Friday, September 18, 2020

Why Fix the Best School? Because It's Broken

The Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology is consistently ranked as one of the best public high schools in the country. We can debate the metrics that are used for such lists, but it's hard to argue with the results the school produces: Tons of exemplary students who gain admission to impressive colleges and universities and go on to amazing careers. TJ is a success.

So why would anyone suggest changing anything about the school? The table below shines some light on the problems.

Three things jump out at me from this table. First, Hispanic and Black students aren't even applying to TJ nearly as often as we would hope. Second, once they apply, the admissions test knocks many of them out of contention immediately. Third, it's an even worse picture for economically disadvantaged students. 

If you look at these numbers and think "Well, the Asian kids are just smarter," then we have different assumptions about the nature of race, so you can just move on. I have no reasoned response.

If you look at these numbers and think "Well, the Black and Hispanic kids are not as qualified (through no fault of their own), and letting more of them in will significantly dilute the academic strength of the TJ student body," then we can have a reasonable discussion (though I disagree with you). 

In a recent School Board working session, the Superintendent presented his TJ Admissions Merit Lottery Proposal, and I like it. For the first time, the admissions process can reflect the reality that many students could benefit from the rich experiences at TJ -- not just excellent test-takers. Most students who meet the new requirements (e.g., moving the minimum GPA up from 3.0 to 3.5) will be able to thrive at TJ. A few points: 

  1. The current system does a great job of identifying great test takers, but there is more to academics than test taking. I actually don't care about creating a strict ordering of everyone who can take a test well. It's important that admitted students be qualified, but more than 500 students in Fairfax, Loudoun, Arlington, and the other participating districts are qualified to attend TJ. 
  2. TJ teachers can figure out how to bring out excellence from students who took Algebra I in 7th or 8th grade and have a 3.5 GPA in their core middle school classes. Their classes will be SLIGHTLY less homogeneous, but not much. 
  3. More Black and Hispanic students will apply than in recent years. I would guess that many students of color haven't particularly wanted to go to a school where they are culturally alone.
  4. The TJ community will benefit from having more diverse perspectives and skill sets, while communities around Fairfax County will benefit from having connections to TJ. 
  5. For the class of 2022, 2 middle schools combined to send 140 students to TJ (about 40% of the county's total), while 15 middle schools sent too few to report (small single digits).

The lack of diversity in TJ's student population has inspired hand wringing before. One question that struck me from this article was from an alumna who asked "Why are her white peers just noticing the problems now?" Honestly, I suspect that the declining representation for white students is a significant trigger. Nothing gets the attention of someone with privilege like being underrepresented. There are probably other reasons including the increased emphasis on equity in our society, but I'm a bit of a cynic.

Here are a few bold predictions:

  • First of all, defenders of the status quo are going to lose their ever-loving minds. They will make impassioned pleas and defend the current system as the epitome of meritocracy.
  • If this merit lottery ends up being enacted and the number of National Merit Finalists goes down, those defenders of the current status quo will freak out again and say "I told you so!" My response: I'm ok with that. When you rely on a test for admission, then it is no surprise that those students remain good test takers. I will not judge TJ based on how many exceptional test takers attend. That merit is judged primarily by a single test is ludicrous and narrow-minded. What is being rewarded with the current system is test preparation.
  • Some families are going to move (or at least appear to move on paper) so their kids can have more favorable chances of selection. Any system can and will be gamed.
  • Academic achievement will rise a bit at many middle and high schools. All of a sudden, kids from underrepresented areas of the county will realize that they have a chance of getting into TJ, and will work to become qualified for the lottery. 
I applaud Dr. Brabrand and the folks at FCPS who put together this innovative proposal. It will improve educational opportunities and outcomes across the county, and will make TJ a better place to learn.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Tips for Working in Zoom/Webex/BBCU

Here are a few tips for people transitioning to Zoom or Blackboard Collaborate or Webex or Google Meets for the next few months (most notably teachers). 

Ergonomics: (You probably ignore this usually, but being on your computer 8 hours a day can expose all sorts of issues)

1) Consider an external keyboard. The angles your laptop force your wrists into aren't comfortable for everyone. Since I've been using a wireless curved keyboard with ergonomic mouse, the tendinitis in my wrists has been fine. 

