26 October 2012

What Does It Mean?

Rose is doing preschool worksheets at home sometimes.  On this page, she's supposed to circle the thing that is "last."  Emperor is absolutely perplexed by this.  Why are there piles of leaves floating over the ducks' heads?  And why is the grass white?  And how should I know which one is last?  You can't tell these things.  Yes.  Rose can.  I never taught her this skill; she just knows which one is last.  She can also pass the "which one is different" test.  Poor Emperor cannot.  He will vociferously argue how all the things pictured could be grouped together, or separately, or it really isn't right to say that the smaller triangle doesn't belong because it certainly appears congruent to the others and ... the world is a genuinely confusing place for him sometimes.  :/

Patrick looked at this page and started laughing his head off at one of the pictures.  "It looks like these people are (disgusting activity)!"  Oh my.  It's a preschool book.  But now that he mentions it, it sure looks like (activity) is going on every time I look at the page.  Don't you hate when that happens?

25 October 2012

A Presidential Post

*  I'm really, really tired of political posts.  This isn't really political.  It's more along the lines of... is this really an advertisement FOR Barack Obama?  This is supposed to help millions of people think of him as being a professional who takes the responsibility of being a spokesman for our great Nation with the awesome seriousness it deserves.  I guess.  I cannot imagine showing this to my adult son and my 17-year-old.  I'm actually an undecided voter in many of the races this year but this disgusts me. 

24 October 2012

Who Cares About Middle School?

I've read a lot on early literacy and elementary-level skills.  And there's a fair bit out there about high school standards and curriculum.  Middle school, though?  Not much.  It's almost as though we want to pretend these kids don't really exist, or worse, pretend as though their academic and behavioural concerns rightly belong in the "high school" box.

Emperor will be my first middle-school level homeschooler if he remains with me next year.  I'm finding his writing is not what it could be.  But he does well with an organized, structured report on a given topic.  How do we get his writing to evolve from the simple paragraph to the several-page long college essay complete with thesis statement and footnotes?  There is a middle stage there somewhere.

In reading, he isn't using the baby readers, but hasn't quite progressed naturally to the full-length novel without much effort and help.  Yet.

I'm finding also that many of his interests (and those of Elf, for that matter) are childish and also very teen-like at the same time.  Elf and Emperor still enjoy Pokemon but also have started to understand more adult comedies and movies and appreciate them. 

I notice that even homeschool curriculum doesn't break itself down into elementary, middle, and high school levels.  It seems they'll cater to a given age range or a given grade.  I don't think I've ever seen anyone particularly pitch to the middle-school level for academics.  Preschool seems to be the latest-greatest thing in terms of making money (hey, parents are over-involved and ready to spend big at that stage), but middle school-level things don't seem to be particularly heavily promoted.

Why do you think that is?  I am going to guess that it is either that schools themselves started the distinction (and therefore homeschoolers hate it), or that middle school begins that time of student specialisation we see so clearly in the high school level.

23 October 2012

Where Are the Homeschoolers?

Crazy Comment Time!
Homeschoolers are "The Last Radicals."  I had no idea homeschooling was even "radical!"

I'm thinking about 15% of all families try it at some point around here.  Yes, somewhere between a tenth and a fifth.  The school district stats of an 88% "capture rate" for the public schools bears this out.  That means 12% of all potential public schoolers in our district are NOT enrolled at any one given time.  The nearby private Catholic school simply cannot account for even 1% of this number, as it enrolls children from a large area and only goes to the eighth grade.

That means about 10% of us are homeschoolers, but people are not required to register here, so of course that's quite a rough guess.  I say 15% of children homeschool "at some point" because often what happens is, families will homeschool until their child is a certain age and then enroll him.  That's what we did with Elf.  He went to school for the very last couple of weeks in fifth grade and has been in school since.  High schoolers who homeschool are certainly around, but many families don't pursue this option.  

Now I know there are a few weird places out there like Antarctica and Massachusetts, but really.  Most of us in the real world know plenty of homeschoolers.  "Dragonslav" commented that she has never met a homeschooler, and where can she find one?  And yet.  She seemed to be a reasonably intelligent and sincere (read: not troll) person.

