Sunday, December 30, 2007

Start the New Year Smarter with Online College

Here are a couple articles about online courses available for free on the web. You get lectures, homework and tests, but no interaction with the professors and no college credit. They're great for homeschoolers, lifelong learners or students at other college who want the information. High schoolers can verify learning and possibly earn credit with CLEP, AP or SAT subject tests (although these classes are not specifically keyed to these tests, so reviewing specific study guides would also be necessary).

Internet Opens Elite College to All by AP Education writer Justin Pope

Monday, December 24, 2007

And Bah Humbug to You, Too, Hubble!

Apparently, Mars is going to be shining so brightly tonight, that Santa won't need him to guide the sleigh. Check out this story (and a very funny revision of Rudolph's song) from AP science writer Seth Borenstein: Mars glows, no need for Rudolph's nose

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Hardware for the Holidays

A great gifts for the gifted idea from Elaine Seid Marshall on the Homeschooling Mensans list:

"A gift certificate to a hardware store is an invitaion to her to make a project. Before you give her something like this, you should be sure it is really OK with you for her to do this. Meaning, you realize it will be messy, there is a place where it's OK for her to spread out and work, you realize she will need close supervision to remain safe, and, you realize this will be time consuming for *you*.

That's the important part. Because without that, the gift is just mean. Like a dad who gets his kid a ball for christmas, but never finds the time to actually *play* ball with the kid. It would have been kinder not to give it to him in the first place. So, if you're clear and OK with what you're getting into, this is an empowering gift. It's empowering, because you are letting her have the tools, parts, and materials that grown-ups have: REAL stuff, of HER choosing.

Also, she has to realize that you have to approve her choices; there are things in the store which you will not let her choose. My son always wanted several feet of big heavy metal chain. The answer was ,"No." I shudder to think what he would have done (and wrecked) with it.

With her tweny dollars or whatever, she is empowered to **chose** -- she can look at everything in the store before deciding. And she might, literally. So, it might be good to go when they are not very busy, and be sure to eat and all that, first.

The hardware section alone will yield many treasures. She could choose some simple tool - say a screwdriver. Then she could get some screws. At home, you can help her screw them into a piece of wood, forming patterns. She can draw a picture first, then screw them in where she wants them.

Or, the same thing with her own little hammer, and different kinds of nails.

She could wind string around the screws she put in.

She could get hinges and screw those to things. She could make little doors.

She could get plastic-covered electrical wire and wire things together.

She could make a mobile out of her finds. She could chose ceramic tiles from the scrap bin and make a mosaic in the garden with them.

She could raid the color sample card rack in the paint department. Those are free. Then at home, she can cut those apart and rearrange them any way she likes. And do things with them that involve **glue**. Oooh!

The clerk in the wallpaper section will sometimes give you a book of discontinued wallpaper samples. You could get a piece of masonite, and she could cut those and you could help her wet and mount them - a giant collage.

She could get duct tape. .

She could get rolls of contact paper and cut it into shapes and stick it on things.

The sky is the limit! I bet if you do this, that she'll surprise you with what she thinks up to make.

Elaine Seid Marshall"

Thanks for letting me share this, Elaine!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

January 12th Event at Davidson Academy

The Davidson Academy of Nevada

January 12 Event for Prospective Students

On Saturday, January 12, 2008, The Davidson Academy will be hosting a special information session and campus tour for prospective students and their families. For details, please visit
or email

A free, public school for profoundly gifted pupils on the University of Nevada, Reno campus, The Davidson Academy of Nevada is seeking qualified students to apply for the 2008-2009 school year. The mission of The Davidson Academy is to provide profoundly gifted young people an advanced educational opportunity matched to their abilities, strengths and interests. The Academy is a non-residential, full-time day school and many families have relocated to Reno in order for their student(s) to attend.

To be eligible to attend The Davidson Academy, students must be at the middle or high school level across all subject areas and score in the 99.9^th percentile on IQ or college entrance tests, such as the SAT or ACT. The Academy is specifically designed to meet the needs of profoundly gifted middle and high school students, starting at the sixth grade level and beyond. For admission details, please visit

What Do You Need to Know Pre-AP English?

Fabulous, very detailed chart listing the skills that are needed prior to taking an AP English class. Covers 7th through 10th grade but can be adapted for any grade.

Pre-AP Skills Progression Chart

New Homeschool Forum

You are invited to join a new homeschooling forum.

Please feel free to browse and join the topics or conversations. This homeschooling forum is not location oriented. It is worldwide. We are not putting up a boundary, we want people from around the globe to participate and share their knowledge. This can be a great tool for learning cultural differences as well as every day lifestyles from
county to country to continent.

We welcome everyone and hope you will share you thoughts and ideas.

The Homeschooler Resource

What Do You Need to Learn Geometry?

Thanks to my friend Julie Knapp at the Homeschool Diner for this:

Here's an interesting look at the skills and level of understanding needed to learn formal highschool geometry.

High School Geometry: Why Is It So Difficult?

Note that Singapore Math DOES foster the higher-level geometric thinking they're talking about (I remember such lessons in level 5).

Christmas is Coming...

Believe it or not, I haven't even unpacked from the NAGC yet (yes, I know it's been three weeks, I've been busy!) so I have much more to tell you all from there. However, 'tis the season for gifts and December waits for no man (or woman)! From the Wisconsin Gifted Education e-list, plus some of our favorites, a list of websites and vendors you might check for gifts:

Lots of toys for good girls and boys
Mindware 800-999-0398
Bright Minds 800-641-6555
Learning Resources 888-489-9388
Live Science 800-951-0632
Young Explorers 800-866-3235
Hearth Song 800-533-4397
Edmund Scientific 800-728-6999
American Science & Surplus 888-724-7587
Discovery Channel Store 800-889-9950
For Small Hands 888-513-3998

Books for the gifted and about the gifted
Prufrock Press 800-998-2208
Cobblestone Press 800-821-0115
Free Spirit Press 800-735-7323

Curricula and Learning Resources
The Zephyr Catalog 800-232-2187
Really Good Stuff 800-366-1920
Classroom Direct 800-248-9171
Pieces of Learning 800-844-0455
Engine-uity 800-877-8718
Creative Learning Press 888-518-8004
A W Peller 800-451-7450
Teacher Created Resources 800-662-4321

You should also check out Hoagies. Carolyn K. has lots of links to cool websites on the left hand side of the page and if you link through her site, Hoagies gets a little toward keeping that fabulous resource alive! Merry Christmas to all!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How Vouchers Work in Sweden

John Crace of the Education Guardian visited Sweden recently to study their school system and find out why it's so much better than the British model.
"...Compulsory education starts at seven - though almost all parents send their kids to kindergarten or make other childcare provision before that age - and runs through to 16. There are no standard schools. Some take students the whole way through their compulsory education, others for only a part of it. Neither is there a fixed syllabus or curriculum; instead, the state sets out various goals in 19 different subjects that students are expected to reach within a fixed number of hours and it's up to each school how they go about teaching the material....
"...[T]he main reason Sweden has come to people's notice is the way it's funded. Each student comes with his or her own price tag and the state - or rather the municipality (ie the local education authority) has to pay. Within a few practical parameters, students may choose which school they want to go to and what programme they want to study, and the municipality has to oblige....
"...And it is this that has skewed the system. When the new funding model was introduced in 1994, the idea was to rebalance the system by opening up competition and choice. Schools that were oversubscribed must be doing something right, so they were free to expand; those that found they were losing numbers had to sharpen up or shrink. What no one anticipated, though, was just how much competition there would be. Thirteen years ago, independent schools were rare. Now they are everywhere. In Stockholm, there are 29 municipal higher secondary schools and 54 independents, and while the ratio isn't quite what it may seem as the independents tend to be a lot smaller, nearly half the city's 16- to 19-year-olds are educated in private schools. And the percentage is growing year on year as more and more independent schools open." ...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Watch the Sky, My Dear Watson

Comet Holmes, which mysteriously exploded three weeks ago, can still be seen without a telescope, according to Senior Science Writer Roy Britt at

"Holmes is still visible to the naked eye as a fuzzy star anytime after dark, high in the northeast sky. You can find it by using this sky map. It is faintly visible from cities, and from dark country locations is truly remarkable.

"Right now, in a dark sky it appears as a very noticeable circular cloud," said Joe Rao,'s Skywatching Columnist. Rao advises looking for the comet this weekend, before the moon becomes more of a factor. The comet will likely diminish in brightness yet remain visible for the next two to three weeks, he said.

"Over the next few weeks and months, the coma and tail are expected to expand even more while the comet will fade as the dust disperses," Stevenson and her colleagues write.

On Monday, Nov. 19, the comet will create a unique skywatching event with its see-through coma, according to the Web site "The comet will glide by the star Mirfak [also called Alpha Persei] and appear to swallow it—a sight not to be missed."

