Thursday, June 29, 2006

Some Teacher-made Resources on the Web

Quia is a website that allows you to access teacher-created quizzes and learning games in more than a hundred subject areas. You can track scores and student progress and create and publish your own quizzes, too. The site offers a 30-day free trial, after which you can subscribe for $49 a year. This is a great resource for visual and interactive learning. Quizzes can take the form of Jeopardy (called Challenge Board), Who Wants to be a Millionaire (called Rags to Riches), Hangman, Matching, Battleship, Concentration, word searches and more.

Also, according to Yahoo News, Teachers Are Selling Study Guides Online.

"For all those teachers who take work home at night, creating lessons they hope kids will like, the reward is a good day in class. Now there could be another payoff: cash. Teachers are selling their original lectures, course outlines and study guides to other teachers through a new Web site launched by New York entrepreneur Paul Edelman.

The site,, aims to be an eBay for educators. For a $29.95 yearly fee, sellers can post their work and set their prices. Buyers rate the products." Click the link above for the rest of the article.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Writing and Handwriting Are Not the Same Skill

Picture a 9-year-old boy--he loves books, but hates writing. Picture him at the kitchen table with his head nearly resting on a piece of lined paper. Under his curled arm, he has written a single sentence, and now he can't think of anything else to say. Anything other than, "I hate writing. Why do we have to do this?", that is.

Now picture him at my kitchen table, because I'm talking about Xavier.

Xavier is stuck on sentence two, not because he has nothing else to say, not because he doesn't really understand the assignment but because he lost his train of thought when he shifted from the creative process of working with ideas to the physical process of working with a pencil. We call them both "writing" but they're completely different skills.

Handwriting requires hand-eye coordination and fine motor prowess, like catching a tennis ball. Reading and true writing requires you to understand language, draw inferences and follow a story or an argument to its logical conclusion--brain work. Try reading a complex story or persuasive essay while bouncing a tennis ball. Could you do it? Were you truly doing both at the same time or just switching quickly from intellectual mode to physical and back? Do you remember what you read? I know I couldn't.

Enter Neo, a small, portable, inexpensive mini-word processor that many school districts are now supplying to their elementary students for note-taking and essay writing. Neo can even administer and grade teacher-downloaded tests.

The Neo is produced by AlphaSmart, which began producing portable keyboards in schools for dysgraphic and other special ed kids. But why not every child? They're learning keyboarding at school, most type faster than they write. A product such as the Neo ensures that their ideas come across legibly and spelled correctly, so the kids can concentrate on those higher-level thinking skills we're supposed to be teaching. At least typing gives you a fighting chance to keep up with a brain that's moving faster than your pencil can go.

"But they'll never learn to spell if they use spell-check!" "They'll never learn to write properly if all they do is type!" Not so. Even the best spell-checker will substitute "hear" for "here". (I had one that kept wanting to substitute "drachma" for drama.) So knowing your homonyms and homophones will still be an essential skill. And spell-check is no help at all for replacing missing words.

As for learning proper handwriting, it is true handwriting improves with practice, up to a point. DH used to have perfect handwriting, until he started writing out prescriptions and signing his name hundreds of times a day. Now his seventeen-letter name is down to seven and even my scribbled signature is more legible than his.

So when you're confronted with a kid who "hates writing," probe a little more. Do they easily dictate more complex ideas than you ever see on the page? Is his (it's nearly always a boy who says this) primary complaint that it "takes to long"? Does he have any keyboarding skills? (Stopping to hunt and peck is just as disruptive as stopping to draw the letters.) If the answer to these questions is no, some more teaching about story structure or developing an argument may be in order. But if the answer is yes, for goodness sake, give the kid a keyboard and leave the fine motor work for gym class.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Sounds like Publicly Funded Homeschooling to Me

And that's a good thing! It's hard to argue with a 95% graduation rate and everyone of those graduates going to college! Denver Public Schools might quibble about how seniors do on their state test, but if the kids are getting into college despite their scores, perhaps that casts doubt on the efficacy or necessity of the test, hm?

Meet the Met: A School Success Story

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Are Those Alarm Bells Ringing, or Is it Just Me?

Apparently, it's just me. With Wolfie's report card (he made the B Honor Roll for the year. Yay, Wolfie!), we got a report comparing his standardized reading test scores from last year and this year. His score dropped 5 percentage points. The report states that: "Growth in grades 4 through 8 averages about 4 DRP units per year, so you should be pleased with your progress if your growth was 4 DRP units or more." His "growth" was -3!