2) Top of monitor should be right around your casual eye level. 

3) Your elbows should rest at a right angle when using your keyboard.

4) Consider a setup that can allow you to stand. I use an Ikea desk with a motor that allows me to switch between standing and sitting. There are other solutions, but being able to stand every once in a while is a good thing.

Prepare your A/V presence:

5) Get an external monitor, and keep your open laptop to one side. With two screens, you can use your laptop to keep an eye on chat or to preview what you want to show next.

6) Make sure your camera is close to the top and center of the monitor you plan to be looking at. That might mean buying a $39 USB webcam that you can position on top of your monitor. My laptop's camera is by the hinge, and the view up my nostrils is not pleasant.

7) Position your light source(s) near the camera. Avoid having lighting (especially windows) behind you.

8) Keep a headset with boom mic or earbuds with a mic on hand. The sound quality of your laptop's mic might not be great. I know the headset will mess up your lovely hair. Cry me a river 😉

9) If you can, use one browser for personal stuff and a different browser for work. For instance, keep Chrome for work and Firefox for personal stuff on your work machine. This makes it easier to keep your worlds separate.

10) Before you start sharing, always check your tabs. You don't want to over-share. On Chrome, F11 hides all the menus and toolbars.

11) I didn't think I needed it, but I like having my phone on a stand on my desk. It brings it into my visual space so I can leave it on mute and not miss anything critical. Google Messages and WhatsApp both have web apps that allow me to see text messages in a browser tab, which is even better.

12) Make sure the space behind you is not distracting and doesn't include any windows or other bright light sources. Just like with browser tabs, you don't want to provide more distractions.

Special note for teachers: I know this is new for many of you, but you can and will make it work. You don't need to be perfect. You just need to be present and  connect with your students. If all you do is show up, riff a bit, and get students to engage in a conversation, that will be amazing. If you are lucky and/or good enough to also have some coherent curriculum, then that's awesome. Keep it simple and show up. You got this!

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Helping Your K-8 Kid Learn Math

As many school districts plan atypical scenarios for the Fall, many parents are asking a couple important questions:
  1. If I want to homeschool, what curriculum should I use?
  2. If my kid is still "in" school, but doing a ton of work independently, how can I help them?

Choosing a Math Curriculum

Actually, I wish more people would ask what curriculum they should use. Many intelligent people imagine that they can just do it themselves or buy a book off amazon and get it done. It's not that simple. Curriculum matters, but where should you turn?

In 2012, New York state commissioned the creation of a really great set of curricula for K-8 Math and English Language Arts (ELA). The result of that effort is EngageNY, which is generally considered some of the best open education resources (OER) out there. When that contract wound down, part of the team that created EngageNY decided that they were not done, so they created UnboundEd.

UnboundEd has updated and extended the EngageNY product to create solid content with good focus, rigor, and coherence. Oh, and it's free. They are also really great people who care deeply about equity and confronting our implicit biases. For proof, check out their Bias Toolkit

For another perspective for grades 6-8, check out Open Up Resources. Open Up is newer, and perhaps less robust, but they have some good stuff.

There are other options. EdReports.org has reviews of many curricula, so you can certainly poke around there. That said, you could do a whole lot worse than leaning heavily on UnboundEd and sprinkling in a few things from Open Up (grades 6-8) and/or the supplemental resources listed below.

Getting Math Help

What if you or your student gets stuck on some math topic? Note that this is a really different need (and set of solutions) from the curriculum focus above.
  1. If you haven't checked Khan Academy, you haven't done a serious search. I would not use this as a curriculum, but the videos can help a learner get over a bump in the road, or can help a parent brush up on something they learned and forgot years ago.
  2. BrainPop is another good source of videos. There are a ton of others, and you can find many at OER Commons.
  3. Friends and family could help. Who do you know that is good at math? They are likely sitting at home, and would be happy to help and interact with someone new. Lean on your network!

