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.