Saturday, January 31, 2015

We Live Here

This is you at 3 years 8 months. I let you have ice cream for lunch.

Today is Saturday, so I didn't have to work. Yesterday it rained, but today was glorious. That always happens. Rainy weekdays and clear skies for the tourists on Saturdays. We walked to the beach and it was too warm for the sweatshirt I'd dressed you in, so I ended up holding it for four hours.

You like walking on this wall, being up high.

We stopped at the grassy area where the acro-yogis practice, and you tried to do what they were doing. Daddy hadn't known we were going to the beach when he left on his bike ride, so when he rode up, it was a surprise.

You made friends with an acro-yogi named Jason.

You wanted to play at the playground, so you did. You see the swings? We swung on those together. I was on the left, and you were on the right. You're learning to pump your legs. This is you on the balance beam. You have excellent balance.
The aquarium didn't open until 12:30, so we rode the carousel...
...and ate ice cream. I had chocolate-dipped strawberry and you chose vanilla. I was surprised. You usually choose chocolate.
After our ice cream lunch, we went downstairs to the aquarium and we took turns kissing a sea cucumber. The volunteer said it gives you seven years of good luck. That's not why I did it. I've never kissed a sea cucumber. That's why I did it. And after I had done it without any hesitation, you did too.
The volunteer also said that sea cucumbers defend themselves by shooting their internal organs out of their bottoms. They grow back. Here's what they look like...
We spent two hours in the aquarium. You sat up close for storytime. You were concerned because water was dripping off the live sea animals onto the rug.
Here you are looking at a lobster shell with the camera magnifier.
When you saw this picture, you said, "There I am being a scientist."

Friday, January 30, 2015

Preschool Theme: Spain

This week, my daughter's home(pre)school group learned about Spain. (The theme this month is Around the World.) They watched Ferdinand (the Disney short based on the book by Munro Leaf), ate churros, located Spain on a world map, added Spanish flags to their "passports," made the above matador craft, and ended the lesson by throwing tomatoes (at a target, not at each other like Spaniards do at the tomato-throwing festival La Tomatina).

Thursday, January 29, 2015

What She Made in Church Mice This Week

Preschool Piano Lesson

My husband recently started teaching our three year old to play piano. Lessons are short - five minutes. Here she is in her third lesson, playing "2 black keys" and "3 black keys." He's using the Alfred's Basic Piano Prep (Level A), which can be used with little hands.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Handicrafts: Hootiful Owl Sewing Kit

I love this kit. It's made for ages 6 to 10, but I bought it for my 3 year old to do with my help. It has a plastic needle - which I think is awesome! No risk of poking tiny fingers. Plus, the eye of the needle is HUGE, so it's easy to thread. Another plus - the owl has pre-punched holes, so it's similar to a sewing card. The only things this kit doesn't come with are scissors and batting (to fill the owl). We have both, so that was no problem. We've had two sewing sessions (we sewed on the tummy, and the wings), and I anticipate we will need another two to complete our hootiful friend.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Teach Your Child to Read: Have You Seen My Cat?

I'm using Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons with my 3 year-old daughter. When we got to Lesson 96, I ordered Eric Carle's Have You Seen My Cat?, the first book on the list of books to use when you finish the 100th lesson. The book came two days later, and my daughter wanted to read it right away.

So, she did.

This book can be read before completing the Teach Your Child program. According to Scholastic Book Wizard, this book has a 1.1 grade equivalent, which means that a child who can read this book reads at (or above) a 1st grade 1st month of school level. It only has 9 words. They are: have, you, seen, my, cat, this, is, not, where. I was surprised that this was the first book on the list because, after completing Teach Your Child, your child can read hundreds of words and has gotten used to reading multi-paragraph stories. Truthfully, I was a little perturbed that I had spent $7 on this book. There are so many good books out there! Have You Seen My Cat? is just too easy.

The plot is simple: A boy looks for his cat, he encounters various cats (jaguar, tiger, bobcat, etc.), none of which are his cat, and finally finds his own cat has hidden to have kittens. The illustrations, as with all Eric Carle books, are great.

My assumption is that the authors made this Book #1 to teach your child the process that will be used for the other "kid" books you choose to use with your child.

The Teach Your Child process is this:
  1. Read the book to your child. Talk about the pictures. Talk about the meanings of any words your child doesn't know. (Essentially, do what you naturally do when reading a story to your child.)
  2. Teach your child the words that are new to him or her. This process is similar to how new words are taught in the Teach Your Child book. Make a list on a piece of paper. You read the list. Your child reads the list.
  3. Your child reads the book. You gently correct mistakes. You check for comprehension by asking questions in a gentle way, similar to the "Second Reading" comprehension checks in the Teach Your Child book.
  4. Encourage your child to read the book aloud multiple times (to Daddy, other family members, etc.).
My daughter has now read Have You Seen My Cat? five times, to me, to Daddy, to Grandma (via Facetime), to Grandpa (via Google Video Chat), and to our friend Julia.