Having the Right Mindset

Stop telling kids that they are bad or good at math. Carol Dweck and others have done and published a ton of research on this, but the core idea is that with VERY few exceptions, most people can become good/better at math if they put in the right effort. Instilling a static mindset by telling a kid s/he is good at math or bad at math takes away their agency. They need to know that effort is valuable and it can lead to getting better.

This isn't about participation trophies and orange slices. This is about rejecting the dysfunctional and wrong idea that our genetics have predetermined what we can be. This is about helping every student know that progress is important and within their control. Lifting weights doesn't inherently make you strong, but with the right program, effort, and persistence, a lifting program can help you build muscle. It's the same way with mental effort helping our math ability grow.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

An Alternative Plan for Fall 2020

Dear FCPS School Board and Leadership,

The current conflagration surrounding your proposed plans for this Fall suggest that some different ideas could be helpful. Here is one for secondary schools:

Monday: Virtual synchronous: periods 1-8
Tuesday: In school: Cohort A periods 1-8 
Wednesday: In school: Cohort B periods 1-8 
Thursday: Virtual synchronous: block periods 1-4
Friday: Virtual synchronous: block periods 5-8

Note: The above reflects input from a teacher who pointed out that having a cohort in school on a Monday causes several issues.

Advantages
  1. 4 days of synchronous instruction for every student
  2. Teachers only in building two days/week
  3. Easy to pivot to either all virtual or all in-school
  4. More time to clean schools
  5. Frees up secondary schools so elementary schools could theoretically take more space. I am not an elementary education person, so I will leave the "how" of that to others.
Part of the challenge your current plan presents for secondary school is that it is SO awful for students. Two days of synchronous instruction is simply insufficient. 

Another challenge of the current plan is that it exposes teachers to risk 4 days/week. My plan reduces that to 2 days. Another idea is to have teachers with medical issues be fully virtual, with an Instructional Assistant in the room to facilitate the in-class technology while the teacher is virtually present via video. Note that with the proposed plan above, this would only have to be done for Monday and Tuesday. 

I know that you are being inundated with complaints and suggestions and pleas from various fronts. I am not trying to solve a problem for my kid. I'm much more worried about a) the many students who really need more synchronous, guided instruction, b) the teachers who are worried about their health, and c) the families who are torn by two options they know will serve their students poorly.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

FCPS: Some Thoughts on the Plan for Fall 2020

A friend asked me what I thought of the FCPS Return to School plan for opening this Fall, so here goes ...
  1. There are no really good choices. The School Board and FCPS Leadership are all doing their best in a crappy situation. Further, school-based administrators, teachers, and other staff are heroes. They have been dealing with changing plans and guidelines for months.
  2. I totally understand the need to nail down staffing, transportation, and other resources, but it's pretty tough to ask parents to decide now whether they will be in school or fully virtual for the full year.
  3. On the other side, I imagine that more teachers will want to teach virtually than will be needed. Many teachers have health issues (either their own or their family) that will make dealing with the in-school Petri dish a worrisome idea. I totally understand that many people have been going to work, but a school environment is probably significantly worse than an office when it comes to germs.
  4. For several reasons, I still wish they had considered a blended approach. https://blog.docentlearning.com/2020/06/opening-fairfax-county-schools-this-fall.html
  5. Having teachers and other staff in the buildings so much, and with the cluster that was the experience this Spring, I fully expect many teachers and admins to retire in the coming weeks. There are many who are already eligible to retire, but have continued to work for myriad reasons. The threats this coming year will likely pose to their health, happiness, and sanity will tip the scales for many. 
  6. Staffing challenges will be legion. From a bigger than usual wave of retirements (see above), to finding subs, to figuring out who will teach virtually vs. in school, every school will have major staffing headaches.
  7. Child care is a huge issue on several fronts. Anyone with elementary-age children will have a problem. In particular, I worry about teachers who will have to be in school 4 days a week, and have elementary-age children who will only be in school 2 days a week. 
  8. Going back to #2... I dislike the idea of only 90 minutes of synchronous instruction for each secondary school class every week. 
  9. The Online Campus has a big catalog. I'd seriously consider looking through it to see if it makes sense for my kid to take a few classes that way. The experience might not be as good as the in-school experience, but a) the Online Campus curricula are designed for virtual use and b) the experience won't degrade if there is a spike in the pandemic that necessitates schools going back to a virtual setting.
  10. I think FCPS is already way behind where they need to be with staff training and curriculum planning. Having 60% of instruction/learning happen asynchronously is a huge shift that really requires training and collaboration. Not every teacher should solve this. Solutions need to be developed as teams and shared widely.
  11. I've got questions: What will happen with extracurriculars? What if we are out of Phase 3 and everything is basically open? How will the system navigate the likely changes in the Phases we're in?
That's all I can think of for now.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Opening Fairfax County Secondary Schools this Fall

