Two on Standardized Testing

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On the standardized testing cheating scandal from “Wrong Answer” by Rachel Aviv in the July 21, 2014 The New Yorker: 

He felt as if he and his colleagues were part of a nationwide “biological experiment” in which the variables- the fact that so many children were hungry and transient, and witnessing violence- hadn’t been controlled. David Berliner, the former dean of the school of education at Arizona State University, told me that, with the passage of the law {No Child Left Behind}, teachers were asked to compensate for factors outside their control. He said, “The people who say poverty is no excuse for low performance are now using teacher accountability as an excuse of doing nothing about poverty.” p. 59-60

…it became clear that most teachers though they were committing a victimless crime. “They didn’t see the value in the test, so they didn’t see that they were devaluing the kids by cheating, ” she said. Unlike recent cheating scandals at Harvard and Stuyvesant High School, where privileged students were concerned about their own advancement, those who cheated at Parks were never convinced of the importance of the tests; they viewed the cheating as a door they had to pass through in order to focus on issues that seemed more relevant to their students’ lives. p. 62

John Ewing, who served as the executive director of the American Mathematical Society for fifteen years, told me that he is perplexed by educators’ “infatuation with data”, their faith that it is more authoritative than using their own judgment. He explains the problem in terms of Campbell’s law, a principle that describes the risks of using a single indicator to measure complex social phenomena: the greater the value is placed on a quantitative measure, like test scores, the more likely it is that the people using it and the process it measures will be corrupted. “The end goal of education isn’t to get students to answer the right number of questions,” he said. “The goal is to have curious and creative students who can function in life.” p. 63

Also of interest: Meredith Broussard’s “Why Poor Schools Can’t Win at Standardized Testing” from the July 15, 2014 The Atlantic.

The elephant in the room.

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David has always been exceptionally empathetic and sensitive. He doesn’t like other people to feel sad or upset and he often tries in his own way to make people feel better if he thinks they are sad. It’s a trait of his that I feel is very much God-given and not due to any of our parenting.

John left for Boy Scout camp this morning. We had to take him to the bus and it was a bit of a crazy rushed morning. H. is away at a church men’s retreat, I needed to walk the new puppy, get everyone dressed and ready and help him get all his stuff together. Not to mention that somehow on the way to the drop-off site I got lost twice. I don’t like being late for things and even though we weren’t truly late, we were cutting it close. So I felt kind of frazzled. Even more so when we got out of the car and I realized we had forgotten the fishing rod John was supposed to bring to complete one of his merit badges.

John, like me, tends to worry too much about things like being late or breaking the rules or forgetting things. I downplayed the missing fishing rod so he wouldn’t be upset and in fact the leader said it should be fine, there were ones at camp he could borrow.

Still, I felt bad. Like I’d failed somehow. When we got back home I saw the fishing rod sitting by the door where I’d put it so we wouldn’t forget it. I remarked on how I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten it.

David looked at me sideways and said, “Well, it’s not like it was a giant hippo.”

I laughed, “Yes, that would have been really stupid to forget a giant hippo.”

David smiled and said “Yeah Mom, you would never have forgotten a giant hippo sitting by the door. You’re really good at stuff like that.”

And just like that I realized the absurdity of still feeling bad about something so small. And John? He loves camp so much he’d probably be find if we’d forgotten half of what he was supposed to bring.

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The Sometimes Vegetarian: Sesame Eggs

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Lunches are my least favorite meal to make. Even though it comes every day without fail, somehow it always seems to sneak up on me. I am at my least creative at lunchtime and find myself making the same things over and over.

The best solution is sometimes to have the boys make lunch for themselves or sometimes for all of us. I started by teaching them fairly easy things: grilled cheese sandwiches, scrambled eggs, quesadillas. John can pretty much make any egg dish (omelets, sunny-side-up, over-easy, scrambled). As they learn basic cooking skills and get more comfortable with cooking they have gotten more inventive. To me, this is where they are really cooking vs. just following a recipe. Sometimes the things they come up with are odd to me but I want them to be comfortable with cooking and I think you have to play a bit to get to that point. And as a bonus, they are more likely to eat their own creations.

