Thursday, October 31, 2013


We just enjoyed an hour or so of trick-or-treating. It was cool but not too cold, the leaves were crunchy, everyone was nice and friendly, and the evening was about to end well.

Then at the very last house, the man giving out the candy was smoking. From the sidewalk, I heard dd6 yell at him, "Stay away from our house!"

Cringing with shame, I told her not to do that. She defended herself saying, "But, Mommy, it could kill the birds." You see, we got parakeets a few weeks ago, and the children read that cigarette smoke is bad for parakeets.

If that man isn't giving out candy next Halloween, it's probably my daughter's fault.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Long Division

Dd9 is learning long division. I love how her math worktext (BJU Math 3) breaks it up into itty-bitty steps so it's clear what she's doing. The first lesson was "long division with facts," i.e., 3 into 15, 4 into 24, 4 into 20, etc. The second lesson uses larger dividends so that the quotients have 2 digits, i.e., 2 into 84, 3 into 96, etc. The third lesson uses 3 digit-quotients, i.e., 3 into 369, 2 into 846, etc. The fourth and fifth lesson review the first three lessons and apply them to money problems. In all of these lessons, the students do the problems in grids that help them see the place values and keep them straight. The next two lessons introduce remainders in 2-digit and 3-digit quotient problems. Then there is a lesson to help the students understand what the remainder means. The last lesson of the unit is on 1-digit quotients with remainders, and it teaches how to use the multiplication facts (already used in long division in the first lesson) when there are remainders.

The lessons are so straightforward that she is almost (but not quite) teaching herself long division. I do not understand why current US pedagogy is so enamored of Everyday Mathematics, which apparently can't bring itself to teach such an efficient, clear algorithm. Seriously, follow the last link, and you'll find you can't even view the claimed Everyday Math sample lessons on long division. (For a detailed explanation of the value of the long division algorithm, I recommend this paper.)

My daughter's charter school (chartered through the school district, which uses Everyday Math) will not give up Everyday Math, and I'll never send my children to it full-time if the administration can't realize the waste of time and confusion created by such an inefficient, needlessly-complicated math program. Arithmetic is conceptually very different from higher mathematics, and it should be taught clearly and simply instead of with expectations of "higher order" thinking. (Afterwards some mental math tricks are fine, too, if the kids know why they work.) I love the school's director, but I am so disappointed in the school's continuing use of Everyday Math.  The school caters to gifted children, so they may not realize how inferior Everyday Math is for years. After all, gifted children whose parents drive them across town for a suitable school are also the type to figure out arithmetic for themselves or be "afterschooled" in math by those involved parents, meaning the school will get credit on state tests for arithmetic achievement it didn't actually cause.

A friend told me that a nearby regular elementary school has been sending home non-Everyday Mathematics units with her child recently, so maybe that is indicating a possible change in the district's math curriculum choices. I can hope.

Monday, October 28, 2013

For all practical purposes

My oldest sister is a lovely woman. When she was a teenager, she would ask my mother if she was pretty. My mother would answer her, "You're pretty enough for all practical purposes."

That was an understatement. My sister belonged to that small slice of young women whose looks drew men in large numbers. It grew to be quite a nuisance for her. She'd be at home trying to study for her college classes, and again the phone would ring for her. "Why can't they just leave me alone?" she would wail plaintively and sincerely. Turning guys down was hard for her because she has a kind heart. Fortunately, she was able to sort wisely through the candidates for her affection and married a good man who, while appreciating her looks, also valued her more lasting attributes.

We have four little girls, and they are slowly growing up (no matter how many times I "squish" them on the top of their heads as part of a long-running joke to keep them little forever). I wish for them to be "pretty enough for all practical purposes" but not more than that. I don't see many benefits to being extremely beautiful in this world. It draws predatory and vacuous, narcissistic men in large numbers to a young woman, wasting her time and preventing her from having as many interactions with men possessing more sense and humility.

Another consideration in the pursuit of beauty is that the amount of time that meeting transitory appearance standards (such as 4-inch heels, fake nails, time-consuming and damaging hairstyles, etc.) can easily suck an hour or more of grooming time out of every day, and the fashions tend to make women less able to accomplish anything besides attracting. (Have you ever tried to cook a meal or garden with a new manicure job? I can't imagine fake nails make suturing wounds any easier, either.) I am sad to think how much young women as a group fail to learn and do in their youth because they're too busy trying to meet airbrushed, expensive ideals. Now, I'm not going to say to my daughters: "Burn the makeup and the bras; guys should love you just the way you are no matter how you look." I'm no fan of the grunge look. One can find a happy medium.

