Wednesday, May 31, 2006

What Guys Read

Xavier doesn't like to read. Actually, that's not true. He does like to read, but only certain kinds of books. Books he can't define but he knows them when he sees them. Lately he's been reading The Outernet series by Steve Barlow and Steve Skidmore. From the first book in the series, Friend or Foe:

"When Jack's new laptop reveals itself to be a link to the "Outernet," an intergalactic communication device, his world turns upside down as he becomes involved with space travel, extraterrestrials, and an intergalactic war."

He's liking these books enough that he's reading them completely on his own and writing his required monthly book reports on them, completely on his own, which is pretty impressive, considering how much drama we had to go through before he found this series.

It's often hard to find boy-friendly books. I've come to realize that most of the books I've loved, I've loved because they spoke to me as a girl. There is definite gender bias in the young adult book market. Obviously a 12-year-old guy isn't going to want to read The Princess Diaries, but once he's done with Harry Potter, what's left?

Jon Scieszka, who really understands what guys like Xavier like to read, has put together a website called, appropriately enough, Guys, where you can find lists of books broken down by age (young, middle or older guys) or search for books you've liked to find recommendations for others that may appeal. He's also edited an anthology called Guys Write for Guys Read, which wasn't Xavier's cup of tea but might appeal to your guy.

Alternatively, you will never go wrong with one of Scieszka's own books. If you haven't found him yet, you should.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Some Fun Science Websites

SodaConstructor allows you to create and modify objects using "joints", "springs" and "muscles" and then animate them to see how they move.

Rader's BIOLOGY4KIDS offers basic information on biology in a colorful, accessible format. The same people host Rader's CHEM4KIDS, Rader's GEOGRAPHY4KIDS which also offers Earth Science, and Rader's, a math games site. Numbernut is a new site, so some of the content may not be online yet.

More formal than the other sites, Project Logged On is a science curriculum designed by the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. It offers project-based curricula for middle and high school students. For example, "The sixth grade case-based curriculum offers an in-depth look at the scientific inquiry method. Each of four cases is devoted to one or two aspects of the scientific method. Cases are open-ended and based on questioning urban legends. Students are provided an opportunity to experience the scientific method first-hand through inquiry exercises, data collection and analysis, and experimental design. The curriculum challenges students to question, hypothesize, and explore the process of arriving at possible conclusions. Students will become proficient in the various steps of the scientific method and hence, become confident in implementing them in new situations." The curricula appear to be free but I haven't delved really deeply into this one yet.

Da Vinci Exhibit in Chicago

If you happen to be visiting the Windy City this summer, mosey over to the Museum of Science and Industry and check out their new exhibit Leonardo Da Vinci: Man, Inventor, Genius. From the New York Times review, May 30, 2006 (read more by clicking the link above):

"This show is almost the inverse of the world of "The Da Vinci Code." A code implies something secret, available only to the initiate, a hidden world in which nothing is what it seems. Focusing on the machines and inventions sketched out in Leonardo's notebooks, the exhibition shows his almost ecstatic efforts to discern and disclose the world's workings and to master its principles, leaving nothing about them secret and hidden. This is a display of decodings.

Pull away the veil of flesh — as Leonardo often did in his dissections of human and animal corpses — and you see his vision of divinity made manifest. Muscle and bone and joint are nature's versions of gears and pulleys and levers. And Leonardo, with the pride of a secondary deity, never ceased combining and recombining these elemental ingredients into machines that still astonish in their simplicity and power. These are the rudimentary skeletons of his introspective Madonnas."

There's an interactive exhibit called "Leonardo's Workshop" where you can play with some of his invention. The exhibit also features a touch screen wall that walks you through a totally groovy interactive Da Vinci game. The game, by Leonardo3, will be available on Cd-ROM in June for those not fortunate enough to visit Chicago. No info on what the CD will cost, but the game itself Leonardo Da Vinci/Inside the Castle Laboratory looks awesome!

The exhibit closes September 4.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Gifted Education = Segregation? (Part III)

A response to Pierre Tristam's ridiculous essay equating gifted education and segregation by Cindy Lovell Oliver, a professor who specializes in gifted education and English as a second language at Stetson University in the Department of Teacher Education. She holds a doctorate from the University of Iowa. She recommends ."A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America's Brightest Students" (available online at

Educating Gifted Students from the May 27, 2006 Daytona Beach News-Journal Online

... "First, let's look at the criterion of IQ. An IQ of at least 130 is typically required for gifted identification. (About 2 percent of the population would be included.) For those who believe that students with an IQ of 130 (or higher) do not require special educational considerations, please bear in mind that this is two standard deviations above the average IQ of 100. Few would argue that students scoring two standard deviations below the average, or those with an IQ of 70 (or lower), require special educational considerations. Why does it seem politically incorrect when special consideration is given at the high end?

