Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry CouldaShouldaWoulda!

Tis the night before Christmas and all through the house
Not a creature is stirring 'cept the beep of a mouse
The children are nestled before the tv
While the new Call of Duty plays on the screen.

As I in my kerchief and DH in his cap
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear
But a giant to-do list that reached to me ear!
Now Cookies! Now Wrapping!
Now Meatballs and Groceries!
On Christmas cards, pictures, please blur out the nose rings!

With a look at the list and a sigh of despair
I did all I could do at this time of the year.
Invite the guests early, tell them to bring booze,
for a calm Christmas Eve and an long Christmas snooze.

And I heard Santa say as the brick wall he topped,
"Merry Christmas to all! Perfect next year...(hic) or not!"

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Great Stuff on Giftedness from EdWeek (Finally)

Education Week, "The Nation's Education Newspaper," is generally pretty quiet on things gifted, but this week they hosted a live chat with the authors of The Development of Giftedness and Talent Across the Lifespan, a forthcoming book in which they argue that giftedness is not static, nor is it something you are born with, but rather, like talent in sports or the arts, specific abilities, varying by person, which need to be nurtured. (The "live chat" link takes you to the transcript of the live chat. Click the title to order the book.)

(EdWeek keeps insisting that the book says "Giftedness can be taught," which is not at all what the authors are getting at. "[Author] Rena F. Subotnik:
We are arguing that giftedness can be developed rather than taught. Development of giftedness in a domain comes from high quality instruction and curriculum (like the work of those you mention above), mentoring in how to be successful, challenging peers, and personal motivation. The work of Benjamin Bloom in Developing Talent in Young People is very relevant here. He and his colleagues reported on the development of talent in athletics, arts, and academic domains. In each case, three types of teachers were most effective at different stages. In the first stage, the teacher helps students to fall in love with the topic or area. In the second stage the teacher provides advanced skills and knowledge and shares the values associated with that field. In the third stage individuals get a kind of coaching to help them refine their individual voice and contribution. In this way giftedness is "taught" or developed.")

To go along with the live chat, Donalyn Miller, who blogs as The Book Whisperer, and Tamara J. Fisher, who writes Unwrapping the Gifted, also have gifted-themed blogs this week. (Admittedly, Tamara's is always gifted-themed.) Read Donalyn's Lowering the Bar and Tamara's "The Evolving Definition of Giftedness."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Have you ever seen?

This is our spontaneous language arts lesson for today:
Have you ever seen...

A salad dressing?
A front porch swing?
The water ski?
A rubber band?
A Belgian waffle?
A horse fly?
Achilles heal?
A hole punch?
A gun range?
A fruit fly?
A baseball bat?
A copper dish?
A cigarette butt?
An ocean wave?
A killer wail?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Halloween at Our House

I can't remember the last time my kids trick-or-treated in a costume that didn't need to be explained. (Actually, that's not true. Two years ago, Wolfie went as a knight Crusader.) This year we had two kinds of Grim Reapers--the Pink Reaper and the Wizard Reaper. Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Oceanography - Hard to Study in the Midwest

Hard, but not impossible. Thanks to Julie Knapp at The Homeschool Diner for this great resource: the lab manual for Oceanography 1L at City College of San Francisco! Granted we can't do all the experiments, but I think Wolfie will be able to do enough to justify earning a full credit of science for the year.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

WoW: Blinded with Science

In his article How Videogames Blind Us With Science (yes, I stole his title), Wired Magazine contributor Clive Thompson discusses research by Constance Steinkuehler and Sean Duncan at the University of Wisconsin-Madison into the flow of conversation between World of Warcraft (WoW) players and how it may contribute to learning. He writes:

"What did they find? Only a minority of the postings were "banter" or idle chat. In contrast, a majority -- 86 percent -- were aimed specifically at analyzing the hidden ruleset of games.

More than half the gamers used "systems-based reasoning" -- analyzing the game as a complex, dynamic system. And one-tenth actually constructed specific models to explain the behavior of a monster or situation; they would often use their model to generate predictions. Meanwhile, one-quarter of the commentors would build on someone else's previous argument, and another quarter would issue rebuttals of previous arguments and models.

These are all hallmarks of scientific thought. Indeed, the conversations often had the precise flow of a scientific salon, or even a journal series: Someone would pose a question -- like what sort of potions a high-class priest ought to carry around, or how to defeat a particular monster -- and another would post a reply, offering data and facts gathered from their own observations. Others would jump into the fray, disputing the theory, refining it, offering other facts. Eventually, once everyone was convinced the theory was supported by the data, the discussion would peter out. ...

"At one point, Steinkuehler met up with one of the kids who'd built [an] Excel model to crack the boss. "Do you realize that what you're doing is the essence of science?" she asked.

He smiled at her. "Dude, I'm not doing science," he replied. "I'm just cheating the game!"

For what it's worth, Wolfie and Xavier believe it was cheating as well.

Monday, October 06, 2008

A Review of the Homeschooling Literature

From a friend on the Homeschooling Mensans list:

"A review of the literature on homeschooling, with excepted comments from Scholastic Achievement and Demographic Characteristics of Home School Students in 1998, by Lawrence M. Rudner, University of Maryland, College Park; http://www.economic; and Home-Education: Aims, Practices and Outcomes by Paula Rothermel, University of Durham, 2002.

Please note that these are direct quotes from the above sources and seem to represent an overwhelmingly positive view. Does anyone know of any research to the contrary?

During the last 20 years, the general public's familiarity with home schooling has evolved from a level of almost complete ignorance to one of widespread, if largely uninformed, awareness.

Research indicates that home schooled children in the U.S. and Canada regularly outperform their peers in both public and private schools. The international evidence on the academic performance of home schooled students is equally encouraging.

In the United States, at every grade level, home schooled students' average score placed between the 82nd and the 92nd percentile in reading and reached the 85th percentile in math. Overall, test scores for home schoolers placed between the 75th and 85th percentiles. In contrast, public school students scored at the 50th percentile, while private school students' scores ranged from the 65th to the 75th percentile.

Research also suggests that home schooled students are more sociable than their school peers, as well as more independent of peer values as they grow older.

Home schooling parents have above average levels of education. Among American parents who home school, 81 percent have studied beyond high school compared with 63 percent of parents nationwide. Interestingly, having at least one parent who is a certified teacher has no significant effect on the achievement levels of home schooled students.

A comparison of home schooled students' performance in a highly-regulated, moderately regulated, and unregulated American jurisdictions found no statistical difference. In other words, the degree of government regulation has no significant effect on the academic performance of home schooled children.

Even with our conservative approach, the achievement levels of the home school students in this study are exceptional. Within each grade level and each skill area, the median scores for home school students fell between the 70th and 80th percentile of students nationwide and between the 60th and 70th percentile of Catholic/Private school students. For younger students, this is a one year lead. By the time home school students are in 8th grade, they are four years ahead of their public/private school counterparts.

Studies show that teachers' credentials do not correlate with tested outcomes. In the U.S. in 1999, homeschoolers scored about 27 percent higher than public-schooled children on refereed nationally-normed tests. Research in the UK from Durham University by Paula Rothermel also shows that the parent's own education level did not correlate with outcomes for their home educated children.

Gifted children often stand a very good chance of being enriched through a home-education program. In the atmosphere without as much pressure, the child will often pursue their own academic studies, in their free time. their encouraged interest may lead them to surpass their parent's knowledge of the subject by the time they are 11 or 12. While clubs and other groups for homeschooled students are often difficult to find, they may talk to others with similar interests through the internet, homeschooling groups and even public-school clubs and groups.

In the U.S., opponents to homeschooling must overcome a basic legal problem. The U.S. Supreme Court (Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972)) placed the responsibility for this education on parents, and further defined the proper governmental goal for education as "literacy and self-sufficiency," that is, an educated, not a socialized child was recognized as the essential goal for the U.S.'s democratic government. This official decision removed the responsibility for children's educations from public officials, and placed it with the children's guardians. This crucial legal test occurred during an attempt to sue public school officials for malpractice, in a case in which illiterates graduated from a public high school. The decision was seen to favor the defendants, the public officials accused of malpractice, but necessarily gives parents broad rights to choose their children's educations.