I would wish for my daughters to be kind, happy, healthy, and intelligent. With those four attributes, they'll figure out how to look "pretty enough for all practical purposes." Based on my own experience (I was a bit of an ugly duckling), I seemed to almost magically become prettier when dating someone I wanted to impress. I have every reason to think that things will work out naturally for my girls in the looks department when it's time for them to partner twenty years or so.... :)

Friday, October 25, 2013


I don't do well with scary or suspenseful movies. They make me jump, and I don't find feelings of fear "entertaining". When pressed about my dislike for horror, I just blame having watched The Exorcist all alone as a child one day when no one was paying attention to what was on the black-and-white TV set.

My husband is watching World War Z right now as I use the computer in the same room. Will Brad Pitt's family make it through the zombie epidemic alive? While I initially thought they might not all make it, now that Brad has somehow survived an airplane crash and a huge piece of shrapnel going completely through his abdomen, I think the scriptwriters intend for him to get everything he wants (survival for himself and his whole family, as well as temporal salvation for the not-yet-zombified).

But if I'm wrong, I won't tell you. Spoilers, you know.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Two keyboards, one book

Now that we have a piano and an organ (both free, thank you, craigslist), dd9 and dd6 decided to practice keyboard at the same time this morning. But they've been working out of the same piano book. They ended up quarreling over it. I'd get a second copy of the book, but we've been using an 85-year-old beginning piano book that I picked up at a college music library sale a few years ago. I wonder if it's out of copyright....

No way! I just found two used copies on Amazon. What an amazing place this internet-connected world is!

OK, I've been researching copyright law. I checked music and book copyright renewals in 1955 and 1956 and did not find this piano book listed, so I think it's most likely out of copyright, meaning I'm safe making the occasional copy when needed to prevent my girls from fighting.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Something for future appreciation

Dd6 just wrote a poem. It's cute, so I'm posting it here in order to make sure that it ends up in the book-blog that I'm going to make for my children some day out of this blog.

A good Day,
to go out and Play.
A big clowd,
Back in,
A Snowy day,
Let's go out and Play,
BiLd a snow-man Nice and taLL.
AHH Sun!
Put the snow-Man in the Frige,
now he SHure wiLL Live,
Put the snow-baLLs in the feReZZer.

I'd better check my freezer after the first snowstorm this coming winter....

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Privacy on my mind today

Interesting. I just found out that the same White House official, Jeanne Lambrew, who got confidential tax info for White House purposes is the one in charge of ACA implementation. I'm not one to be paranoid about privacy issues, but in the wake of Snowden's revelations and certain IRS actions in the past few years, I'll probably be leaving some questions unanswered the next time I'm visiting the doctor.

One doesn't have to be a Republican to distrust the current administration (though it helps not to be a Democrat because it's much harder to see the faults in people we are affiliated with) and government expansion into the nonpublic details of our lives. I used to think libertarians were nuts; while I don't agree with everything they stand for, I admire them now for standing up for liberty and against government overreach.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Animal care

Our oldest child has been very interested in animals for years. She insists that she wants to be a zookeeper when she grows up. But until this past Thursday, she had never had a real pet.

Last week I found two parakeets, their large cage, their toys, and their food all on sale for just $40 (craigslist, of course). I had a little extra money from their grandmother, so I used it to buy the children the parakeets. While the birds are "part of the family", they mostly belong to our oldest child, in that she is in charge of cleaning the food and water containers and giving the birds fresh food and water every day. I can't wait until she discovers the fun of cleaning the bottom of the cage. Will she decide zookeeping isn't for her after wiping up enough bird turd?* Only time will tell.

* I still like parenting despite the dirty diapers, so maybe cleaning cages won't kill her zoo ambitions.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Captions for everyone!

Sometimes when I'm watching Netflix, I turn on the captions so that I can read in English what is being said on-screen. I especially have to do this when watching Sherlock. To non-British people, British English can be rather hard to understand unless spoken clearly. I have no problems understanding the actors on Downton Abbey, but for some reason, I miss a lot of Benedict Cumberbatch's words. Maybe it's the "intensity" he's trying to convey in his role as a master detective who thinks so much faster than everyone else. Anyway, I'm grateful for the English subtitles that allow me to catch all of Sherlock Holmes' deductions.