Check out the whole article for more info, links and graphics.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Apparently the Answer is E8, not 42

Sounds like a game of Battleship, but an umemployed theoretical physics Ph.D. has come up with a simple yet profound unifying Theory of Everything, succeeding where both Einstein, Stephen Hawking and Douglas Adams had failed. I don't pretend to understand either subatomic particles or the mathematics behind the E8 design (see article for a picture) but apparently his idea is elegant and testable, in ways in which many grand physics theories are not.

"Lisi's breakthrough came when he noticed that some of the equations describing E8's structure matched his own. "My brain exploded with the implications and the beauty of the thing," he tells New Scientist. "I thought: 'Holy crap, that's it!'"

Btw, "Holy Crap!" translated into Ancient Greek is "Eureka!" ;-)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Free Subscription to Gifted Education Quarterly

We are offering a complimentary copy of Gifted Education Press Quarterly Online. They would need to email me directly to receive our Twentieth Anniversary FALL 2007 Online issue. My email address is:

Thank you for your help!



Maurice Fisher, Ph.D.
Publisher, Gifted Education Press

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Laptops Lead to Higher Writing Test Scores

From the Boston Globe:

"Maine's program to give every middle school student a laptop computer is leading to better writing. 4real!

Despite creating a language all their own using e-mail and text messages, students are still learning standard English and their writing scores have improved on a standardized test since laptop computers were distributed, according to a new study.

And the students' writing skills improved even when they were using pen and paper, not just a computer keyboard, the study says." ...

You can read the entire article by clicking on the link above or see the raw data and study report from the University of Southern Maine by clicking here.

Perhaps handwriting really does get in the way of developing higher level writing skills.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Jack Versus the Possum

I don’t write much about another member of the family, Jack the Wonder Dog (as in “I wonder where that squirrel went?”). He’s a 7yo black lab, border collie mix. People say, “Oh, border collie. He must be pretty smart!” Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), Jack’s not much in the brains department. However, he is very earnest and very tolerant of being spun around on the linoleum and being chased by the hamster.

So, the other night, we pulled into the garage after taking the dog for a ride in the car to find an opossum on the handlebars of Xavier’s bike. It was the first time I’d ever seen a possum anywhere other than the side of the road. The animal froze—apparently the possum mothers tell their babies our vision is based on movement—and we tried to scare him away with the car horn and shouting at him out the window. No soap.

So we let the dog out of the car. Did he go directly to the possum? No, he went directly to the door into the house. DH and I start yelling, “Jack! Get the possum!” so Jack dutifully runs to the other side of the garage, sniffs the ground underneath the bike and runs out into the yard. The more we repeat, “Get the possum!” the more frantically Jack runs back and forth between the bike and the driveway. He looked like he might have actually scented something but his actions displayed a certain amount of two-dimensional thinking, as Spock would say.

Finally, Jack looks up, sees the possum and starts to bark. I start to wonder why all this yelling and barking hasn’t brought any boys to the door. We decide this is a teachable moment and get ready to go in to get the boys. As I look away, out of the corner of my eye, I see Jack take off toward the yard. The possum is gone, so fast I never saw him move.

Jack catches him in the front yard and the possum flops over “dead.” I call him off, as DH calls the boys to come see. He really looks dead. His back is contorted, his neck is at an odd angle and his mouth is open. We weren’t sure whether Jack had really hurt him or not. We wait, deciding what we should do next. Eventually, the possum literally lifts his head briefly to see if the coast is clear! Just like in Bugs Bunny!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Yet Another Reason Not to Send Your Kids to School

From the New York Times:

"Schools in Several States Report Staph Infections, and Deaths Raise the Alarm

SANDY SPRING, Md., Oct. 18 — When the football players here at Sherwood High School were not getting the message about washing their uniforms and using only their own jerseys, the school nurse paid a surprise visit to the locker room. She brought along a baseball bat.

“Don’t make me use this,” the nurse, Jenny Jones, said, pointing out that seven players on the team had already contracted a deadly drug-resistant strain of bacteria this year. “Start washing your hands,” she said. “I mean it.”

School officials around the country have been scrambling this week to scrub locker rooms, reassure parents and impress upon students the importance of good hygiene. The heightened alarm comes in response to a federal report indicating that the bacteria, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, are responsible for more deaths in the United States each year than AIDS.

MRSA (pronounced MEER-suh) is a strain of staph bacteria that does not respond to penicillin or related antibiotics, though it can be treated with other drugs. The infection can be spread by sharing items, like a towel or a piece of sports equipment that has been used by an infected person, or through skin-to-skin contact with an open wound.

On Wednesday and Thursday, scores of schools were closed and events were canceled in Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia as cleaning crews disinfected buses, lockers and classrooms. More closings are planned on Friday.

School officials in Mississippi, New Hampshire and Virginia reported student deaths within the past two weeks from the bacteria, while officials in at least four other states reported cases of students being infected. ..."

I know about MRSA. DH is a dermatologist after all, MRSA is a skin thing, and Klaus actually had a MRSA scalp infection of unknown origin when he was in 4th or 5th grade. Luckily, DH looked into it (or at it) and treated it, because I was not even considering taking Klaus to the doctor for it. I thought it was just a scratch.

The NYT article points out that 85% of MRSA cases are in health care settings, meaning you catch it when you're in the hospital spending large amounts of time around other sick people where the building hygiene is difficult to I the only one who thinks this description also sounds like a school? Anyone who has walked by a high school weight room knows the heat and humidity (not to mention the stench!) in there is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. And teenaged boys are not the most hygienic of creatures. Trust me on this, those of you with 5 hours a day showering daughters.

Now, I'm not in the habit of using scare tactics to encourage people to homeschool. Homeschooling isn't the best choice for every family. And MRSA can be transmitted by family members. But I am alarmed at the idea of putting my kids' health in the hands of other kids (like with MRSA) or other parents (like the large numbers of parents who are refusing to vaccinate their children. We actually had a whooping cough outbreak in our city two years ago. If everyone had been appropriately vaccinated, pertussis would be a non-issue, like smallpox.)

So if your child is in a public school or daycare setting, keep an eye on any open wounds, make sure they're treated with antibiotic ointment and keep them covered. If you see any cuts that aren't healing like they should (within a week), please, see a doctor. That goes for everybody.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Books for Breakfast

When I was first beginning to plan homeschooling for the boys, I read a lot of "this is our typical day" articles and blog entries. Several of them included, "Well, I read to the children during breakfast." Sounds great, I thought, but morning is not my friend and breakfast for me has always been something to skip or scrounge for before doing something else. Now I was going to have to not only provide breakfast, but make it a learning opportunity, too? I don't think so.

That was last year, when it took at least several pokes to get Wolfie out of bed and Xavier had no interest in books at all. This year, I wanted to broaden Xavier's horizons. He was reading books of his choice on his own but they were mostly for kids a grade or two younger than he is. He's always up bright and early (gets that from DH) so I thought I'd get a book he'd like written at a higher level as we could read some in the mornings while waiting for Wolfie to get out of bed.

I bought What-The-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy by Gregory Maguire. I'd read Wicked a couple years ago and thought this might be up Xavier's alley, and it was written as commercial fiction for adults, so at about an 8th-grade level.

An amazing thing happened. Not only did Xavier enjoy the book and being read to, but Wolfie started getting out of bed the first time I called so he could hear the story, too! Don't get me wrong, he still stumbles downstairs and curls up in a fetal position on the couch, but he also listens to the story and eats some breakfast and is ready to work when we're done reading. It's a miracle! LOL

We're currently reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, a young adult novel by Sherman Alexie. I think Xavier could probably have read this on his own but I'm enjoying sharing it with the both of them. Coming up are probably The Hobbit and Book 1 of the Fire Thief series, a "hilarious reimagining of the myth of Prometheus" by Terry Deary, creator of the Horrible Histories Books.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Romanes Eunt Domus

Finally, a Wiki for the Romans. Yes, Wikipedia comes in many, many languages, including a couple of dead ones. For the Latin speakers and Centurion-wannabes, Vicipaedia covers topics from architecture to beer pong. Editor Josh Rocchio explained to Lee Gomes, journalist for the Wall Street Journal: "Latin isn't dead, it just smells funny." SPQR!

Knit Your Own Bacteria

How's this for a great geeky project? For knitters young and old, has published directions to Knit Your Own Bacteria. I don't know anything about knitting but the project doesn't look too difficult even for younger crafty bio-fans. The non-crafty can always buy their favorite plush Giant Microbes from ThinkGeek or various other places on the web. Google is practically infected with them! (And all the readers groan and remove this link from their favorite bookmarks)

Thanks to Julie Knapp at the Homeschool Diner (see link at left) for turning me on to this one!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

I Learned How to Pronounce Words in Jamaica, Mon!