This is the first UK study involving home-educated children and their families, using diverse methodologies, broad aims and large sample. The results show that 64% of the home-educated Reception (aka kindergarten)-aged children scored over 75% on their PIPS Baseline Assessments as opposed to 5.1% of children nationally. The National Literacy Project assessment results reveal that 80.4% of the home-educated children scored within the top 16% band (of a normal distribution bell curve), whilst 77.4% of the PIPS Year 2 home-educated cohort scored similarly. Results from the psychosocial instruments confirm the home-educated children were socially adept and without behavioural problems.

The home-educated children demonstrated high levels of attainment and good social skills.

Financial Bailout and How a Bill Becomes a Law

From a fellow homeschooler on the Homeschool Diner Conversations List:
I read this this morning and noted a few things. Off the wall things are buried throughout this. (see below)

This is LOADED with info for a Civics class!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Beware! It's 451 pages, double spaced and line numbered, it's in PDF form:

You may want to scroll to the following pages:

1. Definition of Senior Executive Officer and the term golden parachute - page 32-33 start with line 12 on.

2. de minimis - I had to look that up. It means so small or minimal in difference that it does not matter or the law does not take it into consideration. That's on page 39 starting on line 4. Interesting.

4. Page 40 starts with the $$ talk, specifically how much, who and how often.

5. Treatment of Homeowners' Rights - page 60 starting line 22

6. Increase in Statutory limit on the public debt - page 68 line 9..........WOW what a number!!!!!!

7. A study on finding out how this happened - page 89 line 10

8. Golden Parachute Rule - page 109 line 3

9. Energy Improvement and Extension Act - page 113 line 11

10. Credit for residential energy efficient property - page 133 line 10 (in the 190 they start talking about new electric cars)

11. Bike commuters - page 205 line 1

12. Energy Efficient Home Credit - page 218 line 5

13. 7 year cost recovery period for motorsports racing track facility page 290 line 1

14. Perm. authority disclosure of info relating to terrorist activities page 297 line 1

15. Child Tax Credit - page 297 line 14

16. Provisions related to film and tv productions - page 298 line 6

17. Wooden Arrows - page 300 line 20

18. Farming business machinery & equipment treated as 5 yr. property -page 307 line 4

19. Mental health and substance abuse - Begins on page 310 line 8 ........this ends at the top of page 344

20. Rural schools and community self-determination program - page 344 line 5

There are other earmarks such as; mine rescue, Indian employment credit, RR track maintenance, tax incentives for investments in D.C., wool, Exxon Valdez litigation, states and counties with federal land, disaster properties from Katrina and Ike.

Please remember this still has to pass in the House.

Feel free to share with others.

mazurowski@yahoo. com

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Tomorrow is National Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Aye, Mateys, it's that time of year again! Here are some Pirate Myths from Wired Magazine to peruse while you're quaffin' yer grog!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What's So Great About Preschool?

Well, for one thing, Mom has a chance to run errands or take a nap without being interrupted (assuming there are no younger siblings). On the other hand, there are those that suggest that for our children's (particularly our sons') best intellectual, physical and social development, they should stay home and play with Mom as long as possible.

Newsweek: "Why Are School-Aged Boys Struggling?"

WSJ: "Protect Our Kids From Preschool"

I generally think the anti-intellectual kindergarten movement is one that doesn't necessarily apply to gifted kids--like the milestones lists don't apply--but I just thought I'd throw it out there...

Friday, August 29, 2008

Is Your Child Gifted?

Parenting Magazine is running a cover article this month called Is Your Child Gifted? Author Paula Spencer dispels the myth that all kids are gifted and even that all kids who walk and talk early are gifted.

""Gifted" has become one of the most tossed-about words in the parenting lexicon. Unfortunately -- sorry, but let's get this out of the way right up front -- it's also one of the most misused. The vast majority of children are not gifted. Only 2 to 5 percent of kids fit the bill, by various estimates. Of those, only one in 100 is considered highly gifted. Prodigies (those wunderkinds who read at 2 and go to college at 10) are rarer still -- like one to two in a million. And despite the boom in infant-stimulation techniques, educational DVDs, learning toys, and enrichment classes, those numbers haven't been increasing. You can't build giftedness; it's mostly built in. ..."

Their Ask Dr. Sears column also touches on gifted toddlers. Although he begins by writing "all kids are gifted," he writes: "...Homeschooling a preschooler can actually be better for a gifted child for a few reasons: First, you know your child. You are the perfect student-teacher match. You know what holds her attention and what doesn't. Second, for toddlers and preschoolers, learning is mood-dependent. There are times they need to rest, and times they need to be stimulated. At home, you can follow your child's natural rhythms instead of requiring her to stick to a pre-set schedule.

In her excellent book, Top of the Class, author Arline Bronzaft discusses research on academic high achievers (AHAs), gifted children who went on to achieve academic success. The number one key to nurturing an AHA is to instill a love of learning early on, and you can do that better at home. Since you can easily match your teaching skills with your child's learning skills, you are more likely to instill a love of learning in her, and you're more likely to focus on the journey rather than the outcome. Homeschooling moms are also apt to place more emphasis on creativity and enjoying learning than on a grade. ..."

They're great articles. I highly recommend you check them out, print them out, pass them out, etc. etc. ;-)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Fantastic Fysics Fun

Just wanted to share this online game/puzzle with you since Wolfie has been playing it non-stop for the last five hours (seriously). Fantastic Contraption asks players to build a machine that will move a red ball from the left side of the screen to the goal on the right using directional wheels, wooden poles and caterpillar tracks, among other things. You can save your contraptions and look at others' contraptions for ideas. Way cool!

Leveling the Playing Field

Lest there be any confusion, my thesis is this: There is no level playing field. And their shouldn't be.

This is America. We're a meritocracy, a land of individuals governed by capitalism. All this means that to the victor go the spoils. We're workers, not "wait for someone to level the playing field for me" victims. At least we shouldn't be. But I'm afraid that we're raising a generation of "nobody tries hard, everybody wins" couch potatoes.

It is not okay to hold a competition in which everybody wins. What is the point of that? "The people who don't win might get their feelings hurt," some say. And they're right. And getting their feelings hurt might spur them to try harder next time. If everybody wins, what's the point of trying? Where's the incentive to spend three weeks (or months!) collecting data for the science fair, when the kid who put his display together two hours ahead of time gets the same recognition? What's the point of judging said science fair and awarding scores but not telling anyone who got the best score? Why bother holding a science fair at all?

It is not okay to brand entire groups of people as "physically-challenged." If a kid has cerebral palsy, he has cerebral palsy. Big deal. He may also speak fluent French, love baseball and kick ass at Halo III. Does this mean physically-challenged kids speak French and love baseball, etc.? No. John has that constellation of traits. Fred may be an above-the-knee amputee, a competitive swimmer and collect rocks. Nothing in common with John but his gender. So where do we get off calling them both "physically-challenged?" It's completely meaningless in terms of describing anyone but the people it does not describe, that is, those of us who are able-bodied. But then again, I have about as much in common with the able-bodied teenaged girl next door as John and Fred do. "Gets around on two legs vs gets around on less than two legs" Now there's a useful distinction!

Here's another Newspeak distinction for you: "African-American." Surprising enough, Barack Obama, with his African father and American mother, does not call himself "African-American." According to the Wall Street Journal, American citizens born in Africa do not refer to themselves as "African-American." Actress Gloria Reubens once corrected a reporter who referred to her as "African-American." Apparently Ms. Reubens' heritage is actually Jamaican-Canadian.

I understand the reasons behind the change from Black to African-American. Black was considered a perjorative. Surprisingly enough, after twenty years, African-American seems to have become a perjorative, too, at least for more recent immigrants. (ref: WSJ) But this is not my point. My point is, that the term African-American is meaningless. I had a reading group of fifth-grade boys several years ago, which included one African-American boy. We were reading a story about prejudice against Americans of Japanese descent in Hawaii at the time of Pearl Harbor, so we got into a discussion about heritage. Every single white boy at that table knew which Western European country or countries his ancestors had come from, some of them down to the 1/8 and 1/16th.

