Thursday, 28 November 2013

About Khan Academy

I've been asked many times my opinion on Khan Academy.  My short answer is that it is a great resource for a student who is motivated and mature enough to first know what concept is giving them trouble; and then finding that particular concept, studying it and finally, practicing it and understanding it.
I think, in general -- Khan does not support self-learning.  It is more like working Pinecone booklets with the answer sheet nearby.  In fact, more than the answer sheet, these videos give the step-by-step solutions.  Even the most motivated students might be tempted to just watch the solutions and think they understand the concepts.
It is a constant balancing act to provide enough information for a student to have the ability to solve a problem, but not so much that they don't have any struggle to think and figure it out themselves.
This is what we try to do at Pinecone.  Please watch the following video about the Khan Academy.  I think it expresses my feelings and offers a great solution!

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Early Math in School

I just attended a conference with Silicon Valley Education Foundation on "The Importance of Early Math:  Why Educators Should Care."

I expected anecdotal or ad hoc data about why kids who learn their numbers in pre-school can get a leg up and do better in school.  I also expected to be skeptical about all the variables involved given the mix of cultures, economic status, backgrounds, family units, behavioral problems, etc. that can all have such a huge impact on a child's learning.

What I found instead, was broad-based research (national) that took into account these and other variables.  In a longitudinal study from the National Center on Education Statistics (NCES), researchers looked at mathematics achievement scores for children as they moved from kindergarten to 8th grade.  These national data show that children who begin school with poor math skills typically do not catch up.  This may not be earth shattering news, but there is more.

Studies also have compared social/behavioral measures (attention, for example) with early reading and math as predictors for success or failure.  

Rating the strengths of four predictors to success (finishing high school, starting college, and higher employment rate later on), the following order of effects was found

Anti-social   Attention    Reading             Math                     
0  x        x   10            x       20             30           x       40

Math was by far the biggest predictor of success.  The studies found that attention problems and anti-social behaviors are usually overcome and are not necessarily predictive.

Conversely, these predictors were rated on the effects of persistent K-5 problems on high school dropouts.  Results were only slightly different:

Attention   Reading  Anxiety    Anti-Social    _______Math_________________
0  x         x           x       x   10                  x               20   

Persistent math difficulties were found to be the major predictor of high school dropout.

The comparisons were done also for effects of persistent problems in these areas on never attending college and on earnings.  The reading and math problems moved ahead of the other factors, but math remained far out in front.  In other words, actual concrete math skills help kids earn more.

The take-away here is that, while we have generally accepted the importance of early literacy  -- parents embrace reading to their 1-year olds -- we are not very good at teaching our toddlers numeracy.  In fact, many do not believe it is important.  There is no implicit or explicit instruction for parents or even teachers to prepare kids from cradle to K in understanding their numbers.

What is early numeracy?  Here are the first-grade math skills children need to master for later success (defined by mastery of 7th grade math skills):

Ø  Numbers represent different magnitudes (five is bigger than four).
Ø  Number relationships stay the same, even though numbers may vary.  For example, the difference between 1 and 2 is the same as the difference between 30 and 31.
Ø  Quantities (example 3 stars) can be represented by symbolic figures (the numeral 3)
Ø  Numbers can be broken into component parts (5 is made up of 2 and 3 or 1 and 4).

So, in order to assure that first graders can master these skills, we need to start not at pre-k, but pre-pre-k, or three years old.  (This is what Pinecone does).

What do China and Japan do?  American kids start with a math gap at three years old.  This gap increases by the time they are five.  In China and Japan, there is also a gap at three (although the levels start higher), but this gap all but disappears by five years old.  These countries offer significant and effective intervention at three years of age and it works.

The US can learn a lot about intervention at pre-pre-k to pre-k which can link to intervention at pre-k to k.  Most adults can teach their toddlers numbers in fun and creative ways (count the cars, before and after, Chutes and Ladders).   They just need to realize that this is at least as important if not much more so than teaching them to read.  Both are important.

