Counting in Japanese and Numbers in Base 10

These days observing my 2nd grade daughter’s homework as well as elementary school teachers teaching the new Common Core Math Standards in my district, the thought occurred to me that learning to count in Japanese should also be a standard. Why you ask?  Being a former Japanese teacher, I would never proclaim to be an expert in Math, nor do I know the Math standards as well as the teachers who are immersed in them daily.  However, seeing how Math is taught today versus the way I learned, I just can’t help think that learning Math with a working knowledge of Japanese numbers would help students.

For example, in order to count almost infinitely, you need to know 13 numbers in Japanese (maybe 14 if you want to count large numbers such as our deficit or the money needed to stabilize the NJ pension).  Anyway, I digress so here are the thirteen numbers you need to know to count in Japanese:

ichi (one) – ni (two) – san (three) – shi/yon (four) – go (five) – roku (six) – shichi/nana (seven) – hachi (eight) – kyuu (nine) – juu (ten)- hyaku (100) – sen (1000) – man (10,000) – oku (1,000,000 which is rarely used counting in Japanese).

Now as a point of comparison, English language speakers need to know 31 different words to count, 28 of which are the main vocabulary of different numbers young English speakers must know to begin learning Math. What are those numbers?  Start counting and stop at 20.  Right there you have twenty different words.  Now count by tens from 30 to 100.  That leaves you with 8 more different numbers you need to know just to count to 100.  I am leaving out a thousand, million, and billion which take the vocabulary needed to count in our language up to 31 different words.  That is a lot more words than Japanese.

So here is your quick lesson to make my point for why counting in Japanese could help young learners with Math.

Ichi is one and juu is ten.  So what is juu ichi?

10 + 1 = 11.

Now, what is juu san?  That’s right 13 because juu = 10 and san = 3 so 10 + 3 = 13.

No what do you suppose ni juu is?  Ni = 2 and juu = 10.

If you figured out that ni juu is 20, you are getting this.

How about go juu?  Go = 5 and juu = 10. That’s right 50!

Think about it now.  In order to say 15, you must say in Japanese 10 which is juu and five which is gojuu go  Therefore, the very counting of numbers 11-100 require addition.  However, the basic counting of tens requires addition and multiplication.  Remember I said that ni = 2 and juu = 10 so ni juu equals 20.  In the mind of a Japanese speaker or one who can count in Japanese, they are seeing 10 and 10 or 2 X 10.

If they want to say 99, they just simply say kyuu = 9 and juu = 10 and kyuu = 9 so kyuu juu kyuu is how you say 99.  Nine 10’s + 9 or 9 X 10 + 9 = 99.  Pretty cool huh?

How much easier would numbers base 10 be for our students if numbers and counting in the English language was as easy as Japanese?

Malcolm Gladwell writes about this in his book Outliers.

“The much-storied disenchantment with mathematics among western children starts in the third and fourth grade…….part of that disenchantment is due to the fact that math doesn’t seem to make sense; its linguistic structure is clumsy; its basic rules seem arbitrary and complicated.

Asian children, by contrast, don’t face nearly that same sense of bafflement. They can hold more numbers in their head, and do calculations faster, and the way fractions are expressed in their language corresponds exactly to the way a fraction actually is—and maybe that makes them a little more likely to enjoy math, and maybe because they enjoy math a little more they try a little harder and take more math classes and are more willing to do their homework, and on and on, in a kind of virtuous circle.

When it comes to math, in other words, Asians have built-in advantage. . .”

I use to teach my students how to count to 100 in around 10 minutes when I taught Japanese. Would love to see this tried in a classroom.  What do you think?


Who is telling our story? Test Scores?

The current fascination with high stakes testing makes me think about a poem by Rumi called Two Kinds of Intelligence. In this poem, Rumi speaks of two intelligences: the one that measures and rewards with the carrots and sticks model and the other that is already completed and preserved inside all of us. It is the second kind of intelligence, the non-cognitive one, that he describes so eloquently as essential for us and is recently been researched, written and spoken about here, here and here. It is this intelligence that is a far better determinant for how we succeed in the “game of life” and in my opinion, far more rewarding than the first intelligence.  

