For the sake of all else I have to do, I took the Front Porch Republic off my feed reader, but I still get, and read, their weekly updates. Which means that sometimes ... often ... I get caught. This time it was a piece by Anthony Esolen, who turns out to be the author of Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, a book highly recommended to me but which I still haven't read, though I have requested that our library order it. I hope they acquiesce, because reading just one of Esolen's essays made me long for more. Hence less was accomplished this day than intended....
What I read in this week's FPR update was Play and No Play, which is but the latest in a series entitled Life Under Compulsion. Of course I then had to read the whole series:
2012-10-08 Life Under Compulsion
2012-10-22 From Schoolhouse to School Bus
2012-11-06 The Billows Teaching Machine
2012-11-19 If Teachers Were Plumbers
2012-12-17 Curricular Mire
2012-12-31 Bad Universality
2013-01-21 The Dehumanities
2013-02-11 The Itch
2013-03-11 Music and the Itch
2013-06-10 Play and No Play
It's not as if I want to suck up all your time, too—but it wouldn't be time wasted. You can always quit after the first one....
Life of Fred: Apples (and a whole lot more) by Stanley Schmidt (Polka Dot Publishing, 2012)
Grandparents like to buy presents for their grandchildren.
Grandparents especially like to buy books as presents for their grandchildren.
Grandparents love to give books about subjects that their grandchildren love.
Now it gets complicated: What books do you give a grandson whose number one passion is numbers?
So you ask, and you search, and you discover ... the many volumes of Life of Fred. The story of little Fred Gauss, the five-year-old math professor at KITTENS University in Kansas, twists and turns through mathematics from basic addition through fractions, algebra, calculus, and more—along with an incredible assortment of other facts about science, history, behavior, and almost anything else Stanley F. Schmidt's somewhat quirky mind can think of. It's not intended for preschoolers, but it's a story with a lot of math in it, so there's hope. What's more, it's a story about a small child who thinks about numbers a lot—and children like to see themselves in a book.
So far I've read the first two Elementary books (Apples and Butterflies), all three Intermediate books (Kidneys, Liver, and Mineshaft), and also Fractions, the first of the fifth-grade books. (Elementary and Intermediate takes the student through fourth grade, if you follow the suggested timetable. Not that we trouble ourselves with things like that.) I confess that I did not stop and do the math, but skipped the problems for the sake of getting through all six books in a day and a half. If you really want to learn the math, you must do the problems and not just read the stories. (It isn't that much work: one of the features of LoF is its avoidance of drill-and-kill.) If I ever get LoF: Statistics, I'll be sure to work all the problems, because I never did understand statistics, despite getting a B in my college course.
I'll say this: I like math, and I was a math major in college, but never until now have I read a math textbook at any level that I would be happy to re-read. Which is good, because that's the way preschoolers like their books.
There are only two things that get on my nerves a bit about LoF: (1) Schmidt makes no attempt to keep his opinions about life out of the books. There's nothing either unusual or wrong about this; all stories and many textbooks have the same feature. But some parents are bound to disagree in places, and should be prepared to discuss the issues. Which would be a good idea, anyway. For example, some parents have objected to Dogs (volume 4 of the Elementary series) because of the implication that some dogs die at the end of the story. (2) Despite Schmidt's insistence on good grammar and use of language in the books, e.g. pointing out that "alot" and "alright" are not acceptable words, I've noted more than one occurence of "different than" instead of "different from," "associate to" instead of "associate with," and the use of "their" as a singular pronoun. I know he's a math teacher, not an English teacher, but he could use an editor. It's an opportunity to diverge into your own grammar lessons—but it's yet another reason to make sure you know what it is your child is learning.
What will a three-year-old think of Fred? Will he enjoy the math story? Will he learn anything from it? Will our other grandchildren, who are old enough to do the problems woven into Fred's adventures, learn the math as well as the author advertises? They already have a great math curriculum, but mathematics, like history, deserves to be learned from several angles.
Time will tell. All can say at this point is that I certainly hope our grandchildren find Life of Fred to be valuable, because then I'll be able to read the rest of the stories myself.
