Monday, May 16, 2011

Good Idea: Gradeless schools!

We gripe about what all is wrong with our schools and forget to point out when a community tries to do something right.

Here is an article about a school that focuses on a student's ability instead of focusing on age or grade level.

School Teaches by Ability, not Grade Level

It makes sense to focus on ability instead of age. We know that children are different and develop at different rates in different academic areas. A child might be ready to move ahead in one area while still needing improvement in another. A gifted math student might be delayed in reading. This type of approach allows a child to soar where he is gifted while receiving remediation where improvement is needed. Students are not passed on to the next grade with "gaps" in their learning. Focusing on ability allows a more "individualized" education - an education tailored to fit each child.

There is a local homeschool support group, Tailor Made, which offers support for parents who are trying to give their child a unique or "tailored" education. The founder explained, "You wouldn't buy one-size-fits-all clothing for your child; you would find the clothing that fits him best and alter it when needed." I'm sure she did a better job of explaining it.

I think focusing on individual development instead of age or grade level is a good idea! Grade-less schools deserve an A.

P.S. When I saw the mention of the boy who wasn't sure what grade he was in, I thought that usually it's the homeschoolers who aren't sure what grade they are in. My fourth or fifth grader gets a deer in the headlights look when he's asked what grade he is in. "You are in third grade in reading and sixth grade in math, so I guess that makes you about fourth or fifth grade." Most of the learning materials that I use in my home are not designed for a specific grade level.

Our testing culture is like...

...manipulating symptoms to diagnose a disease and then blaming the doctor for the disease.

Here is a rant (meaning I don't expect anyone to read it) that just goes on and on:

I think our testing culture is ruining education. Education should be child-centered, especially childhood education, and not test-driven. I think we give our state mandated tests too early, too often, and that we depend on them too much.

Is the goal of these yearly tests really to improve education? No, the purpose is to judge teachers and punish schools. Since the tests are not able to improve education, and can actually harm it, think of all the time spent learning test taking skills, why do we support the tests? Do educators create these tests? No, the people who create the tests are making six figures while the teachers who are judged by those tests are not. Testing has become a multi-million dollar industry while our small schools are being closed and teachers are being "contract not renewed." Are public schools just about supporting the testing industry? The politicians who push these tests and the people who make the money from these tests, usually didn't attend public school and do not send their own children to the same schools where these tests are administered. I think the community should protest these tests.

I don't know if this is true for Texas, but in some states, tests are given three times a year - a practice for the practice test - and sometimes the tests take six hours to complete. Could the test be measuring a child's attention span? I think in Texas we just have the one mid-year practice TAKS. That's a lot of time spent not learning. Whose education is it? I think students should protest.

I understand the need for tests, like the PSAT for scholarships or the SAT or ACT for college admission, or subject SATs for credit, but for tests like the TAKS to actually control and shape our educational system - insane. The test is driving the curriculum and publishing companies. Our dependance on these tests are making the very thing we focus on, obsolete.

Tests are not an accurate measure of what a child knows. It's a measure of how well the child takes tests - a measure of test taking skills which can be taught - and a measure of attention span. Is the purpose of schooling to prepare students for tests? Is that the goal of public education? To produce good test takers?

There are all kinds of factors that affect a child's performance on a test, knowledge of basic skills is a factor, but not the only one. Sleep, anxiety, culture, and nutrition - attention span - can affect a child's score and then a teacher is judged or a school is judged by those factors? Factors that are out of a teacher's control.

Used correctly, tests could help a teacher determine a student's strengths, and could give an educator a hint as to how to tweak teaching methods to help the child. But, these tests are not to help students, they are to compare, track, punish, and pit schools against schools and even countries against countries.

I think we give the state mandated test too early. We teach kids more and more earlier and earlier hoping that they will be ready for the test by third grade. The test is driving our scope and sequence. Late readers cause alarm instead of being allowed more time to mature, physiologically, which is not an indicator of intelligence or knowledge. We want the physiological development to speed up for these tests. Not all children develop at the same rate.

