Thursday, December 28, 2006

UK Spending Big Bucks for Gifted Online Classes

According to the article E-credits for more gifted pupils at BBC.com, "The government is arranging "e-credits" for schools to access extra lessons for an estimated 800,000 gifted pupils. The £65m scheme is part of its drive to ensure all children in England with special talents are given extra help."

Now you all know I think online classes for gifted kids are an excellent idea. Particularly for kids who are gifted in particular areas and working at grade level (or below) in others. I don't understand why schools are so resistant. Sending one first-grader to second grade for math and another to fifth grade for science is a logistical nightmare unless you can mandate that every grade in the school teach the same subject at the same time each day. Otherwise the child is likely to miss something relevant in his or her own classroom during the accelerated lesson time. Pulling kids from the classroom for gifted classes can give the same result. But if a child could go to the library or media center during math time, say,--whenever math is scheduled for that day--to work on Aleks.com, where is the harm in that? The child's academic needs are being met. The teacher doesn't have to deal with a bored student who is at best tuned out, at worst, disruptive. Sounds like a win-win to me.

Despite the title, the BBC's article is primarily about identifying gifted kids. The British government has suggested identifying the top 10% as GT--very generous according to US standards that usually run top 2-5%. One teacher quoted asks "what to tell a girl who said: "Miss, I really wanted to go to the giant insects workshop today, but I'm not clever enough," adding that the criteria for inclusion should be "good attendance, good behaviour, good citizenship - anything but natural ability". Sigh. I'm the parent of one of these borderline kids--sometimes he's considered gifted, at school he's not. I would suggest that if a child has high interest in a workshop on giant insects, she should be allowed to go.

But this quote smacks of a reverse elitism, particularly the bit about "anything but natural ability," and a basic lack of understanding about the purpose of gifted classes. Gifted programs are not rewards for being born with high ability. Gifted programs are (or at least, should be) appropriate education for high-ability students. Anyone with high ability in any subject(s) should be allowed/encouraged/assisted to develop those abilities. That's not elitism, that's what schools are supposed to do.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Merry Christmas, Rolfie McHorkenstein!

So how was the Christmas holiday at our house? Pretty good, except for the part where the dog had one too many Swedish meatballs and threw up in the front hall (twice), the front room (three times) and right behind DH and the FIL WHO NOTICED NOTHING! until I started cleaning up. Wolfie chimed in, "I never knew Christmas could be so horrible" (which is a quote of what Klaus (age 5) said at Wolfie/Zavier's joint 2nd/1st birthday, after Wolfie ate too much Thomas the Tank Engine cake and threw up all over the table: "I never knew birthdays could be so horrible.")

Said dog's name has now been changed from Jack the Wonder Dog to Rolfie McHorkenstein by Klaus, the teenager who is too cool to say "er".
("Whatev, Mom!")

Hope your weekend was equally entertaining. :D

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Merry Cranky Christmas!

My Gawd, has life around here been awful these last two weeks! Xavier's been picking fights with everyone, including me, since he found out he has a proctored final for his reading class. Wolfie can hardly drag himself out of bed and doesn't really wake up until dinnertime. Klaus has been walking around like a zombie. I've hardly seen him crack a smile all week, even though he's still meeting his obligations, school-wise. I could barely function yesterday but I blame Lunesta for that.

Part of it has been the weather--very dark and rainy. (We've got a 0-25% chance for a white Christmas.) Bleah. But I don't remember the run up to Christmas being this tense. After all, the cookies are made, the cards are sent, the presents are wrapped (at least my presents are wrapped), the WWI Royal Canadian Flying Corps uniform is finished...

Maybe after school on Friday (yes, the public schools have a full day tomorrow) things will begin to look a lot like Christmas.

Anyway, I hope you all have a joyous and relaxing New Year! :D

Thursday, December 14, 2006

What's Opera, Doc?

I love the internet. The boys have been playing World of Warcraft--a lot--and they keep talking about magic helmets. Which in turn makes DH and I sign the "Spear and Magic Helmet" recitative from the Bugs Bunny cartoon "What's Opera, Doc?" The boys thought we were insane (not for the first time, mind you) until I found the cartoon on Google video this morning. LOL
Click the title to watch.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Without a...Clue?

DH and I were watching a rerun of "Without a Trace" the other night about a 15yo violin prodigy who has disappeared. Making a case for her running away, her manager says, "And her mother homeschools her! There's nothing normal about that!" So this is our new catchphrase: "There's nothing normal about that!" LOL

Unschooling live chat transcript from Teacher Magazine

Last week, edweek.org hosted a live Web chat with Ken Danford, executive director of North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens, in Hadley, Mass. From their promo material: "Founded in 1996, North Star is an education center for homeschoolers, catering mostly to students who've grown disaffected with high school. North Star offers an eclectic mix of courses as well as career resources, but what the students do with their time is largely up to them.

"There's no attendance taken," writes author Dan Robb in his recent TEACHER MAGAZINE article on North Star. "Nor are there bells, grade levels, or evaluations. Students are absolutely in charge of their own education." Adds Danford, "Unstructured time here is invaluable--is more important than the classes, in a way--because ultimately it's more important that kids have time and space to figure out who they want to be."

Some of North Star's students attest that this laissez-faire approach has reawakened their engagement with learning. And despite leaving the center without grades or a diploma, a number of North Star's alumni have gone on to elite colleges."

There are two of the predicable "What if they just want to play video games all day?" questions. Danford doesn't mention deschooling, perhaps because most of his audience is teachers, but he handles most of the questions well. I suspect the center is even less structured than it appears to be from his answers--again playing to the audience. With a staff of two, they couldn't possibly be as hands-on as he suggests. Not that that is a bad thing, but it's something that teachers just would not understand.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Science Curriculum Ideas

First an update: I have not been able to get the HHMI Virtual Labs disk to work under Mac OSX or Windows. Granted I'm not the most adept Windows user, but I can't even get the computer to recognize that there is a program on the disk. Too bad because the splash page looked pretty slick.

On a more positive note: The disk of supplementary material that came with the NIH science unit works well under Windows and presumably under Mac OS9 (it kept trying to open OS9 under my OSX browser). It has lots of good stuff on it, including a short documentary on what a hazmat worker does. We'll be trying out the Toxicology unit in the next month since Xavier has finished his 6th grade science course. :D

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Differentiation from the Teacher's Point of View

Excellent article from the web version of Teacher Magazine:

"Published: November 6, 2006

The Kid Who's Sleeping in Row 3, Desk 2

By Elaine Duff

As part of a new partnership, teachermagazine.org is publishing this regular column by members of the Teacher Leaders Network, a professional community of accomplished educators dedicated to sharing ideas and expanding the influence of teachers.

I think teachers can often fall into the trap of teaching content instead of children. Howard Gardner says, "When students cannot learn the way we teach them, we must teach them the way they learn." That's a powerful statement. But even if we know, in theory, that differentiating our instruction to match the needs of each student is an important key to success, it's still challenging in practice.

Many of us have the attitude that "we will put the information out there, and if they don't get it, it's on them." We tend to be resistant to the whole idea of differentiation. I believe it starts with the teacher's attitude and expectations. We've got to be willing to entertain the idea that not all students will learn the same way or at the same rate, nor will every student respond every time. We've got to be willing to keep trying to reach every student.

One incident in my personal history springs to mind. I was teaching 12th grade English that year, a curriculum mostly centered on writing and British literature. I was certainly not the paragon of teaching excellence I am today (insert smile here), and I was struggling to find ways to make the content interesting.

Though Jeremy was classified as gifted, he slept in class every day. He'd come to class, stay awake for about 15 minutes, and then down he’d go on the desktop. It didn't matter what I did. Since British literature can be a little dry, I really tried to spice up that class. I used lots of cooperative learning, visuals, and let the students have lots of choices. Jeremy didn't care. During his standard 15 minutes of awake time, he'd stare into space, grunt when spoken to, and cultivate a general look of disdain. I began to get really frustrated because I couldn't pique Jeremy's interest. I even began to harbor a little resentment toward him for not liking my class.

I was thinking, "OK Jeremy, if you want to fail my class, FINE. I've tried everything." As time went on, I sort of gave up. I just started to ignore Jeremy. I didn't ask him questions, or even make eye contact with him most of the time. I didn't expect anything from him, except snoring and an occasional puddle of drool left on his desk.

It was quite by accident that I came to realize that Jeremy was capable of much more than I had given him credit for. During my planning period one day, I went downstairs to the TV broadcasting classroom to edit some film. I was in charge of homecoming, and each year I took the footage from homecoming week activities and put together a montage with music for our school TV station to broadcast during homeroom.

Several students were working on an assignment while I sat in the corner at the editing machine. I was focused on editing and not paying much attention at first, but then I heard a voice I recognized. I looked up and saw Jeremy, not only awake and standing upright, but teaching his classmates.

He was moving about in an animated fashion while explaining how to film a fight sequence. My first thought was that Jeremy must have a twin brother! I sat there staring with my mouth agape, struggling to reconcile the Jeremy I knew with this stranger. Suddenly he realized I was sitting in the corner by the editing machine.

When our eyes met, he said, "Mrs. Duff?"

And I said, "Jeremy?"

He asked with surprise, "You know how to edit video?"

I almost said, "You're walking upright?" but then I caught myself. "Yes, Mrs. Bernard taught me. You really seem to know your way around that camera. I had no idea you were a videographer!"

He beamed with pride and proceeded to explain the project his group was working on. It was clear he had earned the respect of his classmates. And it was also suddenly clear that I had not really made an effort to know Jeremy at all.

What happened after that day was nothing short of amazing. When Jeremy came to class the next day, he not only stayed awake, but he completed his work, and even participated in the class discussion. In fact, from that day on, he was totally different. He volunteered to film some projects we were doing in class, and even completed one himself. He ended up passing my class with a B.

What happened? When Jeremy encountered me in a situation other than English class, it changed his perspective of me. He realized that I wasn't just some weird lady trying to force him to learn British poetry. Equally important, my perspective about him was altered. He wasn't just the kid who slept in my class.