Dear FCPS School Board and Leadership,

This Spring had its challenges. I'm not going to re-hash them, but want to praise the many teachers and administrators who still made effective learning happen for their students. I was impressed by and grateful for my daughter's devoted, talented, creative teachers.

Here are some thoughts about secondary schools as you plan to open FCPS this Fall:

1: Your Proven Online Solution: Use Fairfax's Online Campus to push many courses online that already have virtual versions. Perhaps the base experience for many classes could be shifted to the Online Campus course, with in-person instruction once/week (as long as health conditions allow) as well as weekly synchronous virtual class sessions (see below). FCPS has the content and infrastructure to make this work. Also note that leaning heavily on Online Campus will make it easier to pivot to all virtual learning if the health circumstances require it. 

2: Teacher Support: Teachers who will be blending virtual and in-person instruction need ...
  • Content that is designed for virtual/blended delivery. Few teachers have the time or expertise to create the depth and breadth of digital content that they will need to pull this off well. 
  • Tools for collaboration and for creating simple content (e.g., simple instructional videos).
  • Training in blended and virtual technology and pedagogy. Facilitating a course that depends on technology requires comfort with technology, but also with new pedagogical strategies. 
  • Time to plan and collaborate with their colleagues. For instance, there is no reason that each English 10 teacher in a given school should create their own videos. They should be able to share the burden and stay in sync. 
A few quotes from teachers:
"Asking teachers to reinvent the curriculum for online delivery is impossible and a fools errand...will...not...happen."
"... Teachers want to be prepared to help their students should virtual learning continue but we need help."
"Registration for the FCPS Academy course on online teaching opened at midnight on June 15th. The two sections filled in less than 4 minutes!! It’s summer break and hundreds of teachers are up at midnight to register for a course so they can learn how to teach online. By mid-morning over 100 were waitlisted,"
Without all of these supports, the system will struggle again, student learning will suffer, and FCPS will lose many talented, devoted, but frustrated teachers. 

3: A Blended Model: The scenarios presented so far seem to be either fully virtual or fully (in terms of synchronous teacher support) face-to-face. What about a blended solution? For instance what about using a variation of Scenario 2:
  • Monday and Tuesday: Half of students in school each day with 8-period day. 
  • Wednesday: Virtual periods 1-4 synchronous online
  • Thursday: Virtual periods 5-8 synchronous online
  • Friday: Intervention block
Some advantages of this blended approach are: 
  • More structured time for students. None of the proposed scenarios have students learning synchronously more than two days/week. My suggestion pushes it to three.
  • Less in-person contact time so that health risks are reduced.
  • Easy to pivot to fully online if health conditions change for the district or for a particular school, teacher, or student. 
4: Reaching Out for Guidance: K12, Inc.'s headquarters is right here in Fairfax County, and they have been doing virtual learning for close to two decades. K12's 100,000+ students include lots of ELLs and IEPs and special education and F&RL. It could make sense to get their input as you frame up virtual and blended solutions, including how to provide counseling, engage with families, and deal effectively with populations that have specific needs. K12 is far from perfect, but they have been doing virtual and blended learning for a long time, so they can probably help FCPS avoid some pitfalls.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Reopening K-12 Schools

As K-12 districts around the country weigh how they will reopen this Fall, they are still licking their wounds from a pretty tough Spring. 

What are some of the factors that schools are weighing (whether they admit them or not)?

