Tuesday, December 15, 2009


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

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).