Thursday, February 26, 2009

Science and Technology Education Blog Carnival


I realized that other day, like Denise at Let's Play Math, that one of my favorite topics--sharing with and teaching children about science and technology--could use some more attention. I would like to have a blog carnival (a blog post, published on a regular schedule, that specifically highlights thematic posts on the topic of the carnival from other bloggers) that gathers together great ideas, projects, tips, and lessons for science and technology education and out-reach. A carnival called Academy of Science and Technology scheduled for publication on the 2nd and 4th Mondays of each month. Submissions due 8pm EST the evening before. The first edition is scheduled for Monday, March 9th.

The carnival is geared toward kids and science and technology; parents working on at-home projects with kids, teachers teaching in the classroom, or homeschoolers teaching at home. I am hoping to include posts on hands-on projects and experiments. Any teaching techniques, tips, and philosophy would be welcomed. It would be interesting to learn which topics are being covered in the classroom or at home and how the kids responded. Sharing how you helped kids to tear something apart or build something new, engineering experiments, kit reviews, or useful equipment could allow others to do something similar, or expand it, with their own kids. There are many ways to explore science and technology with children and I hope this carnival is serves as inspiration to many in that endeavor.

Please consider promoting and/or submitting to this carnival so we can share our love of science and technology with the next generation! Here's the handy-dandy submission form!

Running a homeschool elementary science class and having my husband run an incredibly popular astronomy class plus additional observation and learning how to use a telescope evenings, has shown me how much people appreciate additional science resources. I hope to gain a lot of ideas and insight from such a topical carnival and hope to do the same for others.

A big thank you to Joanne Jacobs for plugging this carnival! Thanks also to LB at 3 Ring Binder. Rational Jenn gave the carnival a 'shout out' on Twitter and her blog, as well. GrrlScientist also posted about the carnival. Thanks! Another shout out to Curriculum Matters at Ed Week.

The carnival can only benefit from the attention!

Round Up!


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

New to Me Carnival

I just found out about a blog carnival called Skeptical Parent Crossing. The most recent issue is here.

Here is how the carnival is described:

Skeptical Parent Crossing is a blog carnival for free-thinking, rational parents. This carnival is less about giving advice than it is about evaluating such advice. Less about making claims, more about evaluating them. As with skepticism in general, it is about learning how to think, not being told what to think.

While I don't consider myself a skeptic, I am definitely into critically examining claims! The carnival discusses vaccines and autism, for instance.

Carnival of Education


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Success Markers for Flurpee's Reading

I'm really pleased lately. Flurpee (the recently turned 7 year-old) has started really reading. She no longer sounds out three letter words or forgets what the vowel sounds are. A page that used to take 15 minutes to read now only takes three. On her own initiative she's begun reading her the instructions from her math and spelling books on her own. Her reading level has just jumped recently.

In a way it seems as though she went from not reading to reading over night. I know that's not true, but it's easy for me to forget all of the work she and I have both done. In the beginning of this year, she would still sound out each letter even in short words. We practiced with Bob books (which I loved and that she would read without hassle for her Montessori teachers), but she felt they were too baby-ish. We moved onto Magic Tree House books, but I had to tell her half of the words because they followed phonics rules she hadn't learned yet. Along with reading from the book, we also practiced using the Phonics Pathways book.

Her comfort and confidence went way up when we began practicing more consistently (helping that automaticity along) and as she got further and further into the Phonics Pathways book. We reviewed previously introduced word lists (word lists showing a specific sound in a lot of words--like 'ou' in pounce, bounce, ounce) at least five times and introduce a new sound combination every-other day. We had already worked on sight words--real sight words, not the Dolche sight word list whose words often follow phonetic rules. When she's reading a word that is not familiar or a sight or irregular word that she is having trouble with, I jump in and tell her how it's pronounced. She can pronounce 80% of the words on her own. Now she can read a page in the Magic Tree House books in a few minutes, instead of the 15 it used to take.

Carnival of Homeschooling!

The always insightful Judy Aron of Consent of the Governed is hosting this week!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

There's a New Carnival in Town

Math Teachers at Play is a carnival specifically for math geared toward teachers and students. Great idea, from Let's Play Math! So head on over. It's not specifically homeschool related, but it may offer some good ideas.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Unfortunately, Kim....

