Blame me, my parents, or my schools as you see fit, but after half a century as an American citizen, 13 years of public education, and a college degree, I couldn't name all of the presidents of the United States, much less in order.  The mystery is why no one ever tried to teach me, given how easily I learned them when I put my mind to it, and how handy it has been (and would have been in history class!) to have even a rough idea of who fits in where.

Actually, I did not even have to put my mind to the problem, only my ears.  I bought a copy of Sue Dickson's "Song of the U.S. Presidents," and after a few hearings it stuck.  It's not a great song, but as with many not-so-great songs, that seems to make it stick all the better.  (The link takes you to an updated version that I haven't tried yet (mine ends with Clinton), but the sample suggests it is basically the same.)  Of all the U.S. President songs, that one is my favorite, because it is short, simple, and easy to rattle off mentally when needed—such as when I'm playing the "put the pictures of the presidents in chronological order" game with my nephews.  However, it teaches only the order (no numbers) and gives last names but not first, so you have to know which Adams is which, and which Harrison, and that both Clevelands are the same person. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 9:52 am | Edit
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Where were you 20 years ago today?

My own journal entry is remarkably filled with the mundane details of life with two young children.  There is one exclamatory sentence, "Would that every day could be like this!" but it was referring to Heather's having awakened with her alarm clock, showered, dressed, made her bed, cleaned her room and finished all her chores before school.  Not as momentous as events on the other side of the world, but a personal triumph. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, November 9, 2009 at 7:47 am | Edit
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Studies showing that teachers will form expectations of a student's character and ability based on nothing more than his or her name are unfortunately nothing new.  Students with "traditional," common names are more likely to receive higher ratings on both academic performance and behavior than those with names perceived as odd.  What makes this article worth commenting on is not the results of the study, but the names themselves.

The study reveals that . . . traditional names such as Charlotte, Sophie, Marie, Hannah, Alexander, Maximilian, Simon, Lukas and Jakob are consistently linked to strong performance and good behaviour. Non-traditional names such as Chantal, Mandy, Angelina, Kevin, Justin and Maurice, on the other hand, are associated with weak performance and bad behaviour.

 (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 3:52 pm | Edit
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School at the Daley household could hardly have been called normal, since Grandma was there as a distraction and Mommy was sick for the first part of my visit.  Nonetheless, I enjoyed my glimpse into the official, sit-at-the-table side of their 24/7 educational process.

Jonathan is not at the moment as excited about math as he is about reading—unlike his Aunt Janet at that age, for whom reading was all right but math was a bowl full of candy.  He's doing well, though, with basic addition and subtraction (and even some simple multiplication and division), and enjoys the "math paths" that Grandma sends him in the mail, problems like this one:

Both boys also like using their Cuisenaire rods, base-10 blocks, and bucket balance.  The Cuisenaire rods are from our own homeschooling days.  We also had a set of base-10 blocks that I had made out of cardboard.  They disappeared somehow, probably in one of our moves, and trust me, buying a commercial set is well worth the $16 investment.  I can't get over the resources available to homeschoolers these days!

The fun is the same, though.  There are few thrills more sublime than observing the "ah ha!" moment in your child's (or grandchild's) eyes.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, October 26, 2009 at 2:48 pm | Edit
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Our own homeschooling experiences were far shorter than I would have liked, so it has been fun watching other family members in their adventures.  (It has also been nothing short of astonishing to see what resources are now available, rather like the difference between a gas station convenience store and a Super-Wegmans grocery store.)

It is especially fun to watch the grandkids' schooling, since our own children were in public school at this stage.  On the one hand, school time is very short, even for kindergarten, when measured by organized, sit-at-the-table time, and Heather's still working on the best way to balance everyone's needs.  On the other hand, education, if not school, is clearly going on 24/7, and one cannot argue with the results.

Jonathan can read.  It is still laborious enough that he tires easily, but he has reached the stage where what he needs most is simply to read, which he is happy to do, whether to himself or to others. And not only books, but signs, maps, computer screens, anything and everything.

I think more reading goes on here than anything else.  Noah asks to be read to at any spare moment (or not so spare), usually the same books over and over and over again, until he knows the story well enough to "read" it himself.  It's a hoot to hear him tell The Three Billy Goats Gruff:  You wouldn't understand much if you didn't already know the story, but he has all the nuances and tones of voice down pat, from "It only I, the little billy goat," to "I coming to GOBBLE YOU UP!"

