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Monday, May 30, 2011 - Memorial Day (U.S.)

A Year in Kindergarten

Robert King wrapped up his incredible, year-long series about the kindergartners of Indianapolis School 61 yesterday with What kindergarten taught me. He briefly describes his assignment for the Indianapolis Star:

For the next 180 days, it was my job to tell the stories of these children, to understand where they're coming from, why some are ready for school and some aren't, and whether all of us -- their parents, their teachers, their schools, their city -- were doing what we needed to get them off to a good start in life.

After relating some of the high and low points of his experience, King presents a challenge in the form of a question:

This was not about me. It was about the trait shared most widely across kindergarten -- a profound, instinctual need for attention. In a class of 20 5-year-olds, there's only a limited amount their teacher can give. But this little guy's response makes you wonder what an army of volunteers could do.

I found myself regularly checking the Sunday Star over the last school year for School 61 articles by Robert King. Each installment showed me a little more about the children there, often reminding me of both good and bad experiences in my teaching career. I found it intriguing to watch an objective observer such as King develop a greater understanding of what public education is really all about. He effectively put aside whatever preconceived notions he may have had about the state of our schools in this country and the children of poverty attending many of them. He watched, learned, and reported what he saw and learned, often in compelling descriptions. Several of his stories produced an outpouring of community support for the school and one incredibly challenged kindergartner's family.

In March, I put together and have since regularly updated a listing of the articles in King's series. As yesterday's piece appears to be the last in the series, I'll repost the listing here today.

Update: The Star changed the name and the URL to What kindergarten taught me overnight, leaving us with a bad link for a while this morning. My apologies for any inconvenience this caused our readers. A year at School 61 proves shocking, eye-opening, inspiring appears to be the same content, but over thirty very positive comments to the original posting were wiped out.

Potential Education Cuts in Texas

April Castro and Jim Vertuno's Texas Legislature passes budget that cuts billions tells of a state budget bill passed Saturday night "that cuts billions from public schools, state universities and health care for the elderly." The measure now goes to Governor Rick Goodhair Perry for final consideration.

iPad Site(s)

Crestview iPadsI found a gem at the end of Five ways readers are using iPads in the classroom on eSchool News. The writers of an otherwise so-so article inexplicably leave mention of Beau Barrett's Crestview iPads blog to the last page. A quote from Barrett caught my attention, though, as he really seems to have his act together in using technology to help his students:

I placed iBooks, Kindle, and USA Today on the bottom bar of my iPad, not in a folder. I put these apps here [because] reading on our iPad is one of the most popular things the students use the iPad for. This way, students are able to easily locate the reading apps with no searching necessary. In a nutshell, I organize our classroom iPad for the convenience of student use and somewhat my own. This way, the students feels more like the iPad belongs to them, rather than something the teacher lets them use.

Barrett has a lot of good info on his relatively new blog about iPad apps and organization of the devices. He also highly recommends the AppAdvice site.

Odds 'n' Ends

An MPR posting that refused to play and locked up Firefox twice (Thanks, Minnesota Public Radio) got me hunting and eventually led me to the ScienceDaily posting, Students Struggling With Math May Have a Neurocognitive Disorder Called Dyscalculia: Disorder Affects Roughly as Many People as Dyslexia. It's an interesting read that offers hope for future answers on helping students baffled by math.

Heart Break on Organized Chaos is a good read.

Spinach!It's nice to see something positive written about a teacher on these days. With all the teacher bashing encouraged by our Secretary of Education, Agriscience Teacher Terry Cornett Grows His Own is a refreshing change from the usual posts about new contests for essential funding and programs to close neighborhood schools and fire principals and teachers. I wonder, however, if the title won't draw some hits from folks looking for something else. Our A Roll-Your-Own Spelling Program (quickly retitled Teacher Tools 4: A Roll-Your-Own Spelling Program) and Growing Geraniums from Seed (2009 version) on Senior Gardening drew an outlandish number of hits for a time. The former I could figure out from the phrase I used in the title. I had to do a little research on where our hits come from to discover that in the latter article I'd written a nice tutorial on a preferred method of seed germination favored by marijuana growers!