Because I'm taking today off (now that the youngest is finished her school), and because I like finding amusing little things, I am putting up another content-less post.

Here's how to play... just do a Google search of the phrase "unfortunately, _______" but put your first name in the blank (be sure to enclose it all in quotation marks). From AllSorts, who says, "The resultant phrases are hilarious if you have a slightly twisted sense of humor and an appreciation for random absurdity."

I saved the best for last.

Unfortunately, Kim wore an ugly dress

Unfortunately Kim is something we seem to have to tolerate on this site

Unfortunately, Kim has little else to say

Unfortunately, Kim Jong Il had forgotten that it was he who spoke this particular nonsense.

Unfortunately, Kim has inherited his position of leadership on the basis of filial loyalty and commitment to his father's ideology

Unfortunately, Kim shows no awareness of this development, and his work suffers from its neglect, often rendering his conclusions weak and suspect.

Unfortunately, Kim also gets that they're making fun of her, and it's unfortunate because I assume she's not in on most jokes about her.

Unfortunately Kim is also her own worst enemy

Unfortunately Kim will not be attending the ceremony, due to her time in federal prison.

Unfortunately, Kim is a talented person but sleeping around in this industry is only going to defame her reputation and sets a bad example for other female

Unfortunately, Kim is mistaken. Now she feels hurt and must inform her Harvard man that he has infected her with Gonorrhea

Unfortunately, Kim felt left out while Trish and I were having sex, so she put her clothes on and left.

Unfortunately, Kim Survived the eating. After being eaten, Kim ran away from Lonnie and was eaten by yet another mountain lion.

Carnival of Education

Posted here! I submitted a post.

Round Up....

Of posts based on the philosophy of man as a rational being!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Make/Craft Ideas Usurped

Final Update 2/21/09: Klutz is working with Evil Mad Scientist Labs and it looks like everyone will be satisfied.

Updated below, 2/20/09!

Evil Mad Scientist Labs (whom I have followed for a long time) wrote about a bristlebot (a unique take on a well-known vibration-robot idea) that they designed from a cell-phone vibration motor and the head of a toothbrush. It's a great little idea. Make magazine blog reports that a famous kid's craft publisher has taken the idea and without any agreement or credit to EMS. There are inquiries to the publisher. I hope that they can work things out so both profit, along with those of us who would like to buy a kit. Evil Mad Scientist Labs has not weighed in on this violation, or if they think there is one [See Update below!].

Everyone who is an inventor and any company that would like to be able to protect the products they develop understands that dated notebooks and detailed information are the key to proving they had an idea first or that their idea was unique. Claims can only be based on proof. It seems to me that, in this day and age, one's blog and you tube videos are thier documentation. Any one who doesn't have the notebooks is out of luck--as they should be. Without evidence they may as well claim they had the idea for pink elephants--it's just as meaningful.

Publishing one's photograph or other work, even if it was published in a magazine or any other place where the general public could view it, cut it out, or copy it does not mean one surrenders one's rights to own it and decide on how it's used and their level of compensation if they do allow it to be used.

Intellectual property is just as important to protect as other types of property. Recognizing mental effort shows that our entire society understands that real progress and results come from man's mind. Without ideas there would be no advancement. Without the right to profit from one's ideas, there would be less incentive for some of the best improvements. I hope everyone who wants to become rich by inventing something that I need or want to make my life easier. I will be happy to contribute to making them rich!

Update 2/19/09 a: Evil Mad Scientist Labs responds! They were not contacted and it does seem that they have a claim on the very name Klutz is using. Scholastic responds here. They claim they were working on the idea for a long time before Evil Mad Scientist Labs published their on-line.

Seen here, here, here, here, here.

Update 2/20/09 b: Make has gotten an e-mail from Scholastic. It sounds like Scholastic will be talking to Evil Mad Science Labs. Good. Although the Make post says the issue isn't about "copyright, trademarks, or patents." What, precisely, are they concerned with then? Just a credit to Evil Mad Scientist Labs? If Make is only concerned with some niceties, they sure have made a tempest in a teapot.

I'm appalled that a large publishing company, like Scholastic, would rip off an idea. I would be appalled at a small company or idividual as well, but I could understand a mistake more, minus a legal team. It's like blogging. You may not mind if someone spreads your idea, but the etiquette is to get a link-back.

