Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Drills

Drilling in math is fun. At least, it was for me in elementary school. I keep coming across the idea that "drill is kill"; I've seen it so much that I have almost started to believe it. But then I think back to what I remember about elementary school math. In 6 years of math (kindergarten was not so academic way back then...), I have only four memories of what I did in math:

1) In 2nd grade, we made little colored picture cards with the times tables on them. For instance, all the "two times" would be pink pencils, "three times" yellow bears, and so forth. We used the cards to practice our times tables.
2) In 2nd grade, we wrote all the numbers up to 1000 in a book made of ten sheets with a grid for 100 numbers on each sheet.
3) In 6th grade, we did timed drills on arithmetic. I thoroughly enjoyed the competition with myself and my classmates to accurately recall and write the answers in these one-minute drills. Probably because I usually did very well. :)
4) When we learned to calculate interest, I was proud of being able to calculate and show my work for ten consecutive years of compound interest all on one line of paper; I don't think the teacher appreciated my itty-bitty writing.

Why did I enjoy, or at least remember, only repetitive activities? Aren't repetitive activities supposed to be mind-numbing? (As an adult, I do find repetitive activities boring, but children aren't just little adults.) There's not a constructivist, "fuzzy math" activity up there, although I suppose you could still find elementary school children today counting up to 1000 jelly beans in a group at some point in their schooling. Imagine my surprise to read today that editors of The Mathematics Teacher, in refusing a paper for publication, stated that "rote drills do not constitute an authentic mathematical practice". Apparently, I didn't actually do math in elementary school. Funny, I ended up a top math student in high school (the kind that went to state contests) and earned a BS in mathematics. All that "inauthentic" math practice back in elementary school gave me a good foundation for mathematical achievement later on. Remembering my own past, while anecdotal and not likely to convince any true believer in the stultifying effects of math drills, helps me be more firm in my resolve to give my children the kind of math foundation I received. I bet in a few years they'll beat me on timed drill contests!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

More on the previous post

OK, I'll be fair. I just delved into the study report itself (posted by the author here) and saw what the actual reading remediation programs were. The programs were Corrective Reading, Wilson Learning System, Spell Read Phonological Auditory Training, and Failure Free Reading (smallest sample group in the study). Per the authors, "All of these programs provided systematic and explicit instruction in word-level decoding skills. Failure Free Reading focuses on developing recognition of words by sight, while the other three programs emphasize phonemic decoding." So, one of the four remediation programs used was not phonics; but, it wasn't whole language, either!

What's interesting to me is that Failure Free Reading, while emphasizing decoding at the word level and eschewing phonics, apparently brought about an improvement in phonological decoding skills in this study. What mechanism makes that happen? I'd love to see the curriculum itself to see how it facilitates development of phonological decoding ability.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Another thing phonics can do...

I'm an unabashed fan of phonics instruction to teach reading. Not very odd, considering we have a phonetic system of writing, but still viewed as reactionary and less effective in some circles. I'm not sure what drug exactly people in those circles used to fry their brains while their parents were paying for tuition (I'm including alcohol as a drug here--I live near a college, and I'm no stranger to what goes on substance-wise), for synthetic phonics appears to be the most logical and successful way of teaching English reading, despite all of English's lovely archaic spellings and foreign words.

While perusing science news this morning at one of those odd hours I owe to my six-week-old, I came across an article stating that reading remediation positively alters brains:
As the researchers report today in the journal Neuron, brain imaging of children between the ages of 8 and 10 showed that the quality of white matter -- the brain tissue that carries signals between areas of grey matter, where information is processed -- improved substantially after the children received 100 hours of remedial training. After the training, imaging indicated that the capability of the white matter to transmit signals efficiently had increased, and testing showed the children could read better.
....
Keller and Just also found that the amount of change in diffusion among the treated group was directly related to the amount of increase in phonological decoding ability. The children who showed the most white matter change also showed the most improvement in reading ability, confirming the link between the brain tissue alteration and reading progress.

Did you catch that? The kids got better at phonological decoding, and their brain tissue improved in quality. So, not only will phonics help a child read, but it makes his or her brain better! That's cool. :)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Facebook Fun

My punk baby brother (OK, he's actually about 24 years old and studying engineering at BYU) just posted on Facebook that he's engaged! What??? I didn't even know he was dating anyone all that seriously. If this is for real, I'm in shock. But, knowing him, I will continue to suspect a hoax until he confirms the news personally. This is the boy who bleached his hair right before I got married and proclaimed to anyone who would listen that I was going to get so mad at him for ruining my wedding pictures with his crazy hair. I didn't get mad; I had more important things on my mind than the trivial detail of his hair color....things like, was I going to go through with the wedding?

MacGyver quote

Recently viewed quote on MacGyver: "I died...and went to Thanksgiving?" (upon waking up injured in a room full of Amish people).

I love that show. :)

Monday, December 7, 2009

I just discovered a new educational resource

Instead of searching randomly on the internet for free educational games, I can start my search with a great website I just discovered: Internet4Classrooms. The makers of this site have gathered together links for a large number of online educational games and put them in categories based on grade level standards covering kindergarten through eighth grade. For example, this link takes one to a list of links to games that deal with colors (under the subject of math) for kindergartners. I look forward to exploring this website some more!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Nursing benefits

This study is good news for nursing mothers.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Season

It pains me to give a bad review of a new author's first book, but I just read part of an unbelievable, poorly researched young adult fiction book. It was Sarah MacLean's The Season, a teenage Regency romance set in 1815 at the start of the London season. The lead female and her two friends, all of whom are just 17 years old, speak like modern teenagers about finding "The One" and wanting love matches with someone who will treat them as equals. Equality as a pressing concern for gentry teenage girls in 1815? Come on! Here's one of the worst quotes I came across:
"True," said Ella. "Men are not nearly as evolved as women are, nor as intelligent, evidently."
So...not only is the author having a swipe at all men, she's oblivious to the fact that the theory of evolution didn't even come into being until after Darwin began his voyaging in 1831. Don't waste your time on this book.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Recent obsession

My children just discovered new sections of the UpToTen website a week ago, and they are in love. Every day, hours spent doing mazes, coloring pages, watching little cartoon sequences, and singing new songs for the older dds; all the while, I spend time holding and caring for the wee bairn. I'm quite pleased with the current arrangement, especially since dd5's reading skills seem to be growing due to self-motivation (she wants to navigate the site and do the activities all on her own).

Monday, November 30, 2009

Formula vs. Breast Milk

Does any brand of formula have stem cells in it? Doubt it. But breast milk does!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Celebrity LOL

In honor of our having watched the final episode of the final season of MacGyver last night, here's a great Celebrity LOL -
richard dean anderson
see more Lol Celebs
It's nice in our work/status/money/stuff-obsessed culture to see a hero like MacGyver making the choice to quit his employment when family obligations come up.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Stories from People Around Us #1

We invited a friend from church to join us for Thanksgiving dinner. She is a single, older lady, intelligent but certainly not part of any sort of celebrity scene. As we were talking about Donny Osmond (go Donny for winning Dancing With the Stars at his age!), I told a story about a relative who was asked out by two Osmond brothers at around the same time and ended up at an Osmond family get-together on one of the dates. Tres awkward.

Our friend topped my tale by telling about how her mother dated Elvis Presley. For real. She went on five dates with Elvis back when he was in Shreveport, but decided not to pursue a longer relationship with him. According to our friend, her mom didn't want to be with someone who'd "always be prettier than she was."

Monday, November 23, 2009

Smiles

Our dd-zero is just three and a half weeks old, and she just gave us her first clearly real smiles a few minutes ago. So dear! At this Thanksgiving season, one of the things I am most thankful for is the privilege of being a mother. I know that life could have taken me other ways and that motherhood is not something that comes to all women, so I am humbled and grateful for the blessing of being able to raise my children.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

We just watched the DVD of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog last night. Dh had already seen this little gem on the internet when it came out, but this was my first time watching it. It was one of the funniest movies I've seen for a very long time. Included on the DVD was a musical commentary that was one of the silliest things I've heard for a very long time. One of the best actors in the movie was Bad Horse, the head of the Evil League of Evil. ;) No, seriously, the three leads were all terrific. Well done, Joss Whedon et al.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Library wishes

I love our local library system. So many books, videos, etc. that we can put on hold and check out and renew (online renewal is so great!). :) However, I have just a few wishes that would make the library experience even better:
1) I wish people would not let their children damage the children's section DVDs. Nearly every Backyardigans video I've ever checked out freezes at some point in the watching thereof, much to the dismay of our little ones.
2) I wish that people would return intact the multi-DVD sets. We just found out that there is a sixth DVD to the 2nd season of MacGyver; it wasn't there when we checked it out, but now that the library has noticed its absence, we might be the ones who end up being charged for its loss.
3) I wish I hadn't had to pay $4.50 to use a parking garage last night when I went to our downtown library, which is located right by a community college branch so all the free parking spots by the library were full.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Benny and Omar

