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.