Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Closer and Closer

Recent New York Times article: Where's a Tutor When You Need One? Check Upstairs

Hm, un-teacher-trained adults who live at the school teaching high school students in a 4:1 ratio? It seems that successful public schools are getting closer and closer to the homeschooling model.

Monday, December 19, 2005

A Dead Rat and a String to Swing It With

So I'm reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to Wolfie and Xavier (the ds10 formerly known as Chester) at bedtime. In the second chapter (the whitewashing the fence chapter), both boys were entirely mystified first by the elaborate description of Tom's friend, Ben, pretending he was a paddleboat tug, and then by the various "treasures" the boys paid Tom for the privilege of whitewashing the fence. It's possible that because they had never seen a paddleboat before, that they were unable to picture in their minds what Ben was doing. And the huge numbers of toys available to the modern boy make a one-eyed kitten, a piece of broken glass and "a dead rat and a string to swing it with" seem of dubious entertainment value. Or maybe they're just so coddled that they don't know how to play.

No, that can't be the problem. Before they went to bed, Xavier sent a "wolf-gram" to Wolfie with secret directions in it and Wolfie responded with a full-fledged treasure map delivered by his "identical twin brother who didn't have a pencil taped to his shirt". (And it turns out the "X" on the map marked a real "X" Xavier was supposed to find. It was two pencils taped to Wolfie's shirt at right angles.)

So I don't think the problem is that they don't know how to play. They're just downright weird.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Some thoughts about learning and literacy

Bad news for proponents of bilingual education from today's New York Times:

"The same period saw big declines in Hispanics' English reading skills. In 1992, 35 percent of Hispanics demonstrated "below basic" English literacy, but by 2003 that segment had swelled to 44 percent. And at the higher-performing end of the literacy scale, the proportion of Hispanics demonstrating intermediate or proficient English skills dropped to 27 percent from 33 percent in 1992.

"These are big shifts," said Mark Schneider, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, the arm of the Department of Education that gave the test.

"The Hispanic population in 2003 is radically different than in 1992, and many of the factors that have changed for Spanish-language immigrants make learning English more difficult," Mr. Schneider said. "They are arriving later, staying in the U.S. for a shorter period, and fewer are speaking English at home."

The story also reports that literacy proficiency rates rose for blacks and Asians but fewer than 1/3 of 26.4 college graduates were proficient readers.

Another NYT story from yesterday: Children Learn by Monkey See, Monkey Do. Chimps Don't. I'm not sure I agree with the conclusions the researcher draws, though.

"Mr. Lyons sees his results as evidence that humans are hard-wired to learn by imitation, even when that is clearly not the best way to learn. If he is right, this represents a big evolutionary change from our ape ancestors. Other primates are bad at imitation. When they watch another primate doing something, they seem to focus on what its goals are and ignore its actions.

As human ancestors began to make complicated tools, figuring out goals might not have been good enough anymore. Hominids needed a way to register automatically what other hominids did, even if they didn't understand the intentions behind them. They needed to imitate.

Not long ago, many psychologists thought that imitation was a simple, primitive action compared with figuring out the intentions of others. But that is changing. "Maybe imitation is a lot more sophisticated than people thought," Mr. Lyons said."

The author's daughter was recruited for this study through a note in her cubby at preschool, so the researchers were selecting for kids who were schooled. At her first testing session, the girl behaved like the chimp did, i.e. goal-based. It was at the second testing session several months later that she over-imitated. Makes me wonder if this is an effect of school, rather than genes. Most curricula are based on demonstration--"this is how you divide 365 by 12, do it the same way I did"--so it seems possible that she had been socialized to overimitate rather than trust her instincts to solve the puzzle and achieve her goal. Just a thought.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Calling All Adult Harry Potter Fans!

Got a couple minutes to share your opinions for a good cause (helping out a graduate student)?

A woman named Cassandra Driver is doing a study of adult readers of Harry Potter books, and is looking for people to complete an online survey for her. It will take between 15 and 45 minutes to complete (took me about 20, and you know how loquacious I am!). So far she's received more than 300 responses but mostly from Canadian readers. The survey will be posted tomorrow, 9 December, and she's hoping to get some more diverse respondents before we take it down. It's available here.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Science is Your Friend!

2005 was a really big year in terms of "acts of God." No, I'm not getting all religious on you. I'm talking about the wealth of natural disasters in the last...let's say 18 months, so we can include the Almighty trying to wipe Orlando off the map in 2004.

Yes, we've had a huge--no, recordbreaking--hurricane season. Last year was bad and next might be as bad or worse. Global Warming to blame? Um, no. According to Bloomberg. com, "The Atlantic Ocean is about a decade into a naturally occurring 30-year cycle of warmer-than-normal ocean temperatures and increased tropical cyclone activity that began in 1995, Stewart said. The ocean is at least 1 degree Celsius above average this year, he said.

Winds were stronger this year because there was no disruption from the west-to-east winds of an El Nino system in the Pacific Ocean -- blowing against the direction of waves in the Atlantic, he said."
[emphasis mine]

Sharply increasing global warming vs. naturally occurring 30-year cycle = not our fault

What about the tsunami? That's got to be our fault, right? It is, according to a Reuters report that came out two days after the huge wave swamped south-east Asia. "A creeping rise in sea levels tied to global warming, pollution and damage to coral reefs may make coastlines even more vulnerable to disasters like tsunamis or storms in [the] future," wrote Alister Doyle, an environmental correspondent for Reuters, who attributed the opening paragraph of the story to "experts." writes Managing Editor of David Thibault in his article Media Linking Killer Tsunami to Global Warming.

This is utter nonsense. As my fifth-grader can tell you, tsunamis are caused by underwater earthquakes. Seismic activity has nothing to do with global warming. Don't believe me? How about Daniel Sarewitz, a professor of science and society and director of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University? As quoted on "[T]ying the tsunami and other natural disasters to human induced climatic change "is both scientifically and morally unsupportable."

Or Patrick J. Michaels at "There is plenty of quantitative evidence on sea-level rise and historical tsunamis and it all paints [this] argument in a bad light." He then refutes each part of the argument. It's a great read.

Why am I complaining about this nearly a year after the fact? Because I saw a crawl on Fox News last night that claimed "American scientists find last year's tsunami moved the sea floor 39 feet." Obviously, they mean the earthquake which caused the tsunami moved the sea floor 39 feet.

And because pseudoscience like this points to the basic lack of scientific literacy in the American public as a whole.

For example, let's take all the hype about vaccinations being bad. Yes, a very, very small number of children have a bad reaction to certain vaccinations. But the media outrage about it has led many otherwise intelligent people to not have their children vaccinated, either because they don't understand the meaning of the statistics involved or they don't understand why or how vaccinations work. And because so many children of otherwise well-meaning and intelligent parents have not been vaccinated, there is a whooping cough outbreak in our local middle and high schools.

Let me repeat that: There is a whooping cough outbreak in the school two miles from my house.

This is not some imaginary, long-dead virus in a galaxy far, far away that we're talking about. I live 100 miles from the nearest urban center in an Upper Midwest, upper-middle class, small to medium-sized town with two large hospitals, surrounded by tiny towns and farmland. If whooping cough can spread here, it can get to your children, too.

Please, please do not just accept what the media tells you about scientific issues. They are more than likely twisting facts to make the message interesting. Or they don't understand it either. Don't let them think for you.

And please, please, please vaccinate your children. Whooping cough, and those other diseases we vaccinate against, kill children. Your children and other people's children. The way to eliminate these diseases forever is for everyone to be immune. That's what vaccinations do. We can save them; we have the technology. Please use it.

Grit More Important than Genes?

Interesting article in Psychology Today: The Winning Edge: We're primed to think that talent is the key to success. But what counts even more is a fusion of passion and perseverance. In a world of instant gratification, grit may yield the biggest payoff of all.

While I agree with most of the article (typos not withstanding), I have a problem with the following:

"Grit, most likely, can be taught, or at least encouraged. But one impediment to growing grit may be -- surprisingly -- the seemingly innocent act of parents praising a child's intelligence. In one fascinating series of studies, Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck and her colleagues showed that children who were praised for their intelligence cared more about their grades than about learning during subsequent tasks. And after experiencing a failure, these children were less persistent than their peers who had been praised for their effort. "When you praise kids' intelligence and then they fail, they think they're not smart anymore, and they lose interest in their work," Dweck explains. "In contrast, kids praised for effort show no impairment and often are energized in the face of difficulty."

The article doesn't say whether the children studied had been consistently, i.e. since birth, praised for intelligence vs. effort. There have been numerous studies about the "Atta-Boy" culture in the public schools--saying "good job" to even the slightest amount of effort on the child's part in an effort to raise self-esteem--being not just absurd but harmful to their ability to work hard and persevere. Which makes me wonder if she's not just seeing the public school effect on gifted kids--kids who are smart but have been taught to value grades over learning because that is what is important in the classroom.