Yet, is this the intelligence we are helping to foster, grow and develop in our schools today? Or, are the misguided policies shaped by the misinformation by so many in the ed reform movement making teaching the non-cognitive skills irrelevant to a generation of students who need them? I worry that too many in the ed reform movement have hijacked the narrative about what learning should be and look like for our students. Their vision is one of high stakes testing and more accountability measures. Unfortunately, their story is the one being told too much. Here’s another point of view to remind us of why those in the ed reform movement should rethink their vision and why we, as educators, need to tell our stories.

Back when I first started teaching in the early 2000’s, I was looking for some goal to measure my student’s proficiency in Japanese other than the assessments I prepared and gave my students.  Being a Japanese teacher and knowing the language, I was well aware of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) most Japanese language learners took to measure the written, listening, and reading skills they have mastered in Japanese.  Knowing this, I decided to find time within the year to show them the test, prepare them and allow them to take it.

One student, Adam, never quite measured up to the other students taking the test.  He struggled with it despite all efforts I put into guiding and teaching him what he needed more of to improve his proficiency.  Adam did not lack the motivation nor volition to do better.  He loved the language, the culture, was extremely curious and enjoyed my class.  Yet, none of these factors seemed to make a difference in his ability to perform well on the JLPT.

Today if this test were to be the determinant of Adam’s learning or entrance into a school, where would Adam be?  It’s a good thing that it was not that way for Adam because, today, Adam is a fluent speaker of Japanese. When he graduated high school, he went to college and spent a year abroad in Japan.  After graduation, he found himself back in Japan teaching English while continuing his passion to learn more of the language and culture. Today he is engaged to a Japanese woman who doesn’t speak English, he works for a Japanese school system and drums in a Japanese rock band.

I share Adam’s story because it reminds me that if we continue to allow a test to be the determinant of one’s success, I do believe we are stifling that person’s potential to live and learn. I, like Adam, was never one of the better students in my Japanese classes at Bucknell, but my love and desire to learn, despite grades and scores that were below some in my class, never stood in my way of learning Japanese. Could Adam exist today in this world of high stakes testing?  Of course.  But the larger question and perhaps more important question is how many Adams today are having their learning stifled by a system that uses high stakes testing to demonstrate learning? How many more Adam’s would exist if we let the passion, grit, and curiosity to learn guide students as opposed to a test score?

Who is telling our story? PISA?

In my last piece, I wrote about the importance of educators telling the story of education today. I also mentioned a few of the other voices out there that are telling the story that are either A) misleading or B) downright lies and falsehoods.

Let me first state that I am not a defender of the status quo when it comes to education. I do believe a lot of changes are necessary to improve the learning experiences we provide students as well innovate instruction to make what and how students learn more relevant for them and the communities we serve. With that being said, it seems to me that many of the current storytellers today aren’t leading to the kind of changes necessary to improve education.

One of the storytellers I mentioned in my last post was the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, which administers the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an assessment that allows educational performances to be examined on a common measure across countries.  The United States has not done well on PISA and historically has not done well on international benchmarks. However, the rhetoric you hear today in the news and other media would make you think that our current PISA scores reflect an education system that is spiraling downward and in some circumstances failing and therefore, needs major reform. 

This, however, is why the overemphasis on PISA scores as a reflection of student learning and our educational system must be stopped. Learning and the state of our education system cannot be summed up by scores on a test. These test scores do very little to truly measure creativity nor do they measure the motivation and essential non-cognitive skills necessary to pose and solve worthwhile problems. Yet, isn’t so much of what is driving our “ed reform” today based on how every country seems to be scoring better than we are on these international benchmarks?  