I'm not proud of the fact that I didn't make a better effort to know Jeremy long before this incident. He was just desk two in row three of my second-period class. It was easier just to see him that way. I told myself I had tried everything, but I had not stepped outside of my little English-class world at all.

When I think about what caused me to underestimate Jeremy, I see that it is related at least in part to my own school experiences. You see, I'm a "teacher pleaser" from way back. Since I saw teachers as magical beings, I can get offended when my students don't perceive me that way—especially when I've tried so hard to make the subject matter interesting for them.
I did learn from that fortunate accident. Now I make a great effort to cause more of these "accidents" to happen. I try harder to discover the many facets of my students. And I am happy to report that Jeremy now works for a television station in Tennessee.

In the end, it's all about attitude. It may be a teaching strategy, a timely smile, or a fortunate accident. But if we're determined to reach our kids, we'll eventually find a way.

Elaine Duff is a National Board Certified Teacher in Cumberland County, North Carolina, where she teaches high school English and serves as the professional development coordinator for the Cumberland County Schools Web Academy."

Choice is Good!

From today's EdWeek:

"Public School Choice Seen on the Rise

"Trends in the Use of School Choice: 1993-2003" is available from the National Center for Education Statistics.
Increasing numbers of U.S. students, over time, are attending public schools of choice rather than their neighborhood schools, a federal study concludes.

The report by the National Center for Education Statistics says the share of enrollment for public schools of choice grew from 11 percent to 15 percent of all students in grades 1-12 from 1993 to 2003. Those schools include public charter schools, magnet schools, and other types of options both within districts and in nearby districts. The data come from telephone surveys of a nationally representative sample of parents.

— Erik W. Robelen
Vol. 26, Issue 14, Page 12"

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Archaeology Camp in Southwestern Colorado

Thinking ahead to next summer: Do you have a child interested in the history of native peoples or in archaeology in general? Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in SW Colorado offers week-long archaeology camps for middle schoolers and high-schoolers and a three-week High School Field School. All programs are residential and offer a wide variety of cultural experiences in the evenings, in addition to days working hands-on in the field.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Your Kids Might Be Gifted If...

...He can never do things the easy way.

Wolfie, Wolfie, Wolfie. He can never do things the way everyone else does them. The first time he made dinner for the family, he chose to make beef stew and refused to follow, or even look at, a recipe. And the other day when we were making gingerbread cookies, instead of using the cutters, he ended up sculpting a gingerbread travelling salesman and a pair of tied eighth notes out of the dough. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but sometimes it's really hard to give him the space and time he needs to do things his way.

...The strangest things turn into word games.

Several years ago, I bought a set of stocking hangar letters. The set spelled PEACE with a star at the end (we needed six stockings so the dog could have one, duh!). Sure enough, the star became a wild card and the mantel began to read things like APE and PACE. We needed more letters so we added the SANTA set and the next thing I knew, we had EAT CANAPES. Now we also have JOY, NOEL and WISH. My mantel currently reads SANTA'S WRATH. (We added a leg to the P, to make R.)

Oh, brother.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

School for Snowbunnies

There is an article in today's New York Times about specialized private winter sports schools and how they're giving their students a leg up on college entrance.

"Once, winter sports schools were mainly the domain of those eyeing Olympic gold. But now they are becoming the choice for students and parents who do not expect to see a dime from future athletic careers. They are willing to sacrifice a traditional high school experience and pay up to $35,000 for a few more hours of play each day — and an edge on scholarships or entry into a prestigious college."

A traditional high school experience is well-worth sacrificing, if you ask me, particularly if you're able to pursue your passion in a homeschooling-type atmosphere.

"Just down the road, the North American Hockey Academy is housed in a chalet. Its classroom setting is informal. In the basement, students and teachers sit in pairs. Thin cubicle walls separate Algebra 2 from History of World Societies. Science class is just an arm’s length away from the Spanish lesson happening near the TV.

Several parents and students said the tiny class sizes often put them ahead of their fellow high school students when they return in the spring."

So why return? If anything, it's more difficult. "Splitting the year between home high schools and specialized academies can result in logistical headaches. Since the sixth grade, Erin Fucigna, a ski racer, has had assignments from her high school in Hopkinton, Mass., e-mailed and faxed to her at the Waterville Valley Academy, in New Hampshire. “It’s confusing at first and overwhelming,” said Ms. Fucigna, now a junior. “Science is the hardest, because I don’t have the same materials that are available at home.”

Sasha Dingle, the subject of a forthcoming documentary called “Balance,” attended both her local high school in Jericho, Vt., and the Mount Mansfield Winter Academy, in Stowe. “I always wanted to be in the high school play, but I would miss the first part of tryouts,” said Ms. Dingle, who was accepted at St. Lawrence University, in Canton, N.Y. “I felt almost like I was living a double life. Every achievement I made through the winter, I would come back to my high school in the spring and nobody would know.”

This is true for most, if not all teen professionals. At my school, we had two professional performers. One was a ballerina, the other had a nightclub act. Neither fit in well or was very happy at high school. Kind of begs the question, "Why try to force yourself into the traditional high school model?" Personally, I think I'd forego the $35K tuition, move to the slopes and homeshool.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Dr. Phil Again

I got this message from ZanyMom this morning about the results from yesterday's "Great School Debate" on Dr. Phil.

"I was poking around his website regarding today's show (which actually wasn't half bad, despite the trailer).

There is a poll -- vote for your preferred method of schooling.

What got me wasn't the replies, so much as the math is skewed:

The public school numbers are rounded UP, while the other choices are rounded DOWN. And gee, when I tried to post to that effect on their website (all posts are premoderated) they didn't post it. Go figure. ;)

;) Guess we unschoolers weren't supposed to notice the math bias. LOL

[From Dr. Phil's site:]Which style of schooling do you think is best? Take our poll!

(Actually, for PS it's 13.9%, not 16% LOL--Zany)

16%/456 Public school

10%/358 Private school

55%/1814 Homeschooling

19%/642 Unschooling

Total Votes: 3270"


Clearly the viewers prefer homeschool and even unschooling to public or private school, even with the skewed numbers. From what I understand, Dr. Phil believes middle and high school kids need socialization, although homeschooling in elementary is fine with him.

Klaus would beg to differ--if he were able to take three high school courses as a homeschooler instead of only two, he would definitely come home again at the semester. He doesn't want to give up his AP classes or Japanese in mid-year, which I think is a very mature decision. But, for him, the social high school thing has been a big bust. He actually did more extracurricular activities last year as a homeschooler than he has done this year.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Ooohhh, Noooooo, Dr. Phil!

(Disclaimer: I don't watch Dr. Phil and don't intend to watch the Great School Debate.)

FYI: The Dr. Phil show is airing an episode called The Great School Debate on November 24. From their website:

"Parents want the best for their children, but what’s the best way to educate them? Dr. Phil’s guests face off in a debate about whether to school, homeschool or unschool. Dana and her husband, Joe, call themselves radical unschoolers. They say education happens as a side effect of life, and they don’t believe in tests, curriculums or grades. Are their three kids learning what they need to know? Then, RaeAnn says public schools are death traps and wants to homeschool her children. Her husband, Steve, says their kids are safer at school than they are at home. Can this couple reach a compromise? Plus, Nicole feels like an outcast at 26. She says she hated being homeschooled, and couldn’t relate to other kids."

Just from this summary, you can tell Dr. Phil is against homeschooling. The deck has been stacked. Otherwise they'd have comments about how well the unschooling kids are doing and a former homeschooled student who thought it was the best way to learn, not that she hated being homeschooled.

You can read more about how the actual taping went from a homeschooling advocate who was a guest on the show. She writes:

"After the lady who chewed homeschoolers out as the future of her government had spoken, Dr. Phil then did something that clearly indicated why the homeschoolers had been brought to be part of an audience of an episode in which hundreds of high school students had been bussed in: Dr. Phil then asked the audience, "How many of you support Homeschooling and how many of you support sending children to school?"

Well, of course the 10% to 15% of the sparsely spread audience that were passionate homeschoolers proudly raised their hands in support of homeschooling. And when Dr. Phil said, "How many people do not support homeschooling," all those young high school students that had been unwittingly bussed in specifically for that question in this episode, raised their hands -- A forest of "No's," against homeschooling.

Although, that was just one brief question in Dr. Phil's episode, he took no chances. He deliberately rigged that audience to be a few sparsely spread homeschoolers, and an imposing majority of those who were currently in traditional schools."

Frankly, I think this was a huge chance for the show's producers to take. All the high school students I know think homeschooling, especially unschooling, is an awesome idea. However, it seemed to work out all right for Dr. Phil.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A Kid's Eye View of Capitalism

The Playstation III was released at 12:01 am yesterday morning. According to our local paper, people started waiting in line at Wal-Mart on Sunday night. I know by Tuesday there was a long line of very cold people in tents outside of Best Buy. We've been in this situation before, when Klaus spent 12 hours in line waiting for the Xbox 360 to be released last year, so I can't be too critical of the many college students waiting days for the PS3. Particularly since most of the people I saw interviewed in line said they were waiting for one to resell. Last year, the $400 and $600 Xboxes were re-selling for thousands of dollars.

Wolfie and Xavier thought waiting days was excessive, particularly for a game console they don't think is going to live up to the hype. Then we checked how much these boxes were selling for on eBay. Many sold in the $2,000-2,500 range, but some were ending between the $4-5,000. One auction ended with a "buy it now" price of $9,000!

It makes an excellent lesson in supply and demand. Our boys were astonished someone would pay that much extra just to have it now without waiting in line personally. But after DH figured that the seller who made $5300 on his console earned about $100/hour (assuming he waited 48 hours), the boys were suitably impressed. An excellent real-life example of the concepts of "value-added" and entrepreneurship.