Update 2/20/09 c: cnet has a nice treatment that is a quick overview of the controversy. No additional content and no opinion. Boing Boing addresses the topic as well and includes an update about Klutz contacting Evil Mad Scientist Labs.

Science Course

This time (which was actually presented way back in November) I wanted to discuss more about the thinking of the ancient Greeks. I wanted to talk about the two main beliefs of the basic constituents of the world. I presented the four elements view along with the indivisible particles (or atomist) view.

I spoke with the kids about how serious the Greeks were about figuring out the world around them. They tried to understand what everything around them had in common and how it was different. Again, the big focus was on "why." What could be the difference between leaves, dirt, sky, and animals?

The four elements theory was originally proposed by Empedocles [em-ped-uh-kleez]. Empedocles believed that all things were made of four elements (things that cannot be broken down further); Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. He believed that they could combine because of a force called Love. Love, like between people, was supposed to be able to draw things together. Strife, which I told the kids was like war or fighting, made the elements separate.

I talked a bit about Zeno's [zee-no] famous paradox of the arrow in flight. After explaining that Zeno proposed that an arrow could never reach it's final destination because it always had to go half-way. If shooting the arrow across the table, first it had to go to the middle of the table, then to the middle of what was left, then to the middle of the next space left, and then to the middle of that. I pointed out to the kids that if we used a magnifying glass, we could still make lots of middles. And then we have to imagine that the middles can continue so that there was always a middle to reach. So Zeno's paradox was that an object could never reach its destination--and yet it does. And for those reasons, Zeno's paradox was really interesting to think about.

I had each of the kids stand and play the part of the arrow. I asked them to move to the middle point of the table. Then to the middle of what was left. Then again, the middle between their current position and the end of the table. In only two more moves, there was no physical way to see a distance between parts of themselves and the table--and there they were at the end of the table. I purposefully did not ask them to imagine themselves having a center-line of no size. How come they made it when Zeno's Paradox would say they couldn't? I pointed out that they take up more space than the middle.

That was the thinking that spurred Leucippus [lyoo-sip-us] to try to discern the nature of matter. I handed the kids each a sheet of paper. I asked them to rip it in-half. Then rip one of those halves again. And to keep taking a half and ripping. I allowed them to do this until I paper confetti all over my table. Eventually they all had some tiny portion of paper that they couldn't rip using their bare hands. I then stated that Leucippus thought there must be some really small piece that could never be divided (which would explain how they, and the arrow, get where they want to go). So Leucippus rejected the idea of the four elements in favor of everything being made of these particles and nothing else; particles and empty space.

Democritus [dem-ah-crit-us], learning from Leucippus, also propounded the particle idea and gave it the name atomos for 'indivisible'. He believed that the different sizes and movements of the particles could account for all of the differences we see around us. It turns out that he was remarkably correct, but that the thought experiments of Democritus and Leucippus were, somewhat correctly, ignored in favor of an element theory that other great thinkers felt was more grounded in evidence of the senses.

Aristotle came along later and described the elements in terms of complementary physical properties, like soft and hard, hot and cold, or wet and dry. Aristotle added ether because, in his thinking, the heavens could not be made of the same materials as Earthly things because they behaved completely differently, so he added ether as a fifth element. Each thing behaved a certain way because of the elements it was made of. Earth-containing items moved down until they reached something they couldn't move through and things. Things made of the element Air would rise up to Air's natural place above the Earth. We know now that Aristotle was mistaken, but his views were so convincing and matched people's observations so well that they lasted a really long time.

I then introduced our next topic: Archimedes. Archimedes was the pioneer of the science of statics--using math to understand systems in equilibrium. For the kids I said he was the first guy to use math to represent the real world. I also told the Archimedes "Eureka" story to describe Archimedes' love of thinking.

On the board:

Empedocles ~450 BC
Everything is made of Earth, Water, Air, Fire (Aristotle adds ether)
Love and Strife were forces that changed things.

Leucippus ~440 BC
There must be something tiny that is indivisible.

