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Make Sense: Fight the Real Common Core Fight

It’s called “number sense.”

In mathematics, one of the core numeracy concepts is “number sense,” which is the perception and understanding of numbers and their relation to one another. For example, we know that 10 is different than 1, and 100 is different than 10. In our base-ten (decimal) counting system, we add a “place” to the left of a number once it reaches the next multiple of ten. When we were kids, we called them by name: “the ones place,” “the tens place,” “the hundreds place.”

However, this sense of “tens-ness” gets thoroughly lost when we start doing things like long-form subtraction. Modern mathematics pedagogues have developed new methods of teaching children how to compute algebraically while preserving and reinforcing number sense in a way that older, more traditional methods do not.

I watch meme after social media meme sail by these days, sometimes conflating 2010s-era “New Math” (sometimes called “New New Math”) with the the 1990s-era Reform Mathematics movement (also sometimes called “New New Math”) and the 1960s-era “New Math” movement, illustrated in a humorous half-parody by Tom Lehrer:

I see pictures like this posted all over Facebook all the time:

New Math Meme

The picture is idiotic, as is the sentiment. One attempts to illustrate a process (on the right) and one attempts to show the basic idea without process (on the left). If I showed you a picture of a flat tire and a picture of a changed tire beneath it, it would invariably look simpler than a series of step-by-step photographs illustrating the process of changing a tire. But that isn’t “the basics;” it’s a faulty comparison.

See, adults often have trouble realizing that the universe doesn’t revolve around them. They like to see learning as a process that mirrors the way they learned, and to see children as prototypes of them, instead of as the unique, capable individuals that we critical pedagogues insist (and rightly, truly know) that they are. I wouldn’t ask an adult to unlearn 30 years of understanding how to add and subtract and change an efficacious process to a new, foreign process, if the skill mastery is already there. Can you add? Yes. Does it matter how? No, not especially, so long as it works. Did you learn in a way that provided the best opportunities for you to have the best possible conceptual understanding of number sense?

Probably not. I didn’t.

Does that mean I don’t have number sense? No. Does that mean I do not or cannot have ever-better understanding of number sense? No. But modern mathematical pedagogues (who are rooted in good work, at least) don’t accept as a maxim that all mathematical understanding is or must be the same. There are many ways to approach computation and numeracy, and I find it absurd that Badass Teachers and educational revolutionaries would waste one breath of their time trying to fight against sound teaching methodology. I’m not taking a position that one way is better than another way, but I am suggesting that pedantic adherence to “your way” of understanding numeracy and computation may do your children a grave disservice.

I would much rather people who oppose the Common Core State Standards – and make no mistake, I do, because CCSS is irrefutably married to the Standardized Testing Industrial Complex, and is a recipe for the corporatizing of classrooms not the establishment of effective content standards – spend their time and energy fighting against the real problems of CCSS instead of perpetuating this nonsensical distraction.

Just my two cents. Maybe three, ’cause I really do know what I’m talking about. ;) (If you’re a math teacher, you get a nickel’s worth LOL)

The Test

I left my classroom to work for more kids. To help more teachers. To make a bigger difference. I wanted to be in more classrooms. To see more students. To change more lives. I thought “administration” would be different for me, that I’d be one of the good guys. That I’d support a cadre of thoughtful professionals, create conditions for thriving teaching and immersive, passionate, compassionate learning. I thought my days would be filled with “ah-ha moments” and laughter and effusiveness. I used to make music. I used to have a room, filled with a hundred young musicians. I used to have clarinets and saxophones and trumpets and tubas and cymbals and wind chimes. I had Rimsky-Korsakov. I had Kamen. I had Holst. I had art. I had moments. I made music. I made a difference. I had kids. How many kids do you see, now? How many smiles? How many ah-ha moments? How much positive change in the world do you see, from the floor underneath a table filled with the accouterments of the standardized testing industrial complex? What do you see? Where have we gone? What have we done? What are we doing? What the hell is going on…

