Saturday, April 20, 2013

It's time for a post

Because if I don't post, then all the posts I thought-about-but-didn't-make pile up deeper, and get muddled together, like the papers on my desk, and the bookcase, and the other bookcase, and the pictures of epic battles of merfolk get muddled up with the natural gas statement and the traffic ticket (ouch) and a rough draft of a map for the next role-playing adventure.

And then I never get around to recording the way the oven thermometer that exploded and destroyed the roast chicken, or how much I love spring coming because the ducklings play outside after supper--even in the rain--instead of jumping on the couches, or my mixed feelings about having work or not having work, or my brilliant insights on an issue I have since forgotten (that one must have sifted off onto the floor and gotten thrown away).

So now I have posted and we can think of it as a clear slate and the next time something drifts through my brain I can actually post about it instead of about not posting.

Now if I could just do the same for my desk.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Teaching to the Test

The Duchess turned 8 before this school year began, which means she has met the minimum school age in our state and must complete a standardized test every year. This isn't shown to anybody so it always has seemed a rather pointless requirement, but it is the law and if it makes them feel better, it is no great burden to us. Especially not now that (as I discovered) you can just get them done online. As far as Duchess was concerned, it was a freebie 3 hours of computer time she didn't have to earn. So what if it was all bland multiple choice questions?

When I was a kid, this was our big social event of the year, as we went down to our church's Christian school and did them in the nursery. We didn't usually actually do them with the class--that would have taken too long and we were always impatient--but we could go out at recess and play with the other kids. Also we got cooler snacks than usual. It was still very low-key--in fact, we often graded the results ourselves, or I graded them for the younger kids once I was done with mine. One year Rocketboy tested with the first and second grade class (I'm not sure why, he shouldn't have needed to take them yet--maybe just to keep him out of the way?) and brought home the chicken pox. That was most unfair to the rest of us, who being considerably older suffered far worse than he did.

I have mixed feelings about standardized tests. On the one hand, they pretty handily demonstrate all that is most wrong about systematized, impersonal, factory-model education. And building curriculum on the basis of scoring well on these tests is about the best guarantee of creating a curriculum that would bore anyone to tears.

On the other hand, they just don't seem that hard to me. Mind-blowingly dull, yes. But not hard. If you can read and think clearly, it's not that difficult to score well. And you don't have to be teaching to the test to teach reading and thinking.

Still, this was my first encounter as the teacher and I was a wee bit nervous. Especially about math. And grammar. I don't hold to the standard methods or sequence for teaching those subjects. Duchess has never done a page out of a math or grammar workbook. She reads a lot, she writes (or copies) a lot, we do lots of mental math and real-life problems and math games, but I have never shown her how to do multi-digit math problems on paper, or taught her the rules for comma usage, and I knew the test would be full of that sort of thing. Not that it mattered. But still. I figured we had reading comprehension and vocabulary and spelling covered, but everything else was up in the air. Mostly I didn't want to shake her confidence that she was good at math and that it was fun, and standardized tests are designed to have problems that are too difficult. Or there might have been a little bit of fear that I was teaching it all wrong. Maybe.

She did get a little concerned when she saw multiple-digit multiplication and other things she had never encountered before, but I told her to just think it through as best she could and give it her best guess. And she did. And it worked--in fact, she was off the chart in math concepts and way up in computation, despite never having done long division in her life. Grammar was the lowest, but even so she did fine, on the rather simple principle of "what looks right."

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming of making up word searches, designing historic paper dolls, and jumping off the bed.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Teachable Moments

For the last few game nights with the kids, we've been playing a role playing game I developed--basically a very streamlined version of GURPS set in the Olympics. They are all loving it, and the twins have finally overcome their fear of combat and were enthusiastically taking actions to take down a hungry cougar. Dot (a lizard) decided to jump on his tail to distract him, while Dash (a child) started digging frantically (he has been very fond of his shovel) and found several pails of water (why not? it was a beach and we are always losing pails there), which he then used to hit the cougar on the nose. This involves a lot of rolling and counting up dice, and taking away hit points when they are injured, and adding them on when they find healing herbs, so besides being a lesson in natural history and divergent thinking, it's a great math activity.

The next day, Dash was sitting more-or-less quietly while I read out loud to the older kids, until I noticed what he had drawing. On both sides of two sheets of paper, he had drawn recognizable scenes of his four favorite Magic: The Gathering characters and was conducting duels between them.

We may have the world's geekiest preschool curriculum.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Easter Monday

I kind of hoped that this would be the year I increased my blog postings up to those of the olden days, but clearly March was not the month for that to happen. I worked about as much in March as I have been doing in four months. Then there was school to be done. And Easter coming. And horrible colds.

So today we are taking a nice, slow, easy Easter Monday. Yesterday we had sundry family members over, lots of food, and a sunny seventy degrees. That last one is unheard of for a March Easter here. The ducklings insisted on getting out the wading pool and their small cousin joined in until they were turning blue.

Preparing for having everyone over meant catching up on all the housework that had been sliding for the past month. We got it done, thanks to Chore Wars. We are trying to make this a long-term chore system, turning in the XP or gold pennies for game time on the computer or with me. (I point out that therefore I should get to turn in MY XP for time by myself.) Duchess and Deux especially accomplished great things with the extra inspiration.

Two-thirds of the Duchy was involved in singing in church on Sunday. Well, Dot actually spent the time hitching her stockings up, and Dash suddenly discovered he was weak in the ankles and couldn't stand at all, but that is the expected function of four year olds in the children's choir. Duchess did a fine job with her solo, and so did DOB with his. I wrote the lyrics for DOB, and Deux did word searches under the counter at the back of the church. So everyone had a good time.