Tuesday, January 31, 2006

More on the ADD or Gifted debate

An article by Kaufmann, et al. in the Fall 2000 newsletter of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented:

"Given the realities of the co-existence of giftedness and ADHD, the question should not be "ADHD or gifted?" but rather "how impaired is this student by his/her ADHD?" Some children are able to compensate in most situations for their ADHD (and neither they nor their parents or teachers may be aware of it); others are seriously handicapped. The single most relevant element that must be considered in evaluating ADHD is the degree of impairment a child experiences as a result of the behaviors."

"Children Should Read Classics"

Children should be made to read classic literature by Dickens, Shakespeare and Joyce, according to authors such as JK Rowling and Philip Pullman. See the full story, including Rowling's Top 10 reading list on BBC.com.

Can't much argue with them there. Wolfie, Xavier and I just finished reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. My biggest complaint was a stylistic one. Three times Twain wrote a scene right up to a climax, left a cliffhanger at the end of the chapter, then told us what happened next in flashback instead of showing it the way he'd built up to it. You can't go from "a shot rang out!" to "Huck found out later that..." without letting your readers down some.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Some interesting articles...

Last July, writer Berkhard Bilger wrote an article for the New Yorker called Nerd Camp, about the summer gifted program at the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY). Here's a link to an interview with the author, and an excerpt:

"One of the students you describe in your article talks about how hard it is being smart, because “anti-intellectualism is really popular in America.” Is it?

Sure. The intelligence of a Bill Clinton is as much of a liability, politically, as an asset, while the poor grades of a George Bush don’t seem to matter much to most voters. That wouldn’t be the case in Europe. On the other hand, America has the greatest collection of research universities in the world, and it still tends to win a disproportionate number of Nobel Prizes (though many of the winners are foreign-born). Intellectual achievement is well rewarded in the workplace, but it’s often a strike against you in schools or in social settings.
" (emphasis mine)

I'd be indignant if it weren't so true.

Article from today's St. Paul Pioneer Press on His & Hers Classrooms about some middle schools in the Twin Cities switching to some or all single sex classes in an effort to raise achievement and attract new students.

"In deciding to separate by sex, Battle Creek is drawing on research suggesting girls' grades start to decline in math and science when they hit middle school, and boys start to lose ground in English and the humanities. At a time when hormones are raging, it makes sense to "eliminate the audience that exists for the opposite gender," Christensen said.

There is some evidence, including a 1998 study at Roseville Area Middle School, that single-sex classrooms improve academic achievement. But mostly, proponents claim that dividing boys and girls creates more comfortable, engaged learning environments that can contribute to academic success."

My sister had her best school year (9th grade) in a single-sex religious high school. The article also makes the point that "challenge" classes would have to have sufficient enrollment to have both a boys and girls version. Do gifted kids benefit from single sex classes as much as the "average" student? Since they (the gifted) tend to be more androgynous, maybe, maybe not.

Bad news out of England, The Times Online says British schools are Failing to teach them how to handle real life: A new report reveals that children today struggle with questions they could have answered 30 years ago, says Sian Griffiths.

"In 1976 a third of boys and a quarter of girls scored highly in the tests overall; by 2004, the figures had plummeted to just 6% of boys and 5% of girls. These children were on average two to three years behind those who were tested in the mid-1990s.

“It is shocking,” says Adey. “The general cognitive foundation of 11 and 12-year-olds has taken a big dip. There has been a continuous decline in the last 30 years and it is carrying on now.”"

Back in my day, American students were routinely put back a year when they entered an English school. This happened to three very bright friends of mine. I wonder if this is still the case? Or have we continued this precipitous decline as well?

And EducationNews.Org reports that a school choice bill has been passed by the New Hampshire state senate.

Senate Bill 131 creates a new type of school choice program, which is a hybrid between traditional state-funded school vouchers and scholarship tax credits. The state will set up a non-profit called the 21st Century Scholars Fund, a public-private venture that will be dedicated to providing scholarships to students to attend a school of their choice. The legislature will then appropriate $2 million in direct aid, while also making $500,000 in tax credits available to individual or corporate tax payers who make donations to the fund.

Still waiting to see what the House thinks of it. I'd like to hear how the scholarship fund is set up.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Welcome Ozzie and Harriet!