Families: On one hand, K-6 schools play a vital child care role, and the importance of this role increases as socioeconomic status decreases. It's inconvenient when someone who can work from home has kids underfoot, but what about parents for whom their job can only be done on site? On the other hand, kids are vectors that can bring the virus from school to home. Navigating this lose-lose situation is not easy. 

Faculty and staff: Bringing students back puts the faculty and staff (and all their families) at risk, and some more than others. How can a school system deal with staff who have significant risk factors?

Students with special needs: This is a really broad category. This isn't just (or even mostly) about students who have physical challenges. What about those with IEPs and 504s that articulate accommodations they need? What about special education? 

Students without privilege: Some students have home lives that aren't compatible with distance learning. Internet access, child care, loud siblings, space, and a plethora of other issues make virtual learning virtually impossible for many students. Plus, there is a big difference between a student who has two college-educated parents working from home all day and a student whose parents have less education and/or comfort with technology. As our local district shifted to distance learning, I'm guessing that some students (like my daughter) shifted to about 60% efficiency. But less privileged kids undoubtedly dropped to 5% or less. Having gone through a third of a school year with this sort of separation will exacerbate opportunity gaps. Any blended or virtual instruction that continues into the next school year will compound (and I mean that in the strictest mathematical sense) the issue.

Students with knowledge/skill gaps created this year: As noted above, some students will have massive knowledge/skill gaps as a result of this year's challenges, but virtually all students will have some deficiencies. How will teachers address those? This mostly has to be figured out department-by-department, but school districts can provide some guidance.

Logistics: It's easy to say that schools should implement distancing, but how can they pull it off? Splitting an elementary school into two half-size cohorts isn't too difficult in theory (though it won't be easy to actually do), and I think you could pull it off in middle school. High school is really tough. One of the big high school problems is that you reshuffle the students after every period. You can solve it for 1st period, but what about 2nd? Someone much smarter than I will come up with some good solutions to this, but at first blush, the logistics seem challenging. Also, all this splitting and shifting creates all sorts of challenges for families (see above). Other logistical challenges include transportation, lunch, hallways, and classroom arrangement. 

Extracurriculars: What about sports and musical groups and yearbook and clubs? Without marching band, life is hollow and devoid of joy.

Virtual/Blended Learning: Many school districts will roll out some form of blended learning for some of their students. Also, districts probably worry that a spike in cases will push them back to pure virtual learning. 

Budgets: Most school systems will be asked to do more with less. Almost every issue above has costs, and many school districts will see their revenues decline. As a result, I suspect that many programs will be discontinued so districts can focus on opening safely. 

So... what should schools do? 
1: Blended Learning: The importance of this is two-fold: Blending can help reduce class sizes (which improves safety), and can help prepare for going to more virtual strategies. That said, blended learning needs to be used strategically. To make blended learning work, districts must:
  • Develop virtual/blended learning strategies that are flexible and effective. Among other things, this means finding the right mix of synchronous and asynchronous strategies for each situation.
  • Consider separate blended learning strategies for different grade bands and populations. For instance, special ed, ELL, K-2 students, and HS students taking an honors math class all have very different needs and capabilities.
  • Identify and buy high-quality virtual/blended curricula.
  • Make sure the IT infrastructure for virtual/blended instruction is solid and secure.
  • Give teachers training and time so they can learn how to make it work. 
2: Flexibility: How will you deal with a surge in cases in a particular school? What about a particular department within a school? Now is the time to do contingency planning.

3: Test-Trace-Isolate: No school or jurisdiction should open without a solid test-trace-isolate strategy. This May 15 article by Alex Tabarrok and Puja Ahluwalia Ohlhaver at The Washington Post: We could stop the pandemic by July 4 if the government took these steps lays out solid strategies.

Should be interesting to see how this plays out.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Reopening Higher Ed

As colleges and universities around the country weigh how they will reopen this Fall, various voices are being heard. Here are just two:
What are some of the factors that schools are weighing (whether they admit them or not)?

Faculty and staff: Students are generally young and have few preexisting conditions. On the other hand, faculty and staff are older, and many have family members with significant risks. Bringing students back puts the faculty, staff, business owners, and all their families at risk. Honestly, this seems like an OSHA issue to me.

