Saturday, October 31, 2009

Furlough Friday Fieldtrip

I just shake my head. Furlough Fridays are the Bad SNL skit that just won't quit. The news stations do their take, the radio talks about it nonstop. Friends even mention national news stories about Hawaii having the fewest days of school per year, before the furloughs. Eh, Bygones. I decided that I was going to try and edumacate my children on these Fridays they are now off school.  I asked Kiera if she would rather go to the museum or the zoo. She said zoo. So I took the morning to teach Phillip and Kiera about vertebrates while Lily and Bella colored zoo pictures. Then we made each of them a Zoo Book to take along and record observations of the different types of vertebrates. Lily and Bella basically just lost their pencils and complained the whole day about losing their pencils- but Phillip and Kiera both said learning at the zoo was fun.

I was worried that the zoo would be packed and every other parent would be doing the same thing. Nope. It was empty. Of course it has been unusually warm here still and the VOG is really bad. According to my other mom friends, everyone took the day off to go shopping and the malls were packed. The exit to the mall was backed up onto the highway. People that have to work- put their kids in "Furlough Friday Fun" care at $25-45 a day. So people will pay for "fun" care, but not education. Okey dokey. Talk about a great economic stimulus plan. People who don't work, take their kids shopping, people who do invest in child care programs which go on field trips to local sites, and the hoodlums who are unsupervised generate business for the local police enforcement. Yea.

Not me,  I learned the difference between amphibians and reptiles and am really grateful for google via Blackberry.  We did learn that the Honolulu Zoo is heavy on mammals and lizards. And we did have to reprimand monitor lizards for 'wrestling' on the rocks because they might fall and get hurt. Phillip looks at me and whispers "they're not really wrestling, are they?"  Nope. "Eww that's disgusting." At least we didn't have to linger after that.

I also was reminded that Honolulu is a tough place to teach the nakey babies of mine that it is a socially acceptable practice to wear clothing in public. "Why doesn't he have a shirt on mama?" "His pants are falling down. They are too big for him" It doesn't help that the beach is across the street from the zoo, but really- could you throw a shirt on?

As for Miss Kiera Faye. We have started a new regimen that includes "home-homework" as she calls it.  A good friend who is also a teacher pointed out that we probably wouldn't get much support from the school and pointed me in the right direction to help her with some additional skills.  Some days I think it's an attention thing and some days I swear she is not firing on all cylinders.  Time will tell.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Approaching Adequate

And let the celebration of mediocity continue. Yep it's report card time. If there's one thing I have learned this past year, it's not to sweat the small stuff.  You gotta pick your battles. When Phillip started school here, I wrote the DOE numerous letters regarding the inadequacy of the grading system here. In an effort to make sure no one gets left behind, everyone gets pushed forward whether they are ready or not. It's kinda like pushing kids off into the deep end of the pool. You can let them wade in the shallow end and play, eventually they will learn by trial and error how to combine leg and arm movements to propel themselves around. You could teach them to swim using time honored approaches reducing the amount of time it takes them to learn to propel themselves. Or you could toss them into the deep end and see who swims and who almost drowns. Then you save the kids who almost drown and take them even deeper and toss them in again until they get it.  That's what no child left behind does. 

Here there used to be 3 grades, ME(exceeds expectations, A), MP(Meets ExpectationsB,C,D), WB(Approaching expectations, F)- in my mind it has always been Meets Expectations, Mediocre Performance, Well Below. The grades do not necessarily indicate performance and are not based on numbers whatsoever. . Huh? The first parent teacher conference goes over the grading system and how it is applied to their work. The reports are to"inform you of the progress towards achieving the Hawaii Content and Performance Standards". They do not assign grades- they merely indicate if your child progresses along this same pattern, they probably will achieve that result on standardized tests.   Now they have added a fourth criteria, because 'well above', 'at' and 'below' didn't give parents enough info to go on, go figure. I guess some parents were put-off that their ME children were scoring in the 50th percentile nationwide. I thought we didn't have to know numbers? Now we have DP-which is Developing Proficiency(mine) Approaching Expectations(theirs). WB is now Well Below Expectations.  I guess in about 3-4 years they will add MA, Above Expectations. And then in another few years they will eliminate the confusion and attach an alphabet related scale with A being the highest and F being the lowest- or failing- no I'm sorry that is politically incorrect- well, well below expectations.  After that they will start attaching percentile ranks to said numbers and like that- It will have taken Hawaii 10 years to reinvent the grading scale and prove why it works. Don't even get me started on the poor military families who have to PCS with the worthless report cards from here.  Had to do it in Colorado when we put Phillip in school there- the admin said they would just test him since the reports told them nothing they needed to know. Bingo. Look at the state test scores and you know.We have this nebulous curriculum based entirely on a standardized test results so children are programmed to perform well towards that test whose numbers drive the entire educational system here. The children do well on the Hawaii test- but nationally are failing miserably- aka below 50th percentile. But numbers don't matter.