Another lesson comes at Sony's expense--literally. These premiums paid to entrepreneurs aren't going back to the gaming giant. Also, Sony is apparently taking a loss of several hundred dollars on every console it sells. Traditionally, consoles are sold at a loss by all game makers, not just Sony, according to CNet. Companies make up the loss by selling games at a premium. Now we know why the new games are $60 a pop!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Paperless Classroom in Miami

Another blow for the "handwriting is important" crowd: Check out this Miami Herald article about a paperless 5th grade classroom, where each child has a computer screen built into his or her desk.

..."When [the teacher] assigns students a report on Civil War heroes, the students take off on their own using websites like Google and Dogpile to do research, cutting and pasting photographs into documents and saving their work on disks.

''Instead of writing with a paper and pencil and your hand getting tired, we can do it on a computer,'' said Robert Toledo, 10, as he read a site about Abraham Lincoln. ``It's faster and better.''

Here in Miami-Dade's only paperless classroom, websites are used in lieu of textbooks, PowerPoint presentations substitute for written essays and students get homework help from their teacher by e-mail.

''I can use the skills I learn here in sixth grade and in college,'' said Marissa Seijo, 10."...


Pretty cool, huh? I think written (as in word-processed) essays should supplement PowerPoint presentations to encourage actual development of ideas. In my experience, PowerPoints tend to favor regurgitation of images and sounds pulled off the internet, rather than promoting critical thought and development of ideas. Then again, we are talking about fifth grade. ;-)

Siege Weapons 'R Us

Wolfie just finished his Medieval Studies course. The final project was to build a siege weapon--he chose a trebuchet. (We found an excellent kit at American Science and Surplus.) It took him about a week to build. Since he finished it on Monday night, the boys have been having lots of fun hurling Milk Bones through the kitchen for the dog to find. Most of the time he can't find them unless someone stands over them and points, but then he's not the brightest dog that ever burned.

Anyway, this latest craze has caused me to utter another Sentence You Never Thought You'd Have To Say: "Do not put ham in the trebuchet under any circumstances!"

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Buddy, Can You Spare Ninety Thou?

Ack! Klaus and I went to visit an early college program called Simon's Rock College of Bard over the weekend. The good news is, it seems like a perfect match for him. An astonishingly good match for him, actually. While we were waiting around for his interview after lunch, a current student suddenly appeared and said, "Hi, my name is P_____ and I'm going to be your new best friend. I've been assigned to you for the next year and a half. I'm going to write my cell phone number on your nametag here, even though we have no reception because we're in the middle of f-ing nowhere." He did write a phone number on Klaus' nametag then disappeared. Klaus' reaction? "I am so going to do that next year!"

The bad news is that tuition, room and board costs $45,000 a year. **faint**

They do offer merit scholarships, thank goodness, because we're likely not going to qualify for need-based aid. Most students only stay for two years, then transfer to another university (In the top 5 schools accepting transfers from Simon's Rock, Stanford is #2). Of course, schools like Stanford cost just as much. Oy vey. We're still reeling from sticker-shock.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Holiday Gift List

Something I've found during the annual catalogue inundation that I thought might appeal to gifted kids (and adults):

Edmund Scientifics, where you can always find a winner, is offering a K'Nex Value Tub. 275 pieces for $19.99. This is a temporary overstock sale, so get them before they're gone.

For little bug-lovers: Exobonz is an award-winning building set made up of bug parts, rather than the usual blocks or sticks (like K'Nex). I just found this in the National Geographic gift catalog.

They also offer a pair of remote-control Tarantulas whose eight hairy legs move independently, just like the real thing. ICK! (Btw, I've seen single RC tarantulas in other kids' catalogs, too, for less than half what the $48 Nat. Geo wants. Check Google.)

Future engineers might be interested in the Chaos Tower, a giant Rube Goldberg-like device you design yourself. Think the Mousetrap game, but motorized. The best price I've seen for this is from American Science and Surplus, where they call it the Rube Goldberg Kit. Or Google "Chaos Tower."

Another fun one from AS&S, where we're getting most of our gifts this year, is the model trebuchet. Clearly anything that flings things through the air is worth having. Since Wolfie and Xavier have both come across siege weapons in their social studies course, they're very excited about this.

Finally, the must-have gift for ever-so-hard-to-buy-for 12 year old boys this winter is the pocketed security sock, again from National Geographic. Go figure, but my boys were all oohs and aahs about socks with zippered pockets in them. And at 3 pair for $30, they're a perfect...stocking stuffer?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Time Flies When You're Focused on the End of the Week

Hey, it's the second week of November already! This homeschooling thing is really messing up my "me time," which is when I can sit and write a coherent blog entry, unfortunately. Pardon me while I play catch-up:

Iron Science Teacher is the name of a webcast from the Exploratorium in San Francisco, pitting science teachers head-to-head to create science experiments out of everyday objects. Click the link to read more about the show, then check out the show at WWW.Exploratorium.com.

Freshwater Fred's Free Lending Library has materials for math, science, history, etc in a searchable database. From their website:

"Freshwater Fred's Lending Library includes approximately 1,100 educational videos, software programs and curriculum - and the collection is always growing. Explore topics such as biology, zoology, anatomy, physics, math, history, geography, the arts and environmental science. Some materials come with study guides.

There is no charge for Lending Library materials. Freshwater Fred's Lending Library is brought to you by Hoosier Energy and its Environmental Education Center, located at the Turtle Creek Reservoir in Sullivan County, Ind. The service functions on the Honor System.

Materials are available to educators in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin for 30-day intervals. Renewals are subject to demand. Educators are limited to 10 items at any one time."

Yale has joined the group of universities which offer course lecture online for free through Open CourseWare. Click here for more info.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Barbie vs. Baby Einstein

Interesting article on Time.com about whether the "trends" touted by the media are really trends.

"Here's how the typical American family is being portrayed. Most kids are coddled by helicopter parents who protect their child from failure. All moms have misgivings over their choice to work or stay home. Nannies are on duty at every playground, and the parents have fabulous jobs. Every child is pushed with too much homework, and every teenager is spoiled with too many luxuries. Teens have to apply to twelve colleges — because they're competing against all the other overachieving youngsters. And once they graduate, you would think every one of these young adults moves back home to mooch for a few years, unwilling to grow up and get a job."...

"The media needs a reality check. Mountains are being made of molehills. This new paranoia that we're all smothering our kids is a myth.

Parental involvement in schools has actually gone down, not up (a drop of 10% since 1998 in such things as attending PTA meetings and helping out with homework). Nor is every teenager spoiled or lazy; nearly a third of 16-year-olds have jobs while in school. Nearly a third of them volunteer, about one hour a week. Only 2% of students apply to 12 or more colleges, and only 150 of the nation's 3,500 colleges are so selective that they turn down over half their applicants. There are actually tons of college slots: 44% of colleges accept every single applicant. Some graduates do move home after college, but more 18-to-34-year-olds lived at home during the 1980s than do so today. Most families in America aren't doing too much for their children. They're doing everything they can, and it's just barely enough."


Reminds me of a senator who was interviewed during the drafting of the middle-class tax cut. When the reporter asked what family income level he considered to be middle-class, he replied, "$100,000." Not hardly! (I wish I could remember who that was.) And the fact that the media is out of touch with Middle America is hardly news. When a blizzard buries Minnesota or Wisconsin, it barely merits a mention in the national weather report. But when that same storm hits New York, it's a crisis of Biblical proportions!

I could just roll my eyes at the self-indulgent bias of the mainstream media, but the coverage is having unintended consequences. The Time authors argue that all this lack of perspective on the problems of the top 1%, the "Baby Einstein buyers," is trickling down and causing undue freak-outs among others who don't have these problems. "A survey of young Latinos showed they had picked up this panic that colleges are too selective and too expensive. Many had not bothered to apply even to their local public college, assuming it was as expensive as the Ivy Leagues and their grades weren't good enough to be admitted. When they were told the facts, three-fourths of them said they would have applied to college, if they had known earlier." And that is a shame.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Key to a "Good" Joke

The truth is, they are. (So says Wolfie)

I have to admit, I started this. But here is a list of jokes we made up, all riffing on the idea of a key:

What do you use to open a monastery?
A monkey (Monk-key. I told this one, but did not make it up.)

What do you use to open the door to a party?
A Funky. (This was Wolfie's.)

How do you open a glue factory?
With a sticky (Dad)

How do you open Klaus's room?
With a dorky (Wolfie)

How do you open Wolfie's room?
With a stinky (Klaus)

What do you use to open the Australia Zoo?
A crikey (Okay, I admit, that was mine. With apologies to Steve Irwin's family)

What would you use to open New Zealand?
A kiwi (Klaus)

What would you use to open Rivendell?
A Keebler (This was Dad's)

And after that, we just had to give up! LOL

Check out the Biology & Paleontology Q&A blog

Why do humans have noses and great apes don't? What is a pseudoscorpion? Did Diplodocus drag its tail on the ground? These questions and more are answered in the Biology & Paleontology Q's & A's blog. This blog is run specifically for answering the questions of schoolchildren (although I'm sure they'd answer questions from curious adults). They offer a wealth of experts is many fields of biology, paleontology (duh), ecology, evolutionary biology (my favorite!), dinosaurs, elephant locomotion, the list goes on... Very cool resource for young scientists!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

2007 Kid's Philosophy Slam Topic Announced

The topic for the Kid's Philosophy Slam for 2007 will be "Compassion or Violence: Which has a Greater Impact on Society?" Kid's Philosophy Slam is open to all students grades K-12, including special education students. There is a winner in each grade level. From their site:

"Entering the Kids Philosophy Slam is easy! Since everyone has experiences in life, the Kids Philosophy Slam asks kids to write, create poetry, music or create artwork about their personal experiences regarding a philosophical question posed each year. Any student from Kindergarten through 12th grade can enter, including special education students. There is a $25 registration fee for schools and a $2 registration fee per household for home school students."

Click the link above for more information about the slam, to get on their mailing list or to check out the The Philosopher of the Week.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Handwriting on the Wall? Doubt it.

According to an article in today's Washington Post, teachers can no longer find enough time to teach proper handwriting. And they don't care.