I don't know, maybe I'm just a pushy parent, but I think negative growth is worth a call home. Maybe even an action plan? Granted, his instructional level of comprehension is still above college freshman, even with the backward slide, but still. Shouldn't he at least be holding steady?

The only conclusion I can draw is that middle school is making him dumber, either actively or passively by boring him out of his tree and breaking his spirit such that he just didn't care how he did on this test. Either way, I'm glad he's not going back there in the fall.

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

No reading list for elementary school kids is complete without Terry Deary's Horrible Histories, Horrible Science, Dead Famous (biographies), Murderous Maths, Wild Lives, The Knowledge, Twisted Tales and Horrible Geography series. Around 100 in all, each approximately 200 pg paperback explores a single subject in all its grisy, squishy, exciting glory, with funny illustrations and light, irreverent prose. They're pitched at age 8 and up but entertaining enough for older kids and accessible for anyone reading chapter books. I should mention the books are well-researched, in the "You can't make this stuff up" vein. The Cut-Throat Celts, for example, includes quotes from Roman historians and so could qualify as educational reading. ;-)

I'd brought home the Cut-Throat Celts and the Blitzed Brits from my last trip to London, and handed one to Xavier yesterday to see if he'd like to get some more. (Always looking for something Xavier will read.) He got to the second page before chortling, "Oh, yeah!" Celtic history's not his thing, even with the human sacrifice left in, but he picked out several Horrible Science and The Knowledge books.

For a complete list of titles, consult Hoagies. These books are published in England, but some can be found on Amazon and quite a number on ebay. Watch out for shipping charges from the UK--they'll significantly increase the price of the book, particularly since the dollar is so weak against the pound right now. One ebay seller offered a book for a penny but shipping was $14. Amazon.UK wanted $12.85 to ship one book, plus an additional $5.50 shipping per additional book in the order. Since the books themselves only cost $9, not to mention being quite thin and paperback, I didn't think this was much of a deal.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Fun (and...shhh...educational) Site for Kids

I found this awesome site this morning. has over 300 "gizmos"--interactive, web-based games/simulations--that teach concepts in middle and high school math and science. It's particularly well-suited to visual and kinesthetic learners and works equally well for homeschool/after-schoolers/individual learners and class learning via computer/media lab.

ExploreLearning has already correlated their gizmos with major textbooks and state curriculum standards, so homeschoolers who are worried about keeping up with the public schools can be sure they're covering everything they need to. Just click on your state, the standards are copied word-for-word with the list of appropriate gizmos just beneath. The gizmos all come with five or so assessment questions at the end of the activity and reports the score to the student and to anyone designated as teacher, so you can keep track of how much your child is doing and comprehending easily.

Xavier and I played around with the Chicken Genetics gizmo and had lots of fun. You get five minutes to play without registering, which isn't quite enough time to complete an assessment. ExploreLearning does offer a free 30-day trial subscription, after that there is a subscription system available. I plan to use this to extend the boys learning come fall. Too many textbooks makes Jack a dull boy. :D

Unschooling through the Sudbury Valley School

From Education: Class Dismissed in Psychology Today:

"Summary: It's every modern parent's worst nightmare—a school where kids can play all day. But no one takes the easy way out, and graduates seem to have a head start on the information age. Welcome to Sudbury Valley.

"I've learned a lot about how my mind works by paying attention to how I unicycle," Ben declared in preparation for high school graduation. And from the time he was 12, Ben paid attention to nothing so much as unicycling. When students elsewhere were puzzling over, say, the periodic table, Ben, along with a handful of schoolmates, was mostly struggling up and racing down New England mountainsides, dodging rocks, mud and other obstacles. His "frantic fights to maintain balance" demanded both deep focus and moment-to-moment planning. But they gave him something missing from most classrooms today—a passion for pursuing challenges and inhaling the skills and information (to say nothing of the confidence) to master life's complexities.

