Friday, September 23, 2016

Rants & Research - Common Core

This in response to a headline in Florida Today (August 2014) that recently appeared on Facebook, “Florida school board makes history, opts out of Common Core”, accompanied by a picture of a room full of mostly shouting, clapping people. They later rescinded the vote, but that fact was not made very public, and a person posted as a comment on Facebook: “OMG. Common core is HORRIBLE! THEY DO NOT EVEN TEACH BASIC MATH SKILLS!

As a retired teacher, having taught in several states over many decades, in all grades and areas, including Special Ed, RSP, and GATE (gifted GT, etc.) I cannot view this as a good thing. It was not always thus, as they say, and before 2010, standards in different schools, different districts, and different states used to vary wildly.  Even standards in the same school were not often consistent.

The basic intent of the common core idea is to provide a framework for what is taught at each grade level; “It details what K–12 students should know in English language arts and mathematics at the end of each grade.” Standards in other areas were added later, some nationally and some by individual states, but most dove-tail with the nation-wide standards. 

You certainly know that the body of knowledge children must master in school increases every year.  In fact, “It is generally believed that the world’s knowledge increases logarithmically, i.e., every ten years the amount of knowledge doubles.”  So you can understand why it might be useful to outline the basic concepts to be taught at each grade level. Teachers can know that (in an ideal world) students coming into his or her grade have covered certain vital areas, and can then proceed to work on the next level’s goals instead of going back to re-visit something because another class “just didn’t have time,” or decided to skip something. 

Logically, when you have set out goals and objectives, there needs to be a way to measure levels of progress and achievement, as well as areas of concern. That means tests. In my experience, no one likes them; not teachers, not students, not parents, and maybe not even administrators. But they are necessary for accountability, if nothing else, and can help teachers design their instruction as well as help identify students (and maybe even curriculum) that might need help. Plus, testing should and is changing to be made more appropriate, valid and useful all of the time.

If you don’t know or understand about standards and tests, call your district. Volunteer to join a parent group, speak up. The information IS out there, you just have to find and use it. This is an excellent site in California:

However, the “parent” group that supports the anti-core sentiment (similar in my mind to the anti-vaxers), Parents Against the Common Core, is part of American Principles (NOT principAls) in Action - a conservative group "dedicated to preserving and propagating the fundamental principles on which our country was founded...", and committed to “full power conservatism”.  If this is your “thing” then fine. But if you can read between the lines to see a huge, hidden agenda, then you may want to do some research f your own. Research other than on Facebook, that is.

The good news is that school districts in my experience have been open to change, and have held discussion and debates on ideas, with the goal of improving instruction, student progress, teacher abilities, as well as understanding and resources for students, parents, teachers and schools. 

So I ask thinking people to do just that: think and read. Virtually all states and districts now have their core standards available on line. Check it out. I don’t know where Franki Pagan (a commenter on Facebook) lives, or what her school is like, but if it is a public school, and she doesn’t think they are teaching math skills anymore, she must be on another planet.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

You can see I did not struggle very long trying to hide myself away from the world of pain and bad news. I enjoy my positive Facebook connections too much.  People have interesting lives.  They have farms and animals. They spin, weave, dye and knit; they live in different places, and they travel to even more different places. I get to follow people in places like Mexico, Paris, Italy, Latvia, Denmark, Sweden, and Japan while they are biking or climbing mountains or diving in caves or eating glorious food while watching amazing scenery.

But my life is not all that dull. This morning I fell into the chicken water. 

Fortunately (?) I am big, and I go down slooowly, but I make a huge crash when I finally land.  OK, so here is the set-up.  Our dozen or so hens are loose in a big pen, shaded by an ancient live oak tree.  There are also two smaller A-frame "coops" where we have raised hens with chicks, or isolated newcomers for a while.  There are also two old stalls that serve as coop with nest boxes, roost space, and feeding areas.  A big feeder hangs from the ceiling of one stall, and it always has lay pellets in it - no matter how busy the ground squirrels and crows have been.