( Emo though it may be, and bent though the meaning may be, my accompaniment for the day has been this Imogen Heap tune. )

IMG_20140516_140543_691 IMG_20140516_140535_288 IMG_20140516_115836_838 IMG_20140516_115823_985 IMG_20140516_115821_700 IMG_20140516_113922_139 IMG_20140516_113916_788 IMG_20140516_113904_469 IMG_20140516_113819_711 IMG_20140516_113813_333 IMG_20140516_113808_665 IMG_20140516_113748_924 IMG_20140516_113712_169 IMG_20140516_111411_624 IMG_20140516_104618_927 IMG_20140516_101738_598 IMG_20140516_101358_516 IMG_20140516_101311_306 IMG_20140516_101230_465 IMG_20140516_101215_637 IMG_20140516_101158_922 IMG_20140516_101129_907 IMG_20140516_101102_139 IMG_20140516_101045_837 IMG_20140516_095424_021 IMG_20140516_095417_368

Gender-Based Dress Codes Threats to Kids and Schools Alike

I have a difficult time understanding school districts that seem to invite having their names in potential Supreme Court decisions. It’s 2014. Wouldn’t you think that issues like “children and their gender” and “student First Amendment rights” would be worthy of at least a modicum of rational policy discussion? I would. But time and time again, elected officials and appointed administrators seem to believe that if they just bully children enough, they’ll go away, and everything can go back to being quiet.

Wouldn’t you think that bullying would be something a school would avoid? It’s 2014.

All the more surprising when things like this arise is the fact that nobody takes the time to even basically Google (or preferably DuckDuckGo) these things. Take for example a recent situation that crossed my desk in which a child was asked to wear the color of graduation gown opposite that child’s gender identity. Did you ask which gender? I bet not, because it doesn’t matter, does it? It matters that there’s a disparity between the child’s gender to the child and the child’s gender to the school. So let’s start with the most fundamental level, below the foundation of American Constitutional law, and start with fundamental inalienable human rights:

Who gets to say who you are: you or the government?

Conservatives and Liberals alike should love this issue, because as a public school is, by proxy of taxation, a government entity, Conservatives should adore saying “keep the government out of my personal life,” and Liberals should adore saying “treat all gender identities equally.” How is this even an issue? You know the reason why, perfectly well, but let’s move past that for a moment and get to the Law of the Land.

With my background in school administration and education law, I immediately thought that Tinker v. Des Moines might apply. It was Tinker after all that, over forty years ago, established in SCOTUS precedent that “[i]t can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

However, knowing Tinker was about peaceable protest and that I, as a reasonable school administrator (were I in a position that involved graduation management) would probably have decent latitude with reasonable restrictions at a major event, probably under Bethel v. Fraser(Note: I do not, personally, believe Bethel to apply to the case at hand and I think it’d be an absurd argument to suggest that a black robe instead of a white robe when both are officially approved is remotely the same as charged sexual innuendo in a graduation speech. Read the case law if any of that sounds interesting to you.) But other cases tried in Federal courts have recently shown that schools that participate in gender bias are, in fact, treading into the same Constitutional violations as Tinker used. Cases like Fricke v. Lynch that said a school can’t tell a boy he can’t have a boy date at the prom would seem to indicate that even at so-called “special occasions,” the school can’t participate in gender bias without violating student First Amendment rights. (If I were an attorney fighting for a student’s right to wear one color of gown and not another, I’d probably lead with Fricke, but I’m no attorney.) Flores v. Morgan Hill might also suggest that a school that knew that a student felt discriminated against on the basis of gender (in that case, specifically, sexual orientation) could be found liable.

However, I’m no attorney, so being unsure of the case law precedent, I fell back to a few other ideas. Would Title IX apply in any way? Probably not, but would it be worth getting an attorney to try the tactic? It might, and even if it provides no ultimately-compelling litigation legwork, it’s still damned compelling argument about how we don’t allow gender bias in our schools under Federal Law.