I found this kids website from the BBC the other day. It has educational games for English and Maths (which is British for math) for early elementary students. I tried several of the games and found them quite fun. The most fun part for me was called Space Spins. When you pull a virtual lever, a sentence appears on the screen and is read aloud to you, in a very strong West Indies accent! Wha? The idea is to learn to read, I believe, but the story reader is the only voice on the program that speaks anything other than Received Pronunciation. So why is the vocabulary program speaking like Miss Cleo? Who knows, but it's hilarious!

Just What is Standards-Based Learning?

And can it be implemented in the public schools? The answer to the second question is yes, according to Alaska's Chugach School District. As you can see in the Edutopia article, rather than grades, Chugach students have "tote around report cards as thick as history texts. Each packet details the individual student's progress through the district's more than 1,000 learning standards as they move from kindergarten to high school graduation." Once students have mastered all the concepts in the standards, they graduate, whether they're 16 or 22.

Answering the first question second, standards-based education is when individual student's achievement is measured against a standard (duh), usually set by the state or local board of education. The most familiar instance for most people would be high school graduation requirements--4 years of English, three years of math, etc. etc. But even those "standards," measured in years, are rewards for seat time rather than learning.

This is an issue for all kids, not just the gifted. Anyone can do the bare minimum amount of homework, score averagely on tests and mostly sit in the back of the classroom doodling or passing notes and accumulate three years of seat time in math classes (BTDT). Allowing children to do that (or, in the case of gifted children, expecting them to do that) is a great disservice.

Some of the greatest thinkers of our time, like Tom Magliozzi from Car Talk, are starting to realize that the way we teach needs to change. Read his New Theory of Education rant. He actually goes a step further than external standards/benchmarks and suggests that learning should be tailored to every learner, as the best way to make people want to learn is for them to be interested in the subject they're learning in the first place. Though he's still speaking in terms of school, his ideas are edging perilously (some might say) close to the unschooling philosophy, where all learning is interest-based.

It would be difficult to turn all public schools into tailored-learning centers. However, there are current standards that teachers have to address in their lessons. I think if the school boards were more upfront about what the standards are, the kids would be able to decide how to meet them while pursuing their own interests, guided by the teacher, rather than being led by the nose or, worse, ignoring him/her altogether.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Balderdash & Blokus on the Block

Many thanks to B&B for leading me to her blog Balderdash & Blokus (two of my favorite games, btw). She's got great resources for projects and info in many subject areas, like this groovy site for making Chocolate Asphalt and using it to study civil engineering. I'll be checking there often. :D

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Turning Halo 3 into School

I have been accused of turning everything into school. That is part of my job as a homeschooling mom--interpreting what the boys do in terms of school so Dad and the virtual charter we work with understand it. Halo 3 was released today, so the boys finished their lessons early enough to get busy with the other 118,000 people currently online.

On one of the screens, there was a global map light up to show where everyone was playing. The half the US from the Central Time Zone east was completely lit. So I asked the boys why there was relatively little activity west of here. It didn't take them long to figure out school is still in session in the Mountain and Pacific time zones.

We saw few players in continental Europe (where it's getting pretty late) but three hot spots right in the Baghdad/Kuwait area. Our men and women in uniform working out with Master Chief? That's my guess, although I haven't found any news reports about it. Our soldiers in Iraq did get to try out the Halo 3 Beta last Christmas, so I wouldn't be surprised if they got their own shipments of the game.

It just goes to show that even a video game like Halo can become a lesson in map-reading, and the boys didn't even notice! LOL

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sandhill Crane Family from Florida, Great Pictures!

"One of our Sand Hill Crane couples recently had an exciting addition to their family. When they built their nest near the water's edge it immediately drew attention of passers by. Soon there were two eggs sitting on top of the nest and the mother on top of them.

Those of us who were really curious passed by the site every morning and we would stop our cars to get out and see if there were any new cranes yet. Many brought cameras of all shapes and sizes and would stand near the water for long periods of time hoping to catch a photo of the hatching.

Robert Grover, a dentist, didn't actually catch the birth but, he sure did capture some fabulous shots of the Momma, Papa and baby (the second egg never hatched). Then he put together a slide show with music that is just too good to not share it.

Click on the link below and then "start slide show"; enjoy!! Nice music too!"

Can You Crawl through an Index Card?

This guy can! Watch how he does it at

I'm Calling Them Laurel and Hardy

DH found a couple of parsley worms/black swallowtail butterfly caterpillars on his parsley yesterday. He brought them in intending to experiment on them (!) or at least observe them for a bit and let them go, but I decided we're going to raise them. So now they're sitting in our 2.5 gal aquarium with a couple of sticks and several stalks of parsley. You would not believe how much these things eat! I mean, I understand they're fattening up to overwinter in hibernation and all, but the amount of poop (called "frass") they produced in the fifteen minutes it took me to find an appropriate home for them was prodigious.

They were pretty much identical yesterday but today one is fatter than the other, so I've named them Laurel and Hardy. Hardy does nothing but eat. Laurel's been climbing the tacky glue at the corners of the aquarium to the mesh roof (very handy to have an aquarium with a top!) and now crawling across it. I'm not sure if he's trying to get out, thinks DH's nearby orchids look tasty or if he's looking for a place to pupate, but they're pretty funny to watch. Caterpillars eat leaves one row at a time, like an ear of corn, or a weed-whacker.

For info on how to raise black swallowtail or monarch butterflies, check out

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Tomorrow is National Talk Like a Pirate Day!

And we almost forgot! ARRGGGHHHH! Luckily we were doing some pirate madlibs today and I suddenly realized it was nearing the 19th... Nonetheless, we will be flying our pirate flag (which happens to be the colors of Calico Jack Rackham according to the Dangerous Book for Boys) and wearing our pirate kit tomorrow. I expect all ye scallywags'll be doin' likewise!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Gifted Kids' Bill of Rights

Incoming president of the NAGC, Dr. Del Siegle, has written a Gifted Children's Bill of Rights as his introductory president's column in this month's Parenting for High Potential. My favorite part is the first one:

"Gifted children have a right to know about their giftedness

Parents and teachers are often reluctant to talk with children about their giftedness for a variety of reasons. Parents may not be sure what it means to be gifted or how their children became gifted. They may worry that giving children information about their identifications as gifted causes them to feel superior or elitest. How we talk with children about their giftedness can have a dramatic impact on the way they view themselves and the daily challenges they face. Children need to understand that giftedness is not something that was bestowed upon them. While it is true the gifted students often acquire skills more quickly and easily than their peers, gifted children do learn these skills over time. They may have taught themselves to read, or learned to read esaily at an early age, but they still learned to read. It is important for gifted children to recognize that the talents they possess are acquired, they had something to do with acquiring them, and they are capable of further devloping these talents and even acquiring new ones. They need to learn to take responsibility for developing their gifts. They need to understand that having to work hard does not mean they are not gifted and that working hard can even make them more gifted."

All you parents and teachers of gifted kids out there, embroider this into samplers and post it on the schoolhouse door. You can't be gifted in math until someone teaches you how to count. You can't be verbally gifted, unless someone, probably a lot of people, talk to you and read to you and answer your questions. I encourage everyone to find a copy of Dr. Siegle's complete essay. It's fabulous.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Trevor Wins Hamster Ball Derby!

Xavier's hamster, otherwise known as Magical Trevor, won the Hamster Ball Derby at our local Petco yesterday. We were very excited because at the time of the last derby, held last March, Trevor wouldn't go anywhere near humans. Everytime we tried to pick him up or move him to clean his cage, he'd dive down a tube and stay there until we left. And he didn't get any exercise either, because he kept nesting in his wheel.

Then Dad got the brilliant idea to move him into a smaller cage with no access to the "Petting Zone" up top or tubes to hide in. Quickly he got bored of 1.5 sq. ft of living space and we introduced him to the hamster ball concept. Now he runs for 2-3 hours a night, goes down stairs on purpose, including all the way down to the basement if someone leaves the door open. (Don't worry, people. He's heavy and skilled enough that it's a controlled one-stair-at-a-time descent. We've watched him.) If you try to take him out of the ball before he's tired, he refuses to leave. And he loves to chase the dog.

Given that he's more of a marathoner (the Derby training info said to get him to practice every other day for fifteen whole minutes), we weren't sure how he'd do at the Derby, which is more of a sprint. We practiced a little bit in the aquarium aisle to get him used to running away from Sam and toward me. I think he was the only hamster in a field of 14 who consistently ran in the right direction. (So heartbreaking when they'd get halfway down the track, stop and turn back!)

So he won an oval-shaped HamTrac, a blue ribbon, some coupons and bragging rights as the fastest hamster in town, at least for another six months. Xavier is going to enter him in the county fair through 4H next year, so I think this project is off to a good start.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

What's in a Name?