Secondly, Tristam's question, "What message are we sending our children, and society at large, when segregation is held up not only as a defining factor of an educational program, but as a desirable, even admirable one as well?" merits a thorough response.

Yes, what message are we sending? Let's begin with the world's most famous (and powerful) C student. President Bush, as he has every year since taking office, recently requested no funding for the Javits Program. Congress passed the Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Student Education Act in 1988 to ensure America's brightest would be provided with curriculum commensurate with their ability.

President Bush's message to gifted students: No support from me! Find yourself a rich daddy like I did! His message to the rest of the country: Don't look to me to waste taxpayer dollars on those snotty smart kids. I've got better places to waste taxpayer dollars.

And what about Tristam's charge of segregation? In junior high school I auditioned for chorus. I was named an "alternate" and could sing only if a real chorus member got sick. Others didn't even make that cut. In band, I met with even more elitism. (My clarinet squeaked.) And football? Well, now I'm just being facetious. Segregation is a serious charge, but one that I, too, once accepted." ...

"Asking a child to be on page 50 because "that's where we are today" is a real problem to the child who has not yet made it to page 17. It is equally frustrating to the child who has finished reading the book. Speed limits belong on the highways, not in the classroom."

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Some Thoughts on Executive Function

Executive function is the ability to make decisions, specifically to come up with solutions to problems, plan a response, carry out the response and then evaluate that response. This capability closes follows the development of the prefrontal cortex and governs the ability to organize one's self and one's environment, to plan for the future and to control one's impulses. When there is a disorder of executive function, children (generally it's children as their prefrontal lobe is still immature) frequently lose things, even particularly precious things. They can't organize their room, their desk or their locker. Keeping track of homework in middle school, for example, is a disaster. Fortunately, most people outgrow these issues by the time their brain matures in their early '20s.

Dr. Philip David Zelazo, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, has written a six-part series about Executive Function, its orders and disorders.

"How do we learn to think? How does an easily distracted baby become an adult who can evaluate a problem, make a plan to solve it, and carry out the plan? Executive function – the conscious control of what we think and do – takes years to develop fully and affects many different facets of children’s mental development, from their understanding of other people’s points of view to their ability to focus on a task. If executive function goes awry, it may result in disorders such as autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

In this series, Dr. Philip Zelazo takes an in-depth look at how executive function develops in infancy, childhood, and adolescence; disorders of executive function; and how to foster its development."

For more info, click here.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Gifted and ADHD

More from LD Online: Gifted Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

I found the following paragraph particularly insightful:

"As a group, ADHD children tend to lag two to three years behind their age peers in social and emotional maturity. Gifted ADHD children are no exception. This finding has important implications for educational placement. As a group, gifted children without ADHD tend to be more similar in their cognitive, social, and emotional development to children two to four years older than children their own age. When placed with other high ability children without the disorder, ADHD children may find the advanced maturity of their classmates a challenge they are ill prepared for. Also, gifted children without the disorder may have little patience for the social and emotional immaturity of the gifted ADHD student in their midst. This is not to say that gifted ADHD students should not be placed with other gifted students. The research is clear that lack of intellectual challenge and little access to others with similar interests, ability, and drive are often risk factors for gifted children, contributing to social or emotional problems."

Homeschooling: Great Idea or Big Mistake?

This article from LD Online discussed making the jump to homeschooling kids with LDs and/or ADD/ADHD in particular, but it's also a great overview of the pros and cons of homeschooling in general, including characteristics of successful and unsuccessful parent/teachers.

3 Million Gifted Kids in the US according to NAGC

The National Association for Gifted Children "estimates that there are approximately 3 million academically gifted children in grades K-12 in the U.S - approximately 6% of the student population. No federal agency or organization collects these student statistics; the number is generated based on an estimate that dates back to the 1972 Marland Report to Congress, which estimated that 5-7% of school children are "capable of high performance" and in need of "services or activities not normally provided by the school."

See more and the answers to other questions on the NAGC's FAQ sheet.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Heterogeneous classrooms: They still don't get it

In the April 17 article The heterogeneous debate: Some say best students get short shrift, Madison (WI) School Board President Carol Carstensen is quoted as saying,

""Good teachers can challenge students across a pretty broad spectrum," [she] said, adding that training and support for teachers is essential. "The thing that I think is so critical is that the diversity in the classroom in and of itself creates an academic challenge and fosters creativity among all kids."

How exactly does diversity offer academic challenge for the students? Certainly it's a challenge to the teachers, having to interpret the curriculum appropriately for students in up to 12 different levels of ability and achievement. But for the students? Is a child who is struggling with the material, say 9th grade biology, really going to debate a child who learned this all at the age of 8? Certainly not. He's going to sit there and wait for the other child to give him the answer, and then he's going to write it down on his worksheet. And what has he learned? That he should not try to learn things himself, but rather wait until a "smart person" tells him what to think.

