Archive | October, 2010

The Sun – science study made easy thanks to the internet

15 Oct

We started the day by reading a little book we aquired years ago. It’s just a small little pamphlet from NASA, but they enjoy reading it. On the last page we were referred to the NASA website ( and they wanted to check it out. And away we went.

We started by looking at some of the pictures of the sun, stars, and the galaxy. We stumbled across some pictures of a new group of stars being born. “What! Stars are born? How does that happen?”

So we start digging some more…

Pulling up handy google search we type in “how are stars born” and we get a list of university websites and research pages and so on. “No mom, type in video after it so we can find some movies about stars.” Oh, okay. And we find more info. Some of them are videos of professors discussing stars and astronomy.

Good stuff, but the kids were not really that interested in a dry lecture – even though it was a topic they wanted to study. So we kept digging and found a few handy resources.

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Very cool, but this video didn’t have any explanations.

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That’s better. And How Stuff Works also queued up more videos that were related or in a series. After this group, we watched a whole series on “Savage Sun”.

New Math – Fun with Cards

14 Oct

I’m reading Old Dogs, New Math by Rob Eastaway and Mike Askew. It inspired me to try out some ideas with the kids to encourage math learning. So, today we spent some time playing cards.

First we played “13”. A solitary card game my mother taught me when I was a wee young lass. You start out by making a pyramid with the cards. Seven rows, with the top and bottom rows face-up, starting with one card in the first row and ending with seven cards in the bottom row. All cards are face value numbers, with the Jack for 11, Queen for 12, and King for 13. The objective is to clear the cards by matching up pairs to equal 13.

Even the five year old was counting and subtracting, trying to figure out which cards he would need to equal 13. The eight year old quickly figured out the 6+7 ALWAYS equals 13. And they all had fun.

After lunch we played “21” (which is really just Black Jack without the gambling debt). I’m sure most of you know the rules, but just in case – you start out with two cards (for older kids, one face-down, and the second face-up). And you hit (for more cards) or hold to try to get as close to 21 without going over, or “bust”. As you can see, the five-year old was all about the counting.

And we got to incorporate the number line into the whole fun as we tried to figure out what cards we would need to get close to 21 without going over. There was also the added bonus of aces being used for 1 or 11 added to the math fun.

Stay tuned for more on this interesting book. The teenager is reading it right now to see what all the fuss is about and I will be writing a review in the next few weeks. The publisher has also agreed to send a copy of this book to one of my lucky readers so stay tuned for more math fun. (Is that an oxymoron or can math really be that interesting?)

*Thanks to The Experiment Publishing for sending me a copy of Old Dogs, New Math to review.

John Stossel talks (again) about Education – Reform and Bureaucracy

5 Oct

Meet a teacher’s union rep, a principal (administrator), a superintendent (administrator), and an online school administrator and they’ll tell you everything that they are doing right for schools.

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Testing our way to the top.

Pay close attention and you will see that they ALL believe that the only way to gauge success is through standardized test score results. Sure, standardized tests are one way to analyze achievement and measure success. But is it the only way? Tests are easy to administer. They are cheap (compared to one on one analysis of each individual student). And they can be measured and graphed and compared. But is passing a test success? Is squeezing every child into one narrow desired outcome practical, successful, or desirable?

How do you define success?

So, is educational success passing grades, good test scores?  What about higher rates of college enrollment? I’m not so sure. These numbers can also be misleading. Maybe employment rates? Hmmn… Maybe it should be average salaries? Well, that doesn’t explain everything either. There are a lot of perfectly content people living on modest salaries as well as a corresponding group of extremely wealthy people living in misery.

Let me tell a short personal story. My brother graduated 3rd in our class (he was 1st, but he began to methodically lower his grade our senior year when he discovered that 1st and 2nd ranks would have to give a speech at graduation. The valedictorian and salutatorian where thrilled that they finally “beat” him.) So, what did these good grades get him? Well, he scored top scores on the ACT, got into a major league university, and had a nervous breakdown. Now he’s working at Burger King, living with our parents, and on psych meds for depression and schizophrenia. Sounds like a success story? But he did so well in school.

The first step to revolutionizing education is to clearly define success.

Apparently, focusing on test scores is not working.  We are still stuck with the same system. This is a bit of a quandary. If we can’t all agree on what is meant by success, how can we improve education? When running a race, there is obviously a winner and a loser. Somebody crosses the finish line first. But this assumes that the 2nd place runner didn’t gain anything by racing. And it also assumes that everybody is running the same race and has the same goals.

Is it wise to try to guarantee results?

In an earlier post I talked about equality of opportunity versus equality of results. In something as beautifully fluctuating as life, we can’t guarantee the outcome of education. There are too many variables, too many individual choices. All we can do is provide resources, learn to accept the consequences of our choices, and be ready to adapt and learn throughout our lives.

In a previous Stossel episode comparing libertarians to conservatives, John Stossel quotes Milton Friedman,

“As has often been acknowledged by conservative writers, one of the fundamental traits of the conservative attitude is a fear of change, a timid distrust of the new as such, while the [libertarian*] position is based on courage and confidence, on a preparedness to let change run its course even if we cannot predict where it will lead.”

He seems to have forgotten the libertarian view of life when talking about educational reform. We cannot guarantee success through standardized education. But we CAN be ready for change in our life and create success wherever our choices lead us.


*Friedman uses the term liberal, meaning the European usage of liberal which is the American usage of libertarian. It can become confusing with the American established definition of liberal being so different from the European, that I just went ahead and edited that single word.