In my mind, though, there is no question that all the IQ points in the world are not going to make you successful unless you get up off the couch. Our local radio station runs an ad for the morning show with the following sound bite: "It's not fair. You sleep late, watch tv all day--the job offers ought to be rolling in!" But praising every tiny amount of effort vs. telling them they're smart is not going to give a child the gumption to put down the remote, really buckle in and change the world.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Virtual Schools: A Halfway Step

Quite a number of states now have virtual public schools. Rather than getting on the bus every morning, students sit down at the computer to get their lessons in multimedia and talk to their teachers via IM or email. In some ways, this is the best of both educational worlds. Students get a progressive curriculum and can work at their own pace and parents don't have to worry about taking on responsibility for their children's entire education. Plus, since they are public schools, they are funded by your tax dollars, i.e. Free!

The following list of links is not meant to be exhaustive. Put your state and "virtual school" into google or contact your state's Department of Public Instruction or equivalent for more info. I'll post more links as I find them.

Arizona Connections Academy

California Connections Academy

Colorado Connections Academy

Florida Virtual School
Florida Connections Academy

Georgia Connections Academy

Idaho Connections Academy

Indiana Connections Academy

Minnesota Connections Academy

Ohio Connections Academy
Treca Academy

Oregon Connections Academy

Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School
Pennsylvania Connections Academy
Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School

The Virtual High School at Prince Willian County Schools

Wisconsin Connections Academy
Overview of Wisconsin Virtual Schools
Wisconsin Virtual Academy (WIVA)
Wisconsin Virtual School (WVS)
Milwaukee Area Technical College Online High School
iQ Academies (HS)

Please be sure to investigate each school before enrolling. Even if it's home-based, it may not be the right fit for your child.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Book Reports: Process vs. Product

In our preliminary conversations with Dr. Ruf about Xavier's learning style, she mentioned that he was more process-oriented than product-oriented. Process-oriented learners want to learn something and then go on to the next thing. For example, given a worksheet with a dot-to-dot, the process person would do the dot-to-dot but consider it a waste of time to color the picture after she figured out what it was.

Or on Xavier's science fair project on blood-typing last spring, he was all excited to learn how it works, right down to the antibodies and antigens and the genetics of how blood types are passed on from one generation to another. But once he had that down, he was not the least bit interested in putting together his display. Gluing words on cardboard did not add to his knowledge base, surprisingly enough.

Dr. Ruf said that process-thinkers often lose their homework. ;-)

A product-oriented thinker likes to show what they've learned. They like to get things done, collect data to show progress over time. Schools are like this--they want concrete proof that you've learned, i.e. worksheets and projects; practice charts and reading logs; grades and test scores, homework. Partly this is because they are responsible to prove to someone else that their students have learned what they need to learn. Partly this is because most teachers I know are product-oriented. Why else the universal obsession with book reports?

Oh, I know. It provides practice summarizing the main idea--an important skill on fill-in-the-dot tests. It introduces critical thinking about literature (although without some guidance, I doubt this is really the case. Most kids are not going to leap from "This is a very very very very very (what was the word count again?) very good book" to "The way the author treated Character A seemed harsh" on their own). And book reports provide practice in public speaking when they are presented to the class. But really, aren't they really just a way to prove to the teacher that you actually read the book? And if you weren't forced to write a report, isn't is possible you would have chosen something longer and more interesting although harder to write about?

Maybe not, but I know the books I read to report on were considerably shorter and less challenging than the books I was reading for pleasure. I noticed the same thing in Wolfie last year and, to a lesser extent, Xavier this year.

I wonder if kids are more likely to lose their math worksheets or their book reports? Maybe I should ask Dr. Ruf.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Homeschooling Update

I just wanted to give a shout out to Klaus. He's finishing his first semester of classwork in Biology, English and Civics this week, six weeks ahead of the ordinary class schedule. Yay, Klaus!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Are you smart enough to work for Edison?

Fun test on a National Park Service site: 150 questions from Thomas
Edison's test for applicants
who wanted to work for him. Only 6 % of
applicants were able to pass his test.

Edison was quoted in the New York Times in 1921 as saying, "Men who
have gone to college I find to be amazingly ignorant. They don't seem
to know anything."

The test is part of the virtual experience at the Web site for the
Edison national historic site in West Orange, NJ (the physical site
is currently under renovation). Another fun aspect is the virtual
Edison "invention factory."

In case anyone is interested, I scored 69% on the 30 question test and 76% on the 150 question test. Neither result was good enough for Edison. ;)

Monday, November 28, 2005

Dare we ask what education is for?

As I've said before (maybe not here, but I have said this before), free public education was instituted by the founding fathers because a literate populace is necessary for a democracy to work effectively. In the 21st century, voters need to be able to read, understand basic mathematical concepts (which should include knowledge of statistics so we can properly interpret opinion polls) and understand how our government works and America's place in the world in order to make good decisions about who should lead us. This translates into reading/English, math, civics/government and social studies/foreign language. Yet, in the public schools, these basic educational needs are being pushed aside for "mulitculturalism", which should contribute to social studies but in practice does not impart any meaningful information, "emotional literacy," "self esteem", sex education, "stranger danger", "character education" and "drug abuse resistance education."

Drug Abuse Resistance Education is the DARE program, run by the police department to program 5th and 6th graders to "just say No" when they are offered drugs, tobacco or alcohol. At the end, they are required to write what I consider a straight regurgitation essay, i.e. there is only one answer, no critical thinking allowed.

The DARE program does not work. Study after study says DARE has no effect on graduates' alcohol, tobacco or other drug use, even nine months after the program ends. Chester will "graduate" from DARE next week--he's all excited about getting the t-shirt. So is this not a waste of valuable instructional time?

Teachers say "Emotional literacy" education, including anger management lessons, is not, nor should it be, the province of the public schools. Like building self-esteem and the other feel-good curricula I've mentioned above, it's the responsibility of the parents, not the schools, to teach. How can we complain about the way the schools are parenting our children (teaching or not teaching sex education and so forth) when we have abdicated the responsibility to parent them ourselves?

This goes back to the Kids Gone Wild post from yesterday, but it really ticks me off when parents complain that they're "too tired" or "don't know how" to parent their own children. Never mind the fact that if you can't or can't be bothered to parent your children, you shouldn't be having them in the first place. There they are, loving and needing you with every fiber of their little beings and what do you do? Ignore them under the guise of "allowing free expression" or "being their friend." Or schedule them into a million activities so you don't have to pay attention to them.

Here's the thing--they are children. They are new to this planet. They don't know how it works or how they're supposed to behave. It is your responsibility to teach them this, not the school's, not the teacher's, not the coach's, not the babysitter's. Yours. If they have problems or worries, they should come to you, not wait for "circle time" at school. You need to be aware of what is going on in their world and you need to tell them what you think about it and what they should do. You need to teach them how to play sports, how to solve conflicts and how to clean bathrooms. I understand this is unpolitic of me, but if you have to make major life changes in order to be available for your children, then do them. Live in a smaller town, a smaller house, get a smaller job. They know better than to interrupt you when you're busy.

Your children get older every single day. Every hour you say "Not now, later" is an hour of their childhood that you can't get back. If you are lucky, you have twenty years to teach your children how to be happy, productive citizens. If you live to be 80, that leaves you 60 years to focus on yourself and your needs. Don't let the village raise your child. They need you, Mom and Dad.

Some Groovy Christmas Gifts

American Science Surplus has some great little gifts, from stocking stuffers to larger gifts. I loaded up on $2 Harry Potter science kits (search for Harry Potter) and got Wolfie an Ancient Roman Coin Kit that includes ten actual Roman coins (you can also get these on ebay), cleaning instructions, information on Roman emperors and others who appear on coins and a cd-rom database of images so you can identify your coins. Archaeology buff that I am, I'm really jazzed that he would be interested in such a thing. ;)

Anyway, check them out for all kinds of stuff you didn't know you needed at really good prices.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Kids Gone Wild

Recent article in the NYT suggests a number of reasons for the explosion of rude children. "Last month, an Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that nearly 70 percent of Americans said they believed that people are ruder now than they were 20 or 30 years ago, and that children are among the worst offenders. (As annoyances, they tied with obnoxious cellphone users.)" LOL

""Most parents would like their children to be polite, considerate and well behaved. But they're too tired, worn down by work and personally needy to take up the task of teaching them proper behavior at home," says Dan Kindlon, a Harvard University child psychologist. "

Amen on the personally needy part, although this sounds like it's apologizing for parents' lack of responsibility, which I absolutely don't agree with. Children need two things to learn how to behave in society: They need to be treated with respect and they need to know what the rules are. You don't let the little darling hit you four times with a roll of wrapping paper and then yell, spank and send to time out the fifth time. What does that teach her? You can hit Daddy four times, but not five? Dad's got a hair-trigger temper and you never know what's going to set him off? Does it depend on what she's hitting with and what Daddy is doing when she's hitting him? You bet it does, but a two-year-old can't keep track of that many variables in the behavior equation. Nor should she.