I decided that we would skip Book #2 (Look What I Can Do) and Book #3 (We Hide, You Seek), and I ordered Book #4 (I Love You, Dear Dragon). Look What I Can Do is so easy that it doesn't even have a grade level equivalent. It's Guided Reading level (a letter system from A to Z, A being the easiest and Z being the most challenging) is A. (The Guided Reading level of Have You Seen My Cat? is B, which means that Book #1 is "harder" than Book #2.) We Hide, You Seek has a grade level equivalent of 1.7, but Scholastic Book Wizard didn't list any other scale by which to measure it. I Love You, Dear Dragon has a grade level equivalent of 1.2, but a Guided Reading level of E. (Of all the reading scales, I prefer Guided Reading. Maybe the reason why is another post later on down the road.)

I was happy to find I Love You, Dear Dragon here, including - if you scroll to the last "page" - a list of the words in the book. New words that need to be taught (Step 2 in the Teach Your Child process) are: work, who, pretty, one, make, guess, father, dragon, dear. The book looks sweet, not classic literature, but sweet. From what I could tell from the preview, it's about Valentine's Day, the boy makes a gift for his mother, and he tells his friend/dragon that he loves him.

Teach Your Child recommends reading 10 books from the list, any 10, in the order they're listed. Maybe we'll go down to Book #7 (Hop on Pop) after I Love You, Dear Dragon. Hop on Pop has a 1.1 grade equivalent, but its Guided Reading level is J. (You've got to love the way these scales don't line up with each other.)

More later. Right now it's bath time, and the bedroom floor is strewn with foam blocks, play food, and dinosaurs...

Monday, January 26, 2015

Short Lessons

Brandy Vencel, author of Afterthoughts, wrote a great post about Charlotte Mason and her use of short lessons. Short lessons is one of the many reasons I'm attracted to Charlotte Mason methodology. As a public school teacher, I come at this topic from a different angle. I see the detriment of long lessons, a norm in public school.

In California, the "recommendation" for math instructional minutes is 50 to 60 minutes daily, and the "recommendation" for language arts (in grades 4 through 8) is two hours per day. Districts and schools can (and do) turn these "recommendations" into mandates, and go so far as to mandate these minutes be grouped together in uninterrupted blocks.

I loved Brandy's idea about breaking up her son's 30 minutes of math into two 15 minute periods. As a homeschooler, she can make this decision. 

In addition to the math and language arts requirements, I am required to spend 45 minutes daily on E.L.D. (English Language Development). This must be a block of 45 minutes, and can not be broken up into smaller periods of time (for example: two blocks of 20 and 25 minutes, or three blocks of 15 minutes).  E.L.D. includes things like writing with correct capitalization, punctuation, and spelling; grammar; multiple meaning words; idioms; etc. (Wait, you say, aren't those things part of "language arts"? Yes.)

One of my favorite movie quotes comes from O Brother Where Art Thou: "It's a fool who looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart." I would have to alter that to:
It's a fool who looks for logic 
in the chambers of the human heart... 
or in the public school system.

Brandy pointed out that in Class II (9 to 11 year olds, the age group I teach), math lessons were 30 minutes. You can get a lot done in 30 minutes... if you're not trying to get through an unreasonable amount of content before a district assessment or the high-stakes end-of-year Common Core test... or if you're teaching a child material that is accessible to him or her... or if you don't have 30 students with 30 different problems, some of them not mathematical, some of them emotional (anger or sadness about a situation at home or a situation with another student), some of them physical (lack of sleep, hunger, thirst, needing to use the restroom).

Today we spent an hour and a half on math. I was teaching students how to change a mixed number into an improper fraction. We reviewed the homework. Then I taught new material, including vocabulary (mixed number, improper fraction). Next I introduced them to MAdd Face and explained that MAdd Face is always MAdd because he's always squeezed in between a whole number and a fraction. Fourth graders totally relate to this; they do things like divide their desks in half with tape so their desk partners don't get into their space. Then, we worked some problems together, and finally, I explained tonight's homework.

An hour and a half.

But we have to get through this material. They're going to be tested on fractions the second week in February, and we are behind.

We're always behind.

It's never a celebration of what they do know, or what they can do. It's always a question of how many points away were they from "proficient."

And why do they fall short of proficient? Because long lessons don't actually work. If they did, all of my students would be able to change mixed numbers to improper fractions, however a handful of them still can't. Why? Well, that handful never memorized the multiplication facts. And now, because of pacing plans, and because multiplication facts aren't of personal importance to them, some of my students never will.