When I asked my Black student (who had an Arab first name and a Scottish last name) where his family was from, he said, puzzled, "I'm African-American." I nodded and asked him if he knew where his last name had come from, if he had a Scottish grandfather or great-grandfather or if he knew how long his family had been in the country. He repeated, "I'm African-American" as if that was all that was worth knowing. Sure his heritage has got to be an intriguing a puzzle as everyone else's, even if it only goes back to slavery times. Why should he be robbed of his individual heritage by being lumped in with all the other African-Americans?

Here's my point--lumping people into giant PC categories robs them of their individuality for the sake of "not hurting anyone's feelings." For the last twenty years, schools have been "celebrating diversity" by refusing to treat people as individuals, with their own strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. What they should be doing is celebrating individuals, and teaching them according to their needs. Instead of leveling the playing field, we need to change it altogether. I'm imagining a Venn diagram where playing fields called "math," "science," "World of Warcraft," "literature" and "football" can all stretch out from a center called "Pam." To really do this, we need to be open-minded and flexible in terms of time and space.

Yes, when there is competition, some will do better than others. The others might get their feelings hurt. Those hurt feelings might spur them on to greatness, or it might encourage them to find something else they love enough to work on. Our kids will not learn the value of hard work unless we let them find something worth working hard on. And that's should be our schools' mission.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

If You're Planning to Leave the House, Vaccinate!

From Yahoo Health via AP: Jump in US Measles Cases Linked to Vaccine Fears

"ATLANTA - Measles cases in the U.S. are at the highest level in more than a decade, with nearly half of those involving children whose parents rejected vaccination, health officials reported Thursday.

Worried doctors are troubled by the trend fueled by unfounded fears that vaccines may cause autism. The number of cases is still small, just 131, but that's only for the first seven months of the year. There were only 42 cases for all of last year. ... {Ed note: That's more than three times the number of cases in only seven months]

"In Washington state, an outbreak was traced to a church conference, including 16 school-aged children who were not vaccinated. Eleven of those kids were home schooled and not subject to vaccination rules in public schools. It's unclear why the parents rejected the vaccine.

The Illinois outbreak — triggered by a teenager who had traveled to Italy — included 25 home-schooled children, according to the CDC report.

The nation once routinely saw hundreds of thousands of measles cases each year, and hundreds of deaths. But immunization campaigns were credited with dramatically reducing the numbers. The last time health officials saw this many cases was 1997, when 138 were reported."

I've said it before and I'll say it again: vaccinate your children! Mine have all their shots, not because they attended school but because we value their lives. These diseases kill children--the vaccinations keep children alive. They do not cause autism and they really work. Measles is no longer endemic to the US because we Gen-Xers were thoroughly vaccinated.

But clearly measles has not disappeared from the face of the planet. Foreigners immigrate or just come for vacation from places where measles (or mumps or diphtheria or polio or TB) is still a threat. US tourists visit these areas and return home unknowingly infected. Then they handle produce at your local grocery store and you or your child is the next one to pick up that piece of fruit. Or a family comes home from a mission trip and the 6yo comes to church with what they think is a little cold. Either one of these innocent scenarios could lead to serious illness or death for your child if you allow rumor and well-meaning ignorance to keep them unprotected. Get the info. After all, what's a little jab between friends, eh?

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Homeschooling Memorial

Quote posted on New Mexico Homeschool Community (NMHSC) website:

Did you know that we have our own homeschooling memorial???- ---

Mount Rushmore, the world's largest stone monument, is a tribute to four Presidents - George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt - who stood for the most honorable principles and highest ideals of America. Besides being great Presidents, what does each of these men have in common? As children, none of them had any regular, formal schooling. They were all self-educated and learned at home! ~Unknown

Here's another one (that isn't exactly true):

"Home schooling is a very old way of doing things. If you look at any of the bills in your wallet or the coins in your pocket, they all have a picture of a homeschooler on them." ~William Lloyd

While I think it's true all the bills have homeschoolers on them, FDR was only homeschooled through the age of 14, and Eisenhower and JFK were not homeschooled at all. In the scheme of things, though, these three are very recent presidents, so I think the argument remains valid.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Ed Week Profiles a Homeschooling Gamer--Positively!

I don't know if this is a sign of the apocalypse or not, but Education Week, which bills itself as the "American Education News Site of Record," has just published an article about Blake Peebles, a 16yo homeschooler who left high school to become a professional gamer. Although they referred to him as "home tutored" rather than home schooled, the article actually pays little attention to his education:

"Mike and Hunter [Blake's parents] do not believe in one-size-fits-all parenting.

That is not to say that it was an easy decision for them to let Blake leave school last September. They would have preferred that he stay in high school with his brother. But he bugged them until they let him quit.

"We couldn't take the complaining anymore," says Hunter. "He always told me that he thought school was a waste of time."

Blake never gravitated toward sports or drama or any of the other traditional school-based activities. Just gaming.

So they made a deal. Blake could leave school but would have to be tutored at home. In one respect, the arrangement is similar to what parents of gifted child athletes and actors have done for years."

I'm not sure how this fits into Education Week's mandate as "education news site of record" but I think it's a breath of fresh air.

A Guy Walks into a Bar and Says, "Ouch!"

Stop me if you've heard this one: the world's oldest recorded joke has been traced back to 1900 BC, ...and it's a fart joke. I know, I know, the last time you heard that one, you laughed so hard you fell off your dinosaur.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Last Lecture

Many of you have probably already heard or read The Last Lecture, given by Carnegie Mellon University professor Randy Pausch. Dr. Pausch gave this lecture last September shortly after being given 3-6 months to live due to incurable pancreatic cancer. Randy Pausch died this morning, but not before leaving the world with some of the best advice you'll ever hear. Our hearts go out to Dr. Pausch's family, friends and colleagues on this difficult morning.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Some Bona Fide Wisdom from the Voice of Ratatouille

You may only know him as the voice of a French rat or as Randy Daytona's first comeback opponent in Balls of Fury, but Patton Oswalt gave the commencement speech at his alma mater this last June and really told it like it is.

"And I remember, so clearly, driving home from that dinner, how lucky I felt to have met someone who affirmed what I was already planning to do after high school. I was going to roam and blitz and blaze my way all over the planet.

Anywhere but here. Anywhere but Northern Virginia. NoVa. You know what a “nova” is? It’s when a white dwarf star gobbles up so much hydrogen from a neighboring star it causes a cataclysmic nuclear explosion. A cosmic event.

Well, I was a white dwarf and I was definitely doing my share of gobbling up material. But I didn’t feel like any events in my life were cosmic. The “nova” I lived in was a rural coma sprinkled with chunks of strip mall numbness. I had two stable, loving parents, a sane and wise little brother and I was living in Sugarland Run, whose motto is, “Ooooh! A bee! Shut the door!”

I wanted to explode. I devoured books and movies and music and anything that would kick open windows to other worlds real or imagined. Sugarland Run, and Sterling and Ashburn and Northern Virginia were, for me, a sprawling batter’s box before real experience began."

Now I doubt the high schoolers get how true this is of them and how much their lives and outlooks will change in the next 15 years. I remember spending my entire senior year wanting to stand in the backyard and scream as loud as I could. Klaus is grumbling about feeling trapped, which I can certainly understand. I wish there was a way I could download this speech into his brain without his knowing I put it there. If he thought they were his own ideas, it would be great. Oh well. Make sure you click the link above to read the speech and find the advice Patton got and the lesson he learned about it.

Carnival of Homeschooling by Tiffany Blitz

Just wanted to mention that this week's Carnival of Homeschooling is live at Life on the Road. Stop by to learn about homeschooling, Treasure Island and the Twelve Labors of Hercules!

Asynchrony: The Teacher's Bane

Wouldn't it be nice if kids really did mature in lockstep with each other? Then all those graded curricula and "What your Nth Grader Needs to Know" would make sense. Unfortunately, kids, particularly gifted kids, don't even mature evenly within themselves, much less in step with their peers. This is true for neuro-typical (NT) kids, too, but I think gifted kids have it particularly bad.