If the rule is "no hitting", then one is too many, not matter what the implement or the social situation. Yes, this requires some active parenting at the very beginning. But if the first time she hits, you say, "No hitting" and gently take the wrapping paper roll away then go back to what you're doing, you don't need to progress to yelling, spanking (aka hitting back), and time outs. (And yes, for those of you who were wondering, I am referring to an actual event during my Thanksgiving.)

If the rule is "When Mom asks you to do something, you do it right away," then Mom needs to be ready to enforce that no matter what the child is doing at the time she asks. This kind of rule is where the treating children repectfully part comes in. Yes, I expect my boys to do what I ask them when I ask them. But I don't abuse this power by giving orders left and right or by interrupting whatever they're doing at my whim. Unless I need them to drop everything (i.e. an emergency, not a power trip), I tell them, "When you get to a stopping place I need you to..." or "When this show is over, I need you to..." I'd be mad if someone came in and demanded I drop whatever I'm working on for someone else's whim. Just because they're children doesn't mean their time is less valuable than mine.

[Sorry, I lost my train of thought here. I had to stop to take Klaus to work and then meet with the other Webelos leader to plan the next two months of Cub Scouts meetings.]

The article makes the point that we get mad at kids for behaving like kids and that's when we think they're rude and obnoxious. I'll admit that sometimes I have to remind myself that they need to run around screaming and shooting each other. But at home, not out in public. The example given in the article of a child roller-skating around the table at a four-star restaurant is a failure of the parents to control their children, not a failure of the children to control themselves. After all, what kind of parent can't prevent a child from bringing roller skates to dinner?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

I Love Lego!!!

Check this out! Lego makes science kits for teachers that cover DNA and Chromosomes and astronomy and robotics and simple machines, etc. The Teacher kits come with lesson plans and a "demonstration pack" of the specially made Legos for each topic--perfect for homeschoolers with one or two students at a time, plus they're reusable for homeschool groups teaching resource libraries or families who will need to teach the unit more than once. The lessons are written on the middle school/high school level.

I'm just so excited that they offer manipulatives for these very spatial concepts. It may even make sense to DH who was completely mystified by my famous "Thumbs" demonstration of dominant and recessive genes. You see, the thumbs are the dominant genes and the pinkies are recessive genes and the thumbs can obviously beat the pinkies in thumb wrestling so their trait is the one that is expressed. It's only when the pinkies work together that they can have their way... (Anyway, the boys thought it was hilarious.)

ADD: Meditation, not medication?

Very interesting article in The New Scientist. Apparently meditation, even if you've never done it before, restores your reaction time even faster than a nap does, and also alters the structure of the brain.

"What effect meditating has on the structure of the brain has also been a matter of some debate. Now Sara Lazar at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, US, and colleagues have used MRI to compare 15 meditators, with experience ranging from 1 to 30 years, and 15 non-meditators.

They found that meditating actually increases the thickness of the cortex in areas involved in attention and sensory processing, such as the prefrontal cortex and the right anterior insula.

“You are exercising it while you meditate, and it gets bigger,” she says. The finding is in line with studies showing that accomplished musicians, athletes and linguists all have thickening in relevant areas of the cortex. It is further evidence, says Lazar, that yogis “aren’t just sitting there doing nothing".

The growth of the cortex is not due to the growth of new neurons, she points out, but results from wider blood vessels, more supporting structures such as glia and astrocytes, and increased branching and connections.

The new studies were presented at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting, in Washington DC, US."

The article does not mention attention problems, but it certainly begs the question. Many researchers have gotten good results with biofeedback treatment for ADD, another type of meditative state. Click here for a menu of articles from EEG Spectrum International, a clinician-run research institute.

Somewhat tangentially related is an article in the New York Times, This is Your Brain Under Hypnosis, which discussed top-down brain processing and how it can override sensory input in states of hypnosis or meditation. Personally, I find "self-hypnosis" very similar to meditation. In both states, one becomes detached from current physical reality to contact the subconscious. The ironic thing is that Klaus, my ADD boy, is also highly susceptible to that hypnotic state. He sleeps with his eyes open frequently and has done since he was a baby. I wonder if that means his prefrontal cortex is overdeveloped, which is why he pays attention to too many things at once? Or is it underdeveloped because his hypnotic state is less controlled by his conscious brain, as a meditative state would be?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Is there such thing as too competitive?

From the Wall Street Journal:

The New White Flight

In Silicon Valley, two high schools
with outstanding academic reputations
are losing white students
as Asian students move in. Why?

November 19, 2005; Page A1

CUPERTINO, Calif. -- By most measures, Monta Vista High here and Lynbrook High, in nearby San Jose, are among the nation's top public high schools. Both boast stellar test scores, an array of advanced-placement classes and a track record of sending graduates from the affluent suburbs of Silicon Valley to prestigious colleges.

But locally, they're also known for something else: white flight. Over the past 10 years, the proportion of white students at Lynbrook has fallen by nearly half, to 25% of the student body. At Monta Vista, white students make up less than one-third of the population, down from 45% -- this in a town that's half white. Some white Cupertino parents are instead sending their children to private schools or moving them to other, whiter public schools. More commonly, young white families in Silicon Valley say they are avoiding Cupertino altogether.

Whites aren't quitting the schools because the schools are failing academically. Quite the contrary: Many white parents say they're leaving because the schools are too academically driven and too narrowly invested in subjects such as math and science at the expense of liberal arts and extracurriculars like sports and other personal interests.

The two schools, put another way that parents rarely articulate so bluntly, are too Asian.

Cathy Gatley, co-president of Monta Vista High School's parent-teacher association, recently dissuaded a family with a young child from moving to Cupertino because there are so few young white kids left in the public schools. "This may not sound good," she confides, "but their child may be the only Caucasian kid in the class." All of Ms. Gatley's four children have attended or are currently attending Monta Vista. One son, Andrew, 17 years old, took the high-school exit exam last summer and left the school to avoid the academic pressure. He is currently working in a pet-supply store. Ms. Gatley, who is white, says she probably wouldn't have moved to Cupertino if she had anticipated how much it would change.

In the 1960s, the term "white flight" emerged to describe the rapid exodus of whites from big cities into the suburbs, a process that often resulted in the economic degradation of the remaining community. Back then, the phenomenon was mostly believed to be sparked by the growth in the population of African-Americans, and to a lesser degree Hispanics, in some major cities.

But this modern incarnation is different. Across the country, Asian-Americans have by and large been successful and accepted into middle- and upper-class communities. Silicon Valley has kept Cupertino's economy stable, and the town is almost indistinguishable from many of the suburbs around it. The shrinking number of white students hasn't hurt the academic standards of Cupertino's schools -- in fact the opposite is true.

This time the effect is more subtle: Some Asians believe that the resulting lack of diversity creates an atmosphere that is too sheltering for their children, leaving then unprepared for life in a country that is only 4% Asian overall. Moreover, many Asians share some of their white counterpart's concerns. Both groups finger newer Asian immigrants for the schools' intense competitiveness.

Some whites fear that by avoiding schools with large Asian populations parents are short-changing their own children, giving them the idea that they can't compete with Asian kids. "My parents never let me think that because I'm Caucasian, I'm not going to succeed," says Jessie Hogin, a white Monta Vista graduate.

The white exodus clearly involves race-based presumptions, not all of which are positive. One example: Asian parents are too competitive. That sounds like racism to many of Cupertino's Asian residents, who resent the fact that their growing numbers and success are causing many white families to boycott the town altogether.

"It's a stereotype of Asian parents," says Pei-Pei Yow, a Hewlett-Packard Co. manager and Chinese-American community leader who sent two kids to Monta Vista. It's like other familiar biases, she says: "You can't say everybody from the South is a redneck."

Jane Doherty, a retirement-community administrator, chose to send her two boys elsewhere. When her family moved to Cupertino from Indiana over a decade ago, Ms. Doherty says her top priority was moving into a good public-school district. She paid no heed to a real-estate agent who told her of the town's burgeoning Asian population.

She says she began to reconsider after her elder son, Matthew, entered Kennedy, the middle school that feeds Monta Vista. As he played soccer, Ms. Doherty watched a line of cars across the street deposit Asian kids for after-school study. She also attended a Monta Vista parents' night and came away worrying about the school's focus on test scores and the big-name colleges its graduates attend.

"My sense is that at Monta Vista you're competing against the child beside you," she says. Ms. Doherty says she believes the issue stems more from recent immigrants than Asians as a whole. "Obviously, the concentration of Asian students is really high, and it does flavor the school," she says.

