Friday, December 30, 2011

How I Torture My Daughter: The Extracurricular Tally

Here is what we are doing and have done with my 12 year old daughter on top of her normal school work:

Splash, two days, multiple workshops

Splash one day, multiple workshops

Online Class Honors Pre-Algebra, ongoing

Online Class Writing, ongoing

Girls Science Initiative, four days a year

Minds in Motion one day seminar

Writing classes at a local library, poetry and creative, ongoing

I am torn between feeling sorry for her and feeling pretty good that we were able to find all of those opportunities for her.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Why I Don't Care that an Adult Failed a Standardized Test

Update: Here is an example standardized math test the adult failed. I am more math fluent than most, having taken engineering-level math classes all through college. I cannot imagine that a successful businessman has no need to use basic graph-reading, estimation, or even understand basic equations. Here is the answer key if you want to see how well you do.


Is this test harder than you thought? Easier? It is much easier than I thought it would be based on the man's exclamations and I find it hard to believe he could only get 10 questions right--and those being guesses.

There has been a lot of buzz around the Washington Post's blog on an adult who took a standardized test and failed it. For everyone who hates the idea of "teaching to the test", who homeschools by radical unschooling, or hates having teachers and budgets held to the results of standardized tests, the post is flaunted as proof that testing is unhelpful.

The adult who took the test is a member of the school board in the district. He is well-educated with grown children and an apparently healthy bottom-line. If he cannot do well on the test, then why are we expecting our students to know 70% of a test he did not?

His argument: I don't know this stuff now and I am successful, so why should high schoolers need to know it. Very simple answer: Not every kid is going to do what he is doing.

I see the same bias in homeschoolers who do not understand why kids need a strong foundation in math in their younger years. Even a certified secondary school math teacher in a seminar I attended implored stay-at-home mothers to envision how they use math and to use that knowledge as a basis for how they teach math to their children.

As long as you are OK that your child could never become an engineer, scientist, actuary, and a host of other math-dominated careers, even if they desperately wanted to be one, then, by all means, teach the kids only the math you now need as an adult.

Secondarily, just because you do not use something in your career or everyday life does not mean that there are not very good reasons to know it.

When I was in engineering school, I often heard the rumblings of other students (since I am at least young enough to have gone to school realizing that computers were going to be doing some seriously heavy lifting by the time I entered the work force), "Why should we bother to learn this? When we graduate, all we will need to do is press a button."

And how will you know what data to enter? How will you select the appropriate parameters for the program you are working on? If your program's finite element analysis grid size is wrong, then you may miss the failure point and you will have no way of knowing how much or little confidence to place in the results. You won't even know enough to calculate a confidence interval.

And if, for some reason, the computer spits a spurious result out at the end of its work, the engineer who was never taught the principles by which the code operates has no way of knowing that his design may not be as robust as he believes. Also true even for calculators.

Another misconception is that because an adult does not appear to need such information now, they have never needed that information.   There are some very strident opinions that I hold today specifically because, at one point, I went through the hard work of applying some information that I knew way-back-when and confirmed. I cannot remember details at this point because I have had no reason to revisit them.

Does that mean that I will defend everything I learned at school? Hell, no. No one today will ever learn to draft blueprints by hand and will never be at a loss for having avoided it. Just like it would have been ridiculous to for me to learn the slide rule.

What is the difference? I know the purpose of those objects and I understand that purpose conceptually. The tools can change and the presentation can change.

I would argue forcibly that mathematics sees too much theoretical math pushed down into elementary grades (my daughter has worked on set theory, prime numbers, and exponents in 3rd and 4th grade without even learning about division) because teachers and curriculum developers think they are teaching harder things by introducing high-level concepts.

Mathematicians are part of this nonsense because they want to see children exposed to their favorite math-theory puzzles or fascinations because that is what turns them on about math. They think that if kids see these ideas earlier that they will be excited about math.