Revenue: When I originally looked at the university bill I paid in January, I just focused on the bottom line: How much am I writing a check for? Now, I look at every line and wonder: Will there be an athletic fee if the gym is closed? What about the meal plan? If everything were virtual, the bottom line would be VERY different. For me, all of those are distinct costs, but for the university, they are all important revenue streams.

The higher education value proposition: I'm not going to wade too far into the "is college worth it" debate, but I found this article by Susan Svrluga at the Washington Post particularly interesting: Is college worth it? A Georgetown study measures return on investment — with some surprising results. One thing this points out is that not all schools (even within a particular university) are equal financially. Most vocational schools such as law and business and engineering will survive this regardless. Those departments that can go virtual well probably should. But what about schools of liberal arts? What about those philosophy and religious studies and sociology departments? They are in a tougher spot. Faculty in these areas care about their health, but they also like having jobs. Honestly, this probably requires its own blog posts, but what if I just go with word association: community colleges, gap year, University of Phoenix, the humanities make us human.

Students without privilege: Many students are barely able to afford college. They scrape by thanks to on-campus jobs and scholarships and loans. This upheaval will make the college dream unattainable for many of these students. Without a job in the dining hall or at the athletic center, some students can't afford to live on campus. On the other hand, some students have home lives that aren't compatible with distance learning. Internet access, child care, loud siblings, space, and a plethora of other issues make virtual learning virtually impossible for many students. It's a lose-lose proposition for them.

College towns: There is no Blacksburg without Virginia Tech. What about Ann Arbor without the Univeristy of Michigan? Oberlin, OH? College Station, TX? State College, PA? You get the idea. Hechinger Report has Little-noticed victims of the higher education shutdowns: college towns

Students with privilege: First of all, I have put students last because they (as a population) are not particularly at risk, and they are resilient. If they all had to live at home and do this virtually, most of them would figure out how to do it well. That said, I'm sure my son is not alone in wanting very desperately to get back to campus (I'm trying not to be hurt). 

Let's be honest and admit that faculty and schools come at this from radically different perspectives. Faculty care about the health of their families, while schools are confronting an existential crisis. Many schools probably worry that going virtual will crush their bottom line, degrade the educational experience, and open themselves up to competition from challengers they never had to worry about before. 

So... what should schools do? 
  1. No school or jurisdiction should open without a solid test-trace-isolate strategy. This May 15 article by Alex Tabarrok and Puja Ahluwalia Ohlhaver at The Washington Post: We could stop the pandemic by July 4 if the government took these steps lays out solid strategies.
  2. Blended Learning: The importance of this is two-fold: Blending can help reduce class sizes (which improves safety), and can help prepare for going to more virtual strategies. 
  3. Flexibility: How will you deal with a surge in cases on campus? How will you re-imagine your traditional gatherings? 
Should be interesting to see how this plays out.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Working from Home: Physical Setup

Many people are shifting to working from home. As they do, I see lots of people are shifting from working from their couches to setting up make-shift work spaces. Here are some tips that could help:

  1. Consider designing your space so you can stand at your desk periodically. It's a nice change of pace for your back. I have a pretty cheap Ikea desk with a motor that raises and lowers it, but you can also get a Varidesk or use milk crates or something similar.
  2. Get up and walk every hour or so. Do a quick chore or check the mail or something.
  3. Keep hydrated. If you use normal-sized drinking glasses, this can dovetail nicely with #2.
  4. If you start to get pain in your arms or fingers, invest in a wireless curved keyboard. I use a Microsoft Sculpt and love it.
  5. Setup your chair, desk, monitor, etc. so they are ergonomically sound. Mayo Clinic has some advice on office ergonomics
  6. Not everyone can locate their home office in a separate room like I can. Still, you need a space, and you should find a way to physically check in and out of "the office." When I started working from home, my space was in the family room attached to our kitchen. Not ideal, but it's all I could do at the time. To check in and out of the office, I would turn the monitor off. Though I could still check and reply to emails on my phone, having the computer/monitor off helped me set a boundary.