I'm for a test maybe right before Junior High, maybe before high school, and before college. But testing all year long every year as if the goal of schooling is really testing - is insane!

But, I'm sure, as usual, I am the one who is really insane. I don't think that things should be done just because "that's the way it is done."

I would provide links and edit this, but I have so much more on my plate today. I think we are leaving for College Station tomorrow and we might watch a baseball game while there...

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Let go my EVO

It was wild taking all the drama of the VicAd comment section with me to my nine year old's soccer game this morning. I imagined all the fights happening in the bottom of my purse. Yes, I finally got one of dem der fancy phone-a-ma-jigs. I'm still in the explore-tweak-play phase, so bear with me. I'm finding it hard to type in complete sentences or to keep a thought in my head for very long. Also, the keyboard on this laptop seems gigantic now that I have grown accustomed to typing on the display screen of my phone.

My husband and I both upgraded to the HTC EVO from phones that were so old we were laughed at by everyone in the store. How old were they? My phone had an antenna. (My daughter upgraded to a Samsung Triumph.)

I love the EVO because it is similar to my iPod Touch, which I liked, and which made me doubt that I would like any phone but the iPhone. I have to admit that I love my EVO! The apps that enjoyed on my iPod, I now have on my EVO.

The negatives are that it's not holding a charge as long as my old phone. I can't stick my new phone on my iPod dock. (I love listening to Pandora Radio through those speakers.) The EVO won't replace the iPod in that regards. Also, the EVO is pretty big and won't fit into my phone holder that I strap on my arm when I go walking. Ok, I only go walking three times a month... I secretly want an iPad, but it ain't going to happen on my salary. =P

I can't find anyone to Skype with and no one to stalk on Latitude, because everyone here is now addicted to Angry Birds. My husband and my nine year old have been playing day and night (one night and one day) since we bought the phones. I even downloaded Google Chrome so we could install Angry Birds on my laptop. That kept the nine year old off of my EVO.

Here are two pictures that I took with my laptop of me with my phone taking a picture of me:

That sounded really narcissistic...

Now I have to follow hubby to Port Lavaca so that he can pick up the van that he will drive to fire school. I'll use my EVO like a Garmin on the drive there and back - just because I can.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Thoughts on BorgLord's Post

Well, I should say, my COMMENT that was too long to actually submit on BorgLord's Blog, How Do I Know?. It was really in response to the comment thread and not to BorgLord's Post. I don't care if he is an atheist. I do care that "fighters" see everything as an opportunity to engage in what they love: THE FIGHT.

Do nonbelievers come to believe when fighters fight and argue? I think it's counter productive. Knowing that fighting to convince someone of your point of view, even if you just KNOW that God would agree with you, only turns them off from what you are trying to get them to believe, means that your only goal in arguing is to FIGHT. Sometimes I want to fight. =P But, to do it as a representative of God, makes me against God. Right? Wanna fight?

I did post two or three sentences from the last paragraph on the comment section.

"Faith is the evidence of things NOT seen. Science is man trying to understand the physical or the things seen, or observed. I think it's wrong to use the Bible as a science text or to tweak scientific observations based on its literal translation.

Those who argue that the bible is the word of God have to admit that it was physically penned by men who had limited scientific knowledge. The message to them was not one of science. Even if that message was of science, they would not have understood. They would have a roach-like understanding.

I love the synagogue-explanation of trying to explain creation/evolution: "It would be like trying to explain the internet to a roach." Humans have such limited knowledge before the Creator. Imagine the roach trying to explain how the internet works to other roaches. There wouldn't be comprehension so an accurate picture wouldn't be shared.

An example: in the bible it says that the earth stands still and it can not be moved. For years that made good scientists, ones that admitted to belief in a heliocentric solar system, "heretics." That type of literal translation stunts us.

Recently, a lady stood up during a lecture by Bill Nye and shouted, "We believe in God!" because he said that the moon (the lesser of the two lights) was not actually a light source, but a reflectant.