You may think my assessment of the situation is rather harsh. I wish it was. Look at how the media is shaping the debate on immigration. They holler racism against Mexicans and millions of Spanish speakers rally in the streets. Is the immigration debate only about Mexican immigrants? Should it be? The 9/11 hijackers got into this country through the Canadian border, not through Mexico. An intellectually rigorous mind would be saying, "Wait, what about immigrants from countries other than Mexico? How do the current bills affect illegals from Poland, China or India?"

My point here is not to argue about immigration reform. It's that too many people swallow whole the stories the media gives them, carefully written at not more than a fourth-grade level, mind you. Fifteen minutes listening to talk radio with show you callers are well-versed with the party line--whether that's from a conservative point of view or a liberal one--but they can't explain why they hold the opinions that they do.

My theory is that the heterogeneous classroom is to blame. Okay, the public school system is to blame. We're bred from kindergarten to swallow whole whatever the teacher says. No questions are allowed, unless they're on the preprinted list of discussion questions in the teacher's manual. But the hetergeneous classroom is compounding the problem. The kids who know the answers answer the questions (unless they've given up completely and gone to sleep). The kids who are struggling know that if they just wait long enough, someone will tell them the answer, so why bother figuring it out for themselves?

I had a boy in my Webelos den last year, John, a fifth grader who was good at other things we did in Scouts, but couldn't read. Not only couldn't he read, he didn't even try. We were discussing, during a hike, what other activities the park offered (or something like that). Once we reached the parking lot, there was a sign answering our question.
I pointed to the sign and said, "Well, there you go."
John's immediate response was, "What does it say?"
Me, going into teacher-mode, "It's talking about park activities."
John: "Oh."
Xavier then read the sign to him without prompting. I know I wanted to help John take a stab at reading the sign but he'd already given up and gone on to "when are we leaving?"

John and Xavier both knew what the situation demanded: John would wait until someone like Xavier did the academic work for him. They did not learn this in a homogeneous classroom, in Cub Scouts or at my house. In fact, research has proven that motivation inproves for students of all abilities when they are placed in a homogeneous classroom, vs. a heterogeneous one. Imagine John having an opportunity to be the best in his class at science or math instead of always being relegated to the stupid part of the classroom because of that one kid who always knows the answer. Imagine that one kid in a class of other gifted students, suddenly realizing he's not God's gift to to the fifth grade because Joe, Suzy and Sally are faster or know more than he does! Homogeneous classes, aka ability grouping, is a win-win situation. Now if only the school boards would figure this out.

In a Class by Themselves, at Stanford

Good article on homeschoolers at Stanford from the Stanford alumni magazine, December 2000.

The Molecularium--Fun for the science kid in your family

From their press release:

"The Molecularium™
family of products and educational tools brings the
nanoscale cartooniverse to life in any situation. On our Website, zoom
into the molecular level, build molecules, and transform states of
matter in the Nanolab of our interactive Kid’s Site. The experiments,
activities and songs included in our Teacher's Resource Guide (available in
the Parent/Teacher section) are free and fun for your home, classroom
or museum."

Xavier has played the Nanolab game and pronounced it "really fun!"

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Some More Thoughts about ADD and the Gifted

A couple excellent articles I've found (on Hoagies) in recent days:

I've talked to many parents who insist that all or at least most children who have been identified as ADD are actually gifted. This is somewhat of an urban myth, according to Felice Kaufmann, et al. in Attention Deficit Disorders and Gifted Students: What Do We Really Know?

"In recent years, several authors (Baum, Olenchak, & Owen, 1998; Cramond, 1995; Freed & Parsons, 1997; Lind, 1993; Tucker & Hafenstein, 1997; Webb & Latimer, 1993) have expressed concern that giftedness is often misconstrued as ADHD and that the diagnosis of ADHD among the gifted population has run amok. We acknowledge for the purposes of this discussion that there are cases of mistaken diagnosis, although as of this writing, we have found no empirical data in the medical, educational, or psychological literature to substantiate the extent of this concern.

The lack of scientific data heightens our dismay over the wave of skepticism that appears to prevail about the existence of ADHD in gifted children. Specifically, we are concerned that the question "ADHD or gifted?" dismisses the possibility that the two conditions may coexist. Prudent attempts to avoid over-diagnosis must be balanced against a child's need for evaluation and treatment in the context of inevitable uncertainty when medical diagnoses are invoked."

ADD does share characteristics with what I'll call the Gifted and Bored Syndrome (high IQ 6yo can't sit still in first grade because he already knows the material) and with visual-spatial thinkers. (Scroll down to the list of characteristics) Maybe it's more likely to occur with these left-brainers. But it is its own entity and can seriously interfere with a gifted child's ability to cope with school, as we found out when Klaus was in 6th grade and just couldn't compensate for his ADD anymore.