When Matthew, now a student at Notre Dame, finished middle school eight years ago, Ms. Doherty decided to send him to Bellarmine College Preparatory, a Jesuit school that she says has a culture that "values the whole child." It's also 55% white and 24% Asian. Her younger son, Kevin, followed suit.

Kevin Doherty, 17, says he's happy his mother made the switch. Many of his old friends at Kennedy aren't happy at Monta Vista, he says. "Kids at Bellarmine have a lot of pressure to do well, too, but they want to learn and do something they want to do."

While California has seen the most pronounced cases of suburban segregation, some of the developments in Cupertino are also starting to surface in other parts of the U.S. At Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville, Md., known flippantly to some locals as "Won Ton," roughly 35% of students are of Asian descent. People who don't know the school tend to make assumptions about its academics, says Principal Michael Doran. "Certain stereotypes come to mind -- 'those people are good at math,' " he says.

In Tenafly, N.J., a well-to-do bedroom community near New York, the local high school says it expects Asian students to make up about 36% of its total in the next five years, compared with 27% today. The district still attracts families of all backgrounds, but Asians are particularly intent that their kids work hard and excel, says Anat Eisenberg, a local Coldwell Banker real-estate agent. "Everybody is caught into this process of driving their kids." Lawrence Mayer, Tenafly High's vice principal, says he's never heard such concerns.

Perched on the western end of the Santa Clara valley, Cupertino was for many years a primarily rural area known for its many fruit orchards. The beginnings of the tech industry brought suburbanization, and Cupertino then became a very white, quintessentially middle-class town of mostly modest ranch homes, populated by engineers and their families. Apple Computer Inc. planted its headquarters there.

As the high-tech industry prospered, so did Cupertino. Today, the orchards are a memory, replaced by numerous shopping malls and subdivisions that are home to Silicon Valley's prosperous upper-middle class. While the architecture in Cupertino is largely the same as in neighboring communities, the town of about 50,000 people now boasts Indian restaurants, tutoring centers and Asian grocers. Parents say Cupertino's top schools have become more academically intense over the past 10 years.

Asian immigrants have surged into the town, granting it a reputation -- particularly among recent Chinese and South Asian immigrants -- as a Bay Area locale of choice. Cupertino is now 41% Asian, up from 24% in 1998.

Some students struggle in Cupertino's high schools who might not elsewhere. Monta Vista's Academic Performance Index, which compares the academic performance of California's schools, reached an all-time high of 924 out of 1,000 this year, making it one of the highest-scoring high schools in Northern California. Grades are so high that a 'B' average puts a student in the bottom third of a class.

"We have great students, which has a lot of upsides," says April Scott, Monta Vista's principal. "The downside is what the kids with a 3.0 GPA think of themselves."

Ms. Scott and her counterpart at Lynbrook know what's said about their schools being too competitive and dominated by Asians. "It's easy to buy into those kinds of comments because they're loaded and powerful," says Ms. Scott, who adds that they paint an inaccurate picture of Monta Vista. Ms. Scott says many athletic programs are thriving and points to the school's many extracurricular activities. She also points out that white students represented 20% of the school's 29 National Merit Semifinalists this year.

Judy Hogin, Jessie's mother and a Cupertino real-estate agent, believes the school was good for her daughter, who is now a freshman at the University of California at San Diego. "I know it's frustrating to some people who have moved away," says Ms. Hogin, who is white. Jessie, she says, "rose to the challenge."

On a recent autumn day at Lynbrook, crowds of students spilled out of classrooms for midmorning break. Against a sea of Asian faces, the few white students were easy to pick out. One boy sat on a wall, his lighter hair and skin making him stand out from dozens of others around him. In another corner, four white male students lounged at a picnic table.

At Cupertino's top schools, administrators, parents and students say white students end up in the stereotyped role often applied to other minority groups: the underachievers. In one 9th-grade algebra class, Lynbrook's lowest-level math class, the students are an eclectic mix of whites, Asians and other racial and ethnic groups.

"Take a good look," whispered Steve Rowley, superintendent of the Fremont Union High School District, which covers the city of Cupertino as well as portions of other neighboring cities. "This doesn't look like the other classes we're going to."

On the second floor, in advanced-placement chemistry, only a couple of the 32 students are white and the rest are Asian. Some white parents, and even some students, say they suspect teachers don't take white kids as seriously as Asians.

"Many of my Asian friends were convinced that if you were Asian, you had to confirm you were smart. If you were white, you had to prove it," says Arar Han, a Monta Vista graduate who recently co-edited "Asian American X," a book of coming-of-age essays by young Asian-Americans.

Ms. Gatley, the Monta Vista PTA president, is more blunt: "White kids are thought of as the dumb kids," she says.

Cupertino's administrators and faculty, the majority of whom are white, adamantly say there's no discrimination against whites. The administrators say students of all races get along well. In fact, there's little evidence of any overt racial tension between students or between their parents.

Mr. Rowley, the school superintendent, however, concedes that a perception exists that's sometimes called "the white-boy syndrome." He describes it as: "Kids who are white feel themselves a distinct minority against a majority culture."

Mr. Rowley, who is white, enrolled his only son, Eddie, at Lynbrook. When Eddie started freshman geometry, the boy was frustrated to learn that many of the Asian students in his class had already taken the course in summer school, Mr. Rowley recalls. That gave them a big leg up.

To many of Cupertino's Asians, some of the assumptions made by white parents -- that Asians are excessively competitive and single-minded -- play into stereotypes. Top schools in nearby, whiter Palo Alto, which also have very high test scores, also feature heavy course loads, long hours of homework and overly stressed students, says Denise Pope, director of Stressed Out Students, a Stanford University program that has worked with schools in both Palo Alto and Cupertino. But whites don't seem to be avoiding those institutions, or making the same negative generalizations, Asian families note, suggesting that it's not academic competition that makes white parents uncomfortable but academic competition with Asian-Americans.

Some of Cupertino's Asian residents say they don't blame white families for leaving. After all, many of the town's Asians are fretting about the same issues. While acknowledging that the term Asian embraces a wide diversity of countries, cultures and languages, they say there's some truth to the criticisms levied against new immigrant parents, particularly those from countries such as China and India, who often put a lot of academic pressure on their children.

Some parents and students say these various forces are creating an unhealthy cultural isolation in the schools. Monta Vista graduate Mark Seto says he wouldn't send his kids to his alma mater. "It was a sheltered little world that didn't bear a whole lot of resemblance to what the rest of the country is like," says Mr. Seto, a Chinese-American who recently graduated from Yale University. As a result, he says, "college wasn't an academic adjustment. It was a cultural adjustment."

Hung Wei, a Chinese-American living in Cupertino, has become an active campaigner in the community, encouraging Asian parents to be more aware of their children's emotional development. Ms. Wei, who is co-president of Monta Vista's PTA with Ms. Gatley, says her activism stems from the suicide of her daughter, Diana. Ms. Wei says life in Cupertino and at Monta Vista didn't prepare the young woman for life at New York University. Diana moved there in 2004 and jumped to her death from a Manhattan building two months later.

"We emphasize academics so much and protect our kids, I feel there's something lacking in our education," Ms. Wei says.

Cupertino schools are trying to address some of these issues. Monta Vista recently completed a series of seminars focused on such issues as helping parents communicate better with their kids, and Lynbrook last year revised its homework guidelines with the goal of eliminating excessive and unproductive assignments.

The moves haven't stemmed the flow of whites out of the schools. Four years ago, Lynn Rosener, a software consultant, transferred her elder son from Monta Vista to Homestead High, a Cupertino school with slightly lower test scores. At the new school, the white student body is declining at a slower rate than at Monta Vista and currently stands at 52% of the total. Friday-night football is a tradition, with big half-time shows and usually 1,000 people packing the stands. The school offers boys' volleyball, a sport at which Ms. Rosener's son was particularly talented. Monta Vista doesn't.

"It does help to have a lower Asian population," says Homestead PTA President Mary Anne Norling. "I don't think our parents are as uptight as if my kids went to Monta Vista."

Write to Suein Hwang at

Monday, November 21, 2005

Gamers Rejoice! Christmas comes early this year!

Klaus is having school at Wal-Mart today because the Xbox 360 comes out tomorrow. Wal-Mart is going to start selling them at midnight. When Klaus called this morning there were already 7 people in line. So at noon, I drove him over there with a lawn chair, his iPod, his Biology book and notes and a double quarter-pounder with cheese so he could join the line, which starts at the layaway department and now snakes past the little girls' pink plastic shoes toward housewares. He calls me about every hour just to say hi. Poor little thing is so bored, he actually worked on his honors essays for Biology. But to him, it is totally worth sitting in line for twelve hours just to get one of these consoles. I hope it lives up to all the hype because he has been looking forward to its release since last summer.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Mommy's Book Club-the school year so far

Move over Oprah! In my continuing efforts at stealth homeschooling, I've been reading at bedtime again to Chester and Wolfie. I'd stopped a year or so ago when their bedtimes crept up to 9pm because that impinged on "grownup time." Now, we impinge (and I don't miss my shows. Thanks, TiVO! :D ) I'm glad because it lets me introduce some literature they wouldn't ordinarily read (particularly Chester).

