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!"