Democritus ~420 BC
The smallest indivisible particles: atomos

First to use mathematics to describe laws


The Stomachion This is a very famous puzzle from Archimedes. Apparently he was using it to determine how many unique ways the pieces could be combined to make a square. It was called stomachion (stomach-yon) because it could be so frustrating that it could give you a tummy ache. We ran out of time to actually work on it in class, but I printed the first page on card stock so the kids could cut it out and experiment with making the shapes.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Book Meme

I got this from The Harriet Tubman Agenda, who found it at The Headmistress.

Bold those you have read.
Italicize those you intend to read.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien--because my dad loved it.
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte--Fabulous, fabulous portrait of a women 200 years before her time.
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling--started it for my kids, finished the last book for myself.
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte--because I was on a classics kick of my own after college.
8 1984 - George Orwell--I had read this on my own, for book club, and for high school.
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman--read this with Hanover
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott--read this on my own, blech.
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy--read this on my own.
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger--High school assignment
19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams--Because that is just my kind of thing.
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll--For the girls
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame--for the girls, again
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy--Started it but got too confused by the names. Now that I know how it ends, I don't think I'll finish it.
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez--Book club had read this and apparently thought it took 100 years.
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving--Book club pick
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery--Because I loved those PBS films
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy--Book club pick
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood--Read on my own in high school
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert--I read it about when the movie came out.
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley--Because my granmother recommended it.
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas--Great
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville--Terrible
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker--Classic, had to read
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett--My daughter just finished this.
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White--I had the three E.B. White books as a kid. I still have them.
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle--I read this after college.
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery--French class, need I say more?
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole--Book club
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute--thinking about it
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas--During my classics kick.
98 Hamlet – Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Obviously an Austen fan and anti-Dickens.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Carnival of Homeschooling

Here! I was included.

History as a Real Course

Scott Powell has great post explaining why history needs to be incorporated in school from the beginning. He also explains why social studies is not only a poor substitute for history but how it can undermine a love of history.

His point makes a lot of sense when one considers how other courses are taught through incredibly small steps with repitition and practice in order to make them second nature.

Monday, February 16, 2009

My Public School Interview

When I was first considering whether to continue with expensive Montessori private school, I interviewed the principal of our local school. When I went to meet her, she said she had never been interviewed before. I thought that was very interesting. Either everyone assumed there was no way they would use the public school, or that they knew what public school was already all about, or, saddest idea of all, that the parents who were sending their kids to public school never thought to find out about the place where their kids were going to be spending one-half of their waking hours.

Our school system scores well on the state tests and everyone always says, "You're homeschooling? But --------- has such good schools." By their standards, that is probably true. The Connecticut Mastery Test is a barely grade-level test. I was not satisfied with using that as my standard.

I interviewed the public school before we decided to continue with a private Montessori education. I got the name of the math curriculum (terrible--I discuss it, and more of the condescending treatment parents receive, here). I learned that the 2nd grade girls had formed a clique that had rules regarding appropriate clothing and if the rules were broken no one else in the clique (almost the whole second grade) would talk to you. It took the school two years to find out about the clique. After finding out about the clique, the school had a number of 'inclusiveness' goals (which I think are OK--I am glad they were trying to eliminate such peer pressure). They picked the 'most inclusive student of the month' from each class. I asked the principal what they did to honor academic achievement. She looked at me quizzically and stated that they only liked to reward what everyone could accomplish.

I call bullshit. Not everyone is as capable as everyone else of being nice (having the clique at all proves that), but, in recognizing it as something to be rewarded, they are at least showing that is something to be valued and a trait to try to obtain. But with academics they give up on the kids right away, they don't care that some kids might do well even if it involves a lot of work on their part; work they might do in order to get a reward. Additionally, the academic reward need not be for overall grades. It could reward handing in homework every time, most improved, best effort, or most attention-paid during class.

I asked how the school dealt with discipline on the bus. I was considering sending my seven year-old into their realm, I needed to know how they would deal with trouble makers. She said that they do warnings and talk with parents. OK--that's fine. Then she said that if the kids persist in their behavior, they could be kicked off the bus. But she said, "I can only take them off the bus for a few days though. Otherwise the parents complain." kids who are so disruptive they have to be taken off the bus are allowed back on again because it might inconvenience the parent. Seems to me that those types of parents and those kids should be inconvenienced.

