Thursday, December 28, 2006

UK Spending Big Bucks for Gifted Online Classes

According to the article E-credits for more gifted pupils at, "The government is arranging "e-credits" for schools to access extra lessons for an estimated 800,000 gifted pupils. The £65m scheme is part of its drive to ensure all children in England with special talents are given extra help."

Now you all know I think online classes for gifted kids are an excellent idea. Particularly for kids who are gifted in particular areas and working at grade level (or below) in others. I don't understand why schools are so resistant. Sending one first-grader to second grade for math and another to fifth grade for science is a logistical nightmare unless you can mandate that every grade in the school teach the same subject at the same time each day. Otherwise the child is likely to miss something relevant in his or her own classroom during the accelerated lesson time. Pulling kids from the classroom for gifted classes can give the same result. But if a child could go to the library or media center during math time, say,--whenever math is scheduled for that day--to work on, where is the harm in that? The child's academic needs are being met. The teacher doesn't have to deal with a bored student who is at best tuned out, at worst, disruptive. Sounds like a win-win to me.

Despite the title, the BBC's article is primarily about identifying gifted kids. The British government has suggested identifying the top 10% as GT--very generous according to US standards that usually run top 2-5%. One teacher quoted asks "what to tell a girl who said: "Miss, I really wanted to go to the giant insects workshop today, but I'm not clever enough," adding that the criteria for inclusion should be "good attendance, good behaviour, good citizenship - anything but natural ability". Sigh. I'm the parent of one of these borderline kids--sometimes he's considered gifted, at school he's not. I would suggest that if a child has high interest in a workshop on giant insects, she should be allowed to go.

But this quote smacks of a reverse elitism, particularly the bit about "anything but natural ability," and a basic lack of understanding about the purpose of gifted classes. Gifted programs are not rewards for being born with high ability. Gifted programs are (or at least, should be) appropriate education for high-ability students. Anyone with high ability in any subject(s) should be allowed/encouraged/assisted to develop those abilities. That's not elitism, that's what schools are supposed to do.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Merry Christmas, Rolfie McHorkenstein!

So how was the Christmas holiday at our house? Pretty good, except for the part where the dog had one too many Swedish meatballs and threw up in the front hall (twice), the front room (three times) and right behind DH and the FIL WHO NOTICED NOTHING! until I started cleaning up. Wolfie chimed in, "I never knew Christmas could be so horrible" (which is a quote of what Klaus (age 5) said at Wolfie/Zavier's joint 2nd/1st birthday, after Wolfie ate too much Thomas the Tank Engine cake and threw up all over the table: "I never knew birthdays could be so horrible.")

Said dog's name has now been changed from Jack the Wonder Dog to Rolfie McHorkenstein by Klaus, the teenager who is too cool to say "er".
("Whatev, Mom!")

Hope your weekend was equally entertaining. :D

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Merry Cranky Christmas!

My Gawd, has life around here been awful these last two weeks! Xavier's been picking fights with everyone, including me, since he found out he has a proctored final for his reading class. Wolfie can hardly drag himself out of bed and doesn't really wake up until dinnertime. Klaus has been walking around like a zombie. I've hardly seen him crack a smile all week, even though he's still meeting his obligations, school-wise. I could barely function yesterday but I blame Lunesta for that.

Part of it has been the weather--very dark and rainy. (We've got a 0-25% chance for a white Christmas.) Bleah. But I don't remember the run up to Christmas being this tense. After all, the cookies are made, the cards are sent, the presents are wrapped (at least my presents are wrapped), the WWI Royal Canadian Flying Corps uniform is finished...

Maybe after school on Friday (yes, the public schools have a full day tomorrow) things will begin to look a lot like Christmas.

Anyway, I hope you all have a joyous and relaxing New Year! :D

Thursday, December 14, 2006

What's Opera, Doc?

I love the internet. The boys have been playing World of Warcraft--a lot--and they keep talking about magic helmets. Which in turn makes DH and I sign the "Spear and Magic Helmet" recitative from the Bugs Bunny cartoon "What's Opera, Doc?" The boys thought we were insane (not for the first time, mind you) until I found the cartoon on Google video this morning. LOL
Click the title to watch.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Without a...Clue?

