European standpoint, I think the War of Independence looks like one of many explosions of unrest that appeared over the next several decades--a lot of things about the war and its oucome that Americans need to know just aren't that important if you're, say, Italian. (Let alone French.)

At the high school level, I think kids can handle the history of ideas--personally, I think exploring the old debates is one of the more interesting things about history.




 +   Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 29, 2008 at 7:26 pm

Oops, the first part should be addressed to another country, not another parent. The latter part's addressed to Parent.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Another Country
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2008 at 9:26 pm


Ohloneparent,

Dioramas?! You're completely lost. Actually, I would have to say it is unusual to suggest having children offer interpretations of an event about which they are uninformed. In fact, I would have to say it's silly. Why would you suggest it?

Yes, you're right, Singapore math is much more than rote drilling. It combines both rote drilling (and repetition of algorithms) with conceptual work and applied math. It only appears to emphasize rote drilling to you because your expectations are formed by what we presently have in the U.S., which has very little rote drilling. It would be a great solution for our schools.

The only downside I see is that the kids who come out of Singapore schools lack creative problem solving abilities--this is something that is apparent across disciplines, so I'm not sure how much can be laid at the feet of the math curriculum. In any case, creativity is an American strength, so perhaps we would not see those problems.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2008 at 11:00 pm

OP

I think you understand my point. My obvious example of how history is taught by the War of Independence from the different perspectives of US and Britain is of course obvious. What is not so obvious is the way history is taught between different parts of the US or even among different demographics. Since the Civil War is being discussed here, there is naturally more than one group of people or even States where different interpretations will appear. Those southern States may be biased in their slant and in the same way those teaching to say African Americans may have to be careful in the presentation also. Likewise here in California, when teaching about the Missions and the importance of the Spanish influence, we have to realise that many of the people here are well versed in the teachings and relevance of the Catholic Church whereas others have no idea what a Priest may do or his influence over the people. For this reason, history should be more than what it appears to be taught in 4th grade, a set of facts about one group of people trying to dominate another, and more about trying to understand why the priests and the Missions were actually trying to benefit the lives of the indiginous peoples and not trying to overthrow them or harm them.

History is a very subjective subject. The student of any historical event will automatically feel sympathy for one side of the event or the other due to personal factors in his/her own life. Therefore I feel that teaching history is one of the hardest subjects any teacher can teach if they want to do it well.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 30, 2008 at 1:59 am

Another Country,

Wow. You really, really don't read English well. Nowhere did I say Singapore math emphasized rote drilling. *Your* claim is that rote drilling of times tables is needed.

Singapore has high math scores--the technique they use to teach math emphasizes teaching concepts--not rote drilling, though that may occur as it *does* in the United States.

In other words, I said the opposite of what you claimed I said.

Since this happened with your other posts, I have to wonder how much you understand what you've read about math education in the United States or anywhere else. It's clear to me, for example, that you probably don't even *know* what project-based learning is. Ergo, your sneering at it is pretty meaningless.

Parent,

Yes, I think we understand each other on this one. History's a challenge to teach well, but it can be incredibly enlightening. My favorite history assignments always involved arguing one side or another of a historical debate.

At the elementary level, it is a challenge to do a decent job of giving the broad strokes. I've been thinking of your mission building--I can sort of see some sort of in-class construction effort--maybe--to get a sense of how the building were made--but it seems like a lot of effort for a limited return. Which is pretty much the definition of busywork.

Civil War revisionism is, in itself, an interesting historical subject. There was a whole field of literature that whitewashed much of the horror and worked on finding some all-American, very Caucasian picture with all those sentimental takes on the ante-bellum South.

I've had an off-and-on discussion with a Southerner for years about the Civil War--and, yeah, the war down there is very different than the war we were taught out here. I don't know if I'd even quite call it "bias"--though that's not inaccurate. There's a different emphasis--and, yes, a different empathy. His ancestors were literally fighting my ancestors (and my ancestors were fighting their cousins).

Regarding the missions and Indians--the motives were mixed, of course, there was desire to convert, but also a desire to have dominion (they teach the Spanish conquest very differently in Spain--it's considered Spain at its best and most glorious.) One thing that tends to be given short shrift is just how destructive disease was--measles wiped out 80 percent of the native Hawaiian population, for example.

Which gets into the whole issue of *which* facts are taught? Epidemics are a huge factor in history, but it tends to be underplayed with the exception of the Black Death (well, how do you ignore something that wiped out an estimated third of Europe?)

Historical interpretations go back and forth--the anti-colonialist view began as a corrective to the various versions of white man's burden that were taught earlier.

(Can you tell that history's a favorite subject of mine?)


 +   Like this comment
Posted by another Country
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 30, 2008 at 8:21 am

Ohloneparent,

The problem, clearly, is with your writing. Recall, you were the one who surprised herself by finding out Singapore math is not all rote drilling.