"Many educators shrug. Stacked up against teaching technology, foreign languages and the material on standardized tests, penmanship instruction seems a relic, teachers across the region say. But academics who specialize in writing acquisition argue that it's important cognitively, pointing to research that shows children without proficient handwriting skills produce simpler, shorter compositions, from the earliest grades."

I've mentioned before that I feel that "lovely handwriting" should be considered an artistic technique, not a writing skill. The Post's article would have us believe that without cursive writing, there would be no critical thought:

"The loss of handwriting also may be a cognitive opportunity missed. The neurological process that directs thought, through fingers, into written symbols is a highly sophisticated one. Several academic studies have found that good handwriting skills at a young age can help children express their thoughts better -- a lifelong benefit. Children who don't learn correct technique find it harder to write by hand, so they avoid it."

"In one of the studies, Vanderbilt University professor Steve Graham, who studies the acquisition of writing, experimented with a group of first-graders in Prince George's County who could write only 10 to 12 letters per minute. The kids were given 15 minutes of handwriting instruction three times a week. After nine weeks, they had doubled their writing speed and their expressed thoughts were more complex. He also found corresponding increases in their sentence construction skills."

Let's think about this. Being able to write easily from a young age makes children more likely to write well. Children who struggle with writing don't like to write. Earthshattering news? Hardly. And I would argue this means keyboarding is even more important than 15 minutes a day of handwriting practice.

A child who is not worrying about letter-formation will be able to add that much more attention to the ideas he or she is writing. More practice at letter-formation needed? No, how about removing letter-formation from the equation altogether? People who type don't worry about letter-formation, or spelling, or grammar when they are first getting their ideas down. All that technical stuff can be fixed later; it's the ideas that are important. Revising is easy in a wordprocessing program.

People (children) who are forced to laboriously hand-write an essay concentrate on all these mechanics to the detriment of ideas so they won't have to rewrite later. And that fear of having to rewrite is what makes the essays superficial. A child who is more worried about spelling than communicating ideas will write "Dad's mom" instead of "Grandmother." (Klaus, age 5, after three months in kindergarten). A child who is dictating a story will go on for pages with dialogue and extensive descriptions, will type a five page essay, but when hand-writing will struggle to finish half a page. (Xavier, the one with the perfect penmanship, grade 3) I suppose Professor Graham would be puzzled that my boy with the best handwriting is also the one who refuses to write.

We are in a transition period from the paper to the paperless society. (Offices have been trying to achieve this for years, right?) The paperless society is also a pen-less one. No paper, no need for pens. No pens, no need for penmanship. Yes, lovely cursive writing may survive as a hobby or an art form, like calligraphy (which used to be a necessary skill--for medieval monks--until the technology changed, i.e. invention of the printing press).

I would argue that technology is about to supercede the need for any handwriting. Think security, a signature can be forged more easily than a thumbprint. Electronic security codes and layered encryption seal legal and economic transactions. Credit card receipts and grocery lists are the only things I handwrite now. FastPass technology is doing away with signed credit slips and if I could order my groceries online, I absolutely would. Then what would I need pens for? Probably only to write myself sticky notes and I don't need good handwriting for that.

Friday, October 06, 2006

It's Horrible Books Time Again!

I've just been notified that Ray at DelSol Books is ready to put in another order for the UK's Horrible Books series. You can find more information on Terry Deary's Horrible Histories in my What Guys Read post from last June. With the bulk discount, he sells the books for about $7.50, plus $7 shipping no matter how many books you buy, which is a better deal than you'll get on Amazon or eBay. These particular books are beloved by kids everywhere. At first glance, the boys found 28 books they wanted. Even Klaus was excited when our summer order came, and Klaus hates everything! To participate, place you order with Ray by 11/1/06 at www.horriblebooks.com. Thanks, Ray!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Some Resources for Teaching Economics

DH wants to do a unit on economics with the boys. He'd tried a commercial workbook which turned out to be deadly dull, so these are some other resources for economics for kids.

James Madison University offers online lesson plans for teachers in elementary, middle and high schools.

More online lesson plans from the University of Nebraska at Omaha (my mother's alma mater) done in a nice little table laying out concepts learned, content area and NE and US standards addressed. Some of the lesson plans include food such as M&Ms and popcorn!

The National Council of Economics Education publishes a number of books on basic economics, personal finance , entrepreneurship, and business.

Finally, The Stock Market Game is designed for classroom teachers to allow each student to "invest" and track stocks. The money is virtual but the stocks are real. Kids get to research, pick and trade stocks, just like the real thing! Kids compete to have the wealthiest portfolio against their classmates, and other kids on the regional or national level. Game dates for the 2006-07 school year can be found here.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Give This to Every Teacher You Know

Fantastic article on the NAGC website: The Dos and Don'ts of Instruction: What It Means To Teach Gifted Learners Well by Carol Ann Tomlinson, Ed. D, at the University of Virginia. My favorite part is this:

"6) Instruction for gifted learners is inappropriate when it is rooted in novel, "enriching" or piecemeal learning experiences. If a child were a very talented pianist, we would question the quality of her music teacher if the child regularly made toy pianos, read stories about peculiar happenings in the music world, and did word-search puzzles on the names of musicians. Rather, we would expect the student to work directly with the theory and performance of music in a variety of forms and at consistently escalating levels of complexity. We would expect the young pianist to be learning how a musician thinks and works, and to be developing a clear sense of her own movement toward expert-level performance in piano. Completing word-search puzzles, building musical instruments and reading about oddities in the lives of composers may be novel, may be "enriching,"(and certainly seems lacking in coherent scope and sequence, and therefore sounds piecemeal). But those things will not foster high-level talent development in music. The same hold true for math, history, science, and so on."

This really struck a chord (pardon the pun) with me because Wolfie is taking a "gifted" Medieval Studies course right now and they want him to do "fun" things like "Make your own coat of arms" and "Draw and label the parts of a Viking longboat." Is he tested on any of these things? No, because there's a list of 5-10 and he's supposed to pick two. The school doesn't even want to see the projects. I have a hard time requiring him to do them since they're not graded and not "fun."

Don't get me wrong. Some of the projects are fun and some hands-on stuff cements learning and understanding. But boy, do I have a hard time forcing the boys to do things like extraneous science "activities", that are neither fun nor educational at their core. I've been guilty of this, too, both as a teacher and as a parent. Just because I think it would be fun to write a diary as a literary or historical figure, that doesn't mean everyone in my class will. Hopefully, by passing this article around, other teachers will realize the difference between gifted education and gifted filling-up-time, too.

Friday, September 29, 2006

For Mummy Lovers

Xavier is working on Egypt in his world cultures class and we've found some fun resources for Egyptophiles.

The book Egyptology by "Emily Sands" is a big pop-up book purporting to be the journal of a 1920's lady adventurer. While telling the story of a fictional expedition, it's also jam-packed with little stuff in pockets and drawings and other ephemera which give both a flavor of the times and background information about ancient Egypt. They've also published a companion volume is The Egyptology Handbook: A Course in the Wonders of Egypt, offers even more detail, broken down into actual lessons. We didn't get that companion book, though, because it was too schooly. The same company has produced similar books on Wizardology, Pirateology and Dragonology.

What math did the Egyptians know and when did they know it? Great for unit studies or math kids, Mark Herkhomer has a terrific page on the physics and mathematics behind the building of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

A couple of good sites on mummification:

The British Museum's site offers clickable mummies that give you up close pictures of the items used in the mummy making process. They also offer a Flash game in which you pick three magic spells to protect you as you journey through the underworld.

Mummytombs.com is also a great resource, written by a professor of education and mummy aficionado. It describes the process for Egyptian mummies but also mummies from other cultures, including bog people and Otzi, the mummified man from the Alps. This site is intended for children and educators.

Akhet Egyptology is more comprensive and provides more in-depth information, including catalogues and photographs of grave goods and other Egyptian art and artifacts.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Set Your Tivo: New Season of NOVA

Hello Educators,

Next week NOVA presents the repeat broadcast of "Einstein's Big Idea," a two-hour special that explores the stories behind the world's most famous equation, E = mc2. (Subjects covered: physics, energy, properties of matter)

We'd like your help in spreading the word about the NOVA Teachers e-mail bulletin. If you refer three teachers to sign up for the bulletin, we'll enter you in a drawing to win five free NOVA videos. Simply refer three teachers to sign up at:

http://www.pbs. org/nova/ teachers/ mailing

Just make sure your friends enter your name and e-mail address so we can track your referrals. (That would be Lessa Scherrer and pittsburgheast@yahoo.com ;-)

In the coming weeks:

Sept. 26 -- Mystery of the Megavolcano

Oct. 3 -- NOVA scienceNOW

Oct. 10 -- The Viking Deception


For a downloadable PDF of the entire season visit

http://www.pbs. org/nova/ teachers/ schedule. html

Regards,
Karen Hartley
Teachers Editor
NOVA Web Site

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Get Your Parrots Ready!

Tuesday, September 19th, is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. I also want to wear costumes, wash the poop deck (aka the kitchen floor) and learn about scurvy, but that might lead to mutiny. Maybe I can convince them to watch Treasure Island. LOL

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Bedtime Wars

Bedtime, or rather getting-up time, has been the biggest hurdle for the beginning of this school year. Xavier had to write three laws, a la Hammurabi, for his world cultures class and the first injustice he decided to right was imposed bedtimes. Klaus hasn't woken up to his alarm since the first day of school, and Wolfie and I are both dragging ourselves out of bed as close to 9 am (Dad-imposed homeschool start time) as we can get away with.

Klaus's problem is self-inflicted but, being a night owl myself, it makes a lot of sense to me that we should follow our natural rhythms, even if that means studying at midnight and sleeping 'til noon. M.S. Beltran, writing in the March-April 2004 issue of Home Education Magazine, agrees. She writes, "Training at an early age to meet with any pre-set hours seems inessential; we can be trained to go against our body's natural rhythms with minimal discomfort, but we cannot change those rhythms. Each individual has certain hours during the day that are peak performance hours, in which his or her body naturally operates at optimal performance levels. Sleep experts agree that, rather than wasting these precious hours, scheduling activities around one's most productive time of day is the most beneficial approach. To ignore the body's natural tendencies, as Dr. Dement puts it, is akin to a person "using his best shirts to scrub the floor." (The Promise Of Sleep, p. 423)."