Brandy also pointed out that writing in 4th grade was 10 minutes! Ten minutes, not an hour, which is what teachers in my district and districts across America have been told to allot by programs like Lucy Calkins' Writing Workshop. Ten minutes is developmentally appropriate, and longer than that at 9 years old is unnecessary to the long term goal of producing a person who can write effectively.

Living in L.A., one does all sorts of L.A. things. One very L.A. thing I did once was to take a screenwriting class. In it, we learned that movies are broken up into sequences of 10-15 minutes. (A screenplay outline has 8 sequences, and you use this formula when writing an outline for a screenplay.) Something integral to the plot has to happen (approximately) every 15 minutes. Fifteen minutes is the moment when our attention wanes, we shift in our seat, and we need something exciting to happen to re-engage us.

We need art. We need a nature walk. We need music...

Sunday, January 25, 2015

What's On Your Fridge?

This, my 3 year old said, was D.W. from Arthur. Note the placement of the ears.

This is "a machine that makes pianos, candy, and everything."

This is a girl t-rex.
At 10 p.m. last night, my daughter told me she needed - needed - to write. Not I need a drink of water, to potty, a snack, or a story. No. I need to write. So, I got her paper and a marker, and she spent the next thirty minutes "writing" in bed, by the light of the bathroom.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Guerrilla Acro-Yogis

My daughter was climbing on this yellow jungle gym at the park when, all of a sudden, a large group of guerrilla acro-yogis commandeered the structure for a photo opp. Only in Santa Monica...

Friday, January 23, 2015

Change a Mixed Number into an Improper Fraction

Here is a math hack I learned a few years ago from Danica McKellar's book Math Doesn't Suck:

In the textbook my school uses, improper fractions and mixed numbers are covered in one lesson. Students are expected to be able to change a mixed number into an improper fraction, and an improper fraction into a mixed number. These are separate skills. You use different processes. I like to start with changing a mixed number into an improper fraction. Here is how I teach it...

I start with MAdd Face.
MAdd stands for Multiply then Add. The x and the + are eyes. See the frown?

Here is this lesson's banner problem (a.k.a. the example problem).

First, I write the mixed number. Second, I draw MAdd Face sideways, in between the whole number (2) and the fraction (1/4).
Next, I'll multiply 4 x 2 (multiply the denominator by the whole number). That gives me 8. I'll take that 8 and add 1 (the numerator). That gives me 9, my new numerator. The denominator stays the same (4). Finally, I have my answer: 9/4.

Here it is again, with pictures...

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Add This to the List of Reasons Why We're Homeschooling...

This morning, before school started, I went to a meeting about the logistics of this year's SBAC testing.

The SBAC is the computerized test that has replaced pencil-and-paper standardized testing in California.

Beginning next week - NEXT WEEK - I will have to begin administering the SBAC practice tests. Next week is January. I will have to begin administering practice tests in January. Please tell me you too find this insane. Instead of teaching my students, I will be supervising them practice taking a test. From 12:50 to 2:20 one day every week for six weeks. That's 1 1/2 hours per week multiplied by 6.

That's 9 hours of practicing how to take a test.

That's 9 hours this year. Students in 3rd grade will practice 9 hours this year, 9 hours next year, and 9 hours the year after next when they're in 5th grade. That's 27 hours of practicing how to test. Twenty-seven hours of their time in elementary school.

But let's get back to the January part of this. My students will be practicing how to take the end-of-year 4th grade test when they've only received 4th grade instruction for less than five months. The school year is 9 months.

But - you say - they're only practicing. It's not as if the practice test counts for anything.

Ahhh, but we're practicing starting next week because, at my school, 4th grade - the grade I teach - will begin testing - real testing - in March.


My school is large, and we don't have enough computers so that all the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students can test at the same time, or even in the same month. So it was decided that, because 4th grade is thought of as a "review" year, but 3rd and 5th grade are thought of as years when new skills are taught, that it would be least unfair to test 4th grade first.

First. In March.

Oh, wait. Did I mention that I am currently administering the District's language arts writing assessment which requires SEVEN sessions. That means that, instead of teaching language arts for a week and a half, I'm administering a test.

And I haven't even told you about the District's math assessment.

(Celeste at Joyous Lessons found a great quote in Kingsley's The Water Babies that speaks to this absurdity. Here it is.)

I guess I'm done teaching for the year. In January. Boys and girls, turn on your devices. Let the testing begin...

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

How Much Does He CARE?

The question is not, –– how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education –– but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? [Vol. 3, p. 170]
Brandy Vencel's post today was The Necessity of a Broad and Generous Curriculum. I love Mason's Vol. 3 paragraph to which Vencel's post refers.