There's a fabulous article called Blinks: A Phenomenon of Distractibility in Attention Deficit Disorder by James Reisinger, who lists his credentials as "MBA, CLU, CFP, ADD." He writes:

"A blink occurs as the ADDers attention involuntarily shifts focus from what is relevant to something irrelevant. This shift from a 'local" situation (such as talking, reading, or working) to some other internal mental content (e.g., a thought, picture memory, or plan) blocks the local information. ...

These gaps in the intake of local information are often erroneously mistaken as memory problems. Teachers are taught that material gets lost between the instruction and the doing, or between the brain and the pencil. True for a defect, but not for a deficit (attention type). It does not get lost, it gets missed or absorbed. The material may get worked into the thoughts in the "blink" and consumed there. After leaping back to the current event, the ADDer may have a moment of disorientation. Many times a thought about the "local" situation that triggered the blink was carried away and "used" in the blink and is unavailable upon return."

Blinks offers an excellent look inside the mind of someone with ADD and explains what the attention blips look like and how they affect people with this syndrome. And it certainly resonates with a lot of frustrations I had during my time in school!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Free NIH Science Curriculum Units (part II)

I promised I'd let you know how the NIH science units looked when they arrived. The "Chemicals, the Environment and You" unit arrived today, complete with pre-drilled pages and cardstock insert for the front cover, back cover and spine of a three-ring binder. Very professional looking. Also included a CD-ROM with animations and video clips to support the lesson.

The first 24 pages is all "teacher stuff," explaining the curriculum, the teaching methods, how it's standards-based and conforms to the National Science Education Standards. The actual lessons are pretty idiot-proof and walks you step-by-step through the activity, lists the discussion questions (and answers!). At the back are reproducible worksheets, data sheets for experiments and hand-outs.

These units are designed to be used in a public school classroom--one instruction is to prepare a specific prop and then "hide it behind your desk"--and as such may be a little elementary for a gifted middle school child. (The "suggested timeline" says you should take two whole weeks to cover six lessons!) But the after- or homeschooler could certainly pick and choose the interesting activities from the various lessons and still come out the smarter at the other end. And the approach should certainly reassure parents who aren't confident in their ability to teach middle-school lessons or who are concerned that their child is not learning what they're supposed to be learning.

I'm still waiting on the "Scientific Method" unit but I'm going to recommend these to anyone who might be interested. Plus you can't beat the price. Your tax dollars at work. :D

Harriet the Habitual Runaway

From the NEWS FROM MY HOUSE Department:

I believe I've mentioned before that I have two pet fiddler crabs, Ozzie and Harriet, who share a five-gallon aquarium with a couple ghost shrimp. Ozzie doesn't do much but stand on the rocks and wave his big claw around (and we're all impressed over here, let me tell you!). Harriet's been much more active since the beginning.

When we got back from our San Francisco trip in March, Harriet was nowhere to be seen. Not such a big deal, since when she molts I frequently don't see her for several days. However, they hadn't been fed in a week and everyone else in the tank was fighting over the food I dropped in--still no Harriet. DH insists she couldn't have gotten out of the tank--you'll remember this refrain from last winter when Norman, my previous crab, ran away--until later that evening, we see something brown skitter across the rug in front of the fireplace. Guess who?

Yes, indeed! Harriet had managed, probably that same day, to climb out of the tank through the hole in the lid where the air hose and heater cord come through. Somehow she got from the top of the five-foot-tall games cabinet to the floor and then all the way across the room to the fireplace. I can only assume she was planning to climb up the chimney and escape the house completely! LOL

So DH scooped her up and put her back in the tank and I blocked up the hole in the aquarium lid with some tape, although I didn't seal it because DH insisted it would be too hard to clean the tank if the lid were taped down. Harriet was a little cranky for a day or two after her adventure, but then seemed fine.

A week later, she's over by the fireplace again. She couldn't have been gone more than an hour because that's how long the dog was out of the house. Apparently the unsealed tape flap opened right up for her like a little crab door. We put her back again and sealed the hole completely. And a good thing, too. She behaved herself about six weeks until she molted again and twice now I've caught her hanging upsidedown from the tape at the top of the tank. Naughty, naughty crab!

From this we have learned three things: DH is not an expert on crab behavior, the dog must have eaten poor Norman, and Harriet is a crafty little bugger!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Schooling for the Free Agent Economy

Fabulous article about the links between entrepreneurship and homeschooling by Daniel H. Pink. This is from Reason Online, October 2001 and reads in part:

"So when we step into the typical school today, we're stepping into the past -- a place whose architect is Frederick Winslow Taylor and whose tenant is the Organization Man. The one American institution that has least accommodated itself to the free agent economy is the one Americans claim they value most. But it's hard to imagine that this arrangement can last much longer -- a One Size Fits All education system cranking out workers for a My Size Fits Me economy. Maybe the answer to the riddle I posed at the beginning is that we're succeeding in spite of our education system. But how long can that continue? And imagine how we'd prosper if we began educating our children more like we earn our livings. Nearly 20 years ago, a landmark government report, A Nation at Risk, declared that American education was "being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity." That may no longer be true. Instead, American schools are awash in a rising tide of irrelevance."

