Friday, September 28, 2007

Why Ambiguous Lectures Hurt Students

Today, D-Ed Reckoning has a very thorough post explaining why many kids are finding themselves behind: The root cause.

Teachers and education schools are spending more and more time encouraging other teachers to get more creative and write their own lesson plans, instead of using pre-made lesson plans and scripted curricula. But the truth is, teaching a group of students is very hard, and it's probably a rare person who can make perfect lessons in a short time or on the fly. It's very easy to see how a student could get confused, even learning very fundamental concepts such as "color" or "red". It's ten times harder to think of teaching something like reading.

Creativity has its place. Everyone wants to love their job and feel like they are doing something special. As a scientist, a technical writer, and a programmer, I've seen people who just go too far in trying to be creative. For example, I know it's a very common thing for technical writers to bristle at templates, style guides and writing rules, because it seems like it's taking away their creativity. They just want to fiddle with the font a few more times, or use a word a slightly different way, or just mix things up so their life is a little less scripted and predictable. But, while this fiddling may make them feel more productive, creative, smart, or useful, frequently it is a detriment to their product. If they change the template too much, it will look different from other writers' books. If they change the common convention, it can make it harder for new users to adapt. Just think about software or web sites you've used -- you can see how people have come up with new paradigms and metaphors for interacting with their design, but quite often users aren't looking for novelty when they are just trying to find what they are looking for or to efficiently complete their task.

Creativity is only good in small doses.

While homeschooling my son it is very easy for me to stop when he is confused and help correct him immediately, so incorrect ideas don't linger in his head for a long time. If he understands well, we can go rushing forward. If it takes him a month to figure something out, we can do that too! I believe in teaching to mastery. If you don't internalize what you are learning, you won't be able to build on it.

Last night we finished lesson two in "Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons". Some kids just figure out reading without any special instruction (my sister and I, for example), but I've decided to see if my son gets more confidence with this scripted direct instruction approach. I know that other males in my family have struggled with slow or non-fluid reading skills, despite being quite intelligent, and I wonder if a direct instruction approach like this would have helped. Or not. But if I see it isn't working, it's easy for me to change gears on the fly!

The Dry Socket Diet and Why I Love Clove Oil

I never thought I'd be tired of ice cream. But I am. I had my wisdom teeth out 8 days ago. I actually did the whole thing awake, which was a bit unpleasant, but I didn't want them to put me to sleep, because my daughter still nurses just about every night. Sure, I could have pumped for a day, but I threw away the breast pump when she turned a year old. I had, like most women, a love-hate relationship with that thing.

Anyway, I developed this charming thing called "dry socket" in one of my little tooth holes. Apparently, this happens about 5% of the time (boy am I good at developing those 5% side effects and complications!), and it means your tooth hole probably didn't clot right, and as a result you have an open wound with bit of bone and/or nerve hanging out. It really quite painful. I found myself whining and moaning every night, and actually had trouble sleeping. The pain really wasn't helped by OTC remedies such as Advil or Tylenol at all.

So, because of all this pain, I pretty much wasn't eating much at all. I ate broth and ice cream. Occasionally, I'd try swallowing noodles in soup or bits of mushed up baked potato, but the effort involved was painful and usually ended up getting little bits of food stuck in the poor holes in my mouth. Ice cream is probably the most pleasant thing to eat, since it's cold, but after polishing off two entire containers of ice cream, I'm tired of it! In fact, in the past week, I've lost 4-5 pounds. So, folks, if you want to lose weight, try my dry socket diet! Eat all the ice cream you want and still lose weight!

Thankfully, my husband took pity on me (or he simply got tired of my incessant whining) and he called the dentist two days ago. They said they could see me immidiately, and they packed my poor little socket with a dressing covered in clove oil. Now, this really felt horrible at first. They have to jam that little dressing in there, and it's really quite disgusting and painful (I don't even want to know what the "squishy sounds" I heard were). But within a few minutes it felt a little better, and by evening, I was actually smiling! I slept well that night and even had the patience to stay up with the baby, trying to get her to do anything but nurse, since I've been trying to wean her for three months now. (But when you have painful wisdom teeth, 87 million painful sinus infections, and all sorts of other craziness, it's hard to try really hard to wean anyone.)

Today, after I got my socket re-packed (didn't hurt at all!) I actually enjoyed the clove oil taste. I love cloves! So I stopped by the grocery store and picked up some nice soups that I can blend up with my beloved hand blender (no chunks!) and made sure to steer myself towards the ones that would go well with cloves (mmm... pumpkin bisque...).

Yay clove oil! You saved my mouth!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

New Robots for Your Home!