The Romeikes have lost the latest round in their fight to keep from being sent back to Germany, where homeschooling is considered a sufficient reason to take custody of children away from their parents. The ruling is being appealed.
On the bright side, the court did rule that "parents do have a right to direct the education and upbringing of their children." However, they also said,
“Congress might have written the immigration laws to grant a safe haven to people living elsewhere in the world who face government strictures the United States Constitution prohibits,” the court ruled. “But it did not.”
[Attorney Michael] Farris said he finds great irony that the Obama administration is releasing thousands of illegal aliens—yet wants to send a family seeking political asylum back to Germany.
“Eleven million people are going to be allowed to stay freely—but this one family is going to be shipped back to Germany to be persecuted,” he said. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Actually, it makes plenty of sense—if you consider only political expediency. Immigration "reform" that supports an economy fueled by slave labor is considered a politically savvy move, while offending an important ally—Germany—is not.
I can venture more with Davie than with another: he obeys in a moment.
Thus the tutor in one of George MacDonald's novels explains how he dares take his young pupil on dangerous explorations to the roof of an old, crumbling Scottish castle. Davie was allowed the exciting and perilous adventuring because his tutor knew that when he said, "Stay here until I return," Davie wouldn't go wandering and possibly falling off the edge.
Anyone with even a passing familiarity with Lift Up Your Hearts! knows I am a fan of Free-Range Kids and Lenore Skenazy's movement to restore for today's children some of the freedoms enjoyed by previous generations. Parents are hovering over their children as never before: they're afraid to let them out of sight, to walk to school, to ride bikes with their friends; afraid to let them risk getting hurt, even a little, whether they be infants negotiating stairs, children using knives, or teens travelling to a foreign country. (Yet we expect teens to be sexually active, drive a car, and serve in the military. Go figure.) However, manageable risks and small hurts are necessary to growth. Without them, our children don't learn to tell a reasonable risk from a ridiculous one, and we find that sparing them the lesser pain has made them exceptionally vulnerable to serious, even fatal, wounds.
Why do we bubble-wrap our young people? The reasons are many and complex, but one of the greatest surely is that we no longer trust our children. And why don't we trust our children? Primarily, I would say, because they have not learned to be trustworthy.
They are not trustworthy because we have not given them the opportunity to learn obedience.
Obedience is an unpopular concept these days, perhaps because it conjures up images of harsh punishment, restricted lives, and children who go wild at college when released from their parents' strict rules and constant monitoring. Or of totalitarian societies and blind adherence to evil laws. ("I was only following orders.") But no matter what ugliness it has been deformed into, obedience to a trustworthy and legitimate authority is a beautiful thing. It's what makes society work. From traffic to taxes, from banking to environmental protection—when enough people decide that the rules don't apply to them, disaster is not far off.
The Connecticut Science Center has ruled that children under the age of 16 must be supervised by an accompanying adult at all times during their visit. Why such a ridiculous restriction? You can blame the lawyers, of course, but what it boils down to is that the museum has learned that it cannot trust that demographic to obey the rules of the house, let alone the rules of common courtesy. When that happens, people—and expensive equipment—get hurt.
Similar restrictions have sprung up all over, ostensibly for the safety of the children. I'm not sure I entirely believe that excuse. When our children were young and energetic, people would sometimes tell them not to do such-and-such a thing, explaining, "I'm afraid you'll get hurt." Well, maybe; it was pretty clear to me that what they were really afraid of was that the children would break, not their legs, but some material possession. Be that as it may, young people—at an age when some of their ancestors were supporting themselves, raising their own families, fighting in wars, and even commanding ships—cannot, apparently, be relied on to walk through a museum without damaging something.
Thus the free-range childhood movement has two major fronts on which to fight: (1) Convincing society that our children can and should be trusted to handle themselves at least as well as children did a generation or two ago, and (2) Preparing our children to be worthy of that trust.