DH and I were watching a rerun of "Without a Trace" the other night about a 15yo violin prodigy who has disappeared. Making a case for her running away, her manager says, "And her mother homeschools her! There's nothing normal about that!" So this is our new catchphrase: "There's nothing normal about that!" LOL

Unschooling live chat transcript from Teacher Magazine

Last week, hosted a live Web chat with Ken Danford, executive director of North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens, in Hadley, Mass. From their promo material: "Founded in 1996, North Star is an education center for homeschoolers, catering mostly to students who've grown disaffected with high school. North Star offers an eclectic mix of courses as well as career resources, but what the students do with their time is largely up to them.

"There's no attendance taken," writes author Dan Robb in his recent TEACHER MAGAZINE article on North Star. "Nor are there bells, grade levels, or evaluations. Students are absolutely in charge of their own education." Adds Danford, "Unstructured time here is invaluable--is more important than the classes, in a way--because ultimately it's more important that kids have time and space to figure out who they want to be."

Some of North Star's students attest that this laissez-faire approach has reawakened their engagement with learning. And despite leaving the center without grades or a diploma, a number of North Star's alumni have gone on to elite colleges."

There are two of the predicable "What if they just want to play video games all day?" questions. Danford doesn't mention deschooling, perhaps because most of his audience is teachers, but he handles most of the questions well. I suspect the center is even less structured than it appears to be from his answers--again playing to the audience. With a staff of two, they couldn't possibly be as hands-on as he suggests. Not that that is a bad thing, but it's something that teachers just would not understand.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Science Curriculum Ideas

First an update: I have not been able to get the HHMI Virtual Labs disk to work under Mac OSX or Windows. Granted I'm not the most adept Windows user, but I can't even get the computer to recognize that there is a program on the disk. Too bad because the splash page looked pretty slick.

On a more positive note: The disk of supplementary material that came with the NIH science unit works well under Windows and presumably under Mac OS9 (it kept trying to open OS9 under my OSX browser). It has lots of good stuff on it, including a short documentary on what a hazmat worker does. We'll be trying out the Toxicology unit in the next month since Xavier has finished his 6th grade science course. :D

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Differentiation from the Teacher's Point of View

Excellent article from the web version of Teacher Magazine:

"Published: November 6, 2006

The Kid Who's Sleeping in Row 3, Desk 2

By Elaine Duff

As part of a new partnership, is publishing this regular column by members of the Teacher Leaders Network, a professional community of accomplished educators dedicated to sharing ideas and expanding the influence of teachers.

I think teachers can often fall into the trap of teaching content instead of children. Howard Gardner says, "When students cannot learn the way we teach them, we must teach them the way they learn." That's a powerful statement. But even if we know, in theory, that differentiating our instruction to match the needs of each student is an important key to success, it's still challenging in practice.

Many of us have the attitude that "we will put the information out there, and if they don't get it, it's on them." We tend to be resistant to the whole idea of differentiation. I believe it starts with the teacher's attitude and expectations. We've got to be willing to entertain the idea that not all students will learn the same way or at the same rate, nor will every student respond every time. We've got to be willing to keep trying to reach every student.

One incident in my personal history springs to mind. I was teaching 12th grade English that year, a curriculum mostly centered on writing and British literature. I was certainly not the paragon of teaching excellence I am today (insert smile here), and I was struggling to find ways to make the content interesting.

Though Jeremy was classified as gifted, he slept in class every day. He'd come to class, stay awake for about 15 minutes, and then down he’d go on the desktop. It didn't matter what I did. Since British literature can be a little dry, I really tried to spice up that class. I used lots of cooperative learning, visuals, and let the students have lots of choices. Jeremy didn't care. During his standard 15 minutes of awake time, he'd stare into space, grunt when spoken to, and cultivate a general look of disdain. I began to get really frustrated because I couldn't pique Jeremy's interest. I even began to harbor a little resentment toward him for not liking my class.

I was thinking, "OK Jeremy, if you want to fail my class, FINE. I've tried everything." As time went on, I sort of gave up. I just started to ignore Jeremy. I didn't ask him questions, or even make eye contact with him most of the time. I didn't expect anything from him, except snoring and an occasional puddle of drool left on his desk.

It was quite by accident that I came to realize that Jeremy was capable of much more than I had given him credit for. During my planning period one day, I went downstairs to the TV broadcasting classroom to edit some film. I was in charge of homecoming, and each year I took the footage from homecoming week activities and put together a montage with music for our school TV station to broadcast during homeroom.

Several students were working on an assignment while I sat in the corner at the editing machine. I was focused on editing and not paying much attention at first, but then I heard a voice I recognized. I looked up and saw Jeremy, not only awake and standing upright, but teaching his classmates.

