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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

How to kill a nest of yellow jackets in the ground

25 Oct

I am sure there is more than one way to do this.  I spent time on the internet reading many different approaches including gasoline, boiling water, soapy water, bee spray, etc.  Many people didn’t even have any luck with their approach.  I will share my story as I believe, knock on wood, my nest is dead but we are still giving it more time so we don’t take any chances.

When putting fresh mulch on our landscape area we realized we had a nest and disturbed it.  It took them a few days to dig a new hole into the mulch that was put on top of the hole that must have been there already.  With mulch it is really hard to see a hole and you don’t want to get too close to watch.  Here is what we did.

  1. At evening time when they are less active, we put a large “muck” bucket (we use them as laundry baskets but they don’t have holes in them) over the area we thought they might be coming out of.  We had to use something very large since we couldn’t really see a hole since the nest was in mulch.  We waited a few days.
  2. We then wanted to see if our bucket was doing anything so we (again at night) lifted the bucket and found that it did have many bees (living but sleepy) in it.  We sprayed the whole area with bee and wasp spray and put the bucket back.  We continued to wait but saw more bees again the next day.
  3. I could see a new hole that they seemed to have made so I sprinkled borax on the area so they could bring it into the nest.  I could see them walking in the borax and going in the new hole.  The muck bucket was still on the other hole.
  4. After a few days of them walking through the borax, I went and put a plastic cereal bowl over the new hole I saw.
  5. After that day I did not see bees for a long time.  I think I saw one more bee about a week later and he looked like he was going into a new spot right near the cereal bowl, so I put a plastic cup near the cereal bowl.  Again, so no more bees for another few days.
  6. Now it has been about 1.5 weeks with only the one bee that I saw near the nest, don’t even know if he got into the nest or not.  So, tonight, we pulled off all the buckets, bowls, and cups.  There were many many bees under the cereal bowl,  I did not want to shine a light on them or investigate their signs of life (I hope they were dead).   So, we now put down layers of plastic that are being held down with stake holders including an extra set that secures the plastic all around the area where the cereal bowl was to trap the bees for a longer period.  This way our neighbors don’t have to see our entire pantry as they drive down the road.  Hopefully, this will secure the area and any bees that might still be alive in the nest will remain trapped and perish.

Bottom line, if you can find the nest, putting something for the bees to walk in first (Borax or another insecticide) and track into the nest and then covering the hole(s) and waiting seems like the easiest solution.

 

 

North Carolina Virtual Public School Classes: Review (AP Computer Science, Mandarin Chinese 1)

20 Sep

Have you wondered what the NCVPS or North Carolina Virtual Public School classes are like?  Well, I can’t speak for all of them but since there is little information online about them, I can hopefully provide some overview in general and detail overview about two.  First, online data suggests that the curriculum is much weaker compared to traditional courses, students in AP courses generally score much lower than students who take AP courses in their regular school, although if the course is not offered, you can may not have a choice and you always self-study with outside sources to improve your chances of doing well – but, don’t rely on the curriculum to prepare you in all AP classes, especially math classes.  I have known students who have gotten A’s in NCVPS math classes that were very unprepared and did very poorly in their next math course that followed.

Classes that I can speak in more detail about since my son is taking them are AP Computer Science and Mandarin Chinese 1.

 

Mandarin Chinese 1:  First, it is very difficult to learn a language online.  My son is able to be successful because of a tutor working with him but without a tutor, he would be totally lost and I would not suggest this class to a student without a strong drive and high interest in Chinese.  The course has 10 lessons and in the beginning they move very slowly but then the pace picks up very fast and is too fast!  The student has to learn Pinyin, how to write Chinese using English characters and do 5 assignments that teach this phonetic foundation of Chinese.  They have to learn about 30 new vocab words per week.  They get a grammar lesson that shows how grammar structures are used in Chinese, this is confusing and then take 10 quizzes that are all in Chinese characters that relate to these grammar lessons, this is the most challenging part of the class (although they get unlimited tries).  They must meet for 45 minutes twice a week online with a language coach (true class time).  They must also read 10 mini-plays to the teacher throughout the semester on a skype type session one on one.  They must participate in discussion board responses about the culture and they have 2 projects due at the end of the semester.  The language level intensity ramps up pretty quickly, it is not like they just learn numbers and then names of things in a house, etc.  They learn these dialogues that integrate all these grammar structures and are trying to learn both the pinyin and some character recognition at the same time.  I think if they paced the class differently it could be better but the rapid increase in pace is a concern and although my son has managed the basics okay in the beginning, I worry how he will keep up towards the end and be able to then handle a Mandarin 2 class if it has a same pace.  Without a doubt, I suggest a tutor once get past lesson 1 – if you get one from the start, they can help lay the correct foundation.