As we explored Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii, I noted that there were no age restrictions on the trails; it was up to parents to decide how much to involve their children. The trails themselves were safe enough, but often a sheer drop or a boiling spring was only a few feet away. A child of any age who could be counted on to stay on the trail, and to freeze at a parent's, "Wait for us!" command, would have the freedom to enjoy an unforgettable experience; one who was accustomed to thinking of rules and restrictions as flexible could easily end up dead. Too many of the latter will cause doors to slam shut for the former also.
"The world has changed," is the spell invoked to justify increasing restrictions on young people. By this is mostly meant external changes, such as more sexual predators, more kidnappers, more terrorists. (I'm absolutely convinced that the problem actually is more news coverage of these very rare crimes, but that's another issue.) The world has changed, indeed, but what has changed most is closer to home: our children are no longer growing up knowing and following the rules of proper use of stoves, knives, guns, hammers, saws, ropes, candles, campfires, boats, and other items they used to encounter—and be required to use—in everyday life. Parents are also more reluctant—perhaps in fear of the evils that have become associated with distorted ideas of obedience—to teach their children respect for authority, and the importance of following legitimate rules. If we want our communities to accept that our children are competent and trustworthy, it's up to us to make sure that they are.
(There is, I acknowledge, the opposite failing—teaching our children never to question authority, never to ask if the rules are legitimate. But that is a different issue.)
Political action can pry open society's closed doors for our children, good publicity can pry open parental fingers from a death-grip on their children's leashes, but only deliberate parental effort can prepare those children for freedom.
Why wrestle with how to express this story when thduggie has already done it so well?
Back in 2010, a German family was granted political asylum in Tennessee, because they had been homeschooling their children in a country that prosecutes, fines, and removes children from homeschooling parents. This immigration judge sent a strong message to the world: America is still a country where Liberty is writ large. Today, the same family stands in danger of being deported back to Germany. Whether the appeal stems from a fear of offending an ally, or a fear of having immigration offices overrun (by legal immigrants), the message is the same: “We’re scared of our Liberty.”
The Romeike family's plight should be of concern to every American, because a threat to liberty, even—or maybe especially—on the part of an ally, is a threat to us all. American homeschoolers, even though they currently enjoy educational freedom in every state, should be very concerned: if our courts rule that educating one's own children is not one of the most basic human rights and responsibilities, that precedent could (and probably will) be used to attack our own hard-won liberty.
This is not, however, just a homeschooling issue. If the forced removal of children from stable, loving families is not considered by the United States to be a heinous act, no one dare consider his family safe.
Even Al Jazeera has noticed the case. Their article is actually the best summary I've seen of the situation.
I'm not, in general, a petition signer. But today I registered with whitehouse.gov (a simple process) so that I could sign this petition to allow the Romeikes to remain in the United States, where they can education their children without fear of unthinkable reprisals.
Here is the text of the petition:
We, the undersigned, respectfully request that the Obama Administration grant full and permanent legal status to Uwe and Hannelore Romeike and their children. The Romeikes, a homeschooling family represented by HSLDA, were granted asylum in 2010 because Germany persecutes homeschoolers with fines, criminal prosecution, and forcible removal of children from their families. Every state in the United States of America recognizes the right to homeschool, and the U.S. has the world’s largest and most vibrant homeschool community. Regrettably, this family faces deportation in spite of the persecution they will suffer in Germany. The Romeikes hope for the same freedom our forefathers sought. Please grant the privilege of liberty to the Romeike family.
If 100,000 people sign a petition within 30 days of its creation, the Obama Administration will officially respond. As of today, almost 60,000 more signatures are needed by April 18 in order to reach that threshold.
Please consider signing the petition, writing President Obama and/or your representatives, or otherwise publicizing the Romeikes' dire situation and this opportunity to set a precedent for or against not only our basic educational freedom, but even more, our commitment to Liberty itself.
Update 5 April: Here's a brief chronology (full article) for those who want more information but don't want to sift through the articles. (Emphasis mine.)
German law mandates that children attend a public or state-approved school. The local mayor informed the family that they would face fines and could lose the custody of their children if they did not attend school. The parents also faced potential jail time.
The government fined the family heavily and at one point seized the children to force them to attend school.
After trying to secure an exemption from the law, the Romeikes fled the country and immigrated to Tennessee in 2008. They had been fined well over $10,000 by the time they fled and faced escalating fines if they continued to homeschool their children.