This post clearly isn't going to cover all I had planned, so I'll cut it short and post it anyway.  Being part of the adventure doesn't leave much time to write about it.
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, October 17, 2009 at 10:47 pm | Edit
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  • A chance to excel?  A school district in Colorado is eliminating both grades and grade levels in a radical attempt to help its students learn.  In theory, students assume more responsibility for their own learning, and take as long or as short a time as they need to advance from one level of the material to another.  This has enormous potential for good, though I’ll withhold judgement until I see whether or not it truly encourages students to learn more, faster, or if administrators will be content with results like a first grade classroom that took a year “to create—and refine—a classroom code of conduct…which includes items such as "don't hit people" and "we will not play with hair."
  • Food for thought.  From Percival Blakeney Academy, a thoughtful look at homeschooling through an analogy with home cooking.

    [Wh]at about a family eating a meal planned by the mom but cooked by a housekeeper or cook? Or a takeout meal served at home on one's own dishes? Or a frozen lasagna baked in your own oven with bakery bread and your own salad? Or a make ahead meal prepped in a commercial dinners-to-go kitchen by the mom from their menu card and then cooked up weeks later at home? Which of these is home cooking and which isn't? Is there a difference between home cooking and eating at home (and does the difference matter)?

  • The Great Homeschooling Divide (or one of them).  Here’s a mom who effectively voices the position of those who homeschool because they believe public/private schools aren’t good/affordable enough.  My gut reaction is, these people don’t GET homeschooling AT ALL.  But that’s unfair.  Finding no suitable alternative is a legitimate reason for homeschooling, as long as it’s understood that if every school were suddenly, magically perfect for everyone, many of us would still insist on home learning.  To borrow from the above-mentioned analogy, I don’t care how great the restaurant is, it will never replace the family dinner table.
  • In case you thought your state's homeschooling requirements were onerous.  Educating Germany, a website in English—though some links are to articles in German—in support of educational freedom in Germany, in which homeschooling your children is likely to result in having them forcibly removed from your home.
  • Legislation, sausage...and textbooks.  Did you ever thumb through your child’s textbook and lament, “Who writes these things, anyway?”  Turns out that’s a dangerous as wondering what went into the hot dog you just swallowed.  More so, maybe.  A former editor at a major textbook publisher tells what you don’t want to know.

    I got a hint of things to come when I overheard my boss lamenting, "The books are done and we still don't have an author! I must sign someone today!"

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 2:50 pm | Edit
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Today marks our Constitution's 222nd birthday, in honor of which I present another depressing civics quiz.  The questions are drawn from the test prospective U.S. citizens must pass, and if these standards applied to all, apparently 97% of Oklahoma's public high school students would be in danger of losing their citizenship.  I'm sure no one is under any illusions that the problem is limited to Oklahoma.  Here are the questions; for the answers, and what percentage of the students surveyed answered each question correctly, see the original article.

  1. What is the supreme law of the land?   
  2. What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution?
  3. What are the two parts of the U.S. Congress?
  4. How many justices are there on the Supreme Court?   
  5. Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?
  6. What ocean is on the east coast of the United States?
  7. What are the two major political parties in the United States?
  8. We elect a U.S. senator for how many years?
  9. Who was the first President of the United States?
  10. Who is in charge of the executive branch?
What I find interesting about this quiz is that, although I did get answer every question correctly, I would say few if any of my answers were due primarily to what I learned in school, but rather to merely living life.  When it comes to history and politics, I admit to being abysmally ignorant; I wangled my way out of Pennsylvania's required semester of American Government by taking an extra year of independent study physics.  (Don't ask me why they let me get away with that, but I trust the Statute of Limitations covers it somehow.)  I loathe politics in general and other than voting am shamefully neglectful of my civic duties.  Yet even with my notorious lack of observational skills, I couldn't avoid learning enough to pass the test.  Perhaps my additional years on this planet do count for something.
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 1:19 pm | Edit
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I don't expect most of my Loyal Readers to wade through the entirety of Paul Gottfried's Voices Against Progress: What I Learned from Genovese, Lasch, and Bradford at the Front Porch Republic, but I include the link for those of us who were students at the University of Rochester during those times.  I find it fascinating to glimpse the political maneuverings that were going on over the heads of mere students.  I knew neither Eugene Genovese nor Christopher Lasch; I stayed as much as possible in the science and engineering part of the school, and never set foot in that "hotbed of the New Left, the University of Rochester history department."  But everyone had heard of Genovese, whom we usually referred to as Our Resident Commie, and his wife, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, the Resident Feminist.