There's been a lot of beginning of the school year buzz about the term "gifted" and whether we should use it, use a euphemism like "high ability," or whether we should be labeling our children at all. In my experience as a gifted child and as parent of gifted children, "labeling" a child gifted is not the problem. The problem is acknowledging that the child has special needs by naming those needs, and then ignoring the special needs the name implies. Gifted kids know they're different, just like kids with Down syndrome, dyslexia or cerebral palsy know they're different. The label is a short hand way to acknowledge which differences affect them. For further discussion of which label to use, check out Tamara Fisher's new blog for Teacher Magazine Unwrapping the Gifted. (registration may be required but it's free.)

I'd also like to point out that while chldren on the special ed end of the learning spectrum do not have to continually prove that they still deserve accomodation, gifted kids are constantly having their eligibility for gifted status threatened. That is not fair. Mensa accepts new members based on one qualifying test score at any time in the applicant's life. Hit that 98%ile just once and you're eligible for life, whether you're 7, 17 or 77.

In contrast, my oldest son scored in the 99.9%ile in second grade, but received few gifted services in elementary school and no gifted services in middle school because his grades weren't high enough. (He was re-tested on different instruments at 12 and 15 and while his scores did drop a bit, he's still 98%ile, so his aptitude has been stable over time.) Turns out he's also ADD and had been using his giftedness to compensate like mad all this time. I can't tell you how relieved we were to get that label! Finally we had an explanation for his apparent inability to keep track of a band practice sheet for an entire week and his other academic quirks. And because of the label, we could get some accomodation from the schools to help him perform to the best of his ability. This is why I think labeling is a good thing.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Same Train, Different Track

An op-ed in today's EducationGuardian suggests that "Employers' attitudes towards today's teenagers mean that the mature, conscientious and smart are held back." I had hoped this would be a story supporting Robert Epstein's thesis that we are babying our teens too much.

Sixteen-year-old author Charlotte Lytton writes: "It seems that nothing is ever good enough in today's society; we're a nation obsessed by perfection and not even the best seems acceptable anymore. GCSEs are an example of this fixation. Not only are there news reports seemingly daily about how easy they are, but it seems they count for nothing when 16-year-olds decide to venture out into the working world." (links are mine)

But apparently Charlotte thinks we're not babying our teens enough. Colin Willman of the Federation of Small Business (FSB) says in the article on behalf of employers that "The skills that businesses need from school leavers are literacy, numeracy, punctuality, communication skills and an ability to be well-presented."

Charlotte fires back, "But when are we supposed to learn all of these additional skills for the world of work? From reading the papers, it seems pupils are working their socks off at school to be met with disgruntled employers who sack them because they turn up for work five minutes late or their shirt isn't tucked in. After a six-hour school day that can sometimes include double history and mathematics, when do they expect kids to learn the protocol of the work place?"

As much as I sympathize with her schedule, if she's taking double history and mathematics, she should already have the literacy and numeracy skills necessary to babysit or flip burgers. Showing up to work on time with your shirt tucked in should be common sense, something you learn at home, not an additional class. While I agree that many, if not most, teens are much more capable than we let them be, I don't agree that we should lower our expectations of teenaged workers.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Then Why Call Them "Young Adults?"

And I thought reading diaries and secretly drug-testing your own teen was bad. A couple of articles about the infantilization of human children crossed my desk yesterday. On the one hand, in the Mar/Apr 2007 issue of Psychology Today, psychologist Robert Epstein says, "Imagine what it would feel like—or think back to what it felt like—when your body and mind are telling you you're an adult while the adults around you keep insisting you're a child. This infantilization makes many young people angry or depressed, with their distress carrying over into their families and contributing to our high divorce rate. It's hard to keep a marriage together when there is constant conflict with teens.

We have completely isolated young people from adults and created a peer culture. We stick them in school and keep them from working in any meaningful way, and if they do something wrong we put them in a pen with other "children." In most nonindustrialized societies, young people are integrated into adult society as soon as they are capable, and there is no sign of teen turmoil. Many cultures do not even have a term for adolescence. But we not only created this stage of life: We declared it inevitable. In 1904, American psychologist G. Stanley Hall said it was programmed by evolution. He was wrong."

On the same day, I read this in London's EducationGuardian: "A school uniform maker said yesterday it was "seriously considering" adding tracking devices to its clothes after a survey found many parents would be interested in knowing where their offspring were. ...

Clare Rix, the marketing director, said: "As well as being a safety net for parents, there could be real benefits for schools who could keep a closer track on the whereabouts of their pupils, potentially reducing truancy levels."

No comments on whether this would increase adolescent anger toward the parents, but common sense says it will. And I'm not sure I agree that teen angest is the cause of the high divorce rate, but are there really parents out there who have no idea who (yes, I mean "who") their "young adults" are and what they are doing? I suppose I may have been blessed with hyper-responsible teens, but it would never occur to me to put a tracking device in my child's clothing, nor would I allow the school to do it for help with "truancy issues." If we want children to grow up to be responsible adults, we need to give them responsibility (appropriate to their age, of course) and treat them with respect, not do everything for them until they're 30, then push them out the window into adulthood.

DH and I were just discussing this with regard to Klaus' first week at college. DH has emailed him half a dozen times and then got mad when he didn't get an instant answer. I reminded him we need to stop micromanaging the boy (although the boy does need more micromanaging than some because of the ADD). Then I told him there is nothing more demoralizing than being about to take some initiative or to handle something on your own, and then your parent tells you to do that very thing.

For example, "Hm, I think I'll take the dog for a walk to get some exercise," thinks Wolfie, feeling very grownup and responsible. "Why don't you take the dog for a walk?" yells Mom as he's hooking up the dog's collar in the other room. Now walking the dog is a chore and Wolfie doesn't want to do it anymore. The passive-aggressive thing to do is to pretend you didn't hear, walk into the room where Mom is and announce you're taking the dog for a walk and what did she say? But that just leaves you feeling bitter and untrusted. Better for Mom and Dad to follow up sparingly, if at all, and let the kids surprise us with their ability to be responsible.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Klaus' First Day at College

Originally uploaded by Jessica_Mah
We dropped the boy off last Saturday with much wailing, moaning and gnashing of teeth (on the parents' part, not his). He was so excited he woke up at 4am. He sounds like he really likes it, at least he did the last time I talked to him.

Klaus, if you read this, call your mother!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Current History

Many people believe that history only happens to dead people--it's all dusty books and talking heads from long, long ago, too long ago to be relevant to what is happening today. Not true.

No, this isn't going to be a "those who do not learn from history" speech. I just want to point out, as a recent AP article has done, that every big news story is our history. The 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis is just as much a part of our history as 9/11 and World War II.

So, in the spirit of saving first person accounts of current history, this is the email I got from the Goddess of Asphalt in Minneapolis on August 8, 2007, with her take on the bridge collapse:

"This is a link to a livejournal page. It has some of the most heart stopping photos of our crumbled bridge. It also shows how many ordinary citizens came to help. It makes me sad that the press is looking for a scapegoat and calling us Minnesotans that go to places like the Stone Arch Bridge "Gawkers". I was there yesterday and it had the air of a funeral. Some people cried, some prayed and many just stood in disbelief. There were flowers, messages and a solitary American Flag.

I think Minnesotans need a place to mourn and take in the enormity of what has happened. It is really hard to get your mind around. I work in the construction industry and it is hard for me to comprehend. This bridge was 2000 ft long, 6 lanes wide, not including the breakdown lanes. The World Trade center towers were each about 1,368 ft tall, so this is a LOT of concrete, steel and rebar.

We have confirmation that there are 80 vehicles in the water, on the crumpled decks and on the parts that have not completely fallen. Considering that our injured topped 100 and the fatalities will probably be under 20, we were very very lucky.

Thanks to all of you for your calls and emails seeing if I was ok and if my friends were ok. It made a horrible situation easier to take knowing I had all of you there.

The commentary [on the linked page] is in Russian, but I went to and got a rough translation:

"On August, 1st at 18:10 on local time (03:00 Moscow time) in Minneapolis the bridge through Mississipi has fallen. On preliminary data were lost 9 person (on specified on today's evening - 4 persons), 20 are considered gone. In the river have appeared about 50 cars. The governor of state Tim ïîëåíòè has told, that in the school bus which went at this time on the bridge, there were 60 children, some of them are wounded.

On the bridge constructed in 1967, repair work were spent. The length of a design made 160 meters, height above water - about 20 meters. In day the bridge served up to 2000 thousand cars."