Benny and Omar by Eoin Colfer was such a fun book! And if expat life in Africa is like expat life in Asia and South America, this was one of the most accurate depictions of it that I've ever come across. The book even taught me about Irish culture; for instance, now I know the word "eejit", and I have an inkling of what "hurling" is (it's a sport, not a stomach emptying). So, go read this book. Read it to your children, too, if they're eight or older.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Stuffed

I just finished reading the book Stuffed by Hank Cardello last night. It was an interesting read, especially the first part where he covers the economic reasons for why restaurants and packaged food makers make selling choices that are bad for consumer health, inter alia, combo meals, supersizing, and inertia as to ingredient changes. The author is very pessimistic about people's ability to choose to eat healthily, so he advocates in the latter part of his book the practice of "stealth health"--changing out unhealthy ingredients for healthier ones without telling consumers. I can see the merits in such an idea, but I don't agree with what he considers healthier alternatives. For instance, I distrust artificial sweeteners and never use them in my food, and I don't drink diet soda pop; I certainly don't want the food industry sneaking such sweeteners into my food. Also, I don't want to be fed oil that my body won't absorb; I did that once, and I was not pleased with how my body dealt with it. I'd much rather eat moderate amounts of butter, saturated fat that it is. Despite my dislike of "stealth health" as a solution to the obesity epidemic, I still recommend the book--at the least, it should help you have the strength to turn down the combo meal next time you're forced to get your lunch or dinner at a fast food joint.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

MacGyver: Trail to Doomsday

We just watched MacGyver: Trail to Doomsday. I knew who one of the bad guys was from the start. This made-for-TV movie was too predictable and very slow-paced. It was as though they took a regular MacGyver episode and just STREEEETTTCHED it to add another 30 minutes or so. I actually went and washed dishes, I was that bored with the lack of action. So, watch it if you're a MacGyver fan, but have something else to do with your hands while you wait for the movie to get where it's going.

Friday, November 13, 2009

What an intelligent teenager can do with the right education

A sixteen-year old boy diving off Montenegro while on vacation discovered an ancient Greek or Roman temple submerged under the water. He recognized it as unlikely to be a natural rock formation because his dad is an archaeologist and had dragged him around to various ruins:

Michael said: “When I first swam out, I thought they were just rocks, as most people would, but then I noticed that they were cylindrical and knew that they couldn’t be natural, so I called my dad over.

“I’ve been dragged around a lot of ancient ruins, so if it hadn’t been for that I wouldn’t have looked twice.”

Can you imagine how good this is going to look on his college applications? "Accomplishments: Discovered ancient temple on summer vacation". Pretty hard to top that!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Back to normal life?

Dh's paternity leave ended today, but things aren't as hard to handle as I feared. Thanks to baby only waking up three times during the night and falling back asleep almost immediately, I got a decent amount of sleep. It's amazing what a difference being rested makes! Also, my two older girls are not dissatisfied with having to stay home today because they're both getting over illnesses and slept late themselves.

Not to sound like a whiner, but I've never taken care of a newborn and my own house before. Living abroad in poorer countries generally includes with it the financial ability to hire housekeepers, but this time I'm on my own. I'm very grateful for my little house right now. Who wants to vacuum a McMansion while recovering from childbirth and caring for a newborn?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Reading progress in just a few minutes a day

Dd5 is progressing very well in reading. She often reads picture books to herself and her sister now, provided that I have read the books to her recently. Because she remembers the stories and many of the words used in them, she's able to work out nearly all of the words by applying the phonics rules we've covered so far. Not bad, considering we are just finishing up the "silent 'e' at the end of the word makes the vowel say its name" rule. Thanks to www.starfall.com, she has been given a solid foundation in knowing letter names and sounds; Starfall is one of the best websites ever.

Lessons are not stressful for either one of us. I especially love it that our formal reading lessons are nearly always under 10 minutes per day. A typical reading lesson can be as simple as sounding out twelve words or so that require application of a specific reading rule. If she's being fidgety, our lessons really are that short. Also, if need be, we spend weeks on the same rule until she understands it. It's not like we have to rush her to reading proficiency...she's barely old enough for kindergarten as it is! It's pleasant to be seeing fruits already from our low-key but consistent approach to teaching her to read.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

MacGyver

While adjusting to life with our dear little newborn, we've been enjoying Seasons 1 and 2 of MacGyver, one of the best TV shows ever. There is nothing that Minnesota boy can't do! Glad I married me a Minnesota boy, too. :)

Ten reasons MacGyver is so awesome:
1) He stops an acid leak with chocolate in the very first episode.
2) It's clear who the bad guys are--the Commies.
3) Rather than hold a gun himself, he'll hand it to the current episode's lady character even though she's never fired a gun before.
4) He's got a soft spot for children.
5) He manages to communicate with people no matter where he is--Central America, Russia, Hungary, even Burma!
6) His one-liner comments are so bad they're funny.
7) His hair is generally handsome and flattering; sadly, his lady co-stars suffer from serious 80's hairstyles.
8) He never needs a map to escape; the man can make it to the border of any country, no matter how cloudy the day.
9) Thanks to their having helped MacGyver, scores of people become asylees.
10) His ingenious solutions always work, no matter how far-fetched and slim the chances.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Birth Story

My baby is nearly one week old! Just a little under a week ago, I started feeling labor contractions--those business-like ones that for me resemble menstrual cramps. We left for the hospital after dinner, but stopped on the way to get me a large chocolate Frosty at Wendy's. While we drove around eating our Frosties, we timed my contractions in a sitting position (in the car passenger seat) so that we'd know exactly what to report when checking into the birth center. We finally arrived and got me checked in at around 8 or 9 p.m., when active labor was just getting started. I labored without too much pain until around 1 a.m., then transition arrived and stayed and stayed and stayed. By the time my "water broke" and I was ready to push, I had no patience to wait for the doctor to come in. It was time for the pain to end, and delivery was the way to do it! All the nurses were yelling at me to not push and to wait for the doctor, but the only thing that slowed me down was hearing that they had to take care of a nuchal cord (umbilical cord around the baby's neck, just like Mommy at birth). Some doctor made it in time for the birth at 2:54 a.m., and my doctor (who I'd never met--she was just the one on call that night) came in afterward to help with the placenta and aftercare.

This was my third drug-free childbirth, and I can honestly say "ow". Childbirth does hurt, although not the whole time. Contractions do ebb, thankfully, and by being able to change position and spend much of my labor upright and mobile, I think I speed up my labors. The pushing stage certainly goes quickly. I can't imagine needing more than ten minutes or so to push a baby out, but that could just be how my body works. Also, I tend to recover rather quickly which I put partially down to having felt what's going on with my body during labor and delivery (it helps that my babies have been such great little nursers, too).

It was odd to realize that here in the USA, doctors don't typically see you during labor. They do everything through the nurses until the baby is about to come. I don't like that aspect of US hospital birthing. I purposely chose a certified nurse-midwife for all my prenatal care so that I could be assisted by someone who dealt regularly with non-epidural births. In the end, except for her faxing in my birth plan to the hospital ahead of time, she had nothing to do with how my labor was managed because she wasn't on call that night. I was at the mercy of the random nurse assigned to me. Luckily, I ended up with a very supportive nurse during transition, bless her heart!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Free-Range Kids

I'm only halfway through the book Free-Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy, but I have to recommend it to other parents. It is so funny! The author exposes to a healthy level of ridicule some of the extreme risk-avoidance mentalities out there.

Such hyper-worriers really do merit a little mocking. There's my sister's neighbor, who informed my sister that "She would never let her children play alone outside!" in their expensive, quiet neighborhood (Doesn't she have any windows in that big house of hers?). And there's the experience of a friend of mine, who was once paying for gas and left her car with her two children (young enough to be strapped in car seats) right outside the open door of the gas station minimart where she could see them. A man came up to her and told her that he'd just called the police on her because she shouldn't have left them in the car. (So, it's safer to unleash them to bring them into the minimart for a 3-minute transaction? Even though she was near them and able to see them?) Another customer heard what had happened and started yelling at the first man for having done such a dumb thing. My friend had to leave because of an urgent appointment, but she called the police later to explain why she hadn't stayed at the minimart. The police reassured her that all was fine and said that the cashier had called them and told them not to come because there was no reason to. Bless the sensible cashier's heart!

There exist many real risks to children, and the book's author respects those. However, there are also many teensy-weensy de minimus risks that are being allowed to overshadow and prevent basically safe, worthwhile, and healthy activities. Free-Range Kids is a good antidote to all the scary stories and worries in which concerned parents sometimes overindulge.

Still waiting...

Time has slowed down. Pain is frequent, but no regular contractions yet. Please, baby, come meet us soon!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wouldn't you know it?

Despite the cold weather hitting us now, even with patchy snowfall, the barometer has been steady all day! I'm doomed to go to 40 weeks again!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Paying more attention to barometric pressure than ever before...