Of even more interest is how the thoughts and ideals of these people changed over time.  I don't regret having avoided the U of R history department in the 1970's, but find myself wishing I had known these folks as friends.
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, August 14, 2009 at 12:08 pm | Edit
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The future may belong to the Indians, or perhaps the Africans—or anyone who grows up in a multilingual environment.  Adding to the evidence of the benefits to the brain of speaking multiple languages is the research of Lera Boroditsky at Stanford University.  (Newsweek article by Sharon Begley.)

When the world's tallest vehicular bridge,* the Viaduc de Millau, opened,

German newspapers described how it "floated above the clouds" with "elegance and lightness" and "breathtaking" beauty. In France, papers praised the "immense" "concrete giant." Was it mere coincidence that the Germans saw beauty where the French saw heft and power?

 (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 9:27 am | Edit
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alt King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, by Roger Lancelyn Green (Puffin Books, 2008)

I bought this book for my grandson, who so enjoyed Roger Lancelyn Green's The Adventures of Robin Hood.  His mother reported that the Robin Hood book was "perfect" for him, but I wish I had read it myself, first, so I could compare it with King Arthur, since I'm having second thoughts.  King Arthur has been read by and to children for half a century, and there's nothing at all inappropriate about it, but there are not a few battles in which people's heads get lopped off, and a few babies conceived under less than ideal circumstances (Arthur in a scenario not unlike Solomon's), and—perhaps more disturbing for a child—a couple of examples of children raised by others instead of their own families. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, July 25, 2009 at 11:09 am | Edit
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  The Element:  How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, by Ken Robinson (Viking, New York, 2009)

I've written before about Sir Ken Robinson, Creativity, and Education, and put an order in with our library as soon as I heard about his new book.  It finally came through, as library books are wont to do, at a time when hours for leisure reading are scarcer than arts classes in a standardized-test-obsessed school system.  But unlike Last Child in the Woods, The Element is a quick and non-technical read.  Robinson's 2006 TED talk is a good summary of the ideas in The Element.  The book goes into more detail, with more examples, and expands a bit further.

I use the term the Element to describe the place where the things we love to do and the things we are good at come together.  I believe it is essential that each of us find his or her Element, not simply because it will make us more fulfilled but because, as the world evolves, the very future of our communities and institutions will depend on it.

Robinson is convincing enough, and encouraging in his belief that it is never too late to find and nurture one's Element, but he is frustratingly short on practical advice.  So many of the examples he gives are of people who knew from childhood what they were good at, and what they wanted to do.  They may have been obstructed at every turn, may not have been able to do what they knew they were born for until much later in life, but at least they knew.

Now, I can quickly name three passions that at least begin to stir in me the excitement he speaks of, what another friend refers to as the "fire in the belly":  writing, education, and genealogy.  But not only were they not passions of mine during the years when I was in school and presumably focusing and honing my skills for the future, they were actually anti-passions:  I disliked my English and history classes, had negative interest in family stories, and teaching was not even in the vicinity of my career thoughts.  Nothing excited me, really.  I focused on science and math because I was good at them, which kept me going until some point in college, when they no longer came easily and my fair-to-middling interest was not sufficient to inspire the hard work necessary to master them.  How do we help the me's of this world to find their Element?

Here are some fairly random excerpts to give you a taste:

[I]ssues of attitude are of paramount importance in finding your Element.  A strong will to be yourself is an indomitable force.  Without it, even a person in perfect physical shape is at a comparative disadvantage.  In my experience, most people have to face internal obstacles of self-doubt and fear as much as any external obstacles of circumstance and opportunity....Fear is perhaps the most common obstacle to finding your Element.  You might ask how often it's played a part in your own life and held you back from doing the things you desperately wanted to try.

[Richard Wiseman, author of The Luck Factor] has identified four principles that characterize lucky people.  Lucky people tend to maximize chance opportunities.  They are especially adept at creating, noticing, and acting upon these opportunities when they arise.  Second, they tend to be very effective at listening to their intuition, and do work (such as meditation) that is designed to boost their intuitive abilities.   The third principle is that lucky people tend to expect to be lucky, creating a series of self-fulfilling prophecies because they go into the world anticipating a positive outcome.  Last, lucky people have an attitude that allows them to turn bad luck to good.  They don't allow ill fortune to overwhelm them, and they move quickly to take control of the situation when it isn't going well for them.

Effective mentors push us past what we see as our limits.  Much as they don't allow us to succumb to self-doubt, they also prevent us from doing less with our lives than we can.  A true mentor reminds us that our goal should never be to be "average" at our pursuits.

