* The spirit of Luke

Caution: This post may have an adverse effect upon your view of my spiritual well-being.

If you read the previous post on my love of gifts, you’ll see that my integrity is questionable when I promise not to buy gifts.  I love to give them but my dearest widower has a so-so attitude.  How do I get around this conundrum without lying through my teeth?  That’s where my precious dog Luke comes in.  Luke may be in heaven but his generous spirit lives on.

On Christmas morning, everyone gets a surprise from the spirit of Luke.  Luke’s knack for gift giving wasn’t obvious when he roamed our house.  He used to chew up all unattended socks, but now buys the most fashionable sets.  Even though Luke used to pilfer any present with candy (his favorite being malt balls), he nows gives a wide variety of delicious treats.  And despite his previous penchant for attacking Christmas ornaments, the spirit of Luke leaves all decorations in pristine condition.  Most impressive of all, Luke cheerfully gives my dearest widower presents, too.  What a forgiving spirit Luke has!  One year, my dearest widower even suggested giving Luke a gift card for taxidermy, but Luke has not kept a record of wrongs.   Here’s the sweet pup with his sweet brother!Luke images_0001.jpg


* Training daze

dog walker

This dog trainer is an inspiration.  I snapped him doing clean-up as his “students” patiently waited for directions.   Researchers at Duke University are quantifying the amazing social skills of dogs.  Many of us already knew canines are quick studies of human behavior.  My Sheltie always focused on my facial expressions.  If I pretended to be upset with him, Luke would be instantly miserable.  It may sound politically incorrect, but teaching pups and teaching kids share some similarities.  No, I did not say that kids are dogs or should be treated as dogs, although some dogs ARE treated better than some kids.  I know that from personal experience.

But take a look at this guy’s class.  You’ve got your leaders and followers, your distracted ones and your “what are you looking at?” students.  You’ve got a diverse group that wants to do their best.  They are patient with teacher foibles and even internalize them.  And with structure and consistency, you help them achieve their goals.  The tone of our voice, the expressions on our faces, and our “unconscious” behaviors affect our students in ways we cannot imagine.  They go home and tell their parents The Truth According To  My Teacher.  Imagine what happens when we dump our prejudices about race and income on this vulnerable group.  Think about their hearts, their eagerness, and their naivete.  Let’s resolve not to crush these precious spirits.  Let’s cherish each one.

One more thought:  Not one of them dashed to the fire hydrant.  So much for preconceived notions!




* Math Wars

I appreciate a column in yesterday’s News and Observer, “Say No to Math Wars,” written by Paola Sztajn, a professor of elementary education at N.C State University.  She reminds us that we already fought this particular math war in the 1990’s, although I recall that we skirmished 40 years before that.  Being old has its advantages…. What math war is this?  The battle between proficiency/ fluency and a deeper understanding of math concepts.

It’s easier to measure fluency, for sure.  How many math problems can a student solve per minute?   Got it.  It’s harder to determine whether kids grasp concepts because in early elementary grades, they can often memorize enough processes to fake it.  Hence, we get the math disabled kids showing up in 3rd and 4th grade with a staggering number of gaps and misconceptions.

I agree with Sztajn that understanding should precede fluency.  I agree that we don’t need to beat this dead horse any longer.  On the other hand-and you knew that was coming, right?- we need better teacher education so that kids do better with the deeper understanding part.  We also need deep curricula but some reasonable way to shorten its breadth.  Right now, classes are racing through new topics at a rate that leaves our weakest kids far behind.   Research tells us that solid math instruction is time-consuming.  For kids with dyscalculia or those at risk of math failure, every lesson that sails over their heads is another nail in their math coffin.  That sounds dramatic and believe me, the cost of missing lessons is exponential, not additive.accounting-

* O Tannenbaum

I was humming that delightful carol while dragging the dusty, boxed tree from our attic.  If my dearest widower knew what I was doing, balancing along narrow wooden steps with a Christmas tree at my back, he’d be miffed.  But since he’s out of town, I have free rein to maim myself.

I bought this tree cheap last year but never put up a single decoration!  I got “leisure sickness” and spent the entire vacation recovering from too much work.  I vowed that this year would be different.  Since we don’t have room in our house for a tree because of my dearest widower’s penchant for home theater equipment, the tree must go on the porch.  OK, enough bitterness about speakers and screens.