On Sunday, a friend told me that a cold front put her in labor (spontaneous rupture of membranes) 7 weeks early with her first child. When she went into the hospital, the labor and delivery area was full. Then today, another friend told me that a cold front put her into labor, too! Coincidence? Believe it or not, a study out of Japan found significant association between the barometric pressure and women going into labor; here are the results and conclusions of the study:
Results There was a significant increase in the number of deliveries and rupture of the membranes at low barometric pressure although there was no significant correlation between onset of labor and barometric pressure. This tendency was noted in both women with spontaneous rupture of the fetal membranes and those with premature rupture of the membranes. On days with a larger change in barometric pressure, regardless of whether it was increasing or decreasing, the number of deliveries increased and the relationship was statistically significant.
Conclusions A causal relationship was noted between the number of rupture of the fetal membranes, delivery and barometric pressure, suggesting that low barometric pressure induces rupture of the fetal membranes and delivery.
I'm 38 weeks pregnant, large and extremely uncomfortable, and suspicious that I'm growing another big baby inside (dd2 weighed over 9.5 lbs at birth). So, with eastern Colorado expecting rain/snow/freezing rain over the next day or so, is it any wonder that I'm constantly checking the barometric pressure? I would very much like to go into labor now rather than in 2 weeks or more!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pride and Prejudice

Whilst unearthing the seeds from a pomegranate tonight, I watched the beginning of the 2005 Pride and Prejudice. I'm finishing it up now (the movie, not the pomegranate), so here's a review.

Pluses:
- The actress who plays Jane is truly lovely.
- Beautiful attention to setting, be it a humble countryside home or a magnificent estate.
- Very pretty music.

Minuses:
- The hairstyles are just horrible.
- Too short and choppy with unnecessary modern phrases and actions thrown in throughout.
- Irrationally sympathetic treatment of Mrs. Bennet's character near the end.

This version of Pride and Prejudice comes too soon after the 1995 version with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, which puts it at a serious disadvantage because it compares so poorly with it in regards to plot and character development. The 2005 version is simply too short to do justice to Jane Austen's wonderful writing and complex characters. Still, it is enjoyable to watch once in a while and takes much less time to view than the 1995 version.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Preparing for baby

We are basically ready for the new baby, but there are a few things I need to do before she can come:
1) Make sure dd2 feels very secure in her parents' love and build her excitement and appreciation for being a big sister;
2) Pack some sort of bag for the hospital (being without a toothbrush isn't nice);
3) Prepare myself pyschologically to be a mother of a newborn again; and
4) Make my "birth plan" "cute" so that the nurses in the hospital will actually read it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Shaker Table

Recently dd5 has been enjoying the educational video All About Earthquakes from Schlessinger Science Library. She loves all of their All About videos, especially when she can talk me into helping her do the experiments shown in the videos.

Today, we made a "shaker table" out of cardboard, rubber bands, and marbles (which we bought today especially for the experiment) to simulate the motion of the earth shaking during an earthquake. Then we made buildings out of toothpicks and gumdrops and tested their ability to stay standing on our shaker table. It was a fair amount of work, but even dd2 got into the building action...it didn't hurt that she was allowed to eat some of the gumdrops.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Braxton-Hicks, etc.

Now that I'm finally past the 37-week point of my pregnancy, the Braxton-Hicks contractions are sometimes very painful. In fact, they're more painful than my drug-free delivery of child number two, who weighed over 9.5 lbs. I spent most of my labor with her siting on a "birthing ball" and watching cable TV at the hospital. I really recommend those balls; they are much more comfortable than lying or sitting on a hospital bed. Maybe I should get out the ball now to see if it helps with my Braxton-Hicks pain...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Artemis Fowl

Thanks to my husband, I'm now reading the Artemis Fowl series. I read the first book a while back but didn't feel then the desire to get the second book. However, that was before I read the graphic novel of the first book, which dh borrowed from the library twice in a row. I'm now happily in the middle of book four, The Opal Deception, and wondering how Artemis is going to get out of this fix. Artemis Fowl reminds me of the The Great Brain. They both have big brains and little hearts, but slowly their hearts begin to catch up with their mental powers.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Proposal

Dh and I went on a date last night! First we stuffed ourselves full of German food at a local restaurant, then we went to see the movie The Proposal.

It was an OK movie. As someone who used to work day-in, day-out with fiancee and spouse visa applicants, I found I was rooting for Sandra Bullock's character to get deported and barred from the USA for fraud. She's one of the protagonists of the film, so I'm fairly sure my feelings on the subject were quite different from how the film writers imagined audiences reacting. Honestly, though, what's so awful about her having to spend the rest of her life outside the USA when she didn't even care enough to return her immigration lawyer's phone calls before it reached the point where her status expired? It's not like having to live in Canada is some sort of lifelong torment.

I really enjoyed the nods to While You Were Sleeping, which is one of my favorite movies. Bullock's co-star, Ryan Reynolds, did a good job and seems to have promise for more good roles. And the Alaskan scenery was lovely.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Crafts Galore!

Dd5 is a craft monster. She just has to do at least one craft project everyday, which is a little trying sometimes for this bookish lady who fears her own sewing machine. A week ago, I came across a great book: My Book of Easy Crafts from Kumon. It contains 40 easy craft projects (only scissors, glue, and sometimes string required) with clear instructions; she can do most of them by herself! And she does, quite rapidly. She's currently on project #35. I'm positive that Kumon's My Book of Amazing Crafts will be on her Christmas list.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

NCTQ report on Colorado

Thanks to the blog "kitchen table math, the sequel", I just found out about a report by the National Council on Teacher Quality that specifically focuses on my state, Colorado. I was most interested by the section recommending the adoption of Singapore Math statewide for the elementary grades:
Within the United States, Colorado’s performance against other states is itself quite mediocre, 28th in 4th grade mathematics and 18th in 8th grade mathematics according to the latest NAEP data, well below where it should be given Colorado’s relative wealth.

Singapore’s approach to elementary mathematics education first came to the attention of U.S. educators in 1997 with the release of the results of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). Singapore’s fourth and eighth grade students placed first in mathematics, well ahead of students in the U.S. and other Western countries, and that performance has stayed strong. The Singapore system was lauded for providing “textbooks [that] build deep understanding of mathematical concepts while traditional U.S. textbooks rarely get beyond definitions and formulas (AIR report, 2005).” While countries such as Japan and Korea have also done well in international testing, Singapore is the only Asian country where English is the medium of instruction for all state-approved schools in grades K-12, meaning that their curriculum is written in English.

Singapore’s curriculum offers another advantage to states like Colorado with growing numbers of English Language Learners. Only 20 percent of the students who come to school in Singapore can speak English, the language of schooling. Because of that dynamic, the curriculum is sensitive to the limited understanding of non-English speaking students.
As a mother with a bachelors degree in mathematics, I'm going to seek the best math curriculum I can for my children. "Fuzzy" math with little mastery just won't cut it, and as long as my local school district uses the Everyday Math curriculum, we will be voting with our feet against it by either homeschooling or going to a charter school. Is there a chance the local school administration will pay attention to this report and actually adopt Singapore Math?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Milestones, Smilestones

Tonight dd2 had fun jumping around for a while. At one point, she two-foot-jumped six times in a row before her movement became a run-gallop. According to this PBS website, that's a developmental milestone typically reached by a 4 to 5 year old child. Should I sign dd2 up for sports lessons right now?? Just kidding. "Developmental milestones" shouldn't cause a parent to damage a toddler's love of movement. Besides, what coach will take on a child who hasn't given up diapers yet?

Homeschool Carnival

This week's homeschool carnival is up at Walking Therein.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Favorite book

One of my all-time favorite books was printed back around 1903. I discovered it at BYU library 15+ years ago, and a good friend bought it for me over the internet about nine years ago. Now it's available for free on Gutenberg, so I can share it with others who might be interested in a classic romance novel with very high-level vocabulary set in 16th century France. The book is Under the Rose by Frederic Isham.

{Proof}

Last night I watched {Proof}, the movie based on the play Proof that I saw last month. I thought I would enjoy the movie more than the play because the movie had Anthony Hopkins and Gwyneth Paltrow, both very good at acting, while the play was a college production thrown together in a month. Surprisingly, I liked the college play better. Anthony Hopkins was underused, and Gwyneth Paltrow, playing Catherine, had some of her character's best lines cut out of the movie. In the play, I believed that Catherine was basically sane and just having a hard time after her father's death. In the movie, Catherine came across as genuinely headed down the path to insanity right after her father; it's not a satisfying ending for a person in such a state to try to live on her own--isn't that often how someone ends up becoming a homeless person?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Fireproof

I just watched Fireproof with my husband a couple of nights ago. The acting was sometimes rather amateur, but by the end, I forgave that shortcoming and decided I liked the movie. It has great lessons about sacrifice, decisions, commitment and faith. And it reminded me how gut-wrenching being served with divorce papers can be (I did a little process serving once, and hated the look on one guy's face when I finally caught up to him with his wife's petition for divorce.) I highly recommend it.