Taking another tack, I thought about the supportiveness of the parents. A parent could well claim Constitutional injury on Fourteenth Amendment grounds, having the right to raise the child as s/he sees fit. (Turns out, I’m not the only one wondering about that.)

In fact, these issues are in our courts – both legal and of opinion – right now. Last year in New Mexico, a transgender student was told he had to wear a “female” gown at a private school graduation. However, that was a private school, and therefore that school has more protection.

For two students named Alicia and Amber in Florida, I’m glad it didn’t come to litigation, but I do wish in 2002 we’d seen a court decision defending their right to wear graduation-appropriate clothing of the gender of their choosing, just like any other student of the opposite biological gender was being allowed to do. I’m also glad that the ACLU had prevailed twelve years ago when it fought this very fight and won. (I may not be an attorney, but the ACLU has them at the ready. If I were a student being bullied by administrators, I’d certainly consider talking to them. I bet Michelle Garcia agrees with me.)

All this is to say that I think it’s pretty shortsighted and self-defeating for a school to think it should just try to brush this stuff under the carpet by harassing the kid into “going away,” when there are replete examples of that backfiring big time.

Then again, I’m the sort of guy in schools that thinks kids should come first, and deserve our love and protection, not bullying for adult convenience.

The Hidden Cost of Placating Parents

The amount of time, energy, and resources we waste on trying to make mopey parents feel better, make angry parents happy, and brush problems under the carpet is staggering, but we never seem to want to face the hidden costs.

Teachers who are circumvented, who are ignored, trampled upon, brushed aside, plowed under, and thrown to the wolves burn out. They teach less effectively because they’re under massive stress, and more children suffer because of the parent(s) of one kid.

We insist too often in education on making concrete that which must be fluid. “My child needs X.” “My kid must have Y.” “You’re doing Z when you should be doing A, B, and C.” These adversarial, motto-riddled, emblazoned-in-granite-over-edifice conversations are contrary to any child’s best interest. Collaborative conversations between the primary observers and guardians of a child – the parents – and the trained, experienced professionals in child psychosociology, pedagogy, and development – the educators – can accomplish wonders when they work together, especially when paired with thoughtful paraprofessionals. (And I include specialized, degreed non-educator child experts like psychologists, therapists, and counselors in the “paraprofessional” category.)

But all the best intentions and opportunities in the world are for naught when higher-ups circumvent hard conversations for the sake of convenience. The vast majority of the time, I’ve seen teacher-parent relationships blossom because of mutuality: everyone has the child’s best interests genuinely at heart, and disagreements about style are easily overcome through substance. (Note to professional practitioners: Have your research in line before you walk into the room, or don’t ask me to back your play. You purport to be an expert in children by virtue of sitting on my side of the table. Know your stuff, or find another chair.) However, there are times when it is entirely appropriate to have an adversarial relationship with a parent. Specifically, when a parent wants something that we know beyond the shadow of a doubt to be contrary to the child’s best interests, we have an ethical and professional obligation to say “no.” At best, this leads to clarification and parent education. At worst, this can lead to due process hearings and legal proceedings.

So what? Let it. In short: Go ahead. Sue me.

You heard me. Bring it on. “I’m an attorney, sir…” I’m going to go ahead and stop you right there. Oh, what, you thought there was more? No, I’m really just going to stop you. I have no interest in what comes out of your mouth after you, as a parent, say something like that. If you’re an attorney, you know that our system of laws exists in a naturally-adversarial condition. It’s designed that way. Even “no fault” cases are often heard with plaintiffs and defendants, and involve evidence and process to guarantee that everyone gets a fair say. So I say, bring it on. If I know, in my heart of hearts, what I’m doing is accordant with the law, compliant with research and child science, consistent with best practices, and representative of the state-of-the-art of teaching, bring it on.

You always have a right to leave the public schools if you want what you think is best for your child despite the facts. (In my world, we call doing something you know to be wrong “stupidity,” but hey, I’m just a teacher. What do I know about definitions and meaning?)

