Evidence for Textbooks? Evidence for Classroom Computers?

Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher:

Forgive me Larry & readers…I keep forgetting to reblog a post when I comment so my readers benefit from both, and subsequent discourse…kinda like how I still hand my credit card to a clerk and he/she frowns and points me to the reader in front of me, which I rarely see…

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“…it is the text that remains central to most, but surely not all, teachers’ lessons.”

As a fairly new mathematics teacher, I am stunned at how appallingly bad most mathematics text books are these days, chock full of distracting commentary, pictures, and other kaleidoscopic and kinematic-esque artifacts that dilute the value of a subject area that distilled over thousands of years.

Nonetheless, at the more advanced levels, I require my students to read their text and attempt homework BEFORE I mention anything about the content. I learned this at West Point in the early 1980’s using what is known as The Thayer Method, or with videos these days, The Flipped Classroom. In my day, black boards surrounded our classroom with white and other colored chalk and yard sticks in the trays for students to present their work while the “P” pondered Socratically.

Many of my youngest honors precalculus students and their parents despise me for it. However, I know it is the most effective method to instill in them the necessity to engage with text, technical or otherwise, as they learn how to learn along with the calculus or precalculus.

While I utilize a website for disseminating and displaying lesson plans and homework assignments, nothing surpasses the power of a well-written textbook as the fount of knowledge from which our students must drink.

Originally posted on Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice:

In the three part series on evidence for use of computer devices in classrooms I posted recently, one reader highly supportive of classroom technology questioned my focus on evidence by pointing out on his blog that  no studies had been done when textbooks were introduced so why should the introduction and use of electronic devices and their software be held to that standard. Here is, in part, what the reader said:

For instance, we spend a lot of money on textbooks. Is there evidence, research based, that paper textbooks are an effective teaching tool with today’s students? How about pencils? Pens? Air conditioned classrooms? The point is, there are lots of things we spend great deal of money on in education without asking if there is evidence to show that the program works. I have NEVER, in all my years in education, ever heard any school board or state legislator…

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The Striking Similarities between Teachers and Start-up CEOs (Aaron Schildkrout)

Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher:

I could not agree more with Aaron’s comparisons of a start-up environment (whether in the role of a CEO, VP, middle management, engineer, or accountant) and that of a “new” teacher.

My point of view parallels Aaron’s, yet is directionally opposite, much like a vector. I worked for 25+ years in high-tech, often at start-ups or start-up environments. Innovate or die was my mantra for those many years. I take the same passion to my classroom where I received a key to my classroom and a “good luck” from the administration. While I crave some outside support, mostly in terms of parental support, I know I am on an incredibly important mission that few understand, much less appreciate. To do so, one must have taught as if they were on fire, which is how I describe how one must feel if you really want to teach; otherwise, look elsewhere, as you will not survive, or our students will not receive the education they deserve.

Originally posted on Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice:

Aaron Schildkrout is a former Codman Academy charter school teacher in Boston and technology entrepreneur in creating a dating website, HowAboutMe. He is currently Entrepreneur in Residence at RRE Ventures in New York City. This post appeared February 9, 2015.

In this post he compares being a teacher to being the CEO of a start-up company, two positions that he has held. Explicitly, Schildkrout says that both roles, one public and the other private, are “strikingly” similar. Implicitly, however, in bridging both the private and the public sectors, he asks readers to take away a deeper lesson.  The dissimilar purposes of running a for-profit business and the purposes of teaching youth in a tax-supported public school are, he says, of little consequence. What really matters is not toward what end sbut how the job gets done.

When, six years ago, I made the switch from high school teacher to start-up…

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The Breakfast Club circa 2015

Nearly thirty years to the day after the release of the “quintessential 1980s film,” The Breakfast Club (1985), I served my first Saturday school detention, as a teacher.  Unlike the movie, over eighty students started off in our library this morning to spend four hours divided among three teachers; twenty-one students spent time in my classroom with me: the newbie.

Neither Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Anthony Michael Hall, nor Emilio Estevez graced our campus.  Yet, my students, in the eyes of some, represented each of the stereotypes depicted in the movie by their more famous counterparts quite well, as Brian (Anthony Michael Hall) penned in his essay: “in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions: a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.” 

Why Saturday School?

For me, I simply need the money, as my savings are depleted.  Making what I made in 1992 while still living in Silicon Valley with two teenage boys and a mortgage does not quite stretch as far as the income after tax I banked each month before I became a teacher.  Let me just say that I made more in a quarter than what I now make in a year.  For those of you who poo-poo teachers for not having to work hard for the money, what with summers off and all, I work harder, and more hours than I did when I worked for Motorola and Qualcomm, two notoriously challenging places to work in high-tech, especially post-Internet bubble burst.