A Note From Horrible Ray

"If you're interested in more Horrible Books or Galore Park Books, I'll be doing another Galore Park / Horrible Books Order on September 9, 2007, with all the gory details at :

Thanks, and all the best,


For those of you unfamiliar with Horrible Books, my review is here. Galore Park is another UK series aimed at the middle school set, which covers foreign language (including Latin and Greek), history (not US, of course), geography and other subject British children are expected to learn. I have not see the Galore Park books, but if Ray think they're good enough to import with the Horribles, that's good enough for me.

Can Kids Run the World Better Than Adults?

That's the question behind Kid Nation, a new reality show where 40 kids, aged 8-15, try their hands at running a New Mexican ghost town "with no parents or teachers" (although I presume the cameramen and producers are all adults). Click the link above to see the promo and learn more about the kids. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that most of the kids want to be actors--why else put yourself through a New Mexico summer with no indoor plumbing? The show airs beginning September 19.

Monday, August 13, 2007

August is the Cruellest Month

I beg to differ with T.S. Eliot, but August is much more cruel than April. We are now at the point where we've bought everything we can carry for Klaus' dorm room. He's registered for classes, had his physical and paid (at least part) of his tuition. So all we have to do is wait.

And wait.
It's too early to pack.

And wait.
It's too early to say goodbyes.

And wait.
But it's too late to change your mind.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Hold That Thought!

Does talking with your hands reflect mastery of a concept, or help students gain mastery of a concept? According to the Washington Post: "Teachers who use gestures as they explain a concept -- such as the hand sweeps that [grad student Susan] Cook uses to emphasize an equation's symmetry -- are more successful at getting their ideas across, research has shown. And students who spontaneously gesture as they work through new ideas tend to remember them longer than those who do not move their hands.

Now Cook's work with elementary schoolchildren is helping to find out whether the gesturing done spontaneously by many quick learners is simply a reflection of the fact that they are "getting it" or is actively helping them learn. ...

"Everyone gestures," said Cook, a postdoctoral student at the University of Rochester, deferring at first on the Italian question. "People start gesturing before they can talk, and they keep gesturing for their entire lives."

Even blind people gesture when they talk, as do people chatting on telephones -- proof that gesturing is not necessarily for the person who is listening."

I find this interesting not only because I constantly talk with my hands, but also because of a recent article I've read regarding study of Al Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language, a sophisticated gesture language created by and used only in the town of Al Sayyid in Israel's Negev desert, a town with a large percentage of congenitally deaf inhabitants. The language seems to have developed on it's own in the last 70 years, presumably when the number of deaf people reached some sort of critical mass, and is quickly being replaced by official Israeli Sign Language as the Al Sayyid children go to school outside the village.

It makes intuitive sense to me that gesturing is a vital component of learning and communicating. That's really the point of taking lecture notes, isn't it? Using the physical movement of the writing hand to help cement the concept you're already getting by ear and, hopefully, eye? And what a boon for the VSL student if all teachers are trained to use appropriate gesture along with their lessons!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Oceans of Fun

Have a budding marine biologist? Are your earth science students tired of building baking soda volcanoes? Have I got a deal for you! OceansLive, a collaboration between the National Geographic Society and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) has a series of twelve lesson plans and accompanying short videos free for the download.

From the site: "The 12 lesson plans and complimentary short videos were developed in collaboration with National Geographic Society's Oceans for Life program. All of the lesson plans are directly aligned with National Science Education Standards, National Geography Standards and the Ocean Literacy Essential Principles and Fundamental Concepts. Through a multi-media approach, Oceans for Life inspires ocean literacy and conservation through national marine sanctuaries and promotes bringing the ocean and environment into America's classrooms."

How cool is that? :D

Ocean literacy is at least as important (and spectacular) as volcanos, considering 2/3rds of the Earth is covered in water and we are just beginning to find out what we don't know about the seas. Plus it's a natural link to the study of history (pirates, anyone?) and literature (Two Years Before the Mast, Moby Dick, etc.) I have been looking for oceanography resources and haven't found much, so you can be sure we'll be using these at my house.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

New "Our Gifted" Online Conference August 10-12

Our Gifted & Talented Online Conferences (OGTC) is proud to present the following free online conference:

Lynne Kelly Aug 10-12, 2007

"Practical Curriculum Extension for Gifted Students"

Well designed extension material can offer qualitatively different learning experiences which address the unique abilities of gifted students. By being available through the school network or on local computers in every classroom, any time a student has demonstrated mastery of the class work, the teacher can offer them the enrichment material then and there. No student should ever be bored! By compacting the class work, students find they can tune in and out of what is happening in the classroom, thus maximizing their learning in the given time. A flexible compaction/extension model enables schools and home schools to implement a wide-ranging gifted program in a practical format.

Lynne Kelly has worked with gifted students for over 25 years specialising in curriculum development for mathematics, science and cross curricular themes. The author of 13 books and the Enrichment Units for the Middle Years (EUMY) suite, she has established online enrichment programs used in six countries.

To join OGTOC and participate in this conference, simply go to our Yahoo! Group Homepage, click on "Join this group" and follow the instructions to obtain a free Yahoo! ID and join the group. Hope to see you there!

This information can be forwarded to anyone to invite them to become a member :)

300: Boys and Ancient History

Last week marked the long awaited (at least at my house) release of the DVD version of 300, the Frank-Miller-based epic about the Greek stand against the Persians at Thermopylae. This is one I previewed before deciding whether Wolfie and Xavier could see it (see my previous post about Movie Mom) because the other Frank-Miller-based movie I saw Sin City gave me nightmares. One look at the naked, writhing and historically inaccurate "Delphic oracle" was enough to make them wait for the DVD. (We just skip the naughty bits.)

Why am I telling you this? Two reasons: first, because the release of 300 on DVD seemed to be kind of underplayed and second, because I think there is some value to using this noninteractive video game to hook middle school boys on ancient history. Victor David Hanson writes in History and the Movie "300":

"Recently, a variety of Hollywood films — from Troy to Alexander the Great — has treated a variety of themes from classical Greek literature and theater. But 300 is unique, a sui generis in both spirit and methodology. The script is not an attempt in typical Hollywood fashion to recreate the past as a costume drama. Instead it is based on Frank Miller’s (of Sin City fame) comic book graphics and captions. Miller’s illustrated novelette of the battle adapts themes loosely from the well-known story of the Greek defense, but with deference made to the tastes of contemporary popular culture.

So the film is indeed inspired by the comic book; and in some sense its muscular warriors, virtual reality sets, and computer-generated landscapes recall the look and feel of Robert Rodriquez’s screen version of Sin City. Yet the collaboration of Director Zack Snyder and screenwriters Kurt Johnstad and Michael Gordon is much more of a hybrid, since the script, dialogue, cinematography, and acting all recall scenes of the battle right from Herodotus’s account."

These swords-and-sandals epics can be useful to bring middle and high school boys into the world of history. The History Channel often has "the real story" documentaries that air about the time the movie debuts, like "The Last Stand of the 300", which will be on again on August 12. There is also a critical analysis component if you read and watch various accounts of these ancient battles. History is a slippery thing, often written by the victors to show a particular point of view, resurrected in times of crisis to reflect ourselves. (In Iraq, are we the Spartans or the Persians?) History and historical epics allow us to identify and wrestle with these ideas.

Just When You Think Your Gifted Child Might Not Be So Gifted

The new list of Davidson Fellows is published. Damn. My kids haven't used traditional Indian medicine to clear Pseudomonas infections or performed at Carnegie Hall or nuthin'. These kids are making the rest of us look bad!

As Xavier would say, "Jealous much?"

Seriously, though. Congratulations to all of the 2007 Davidson Fellows. Your accomplishments take my breath away.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Facts on Fiction

Picking books for young gifted kids can be difficult. Just because a child can read at a high school level doesn't mean he or she is ready for "edgy" young adult books. So gifted parents have to either read everything before giving it to their children (Ha! Try keeping up with them!), or trust someone else--the librarian, the Caldecott committee or some other book reviewer--to determine what is or is not too frightening for your child.

Movie review sites like Movie break down questionable movies by counting profanities, incidents of violence (cartoonish or otherwise), nudity/sex, use of alcohol or drugs. When my kids were in 4th and 5th grade and wanted to go to a PG-13 movie, I used Movie Mom frequently to make those decisions. Books did not have a similar resource until now.

Facts on Fiction is a nonprofit book review database that does for chapter books what Movie Mom does for movies. Take Dickens' A Christmas Carol, for instance. If you click here you can find FoF's evaluation of the mature subject matter in the story.

What I like best is that if you click Click Here for More Details at the bottom of the screen, it shows you exactly what the reviewer considered a reference to death, with page number and citation. That's true transparency. This is not an attempt at censorship. It's really a way for parents to search by title or reading level and then honestly evaluate if that reference to "suicide" is going to be too much for Junior or if it's just Tom Sawyer pretending he drowned so Aunt Polly won't punish him.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Fruit Flies Like a Banana

The summer is two-thirds over already. (As Groucho Marx once observed, "Times flies like an arrow, fruit flies..." Well, I already gave that one away in the title, didn't I?) And it's about this time that a young teacher's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of school. Except for those unschoolers and year-round schoolers out there, in which case, Carry on!