We had a few disagreements with the Montessori school and they were always helpful and listened to our concerns, and for the most part, agreed with us and made the changes we requested. The amount and level of homework had been an issue, for example. I asked the principal how she handles conflicts between the parents and teachers. Her response was "We do our best to educate the parent." How arrogant. I knew that we had no chance ever being given a fair hearing of any opinions, no matter how valid.

The school had leveled classrooms with all different types of learners. The curriculum marches forward according to the schedule. Whether the kids understand the material or not. When I did the interview, many kids were being pulled out of class for independent tutoring. The school put 'egalitarianism' and the so-called self-esteem of not being in a 'slow class' above effective teaching. They do not do ability grouping and they have special ed students floundering in a regular class. Of course the kids that don't get it are pulled out of class (again--they'll be behind on THAT) for additional work. Tell me how being constantly behind and not understanding what is being taught helps with self-esteem? The educators can pretend all they want, but children who 'don't get it' will still recognize that they are behind other kids and every kid knows they need extra help with all of the pull-outs anyway. The kids themselves are even more aware of their academic failings when they are being mainstreamed into a classroom that includes all abilities. At least being in a class that is working behind other classes would give them a fighting chance of mastering skills the first time around and they would be surrounded by other kids who work at their same level.

You can be sure that the public school would never have accommodated Hanover's slightly advanced level when she transferred. I felt like it would have wasted her time since she had finished most public school first grade curriculum in her Montessori kindergarten. She tends to pick things up quickly, so I also did not want her to get bored with school. I also didn't want her to be in an atmosphere where brainy kids are made to feel out-of-place. A friend of mine, who was familiar with Montessori, had asked his relative, a public school teacher, how Montessori educated children do when they transfer. She indicated that Montessori education wasn't all that good. In her opinion, sure, the kids are advanced when they come in, but by the end of the year they are the same as everyone else. When you do nothing for children who are advanced and only teach them the same way and material you teach anyone else, of course they cannot continue with their advanced level of achievement. What an asinine comment.

During the entire tour I got to hear the principal complain about their lack of space, how the library, which was larger than the first floor of my house, could not accommodate two full classes at once, how they should have more money to expand the library or, as we were walking past an entire room devoted to art, the empty music room, the empty computer room bulging with computers newer than the one I had at home, buy new computers. Whine, whine, whine. As though anyone else can get the top-of-the-line everything or exactly what they want.

Here I was shelling out over $10,000 per kid to pay for a private school as well as helping fund this school. That private school had a library that only existed in the six bookcases on the wall of the one elementary school room, had four computers for all twenty-four children to use, no cafeteria (children ate in the classroom), no actual gym (there was a 600 square-foot carpeted room that the kids could run around in that also served as the hallway to get to the other part of the school), no art or music rooms, had minimal music, art, and gym programs, and had no afterschool opportunities except daycare. And yet I was happier to have my child schooled with such so-called inadequate resources because the priorities were always placed on academics. Each child had an individual plan and could work many of their subjects independently, at their level, and even move into a higher-level academic classroom if that is where their talents and need for curriculum leads them. The parents in this private school were more than willing to live with such substandard extras as long as their children were taught the core subjects competently and at the appropriate level.

When I left the interview, the principal of the public school was kind enough to give me samples of the school newsletter to parents. After explaining to me how they had to lengthen the school day by 15 minutes to spend a full hour (maybe an hour and 15 minutes, I can't remember now) each day doing math, every newsletter admonishes the parents to do math fact practice with their children at home each night. A testament to how inefficient their math program is. They spend an hour a day in math class and they still cannot find a way to fit in 10 minutes of math fact practice? There is no excuse for taking that much time each and every day to teach elementary grade math concepts--except for their lousy curriculum and lousy way of including all levels of learners in each class.

Another little gem was written by the school's full-time computer expert. He wrote about finally succeeding in converting every single computer lab computer to a Linux operating system. What an ass. His logic was that the systems were more stable. My thinking was along these lines: There are computers in the school so that children will be familiar with computers. They should be able to write reports on them at school or home, use them to research on the web at school or home, use them to run academic programs at school or home, have a familiarity with computers so they can get jobs that require computer use later in life. And this guy has them using Linux. An operating system that runs on about 1% of computers OUTSIDE of their school. 90% of those children will go home or go to the library or go to a job where the operating system will be Microsoft Windows. So except for a computer geek, who thinks children should be using Linux computers or spending resources and money to end up with a computer system that was not generalized.