At Sudbury Valley School, there's no other way to learn. The 38-year-old day facility in Framingham, Massachusetts is founded on what comes down to a belief about human nature—that children have an innate curiosity to learn and a drive to become effective, independent human beings, no matter how many times they try and fail. And it's the job of adults to expose them to models and information, answer questions—then get out of the way without trampling motivation. There are no classrooms per se, although students can request instruction on any subject or talk to any staffer any time about an interest. There aren't even grades. From overnight hiking trips to economics classes to weekly school meetings at which all matters—including my visit—are discussed and voted on by students and staff, all activities are age-mixed." ...
(Click the link above for the rest of the article.)

Why Study German?

Among other things, it might make you a champion speller! Check out this San Francisco Chronicle article by Dan Hamilton, Dean of Waldsee, the German language camp at Concordia Language Villages: Oh, the weltschmerz of it all!

Monday, June 19, 2006

For the Little Chemist in Your Life

The American Chemical Society has a cool website called which offers activities (both experiments and crafts), interviews with working chemists (in a Flat Stanley kind of way) and other information in a elementary school kid-friendly format.

For older kids, the ACS offers a magazine called ChemMatters, "Demystifying everyday chemistry for high school students and teachers for over 23 years." The site offers free teacher's guides in Word or PDF format. You can also get the last 20 years worth of magazines on CD for $25! The April 2006 issue features the following stories: (click the link for a pdf sample version including "oil and water don't mix," "The dog at my homework," "Biomimicry," and the links page):

"In the April 2006 Issue...

Question From the Classroom
why do water and oil not mix?

ChemSumer 4
The Dog Ate My Homework and Other Gut-Wrenching Tales
Midge, a fun-loving dalmation has a taste for paper. When she eats $180 in cash and checks, can it be recovered?

Sneeze and Wheeze 7
Learning how allergic reactions occur is often the key to living with and controlling the misery they create.

Bling Zinger ... The Lead Content of Jewelry 11
Could your jewelry make you sick? For one small child, the answer is yes.

Biomimcry — Where Chemistry Lessons Come Naturally 15
From spiders to beetles to mussels, some chemists turn to nature for inspiration.

Nanomotors 18
Some synthetic and others natural, these tiny motors are similar to the motors in your favorite household appliances.

Chem.matters.links 20"

I went ahead and ordered a year's subscription for Xavier--at $14 it's hard to beat the price--and hopefully it will allow him to "keep his scientific knowledge balanced" while he's studying astronomy this year. LOL Now I've got to go read my sample issue...

ALSO, for the more experienced chemistry student, there's a cool experiment in Popular Science where you can make nylon fiber in your own home!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Way Cool Robot Kits for Boys and Girls!

...PicoCricket Kit... Provides a High-Tech Spin on Crafts

By Michel Marriott

At first blush, the PicoCricket Kit resembles a plastic box of arts and crafts supplies, crammed with colored felt, pipe cleaners, cotton and Styrofoam balls.

But this is a craft kit for the digital age. It includes electronic sensors, motors, sound boxes, connecting cables and a palm-size, battery-powered, programmable computer.

By combining the traditional materials with high-tech ones, children as young as 9 can invent interactive jewelry, fanciful creatures that dance, musical sculptures and more, said Mitchel Resnick, an assistant professor of learning research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab.

Resnick, whose work with children and learning at the Media Lab helped the Lego Group create its highly successful Mindstorms robotic construction kits in 1998, said he wanted to produce something in which the emphasis was not on the building of mechanical objects.

Instead, he said he was more interested in encouraging the creation of something artistic, and delivering a technology and programming language that would let young people take more control of how their creations would behave.

“The hope is to get people started with simple projects and let their imaginations run wild,” Resnick said. “I do think young people are very quick to dive in and experiment.” The PicoCricket Kits, he said, “are designed to encourage that sort of experimentation.”

One of the PicoCricket guides, for instance, instructs users on how to turn a birthday cake made mostly of felt, cardboard and drinking straws into an ingeniously interactive one, a cake that can be programmed to shut off the lights in its electrical candles when someone blows on them.

With a few adjustments in the cake’s programming, its artificial candles will even flicker before they go out. With more programming tweaks, the cake can play birthday tunes or be joined with another homemade contraption that will toss confetti into the air.

The $250 kit is the first effort of the Playful Invention Co., or PICO, a Montreal-based company of which Resnick is a co-founder; Lego is a financial backer. (The kit will be available next month from, where orders are now being accepted.)

Besides all the parts, the kit includes building guides printed on double-sided placemats, but little more in terms of instructions.