  • We owe it to children to initiate an immense number of interests.
  • "Thou hast set my feet in a large room," should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul.
I teach fourth grade in a public school, so the question is always How much does the youth know? Scratch that. The question is always How much does #--------- know? We teachers are told time and again to engage our students, to increase student engagement, to create anticipation in our students for what we teachers will teach by writing "anticipatory sets" into our lesson plans, to access prior knowledge, to be culturally relevant. Essentially, we are told to make them care.

In public school, there isn't time to make children care. There is time to disseminate "knowledge," to do some sort of activity that will produce a positive result on an assessment, and to test. There isn't time to make them care.

Teaching a child to care requires slowing down. Sometimes it requires stopping altogether. Teachers must follow pacing plans and use instructional minutes to maximize productivity.

Charlotte Mason goes on to say:
Life should be all living[.] 
Ahhh, there's that word again. Living. When people talk about the must-haves of a Charlotte Mason education, the phrase "living books" is at the top of the list. 

Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking––the strain would be too great––but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest. 
I was drawn to Charlotte Mason, in part, as a reaction to my years spent teaching public school, to the education I don't want for my daughter. I don't want her to pass time. I want her to be in touch, wherever she goes, with some manner of vital interest. It's from the above quote that I get my definition of what a living book is. It's antonymous to tedious. It's 
What's your take?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Field Trip: L.A. Zoo

Today at the zoo we got to see a baby joey moving around in its mommy's pouch! A man standing at the fence said he'd been watching for half an hour and hadn't seen the joey come out, but he'd gotten to see what you'll see in this video - which I think is so cool - the joey sticking its leg out, pulling it in, and sticking it out again. Then the mama gets up and you can see how big and heavy her baby is; look at her pouch.
We also got to see a baby hippo!
Mommy hippo and baby hippo
An armadillo up-close
We also got to see an armadillo. It was so cute. I didn't know until today that an armadillo walks on its claws! It looks like an insect the way that it walks. It was fascinating...

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Movie Review: Paddington

After reading aloud A Bear Called Paddington in November and December, my 3 1/2 year old and I were very much looking forward to the movie. Saturday morning, we walked to a theater on the Promenade for the first show.

The movie stars Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) as Mr. Brown, Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky and Blue Jasmine) as Mrs. Brown, and Nicole Kidman as Millicent Clyde - the villain.

The what? Villain? There's a villain in Michael Bond's A Bear Called Paddington? No, but evidently a bear joining a human family doesn't provide enough conflict. Having never brought a bear home to live with me, I don't know. Maybe it's an easy adjustment. Like getting a dog. But somehow I don't think it would be.

In the book, Paddington is a lot like having a three year old. He makes messes, doesn't understand everything adults mean which leads to problems, and repeatedly gets into situations where he needs help. But movies have a specific structure. The main character must not be passive, with conflict happening to him. He must be active, the maker of his own destiny. So the Paddington in the movie needs a mission. A journey.

The writers of Paddington created a plot in which Paddington is searching for the British explorer who discovered his species, taught them English, and told them they were welcome in London.

They also added Natural History Museum director/taxidermist Millicent Clyde (Kidman) to the story. Let me repeat that. Taxidermist. As in, someone who wants to kill Paddington. Kidman's character is Cruella DeVille meets Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible. If your child can handle 101 Dalmatians - in which Cruella is out to do the same thing (ie. kill the main characters) - he or she can handle Paddington.

The movie starts in black and white, in Darkest Peru. We learn that this is a film made by British explorer Montgomery Clyde, a member of the Geographers' Guild. We also learn - but not right away, because it would be a really morbid way to start a children's movie - that Montgomery went to Darkest Peru to discover an undiscovered animal species, bring it back to London, and have it killed, stuffed, and mounted, and make a name for himself by putting the animal on display in London's Natural History Museum.

Montgomery discovers a couple of bears he names Lucy (Aunt Lucy) and Pastuzo. Montgomery has carried an excess of his British belongings into the rainforest, including marmalade, a grandfather clock, his red hat, a record player, and a record giving conversation lessons for someone wishing to visit London. This is to explain how a bear learned to speak, and why he speaks with a British accent.

I guess one of my problems with this movie is that I don't need an explanation. When I opened the book to its first page, I was able to suspend disbelief and let author Michael Bond take me into his London. I didn't need to know why Paddington left Peru, or why he liked marmalade, or why he was polite.

Fast forward forty years. We are still in Darkest Peru, in the rain forest, vivid green foliage. Paddington, an orphan, lives with Aunt Lucy and Uncle Pastuzo in their treehouse, Rube Goldberg orange marmalade-making (because it wouldn't be a children's movie without multiple Rube Goldberg machines), and listening to the English conversation record. While I didn't like that the writers added back-story, I thought the scenes in Darkest Peru were done very well and definitely hooked the viewer. Bears talking and having human facial expressions has been done before, but bears that look like bears, now that's amazing. The special effects are excellent.