It would seem that hearing-impaired people are not the only ones who benefit from captions. A San Francisco State professor of American Indian studies just announced that he saw enormous changes in comprehension if he used captions on videos shown in class. While he focuses on the impact his observation can make for Native Americans students, I don't see any reason why his observation would not carry over to all students (well, those who can read :) ).

To quote from a SUNY Cortland website on learning modalities:

Learning modalities are the sensory channels or pathways through which individuals give, receive, and store information.  Perception, memory, and sensation comprise the concept of modality.  The modalities or senses include visual, auditory, tactile/kinesthetic, smell, and taste.  Researchers, including ReiffEislerBarbe, and Stronck have concluded that in a classroom, the students would be approximately:§         25-30% visual
§         25-30% auditory
§         15% tactile/kinesthetic
§         25-30% mixed modalities
 Therefore, only 30% of the students will remember most of what is said in a classroom lecture and another 30% will remember primarily what is seen.

While videos are nominally visual, the facts they are intended to convey are often presented via spoken words. If the learning modalities theory is accurate, 25-30% of students watching a video may learn a lot from the moving pictures but will have difficulty remembering what was spoken. By turning on captions on a video, that 25-30% of students (and probably many of the "mixed modalities" students, too) will be helped to better remember the information presented.

I think my children are too young to appreciate captions right now, but when they become faster at reading and can easily read subtitles while following on-screen action, I will turn on the captions for the educational videos I show them. Maybe I'll even do some experiments - captions for one child, no captions for the other, and the same comprehension quiz afterward. The home is a social science laboratory, after all.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Sunrise, Sunset

Our children range in age from 1 to 9 years old. They're not remotely close to leaving us as empty nesters! Yet when I and my husband were singing "Sunrise, Sunset" from The Fiddler on the Roof to our children as a bedtime song tonight, he got so sad that we had to stop singing the song. As youth, he and I never really imagined that we'd actually become adults and have families of our own, and now, even though it's still many years until our children grow up and leave us, we're aware that it will happen someday. What a precious privilege parenthood is.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Each time I come across a government website that has been shut down because of the current funding bill conflict, the stronger my opposition to ACA becomes. Why in the world would we put our health care system even partially into the hands of a government that can shut down access to vital medical services (not just national parks and websites) when the current leaders don't get their way immediately? I've seen "government-provided" health care used to buy votes--no free medicines for desperately poor people unless they vote for the guy in charge and his pals--in a Southeast Asian country. I know that Canada and some Scandinavian countries have mostly successful national health care programs. But we aren't those countries. The USA is a diverse country made up of much more than Minnesotans. (No offense. I love Minnesotans.) Not all parts of our Union exhibit the same work ethic, healthy lifestyles, and respect for the rule of law as we see in the Star of the North. There's no reason (other than partisanship and/or arrogance*) to think that everything will work as promised by ACA's supporters and that we won't end up regretting having given politicians and government bureaucrats such a large amount of control over our health insurance options.

Free markets aren't perfect. Nothing is in this imperfect world. But at least free markets allow for individual freedom.

* "Arrogance" sounds harsh. I don't mean it as a personal insult. When in school (K-grad), we are taught that if we get A's, we're smarter than most everyone else and could likely run things better than they do. Policymakers and would-be utopia-creators who seek to implement their own ideals over the experience and well-founded warnings of less-credentialed folk exhibit arrogance (i.e., an attitude of superiority manifested in an over-bearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions.)

Update: In connection with my comments about arrogance, I refer you to this recent article on the history leading up to the ACA exchange debacle. If the bureaucrats involved can't even get a website right, how can they think their regulations will successfully manage 300 million people's health care access?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Math homework

The same sister-in-law that I last posted about just wrote on Facebook that the same child was sent home with math homework today where the teacher had said, "I know you all don't know how to do half of the problems on this sheet, but just do what you can and I'll grade you on 'completion'". No way for them to learn the unknown skills; they're just supposed to fill in the worksheet so they can get credit. Why didn't the teacher just cut the worksheet in half then?

Luckily, my brother is very smart and used to work as an electrical engineer before going back to school to be a physician. He taught his son how to do the problems. But what about the rest of the students in my nephew's class? Who is filling in the gaps in their math knowledge?