Sunday, March 29, 2009

Performing: An Educational Capstone

If you have ever watched your kids--or your friends' kids--perform in a concert; have a role in a play; argue a position on a debate, mock trial, or Model U.N. team; have a bar or bat mitzvah; run a mile in a race; or speak at City Council or another public body, then


that there is nothing like an upcoming performance to encourage mastery of the material.
And, there is nothing like a successfully completed public performance to give kids confidence.
And--for parents, teachers, and coaches--successful public performances are a huge source of pride.

Although there is plenty of educational research that says all that, and more, most "public performances" in schools are associated with extra-curricular activities (i.e., sports, theater, debate club) and electives (i.e., music). For our "core curriculum," what is there? Would students do better in math if they had to somehow provide a public performance? What students do better in English if they had the opportunity to perform?

I think they would.

Well, coming right up are two awesome, and different, performance opportunities. Although these are both extra-curricular, they do tie right in to curricular goals.

First--Poetry Slam! (Teens and Adults) If you have never seen a poetry slam, it is basically a chance for local poets to perform their own work. Yes, it's a competitive environment--but it's also supportive. The poems are sometimes funny, sometimes heart-wrenching, and generally pretty high quality. These performers have already gotten to the finals. It should be a good show. Local teen poets and spoken word artists compete for the chance to advance to the city-wide slam finals and the opportunity to represent Ann Arbor at the 2009 National Youth Poetry Slam competition in Chicago.
2009 Ann Arbor Youth Poetry Slam Finals
Thursday, April 2, at 7 p.m. @ Neutral Zone, 310 E. Washington, Ann Arbor
Admission $5 students/$7 general public
The Neutral Zone's Creative Writing Director, Jeff Kass, has a day job as an English teacher at Pioneer High School.

Second--Science Olympiad! (2nd to 5th graders) A Science Olympiad is basically an excuse for elementary school kids to practice, and perform, science-related skills in competition with other teams from other schools. Think Puff Mobiles (build a "puff-mobile" and blow it across the room), Estimania (how do you estimate those M & Ms in the jar?), and Water Rockets (yes, that involves shooting things in the air). But it's not just about knowledge--it's also about teamwork, cooperation, and strategy. Kids practice for weeks--PRACTICE learning SCIENCE; parents and teachers volunteer as coaches. Then, kids PERFORM...SCIENCE. It is really fun to watch, even if you are too old to participate. (Bring your first graders to get them interested. It's also interesting to watch the different schools perform. Yes, schools do have personalities, and they show up along with the kids on Science Olympiad day.) It's also really nice to see schools from all over the county--public, private, and charter. Last year, there was even a team of homeschoolers. Washtenaw Elementary Science Olympiad has been growing, and growing. It has outgrown the space in the local middle schools, and this year will be held at:
Skyline High School, Maple Road
Saturday, May 16th (it is more or less an all day event)
Find out more about the WESO Wizards here.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I'm wondering

Community High School Dean Peter Ways is leaving. Jennifer Hein, Assistant Principal at Huron and former head of the Student Intervention and Support Services division of AAPS (yes, including special education) has been appointed the new Dean, effective July 1. Change can be nervewracking, and at a place like CHS, that is definitely true. I'm wondering--those of you who have worked with Jen Hein, what did you think? Is this a good move?

The AAPS budget presentation is available online here. (Warning--it is a very large pdf.) There is also a way to submit questions about the budget. I'm wondering--what are your good ideas for saving money? While strengthening the district, of course.

I did post some questions that I thought I might ask school board candidates. I'm wondering--do you have a few more suggestions for questions?

In other news: The Ann Arbor Open lottery occurred yesterday. There is no posted list to check. The second round of In-District Transfer applications will begin in April.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Upcoming Events and News

1. College and Career Fair, Thursday April 2, 2009, 6-8 p.m. at Pioneer High School. There are mostly small colleges, but also key larger state universities (i.e. MSU, U of M, EMU, WMU, MTU--yes, that's Michigan Tech). If you have a student ready to venture off into the larger world, this could be worth your time.

2. Willow Run Summit, Thursday, March 26, 2009, 6:30-8:30 at the Willow Run Secondary Complex (Middle School Auditorium). State and local educators will be present and the letter (downloadable from the web site) says that the deficit will be discussed, but other things will be discussed as well. Side note: Willow Run's deficit reduction plan has not been approved yet. But if you would like to see the company that Willow Run is keeping (vis-a-vis deficit reduction plans), here is the link.