Why is it that so many of us gravitate to this idea that a test is the approved metric of choice for demonstrating learning? Perhaps many of the people that like test scores as the metric like them because they did well on tests. They have probably experienced some modicum of success in “the game of life” and probably think, “Hey, I did well on tests and am doing ok, so they must mean something”. This is not to disqualify any of you who have done well on tests, nor does it mean that we shouldn’t have any tests. It simply means that test scores are not the best indicator of learning, nor do they have a causal relationship with success in the “game of life”. In fact, this chart below clearly shows that the more income your family has, the better your score is.

If this data doesn’t convince you that tests scores are really not the best indicator and are not worthy of “telling the story” of how we are doing in education, and you just can’t let go of the importance of PISA, then I do have a bridge to sell you. Mel Riddle, a school leader who writes for NASSP, has been writing about PISA scores for a few years. Here is his latest piece on PISA scores. The most interesting fact is that when you adjust for poverty, which we have more of here in the United States, then our students excel on PISA. We are actually doing better than most of the world.  You don’t hear Arne Duncan talking about that. Our problems are not that our schools are failing but that poverty has more unintended consequences than our “ed reformers” want to acknowledge. Don’t believe it? Just look at the scores.


I will add here that there are some out there who question the validity of using Free/Reduce Price Lunch (FRPL) data as an indicator of poverty as Mel Riddle uses in the above link, but those same people point to this PISA data as their measurement of poverty.

Supposedly, data “nerds” at the DOE say FRPL can’t be used this way.  I don’t know about you, but my faith in the DOE is not very high right now considering their inability to follow the way of other countries that are out-performing us on PISA.  The DOE and States continue to implement untested and unproven reforms while the answers to many of our problems are right there in front of us.   So I guess our DOE and other “ed reformers” want our scores to be like Korea’s and Finland’s but we just don’t want to get there the way they have.  An old 90’s song by C&C Music Factory sounds off in my head, “Things that make you go hmmmmmm.” 

Who is telling our story?

Who is telling the story of education today?

I recently spent the last year working with teams of teachers in our four elementary schools on two technology integration initiatives: the iPad Initiative and the Chromebook Initiative. Teachers volunteered to learn about how to use tools like iPads and Chromebooks in their classrooms over the course of several professional learning days in the summer and throughout the year. In order to monitor the progress of student and teacher learning, I asked all the participating teachers to join either the iPad or Chromebook, depending on which initiative they were in, Google Plus communities created for teachers to share and ask questions of one another since meeting after school was not always feasible.  

At first, some of the teachers shared ideas and thoughts about what they were doing and learning with iPads and Chromebooks in the classroom, but for the most part, the Google Plus communities were not generating the kind of sharing I felt was necessary and expected for those who volunteered to be in these initiatives. I didn’t see much being posted and wondered what was the problem?

I and other teacher leaders for both these initiatives would reach out and remind teachers to post and share, but this did not lead to any change. In all honesty, I was becoming quite frustrated. How can I as the Supervisor of Educational Technology help to promote technology integration in the classroom if I don’t see or hear what is going on in the classrooms of these teachers who volunteered for these initiatives and I believe, knew and understood the expectations? It wasn’t like I was asking to meet before or after school. Teachers are extremely busy and sharing something on our Google Plus community takes all but a few minutes at most, right? I decided to meet with each cohort in each of the elementary schools to see if we could have a conversation about how to better share and tell the story of their classroom and how they and their students were learning using iPads and Chromebooks.  