But I wanted to offer some support for the public school refugees, myself included, who may be wondering if they did the right thing pulling their child out of school because all he did was lay on the couch and whine. Surely things would be better if they went to school at least part of the day so someone else had to listen to the whining? Take heart, my friends. You are still on the right path.

Here's the thing: there is a concept called "deschooling". Generally it means that you need to get the schoolish thinking out of your head before you can relearn how to learn or how to teach or how to behave. The rule of thumb is that it takes one month for every year of public school to learn the difference between school and learning.

It's kind of like your kids are public school junkies. Deschooling is the withdrawal period and like drug withdrawal it can be painful for the junkie and painful to watch. Your kids lie around and whine because they are used to someone telling them what to do, what to learn and how to behave. Without that constant supervision, they don't know what to do with themselves. You can see this over summer vacation, sometimes, too. Along about August there is much whining about how bored they are. They can't think of anything to do because they're used to being told what to do, but they don't want to do anything you suggest because they resent being told what to do.

So what to do? Plug your ears with cotton balls and wait them out. Seriously. Support any reasonable request for an activity (boy, have I been playing a lot of board games lately!). Do an art or craft project by yourself in full view. Read in full view. Not "Oh hey, look what I'm doing!" manipulative, but because you genuinely want to learn something. The kids will come around.

An example: we signed up for 4H last winter as a way to get out the house, do some service learning and other enrichment kinds of things. The boys refused to sign up for any project other than archery and they refused to participate in the county fair. I thought the prize money might entice Xavier, but he was adamant. So, they didn't submit anything for the fair. Wolfie took part in the dog project training but didn't take Jack the Wonder Dog to the dog show.

I didn't push them to do anything and at this point, Wolfie is really digging on the 4H thing. He's got a number of projects he is thinking about taking next year. And this is the boy who told me last fall that "project" was a four-letter word. Coincidentally, this change in thinking happened about seven months after we started homeschooling. So even though we didn't technically deschool, he still came around. Xavier's still somewhat truculent, but then again, he's a twelve-year-old boy.

So unless your whiny student is twelve, have faith that your homeschooling decision is still the right one and your student will come around (even the 12-year-olds eventually get older). If you're getting a lot of resistance, just lay back and deschool completely for awhile. Whatever you do, don't let the kid con you into creating school at home. Homeschooling is better because it's different than school, remember? So put away the school bell and the ruler and pull out the Mentos and Diet Coke!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Just Where Are Those Wild Things?

There's an interesting essay at Education World called One Teacher's Pitch to Be Emperor of Education. Chemistry teacher Dr. Richard Chempleau's "first two imperial acts would be to fire one-third of American teachers and then to give every parent a one-question quiz."

"Next, every parent of a 2-year old would have a one-question quiz, and they'd all have to take it at the same instant. I know too much about cheating, of course. The question would be "One Fish, Two Fish"? Any parent who didn't write "Red Fish, Blue Fish" would be required to sign a Universal Release of Liability and Parental Promise Not to Whine Statement. Parents who can't spout Dr. Seuss or Mother Goose, but who can name ten movie stars, professional sports players, or rock idols, are ruining their child's future.

They can't give their children the first four years of life in an impoverished educational environment, then expect the schools to fix all of their mistakes. A parent is the first and most important teacher their children will ever know, but most parents never spend that magical time with their child on the sofa. The TV should be off, the book is open, and their child is captured for life by the rhythm of a nursery rhyme. Four years watching reruns or ball games hardwires the future student to expect entertainment, not education, from 12 years of school."

Read to your kids, folks. From the day you bring them home from the hospital to the day they ask you to stop. It doesn't matter if you think they're too young to understand the words. You're building a bond between you that will last a lifetime and starting their education out on the right foot, too.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Chess Programs for Kids

From the Educational Options newsletter:

"Online chess academy for kids:
We have noticed locally there is quite a bit of interest in chess, with clubs, open game nights at bookstores, summer camps and tournaments. Now we have recently found an interesting website, chessKIDS Academy. Webmaster Richard James, of the United Kingdom, has written and co-written several books and magazine columns about the subject, and he has taught children how to play chess since the 1970s.

This website is packed with free online interactive lessons, quizzes and games for kids, computers to play against, and more."

Other options are online: FICS The Free Internet Chess Server and ChessBase
Software: Fritz and Chesster CD

It's Official!

Klaus admitted today that he does want to go to Simon's Rock, so we've sent in his deposit and begun the process of figuring out how we're going to pay for this, cancelling fall classes we'd already signed him up for, scheduling a physical, etc. etc. etc. before August 17th.

Getting college plans finalized in April is much easier than July. Of course, Klaus has a history of drastically changing his schooling plans at the last minute, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised. I rather feel like we've not only changed horses midstream but changed from a horse to a horseless carriage. Let's hope the engine isn't flooded!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Going Away to College

The Universe is trying to tell me something. The same day Klaus got the acceptance to Simon's Rock, the London Guardian ran this story about the disadvantages of living at home during college:

""Young people who live at home with their parents are less likely to undertake optional work placements as part of their degree, less likely to undertake graduate level jobs on graduation, less likely to socialise with their fellow students because they remain in their pre-university social groups, and more likely to feel isolated from their peer group at university," says ERS director Sarah Parkinson."

You can read all the details here. I have to say, it makes sense to me. When I went to Northwestern and lived in the dorms, I made lots of friends, many of whom I'm still in contact with. When I transferred to Michigan and lived off-campus with my fiancee-then-husband, my social ties and university ties became much weaker.

Klaus Has Been Accepted to College!

We found out two days ago that Klaus has been accepted to Simon's Rock College of Bard. Yay Klaus! This acceptance has been a long time coming. He applied in January for their merit scholarship but wasn't eligible because his grades tanked the previous semester, so we rolled over to the regular admissions process. Apparently they were waiting to see his second semester grades. (We're still working on finishing up second semester.)

It turns out that, even though college starts one month from now (ACK!), the timing of the acceptance couldn't have been better. Klaus just got back from three weeks of "college lite" at CTD-Northwestern University, where he took an honors course on Public Speaking and Debate, lived in the dorm, dealt with the roommate from hell, did his own laundry and tasted a little freedom. Surrounded by intellectual peers, he says he "learned how to teach myself," which is fabulous. From what I can tell, Simon's Rock would be a step up from CTD--similar atmosphere but juggling several classes instead of just one.

So, whereas we would have said, "Thanks, but no thanks" to Simon's Rock in April or May, this week, Klaus is actually considering it and seems to be leaning towards going. DH and I are trying not to let our "losing our little boy" feelings influence him to stay home for our sake. Simon's Rock is a thousand miles away, but it's such a great opportunity for him. I hope he decides to go.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Homeschool Co-op Online

Get free and discounted curriculum from the Homeschool Buyers Co-op. Membership is free. Current group buys include CyberEd Plato Science interactive software, which I'm considering for Klaus and Wolfie to use with Chemistry this year. These programs are usually unavailable to individual homeschoolers. The Co-op has offered to sponsor the program for their members. They have links to other deals for homeschoolers and free curriculum as well. Check it out!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Elitism and the Struggling Student

The heterogeneous classroom has been all the rage for the last 10+ years. Mixing children of all abilities into a single class allows social and intellectual benefits, proponents say. Struggling students see those of greater ability as role models and mentors. Gifted children learn to deal with and value those whose abilities don't match theirs. Utopia in the classroom!

Bah! I say. And anyone who has been in a heterogeneous classroom would say the same. Think about it. Remember that one smart kid who always had his hand up before the teacher even finished asking the question? Was he a role model? No, he was Teacher's Pet. Was he a mentor, someone you would turn to if you needed help with homework? Maybe, if it was a group project and he was likely to do the whole thing himself. Otherwise, he was a geek/nerd/egghead, read "outcast."

What about intellectually? We got one kid waving his arm like Arnold Horshack and the teacher repeatedly calls on other kids, sometimes even telling him to "put his arm down and give the other kids a chance." Well, if the teacher says to stop paying attention to the lesson, what's a kid going to do? That's one student out of play. Most teachers in heterogeneous classrooms pitch their lessons slightly below the middle level of ability in her classroom. That means it's too difficult or fast-paced for the kids who are really struggling and too easy for at least half her students. In a classroom of 28, that's nearly 20 students tuned out. This can't be good.

