My backblog has once again achieved unmanageable proportions, so it's time to bring back—ta da!—Casting the Net, in which I collect related—or unrelated—snippets of items that have caught my attention.  Today's post was inspired by a series of videos on math education in the U. S. sent to me by my sister-in-law.  (Um, back in March 2011; I told you I'm behind.)

First, Math Education:  An Inconvenient Truth, by M. J. McDermott, who is neither a teacher nor a mathematician, but with a degree in atmospheric sciences it's safe to say she has a pretty good grip on the kind of math elementary and secondary school students should be learning.  And she doesn't like what she sees being taught in schools today, in particular the approaches of Investigations in Number, Data, and Space (aka TERC) and Everyday Mathematics.  (duration 15:27)

This video provoked several responses by James Blackburn-Lynch, a mathematics professor at Berea College, who argues (prolifically) that there's a lot of good in the approach that McDermott doesn't like. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Edit
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Stone Soup today is worth highlighting.

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Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, September 4, 2012 at 7:07 am | Edit
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Sporcle, my favorite technique for developing mental "hooks" on which to hang related information, now has a game for the Swiss cantons!  I still need to work on them, but I'm pretty happy to have gotten 20/26 on my first try—without looking at the Swiss map (thank you A&M!) on my wall.  All but one missed canton are in the eastern part of the country, with which I'm less familiar.  I am somewhat embarrassed at having missed Neuchâtel, but I still did better that I would do with Florida's counties....

There's also a quiz for Facts about Switzerland, on which I got 37 out of 50 on the first try.  I would have gotten two more had I not been interrupted twice in the middle of the game.  When will Porter learn not to interrupt when I am doing important work?  I also wasted too much time trying variations on "Confederation Helvetica" for the official name....  And their answer for the "Southern Mountain Range" is nitpicking, I think.  I'll never be able to remember the name of the president (Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf), but that changes every year, anyway.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, August 25, 2012 at 9:50 am | Edit
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Skip this post if you are tired of reading about our fabulous grandchildren.  :)

I was talking with Janet the other day, and as I usually do, I asked what new cute things our grandkids were doing.

"Well," she replied, "Joseph counted nearly to 50."

This puzzled me, as numbers are his passion and a month ago he had happily counted past 150 for me.

Then she added, "in Japanese."

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Edit
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"[W]hen I began this article I was dead set against homeschooling, as are many certified teachers. But, after doing research, I’m not so sure."

It's not the most ringing of endorsements, but it represents a big step, and Susan Schaefer's Homeschooling Goes Mainstream and Here's Why is postive about homeschooling from beginning to end.

I learned that homeschooling is way more organized than I thought and very in vogue at the moment.  In 1980, home schooling was illegal in 30 states. Now, it is legal in all 50 states with about 1.5-2 million children being homeschooled in the U.S., roughly 3 percent of school-age children nationwide.

This reminder of how far we've come gives me hope for the cantons of Switzerland where homeschooling is still illegal.  I pray they'll make progress a bit faster than we did, however—Joseph gets nearer to compulsory school age with every passing hour.

[T]he stigma associated with homeschooling is gone as it becomes more and more mainstream.

I thought the stigma was ancient history, although maybe that's because I rarely pay much attention to such things.  Our kids would know better.

The image of homeschooled children spending their days sitting at the kitchen table are long gone. Today’s homeschooled are out and about with many museums offering programs to homeschoolers as well as other hands-on activities, such as nature centers. There are endless websites dedicated to non-traditional learning opportunities in addition to websites offering support and resources for homeschooling families.

Hmmm.  Our kitchen table was dedicated to eating, not schooling, though I can't deny that a lot of education happened during dinner.  We certainly did our share of out-and-about!  All those "endless websites" would have been nice, though.  Hard as it is to believe, children, this was Before The Internet, though we did have the Education Round Table on GEnie.

According to the Homeschool Progress Report 2009: Academic Achievement and Demographics, homeschoolers, on average, scored 37 percentile points above their public school counterparts on standardized achievement tests.

Nothing new here, but it is nice to know that the advantage still holds as the homeschooling numbers have grown from "the few, the proud."

[H]omeschooled kids are far from isolated from peers, do well in social situations, and are more likely to be involved in their community. The education level of the parents had little effect on the success of their children, as did state regulations, gender of the student, or how much parents spent on education.

Again, nothing new.  In fact, there is little new in the article, but it was still encouraging to read.  If there's one thing I've learned in my more-than-half-century of life, it's that what's well known needs to be said again and again to each new generation, each new situation, each new demographic, or it is in danger of being lost.