My, I'm prolific today! Actually cleaning out all the links and cool stuff in my inbox. You may remember last week that Norman the fiddler crab ran away, never to be seen again. (The dog must have eaten him. There can be no other explanation.) In his stead, we bought a larger tank and brought home Ozzie and Harriet, male and female fiddlers, to share the tank with Medea (the ghost shrimp). (Pictures to follow.)

We had a little trouble keeping the larger tank warm enough, but have added the heat lamp to the little in-tank heating pad and they seem to be pretty happy now. Ozzie actually climbs up on the rocks and basks in the glow of the heat lamp for hours. Norman never did that.

Ozzie and Harriet don't seem to have as much personality as Norman had. He was truly a prince among crabs (or at least more interactive with his humans). He will be missed.

The "H" Word: Homeschooling

Excellent article by a homeschooling parent and public school teacher who homeschooled for several years because she couldn't find an appropriate education for her children.

The "H" Word: Homeschooling by Shery Butler, Gifted Child Today, 9/1/2000.

Can Boys Really Not Sit Still in School?

Report from ABCNews begins:

Jan. 26, 2006 — Doug Anglin complains that his high school makes it easier for girls than for boys to succeed academically, and the Massachusetts teenager is now trying to prove it to the federal government.

It may sound like sour grapes, but some experts believe Anglin has a point.

In the complaint that he lodged with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, Anglin, 17, claimed that girls faced fewer restrictions from teachers at Milton High School in Milton, Mass., and that boys were more likely to be punished.

"The system is designed to the disadvantage of males," Anglin told The Boston Globe. "From the elementary level, they establish a philosophy that if you sit down, follow orders and listen to what they say, you'll do well and get good grades. Men naturally rebel against this."

Click on the link above to see the rest of the story.

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

A new study comparing public and private school 4th graders finds that public school kids are ahead after all. (From the New York Times) "Though private school students have long scored higher on the national assessment, commonly referred to as "the nation's report card," the new study used advanced statistical techniques to adjust for the effects of income, school and home circumstances." ...

"The study found that while the raw scores of fourth graders in Roman Catholic schools, for example, were 14.3 points higher than those in public schools, when adjustments were made for student backgrounds, those in Catholic schools scored 3.4 points lower than those in public schools. A spokeswoman for the National Catholic Education Association did not respond to requests for comment.

The exam is scored on a 0-to-500-point scale, with 235 being the average score at fourth grade, and 278 being the average score at eighth grade. A 10-to-11-point difference in test scores is roughly equivalent to one grade level.

The study also found that charter schools, privately operated and publicly financed, did significantly worse than public schools in the fourth grade, once student populations were taken into account. In the eighth grade, it found, students in charters did slightly better than those in public schools, though the sample size was small and the difference was not statistically significant.

"Over all," it said, "demographic differences between students in public and private schools more than account for the relatively high raw scores of private schools. Indeed, after controlling for these differences, the presumably advantageous private school effect disappears, and even reverses in most cases."

Bad news for private and charter schools, although I'm as suspicious as Benjamin Disraeli of "advanced statistical techniques". I found out when DH was in grad school that you can massage numbers or choose to ignore certain types of data so your results show anything you like. The article is currently being peer-reviewed. I hope the NYT will be as eager to tell us what other sociologists thought of the study.

What Makes a Good School?

Start with good pupils, says a report from the BBC about how to characterize a good school. Ratings by parents indicate schools with selective admissions policies must be good. Many schools with high national test scores, while not screening for intelligence, end up giving preference to kids who are likely to succeed.

"If you look up the admissions criteria at some of these schools, you see how this selection - while not ostensibly choosing the brightest pupils - effectively prioritises the more motivated pupils from the more active, energetic and supportive homes.

For example, one Catholic school not only prioritises applicants who make the school their first preference and who are practising Catholics, but also asks them how often they and their children attend Mass, how actively involved they are in the church as, for example, readers, choristers, or members of the union of Catholic mothers.

Another non-denominational Christian school gives priority to pupils who can show active involvement, over a long period, in activities such as choirs, orchestras, sports teams, brownies and cubs.

So, while these schools are not selecting by outright academic ability, or by social class, they are getting the most active, committed, and skilled pupils from the most supportive and involved homes.

It is little wonder that these schools emerge as "good" schools on almost any criteria. I have visited many of them and they are impressive."

It's an interesting way to approach the problem, although it seems to have the same effect as prioritizing admissions based on intelligence or social/economic class.