So common sense (and the research) shows that heterogeneous classrooms do not accomplish these grand utopian goals we have for them. Smaller classes, critics say. Yes, smaller classes will lessen the overall numbers of kids who are disengaged. But smaller classes means more teachers and more space needed, therefore more money. Differentiation, critics say. Yes, combined with smaller classes, differentiated curriculum can help keep more students learning. But it requires more teacher-training to effectively implement differentiation, not to mention more money for more teachers and classrooms because no teacher can effectivly differentiate the curriculum for 28 individual students.

There is a less expensive option that can be implemented across the country as soon as next August: ability grouping. Ability grouping is decried as "elitest" when parents and gifted advocates talk about it, but in fact, it works for kids of all abilities. Says 8th-grade math teacher Sam Jow in the Houston Chronicle, "Struggling students are often overshadowed by their more accomplished classmates during the regular school year, he said, but in the summer they are grouped with those of similar ability.

"It's a time they can shine," he said."

Shouldn't all students have that opportunity to shine, all year round?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Mallard Fillmore on Homeschooling

Check out these comic strips, courtesy of the Jewish World Review.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Stanford's Online High School, the First Year

There is a nice, long article in the LA Times about the OHS, Stanford's new ultra-rigorous online high school based on the high school classes they offer through EPGY. You can see the complete course schedule here.

We talked about enrolling Klaus in OHS last year but decided it would be better to invest the $12K tuition for college. Klaus' interest have skewed toward the soft sciences lately (anthropology, psychology) so that was probably the right idea for him. But from the article it sounds like OHS is an excellent program for the primarily math/science inclined.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Drive Defensively!

It's official--Klaus has his driver's license. He's had his temps for more than a year but with the huge mess with school last fall, didn't really start practicing driving until this spring. Although he tells me that 60% of teens fail their first driving test, he passed first time with only two mistakes.

In the last 48 hours, I think he's driven down to the movie store (a whole mile away) 4-5 times on various pretexts. Wolfie and Xavier love it, though, because if they want a snack or a trip to Dairy Queen, Klaus is more than happy to take them, where Mom and Dad would not.

So congratulations to Klaus!! We're very proud of you!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Punished by Curriculum That's Too Broad?

I just read this 1987 Boston Globe article by Alfie Kohn. Professor Kohn is the author of Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise and Other Bribes in which he argues that all the praising and rewarding we do as parents and teachers in hopes of positive behavior modification is actually making kids' behavior worse, instead of better.

This Boston Globe article is twenty years old, but parts of it are ringing recognition bells for me. For example, Kohn writes:

"A related series of studies shows that intrinsic interest in a task — the sense that something is worth doing for its own sake — typically declines when someone is rewarded for doing it."

This directly relates to the problem we've had with "turning everything into school." Our virtual school is very forgiving and just about everything we do can be written up and submitted for credit. Great, right? Nope. The more I suggest applying for credit for things the boys are already doing, the more I get sour looks and dragging feet.

Most recently DH has insisted the boys clean their rooms thoroughly before summer starts, including sorting through old books left on bookshelves. Coincidentally, I found a story in the local newspaper about a couple in town who is collecting kids' books to send to English language learners in Congo. "Great!" I thought. "We can clean our bookshelves and do serving learning at the same time." Thinking this would make the onerous cleaning task worthwhile, I broke the good news to the boys. Xavier slumped like I had dropped the weight of the world on his shoulders. And he has stopped room-cleaning altogether.

Ditto Wolfie writing book reports on the books he's been reading this year. He's reading Don Quixote for fun, dangit. Thinking about it in terms of school would ruin it. And heaven forbid we refer to anything as a "project." "Project" = school = all the fun has been sucked right out of it. As Kohn says, "If a reward — money, awards, praise, or winning a contest — comes to be seen as the reason one is engaging in an activity, that activity will be viewed as less enjoyable in its own right." No wonder Xavier refused to participate in the Handwriting Contest as part of his art class!

I fear they may have gotten their contrariness from me. Kohn notes: "The key, then, lies in how a reward is experienced. If we come to view ourselves as working to get something, we will no longer find that activity worth doing in its own right." This plays right into whether or not I'm sticking to my diet. If I'm trying to "be good" because it's just time, I have no problems. If it's for any other reason--I'm trying to keep up with DH or impress the Class of '84 or change myself to fit my clothes--the cravings are unbearable and my general mood is crabby and deprived.

When my sister was 8, she told a school psychologist that she was "so stubborn even I can't make myself do things." I guess it runs in the family, huh? At least, now that I know what the issue is. No more turning things into school for me.

Gifted Education Articles at BellaOnline

A woman I know from the Bright Kids list (sign up through the link at the right) has become the new gifted education editor at BellaOnline, an online community for women (it looks similar to iVillage). Check our her articles here, in particular the one on finding a mentor for your gifted child. They also have a number of homeschooling links.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Free Gifted Education Quarterly

I just received the following email from Maurice Fisher at Gifted Education Press:

"We are offering a complimentary copy of Gifted Education Press Quarterly Online. They would need to email me directly to receive our Twentieth Anniversary SUMMER 2007 Online issue. My email address is:"

GEPQ skews toward the scholarly with research results and the like, but I've found it very interesting from a parents' point-of-view. It's delivered to your email box every quarter in pdf format, so it's easy to scroll through and just print out the article of particular interest to you. Take advantage of this great offer!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Party Like It's A.D. 79!

Once again, Pompeii brings ancient Roman life to life. I found this 2005 article on Pompeii on LiveScience: "Researchers have tried to bring back to life the city's food chain by replanting, in the restaurant's garden and in other open spaces throughout the city's ruins, the fruits and vegetables that were part of the Roman diet -- figs and olives, plums and grapes, as well as broom, bramble, poppy and mallow."

The really groovy part? They have recipes for a peach and cumin appetizer/dessert, roasted celery dessert (?!), and a sort of Roman Pork Wellington with ricotta side dish. Yum yum! Perfect for unit studies on the Romans or anyone else who is gastronomically adventurous. Buon Appetito!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Then It Rained on Our Parade

Promoting 4-H is part of each individual clubmember's obligation to the club, and each club's obligation to the national organization. As part of fulfulling this obligation, our club decided we would build a float for the Memorial Day parade here in town--throw some candy, pass out some flyers, advertise Kid's Day at the county fair. We decided on the theme: "4-H: It's Not Just for Farmers Anymore," decorated the float with some of the different projects members can do, and each of the kid's dressed up to represent one of their projects. Xavier wore his Dracula costume from the Drama Fest. Wolfie's been participating in the Dog project, so he brought the dog. We had woodworkers, bug hunters, photographers, a chef and one boy dressed up as a beekeeper.

The Memorial day parade was a smashing success so we decided we'd do a second parade today in a nearby small town. Despite the town's size, this parade was a big deal. I've never seen so many beauty queens in my life--at least, not in person. The Shriners were there, of course, and the local high school band, plus local businesses, Brownies, the fire department, all the things that make a small town parade perfect.

You may have guessed from the title what happened next. The parade started at 1:30, so did the rain. The dark clouds on the horizon moved away from us, but the lighter the sky got, the more it rained. We sheltered under a tent until it was our turn to go (we were towards the end) but were still soaked before we even got onto the parade route. Most of the beauty queens sat in their convertibles and waved through the rain, just like they were supposed to, although I'm pretty sure the Cranberry Queen just left. Lots of the spectators were leaving, too.

And 4-H? The show must go on! We rode through the storm while the paper letters on the float crumpled and tore, threw candy in the rain-swollen gutters, waved (goodbye) to the spectators and came up with a bunch of new slogans:
"Join 4-H: I've never been so wet!"
"I think my toes are pruning: Join 4-H!"
"You should see how much fun we have when we're dry!"
"Thank you for sticking around!"

And the kicker? You already know: by the time we had walked the mile and a half back to our car, the rain had stopped. Next time we build a float with a roof!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Hoist the Colours, Me Hearties!

We're flying the Jolly Roger today because Pirates of the Caribbean opens tonight. Granted the second installment, Dead Man's Chest, was a disappointment, but Pirates 3: At World's End is just as epic and just as witty at the first one. Just what you need to tide you over until National Talk Like a Pirate Day (Sept. 19).

Sunday, May 20, 2007

5000 Darwin letters go online!

From their press release:
"Welcome to the Darwin Correspondence Project’s new web site. The main feature of the site is an Online Database with the complete, searchable, texts of around 5,000 letters written by and to Charles Darwin up to the year 1865. This includes all the surviving letters from the Beagle voyage - online for the first time - and all the letters from the years around the publication of Origin of species in 1859.

The letter texts, and the contextual notes which help make them accessible, are taken from the first thirteen volumes of the Correspondence of Charles Darwin (Burkhardt et al., Cambridge University Press 1985-). Letters from later volumes will be added on a rolling programme following behind publication of the print edition. Volumes 14 (1866) and 15 (1867) are already published and Volume 16 will be published in 2008.