Students serve Saturday school for various infractions to include excessive unexcused absences and tardies, as well as for behavioral issues.

The briefing from the resident expert teacher supervisor stated that students were to do the following during detention.

  1. Watch a movie for the first two hours (The Breakfast Club was not among them),
  2. Take a ten minute break at 10:00 AM, and
  3. Write two essays of 3-5 paragraphs each.

No phones were to be permitted or any naps.  While I enforced the former, I did not do so for the latter; students do not get anywhere near enough sleep these days.  Apparently one freshman felt very disappointed, as she came to my room with her sister since I looked like I was going to be cool about cell phones, however that might appear…  I did let her older sister sleep most of the morning though.  Oh, well, I guess you cannot win them all.

Students who had food to eat could do so while others noshed on my stash of Girl Scout cookies as many students did not have food with them.  However, students were permitted to head to either of the two veteran teacher supervisors to obtain a snack as there are no vending machines on campus.  Those teachers kept quite the country store in their rooms with Cup-o-Noodles, water bottles, candy bars, power bars, and other snacks.

Multimedia Madness

For the first hour, a comedy of errors occurred as I struggled to get the video projected for students to see.  My DVD drive on my five-year old MacBook stopped working a couple years back, so I brought in my dual VHS / DVD player from home.  A pang of regret  coursed through me as I attempted to connect the player to my LCD projector as I forgot the audio video cables at home!  Fortunately, a student asked if I wanted to use her MacBook Pro, to which I rapidly responded: yes!  Unbelievably, many of my students possess computers, iPhones, and even automobiles I can no longer afford.

For the next 107 minutes, with one ten minute break, Kevin Bacon and his Footloose (1984) costars danced across the screen in my classroom, which succeeded in deterring me from grading my AP Calculus AB test on area and volumes as well as my honors precalculus test on transcendental relations.  As such, I failed to fulfill the primary reason I volunteered to supervise students this morning in the first place!

Unfortunately, whenever a song from the soundtrack kicked in, or a specific scene presented itself, my mind wandered away from the calculus in front of me to 1985 when I first watched the movie.  My frequent outbursts singing, or simply stating the lyrics monotonically, led a student to comment that I seemed to miss that period in my life.  While I enjoyed reminiscing, I did not miss the 1980s!  The powder blue tuxedos worn in the show too pointedly reminded me of the awkward moments at my senior prom in 1982 where I wore cowboy boots, much like Willie (Chris Penn) might have worn.

Assaying Essays

After our break midway through the film, which I needed more than many students given the copious amounts of coffee I consumed, students commenced writing their “essays,” or responses to five different prompts asking students: 1) which food they liked most, 2) who they most would want to meet from history, 3) whether they liked to snowboard or ski the most, 4) whether they would go skydiving or some other extreme sport, or 5) what they did at the beach.  Note the decidedly California aspect to the prompts.

My supervisorial mentor suggested I skim the essays to ensure students did not take too much liberty and discuss illicit, profane, or other controversial behaviors.  Doing so provided me the opportunity to get to know some students more uniquely, such as one who loves salads and wishes to open a salad bar, one who wanted to have lunch with Hitler to let him know how much pain he caused the world, and one who loves steak (medium rare) as much as I do!

Most importantly, two sisters whose father suffered brain damage while serving in Somalia when a Marine, received a minor lecture from me that his injuries, which they said made him act crazily towards them, were something for which he needed their compassion and caring, and not the adolescent retrenchment they pursued.  Both of them wrote in their essays that they did not know what to write since they were tired given both were out until 5 AM partying, one a freshman and the other a sophomore.  My suggestion to one of the sisters who seemed most upset with her father: when she was ready, to give him a huge hug and tell him she loved him.  She choked up a tad when I finished, nearly shedding a tear.  I meant what I said to her and her sister, too.  I did not want them to regret their behavior, or worse attitude, towards their father if he passed before they could come to a more understanding position with him.  All of this was extremely subtle, and spanned one to two minutes maximum.  At the same time, it showed them an old man who taught mathematics knew a little about families, military service, honor, respect, and forgiveness.

Fist Pump

Fortunately, no one was locked in a closet, although a couple of students did ask me if their parents could bring them food, which I allowed.  I am no Mr. Vernon albeit a few of my sophomore honors precalculus students definitely felt that way last semester; it is much better now.  Trash can overflowing with soda cans, coffee cups, cup o noodles cups, sandwich wrappers, etc., I released students fifteen minutes early with their certificate of satisfactorily serving out their Saturday school detention.  I never had the opportunity when I was in school.  I will sheepishly admit I never knew it even existed at the time, which says a little about my naivete.

And what do you know, the digitally remastered film returns to theaters the end of this month for a limited 30th anniversary engagement from March 26–31, 2015.

Now for some Simple Minds.

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