3. Ypsilanti is searching for a superintendent. If you missed the community meetings but have something to say, you can fill out the input form and fax it before the end of the week (scroll down to the bottom to click on the link for the input form).

4. The Ypsilanti school district web site says that Michael Flanagan, Michigan Superintendent of Instruction, will be visiting the district on April 21, 2009--that is all I know so far.

5. Tech Tips for Parenting in the Digital Age, Thursday, May 6th, 7-8:30 p.m., sponsored by Washtenaw Area Council for Children. Details found here.

6. This Saturday: Washtenaw Children's Dental Clinic is offering $5 visits. Your child(ren) must qualify for free/reduced price lunch. Here is more information. (See also my earlier post about getting full medical coverage for kids.

7. Oh, and one last thing--on the blog roll I have posted a link to a blog that collects autism research. I thought some of you might be interested.

Monday, March 23, 2009


When I was in high school, my social studies teachers made sure that we knew how to fold the New York Times, in eighths, so that we could comfortably sit on the subway, or commuter train, and read the paper without making our neighbors uncomfortable. Yes, in the New York suburbs, that remains a useful skill.

Today I really felt that those days were gone. Or not--I will be subscribing to the New York Times (but I don't have a subway to ride). I will also be supporting the local news at the NPR affiliates, and the Ann Arbor Chronicle too.

I do like to sit down and read a newspaper, even though I also glance at the headlines on the computer. I also read a few blogs--but I don't rely on them for news. How much time can I spend on the computer?

More to the point, I don't think that bloggers like me (a.k.a. people with kids, jobs, and other hobbies in our lives) can approach comprehensive, in-depth reporting. For instance, someone today wanted to know if I had been to the Open Education Conference, and what did I think of Deborah Meier? Well, I didn't go. I had out of town guests, and the usual amount of carpooling, and the hope of planting a garden this spring. [I will, as I note below, happily post a summary of the conference if someone who did go wants to share it.] There are also a whole list of other meetings I didn't go to over the last few weeks--although I was able to tell you that they were going to happen. This blog is generally more like the editorial pages than it is news. And I'm not apologizing for that, either.

Where the Ann Arbor News went wrong was in thinking that the newspaper should cover summaries of global news. After all, I can get that at the BBC News site. What I can't get from the BBC News, however, is how the Huron women's soccer team did in the state finals; a summary of the discussion at the Ypsilanti school board meeting; or a comparison of local teacher salaries. Those require reporting. After 174 years (that's how long the Ann Arbor News has been around) I sure hope we continue to find some.

Do You Know An Uninsured Child?

This week is Cover the Uninsured Week. Do you know an uninsured child?
Kids who are sick, kids who are hungry, don't usually do very well in school.

For people with incomes up to 200% of the poverty level, there is public health insurance available for kids--and a lot of people don't know that you can enroll online!


[Women can also qualify for family planning and pregnancy health care at this site; sorry dads, but you are out of luck. Any (entire) family that believes it might be eligible for full Medicaid, food stamps, and/or cash assistance, needs to fill out the full Medicaid application. You can print out the application (DHS-1171), but you can't fill it out online.]

AND--if a child is eligible for health care through the Healthy Kids/MIChild program, then she or he is likely also eligible for the free and reduced price lunch program.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Look Out the Window: School Gardens

Three cheers for Michelle Obama, who is starting a Kitchen Garden at the White House, and involving the students at Bancroft Elementary in Washington D.C. I don't know anything about Bancroft Elementary, but I did like their Vision and Mission statement.

And--I found this very sweet, albeit outdated, web page on the AAPS web site. School gardens! Yes, many of the schools that are featured here still have them. And there may be more now. Take some pictures of the school gardens you know about, and send them to the AAPS webmaster so the site can be updated.

What can I say? Gardening is a great activity, and a lot of kids don't get outside very much, or know where their food comes from. Kudos to those schools with gardens. Keep up the good work, gardeners!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Attention! In-District Transfers Process Happening Now

A while ago I mentioned the in-district transfer policy. If you are not satisfied with the school you are districted to, and you didn't get into Ann Arbor Open (or that is not what you are looking for, or you are hedging your bets in case you don't get in), you do have another AAPS option if you live in the school district.