Mislabeled Child Blog: What We're Reading Now - Family / Classics

Neutrologists Drs. Fernette and Brock Eide have a new book coming out called The Mislabeled Child: How Understanding Your Child's Unique Learning Style Can Open the Door to Success. Their accompanying blog was recommended to me by other parents homeschooling visual-spatial kids.

i found the following quote very enlightening:

"I also found out an interesting thing with his reading - if I read a book, I don't usually visualize anything as I'm reading. But if I'm listening to Brock, I can see all the movies. It's very cool. I think the printed page just swamps my internal visual sketch pad - so his reading really enhances my real-time enjoyment."

Mislabeled Child Blog: What We're Reading Now - Family / Classics

I'd been struggling with Xavier saying he "didn't have trouble reading, but..." He was never able to finish that sentence, but I wonder if this is the same issue he's running into. That would certainly explain his preference for being read to.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

What Foreign Language to Study?

According to the O'Toole survey of New York State and selected other four-year-colleges, 48% require three years of foreign language study as a minimum for their applicants. Four or more years are better. Four years of a language does not guarantee a fluent speaker--after four years of Spanish, I couldn't understand a native speaker to save my life--but it does look good on the college application.

But how to do choose what language to study? Spanish is obviously very important in this hemisphere, but less so worldwide. Business majors may think about Japanese. But, in eighth grade, when you have no idea what you want to do with your life, how do you choose? A couple web pages offer food for thought:

Why Study French?

Why Study German?
(Of course, the compelling reason to study German in my junior high was the German Club's annual ski trip!)

Haven't found arguments in favor of Spanish and Japanese yet. Stay tuned.

So You Want to Be a Vet

Just wanted to give a quick shout-out to Scholastic and Legacy Interactive for Zoo Vet (scroll down in the games menu and click Vet Games), a computer game that allows you to diagnose and treat ill or injured zoo animals. Marketed for ages 9 and up, the program works for both Windows and Mac, and could probably be handled by a very motivated 7 or 8 year old as well. Xavier (10.75) got the game for Christmas but just tried it out last night. I had to drag him away from the computer at bedtime and then again this morning for school. A review at Parent's Choice complains that there is not much latitude for experimentation, so he may finish the game quickly, but it's been a long time since he and Wolfie argued over educational software like they did last night.

Legacy also publishes "Vet Emergency" and "Vet Emergency 2", aimed at 6+ year-olds, available through Scholastic and through Legacy's own website.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Shelling Out Big Bucks for Summer Camp

Interesting article in today's NYT called It Pays to Have a Smart Child, But It Can Cost, Too. The substance is this: "There's lots of funding for kids who aren't keeping up in school," Dr. Ruf said, "but if you have a bright child you just get a pat on the head." She said she had seen "families at all economic levels prioritize their budgets to pay for testing, enrichment and learning opportunities." (Dr. Deborah L. Ruf, a psychologist who specializes in gifted kids, is the author of Losing Our Minds: Gifted Children Left Behind. She also has an excellent website.)

Coincidentally (or perhaps not so coincidentally), we've been wrestling with what to do with the boys this summer. Klaus was set to stay home and work at McDonald's until I found a nearby ID Tech Camp where you can learn to design video games. He'll be going for two weeks. Xavier wants to go, too, though because of his age, he'll only be going for one week.

We found a Safari Zoo Camp for Wolfie where he can learn falconry as well as zoo animal care, but it's in Toronto and DH says that's a little far to go. He will be going to a Zoo Career Day in May, but it's only a single day program. Wolfie is also considering a week at Japanese camp, but only if he can get someone to go with him.

Needless to say, we will not be taking a family vacation this summer!

Friday, January 20, 2006

Have You Seen This Crab?

Norman RIP
Originally uploaded by The Princess Mom.
Name: Stormin' Norman
Age: Unknown
Height: 1"
Length: ~2"
Eyes: Stalks
Front claw: One Large

Norman was last seen trying to climb out of his aquarium, a frequent hobby, on Wednesday night. He had just molted and was approximately .5" longer than in the photo. He had also recently acquired a tankmate, Medea the Ghost Shrimp, and authorities believe this may have upset him.

A medium-sized black dog was seen in the area of Norman's tank around the time Norman ran away. Jack has always been jealous of Norman. Authorities suspect foul play.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Klaus' First Day

Today was Klaus' first day at college--basic chemistry class at our local technical college. Turns out he's the only boy in the class. On the other hand, the teacher already knows him by name. ;-)

He also doesn't think anyone knows he's fifteen, which he feels both good and bad about. I suggested he could wear a sign around his neck that said, "Baby". For some reason that didn't appeal to him.