Even before the interview, I pretty much knew that there were things about the public school I would have issues with. That the schools can guarantee a captive audience of the nation's children for hours a day makes them ripe for indoctrination. There is not an ideological group out there that is not trying to get their message into to public schools. Almost all of those groups try to pawn free or reduced-cost curriculum to the schools to wedge their ideals into the children's heads before they are knowledgeable enough to determine the idea's rightness or wrongness. Those groups spend lots of time and effort getting to the trapped kids who may never be presented with any other viewpoint; whose possibly inadequate education could keep them from being able to figure it out on their own. Public schools eat up this free material, especially if it already agrees with a teacher's, or principal's, or school board's pedagogical or political beliefs.

After the interview, I was quite certain that I did not want to put her in that school. I wish that more people would treat public school like any other place they would store their children for multiple hours. I am sure most parents would interview nurseries, daycares, and preschools. I am dismayed that so few interview the public school. I hope that all parents are vigilant about their children's education, whether it's in public school or private school. Just having a child in school is not enough, especially when an effective education is so far down the list of many public schools' priorities.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Montessori Environment for Toddlers

This must be a parent day given the number of adults.

Time to start considering what I should be doing for Bamm Bamm (the 1 year-old).

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Friday, February 13, 2009

Ballroom Dancing Show Coming

While the moms haggle over costume ideas (complete disaster there), the kids are working hard to learn the routine.

Here it is with a little more added to the end (sorry, really I just can't get enough of the music).

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Round Up

With C. August, here!

What I Learned about Switching Math Curricula

I posted this as a response to this post expressing dissatisfaction with Singapore Math. Even though my kids are in a similar situation (both are working below grade level and below their skill level), I still love Singapore math. This post touches on Singapore math specifically, but is more generally about another experience I had with switching curriculum.

Switching math curricula is difficult. When we first started homeschooling, I made a bad choice in our math. The placement test weighted non-arithmetic knowledge as heavily as the straight-up math. I would recommend anyone using the curriculum-provided tests concentrate on where the math takes you. The other stuff, can be reviewed.

I picked Saxon as our first homeschooling math program. I went to the Saxon site and had my daughter take the placement test. In her Montessori classroom, she had been doing multiplication and addition and subtraction with exchanging with four digit numbers at the end of first grade. But according to the Saxon placement test, she was placed into level 2.

The placement test included a lot of things that were not arithmetic. There was measuring, and the names of shapes, and vocabulary. So I ordered the level 2 Saxon only to find out that her arithmetic level was far beyond not just that year, but possibly the next. I stuck with Saxon hoping to rush through the boring parts. It turns out I was so bored, I didn't even do the program. I would teach her higher level arithmetic and have her do work sheets.

We switched to Singapore at the beginning of this year. I went a full grade down for both of my girls. My second grader is using 1A and 1B and my fourth grader is using 3A and 3B. I was comfortable with this primarily because Singapore advances much more quickly and with a better order of presentation. They girls are repeating things that they have done, but my eldest has actually memorized the multiplication tables (whee!) and the youngest does need review in addition and subtraction with exchanging, she will be multiplying soon, and starting on the 2A book by the end of this month. They also don't mind going through the books quickly. We skipped some things I was sure didn't need review.

Check the placement test results for any trends in the incorrect answers. If there are a lot of random errors, see if the student was careful in reading the problem. If, in an elementary example, the single and double digit addition and subtraction are correct but the three and four digit operations are wrong, the child may not understand place value correctly. Putting them in a really low math level in order to fix that one, incredibly important misunderstanding may not do them a service for the rest of the material covered. They may need intensive review or tutoring in that one subject but understand fractions just fine. I didn't even have my homeschooled student take the placement test. I knew what they had already mastered and what they were still struggling with and compared that knowledge to the material covered in the tests.