Back to the tree:  Finally downstairs, I opened the box.  And what to my wondering eyes should I see?   A glistening, three-piece black Christmas tree!  Huh?  I thought it was going to be green to match the garlands and wreath on the porch. black tree

A black tree would look great in our red and black kitchen, but we wouldn’t have room for the table.  I went outside and stared at the green garlands.  Bummer.   This is where where the black tree would stand.  Double bummer.IMG_1195

I had to go to WalMart anyway, of course, so I decided that if I could find a reasonably priced tree, that would be a sign.   Not as significant as lying in a manger, but it would mean that all our greenery was actually green.IMG_1197

Ta-da!  It’s a bit slim but it is green.  And I have secured it with three stout ropes, because the porch tree usually blows away a few times each winter.

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Wie treu
 sind deine Blätter!
Du grünst nicht nur zur Sommerzeit,
Nein, auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Wie treu sind deine Blätter!

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
Your branches green delight us!
They are green when summer days are bright,
They are green when winter snow is white.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
Your branches green delight us!

My three things of thankful:  A  Green  Tree

O Nerd in the Brain,
O Nerd in the Brain.
Your special blog inspires me!

* La La La

Thanks, Cee, for this Share Your World challenge!  If you haven’t yet taken a look at Cee’s blog, you are missing out on incredible photography and tips.  Seriously, Cee’s tips comprise a terrific course on photography!  (She should charge!)  Here are this week’s responses to her questions.

  • My favorite food to cook is anything with pastry, from empanadas to tarts.  Yum!
  • Yes, I loved swinging as a child.  I would call it an obsession, really.  My goal was to swing over the top of the swing set, something I never achieved.  Which is why I am still alive.
  • What has surprised me about blogging?  How much fun it is!  What great folks I’ve met!  And mostly, how MANY bloggers are out here!  Whoa!  I had no idea!
  • My top five favorite desserts are tiramisu, apple pie, rich chocolate anything, scones, and pecan pie.
  • I am grateful that I’m out of Benadryl La La Land.  I had this rash on my face and neck (and total body itching) that mysteriously came and went last weekend.  Bummer, I missed a special Christmas event because half a child’s dose of Benadryl knocked me out for hours!  Oops, slipped out of gratitude mode.
  • I am looking forward to baking a ton of gingerbread house pieces and watching five kiddos fall into Candy La La Land!  More yum!


* Zaption

Zaption is a terrific tool for transforming videos from simple entertainment to more robust instruction.  I recommend the Pro membership, which adds a significant number of features to the site.  Zaption is easy to use and works well with special needs kids.

How does Zaption work?  First, you select a video related to your instructional topic.  Zaption has its own huge gallery, with featured courses in history, science, and government.  You may also select videos by topic, such as language arts or current events.  You may upload your own videos or use those on YouTube.  Second, you make the video your own, for a group or individual, by adding one of 11 elements to the video itself.  These include a text or image slide; a drawing on the video; and one of six student response types, such as written, multiple choice, drawn, or discussion.  Other ways to adapt the video for your needs include trimming, adding replay, and jumping from one point to another.

What else do you get?  Analytics!  Your student responses are recorded by date, accuracy, whether students skipped forward or backwards, how they rated the lesson, and more.  You may download all info as a CSV file.

Give Zaption a try!  Even the basic membership is a great deal!  Follow them on Twitter for updates and super user tips.


Hand-held spas

I’ve been WAAAAY too up-close-and-personal with the Pocket Princess (PP) collection of iPhone “spas.”  A young relative, Eva, is obsessed with princesses and make up, so I’ve had ample opportunity to observe five of these PP spa apps.

When you launch the app, the first thing that happens, even after you cough up money for ad-free use, is a flood of age-inappropriate commercials.  Eva has learned how to double click, slide the offending ads into oblivion, and return to a spa.  From babysitters to snowpeople, all the characters need major work on their faces and clothing.  Stay clear of Fashion Dolls First Date, with their Barbie and Ken-like characters in skivvies.  The babysitters can certainly dress the little ones, but that’s all they do besides primp.  Except for babies and princesses, the clothing is risque.  Or worse.

