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


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 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


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.