The family applied for asylum in the United States and an immigration judge granted it to them, citing a well-founded fear of persecution if they returned to Germany.
However, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), appealed the ruling to the Board of Immigration Appeals.
The board overturned the original judge’s ruling and ordered the Romeikes deported to Germany. The Romeikes appealed their case to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, where their case will be heard April 23.
Thanks to a recently-renewed (and most welcome) acquaintance with a friend from some 15 years ago, I've been wandering through the darker days of the past and reading stories that make our own darkness seem like daylight. I don't regret the reminders that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," even those who are otherwise doing good, or even great things, even churches.
But the point of that gloomy introduction is to point out how much I needed this homeschooling pick-me-up, this shining return to the bright, solid beauty that still clings to the human race, no matter how fallen it may be.
The pediatrician asked if Ivy [her four-year-old daughter] was start[ing] to learn her colors (she's known those for at least a year), if she could count (into the teens in two languages), and if she was able to ride a tricycle, etc.
In the mean time, Ivy took out the magnadoodle that is in the exam room, and wrote her name. Then she asked me if I could show her how to write her name.
"But Ivy, you already know how to write your name. You just did it!"
"No, mommy! How do I write my name in GREEK?"
The pediatrician said, "So... I guess you won't be putting her in school either?"
Is this the end of The Onion? When it becomes impossible to tell the difference between serious news articles and satire, where's the humor?
You've probably heard the story enough times by now (except perhaps the overseas contingent):
A 7-year-old Anne Arundel County boy was suspended for two days for chewing a breakfast pastry into the shape of a gun and saying, “Bang, bang”— an offense the school described as a threat to other students, according to his family.
So help me, it gets worse. I am so, so, so glad I no longer have anything to do directly with the public schools, and I'm beginning to feel guilty about the tax money I give them. The following quotes are from a letter sent home to the parents following the incident:
Dear Parents and Guardians:
I am writing to let you know about an incident that occurred this morning in one of our classrooms and encourage you to discuss this matter with your child in a manner you deem most appropriate.
During breakfast this morning, one of our students used food to make inappropriate gestures that disrupted the class. While no physical threats were made and no one was harmed, the student had to be removed from the classroom.
If your children express that they are troubled by today’s incident, please talk with them and help them share their feelings. Our school counselor is available to meet with any students who have the need to do so next week. In general, please remind them of the importance of making good choices.
I am completely without (even minimally polite) words to address the important subject here. I will for now restrict myself to three comments:
What was a subsidized breakfast program (funded by my tax dollars again, no doubt) doing feeding children Pop-Tarts? And fake Pop-Tarts at that?
Any reasonable teacher would have taken the child by the hand and said, firmly, "Jimmy, food is not a toy; eat your pastry or give it to me." (And enforced the action if necessary.)
Under no circumstances should people like this be responsible for the safety, mental health, and above all the education of children. This is not just insanity; it is downright abuse.
Most of those who know me also know that I don’t like the government being involved in our health care, for too many reasons than I can go into now. More than once I’ve asked, “Do you really want to trust your health to the same folks who are mangling public education?”
Important note: I support the public school system, much as I find fault with it. There are many teachers among our family and friends. Our own children attended the local schools for a number of years. We pay school taxes, and have voted in favor of most requested tax increases, including last year’s. Everyone in the family has put countless hours into (public) school volunteer work.
Another important note: I agree that our health care system is in a big mess, and big messes invite government interference whether we like it or not. Personal experience of family and friends has shown me that public health care can work very well (France, Switzerland) and very badly (UK, Canada). (I know there are readers of this blog who are happy with Canada’s health care, but I’m going by the experiences of those I know personally, which, alas, are negative.) I don’t like the way in which our government is approaching health care reform, but that’s not the point here.
The point is consistency.
In the battle over health care, the faction I will loosely designate as “pro-government-social-program” (PSGP) wins for consistency: The same people who are pushing national health insurance are ardent advocates of public education. Viewing education as a fundamental, essential right of every child, they make it not only available but compulsory, and not only for the poor but for everyone, and expect everyone to participate. They frequently oppose anything (private schools, home education, vouchers) that would allow students to opt out of monopoly government schooling.