More frequently, the children miss out on developing a real number and operation sense because they were too busy trying to figure out how to divide numbers without actually ever having being taught division and they end up frustrated and puzzled.

As you can see, I am no 'test no matter what' advocate. I am also against using any one person's experience as a barometer for what children should be taught.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Making Education a Priority

If you have done any reading on my blog, the Twitter feed, or the Facebook page (come on over and "like" me! I only need 2 more people to get to 25), and now my Google+ page, then you know I push learning. I don't just "blah, blah, blah" about it here on the blog. I actively pursue meaningful academic enrichment for my children, in school and outside of school.

Ever since I was a kid, my parents talked to me as though college was a forgone conclusion.  They stayed positive about education even though my dad never graduated high school and no one else in their families had ever gone to college.

We are cheerleaders for learning in our house. What does that mean? We review homework. We ask about school (even if all we get is "it was OK" for two weeks straight). We sign the kids up for as many afterschool academic enrichment opportunities as we do sports.

My youngest daughter, 9 year-old (almost 10) Flurpee, is signed up for some extra work at a tutoring center. When it came time to schedule our meetings, the class times available overlapped with soccer. When I told the manager that we would rather have this extra academic work instead of soccer, he said, "More parents should think like that".

Notably, soccer is not a passion of my daughter's. She enjoyed it, but she could also do without it. I would not have her trade something she loved for the extra academics. That would be dismissive of her personal values. It would also harm our ultimate goal.

How could we encourage a love of learning when she resents the additional classes because they displaced something she truly loved?

That is a fine line to walk as well. I do not feel the same way about watching television or playing video games--though I do not remove those completely either.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Working for Myself--Busy and Happy

It's been a while. That's what happens when you just delve into projects and don't come up to breathe. And that's pretty much how I work. I take on a lot of responsibility and, now that I'm working at home, without the structure imposed externally by an office, I tend to work ALL THE TIME!

I'm often working into the wee hours, working all weekend, and only taking time off for necessities. Apparently making dinner doesn't seem to count as a necessity since I'm often lax in that regard.

My daughter pointed out the obvious. "But Mom, you said you wanted to work from home to be with us more but you're always busy." And I am. I like being home to drive the kids to sports and, of course being around them. But I also love being engaged in my new business.

My business also requires me to do fun things with my kids. No, really! I have a hyper-local website dedicated to kids events and activities in my local area of Connecticut.

Every time I take my kids out to do something, I can take some pictures, write about it so other parents in my area know what to expect, and then I take a tax deduction for the expense. Sometimes I even get to go places for free.

How is the new business going? Really well! I enjoy knowing about almost everything that's going on. The people who run the site are amazingly helpful. As soon as I signed up, they sent a huge amount of "getting started" info that really helped guide me in what to do next.

While I take my involvement "to the limit", lots of stay-at-home-parents and work-outside-of-the-home-parents run their sites with much less time than I have decided to use.

Just in case you were wondering where I've been, that's it!

If you are interested and want to learn more, just drop me an e-mail at kimberly_anne_mcneill at yahoo dot com . And yes, I like it enough that I'm hawking it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

You Win Some, You Lose Some, You Win Some--The Boost of Accomplishing a Goal while Working for Yourself

Now I'm working for myself. Not my own business, really. I'm an independent contractor. I get to work for myself as I work for someone else. It's new for me.

My previous job was as an engineer (although my most recent was homeschooler). It wasn't a job that had you out much. Sure, I'd meet customers sometimes, but I never had to introduce the company or ask anyone for money.

Over the last few months I've had my share of problems trying to work from home (the kids are a little better about interrupting me on the phone). But I've also had a really good result. And that feeling of success not only wipes out the last bad phone call, it wipes out the the last week's worth of bad calls.

It's an amazing exhilaration. Those times where something falls through are no longer as daunting. When I'm discouraged it can feel like it's going to take forever to get where I need to be. When I got something I had to work for, it's as though the finish line is right in front of me and I only need to take the final step.