The spas are cute.  Did you know that you can snip eyebrows to remove a flurry of hair?  Or banish pimples with a single touch of something.  I do wish I could try some of their treatments!  Change your eye color or hair color with a simple click?  I WANT those purple eyes.

The Christmas princesses win the prize for Odd Scenarios.   A wall of mud slimes each character as she starts to decorate for Christmas.  No wonder Eva was anxious when I asked if she wanted to help with a nativity scene!

Mud is not the only hazard when decorating.  Bugs, scrapes, and things in the ears (look closely at the image above) must be cleaned up.   Eva demonstrates great perseverance as she scrubs off mud, uses tweezers to remove bugs, and creates enough perfume to cover the stench of a landfill.  Nothing like this when I was her age!

* Meltdown Control

In previous posts, I related Christopher’s difficulty managing strong feelings.  He now has a plan and remains in the rehearsal stage.  His plan starts with a brief review of his goals for self-control and maturity. Then he is given the following description of what to do.  I have added spacing between each word to improve his silent reading.

When   your   feelings   get   stronger   than  a   5,   you    will   take   this    book   to   a  quiet   place.      Read   your   plan.    Your   plan   will   help bring   your   feelings    back   to   a  5   or   less.    You   decide   which   of   the   following   activities   will    bring   your    feelings   under    control.    If   you   come   back   before   you   are   at   a level   5   or  less,   you    will    take   your   plan   and   try   again. 

The final 5 pages describe and show possible strategies.  Here’s a sample:

Do 20 jumping jacks.

Jumping jacks

His rehearsal includes knowing the designated quiet place, pretending to be upset, using his plan, and then repeating it as he pretends he’s not ready to rejoin the group.  Christopher was hilarious when we practiced last night.  When we started the rehearsal, I said, “You look like you’re past a level 5.”  With a gleam in his eyes and a jump for emphasis, Christopher answered, “I’m at a 10!”  Great job of roleplaying!


*Ho Ho Ho

christmas-branchI was in a doctor’s office today.  I was waiting , of course, which gave me ample time to browse magazines I’d never otherwise see.  One was a “Christmas” edition with these headlines:  Great Gifts for Everyone- for $50 and less!  Wow.  Since when is $50 the bar for everyone’s gifts?  And what a “Christmas” message!

We all know that every holiday has been taken hostage by commercialism.  But did you know that my dearest widower was aware of this 40+ years ago?  He was not going to succumb to advertizing snares, so we barely celebrated Valentine’s Day (“a holiday invented by Hallmark”).  When he and I agreed that we’d limit our Christmas spending on each other, he was true to his word; I always rounded down to the nearest hundred.  In my mind, saying we wouldn’t buy ANY gifts was nonbinding.  It was more like a New Year’s resolution or a phrase like, “See you later!”  Maybe, maybe not.  We had some melodramatic scenes on Christmas morning, as I revealed the “surprise” presents for him and he made a frantic run to the grocery store.  After all these years together, we are no longer fooled by my wishful thinking that he and I view gift-giving in the same way.

Now that I understand the true meaning of Christmas, well, I still love gifts.  $50 gifts?  Nah.  Unless it’s for something techie, of course.

* I am Emma

“I am Autistic.” Emma shares her perspective on the overwhelming impact of environmental stimuli. It’s an account worth reading, whether you are a parent or teacher of someone with autism, or have been diagnosed with autism yourself. Please consider supporting the documentary on Emma. You’ll find links at her site.

Emma's Hope Book

“What is your name?” someone might ask.  It’s a simple question, but when I try to make the sounds that form my name, other words push and shove their way forward.  Instead, “you may not spit,” or “Rosie’s not here!” are examples of seemingly random nonsensical, declarations that come out of my mouth.  I call these utterances my “mouth words.”  They could be seen as traitors, belligerent bullies who seek the spotlight, but they are not.  My mouth words are funny to me, but misunderstood by others. My typed words are hard for me, but understood by many.  Mouth words are witty accomplices to a mind that speaks a different language entirely.  There are no words, but instead a beautiful environment where feelings, sensations, colors and sounds coexist.  I often think if all humans could experience the world in hi-res, technicolor, surround sound as I do, everyone would be happier.  I…

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