We started with Lad, a Dog by Albert Payson Terhune. The floweriness of the turn-of-the-century language took some getting used to, and I ended up skipping the parts where he reintroduced characters over and over in every new chapter (a relic of being originally serialized in a magazine.) It was quite exciting, though and we ended up in tears at the end. I would not recommend this book for very young kids or the tender-hearted. The climax involves Lad's own son viciously turning on him. It was nearly too much for Wolfie, even at the age of 11.5.

Next was Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot. We started with a picture book version which included "Growltiger's Last Stand", "Of the Awefull Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles..." and "The Song of the Jellicles" that I'd bought when Klaus was little. They were so excited that I downloaded as much of the cast recording of Cats as iTunes had (about half, not including Growltiger, unfortunately) and bought another copy of Old Possum since our copy has since disappeared. Chester especially liked the songs (as did I) and he was able to do his first book report of the year on Old Possum.

When October started, we read Bernard Evslin's Heroes, Gods and Monsters of the Greek Myths. This was a bit of a slog in some parts, but the boys enjoyed the stories, particularly of the demi-gods like Perseus and Theseus. It helped them make sense of a lot of the references they've heard in other stories and even on cartoons. I had taken care to include the constellations related to the story of Perseus and a couple others when we put up the glow-in-the-dark stars on their ceilings, so that was very exciting.

Unfortunately, the October book report had to be a mystery story. We picked out The Hound of the Baskervilles. This took us a long time to get through for many reasons, not the least of which was that I had to go through and change all the three dollar words into two dollar words. Once I got rid of all the Victorian circumlocution, we all enjoyed the story and it sparked some discussions and research into Sherlock Holmes and English Mastiffs.

My next choice was To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, one of my all-time favorite books. I thought it would be a good fit for the boys with a child narrator and more contemporary language, but it put them right to sleep, both nights. Granted this is not such a bad result for me, because I got done reading about a half hour sooner than usual, but it wasn't for them. At least not at this time. Maybe we'll try again when they're a little older.

To Kill a Mockingbird was a bust, so I let them choose the next book, Andrew Clements' A Week in the Woods. Andrew Clements has written a number of kids' books starring brighter than normal kids. The most popular is probably Frindle, about a boy who decides to change the word for pen to...well, to frindle and the conflicts this brings up with the establishment (teacher, principal, etc.) because "you can't just go around changing words."

I really liked Frindle but A Week in the Woods just makes my blood boil! The story is told from the point-of-view of both a gifted fifth grader and his science teacher. The boy is transferred to this new school in the middle of fifth grade and has a bad attitude about it for awhile, not surprisingly. So the teacher decides to write him off completely--won't call on him in class etc, even after the boy sort of apologizes. (He's an 11 year old boy after all. You can't expect him to get down on his knees and beg for forgiveness.) Apparently two months of being a model student cannot negate two weeks of bad attitude according to these teachers. I'll tell you, Mark (the student) has much more patience with his teachers than I would. I'm so upset partly because this is exactly what happened to Klaus when he crashed and burned in sixth grade, but really I think the entire faculty in this book should be slapped. The only way I would recommend this book is as the starting point to a conversation with a gifted child about how he is really treated in school.

NY Parents Up in Arms about Gifted Test

An article in today's New York Times says that the city's public schools will introduce one standardized testing regime to qualify students for gifted and talented programs in the city. This plan will abolish sibling preference for gifted programs. Mariela Calleja, an Upper West Side resident, has one son in the gifted program at P.S. 9 and had hoped that her younger daughter would join him next year.

"I don't know what I'm left with at this point; I'm crossing my fingers," she said. "What if my daughter scores well enough to get into a gifted and talented program, but not her first choice? Do I then send her to a G and T program at another school, or do I choose to deprive her of the enriched education and send her to the general education program in the same building?"

Granted, it would suck to have to send my kids off to three different schools every day. (Actually, my boys do go to three different schools this year. And it does suck.) What bothers me most about this article is not the program it's describing but the assumptions it makes about educating gifted kids.

For example, "Some parents said they feared that the changes could make the lack of socioeconomic diversity at some programs worse, as the top-scoring children, who most likely would have had the benefits of excellent preschool preparation, gravitate toward the two or three choice programs." (Boldface mine)

A gifted child does not need an excellent preschool to be gifted. An excellent preschool can teach numbers, colors, etc. but it can't make you gifted if you're not. The advantage Head Start students have in kindergarten disappears by third grade. Giftedness does not disappear. (Yes, you can hide it, but it does not disappear.)

The issue here is achievement vs. aptitude. Head Start students achieve a lot in their first years, because they are taught the same information through that program that the middle-class white children would be taught in an excellent preschool program or by interested parents. It evens the playing field. That's a good thing. But Head Start does nothing to increase aptitude, how able the learner is to try to understand and apply their knowledge to the world around them. A four-year-old is not going to question how life began on Earth--and insist on getting what they consider to be a reasonable answer--simply because he or she went to preschool. But a gifted child might.

The problem comes in when achievement rather than aptitude is the criteria for admission to the gifted programs. It's much easier to measure achievement than aptitude. When did she talk? How high can he count? What grade level does she read on? Very clear cut. Wolfie's super-challenge math program is based on "achievement and responsibility" according to his teacher, which is why if he gets less than a B+ in the class, he's bumped back down to regular sixth grade math. Which is asinine, but that's a topic for another entry. My point here is that if the tests in NYC are measuring achievement, then the parents' fears will likely come true--the GT programs will become an island of middle-class white kids from excellent preschools. Let's hope the real qualification is aptitude.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A Quick and Dirty IQ Test, just for fun

Your IQ Is 130

Your Logical Intelligence is Below Average

Your Verbal Intelligence is Genius

Your Mathematical Intelligence is Genius

Your General Knowledge is Exceptional

I should mention that this result was DH and I working together. My original result (after one can of beer) was 105. "Amazingly Accurate" my foot!

If you want a pretty close result, use the Tickle IQ test.

No One Cares if Johnny Can Read

The California schools have failed these kids in the most reprehensible way possible, and nobody cares, so long as they get to march at commencement. Apparently 100,000 high school seniors have failed the high school graduation test, but the schools are making provisions to graduate them anyway! These are children who have spent twelve years in school and still not learned enough to pass a basic skills test. But they've "put in their time" so they get to leave now. Does this not prove that high schools are essentially prisons rather than educational facilities?

Gerald Benson, superintendant of the Tulare Joint Union High School District in Central California, said, "It's pretty hard to tell them, 'You can't pass one test, you can't go through the ceremony.' [It] might cause a lot of kids to drop out."

Might cause kids to drop out. Well, we wouldn't want that. If they dropped out, they wouldn't learn anything. Wait, they're not learning anything in school already! Why are these schools not being beseiged by angry parents, demanding that their children be educated? Is it okay if their kids are illiterate, so long as they're kept off the streets until they're 18?

If I were the parent of a high school student (or any student actually) in California, I would be outraged. In fact, I am outraged anyway. Someone should be.

The Animal School

Oh, my. I have nothing to say that is better than this! You can find the original (plus lots of other stories) at The Story Bin

The Animal School

Once upon a time the animals decided they must do something heroic to meet the problems of a "new world," so they organized a school.

They adopted an activity curriculum consisting of running, climbing, swimming, and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, ALL the animals took ALL subjects.

The duck was excellent in swimming -- in fact, better than his instructor; but he made only passing grades in flying and was very poor in running. Since he was slow in running, he had to stay after school and also drop swimming in order to practice running. This was kept up until his web feet were badly worn, so then he was only average in swimming. But average was acceptable in school, so nobody worried about that except the duck.

The rabbit started at the top of the class in running, but he had a nervous breakdown because of so much make-up work in swimming.

The squirrel was excellent in climbing until he developed frustration in the flying class, where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of the treetop down. He also developed "Charlie horses" from over-exertion and then got a "C" in climbing and a "D" in running.

The eagle was a problem child and was disciplined severely. In the climbing class he beat all others to the top of the tree, but insisted on using his own way to get there.

At the end of the year an abnormal eel that could swim exceedingly well and also could run, climb, and fly a little had the highest average and was named valedictorian.

The prairie dogs stayed out of school and fought the tax levy because the administration would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum. They apprenticed their child to a badger and later joined the ground hogs and the gophers in order to start a successful private school.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Which counts at school--Nature or Nurture?