Its central tool is PicoBlocks software, a point-and-click, drop-and-drag programming language. It appears like colored puzzle pieces that can be arranged and combined on a computer screen (PC and Mac) with a mouse. Stringing the labeled pieces together into interlocking sequences can create simple or complex commands.

A USB “beamer,” which is plugged into the computer, transmits the commands to the PicoCricket computer through a series of flashing lights. Motors and sensors are plugged into the PicoCricket, which then performs according to the programming stored in its solid-state memory.

The PicoCricket’s core technology, Resnick said, dates from the 1980s, when MIT and Lego were developing the programmable Lego brick, which led to Mindstorms.

“Putting kids in control is what’s so important to us,” Resnick said, noting that girls as well as boys are drawn to the kit’s creative engineering, according to MIT’s research and workshops globally.

Other developers, too, are producing more open-ended building kits aimed at letting young people create and program their own computerized designs.

The Vex Robotics Design System, developed last year by Innovation First and RadioShack, was created to spur young people to have fun while being inventive. Along the way, many are given hands-on lessons in how mathematics, physics and computer programming can be useful and practical, said Joel Carter, vice president for marketing at Innovation First, a robotics company in Greenville, Texas.

Vex robot kits include instructions, but they encourage young people — generally high school age and older — to tackle problems. “Talk to the average high school students, they are a lot smarter,” Carter said. “They like open-ended problems, and a lot like to take the tools that are available to solve open-ended problems.”

The Vex starter kit, which costs $300, includes more than 500 parts, enough to build remote-controlled robots as well as programmable ones, Carter noted. Programming, he said, is written in easyC, a graphical variant on the C language used by professional programmers.

“It is a cool tool that works with Vex,” he said of easyC, which works on Windows-based personal computers. “It makes Vex accessible and demystifies programming. Relatively young kids can program robots to get them to do what they want them to.”

The programming is transferred to the robot’s microprocessor by way of a serial cable plugged into the computer.

VexLabs systems, which offers more than 20 accessories (including the easyC programming kit, sold separately for $99), have recently been acquired by Innovation First ( This means, Carter said, that the robotics kits will not be sold exclusively in RadioShack stores, but also through other channels.

He also noted that Carnegie Mellon University had developed a curriculum that uses Vex robotics to teach math and sciences.

David Greenbaum, owner of Robot Village, a robotics store and workshop on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, said the attraction of young people to robotics was only natural.

“These are such exciting times for kids when they can see robots all around them doing things like exploring the oceans and outer space, and helping the sick and elderly in hospitals,” he said. “They want to be a part of that. Learning robotics technology skills gives them a big advantage in unlocking their future possibilities.”

Homemade robots have become such a hot topic lately that Mark Frauenfelder, editor in chief of Make magazine, said much of the magazine’s latest issue was devoted to guiding readers in building their own. (Click here for Make's review of PicoCricket.)

“One thing that really made a big difference is the kits,” Frauenfelder said about the rising popularity in designing, building and programming personal creations. “They have whetted people’s appetites. They see them online, other people home-brewing these really cool robots.”

One robot featured in Make is a “soccer-bot” made from a Lego Mindstorms kit that can be programmed to chase a ping-pong ball and bump it into a goal.

Caleb Chung and Bob Christopher, the co-founders of Ugobe, a robotic technology company in Emeryville, Calif., said they were developing an infant robotic dinosaur, Pleo, that they say will behave so believably that it will invite a relationship as much as play. (Chung was co-inventor of the Furby, the interactive plush toy.)

This story was published on Friday, June 9, 2006.
Volume 126, Number 27

This article originally appeared in The Tech, issue 27 volume 126. It may be freely distributed electronically as long as it includes this notice but cannot be reprinted without the express written permission of The Tech. Write to for additional details.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Conceiving the Brightest Baby

What ever happened to the Repository for Germinal Choice? Also known as the Genius Sperm Bank, it was the idea of one Robert Klark Graham of San Diego to collect and provide sperm from Nobel Prize Winners and other certified geniuses to raise the level of intelligence in the gene pool, generally. See today's "Where are they now?" story on the BBC by clicking the link above.

Current thinking in the field says that the genetic components of intelligence are passed down through the mother's side alone. Of course, Graham couldn't have known this back in the 70s. It was a nice try, though.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Who Else Skipped Grades?

Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr . graduated from high school at 15.

James Watson , Nobel Prize winner in medicine, skipped grades.