Despite all that, you still don't get it--it is not the case that "the technique they use to teach math emphasizes teaching concepts." They actually use both concepts AND rote drilling (along with a non-spiral approach), which is why their kids score so much better than American kids. You keep emphasizing the similarities with the American approach, how they teach concepts, but there are key differences, and one of them is rote drilling. You've talked until your blue in the face, but that hasn't raised American scores.

As for project-based learning, if you think I sneer at it, it's obvious you're unfamiliar with it. You keep making gaffs, backtracking, and contradicting yourself, so that it's difficult to discern whether you're making a point, retracting what you said, or falsely attributing views to others.

Bottom line is modified Singapore math would be great in U.S. schools, but failing that we need more drill.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 30, 2008 at 9:05 am

OP

Would love to chat to you one on one on this history aspect. I love history now, but never really enjoyed it at school which is a shame. It just goes to show how different a subject can be when you are learning it because you have to rather than watching the History Channel and really understanding a lot of what you previously knew or didn't as the case may be.

Going through 4th grade again, I can also see how a different teacher does a better job of teaching a subject when they have grown up in California and understand Catholicism rather than a newcomer to the state who tries so hard to be pc and doesn't even mention what conversion means. I have had one kid who thought conversion was done something like a battle and the winner got to choose whose religion won. It is a shame because as you said, the Spanish really thought they were doing something good for the locals and never realised that they were bringing in disease and destroying a culture.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 30, 2008 at 11:53 am

Another Country,

Sorry, blaming me for your comprehension problems won't wash. I post here a lot and few people have had the problem understanding my posts that you have.

Ergo, your problem.

Get back to me when you're ready to quit sniping and want to slow down and actually learn a few things--like what project-based learning actually is.

Meanwhile, adios.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 30, 2008 at 12:13 pm

Parent,

My recollection of fourth-grade history is that we learned about how the Indians processed acorns, glossed over the Spanish period really quickly and made a quick beeline for the Gold Rush.

And, yeah, it was really boring. But my experience was, with a few different emphases, pretty typical, I think. The tendency is to remove as much controversy as possible, but that, of course, removes most of the interest. I had one good history teacher in high school--and one of the things she did was to not shy away from controversy. She was, as it happened, the union rep and the course she taught was U.S. history with a focus on economics. I distinctly remember being the one kid willing to represent "management" during a debate.

I suppose some parents would worry that a teacher who had opinions would indoctrinate her students--but it wasn't like that--she made the subject come alive. I had this happen later in college as well--European history with a neocon professor. We never agreed politically, but I really cherish the intellectual history I learned.
Among other things, my study of 18th century Europe actually made early U.S. history interesting to me.

I mean, the Founding Fathers were a pretty radical crew--and quirky--it's amazing how dull we make them. We pretty much have to remove them from their Enlightenment context to do it, but we do.

California actually has an interesting history--and, unlike a lot of the states, it actually has direct ties to world history--what the Spanish thought they were doing here. There's a fascinating history of the Incas--yeah, I know, to the south in a major way--by the converted son of an Incan princess. He is both trying to abjure and commit to history his culture.

I like your kid's idea of conversion--sort of the sports approach. I think it's sort of what happened in early Medieval/late Roman Europe a few times.





 +   Like this comment
Posted by E PLURIBUS UNUM
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 30, 2008 at 3:37 pm



At least Finland does not have this math problem to solveLet X be the proportion of Muslims in a European country's population. Let Y be the proportion of Muslims among the prisoners in that country's jails. What do X and Y look like for particular countries? The Washington Post tells us.Web Link


Country X Y
France 12 60
Britain 3 11
Netherlands 5.5 20
Belgium 2 16

Why is this a problem? Well, for one thing, says the Post:

The prison system has only 100 Muslim clerics for [France]'s 200 prisons, compared with about 480 Catholic, 250 Protestant and 50 Jewish chaplains, even though Muslim inmates vastly outnumber prisoners of all other religions. "It is true that we haven't attained full equality among religions in prisons yet," said Sautière, the national prison official. "It is a matter of time."

A matter of time. Right.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Another Engineer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 1, 2008 at 10:59 am

Math literates everywhere are ROTF LOL at the above missive. It is mathematically meaningless. Whole numbers are not "proportions" of anything.


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Email:


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

I Told My Mom She's Dying
By Chandrama Anderson | 11 comments | 2,429 views

Easy Living
By Sally Torbey | 11 comments | 2,413 views

Grab a Bowl of Heaven soon in Mountain View
By Elena Kadvany | 0 comments | 1,695 views

Quick Check List for UC Applications
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 0 comments | 1,134 views

Campaign Endorsements: Behind the Curtain
By Douglas Moran | 3 comments | 724 views