I think that if you want science (physical) to line up with or prove your faith (things not seen) it's a sign that you have no faith, unless you think that the message of the bible was one of science. I don't let "the inspired word," as shared by humans thousands of years ago, dictate my understanding of modern day science."

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Innovative or Orwellian?

I don't know if the phrase, interest driven learning or individualized learning, had been coined, or if it was a popular subject of discussion in the late eighties, but Isaac Asimov was describing the concept in this 1988 interview with Bill Moyers:

That's not the amazing thing about the interview. Computers weren't in every home at the time, yet Asimov envisioned how this technology could revolutionize learning.

Has his vision been realized with the availability of the internet and with the many sites created for autodidacts or independent learners? Sites like HippoCampus, Khan Academy, iTunes U, BBC Languages, just to name a few. Independent and *pure* interest driven learning is possible.

Today, if we want to know about anything, we just search it on the internet, like Asimov described. We don't even have to buy the book, the floppy disk or the cd-rom at the store. Whole courses are available online - most are free. Maybe Sci-fi writers ARE able to see into the future.

Some feared that computers would "dehumanize" learning, and Asimov answered that. I think this technology would become cold and impersonal *only* if it were forced, uniform, controlled and the knowledge gained from it, tested with a one size fits all test. That would make the innovative seem Orwellian.

I think, as a society, we've outgrown the one size fits all type of education that was once so convenient. Technology has allowed for higher quality conveniences. We have the opportunity to make learning a unique experience for each person, based on their "bent." The interviewer asked, "What if I only want to learn about baseball?" Asimov answered, "That's alright...The more you learn about baseball the more you might grow interested in mathematics to figure out what they mean by those earned run averages, the batting averages, and so on... you might, at the end, become more interested in math than baseball, if you are following your own bent..." He sounds a little like John Holt and the many unschoolers I've encountered over the years. ;)

Do you think his vision of learning via computer (the way he described it) was innovative or Orwellian? I think the distinguishing factor is Freedom.

I also think that, contrary to what Asimov said, it could replace school for the independent and motivated learner.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Tuesday (Homeschool Drama Party)

Today was the end of the year homeschool drama party at the park. Tots to teens played basketball, volleyball, tennis, or soccer for several hours. Lots of playing.

My nine year old played so hard, that one of his tennis shoes ripped almost in two. When he showed us his broken shoe and told us that he needed a new pair, I said, “ I’ve seen several homeschooled kids running around with duct tape on their shoes. It’s almost a fad.” My daughter agreed and began to name a few of the homeschooled high schoolers who were guilty of sporting the fashion.

As soon as we got home, my son found some duct-tape and was about to tape up his shoes when I reminded him that we had leopard print duct-tape somewhere. He couldn’t find it so I had to add it to my grocery list.

One of the homeschool moms had brought eggs from her farm to the park and I was lucky enough to scratch off one of the items on my grocery list.

Off to the store for fancy duct tape and the rest of my groceries (minus the eggs) and then to soccer practice...

*I ended up buying the camouflage duct tape.

Kelsey in "Mission Possible"

Monday, May 02, 2011

Monday Monday

Today, I opened all of the windows to bring the outside in. I thought that since the windows were open, it was a good time to clean around the frames. No telling how many insect carcasses now reside in the bottom of the vacuum cleaner bag.

I love it when all of the windows are open because I can hear the birds and the wind chimes. It’s windy enough that I can also hear the trees. The only problem is my nineteen year old playing Call of Duty Black Ops. I mostly hear machine-gun fire and the occasional dove.

I should be making the kids finish up school, but my spring cleaning was contagious. My daughter removed the screen of her bedroom window and is cleaning the glass with Windex. My nine year old built a car for his hamster out of a paper-towel tube and Tinker Toys. His hamster loves to go inside of the tube just as much and as quickly as she likes to exit. He is upset that she won’t poke her head out and stand still so that it looks like she is driving the little makeshift car. He even sang, "Doo da dippity."

Osama. After the news of his death, one of my Facebook friends posted, “is wondering what sort of childhood Osama bin Laden must have had to turn into the man he was.”

That's food for thought.