Sunday, January 23, 2011

Two by two and three by three

E. is in the middle of another testing cycle at school.  There are three or four in a year.  I'm going to try to stay off the broader issue of standardized testing in our schools today.  Let's just say that as both an educator and a parent, I feel like there is WAY too much emphasis on test-taking.

Standardized testing does not "count" for E. until third grade.  Nonetheless, he began taking a version of the tests in kindergarten.  My impression is that they do this in part to provide teachers with a relative measure of students' achievement, but largely in order to get them acclimated to the testing process.

Much different than my experience in the days of yore, very few of these tests are done with pencil and paper.  For E. this is a good thing.  His motor skills are such that he might actually miss a number of questions based entirely on inaccurate filling of bubbles.  Instead, he just has to move the mouse and click his answer.  As a child of the computer generation, that is well within his ability.

When the standardized tests are completed on the computer, they tend to be adaptive, meaning that they difficulty of the questions is adjusted to your performance.  Get questions right, and the difficulty increases little by little; miss several and you go the other direction.

E. came home the other day and told us that there had been multiplication on his test.  3 x 100 was the first question.  And so he figured out how to multiply.  As far as I can tell, he surveyed the available answers, considered how one might figure out the question, and moved on from there.  He now knows how to multiply, figured several random facts I gave him--more of the basic-facts variety, but still requiring an understanding of the underlying concept.

I can't say I'm surprised by this.  I remember doing some math problems with him in a year or two ago when it was clear that he was close to using multiplication to figure out answers.  He just didn't realize that was what he was doing, didn't know the term 'multiplication' or its symbols.

Math is a second language for me.  It gives shape to my thoughts.  I love its order and do figures for fun.  When E. would come home last year, complaining about math, saying he hated it, I had to steel myself not to take it personally.  This year has been so much better for him in many ways, helped a lot by the fact that his current teacher is a math-science kind of person.  Even when E. has struggled with the occasional concept, he is much less resistant to working with me and, dare I say, we end up having fun and connecting over the lessons.  And when he tells me that he's figured out an advanced concept on his own, just because it was there in front of him, I can't help but say, "That's my son!"

Monday, January 10, 2011

I could really use a Time-Turner

I doubt it would surprise anybody who knows me that Hermione Granger is the character with whom I most relate.  I was even a bit jealous when she got to take extra classes in The Prisoner of Azkaban, because I would have done that when I was back in school.  (And sort of did since in my junior year I took a 0-hour class--a period that ran before the official day began--followed by a full day of academic courses, ending with  an independent study after school.  Eight courses in a normally six-period day.)

I could use a Time-Turner right about now.  Not for academic over-achievement, but for simple achievement.

I am officially back on the clock for my doctoral program.  I have set up a work area, read some secondary literature, figured out a direction for some immediate writing.  But the time I have set aside on paper has a tendency to shrink and disappear.

Part of it is spent multi-tasking.  Pumping so that J. can have a bottle (that he won't drink) at daycare.  Grabbing some lunch.  Making coffee.  And yes, checking in on Twitter and the like since I have no opportunity to do that until after I finish teaching.

Part of it gets eaten up by the pull of my other identities.  I tutor a couple hours a week--math right now--in my role as public-school teacher and small-town resident.  I've been doing daycare pick-up for J., something that takes about an hour total.  On occasion, I time it so that I can get J. early enough to then pick up E.

I have been trying to figure out how to shift some of my work to the evening, after both boys are in bed.  But J. still sleeps inconsistently.  At bedtime, I never know how long I will have before I'm needed back in the bedroom.  And it takes me a while to get settled back into my planned task, to get my head back into that realm.

I should have done a little work just now.  There's a section of my paper that I can envision and for which I have the foundation laid.  I just need to turn it into academic-speak with appropriate footnotes and formatting.  I have some citations to throw in, marked out in my notes.  I want to do this soon, as a follow up to my latest correspondence with my supervisor, as proof to us both that I can still do this.

I figure just a few turns and I could have those pages in no time.  Those pages and a good nap too!

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Resolved, 2011

I'm not even going to look back at what I wrote last year.  That would be one sure way to pop the optimism I've mustered for this new year.

As always, there are plenty of goals I have as we hand a new calendar on the wall.  This year, it's not simply inspired by the Earth's turning.  Instead, we have a few changes here--J. is starting daycare, my grad-school maternity leave is up--which are inspiring some new-leaf-turning.

My goals and their reasons:

  • We will finish rearranging our house.  We've been moving furniture and going through our things to create space for everybody.  Currently J. and all of his stuff are in our bedroom.  We're about halfway through effecting the following: J.'s stuff into the third bedroom (plus switch some of E.'s furniture to J. and move other things into his room), office furniture (and A.'s workspace) into back of living room, M.'s stuff into corner of sunroom, all toys into boys' bedrooms.  After all that, I hope to get started on the garden.
  • We will be more organized during the school week.  Now that all of us will need to get out of the house in the morning, we absolutely must follow through on things like packing lunches the night before and picking out clothes.  I'm also going to return to meal-planning so we don't waste time every night debating what we feel like making or eating.
  • I will work on E.'s accepted foods.  We know better than to think this will be easy or quick, but I have a few ideas for this and a few more resources to consult.  The meal-planning and family dinners are part of this.  I will put a little bit of all we're eating on E.'s plate, in addition to his usual chicken nuggets or grilled cheese sandwich, not forcing him to eat any of it, but sort of desensitizing him.  We are also not above bribery.

  • I'm getting back on track for my PhD.  I will be taking as much advantage of J.'s time in daycare as I can to make sure I keep things rolling.  I expect to finish my comps in May or June, although the actual date of my exams will depend somewhat on my committee.
  • I will do my best to pick up another 1 or 2 sections of teaching for next year (i.e. the 2011-12 school year).  This will get me over the magical number that makes me eligible for insurance through the school district here and help us pump up our savings, all of which will give us some breathing room (and help us prepare for the eventuality in which A. goes down to part-time or returns to contract work).
I'll leave it at that for now.  I have some hopes for exercise, healthy eating, and the like, but I know better than to make the list too long.  If we can get the house in order, get me through comps, and manage to get everybody where they belong on a regular basis, we'll have achieved a real victory.