The teachers shared with me how busy they were trying to manage the new evaluation systems, implement a whole new set of standards (the Common Core), creating and delivering SGOs and quite frankly struggling with the new technology they now had at their disposal. At the end of the day, the last thing on their mind was sharing on the Google Plus community. It was foreign to them. Many forgot how to sign in. Some teachers felt that unless they were sharing some amazing lesson plan, there wasn’t much worth sharing with other teachers.
This last point reminds me of what Anne Whitney writes about in her article Lawnmovers, Parties, and Writing Groups: What Teacher-Authors Have to Teach Us About Writing for Publication. She writes that teachers, in studies, have explained that they had to over come what is know as the dandelion feeling to share what is going on in their classrooms. The tallest flower in the lawn is the one that gets chopped off. Teachers feel reluctant to raise themselves up above their colleagues or presume to tell another how to teach. Even teachers who are professionally active outside the classroom often feel they must be quiet about what they are learning and doing. They have that dandelion feeling that they may be shut down or cut down.
One of the teacher leaders in district shared with me that some teachers may feel that they are bragging and that too prevents them from wanting to share. As Whitney writes so accurately in this article, sharing “is not exactly telling others what to do; it’s describing with complexity one’s own decisions and walking readers through the ideas behind those decisions….it’s not a matter of selling the practice to other teachers….it’s a matter of saying, ‘here is something interesting that’s happening, and here are the problems and potential I see in it that might be interesting to you.’ Sharing what we are learning and doing with iPads and Chromebooks is not bragging and I do believe all educators should not worry about being that “dandelion” and “fear the lawnmower”. If we rethink what it means to share and tell our story, we all can benefit from this opening of one’s self. Research actually shows that you personally benefit from sharing because in its essence, sharing is a form of self-reflection. Reflective practice is vital toward the continuous growth and learning for all educators.
Time will show how the meeting to encourage and remind teachers the benefits of sharing and telling their story will unfold. I listened to them and understand them. I do believe they understand me and my position. I wrapped up my meeting with this, and I do think it is a vital message for all of us in this most noble and important professions to remember. If we choose not to share and tell our story as educators, aren’t we surrendering our voice to those “ed reformers” and misguided policy makers such as Chris Christie, Bill Gates, Jeb Bush and Michelle Rhee? Won’t we be surrendering our voice to those who want to shape policy based on international benchmarks such as our “mediocre” PISA scores or our so-called “failing schools” and “failing teachers”? Can’t we in our profession begin to frame and change the current story about education today by finding some time to write, blog, tweet, or share on Google Plus communities? I do believe if the public knew more about what we are doing, what our children are learning, how what we do do is enhancing student learning experiences as well as innovating instruction to meet skills and knowledge for a world that is changing daily, the viewpoints of the public would begin to shift. The reason it doesn’t or won’t will not be because of those who misrepresent us (they will always exist and have louder voices and easier access to a news media that is more concerned with entertainment and being a refuge for those seeking their confirmation biases).  It will be because we chose to let them tell our story by not telling it ourselves.

Technology is not an event!

I recently used Bill Ferriter’s blog on “Technology is a Tool, Not a Learning Outcome” in my presentation with Rich Allen of BrightBytes at the NJECC Annual Conference in New Jersey this past week.  Bill uses this picture to describe his point.

I think about the “wrong answers” a lot because this is what we are helping everyone at #frsd (my school district) understand; including our students.  Most of us struggle with technology integration, but when teachers look at the “right answers” in this picture, I do believe they understand what it is they are ultimately trying to do is what so many of them have been doing for a long time.  Technology is now the tool that allows these teachers to create opportunities for their students to experience the “right answers” in ways that they never could before technology entered their classrooms. That is exciting!  All you have to do is follow #edtechchat #skypeclassroom or join a Google+ such as Community Connected Classrooms Workshop to see the amazing way teachers and students raise awareness, start conversations, find answers to their questions, make a difference, drive change, change minds, and the list goes on and on.

Maybe technology can connect you and your students with amazing young people such as @maggiedoyne who put off going to college to travel the world and wound up starting an orphanage in Nepal.  You can see her below and read about her mission here.

The amazing thing about Maggie’s story is here is someone who grew up in a wealthy community in New Jersey where almost all students go on to college after graduating high school and she chose a different path.  The pressure on these students from their parents, communities and society at large to go to college, figure out what they want to study and do with their lives is immense.  I know because I live in the community next to Maggie’s and grew up and taught for fifteen years in nearby and similar school district.  I do not think our schools, parents, communities, or society do a good job at encouraging our students to see the choices they have.  The Maggie Doynes of the world are unfortunately not the norm but the exception.  They don’t have to be. Not today.

