I'm designing a playroom, and have been for years.  I don't ever expect to see it, since (1) our children are grown, and (2) my design takes no account of cost.  Nonetheless it's fun imagining what I'd do if I could, kind of like mentally spending lottery winnings (even though I never buy a ticket).

My playroom would be as much outdoors as it could be while still being usable in all seasons—lots of large windows or sliding glass doors with screens, perhaps, and an indoor/outdoor connection.  The latter could be a door, but wouldn't a tunnel be fun?  There would be a large art/craft section, and music (instruments for playing and a CD player for listening), and a brachiation ladder; well-stocked bookshelves and perhaps a sunken reading pit with comfortable cushions; a timeline all around the room and many maps and pictures on the walls. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, October 15, 2007 at 9:18 am | Edit
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I don't believe I was aware of the launch of the first Sputnik 50 years ago.  I do remember going outside with my father two and a half years later to watch Echo 1 traverse the sky.  That marked the first of many excursions with him to look at phenomena in the sky:  satellites, lunar and solar eclipses, comets.

When Sputnik aroused consternation in the United States and set off furious attempts at educational reform, I was a month into my kindergarten year, so I can't speak accurately about consequent changes in our public schools.  There are some comparisions I can do, however, looking at the three generations I know. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, October 4, 2007 at 7:23 am | Edit
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Throughout my school years, I hated the study of history.  Perhaps that's not quite accurate; I remember in elementary school enjoyable units on Indians and on Early Settlers, and a large and informative project on Ethiopia.  Progress after that was mostly negative, however.

A 10th grade World Cultures teacher was fairly inspiring, despite his other incarnation as a baseball coach.  Other than that I'd have to say that my history teachers could hardly have done more to make the study of history dull and tedious.  On top of that, I somehow picked up the idea that one was either a "math and science person" or a "history and English person," and it was not possible to be in both camps.  I staked my claim squarely in the math and science camp.

It was not till well after I graduated from college that I discovered that the story of our past is vital—in the sense of being full of life, as well as in the sense of critical importance.  I also learned the foolishness of limiting one's interests by someone else's categories. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, September 1, 2007 at 11:18 am | Edit
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Central Florida is the most dangerous place in the country, at least if it's lightning strikes that worry you.  The tragedy of a girl who was struck by lightning just after descending from her school bus is still fresh in our memories, so it's no wonder the Orange County school board policy errs on the side of caution:  No student is allowed outside until 30 minutes after the last lighning flash, if thunder follows the lightning within 30 seconds.

They are wisely reconsidering the policy, however, after a recent debacle.  A long-lasting storm coupled with rigid enforcement of the rules kept some 2000 students trapped at two schools until nearly 9 p.m.  Snacks were trucked in (the district apparently caring less about the safety of their employees), and no doubt many of the students thought the excitement high adventure—at least for the first hour.  But most of the children—not to mention the teachers—must have been anxious to get home to their families, with not a few kindergarteners crying for their mommies. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, August 28, 2007 at 8:23 am | Edit
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Mommy, It's a Renoir! was the title of a book about art appreciation for children that I fell in love with many years ago.  To my chagrin, by the time I decided we could afford to buy the set, it was no longer available.

Thus I was thrilled to discover that the program is back in print.  Once a homeschooler, always a homeschooler, especially when one has nephews and grandchildren to consider.  For reasons I can't imagine, the exciting title has been changed to How to Use Child-Size Masterpieces.  Could they have tried to make it sound more boring? (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, August 21, 2007 at 9:59 am | Edit
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With my interest in both children and education you knew it wouldn't be long before I commented on the latest "Baby Einstein" controversy.  A study (based on telephone surveys) published in The Journal of Pediatrics found that babies between eight and sixteen months experienced a significant decrease in language development for every hour spent per day viewing baby videos.

Now those who ridicule parents' attempts to enrich their children's early educational enviroments are having an I-told-you-so field day, and those who profit from the business are crying foul.  The responses that bother me most, however, are those of the defenders of baby videos.  They are giving answers to the wrong questions, and reassurances for the wrong concerns. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, August 16, 2007 at 11:13 am | Edit
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Kingdom of Children: Culture and Controversy in the Homeschooling Movement (Princeton Studies in Cultural Sociology), by Mitchell Stevens (Princeton University Press, 2001)

I've forgotten what led me to find Kingdom of Children, but from the reviews on amazon.com I knew I had to read it.  I have been trying to explain to our own family some of the homeschooling controversies of the late 80's and early 90's, and why I emerged with prejudices against certain people and organizations they are even now encountering, such as the Home School Legal Defense Association, even though we were members, and Josh Harris—though the latter is a case of visiting the sins of the father on the son, which I realize is unfair.  If they want to understand, this book would be a good starting point.  They won't get enough information to know much of the whys and wherefors of my concerns—the author is too objective, too nice for that—but they will get a general picture of the history of the era. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, July 31, 2007 at 11:22 am | Edit
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Television has long been called the "idiot box," but here is more evidence that being a couch potato harms the brain as well as the body.  Unfortunately, in this case reading is just as bad as watching TV.