Common Core will raise the bar and without this awareness and effort in bringing the little ones up to speed in their numbers, the initial gap will only increase.  Fortunately, with adoption of Common Core, CA now has a significant budget for training teachers and for early learning programs.  Policy makers are looking hard at universal pre-k programs.  We can gain a lot of leverage with relatively little investment in quality pre-k programs and quality instruction.

Please contact me if you would like further information about Early Learning, Common Core, research sources, and additional free learning resources.  Of course, we will be glad to show you how Pinecone effectively teaches students starting at three how to "do the math!"

Monday, 28 October 2013

The Challenges That Our Children Need

I’ve just read a recent article – a brief interview – about the changes parents may expect to see in their child’s math homework next year with the new Common Core Standards.  While I did not think the article was particularly informative, I did learn from the comments (as is often the case).  Below is one of those comments (bold at the end is mine).

“(Common Core)… is definitely not dumbing down the math, it’s ramping it up. Someone who is (justifiably) concerned about US kids falling behind worldwide should be very glad to see changes like this one, because too many kids know *what* to do in math problems, but not *why* they’re doing those things or *how* those things work. A deeper understanding of numbers and their manipulation leads to smarter kids who can use math better, rather than just memorizing what steps to take for which math problems.

Kids absolutely DO need to be challenged in school. The more challenge the better! Facing educational challenges leads to more learning, more confidence, and more flexibility with knowledge. Remaining unchallenged leads to indifference, under-achievement, and less learning. “Learning what works” implies that only one thing works for a given situation, and that memorizing that thing is the answer. This leads to adults who can’t solve problems for themselves. Many different solutions may “work” to solve a particular problem; a child who can generate, evaluate, and apply a solution, then assess its efficacy, is more likely to succeed.

The challenge kids need, though, is not exposure to (and memorization of) a bunch of facts. Rather, kids need to be challenged to learn how to acquire the information they need, how to synthesize and apply information, how to predict and adapt to outcomes, how to generate and evaluate ideas, etc. If, in the midst of all that, they never learned fact X or fact Y, it will be a piece of cake for them to pick those facts up when they need them.

Friday, 11 October 2013

FLUENT READING – What is it and how to kids learn it?

Once students master the basics of reading (phonics, blends, whole words, full sentences),  they start developing fluency, or the ability to read easily and with expression. Fluency is what allows readers to read a sentence without stumbling over words, while still being able to understand what they're reading along the way. But reading fluency can be elusive for some young readers.

By the end of second grade, your child should be able to read with expression, pausing for periods, adding inflection in sentences that end in question marks or exclamation points, and reading voice and emotion into the characters in stories.

Into third grade and beyond, fluency is what helps children read and learn at the same time. But according to Dr. Marilyn Jager Adams, research professor at Brown University and author of Beginning to Read, “...the majority of fourth graders haven’t developed fluency and have to think about every word...,” so they’re not able to understand what they read.

Want to figure out if your child is a fluent reader? Ricki Linksman, director of the National Reading Diagnostics Institute and author of Solving Your Child’s Reading Problem, recommends doing a reading check-up. Ask your child to read aloud from a few books or magazines—a novel or chapter book, his class science or social studies textbook, or a favorite magazine. After he’s finished reading, ask him questions about what he read. If he struggles to read individual words, or isn’t able to understand what he read, help develop his fluency with these strategies:

Choose High-Success Books

"Kids should be reading with 99 percent accuracy," says Dr. Richard Allington, professor of education at the University of Tennessee, "or, they should only miss one word for every 100 they read." When you’re choosing a book with your child, have him read a page or two and hold up a finger for every word that he has trouble reading. If he’s holding up more than one finger, the book is too hard.

Take Turns: Shared Reading

Read books with lots of dialogue (for young readers, try The Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems), or take turns reading paragraphs or pages in books that are at your child’s reading level. "During shared reading," says Adams, "you’re helping your child understand the story and modeling fluent reading, while she is practicing recognizing words and spelling patterns."