Cute child quote

Yesterday while driving with my daughters, we were talking about how the leaves are changing color and will soon be falling off the trees. Dd5 mentioned that we would then be able to "crunch" the leaves. I asked her, "Are you going to crunch the leaves with your bare feet?" She responded, "No, Mommy, I will crunch them with my human being feet." She thought I had meant "bear feet". ;)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Directed Art

We just had my mom here to visit, and when I showed her the Ed Emberley art books that dd5 has been enjoying for the past few weeks, she said "Oh, you've got her doing directed art." That's the first time I've heard the expression. According to my mother, directed art is where you teach the child what elements (shapes, in this case) to put together in what order to get a desired art result. When you just let young children create whatever without guidance, those who haven't learned (or at least figured out) specifics of what to do to get a desired result are at a loss.

I've read a lot about direct instruction, but I'd never before given much thought to art as something where direct instruction can be utilized. Art just seems to be such a "free-spirit" kind of subject. But I can certainly see why a child might enjoy art more when given specific instruction and tools to get a satisfyingly good result. Is it possible that one of the reasons that most modern art, especially student art, leaves me cold and underwhelmed is that they aren't being taught much technical mastery of the skills necessary to convincingly express an object, an emotion, etc.?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Flu tests

I and dd5 got flu tests yesterday just to be sure what we were dealing with--negative for both Flu A and B! Yay! That means, since she's no longer feverish, that we get to enjoy our weekend instead of confining ourselves to our home.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Flu

Yesterday when I picked dd5 up from school, she was sitting at a table in the computer lab complaining that her head hurt. The teacher said she hadn't hurt herself in P.E., and the "mom touch test" indicated that she had a fever. I got her into the car and before we even drove away from the school, she vomited her lunch and afternoon snack all over herself. She's thrown up twice since. Both she and dd2 had a fever through much of the night, although dd2's fever responded very well to medicine and she's been a happy camper all this morning. Dd5 is still pretty listless and seems to be just waiting to lose her breakfast.

Why is this blog-worthy? Because my children might have "swine flu", more correctly known as H1N1 flu. Dd5's sudden fever would especially fit the swine flu symptoms. We know that a family was in church Sunday who had a son suffering with swine flu recently. I'm all for being generally churchgoing folks, but I wish they'd decided to stay home. There are many pregnant women, including myself, at church, and we are at high risk for serious complications from swine flu. If dd5 has swine flu, my chances of avoiding it are very slim.

We'll see how the day goes....at least it's not the weekend....yet.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Our fault

Dd wet her bed just before 10 p.m. tonight, and it wouldn't have happened if we had remembered to have her use the toilet before we put her to bed. She was so sad. This was her first accident in months. We parents rightfully take all the blame for it, but it doesn't change the unfortunate fact that her favorite stuffed animals are now in the washing machine and unable to be her bedfellows tonight.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sugar? Really??

I've been reading through a book called Do-It-Yourself Medicine, written by Ragnar Benson and published by Paladin Press in Boulder, Colorado. In the chapter on stitching wounds, he states that after washing out the wound with Betadine, "[if] available, treat with Betadine ointment, mastitis medication, tetracycline ointment, or common powdered sugar." Say what? Powdered sugar as an antibiotic? A quick Google search on the subject didn't turn up any substantiation for this as an effective use. Why would sugar help keep infection at bay?

Here comes autumn

This is our weather forecast for tonight:
Mostly cloudy. Chance of rain showers in the evening and overnight...then chance of snow showers early in the morning. Lows 32 to 38. North winds 10 to 20 mph. Chance of precipitation 30 percent.
Did someone forget to tell Mother Nature that it's still September?!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Proof

Tonight I saw a local college's production of the play Proof by David Auburn. Having been transitioning between hemispheres around the time the movie version with Gwyneth Paltrow came out, I was unaware of the existence of this play/movie. I enjoyed the math jokes, felt for the main character's struggles, and appreciated the discussion of mathematicians' drive to achieve and worries about being unable to do so. I was also impressed by how well the college students put on this play, especially in light of the fact that they just started their academic year three weeks ago!

I look forward to seeing the movie version now--Anthony Hopkins, Gwyneth Paltrow, and less swearing!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

In praise of parks

Dd4 is about to become dd5 in just a few days! To mark the event, we invited her enrichment class cohort to join us at a park for a pizza picnic lunch today. Such a (relatively) easy way to have a birthday party! :) A park comes with a playset or two already, hence no need to rent a "bounce house". Cleanup is perfect--throw everything in the big park garbage can and don't worry about the cupcake crumbs on the ground because the wasps are already coming to scavenge. Shade is provided by the trees. And everyone has fun without the need to plan elaborate and/or costly activities! Hooray for parks! Guess I might end up voting for the local mill levy increase this fall....

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Carnival of Homeschooling

This week's Carnival of Homeschooling is up over at Dewey's Treehouse. Go see!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Two languages are better than one

Guest blogger (my husband):

DW enjoyed the intelligent adult conversation she had at a gathering of an acquaintance of mine. I was certainly glad to see her enjoying herself, while I mainly watched the children and hung around my colleagues. I kind of wondered whether they joined me out of discomfort in the other room or if it was kindness to me...

As topics turned, we talked a little of dod's (dear oldest daughter) school arrangements. Naturally, one of my colleagues had nothing disparaging to say about homeschooling or the fact that we're trying to get our girls to be bilingual, though they seldom actually speak German. Hrm.

So here are my reasons I want my girls to be bilingual:
  • Knowing two languages makes life more fun.
    • Daughter's friend: "What did they say in this non-subtitled movie?"
    • Daughter: "Oh, he just said X with a terrible accent. He's definitely NOT German."
    • Daughter's friend: "Wow, that's so cool that you speak German!"
  • It makes that pesky language requirement in school either obsolete or fillable by a third language.
    • "Ha ha! I already speak two languages, so my other class this semester is college canoeing!"
  • Cool resumé filler.
    • Languages: English, German.
  • Broadened travel horizons.
    • Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein! (plus other places where Germans would be more welcomed than US folks)
  • Easy way to throw off telemarketers.
    • dod: "Hier bei Familie X."
    • telemarketer: "Congratulations! You qualify for the platinum card!"
    • dod: "Ich hab' gar kein Interesse daran, aber möchtest Du etwas schönes von mir kaufen?"
    • telemarketer: "Does anyone there speak English?"
    • dod: "Eigentlich schon. Aber das möchte ich Dir nicht zugeben, oder?"
    • telemarketer: "Um, okay. Goodbye!"
  • Bilinguals tend to do better in school.
    • Must be all those extra linguistic neurons.
  • Sort-of-secret language from strangers and others around us.
    • [In public]: "Siehst du den Mann da? Sein Hund hat keine Nase!"
    • "Dann wie riecht er?"
    • "Furchtbar!"
  • It's so cute when little children speak foreign languages.
    • Really, it is!
  • Linguistic family bonding!
    • "In this house, we obey the rules of der neuen Rechtschreibung!"
  • People who speak with accents are just generally more attractive.
    • This one needs no explanation!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Photo fun

Dh checked out an Apple computer from work that has a built-in camera and the Photo Booth program. It takes photos and videos and applies all sorts of great effects to them instantaneously. Our daughters' favorite effects are Earthrise (they pretend they're in outer space) and Mirror (they address themselves and make themselves into conjoined twins). My favorite part is hearing forty minutes of contagious laughter as they play on the computer with Daddy.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Pan de Yuca

We loved eating yucca rolls (pan de yuca) when we lived in Ecuador. It has been sad not to find any frozen ones for sale here like they have in Ecuador. So today I made them from scratch! I used the recipe on the back of the yucca flour/starch we found at a local Latino market:
1 lb. queso fresco (grated)
1 cup almidon de yuca/yucca flour
1 slightly beaten egg
1 tsp baking powder
1-2 tablespoons water (just enough to make it so the dough sticks together)

Stir it all together to get a dough, make your rolls with the dough (about 20 or so of them), and bake on a slightly greased pan in a 375F oven for about 20 minutes (until the rolls are golden brown).
Easy and yummy! I think I'll use less cheese and water next time, though, because mine came out flatter than I remember them.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Knowledge Deficit

I just finished reading The Knowledge Deficit by E. D. Hirsch, founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation. It was only 124 pages long, so don't be scared to pick it up and read it. Hirsch hammers repeatedly on his main point: gaps in reading skills in higher grades (where they are testing reading comprehension, not just decoding) are due primarily to knowledge gaps.

I'm basically convinced by his arguments, although I do think that schools need to continue to dedicate some time to analysis of what is read in order to develop critical thinking skills. In my experience, focusing solely on fact-accrual leads to "smart" people who don't know how to think things through and express their arguments clearly.

Now to apply some insights gained from reading this book to teaching my daughter--1) Keep reading to her, lots, and expose her to intelligent and interesting books (not those lame leveled-readers that are boring). 2) Cover many content fields and try to stick with each field for more than one book/video at a time so that she is able to focus on an area of content knowledge for a while. 3) Teach her anything that interests her, even if I didn't "study" it until high school (obviously, teach it at a level that is appropriate for her). 4) Expose my children to higher-level vocabulary in context and rarely use slang with them. 5) Find good meaty source books for learning about history, science, art, etc.; formalistic inquiry-based and/or nonsubstantive textbooks will not help her develop much subject knowledge.