Everyone should read this article!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Gifted Education = Segregation? (Part II)

Got an answer from Pierre Tristam, the author of the Daytona Beach News-Journal article As schools isolate 'gifted' students they abet society's resegregation

"Dear Ms. Scherrer,
I agree in large part with the direction of your reasoning, but applying it justly, then wouldn't it be logical to seek "special" education for a much larger variety of categories--not just special, "middle" and gifted? It's the fragmentation that goes against the nature of what we're about, not the need for specified (as opposed to segregated) education. Too many readers are getting hung up on the word "segregated" because of its cicil rights connotation. I'm using the word from a larger perspective. Many thanks for the letter, which will be posted at the web site, along with many fascinating responses no matter which side the writers are on. (Some rude ones too, but I appreciate your courtesy)."

My response:

"Dear Mr. Tristam,

Thank you for taking the time to answer my letter. You wrote:
"but applying [my argument] justly, then wouldn't it be logical to seek "special" education for a much larger variety of categories--not just special, "middle" and gifted?"

Actually, yes. As a former teacher and current parent of three boys with varying degrees of giftedness, I feel that the way for learning to blossom for all students is to cut the educational process down to two--the student and the teacher--eliminating the class entirely. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I'm now a homeschooler.)

To be clear, I'm talking only about learning about ideas: reading, mathematics, science, critical thinking and writing. The best way to learn about other people is by spending time with them. Unfortunately, I believe the public school system is organized primarily around the need for efficient teaching, not efficient learning, so very little learning of either kind actually goes on.

I understand that the thrust of your article was meant to be adding high achievers to existing gifted education programs. But when you spend two paragraphs discussing Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois and the trend toward re-segregation in society in general, isn't it disingenuous to claim your readers are erroneously hung up on the civil rights connotation of the word "segregation"? "

I doubt I'll get a second response from him, but I couldn't just let that smug comment about his readers slide. If he does write me back, I will publicly applaud him.

Unschooling Article from the Arizona Republic

Generally favorable article with no GOTCHA at the end--Yay!

'Unschoolers' let interests dictate homeschool studies

... "At a time when schools are fixated more than ever on standardized tests and accountability, more parents are turning to alternatives, saying their kids need less structure and stress."...

For more info about unschooling, click on the link to Sandra Dodd's site in the right hand column.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Gifted Education = Segregation?

In his essay in today's Daytona Beach News-Journal Online, writer Pierre Tristam argues that:

To hear the proponents of gifted education as primarily a separate but superior enterprise for the chosen suggests that the gifted somehow stand apart not only intellectually but socially. The presumption is that standing apart economically eventually will be their due. Mixing with their lessers, even if they're high achievers, would spoil them. It's segregation by other means, and toward ends not nearly as honorable as DuBois' for his Talented Tenth.

My response in an email to Mr. Tristam:

"Dear Mr. Tristam,

Separating gifted children from a heterogeneous classroom is an advantage, not only for the gifted
children but for children of all ability levels. A 1985 study by James and Chen-Lin Kulik found that "students in an ability group setting--*regardless of track*--were substantially more motivated toward subject areas than were students who were not grouped." (Quoted in Rogers, Karen, _Re-Forming Gifted Education_, p.214.)

This makes sense empirically as well. Imagine yourself in a heterogeneous, or "desegregated," classroom. There's always that one child with his hand up in the air everytime the teacher asks a question. No one else gets a chance to puzzle through the answer and actually learn something because he tells them the answer. He's first, best and brightest with all the
answers. The kids all know it, call him "teacher's pet" and "egghead" and shun him or outright bully him for it. Children segregate themselves socially and the more children who are different, the easier it is for them to do that, perpetuating the cycle.

He has two choices: he can reject his classmates and assume he's just naturally first, best and brightest at everything, or he can sit on his answering hand and laugh at bathroom humor on the playground just like everyone else, even while he knows he'll always be different, and alone.

Now imagine he's in a segregated, gifted classroom. There are a couple kids in that class who are smarter than he is. Suddenly he has to work to keep up with a much faster curriculum. His motivation to learn increases and at the same time, he has an opportunity to find a friend his age who also really like dissecting worms or reading Oliver Twist. He's not alone, and his previous classmates, also now in a class of homogeneous ability, finally have the chance to answer questions and participate in discussions that aren't esoteric to the point of boredom. They're also not under pressure to ostracize the child who is different, so don't continue the cycle of bullying behavior.