The Swedish experiment was actually about depression.  Previous studies have shown that the hippocamus region of the human brain shrinks in depressed people.  In this study, exercise was shown to have a significant anti-depressant effect in rats, and promoted dramatic neuron growth in the hippocampus.  (If you, like me, wonder how on earth they can tell if a rat is depressed, read the article.) (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, July 5, 2007 at 8:39 am | Edit
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That's the subtitle of a Wired article by Edward Tufte.  My brother sent me the link.  I prefer to believe he didn't know I was in the middle of working on a PowerPoint presentation of pictures from our recent trip to Europe.

Tufte is not speaking primarily about education, but he makes this perceptive observation: 

Particularly disturbing is the adoption of the PowerPoint cognitive style in our schools. Rather than learning to write a report using sentences, children are being taught how to formulate client pitches and infomercials. Elementary school PowerPoint exercises (as seen in teacher guides and in student work posted on the Internet) typically consist of 10 to 20 words and a piece of clip art on each slide in a presentation of three to six slides -a total of perhaps 80 words (15 seconds of silent reading) for a week of work. Students would be better off if the schools simply closed down on those days and everyone went to the Exploratorium or wrote an illustrated essay explaining something.

PowerPoint isn't really the villain here, however. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, June 25, 2007 at 2:27 pm | Edit
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One of our nephews is a Boy Scout.

My father was for many years a Boy Scout leader, so when I joined the Girl Scouts I was mightily disappointed that we did so little of the camping, hiking, mountain climbing, knot-tying, fire-building, and survival skills work he did with his boys.  Thanks to some amazing (and somewhat rebellious) leaders and dedicated parents, we still had a good time, but the national program left me less than impressed. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, June 25, 2007 at 8:41 am | Edit
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If I'd known how big a project book cataloguing would be, I'm not sure I would have had the courage to start, but now that it's done, I'm quite pleased with it.  There's a link to it here, and on the sidebar, and on the Sursum Corda home page.  I'm not yet ready to leave it open to any and all web crawlers, so there's a small amount of security associated with it.  Family members can get in the same way you access the Family News page.  If you're a friend who happens to want to browse in this library, please e-mail me, and I'll be happy to open the door to you.

C. S. Lewis once quipped that the only books we will have in heaven will be ones we gave away or lent on earth. This is a lending library; if you see something you'd like to read that's not in your own public library, please ask(More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, June 13, 2007 at 7:30 pm | Edit
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Today's Frazz:

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, June 8, 2007 at 7:15 am | Edit
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Among the more bizarre stories of the day, here's a study that claims to be able to predict your child's future SAT performance based on the relative lengths of his fingers.  Those whose ring fingers are longer compared with their index fingers are statistically likely to do better on the math portion, and those with the reverse situation to do better on the verbal.  This supposedly reflects prenatal testosterone/estrogen exposure.

It's a lot harder to measure finger lenght than I thought.  I finally settled on measuring from the knuckle, and it seems my ring finger is a bit longer than my index.  It's true, I did very well on the math portion of the SAT.  But I did even better on the verbal, so I must have measured wrong.  :)

The researchers plan to expand their studies into "other cognitive and behavioral issues, such as technophobia, career paths and possibly dyslexia."
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 25, 2007 at 7:46 am | Edit
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My hearing is very good, probably better than that of many my age because I didn't ruin it in my teens with headphones and loud music.  But I still find that I can understand what people say better if I can see their faces.  Now I know why.

A Canadian study indicates that there is a signficant visual component of language understanding even amongst hearing people.  The four-month-old babies in the study were able to distinguish when adults in a silent video were speaking English and when they were speaking French.

The eight-month-old babies could do the same, but only if they were being raised in a bilingual French/English environment.
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 25, 2007 at 7:23 am | Edit
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We have been blessed with a surprising number of very bright friends, their talents ranging from math to music, from business to origami, from computing to law.  It was with the last that we had a disturbing conversation recently.  The conversation itself was delightful; what we learned from it was not.

To begin, the background.  Most of my readers are familiar with the following story, which I told several years ago in our family newsletter.  But for the benefit of the one or two who meander over here from random places, I'll reproduce it here, sufficiently altered to protect the innocent and the guilty alike. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, May 8, 2007 at 2:52 pm | Edit
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