Let Them Be the Librarian

Let your child choose what she reads—any print, including words on a web site or words on a recipe card, activates the reading centers in the brain and will strengthen her reading fluency. If your child wants to read a book that’s outside her comfort level, read it together, says Adams.

Practice “Deep Reading”

For some of your child’s reading practice, focus on what Dr. Timothy Rasinski, professor of reading at Kent State University and author of The Fluent Reader, calls deep reading, or reading the same material over and over. Make deep reading authentic by adding an audience. Bring poetry or play books home and have your child read his favorite poems or act out her favorite plays to you, her grandparents, and family friends.

Put Words to Music

Print song lyrics for your child to read along to their favorite songs, or encourage him to follow along with the songbook at your religious organization.

Add Audio

When your child chooses a book, get the audio recording as well. Have her read along with the audio recording until she can read the story independently. Or, make the audio yourself; Allington suggests recording your child reading a passage over and over so she can hear the improvement as she reads faster and with more expression.

Come Back to Correct

When you read with your child, don’t stop to correct words that he struggles with or misreads. If you interrupt every time he makes a mistake, he’ll listen for your correction, instead of listening for meaning. Write down any words he misses and return to them once he’s finished the chapter or story. Ask him if the word made sense when he read it and, if he can reread it correctly, great. If not, help him figure it out.

Pick a Topic

If you have an older child who’s struggling with fluency, she probably feels like she’s missed learning information because she can’t get it from books. So, let her choose a topic she’s interested in, then find books at different levels that are all about that topic. The difficult, technical terms (the names of the dinosaurs, or engineering terms) are the words she’ll pick up quickly, so as she reads she’ll be practicing word patterns and sentence structure.

Every time you read with your child it’s an opportunity to develop fluency, as well as a love of reading. So, when you sit down, no matter whose turn it is to read, make sure the book is one that your child won’t want to put down!

Consider Additional Help

Pinecone Active Learning provides an inviting and safe environment in which little readers can practice and master important reading concepts with careful guidance.  The reading program covers all the basics from beginning letter sounds for the pre-readers, through reading comprehension, vocabulary development and grammar for the continuing students.  The grammar and vocabulary portions have also been shown to greatly improve writing skills of Pinecone students.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Math – Number Crunching or Application?

The Common Core Standards address some of the discrepancies between how US schools teach their students mathematics and how students are taught in higher ranking countries (Finland, S. Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore).   In the US, math instruction is generally slow and easy for the first several years.  There is so little application and so much rote practice that many students never have the opportunity to learn to generalize their math knowledge. I believe this contributes to tremendous frustration (and confusion) for older students as they learn more challenging math. In addition, I see many schools whose standardized test scores look really strong in early-mid elementary grades but plummet in middle school. Lack of connection, lack of problem solving skills and lack of true mathematical understanding at the foundational levels turn kids off and set them up for failure.

In my years with Kumon, many of my  brightest students were happiest when they could  act as “number crunchers” and fly through their work. In fact, this is what the program promoted.  In Pinecone, I have found very few of incoming students, regardless of grade, feeling comfortable explaining their thinking. They simply know that they know the answers. It seems that the ability to put their thinking into words was never cultivated, and by the time they were 11 years old, they saw no need to put math into context. But isn’t lack of context, paired with lack of challenge what makes math “boring” for kids?

This is why Pinecone focuses so strongly on word problems, beginning with the T.I.N.S. series for the younger ones (Thought, Information, Numbers, Solution Sentence).  We require that students think through the problems, identify the processes to use, find the most efficient solution, make sure they have answered the problem, then check their work to see if it makes sense.

The Common Core Math Standards will shift focus from number-crunching to more real-world application.  I think eventually, this will engage students more strongly, and ease the transition from basic skills to higher math with all its applications.