Interesting article in The Australian:

Genes have it over means in determining academic performance
07 November 2005

LONDON: Nature, not nurture, is the main determinant of how well children perform at school and university, according to a study to be published this week.

The researchers came to their conclusion by comparing how well adopted children did at school when they were brought up alongside parents' biological children. The relative effects of genes and the home environment were then separated out. Previous studies have suggested that the home environment, and in particular the level of family income, is the most important determinant of educational attainment.

But the new study, to be published in the Royal Economic Society's Economic Journal, will argue that while income and home environment account for about 25 per cent of educational attainment, inherited intelligence is responsible for the rest.

Doubling a family's income would have only a small effect on educational performance, say the researchers, who examined more than 15,000 children, 574 of them adopted.

It found that, on average, the adopted children performed less well. This, of course, need not be a bar to success in life. Many adopted children enjoy spectacular careers.

The research may lead some to question government policies aimed at improving the performance of poor children at school and university.

Such policies, it suggests, will work only if targeted at able children.

The study, Does Family Income Matter for Schooling Outcomes?, by Wim Vijverberg, professor of economics at Texas University, and Erik Plug, an economics researcher at Amsterdam University, concludes that previous studies suggesting a strong link between family income and educational performance were flawed.

"Children of higher-income parents probably do well in school because they inherit superior genes, not because they can afford to buy their children a better education," Professor Vijverberg said.

Adoption experts said the research failed to take into consideration other factors. Jonathan Pearce, director of Adoption UK, said: "A lot of adopted children have faced previous trauma or abuse."

The Sunday Times

My questions:

1) Were these children adopted as infants or as older children who knew they were "different" than the biological children?

2) Is it correct to assume that adopted children necessarily have "worse" genes than their biological siblings? I have a biological sister who dropped out of high school and gave up a baby for adoption, and an adopted sister who has a bachelor's degree in Biology from a Big Ten school. Mine is an anecdotal case, obviously, but it seems to belie the "average" shown in this study.

The study is not yet published, but I'll try to track it down when it is. I'd like to see how these variations have been controlled for.

P.S. I apologize if this is double-posted. My blogging widget doesn't seem to have actually posted any of the entry I've written this month, so I thought I'd try both ways.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Klaus' Number Puzzle Answer

And the next two lines are:


Why, you ask? Each line describes the one before it. The first line is the number one, the second line describes the first: one (number) one. The third line describes the second: two (number) ones. The fourth line describes the third: one (number) two, one (number) one. And so on. Clever, no?

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Scientists Discover Dyslexia Gene

Up to a fifth of dyslexia cases could be caused by a faulty version of a gene called DCDC2, scientists believe.

In the mutant form, DCDC2 leads to a disruption in the formation of brain circuits that make it possible to read, say the Yale team. Their finding could lead to earlier diagnosis of dyslexia, meaning educational programmes for dyslexic children could be started earlier. The work is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

The gene is located on chromosome six and Dr Jeffrey Gruen and his team at Yale School of Medicine believe it causes as many as 20% of dyslexia cases. Dyslexia covers a range of types of learning difficulty where someone of normal intelligence has persistent and significant problems with reading, writing, spelling. Up to six million Britons are believed to have dyslexia - 4% of the population is severely dyslexic and a further 6% have limited problems. Other genes have already been linked to dyslexia.

Dr Gruen and his team studied 153 families with members who had dyslexia. By comparing specific DNA markers they found many of the people with dyslexia were missing a large portion of genetic material in the DCDC2 gene. Dr Gruen said; "The gene itself is expressed in reading centres of the brain where it modulates migration of neurons. This very architecture of brain circuitry is necessary for normal reading. "We now have strong statistical evidence that a large number of dyslexic cases - perhaps as many as 20% - are due to the DCDC2 gene." They said it was likely that many other genes were also involved in dyslexia - some already discovered and some still to be discovered.

Scientists at Karolinska Institute, working alongside a team of researchers from Finland, have identified a new gene on chromosome 3, called ROBO1, that appears to be associated with dyslexia. Their study is due to appear in the scientific journal PLoS Genetics. A spokeswoman from the British Dyslexia Association said: "Even though dyslexia is unlikely to be a single gene disorder this new knowledge could lead to earlier identification of this learning difference. "Our research has shown that the earlier dyslexia friendly teaching practices are implemented, the more likely dyslexic eople are to acquire the skills required to reach their full potential."

Story from BBC NEWS
Published: 2005/10/28 15:39:27 GMT


Friday, October 28, 2005

Unschooling Article at Salon

I've been holding onto this article until I had time to say something pithy about it, but it's been more than three weeks now, so I think my pithy moment has passed.

BTW, you can read the entire article without joining Salon by clicking the button marked "FREE" at the bottom of the teaser. You have to look at a car ad first, but then it will take you to the whole article.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

New School for the PG in Reno

""For a nation, I'm not sure why we value equity over excellence," Ms. Green said. "All kids are entitled to an appropriate education for their ability, not just those we're teaching to a minimum standard."

Click here for the complete NYT article.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Klaus' Number Puzzle


See if you can figure out the next few lines.

Answers and explanation to be posted on Monday.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Things that Make You Go, "Duh!"

One of the most interesting/rewarding/difficult things about raising really smart kids is that they often make connections (and very young ages) that I wish I could have thought of myself. For example, yesterday Klaus and I were discussing the Intelligent Design movement and I told him the argument I had picked up from my reading about the Dover PA school board court case. I knew this example incorrect but couldn't quite articulate (to my own satisfaction) what the counter-argument would be. Turns out I didn't need to.

Argument 1: You're walking along the sidewalk and come up a wristwatch lying there. You don't wonder how it could have evolved to be how it is; you recognize that it's an incredibly intricate machine which must have been designed by someone of higher intelligence. Similarly, human beings must have been designed by someone of higher intelligence.

Klaus says (immediately), "That's ridiculous. Watches are inanimate objects. Inanimate objects don't evolve."

When Klaus was 4, he was very interested in outer space. We lived in Denver at the time--great for stargazing--and had watched comets, etc. on tv, like the comet fragments that crashed into Jupiter. One day Dad was telling him the names of the planets. "And this one we call UR-anus because otherwise it sounds like we're talking about your anus."

Klaus: "Urine-us. (with water spraying sound) Heeheeheehee!"

Also around this same time, Klaus was talking with one of Dad's colleagues from medical school about the comet impact that may have killed the dinosaurs. Dr. X told him that nothing like that would ever happen nowadays.

Klaus: "What about Fragment G?" (The largest of the coment fragments that hit Jupiter.)

Dr. X hadn't made the connection and frankly, neither had anyone else I know.

The Great Comebacks, Part Deux

Mom: "I guess you're not as bright as I thought you were."

Klaus (age 9): "Duh, Mom. I'm not bioluminescent."

Chester (age 5) received an orange from Santa in his Christmas stocking. "He gave me a fruit? What a silly idea!"

Dad: "Why did you climb into bed with us last night?"

Wolfie (age 6): "Well, I hadn't done it in awhile and I thought I'd try it."

The first snow of the year. Chester (age 4) says, "There's snow on the ground. I'm going to go outside and write my name!"

Fearing the worst, Dad asks, "Oh? How are you going to do that?"

Chester: "With my finger!"

Finally, I was telling Wolfie (age 11) about this blog over the weekend. He looked at me in mock-horror and said, "Is raising gifted kids a game to you, Mom? This is my life we're talking about!"

The Declaration of Educational Independence

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that a Public Education System long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shown, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by Abolishing the Public Education System to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Government Control, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Public Education System, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.

Read the whole declaration. It's amazing!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Algebra Resources for V/S Kids (and others)

These links were first suggested by members of the TAGMAX listserv:

Hands-On Equations by Dr. Henry Borenson

Thinkwell's multimedia CD-ROM "textbook"

MathUSee highly recommended by parents of gifted and v/s kids!

Real World Algebra is story problem-based, which sounds like it might be to language-based, but might appeal to the "big picture" thinker in a v/s kid.

The author of Algebra Antics has been giving seminars at community colleges in Southern California for years.

Algebra Out Loud combines reading strategies with math. Should be particularly good for the very verbal with poor sequencing skills.

Another Mental Math Resource

For students who are learning arithmatic or need a refresher, The Math Page offers not only problems sets but clear explanations of the way to think a problem through to get the answer in your head.

For example: "Now, once you know that
6 + 6 = 12,
then you could know that
6 + 7 = 13,
6 + 5 = 11.

In essence, this is the way mathematicians think--reducing a problem to the simplest way to approach it before trying to find the answer.

Ammunition Against Disapproving Mothers-in-law

Homeschooling's True Colors, an excellent article from Mothering Magazine, treats the common myths about homeschooling and shows the research contradicting them.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Tease Your Brain!