Pay attention to your physical work space. If you don't take care of your body, it will punish you.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Helping Your Kids Keep Learning: Math

As many school districts close for the remainder of the academic year, many parents are struggling with several issues:
  1. If the teacher isn't doing much, what should I have my kid(s) do?
  2. What are some good resources for math curriculum?
  3. What are some good resources for math help?

What Matters Most?

A: Not losing ground. Studies show that students lose a fair amount of ground in the summer. Imagine a summer that lasts 5 months instead of 2.5! Therefore, I really care about progress. Get them to do something that is close to grade-appropriate. I just don't want them to forget how to do math.

B: Being ready. This is tougher to do, but if a student is taking a course now that has foundational content for next year's course, then I care about those foundational skills and concepts. The trick is identifying those key things. Achieve the Core has really helpful Focus documents for each grade. Look for the solid green squares. These are particularly helpful for anyone in a Common Core state. It's not always so easy to identify the key foundation content, so you might need to reach out to a teacher or curriculum person for guidance. One of the important things to keep in mind is that not everything is critical. You don't need to jam it all in there. Pick and choose carefully.

C: Liking math. If your approach to being ready results in a student who hates math, then you've created problem. I know this is tough, but you need to find a way to keep them moving forward that doesn't spoil whatever affinity they have for math. Not losing ground is more important than being ready, and liking math is perhaps most important.

Math Curriculum Resources

If you are pretty much on your own for helping your kid move forward with math, consider going to UnboundEd and/or OpenUp. They have solid content with good focus, rigor, and coherence. Please avoid entering the wild west that is Teachers Pay Teachers. TPT has a ton of issues I won't go into, but suffice it to say that I'm not a fan.

Math Help

What if you or your student gets stuck on some math topic? Note that this is really different need (and set of solutions) from the curriculum focus above.
  1. If you haven't checked Khan Academy, you haven't done a serious search. I would not use this as a curriculum, but the videos can help a learner get over a bump in the road.
  2. BrainPop is another good source of videos. There are a ton of others, and you can find many at OER Commons.
  3. Friends and family could help. Who do you know that is good at math? They are likely sitting at home, and would be happy to help and interact with someone new. Lean on your network!
Progress is important, but don't stress anyone out. The current state of affairs is inherently stressful, and math shouldn't be part of the problem. I hope math can be part of the solution -- doing some math work could fit as part of a new daily structure that provides some semblance of consistency and normalcy. 

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Novel Coronavirus & COVID-19: Data, Models, and Visualizations

This is not intended to be a complete analysis of the current pandemic. Rather, I just want a place to collect some particularly helpful articles and resources.

About the Models

Why It’s So Freaking Hard To Make A Good COVID-19 Model Creating a math model for something as complex as infectious disease is not easy, but COVID-19 is particularly difficult. Fivethirtyeight.com does a nice job of walking through many of the reasons that creating good models for it has been (and continues to be) so challenging.

Don’t Believe the COVID-19 Models -- That’s not what they’re for is The Atlantic's attempt to get people to understand the nature of modeling.

Data Visualizations

Coronavirus Infographic Datapack by Information Is Beautiful is my go-to spot for nice graphs. The first one uses a log scale, and is a great example of when and why log scales are so helpful for making sense of exponential phenomena. Basically, anything that looks like a line is experiencing exponential growth. The steeper the line, the faster the rate of exponential growth.

Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count is from the New York Times.

Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases at Johns Hopkins' Center for Systems Science and Engineering was the first tool I used to track the virus' spread. I still find it helpful for digging into geographic centers.

The Blog Awakens

As we all come to grips with a new normal, lots of things that seemed really stable have shifted. Working in offices, going to school, hanging out with friends, and grabbing an Americano at my local coffee shop have either been eliminated or drastically changed.

Lots of these changes have pulled many people closer to my daily reality and experience. I've worked from home for several years, develop curriculum for distance learning, and have an active virtual network of friends. I miss getting an Americano and hanging out at my local coffee shop, but less of my life has had to shift than for many people (e.g., my wife and kids).

I'm awakening the blog so I can opine at some length about topics that could possibly be of interest or value to people who are trying to forge a new normal.

Why Fix the Best School? Because It's Broken

The Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology is consistently ranked as one of the best public high schools in the country ....