So there they are in their treehouse when - all of a sudden - there's an earthquake. The bears hurry to safety in their underground shelter. It's like the twister scene in The Wizard of Oz with everyone running for the cellar. Aunt Lucy and Paddington make it, but Uncle Pastuzo does not.

Explorer looking for animal to kill. Dead Uncle Pastuzo. Paddington explaining that his parents died and that he was raised by his aunt and uncle. A scene in which a man brings Kidman's character a monkey to kill and stuff, to - you know - show that Millicent is a two-dimensional meanie who kills innocent creatures. Kidman's character's primary objective: killing Paddington. That's just a whole lotta death for a kid's movie.

None of this is in the book. If it had been, I most definitely wouldn't have read it to my preschooler. (In fact, I read it to my preschooler because A Bear Called Paddington is sweet; there's not a bit of snark.)

After the earthquake, Aunt Lucy and Paddington come up out of the shelter to see that - and I had a problem with this - the earthquake had somehow leveled the forest. Huh?

My husband and I have a line we use for moments like this: And that's the part you don't believe? You went to see a movie about a bear who talks, emigrates from Peru to England by stowing away on a ship, and then is adopted into a human family, and the part you don't believe is how his home was destroyed? Yes. But I digress...

Aunt Lucy decides it's time for Paddington to go to London, so they canoe down the Amazon, and Aunt Lucy hides Paddington in a covered lifeboat on a ship carrying cargo to England. This scene made me a little teary eyed. Aunt Lucy, voiced by Imelda Staunton, puts a tag - the tag ("Please look after this bear. Thank you.") - around Paddington's neck and tells him about the child evacuees during World War II. She tells Paddington that the children wore tags like this, and waited in the train station, and families took them home. It's Imelda Staunton's voice. The way she assures Paddington that a family will take him home. It's more than telling him that someone will shelter him. It's that someone will love him. But it's coupled with her telling Paddington that she will be okay and that she's going to The Home For Retired Bears, but that he's too young to retire. There is something in the way she says it that made me believe there was no Home. And then I worried. About a fictional bear. I was sad because I thought she was lying to Paddington, and that she was really going to leave him and go somewhere to die. (But she didn't. *Sigh of relief.*)

Paddington makes his way to the Paddington Train Station, where he is found by the Brown family. Mr. Brown tells them to keep walking, but Mrs. Brown can't leave Paddington all alone. 

And now I have to rave about Sally Hawkins. She plays quirky and whimsical so well because under the quirk and whimsy, there's love, and under the love there's longing. The character she plays in Paddington is Mrs. Brown, an illustrator for adventure stories, who is currently illustrating a book set in the London sewers (not in the book, but integral to the plot of the movie).

The relationship between Mr. Brown and Mrs. Brown is one of the subplots of the movie. Again, not in the book. But I really liked the way this subplot was resolved. Loved it actually.

Hugh Bonneville was, as always, wonderful. He plays a risk analyst. In the book, Mr. Brown's career is never mentioned, but risk analyst is the perfect profession for this character. My favorite line of Bonneville's was - if memory serves me correctly - "Thirty-three percent of all accidents that happen before breakfast involve banisters." I laughed out loud.

A couple of parts that I did not need in the movie were 1)the flirtation of the nosy neighbor with Kidman's character, and 2)the flirtation of the guard at the Geographers' Guild with Mr. Brown disguised as a Mrs. Doubtfire-esque cleaning lady. The guard at the Geographers' Guild needed to be older to make that bit work for me, and I'm pretty sure he called the disguised Mr. Brown "sexy," which is a vocabulary word I don't want my preschooler going around saying. It went over her head, thankfully, but if that's the case, why put it in there at all? Movie-makers, when you make the sequel, leave stuff like that out; it doesn't add to the story-line.

Because the book is appropriate for preschoolers, one would assume the movie would also be appropriate for preschoolers. If you're trying to decide whether to take your preschooler to this movie, I would have to say that it really depends on your child. Are they easily scared? Can they sit through a full-length live-action film?

The book has an independent reading level of 5.7, meaning that 5th graders should be able to read the book. Scholastic Book Wizard lists the interest level as 3rd through 5th grades, which I think is silly. And sad. Because people blindly trust Scholastic Book Wizard when they shouldn't. Little ones WILL be interested in this book. Scholastic Book Wizard also lists some horror and supernatural books at the same independent reading level, and I can tell you, as a public school teacher, that 5th graders who can read at a 5.7 will not reach for Paddington. They will reach for Ghosts I Have Been.

My point in all of that is: The movie seems to have been made for 3rd to 5th graders, the interest level listed by the Book Wizard.