There is abundant evidence that opportunities to discover our Element exist more frequently in our lives than many might believe....I don't mean to say, of course, that we all can do anything at any time in our lives.  If you're about to turn one hundred, it's unlikely that you're going to nail the leading role in Swan Lake, especially if you have no previous dance background....Some dreams truly are "impossible dreams."  However, many aren't.  Knowing the difference is often one of the first steps to finding your Element, because if you can see the chances of making a dream come true, you can also likely see the necessary next steps you need to take toward achieving it.

In "The Pro-Am Revolution," a report for the British think tank Demos, Charles Leadbeater and Paul Miller underline the rise of a type of amateur that works at increasingly higher standards and generates breakthroughs sometimes greater than those made by professionals—hence the term Pro-Am....[They] call Pro-Ams "a new social hybrid," noting that they pursue their passions outside of the workplace, but with an energy and dedication rarely given to acts of leisure.  Pro-Ams find this level of intensity restorative, often helping to compensate for less-than-inspiring jobs.

In the last part of the book, Robinson deals with reforming, or rather transforming our educational system.

Public education puts relentless pressure on its students to conform.  Public schools were not only created in the interests of industrialism—they were created in the image of industrialism.  In many ways, they reflect the factory culture they were designed to support....This system has had many benefits and successes.  It  has done well for many people whose real strength is conventional academic work, and most people who go through thirteen years of public education are at least moderately literate and capable of making change for a twenty.  But dropout rates, especially in the United States, are extraordinarily high, and levels of disaffection among students, teachers, and parents are higher still.

Used the right way, standardized tests can provide essential data to support and improve education.  The problem comes when these tests become more than simply a tool of education and turn into a focus of it.

Many of the people I've talked about in this book say that they went through the whole of their education without really discovering their true talents.  It is no exaggeration to say that many of them did not discover their real abilities until after they left school—until they had recovered from their education.  As I said at the outset, I don't believe that teachers are causing this problem.  It's a systemic problem in the nature of our education systems.  In fact, the real challenges for education will only be met by empowering passionate and creative teachers and by firing up the imaginations and motivations of the students.

Too many reform movements in education are designed to make education teacher-proof.  The  most successful systems in the world take the opposite view.  They invest in teachers.  The reason is that people succeed best when they have others who understand their talents, challenges, and abilities.  This is why mentoring is such a helpful force in so many peoples' lives.  Great teachers have always understood that [their] real role is not to teach subjects but to teach students.  Mentoring and coaching is the vital pulse of a living system of education.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, June 12, 2009 at 4:24 am | Edit
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As if I don't already have a huge backblog, Jon keeps posting things in Google Reader/Facebook that I think those who can't see them will be interested in.  In this case, since I can't comment at GeekDad, I'll comment here.

When GeekDad's son was 12 years old he entered his school's science fair, which called for inventing something new and useful.  (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 10:00 am | Edit
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A Sane Woman's Guide to Raising a Large Family, by Mary Ostyn (Gibbs Smith, Layton, Utah, 2009)

This book sounded useful to Heather, who wishes both to have a large family and to retain her sanity, so we bought it for her as a Mother's Day gift.  Naturally, I read it first.  (Book-gift recipients are accustomed to that behavior from me, I'm afraid.)

I recommend A Sane Woman's Guide to all families who aspire to sanity, even if their hopes don't include a large family.  Although I don't agree with all of Mary Ostyn's advice, it's a surprisingly useful collection of ideas in a slim 192 pages, amusingly presented. Here's the table of contents for a quick preview, followed by a few, rather random, excerpts. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, May 10, 2009 at 9:24 am | Edit
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I wrote a long comment to Mark Shiffman's Front Porch Republic article, Why we do not own a Television; not being one to waste an item on a single use if it can be recycled, I reproduce it here.  You'll have to follow the link to see the context (and other readers' comments), but I think what I wrote is pretty clear on its own.

To my total surprise and (almost) mortification, I write in defense of television.  I agree with some of the comments that DVD is the only way to go, but most if not all of the content I find valuable on DVD originated in the TV and movie media, so despising them completely would be a bit hypocritical on my part. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, May 2, 2009 at 9:55 am | Edit
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Here's a perfect funding opportunity for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundatation, or anyone else who is interested in both technology and education:  Sponsor grants—available to both universities and private video game companies—for the production of really good educational games.

Although video game technology has made tremendous progress in recent years, educational software is for the most part stuck in the past.  Entertainment is where the commercial money is, but with proper funding there's no reason why the best and brightest of our video game designers couldn't revolutionize gaming as a learning tool.  (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 21, 2009 at 10:02 am | Edit
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