Since I'm now completely off task and venturing into gardening, I'll add that asparagus picking season has ended in our garden for this year. Our roots need to rebuild their strength for next year's picking. But we continue to harvest broccoli and have just begun picking some spinach leaves. I'm sorta proud to get any spinach, as it's a crop I've never been able to successfully grow with any consistency. Bolting in hot weather, bugs, and sometimes neglect have ruined many a row of spinach in the past in our Senior Garden.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Praying Mantis Hatching

GardenWatchCam and Mantis Egg Case

I've had a time lapse camera recording a praying mantis egg case swaying in the breeze for several weeks. Every few days I have to change the batteries and clear the flash drive of our Brinno GardenWatchCam. When I brought the batteries and drive inside yesterday, I took a moment to check the video recorded by the camera even though the egg case showed no signs of a hatch having occurred.

To my surprise, the egg case had hatched out on May 27 (according to the camera's time stamp that was cropped out for the video)! The focus is just okay and the resolution is poor, but I did get the event. Unfortunately, the baby mantises emerged on the back side of the egg case, so one only sees hundreds of tiny insects crawling from behind the case onto twigs, leaves, and each other. One year I saw the mantis form a long chain of bodies hanging down from the egg case!

This year is my second attempt at recording a mantis hatch. I missed the hatch last year, as I didn't change batteries in the camera often enough. This year, I've been changing batteries every two to four days, depending on the set of rechargeables in use (one strong set - one weak set).

I still have one egg case stored in the fridge, so I may yet try again in a different location with less wind and more light. I chose the bush where I strung the egg case because it is one that used to have lots of naturally occuring praying mantis egg cases. Then I pruned the bush, and I'm back to buying egg cases from a commercial source. We used to cut and store some of the naturally occuring cases in the fridge and place them the next spring around our garden and in some blue spruce trees that bagworms seem to love. (We've since started spraying the trees with Thuricide, a biological control that keeps cabbage loopers and white cabbage worms off our brassicas and bagworms off our blue spruce.)

Full disclosure: Hey, there's a ton of embedded advertising in the section above. Amazon (GardenWatchCam and Thuricide) and Duracell Direct (rechargeables) are Educators' News and Senior Gardening affiliated advertisers. Our source for praying mantis egg cases got dropped due to questionable business practices!

The Cook's Garden

New Jersey

New Jersey Republicans, upset after the state Supreme Court "determined that [Governor] Christie's education cuts were too deep to provide poor children with the 'thorough and efficient' education the constitution requires," are considering a state constitutional amendment cutting the Supreme Court out of review of school funding decisions. Angela Delli Santi, writing for the Associated Press in N.J. Senate Republicans discuss strategy following state Supreme Court education funding decision, appears to have gotten an exclusive on this story via access to a strategy email sent by Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., disclosed to her by one of the recipients.

I guess if you're a New Jersey Republican and don't like the rules, you just change them!

Odds 'n' Ends

So far, today is shaping up to be a slow education news day. That's not surprising after a long, holiday weekend. When casting about for something to post (that included a picture of any sort), I thought of the praying mantis hatch. I did leave out a rerun of last year's posting about having a classroom full of the tiny insect babies!

Of course, there are a few items that might tickle your interest.

The space shuttle Endeavour is supposed to land on Wednesday afternoon. The Daily Caller's Matthew Boyle reports in Conservative group accuses Education Dept of invading students’ privacy with new FERPA rules that Arne Duncan has made some more Americans who aren't teachers mad at him. Walt Gardner's Testing Teachers is a good, if short, read. And Science@NASA reports that there is "a giant early-spring storm in Saturn's northern hemisphere so powerful that it stretches around the entire planet."