Two modifications were made back when we raised a litter of Kangal guardian dogs in the pen.  We put in a big black rubber bucket for water, then later placed a large,  plant saucer under the drip spot so that overflow from the steadily dripping hose would fill the shallow container for the chicks.  We also lined the inside of the fence with hog panels so the more determined dogs could not dig out. 

There are no dogs there now, unless the raccoons are on a rampage, but the wire panels remain, somewhat, but not always, buried in the dirt.  There are also chicken craters, as in the holes that chickens dig to dust in or to look for bugs, or  - I sometimes think -  just for fun. In addition to this, a variety of detritus from chairs for spectators to a phone-cable spool to branches fallen from the oak tree provide an interesting setting for the more athletic fowl, and a foul obstacle course for humans in their 7th decade.

During morning rounds this morning I filled a scoop with scratch and proceeded to wade in past the adoring throng - nothing is better than scratch, to these gourmets of grain.  I dribbled the in a long line so that everyone could get a place at the table, so to speak, and spent a few minutes at the end with two of our more, uh, special pullets.  They were part of a group of four that we bought to put under out great old broody hen, by now a Grammy several times over. But she only elected to care for the ones that were dark, like her - coo coo marans - and shunned the tweedy-brown Welsummers.  So they were raised in the house, by us, and sadly were not taught much about how chickens really live.  It has been a rude awakening, I am sure.

These poor orphans only accept treats from a human hand, and shun the food, scratch and bugs that are readily in the pen.  So I took a page from Gramma hen and poked at the scratch with a finger, clucking, "Look, look, LOOK!" This is what it sounds like to me when the hen finds a prize and is calling to her offspring. After a few minutes of crouching on the ground in my nightie/robe calling out, "Look, look, LOOK!" I figured the neighbors probably had enough ammunition for a court-ordered sanity hearing, so I went off to pour pellets and check the water.  The WS chicks, meanwhile, continued to peck listlessly at a few grains, then leaves, then sticks, an empty bowl, and finally began to flutter after me.  Oh well. 

The shallow saucer was dry, so I bent over to scoop some water from the bucket into the saucer, caught both feet under the hog wire panel, and started falling forward like a felled tree. I did manage to get one hand operating freely, which sadly didn't help, but instead, hit the big bucket of water, sending it caroming into the air, accompanying my scream in altitude if not decibels. This clever maneuver caused my whole body to rotate anti-clockwise - after both knees crashed into the wire panel, that is - and I landed on a big log with my "good" hip, somehow clutching dirt in my left hand while spitting out more dirt and dirty chicken water.

At this point I took a brief intermission to try to untangle the train wreck that was my brain at that point: ASS (Assessment of Stupid Situation) has always been a helpful tool for me. 
  1. Roll off log and excruciating knees.
  2. Give gratitude for postponing surgery on said knees. 
  3. Sit up. 
  4. No phone. Phone is in house, along with DH.
  5. Take another minute.  
  6. Put knees together in case neighbors are watching.
  7. Wear undies next time.
  8. Does anything appear to be broken - no.
  9. Is anything bleeding - not much.
  10. Muster the troops to try to stand - butt in the air, downward dog-style; ok, now walk your hands back, take a deep breath... WTF are YOU looking at?
  11. And, why are all of the chickens cowering under their roosts, anyway?
PS - I'm fine. A few Tylenol, a bit of Cabernet, and I even managed to weed in the garden today. Perhaps these shake-ups are actually good for our aging bodies. Perhaps I should throw myself off the deck tomorrow morning... with undies, of course.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Ladybug, Ladybug

Where to begin.

I am mentally in a semi-fetal position, imagining myself under the covers, safe and dreaming.  Turning off the news, shrinking away from Facebook, looking into the dense, mostly-green tangle that is my unkempt garden, I want nothing more than to become a small insect that creeps or flutters along its inevitable way, mostly looking for something to eat.  I am too old for other urges, children have grown and flown. 