Here is a good "money quote" from The Knowledge Deficit:
Breadth of knowledge is the single factor within human control that contributes most to academic achievement and general cognitive competence.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Games

While dd2 napped today, dd4 and I played a couple of games: Chutes and Ladders and Warte und pass auf. Both games helped her practice counting, and it was rewarding to see how in just a week she has figured out how to change left-right directions in Chutes and Ladders as required by the ascending numbers. In fact, after dd2 woke up, dd4 "taught" dd2 how to play the game with her. What a great way for both of them to practice counting!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Fatigue

Fatigue is a terrible thing. I still remember my zombie days after giving birth to my second child. Thinking straight is so hard to do when one hasn't had enough sleep. Not to mention driving straight and talking straight. And it's very bad for interpersonal relationships.

This morning we got up much earlier than usual so we could go see the hot air balloons launch at Colorado Balloon Classic. It was fun and impressive, but now we have a day of fatigued Mommy and children ahead of us. About an hour ago, I lost my patience with my dd4, who kept pestering me to help her make a boat pop-up. I thought I'd already done what she asked and instead of "seeking to understand", I raised my voice at her and told her to leave me alone. Then dd2 damaged dd4's work in progress, and tears and frustration erupted from both of them. Mother really does set the tone of the home. I realized what I'd done and apologized, explaining I was tired and shouldn't have yelled. With some more tears, dd4 forgave me, and I helped her make a new pop-up boat. I even got into the crafting mood and made a pop-up pumpkin patch for dd2 to play with. Now the two are sharing their pop-ups with each other. Whew. Learning moment for me. Early naps today for all!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

FOOD

I'm hungry. But I just ate! Long enough ago that my stomach should have been able to get the message to my brain. I guess I'm still pregnant. :) I think a German pancake for dessert tonight sounds pretty tasty, as well as high in protein.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Calm down now...

Now that the Department of Education has fixed its offending materials for teachers (seriously, kids should be "helping" the President? How'd that slip through?), can we all calm down now about President Obama's speech on Tuesday? Even if a parent didn't vote for him and disapproves of just about everything he does as President, he is still the President of the United States. Let him give his short, inspiring speech. A lot of children do need to hear something like that, and to many children he is a hero. You can always "countereducate" at home later if you deem it necessary.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Not a lot of substance

Dh recently surprised me with two older edition (1997) elementary school science curriculum books, An Elementary Insights Hands-On Inquiry Science Curriculum K-1: Living Things and 2-3: Habitats from Kendall-Hunt Publishing Company. The emphasis is decidedly on encouraging children to make predictions, classify, and record observations and there is not much learning of the "why" behind what they're observing. (This is not a sensible approach, in my opinion, for I think that little children are interested in learning the actual reasons for things and that they are still too ignorant to make intelligent predictions. Shouldn't the beginning school years be when children are learning foundational facts and principles of science rather than being asked constantly to make guesses which are often wrong?) I was disappointed at the dearth of actual science content in the books. For example, K-1: Living Things (one of five modules for the K-1 age group) is over 200 pages long but has just a seven-page information summary at the end of the manual. 2-3: Habitats has only three pages of science background for the teacher. The K-1: Living Things manual's "Learning Experiences" are as follows:
  1. Using Your Senses
  2. A Walk Outdoors
  3. Planting Bean Seeds
  4. A Walk to Look for Trees
  5. Tree Shapes
  6. Leaf Shapes
  7. The Needs of Living Things
  8. Observing Animals
  9. The Needs of Bean Plants
  10. Inferring and Comparing the Needs of Living Things
  11. Planning a Terrarium
  12. Gathering Material and Planting a Terrarium
  13. Collecting Animals for a Terrarium
I've already covered most of this material and more with my four-year-old. We have a small yard with a garden, she had me plant her some bean seeds in a cup (her initiative, not mine) a couple of weeks ago, and she is always bringing home some leaf or pine cone. Then there are the nature videos and books, the frequent family walks, the trips to the zoo, our goldfish, etc.

If this book is an example of the breadth and depth I'm expected to cover in kindergarten science with my child, I've worried for nothing. After all, just this afternoon, we talked about platelets clotting in her nose capillaries (she had a bloody nose, probably from picking it) and researched the Kuiper belt on the internet (she had picked up a book about Pluto and was "reading" it to me).

Monday, August 31, 2009

Movies, meet Reality

Like most of the world, I enjoyed High School Musical. I knew that it was filmed in a high school in Salt Lake City even though it is supposedly set in Albuquerque, New Mexico. However, it wasn't until I actually visited Albuquerque that I realized the absurdity of expecting an audience to believe that some of the movie's scenes were set in Albuquerque. Do you remember the big, lush yards of Troy and Gabriela? It's very difficult and expensive (incidentally, didn't Troy have a super-nice house considering his need for money and the fact that his dad was a high school basketball coach?) to keep a large lawn alive, much less lush, in Albuquerque. Yards there are mostly small and landscaped with rocks of non-emerald hues and desert plants. Did Troy climb a cactus to get to Gabriela's balcony? Ouch!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Travel

There is simply no substitute for travel, even limited travel, to better understand the world and global issues. For instance, today we drove through northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Driving long distances over nearly empty land made me realize yet again the huge need for affordable energy for people in rural areas. They need to heat and light their homes far away from urban grids, and they especially need fuel to run their heavy trucks, tractors, and other machinery. It's not a solution to just say that they can all move to more urban areas because many of our country's major products come from rural areas. Even in the case of national parks, someone needs to be there to actually care for the land and handle tourism needs.

So, how do we get cheap energy? Oil is still fairly cheap now, but google "peak oil" if you want something new to worry about. "Green" forms of energy have yet to become really affordable. Where's my "Mr. Fusion"?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Toy Tip #1

Plastic Easter eggs make great toys throughout the year, and they're so inexpensive that you won't mind when they got lost or broken. Some uses: play kitchen props, bathtub toys, sandbox toys (especially for the park), and craft projects (my daughter and I just did one where we covered a plastic egg with aluminum foil to make a plesiosaur).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

She asked for it!

I just found out that one of my college roommates is homeschooling her son. She made the mistake of asking me in an email recently why I decided to homeschool. My answer was so long that I decided to post it here, too, as every homeschooling blogger inevitably seems to post a list of reasons for why they homeschool. Here it is:

1) My oldest sister did it successfully, so I've seen a good example of it.

2) My mom was a schoolteacher. She worked for the NEA just after her marriage and was disgusted by the alcohol abuse and promiscuous sex indulged in by her co-workers when they went to conventions. She still has a deep dislike of the NEA and always had books in the house like Why Johnny Can't Read and other such books about the negative aspects of newer school curricula. She encouraged us to read them, and I actually did, bookworm that I was.

3) My mom was an elementary schoolteacher, so she saw the "reading wars" up close and was very frustrated at the "look-say" way of teaching literacy and the general disrespect shown to parents' wishes about when/how their children should be taught to read. She taught us all how to read independently of the schools.

4) My parents were always very interested in education issues. My father once ran for school board. When I was a preschooler, they ran a private school for a year or two. As a result, we had a house full of textbooks and quality books. Much of my childhood reading was out of older textbooks, and I remember using a couple of them to help my youngest brother learn to read back when I was in high school. My skills with younger children have developed quite a bit since those days, so I'm pretty sure I can teach my own children how to read. :)

5) Ed schools and publishers have been turning out many nonsensical, busy-work-filled curricula for decades now, and they've gotten entrenched in the schools. Most annoying, they mock or downplay phonics instruction, which approach appears logical for those unaware of the reasons for the irregularities in written English. I've learned five or so languages now, and one thing I'm convinced of is that reading and writing are obviously based on symbol-sound correlation (i.e. phonics) in most modern languages, including English. Teaching "sight words" and "guessing strategies" is much less effective and even harmful to developing readers. Tutoring a couple of local boys this last school year convinced me that even "balanced literacy" is counterproductive and producing many poor readers. The schools aren't getting a chance to ruin my daughters' reading abilities with their non-evidence-based popular methods. Especially since we're raising them to be bilingual in German and English, and they'll need an ability to read phonetically to figure out all those lovely compound German words!

6) I didn't sacrifice my health, comfort, a second income (potentially substantial, given that I'm an attorney), etc. to be a full-time mother just so my offspring can spend their best waking hours in the company of other immature children and an overworked teacher. I brought them into the world, and I take full responsibility for raising them (well, dh has some responsibility, too). Also, why should the schools get them all day just as they're starting to become good company? (Not that infants aren't wonderful, but they sure lack conversational skills...)

7) Discovery math is largely unrealistic and wastes a lot of time. It took humans millennia to develop modern mathematics. Expecting students to come up with it on their own is unrealistic and leads to frustration. Also, group math projects are overused and not nearly as helpful as educators seem to think. Left to themselves, children often "discover" wrong conclusions, and they remember those wrong conclusions. Exercises with prompt, corrective feedback are essential to becoming proficient in math. Since I graduated in mathematics, I feel strongly that my daughters can excel in math, and I will help them do so.