Nobel physicist Charles Townes skipped grades.

Retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor graduated high school at 16.

Author/activist W.E.B. DuBois graduated from high school at 16.

Poet T.S. Eliot finished Harvard in three years.

SOURCE: Templeton National Report on Acceleration, University of Iowa, quoted in a sidebar in the Washington Post

Skipping is Good says Washington Post

Fast Learners Benefit From Skipping Grades, Report Concludes
Tuesday, June 13, 2006; Page A08

Few educators these days want to go back to the early 19th century, when often the only opportunities for learning were one-room schoolhouses or, if you were rich, private tutors. But a report from the University of Iowa says at least those students had no age and grade rules to hold them back.

What was lost in the 20th century was "an appreciation for individual differences," scholars Nicholas Colangelo, Susan G. Assouline and Miraca U.M. Gross conclude in the report, "A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America's Brightest Students." Now, the report says, "America's school system keeps bright students in line by forcing them to learn in a lock-step manner with their classmates."

The report is part of a national effort to move gifted-education programs away from keeping students in the same grades and giving them extra, enriched classes and projects. It is better, the report says, to let third-graders capable of fifth-grade work go to fifth grade. Or break out of the grade system altogether.

Some programs that serve children of all abilities, like the Montessori method for elementary schools, resist organizing grades by age and let all students choose what to learn. The acceleration advocates would prefer a case-by-case approach, letting each child reach the appropriate level, even if it means 10-year-olds in high school.

The Iowa report contradicts the widespread belief that skipping grades or heading for college at age 15 risks social trauma and psychological harm. Accelerated students are often more comfortable with students at higher levels of learning and seek out older students when denied a chance to skip grades, the report says.

James Kulik, director of the office of evaluations and examinations at the University of Michigan, said, "No other arrangement for gifted children works as well as acceleration." But many school administrators, influenced by claims that low-achieving students are hurt by tracking systems that confine them to lower-level classes, have resisted grade-skipping, Kulik said.

UCLA professor Jeannie Oakes, a leading opponent of tracking, said she agreed with the Iowa report's case-by-case approach. If a sixth-grader understands advanced mathematical concepts, she said, "the solution is to send that child to high school," not to put the child in a class with other bright sixth-graders and just call it accelerated, even if it isn't.

A Public Homeschool Model in Santa Cruz

From the

Learning When, Where and How They Choose, by Valerie Strauss:

"Kaely Costanza is a ninth-grader who likes to sleep late in the mornings, rarely takes tests and attends class when she feels like it.

Yet the 14-year-old is considered by teachers to be a fine student.

Kaely is enrolled in the Santa Cruz City Public School District's Alternative Family Education home-study school. AFE allows home-schooled students from kindergarten through 12th grade to follow an individual education plan with help from their school system.

AFE students do not spend all day at home working independently; they might instead attend some classes at the school or at a nearby community college, lead teacher Ward Smith said.

AFE, and other programs like it, are an outgrowth of the home-schooling movement, which has grown in recent years as families opt out of public schools.

Administrators call the program, which began about 15 years ago, a win-win situation. It allows families to take a major role in their child's education while the school system retains the student. AFE is, in fact, the only school in the district that has not experienced declining enrollment, Smith said.

Students taking this alternative route -- 200 are currently enrolled in AFE -- are assigned a consultant teacher who helps the family write an educational contract that allows state requirements to be fulfilled while offering maximum flexibility in reaching that goal.

The kids participate in field trips, dramatic productions and other activities. "We can be very creative," Smith said.

Kaely said she wound up in AFE after kindergarten because her older sister was pushed in public school to read and write before she was ready.

One big bonus of AFE for Kaely is that she doesn't have to take tests -- which she said make her nervous -- although she knows she must pass the same high school graduation test as other students in the Santa Cruz school system to get her diploma."

More information about the AFE can be found here:

"Students in the Alternative Family Education School are considered enrolled in the Santa Cruz City School District. Each family, with the credentialed consultant teacher, determines the pace, methods, and the materials used for their child's educational program derived from the District's curriculum guidelines and state frameworks. Each student's learning goals are outlined in a contract signed by all parties involved. Student, family, and consulting teacher meet at least monthly to evaluate progress, set learning goals, plan activities, and to discuss resources and special interest courses offered by AFE. AFE provides students the opportunity to pursue an education of their own design, at their own pace. AFE also challenges each student to excel in areas of special interest, provides alternatives for students to achieve competency in basic skills, and creates a bridge between the traditional school and the community. AFE was created out of, or influenced by, a movement in education based on a homeschool model, with family involvement as key to the learning process. AFE families see the world, their community, and the people in it as their classroom."