Gifted education has nothing to do with "deserving the best education" more than others or a "presumption [of] standing apart economically." What the parents of gifted students want is the same thing that parents of special education students get: instruction at their child's level of ability and a chance for them to find friends with similar interests; kids who get their jokes. Every child deserves that, not matter what their ability.


Monday, May 08, 2006

Looking for Something to Do this Summer?

Our summer is pretty much taken up with summer band/orchestra and various camps (Xavier is spending three weeks at three different camps over the course of the summer. Yikes!) But if your kids are likely to be hanging around bored and need some intellectual stimulation, check out the Ten Terrific Weeks series from Usborne Books at Home. Subjects include:

Preschool/Lower Elementary
Adventures of Fairy Princesses
Adventures of the Human Body – sample week available on website
NEW Adventures at Apple Tree Farm
NEW Adventures at Sea

Upper Elementary
Adventures in Ancient Egypt
NEW Adventures Around the World
Adventures in the Arts
Adventures in Creativity
Adventures of the Human Body
Adventures of Knighthood – sample week available on website
Adventures in Literature
Adventures in Space

The curriculum alone costs $6.95. Complete sets with assignments, projects, etc. run between $50 and $75 dollars. I haven't used these myself--we're in need of some serious de-schooling--but they might be a nice bridge from one grade level to the next (if you're doing the school/grade level thing) or for homeschoolers who want to keep up skills but slow the pace down for the summer. I like Usborne books because they're visually interesting (lots of pictures) and they have internet links for more information. Click the Ten Terrific Weeks link to learn about the kits or the Usborne books link to purchase.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Gifted Charter School to Open in San Diego

The new school will be the first charter in the Encinitas Union School District and the only gifted charter school in California. From the San Diego Union-Tribune:

"The proposal calls for a school that would offer a Gifted and Talented Education program in every subject and grade. State and local officials said they don't know of any other charter schools in the state focused solely on a GATE program for elementary children. ...

TIP Academy would admit children who haven't been identified as GATE or who live outside Encinitas, as required by law."

The idea, according to a previous article previous article, 46 Questions Posed for Charter School for Gifted, is to delve into that grey area where kids will be identified as gifted on one measure, say an out-of-level test, but not necessarily through classroom grades or behavior, which can be tainted by teacher opinion.

"...The school would break from narrow measurement tools that many traditional public schools use to determine whether a child is gifted, such as the Raven, a gifted program entrance exam. The school would take into account tests, but would also consider grades, teacher evaluations, reasoning skills, class interaction, writing samples, even poetry.

“You can have a gifted kid who doesn't know how to read, or you can have a kid who is autistic and gifted, or at-risk and gifted,” [Charter petitioner Deborah Hazelton] said."

With three "borderline" (at least according to our district) boys myself, I think this is a great idea, as long as that's really the idea. What worries me is that pernicious "all kids are gifted" philosophy, which does a great disservice to the truly academically gifted. This quote from the school board president does not allay my fears:

"School board President Shannon Kuder said she loves the school's concept.

“I like the idea of teaching kids like they're all brilliant because I think the cream rises to the top,” she said. “I think kids are amazing human beings, and I think they'll rise to their expectations.”

Kids in public schools can rise to high expectations because currently the classroom expectations are so low. Something like 60% of kids in your average, heterogeneous classroom are working below their ability because teachers are teaching to the bottom third of the class. But truly gifted kids are still going to learn, in some cases, 3 times faster than those bright hard-workers who are also working below their ability now.

I hope the TIP Academy really wants to concentrate resources on the gifted. But if I lived in San Diego, I don't think I'd apply until I see their theory actually put into practice.

Why More PE isn't the Answer

In her excellent article in USA Today, Time to Revamp PE, author Laura Vanderkam (a co-author of Genius Denied, check out her blog Gifted Exchange) argues that part of the obesity crisis in America is people being turned off of exercise by gym class. She writes:

"I want to blow the whistle on this [mandatory gym class] movement. Gym class didn't make me fit. For me, fitness came when I finally found an activity I loved and did it on my own terms — watching TV on the treadmill some days, running outside others. Gym class, by contrast, taught me that exercise was no fun. Many people feel that way. One Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association survey found more inactive adults said gym class turned them off to future exercise than made it appealing."

You can count me in that group. I nearly set a school record for longest time in the mile run (or in my case, walk). In my defense, about a quarter of the course was up a 20% grade (we had to run around the school). I mean good heavens! By the time I graduated, I could run up eight flights of stairs in two minutes to get to class, but it was all those stairs, not gym class, that made me fit.