DH, the morning person, just does not understand this and, to his credit, he's probably right that no studying would get done if we left the boys to their own devices. We differ on whether that's a problem in 6th and 7th grade, but since the boys are in charter school, so do have deadlines, though very flexible ones, I'm going along with the 9 am thing. Leaving the structure of the public school has been very difficult for him, so this is the compromise I've made to allow the boys to stay home. I do wish that just sticking Beltran's article under his nose would help him see the light. Or rather, the beauty of the dark.

Good Homework is So Hard to Find

"The nation's best-known researcher on homework has taken a new look at the subject, and here is what Duke University professor Harris Cooper has to say:

Elementary school students get no academic benefit from homework -- except reading and some basic skills practice -- and yet schools require more than ever.

High school students studying until dawn probably are wasting their time because there is no academic benefit after two hours a night; for middle-schoolers, 1 1/2 hours.

And what's perhaps more important, he said, is that most teachers get little or no training on how to create homework assignments that advance learning."
Valerie Strauss reported yesterday in the Washington Post.

This is big news, because Cooper was the one who invented the ten-minutes-per-grade rule, i.e. first graders get ten minutes of homework every night, second graders get 20 minutes, and so on up to 120 minutes for high school seniors. Practically speaking, high school homework amounts to much more than that. I remember several all-nighters my senior year. Granted I was taking three AP classes and using my study halls to "be a teacher's aide" (aka goof off), so I suppose that's to be expected. ;-)

Click the link above to read the rest of this article. It's pretty good.

CNN Reports: The Search for Genius

From CNN.com: Brainteaser: Scientists Dissect the Mystery of Genius

""If I showed you two brains side by side, one with an IQ of 150, one with an IQ of 75, I can't tell the difference," says Jay Giedd of the National Institute of Mental Health, one of the most experienced researchers in the field.

But Jung and his colleague Dr. Richard Haier of the University of California, Irvine, claim they are on the verge of refining imaging techniques to a point that would make traditional intelligence tests obsolete.
"

They're suggesting that the amount of grey matter correlates with intelligence, so the ability to measure grey matter will do away with the need for intelligence tests. I think this is an unnecessarily limited view. Since women have much more white matter than men (men have more grey than white), I suppose it figures male scientists would think measuring only grey matter was reasonable. ;-)

Anyway, "Genius: Quest for Extreme Brain Power," hosted by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, airs at 10 p.m. ET Sunday.

You know the Culture of Praise has Gone too Far When...

I just got a confirmation email from Klaus' cell phone company. It begins:

"Hi [Klaus],

Nice work! You've successfully swapped your Virgin Mobile phones..."


We're praising people for upgrading their phones now? What's next? "Good job! You bought lunch!"

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Back to School Update

So the first week of school is over and things have been going pretty well. Klaus got most of the classes he wanted with very little fuss. He's now taking AP modern European history, AP chemistry (second year), enriched English, P.E., Japanese I and Algebra II/Trig. He was also taking Honors earth science, a graduation requirement in our state, that is usually taken in 9th grade but came home the first day, said the 9th graders were driving him crazy and could he take it as an independent study?

We looked up one semester online classes, found a couple options and he made an appointment with his counselor to see if it would be okay. She said, "Sure!" (I love his counselor.) So he has a study hall now instead of earth science.

I can't tell you how proud I am of Klaus. Taking last year off to homeschool was definitely the right decision. After having to manage his own schedule, he now realizes that school imposes structure to teach good study habits, not because they think he's stupid. And he's empowered enough to know what he wants and to figure out ways to get it.

The other boys are still trying to figure out how the homeschooling thing works. Xavier has had the most problem adjusting to not being told what to do every minute. He's going to be great at this, though. I was gone for about two hours getting my hair done. While I was gone, Xavier got stuck on the science he was working on, so he switched to social studies and got another chapter done. He's been getting up in the morning and doing his clarinet practice and half hour exercise without being told.

Wolfie needs a little more supervision, but he's really excited about his Medieval Studies class. The correspondence course is set up with reading assignments then his choice of two out of five or six projects. The projects aren't officially graded and I was afraid he wouldn't want to do any of them. But when I asked him, he said, "I can't decide. I think I'll make the mosaic and the Viking journal looks pretty fun." That's my boy! :D

Now if I could only get them to wake themselves up in the morning.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Should Kids' Lives Be All Sweetness and Light?

Not according to Izzy Kalman, school psychologist and psychotherapist, who has developed a program to reduce bullying by teaching kids (and adults) not to be victims. "The problem is not bullying. The problem is not knowing how to handle bullying.. The most dangerous people, both to themselves and to others, are people who think like victims. Bullies don't commit suicide or shoot up schools. Victims do these things. If you think like a victim, you will be bullied by people throughout your life. You will be made miserable by your bosses and spouses and children." Click here for the text of Kalman's interview with Education World.

A companion piece from Education World about the worst kind of classroom bullies--teachers. The article reads in part:

"Educators let students know they care.
Bullies let students know who's boss.

Educators teach self-control.
Bullies exert their own control.

Educators set ironclad expectations.
Bullies rule with whims of steel.

Educators diffuse minor disruptions with humor.
Bullies use sarcasm to turn disruptions into confrontations."

The anti-bullying movement in the schools is a piece on the warm fuzzy self-esteem movement. An August 8 piece at CNN.com suggests that the self-esteem movement is just as wrong-headed as the anti-bullying programs. "Rather than imparting self-esteem, some experts believe this gives kids an unhealthy sense of entitlement.

"Self-esteem comes from those feelings you have about yourself for a job well done, for when you have achieved something," says Dr. Georgette Constantinou, administrative director of pediatric psychiatry at Akron Children's Hospital in Ohio. "It's not something you pour into your children."

My thoughts? Kids know when they're given a trophy just for showing up. If they have no incentive to work hard, they don't. So we're training an entire generation to do the bare minimum to get by then to feel entitled to the same rewards as everyone else. Is this really what we intended?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

When School Districts Attack!

Not "attack" exactly but completely shut you down...

I've been trying for more than six months to work within the system to get the boys into an appropriate educational situation. I've researched, stated our case, asked questions, researched some more, and decided virtual charter school with some classes at the local high school would be best for Klaus. We asked questions and filed all the paperwork last April, waited patiently for 4.5 months to hear if our application had been approved and thought everything was on the right track. Then yesterday the registrar calls me to say that Klaus is only eligible to take classes at the local public if he's homeschooled, but not if he's a virtual public school student. Not no way, not no how.

The new school year starts one week from today.

Of course, I start calling people immediately--the Assistant Superintendent who made the decision, the virtual charter school who told me it was kosher, the Department of Public Instruction's Head of Open Enrollment--and not one person has bothered to return my calls. Not only that but the charter is now backing off the "Yeah, yeah, it's fine" line and would not give me the name or phone number of the woman who told me specifically that her son--an IQ student--takes choir at this same local high school without any problems. Can I talk to her to find out how she's managed that? Nooooooooooooooooo.

If these classes didn't make that much difference to Klaus, I'd just chalk it up to bureaucratic intransigence and move on, but it turns out this may be a deal-breaker for him.

We chose IQ to save tuition money. If he's taking these same online courses and the state will pay for them, why not? But if he needs to take these classes at the local high school to be happy, I'm just as happy to pull him out to homeschool and pay the tuition myself. Theoretically, that can be done, even though we have less than a week. (I say theoretically because I'm so tired of having the rug yanked out from under me.)

Theoretically, he could enroll in the local high school full-time, too, just like if we'd moved from one district to the other the week before school starts. This is not my favorite choice, but if his time isn't all that valuable to him, there are some positives: more of the structure he needs, more direct supervision of what he's learning and not learning (which we'd also get at IQ), he'd be eligible for extracurricular activities, they have girls there, he can hang out with his friends at lunch (hopefully). The school offers lot of APs that he doesn't have to be a junior or senior to take. We were planning for him to be there at an unGodly hour of the morning anyway, back when we thought he could take these two classes.

Most of my objections to this plan are personal, as in mine, not his, and therefore not as valid, I don't think. He, of course, can't make up his mind. And school starts one week from today. Sigh.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

When Hamlet Met Claudius

Shakespeare in the Bush is an old but toally awesome essay by anthropologist Laura Bohannon that could spark a great discussion about the supposed universality of Shakespeare. While visiting the Tiv people in West Africa, she tried to tell them the story of Hamlet--and got it all wrong according to her hosts. Frankly, I think the Tiv interpretation makes more sense than Shakespeare's. (Will's play was an adaptation of an existing story about the Prince of Denmark, which scholars refer to as the Ur-Hamlet.)

This essay would be a great companion piece for kids studying Hamlet or to spark a discussion about how western culture is viewed by non-westerners. Click here for an interesting article by CNN.com on both Hamlet and the Ur-Hamlet in an interview with Hamlet scholar Harold Bloom.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Set Your Tivo: Assignment Discovery

I would, but my DVR doesn't go that far in advance, so I'm posting it here so I don't forget. From the TAGMAX list:

"Assignment Discovery" returns to the Discovery Channel in a couple of
weeks.
The first week's line-up is below. ("Assignment Discovery" is
commercial-free educational programming, typically with a science or
history theme, offered
by the Discovery Channel as part of the Cable in the Classroom
initiative.
There are generally about six weeks of new shows each semester.)

--Christine K.