Having concluded that the cost of a (possibly large) uneducated segment of the population is greater than the cost of providing “free” education to all, they are consistent in applying the same logic to health care.
I, on the other hand, am not consistent, and neither, it seems, are many with better conservative credentials than mine. How can I support public education for all and not health care? Why is it considered acceptable, even admirable, for everyone—including the rich—to take government assistance in the form of public education, but lower-class, even shameful to be on Medicaid, accept Food Stamps, or live in public housing? What makes education so much more important than health care, food, or housing?
And maybe the PGSP’s are not as consistent as I thought, because I don’t see them pushing for compulsory soup-kitchen and housing project attendance.
Although … when our kids were in school, the school breakfast/lunch program, which served a useful purpose for poor children who otherwise would not eat, was pushed on everyone. It wasn’t exactly mandatory, but the schools used plenty of promotions and advertisers’ tricks to get children to pressure their parents to send money for their lunches rather than pack them better food from home. In the case of breakfast, they actually kept the other students trapped on the school bus until the breakfast-eaters were finished. So who knows what's next in the minds of the PSGP's?
I don’t know where we’re going and what we’re in for with all this, and I don’t know how I’m going to rethink my attitude in regard to public education and/or health care. But it certainly was a revelation to discover my own inconsistency.
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The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade by Susan Wise Bauer (W. W. Norton, 2010)
I am now caught up with Bauer's history series, at least until The History of the Renaissance World becomes available later this year. The History of the Medieval World is as good as the first book, The History of the Ancient World, though I will admit to some disappointment, as I was hoping for a little less of the "kings and battles and political intrigue" factor and more about art, music, and everyday life. But alas, the former provide the background on which the rest of life is played out—and the book is 667 pages long as it is. I'll have to be content with building up my times-people-places framework, and look elsewhere for the rest of the story.
Although the history of China, Japan, India, the Americas, and a few other parts of the world are important, it's harder for my euro-centric brain to keep the names straight, so my knowledge of those areas is still weaker. Not that it's easy with Europe: Just because "Charles" fits better into my memory than "Suryawarman," that doesn't mean keeping all those Germanic kingdoms straight isn't mind-boggling. I can't even manage the Wars of the Roses yet.
The sections on European history were the most interesting to me for a different reason: Having genealogy as a hobby means that many of the names are familiar. Recognizing Henry the Fowler as my 34th great-grandfather, for example, lends an unusually piquant flavor to the story.
I Like Birds is a video story created by my cousin, D.B. McLaughlin. The words, music, and photos are all his.
Think of this video as a children's book, read on a tablet by a caring adult to someone who is hungry to know more about their world. Pause the video or mute the music as you wish.
I hate to think of tablets replacing printed books, but that being said, this is great. Perhaps some of his first cousins once removed would enjoy it. (Update: I see I wrote "once removed"; I had meant to say "twice removed," but no doubt the parents will enjoy it, too!)
DragonBox is just one of the reasons I feel myself being dragged inevitably toward the tablet world. My reaction upon seeing my first tablet was that it was too big to be a phone but too limited to be a computer. How can it be a real computer with what passes for a keyboard on a tablet? Or without all my favorite software? Who would want one? But that's where all the cool new software is. :(
Stop the presses! The GeekDad article doesn't mention it, but DragonBox is now available for Windows! (Linux coming soon, they say.) And for only six dollars. (Twice the price of the iOS and Android versions, but there's more to it.) I already know algebra, but it's tempting to check it out.
I've been saying for years that educational software producers need to get together with gaming experts. The potential for computer-aided learning is enormous, but most games are not written for their potential to educate and enighten, and most educational software is barely beyond the flash-cards-with-glitz stage. Not that Joseph doesn't love my PowerPoints, of course. :)
Jean-Baptiste Huynh is a Vietnamese Frenchman living in Norway, who taught math for several years and was frustrated with the way math is taught in schools. He wanted his kids to learn algebra in a way that made sense to them, and with tablets and gamification of education he thought that there must be some way to create an app that would make algebra easier to learn. So he started up a company called We Want to Know, aimed at creating some user-friendly educational games that are (1) really educational and (2) really games. If DragonBox is any indication, he’s on the right path so far.