This is a new creation of John’s but they both enjoy making it now. I think he first made it when he wanted to make fried rice but we didn’t have any leftover rice. It also works well for us as it fits David’s vegetarian diet. There isn’t an actual recipe but it goes something like this as near I can tell:

Sesame Eggs

Eggs (3 per person)
Frozen peas
Other veggies of your choice (carrots, corn)
Soy sauce
Sesame seeds
Chinese Five-Spice Powder
*Nutmeg

*The Nutmeg seems odd to me but they insist on adding it.

Beat the eggs. Heat some oil in a pan and begin to scramble the eggs. Add the veggies. When the eggs are beginning to solidify (at the soft scrambled egg stage) add some soy sauce (about 1 TBSP). Add a shake of Chinese Five-Spice Powder and a dash of Nutmeg. Continue to cook to your desired level of firmness. Sprinkle very liberally with sesame seeds. The more the better. Enjoy!

 

 

Non-Fiction Monday: Mama Built a Little Nest

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I loved Jennifer Ward’s fabulous new book, Mama Built a Little Nest. Each page looks at the incredible variety of types of nests that birds make.  A rhyming quartet telling about each nest is paired with a gorgeous illustration by the amazing Steve Jenkins. For the eagle aerie:

Mama built a sturdy nest
by stacking twigs up high-
a breezy house upon a tree,
where talons blend with sky. 

The simple quartets are perfect for a preschooler and by focusing on the Mama (or Daddy) bird-Baby bird relationship, Ward zeroed in on exactly what is accessible and understandable to that age group. Additional text in a smaller font gives more details about the nest construction and the bird relationships for elementary aged kids.

This one is going on my list of possible Cybils nominations for 2014. For more great non-fiction, stop by Non-Fiction Monday.

Brimsby’s Hats

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Brimsby is a hatmaker who makes wonderful hats that he sends all over the world. He has a best friend who visits every day and together they drink tea and have wonderful conversations. However, one day the friend decides to travel far away pursuing his dream to become a sea captain. At first Brimsby is lonely but he finds a way to use his hats to make some new friends. And in the end all the friends together visit the old friend in his new home by the sea and “drink tea and talk about hats and shovels and ships and how wonderful it was that they had all been lucky enough to meet one another.”

Andrew Prahin’s Brimsby’s Hats is really a sweet book with a solid theme of grace and friendship at it’s core. It was interesting to me that the child of mine who was most drawn to this book is also our most sensitive and empathetic child. It’s a quiet book that I think has a lot of appeal for the right kid. The illustrations feel like they fit the story perfectly: slightly quirky in the characters and color palette but overall with a sweetness.

 

Read Aloud Thursday: Summer Reading

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Ok, I just realized that the post I wanted to write today for Read Aloud Thursday is technically not about read-alouds. But I think Amy will forgive me since it still fits with the overall kids and books theme.

We’ve participated in our local library’s summer reading program for years, since before John could read on his own (Aha! That’s the read-aloud portion of the post.) It’s fun but for the past couple of years I’ve wanted to figure out how to make it into something a little more challenging.

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John is a voracious reader. He reads all the time. In fact, just tonight we came home from a family dinner and couldn’t find him only to realize he’d stayed in the car to read. (Before, I get comments about children being left in cars, realize that he is 10 and fully capable of coming in the house by himself. He was just too absorbed in his book.) His genre of choice is fantasy and he reads deeply in that category. I’m a believer in letting kids read what they want. However, I also have felt like he could use some gentle “encouragement” to help him get out of the fantasy rut. Or at least to have him try some books in other genres. I also wanted to see him challenge himself a little more as a reader.

IMG_0818Hence, the Summer Book List was born. I made a list of 12 books. The poster is made from printing off covers found online and glueing them to a poster-board. Then I gave him the goal of reading one book a month from my list. He should (and will) read much more than three books over the summer, but he only had to read three from my list.

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David’s a very good reader but he isn’t as passionate about reading as John. That’s ok, they are wired very differently. This year he started many many chapter books that he never finished for various reasons. He reads a lot of picture books, which is fantastic. I love picture books. However, I’ve wanted to encourage him to stick with longer books as well. My goal for him this summer was to find longer books that he would truly love and that he would finish.

