new teacher

Can the Lesson Study Model work in the US? Look to US manufacturing for the answer.

Can the Lesson Study Model work in the US?   Look to US manufacturing for the answer.

There is a lot of interest in the US Education establishment about implementing Japanese style “lesson study models”. Consultants try to make it sound like it is a new idea. It may be new to US education, but it is not a new idea to the US. It is one manifestation of the continuous improvement quality movement in the Education arena. This quality movement requires three things: the desire to strive for continuous improvement, the willingness and ability of all members to work together to improve and a system for improvement.    In the 1950’s and 1960’s the Japanese were trying to rebuild their manufacturing infrastructure after WWII and the had a desire to get better and were willing to work together to do it, but they needed a system. They looked to the US for their inspiration. They found it in W.E. Deming, a statistician. Ironically, the US manufacturing establishment ignored his system of continuous improvement, but the Japanese embraced it and his system of 14 points permeated their society. The Japanese improved their quality so much that in the 1970’s Japanese automobile quality (which was a joke in the 1960’s) became the standard by which other goods were judged. At the same time, US manufacturing quality became a joke. The US manufacturing industry, after losing significant market share (e.g. in automobile manufacturing) to the Japanese, embraced Deming’s concepts in the 1980’s and 90’s. The quality of US goods is now equal to the rest of the world. There are many things that the education community can learn from Deming and US manufacturing as we help our students compete with other students from around the world.

For example, how did the US manufacturing industry make the difficult change?

  • They realized they did not have a choice. They were losing significant market share every year.
  • They realized that it was a systemic change that required all members of the organization to embrace Deming’s 14 points. This was not a “flavor of the month” program some consultant thought of. It was a way of being.
  • They realized it was a long term process that would take years if not decades.

Does Deming’s 14 points actually apply to Education? Yes. In fact many of the “new” ideas that are being rolled out in public education are just Deming concepts put into education lingo.

For example, it is becoming common thinking that high stakes end of the year testing is not useful and may be harmful. Deming’s points out that we should “Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place. Eliminate fear.” In education lingo Deming would encourage formative assessment and student feedback as part of the learning process and there would be no need for end of the year tests, when it is too late to affect student learning.

I have attempted to put Deming’s 14 points into Education lingo. Below in bold are my version of Deming’s 14 points. The non-bold words are Deming’s 14 points from the website: . I have grouped some of them together so that there are 10 points, not 14. As I wrote these, I thought of the principals and assistant principals as the supervisors and the teachers as the workers, but these points apply just as well to the teachers as supervisors and the kids as the workers.

1) It’s about the kids and getting them to learn and perform on par with the best students in the world. Everyone from the janitor to the principal should be focused on that.

  • Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs.
  • Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.
  1. Teaching (and leading) the way we have always taught is not working.
  • Adopt the new philosophy. We are in a new economic age. Western management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change.
  1. Standardized tests at the end of the year are ineffective because it is too late at that point. Frequent formative assessments are critical. Build the quality into each day’s teaching with many feedback loops.
  • Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place.
  1. There is no end to improvement. No more “this is the way I have always taught and it has worked for me.”
  • Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs.
  1. Teachers need to be learning and improving constantly and this is a group as well as individual process. Teachers need to collaborate and share best practices. Lesson study models and microteaching are effective ways to improve teaching.
  • Institute training on the job.
  • Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.
  1. Administrators and department chairs need to move from evaluation once or twice a year for a ranking/grade of the teacher to many smaller less formal evaluations with the goal to help the teacher get better.
  • Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship. This means, inter alia, abolishment of the annual or merit rating and of management by objective.
  • Institute leadership. The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets to do a better job. Supervision of management is in need of overhaul, as well as supervision of production workers.
  • Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company.
  1. Teachers need to talk to and work with each other. Physics needs to talk to math (e.g. math needs to teach vectors before Physics uses them). English needs to talk to History. Precalc teachers need to talk to Calc teachers.
  • Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team, to foresee problems of production and in use that may be encountered with the product or service.
  1. Focus on the learning process and the kids, not standardized test scores. Do that and the test scores will take care of themselves. Take down those posters that say “your altitude is determined by your attitude”.   Teachers and administrators need to MODEL grit, continuous improvement, curiosity, collaboration, positive attitude etc…
  • Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.
  • Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor. Substitute leadership.
  • Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals. Substitute leadership.
  • Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality.



Do not teach your students to imitate math

Mathematician’s Delight by English Mathematician W.W. Sawyer (1911-2008)

“It would, I suppose, be quite possible to teach a deaf and dumb child to play the piano. When he played a wrong note, he would see the frown of its teacher, and try again. But he would obviously have no idea of what he was doing, or why anyone should devote hours to such an extraordinary exercise. He would have learnt an imitation of music. And he would fear the piano exactly as most students fear what is suppose to be mathematics.”

Why is T.E.A.L.S. Awesome for High School Computer Science?

I am a T.E.A.L.S. volunteer Computer Science instructor teaching in a local high school.  This is my first year and I was recently asked how it has been going.  I said “Awesome!” and then I was asked why.  It has been three quarters of a year and is a good time for reflection.

Why is TEALS awesome?

TWITTER answer – “TEALS makes it easy to share what I have learned, with great kids, in a subject I love, for an industry that desperately needs talent”

BLOG answer:

CS is a great career for students and the US needs them

We don’t train enough programmers. 80,000 programmer positions go unfilled by U.S. workers every year. Yet, only 10% of the high schools have computer science classes. The number of CS AP tests taken each year has barely grown, while the number of US History and Calculus AP’s has tripled since 1996.