You've got to love the comments back that imply that oh, they are all off in college at the age of 14.  Or oh, they are actually at home studying.  Or... you've met lots of them and just don't know it because they covered their third eyeball (ok I made that one up).

So where would YOU go if you wanted to find a homeschooler?

22 October 2012

Too Familiar

A young man with autism is overwhelmed in the classroom.  He hides under the desk to try to regroup his thoughts/take a sensory break.  He might be weird, but he is not hurting anyone and given a little time, he'll crawl out and be ready to do his next activity.

But that is not good enough.  The teacher demands all children are seated, face-forward and ready to do the next thing NOW.  So the para drags the kid when he refuses to get out that very instant.  He is left with rug burns and the family and school now likely have an adversarial relationship.


It's a story that is all too familiar to me and other parents like me who have autistic children.  In our case, Elf never got rug burns, but he was locked in a closet by staff for his "bad choices."  My husband and I got into a great deal of conflict over whether Elf could homeschool.  I had a great deal of conflict with the school, made worse by the fact that I could not just tell the staff that I was taking my kid out right then and they could screw themselves.

It was a hard, hard time. 

I don't know what I'm trying to accomplish by blogging about this sort of thing yet again.  Maybe I am trying to help people realize that this is really real, it really happens, and it really happens to real children.  And things need to change.  We need to get to the point where "What is wrong with that teacher?" is the first question asked and "What did the kid do to deserve that punishment?" never comes up.

Because unless there is a loaded gun involved, no kid deserves such harsh treatment.

20 October 2012


If you haven't tried it, you need to before you die.  You find it in the grocery store near the peanut butter.  Not all stores have Biscoff spread, mind you, but many do.  Our local Wal-Mart and Price Chopper do, but not the Hy-Vee.  It runs just under $6 for a bitty jar and is imported from Belgium (la di dah).  Basically it is ground-up super-sweet Biscoff cookies.  Sunflower oil is added to make it more spreadable.  There is also a "chunky" variety in which the cookies are not fully ground.  (Get the creamy, though.  The chunky seems to be too oily and the consistency is not pallatable.)  Rose is a very finicky eater, and Biscoff is one of the few foods she will eat every time without complaining.  It is peanut-free and vegan even and is touted as "America's alternative to peanut butter."  It's way, way better than peanut butter, though.

19 October 2012

Rose Update!

Rose is pretty.  She has a new necklace.  She likes to write and can write her name.  She can comb her hair.  She plays Star Wars and Chinese Checkers with Patrick.  She likes to look out the window.  Her favourite foods are donuts and Biscoff spread.  She helped me write this post.  :)

17 October 2012

Flower, Leaf, Tree, Cloud

Woodjie wanted to write some things and with a lot of help, he is telling us what he could see this morning.  It seems Woodjie is either really ready to learn, or really NOT ready.  There's just no in-between or good method to coerce him into digesting the information on your agenda.  Not sure I am ready to blog about what is going on in school.  Just pray for him, wouldya?  And for his teachers as well.

16 October 2012

A Math Teacher Discusses the New Math

(I copy-pasted this comment from The Atlantic article on New Math.  How mathematics is taught in school is a very important issue and I think one ignored by most people in the general public.  FYI, our school district uses a horrible "new math" program but as it is taught with emphasis on knowing the algorithm as well as the memorization of addition/multiplication tables and the like, our district test scores are deceptively high.  My take-away from the article and comments is that it is best to master the lower-level maths completely before moving on to fulfill some graduation requirement list.) 

I've been a classroom teacher for 15 years and spent the 7 years ahead of that working in a Math Tutorial Lab in a state university, helping undergraduates as they struggled with math. I saw big time calculator dependence and continue to see that phenomenon in our high school students. I recently invited four faculty from our university to speak to our secondary (junior high and high school) math teachers about preparation for college math and STEM fields. They unanimously said, "Don't let your students become calculator dependent." "Don't let them have calculators all the time." They also said, "We don't care if they take calculus or not in high school, but please teach them algebra!"