What caught my eye about this article, above and beyond the homeschooling connection, was the paper in which it appeared:  The Middletown (Connecticut) Patch.  I thought the format and logo looked familiar, and indeed it was the obviously-related East Haddam-Killingworth Patch of a year ago April that mentioned my research on Phoebe's Quilt.  So it must be an important journal, right?

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, July 21, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Edit
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Until June of 2010, homeschooling was legal in Sweden, albeit within some onerous regulations.  But with the passage of a comprehensive revision of the education system, the right of parents to direct the education of their own children has been virtually abolished, in apparent violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, Protocol 1, Article 2:

No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religions and philosophical convictions.

If you want to become depressed learn more, there are many stories, often heart-wrenching, at the Home School Legal Defense Association site.  (I may have some quarrels with the HSLDA's approach, left over from the early days of homeschooling, but that doesn't negate their importance as a source of homeschooling advocacy and information.)

As part of an effort to raise awareness of their plight, Swedish homeschoolers are staging a Walk to Freedom from Askö, Sweden to the Finnish island of Åland, to which many Swedish homeschooling refugee families have fled.  (No, they're not walking on water, but plan to secure the help of a ferry for the last leg.)  Their adventure begins tomorrow.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, July 12, 2012 at 10:32 am | Edit
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I have so many things to write about, but am feeling a time crunch at the moment.  Just so you know I haven't forgotten you altogether, you get someone else's comments on homeschooling, in the form of a First Things article by Sally Thomas.  (H/T Conversion Diary).  Warning:  it may be a little intimidating if you happen to be feeling a bit insecure about your own homeschooling days.  But it's worth reading for the inspiration.

In recent years, as homeschooling has moved closer to the mainstream, much has been said about the successes of homeschooled children, especially regarding their statistically superior performance on standardized tests and the attractiveness of their transcripts and portfolios to college-admissions boards. Less, I think, has been said about how and why these successes happen. The fact is that homeschooling is an efficient way to teach and learn. It's time-effective, in that a homeschooled child, working independently or one-on-one with a parent or an older sibling, can get through more work or master a concept more quickly than a child who's one of twenty-five in a classroom.

To my mind, however, homeschooling's greatest efficiency lies in its capacity for a rightly ordered life. A child in school almost inevitably has a separate existence, a “school life,” that too easily weakens parental authority and values and that also encourages an artificial boundary between learning and everything else. Children come home exhausted from a day at school—and for a child with working parents, that day can be twelve hours long—and the last thing they want is to pick up a book or have a conversation. Television and video games demand relatively little, and they seem a blessed departure from what the children have been doing all day.

At home we can do what's nearly impossible in a school setting: We can weave learning into the fabric of our family life, so that the lines between “learning” and “everything else” have largely ceased to exist. The older children do a daily schedule of what I call sit-down work: math lessons, English and foreign-language exercises, and readings for history and science. The nine-year-old does roughly two hours of sit-down work a day, while the twelve-year-old spends three to four hours. But those hours hardly constitute the sum total of their education.

[W]hat looks like not that much on the daily surface of things proves in the living to be something greater than the schedule on the page suggests, a life in which English and math and science and history, contemplation and discussion and action, faith and learning, are not compartmentalized entities but elements in an integrated whole.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 25, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Edit
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I've been experimenting with Memrise for several days—long enough to conclude it merits a mention.

Memrise is a vocabulary review system that specializes in languages, of which there are an incredible number, from French to Quechua to Klingon!  (Alas, no Swiss German, no doubt hampered by the lack of an official written form.)  There are other subjects, as well, but not many yet, and they are not well developed.  The Periodic Table course, for example, would do better not reversing the "o" and the "u" in fluorine, and settling on either of the two acceptable spellings of the element Al, instead of compromising with "Alumnium."  (Or is that a new element, named after all college graduates?)

I'm loving the Introductory German!  My favorite language course is still Pimsleur, which along with Hippo gets the correct sound and feel of the language and its structure into my brain.  But I also need a way to build up vocabulary, and Memrise is the best I've found so far.  The vehicle is a simple "garden" system:  new words are seeds, and through practice you sprout them, help them grow, "harvest" (more like transplant) them to long-term memory, and water them to keep them healthy.  E-mail reminders bring you back to your "garden" at varying intervals—short for recently-learned words, longer for ones you know better—so you don't lose what you've learned.