Enjoy crafts, recipes, and local Connecticut events for kids and teens at Macaroni Kid for Southbury, Oxford, Middlebury, Woodbury, Roxbury, and Bridgewater.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Slime for a Crowd--How I Became a "Cool Mom"

Mad Science gets a lot of props for fun science. While I would never substitute those activities for science instruction, they get kids excited. Once I bought a book with simple science experiments. Was I ever surprised to find the same types of activities that kids love. With a trip to the grocery store, I was set.

At some point in the beginning of the year, the class parent for my 3rd grader had asked for volunteers. As usual I signed up and then smacked my forehead once I realized I would actually have to do something with all the kids in the class. These science activities fit the bill nicely–if I could get them to work for 24 kids.

A little recipe testing was in order. Anyone who has had a dinner party knows you’re supposed to test all the recipes before serving them to guests. Science recipes benefit by the same procedure when you’ll be in front of an audience of 9 year-olds. I had to take the numbers of kids and the amount of time allowed into account. I used the slime recipe from chemistry.about.com. I mixed the glue at home in small batches and put 1/2 a cup of the mixture in 24 quart-sized, zipper bags.

I packed up all of the baggies (making sure the top stayed up–I didn’t want to take any chances), some food color, and a Mason jar of the Borax mixture. Once I got to the school, I passed out the ziplock bags of the glue mixture and let the kids color it. After the color, I had the kids line up and I put three tablespoons of the Borax solution into each baggy. The kids just squeezed the bags to mix it up. When they could reach in and feel the slime, it was declared the “best Fun Friday ever!”

A little hint that I learned: the more water added to the glue the more “slimy” the slime.

More craft or activity ideas for kids and teens and also local things to do in Connecticut.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A New Journey--What is Up with my Kid's Poor School Performance

Hanover started public school in November of 2009 after three years of home schooling. Her first year was a little rocky with adjusting to new expectations, rules, and learning new skills. This following year, in sixth grade, started off really well. She could still her new best friend, she made another, very close friend, and her grades were good. Everything seemed to be coming together.

Her second report card started to show a slip. Her grades had fallen and there were some comments about her performance. The third marking period showed a steady decline in all of the academic subjects. After meeting with her main teachers, we implemented some new strategies at home to deal some of the issues.

One concern we needed to address was homework. Hanover was not turning in the required work. If we let her come home from school and blow off steam and play until dinner, by the time dinner was over, she forgot what her homework was or forgot any verbal instructions. First change: homework, if there is any, is done before anything else. That way all of her work is still in the forefront of her thoughts, she's still in "school-mode", and she can truly relax knowing she doesn't have anything work waiting for her before bed.

Along with that, I also became the homework police. I checked the websites where the teachers posted the assignments and made sure she knew about each one. I also drove her back to school a few times if she forgot a book.

Another change put into place dealt with organization. Instead of one binder that hardly held all of her work, we purchased a separate binder with dividers for each subject and a portable three-hole punch. She can punch any paperwork and add to the right binder. That helps cut down on some of the lost papers.

And that helped with some of the concrete problems. I wanted to understand the daydreaming that the teachers were reporting. They all said her test scores were good but her grades suffered because she didn't complete homework and she drifted off in class. So I investigated further with an academic counselor.

Yes--I know she was probably underachieving in school because she didn't need as much time, but it took a second set of eyes for me to figure out that she was fiercely independent. It's not that she didn't want to do well in school, it was that she is very intrinsically motivated and whatever was going on in school didn't float her boat. Which was almost no answer to what we needed but did help us move in a more interesting direction.