Indeed. And trying to teach algebra to students who are not prepared for it is very difficult. In the recent decade (when students who learned from NSF-funded math programs reached secondary schools), we have noticed a drop in elementary math skills, including basic operations. We see students who cannot multiply without a lattice (they frequently can't multiply with it, placing decimals incorrectly or adding incorrectly) and we see students who cannot do long division. We see students who cannot multiply at all, and do repeated addition such as 1000+1000+1000+1000+1000+1000 instead of 6 x 1000.

 They don't know when to multiply, either. When it comes to multiplying fractions, we see things like 2.666666... x 33 = ? because they can't manage the fractions, continuing their love affair with decimals (and calculators). They don't understand the concept of remainder and how to express it as a fraction, as one would in changing an improper fraction to a mixed number. They have to be taught long division at the algebra 2 level because it is needed for polynomial division. The structure of the standard algorithms (as those of us who learned math before the current reform era got here) is necessary for students to work with polynomials and rational functions.

Trying to teach students the difference between vertical asymptotes and holes in rational functions is extremely difficult when they are not in the habit of writing fractions in lowest terms or knowing how to convert improper fractions into mixed numbers. We cripple them for learning algebra (and hence, bar the door that leads to STEM careers) when we don't prepare them with the standard algorithms. I have seen it time after time -- students whose parents can afford tutors or Sylvan come prepared to learn algebra much more often than those who are dependent on whatever gets taught in school. I've taught honors classes and very low-level, slow-paced classes over the years. Those students in slow-paced algebra 1 are there mainly because they have absolutely nonexistet computational skills.

It's pretty tough to add -6x + 10x in your head if you don't know how to add -6 + 10. We see transfer students from states where nothing lower level than algebra 1 is taught in high schools. They will have passed algebra 1 and geometry from their previous schools, and they can barely pass prealgebra in ours.

It's an equity issue and we will not narrow the achievement gap until we have high expectations for ALL students. Watering down the curriculum will not do it. Pretending that everyone in a high school is taking algebra 1 or higher level math classes is such a disservice to those students who have not mastered prealgebra material. We can't pretend we are preparing students for STEM fields or college or even careers that do not require some vocational post-secondary education by not giving them a strong basic math education at the K-8 levels.

15 October 2012

The Case of the Disappearing Sophomores

The "point" of this article could be just about anything.

One young lady was told that she was not to return to school as a sophomore. She's not likely to do well on the important test sophomores take in Texas.  Okayyy.  So then make her return to school as a freshman, get caught up, and totally ace the tests you need to take as a sophomore, right?  I mean, that is what MY parents would make me do.  Instead, no.  The mom "protested" this placement and now blames the school for her daughter's rotten choices in life.

Somehow having to retake a year in high school led to the kid dropping out, never getting a GED, becoming a welfare moocher and popping out three kids before the age of 21.

Riiiiiiight.  Please tell me these people are too lazy to vote as well.

Now the superintendent is under federal investigation and this school district's troubles are being called "by far the worst education scandal in the country" because he allegedly rigged who would be in which classes in such a way that many of the low-performers wouldn't be tested as sophomores.

Articles like this make me think schools should get bonuses or fines based on the individual student.  Wouldn't it make more sense for a public school student's progress to be tracked individually through the system rather than as a demographic group?

You'd think with all the nanny trash cams, individual RFID tracking systems and the like, that a simple system like this could be implemented.  I have to conclude educrats just think it's just so much more socially appropriate, and will lead to greater equality of educational outcomes, to label a child by his race, income and gender and then amalgamate the scores.  *eyeroll*

The fact is that no one was looking at the individual students in El Paso.   But yippee Skippy weren't those demographic groups doing nicely...

13 October 2012

Happy National Chess Day!

Greetings from West Des Moines, Iowa!  Emperor is at the hotel room right now taking a whirlpool bath and celebrating his victories.  He won first in the morning rounds and second in the afternoon rounds at the West Des Moines Youth tournament today.  He won all of his games except for the last in which he drew.  I have a new respect for Emperor as I entered the Parents and Friends tournament and lost. every. game.   I just don't have that long-range concentration and thinking ahead and dealing with spectators thing that Emperor has honed.  Imagine hanging onto board one all. day. long. and having people watch your every move from 9 am to 4 pm.  Ok, I can imagine it a bit better now and know it is beyond me.

