Teach Like a Champion

13th February 2020

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

This week, we’ll focus on K12, especially math. Next week, it’s back to our usual broad-ranging programming.

Book of the Month

Teach Like a Champion 2.0: 62 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College, by Doug Lemov, Joaquin Hernandez, and Jennifer Kim. It’s no wonder Lemov’s book has long been a runaway best seller in the world of teaching and beyond. It is, quite simply, the best comprehensive book on K-12 teaching we’ve ever read, with some of its lessons being worthwhile for instructors of any kind, whether in academia or business.

Lemov took an unusual approach to researching this book. He and his team took hundreds of hours of video of outstanding teachers in action so as to carefully watch and deconstruct their magic. In this way, Lemov is able to get a new perspective on almost everything imaginable about good teachingranging from the when, where, and why of giving little encouraging nods, to getting students enthralled in material, to the how to have that star quality that automatically captures students’ attention.  (Hintit involves what they call the military drill sergeant’s “command voice.”)

Barb can’t help but reflect on her many engineering and math professors who could have learned so much by reading Lemov’s book. In fact, one thing she finds interesting about learning and education is that academia, business, and K12 are often so dissociated from one another, even though each could benefit from the cross-pollination between different professions. Barb is often asked “So, what is your specialty in education?”  Her answer? “Academia and business and K12, because all three inform one another.” Her background as a professor of engineering gives her a fresh perspective that helps her see the difference between the fantastic in educationlike Lemov’s bookversus the fad.

Groupthink in K12 Reform Math Education

Barb recently received an email from a LHTLer asking: “My question is about this week’s email newsletter about math reform. As a high school math teacher (20 years) I am now getting gifted certified and find myself at a crossroads. It seems that all of the curriculum that I have been exposed to for my classroom does not use the methods proposed by you and Make It Stick. Saxon Math does seem to use retrieval practice, interleaving, and spacing. However, it is vilified online and disappeared from my public school circles. I used the books in high school and like them. … I have been feeling like I have been in an echo chamber. After doing LHTL and reading Make It Stick and Powerful Teaching, I was convinced that any program that incorporated retrieval practice, interleaving, and spacing and taught the content would be solid for kids.

“With my limited experience, the only curriculum that did that was Saxon Math. I was just confused how the three principles above are gaining wider recognition but that is not reflected in curriculum materials that I am seeing in the market.”

Barb’s answer was along these lines:

“I’ve heard great things about Saxon math from people I trust. It may not at first seem relevant, but here is a wonderful article about how Alzheimer’s research was thwarted for decades by those on high with other vested interests.  This kind of thing happens fairly often through many different areas in society, including, or perhaps most especially, in education.  Also of interest is Mancur Olson’s classic, The Rise and Decline of Nations: Economic Growth, Stagflation, and Social Rigidities. The book’s thesis is that the longer a society enjoys political stability, it becomes more likely to develop powerful special-interest lobbies. These lobbies make it less efficient economically. (A simplified explanation is in this retrospective paper.) 

“Probably one of the luckiest things to happen to me was to spend about a year working for the Soviets as a translator.  It can be impossible to believe that everyone around you can be wrong about major and obvious issues. But I saw with Soviet indoctrination how that kind of thing can easily happen.  I think we’re seeing some of that phenomenon playing out now in US school systems, where teachers are trained to believe only certain approaches work with math, and any other approach will destroy students’ creativity and ability. It doesn’t matter what evidence you might show to the contrary—teachers can’t help but feel that the beliefs of most other teachers, as well as guiding administrative bodies, just couldn’t be wrong. In this way, US reform math has become akin to the Soviet’s Chernobyl—just ignore or hide the evidence of the unfolding disaster and the problems disappear. Except that other countries reveal the underlying problem. The research underpinnings of some US K12 math programs have reached the level of farce.” 

“I put our own two daughters in Kumon mathematics starting at age three.  According to reform math educators, Kumon is a terrible program, because it ensures kids get plenty of practice.  The result? Our older daughter, who really struggled with math, just finished her medical residency at Stanford. Our younger daughter, for whom math came easily, became an artist—but she’s now getting her masters in statistics.  Kumon was great for them. A more up-to-date and powerful online program nowadays is Smartick.  I suspect Saxon will be terrific, even for your gifted students. You can always supplement if you feel they need more.”

The upshot of Barb’s discussion?

If you feel something is lacking in current approaches to teaching math, you are not alone. Read great books like Teach Like a Champion, Powerful Teaching, and Make It Stick, (not to mention Learning How to Learn) and meet with groups like ResearchEd, which has local conferences around the world.  You’ll find there is another world much more solidly grounded on science. And if you are a teacher, principal or superintendent who is trying to do great things for your students and teachers, please look towards those resources. You’ll find much to help you in your quest to go beyond trendy, ineffectual fads and truly make a difference.

Why is the U.S. K-12 education on a math-science death march and what can we do about it?

This fantastic video by Ze’ev Wurman, Senior Fellow, American Principles Project, explains the sleight of hand and subterfuge behind the development of  Common Core Math, and its disastrous effect on math education in the USA. As Jason Zimba, a key author of the Common Core noted “The standards are ‘for the colleges most kids go to, but not for the colleges most parents aspire to … [they are] not for STEM … [and] not for selective colleges.”

Basically, Zimba is admitting that if you let your child proceed under Common Core without additional external support (which only wealthier families can afford), you are setting your child up for lower quality schools, and allowing them to be unprepared for a career in STEM. (The video link jumps right to Ze’ev’s critical discussion of Boaler’s work.)

Why Has Jo Boaler’s Research Been Attacked?

This insightful posting by mathematician Robert Craigen provides further insight into how reform mathematics is increasingly being built on a house of cards. As Craigen notes: “Why do many mathematicians ‘attack’ [Boaler’s] research? I am familiar with the work of Bishop and Milgram, who several years ago presented a clear and carefully argued critique of the design and analysis of her well-known Railside experiment, upon which many of her educational propositions are based. In response, Dr. Boaler accused Bishop and Milgram of making a personal attack, and — to my knowledge; I stand to be corrected — has never responded to any of the numerous individual points of their critique, preferring to litigate it in campus tribunals and the court of public opinion.” Interestingly, education research has a rich history of sharing school-level data that contains no personally identifiable information. Not in Boaler’s case, however. We can’t help but consequently point towards the paper “Willingness to Share Research Data Is Related to the Strength of the Evidence and the Quality of Reporting of Statistical Results,” which found that researchers appear to be particularly unwilling to share data when they feel a reanalysis is more likely to lead to contrasting conclusions. 

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

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