Category: Parenting

On Patriotic History

History is written by the victor. They can tell us how nice they were (or at least how necessary their not-niceness was). But the fact those who win get to write history in their favor doesn’t negate the value of ensuring people have a more robust view of what actually transpired. The good and the bad. Which makes Trump’s idea of a more patriotic history quite frightening.
 
In software development, we have “retrospectives” — a meeting where everyone chats about how the last project went. What worked well. What didn’t work well. It’s not meant to be subversive, negative, or blamey — it’s meant to get people thinking about how we could improve the things that didn’t work well. And to feel proud about the things that did go well. I’d love to see this approach taken to teaching history.
 
By focusing only on the good aspects, you lose important information. A tangentially related example: my daughter’s social studies book attempts to cover the concept of savings and loans. They talked about saving money to buy something bigger later and about the bank giving you money to buy something bigger *now* and you you give the money back later. And omitted the entire concept of interest. Elementary schools are telling kids that the bank will give you a couple hundred k to buy a house, you pay them back over time, and it’s all beautiful. I pulled up my credit card statement and showed her how the grand we spent last month could be paid back immediately — the bank gave me a grand, I paid them a grand back, and they gave me 30$ in bonus cash back for using their service — but that’s not a sustainable business model. How does the bank pay for the building downtown? The people who work there? The advertising? The computer systems? I showed her the “if you pay the minimum” and “if you pay more than the minimum, look how much you ‘save'” box where that grand could cost me three grand. Or I could ‘save’ 1500 by paying more than the minimum due.

Chalk Tightrope Race

Anya’s online school includes physical education — they provide ideas for games we can play, and we we tweak the idea. Last week, they wanted us to stand on one foot and play catch with a ball. That turned into a cross between volleyball and tennis. The activity this week was to draw a few chalk figures (circle, triangle, line, zig-zag) and pretend those are a tightrope. Anya turned it into a race — you start by running along the long line, leaping to the triangle, following it and then leaping to the circle, running along the circle, jumping to the next circle and running along it, then leaping over to a short line that gets you to the zig-zag. There was a lot of running into each other (especially when she added the “go either direction around the shape” rule), and it was really hard to win if you didn’t want to run over the tiny person. Which makes it one of Anya’s favorite games.

On art … 2

Art is a way of seeing something worthwhile in everything. A way of understanding and experiencing the world. I remember seeing a painting of an old barn next to an overgrown field. It’s something I’d have dismissed if I’d seen it in person — just a collapsing old building. But the way the artist painted it? The dilapidation and decay were stunning. That’s how I’ve viewed the world ever since — from urban slums to Queen Mary’s gardens, there’s something wonderful to be found if you try.
It’s also a gateway to learning. It’s historical (how did someone think to slice up the stalk of a papyrus plant, overlay them, wet them, and allow them to dry to make a writing surface!?! How different would the world be if we were lugging around cuneiform tablets), scientific (how your eyes perceive frequencies as colors are combined, how rocks break as you carve them, visualizing the head of a drum as a song is played) … I’ve taught my daughter a lot of more traditionally “educational” things by making or experiencing art.
And it’s enjoyable — something doesn’t have to have a practical utility to be worthwhile.

On art

All levels of school have wrong approaches teaching art. I got the “Art History” memorize-these-slides approach in Uni — it is a about as effective an approach to putting someone off art as I could conceive.
 
My experience with primary school art education has had a focus on semi-realist movements. Worse, in the lower grades? Art seems to be a fancy name they’ve decided to give “fine motor skill practice”. There’s no attempt to convey that art has historical meaning and purpose (think Hogarth Beer Street / Gin Lane), is emotional communication, captures energy … that there’s a LOT to experience in art, and there’s a lot of yourself you put into art for others to experience. And this approach leads to kids thinking they are bad at art … which, yeah, you can have difficulty expressing yourself. But that’s got nothing to do with hand-eye coordination.
 
The idea of collaborative art is interesting — and it’s something that’s completely missing in art education. I was shocked the first time I was at an artist’s studio and saw all of the people doing Chihuly’s glasswork. A second of reflection, I realized there was no way one dude made the giant tree of lights from the White House Christmas display or all of the glass bubbles at the Kew Gardens. But I totally never realized there was an artist equivalent of a sous chef.
 
I’ve seen some art clubs with large projects (mural on the side of the school) take this approach, but that’s been a more pragmatic thing based on the project size than any attempt to include collaboration in art education. With more mature participants, I totally see how a collaborative approach would be beneficial. I’m trying to think of some way to pitch it to kids my daughter’s age (early elementary school) where “Ken is good at trees” gets heard as either “you aren’t good at trees” or “trees are super awesome, and I’m letting Ken do them”. Maybe talking through it and seeing what everyone’s into — like draw a base scene and then have each kid draw their favorite animal.