11 October 2012

Emperor With Grandmaster Akobian

Can you tell Emperor is more than a little pleased to be working with a chess superstar?   He is taking group lessons this month at the Kansas City Chess Club on Wednesdays.

10 October 2012

How Does He Know All This?

PETA Fights Cruelty to Pokemon!

Having solved the problems of all real, living animals around the globe, PETA now fights cruelty to entirely made-up animals such as Pokemon.

Pokemon aren't even virtual real animals.  No pretend dog or cat is fighting in Pokemon.  The animals, and the entire world of Pokemon, has nothing whatsoever to do with the real animal kingdom.  Real animals in our world do not evolve into entirely DIFFERENT species of animals after they gain points in a fight, and most of them do not have long nonsensical conversations that only Pokemon trainers can understand.  (The Meow Mix cat might be an exception on that last part because it's telling us to BUY MEOW MIX NOW, but I'm thinking the ad mighta been rigged a little.) 

PETA has now come out with a disturbing "Black and Blue" parody of Pokemon's "Black and White" release.  There are real animals that could use some real help from these people, and this is what they spend their time/money on.

09 October 2012

Tattoo - It - Yourself!

A good tattoo can be very expensive.  Why spend that money on a professional when you can order your own "tattoo kit" from several different online retailers, including Amazon?  Just doodle away!  So cheap!

Could you imagine tattooing yourself and all your friends in the comfort of your very own home?  Right at the kitchen table? What could possibly go wrong?  I wonder who on earth thought marketing equipment like this to just anybody was a good idea... but apparently this is the new thing to do...

A simple google search reveals that already we have some... consequences from this sort of marketing.  One woman passed out drunk during her session, and so did her tattoo "artist."  This story ends up with a gas can, a house fire, and 20 years in the pokey...  Oh.  And a very bad tattoo.

Maybe you're not the drinking, carousing and housefire-setting type.  Maybe you just want a little income on the side by having a "tattoo party."  I think I am busy that night and can't attend.  Sorry.

08 October 2012

Should Black People Be Allowed to Give Weird Names to Their Children?

"If you don’t want to give your child an Anglo name, then don’t. There are literally thousands of cultures to look at for inspiration. There is NO excuse for branding your child with illiterate gibberish. It’s not cute, it’s not creative, it’s a disgrace. No other people in the entire WORLD do this like black people do. Just because the names sound foreign to our ears doesn’t mean they’re on the same level with Da’quavious, so don’t even try it. You sound ignorant as hell."  - truth hurts in the comment section of this article.


And the really weird thing is, it's a "black" publication saying people have gone too far, that getting too weird means your kid has a "ghetto" name.  One of the commenters even said that parents should NOT be allowed to name their children anything so outrageous as the names featured. 

What I hear from people overseas (and especially under governments run under Islamic principles) is that you can NOT just name your kid any old thing you feel like there.  You have to have it approved or it has to be a usual sort of name everyone uses like Bronwyn or Jane (Ok, not in the Islamic countries.  They have a different name list there.)  

I'll be honest here:  I've judged people based on their names.  I mean, some names just make you go "oh my gosh, no way."  Be real with me and you know you've done this, too.  I would like to think most people are going to try to be fair when they get around to actually meeting the person.  I guess I don't see why there is so much emotion about what someone wants to call their child.

Can you just imagine anyone telling parents what they can name their children? 

04 October 2012

New Blog!

Emperor now writes at the Homeschooling Emperor blog.  He's revamped the place and he also has a facebook page for you to visit and "like."  Be looking for new posts about three times a month.  He doesn't talk nearly so much as I do and he also would like to confine his writing to more factual pieces rather than writing stories.  His latest blog post is on nuclear power and he offers a unique solution to our energy crisis. 

01 October 2012

Firefighting Woodjie

* ***** Guess who visited Woodjie's school today?  Woodjie wants to tell you about how he is going to be a firefighter.  He also got "all mileys" today in school.  He's actually had several days running of all smileys.  Yay!  Can you tell that he is starting to put words together and come up with unique sentences that convey ideas?  Yep.  It has taken him a bit longer than the average bear, but he is making a ton of progress.

Woodjie's Roller Dance Routine!

Only a few people were selected to perform their routines at a recent club fundraiser.  I went to upload this video and was pretty shocked...