 

AP Computer Science:  This is another class where they are trying to do too much!  My son gets overloaded with work that really just is not needed to grasp the subject!  He gets two, sometimes 3 programs a day to write and the teacher wants students to not just write normal documentation but to explain in detail what every line of code does, include a description, and what you learned – so each program becomes like a paper and takes time because of all the requirements.  The teacher grades harshly if you don’t follow all of his documentation requirements to the letter even if your code works fine!  So, it is a class of a lot of busy work, if that stuff is annoying to you, you might want to rethink taking this class.  Each day there is a list of videos to watch and then programs to write and once a week a quiz or two to take. You get 2 tries on quizzes and they have tricky answers and supposedly the tests are even more tricky and most kids fail.  You get only one attempt there.  There is extra credit each week available (but more work to add to your already heavy load) but you need it since the tests are designed for you to fail.  In addition to the programs, there are discussion boards you have to do each week.  It is a lot of work and if we had to do it again, we might have tried to just take Java at a college through dual enrollment rather than do this when the results will be the same.

 

Overall my review of NCVPS is not good – on one hand, you get flexibility to work when you want, however, they don’t seem to have well defined curriculum and the results show students are not successful with good AP grades or EOC grades.

 
 

Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School – What it is like? Review

17 Aug

A parents Review of Southeast Raleigh Magnet high school

 

Are you thinking about sending your child to Southeast Raleigh High School?  Maybe you are worried about the school – the safety,  the academics, or the overall experience?

I am the type of person who gives a lot of thought to my child’s school experience, more than the average person!  If you are one of those people and are looking for a resource about Southeast, I hope this helps.  This will be a journal of my son’s four years at the school, starting with some background as it relates to high school course experiences.

Pre-High School

Before high school, R went to a regular public elementary school, we then sent him to Exploris Middle School.  Wake County did away with his track going into middle school so he was going to lose his intact friend group and we were not thrilled with Lufkin Road Middle where he was assigned.  Exploris had a good reputation so we took advantage of that as we had positive experiences with charter schools in the past.  His first year there under the direction of Kevin (the director at the time) was wonderful, we loved the school. Kevin retired and we were not happy with the changes post Kevin – without a lot of detail by 2nd quarter of 8th grade, he chose to homeschool the rest of 8th grade.

During 7th grade at Exploris they were the first group of Common Core Math 1 – but it was a transitional year and he learned the material (passed fine) but without the level of practice I would have liked on some of the procedural mechanics.  In the beginning of 8th grade, Exploris tried this discovery learning approach to Common Core Math 2 and he was not learning ANYTHING, another reason we pulled him out – thankfully, it gave us 3/4 of a year to give him the foundation of Common Core 2 to prepare him for high school Math 3.

R was very interested in Engineering and Computer Science, we looked at the STEM Early College and SE Raleigh High School as the two best fits for him.  We were impressed with both during the Magnet fairs.  The advantage of SE Raleigh, however, is that it allowed him to explore other interests as well outside of just STEM interests and he could take Math 3 right away while STEM would make him take a fluff class first since they didn’t let first semester freshman start in Math 3 (why?  you are a STEM school???).

Freshman Year

R went to the orientation and made friends that day!  On the second day of school, he went to the Theater interest meeting and made more friends.  By the end of the week, he was auditioning and by the second week, he had one of the leads in the play, Much Ado About Nothing!  His fall classes were:

Healthful Living:  He had a lively teacher who was very organized and nice.  The class was not difficult.  It was taught using New Tech and everything was online to see.  Grades were posted daily, so you always knew how well your child was doing.  The only test he every studied for was his final exam.  They played a variety of sports and had health class.  He got an A without much trouble.

Foundations of IT:  R started off in the IT Academy in addition to the Engineering Academy and this course was required.  He knew everything in the class but used it to challenge himself with his friend who also already knew how to do everything.  This year, R, decided to drop the IT Academy since he knows too much of the class content already and doesn’t have space in his schedule.  He enjoyed the teacher and easily got an A.

Honors IED:  Intro to Engineering:  This is part of the Engineering Academy that he joined.  It was also New Tech, everything was online and he could retake quizzes until they 100 and would lose points based on how many times he had to take them to get a 100 (much nicer way to do it).  He did projects at the computer every day and class seemed fun and interesting. All the engineering teachers seem great.  He got an A without much trouble.