See, I think we’ve sold our credibility down the toilet by placating parents. I’m not interested in complacent parents. Are you a parent? Are you pissed off at this blog post? Why? Do you want to be coddled and complacent? Do you want me to ignore the facts of modern child science when doing right by your kid? Or would you rather your child’s school be populated with people that constantly pursue, with unmitigated tenacity and unbridled passion the absolute bleeding edge of what modern psychology, sociology, pedagogy, medicine, and the multifarious content disciplines tell us to be best for your child? I’m not interested in making you happy, parents. I’m sorry if that busts your chops; I really am. I wish you’d believe me when I say I hope it’s a fringe benefit, but as an action, I could give two shakes if you’re “happy” with me as a teacher. What I want, more than anything that involves your ego, emotions, feelings, whims, thoughts, or aspirations, is what’s best for your child. Fortunately, 95% of the time, parents and teachers are on the same page about these things. I’d bet most of you have rarely, if ever, experienced a real confrontation with one of your kid’s education professionals.

But in the 5% of the time when a haughty know-it-all, an egomaniacal fact-flaunter, or a self-appointed homeschool-leaning dilettante decides to act or speak contrary to what we, as professionals, know to be best for the child in question, I say take it to the mat.

Do we fight stupid and unnecessary fights in our field? Absolutely. There’s stuff I desperately want to teach teachers is unimportant, useless, and counterproductive. There’s a lot of completely avoidable tribulation in our schools, and I’m neither blind to it nor unwilling to tackle it and make some fairly sweeping culture shifts to ensure we put down our baggage. But there are times when we’re right, you’re wrong, and it’s as clear as day to any objective observer.

The cost of placating parents when they’re wrong is worse than wasting massive time and energy and money that could be better spent helping kids. Make no mistake, tiny fraction of parents that put “winning the fight” ahead of respecting good educational science: you’re hurting your kid and many other kids with your shenanigans. The real cost of placating parents is that it hurts kids.

Usually, the kid hurt the most, is the kid at the center of the situation, and you know me: I will never acquiesce in the face of defending a child.

Disabling Outlook Desktop Alerts

Projecting our email onto a screen in front of kids could be problematic at times, as we may receive confidential information during class. Use the following steps to disable the Desktop Alerts in Outlook:

  1. Open the Outlook client software.
  2. Click the orange File tab in the upper left.
  3. Near the bottom of the menu on the left, click Options.
  4. Click the second options,  Mail.
  5. Under the third heading, “Message arrival,” locate “Display a Desktop Alert.”
  6. Uncheck “Display a Desktop Alert.”
  7. Click OK.


Flip Video to DVD (NBCT Portfolios)

Flip Cameras, like those we’ve used for National Boards recording at Yorktown, record video files in a digital format called MP4, which is very popular for mobile devices like Flips and iPhones. However, MP4 format is not generally compatible with many Windows programs, like the ones we want to use to edit for length and burn to DVD.

Step One: Copy Video Files from Flip Camera to Hard Drive

  1. Insert the Flip Camera into your computer. If you’ve never done this before, a program will launch to install the necessary software so the Camera and Computer can talk to one another.
  2. Click the round Start button in the lower left-hand corner of your screen.
  3. Click Computer.
  4. Double-click the Flip Camera, acting as if it is another drive.
  5. Double-click the DCIM folder.
  6. Double-click the VIDEO100 folder.
  7. Select all of the videos you want to use. You can click on one video, or hold down CTRL on your keyboard and click multiple videos to select them.
  8. Right-click the last video you selected, and click Copy.
  9. Minimize all windows until you see your desktop.
  10. Right-click on an empty area on your desktop.
  11. Click New.
  12. Click Folder.
  13. Name the folder something specific, like “Entry 2 Video.”
  14. Double-click the folder you just created.
  15. Right-click on an empty area of the folder window that appears.
  16. Click Paste.

Step Two: Convert from MP4 to AVI

This step requires the Pazera Free MP4 to AVI Converter program. To download it, click the “Direct Download Link” underneath the green button (do not click the green button) on the Pazera download page on C-Net. (Clicking this link will open a new tab.) When you install Pazera, read the screen carefully at each step to avoid installing programs you don’t want. When the screen says “Get any website or document translated…” click “Decline” in the lower left-hand corner. Click “Decline” on the next two screens as well. Then click “Finish.”