If it were a traditional high school class, i.e. 1 hour a day for 36 weeks, I would be concerned whether he was getting enough challenge--he was the only one in the class who knew air had matter--but since the class is compressed into 16 weeks, it will have a quicker pace and less repetition. He doesn't actually know everything there is to know about chemistry (despite what he says) and this class will get to the stuff he doesn't know much more quickly. Hallelujah!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Are American Kids Stupid?

I didn't watch 20/20 last night, but I did read the writeup about the program and heard Stossel interviewed about it when DH turned on the O'Reilly Factor last night.

I have to disagree with Mr. Stossel. I don't think vouchers and "competition" are going to raise high schoolers' academic performance on an international level. But I also don't think the dire predictions about bankrupting inner city schools are accurate. Any state or city that has an open enrollment policy already has a voucher system. If I move my boys from the neighborhood public middle school to a virtual public middle school, their $6K allotment of state tax dollars goes with them. That policy has increased the number of options I have for educating my sons. That's a good thing.

We had an open enrollment high school in my town back when I was in high school. Everyone had the choice to go to their neighborhood high school or to Central. I was in the downtown district, my neighborhood school was Tech (the vo-tech high school) and since I was not interested in vocational training, I went to Central by default. I'm very glad I did because their honors and vocal music programs were excellent! I can't say how the education was at the academic or general levels, though. I don't know if there was a "skimming off the cream" effect because of open enrollment. It's possible we had such a strong honors program because we were drawing from the entire city so we had a larger number of honors kids. But the kids I knew in different neighborhoods almost all went to their neighborhood schools because otherwise transportation was BYOB (Bring your own bus).

The year after I graduated, Tech closed due to low enrollment. It wasn't due to lack of funds. The school board poured all kinds of money into Tech those last few years. They had more computers than we did, a functioning radio and tv station, facilities for various kinds of metal work, carpentry, etc.; all kinds of stuff. Unfortunately, no one wanted a vo-tech education.

I think it's telling that our kids are academically competitive in fourth grade but not in 8th or 12th. Our middle and high schools are much more focused on social activities than academic ones. We expect this. Take for example the anti-homeschoolers who say, "But what about prom?" How many other countries think the most important thing about high school is a dance? High school students were surveyed last year and most of them said their classes were a waste of time because they were too easy. The high school administrator asked about the survey results said, "I thought we were being too hard on them."

We as a country need to raise our expectations. Unfortunately, NCLB is having the exact opposite effect. It has focused the educational community on making everyone average (bringing up the scores of those lower than average) and is having the effect of making everyone average (bringing higher achievers down to average level because they're not being taught anything they don't already know). Vouchers are not going to change this, unless they can create an environment where each child finds a school that will challenge him to the best of his ability. I had that opportunity in high school through the open enrollment policy and I'm a better person for it. If I had gone to Tech, would I have thrived? I can't say for sure, but I have my doubts.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Princess and the Thermostat

Especially with the cost of heating being so high, DH and I have been having more "discussions" than usual about how high to set the thermostat. Our winter has been relatively mild so far and I don't have a problem with the temp being set somewhere between 65°- 67°F--I have sweatshirts, I can dress in layers. I know I'm more temperature sensitive than most--either too hot or too cold 75% of the time--so I don't touch the thermostat unless the vent by my chair is blowing cold air.

Apparently DH didn't believe (or didn't think about the fact that) I really was so sensitive to the temperature in the house, so he turned down the thermostat last weekend without telling me. By Saturday afternoon, I was cold in the same type clothes (sweatshirt & sweatpants) that had been perfectly comfortable on Friday. Sunday I couldn't warm up at all, despite multiple layers of shirts and socks/slippers so I just went to bed for most of the afternoon. Sunday night I mentioned to DH that I didn't understand why I was so cold when the temperature outside was still in the +30°F range like it had been for weeks. (Usually I can tell when I get up in the morning if the outside temp is significantly colder that the day before.) Monday morning, when I was so cold I didn't want to get out of bed, he finally said, "I guess I should turn the thermostat back up, huh?"

"You turned it down?" I said. "When?"

"Right about the time you got cold."