Maybe I just feel this way because I've got two who are twice-exceptional (2e). Klaus is going in for another round of neuropsychological testing tomorrow morning because we (his grownups) all agree there's something wrong with him, but nobody seems to know what it is. ADD, anxiety, depression, bipolar, perfectionism, OCD, eye-teaming issues, all or some combination of the above? Who knows?

Xavier is probably back at or slightly above grade-level on math and writing, but I'm still hesitant to plunge him into a high school class for fear of setting him up to fail. Even Wolfie can comprehend and write at an upper high school/early college level but the upper high school work requirements, in terms of what is due on a weekly basis, are a huge burden for him.

So, what to do when the ability to comprehend far outstrips the ability to produce? If we pour as much into the little brain as it can hold but don't expect commensurate product, is that not training them to do as little as necessary to get by? Just what is the cosmic point of being able to learn more and faster than you can produce?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog

So, something good came out of the writer's strike. While waiting for the contract to be settled, writer Joss Whedon (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) decided to work on a side project that would both keep him busy and show that there is money to be made off original internet content. (The writer's strike was about appropriate compensation for original internet content. The bosses swore there was no way to determine how money was to be made on the internet, citing YouTube as an example.)

Anyway, Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog is a three act, fully produced half hour show starring Neil Patrick Harris as Dr. Evil. The songs are singable, the acting and directing is professional and the writing is clever--just as we'd expect from Joss and his Mutant Enemy crew. The show is being uploaded in three acts over the course of this week. Eventually it will be available for purchase through iTunes and direct-to-DVD. Click on the link to check it out!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Xavier's Invention

This is Xavier modelling his Happy Place, the final project for his invention unit for science this year. Fully padded and reinforced to protect from those annoying blows to the head, "My Happy Place" allows younger siblings to finally live and play video games in peace by broadcasting the teen-annoying "Mosquito noise". The photo shows how effective "My Happy Place" is against both young and old teens!

Too bad it doesn't really work.

Just Wanted to Share

Klaus on the cover of "International Pirate"
Okay, not really. But if there was an International Pirate magazine, he'd be a great cover model, no?

Klaus Has a Very High Pain Tolerance

Klaus has managed to cause a large bruise and microfractures of the left femur doing 360s on the trampoline. He's been limping for the last month and finally got an MRI last week. Oy. Seems he should have been taken to the ER and been on crutches since he fell. Unfortunately, he's just gotten a job for next summer doing Medieval combat demonstrations (an extension of the boffing he's been doing all year) at the Renaissance Faire here and starts combat training in October. If he's messed up his knee, his career as a knight will be short-lived.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Advice for Newbie Gifted Homeschoolers

In a comment on yesterday's post, Angela wrote "I've done lots of surfing today in my gifted education research. I have a five year old son I plan on homeschool fulltime this fall--reluctantly. I am still in the mourning-the-death-of-my-career stage right now. :) But he has made it clear that traditional education is not for him. I am just overwhelmed at how to construct a gifted curriculum for him. If you have any words of wisdom you would like to bestow on a newbie, I would be so happy and grateful. Thank you!"

So here's my best advice for gifted homeschoolers:

1. Realize you're not perfect. Neither are "trained" teachers.

I've got a degree in elementary education, which has helped me hardly at all in homeschooling my kids. You are your children's first and best teacher. You've already taught him how to talk, how to walk, how to read and how to multiply. You can do the rest of it, too, or find someone who can. Educators know that "best practices" include reaching the child at his own level and moving at his own pace. Homeschoolers do this automatically.

2. Curriculum is over-rated

You don't need to spend loads of money on prepackaged curriculum and you don't need to replicate school at home. Especially with little kids, a library card and museum membership is really all you need. A Netflix membership is also helpful--we've used lots of videos and recorded History Channel and Discover Channel shows to follow our interests.

If you follow your child's interests--reading books and watching shows and maybe visiting a local museum exhibit--you will find yourself teaching "classes" in very unusual things. For example, Wolfie spent more than 60 hours his 7th grade year reading books about falconry, watching "Combat" and documentaries about the Crusades on the History Channel and researching catapults and trebuchets. As a homeschooler, we can put that together as a semester of "Medieval Weapons and Warfare," a class you would never find in a regular middle school.

Some beginning homeschoolers prefer to start with prepackaged curriculum. I'd suggest that you get a copy of E. D. Hirsch's "What Your 1st Grader Needs to Know". It will give you an idea what an excellent first grade would cover and I promise it will put your mind at rest about him missing out on anything. These books are available for each grade from preschool through 6th.

3. Nothing is Set in Stone

Deciding to homeschool this year does not mean you have to homeschool forever. Gifted kids and their asynchronies need different kinds of learning at different points in their lives. There may come a time when he wants to go to school to see what it's like. You may find a homeschool co-op that offers group activities one day a week--a day when you can concentrate on painting. I know I got a lot more writing done when I had only the three hours of preschool to myself. The short duration concentrates the mind wonderfully. ;-)

There are still days when I have to remind myself that the boys will only be middle schoolers once. They need me now and I can finish my novel once they're out of the house. But please keep in mind that homeschooling does not take as long as public schooling. You don't need to sit at a table for six hours a day. (In fact, please don't!) You can cover the K-2 curriculum in about 90 minutes a day of direct teaching. If he's got Legos to play or a backyard to explore or videos to watch, that can be your painting time.

4. Homeschooling is a lifestyle, not an educational choice

You can't only homeschool the oldest child. The others are watching. I tried this for a year with Klaus. By the end of that year, we were planning homeschool for all three of them. Wolfie and Xavier insisted. Now I have the two younger ones at home and we all have school together, for the most part. We also have the most fun when we have school together, whether that's reading aloud, which we do every morning, or doing vocabulary workbooks. You will never do a science experiment with only one of them. You will never do an art project with only one of them. Gardening and taking vacations and housekeeping and cooking and playing with the baby (remember home ec?) are all educational.

Keep in mind that if your oldest is gifted, the other two probably are, too. Maybe not to the same extent--Klaus is at a higher level of giftedness than his brothers--but they're just as poor a fit for a conventional classroom. Adaptations you make for your oldest will probably fit the others, too.

5. Find a support group

The internet is great for this. I suggest Mensa's Bright Kids for general questions about raising gifted children and the Homeschooling Mensans Yahoo group for questions specific to homeschooling gifted kids. Neither list requires you to be a member of Mensa. It's great to have a group of other parents in the same situation to ask questions of, particularly when you need a resource in marine biology for a 6yo or want to talk about early college options. ;-)

I Am What I Am

Here is a great article about homeschooling a twice exceptional child:

I Am What I Am by Anne Ohman

"His note is taped to my mirror as a daily reminder of his unique contribution to our lives, to our universe. In handwriting and spelling that a teacher would surely frown upon, it reads, “I AM WAHT I AM.” Five words. Five short, simple words. But what a message. What a huge, wonderful, powerful concept for an eight-year-old boy to possess..."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Homeschool Survey

Cherish over at Faraday's Cage is where you put Schrödinger's Cat is taking an informal survey of homeschoolers and the stereotypes that don't fit them. Here are my answers, for the record:

Why do you homeschool?
I'd been threatening to homeschool Klaus since he was a toddler, but with the Irish twins (Wolfie and Xavier) in diapers, DH in residency and my own lack of self-confidence, I sent him to school. I spent ten years trying to get adequate accomodations for Klaus and for his brothers and finally I was mad as hell and I just couldn't take it anymore!

What technique or curriculum do you use? Do your kids work above or below grade level (or both!)?
We use a virtual charter school because DH like the objective accountability. He thinks I'm too laissez-faire (and he's mostly right). Two of the boys are two or more years above grade level and always have been. Xavier is below, at and above level, depending on the subject. He's catching up to grade level now that we've been homeschooling for two years. I think by the end of next year, he should be advanced in all subjects.

