Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Barbie vs. Baby Einstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Key to a "Good" Joke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out the Biology & Paleontology Q&A blog

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

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

2007 Kid's Philosophy Slam Topic Announced

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Handwriting on the Wall? Doubt it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 06, 2006

It's Horrible Books Time Again!

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

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Some Resources for Teaching Economics

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 02, 2006

Give This to Every Teacher You Know

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

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

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

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