A friend of mine is ready to switch her kids from Math-U-See and I gave her the same piece of advice: pick the level based on the arithmetic questions (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fraction operations--but not fraction recognition, equation manipulation) in the placement tests. The time-telling, calendar, measurement, geometry, graphing, money, and vocabulary can be reviewed with independent material, or in the case of Singapore (because it's cheap) just purchasing a lower level book to use for only those topics. Having a friend who has navigated the program helps a lot. Right now, I am enjoying Singapore a lot. If I did decide to switch curriculum again, I would use these tips to help.

A note on my experiences with Singapore so far:

A friend recommended only using the textbook, which already includes problems, and supplementing with the workbook only when they needed additional work to get something. The textbook has a wonderful method of presentation and the workbook covers the same concepts in a different, complementary way. The intensive practice books cover the standard work presented in the textbook and also use more pre-algebra concepts and have some puzzle aspects that help with logical thinking. Again, that approach is different and yet complementary to the textbook and workbook. There are about 100 pages in each book with a year covering an A section and a B section. To do all of the books, adding in the challenging word problems, would require covering approximately 750 pages in one school year, more than 4 pages each of 180 school days if you try to use every book. I find it more worthwhile to limit the number of books.

I have found the teacher's manual to be completely unnecessary so far. That could be because I am very familiar with this elementary level of math (having taken many advanced math courses in engineering college), but I also think Singapore's presentation has a lot to do with it. The concepts are presented subtly. When I counted how many pages they spent in 1B showing exchanging, it was over 20! Each additional step was a very small increment so that the learning is very easy. My youngest breezed through it.

Just because she was going through it quickly and with little frustration does not mean she's not learning! She was learning more from Singapore 1A and 1B, faster, easier, more in-depth, and with more meaningful coverage than we ever got from working in Saxon 2 last year. I am fortunate to be very good at math, so I understand how each small increment advances the children toward the final concept and each one flows so naturally that the children have mastered the concept without the frustration I saw with the previous curricula.

Here and here (in the comments) are some excerpts from the New Milford school district's rejection of using the Singapore math curriculum. Unfortunately the original report has been removed from the website so these excerpts are all I have. And two more blog posts discussing the results at the time of their release.

Here's a couple of the New Milford, CT observations about Singapore Math [run as a trial to determine if it could replace the Everyday Math]:

"3. The pace of the program is quicker than anything we do and quicker even than our curriculum calls for. As a result, some special ed students actually perform AHEAD of their non-special education peers in successfully handling content almost by definition becoming non-special ed students!

5. Adoption of such a program would change the 'landscape' that we know as math programming. Students in this program K-8 would have completed Algebra I, most of Algebra II and Geometry. Currently between 20%-25% are tackling Algebra I in grade 8; under 5% in a good year are tackling Geometry by that grade level."

And one of the reasons not to adopt Singapore Math:

"4. The 'change in landscape' image sounds exciting, but presents real practical problems. Can we train 6th grade teachers to teach Algebra I well? Can we recruit grade 7 teachers who are comfortable presenting lots of Geometry and Algebra II? If not, do we have a sense we could train them and, if so, at what costs? If we went down this road, it would become necessary to redesign the scope and sequence of high school math sequences. Does the system have the funds to do that and the staff to deliver the change? We would have almost all students taking Calculus by junior year, if not before then. That means the academic levels expected of all our staff would be raised in math."

In other words, Singapore Math is too good?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery?

I am just shocked at how much my oldest imitates me. It's like having my own Mini Me. Usually I notice any poor parenting choices way more after I see her practicing on her little sister. And then sometimes I get to see her make some really good choices. I hope they really are her own and not just to placate me. It shouldn't be much of a surprise that she also internalizes the attitudes hubby and I use with each other. Other moms have known this stuff forever. Now that Hanover is 9, I see it happening more frequently and more obviously.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Exploring Colors with Homemade Clay

Blissfully Domestic has a nice way for kids to understand secondary and tertiary colors. Cook up some cornstarch clay (like homemade Play-Dough), seperate it into three sections and add red, blue, or yellow food coloring to represent the primary colors. Divide each primary color into thirds and mix with one of the other colors! Tada--secondary colors. Continue and mix again with the secondaries to get tertiaries. The original post shows the colors and the display.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Great Family Game to Play

Head over to Kubit2Me and click on "print and play"! There are a number of things to print. I really like Free to be Me. Print it out and play it as a family, or use some of the cards in the beginning of a party with kids (or modified for adults?) or a sleep-over. (Via MomsWhoSave)

The game comes with a bunch of cards that can include questions such as:
"What's your favorite book?"
"If you won $100, what would you buy?"
"Why do you think some people are afraid of spiders? Are you?"
"Describe your best friend. Why is he or she your best friend?"
"What have you done, in school or sports or anywhere that you are really proud of?"