You would be forgiven if you thought the schools didn't really want to promote it. Like so many things, you need to know what to search for on the AAPS web site. And apparently this great option doesn't qualify as "news." And if you were looking for it, how would you know to call it the "Space-Available In-District Transfer Policy?"

EVEN THOUGH (yes, I'm shouting here) THE FIRST SET OF DEADLINES IS FRIDAY! MARCH 20. TWO DAYS FROM NOW. 5 p.m. To read the policy and get the application, click here.

I kid you not. Is this incompetence? Or are they trying to hide the policy?
Per the policy,
"Under the Space-Available In-District Transfer policy, families that live within the Ann Arbor Public School district may apply for a transfer from their assigned school (as defined by the Ann Arbor Public School Street Index) to one of the identified space-available schools. Families of students who receive these transfers are officially assigned to the requested school instead of their original school. If the transfer request is granted, students can stay for all grades offered at that school.

This year we will have two windows during which applications will be accepted and approved:
February 1 – March 20, 2009
with notification by the end of April
April 27 – May 29, 2009
with notification in June."
As of right now, these schools have openings.
Abbot Eberwhite Pattengill Clague - 10 slots
Bach Lakewood Pittsfield Forsythe - 10 slots
Bryant Lawton K-1 Thurston Scarlett - 10 slots
Carpenter Logan Wines K
Dicken K-4 Northside
Slauson - 10 slots

No high schools have openings via this policy. You can put up to 4 schools on your list.

The upshot is:
This is a good policy, and a lot of schools have openings! (More than half the elementary schools, most of the middle schools.)
I have friends who have used it, and been happier. Different schools do have different personalities.
This is a good policy, but it is being poorly publicized. The question is, why?

Questions for School Board Candidates?

I would like to ask the school board candidates some questions and post their answers on this blog--not the same ones that you would find in the newspaper!

Here are a few I have thought up. Please add to this list. (I am happy to expand this to other districts with competitive elections, just imagine these same questions with School District X in there.)

1. To parents who are wavering between sending their child to the Ann Arbor Public Schools and a charter or private school, what would you say to convince them to try the Ann Arbor Public Schools (besides cost)?

2. What specific ideas do you have for engaging parents and taxpayers in AAPS decision-making and governance beyond the child/school level?

3. What ideas do you have for making the AAPS web site more user friendly for parents, staff, students, and taxpayers?

4. Describe your personal approach to school union negotiations. What are your primary goal(s)?

5. What was your most influential high school experience (good or bad)? How does it influence your approach to the school board?

Monday, March 16, 2009

What He Said

The belief that all genuine education comes about through experience does not mean that all experiences are genuinely or equally educative.

Skepticism: the mark and even the pose of the educated mind.

Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.

Education is a social process. Education is growth. Education is, not a preparation for life; education is life itself.

All quotes from John Dewey, 1859-1952

(Though I quibble with that last quote. I think you could say that life is education itself.)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

AAPS and Committees

A recent article in the Ann Arbor News, found here, discusses racism in special education placements--an issue totally deserving its own post. Nationally, a lot has been written about that.

In any case, this line got my attention:
As a result of the state's directive, the district formed a committee to look not only at this issue, but also the broader issue of minorities being over-represented in special education.

Really? Why is this the first I've heard of it? Were parents recruited to be on it? Who is on it?

Want to be on a committee, board, or commission related to Washtenaw County government? Learn all about them here. You can find out who is on the various committees, and what the vacancies are. And it's only three clicks from the home page.

Want to be on a committee, board, or commission related to the City of Ann Arbor? Learn all about them here. It took a little longer to find the right page (it's not as clearly labelled), but four clicks from the home page, and I was there, and you can find out about vacancies too.

Want to be on a committee for the Ann Arbor Public Schools? A committee that has broader reach than, say, the school your kids go to? For instance, I had heard there was one, previously, addressing racial disparities, but I couldn't find it on the web site. There were only a couple of committees I could find. Under "Especially for Parents," I scrolled way down to Organizations/Departments, and found the PTO Thrift Shop (thrift shop committee), the PTO Council (association of PTOs), and the Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee (more on that in a minute).

Are there committees on racial disparities? Finance? Music and arts? Athletics? I'm not saying those committees don't exist, but if they do, I don't know how to find them. They don't appear to be on the web site. Which could make you think that AAPS doesn't want parents to be involved in any boards or commissions. Unless, of course, they involve fundraising.