It's easy to use and kind of fun.  I find that I'm picking up vocabulary pretty well so far, though I do wonder who decided which words to introduce first.  I mean, die Bundesrepublik?  "Federal Republic" is not exactly a term I use every day.  Or how about der Mülleimer?  Dustbin?  Dustbin?  Dustbins are things people in the English novels I love to read are always "tipping" things into, but I'm sure I've used the term fewer times than Federal Republic.  And is blöd (stupid) really an essential vocabulary word?  Still, in addition to these oddities there are more useful terms, such as das Haus (house), vielleicht (maybe), and der Name (name).  And I've finally caught the difference between der Staat (state) and die Stadt (city).

Unfortunately, I can't make the audio work in Firefox, and so must use IE or Chrome if I want to hear the words pronounced.  That's something I find very valuable, not only for understanding and speaking, but because having heard the sound of a noun I'm much more likely to be able to remember whether it's die, der, or das, something I always have trouble with.  I'm beginning to think of the article and the word as one entity, which of course will get me into trouble when I have to worry about inflection, but I'll climb that hill when I get to it.

It's also German German, and so uses the Eszett instead of the Swiss double "s."  However, it accepts the double "s" when I have to type in an answer, so I'm fine with it.  Letters with an umlaut are easy to enter, via either a mouse click or the Windows U.S. International keyboard (which I prefer because it is faster).

Here's hoping I manage to stick with the program, and not lose everything when I go on vacation....

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 21, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Edit
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Florida gets all too much press for crazy happenings, so it's about time another state took the spotlight.  Was it another school shooting that put Cascade High School in Hendricks County, Indiana, in the headlines?  Nope.  The newsworthy offense was a senior prank involving the deadly ... Post-It note!  (H/T Free-Range Kids)  Actually, the offense was on the part of the school administrators, who so far have suspended over 50 students, either for participating in the prank or for protesting the school's draconian response.

For years, MIT and Caltech have known that inventive, harmless pranks are a sign of an intelligent, creative student body.  I think we can guess what schools the administrators did NOT graduate from—though maybe the helpful janitor (Frazz?) did. 

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Edit
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Celebrating a Simple Life has a perceptive post this morning.  Ostensibly, it's about giving meaningful praise to children's artwork, but I say her wisdom has a much wider application, for chldren and adults in all areas of life.  Read the whole thing; it's worthwhile, it's short, and it shows a great picture painted by her son.

When you give meaningless praise, your kid comes to expect it for every not-so-impressive act they perform.  It's exhausting to the parent, becomes meaningless to the child, and sets up a bad habit of being forced to praise mediocrity, with your child knowing full well that the praise is hollow.

When you describe what you see, you are telling the child your work is worth examining more closely.  You are encouraging language development through your description.  You are teaching your child to have a critical eye for their own work.  And then when you do offer praise, your kid knows they deserved it.

(Apologies, to those who care, for publishing the awkward gender-neutral but grammar-offensive language.  The content is worth getting past that.)

I'm convinced that non-specific praise in any area, for child or adult, usually does more harm than good.  It means we're not taking them or their work seriously.  It means we're too lazy (tired, busy, etc.) to do our own job right.  And it sets up children, especially, for failure in the long run: when praise is unrelated to the quality of the work, how can they improve? When a five-second scribble receives the same fulsome admiration as a 30-minute effort, how do they learn that persistence and hard work make a difference?

That's not to say that it isn't important to convey to our children (and others) that we love them because of who they are, not because of what they do.  I'm not advocating conditional love.  But when commenting on work done, specific and meaningful praise is what both feeds the heart and encourages more and better efforts.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 24, 2012 at 8:49 am | Edit
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The Stories of Emmy:  A Girl Like Heidi by Doris Smith Naundorf (Xulon Press, 2010)

Doris Smith Naundorf is known in upstate New York as The Story Lady.  The Stories of Emmy are taken from her one-woman play, Interweaving the Generations.  Emmy, Doris's mother, grew up partly in her Swiss village of Muttenz, and partly in Paterson, New Jersey, where her family moved when she was ten years old.  Her stories give a delightful glimpse into Swiss, American, and immigrant life in the early 1900's.  (Grandchild warning:  There is one sad incident requiring parental discretion; the stories are meant to be appropriate for chidren, but reality is sometimes harsh.)

Muttenz is near Basel (four minutes by train, a century later), and the stories are sprinkled with Baseldeutsch, the delightful Swiss-German dialect spoken there.  A glossary is provided for each chapter.

Driving the several blocks to the train station, Emmy excitedly chattered to her father.  "Will we get there in time, Vatti? she asked.  "Mutti says we must be there early, so we will not miss the train."

"Jo, jo," replied her father.  "In a country that makes such fine watches and clocks, of course the Zúúg runs on time.  It is up to the passengers to be there early so the conductors can keep their schedule."

"The Zúúg, the train, is never late?"