The database also includes summaries of a further 9,000 letters still to be published. There will be 30 volumes of the print edition in total. Previously unknown letters continue to come to light.

Darwin’s letters are a rich source of information on many aspects of 19th century science and history; they are also very readable, and we hope they will be used and enjoyed by a wide audience."

Find out more about the letters and Darwin's correspondents here.

Parent Survey on Acceleration from the Belin-Blank Center

"A Survey of the Prevalence and Practices of Acceleration in Schools

Conducted by the Institute for Research and Policy on Acceleration (IRPA)
Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development
The University of Iowa

We invite you to participate in a research study being conducted by investigators from the University of Iowa.
In 2004, The John Templeton Foundation sponsored a report titled A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America's Brightest Students. This report highlighted the disparity between the research on acceleration and educational beliefs and practices that often run contrary to the research.

An outcome of the report A Nation Deceived was the establishment of the Institute for Research and Policy on Acceleration (IRPA) at the University of Iowa’s Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education. The purpose of IRPA is to provide educators, parents, and the general public with current information on the many aspects of acceleration. In addition, IRPA conducts research studies on acceleration and provides consultation on policy issues for schools.

The purpose of this study is to estimate the prevalence of acceleration in our nation’s schools and to gather information on the attitudes of parents, policy makers, and educators toward acceleration as a curriculum intervention for gifted students."

The study takes about five minutes. To participate, click here.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Summer Scholarship Opportunity, due June 1

Board of Trustees Scholarships Fund from the National Society for the Gifted and Talented

Program Year 2007

2 Scholarships totaling $1100 ($550 each)

NSGT scholarships are awarded to NSGT members to support their academic, intellectual, and cognitive development. Funds can be used to help pay tuition for various academic programs, such as after-school, weekend, summer, and distance learning. Funds can also be used to support independent projects, paying for equipment, supplies, and mentors. The funds may be used for up to one year.

Students need to complete the one-page application. Call 800-572-6748 to request a form. In addition, students need to submit a detailed description (one page) of how they propose to use the funding. This description should include:

The purpose of the program or project
A description of the program or project
The expected outcome
How the program or project will be evaluated
What resources will be used
A budget

Beside the description, applicants need to submit one letter of recommendation from a teacher or administrator. If the project includes a mentor, that person must also submit a letter of support and agreement to participate in the project.

Students may submit additional materials to support their application, such as school projects or papers, listings of honors or awards won, or any other evidence of their academic creativity and success.

A team of educators in the field of gifted education will review the applications and choose the scholarship winners.

Deadline for applications is June 1st, 2007.

Winners will be notified by June 20th, 2007.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Intelligent Life in the Classroom

A review from Teacher Magazine written by David Lee Carlson:

Intelligent Life in the Classroom: Smart Kids & Their Teachers
by Karen Isaacson and Tamara Fisher
(Great Potential, 213 pages, $16.95)

"As schools scramble to meet the standards associated with No Child Left Behind, it’s good to know there are still individuals who take the time to appreciate the qualities of accomplished students. The authors of Intelligent Life use anecdotes of their own and others’ interactions with gifted children to illustrate these characteristics.

The stories in the book give clear examples of each gifted-child trait. As the pair points out, a student may be intense, creative, and curious in one subject or on one assignment, but not another. Gifted children are not “better” than other students, but they learn differently, (“faster,” according to the authors), and they “like to learn more about things.” They’re caring, curious, intense, persistent, and sensitive, to name a few characteristics—sometimes in ways that can both please and annoy teachers. ..."

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Size Does Matter

Many people are contemplating early kindergarten entrance for their gifted and/or late-birthday children. Conventional wisdom seems to be that leaving these kids back a year has no down-side. "Give them another year to just be a kid!" they say. "Boys mature socially/emotionally more slowly than girls, anyway. If he can't sit still, they'll give him Ritalin!" "He'll be bigger and stronger than all the other children, so they'll look up to him!"

Klaus has an early October birthday, so missed the kindergarten cutoff by a couple weeks. We decided to leave him back a year for all of the above reasons, plus the fact that he was in a good preschool situation that would grow with him. But there is a downside to red-shirting kindergarteners.

Size does matter. Yes, your son will be bigger and stronger than all the other children. Remember those older, bigger kids when you were in school? Were they the smart ones? Or the ones called "Moose" who may have been left back a year? Being older and bigger isn't a ticket to popularity. For gifted kids who may already have trouble relating to their agemates, being physically as well as intellectually different only compounds the socialization issue.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

I Can Read This, So I Thank My Mother

Normally I'm not a big fan of the Dobsons, but Linda Dobson has a great Mother's Day column in this month's Home Education Magazine:
I Can Read This, So I Thank My Mother

An Oldie but a Goodie

Purely by coincidence, both Wolfie and Xavier are studying plants in science at the moment. (Xavier's still whizzing through 7th grade science but he's at least interested enough to try some of the activities--I hesitate to call them "experiments--which is more than I could say about 6th grade science.)

Anyway, yesterday's activity required an emergency trip to the store for celery, so he could put a stalk in colored water to watch it to "demonstrate how water is transported to the leaves," (read: "To watch it change color"). A classic elementary school project, although we always did it with carnations. Celery is cheaper, I suppose. I now have a stalk of celery that is both green and a disgusting shade of purple.

I ordinarily wouldn't consider this blog-worthy, but the boys got all excited about the purple celery and decided to extend the experiment. We now have three carnations--white, yellow and pink--in three vases of water in the front window. They're trying to see if the already colored carnations will take up the color in the water and whether the color will mix, i.e. will the yellow carnation in the blue water turn green or yellow with blue edges? Will the dyed pink carnation take up the blue water and turn purple?

The second and third experiments are with houseplants. Will watering a plant with colored water make variegated leaves or white flowers turn color? We're using a diffenbachia and a Japanese peace lily for this experiment. Xavier is watering the diffenbachia with purple water and Wolfie is watering the lily with pink/red water. This is clearly a longer term experiment and we may end up testing different strengths of color as well (stronger color = more likely to be taken up into the leaves?) Stay tuned...

I'm excited about this mostly because I hope this means we're beginning to revive their love of learning. Maybe "projects" is no longer a dirty word. I'd been disappointed lately because they had zero interest in developing 4H projects to enter in the county fair. Not that they're not participating in 4H and enjoying it, just that they refuse to compete. And in the meantime, we're looking at scholarships and college apps for Klaus and they all want to know "when have you competed?" and "did you win?" One step at a time.

If anyone else tries these experiments at home, let me know how they go? Maybe we can compare results.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

UNO Attack - Chemistry Style

I wrote a year ago about Chemistry Trumps, a set of playing cards from England that allowed you to have fun while learning about the periodic table of elements. My only complaint was that there were only 28 cards.

Never fear, American Science and Surplus has found double decks of Elemental Cards. Like Chemistry Trumps, the cards are printed with boiling point, melting point, atomic number, (approximate) atomic weight, series, standard state and abbreviation. Unlike Chemistry Trumps, they are also printed with the standard suits and numbers of regular playing cards. There are two decks, so 104 elements are represented instead of only 28.

What we did this morning was load the element cards into our UNO Attack card shooter. Oh, so much fun! The rules are still evolving, but we've decided cards can be matched by elemental series (transition metal, lanthanide, halogen, noble gas, etc.) or by suit (hearts, spades, clubs or diamonds). Radioactive elements can also be matched to each other. We tried matching by standard state, but there were too many solids.

If chemistry is not your thing, I'd still recommend UNO Attack as the best way to play UNO. :D

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Merlin Science: For the Alchemist in You

Thanks to my friend, Gina, for posting this link! Merlin Science offers distance learning classes in Alchemy (Chemistry), Astronomy, and Genetics. The program consists of a hypertextbook (you read it off the screen) with a notes section, question & answer section and an online quiz at the end of each unit. The really cool part is that the textbook covers high school and beginning college level chemistry in dialogue format, so it's much more interesting to read than your average textbook.

I think this is a terrific resource, mostly because it mimics exactly how I teach. ;-) I prefer to tell stories rather than give lectures. DH teaches science by asking probing, open-ended questions. And we teach for mastery--if the boys don't do so well on the text, we teach them again until they've mastered everything. Merlin does all these things. The Q&A questions are open-ended, requiring critical thought, and answers are fully explained. The quiz questions give you instant feedback (correct or incorrect) and explain the questions you've missed. Once you've gotten a perfect score, you get a certificate of completion for that section.

The Merlin curricula are not accredited, so not eligible for high school credit except through homeschooling, or perhaps through the SAT II subject test. Some schools do use the Merlin program to help prepare for AP tests (genetics for AP Bio, for example. I ran it the introductions section by Xavier this morning and he was suitably impressed, so I guess we're not going to run out of science for him to do when he finished 8th grade sci next year, after all. Yay!