If I move now I can get outside before the day has burned through the morning gloom.  But that involves moving, and I am totally volition-less.  I have spent most of the last two days in my shapeless, old, gray sweatshirt-robe, except for some town errands, and putting on work shirt and jeans to help put down the two ewes last night.  That includes feeding animals.  That includes checking on chickens.  That includes meals (such as they have been) and evenings in front of the TV.  But no more news.  I can not watch news any more.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I can't do any better than this:

Neil Gaiman’s 8 Rules of Writing

“Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.”
In the winter of 2010, inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules of writing published in The New York Times nearly a decade earlier, The Guardian reached out to some of today’s most celebrated authors and asked them to each offer his or her commandments. After Zadie Smith’s 10 rules of writing, here come 8 from the one and only Neil Gaiman:

  1. Write
  2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
  3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
  4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
  5. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
  6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
  7. Laugh at your own jokes.
  8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Resting this afternoon, eyes closed but not asleep, my mind was drawn to more than 60 years ago, when days like this - warm, out of season days, dawning clear- would be tantalizingly warm at mid-day.  The seductive cologne of cut grass would draw a child to kick off shoes and socks to wander a bit in the cool grass.  If time and circumstances allowed, one might then plop down, belly first, head on crossed arms, and rest.

The sounds of the world would instantly recede, yielding to near-silent scurryings of the ant and bug world, and the subtle re-arrangements of the grass.  The world grew quieter with the declining angle of the sun. There might be a car horn sounding in a far-away fog, or someone calling children, or children laughing and scuffling as they made their way to the inside, evening world.  People went in for dinner, or started dinner, or were on their way home for dinner.

Eventually the child would wake; the sun would no longer feel warm on her back, her bare legs would be cold.  Someone might call the child, several times, each time the voice becoming a little louder and a little more irritated.  The child would roll onto her back, discovering that the sun had gone from the sky, taking the heat and the day with it.  She would sit up, stuff her socks into the toes of her shoes, and pad through the cold, early-dew kissed grass toward toward the lighted windows of her house.

A Day Late

Yesterday was full of little good things, but before sitting down to write my three favorites, I asked my DH what his were.  He thought quite some time, then said, "Good salad, good dinner, good TV."  Hard to argue with that.  Why?  I think because they made us happy.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

TGTs: It's Working!

Woke up this morning to discover that the musical dog trials of the night ended up with  "... all in their places with bright shining faces.  So this is the way - to start a new day!" 

We have three acres, half a dozen pens and enclosures, and three dogs (Kangals) charged with guardian duties.  They are large and gentle beasts, even with the chickens, except that one will kill the others if they come in contact, so she has to be kept separate at all times.  Also, she can't be on night duty because she howls and the neighbor complains.  But she can't be in the house, either, because the older dog is in there during the day so I can give her meds.  Then she can go out later for night duty.  She doesn't howl, but she does want to come in around dawn.  This involves a very complicated system of opening and closing gates, putting on and removing doggie door covers, calling in and rushing out various beasts, rewards with cookies and - of course - flawless communication amongst human caretakers so that we more or less know what is going on.  Last night the two dogs wanted to trade beds, so we tentatively reversed the routine - and it went splendidly!  Why?  Communication!  (And maybe careful gate-closures.)  Ta-da: Thing 1!

Thing 2 was when hubby gallantly agreed to put together some dinner for us as I sat knitting (and, ok, maybe pouting a bit) on the couch watching the evening news.  But I managed not to wine, I mean whine. 
"What's for dinner?"  he inquired, as he cheerfully emerging from a darkened computer room for the first time in hours. 
Me, quietly: "What dinner."  Silence.  "I did breakfast and lunch and I don't want to go in that kitchen any more today," I elaborated.  A brief discussion of how nice it would be to have a salad, and what leftovers were and were not left over ensued, and then he disappeared.  I returned to the knitting and the news. 
Then, suddenly a tinkling as welcome and the laughter of angles rang out at the table behind where I was sitting:  dishes, silverware, the table being set!  Glory, glory - dinner is served!

Thing 3 was born when someone admired a fleece that I had put up for sale, but said she wished she had more money.  I suggested that she make me an offer, and one thing led to another until suddenly we were talking PayPal and discussing various aspects of washing and dyeing and spinning and playing with fiber.  I feel good, she feels good, now THAT's a good thing for sure!