The root of things

Posted on September 15, 2013


… welp, I’ll know I’ve transcended a threshold of blog popularity when I *don’t* see “square root symbol” (and how to make it online) in those “top reasons people found your site.”

There’s yet another twitter-conversation about the Khan Academy from teachers who don’t think much of it, several of whom think it can be “waited out.”   I hope they are right, but… the best reason I could have for waiting it out is the idea that any publicity is good publicity, *and* he’s got so much funding that it would be like trying to run for President. We can point out the egregious flaws in the math, in the pedagogy and have contests to try to generate intelligent critique and better ideas per — but he’s continuing his high-budget campaign and growing and promoting his wares to pretty much everywhere.   A big enough budget and that kiddo who pointed out that naked emperor … is forgotten with the next Sixty Minutes re-run.

HOwever, the idea that it’s a fad that will fade … doesn’t have any evidence to support it.   He’s pushing, pushing — and he’s got the funding behind it to generate “evidence” that things are “working.”   I’m sorry, but you can gather all the data in the world… and we get students who can punch the quadratic formula into their calculators and then ask (when checking the solution back in the equation)  me why the rules are different when the number is in the square root, because when it was a plain number, they multiplied the coefficient by x but when it was a radical, they “just pulled it out and put it next to it.”   Yes.   You see, you *can* plug things into the calculator that way and it knows to multiply — but the student thought something else was happening.   (THat’s just one example, by the way.   Every day I have students getting the calculator out to do things like mjultiply by negative one… that’s pretty common… or zero.)

In the KA world, that is cause for celebration because People ARe Passing Their Classes.   That is all that matters.   We all *KNOW* they couldn’t possibly make sense of the math. And my folks in 072… the ones who are kinda sorta starting to get how to find the perimeter and area of a shape?   We could teach them formulae, but … they do *not* know (yet) what perimeter and area mean, solidly.     We did have a pretty sweet session last Friday at algebra2go — one student actually got to “hey, I never thought of it like that before,” and could see the connection between subtracting to find a missing side was like unto 3 + x = 10.

I don’t think I can stop Sal Khan from believing he Has The Best Way, and rallying his adoring fans around him.   (The nuns who asked me what I thought of Khan Academy after they saw teh 60 minutes rerun  thought he was ‘glib,’ but didn’t think his movies made a lot of sense.   Yea, they’d been teachers. )

What I can do, right now… is see if I can figure out how to let students click on those perimeter and area problems and see them gridded out.   They were *really* trying to understand adding areas of different sections, but years of looking at numbers and trying to just Do SOmthing And Get THe Answer really get in the way.   WHen I added the grids to the rectangles and L-shaped areas, it helped.

Time to get out the Photoshop and make a visit to the Mary Ellen Carter Academy (a.k.a. the HOme For Battered Algebra Students) … and gather those notes together and study for tomorrow’s quiz in Java… and see if I can get a proposal in to that virtual STEMx thing in a few weeks… and figure out how to present things to the college to make the biggest difference… and see if I can set up the bicycle to be able to study while riding ????

Posted in: math, rant, Uncategorized