Standard 4: Measurement: FLUENCY WITH MEASUREMENT: Understand attributes, units, and systems of units in measurement; and develop and use techniques, tools, and formulas for measuring.
Topic: Measurement Attributes and Units.
Benchmark MA.2.4.1: Measure length using inches, feet, and centimeters.
Topic: Measurement Attributes and Units.
Benchmark MA.2.4.2: Identify appropriate units for measuring length, area, capacity, and weight.
Today, in my EIGHTH GRADE science class, I asked the students to complete a worksheet based on second grade standards. Working in pairs or groups of 3, the students were asked to use a meter stick to measure the length and width of objects around the classroom and then calculate the area, in meters. They had to measure the classroom door, the top of one of the work tables, one of the tiles on the floor, the entire floor area, and the entire wall area.
I know that some of them... okay, most of them... are still having trouble mutliplying decimals, so I expected some calculation errors in finding the areas.
I DID NOT EXPECT THAT THE STUDENTS DID NOT KNOW HOW TO MEASURE WITH A RULER!
I am not exaggerating. None of my students got correct answers. None of them. Not even the straight-A students. None of them knew how to use a meter stick, marked off into 100 centimeters, to measure something and write the answer in meters.
I clearly asked them for "meters." Over two-thirds of every class (six periods) asked me which side of the ruler they should use. They did not know which side was inches and which side was centimeters. I am not exaggerating even slightly. If anything, I am downplaying the stunning, mind-numbing ignorance exhibited by the students in my classes today.
The work table is about 152 centimeters long, which is 1.52 meters. Nobody got that. Nobody. Some of them got 152 centimeters, but they could not change it into meters. Many of them had no idea how to measure the table, because "the ruler isn't long enough."
Maybe I was asking too much. After all, this:
Topic: Measurement Tools and Techniques.
Benchmark MA.4.4.4: Estimate and measure surface area and volume using U.S. customary units and metric units.
... is actually a FOURTH GRADE standard.
Topic: Computational Fluency.
Benchmark MA.5.3.1: Multiply decimals up to 3 places and divide decimals by whole numbers.
... is a FIFTH GRADE standard.
But, like I said, I wasn't expecting them all to do the multiplication of decimals correctly... even though they should have MASTERED the concept three grades ago.
Tonight, as I REFLECT on my lesson today, what I would like to see is every HDOE administrator and policy maker, and every HDOE elementary school teacher FIRED! Every last one of them. Why? Because NONE of my students... not ONE of them, was able to correctly complete a simple exercise based on second grade standards.
There is a real problem with Hawaii schools. "Standards based" education is NOT going to solve anything unless the lower grade levels are held accountable for making sure the students are actually achieving standards.
Maybe it's a "leeward district" thing. Okay, fine. Fire the leeward district elementary teachers.
Some of the students knew that area = length x width. But they did not know how to find the area of the door, "because it has width and height, but no length." Some kids were measuring in inches. When I reminded them we were using meters, they asked, "how do you convert inches to meters?" "Turn the ruler over," I told them. "Yeah, but how many inches are in a meter," they'd whine plaintively. Which unit they used for their measurements seemed to be based, not on KNOWING which side of the ruler was which, but rather, on blind chance: which side of the ruler was facing UP when they started measuring. This, too, is not an exaggeration: I had numerous students writing the height of the door as 200 centimeters and the width of the door as 35 centimeters. (The door was 90 centimeters, or 35-INCHES, wide).
These are not remedial classes. These kids are going to high school next year.
I tried this lesson in part because of comments from some of the presenters at the "Career Day" held at the school a few months ago. Several presenters told the students that in the trades classes at Leeward Community College, they were finding that students did not know how to measure, did not know how to use a ruler, and did not understand measuring units.
Somehow, these kids are completing 8th grade without knowing how to measure things with a ruler. The 70% of them that graduate high school probably still won't know how to measure things with a ruler.
I remember when I was a kid, my dad would mark our heights on the wall in the bedroom, and every few months he'd measure us again to see how much we'd grown. He would write the numbers (inches and feet, back then) on the wall along with the date. These students, many of whom will have children of their own by the time they are 15 to 18 years old, won't be able to do that for their own kids. When a new baby is born, the announcement usually has the weight and length. Hawaii students won't know the difference between 21-inches or 21-feet, 21-yards or 21-centimeters. These are just meaningless words to them.
Today was one of the most discouraging, depressing days I have had as a teacher. This was worse than last year when I accidently discovered, at the end of the school year, that only one child out of 27 in my 4th-grade long-term sub class actually knew how to tell time (another 2nd grade standard).