Connections Academy – Planner UI/UX Issues and Learning Module Voices

I was surprised at the voices used for the cartoon characters in Connections Academy’s learning modules. Anya paused her maths lesson to tell me the lion is shrill. And proceeded to mimic the voice. I had her play a little of it for me and, yeah, it’s awful. The ladybug in the language arts module is better, but that’s a terribly low bar. I’d expected there to be a few voices from which we could select — not just because someone may well find a voice objectionable, but also because some people have frequency specific hearing loss — someone with trouble hearing high frequencies isn’t going to be able to use these modules. I set up an in-browser audio equalizer and dropped out high frequencies. Makes it usable, but I’ve still submitted feedback with my observation.

Then there’s the planner. I’ve noticed a few UI problems in the Planner —

  1. I am frequently unable to save an event – in cases where something is not populated, the missing item is highlighted in red. That’s not what I’m talking about – I’ve got all of the required fields populated, nothing is highlighted when I click ‘save’. It just stays on the item creation form. I am able to cancel item creation, try again, and get an event created.
  2. When the purpose is set to “Enrichment”, items cannot be opened/edited/deleted.
  3. When creating a new item, expanding the “Recurrence” section produces an overlap between the “Description” field and the top line of the recurrence selection. The description field is on top, which renders the top half of the check-boxes unusable.

And more of a UX issue … while the event items can include half-hours, the credit hours field appears to be an integer value. It is auto-populated with a float. Which leads me to expect

School Starts and a Math Game

It’s back-to-school time — at least for Anya! The local district put off starting school until mid-September in what I assume is an attempt to let other districts see how bad SARS-CoV-2 spreads … but we decided to try Connections Academy instead. It’s a dedicated online school, rather than a few local teachers using a third-party online platform (and going into school was right out). She’s bummed about “missing out” on a month of summer vacation … but August classes in our air conditioned house are a lot more pleasant than classes in the massive concrete block 60’s building with windows that open.

The school sent out info to use https://www.prodigygame.com — a wizard adventure game that Anya absolutely loves (even if casting spells requires solving math problems).

So far, I think Connections Academy are a little unorganized. They’ve got a calendar, but few of the meetings get populated into it. They’re using the first week or two of school for everyone to get themselves sorted — log in, learn the platform, make sure they’ve got their materials. The actual education platform is starting out the same place 1st grade did — using manipulatives to add. The teacher said Anya would take a placement assessment in early September and the education modules would be jumped to whatever is reasonable for the kid based on their assessment. Hopefully!

She’s been going through the educational modules quickly, so I’ve come up with a few experiments. I also signed her up for a Scratch class on Outschool — and I’m thinking about teaching more advanced Scratch classes since none seem to exist … essentially teaching programing concepts like variables — what they are, what scope is, data typing and loosely typed languages, and debugging by watching variable values. She’s really enjoyed the class, and she’s certainly learned to write her own game. We’ve also talked about the scientific method — using spontaneous generation as an example and designing an experiment to prove that mice magically pop out of rotting straw. Which points out something I’ve always liked about science. We’re medieval scientists who want to prove this generally known fact, we design a really good experiment, we meticulously carry out our experiment … and no mice. Even though our experiment failed to prove our hypothesis … we’ve still made an amazing discovery.

What you know

I don’t get why school boards (and businesses, for that matter) are so stuck on attempting to replicate what we had two years ago. It’s like some form of denial — it’s going away soon, no reason to rethink things we’re doing.

I cannot help but think of veggie burgers. Attempts to be “beef like” are generally awful. Attempts to make a flavorful, filling, crunchy sandwich filling that bears little resemblance to a beef burger? Lots of delicious options. I think that was what I liked so much about SNL’s at home episode … it wasn’t *trying* to be like an in-studio production. It was a new thing that was entertaining in its own way. I don’t know what the school version of my spicy garbanzo sandwich or SLN@Home would be … but, having seen The Reopening Plan, I know that my local school board spent the last four or five months trying to figure out how to achieve the most school-like thing possible regardless of the long-term feasibility of the solution (and they’ve got a slide detailing the “swiss cheese” approach to risk mitigation … something gets through each layer but risk is mitigated by the aggregation of layers. Nothing says safety like swiss cheese!).

Creating continuity between in-class and at-home learning so individuals with resources (time, money, internet access, computers for kids to use) could participate at home and reduce the number of people on the bus, in the classroom, at lunch, etc does not appear to have been an avenue of exploration. This would allow individuals in quarantine to continue their education uninterrupted, too. The district’s plan right now is … they’ve got no idea what to do when a class full of students is asked to stay home for two weeks.