English 1/World History:  This class was a combination class that met together for the entire year rather than just one semester.  R did not like the class.  This was his worst set of teachers.  They were okay from a parent perspective, they communicated with me and worked with him on issues but they did not engage him and he was bored.  They read some books, studied literary terms, did grammar, and learned about World History.  He got an A in English and a B in World History.

His second semester continued with English 1/World History and:

Honors Biology:  This was another New Tech class, so they did a lot of tests and projects.   After doing New Tech, I think R prefers not doing New Tech but he is stuck with a certain number of them since he is in the Engineering Academy and they have to do New Tech classes.  Biology was easy for R and he easily got an A in the class.  The teacher was okay in his opinion, not wonderful but better than his English / World History teachers.

Honors Math 3:  After homeschooling Math 2, I was able to make sure he had a good foundation (something he would not have gotten at Exploris) in math and was prepared for Math 3.  I see this same type of good foundation in kids coming from Math 2 at Apex Middle School (who I tutored) who do well.  I can’t speak for other schools right now, some schools give good foundations, others do not!  It was amazing to see the difference in ability in the kids.  R was the star student and if it wasn’t for the New Tech situation, he would have had a high A average but he had to deal with other students who did not pull their weight, brought his project grade down (on one project) enough to give him just enough that he got a 92 and a 93 (still on a 7 point scale) was needed for an A, so he got a B in the class, despite getting 100 on the midterm and final exams.  The teacher had a lot of strengths but was frustrating when she couldn’t look past this one project and grade R with the correct grade that matched his ability.    However, he continues to be the top student in his math class so far sophomore year too.

Digital Arts:  R had to find a class to fill a spot, there were other things he wanted to take but nothing fit his schedule but digital arts.  He worked on Adobe Flash Studio Suite and usually finished his work so early the teacher gave him her own projects to work on for her.  He did great, helped other classmates, and easily scored an A.

Socially:  R did 2 plays and participated in the FIRST Robotics Team for the 2015 year.  He also went to 2 football games and took drivers ed.  He was awarded:  Most valuable Freshman Performer

 

Sophomore Year

This year started well, R has decided not to do FIRST Robotics Team due to the inflexibility of the moderator  and his ability to work with his medical needs.  Therefore, he has joined Vex robotics instead.  He has also auditioned for 2 shows, he has a part in Macbeth and in A Christmas Carol.

Fall semester he took:

Honors Precalc:  If your student had a good background in Math 2 and 3, almost everything in Honors Precalc will be a review.  R has gotten a 100 on every test so far.

Honors Chemistry  Due to schedule conflicts, he was placed in regular Chemistry rather than New Tech.  He actually was happy about this.  Although the New Tech program has good intentions, it has to be run by a teacher who really understand how to implement it and unfortunately, I don’t feel that most of the teachers really understand the goals behind New Tech and therefore it has been more of a negative than a positive.  He has been much happier without New Tech!

Honors US History 1 – This class he has had to be in New Tech.  I don’t know that his teacher follows the ideals of New Tech, he does a lot of worksheets.  It is supposed to be project based and clearly it isn’t.  I dream about the day I find a US History teacher that actually makes kids excited about learning History.

Mandarin 1 – see my review on this course on a different page.  This is an online course through NCVPS so it has nothing to do with Southeast, except that they are flexible enough to let kids take online classes.

AP Computer Science – also online through NCVPS, I believe Southeast Raleigh will eventually offer this course but it was not offered this year so R took it online.  Again, a review of it through NCVPS can be found elsewhere on my site.

Second Semester will be:

AP Chemistry – his first AP class!!!

Honors English 2

Honors POE – Principal of Engineering

AP Computer Science – online AP courses are full year courses so he has to take this for a full year.

Socially:  R received parts in two plays, joined the Vex Robotics Team, is driving with his permit.

 

 

Estate Planning – Costs / Packages / What you should Know when you are getting started

17 Aug

#Wills  #What does a will cost? #What is an estate plan #What is an eldercare attorney?  #What is a trust?  #When should I have a will?  #What do I need to plan for my death?  #When do I need to make a will?  #Is it expensive to make a will?  #What is probate?

Estate Planning – When Do I need one and How much does it Cost?

Estate planning is something we like to put off – we do it for many reasons.  The first is we don’t think we are going to die for a long time and therefore don’t need to do an estate plan.  We also think it costs too much money or we don’t have enough in our “estate” to bother “will-ing” our stuff to anyone.