When one’s focus is on making a difference, taking action, raising awareness, or solving problems as opposed to just going off to college, that person can do amazing things; like Maggie.  While I am not recommending putting off college, I am also not endorsing it as the only option for students graduating in our times.  Technology can help us connect us with people like Maggie Doyne and remind us that with technology as a tool for learning, our options to create the life we want for ourselves is better than ever before.  Our choices increase and we can own our learning like never before.

Its powerful and maybe that is what makes integrating technology scary.  If students are controlling and owning their learning with technology, what is the role of the teacher?  What is the role of the teacher with the self-directed learners that technology fosters?

I don’t have the answer to these questions but do believe that maybe that role could be more exciting and invigorating than what it is in a classroom without technology.  This is what excites me despite all the “ed reform” being pushed on us by policy makers who seem to be more interested in “keeping up with the Joneses” on PISA scores than promoting the kind of learning students want and need. When technology is not an event that students experience one day a week in lab, the learning and experiences our children can have at school is like never before.  It’s a great time to be in education.

Longer School Year

How Much Time Do Teachers Spend Teaching?

The chart above comes from this link on PISA’s report showing how much time teachers spend teaching each year.  In Governor Christie’s recent state of the state address he called for longer days at school and a longer school year.  I wonder why he feels this way. I also wonder why “the one-size-fits- all” proposal is ever taken seriously by anyone who understands education.  Does every community need a longer school year?  A longer school day?  Look at the chart above.  Look carefully.  Look at the amount of days United States teachers teach.  180.  Now look at the amount of days teachers teach in South Korea, one of the highest scoring countries on the most recent PISA tests.  220.  Here is the kicker. Look at the number of hours American teachers teach versus the hours South Korean teachers teach.  1,097 versus 836.  It’s not even close.  American teachers teach over 200 hours more than their South Korean counterparts in 40 fewer days every year.  Yet, our scores are significantly lower.

I choose not to get into a discussion about the scores right now because that is not the purpose of this blog.  You can read about how I feel about the validity of PISA scores here.

So, American teachers teach more hours in a shorter amount of time and the Governor is asking for more days and more instructional hours?  How about school all year long?  What?  Are you kidding me?

Not really.  I actually would like to see school all year long as the Governor is somewhat suggesting here. I would argue that two months off is excessive.  As a former Japanese teacher I can tell you what two months off does for language learning.  Math and other subject area teachers would probably share my same opinions on this.

Why a longer a school year when the chart above shows we already teach more than 200 hours longer than those with whom we are trying to catch up?  Well, I don’t want to increase instructional hours, but  I want to make them more meaningful.  This is the difference between the Governor and me, and it is a significant difference.  Let’s keep the hours the same or even lower them, but spread out those hours across the whole year and provide teachers with more time during the day as other countries with whom we are playing catch up to on the PISA test scores. We can still have summer vacation. It would just be three weeks.  We could extend the length of some of the other holidays too.  I digress though because my point is not to discuss vacations but to reexamine learning as well as how we structure the typical day for teachers.  Since teachers have the biggest impact on student learning shouldn’t we look at what they need to be more effective?

You see, all of the ed reformers out there point to the international benchmarks such as PISA to validate the need for the changes we are experiencing today in our profession: Common Core, SGOs, SGPs, new evaluation systems, and more and more high stakes tests such as PARCC here in New Jersey.  What these ed reformers refuse to look at is what exactly are these countries doing with their teachers that we aren’t doing?  They rarely discuss that because it is far easier to just change the standards, add more tests, and proclaim from their corporate and political offices that they are improving education.  Are they?  Show me the evidence that their proposals and policies are proven solutions to what ails our system.