> Assignment Discovery begins again 9/11/06! Programs air weekdays at 5
a.m.
> ET/PT, 4 a.m. CT, and 6 a.m. MT on the Discovery Channel.
>
> Elements of Science Theme Week
> Introduce high school students to key biology concepts, including
evolution,
> biomes, genetics, cells, and more. This programs feature
state-of-the-art
> graphics and video, which is especially effective for visual
learners.
>
> Mon. 9/11/06 — Elements of Biology: The Cell
> Tues. 9/12/06 — Elements of Biology: Genetics
> Wed. 9/13/06 — Elements of Biology: Evolution
> Thurs. 9/14/06 — Elements of Biology: Matter and Energy
> Fri. 9/15/06 — Elements of Biology: Ecosystems: Organisms and
their
> Environments

Thanks Christine! I'll be tuning in--Wolfie's taking HS biology starting next month. This should be right up his alley.

Partial Homeschooling Update

Getting Wolfie and Xavier allowed to take orchestra and band at the middle school is a no-go. "District policy precludes middle school students taking classes," not to mention the fact that while the state policy explicitly allows homeschooled students to take classes at the high school level, virtual school students apparently don't count as homeschooled because they're public charter students. Or something like that. It's hard to get a straight answer from the Department of Education. So, if we felt like appealing the policy to the Superintendant, we could. I just don't know if I'm up for another fight.

Klaus, on the other hand, had no problem applying to take two classes at the local high school and after a long wait, we finally heard today that his application has been approved. He'll be taking AP Modern European History and Japanese I at the high school. The good news is the classes are consecutive hours. The bad news? They start at 7:30 am.

We'd file that under "the price you pay for not taking everything online" except that it means that Mom has to be up in time to drive him to and from school. Bleah.

It's probably a good thing, though. It's very hard to drag yourself out of bed in the morning when school will wait for you. This way he'll be up early and in an educational state of mind to get his online classes done before lunch, like Dad the Morning Person wants him to.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Hothouse Kids: Do They Exist?

Okay, I try not to do this--blog on the same subject as an email discussion on the very same day--but I've found more resources than I care to clog up people's inboxes with, so here goes, before I lose the links:

There seems to be some reigning confusion in the media about gifted vs pushed vs. high-achieving kids. Books like Hothouse Kids: The Dilemma of the Gifted Child don't help matters. Author Alissa Quart builds off her own high anxiety childhood and interviews other former prodigies to support her thesis that geniuses are made, not born, and made by parents "frantic and desperate to elevate them out of the mainstream and give them every advantage," according to Christian Science Monitor reviewer Teresa Mendez.

What bothers me is that based on Quart's book, every parent who tries to advocate for their gifted child is pushy. Some teachers are so concerned about this phenomenon, they actually feel they need to "rescue" children from their pushy parents. "Let's give him a chance to sit back and work on social skills," they say to the parent who transmits her child's plea for more rigor. "He has plenty of time to specialize when he gets older." (Yes, I'm speaking from experience.)

Are overscheduled kids in trouble and in need of help? Certainly. But not all kids who specialize early and perform beyond the level of their peers has a parent frantically pushing from behind. Some gifted kids know exactly what they want to do with their life from toddlerhood and pursue it singlemindedly, dragging their hapless parents behind them. Case in point: a recent plea on the TAGMAX list for forensic science and dissection kit resources for a five-year-old future doctor. Is that mother "pushing" her daughter when she feeds her unusual interest in medicine? Or is she only helping her daughter learn what she wants to learn?

On the other side of the debate sits the Washington Post's Jay Mathews. He argues there are Too Few Overachievers in the public schools. "What [Alexandra] Robbins [author of The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids] and the parents and students in such communities fail to see, however, is that they are in the uppermost 5 percent in homework, just as they are in housing square footage, money spent on vacations and stock market investments. Only about 10 percent of American high school students have Ivy League ambitions. For the vast majority, academic stress is pretty rare." (Click here for a transcript of Mathews responding to parent questions about overachievers.)

Despite my skepticism about his US News and World Report Best High Schools Rankings (surely AP test results measure rigor, not merely the number of AP tests taken), Mathews has a point. It's the same point Kareem Elnahal was trying to make in his valedictory speech: We want more. More rigor. More challenge. More relevance. Pursuing knowledge for the love of learning is not pressure. It's joy.

Sometimes the line between advocating and pushing is a thin one. I'm guilty of this, I think. At least, I sometimes wonder if I'm pushy to expect Wolfie to do ninth grade work as a nominal seventh grader. Then I remind myself that he's the one who picked high school classes, we have a safety net if they turn out to be too hard (20 day cancellation policy) and he's already met and exceeded the state standards in math and English. The kid brought Great Expectations to read on the bus to camp. He's pushing himself, and that's a good thing.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Homecoming vs Homeschooling

I just had to share this. I was talking with Klaus about a new girl in his circle of friends. He said three people had already asked her to Homecoming, himself included. "It was just a joke, though," he said.

"Oh, that's too bad. You're not going to Homecoming?" says I.

"Because I AM home," he says. "I never left!"

LOL

To College or Not to College?

When we had Klaus's IQ test done, Dr. Ruf suggested we strongly consider early college entrance for him. Like next year early instead of three years from now. Ack! She suggested the residential gifted programs like Simon's Rock and NAASE at the University of Iowa. Residential? Double-Ack!!

Not that we think he couldn't handle the work; he's taking one AP and hopefully one college class this year. Not that we think he couldn't handle the social aspects, either, although I must admit I like the idea of him being in a dedicated and therefore well-supervised mid-teen only program like Simon's Rock more than just throwing him in with the usual college freshman crowd. Klaus thought leaving home was a great idea, of course, although DH and I aren't so keen on the idea of sending him away so soon. We'd miss him. He's a cool guy to have around. He came home the other day with a custom-embroidered baseball cap that reads "Plato is my Homeboy." If he were at college, we wouldn't even know that!

We haven't ruled out NAASE completely. It's only a one year skip, so we'd get to keep him two more years. It's at the same university as the Iowa Writer's Workshop, the premier writing program in the country, and writing is his strong suit. Iowa is a lot closer to us than Massachusetts. He's also got an early birthday, so he'll be 18 in October of his senior HS year, and we're less worried about letting him loose with the other 18yo freshmen.

Simon's Rock, the junior year program in Massachusetts, is right out.

Anyway, anyone who is interested in learning more about early college for gifted kids should check out Parents' perspective of early college entrance for profoundly gifted children, Part I and II at GT-cybersource.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

New Site for Homeschoolers: The Homeschool Diner

Wondering how to get started homeschooling? Need links or curriculum information? Pull up a seat at The Homeschool Diner! Webmaster Julie Knapp is a writer who is homeschooling gifted boys in Wisconsin. She moderates both the Wisconsin Gifted Homschoolers and Western Wisconsin Gifted Homeschoolers Yahoo Groups (both worth checking out if you're in our neck of the woods). She's also publishing a series of picture books featuring homeschoolers called "I Learn at Home."

You can find more info about Julie and her books at the Diner. Also I love her Click-O-Matic curriculum picker "for anyone who is considering homeschooling, but isn't sure what approach they want to use... or if you're looking to make a change." Well worth stopping by!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Future of Education is...Video Games?

According to Mark Saltzman in USA Today, video games can be a force for good. He writes:

"Video games are not just about reaching high scores or blowing off steam after a long day at work or school. The $10 billion interactive entertainment industry is also finding that games can be a tool for good — from healing your mind and body to solving world problems.

The latest positive pursuits in games range from burning calories and fighting cancer to tackling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

This is cool, because it shows that people are beginning to catch on to the amazing possibilities for teaching history and social sciences (or propagandizing, depending on how you look at it) that video games represent. Just imagine how much students will retain from an hour immersed in the 14th century, working on an open-ended quest set by the teacher. Most of what I know about westward migration in the 19th century is based on an hour or so playing Oregon Trail (at a Univax terminal during a gifted summer camp program at our local university, which makes me prehistoric).

I just love the idea of dramatizing the Arab-Israeli conflict. Yes, it's a multisided story and whomever developed the game gets to spin things their way, but the same can be said about textbooks. By the way, Peacemaker, the game in question, sure looks like it has a pro-Israeli spin.

Programs like Food Force can harness the power of all those creative little brains, too. Perhaps some teen out there has a better idea for food distribution in combat zones? Now he or she can get "on the ground," so to speak, see what obstacles really exist, and figure out ways around them. Cool, huh?

Monday, August 14, 2006

What Guys Read (And Girls, too!), Part III

Apparently, boys and girls read for different reasons. "According to Eden Ross Lipson, the author of The New York Times Parent's Guide to the Best Books for Children, boys read on a need-to-know basis: To generalize wildly, "They don't set out looking for story and relationship. They set out looking for information." (quoted in Why Boys Like Girl Books at Slate.com)

Okay, as mind-blowing as this observation isn't, there is value in oversimplifying. Take, for example, the stack of "Horrible" books on my kitchen counter. I mentioned last time this wonderful series of British books, starting with Terry Deary's Horrible Histories. I like them because they read like a story--the narration is conversational and proceeds logically from one topic to another, for the most part. (I still don't like having to read-aloud the cartoon chapters. I also have some issues with the way they mucked about the Twisted Tales series, but I'll save that for another day.)

On the other hand, they are completely non-fiction (except the Twisted Tales) and somewhat interactive with quizzes, the aforementioned cartoons, lists, etc., hence "boy books." Mom (that would be me) loves them because Xavier has actually turned off the endless reruns of "Ned's Declassified" and read a book, without me having the slightest idea what he was doing, much less prompting, nagging or otherwise forcing him to do it. Yay!

Within ten minutes of unpacking the order, Klaus was reading aloud to his brothers from "Rotten Romans." Much giggling ensued, if it's fair to accuse teen and pre-teen boys of giggling. Klaus has told me repeatedly how much he likes the Horrible Histories and we will be ordering more when the time comes.