IMG_0819David also got a poster of 12 books and an assignment to read one a month from my list. So far, the lists have been a success. David just finished his June pick: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. He loved it and I think had a fair amount of pride in finishing a long-for-him book. John has finished three of the books off his list: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko. He loved the first two (which were really in his preferred fantasy-adventure genre) and liked the third one pretty well. He’s also read several other fantasy books of his own choosing and re-read the entire Harry Potter series, so my assignments don’t seem to be slowing him down too much.

What are your kids reading this summer? Do you assign books or let them read at their own whimsy?

John’s Book List

Hoot by Carl Hiassen
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Paperboy by Vince Vawter
Carry on Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham
Nothing But the Truth by Avi

David’s Book List

Soup by Robert Newton Peck
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr
Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
Tornado by Betsy Byars
Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
Jenny and the Cat Club by Esther Averill
When the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
Taylor Made Tales: The Dog’s Secret by Ellen Miles
Wolves of the Beyond: The Lone Wolf by Kathryn Lasky
Lionboy by Zizou Corder

Be sure to stop by Hope is the Word for this month’s Read Aloud Thursday round-up!

What We’re Reading

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Sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good. This is often the case for me with blogging about books. I feel like I need to think about a theme or look for new books to blog about in order to make it worth the reader’s time. Sometimes that works well with what we are reading for school or sometimes I happen to have pulled off a bunch of cool new books off the new shelf at the library. But sometimes, the books we are actually reading neither fit together or are new and feel “blogworthy”. Such has been the case lately. So I decided to try a new thing: books we liked this week/what we’re reading.

The first book to share has been Ruth’s clear favorite for the past couple of weeks. Ballet Kitty by Bernette Ford and Sam Williams is about a kitty who loves ballet and pink and who is having a playdate with another purple loving princess kitty. I think that’s really all I have to say to explain why Ruth, age 4 LOVED this book. Loved, loved, loved it.

I think my favorite picture book this week was The Secret Olivia Told Me by N. Joy. I don’t typically like books that teach a lesson and this one has a lesson (the dangers of gossip and breaking a friend’s trust) but overall this one is so charming that the lesson isn’t too heavy-handed. Rhyming text tells what happens as a girl accidentally tells a friend’s secret. The real charm though lies in the illustrations by Nancy Devard. Done entirely in black and white silhouettes they are striking in their simplicity. A red balloon in the background gets bigger and bigger clearly representing the growing secret itself and providing a clever visual representation of the theme.

A Funny Little Bird by Jennifer Yerkes actually was off the new shelf at our library. Often we like the same books as a family. But sometimes we don’t. This was a case where several kids really liked a book that I just didn’t. The funny little bird of the title is white so that on a white page anything he stands in front of disappears. At first this makes him sad because he is ignored by everyone. But after venturing into the world he discovers that his ability can also help him hide new friends and himself from danger. I think it’s supposed to be about learning to like yourself and your quirks or unique abilities but something about the story just fell flat. The graphics are cool but not cool enough for me to make up for the story. I think I couldn’t get past figuring out if the bird was white or invisible or both or what the deal was. Like I said, earlier, my kids are more accepting and thought this one was really funny. Ruth asked me to read it several times to her and I saw her ask David to read it also. David read it to himself at least a couple of times. So, I’m including it here in the list of the books that caught our attention this week because from their perspective it was a clear hit.

Scenes from New England- Part 2

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From Rhode Island, we headed north to Boston. First stop: the Public Garden to see the Make Way for Ducklings statue. Much to Ruth’s delight we also took a (cold, drizzly) ride on a Swan Boat. And much to everyone’s delight we got to see a real family of mallards. IMG_3750

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Newburyport: one of the many way too cute towns we enjoyed hanging out in. A tree on Plum Island, a barrier island north of Boston. Known for being a great spot for birding, the highlight for us was seeing four wild turkeys.

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The purpose of the trip was a college graduation and we were able to also visit extended family and celebrate H.’s birthday. Bottom photo is at Minuteman Park in Concord, MA. The shot heard round the world occurred right around that bridge. Ruth was more impressed by the extensive flower gardens at the visitor center. Another highlight not pictured was the really fascinating MIT museum with weirdly wonderful kinetic sculpture and all things fabulously geeky.