Actually, the "Especially for..." section needs an added piece: "Especially for taxpayers." That would be a good place for financial information, and why shouldn't any taxpayer be a member of a committee, board, or commission? (Yes, that of course includes parents, and teachers who live in the district, but it might also include some people without a direct relationship to the schools too.)

Now, back to the Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee: unless you looked at the fine print, you wouldn't know that this is an advisory committee that is for parents with kids who qualify for special education. The details spell out the importance of widespread representation, and say that March/April is the time to fill slots. They do list representatives, and schools that don't have representation, and there are a lot of them. If you are a parent of a student receiving special education services, at one of these schools, maybe this is an important opportunity for you: Abbot, Bryant, Burns Park, Carpenter, Clemente, Lakewood, Logan, Pattengill, Pittsfield, Stone, Thurston. There are also opportunities for at-large members and a WISD liaison. Plus there are additional spaces for middle and high school representatives. The process is here, and there are so many vacancies I don't think it's hard to get in.

Like so many things in the AAPS--both the good and the bad--the process and the data seem secretive, not transparent. It doesn't have to be that way. It shouldn't be that way. And not only that, but--I'm not sure whether the staff and school board mean it to be that way.

Can the AAPS post a list of committees, with information about what they are and how to join them?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Skyline, Community: What Does It Mean?

As noted in the comments, the Skyline enrollment lottery list is posted. So: over 215 students applied to Skyline, over 365 students applied to Community. Does this mean, then, that Community is much more popular than Skyline? At this point, without knowing where kids are applying from, it's a little hard to say. After all, 1/3 of the district students are automatically districted to Skyline. So they don't need to apply to the lottery. If they did, maybe the ratio would be more like 330:365, with a slight edge to Community.

What appears to be true is that a lot of kids--though not all--are applying to both schools. (And their chances are better of getting into Skyline.) And some of them are also applying to Greenhills, Gabriel Richard, etc. Is this to avoid Huron or Pioneer? Or because Community and Skyline are a draw? I'm sure there is some of both.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Community High List is posted

A very large number of kids applied this year. At least 367 kids were in the lottery! They accepted 120. See the pdf here. I think this is more than last year. I wonder whether more kids are applying from the Huron, Pioneer, or Skyline geographic districts? Does the fact that there are two choices (three, actually: home school, Community, and if you are not in the Skyline district, Skyline) make more kids want to enter the lottery? Is there more dissatisfaction with other schools? Is the economy having an impact (i.e., kids who would have gone to private school can't)? Wow.

Dating Violence

Worth listening to: NPR's On Point show discusses dating violence. A lot seemed applicable to the Anna Maria List and Kisha French cases. Listen to it here.

Kudos to Huron High for having an In Loving Memory section on the front page of their web site. Here is the link to the Anna Maria List In Loving Memory piece, including memorial donation information. I couldn't find the notice about Kisha French on the Ann Arbor Open web site, but donations for her daughter Jayla are being accepted by the AAOCC (PTO-equivalent at Ann Arbor Open), write it to AAOCC, French Family Fund in the liner note.

Need help regarding dating violence? Help is available 24 hours/day, 7 days/week.

SafeHouse Center (734)995-5444
Ozone House (for teens, all kinds of issues) (734)662-2222

Monday, March 9, 2009

Willow Run: Deficit Reduction--What's It All About?

There is an interesting article in the Ann Arbor News about the deficit reduction plan filed in Willow Run. Or read about it in the Ypsilanti Citizen, here. Even more interesting, however, are the additional materials David Jesse put on the web site (scroll down to get to the charts and data).

First--the proposed deficit reduction plan is probably nowhere near enough, and I hope that the Michigan Department of Education agrees with me. If you think about it, Willow Run has lost 40% of its students, and closed only a preschool building. Ypsilanti schools have approximately twice as many students, yet the same number of open elementary schools. So realistically, Willow Run should probably close two or three schools, minimally.

David Houle, the finance director, notes:
"Substantive discussion of suspending operations at some facilities had been eschewed by the Committee (a cost-cutting team of administrators, a parent, two board members and several other staff members) as some members remained concerned that decommissioned buildings present a blight to the surrounding neighborhoods," the document says.

Willow Run schools are, in some ways, an accident of fate. Willow Run doesn't really have a geographic center, they don't have a downtown. The schools are the identity. BUT--A closed school building doesn't have to mean blight. In fact, it doesn't have to sit empty! And based on the economy alone, school district numbers will likely decline further.