Reopening Plans

Yeah, this is going to be a nightmare. I have an awesomely well behaved kid. One with a lot of deference to non-parental authority. She’s also decidedly not an automaton and does her own thing. Which is developmentally great, but not so great in a carpark. She would totally wear a mask all day in school, even if it’s 90 degrees in the classroom (which happens, no AC in this old building). She will walk in a spaced-out line and play by herself at recess if that’s what the teacher says to do. She’ll also rub at her eyes, do a crap job of washing her hands before eating (and there’s no way the teacher is ensuring everyone is properly clean before lunch and snack), take her mask off while walking up the driveway and chew on her finger because she’s growing a new molar. There are kids who had three warnings in a day *before* all of these risk mitigation rules went in place.

How much time is a teacher going to spend teaching when they’re also reminding kids to keep their masks on, not share that crayon, no you cannot move your chair and sit closer to Timmy. Even if online education isn’t as effective as in-person education was two years ago … I think it is going to be far more effective than trying to teach in between warning kids about breaking rules.

And that’s just elementary school kids. From what I hear from friends with older kids, the district has been completely unable to address physical assault (which they like to call bullying, but someone who walked up to me on the street and punched me in the face would totally be getting changed with assault). How in the world are they going to address someone who thinks its a gas to rip off someone else’s mask and sneeze in their face?

At that, how are they going to address someone who gets sent into school with a fever? From a strange conversation I had with the nurse’s office when my daughter had bloodshot eyes from allergies, I kind of gather that the nurse cannot make medical diagnoses and could not *make* me come pick her up. Five cycles of “I’m sure you want to get her tested for pinkeye” / “she’s got allergies” and I gave up and got my kid. I guess they can use the gymnasium as a room for possibly infected kids sitting 20′ apart.

Kid Coding

I’ve seen a number of articles written by developers and IT folks promoting how they won’t be teaching their young kid to code. Of all of the arguments against teaching kids to code, the only one that really strikes me is the fact that a lot of parents don’t know how to code themselves. Now, I expect it is possible to not know French but manage to cobble together some approach to teaching your kid French. It’s a lot easier (and the results are apt to be better) if you actually know some French. My decision to teach my daughter to code doesn’t mean it’s a vital skill that every kid needs to learn to prepare them for future jobs. But, since it is something I do, it is something I share with my daughter. If she weren’t interested in what is going on beyond getting it all typed in, I’d stop. But she’s interested in exploring beyond what the coding book tells her to type. As we created a little character on the screen, Anya wondered if we could make different little figures. At different locations. In different sizes. In different colors. In using Scratch, she develops characters and game play.

Why teach a seven year old kid to code? Why do you teach your kids anything apart from the mandatory school curriculum? Working on the car? She can help and learn a bit about how vehicles work. I replaced the tube on my bicycle tire, and she helped. She was aware that bicycle tires had replaceable tubes that could explode on you … which was useful knowledge when she blew out her own tube. She sews with me — embroidery and a machine — because being able to patch clothes saves having to replace things as frequently. Mowing the lawn – she’s aware that a house with a lot of land requires work and knows how to safely operate both the push and riding mowers. Gardening – she knows where food comes from, how to grow her own, and how much work actually goes into feeding the country. She’ll participate in chicken keeping – somewhat so she knows where eggs come from and the amount of work that goes into egg production, but also because pets are fun (and our chickens will certainly be more socialized with her involvement). We share all sorts of activities with our daughter because we enjoy them. Some intrigue her, some don’t. But how do you learn where your interests are if your exposure is limited to reading and math for the first decade, then science and history for the next almost decade?

All of that provides useful, practical knowledge. And learning to code is certainly useful and practical. But the utility of such knowledge, the practicality of such knowledge isn’t the reason I am teaching my daughter to code. Or, for that matter, the reason I’ve taught her anything else at home. These activities involve deductive reasoning, analytical thought, problem solving, research skills, or accepting instruction from others. All of which are generally useful in life.

Statistical Coverup

I keep encountering people who cite the fact that “only” half a percent of kids who get SARS-CoV-2 are dangerously ill. A small percentage of a very large number is still *a large number*.
 
The Department of Education estimated 50,800,000 public school students started the 2019-2020 school year. School admission rates have been trending up, but 2019 is the latest available data. Data from the CDC puts ICU admittance for children infected with SARS-CoV-2 at 0.58% (between 0.58% and 2%, but I’ll use the lower number since I haven’t encountered an ‘only two percent’ argument).
 
If only 1% of the kids who enter public school get infected, that’s over 2,500 kids in the ICU. If 5% get infected, that’s over 14,000 in the ICU. I doubt anyone would make the argument “Schools should re-open because only 14k kids are going to end up in the ICU”.