When I'm not policing schoolwork, I publish a website that has crafts, recipes, and events for families in an area of Connecticut.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Learning Curve-Working from Home with Kids

Although I was more than ready to get back to doing work, the transition to a work-at-home-mom has not been without it's challenges. As you can imagine, I have to change a few habits. I must do some work during the day. Initially I spent some time during the day on the computer. Now that I have some things settled in that arena, I have to make phone calls. This is where I hit a roadblock in a way.

I know you're going to think this is a story about the little guy, but it was my 12 year-old. Hanover wanted to ask me where the salsa was while I was on one of my first business calls. I was already nervous and had stumbled a little over my words. When she came in and started talking, I did the typical gestures toward the phone and held my finger up to my mouth.

Not good enough! Not only did she continue talking, she got louder. I finally put my hand over the receiver and whispered loudly, "I don't know and I'm on a business call." As soon as I took my hand off the phone, she asked about that darn salsa again. She was really upset. Finally, a more adamant "Go away!" allowed me to return my attention to the person on the other end of the line. I was so flustered though, I was glad we finished up quickly. It certainly shook my confidence. Hanover and I had a talk afterward.

I know I still have more of this kind of interruption in the future. As the kids and I both see other challenges and figure out how to meet my new needs and as they realize I can't be as available as I was.

For kid's events in Connecticut, see my new job at Macaroni Kid--a local website for parents with event, crafts, activities, and recipes.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Evolution of Motherhood

First I was a single, working girl. Then I became a working mom. I loved my job so much and understood so little about children that I had no desire to stay at home with infants. Then my mommy-instincts to be with my kids grew and my job satisfaction tanked and I was a homeschooling mom. Once my older girls went to school and I was a stay-at-home-mom to my toddler and now preschooler.

It didn't take me long to realize that staying home with a preschooler just was not mentally stimulating enough. Sure, I could be somewhat busy toting my Little Guy to different classes, playgrounds, or library programs. That might be somewhat of a challenge for scheduling and would keep us in a flurry of activity. I love taking him out and I can work on other things while he plays. I needed something more interesting to think about while being a cruise director for the kids.

I also had some new requirements in my life. I enjoy being home for my kids after school so any new endeavor would need to be flexible enough to allow me to continue my chauffeuring and homework watching duties. I also knew that my previous career was not ammenable to part time work. I had to think outside of the box.

I knew of another mom who was running her own family-friendly business (Hi!). I pretty much begged her to take me under her wing and I am now working as an independent contractor. And now I am a work-at-home-mom. Which seems like it should be easier than it really is.

Friday, May 06, 2011

How to Alienate Your Book Club

This is a tip straight from me to you. If you are reading JD Salinger's Catcher in the Rye for your book club, don't read extensively from the pertinent sections of Existential philosophy. Reading about anxiety gets a few head nods. Explaining, as well as you can, nothingness sees side conversations start up. Mentioning how existentialism also explains Holden's continuing dissatisfaction with those around him...well, that was when it was nicely suggested we return to the pre-printed study guide questions.

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Thursday, May 05, 2011

What Kind of Mom Are You? Quiz

I thought this quiz was quite cute and short.

http://quiz.bronxzoo.com/mothers-day/email

It's more for you to fill out regarding your own mother than you as a mother. You can choose to send e-mail greetings to mom when you're done.



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Monday, February 21, 2011

Common Ground

I participate in a book club with some very nice women. All of them are older than me, ranging from a few years to a couple of decades. Unsurprisingly, my political beliefs are unique.

There is a particular woman with whom I disagree on a huge number of subjects. She identifies as a secular humanist. Yet I find myself enjoying her company immensely. I liken it to Kira's enjoyment of her time with Andrei in "We the Living". I can appreciate that she has identified some level of philosophy and she has a grudging respect for my explicit and consistent views.

During our most recent discussion ("Half Broke Horses" by Jeannette Walls), another member drug out that old Taoist trope,"Without dark, there is no light. What is good without evil?" I and my secular humanist friend both stated our unequivocal disagreement. It is fascinating to see completely different belief systems agree sometimes.


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