Figure out what the variables stand for in these equations. For example 12 M in a Y equals 12 months in a year. Give it a try!

Just for Fun

UC Riverside Actively Recruits Homeschoolers

HSing is becoming more and more accepted. Are we on the brink of a revolution?

“Among the homeschool community, we find large numbers of students who are smart, mature, creative, independent and well-socialized people,” said Frank Vahid, a professor of computer science who has three children who are homeschooled. “We want such excellent students in our classes. They have a lot to offer the university community.”

Monday, October 17, 2005

Lateral Science

Just had to share this link with you scientist-types out there or parents of scientist-types. Lateral Science describes all kinds of old-fashioned (read Victorian) and unusual science experiments. I can't wait to try writing under the shell of an egg!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Look at me, I'm Winston Churchill!

Yet another quote about gifted kids being ignored in the school system. This is not a new phenomenon, folks...

"Clearly there was something odd here. Winston, Davidson had conceded, was the ablest boy in his [grade]. He was, in fact, remarkable. His grasp of history was outstanding. Yet he was considered a hopeless pupil. It occurred to no one that the fault might lie, not in the boy, but in the school.

Samuel Butler defined genius as "a supreme capacity for getting its possessors into trouble of all kinds," and it is ironic that geniuses are likeliest to be misunderstood in classrooms. Studies at the University of Chicago and the University of Minnesota have found that teachers smile on children with high IQs and frown upon those with creative minds.

Intelligent but uncreative students accept conformity, never rebel, and complete their assignments with dispatch and to perfection. The creative child, on the other hand, is manipulative, imaginative, and intuitive. He is likely to harass the teacher. He is regarded as wild, naughty, silly undependable, lacking in seriousness or even promise. His behavior is distracting; he doesn't seem to be trying; he gives unique answers to banal questions, touching off laughter among other children.

E. Paul Torrance of Minnesota found that 70 percent of pupils rated high in creativity were rejected by teachers picking a special class for the intellectually gifted. The Goertzels concluded that a Stanford study of genius, under which teachers selected bright children, would have excluded Churchill, Edison, Picasso, and Mark Twain.

(From William Manchester, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill.
Visions of Glory, 1874-1932, pp. 158-159)

How about "boys who don't think they're funny"?

Originally uploaded by The Princess Mom.
In my effort to get organized, I bought this magnetic "Things I Need" grocery list to hang on the refrigerator. It wasn't long before other people had added their needs to the list as well...

Saturday, October 15, 2005

National Chemistry Week

In honor of National Chemistry Week, here are some links (courtesy of the Wi-TAGhomeschooling listserv):

A Flash Version of the periodic table (if you have dial up service... you don't want to go there ;-)

Wondernet (by the Am Chem Soc) - kitchen chemistry for youngsters (with really good explanations of "What's going on")

Cavalcade of chemistry - Free fun lesson plans

Robert Krampf's Free Experiment of the Week -

Demos for online chemistry software (you can purchase the software, but it is spendy)... you don't get the answer with the demo, but we figured out most of it ;-)

Edmunds scientific catalog:

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Gift of ADHD

Found this article today on The author, Lara Honos-Webb, Ph.D., is waxing poetic about how wonderful it is to have ADHD because it helps you "get the big picture", "take risks" and "be creative". While I agree that recasting the problems of ADHD in positive terms is a good thing, I think she's got the wrong horse here. The children she's describing are visual-spatial (v-s) learners, not ADHD.

This is the kind of confusion you run across when people declaim that there's no such thing as ADD and it really means gifted. Not so, my friends. As I've mentioned before, you can be identified as gifted and have ADD that gets in the way of your giftedness. While I agree that v-s kids don't fit well into the traditional a-s (auditory-sequential) teaching in traditional schools, and that may lead to them being labeled ADD when they're clearly not, the two are completely different animals.

Think of it as convergent evolution. Even though the dolphin and porpoise are not related, they look similar because they've evolved to exist in the same environment, which necessarily rewards the same types of adaptations. Similarly, ADD and v-s may be evolutionary adaptations to our current profoundly visual, information overloaded society. Because they are both adaptations to the same environment, they would share characteristics, but that doesn't mean they are the same thing.

Having a fantastic mental picture of a fascinating project is v-s and can very easily be the behavior of a gifted child. But having ADD that keeps you from completing the project in your head is not a "gift."

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Mental Math Resources

This site has several very good/fun mental math activities for the home,
mental math activities for the car, as well as fun math writing and talking

Mental Math: Computation Activities for Anytime, Grades 4-8 (a good, useful
workbook by Richard Piccirilli)

Mental Math Challenges (another good book on mental math)

Project Motivational Math

OPPS! (This is a fun Pre-Algebra game, but you already know of it; I'd
thought I'd add it to the list anyway, in case anyone else was curious)

More books on mental math:

* Mental Math in the Primary Grades

* Mental Math in the Middle Grades

* The Great Book of Math Teasers: Mental Gymnastics

* Mental Math and Estimation

* Doing Simple Math in Your Head

Three Interested Boys

Happened upon 12 Angry Men on Turner Classic Movies last night. I'd heard great things about it and listened to some of an audio performance in college but never actually seen the movie. I expected to be the only one in the livingroom after about 30 minutes, but instead by the end of the movie, the whole family was watching! We got to discuss prejudice and "being a man" in the context of the 1950s as well as a bit of courtroom procedure. I ended up being glad both Wolfie and Chester had been sick and slept most of the day, otherwise I would have had to put them to bed before the movie was half over. Instead we watched, we discussed, then we finished reading Heroes, Gods and Monsters of the Greek Myths (our current bedtime book. Next is The Hound of the Baskervilles). They can stay up 'til 11 on a school night once in awhile, right?

I was very proud of them, not least because the movie was black and white, there were no fight scenes, and we've had trouble getting them to watch even The Wizard of Oz because the movie was "too old." Even DH admitted 12 Angry Men was an interesting movie and he rarely will watch classic films with me. I guess there's hope for them yet.

Although a good MGM musical would still be a tough sell. ;)

What Should Gifted Programs Look Like?

In last month's District Administration Magazine, Contributing Editor Rebecca Sausner writes that gifted researchers "seem to divide rather neatly into sides that believe either that grade acceleration of gifted students is the best approach, or that enrichment opportunities for all, with advanced enrichment for the gifted, are the way to go. National organizations seem to straddle the continuum between the two." Her article, Gifted Education: Deceived, Denied and in Crisis is subtitled, "Why gifted ed still matters and what you can do to improve your district's offerings" although she does a better job surveying the current status of gifted education in the schools than in suggesting what to do about it.

The article does give an excellent overview of the situation facing gifted students in the public schools. I was disturbed to find out that "The National Research Center for Gifted and Talented, run by Renzulli out of the University of Connecticut, received $11.2 million last year, which comprises the bulk of the Jacob J. Javits Gifted and Talented Students budget." I checked out the Renzulli project. It looks like a fabulous site, built for individual differentiation, that provides a gateway to huge numbers of enrichment sites. Considering it's entirely web-based, one would think it would be an ideal product for homeschoolers.

Unfortunately, their program is only available to school districts. According to their FAQ, "The license cost for the Renzulli Learning System is $35 per student per year, with a minimum enrollment of 20 students per school." When I emailed to ask whether individual homeschoolers could benefit, I was told, "Perhaps if a large homeschooling group was to get together and buy a site license..." (sigh)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Utopia Elementary School

I've been pondering the last couple days what an ideal public school situation would look like. I think that birthdate, while an unequivocal standard, is a stupid measure to determine where a child should be in school. I'm sure I've mentioned before how strong a proponent I am of ability grouping. Even though ability has become a dirty word in education since the "Self-esteem Movement" of the 1980s-90s (which current research is showing to be a crock), called "elitest" and all that, I honestly believe that grouping children of like ability is the best way to teach everyone.

Ideally, elementary school should be more like high school, with a greater variety of subjects and students grouped by like ability and interests rather than age. This should benefit kids at all points on the educational spectrum. Those having more trouble grasping the material would have the time to really work on the fundamentals. Those sailing through could be pushed even further. those is the middle would have a chance to differentiate themselves to a greater degree than they can now.

But would elementary teachers go for it? Turns out some already have. I received the following info from Sara Stone in the Elkhorn, WI school district:

"We did some flexible grouping in our elementary math classes. Students were pretested and then "shuffled" The top 1/3 were placed together and their needs were met through depth of material. Pacing had to stay the same as the other two classes so the unit of study ended at the same time in all three classes.

The other 2/3 were heterogeneously grouped. What the teachers found was that the top 1/3 were NOT the same group of kids every time. There were a core group of about 5-7 who pretested into that group but the rest flexibly moved in and out based on the pretest. Parents were thrilled and faculty felt that they were meeting educational needs better than before.