He says he only turned it down a couple degrees, thinking it wouldn't make a difference to anything but the heating bill. Guess again! I've been telling him for twenty years that I'm a princess. Apparently he continues to underestimate how far my princessitude extends. And now you know why my sign-in name is The Princess Mom.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Seven Stupid Arguments Against Gifted Education

According to Dr. Frances Spielhagen, Assistant Professor of Education at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, NY there are seven arguments used to justify reducing or eliminating education for gifted kids.

The seven stupid arguments are:

# 1: All children are gifted

#2: It is not fair to offer special services for gifted students.

#3: Gifted students learn on their own.

#4: Gifted programs are elitist.

#5: Gifted programs are racist.

#6: Gifted children are weird.

#7: Why bother? Gifted students pass the state tests.

Read the entire interview with Dr. Spielhagen at EducationNews.org

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Are you Looking for Experiments?

Wolfie and Xavier got a bunch of "Harry Potter" science kits for Christmas at American Science and Surplus. http://www.sciplus.com search for Harry Potter

For less than $2, you get 3-5 experiments on a theme ("alchemy" is chemistry, "Herbology" is botany) with some supplies all in a plastic/tyvek bag. We have "homework hour" for my public-schooled boys every night after dinner--if they don't have homework they do their Harry Potter experiments and just love them. The experiments are short (<30 minutes) and very well-explained in the instructions. One had the classic Cartesian diver experiment, which I've done at least a dozen times in class and teacher-training--the HP kit was the only one which explained how it worked in a way I understood! As you can tell, I can't say enough good things about these kits.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Is School Bad for Children?

Online journal Edge just published a collection of essays on the following subject:

The Edge Annual Question — 2006


The history of science is replete with discoveries that were considered socially, morally, or emotionally dangerous in their time; the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions are the most obvious. What is your dangerous idea? An idea you think about (not necessarily one you originated) that is dangerous not because it is assumed to be false, but because it might be true?

Roger Schank, Psychologist & Computer Scientist; Chief Learning Officer, Trump University; and Author of Making Minds Less Well Educated than Our Own, contributed an essay entitled No More Teacher's Dirty Looks which is an interesting summary of anti-schooling thought throughout the last two centuries.

By the way, the other 118 "dangerous ideas" are equally worth pondering.

Carnival of Homeschooling

The Cates at the "Why Homeschool" blog have published the The Carnival of Homeschooling, a wonderful collection of links for homeschoolers, would-be homeschoolers and the homeschool-curious.

Invitation to Online e-Congress

Thanks to Leslie Contos on the TAGMAX list for passing this along.

"Looking for homeschooled, 6th-12th graders, who are interested in politics
and government. You are invited to participate in e-Congress through the
Homeschool History League: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/HHLPolitics/

e-Congress is an online political simulation run by the University of
Virginia, Center for Politics. You become a congressman, research and
write a bill, and vote on bills that you and other students have created.
All work is done online, at your own pace and depth, from the comfort of home.

This link will allow you to try out the E-Congress demo.

This is our 3rd year participating and it has been a wonderful
experience. The resources provided by University of Virginia, are wonderful, and
students of all knowledge levels will feel comfortable participating.
There is no better way to learn about how our government works, than
writing and trying to pass your own bill, even in simulation.

The timeline for this event is as follows:
January 9th - March 2nd - students research and write bills,
individually or in groups
March 15th - April 4th - students work in committees to decide which
bills will make it to the house floor
April 13th - April 27th - House Floor, students vote individually on

If you would like to participate, request to join at this site:
and provide the following:

*Last Name:
*First Name:
*Grade Level (should be 6th to 12th):
*email address:
*username you'd like to use:
*password you'd like to use:"

Please email Leslie at soul3@aol.com if you have any additional questions.
Please feel free to pass this info along to others who might be interested.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Klaus Is Going to College!

Yes, it's true. He'd been complaining about how boring his correspondence bio lab course is (I thought it was fun but what do I know?) so we'd been looking for a way to get him into a "real lab" course for chemistry. Turns out our local technical college offers a high school level chemistry course starting a week from Monday so we signed him up. We were actually intending to sign up for the "General Chemistry" (college-level) course, which I'm sure Klaus could handle, but it's a lot more intense and since he hasn't had much chemistry before, so would require some tutoring from Dad, in addition to finishing his other courses at the same time, we decided it better to let him get his feet wet with a less demanding course.

Still, we're very proud of our college man! :D