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Deep Thoughts by Klaus

If knowledge is power
and power corrupts
does that mean that studying will make you evil?

Last Day of School!!

Here's a problem with virtual school--or maybe it's just too-autonomous teenagers: my public-schooled boys' last day of school is today. Klaus wanted to finish first, so he stayed up all night taking his last unit test and final test in Geometry. Clearly he was thinking about being done and not about doing well as he ended up with 70% on each. I'm not sure that's even a C-. Mind you these are open book tests and he had until September to finish them. I could just kill him. >:|

Otoh, Wolfie finished his last quarter of public with a 3.5 GPA--enough to qualify him for the summer science camp he wanted to go to. And he didn't fail anything--Hurrah!! Way to go, Wolfie!! I guess we can unground him now.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Norman RIP

Well, we found Norman today. Some of you may remember that Stormin' Norman the Fiddler Crab ran away the second week in January. We looked and looked and couldn't find him...until today. He had made it to the far side of the room, behind the dog's crate, right in front of the door out to the porch. The door we don't use, which is why we didn't find him until now. We plan a burial at sea with the following eulogy:

Norman, you were a really cool pet. It was fun to watch you hide in your little pirate ship and storm the beach on the far side of the tank. We're sorry we didn't realize you were now big enough to climb out of your tank. And we're glad the dog didn't eat you after all. Rest in peace.

Can Schools Change Intelligence?

An article from the June 2, 2006 Wall Street Journal: Do School Systems
Aggravate Differences In Natural Ability?
I've reproduced the article below with my comments, because there were so many rebuttals to make. The author's point, or at least her position, seems to be that schools should be able to make everyone equally intelligent.

"In our mobile societies, few of this month's graduating high-school seniors have been with the same classmates for 12 years. But if you know such students, think back to the pupils who, at 5 years old, were pint-size math whizzes and spelling champs. Now match those memories with the seniors at the top of their class. You'll likely find a near-perfect match.

That raises some disturbing questions. Why doesn't 12 years of schooling raise the performance of kids who start out behind? Can you really tell which toddler is destined for Caltech?"

This is the first of a number of wrong-headed questions in this article. Schooling does raise the performance of kids--all of them are performing better academically as high school seniors than they did as kindergarteners, even if they started out behind. Achievement (performance/product-what you know) is not the same as intelligence (process-what you are capable of learning).

"For as long as there has been a science of intelligence (roughly a century), prevailing opinion has held that children's mental abilities are highly malleable, or "unstable." Cognition might improve when the brain reaches a developmental milestone, or when a child is bitten by the reading bug or suddenly masters logical thinking and problem solving.

Some kids do bloom late, intellectually. Others start out fine but then, inexplicably, fall behind."

"Inexplicably." Gifted underachievers, anyone? Schools are very good at producing those.

"But according to new studies, for the most part people's mental abilities relative to others change very little from childhood through adulthood. Relative intelligence seems as resistant to change as relative nose sizes.

One of the more striking findings comes from the longest follow-up study ever conducted in this field. On June 1, 1932, Scotland had all children born in 1921 and attending school -- 87,498 11-year-olds -- take a 75-question test on analogies, reading, arithmetic and the like. The goal was to determine the distribution of intellectual ability. In 1998, scientists at the Universities of Edinburgh and Aberdeen tracked down 101 of those students, then 77 years old, and administered the same test.

The correlation between scores 66 years apart was a striking .73. (A correlation of 1 would mean no change in rankings; a correlation of .73 is very high.) There is "remarkable stability in individual differences in human intelligence" from childhood to old age, the scientists concluded in a 2000 paper.

In the U.S., two long-running studies also show the durability of relative intelligence. The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, launched in 1998, tested 22,782 children entering kindergarten. As in the Scottish study, individual differences in mental ability were clear and persistent. In math and reading, when the children were sorted into three groups by ability, ranking stayed mostly the same from kindergarten to the end of the first and third grades. Some gaps actually widened.