What is your educational level? Do you feel this has an effect on your teaching (both limits and abilities)?
I have a Bachelor's in Elementary Education. I think it has helped me quite a bit in terms of dealing with their learning differences and in realizing there are other ways to teach. I didn't have any training in gifted, though, and I really needed that!

What does your daily schedule look like?
Um, schedule.... What's that again? Oh, right. We get up at nine and I read outloud for an hour. Reading books are a mixture of classics and young adult. (For example, our last two books this year were Swine Not? by Jimmy Buffet and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.) Then Xavier goes for a 30 minute walk and Wolfie sits down to work on something. They chose what they want to work on (and DON'T want to work on). Around 1:30 we watch an hour of educational TV, then we're done for the day. Wednesdays they take music lessons.

Are your kids always polite and ready to learn? (*snicker*) Do the kids (or you!) get frustrated?
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! You mean like the conversation I had at 9:30 this morning? "I'm done with geometry!"
"Great! That leaves you time to work on some German or social studies."
Sigh. "I was going to..." Motions toward World of Warcraft computer.
"You can do that for awhile if you want to take a break. But you need to finish social studies in order to be finished with this school year. And you have to finish German 1 before you can take German 2 at the high school in the fall."
"Once you finish this stuff you're done with school for the rest of the summer."
Glare. Gets up from the table.
"And Dad said someone needs to mow the lawn today!"

How has this affected your parenting?
I spend a lot less time grilling them about what happened in school that day, what their grades are, and who their friends are. I spend much less time chasing down teachers to find out what's going on in the classroom. And, best of all, we're free to take days off when we need them, not when the school district says we can. So we're able to take advantage of quality time and quantity time.

How much free time do they have? What do they do during their free time? What hobbies do they have?
They have a lot of free time. Most of it is spent playing video games or boffing (it doesn't mean what you think it means). They're also active in 4H and take music lessons. This summer Wolfie's going to video game camp for a week and Xavier is spending a week at a science and technology day camp (through 4H) and spending another week at overnight band camp.

What difficulties and challenges do you have with homeschooling? What makes homeschooling enjoyable?
I think the biggest challenge is that my kids and I are process- rather than product-oriented. We learn stuff, but we don't particularly enjoy proving it through testing, writing reports or making projects. What makes homeschooling enjoyable is doing all the stuff we love to do--take field trips, watch documentaries, read together, try experiments--and count it as learning (because it is). When the boys were in public school, we were all too exhausted to try this kind of after-schooling.

How do you get involved in the community? When do you have opportunities to interact with public or privately schooled children? Would you like more of these opportunities? How can they be created?
We’re very active in 4H. Both Wolfie and Xavier are club officers and I’m the music and drama director for the club. We participate in community service through 4H. Xavier plays in a middle school band for private and homeschoolers. This will be his third year in band. Wolfie participated in the homeschool Track and Field Day this spring. The boys are planning to create a city-wide boffing league or club (haven’t nailed down the particulars for that yet). We also participate in the Western Wisconsin Young Mensa Club outings.

Personally, I’d rather be a little less active outside the house and a little more productive on the academic side of things. We’ve had to nix Scouts and Parks and Rec classes and limit summer camps to one a piece (Xavier’s 4H camp is free, so he got around that rule). I don’t think we’ll be participating in the homeschool classes that take place during the school year, either. We’d lose a whole school day to extracurriculars (choir, handbell choir and gym).

What is your least favorite homeschool stereotype? :-)
Let’s see, “All homeschoolers are fundamentalist Christian.” No, we don’t go to church and we don't homeschool out of fear of corruption, school violence, peer pressure, drugs and alcohol, take your pick. We don’t homeschool out of fear, period.

“Homeschooled kids are locked in the house all day memorizing facts for (insert your favorite National Bee here).” If only they knew. Homeschooled kids are kids first (maybe more kid-like than the public school kids). Some people seem to think they’re robots.

My most recent question was “If your kids are homeschooled, will they go to … college?” Duh. Makes me wonder what “they” think happens to homeschooled kids once they graduate from high school. Do they disappear? Maybe we just leave them in the basement until they’re ready to reproduce?

But my least favorite homeschool stereotype is: “I could never do that.” I work with gifted kids, kids who clearly could soar with the one-on-one attention that homeschoolers get. But the parents are so worn out with their preschoolers’ questions, they assume they couldn’t possibly homeschool. (BTDT) Not true!

Or they assume the teachers at school know more about gifted kids than they do. (BTDT, too) Double not true! Most classroom teachers have had zero training in gifted. The “gifted teacher” may or may not be able to directly supervise your child’s education.

You (yes, you!) know your child best. Hook up with some homeschooling support groups, find the resources (there are thousands), let your child lead the way. Your brilliant child did not spring fully formed from the head of Zeus. He got his smarts from you. You can figure this out, I promise!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Why We Hate Homeschoolers

Here's the latest article to be making the round of the homeschool boards: SONNY SCOTT:Home-schoolers threaten our cultural comfort from the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. While I don't usually see this amount of Bible quoting in a newspaper article, otherwise I think Mr. Scott makes an interesting point.

He writes: "Why do we hate (or at least distrust) these people so much?

Methinks American middle-class people are uncomfortable around the home schooled for the same reason the alcoholic is uneasy around the teetotaler.

Their very existence represents a rejection of our values, and an indictment of our lifestyles. Those families are willing to render unto Caesar the things that Caesar’s be, but they draw the line at their children. Those of us who have put our trust in the secular state (and effectively surrendered our children to it) recognize this act of defiance as a rejection of our values, and we reject them in return. "

This is absolutely true. The biggest supporters and the most defensive reactions to our decision to pull our kids out of public school came from public school teachers. The defensive ones (and the ones in the minority) were the one who had their own kids in public school. That was one of the reasons I began to rethink our school--I found out most of the teachers with school-aged kids did not send them to public school. (Things that makes you go, "HMMMMM".)

But Scott's article touches on another point that I happened to be musing about today. "Young families must make the decision: Will junior go to day care and day school, or will mom stay home and raise him? The rationalizations begin. "A family just can't make it on one income." (Our parents did.) "It just costs so much to raise a child nowadays." (Yeah, if you buy brand-name clothing, pre-prepared food, join every club and activity, and spend half the cost of a house on the daughter’s wedding, it does.) And so, the decision is made. We give up the bulk of our waking hours with our children, as well as the formation of their minds, philosophies, and attitudes, to strangers. We compensate by getting a boat to take them to the river, a van to carry them to Little League, a 2,800-square-foot house, an ATV, a zero-turn Cub Cadet, and a fund to finance a brand-name college education. And most significantly, we claim “our right” to pursue a career for our own "self-fulfillment."

Many people (including my mother) thinks I have the "luxury" to stay home because DH is a physician. And that's true. I can't tell you how grateful I am that I don't have to worry (anymore) about where my next meal is coming from and whether the child support check will come in time to pay the mortgage. I've been poor and it sucks.

But we also have made conscious decisions throughout our married life to live below our means. At the end of medical school, DH was torn between being a dermatologist and being a surgeon. As a surgeon, he would have had job satisfaction and more money. And, mostly likely, a divorce, like most surgeons have. Even the minor uptick in the number of hours he worked this spring has caused a major increase in marital tension. (Luckily it's temporary.)

When we moved to our small city ten years ago, I gave up the idea of fixing up a grand Victorian house because the chaos and continuing expense would have given me satisfaction and a beautiful home and, most likely, a divorce. DH doesn't do well with chaos, although luckily for me, he's grown more tolerant over the years. I'm also in the process of choosing not to pursue every opportunity offered to me as a gifted advocate right now because I've made a commitment to DH and to the boys to be here to school them until they're ready to leave, not until *I'm* bored with it and ready to move on. That's one of the reasons this blog has become so erratic.

Yes, I have to keep repeating to myself, "They're only 13/14/17 once. There's time later for globe-trotting travel on behalf of gifted children everywhere." The idea appeals. But there will still be gifted kids in need of an advocate in five years. I hope. ;-)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Online Civics Curriculum for Middle Schoolers

From today's NYT:

"...In cooperation with Georgetown University Law Center and Arizona State University, Justice O’Connor is helping develop a Web site and interactive civics curriculum for seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade students called Our Courts ( The initial major elements of the site are scheduled to become available this fall.

