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..."