"Of course not!  We Swiss cannot even imagine such a thing!" her father assured Emmy.

I couldn't resist finding Emmy, age 20, and her family in the 1920 census.  (Click on the image to view a version large enough to read.  Their name, Lüscher, appears without its umlaut.)

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Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, April 9, 2012 at 9:22 am | Edit
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Woo-hoo!  My copy of Dots: Zero to One Hundred arrived today!

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Edit
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I can't be griping all the time.  Here's some great news for homeschoolers—and others who don't fit in the standard school model—who have suffered, as we did, from age discrimination by community colleges.  Here are some excerpts from the encouraging story in tomorrow's Orlando Sentinel.  (I know.  Don't ask me why a column dated February 19 is available on the 18th, but it is.)

Two years ago, [Lake-Sumter Community College] refused to admit as a dual-enrollment student a then-12-year-old Center Hill girl who was more than academically qualified to study at the two-year community college.  Instead of enthusiastically embracing Anastasia Megan, a brilliant young woman home-schooled by her parents, college administrators took the most backward stance imaginable and fought to keep her out.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights in Atlanta, to whom Annie's family complained, recently closed the matter after LSCC eliminated its age requirement, trained employees to stop discriminating and offered Annie a chance to apply.

However, by the time LSCC offered to consider Annie in July 2011, it was clear that her course of study already had outstripped what the community college could provide.   Starting in August, Annie, now 14, and another of the triplets, her brother Zigmund, will attend Queens University in Ontario, Canada. She was among 300 successful applicants to the college of business and commerce from a field of 5,000. ... Annie's brother is entering the university's engineering school (Annie's second choice), and the third triplet, Elizabeth, is enrolled in a high-school International Baccalaureate program.

[S]uch a ruling by the Office for Civil Rights is likely to have an effect on community colleges statewide. It's all about access in community colleges, and that's the way it ought to be.  The Megan family neither asked for nor received a nickel in damages. The Megans didn't hire a lawyer.  LSCC, however, spent about $12,000 on attorney fees fighting to discriminate against a kid whose achievements were remarkable.  Asked why the college ever would fight to keep any student out, [College President Charles Mojock] said: "That was then, and this is now. We live and learn too."

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, February 18, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Edit
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Here's an interesting article from Newsweekon the popularity of homeschooling with "urban, educated" parents.

We think of homeschoolers as evangelicals or off-the-gridders who spend a lot of time at kitchen tables in the countryside. And it’s true that most homeschooling parents do so for moral or religious reasons. But education observers believe that is changing. You only have to go to a downtown Starbucks or art museum in the middle of a weekday to see that a once-unconventional choice “has become newly fashionable,” says Mitchell Stevens, a Stanford professor who wrote Kingdom of Children, a history of homeschooling. There are an estimated 300,000 homeschooled children in America’s cities, many of them children of secular, highly educated professionals who always figured they’d send their kids to school—until they came to think, Hey, maybe we could do better.

We've come a long way in the 25+ years of my experience.  (Not that "evangelicals or off-the-gridders who spend a lot of time at kitchen tables in the countryside" comes close to being an accurate description of the home education movement at any time that I remember.  It was always much broader than that.)

One consequence of the increasing popularity of homeschooling is that there is now enough collective knowledge that journalists are less likely to write utter nonsense.  I found the article to be fairly accurate.  An exception would be the section equating homeschooling with attachment parenting, which they define as, "an increasingly popular approach that involves round-the-clock physical contact with children and immediate responses to all their cues."  This bizarre description makes it sound as if mothers continue to carry their eight-year-olds around in slings all the time.  No normal one-year-old would put up with that, let alone someone of school age.

Other than that, it's a pretty fair article, considering it was written by someone on the outside looking in.  And considering the really clueless articles that have been written on homeschooling over the years.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, January 30, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Edit
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It's hard being a long-distance grandmother, whether the distance is 1000 miles or 4800.  Certainly I'd rather our grandchildren live just down the street!  But one compensation for the loss of frequent interaction is the joy of seeing how much the children change between visits.  As we await the time when I'll have baby news to announce, I'll share a few stories of life with Joseph, 18 months old and soon to assume the important role of big brother.

John Ciardi said that a child should be allowed to learn, "at the rate determined by her own happy hunger."  Joseph's current "happy hunger" is for letters and numbers.  He  has a wooden puzzle of the upper case alphabet that is the first toy he takes out in the morning, and again after his nap.  This was supplemented at Christmas by the nicest number puzzle I've seen, which includes the numbers from 0 through 20 and arithmetic operators as well.

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Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 9:21 am | Edit
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