So WHEN do you need to have an estate plan?  Everyone really should have one, but if you have children, you need to name a guardian, if you are a senior, you should be making plans because of your age, and if you a decent amount of life insurance and/or assets, some people forget to include their life insurance amounts when they think about how much their estate is valued at.

If you are just worried about naming a guardian and/or don’t have many assets (this includes your life insurance amounts) – for example, let’s say you have under $100,000 total value of everything including life insurance, retirement funds, equity in your house, savings account values, cars, etc.  then it is probably fine to just do one of those legal zoom type documents.

If you have more than that, you may fall into one of two situations:

1)  you live paycheck to paycheck with very little extra funds to cover things like paying an attorney

2)  you don’t live that way and can afford to do an estate plan

In case #1, for a basic will, living will, health care POA, and durable POA (for finances) – one that is very “cookie cutter” but contains MANY more protections than one in legal zoom, can be done with an attorney for under $1000, most likely closer to $500.  I suggest doing the legal zoom version asap so that you have SOMETHING for now and start a fund where you put $20 (or whatever you can afford) in each month until you can afford to meet with an attorney to review the legal zoom copies and make changes, add protections, and update to a much better version.  It IS worth it.

The above is what we did and yes, our will was VERY basic and lacks many protections that we will get from meeting with a lawyer now.

 

In case #2, this requires more work, start interviewing (and going to a few of their free workshops) estate planning attorneys.  Do not get sucked into their high pressure sales tactics though.  I found a wonderful firm online that talked about how they were NOT cookie cutter and all these benefits that you were going to get (for extra cost) but it was worth it because it was personalized, etc.  Only to meet them in person and get the sales pitch instead of a personalized approach from them.  I promised I would tell you the cost, well her cost for the will and trust package was $6000, which she admits is a tad on the high side but worth it because it is not cookie cutter and you are getting all this extra.  However, upon further education, we began to realize that any of those protections she talked about are usually put in all wills and are pre-made by the firm.  If you want anything “personalized,” the lawyers have to write that from scratch and add that into the documents they already have ready to go for ALL clients.  This is time consuming and costly, so most don’t do it.   If I want Junior only to get his inheritance on Mondays (never any other day of the week because I have this thing for Mondays, I don’t, just giving a crazy example) then my non-cookie cutter lady at $6000 is not going to be able to do it.  So, you really need to know WHAT you are getting for your money.

I suggest you meet with a few attorneys with a list of questions after you have given thought to what you really want in your will.  Do you want a cookie cutter will or do you want to make specific provisions?  Personally, I want specific provisions since just giving my kids money on a “time table” (typical provisions) is not sufficient for me.  For you, that may be fine.

Attorney #2 that I met with was a single lady attorney who worked by herself with one office assistant and she charges $1500-$2000 for the standard provision will but without separate trusts.  However, she said that in our state, trusts for real estate were not needed and we only needed testamentary trusts (trusts within the will itself).  It will cost extra for the special provisions, however, I figure I can get the extra provisions and probably still not reach the $6000 level of first lady.

Another attorney charged $4500 for will/trust package for a friend in a different state, so you can get an idea of the cost for a typical will/trust package.  In most states, having trusts for real estate will be very helpful to avoid probate and are recommended.

 

 

 

 

Review of Moore Square Magnet Middle School, WCPSS Magnet School in Raleigh

26 Jul

Is your child in 5th grade and it is time to start thinking about middle school?  What choices do you have in Wake County for middle school?  Middle school is a challenging age for kids, they go through a lot of changes during this time.  They are also building some core knowledge that will prepare them for high school when “grades count” towards getting into college.

There are some options in Charter schools – many are hard to get into if you were not already there as an elementary school student since they are often K-8 schools.  Also, many are filled with kids who have different types of struggles with IEP’s so that changes the dynamic of the school a little.It can be good for some and not good for others due to that situation, depends on your specific child and how the school handles children with a variety of behavioral, learning, and other disorders.

Most families go the simple route of their assigned base school.  The child has already made friends from the elementary school and they don’t want to disrupt this.  There is merit to this choice but kids are resilient these days and after complaining for a bit, most will make new friends if their parents don’t give them an option.  This was our approach.  My kids were not happy with the choices but we made sure we explained all the benefits they would get at their schools that their friends at the base school would not have and they did agree that those things sounded much better.

So… what are those benefits?

In 6th grade at a base middle school, you get 60 minutes a day of core classes and the 2 electives of 45 minutes each.  Your choices for electives are very limited, you get put in a computer application course and you can do band or a wheel of learning (where you explore career choices).  As a 7th grader you can finally choose to take a foreign language and other electives include band, more CTE computer application classes, PE, and home economics.  Your choices are usually limited to about 2 or 3 per semester.