The National Education Longitudinal Study tested 24,599 eighth-graders on several subjects, including math and reading comprehension, in 1988 and again two and four years later. "There was a very high correlation between the scores in eighth grade and in 12th grade," says Thomas Hoffer of the National Opinion Research Center, University of Chicago. Again, rankings hardly budged."

So clearly the science says that intelligence is stable over time and should be at the same distribution at age 18 as it is at age 5. But we're getting into trouble again:

"[Hoffer] suspects that the way schools are organized explains some of that. Eighth-graders who show aptitude in math or language are tracked into challenging courses. That increases the gap between them and their lower-performing peers. "It's not that [relative student performance] can't change, but that standard practices in schools work against it," says Mr. Hoffer."

Most schools abolished tracking in the 1980-90s "positive self-esteem" movement, so I doubt that had anything to do with Mr. Hoffer's study. And again, we're confusing achievement with intelligence. There is no exacerbation here. The distribution is virtually unchanged. To me this means that, while it has a slightly positive effect on achievement, school has little effect, positive or negative, on intelligence. And author Begley confirms that explanation:

"Now there is evidence that cognitive ability, or intelligence, is set before kids sit up. Developmental psychologist Marc Bornstein of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and colleagues followed children for four years, starting in infancy with 564 four-month olds. Babies' ability to process information can be tested in a so-called habituation test. They look at a black-on-white pattern until their attention wanes and they look away, or habituate. Later, they're shown the pattern again. How quickly they sense they've seen the image long enough, or have seen it before, is a measure of how quickly, accurately and completely they pick up, assimilate and recall information.

The scientists evaluated the children again at six months, 18 months, 24 months and 49 months. In every case, performance mirrored the relative rankings on the infant test, Dr. Bornstein and colleagues reported this year in the journal Psychological Science

Fine, intelligence is set at birth and remains consistent over time. Couldn't have offered much more proof of that theory than you already have. Unless you're trying to massage the data to come up with a more-PC interpretation. Such as:

"Such stability, he says, "can entice" scientists to conclude that inborn, inherent, even genetic factors determine adult intelligence. But he believes crediting nature alone would be wrong.

For one thing, these tests don't measure creativity, gumption, character or other ingredients of success. For another, there are many cases of kids catching up, as when Mexican immigrant children in the U.S. start out with math skills well below their U.S.-born white peers but then catch up, says education researcher Sean Reardon of Stanford University. And as those familiar with management training and military training show, it's possible to turn even the most unpromising candidates into leaders."

Clearly, intelligence does not predict achievement/success. The parent of any underachieving gifted child can tell you this is true. Just as many studies as support the idea of set intelligence tell us that it's the bright-but-not-gifted high achievers with strong emotional intelligence that most consistently achieve success, as it is defined by our culture. (For an overview, click here.) These facts do not contradict the theory of set intelligence.

"That leaves the question of how current education practices (and, perhaps, parenting practices) tend to lock in early cognitive differences among children, and whether those practices can be changed in a way that unlocks every child's intellectual potential."

Argh! According to your own review of the research, intelligence is something we are born with. It does not change. And if you really can "unlock every child's intellectual potential," guess what? Everyone will perform at a higher level but there will still be a distribution of achievement and intelligence! The only way for everyone in a given high school graduating class to achieve equally is to actively dumb down the students in the top half of the class and concentrate on improving performance in the bottom half. "Actively dumb down?" you say. "That's absurd!" It is, but as the research shows, even if we do nothing with these high performing kids, they'll still end up at the top of the class. All else being equal, intelligence will not be equal. And there is nothing the schools, or the social scientists, can do about that.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Props to Xavier!

I just wanted to give a shout-out to Xavier today. He set himself three goals for this school year: to do enough Safety Patrol duties to go on the water park trip and to go to Washington D.C., and to earn the President's Education Award for maintaining a 3.5 GPA or above throughout 4th and 5th grade. He didn't get to go to D.C. but he did go on the water park trip and today he was given the President's Education Award. Way to go, Xavier! :D

Is Homework Necessary?

Fabulous article from the BBC, May 25, 2005 (okay, I'm a little slow):

Schools Try Abolishing Homework

"...Malsis School, an independent prep school in North Yorkshire, adopted such a policy two years ago.

The government regards homework as essential
Its head teacher, Christopher Lush, said: "This is not a question of banning homework as deciding it was inappropriate.

"At the end of a long, busy school day it's not necessary that children should be forced to sit down and do homework or prep.