I see three ways for WR to go:

1. Cut down to two elementary schools, one middle school, one high school.
2. Have an elementary school for K-2, use the middle school for 3-8, and the high school for 9-12.
3. Merge.

No, those options are not pretty. But schools are supposed to serve the kids--and nearly half of them don't graduate. I don't think Willow Run is doing a good job right now, and rather than thinking of shrinking as a negative, maybe it could provide some benefits.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Teacher Web Sites and Blogs: Windows to the School

I thought I would show you a few class websites and blogs. It wasn't exactly a "random sample." There are a lot of class sites that don't seem to be regularly updated (these appear to be), and this took quite a while to do. It's a lot of work to maintain a web site, and there are a lot of sporadic efforts (those are not featured here). Another time, I will have more comments about the different schools' web sites. Let's just say--the school web sites are highly variable in both information and tone.

Some schools have more than one teacher blogging or web-siting (and some schools have none), but I only chose one per school. You should feel free to look at individual school web sites to find some others. Yes, these are alphabetical by teacher's first name--no favoritism here!

Debra Wenzel's web site (Career and Technical Education, Slauson)

Gary Bartosik's web site (Special Education Math, Huron)

Jeffrey Bradley's Science Guy In A Tie blog (Science, Skyline)

Ko Shih's/Rick Hall's website
(5th/6th grade, Ann Arbor Open)

Peggy Leonard's web site (Art, Lakewood)

Rick DeKeon's web site (Physical Education, Northside)

Sarah Bradley's blog (Kindergarten, Abbot)

Susan Haines' web site (5th grade, Haisley)

Good News, Bad News: AAPS Budget Forums Update

First, the good news: If you missed the AAPS Budget Forums, a) the powerpoints are scheduled to be posted on-line at the AAPS web site next week (no, they are not up yet) and
b) the Ann Arbor Chronicle has posted a fabulous summary of the Tuesday meeting, found here. I think it's the next best thing to being there. (Thank you, Mary Morgan!)

The bad news is, of course, the looming deficit. I like some of the ideas that were presented. Per the Chronicle article:

Those options include lobbying state legislators and the governor, increasing student enrollment, raising more funds through private donations, and passing a countywide educational “enhancement” tax.

In particular, I hope to focus on the first two areas. Proposal A is broken, what can we fix? And as far as student recruitment goes, well, personally, I believe there is a lot we can do. I think the AAPS estimate of 1200 students in the school district who go to private or charter schools, or are home schooled, is a LOW estimate. (I know, you might think that saying that over 7% of kids in the district not being in the public schools is high, but based on the cohort of people that I know, and particularly in the elementary school population, those numbers are low.) But hey--that is a problem that has the potential for being solved.

Some of the comments following the Chronicle article are interesting. One thing that I notice in the comments is a lot of union- and teacher-bashing. The fact that people are the largest expense of the district perhaps makes that a natural, BUT--people--yes, teachers, aides, bus drivers, principals, and even lunch workers--are also what power the district. Another set of grousing comments focus on the creation of Skyline. I'm pretty sure that Skyline is already a good thing, but more on that another time.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Open Education Conference Books Great Speaker

The 26th annual Open Education Conference, "Rekindling the Vision," is scheduled for the weekend of March 20-21, 2009. The conference is loosely affiliated with Ann Arbor Open School, but it's really about the idea of Open Education. And to be perfectly clear about it, there are probably teachers in every school in Washtenaw County who teach in an "open" manner, and there are certainly parents in every school who like that style of education.

Some years the Open Education conference is better than others, but I have reason to believe that this year will be excellent. I've been to a few, not all, and always as a day-tripper (which you can do--the prices are reasonable, and the conference is at a lovely camp just outside Ann Arbor). One of my favorite memories from an Open Conference was a discussion of the MEAP, where we got to actually take part of an (old) MEAP. I think it was 5th grade social studies. I felt much more informed about the test after that--it was somewhat hard, and it seemed more like a reading comprehension test than a social studies test.