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On the drive home we stopped at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. This has been a dream of mine since I first heard about it and it didn’t disappoint. If you are anywhere near Amherst, MA I’d highly recommend it. Heck, make it the destination and just go. And as the cherry on top on a literary dream vacation, we swung by Springfield, MA to see the Dr. Seuss Memorial Sculpture Garden.

IMG_4580 IMG_4583To break up the trip home, we stayed with friends near Philadelphia and spent a couple of fascinating hours at the Penn Museum  for Archeology and Anthropology. After studying the Ancient World this past school year, this served as a great final field trip. IMG_4606

It would be pretty hard to come back to normal life after all the travel we’ve done in May. Luckily, we had this waiting for us at home. We got notice on vacation that the adoption paperwork we’d put in had been accepted and we are now officially owners of a cute 5 month old beagle/lab/shepherd mix puppy. I think she might make the transition back to normal everyday life a little more interesting.

 

The in-between season.

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IMG_0255aSummer is almost here.

It’s been a busy spring for us. Back in the fall we decided to end school before our annual beach vacation, which means that for us the last day of school was May 9th. Yes, we will “do some school” over the summer but for the most part we’re on break. I haven’t blogged much recently because along with buckling down on schoolwork we’ve had all the end-of-the-year activities. Both boys take drama at our co-op and were in plays. Our co-op also has a drama weekend for the high-school kids that we went to. There were swim meets and John crossing over to Boy Scouts from Cub Scouts (and a freezing cold rainy campout for him as an initiation).

John’s Odyssey of the Mind team won the regional competition and we all journeyed to Roanoke for the state tournament. Odyssey has been a surprisingly fantastic activity for us this year. I say surprising because I still really didn’t understand what it was until about a month or so into the year. John’s team consisted of seven 5th grade boys from our co-op. Some were good friends before we joined, by the end they had all become friends. They were a little rough around the edges, and as expected for 10 and 11 year old boys tended to be fairly goofy. Their scenery for their performance consisted almost entirely of cardboard boxes and duct tape. But somehow they managed to pull it together and do very well on the day of the actual competition. In OM, parents and coaches can’t give any outside assistance. You are limited to guiding them in making decisions but in the end they did it their own way. The end result was much less polished and completely different than anything I or the other coach would have come up with but it was also probably more creative and definitely a better reflection of who they were. They have already started discussing what they may do next year and David wants to join a team as well (quite a recommendation from a boy who carefully weighs any commitment against how much it will interfere with his free time).

But now all that end of year flurry is behind us. Summer is around the corner with swim team, which is a busy season too, but a different kind of busy. John will go to several camps, David will do art lessons and is considering some other day camps (that free time thing again). Ruth is excited for “princess camp” at the dance studio where she takes lessons. There will be a little math and Latin and piano sprinkled in. There will be books. A lot of books.

But for now we’re enjoying an in between season. John is away this week on a trip with his aunt to Puerto Rico. (She gives each niece or nephew a trip anywhere in the US when they are 10 and PR was his choice. We’ve heard that they’ve been zip-lining and caving and are headed to a phosphorescent bay and beaches with sea turtles. There’s no way we could return to school after that.) David and Ruth and I are enjoying a week free of most responsibilities. We might go to a movie. We might take some walks. We’ll definitely read. I plan to blog a bit more, especially some books I’ve recently been excited about.

Busy is good. We like being busy. But we’re also enjoying this season to meander in between the busy times.

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Scenes from the beach

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We just returned from our annual beach vacation. Sun, sea, sand, almost perfect weather (other than the torrential rains as we were packing the car to come home). Thanks to generous grandparents we’ve been able to take this trip yearly for the past 11 years. At this point, it’s very easy and comfortable and filled with familiar joys.

Highlights this year?

Watching 10 year old John teach his 4 year old sister to boogy-board. Flying kites together one windy morning. Laughing until our eyes watered during games of Monopoly and Settlers of Catan. Snorkeling in the hot tub. Eating a juicy watermelon on the deck for breakfast.