[Huynh] sees tablet computers as a truly disruptive technology that can change the way we teach and learn.
Thanks to DSTB for the tip. I can't wait to see what's next.
A comment made by Janet to my Quick Tourist's Conversion between Fahrenheit and Celsius post inspired these thoughts, and it seemed better to give them their own post rather than to comment on that one.:
The Orlando Sentinel of January 31 contained an article by a pediatrician, highlighting the efforts of those in his field to combat illiteracy. It included the following sentence:
One in four children grow up without learning how to read.
I have grave doubts about that statistic. If true, there should be rioting in the streets on behalf of the 25 percent, who, under our compulsory education system, have wasted at least ten of the most important years of their lives in school. True, there are a few (very few) children who have handicaps that keep them from learning to read, but there is absolutely no excuse for confining children for most of their young lives if they can't read when they come out. As certain as I am that the institution of school has serious problems, I simply don't believe that it can be doing that badly.
On the other hand, true literacy is more than the mere ability to read words on a page. Understanding, and the ability to reason, are necessary for making sense of writing. That we fail one in four school children that way is still unbelievable, but reading comments written to news websites and blogs (especially those where the subject is political, or controversial in any way) has made it a more credible failing.
I can't get out of my mind the question someone, alas long forgotten, once asked: Is there any material difference between someone who can't read and someone who doesn't? It's not surprising that the mantra among teachers and parents has long been, "I don't care what they read as long as they're reading." But comprehension and logic are skills that must be honed with practice. To that end, what we read is critical: Garbage in, garbage out.
Once upon a time, we gave normal baby shower presents, like everyone else. You know, crib sheets and diapers and cute little outfits.... As time went on, and as we became more experienced parents, we began to change: we started giving books. I suppose a copy of Dr. Spock would have been considered a normal gift, but the books we gave were different, the kind that most people might never run into. They were chosen from a mental list of books, accumulated over the years, which we had found to be especially helpful in the adventure of childrearing. I had quickly become fed up with all the popular parenting books, which seemed to be describing ... well, I don't know who they were describing, but it certainly wasn't our children. These books, taken in toto, did a much better job of understanding the little ones in our care, and of addressing our own particular needs and concerns. I hoped by the shower gifts to spare other parents my own long and confusing journey. This was pre-Internet, remember, and information was harder to come by than anyone born after 1975 can fully imagine.
After a while we learned to be more cautious in our giving, as we discovered that not every new parent is excited about getting books, let alone ones that are ... odd. But I kept the list, calling it The Things Dr. Spock Won't Tell You; over the years, it grew and changed a bit in content, though not in philosophy.
The version I'm publishing now is old, having not been updated since 2005. There are other good books I should add, and perhaps one day I will. It should probably get a new title, too: Does anyone read Dr. Spock anymore? But it is what it is, and I'm only posting it because (1) the blog is a good place to tuck away old writings, and (2) I want to reference it in a later post.
One thing that will become obvious to anyone who reads the books is that they contradict each other in places. So what? I don't agree with everything in any of them; the path of truth is strewn with paradox. The point was never to push any particular view of childrearing, but that in each book we'd found something of great value. Take what is useful, and leave what is not.
Despite their differences, these books tend to have two things in common that undergird our own childrearing philosophy. One is a great respect for children, and a conviction that we as a society have underestimated them in many areas, from the physical to the intellectual to the spiritual. The other is a great respect for parents, the belief that "an ounce of parent is worth a pound of expert." (More)
Mea culpa! It's been nearly a year since my post about Stephan's Dots book (numbers in four languages), and I never did update it with Joseph's response. It was an immediate hit, and is still one of Joseph's very favorite books.
Here are a few videos showing Joseph and the book in action:
The book has proved very durable under heavy use, and if the $70 cost seems extravagant, I'd say Joseph has definitely gotten his parents' money's worth already.
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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)