  1. Launch the Pazera converter.
  2. In the upper left-hand corner, click Add Files.
  3. Navigate to the Desktop, then into the folder you created in Step 1.
  4. Select the video files you want to convert. (Probably all of them.)
  5. Click Open.
  6. Two items to the right from where you clicked Add Files, now click CONVERT.
This will take some time. You may use your computer normally during this process, but you are encouraged to avoid playing videos or using processor-intensive programs like Photoshop. You should not close or turn off the computer or allow it to sleep during this process.

Step Three, Part One: Edit for Length (Optional)

If you recorded your videos precisely as you want to burn them, skip this step. If you need to trim your video to a specific length, such as “I want to use the portion of this video between 2:45 and 17:45,” then follow these steps.

This step requires Windows Movie Maker 2.6. To download it, click here. (Clicking this link will open a new tab.) You must be using Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8 to use this program. Click “Download” on the page that opens, and install the software.

  1. Launch Windows Movie Maker 2.6.
  2. If you see the “Show Timeline” button in the bottom right area of your screen, click it. If you see the “Show Storyboard” button there, leave it alone. The bottom of your screen should look like a light blue film strip that says “Drag media to the timeline to begin making a movie.
  3. Click File then click Import into collections
  4. Navigate to the Desktop, then into the folder you created in Step 1.
  5. Select the video files you want to edit. (Probably just one entry’s converted video.)
    1. Note: It’s important you select the AVI file you created in Step 2, not the original MP4 file you downloaded in Step 1. They may have the same name, but when you mouse over the files, only one of them will say “MP4.” That is the wrong file.
  6. Click Import.
  7. From the drop-down menu in the top center of your screen, find and click the Collection containing the imported video file you want to use.
  8. Click and drag the video clip from the center Collection window to the light blue Timeline at the bottom of the screen
    1. Note: For the next steps, you may need to use the Zoom In and Zoom Out buttons on the left hand side of your timeline. They look like small magnifying glasses with + and – icons.
  9. Place your cursor over the video clip that you just added to your timeline. You will notice when you keep your cursor still that a timestamp appears. Locate the timestamp you want your finished video to start with. In our example, that might be 2:45, so you’d move your cursor until you were hovered over 2:45. Left click once to place your cursor, which will add a black vertical line to your clip.
  10. Click Clip at the top of your screen.
  11. Click Split.
  12. Repeat Step 9 for the timestamp you want your finished video to end with. In our example, that might be 17:45, so you’d move your cursor until you were hovered over 17:45. Left click once to place your cursor again, which will add a black vertical line to your clip.
  13. Click Clip.
  14. Click Split.
  15. Use the horizontal scrollbar along the bottom of your screen to go back to the beginning of the timeline, all the way to the left.
  16. Click on the video clip at the beginning (leftmost) of your timeline. This is the beginning of the original video, which you do not want included.
  17. Press the Delete key on your keyboard to remove it.
  18. Use the horizontal scrollbar along the bottom of your screen to go to the end of the timeline, all the way to the right.
  19. Click on the video clip at the end (rightmost) of your timeline. This is the end of the original video, which you do not want included.
  20. Press the Delete key on your keyboard to remove it.
  21. You are now left with a finished video of the length that you desire, starting and stopping in the correct place.
If you are pleased with the audio level of your video, skip to Step Three, Part Three.