8) School socialization is negative in more ways than I can list. There's a reason I left high school at 16; it started with me becoming a bullied pariah in 5th grade. I am still dealing with effects of the persecution I received from schoolfellows. A little negative social experience--I'm fine with my children having to deal with that as appropriate for their age and maturity. In fact, I plan to have my children participate in public school on a part-time basis. Have them spend all day in a public school setting? No way. By the time they get to high school, they are awash in rude behavior, low scholastic expectations, immodest clothes, immorality, a ridiculous emphasis on proms and clothes, omnipresent encouragement to have boyfriends/girlfriends, rated-R language, substance abuse, self-destructive behavior, moral relativity, cheating, and racial/class/ability discrimination (I'd like my children to learn to "look upon the heart" rather than just the outward appearance).

9) Children aren't inmates. I'm very grateful that my parents weren't the type who made us go to school all the time, no matter what. If we had a legitimate reason for not wanting to go, they were just as happy to let us not go to school. As a result, we weren't the type to "cut" class. Where's the rebellion in an excused absence, anyway?

10) Healthwise, it doesn't make sense to force little children into mingling with hundreds of other children everyday and high school students into being away from home for over 12 hours a day (dh was often away from home from 5:30 a.m. until after dinnertime when he was in high school). Adults aren't even at work that long!

11) Public schools are not the place anymore, if indeed they ever were, to be fairly exposed to more than one side of a story; there's always a subtext of "this is the right answer for the test" (well, except for some discovery math questions ;) ). For children to be exposed to many facts, even those which aren't politically correct, homeschooling seems to be the best way to go. I want my children to learn to weigh different theories, respect those who have come to different conclusions than they have, and make logical, calm arguments in support of their own political/scientific/social/etc. conclusions.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bride Wars

We just watched the movie Bride Wars.

Here's what I liked about it:
1) Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway are just cute, especially when they have blue hair or orange skin.

Here's what I didn't like about it:
1) Completely over-the-top characters and scenarios
2) Reinforcement of the stupid idea that a) one should spend more time fussing over wedding arrangements than making sure that one is marrying wisely and b) wedding celebrations should cost more than your average house down payment.
3) One of the brides breaks up with her groom, even though most of the foreshadowing of the breakup makes it look as though he's the one dissatisfied with what's going on and we never see him mistreat her. To be consistent, he should have done the breaking up.

The Business of Being Born

Last night, dh and I finished watching The Business of Being Born, a documentary that focused on midwife-assisted deliveries. The natural births they showed were fascinating and very beautiful emotionally because the mothers got to hold their babies immediately afterward. I've had two drug-free deliveries in foreign hospitals (I was doing what it took to avoid the cascade of interventions that often leads to a C-section, and my labors turned out to be a lot less painful than I had expected), and both times the OB-GYNs have forced me into reclining positions against my body's preference just before I pushed my babies out. As a result, both times there was so much stitching to do that I didn't get to hold my babies for some time afterward. I'm really looking forward to giving birth (just 10 weeks away, give or take a week or two) with the assistance of a nurse-midwife this time. I'll still be in a hospital, but I'll finally have a birth attendant who respects the instinctual knowledge of a woman in labor about what she needs to do with her own body. And maybe I'll get to hold my baby right after she comes out!

I highly recommend this documentary to any pregnant woman. One caveat: be careful who you watch it with because ladies delivering babies aren't exactly focused on modesty.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Busybodies

Having moved here from Ecuador, a place where children are generally beloved and taken shopping regularly by their parents, I've been surprised at how seldom I see people grocery shopping here with young children. Occasionally, there might be one child with a shopper, but rarely more than that in some stores. It seems that one result of the relative rarity of children in stores is a greater degree of ignorance about what constitutes truly dangerous behavior by children. That ignorance, against a backdrop of liability and damage concerns, causes some people to behave in rather ridiculous busybody ways.

I admit, I'm still smarting over the blowsy, stained-shirt-wearing woman who accosted me today in the supermarket parking lot and railed at me for letting my younger daughter--a remarkably large and agile child for her age--climb on the grocery cart (I had actually been rather pleased with myself for having been able to keep her safely contained for more than half the shopping trip, energetic, willful toddler that she is) and threatened to call child protection services and the police on me for child endangerment. I'm the type of mother who avoids driving on the freeway, generally drives just below the speed limit, has plastic safety plugs and latches all over her house, and stands worriedly under the aforementioned child as she stretches her climbing abilities (which are advanced) on playground equipment! I really don't appreciate people who don't know my daughter's capabilities threatening to call down police power on me when she misbehaves. What am I supposed to do? Spank her? I strictly limit the use of that disciplinary measure since it's too easy to use counterproductively. Leave her in the car or at home alone? Not remotely an option. Or just not take her shopping...easier said than done if you've ever tried to buy a family's supply of groceries at those self-check stations which are often the only open lanes in the morning.... Now I understand why my older sister just had her groceries delivered for a while. :P

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Case in Point

In my last post, I stated that a moderate degree of testing is necessary in order to find out whether a school is fulfilling its basic educational mission. Via Joanne Jacobs' website today, I saw that there actually exists a school--L.A.'s Locke High, very recently made a charter school due to its abysmal performance--where under 2% of the students are at least "proficient" in mathematics. Yikes! Fill-in-the-bubble tests are very valuable when they provide information like that about a student body.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Weapons of Mass Instruction

I just finished reading Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher's Journey through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto. Being an advocate of homeschooling as a legal option, I supposed that reading his book might be rather like being a choir member hearing a sermon on the importance of worship. In many ways, it was. I do not feel it wise of our society to force children younger than 7 or 8 and older than 16 to be schooled; those in the former group are often too immature for institutional academics, and many in the latter group are mature enough to make life decisions (that's why nearly every U.S. state and the majority of European countries allow 16-year-olds to marry with parental consent). Also, I value the information Mr. Gatto included about the origins of compulsory schooling and the proven ability of many to succeed in life without being "A" students.

But, here's my big "however" about this book. Mr. Gatto, while pointing out the ineffectiveness of many schools to actually educate, is on a crusade against standardized testing. Why? Doesn't he realize that standardized testing is the only way for those not personally involved with a school to find out to what degree it is successfully producing students who can read and do basic math? We can't just trust that schools are seeing to instruction in these basic skills. (And we just can't do away with all schools, either.) As Mr. Gatto points out on page 197 when discussing the lack of sufficient--despite being legally-mandated--physical exercise in New York City schools,
96 percent of all schools in New York City break the law with impunity in a matter threatening the health of the students. What makes it even more ominous is that school officials are known far and wide for lacking independent judgment and courage in the face of bureaucratic superiors; but something in this particular matter must give them confidence that they won't be held personally liable.

You must face the fact that an outlaw ethic runs throughout institutional schooling. It's well-hidden inside ugly buildings, masked by dull people, mindless drills, and the boring nature of almost everything associated with schools, but make no mistake--under orders from somewhere, this institution is perfectly capable of lying about life-and-death matters, so how much more readily about standardized testing?
I am not against standardized tests per se, and I have no inclination to take part in a "Bartleby Project" campaign against them (I never liked Melville's fictional scrivener; he seemed an empty, purposeless man unworthy of emulation). Standardized tests serve an important function: holding schools accountable for academic instruction. If schools can get away with insufficient P.E. time, then they are certainly capable of not doing any effective academic teaching where no way exists to catch them being delinquent in that basic duty.

For the record, I am against more than one or two days per year being spent taking or even preparing overtly for standardized tests. They should be written well in order to accurately measure proficiency in reading and math and science comprehension, proficiency which should already be being developed by the teachers and curriculum throughout the year. Teachers should have no need to "teach to the test" because the test should be measuring that which they should have been teaching all along.

While I learned much from Weapons of Mass Instruction, I am not enamored of this book in large part because of the author's unwillingness to recognize any value in a moderate amount of standardized testing. I have no philosophical objection to my children being tested as Colorado law requires (first in 3rd grade, then every second year thereafter). I expect the exams to be easy for my children because I will have educated them far above the standard, which is actually quite a low level these days. Any shortcomings they might have in their exam scores, I will take responsibility for and work to remedy, as becomes an adult who has taken charge of a child's education.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dinosaurs!

Who knew that dinosaurs were probably warm-blooded? Or that if they lived in water or air, they're not technically dinosaurs? I didn't this morning, but thanks to a family trip to the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center in Woodland Park, Colorado, I have since learned these things. This is a very serious dinosaur center--they have their own lab in the back, and they sell dinosaur skeletons to museums all over. Not having been a dinosaur enthusiast all my life (unlike my husband, who still LOVES Jurassic Park), I found my eyes glazing over as I read some of the exhibit signs. My favorite parts were watching my children delight in "digging" for dinosaur bones and playing with dinosaur puppets, taking pictures with our heads looking as though they were dangerously close to carnivorous dinosaur mouths, and learning more about the historical movements of continents.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fame

Fame is a limited state. One of the most famous Indian actors, Shah Rukh Khan, was recently detained for two hours after flying into the Newark airport. He says he was detained because of his Muslim-sounding name. However, his name could have been Osama bin Hussein and he would have had no problem entering the USA if his face were as famous in the United States of America as it is among Indians.