Vanderkam suggests creating more individual sport activities in gym: "swing dance, yoga, martials arts, whatever." I know the two years I took ballet instead of gym were the happiest years of my PE life. Who wouldn't rather take Karate, aerobics or weightlifting than the gym-class-only, team sports-oriented "survey" courses offered today. (Dodgeball, anyone?) Besides, no one gets "picked last" in aerobics. Sounds like a win-win to me.

Attention Future Architects and DIY Junkies!

Google has a free program called Google Sketchup that allows you to model objects in three dimensions. From their website:

"SketchUp is a simple but powerful tool for quickly and easily creating, viewing and modifying your 3D ideas.

  • Click on a shape and push or pull it to create your desired 3D geometry.
  • Experiment with color and texture directly on your model.
  • Real-time shadow casting lets you see exactly where the sun falls as you model.
  • Select from thousands of pre-drawn components to save time drawing."

  • Sweet, huh? Particularly the shadow casting. I don't know how that could be helpful, unless you want to know if the new gazebo will shade the rose garden for too much to the day, but it's totally cool that it can be done.

    I haven't tried it myself since the Mac version is "coming soon," but I heard lots of great things, so you can be sure we'll have a go as soon as we can. If anyone has a chance to give it a try, let me know how it works!

    Monday, May 01, 2006

    NCLB: Here's a Radical Idea!

    What if the government gave a test and nobody came? Teachers in England are so fed up with their version of No Child Left Behind that, according to BBC News, "schools could disrupt pupil tests across England by asking parents to send their children in late, head teachers say."

    "[Mick] Brookes [General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers] told the NAHT's annual conference in Harrogate that he wanted to persuade ministers to change the system without resorting to industrial action.

    He added: "But I think we have permission from that conference to take action. Our members are sick to the back teeth of this constant downward pressure.

    "They are giving me permission to push back."

    Would this work in the US? I don't know. According to Mr. Brookes, "If less than two-thirds of pupils did tests, results would be invalid." I'm not sure if this would hold true for the NCLB tests or not. It would be worth finding out...

    The Point is Moot

    Fabulous game for logophiles, vocabulary mavens and others (including homeschoolers and students looking forward to the SATs), Moot, billed as The World's Toughest Language Game, is Sudoku or Trivial Pursuit for those who read the dictionary for fun. The game is for multiples of two players (we usually play as one parent/one child teams). You advance your token around a cribbage-type board by rolling the 12-sided die and answered vocabulary questions at one of four difficulties. The question difficulty depends on what number you roll: 1-3 red; 4-6 green, 7-9 yellow, 10-12 blue.

    Some sample questions, picked at random from the stacks and stacks of cards:

    Q. Red (easy): If your toes are in a coma, are they comatose? (Get it? Coma-toes?)
    A. Yes

    Q. Green (hard): Which could be healthy: lasciviousness or prurience?
    A. Lasciviousness: To be lustful is to be lascivious, whereas to have an unhealthy obsession with sex is to be prurient.

    Q. Yellow (harder): What cooking term means "to soak in seawater" in Latin?
    A. Marinate: The word marinate derives from the Latin mare, sea; it denotes "the soaking of meat or fish to enhance flavour." (Spelling variation due to the game being Canadian.)

    Q. Blue (nearly impossible): What word was coined to describe the easy-going pace of pilgrims riding to Thomas Becket's tomb?
    A. Canter: The word canter was coined by contracting the phrase Canterbury pace, the easy-going pace of the pilgrims riding to the tomb of St. Thomas A' Becket in Canterbury.

    Loads of brain-stretching fun (and lots of smacks to the head when you hear the answers)! You can order the game or look at more questions by clicking on the link above.

    Inquiry Teaching: What is the Question?

    Excellent (though old) article on The Art of Questioning in the classroom from the Exploratorium's website. Author Dennis Wolf says:

    "Classroom questions are often disingenuous. Some are rhetorical: "Are we ready to begin now?" Others are mere information checks-a teacher knows the answer and wants to know if students do, too. Missing from many classrooms are what might be considered true questions, either requests for new information that belongs uniquely to the person being questioned or initiations of mutual inquiry (Bly 1986, Cook-Gumperz 1982)."

    This article is mainly for teachers and other educators, but holds keys for homeschoolers and for parents of gifted kids who know there is something wrong with the classroom environment but can't quite put their finger on it. All kids, gifted kids in particular, need teachers who ask questions and then listen to and build on the answers. Too many times a teacher will ask a fact-based question: "Who was George Washington?" A: "The Father of our Country" or "Our First President" while the gifted kids in the room are thinking, "Yes, but why? Why him? Why not John Adams or Thomas Jefferson? What makes him so special?" Those questions are never discussed, particularly in the elementary classroom, and if the gifted child brings them up, the teacher says, "I don't know" and goes on to the next question on her list.