I was really curious as to what Michael Bond, the book's author, thought about the movie. He did approve of the film and actually made a cameo in the movie. When Paddington first arrives in London, and the Brown's are taking a taxi home, Paddington is looking out the window. He sees a man sitting at a table, drinking a glass of red wine, and the man raises his glass to Paddington.

My daughter and her three-year-old friend were both scared in parts, but not so scared that they cried or asked to leave.

One scary scene was when Kidman's character lowers herself - with her tranquilizer gun - into the Brown's house while Paddington is home alone. Paddington runs into the kitchen, accidentally turns on the gas on the stove, and then HIDES IN THE REFRIGERATOR. (Inside I was screaming: Movie-makers, do not suggest to children that this is a hiding place!) And then, predictably, when Nicole Kidman enters the kitchen and is looking for Paddington, and she opens the oven, an explosion blows her out of the kitchen and into the entryway. Seriously? In Paddington? An explosion? People shooting guns? Ugh.

In the final battle - SPOILER ALERT - Paddington crawls up an incinerator's chimney. I'm cringing writing this. An incinerator. Fire. More fire. Ugh. Paddington uses two Dustbusters to crawl up the chimney. And then Kidman's character lights the incinerator. One Dustbuster goes dead. "It's okay, honey," I whispered. "It's okay. Don't worry. The Browns are going to save him. Movies always have happy endings." Then the other Dustbuster starts to lose power. Of course it does. So Paddington jumps. And just as you think he's going to grab the top and be able to climb out, he doesn't. He falls backwards toward the flames. In screenwriting, this is known as the "all is lost" moment. In motherhood, this is known as the "why did I bring my three year old to this movie to traumatize her with fear that her friend is going to die a grisly death" moment. And then the Brown's grab his feet. *Sigh.*

I have such mixed feelings about this movie. Is it a classic? A must-see? A DVD I must own? No. And I'm bummed about that. It had the potential to be such. But the screenwriters turned it into a video game. The book has mystery, and mystery is an invitation to imagination. All that said, I didn't hate it. I am disappointed that, once again, a classic book has been changed into a story that only tips its (red) hat at the original.

*image from Wikipedia


Friday, January 16, 2015

Fractions in Simplest Form

Do your math backwards: A math hack for teaching fractions.

Here's how I taught today's math lesson...

First of all, I hate the way Fractions in Simplest Form is presented in the math textbook my school uses (Envision for 4th grade). Here's why: the banner problem (a.k.a. the example) is reduce 4/12 to simplest form. The banner problem tells students that because 4 and 12 are even you can divide both the numerator and denominator by 2, get 2/6, then divide 2/6 by 2 again.

If students aren't ready to learn how to find all the factors of a number so they can then find the greatest common factor, we shouldn't be teaching this concept yet. We should teach student how to reduce fractions to their simplest forms when students are ready to find the GCF.

Instead of teaching students the book's way, I reviewed the meanings of Factor, Product, and Greatest Common Factor. Then I reviewed how to find the factors of a number. I say "reviewed" because I've informally showed them this before, just for fun, for students who were ready for the concept. Then we found the factors of 24 (I like 24 as an example). But then-

And this was the part of the lesson that got me really excited. It was so simple, but I had never done it this way. I hadn't been taught to do it this way, and I haven't seen other teachers explicitly teach it this way (I'm sure some must!).

I had students fold their papers hot dog (lengthwise). I explained that the problems would go in the right column, but the factors (the show-your-work part) would go in the left column.

Doing it this way is backwards to the way students instinctively go about writing math problems. We write left to right, but I told them to write on the right and then the left. Backwards.

We did the first problem together and the students oohed and said  how it made so much sense.

Stuff making sense. Little victories. Yay!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