Freezer FunGetting way off subject, we had to thaw out the drain in our fridge and freezer yesterday. After doing so, I put several rolls of film back in the freezer to keep it fresh. When I was doing wedding photography in the 70s, our freezer was filled with photographic film, photo paper, and professional flash batteries (550 volt dry cells)! Our current fridge had become a swamp due to a blocked drain, but my darling wife found instructions and diagrams online on how to fix it (and save a $129 service call). She's the true tech in the family. I'm just the part-time cat herder.

After our defrosting, cleaning, and unclogging adventure, I noticed an AP story by Ben Dobbin, How much longer can photographic film hold on? Dobbin tells of "some advanced amateurs and a smattering of professionals who specialize in nature, travel, scientific, documentary, museum, fine art and forensic photography" who are still using film. He also notes that "regular point-and-shoot adherents who haven't made the switch [to digital] tend be poorer or older -- 55 and up." Dobbins adds that " there's also a swelling band of new devotees who grew up in the digital age and may have gotten hooked from spending a magical hour in the darkroom during a high school or college class."

The story is an interesting read and a nice trip down memory lane for me. It's also way off the subject of education on a very, very, slow news day.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Pay Your Taxes

Dennis Pierce, editor of eSchool News, published quite an editorial yesterday, God bless taxes. In a time when big business is suggesting "reforms" for education, but at the same time avoiding paying, in some cases, any taxes, Pierce writes:

I have a bold suggestion of my own for how businesses can help improve education: Pay their fair share of taxes.


Taxes are the price we pay to live and work in a civilized, safe, and prosperous society. We can debate what constitutes a “fair” share of taxes, or what those funds should be spent on. In fact, that’s our right as Americans. But it’s just plain un-American to avoid paying taxes whatsoever, and—even worse—to collect record profits while sticking the American public with the bill. It does no good for the nation’s fiscal health, or its future stability.

We recently reported on dismal results from a recent national exam testing students’ knowledge of civics. But these results can hardly be seen as a surprise, when the nation’s own captains of industry—the role models for today’s students—have failed so miserably at the topic themselves.

Endeavour LandsOther "Good Stuff"

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Friday, June 3, 2011


Schools and human services will "take the biggest hit in the state budget just approved by Illinois lawmakers." Christopher Wills tells in Proposed Illinois budget hits human services, schools that education will be cut 3.3% over last year, and spending for state services will be 6% below the level requested by Governor Pat Quinn. Wills does a good job of focusing on those who will be the most impacted by the cuts, especially the disabled.

Thanks for all your hard work. You're fired!

Atop the Mobile Launch PlatformPresident and family at NASAI once taught for a principal who would frequently say (usually over the loudspeaker), "Thanks for all your hard work," to her staff while she did everything in her power to get rid of some excellent teachers she considered "troublemakers." I'm not sure quite why, but that phrase came back to me when I viewed a recent NASA Image of the Day, Atop the Mobile Launch Platform.

The image caption reads in part, "NASA Administrator Charles Bolden is seen in silhouette, left, as he shook hands with workers atop the Mobile Launch Platform..." The space shuttle Atlantis had just been rolled out of the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39A for its final flight, Tuesday, May 31, 2011, after which many of the workers may be looking for jobs.

Since the President threw his support to private industry over NASA's booster program, I can easily envision the Bolden silhouette and/or the shot of the Obama's recent visit to Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, being captioned, "Thanks for all your hard work. You're fired!"

Odds 'n' Ends

It's been an exceptionally slow week in education news. Today looks to be more of the same. I took yesterday off, as I really had only one good article I wanted to share. It was Diane Ravitch's op-ed that appeared earlier this week on the New York Times, Waiting for a School Miracle. She cited some specific examples of "stunning results" in school "reform," only to debunk them as "statistical legerdemain." (I would have used the line popularized in the United States by Mark Twain, "Lies, damn lies, and statistics.") Diane's running mate on the Bridging Differences blog, Deborah Meier, had another good piece yesterday, We're Eventually Irrepressible.

Beyond that, I can only wish you a great weekend!

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