There's an Australian comedian that Phil has me watch sometimes on YouTube. His schtick is "Harden the F#@! Up." It's like Jay Walking, but pointing out the complete lack of tenacity in certain people.   Sure Hawaii wants every child to succeed, great. Handing a child a piece of paper that says "You succeed" does not success make.  Not only that, It devalues the piece of paper that children who truly do well get that says they succeed.   Hawaii's grading system needs to Harden the F#@! up.

So yesterday we get the kids report cards. I do the cursory scan and a lump gets stuck in my throat. Kiera has a WB. I am a failure. I have failed. (See we had grades when I went to school and I am quick to accept accountability and blame. I know that failure IS an option in life and am glad I was prepared for that fact growing up.  After all, winning is the sweetest after the spoils of defeat. )  I start back at the top. She has 2 WB's overall and DP's in every content area(what most people call subjects). But I got 3 MP's- she points out.  I feel like I am going to be sick. I knew I needed to work more with her- I just had NO idea how MUCH more. Not that this card tells me what I need to do. I read the teacher comments, hoping for some modicum of guidance, Kiera is a pleasure to have in class, follows directions and works well with others. She needs to make extra effort to ask for help. A good worker and wonderful friend.

Translated: Kiera is a budding socialite. But mostly my problem is that a month ago when I had our conference she was doing well and there were no major concerns. How are her grades? Oh we don't compile grades at this point. Huh?   To me, WB's mean poor performance across the board and the past month is only 1/3 of the quarter, so she had to have been performing poorly at conference time.  I look closer at the grades. One WB is in algebra. Yes folks, they now teach algebra before multiplication and division. Try teaching an 8 year old to conceptualize that n represents a number- it could be any number, but it is a specific number and then solve for it. I was mystified by that concept in HIGH SCHOOL. I went in to talk to her teacher about that. She said oh no we don't expect them to understand that, we just want them to find the number. Trial and error algebra.  Not really algebra at all then- it's just a guessing game. Kinda like the report cards.  They also have kids do word problems before they read well enough to understand them and the fun abstract math that they represent.  It's hard enough to be analytical when you have all the tools you need- it's tons o fun when you have less than half the tools you need. Yes learning can be fun. But you can also make basics tougher than they need to be. Sometimes you need to get on your hands and knees and scrub the floor. Sure it takes longer than going over it with a mop, but the results are noticeable. I am a purist/ Do times tables and rote math, nothing fancy.  Teach the basics. Nope -we've got this goofy curriculum that has them applying math in everyday circumstances as opposed to learning how to DO math in everyday circumstances. Isn't that the point of becoming an adult- you have to take all this stuff you learned and now apply it? And to top it off- not only do they have to apply it- they have to be able to show different ways to achieve that answer.  Have you ever known someone who just does math in their head?  These brilliant poor souls will fail miserably at math in this curriculum.  It's not that you get the answer- it's HOW you get the answer. LOV ED that concept in Organic Chemistry- think it sucks for addition in the 3rd grade.  31 + 59 is 90. I don't care if you forgot to carry the 1, it's wrong.  The answer is not 80. I don't care if you drew 9 weird liney things and 10 dots and circled the wrong groups- add it.   I think you are wasting your time drawing out 90 dots and you run the risk of counting wrong. Add it. I talked to Kiera's teacher who said that the standardized tests actually test the various methods and they need to know them. MMM hmmm. So let me get this straight- Kiera can add, she just can't show you how she added and therefore gets a WB? Well, since the benchmark is not adding but learning to add using various methods, yes, she demonstrates WB.

So what is a mom to do?  She spends her time printing out worksheets and hours, teaching basic math so my child can use that to figure out her math homework and unfortunately this past quarter, it was not enough.  AND if she continues along this path someday she will get to high school where an A is 90-100% and an F represents below 50% and she will be applying the algebra she learned in the 3rd grade, wait there are no numbers- maybe that is next year. I am not for devaluing children's self worth. I don't want them to feel like failures. I also like Kiera's teacher and think she is a tough grader, which Kiera needs.  Kiera was completely apathetic to the grades. Of course- they are so padded, she doesn't feel the fall. And she is falling. All I know is that if she continues approaching this path she might approach this path sometime in the future when there is a standardized test to test path approachment.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Punkin Patchcapades

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We made our annual trek to the Aloun Farms Pumpkin Patch this morning. It wasn't muddy like last year, and it was definitely more light hearted. Bella all but refused to depart the wagon, as apparently the pumpkin patch was 'dirty'.  It didn't help that 5 feet into the pumpkin patch Lily got all tangled up in briars and screamed like a howler monkey.  It's funny how after all these years my view of the perfect pumpkin has changed. It used to have to be as perfectly round as possible and relatively unblemished. Now- It has to have character, be generally roundish, and not rotten.  It goes much quicker that way and then I can keep my focus on de-briaring the children as they run around looking for their perfect pumpkins.