    Teachers congratulate themselves for admitting they don't know something. (True, I used to be one. We were taught that "I don't know" is a good answer.) But it doesn't take most gifted kids long to realize that "I don't know" means "I don't care" and "Shut up." So does, "Why don't you look it up?", by the way, because despite the suggestion, the student can't get out of her seat to look it up right then (because they're in the middle of a class discussion!), and if she does find out later and brings that knowledge back with her, she gets looked at like a freak by the teacher. (But I'm not bitter, and that's a good thing. LOL)

    Why do we need to ask better questions?

    "Being asked and learning to pose strong questions might offer students a deeply held, internal blueprint for inquiry -apart from the prods and supports of questions from without. That blueprint would have many of the qualities that teachers' best questions do: range, arc, authenticity. But if the sum is greater than the parts, there might be an additional quality-call it a capacity for question finding (Getzels and Csikszentmihalyi 1976). Question finding is the ability to go to a poem, a painting, a piece of music-or a document, a mathematical description, a science experiment-and locate a novel direction for investigation. This ability is difficult to teach directly, yet it may be one of the most important byproducts of learning in an educational climate in which the questions asked are varied, worth pursuit, authentic, and humanely posed."

    For gifted children, the ability to question is innate; ask anyone with a gifted four-year-old who never stops talking. It is just as important that our responses to their questions be more than "Uh-huh," and "I don't know," (at least when humanly possible). A simple change from "Why don't you look it up?" to "Why don't we look it up?" can make all the difference in the world. That's the answer. ;-)

    Another Volley in the Penmanship Wars

    In the April 24 Christian Science Monitor: Practice Makes Perfect Penmanship, writer Monica Bhide asks the question: "In this age of computers, does a six-year-old really need good handwriting?" She says yes. I say no. Unfortunately, her essay supports my position, not hers.

    Let's look at some examples. She extolls the virtues of penmanship that she learned from her father, who made her sit at the diningroom table every summer morning for two years, copying articles out of the newspaper. (I have no problem with this method of handwriting instruction, by the way.) She wants her son to also learn good handwriting because "He loves to make up and write out stories, but he writes so fast that his lovely stories don't look lovely - or legible." I would like to submit that writing stories is its own art-form and the story is his ultimate goal. I don't know about Bhide, but my first drafts are anything but legible, even when I compose on the keyboard!

    Hold that thought.

    She goes on immediately to say, "Growing up, I had no choice - practicing good handwriting was as important as learning addition or subtraction."

    Hold that thought, too.

    She praises her father's beautiful handwriting.

    "His handwriting was exquisite - like calligraphy without any special pens. I have saved letters he has written me, and somewhere in my heart I resent e-mail, which he now uses, because it has dashed the possibility of future handwritten notes from him."

    Wait a minute. She saves his letters and resents his emails, not because of what he writes to her but because they are beautiful. Doesn't that mean handwriting is an art-form, rather than a method of communication?

    Another example: "I still have good handwriting. It sounds strange to say in this day and age. Friends ask me to help address their envelopes and even help with their scrapbooks. I am a writer, and pride myself on my handwriting. I want my son to have the same pleasure." ...

    "He then turns to me and says, "Mama, I never see you write on paper. You are always typing on your computer. Why do I need good handwriting on paper if all I am going to do when I grow up is type on a computer?""

    Okay, she prides herself on her handwriting. Wonderful! It gives her great pleasure. Fabulous! She only uses it to address other people's envelopes, not in her day-to-day life. Art Form!

    Great skill at landscape painting is also a reward in itself, but it is not a skill anyone but an artist would use in their daily work. When Bhide's son is writing his wonderful stories, the words are a means to an end, not the end in itself as she expects them to be. He is working, as she does, not practicing an art form. Nor should be be forced to be a visual artist at the same time he's trying to work with words.

    Which leaves us with the only argument that rings true throughout the whole article: She had no choice but to develop beautiful handwriting. This is the same argument that underlies fraternity hazing rituals, 36-hour shifts for medical interns, and public school for that matter. "I had to do it, so why shouldn't you?" Is this a proper basis for education? Wouldn't it be better for him to learn to admire his mother's penmanship hobby and want to learn to do it, too, instead of ramming it down his throat so he hates it?

    She ends the article by comparing teaching penmanship to learning to tell time with an analog clock or learning to tie shoelaces instead of using velcro shoes. She could just as well compare it to learning to drive a standard transmission instead of an automatic. There was a transitional time when it was necessary to learn to drive both kinds of transmission "just in case you had to drive a stick in an emergency." Now you'd be hard-pressed to find a stick-shift, even in an emergency.

    We are in just such a transition from handwriting to keyboarding for the vast majority of our communications. Yes, Bhide's son will probably find a time when he has to write a note in an emergency. But when it's just as easy to text the note to someone, when even medical charts have gone digital, that time is passing fast. Soon, handwriting will be the province of the professional and the hobbyist, much like standard transmission is the province of the race car driver and the gear head.