The books are only sporadically published here (by Scholastic, who doesn't seem to realize they've got another Harry Potter juggernaut on their hands here). You can find them on ebay, though they are quite expensive, and Amazon UK, where they are horribly expensive (sorry, couldn't resist the pun). I ordered mine through a homeschooling dad in California, who sells books on the side, for about $8 per book, including shipping (15 book minimum). He's going to put together another bulk order in October/November for holiday delivery and I have cleared with him letting you all in on the next order. I will give you all the details on the next ordering opportunity as soon as I get them. Watch this space!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

No Child Left Offline

Is there a better way to spend all the NCLB money the government is currently funnelling to testing companies? A recent study published by the American Psychological Association (APA) Online suggests that putting a computer and free Internet service in the home increases GPA and reading test scores for low income students:

"Does Internet use affect children's academic outcomes?
A considerable body of research has examined the effects of computer use on academic outcomes. However, reviews of this literature typically conclude that the results are inconclusive (e.g., NSF Report, 2001; Roschelle, Pea, Hoadley, Gordon, & Means, 2000; Subrahmanyam et al., 2000). Although benefits of computer use have been observed, they typically depend on a variety of factors (e.g., subject matter). The only cognitive outcome for which benefits have been consistently observed is visual-spatial skills. Computer gaming contributes to visual-spatial skills, at least when these skills are assessed immediately following the computer activity (Subrahmanyam, Greenfield, Kraut, & Gross, 2001).

In the HomeNetToo project we obtained children's grade point averages (GPAs) and scores on standardized tests of reading and math. We then examined whether Internet use during the preceding time period predicted these academic outcomes. It did. Children who used the Internet more showed greater gains in GPA and reading test scores -- but not math test scores -- than did children who used it less (Jackson, von Eye, Biocca, Barbatsis, Zhao, & Fitzgerald, 2003a). Latent linear growth curve analysis supported the conclusion that Internet use leads to improvements in academic performance.

There are important caveats in interpreting these findings. First, HomeNetToo children were performing below average at the start of the project. Mean GPA was about 2.0, and mean percentile ranks on standardized tests of reading and math were about 30%. Whether similar benefits of Internet use will obtain for children performing at or above average is a question for future research. Second, the gains we observed, though statistically significant, were modest in magnitude. Mean GPAs and standardized test scores were still below average at the end of the project. However, even modest gains are encouraging, particularly in light of the fact that HomeNetToo children were not required to use the Internet in order for their families to participate in the project.

Why might using the Internet lead to improvements in GPAs and reading test scores? One explanation lies in how HomeNetToo children used the Internet. Recall that Internet use was primarily Web use, not e-mail use or use of other communication tools. The Web is primarily text. Thus, more time on the Web means more time spent reading, which may explain the increase in GPAs, which depend heavily on reading skills, and in standardized tests scores in reading."

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

IQ Ain't Nuthin' But a Number

Klaus took the Stanford-Binet V (SBV) last week as part of our ongoing effort to convince him he's not an idiot. "That boy, he has no idea how smart he is." (Any Dirt Band fans in the house?! LOL) He's had very uneven scores on various tests over the years. That along with the ADD and his generally pessimistic world outlook have always given him doubts.

Anyway, we got a preliminary score report from the assessor, Dr. Deborah Ruf, who is marvelous and I highly recommend anyone in the Twin Cities area looking for a gifted assessment to contact her. He came out 98th percentile, which was lower than we expected.

Now I can hear you all, "98th percentile is great! What do you want from the poor kid? Lighten up!"

Which I would, if I didn't know how his brothers scored on the same test and what Klaus is capable of that his brothers aren't. I talked with Dr. Ruf last night and she confirmed that his test score does not tell the whole story. This is why she has come up with a different way of assessing gifted kids that she calls "Levels of Giftedness." It's based more on what the child has achieved and shown himself capable of than on how he performed on a given test on a given day. The level she assigned him is much more in line with what I know about Klaus than his test score is.

You can find out more about levels of giftedness from Dr. Ruf's website or in her book, Losing Our Minds: Gifted Children Left Behind. The book also gives recommendations about school placement, how one's needs compare to others in his or her classroom and other educational options for gifted kids based on level. I high recommend Dr. Ruf's book to anyone looking for a more "whole child" assessment of giftedness.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Circle of Life, In My Livingroom

I haven't blogged about my crab tank in awhile. Since the last entry, we added two new ghost shrimp to the tank, Bezu and Fache. (Da Vinci Code, anyone? DH liked the police inspector's name.) I know, can't tell the shrimp apart without a program. LOL

Fache was pregnant and died soon after giving birth, just like Medea had. None of Medea's babies survived, though, and Fache left four. (Maybe I should have named Medea something else?) We named the babies Arania, Nellie, Joy, after Charlotte's (the spider) daughters. Wait, didn't I say there were four? I did. We didn't realize Wilbur was there for the first two weeks. Hey, newborn they're the size of a comma, not to mention see-through!

Anyway, Bezu died a couple weeks after Fache did. Clark was still holding on from the previous batch of shrimp and we still had the babies, until this week.

Harriet died last Tuesday, the day after we realized Clark, our longest lasting ghost shrimp, was missing. It appears we're down to two babies as well. Mind you, I've never seen a dead shrimp. They just seem to mysteriously disappear. DH had been blaming Harriet for eating the shrimp, but I think he may have been wrong.

We got a new female crab today, Charlotte (natch). Just introduced her to the tank. It took Ozzie not two minutes to track her down and try to eat her. We broke them up with a ruler and made sure there was ample food in the tank, but I won't be too surprised if she doesn't last the night, poor thing. I don't mind the circle of life--these things just don't live very long--but does he have to do it while I'm watching?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

World eBook Fair

Now through August 4, you can download thousands of copywritten books from Project Gutenberg though the World eBook Fair. Books are text-searchable and free to the public for this limited time only. From their website:

"Welcome to the home of the World eBook Fair, the largest showcase for eBooks, eBook publishers, editors, and others working in the new world of eBooks.

July 4th to August 4, 2006 marks a month long celebration of the 35th anniversary of the first step taken towards today's eBooks, when the United States Declaration of Independence was the first file placed online for downloading in what was destined to be an electronic library of the Internet. Today's eBook library has a total of over 100 languages represented.

The World eBook Fair welcomes you to absolutely free access to a variety of eBook unparalleled by any other source. 1/3 million eBooks await you for personal use, all free of charge for the month from July 4 - August 4, 2006, and then 1/2 million eBooks in 2007, 3/4 million in 2008, and ONE million in 2009.

Ten times as many eBooks are available from private eBook sources, without the media circus that comes with 100 billion dollar media mavens such as Google. The World eBook Fair has created a library of wide ranging samples of these eBooks, totaling 1/3 million. Here are eBooks from nearly every classic author on the varieties of subjects previously only available through the largest library collections in the world. Now these books are yours for personal use, free of charge, to keep for the rest of your lives.
This event is brought to you by the oldest and largest free eBook source on the Internet, Project Gutenberg, with the assistance of the World eBook Library, the providers of the largest collection, and a number of other eBook efforts around the world. The World eBook Library normally charges $8.95 per year for online access, and allows unlimited personal downloading. During The World eBook Fair all these books are available free of charge through a gateway at http://www.gutenberg.org and http://WorldeBookFair.com."

Thursday, July 06, 2006

PS Kids Are Crying Out for Rigor--Will Their Teachers Listen?

This follows along with the previous post about the valedictorian complaining that high school was a waste of time. In the name of self-esteem, we have dumbed down the curriculum so far for so long, that current teachers now think the low standards are the kids' idea. From yesterday's NYT:

Bronx Sixth Graders Master Mysteries of the Biology Regents

By APRIL SIMPSON
Published: July 5, 2006

High school students statewide struggle to pass the Regents exams required for graduation. But at a small Bronx school, a group of sixth graders passed the biology Regents last month, surprising their teachers, although not themselves.

"It wasn't as hard as I thought," said Jose Castillo, 12, who earned an 80, the group's highest score. Passing is 65. "I have taken practice Regents, and they were harder than that."

Jose's school, the Urban Assembly School for Applied Math and Science, opened two years ago with one sixth-grade class. Adding a grade each year, it will eventually serve the 6th to 12th grades. It is one of dozens of small, theme-based public schools that are central to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's education policy.

Although the biology Regents is usually taken in ninth grade, teachers at this school felt that their students needed a challenge, so they essentially started teaching ninth-grade biology and added test preparation.

Ten of the 23 students who took the exam (known formally as the Living Environment test) passed with marks between 65 and 80 on a 100-point scale. Of the 51,000 students who took the exam citywide in the 2003-4 school year, 58 percent passed.

"Our idea is that if we can make math and science fun and engaging and rigorous, then children will want to do it and achievement naturally follows," said Kenneth Baum, the principal.

Keith Sheppard, an assistant professor of science education at Teachers College at Columbia University, said that for sixth graders to pass the Living Environment Regents was uncommon, but not unheard of. "Some of the Westchester districts have noted that their life science curriculums are similar to the ninth-grade Regents," he explained.

Still, he said he disapproved of encouraging sixth graders to study for the Regents because they do not develop "an understanding of scientific ideas."

But at Urban Assembly, officials said they were thrilled to see what their students could accomplish. "We didn't know that 11-year-olds were sponges that large for knowledge[emphasis mine]," Mr. Baum said. "It really opened us up to their possibilities."

The school was created with the help of Urban Assembly, a nonprofit group that has established other theme-based schools. It is housed in the basement of a condominium building in Riverdale, awaiting a permanent home in September in the South Bronx. Most of its 155 sixth and seventh graders are from west Bronx neighborhoods and are poor, according to school officials.

Recently, the sixth graders had their final lab of the year, in which they focused on dissecting a three-foot-long pig. Each student drew a diagram of the animal's inner organs and answered teachers' questions.

When Mr. Baum observed a group cutting the skin around the pig's head, he covered his eyes and turned away, but the children did not flinch.

Dhurata Dobraj, 11, pointed at the cranium with a gloved hand: "It's really hard, because when you cut through the skull, you can cut through the brain at the same time, so you have to be very careful." Dhurata earned a 67 on the exam.

It was the culmination of months of hard work. Since February, the students have attended 17 Saturday classes during which they dissected earthworms, frogs and the class favorite, sharks. Jennifer Applebaum, who teaches math and science, assigned extra work from high school and college textbooks, supplemented with magazine articles. Ultimately, the students completed 20 hours of high school lab work. They also received help from English teachers in understanding test questions.