He was moving about in an animated fashion while explaining how to film a fight sequence. My first thought was that Jeremy must have a twin brother! I sat there staring with my mouth agape, struggling to reconcile the Jeremy I knew with this stranger. Suddenly he realized I was sitting in the corner by the editing machine.

When our eyes met, he said, "Mrs. Duff?"

And I said, "Jeremy?"

He asked with surprise, "You know how to edit video?"

I almost said, "You're walking upright?" but then I caught myself. "Yes, Mrs. Bernard taught me. You really seem to know your way around that camera. I had no idea you were a videographer!"

He beamed with pride and proceeded to explain the project his group was working on. It was clear he had earned the respect of his classmates. And it was also suddenly clear that I had not really made an effort to know Jeremy at all.

What happened after that day was nothing short of amazing. When Jeremy came to class the next day, he not only stayed awake, but he completed his work, and even participated in the class discussion. In fact, from that day on, he was totally different. He volunteered to film some projects we were doing in class, and even completed one himself. He ended up passing my class with a B.

What happened? When Jeremy encountered me in a situation other than English class, it changed his perspective of me. He realized that I wasn't just some weird lady trying to force him to learn British poetry. Equally important, my perspective about him was altered. He wasn't just the kid who slept in my class.

I'm not proud of the fact that I didn't make a better effort to know Jeremy long before this incident. He was just desk two in row three of my second-period class. It was easier just to see him that way. I told myself I had tried everything, but I had not stepped outside of my little English-class world at all.

When I think about what caused me to underestimate Jeremy, I see that it is related at least in part to my own school experiences. You see, I'm a "teacher pleaser" from way back. Since I saw teachers as magical beings, I can get offended when my students don't perceive me that way—especially when I've tried so hard to make the subject matter interesting for them.
I did learn from that fortunate accident. Now I make a great effort to cause more of these "accidents" to happen. I try harder to discover the many facets of my students. And I am happy to report that Jeremy now works for a television station in Tennessee.

In the end, it's all about attitude. It may be a teaching strategy, a timely smile, or a fortunate accident. But if we're determined to reach our kids, we'll eventually find a way.

Elaine Duff is a National Board Certified Teacher in Cumberland County, North Carolina, where she teaches high school English and serves as the professional development coordinator for the Cumberland County Schools Web Academy."

Choice is Good!

From today's EdWeek:

"Public School Choice Seen on the Rise

"Trends in the Use of School Choice: 1993-2003" is available from the National Center for Education Statistics.
Increasing numbers of U.S. students, over time, are attending public schools of choice rather than their neighborhood schools, a federal study concludes.

The report by the National Center for Education Statistics says the share of enrollment for public schools of choice grew from 11 percent to 15 percent of all students in grades 1-12 from 1993 to 2003. Those schools include public charter schools, magnet schools, and other types of options both within districts and in nearby districts. The data come from telephone surveys of a nationally representative sample of parents.

— Erik W. Robelen
Vol. 26, Issue 14, Page 12"

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Archaeology Camp in Southwestern Colorado

Thinking ahead to next summer: Do you have a child interested in the history of native peoples or in archaeology in general? Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in SW Colorado offers week-long archaeology camps for middle schoolers and high-schoolers and a three-week High School Field School. All programs are residential and offer a wide variety of cultural experiences in the evenings, in addition to days working hands-on in the field.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Your Kids Might Be Gifted If...

...He can never do things the easy way.

Wolfie, Wolfie, Wolfie. He can never do things the way everyone else does them. The first time he made dinner for the family, he chose to make beef stew and refused to follow, or even look at, a recipe. And the other day when we were making gingerbread cookies, instead of using the cutters, he ended up sculpting a gingerbread travelling salesman and a pair of tied eighth notes out of the dough. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but sometimes it's really hard to give him the space and time he needs to do things his way.

...The strangest things turn into word games.

Several years ago, I bought a set of stocking hangar letters. The set spelled PEACE with a star at the end (we needed six stockings so the dog could have one, duh!). Sure enough, the star became a wild card and the mantel began to read things like APE and PACE. We needed more letters so we added the SANTA set and the next thing I knew, we had EAT CANAPES. Now we also have JOY, NOEL and WISH. My mantel currently reads SANTA'S WRATH. (We added a leg to the P, to make R.)

Oh, brother.