It looks like the folks at iRobot have been busy, and are releasing two new robots: one to clean your gutters and one to give you a virtual presence in your home.

Now, I love my Roomba. It is a quick and easy way to clean 80% of the dirt in on the floor. It doesn't get the corners perfectly, and sometimes it makes me crazy wandering around seemingly randomly. It often vacuums the same area 20 times, while a giant pile of dirt sits somewhere else. I should probably just learn to program it to run while I'm out. Anyway, it's an amazing thing to have when your have an older infant who can crawl and wants to eat any tiny little crumb of who-knows-what that someone left on the floor.

Anyway, the robots that cleans gutters sounds amazing! I want one already. Friends of mine say they love their Scoobas, but I don't have one of those. I'm not sure I really understand the point of the other robot. It sounds rather expensive -- I'd rather just use my cell phone to IM someone who is afar. Heck, we'll sit down and Google Chat, too. Both of those came in handy while my husband was away in Taiwan. But having a little robot following me around the house? It seems a bit much.

Would anyone want that one? What would you use it for? Any other Roomba-lovers out there?

Looking to the Past

It's always fun to look back and see what you were up to in years past. I'm going to try to look back at past Septembers and see what I was up to.

One year ago, I finally came back here after having a baby.

Two years ago, I finally found an RSS reader. I abandoned Bloglines some time ago, and now use Google Reader.

Three years ago, I hadn't quite gotten up the courage to start a blog, despite having read them for years.

What were you doing last year?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Playing With the Template

Expect this is change a bit if I have the time or inclination. I keep meaning to fix it up, and make it look like me. I just upgraded to the new Blogger templates, at the very least, to get the new functionality they've added.

Just don't be shocked if this place looks different a few times while I fiddle around.

Homeschool Park Days

I mentioned in my post a month ago that we tried out a a homeschooling group's park day. It was a complete blast! My son had the best time finding new friends and playing medeival knight. I loved that there was finally a group of people who would understand when I told my son that his sword was at home "in the weapon box". Yes folks, he has a toy box just for weapons. Not something I can admit just about anywhere, since it's just not PC, apparently. But he loves drama, and he loves the struggle between good and evil. He loves to pretend to be a valiant, noble defender, and I think that's fantastic! So he teamed up with the other kids at the park toting swords and wearing tunics. ;)

I really love that the group is so multi-age. It felt like one big family reunion. It really just made me realize how incredibly unnatural it is to have kids segregated by age. Kids need older kids to look up to and help them grow. They need younger kids to make them feel big and to have someone to teach their skills to. It just made my heart sing to see these teenaged kids playing with the little ones, and just having a great time. It felt so much like home.

My littlest tiniest hope is that I will find a parent who is anything like me. Oddly enough, I'm not sure I will. I respect everyone's choices for schools, but the parents I talked with last week were mostly talking about the coop classes they sent their kids to, and one of the moms even made a comment about her son's medeival literature class and she wondered why on earth he liked it. It made me a bit sad. I really want a kindred spirit. Someone else who can't wait to share their love of science and math and history with their kids. Partly, I think most of the parents do work, either part time, full time on nights and weekends, or with their own business. Maybe they don't have time to teach their kids everything. Or they choose not to, I don't know. It's just too expensive out here.

I just want a friend who understands me. (Well, besides my husband. He rocks, and I adore him, but he can't be my only friend -- it's not fair to either of us!)

Delay Before Starting

What a month! It's been pretty crazy here. So I'll try to do a quick update on my life.

The job interview actually went incredibly well. They ended up offering me a job. Luckily, I had plenty of time to think it over, because the recruiter and I kept missing each other and she was on vacation a few days. The offer was very flattering, and I almost accepted. But then I realized I would only be accepting it for selfish reasons. I liked the idea of building what they wanted built. And I liked the idea of the huge promotion and raise it would mean for me. But it would put us back to being a two-income family always stressed out with a messy house and who-knows-what for dinner. And I know I would never, ever, ever be happy that way. So I said no. I think I passed the first big test of my resolve.

We've spent the past month with my husband out of the country for two seperate weeks.

I got a huge sinus infection that left me pretty much useless and miserable. I decided to use the time I have now, finally, to take care of mysels a little bit and get my wisdom teeth pulled -- I suspect they might be partly behind my frequent sinus infections. I mean, they really had to go -- shortly after my 30th birthday, one of them partly erupted, but then got stuck. It was a happy little breeding ground for infection (and when it was removed, yes in fact, there was an infection going on). I was trying to wait until the baby was weaned, but she's proving to be at least as stubborn as my son, and with a sinus infection and no backup from my husband while he was out of the country, I just didn't have the energy to do it. So I had the teeth removed while I was awake (no sedation for me!). Ouch.