St. Joseph Hall, 11, who earned a 67, attributed his success to rigorous preparation. He now believes that with enough drive, he can pursue his dream: curing AIDS.

"When you get that inspired, that motivated, you feel like you can do anything," he said.


I'd like to point out that these are not gifted kids. They attend a small magnet school, but nowhere in the article does it mention that these are high ability or high intelligence kids. Imagine, regular kids from poor families took the 9th grade biology test as 6th graders and nearly half passed. That's only slightly below the pass rate for 9th graders. Not only did they pass, but they are excited about the material, and attended intensive Saturday classes because they were so excited to learn.

And the teachers didn't know that 11-year-olds were capable of understanding the material. It's not only gifted kids who are suffocating intellectually in the classroom. The cult of positive self-esteem has done disastrous things to our educational system. Teaching to the lowest common denominator is bad for everyone's kids.

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Insulted His Classmates or Told the Teachers How They Really Feel?

This is a long one, so I kept the editorial comments to a minimum. I'd love to hear anyone else's thoughts!

Principal interrupts valedictorian's criticism of Mainland

By REGINA SCHAFFER Staff Writer, (609) 272-7211
Published: Thursday, June 22, 2006
Updated: Thursday, June 22, 2006

Kareem Elnahal learned a lesson Tuesday night - even in graduation, the school still rules.

The class valedictorian surprised administrators and his fellow 2006 graduates at Mainland Regional High School when he opted to give an unapproved speech criticizing the school. Mainland, Elnahal said, does not encourage intellectual thought and the exchange of ideas. The senior, in a detailed speech that referenced philosphers and ethics principles, referred to his education as "entirely hollow." The speech was interrupted by the principal, and Elnahal cut his remarks short and left the ceremony. Mainland principal Robert Blake said the speech insulted Elnahal's classmates. "That was so hypocritical of him to make that statement," Blake said. "It was an insult to everyone here at this school ... he made inflammatory comments about the school in general."

Reached at his home Wednesday, Elnahal said he regrets the way the situation unfolded. He was embarassed and apologetic. "I put the principal in a very uncomfortable position - he's a very nice guy, actually - I feel bad," Elnahal said. "I feel bad that he had to deal with this."

"I just wanted to finish up, I felt pretty guilty," he said. "I felt embarassed that the ceremony had to happen this way. It's supposed to be a day of celebration."

At the same time, Elnahal said he is glad he had the opportunity to make his point. "I went to two parties last night, and I'm their hero now," he said.

"I felt like this was the right thing to do," Elnahal said. "I couldn't show the speech (to officials) beforehand because they would have rejected it. I could tell by the reaction from students that they felt the same way. I had to express it or I felt that nothing would change."

In Elnahal's original approved speech, he was to touch on the high and low points of school and the experiences that moved the class to maturity. But once he took the podium, Elnahal changed gears and began to speak about the shortcomings of the American education system - specifically, at Mainland, a school that prides itself as being one of the premier area high schools.

"In my reflection ... and I have reflected on this a great deal, I found that many of life's important questions are ignored here," Elnahal said, according to a copy of the alternate speech he provided to The Press. He went on to say, "I speak today not to rant, complain or cause trouble ... rather, I was moved by the countless hours wasted in those halls."

Blake said he and other administrators realized after a few moments that Elnahal's speech was different than what was approved. Blake said he approached Elnahal, let him know he was disappointed with what he was saying, and asked him to wrap up his speech. Elnahal described the incident the same way. After he finished the speech, Elnahal walked off the stage and left the school grounds by his own choice. "I thought it would be better for the ceremony to go on without me," he said.

Blake noted that the very education system Elnahal criticized helped him get into Princeton University. "He conveyed that he felt his education was worthless," Blake said. "We have an outstanding education system here."

Blake said the audience had a mixed reaction to Elnahal's comments. Some yelled comments regarding freedom of speech after the speech was interrupted. Blake said he heard some students cheering and applauding Elnahal's comments.

"I truly don't believe they understood what he was saying," Blake said [emphasis mine--because it proves Elnahal's point. The administration has no idea what teens are actually capable of]. "My hope was they did not hear or understand what he was saying. Whether it was intentional or not, he was belittling the diplomas of every one of those kids."

Blake said that as with every valedictorian's speech, there is a process of review to make sure the speech is appropriate. Elnahal's original speech was approved. "This is a school (sanctioned) program," Blake said. "We give them latitude. However, to say inflammatory things - no, I won't allow that. We have several thousand people in the stands."

"He has a right to his comments, but he shouldn't have been using that pulpit to put forth his limited viewpoint," Blake said. "Hopefully people kept it in context."

David Hudson, a research attorney at First Amendment Center, said it is difficult to say in a situation like this who is right and who is wrong. "The question becomes whether (the student's) speech is student initiated or school sponsored," Hudson said. "It's a hazy issue." Hudson noted that students do not have full First Amendment protection, and do not have the right to say whatever they want at a school event.

But at the same time, disliking a student's speech is not a reason to stop it, Hudson said. If there was substantial concern that the student's words could cause a problem, then someone has a right to step in, Hudson said. Blake said that Elnahal's diploma still is at Mainland. He has not yet contacted the school about obtaining it. "I guess I have to go pick it up," Elnahal said.

The Press of Atlantic City chose to run the young man's speech following the above article:

ELNAHAL'S SPEECH

Four years ago, we gathered here for an education. Today marks a milestone in that pursuit, a culmination of four years of learning, growth and shared memories. At such times, it is appropriate to reflect on years past, to examine what we have done and what we have learned. Today I am charged with that difficult task, and I would like to thank the school for the opportunity to stand before my peers and reflect on our time together.

Education can be defined a number of different ways. For me, it is the product of human curiosity. Intellectual thought, as far as I can tell, is nothing but the asking and answering of questions. In my reflection, however, and I have reflected on this a great deal, I found that many of life's most important questions are ignored here. What is the right way to live? What is the ideal society? What principles should guide my behavior? What is success, what is failure? Is there a creator, and if so, should we look to it for guidance?

These are often dismissed as questions of religion, but religion is not something opposed to rationality, it simply seeks to answer such questions through faith. The separation of church and state is, of course, important, but it should never be a reason for intellectual submission or suppression of any kind. Ethics - it is what defines us - as individuals, as a society - and yet it is never discussed, never explained, never justified. Rousseau, Descartes, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Aquinas, nearly every major writer I've encountered devotes time to the subject.

And it's not as if these questions are without practical concern, that they are less immediately relevant than science for instance. Our laws, our institutions and all our actions are a reflection of our ethics. Our own society owes itself to the writers of the enlightenment, but we never probe their work - we fail to espouse the movement's central principle, doubt -doubt everything. We study what is, never why, never what should be. For that reason, the education we have received here is not only incomplete, it is entirely hollow.

What's more, this same lack of focus can be found in many of the subjects we do study. We approach history as though it were a story, endlessly cataloging every major character or event. But the details of that story are insignificant - what is significant is the progression of ideas. A study of history should get some sense of how the society he sees around him developed from those built thousands of years ago, what ideas changed and what changed them. When humanist scholars looked into ancient Rome during the Renaissance, they searched for moral examples, for ideas. They didn't mull on every single daily event. They were inspired, and they transformed society. History is not an end in itself; it should act as a tool for greater thought.

But it's not only history. I've taken a literature class nearly every year of my life, but never has a question so basic as "What is good writing?" come up. Literary technique, what should be the focus of the class, is never discussed. How does an author develop plot? How can an author control mood or tone in his writing? What is the advantage of one author's methods over another's? Such matters are never discussed. We read for the sake of reading, to talk about our interpretations in class as though we were in a book club. But no attention is paid to why we read the books we do, what makes them so special. And this pattern, grade for the sake of a grade, work for the sake of work, can be found everywhere.

Ladies and gentlemen, the spirit of intellectual thought is lost. I speak today not to rant, complain or cause trouble, and certainly not to draw attention to myself. I have accomplished nothing and I am nothing. I know that. Rather, I was moved by the countless hours wasted in those halls. Today, you should focus on your child or loved one. This is meant to be a day of celebration, and if I've taken away from that, I'm sorry. But I know how highly this community values learning, and I urge you all to re-evaluate what it means to be educated. I care deeply about everyone here, and it is only our fulfillment I desire. I will leave now so that the ceremony can go on. Again, my deepest apologies, God help me.

The following article is from today's Press of Atlantic City's (New Jersey) Editorial Section:

MAINLAND'S VALEDICTORIAN
He proved his point


Published: Friday, June 23, 2006
Updated: Friday, June 23, 2006

Imagine the nerve ... a high-school valedictorian, on his way to Princeton next year, daring to speak about a topic he obviously has given much thought to - the American education system.

It beats the more typical "We are all astronauts on the spaceship to tomorrow" speech, if you ask us.

In fact, the unapproved speech that Mainland Regional High School valedictorian Kareem Elnahal tried to deliver before he was hustled off the stage by Principal Robert Blake was rather thoughtful and quite interesting.

Yes, schools have a right and a responsibility to screen graduation speeches. But Elnahal's speech wasn't a puerile rant filled with expletives- it was an on-the-money critique of the public education system. In fact, both Mark Twain ("I have never let my schooling interfere with my education") and, slightly more crudely, Paul Simon ("When I look back on all the crap I learned in high school, it's a wonder I can think at all") have offered similar critiques.

Mainland officials simply proved Elnahal's point by not letting him give
this speech. Listen to what he said.

And the principal's reaction? He said Elnahal's speech was "hypocritical" and "an insult." Speaking of the other students in the audience, Blake said, "My hope was they did not hear or understand what he was saying. ... He was belittling the diplomas of every one of those kids."

Nonsense. Elnahal was making those kids, and everyone else, think.

School officials should be asking themselves why they wouldn't have approved this speech in the first place. Elnahal's fellow graduates and Mainland's teachers and administrators shouldn't be embarrassed by him. They should be proud of him.

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