Since retiring from the bench in 2006, Justice O’Connor, 78, has spoken forcefully and often about the dangers posed by efforts to politicize the judiciary. Her thoughts are well known to legal scholars. With Our Courts she hopes to foster a deeper understanding of American government among schoolchildren. The site will have two parts, an explicitly educational component for use in schools and a more entertainment-oriented module that will more closely resemble games. ..."

Friday, May 23, 2008

Ten Myths About Autism

I was pointed to this link by a friend on the Bright Kids list:

"There are a lot of misconceptions about Autism floating around. Consequently, many people with Autism remain undiagnosed, countless autistics are misunderstood, and millions of dollars are donated to nonprofits who don't speak for those with Autism.

This is a troubling time for people with Autism (and I speak as one of those Autistics) because the media focuses a considerably large percentage of their Autism coverage on stories told by those who do not even have the condition. I've put together a list of only ten misconceptions that have been born out of the lack of an autistic voice in the media."

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Butterfly Update

We brought Laurel and Hardy in from the garage about two weeks ago (when it finally looked like spring). Laurel, who had pupated earlier, hatched on May 1, but apparently crawled out onto the mesh roof of the terrarium and fell before his wings were dry. He was still alive, but stuck on his back like a turtle with part of one wing folded behind his back. We brought him outside and sprayed him with water hoping a little moisture and a larger environment might help him. He survived until today, but now we can't find him and since he couldn't fly, we're assuming one of our neighbor birds got him. RIP Laurel.

Hardy, on the other hand, (that's him in the picture) had the good sense to pupate on an actual stick he could crawl onto to sit while his wings were drying. We left him water and half an orange and he hatched (emerged?) yesterday. Interesting because he pupated exactly two days after Laurel did and then hatched two days after Laurel did. Nice timing!

Anyway, it got down to freezing last night so we though we'd wait a day for the weather to warm up before Hardy's release. Hardy was very eager to leave the terrarium today, so we brought him outside this afternoon, let him crawl onto a stick and watched him fly away. We'll be planting more parsley when the garden goes in, so maybe we can raise some more butterflies next year!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Why School is Not Real Life, Part 3

Boys in Primary Grade Classrooms
By Deborah L. Ruf, Ph.D.

A client couple recently asked me to observe their nearly five-year-old son in his small private school K-1 classroom (that's kindergarten through 1st grade). Their little boy was already tested and found to be exceptionally gifted, so the school was willing to accept him into their program before he was five years old. But he hated school and wasn't making the progress that anyone had envisioned. They told me that the teacher, a young woman in her first year of teaching, was interested in whatever recommendations I might make to "engage" this child in learning at school.

First, I watched the eight little girls vie for top spot by finishing all they were asked to do quickly and perfectly. The girls set to work immediately when the teacher told them what they were to do. I watched the four little boys slide around in their seats-or fall off completely-or get up and walk around, ask to go to the bathroom, rip holes in the paper with pencil and scissors, put their heads on their desks, and otherwise not even begin to do what they were asked to do. The boy I was asked to watch behaved in all the "wrong" ways just as his parents had been told, but absolutely the same way as the other boys in the class.

Is sitting still and doing exactly what the teacher tells you to do a prerequisite for a good life? Is there something wrong with the boys or with the schools for expecting all children to sit still and be quiet? When schools tout their "developmentally appropriate" curriculums, do they talk about allowing active young boys to explore, handle objects, run around, and use their kinesthetic, visual and spatial abilities, the primary learning modes of males? We need to ask ourselves, what is "developmentally appropriate"-and in what ways-for whom?

I am a high intelligence specialist, but when the parents of a bright boy come to me because they are considering early entrance to kindergarten (starting school before the usual age five), I almost always discourage it. The home, preschool, and kindergarten environments are almost always more boy-friendly than grade school because they are more flexible and allow more free choice for the children, much like a good Montessori school. It makes so much more sense to experience one more year at home or in preschool, go to kindergarten for another year of flexibility and playtime, and then skip 1st grade. This way, the child still goes through school somewhat faster, but needs to spend less time in the more structured grade school environment. The problem with this boy's school placement is that it was more like a 1st grade than a kindergarten classroom, and he really didn't need to be there yet.

What did I recommend? I told them he shouldn't even be in school yet. A good daycare would fit his current needs better at this point. At the most, he should go half days or only two to three days a week at this age regardless of his intellectual abilities. In another article I will tell you how much bright kids really learn-or don't learn-in school.

What to Do with the Know-It-All Kid

Having had three boys and been a Webelos den mother for three years, I can tell you that *all* 9-10 year old boys think they know everything. "I know" is the standard response, even when they clearly don't and/or couldn't have known. "We're going to start work on the new X badge today." "I know."


I can tell you that they do outgrow it, eventually. (With twelve-year-olds, the verbal tic is "Guess how awesome I am!")

It is more complicated with gifted kids who really do know more than the average 4th grader. I think starting a new activity with "What do you already know about this?" and proceeding from there is good for gifted kids. When I teach Junior Great Books, we're supposed to only ask questions that we as adults don't know the answer to. It helps to keep from steering the conversation to a foregone conclusion (which is what many classroom conversations are). Ask "Why?" and "How?" questions more often than the who/what/where variety. That way your son has to use all his prior knowledge and reasoning skills to answer the question. Making up facts can be fun (try the game Balderdash!), but they don't answer non-fact-based questions.

Also, if you're trying to teach him something (say, sewing for example) and he claims he already knows how to do something, ask him to show you. He may have actually figured out how to do smocking or hemming or something. And his way may work or it may not, but there's nothing hurt by trying it his way first.

I have a son who always thinks his way is best. He's particularly good at math and frequently has figured out his own ways to do the math problems. If his way always works, I let him do it his way. If it only works on some of the problems, some of the time, he needs to learn both ways to do the problem. We also try to analyze his method vs. the approved method to find out why one works all the time and his "easier" method is less reliable.

There's nothing wrong with telling him, "No, you don't" when he says he knows something. But if he does know it and you just teach it to him anyway, he may lose faith in your reliability. Let him try things his way first and eventually, he'll come to realize that you both value his intelligence and creativity and that it's okay for him to be wrong, which is a very important lesson, particularly for gifted kids.

Monday, April 21, 2008

On Giftedness and Sensitivity

A letter from Jenna Forrest:

Dear Gifted Friends and Colleagues,

There's a one in five chance that the people we come in contact with are highly sensitive to smells, noise, vibrations and moods of others. Nobody really knows it but them, because many learn to hide their sensitivity. Or they just never bother to talk about it, because few people seem to understand what it's truly like.

But WE understand.

On April 23rd, we have a chance to get the media buzzing about giftedness and high sensitivity.-- to bring thousands more sensitive, gifted people out of the woodworks so they can begin celebrating themselves and their gifts. If a large number of copies of Help Is On Its Way - A Memoir About Growing Up Sensitive are sold on Wednesday, April 23rd national news media will be triggered that the topic of childhood sensitivity is relevant to national audiences. If you know anyone who has been waiting for the right time to buy this story of a challenging sensitive childhood, this Wednesday April 23rd, is a helpful day to do it.

To reward April 23rd book buyers, the following savings and rewards on will be offered (April 23rd only):

* a low price on -- $13.49
* a free registration to the OGTOC May 24th tele-seminar where the author will answer questions about the book
* a free sensitive friend match through the Find A Friend service at

This is the Amazon order link.
(Buyers will forward their April 23rd Amazon receipts to to receive the teleconference dial in number and Find A Friend access code by email.

On Wednesday April 23rd, we can bring more sensitive, gifted kids, teens and adults out of hiding so they can awaken to their most empowered potential.

Thank you for being part of this awareness campaign!

Please help by forwarding this email to those who might be interested.

Feel free to email me if you have any questions.