I've also developed a charming thing called "dry socket". Apparently the healing of one of the pulled teeth is going a bit wonky, and I have exposed, inflamed bone and nerves. It should delay healing and it hurts incredibly bad.

But! And here's the good news.

We finally informed the daycare we're pulling the kids -- they require 30 days notice, and this way, I'll have the chance to rest and finish healing up. Hopefuly, I can get the house in order, and plan plan plan!

I read "What Your Kindergartener Keeds To Know" -- I think it might be a nice place to start. I'm really interested in a reading-intensive program. My son loves being read to, and will only do workbooks (or even coloring books!) on the occasional once or twice a month that it strikes his fancy.

I've also (in my fun recovery time) read all of The Well Trained Mind. I think I'll be using a lot of their ideas. Once again, it's very reading based, and history based, which excites me. I want my son (and daughter!) to nderstand history, because most peopel today do not. I think it was the weakest part of my own education, and I constantly feel like my parents got a much better education in that sense than I did. They were classically trained, in catholic parochial schools. I'm not sure I'll stick with the schedule that the Wise's recommend though. I don't think I could wait until he's 9 to do physics experiments, and if he's anything like me, he's going to blow through some subjects (like math) much faster.

We already did one lesson from "Teach your child to read in 100 easy lessons". I'm not sure if it will work, but we'll see. I think this will help him simply because he is a perfectionist, and I think he doesn't try reading because he hates to be wrong. We made a sticker/stamp chart to fill in after each assignment. We'll see if this works. I'm hopeful, but honestly I give it maybe a 50% chance. If my son ends up not enjoying it, we'll put it aside for later.

I'm skipping the writing exercises in that book. I have a Kumon workbook for writing if he ever cares to try, but mostly I'm doing stealth teaching of his writing. He play hangman -- he makes up fake words by randomly filling in letters while I guess, then I have to pronounce whatever weird word he makes up. His letters are getting much better, and he's getting really good at drawing stick figures. ;) I have a lot of work that his daycare did to undo. They have them writing, but never taught them the correct way to write the letters, so he's always starting at the bottom and pushing up (for example). I'm hoping the Kumon book will help him learn the right order, when he's ready. Right now, that sort of "help" will just discourage him and make him feel bad, I think. He really does not like to feel wrong, and his daycare set him up to fail by not teaching him to write letters properly. I wish they'd just left it alone!

Other steps I'm taking include:
* Playing classical music from time to time. This house has the most amazing surround sound speakers connected to the sterio/CD player/receiver, placed around a room with a hardwood floor. The sound is just incredible!
* Playing games like Uno and chess. He can't get through a game of Chutes and Ladders, but he loves Uno and chess!
* Reading, reading, reading! He loves the Magic Treehosue books, which is hopefully getting him to begin to get used to different places and peroids of history. Next time I"m at the library, I'm going to look for good kids versions of myths. He loves drama!
* He is hopelessly obsessed with the TV, so I'm trying to record some things that might actually teach him something. I recorded a show called Modern Marvels this week, specifically the episode about knives, swords and axes. I think it was a hit. ;) He's always had a need for massive amounts of input, and what with me being sick, the husband out of town, and an asthmatic baby, well... I can't always provide all the input he needs. I don't think TVs are evil and I do believe in recreation that isn't always about learning.... but I do think he's gone overboard recently. I also put the old shows Voyagers in the Netflix queue. More history! ;)

In other news, I'm trying to find a way to make money. DH doesn't make enough alone to pay all the bills. I'm still on vacation at work until Friday (yes, I really had six weeks of vacation stored up... I wonder how I got so burnt out? ;D) and after that we have money saved up for a rainy day. But that won't last forever, so I'm going to try to make small business web pages and do freelance writing. I have *no* idea where I will find the time or energy for that, though!

It would help if my son was a decent sleeper. Or my daughter was. Or my husband was. Or I was. My daughter has allergies and asthma, and if I or she eat a tiny bit on onion, she has gas pains all night. So lately, we've been up with her. A lot. You wouldn't believe how impossible it is to avoid onions, unless you cook absolutely everything from scratch. Which I did do for a while, but ever since we moved (and I've been miserably in pain) it just hsan't happened. I still haven't even found all the boxes with kitchen pots and pans yet!

Anyway, sorry its been a month, but that's my update! 30 days to clean up, heal up, start a business, and get ready for a whole new life, with my kids by my side.