In any case--this year, the Open Conference has a speaker whom I believe will be excellent. More information and registration flyers can be found here. I want to encourage you to go hear Deborah Meier. Although I haven't heard her speak, I have read some stuff by her. She will be speaking on Saturday. You can read more about her at, and here is a brief synopsis:

Among Deborahʼs many accomplishments she is well known as the founder and teacher director of a network of highly successful public elementary schools in East Harlem. In 1985 she founded Central Park East Secondary School, a New York City public high school in which more than 90% of the entering students went on to college, mostly to 4-year schools. During this period she also founded a local Coalition center, which networked approximately fifty small Coalition-style K-12 schools in the city.
Her books are: The Power of Their Ideas, Lessons to America from a Small School in Harlem (1995), Will Standards Save Public Education (2000), In Schools We Trust (2002), Keeping School, with Ted and Nancy Sizer (2004) and Many Children Left Behind (2004).

AAPS Schools of Choice Update

The list of students who are going into the Community High School lottery is up, here. (Check by student number, and if you think you are not on the list, but should be, call right away, because Monday at 3 p.m. is the moment that lottery results are posted.) It's a long list, it looks like chances of getting in are about 1 in 3. But somebody has to be lucky!

Skyline High School has a note up that more than 125 students have applied for the out-of-Skyline-district spots, so there will be a lottery. (No word on how many kids have applied, and no list is up. To confirm that you are on the list, I suggest you call them directly.)

Ann Arbor Open School has two more orientation sessions so you still have a little time. You have to go to an orientation session to have your child considered for the lottery. Here are the dates:
Saturday, March 14, 10-11:30 a.m., Parent Orientation
Sunday, March 22, 2-3:30 p.m., Parent Orientation
(You will also need a classroom visit.) More information about the process is here.

So--Skyline opens, and both Skyline and Community have more kids who want to get in, than there are spots. Proving...people like to have a choice.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Are You a Bocie?

In the town where I grew up, if you wanted to really insult someone, you didn't call them a dope, or a greaser, or a freak, or even a retard (although all of those would be construed as insults).

The ultimate insult: You're Bocies!

In high school, I knew that the kids who went to vocational training, at a centralized location, to become auto mechanics, or beauticians, went to the BOCES location. And I'm sure you see where this is going. It wasn't until after high school that I made the connection between the epithet, and the Board Of Cooperative Educational Services.

Which just goes to show you, that in some communities (and I admit to growing up in a middle/upper-middle/upper class community), career/vocational/technical education has had a bad rap for a long time. Which, I should say, I don't necessarily think it deserves.

It's true that in some communities vocational classes are used for tracking (at my high school, most of the kids who went to BOCES did not do well in school, and came from working-class Italian Catholic backgrounds).
It's true that on average, college graduates make more money.
And it's true that a lot of community colleges now offer some of those "vocational" tracks, but with the advantage of a 2-year degree.

On the other hand:
If we believe in the idea of multiple forms of intelligence, we should expect that some kids will do better in this format.
Some jobs don't really need an advanced degree.
Some kids need to start making money right away, even if they do go on to college.

So: I think options are good, and I feel queasy when I see vocational programs being considered for the chopping block.
Which is why I was somewhat interested to see, on the AAPS web site, a follow-up survey for students from the Career and Technical Education department. It asks if you are the "student" or a "proxy." (Not being either, I didn't go any further.) If it applies to you, I encourage you to fill this out. I'd like to see them survey the rest of us, too.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Square Root Day

It turns out that today, March 3, 2009 (or 3/3/09, as you might prefer) is Square Root Day. Why? Because 3 x 3=9, and so we say that 3 squared equals 9.

Math educators have been pushing the idea that you need to understand the concepts behind math, and I have to admit that I haven't fully bought into the idea. It's not that I'm pro-rote's really more that I think sometimes you can learn the concepts after you learn how to do the problems. But in any case I hate to be dogmatic and I am sure learning the concepts first works better for some kids.

The importance of understanding the concepts in math got a boost the other day, as far as I'm concerned, after a conversation with one of my children (one who is in elementary school).

Child (out of the blue, while sitting in traffic): I finally understand the idea of why a squared number is called a square.

Me: Really? Why?

Child: Well, because each side of the square is the same, and when you want to get the area you have to do the width times the height and in a square those lengths are the same.

Me: (To my internal alter ego) Wow! I've been squaring things all these years and I know how to do it, but I never knew why it was called a square.

Me: (To my child) That is exactly right! And do you know why the next power up is called a cube? (Discussion followed.)

Seriously. I use math very frequently at work, and I think I'm pretty good at math concepts, but I never put together the idea that squares and cubes are not just representing a multiplication fact, but also a geometric concept...until this week.

Which adds a whole new dimension to Square Root Day. Have a happy one!