So, the moral is, if you ever are granted a wish and you have a hard time choosing between fame and money, choose the money if you plan to travel internationally. :)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Vanity, Vanity

Once I had fake nails. My mother, convinced I was a geek (hmmm, math graduate working in computer programming at the time....where would she get such an idea?), repeatedly told me that I should participate in the city beauty pageant. I didn't appreciate her pestering me on the subject, but I did see how it might be a worthwhile experience. When I realized that she was going to be out of the country on the night of the pageant, I signed up to compete in it. No stage mothering to worry about, and I'd get to dress up and have a chance to sing in public!

To not make a fool of one's self in a pageant, er, I mean scholarship competition, one must look the part (just watch Miss Congeniality for proof of this). So I went to a nail salon and got long acrylic nails. Wow! I felt so glamorous! Until I tried to wash my hair and realized that I was scratching my scalp and loosening my expensive new nails in my thick hair. When I went to work, I realized that I had to hold my hands differently to use my computer keyboard. All of the sudden, I became much less able to use my fingertips. I had traded in useful fingertips for nails that felt unnatural and required "fills" every week or two. Ugh. After one or two fills, I got rid of my long nails, and I've never worn fake nails since.

This morning, I had reason to be very grateful for my short fingernails. My two-year-old daughter was with me on my bed, and she lost her balance and fell into me. My finger and fingernail, what little there is of it, were pressed into her left eye socket as her head fell onto my hand. She cried for a few moments, but no lasting harm was done. Imagine what could have happened to her if I had long, thick fingernails! No, such vanities are not for me and certainly not worth an increased risk of injuring my still-awkward little ones.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"My boy"

Today my dd4 found the box of Maisy valentines and pulled out six of them. She indicated that four of them were for the four members of our family and then said that another valentine was for Robert. When I asked who Robert was, she responded that Robert was "her boy". Further questioning revealed that Robert was a little boy in her Sunday School class. I didn't expect to have my four-year-old wanting to give valentines to any specific little boys quite this early!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Memories in Songs

Now that I'm over 30 years old and have lived in a few countries, I have many memories attached to various foreign pop hits over the years. I just discovered (thanks to PC Magazine) Grooveshark, a website which allows one to listen to all kinds of music over streaming audio. I've been pleasantly surprised at how many of my favorite older foreign pop songs are available on Grooveshark. For instance, I found Alles aus Liebe, Znowu Pada Deszcz, Dragostea Din Tei, Inogda and Hej Sokoly (a techno version). But there is a sad lack of Floricienta songs.

Friday, August 7, 2009

What's in a number?

Quite a bit, when it's a CSAP score, in my opinion. The Colorado Student Assessment Program scores have just been released, and let's just say that they aren't inspiring me to run out and sign up my child at the elementary school she's been assigned to (although we live closer to a higher-scoring school). Is it really in my child's best interest to be in a classroom where only half the students are proficient at a basic skill? Yeah, I didn't think so...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Morning by Morning

I just read most of a very enlightening book about homeschooling. It was Morning by Morning: How We Homeschooled our African-American Sons to the Ivy League by Paula Penn-Nabrit. I really enjoyed her style of writing and how much she taught me about families, racial interaction and race issues, and education. Maybe I just understood her well because I am also a religious, law-trained woman, but I was surprised at how much of her message resonated with me, a white woman who doesn't even look the quarter-Hispanic that I am. I highly recommend this book.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Homeschooling officially begins...

The local powers that be have decreed that my dd, age 4, is supposedly old enough to begin full-day kindergarten in just three weeks, where she will be expected to feed and care for herself for six consecutive hours, be surrounded by peers whose home environments and values are completely out of our control, and be taught over 100 sight words by the end of the school year. To that, I say "Pshaw!"

Seriously, how absurd! So, we're about to start being some of those counter-culture homeschoolers. Our dd will still spend most of her day with me, and she'll learn how to read (for real, not just memorizing 100 words) by Christmas by working with me for just a few minutes a day. She's been in a linguistically-rich home all her life, and she can already sound out simple CVC words. (Did I mention recently how much I love the starfall.com website?) We recently started doing one page a day (we do go back and re-read the little stories from previous days because she likes the pictures and accompanying text) from Reading With Phonics* by Julie Hay and Charles Wingo. I can tell she is ready to steadily and easily progress through the entire book as long as I don't push her too fast and burn out her interest. Hooray for great reading instruction books and more time with dd, who is very dear to me indeed.

*Note: this Lippincott book is old and has some humorously un-P.C. things in it. For example, yesterday's reading ended with the sentence "Toy guns are fun." (Well, they are, aren't they?)

Monday, August 3, 2009

More monstrous Austen remakes...

My husband finished Pride and Prejudice and Zombies last night. He read parts to me, and I have to admit I found it amusing. I'm not sure why the adapter of the original Pride and Prejudice had to throw in ninjas, though; weren't the zombies enough?

I looked on Amazon.com and was surprised to see that there's a batch of similar books in the works: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, Darcy's Hunger: A Vampire Retelling of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, and Jane Bites Back. Scary!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Zombies in Regency England

My dh has been reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance - Now With Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem!, written by Jane Austen and added to by Seth Grahame-Smith. He was so excited to read it, and he's been fairly engrossed in it all evening. (I think "gross" might be an appropriate word for some of what he's been reading, based on the few excerpts he has read to me.) I hope Elizabeth ends up with Mr. Darcy before he turns into a zombie and she has to destroy him!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Interesting podcast with Daniel Willingham

I just came across a recent podcast with Daniel Willingham. Some highlights: a near-confession that the title of his book, Why Don't Students Like School?, was an attention grabbing publishing stunt; a special education teacher who refused to recognize the existence of "normal children"; and Willingham's disavowal of being one of those "back-to-basics" types even though his book says "it is not possible to think well on a topic in the absence of factual knowledge about the topic" and "proficiency requires practice" (p. 163, Why Don't Students Like School?).

The last of these I find especially interesting and sad--is academia so politicized that he has to ignore the implications of his own findings that basics are essential? No one I've read on "back-to-basics" type blogs is disputing that by the time students graduate from high school, they should be capable of critical thinking and all those great "21st century skills" (which I think we needed 10 years ago, too...); they're instead reacting to seeing children who have been "educated" with methods that result in them not even being able to read and calculate proficiently. If you can't automatically come up with 64 / 8, good luck understanding algebra concepts! And if you can't read unfamiliar words, just try to analyze the meaning of the paragraph that contains them! "Basics" are essential building blocks to higher-level skills, and there shouldn't be anything embarrassing or distasteful to Willingham about admitting that pedagogical methods should get the basics covered before attempting to teach higher-level skills. After all, unless I didn't understand him, it's exactly what he was saying in his book.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Why Don't Students Like School

I just read Daniel T. Willingham's new book, Why Don't Students Like School?. The book doesn't really answer the title question comprehensively--there's nothing about bullying, negative social pressure, unpleasant teachers, getting up early day after day, etc. However, it's a very readable (considering it's by a cognitive psychology professor) book about what science has found out about how the human brain works and how those insights can be applied to education.

The parts of the book I found most useful were about "working memory"(the average human brain can only consciously deal with a limited number of facts at a time, so it's better to "chunk" the information pieces together or have practiced recall of the information pieces to the point where they are automatically available to the working memory as needed), intelligence is malleable (so praise kids for their effort, not for "being smart"), lessons should be planned so that the students will think about what you actually want them to remember instead of the nifty attention-grabber that doesn't have any important meaning, and students should be given tasks that are just the right level of do-able challenge for them (too little challenge, and they're bored; too much, and they'll give up).