It is an incredibly lucrative career – CS is the highest paid and highest ROI field to go in. A UVA CS degree had the highest ROI in the whole country (more than any Stanford or Harvard degree).

Girls are NOT becoming programmers – The number of female CS majors in the last decade has been cut in half from 20% to 10%. As a country, allowing 40% of our human resources to not be in a high need, lucrative career is just foolish.

T.E.A.L.S. is a great idea and makes it easy to get involved.

T.E.A.L.S. makes it easy for volunteers.  The T.E.A.L.S. concept of teaming experienced teachers with industry computer science veterans has allowed me to enter the classroom and make an immediate positive impact without having to worry about having “experienced teacher specific” skills such as classroom management or assessment. They gave me teacher training, coordinated my involvement with the school and provided a network of support from the other T.E.A.L.S. teachers and volunteers via the online social networking site – Piazza.

CS teachers get free help –  A CS student spends most of their class time writing computer programs.  It is very difficult for one teacher to get around to all of the students who need help.  Both the teachers and the students benefit from the extra pair of hands and volunteers can make a positive impact from day one.

The value add is high.  As a CS industry veteran, I know how software is developed (e.g., collaboratively with lots of white boards), what good code looks like (e.g. lots of comments, generic for re-use etc…), and can share real stories that bring computer science alive.  For example, to emphasize the importance of writing clear code with lots of comments, I related a story about when I received a 2 a.m. emergency call to fix a program that was written entirely using a dog as a metaphor (e.g. if hind leg broken go to front leg). The code had no explanatory comments and the programmer no longer worked for the company.  It took me four times longer to fix than if it had been coded clearly.

The kids, the kids, the kids.

Impact by teaching – One of the most formative times in anyone’s life is in high school.  I get to be a part of it.  I love seeing the “oh, now I get it” light go on.  There is nothing better than teaching recursion or how arrays work, seeing the light bulb go on, and then hear students as they explain it to the person sitting next to them. I just walk away smiling.  Learning truly is the gift that keeps on giving.  I get to teach these kids how to think and solve hard problems.

Impact by sharing experiences – I have the unique opportunity to engage with these kids. I get to listen to their dreams and insecurities and share my experiences and perspective with them.  Whether it is talking about my experience of taking an internet startup public or a female colleague sharing her stories about writing software for the International Space Station (the kids were wide-eyed and enraptured when she was talking), the students can visualize themselves doing the same thing in a CS career (or more).

Impact by just being interested in them – The most powerful teaching tool is to see students as individuals. It not only reinforces classroom learning, but more importantly, affirms the hopes and dreams they have for themselves.  I just wrote a recommendation letter for a female student (who plays classical guitar at the Kennedy Center) to go to STEM CS camp at VA Tech this summer.  Another student likes to design computer 3D animated figures.  This week I am going to print some of his creations on my 3D printer.  One senior girl was worried about getting into Virginia Tech, her first school of choice. She is good at CS and likes it.  I strongly encouraged her to think about CS, knowing that her chances of being accepted would triple.  She just got accepted to Virginia Tech as a CS major.

I get to make a difference doing what I love

I love programming

The problem with being a good programmer is you get promoted out of your job into management.  I have not programmed anything for 15 years.  I forgot how much I love it.  I love how the computer gives me freedom to create.  I have horrible fine motor and 3D skills,  and can barely use a table saw, but I can make a computer do almost anything.

I want to make a difference

I achieved everything I wanted to in business.  I co-founded a company and helped grow it to 250 employees and a public listing on NASDAQ.  Yet, at the end of that experience, I was left wondering how much I had made the world a better place.  I didn’t think about those things when I was 30, but I definitely think about them now.

Teaching makes a difference.

As a businessman, I have always thought that the best investment I could make is investing in the development of my own mind.  Now that I am older, what better investment with my time now, than in the development of other minds?  I have been in Teddy Roosevelt’s arena and have the knowledge and wisdom gained through “victory and defeat.” Being able to share what I know and have experienced is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.

I never anticipated that I would like teaching as much as I do.  After a month of teaching, I was driving my wife crazy.  I would come home and talk about the class, the kids, and the programming for hours.  I would talk to her about new ways I was thinking to explain some of the concepts, or how to make the students improve their solutions to the programming labs.  I am now actually completing a career switcher course so that I can teach full-time computer science, math and business in the Loudoun County Public School Systems.

And that’s why the Teals program is awesome.



Math lesson plan sites


I have been clipping websites with good math lesson plans into my Evernote account. I have made the list public:

I tried to organize it by adding a descriptor at the beginning –

Assessment – can be used for assessment purposes

General – websites with lots of different math lesson plans

Real Life – websites that generate lesson plans based on real life examples

Short – Can be used for entrance tickets/transition activities

Virtual Filing Cabinets – Bloggers who share the lesson plans they use

Some initial thoughts:

1)  Dan Meyer (dy/dan) and Fawn Nyguyen rock.

2) The lesson plans at the Shell center are amazing – not only do they give you everything (including common student mistakes) – they have been tested in classrooms and revised.  I haven’t had the chance to look at many of the other ones.



I also have been trying to keep track of the cool math (and general) teaching tool websites (Desmos etc…). Check out my list:

1)  Desmos and Geobra are incredible.

2) At the end of the Beyond Graphing Calculators pdf there is a list of good ipad apps.

3) Screencast -O-Matic is how the Khan Academy guy makes his videos.

4) Check out the msmathwiki – it is the Twitter math camp resource page – awesome collection of links.

Please let me know websites you think are awesome, by leaving a comment and I will try to add it to the list.