What exactly do South Korean teachers do with over 200 more hours a year not teaching?  What do those teachers with less instructional time in all those countries such as Finland (another top 10 country on PISA whose teachers teach 677 hours in a 188 days) do with the extra time?  They have more time to create more effective lessons and assessments, collaborate, mentor new teachers, and other vital forms of professional development.  Maybe this is why their students achieve better on the international benchmarks.  Maybe what those who want ed reform need to be looking more closely at is the amount of time we provide our teachers to prepare, deliver, and assess in order to provide a top-notch college and career ready education and learning experience that is needed for an ever-increasingly more competitive world.

Start by looking at what countries like South Korea and Finland do, and look at how they treat those in the teaching profession. Start there.  Please.  We really do not need anymore accountability measures and certainly do not need anymore high-stakes tests.  Does anyone really think that the vast majority of teachers aren’t doing all they can to educate their students?  Is making them teach more with less time going to make them better?

I do not support the status quo.  Are there changes needed in education? Yes.  Do we need to rethink learning and school?  Yes.  Adding more instructional hours is not the answer however.  We need to do what all those other countries do for their teachers.

So here’s my new rule.  Politicians and corporate reformers are no longer allowed to discuss the need for ed reform and how our schools are falling behind (PISA, TIMSS, etc.) without also discussing the need to reform the typical teacher day as all other countries such as South Korea and Finland do.  Why don’t they do this?  Why is this not part of the conversation?  That is the question I have for Governor Christie and all the other ed reformers who don’t quite understand what is really needed to reform, not deform, education in my humble opinion.  What do you think?

BrightBytes Summit

Just returned from an exciting two days at the BrightBytes Summit 2013. My head is spinning from all the ideas and thoughts shared by amazing educational leaders across the country.  The leaders at this summer in total represented around one out of every ten students in our country. What does this mean? It means that those of us at that summit have an incredible opportunity to begin taking back those great ideas and thoughts to our district and begin sharing them with the teachers and students in our districts.  It means that with the connections made and the ability to share and work together with other leaders from Hawaii to California to Iowa to Minnesota to New Jersey, we can begin to shape and impact the learning experiences for one out of every ten students in this country.  That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?  This may sound daunting, and perhaps it is, knowing full well how education and learning is, unfortunately, being disrupted by “outside pressures” throughout our country.  However, those disruptions cannot stand in the way of what every leader and teacher knows, or will soon come to know, that how and what we learn must begin to change.

Rob Mancabelli, the CEO of BrightBytes, shared a story with me about a conversation he had with an executive looking to hire an engineer for an open job position.  The executive expressed with Rob his concern at what seems to be the overemphasis on STEM in education.  What he was really looking for in the 1000 plus engineers that had recently applied for a position at company were people that were not simply engineers but good at design, creative and could think outside the box.  If this isn’t a justification for putting the A (art) in STEM to make STEAM, I don’t know what is.  The arts promote this a much or more than any subject I know.

While this one story may be anecdotal for the reason why we must change, I do think it is one of countless stories throughout the country I read and hear about daily.  Daniel Pink wrote a book about it called, “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-brainers Will Rule the World.  Employers are not looking left-brain functionality as much as people who have the ability to design, think creatively and outside the box, problem solve, communicate effectively with people of different languages and cultures, use resources and collaborate with one another. Will right brainers rule the world?  There certainly is enough evidence out there to make the assertion that a vital part of a child’s educational and learning experience should be developing these skills. Are we preparing our students to develop those abilities? Are the “ed reforms” being put on teachers and administrators in New Jersey by those “outside pressures” going to lead to the changes necessary?  If not, how log can we afford to wait to begin providing these learning experiences for our students despite the obstacles in front of us in education?  There is no easy answer.

One thing for sure is the educational leaders at #bbsummit13 are better connected and ready to be the change so many of us are trying to create in our schools.  I look forward to working with many of them in the future and seeing the dynamic and innovative learning experiences the students can have now as a result of the connections made and the sharing that will ensue in the coming months and years.