I am very angry about this. I am not angry at the students, however. If the problem were confined to the "slackers" and "goof-offs," that would be expected. But NONE of them understood. My straight-A students couldn't do it. I was literally stunned when the top students showed me their pages full of figures, none of which were correct. I was nearly speechless.
I had one student... one... a barely-manages-a-"C"-average student, who had MOST of the numbers right... but NONE of the decimals. That was the closest I had to a correct paper. Out of 150 students.
This isn't the fault of the kids. It's too widespread, too universal. This is a serious failure on the part of the schools, and on the part of the teachers. Fire the elementary school teachers. They aren't doing their jobs. They aren't even CLOSE to doing their jobs. Half my students read below 5th grade level. None of my students can measure using a ruler. None of my students can multiply if there's a decimal in the problem.
Forget all these "cute" and "clever" lessons appealing to "multiple intelligences" and "learning styles" and addressing "GLOs." Just TEACH THE KIDS SOME STUFF!
I want to see an "all-or-nothing" assessment test at the end of the year for every grade level, from second grade onward, based on "I Can" statements:
I Can: fluently read aloud a sentence containing ten words of two or more syllables.
I Can: summarize the meaning of the ten-word sentence I just read.
I Can: look at a clock, tell what time it is, and explain how many hours and minutes it is until 5:00 p.m.
I Can: measure the top of my desk in inches; measure the top of my desk in centimeters.
I Can: measure the size of the door in feet and inches; measure the size of the door in meters.
And... I Can repeat the second grade until I achieve 100% of the second grade "I Cans."
Rubric: if student does not achieve 100% correct score, student repeats the grade. If fewer than 70% of students pass with 100%, teacher is on probation. If fewer than 70% of students pass for two consecutive years, teacher is terminated, not to be eligible for rehire until all PRAXIS exams are re-taken and passed.
This teaching thing seems pretty formulaic, pretty straightforwards, pretty cut-and-dried, the way it's presented in our education classes. Lesson plans, five Es, five Whys, scaffolding, engaging student interest, it all sounds like it should work. But you know what? You gotta TEACH 'EM SOME STUFF in addition to engaging, appealing, accommodating, formatively and summatively assessing, blah blah blah. Apparently, somehow, the "teach 'em some stuff" bit is lost as the students are automatically promoted through the grades, with lots of "hands-on" creative projects made of colored paper and string in their cute little portfolios all decorated with hearts and stars and stickers and smiley faces to show how much they've "learned."
They ain't learned jack, is what all the cutsey crap boils down to.
What's even more horrifying, if that's possible, is that apparently the parents are so ill-educated that they are completely unaware that their kids are cruising through school without learning anything. The reality, in much of Hawaii, is that the parents neither know, nor care. Apparently the teachers don't see it, either. Or they just don't care.
I can't wait until I reach the "I just don't care" point. Life will be so much easier.
I have postponed completing a massive unit plan assignment for my MAT 531 class that is due Thursday. I will have to finish it tomorrow. I might be doomed. But you know, at the moment I am so discouraged, that I really don't care. Almost.
Which might explain some of the behaviour problems I see in the students. Perhaps, on some level, they really are aware of how much they DON'T KNOW, how much they haven't learned, and how increasingly far behind that puts them. Subconsciously that pressure is there, that impending sense of doom as the "real world" draws closer and they don't have the skills necessary to deal with it. So they shut down, they withdraw, they stop trying and stop caring. I see it in myself, as this project falls due that I really am unclear on (I'm not the only one: most of my classmates are really struggling right now). I just don't want to do it. I know I'm hurting myself by putting it off, I know I'm just making it harder, I know I'm even less likely to succeed by postponing everything and doing a "rush job," staying up until 4am to finish it tomorrow night. But that's what I find myself doing.
What must it be like to be 14 years old and barely able to read, unable to understand the vocabulary in "Harry Potter," unable to tell the difference between an inch and a centimeter, unable to "times" two-digit numbers together, unable to add up the prices of items at the store because they have decimals in them? I guess I'd be giving up too.
I do need to say: thank you, Kendra; thank you, Jasmine; thank you, Kuriimupan-the-Younger, thank you for demonstrating that there are at least a few students who care about learning. And thank you, Kendra's and Jasmine's and Kuriimupan's parents, guardians, caregivers, concerned adults, teachers, and friends, for demonstrating that there are still a few competent and caring adults out there who know and care what their kids are doing, who show an interest, and who encourage learning as an integral part of successful, happy living. On days like this, you are where my thoughts turn, whether you're friends I know, "friends" I've never really met, or "friends" I've only read and heard about, for reassurance and faith.
Okay, enough sappy blathering and enough complex issues tonight. I need to try to sleep.