With Sincere Thanks,
Jenna Forrest
Author, Help Is On Its Way - A Memoir About Growing Up Sensitive
Durham, NC

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Here's a Fun Resource: Fact Monster

A new resource from Infoplease directed at kids, Fact is interesting, easily navigable and full of information from the presidential elections to Project Runway. A preliminary search on "dolphin" (because Xavier was blathering about how he wants a pet dolphin instead of doing his science assignment) brought up not just definitions but links about the Miami Dolphins and literary allusions to dolphins in verse (from Byron's Childe Harold), so there is enough meat there for any kid to spend time hunting down tangential alleyways, plus trivia, games and quizzes and homework help.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ability Grouping Redux, Why It Works for ALL Kids

Recent studies have shown that teaching all children at their own pace (clustering at all ability levels) was the most beneficial, not just for gifted kids. An NT kid is going to learn less if there some smartypants with his hand always up and the right answer before he/she has time to think, or there's some gifted kid in his project group that just takes over and does the project.

"According to the NAGC, the idea that keeping gifted children in the heterogeneous classroom raises all boats, so to speak, is a myth.

"Myth: Gifted Students Make Everyone Else In The Class Smarter By Providing A Role Model Or A Challenge.

Truth: Actually, average or below-average students do not look to the gifted students in the class as role models. They are more likely to model their behavior on those who have similar capabilities and are coping well in school. Seeing a student at a similar performance level succeed motivates students because it adds to their own sense of ability; watching or relying on someone who is expected to succeed does little to increase a struggling student’s sense of self- confidence. [2]Similarly, gifted students benefit from interactions with peers at similar performance levels."

For a summary of research on the topic of ability grouping, please see

Some of the main points from this literature:

Academically, high achieving or gifted and talented students achieve more and learn more when they are grouped with other high achieving students, homogeneous grouping, as opposed to placed in mixed ability groups, heterogeneous grouping, (e.g., Cornell, Delcourt, Goldberg, & Bland, 1992; Gamoran & Berends, 1987; Gentry & Owens, 1999; Gossen, 1996; Goldring, 1990; Kerckhoff, 1986; Kulik & Kulik, 1991, 1992; Rogers, 1991, 1993; Shields, 1995; Slavin, 1987).

Ability grouping has even stronger positive effects on achievement for high-ability black and Hispanic youth (Page & Keith, 1996).

The performance of the remaining students in heterogeneous classes does not suffer when gifted students are removed from the classroom (e.g., Kulik & Kulik, 1982; 1987; Page & Keith, 1996; Shields, 1995). In fact, some research suggests that lower achieving students actually have increased achievement when gifted students are removed from the regular classroom (e.g., Gentry & Owen; 1999; Kennedy, 1992; Natriello, Pallas, & Alexander, 1989)"

Also, check out this fascinating blog entry from Laura Vanderkam's Gifted Exchange", where she writes: "... I'm always interested to see studies that examine whether tracking has a negative effect on children assigned to the "slower" track. The answer, according to one recent study of Kenyan school children, is a resounding no. In fact, not only do students in both higher and lower tracks do better on tests than their peers in heterogeneous classrooms, the teachers are actually more likely to show up for class."

Why Isn't Gifted Considered Special Education?

An email from my friend, Wanda:

"I'd like to chime in about special education. When PL 94-142 or the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) was first passed back in 1975, the discussion included the entire spectrum of exceptionalities from the profoundly disabled to the profoundly gifted. As disability advocates and Congressional members discussed the bill, they had to compromise in order to get it passed. This type of give and take occurs even today from the local level up through the federal level. You know the scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.

The key Congressional players back in 1975 knew that if they included programming and funding for gifted students, the bill would have likely failed because it was too comprehensive. Opponents didn't think schools could appropriately serve both ends of the spectrum with IEPs and all the requirements, plus everyone in between.

Disability advocates were very persuasive. Vietnam had been winding down and veterans were returning home with physical disabilities like multiple amputations and were going out in public. People had to look at them. This gave the disability community, especially parents, the courage to pursue public school education for their children, since vets with disabilities were beginning to be out in public. The children didn't have to remain at home any longer.

So, Congress passed the EHA without including the gifted at the high end of the spectrum. The original intent was to go back the following year, at the least, or when the bill was up for reauthorization and include the high end of the exceptionality spectrum. As we know now, this never happened. When I worked on Capitol Hill, I was involved with writing language for the reauthorization of IDEA in 1994 (EHA is now called IDEA-Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). I worked with the offices of Senator Kennedy, Senator Harkin, and many others. We worked for years on the reauthorization language. Not once was there any request to add language which extended the range of exceptionalities to the gifted. I was not working with gifted kids back then, so I didn't bring it up either. There was not much noise made to include the high end of the exceptionality spectrum, when compared to the advocacy the disabled community was involved with.

Some states have, by choice, included GT kids in their exceptionality continuum and provide IEPs, and other individualized plans to ensure that gifted kids get their needs met. Unfortunately Wisconsin is not one of them. Adding the high end of the exceptionality spectrum to IDEA is not likely because of tight budgets at this point in time.

It is not difficult to educate all students at their level. It is not difficult to find materials or teaching strategies that work for our gifted kids. I have found that there is either ignorance that these kids even need anything more (the myths about gifted kids), or teachers simply don't want to bother. There is no excuse to not meet the needs of gifted kids. There is so much high end free materials on the internet that teachers should be able to find appropriate materials. Or, better yet, give the kids some guidance and let them find their own materials. You'd be amazed at what they find, and I don't mean inappropriate stuff.

We do have a stake in educating our most able students. We need to keep working in order to achieve it."

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Even Mozart Wasn't Good at Everything

I read an interesting article on the WSJ Leisure & Arts page (I won't be able to post a link for awhile, sorry.) In the article, writer Terry Teachout discusses the recently authenticated 1783 Mozart portrait by Joseph Hickel called "Man in a Red Coat". In the article, called "Who Cares What Mozart Looked Like?," Teachout argues that Shakespeare--another master we know little about--has had a much greater influence on Western culture simply because he is a phantom. We have to imagine what kind of a man he is and thus "Might the near anonymity of the genius ... make it easier for us to apply them to ourselves?"

He continues: "Alas, that doesn't work so well with Mozart. Not only do we have a pretty good idea of what he looked like, but we can read hundreds of his letters, and it is hard to square their youthful naîveté with the uncanny power of his music. One of Mozart's friends described him as a man 'in whose personal intercourse there was absolutely no other sign of unusual power of intellect and almost no trace of intellectual culture, nor of any scholarly or other higher interests.'"

This last bit is why I'm writing. Would young Mozart be considered gifted in today's culture? Perhaps--we do like our Suzuki prodigies. But what if his one uncanny power was language? What if it was the ability to trace patterns in human behavior over the course of history or to understand complicated scientific concepts in a short amount of time? Would that child be recognized as gifted? What if the child was gifted in language and history but not in anything else?

The problem is that although students are supposed to be recognized as gifted for excelling in a single subject area, most people seem to believe that in order to merit special programming a child has to be globally gifted. This is simply not true. Most gifted kids, like Mozart, are not gifted in every area of endeavor. Most are not even geniuses in one area of endeavor. However, they do have learning differences that need to be recognized and addressed.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

School is Not Real Life, Part I

Same-Aged Classrooms
by Deborah L. Ruf, PhD

Everyone knows that the reason we put children in school by age for their instruction is that there are centuries of excellent research that proves this is the most effective way for children to learn, right? Well, no, actually, there is no such research at all. I think it had something to do with following the Henry Ford factory efficiency model and no one ever seemed to think of questioning its validity for the schooling of generations of children around the world.

In the "olden days" of mass public education, we had the one room schoolhouse. It worked quite well. Students proceeded through the curriculum at their own pace and worked with anyone else, of any age, who was ready for the same material and production. My goal is not to give a history lesson here but to point out that we no longer do this in schools. Whether you are ready for more or not, it is not allowed because the student will get ahead and, "What will we do with her next year?"

Here is a little IQ lesson, though. Whether or not you approve of the concept of IQs or IQ testing, the research shows that IQ results correlate with all kinds of real-life outcomes. The average IQ in the US is 100 and regular standardized tests that most people take in school (or when they enter the military) all start as low as around 50 IQ and as high as about 150 IQ. Yes, there are some other kinds of tests that have different scales, but that's not what I'm talking about now.