8 Thoughts on Thursday

  1. Last week, I let my daughter watch Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (with Gene Wilder - perfection). My daughter was completely engaged, asking why certain characters were doing what they were doing. She was especially interested in Veruca Salt being a bad egg, and since then has been talking about bad eggs and "the girl in the movie" in connection with real-life scenarios and PBS Kids TV shows. So, I ordered a hard-cover copy of the book, and we started reading it two days ago.
  2. Yesterday morning, I read the beginning of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory about Charlie Bucket. (We'd read the first two pages the night before, and these just introduce the characters). Roald Dahl was such an amazing writer. I almost started crying reading this part because it describes how hungry Charlie is, and how his parents give up their lunches so that Charlie can have more food.
  3. Yesterday in my 4th grade class, I read the part in Robinson Crusoe about the earthquake and hurricane. "All this while I had not the least serious religious thought; nothing but the common, 'Lord have mercy upon me!' and when it was over that went away too." This is one of my - many - favorite passages in the book. Robinson admits to not being thankful for having been kept safe after the storm. It's a reflex to cry out for help in dangerous situations, but giving thanks requires effort. After reading Robinson Crusoe the first time over a year ago, I remember thinking, I need to pray thank you that my child was kept safe all day today, and not just please keep her safe. And I've made that part of our bedtime prayers ever since.
  4. We finished A Bear Called Paddington last week, and are looking forward to this weekend's release of the movie!
  5. My daughter is in the middle of Lesson 93 in Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. We split the lessons in half. I don't know if I've ever posted that. We do the first reading on Day 1, and the second reading on Day 2 along with the comprehension questions and the Picture Comprehension.
  6. She only has 19 pages to go in her kindergarten math book! Then we'll be moving on to Mathematical Reasoning Level B. I'm continually amazed by the concepts she picks up. She loved learning about symmetry, and one day over my winter vacation, she opened a book and ran her finger down the middle and said, "Look Mom, the line of symmetry, because this side is the same size as this side." 
  7. She is also really into a few of the presidents because of a Rock 'n' Learn DVD we have about money. (She also learned to skip count by 5s and 10s from the video, so I give it a thumbs up.) While she was playing the other day, I heard her say "John F. Kennedy." No clue why. But, her favorite president right now is, of course, George Washington. Another movie we have watched together was Mr. Peabody and Sherman. (The educational value of this movie is questionable.) In the movie, Sherman tells his class at school that George Washington did not cut down a cherry tree (he knows this from first-hand experience). But when GW comes up in conversation, my daughter reminds me that he did not cut down a cherry tree. She's also told me - in song and dance - that he crossed the Delaware River, because evidently there is a Peg + Cat episode guest-starring GW. Did you know GW did not have any biological children with Martha? Fun fact.
  8. I decided I wanted to have some structure to our foreign language learning. So we started this month with a focus on numbers in Spanish. Next month we will learn the ABCs. (This video is slow and clear. Once she learns how to pronounce the letters, we can learn a song.)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Minecraft Mission

Over Winter Break, I had my students build California missions. One of my students built his mission - not out of styrofoam, but - out of pixels!

He gave the class a tour, taking us inside the church, the courtyard, the friar's bedroom, the animal pens, the orchard, and the cemetery. Minecraft - which I've never played, but now understand why it has become a phenomenon - is like Legos; everything must be built one block at a time. The pews in the church, the altar, etc.

I was so impressed, and I couldn't help but think of all of the possible structures a child could build using this game. Narration in a digital world...

Monday, January 12, 2015

Write What You Know

In less than a month, my 9 year olds must take a district writing assessment in which they write informative essays about habitats. You go ahead and do that. Right now. Write me an informative essay about habitats.

Why? What does this prove? If you want to measure how well someone can write, let them write what they know. What they feel deeply about.

At nine years old, this skill is inappropriate and unnecessary. Charlotte Mason thought so. Children should write what they know. Their daily lives. Narrations of books. Narratives and summaries. Not persuasive arguments and not essays. Not at nine.

Today, I gave my 4th graders a short writing assignment to ease them back into school after our three week vacation. I told them to think about their vacations, the absolute best thing that happened, or the most memorable. I explained that sometimes the most memorable moment isn't the best; it's the worst. And they could write about that if they wanted. I've found that students - elementary through adult - need permission to deviate from a prompt. I've also found that students are often asked to write about pleasant things, and seldom invited to write about moments they were sad, worst moments.  (One girl today wrote about her sister having a seizure; thankfully, her sister is okay.)

I told them I would answer no questions, and that if they didn't know how to spell a word, they should spell it the way it sounded and then circle or underline. (Some teachers prefer that all students do something one way, all students circle, or all students underline. But I don't like being told what to do, so I assume others don't either, so I give students the option to do what works for them. Maybe it's highlighting? Maybe they want to draw triangles around their words?)

I set the timer for 15 minutes. Most students wrote the entire time. Some wrote a lot and fast and felt like they were finished saying what needed to be said, and I told them to read silently, but the truth is, as long as they had produced and weren't preventing the other writers from writing, I didn't care if they stared at the ceiling.

Students will produce more if it's low stakes, if they know that their teacher will help them spell words they don't know, as opposed to expecting them to correctly spell all the words they choose. If you expect students to spell every word correctly, you'll get really poor content. Students will limit themselves to words they know how to spell, and if you have low readers, you'll really be in trouble. However, if you let students know that they can write what they want, and that you'll help them, not tell them to look up words in a dictionary, their voices will come through in their writing.

After 15 minutes, the fun began. "Go," I said. Hands flew into the air.

"How do you spell Ferris wheel?"

I wrote the words on the board. "But make sure you capitalize Ferris, because it was the name of the inventor. Oh! Cool story, you guys: so this Mr. Ferris got the idea for his ride after looking at a carousel and imaging it on its side."

"How do you spell nauseous?"