Step Three, Part Two: Increase Audio Level (Optional)

The NBPTS allows portfolio entry videos to be cut for length and to be amplified for volume. You cannot edit the videos in any way, but audio amplification is not considered editing. Click here for an official statement by NBPTS confirming this is true. (Clicking this link will open a new tab.) You should not amplify the audio unless you have to.
To the left of your timeline, you will see the word Video. To the right of the word Video is a small box with a + sign inside it. Click the + box.
You should now see two new rows, the last of which is called Audio, and looks like a white bar with light blue shapes inside of it.
  1. Right-click on the Audio track.
  2. Click Volume.
  3. Click and drag the Adjust volume level slider one mark to the right to increase the volume.
  4. Click OK.
  5. Press the Play button in your preview window (the media player all the way to the right) to check the audio level.
  6. If you need to adjust the level up or down slightly, go back to Step 1 of this section and repeat until you are satisfied with the audio level.

Step Three, Part Three: Exporting the Finalized WMV File

Windows Movie Maker 2.6 will save your cut-for-length, audio-amplified video as a WMV file, which we can use to burn the DVD.
  1. Click Tasks at the top of your screen.
  2. In the Movie Tasks menu that appears on the left, expand Menu 3, Finish Movie.
  3. Under Finish Movie, click Save to my computer.
  4. Next to Item 1., give your movie a unique name, like “Entry 2 Finished.”
  5. Next to Item 2., be sure you are saving to a location you can find, such as your Desktop or the folder you created in Step 1.
  6. Click Next.
  7. Be sure Best quality for playback on my computer is selected. It usually is, by default.
  8. Click Next.
This will take some time. You may use your computer normally during this process, but you are encouraged to avoid playing videos or using processor-intensive programs like Photoshop. You should not close or turn off the computer or allow it to sleep during this process.

Step Four: Encode and Burn to DVD

This step requires DVDFlick. To download it, click here. (Clicking this link will open a new tab.) You must be using Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8 to use this program. Click the yellow “Download DVD Flick” button on the page that opens, and install the software.

Insert your blank DVD-R in your DVD burner drive. Do not use a DVD-RW.

  1. Launch DVDFlick.
  2. On the far right, click Add title…
  3. Navigate to the Desktop, then into the location of the video you want to burn.
  4. Select the video file you want to burn.
  5. Near the top of the screen, click Project Settings.
  6. Click Burning.
  7. Add a checkmark to the box that says Burn project to disc.
  8. Add a checkmark to the box that says Eject tray when done.
  9. Click Accept.
  10. Near the top of the screen, click Create DVD.
  11. If you are presented with a red warning that says that the destination folder already exists, click Yes.
This will take some time. Unlike other steps above, you should not use your computer for other tasks during this step. You should not close or turn off the computer or allow it to sleep during this process. When burning a DVD, do nothing else with your computer.
When the process is complete, your disc will be ejected. Use a felt-tipped permanent marker to label your DVD neatly. For the NBCT process, you will receive labels to place on the DVDs as well.

Genealogy Updates

I am pleased to announce that I have significantly updated A Greyhound Sejant: Reeves and Their Relations, my online repository of my genealogy work. I am beginning a comprehensive photograph archive as well, which I will hopefully tie into the existing HTML resources.

Additionally, I’ve converted from Family Tree Maker 2006 to Family Tree Maker 2012, which enables realtime uploading to, where I will mirror my research for convenience’s sake. This should allow an entire new audience of genealogists and family historians to access my work.

Yorktown Update: January 6, 2012

If you’re not already familiar with the platform, is a web-based resource that allows your students (or you) to create 3D digital animation videos without any prior programming knowledge. By simply typing text and dragging icons, you can render pretty decent 3D animation.

As an example, I’ve created one starring a little digital ITC and a little digital Technician! This little video describes the difference between the ITC and Technician roles!

ITC and The IT Guy v2.0
by: reeveskd

A New Chapter Begins

It’s with great excitement and anticipation that I join the Arlington Public Schools and the outstanding, accomplished team at Yorktown High School as the Patriots’ newest Instructional Technology Coordinator. This is a high-standards, high-performing school with great expectations and opportunities.

I plan to continue blogging regularly here about issues, tools, projects, and opportunities that are salient to student performance, pedagogy and curriculum, and instructional technology, as an ongoing and collaborative resource for professionals both here and abroad. This is still my private blog, but I plan to post information that’s relevant to both my school and yours!