"Being an independent school, parents and children would vote with their feet if they believed their children were being short-changed academically. This is far from being the case."

Instead of homework, the school, which has a significant boarding community, uses evenings to offer children an array of clubs and activities." ...

Unfortunately not all British schools agree. Click the link above to read the whole article.

Don't Want to Homeschool Yourself? Hire a Teacher!

Interesting article in today's NYT on The Gilded Age of Home Schooling:

"In what is an elite tweak on home schooling — and a throwback to the gilded days of education by governess or tutor — growing numbers of families are choosing the ultimate in private school: hiring teachers to educate their children in their own homes.

Unlike the more familiar home-schoolers of recent years, these families are not trying to get more religion into their children's lives, or escape what some consider the tyranny of the government's hand in schools. In fact, many say they have no argument with ordinary education — it just does not fit their lifestyles."

Friday, June 02, 2006

Did You Bet on the Bee?

Congratulations to Katherine Close, winner of this year's Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee! What I found most interesting was that off-shore gaming companies were actually offering odds on whether the winner would be a boy or a girl or would wear glasses!

From the Houston Chronicle:

"Noble said his company thought "long and hard" before including the bee on its Web site. He decided against posting odds on individual competitors because of their ages, despite queries from some of the children's hometown newspapers.

"We didn't want to go there," Noble said. "Obviously, it's a very sensitive subject."

Thank God for small favors! And no, she does not wear glasses.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Apparently, I'm a Criminal

At least, I would be in Texas, according to Wired Magazine's aptly named article, Don't Try This At Home.

"In the meantime, more than 30 states have passed laws to restrict sales of chemicals and lab equipment associated with meth production, which has resulted in a decline in domestic meth labs, but makes things daunting for an amateur chemist shopping for supplies. It is illegal in Texas, for example, to buy such basic labware as Erlenmeyer flasks or three-necked beakers without first registering with the state’s Department of Public Safety to declare that they will not be used to make drugs. Among the chemicals the Portland, Oregon, police department lists online as “commonly associated with meth labs” are such scientifically useful compounds as liquid iodine, isopropyl alcohol, sulfuric acid, and hydrogen peroxide, along with chemistry glassware and pH strips. Similar lists appear on hundreds of Web sites."

My name is Princess Mom and I own test tubes. And a couple nice Pyrex beakers. And pH strips. And I have rubbing alcohol and peroxide in my dining room, in the "Cabinet of Science!" Am I trying to make meth? No, I'm trying to make scientists.

Wired's article has really opened my eyes to the huge problem of science illiteracy in this country. The Consumer Products Safety Commission is putting people in jail for owning one of the common chemicals used to make illegal fireworks: powdered aluminum, potassium perchlorate or sulfur.

"Popular Science columnist Theodore Gray, who is one of United Nuclear’s regular customers, uses potassium perchlorate to demonstrate the abundance of energy stored in sugar and fat. He chops up Snickers bars, sprinkles in the snowy crystals, and ignites the mixture, which bursts into a tower of flame – the same rapid exothermic reaction that propels model rockets skyward. “Why is it that I can walk into Wal-Mart and buy boxes of bullets and black powder, but I can’t buy potassium perchlorate to do science because it can also be used to make explosives?” he asks. “How many people are injured each year doing extreme sports or playing high school football? But mention mixing up chemicals in your home lab, and people have a much lower index of acceptable risk.”

I think this is fear of the unknown: people understand football but they [meaning the people behind these laws] clearly don't understand science. That, and the fact that the government and insurance companies have convinced the majority of the country we should never do anything unless we are sure it is absolutely safe. I am not alone in this opinion.

"To Bill Nye, the “Science Guy” who hosted an Emmy award-winning series on PBS in the 1990s, unreasonable fears about chemicals and home experimentation reflect a distrust of scientific expertise taking hold in society at large. “People who want to make meth will find ways to do it that don’t require an Erlenmeyer flask. But raising a generation of people who are technically incompetent is a recipe for disaster.”

I understand that meth is a huge problem. Even in my smallish town you can't go to the movies without seeing before and after photos of meth users. But finger-printing me because I want to buy one bottle of Dimetapp for my son's allergies (This actually happened!), and legislating against "practicing science without a PhD" is not going to solve the meth problem. It will, however, keep America from ever again becoming leader in the world of science.