"What's the sentence?"

"I felt nauseous."

"You felt n-a-u-s-e-a-t-e-d. Felt nauseated. Smelled nauseous. Something that's nauseous makes you nauseated. The smell of rotten egg was nauseous."

"Sour milk smells nauseous!" "Stinky feet smell nauseous!"



"Okay, silly way that I used to remember it: girls, you know the necklaces that say BEST FRIENDS? One side of the heart says BE FRI," I drew a picture on the board, "and the other says ST (street) ENDS? Well, I always visualized the two pieces of the heart and remembered FRI-END."

We did this for a while, talked about phonics rules and Latin roots and Spanish cognates, and fixed their misspellings.

But spelling is just part of it.

There is such a lot to learn about writing from writing what they know.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Our Rainy Day Reading List

It rained ALL day today. Here is what we read:

  • Opuestos by Cynthia Weil. A bilingual Spanish/English book about opposites. The illustrations are photos of Oaxacan wood sculptures of animals - Magnifico!
  • Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson. Classic. Love the deserving porcupine. My daughter told me what all nine pies were. One was strawberry blueberry banana. Another was Lagoon Pie. "Yes, mermaids LOVE Lagoon Pie." Sorry, she did not give me the recipe for Lagoon Pie, but I think it should involve blue raspberry jello and whipped cream.
  • Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin. Cute. And you learn stuff. Like worms aerate soil, eat paper, and don't have teeth...FYI: The worm narrator tells his sister that her face looks just like her rear end - which is true - and it thankfully went over my daughter's head, but my fourth graders would probably die laughing.
  • Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs by Judi Barrett. I have LOVED this book since I was in elementary school. It's the illustrations. The illustrations are magic.
  • Wacky Wednesday by Dr. Seuss - I have a love/hate relationship with this book. My 3 1/2 year old loves it. Every page has a specified number of "wacky" things to find (a stroller without wheels, a girl standing on a boy's head, a boy walking an alligator on a leash, etc.). I am not a fan of the text. The rhythm is a little clunky - not one of Seuss' best works. Also, we don't say "gee," not because I don't want my child sounding like Beaver Cleaver, but because I was raised not saying it, and I have a hard enough time with her using the filler words "like you know." Oh California. Also, one character says, "Don't be a fool," and I had to explain that, like stupid, we don't call people fools.
  • Azak Learns to Read by Jean Chaffee. This book was written by the wife of the former zoo director in my hometown. It's the true story about an orangutan who was taught to communicate using letter magnets. X stood for Azak, W meant water, H meant brush, G meant Gary (the teacher), etc. One day, her teacher Gary brought in orange juice, and Azak didn't know how to communicate that she wanted it. Finally, she put OW for orange water on the board. Azak lived her whole life in the Chaffee Zoo. It's a sweet book, and Jean Chaffee signed it for my daughter, so it's extra special.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Dig It Up! Woolly Mammoth

My daughter had fun playing paleontologist on our patio this afternoon. First, she got to dig up fossils, chiseling while Mommy brushed. Then, we followed the instructions and assembled the plastic fossils. Lastly, she introduced her mammoth to her kid's meal glow-in-the-dark triceratops skeleton.

The activity kit is the Dig It Up! Woolly Mammoth.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Complete Book of Spanish Grades 1-3

This is from The Complete Book of Spanish Grades 1-3. We've just started. Though my daughter knows numbers one through ten in Spanish, we are adding words like "circulos," "puntos" (because she couldn't fit lots of circulos in the little boxes, we modified the lesson so she made puntos instead), and "mariposas." (I think it's interesting/odd that this workbook doesn't include vocabulary like that, but I also think the book is gentle and easy to use.)

An Out-of-Doors Life

Today, we played at the beach. Daughter dug and dug while Mommy finished our current read aloud: Paddington Bear. We're looking forward to the Paddington movie coming out on January 16th!

Typical Day in the Park

Note the sword.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Happy Three Kings Day!

My good friend Anita had us over tonight for a slice of galette des rois, the cake of the king, in celebration of Epiphany, the night the kings arrived in Bethlehem. Tradition is that the youngest person in the house - tonight, my daughter - sits under the table and says who gets each slice of cake. In one slice is a Baby Jesus or ceramic trinket or - in tonight's cake - a chocolate covered almond. Anita's college-age daughter found the almond, but let my daughter wear the crown. The evening was tres magnifique!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Magic Science

My daughter got a Magic Science kit for Christmas. In this picture, she's seeing what happens when you mix baking soda (a base) and citric acid in cold water, and then in hot water. In cold water, you get a fizz, but with hot water, you get a fizz-splosion! The chemical reaction happened faster in the hot water because the water molecules were moving faster. The experiment illustrates why we refrigerate food - to slow down chemical reactions.