They also found, that since the top kids were not in the other two classes then students had to come up with ideas, answers etc. that the students previously relied on from the top kids. Also, it allowed students the opportunity to move at a pace that was more appropriate and then could discover the concepts rather than always having the top kids answering. So, really moving the top kids out allows for more educational growth for the other students. I do think a key here was that kids knew that they could move in and out of the group based on the pretest.

So, contrary to popular misconception taking the top kids out does not mean the rest of the kids will fall apart. ...It is NOT the task of the top kids to make the other kids learn. Last time I checked that is the teacher's responsibility. AND if she/he is using the gifted kids to enable the kids learning how is she meeting the needs of those gifted. "

Ah, a school after my own heart. :D

I also heard this morning from a mother on the Mensa Bright Kids list that the private school her son attends uses a similar method, but for all subjects, not just math. Glory be!

Now the question is, how do we get the rest of the public schools to follow suit?

When are they ready for college?

The question that parents of gifted kids run up against too soon (in my opinion) is when are they ready for college? For homeschoolers particularly, a community college seems a good fit for teens (and pre-teens) who need higher level learning than their parents may be able to provide. Community college (CC) also provides a college experience for kids who may not be sufficiently mature to live outside their parents' home. But without a diploma, how do we hook them up?

In our state, the Youth Options program through the Department of Public Instruction is set up specifically to allow high school juniors and seniors to take community or UW college classes that count toward their high school diploma. Tuition is paid through the public schools and although it's trickier to get access that way, if you have a relationship with someone at your local school, that's a possibility. Prior to that, it would have to be on a case-by-base basis, negotiated between you and the particular school or professor and tuition would most likely be entirely your responsibility.

Our local community college has an entrance exam called COMPASS that all incoming students take to make sure they are placed in the appropriate classes. The COMPASS test is not age-restricted, so if your child took the test and passed it, you could easily approach the registrar and say, "Look, he's working at a college-level. How about you let him take this one class and see how he does?"

There is some question about whether racking up a large number of community college credits is a good thing for homeschoolers to do. It very much depends on what your post-high-school plan is, because there are as many ways to view these credits as there are four-year universities. As I understand it, there are more advantages to entering college as a freshman (priority in housing, more openings available, more financial aid available) than as a transfer student. Each college is different as to which credits they will allow to transfer and who qualifies as a freshman, so it's worth checking with the schools (and potential schools) on your list to see what their policies are.

I was looking into this primarily for upper level science and math classes. Although I've been doing okay supervising Klaus's correspondence-school biology lab and DH said he'd oversee a similar chemistry program, physics and AP level wet lab work would be more difficult in the dining room, as would any math higher than algebra II (at least for me. Less so for dh).

Klaus and Wolfie are taking the ACT in February, so I think we'll wait until we get those results back before making any CC decisions. That should also give us some time to narrow our list of possible schools so we can get some guidance that way.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Darn those gifted students!

Interesting article in the NYT yesterday about chess instruction programs in elementary schools. It sounds like a great program. I know Wolfie and Chester were very excited about the city-wide chess tournament the district held last year.

This is the quote that got my attention:

"It teaches problem solving, perseverance, being able to learn something new," Mrs. Hicks said. It also teaches concepts of rank and file, horizontal, vertical and diagonal.

The biggest problem, she said, was that some students already knew how to play or learned it more quickly than their classmates. "It is not as productive for them as for the others," she said."
(Boldface is mine, of course.)

Isn't that always the way? Gifted kids actually learning something and wanting to continue, thereby ruining everything for the rest of us!

I have seen the future and it is...Dutch?

And I was so proud of myself for being a good advocate for my kids this year...

Netherlands Court Bans Complaining Mom
Fri Oct 7,10:05 AM ET

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands - A woman in the Netherlands has been banned from any contact with her daughter's school or teachers after complaining too much, a court ruled Friday.

The woman, whose name was not released, "overloaded" the Borgh Elementary School in the northern city of Zuidhorn "with an incessant stream of questions, comments and complaints," a panel of judges at the Groningen District Court wrote in their judgment. "For causing an illegal hindrance ... she will be barred from approaching the school or the school area for a year, and forbidden from addressing the school, educators or the board in any way other than as specified in the verdict," the judges said. The woman's complaints ranged from treatment of her daughter — described as "highly gifted" — to disagreements about curriculum, method of teaching and the safety of the school. In the 2004-2005 school year, the woman sent 50 e-mails and 20 letters to the school, and came nine times to visit.

She also wrote 29 letters to the school board and others "to the National Complaint Commission, the Labor Inspection Service, the Educational Inspection Service, the Queen's representative and the media," the judgment said. In the future, the woman will be allowed to submit complaints to the school on a single page of paper once a month, the court ruled.

Hm, in the 2005-2006 school year, I have visited the school once, emailed two teachers once and the GT coordinator twice. And it's only the first week of October. I think I'm in trouble...

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A Blow for Math Literacy

Found an Associate Press article by Economics Writer Jeanne Aversa about an increase in credit card payment defaults in the past quarter. The article blames gas price increases for stretching budgets, causing credit card account to go past due.

My quarrel is not with the thesis of the article. I'm sure rising gas prices are squeezing families that may already have trouble paying their bills. My quarrel is with the inflammatory language the writer used.

And I quote: First sentence, "The percentage of credit card payments that were past due shot up to a record high..." (italics mine)

In the next paragraph we find that the delinquency rate is 4.81%, up from 4.76% in the previous quarter. Granted that's a new high, but is 0.05% really a "spike" in credit card delinquencies" (paragraph 5)??? Or is it just a lack of understanding of the mathematics involved?

Then we come to the last paragraph: "The [American Bankers] Association's survey also showed that the delinquency rate on a composite of other types of consumers loans, including auto loans and home equity loans, climbed to 2.22 percent in the second quarter, up from 2.03 percent in the first quarter."

That's a change of nearly two-tenths of a percent (compared with a "spike" of five-hundredths) but it hardly rates a mention. To my mind, the delinquency rate on all consumer loans is a bigger story, but apparently the credit card subset of the data is sexier or at least more newsworthy.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Wolfie Sees the Future

Wolfie's homework yesterday consisted of the following: "Write four declarative sentences, marking subject and predicate. Then write one each exclamatory, interrogative and imperative sentences."

I suggested he write the sentences in the form of a story because he couldn't think what to write about. It ended up like this:

Mom is a much harder teacher than Mrs. Fulkerson.
She wants me to write this assignment in the form of a story.
I don't want to.
I told her, "No."

"Wha--?" she said.
"Are you sassing me?
Do it right now!"

I thought it was brilliant, but he turned in something more boring. I would never stand for such a thing. ;)

Thursday, September 22, 2005

I Love My Kids

They're all science geeks like their dad and sometimes I get discouraged that my interests in literature and history and the performing arts don't matter to anyone but me. Then Wolfie gets all excited because Oliver Twist was made into a movie.

And both he and Chester insist I read them the picture book we have of three of the poems from T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats and fight over who gets to read the picture book of Spenser's The Faerie Queen first at bedtime. Granted these are picture books, but the language is pretty advanced and I hadn't been able to get Chester, in particular, to listen to these stories before.

I was unable to find our old copy of Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats last night so I went to the bookstore this morning to get another copy. While I was there, I remember I wanted Klaus to read all the The Odyssey, not just the half-dozen excerpts in his textbook, so I got that (plus The Iliad and The Once and Future King) while I was there. I expected Klaus to complain that I was making him work harder than he had to, but when I showed him the books, he said, "Oh, hey, I'd been thinking about skipping ahead to that book!" He took all three books upstairs then came back down and asked me to read the first chapter of The Odyssey to him. Sure he was probably stalling a little (still hasn't taken his midterms) but I can spare a half an hour to encourage his interest. :D

They like words. Even better, they like words I like. I guess they are my kids after all!

Now if I can only figure out how to get the other two to homeschool, I'd have lots of fun! LOL

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Smarter than the Average Bear

Chester's been having some trouble with school this year. We're not entirely sure whether he's missing his friend (in a different class for the first time in three years) or having trouble with the way the teacher is teaching (Klaus had her for 5th grade, too, so we know it's not the teacher) or some other reason (or some combination). He's been feeling frustrated and saying he doesn't want to go to school, which is completely out of character for him. :(

So I was asking him a little about what he thought the problem was--lessons too fast (teacher not explaining enough or not visual enough) or too slow (busywork). "I found out recently that doctors and other earners-of-graduate-degrees have an average IQ of 125, which is the same as you, so I know the problem isn't that you're stupid." I told him, and we talked about the difference between how much you're capable of learning (IQ) versus how much you know (5th grade). He perked up considerably after that, so apparently he was thinking he was stupid. He's very very hard on himself.

The next day we were at the school dessert social, on the swings, when I made some general comment about brains and school. Chester says, "Yeah, I'm smart enough to be an average doctor!"