Wednesday, August 30, 2006

When School Districts Attack!

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

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

The new school year starts one week from today.

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 24, 2006

When Hamlet Met Claudius

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

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

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Set Your Tivo: Assignment Discovery

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

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

--Christine K.

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

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

Partial Homeschooling Update

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Hothouse Kids: Do They Exist?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 21, 2006

Homecoming vs Homeschooling

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

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

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


To College or Not to College?

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 17, 2006

New Site for Homeschoolers: The Homeschool Diner

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

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

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Future of Education is...Video Games?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 14, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 06, 2006

No Child Left Offline

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

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

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

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

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