As Hanover gets older, there is more and more of her life that happens without the constant presence of adults. She reads books I never read, has drop-off play dates and sports and classes that I no longer automatically attend. There are opinions that she expresses that do not mirror my own--that I may never have expressed to her. She starts thinking about things more on her own as well, including information from books, friends, other important adults in her life, and from media sources like television, movies, or music.

I love it when she wants to share her new thinking with me. I too often step on her exploratory thinking process by interjecting my own thoughts on the matter or pointing out information that she may not have discovered yet. Many times I will do what I feel is more respectful of her nascent introspection and ask questions in which I am genuinely interested in the answer, like what leads her to believe that, or express some neutral thought. I need to balance whether the additional information she needs to have is likely to come from a source other than myself or whether I can be a bit more 'Socratic' in asking a about the matter in a way she hadn't yet considered. Those techniques could prevent me from giving direct advice that may lead her to distrust her own reasoning.

So I appreciate a fun little game like Free to Be Me because it allows me to gain more insight to my increasingly independent girl.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Free Valentine's Project at Lowe's

Lowe's has a project for your kids on Valentine's Day. Registration is required. The kids can choose between a mirrored box (great for jewelry) or a race car. Sign up here.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Limited Time Free Books On-Line

From a newsletter I receive, you can access Coraline by Neil Gaimen (about to be released as a major motion picture by the author of the Newbury award winning Graveyard Book, free to listen to here) and Seekers by Erin Hunter (author of Warriors). The 'browse inside feature' will allow you to view the whole book.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

What Are You Going to be When You Grow Up?

The question, "What are you going to be when you grow up?" always annoyed me as a kid. I found it so predictable that I avoid asking it to kids I meet now, Instead, I end up asking the equally-lame "What's your favorite subject in school?" But it is an important question--especially for children. It is much more important as kids get older.

I was recently considering a statistic I learned while I was getting my degree. I took a course in college about sex and society. I had very few opportunities to enjoy non-technical classes, so I really wanted them to be interesting. During the course, the professor stated that one of the factors related to reducing teenage pregnancy was whether the girls had a vision for their future. Girls with a vision for their future were less likely to end up pregnant during their teenage years. I found that bit of information interesting enough to retain for the last 15 years.

During a recent party, I had an opportunity to interact with a number of different types of people. One thing became really clear--so many people ended up in 'it's a job' type of work. A lot of those same people continued that way year after year. Just floating from one type of work to another or making self-destructive choices. During a conversation, I got a chance to talk to a person who recently started the hard work of undertaking a long-term plan and they were excited and thrilled even with the hard work. Another person couldn't elaborate what they wanted to do even as their life is just beginning. It was interesting to see the two situations at one time.

Planning is important for all people. It's especially important when kids can be making choices that could allow or eliminate entire career paths. Kids need to plan--that means picking a goal, or vision for their own future. That helps them to make decisions that are more likely to help them reach that goal.

I was reminded of what the professor had said. A vision of the future allowed many teenagers to avoid the trap of teenage pregnancy. I could see how a vision of the future re-energized an older person and a lack of vision could lead a teenager to any old job. So, parents, ask, ask, and ask again what your children what to be when they grow up. Help them try on careers by suggesting the many varied options available to them. And let them think big! Ask other people's kids, too. You will be helping kids toward a more satisfying future and teaching them a very important life skill.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Math is Hard!

Here's a video that proves 1 is actually equal to 2!

How did you do with figuring out the error? I think I know what it is, but I'm going to check with my husband to be sure. Update--I only had it partly right. He knew immediately. If you don't get it, show it to your kids who have taken algebra and see how they do.

The original website is here (via Rovaal's twitter feed). OK--I enjoyed the video. Rovaal seems to be having a hard time getting enough viewers for his marketing contest. So watch the video and post it yourself if you like math problems!