Besides the above, there is much interesting and helpful information in Willingham's book. I recommend this important book about how humans think and learn to anyone who is teaching or raising children.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Family Reunion

I'm back from traveling to a family reunion. Except for one niece ending up with a broken humerus (no, not funny at all), all went well and much fun was had. There were thirty young cousins there, plus 25 adults from various levels and branches of the family tree. I'm a big fan of family reunions. Cousins play together quite readily, no doubt because their parents were raised by the same people. If your family doesn't do a reunion every other year or so, it's time to organize one yourself!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Summer Reading Programs

I very much like library summer reading programs! Even though our children have already finished their reading program requirements and gotten their free books, we're still enjoying the coupons that the older child received early on. Today, after a pleasant morning at the park, we hit Baskin Robbins to redeem the reading program coupon for a free child's scoop of ice cream. And, not wanting to be cheap, I had to get some ice cream for myself...right?! Of course, right! What a tasty outing. :)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Immersion

Children love repetition and immersing themselves in something new and interesting. Thanks to the miracle of the DVD player, this is easy for them to do...as long as Mommy doesn't interrupt them to do annoying things like eat and go to sleep. Yesterday was the "Little Einsteins: Firebird Rescue" day. My dd's were obsessed with it, watching it over and over and telling us all the little details in it that they found so interesting. As long as they are watching a quality program, I don't mind a couple of days or so of such immersion. I've noticed that such obsessions help them really learn the program material, and it inspires their play with new scenarios and information. I don't believe that children naturally have short attention spans; they are just much less able to pay attention to that which they find uninteresting. That's one more benefit of homeschooling in the early years: children have the time and schedule flexibility to spend long periods of time on what's interesting to them, thus learning it well!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Musical Number

For weeks the Young Women in my ward have been diligently preparing to sing "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing". I'm happy to say that their work paid off, and it sounded lovely. Not only that, but the effort of preparing and performing the song and the resulting compliments to the entire group seem to have helped the girls feel more unified. How truly lovely that is!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Pregnancy Fitness

My last pregnancy, I worked in a consular office the entire time. I sat in front of a computer all day with just the occasional trip to the bathroom or to the consulate cafeteria, where the basic daily meal was always very high in carbohydrates (seriously, potatoes were served as a side to rice!). Because I lived near the equator, I didn't get home until close to the time the sunset, and it wasn't safe for me to walk outside our gated neighborhood after dark. I got large (around 200 lbs. by the time I gave birth), and my newborn came out weighing over 9 1/2 pounds. I remained quite overweight afterward, despite breastfeeding, for which I blame my return to my sedentary lifestyle after my maternity leave.

This pregnancy, I have been a stay-at-home mom with many opportunities to walk and hike. I'm in control of my diet, too. Thanks to very unpleasant "morning sickness" and my lifestyle changes, I only gained about 10 lbs. by 23 weeks of pregnancy. Because I began pregnancy overweight, this is good news! I'm very grateful for our double stroller and walkable streets.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Revelation

Logically, the best source of truth about God is God Himself. That is why revelation, or information given from God to a person, is so essential to true religion. One of my favorite set of verses from the Bible is James 1:5-6,
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
Isn't that a wonderful promise? God will give anyone wisdom liberally who asks for it sincerely.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Under the Greenwood Tree

This recent film adaptation of Thomas Hardy's novel Under the Greenwood Tree was watchable, but I don't recommend it highly. My major gripe with the movie is that there is no apparent reason for the educated, beautiful heroine to fall in the love with the man she does except for his "hotness". And we don't see why she would turn down the first man who proposes to her except that he's much older and she's already become besotted with "His Hotness". Maybe the 90-minute length caused this problem, but it's a real one.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Government and Healthcare

When I was working as a Foreign Service Officer in the Philippines, I had the opportunity to do a political reporting tour of parts of the island of Panay. At dinner one night, the mayor of the city, our host, proudly told me of his health initiative; there were specially assigned health assistants in the barangays (barrios, neighborhoods, etc....usually very, very poor areas) who could give people slips of paper entitling them to certain kinds of medical care and medicine. Here's the catch, though: the health assistants only gave out these medical vouchers to people who supported the mayor politically. If they hadn't supported him, they were out of luck. And he was using public money to support his initiative! He thought he was quite clever; I thought he was inhumane and criminal.

Having seen this on Panay is one of the reasons why I never want the U.S. government to become the major health provider in this country.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Shakespeare Retold: A Midsummer's Night Dream

Since when was A Midsummer's Night Dream all about the relationship between Theseus and Hippolyta? Too many unnecessary and unfunny changes were made from Shakespeare's play. And where was the final play about Pyramus and Thisbe? That's the highlight of Shakespeare's play, but it's nowhere to be seen in this Retold version. Also, this movie had a lot of unnecessary "intimate" moments. Except for my interest in Helena and whether Zander would realize that he really loved her, I didn't enjoy this version very much. Quite lame in comparison with the other three Shakespeare Retold movies.

Shakespeare Retold: The Taming of the Shrew

This version of the the Taming of the Shrew was a lot of fun to watch and surprisingly touching at moments. It was hard to get past the "Moaning Myrtle" aspect of the actress playing Katherine, and the elevator scene when she first meets Petruchio was sadly inferior to Shakespeare's version of this meeting. But some other changes were for the better. Bianca, for instance, is hilarious in her self-absorption and subtle arrogance.

Shakespeare Retold: Macbeth

James McAvoy stars as the light-hearted, singing chef Macbeth in this movie. All is well until his wife convinces him to kill the restaurant owner. Then he becomes a homicidal, songless chef, and she goes mad and jumps off the top of the restaurant building. It stays fairly close to the plot of the Shakespeare play, but the modern setting makes one realize just how despicable Macbeth becomes by the time he meets his end. I loved the modern incarnations of the three witches in this version, too.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Shakespeare Retold: Much Ado About Nothing

BBC recently did modern versions of four Shakespeare plays, among them Much Ado About Nothing. In this version, Beatrice and Benedick are co-anchors on a news show. There are some very funny lines, and it's always great to see a new incarnation of Benedick get "gulled" into believing that Beatrice is dying for love of him. What an ego! And what great lines Benedick has right afterward! Fairly clean movie (no worse than the Branagh version) and simply enjoyable.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Progressive Phonics

Thanks to the Homeschooling Carnival (organized by the whyhomeschool blog in my sidebar), I just found a free reading program. It's called Progressive Phonics. It looks promising, so I'll give it a try. After all, the only investment it asks of me is my time.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Zoo

The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is a great zoo. We bought a membership back in January, and we finally went today for the second time (at least as a whole family). The children really enjoyed it when the orang-utan stuck its face against the glass right by them and looked at them for a while. Sadly, the leopard, the tiger, and the river otters were in hiding. The otters are adorable, so I really hope they're playing in the water by the glass the next time we go.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Early Exposure to Technology

My four-year-old just called to me from the kitchen, "Don't forget to check your blog!"

I don't think she's growing up in a technologically-deprived household. ;)

Book review

My daughter found Bugs: a read-and-do Book by Judith Moffatt at the library, and she LOVES it. It has text geared to the beginning reader, bright illustrations, and (best of all) clear instructions on how to make bugs out of construction paper. She needs me to help cut out the shapes, but otherwise she can do the assembling part mostly on her own. She now has a dragonfly, butterfly, caterpillar, spider, and ladybug, all made out of bright construction paper. The caterpillar is currently her best friend.

Michael Jackson & News

Considering I always thought him too racy (grabbing certain areas in many of his later dance routines), and he turned himself into a freak at the end of his life, I personally don't miss him. I do sympathize with the feelings of loss of his family and friends and fans, though.

However, I'm really worried about all the headlines his death is creating at a time when our Congress and President are set to destroy our economy for years to come. What a lame distraction when energy costs are about to be taxed in the USA as never before!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Abhorrent Vacuums

OK, it's not actually the vacuum that is abhorrent. Or the vacuum cleaner. But the company's sales tactics are dishonest, manipulative, and absolutely deserving of abhorrence.

A couple of weeks ago, I got called to do a survey. I answered all their questions except for the final one about credit card usage (like I would tell a stranger that!). I generally do surveys because I once worked as a telephone interviewer and I sympathize with the difficulties involved in such a job.At the end of this supposed survey, they said that my name was being entered into a drawing. I ignored that because I didn't do the survey for any other reason than to help out the person on the other end of the line.

A few days ago, I got a call saying I had won $500 and a free vacation in the drawing associated with the survey. They said they were also going to ask me to participate in some market research to help them with a product of theirs that was in development. That appealed to my scientific curiosity, so I agreed. Then they said they needed to make an appointment to come by and deliver the gift certificates. I agreed, but only for a time when my husband would be at home, too. I then checked out the named product (a home air cleaning system named Blue Max) with Google, but didn't find any information about it, consistent with its being a product in development.

Imagine our surprise when the delivery man turned out to be a vacuum salesman, lugging a well-past-development-stage vacuum cleaner made by Silver King. We tried to be polite and informed him that our present vacuum cleaner was adequate for our needs and that we were not in the market for a new vacuum cleaner. However, the salesman just went on and on with his presentation, even though we kept telling him that we were fine with our home's present level of dust. He yelled at our children when they got in the way of his demonstration. Finally, he gave up and said that the vacuum cleaner was only for people who were interested in having a healthy, clean home. Then he packed up his bulky vacuum cleaner in silence and left his dirty demonstration filters on our floor. He gave us the promised certificates, but they had so many conditions and extra fees attached to their use that they were worthless to us and we threw them away.

Does that kind of bait-and-switch marketing actually work for Silver King? We found it profoundly dishonest and disrespectful, and it caused us to feel so negatively about the company that you couldn't give us one of their vacuum cleaners now.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sex & Power

A visiting relative checked out the book Sex & Power by Susan Estrich to read while she helped watch our children last week. Before I took it back to the library, I decided to crack it open and see if I could learn something useful from it. I couldn't. It seemed rambling and unfocused, so I gave up the effort after a few pages. Maybe it's my mathematics background, but I have very little patience for a non-fiction book that meanders. In fact, I prefer my fiction fairly straightforward as well.