The average IQ difference between people who choose to marry each other is 12 points. Basically, they get each other's jokes. That old magic feeling of someone thinking we're amusing! The genetic mingling of the parents genes gives them children who will usually be within 15 points higher or lower to their parental average. Same with siblings—only 15 points between them on average. Most people know that there is a bell curve shape for most human qualities, and IQ is no exception. There are more average people than there are very low or very high IQ people.

American school classrooms are set up by age. Kindergarten screening tells the schools which children are most ahead and most behind others their age. The principal stacks the kids by ability and then considers gender, behavior, ethnicity, and socio-economic background, and then deals the kids out to the four different kindergarten classrooms so that every class has the same number of each kind of kid. This means that the four most advanced children will all be in different classrooms. No one will get their jokes except maybe the teacher! The typical IQ range in such a classroom is 70 to 80 IQ points, but we are generally comfortable with and drawn to people who are within about 12 points of us. Then we tell the kids that they need to learn to get along with their "peers." But peers might not be age-mates unless they—by some stroke of luck—are fairly close to us in intellect and get our jokes, get us.

School is not a very happy time or place for many, many bright children.

School is Not Real Life, Part II

Teaching to the Average in Same-Aged Classrooms
By Deborah L. Ruf, Ph.D.

Remember how I said that the average IQ difference between people who get our jokes-people most likely to become our friends-is 12 points (on a 100 point scale with a 100 IQ being average)? And remember I told you that the typical same- aged elementary classroom has a 70 to 80 IQ range in it? You probably have been told by others-not me-that this is good for children because it teaches them about the real world. Well, in the real world we choose our friends and our activities by how comfortable we are in that environment and by who else we get to spend time with. Also, although it may be nice to have a mix of abilities in the office, we pretty much want all CPAs or medical doctors to have a certain high ability, no lower than what is required to get the job done, right? That's why we have examinations at the end of such training to guarantee that everyone who earns the title actually can do the job.

Did you know that every job or career actually has its own IQ average and its own proven necessary minimum? Google Linda Gottfredson and Frank Schmidt to get you started. They are among those who have shown that people in the professions or other very complex careers need a minimum IQ of about 120 in order to both learn what they need to learn and perform it well. Like IQs or not, these numbers keep correlating with real life outcomes. Oh, and in case you are assuming that you can change somebody's IQ, there are no replicated studies that show any more than an average 6 point temporary increase in testable IQ with even the most intrusive interventional approach, adoption. So, the way I look at it, we need to start educating and training people for what they can do and for what will give them satisfaction, pride, and the ability to take care of themselves.

Most people think that teachers teach to the average. Well, no, they don't. They can't! If they taught to the average, too many of the slower learners simply wouldn't catch on to most of what was happening in the classroom. Teachers teach to the top of the bottom third once they know their class. This way, they reach the slower learners fairly well and the majority of the kids in the middle get lots of encouragement and opportunity to manage their time, learn study skills, and how to handle a certain amount of intellectual struggle and feel success when they finally "get it." The sad truth, though, is that the brightest students end up spending a lot of time waiting for something new to happen. Depending on a number of other factors, like whether they are male or female and their personality profiles, they learn a lot that ends up not being helpful to real life. They learn that if you are smart, you don't need to study or work hard. They learn that their parents and teachers don't know what they are talking about if they think this assignment matters. They learn that they are smarter than everyone else in the class and are in for a shock when they actually do get out into the real world.

David Lohman says that by 1st grade the typical same-aged mixed-ability classroom already has 12 grade equivalencies of achievement in it. Brighter children absorb more from their environments than lower ability children, so regardless of their preschool environment, brighter kids will know a great deal more than low ability children by the time they reach 1st grade. Environment is an extremely important factor in someone's development, but it does not change whether or not someone is very bright or very slow. A child whose IQ is 120 could finish the typical elementary curriculum in about 4½ years, not six. A child whose IQ is 130 could finish it in less than three years. Above 140 needs only one year, but they are required to stay all six and go at the pace of everyone else their age. What a waste of time and talent. Folks, there has got to be a better way.

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Teacher Told Me to Stop "Teaching" my DS6 at Home

I wish I could say I had not heard this line of reasoning before, but it was exactly the reason I was told by my supervising teacher to not allow the gifted boys in my fifth grade class to experiment with the materials for the science unit we were learning at the time. "If they learn everything in fifth grade, what is their next teacher going to do?" It's very similar to the "if they test out of the entire spelling list by January, then they'll be bored until the end of the year." (Like they wouldn't be bored if you hold them back?)

Both are stupid arguments. Educational "best practices" say schools should be child-centered, not teacher-centered. *No child will learn at the teacher's convenience every day.* Some will learn "too quickly" all the time, some will learn "too slowly" all the time, most will learn either too quickly or too slowly depending on the day, the subject and the way the subject matter is presented. Most will figure it out if she goes over and over the material in different ways over the course of many days. This is the basic premise behind classroom teaching.

I'll save my rant about how completely arbitrary school procedures are for another day, except to say this: There is no magic age at which a child "should know" a particular concept in any subject, no matter what E. D. Hirsch's books say. State educational standards are usually written to require mastery of a subject several years/grades after the subject is first introduced. This is why we have consolidation years in which little or no new information is taught. (The consolidation grades are generally 2nd, 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th, 10th and 12th. Yes, this is half the usual 14 year school career--including pre-K and K.)

This is one reason why gifted kids present a "problem" for schools. Many have no idea what to do with kids who hit state mastery standards the first time around and want to keep learning. The schools are set up for that. They're set up for "normal" kids who need 15-18 repetitions for mastery of a concept. Gifted kids who get the concept after 1-3 repetitions spend a lot of classroom time being bored, even if you don't "teach ahead," which does make the boredom problem worse. (In case anyone is wondering, "bright" but not gifted children usually need between 6-10 repetitions for mastery.)

This is why we left the public schools. Kids only learn when they're ready and willing to learn, not when some textbook publisher or state standard says they're supposed to.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I had to cry "Fowl"!

I mentioned that I'm directing the two plays our 4H club is working on for the Drama Fest. I'm trying to incorporate drama games to teach them a little about the theatre, in addition to running lines, etc. So at last night's rehearsal, we played "Nuclear Chicken."

The story goes that this game was developed in the great Stanislavsky school for method acting. The set up is that everyone in the game is a chicken in a hen yard, 30 seconds before a nuclear bomb hits the farm. When the instructor says, "Go!" everyone behaves as they believe chickens would just before the bomb falls.

This is an exercise is getting completely into your character's head. A chicken doesn't know anything from bombs, so would go along just as he or she normally would, until BOOM! As the story goes, in the Stanislavsky class, most of the class was running around squawking and panicking because of the bomb. Only Marlon Brando kept pecking and hunting food, deeply enough into his character to let it over-ride his human knowledge of nuclear blasts.

So either I'm directing a bunch of little Brandos or Nuclear Chicken just doesn't work with homeschoolers. As one of my kids told me, "We have chickens, and they are so stupid, they'd probably think the bomb was food." So much for not letting previous knowledge interfere with your character. They had too much previous knowledge!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Starfish

My blog is coming up on three years old (as of March 20). I'd love to continue but find I'm unable to promise I can find keep posting on a regular basis. By way of explanation, I'll post The Starfish Story:

"The Starfish Story
Original Story by: Loren Eisley

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed
a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.
Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”
The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean.
The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”
“Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish?
You can’t make a difference!”
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish,
and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said…”
I made a difference for that one.”

I'm not only homeschooling Xavier and Wolfie, but also volunteered to be Adult Leader of the drama project for our 4H club (2 plays), active in trying to save our virtual school, and am shortly to be named Mensa's Gifted Children's Coordinator for the western part of our state. In short, I need to spend my time making a difference for my boys, for our 4H club and for gifted kids in our region. I will continue to post links to really cool resources as I happen across them, but I can't promise when. Thanks, everyone. It's been fun.