At Moore Square, you get a list of about 128 elective courses – you don’t take ART or MUSIC or PE, you have many choices within each that you can select – you can do drawing, piano, and volleyball or you can do pottery, guitar, and basketball.  You can also do regular band or drums.  You can take all different levels of classes relating to theater, you can study classes that relate to math like Personal finance, stocks, or Fantasy Football Math, or you can study Science specialties like the Grey Matter of the brain where you dissect real brains and look at them, or you take genetics, or forensics.  You can take law class or debate class or study civil war, geography, or mythology.

The school offers a handful of languages you can take as well and get high school credit for them.  You can also get high school credit for Math 1 and 2 and possibly Earth Science.  The student’s day is broken up with core and electives mixed up so they don’t have to do all core at one time.  They only have 45-48 minutes of each class, including core – so half of the day is core and half is electives and lunch.    It makes school more fun, interesting, and less stressful.

Most of the teachers I have seen there have been great!  She had fairly good teachers last year and only 1 that I have concerns about this year.  The transportation may be an issue for some but there is an express bus so it is worth it for me.  I also think the quality of education she will get at Southeast Raleigh HS  or Enloe is way better than Apex high and if she stays in Magnet she can transfer to magnet.

 
 

Estate Planning Process for the Average Person – how does it work, what does it cost, what is involved? (North Carolina, NC)

19 Jul

The idea of estate planning is intimidating.  First of all, the word “estate” has the connotation that you have wealth, even though “estate planning” is meant for any person regardless of wealth.  It is basically planning your will, trusts, power of attorney health care wishes, etc.  Second, it is costly – we will get to that as I am not at the stage where I actually know the cost yet but I will blog that as I go.  When you google, “cost for estate planning,” nothing comes up.  When you go to a website and search for a cost you also don’t find any.  I don’t know how much it varies from person to person.  However, estate planning needs can vary a lot depending on your situation.  If you only need a will and a Health Care Power of Attorney, then you probably don’t need to see an attorney and can just do one of those online things fairly cheap.  This is what many people who can’t afford to do more or are young and not too concerned about “their time being up” will do.  Yet, as you get older and as your assets grow, it may be time to think about doing something that is more protective and substantial.

We are a married couple with 4 children in our late 40’s.  Until now, we had a boiler plate will made by an attorney through one of those plans where you pay monthly for the right to call and get advice from an attorney.  It was about $26 per month and we could call, send in documents for review and he made us a boiler plate will to fill in as well as a health care POA, and a living will.   We filled them out and had them notarized and those have been our documents up until now.

Why have we decided to do something more than just fill in the blank estate planning?

  • We are entering our 50’s soon – so we feel that as we start thinking of retirement in about 10-12 years, it is also time to be thinking about making sure our assets are fully protected should we pass away.
  • Now that we are older, we finally have more assets – this means that the thought of paying for a lawyer to do our estate planning no longer feels like we are giving up a years salary to do so and we actually have accumulated enough assets to protect.
  • We are smarter and realize that fill in the blank wills do not cover many different scenarios that we would like covered, could be a problem, and we want to make sure there are no problems for our children after we pass.
  • We have a special needs son and we knew at some time that we would need to hire someone who knew how to best protect his needs, despite that fact that we had also created a Special Needs Trust but again, not from meeting directly with an estate planning attorney.
  • We have learned that trusts can be a great way to pass assets onto heirs and want to take advantage of that for both our children and have encouraged our parents to look into trusts for passing their larger assets (like houses) to us (or into our trusts) through their own trusts.

So, if you are just starting out you need to look at what options you have and what advantages they give you.  The basics you might want to consider having are:

  • Will
  • Checking on beneficiaries and knowing that beneficiaries trump what is written in a will
  • Living Will – your own decisions about your health if you are not able to
  • Health care Power of Attorney – who can make decisions about your health if you are unable to
  • Trusts – there are different kinds but most commonly used are revocable living trusts and this is the main one I will discuss (there are also AB trusts and irrevocable trusts that can be tools used for specific purposes)
  • Long Term Care Planning – will you plan on paying out of pocket if needed, plan on using up all resources and using Medicaid (and do you know how to do that correctly), getting a Life Insurance or Annuity with a Long Term Care Rider, or buy insurance

Many of the estate planners offer a free workshop and at the workshop they teach you all of the basics about estate planning, the vocabulary, and concepts behind each of the above mentioned items, and then they plan a 1:1 meeting with clients after the workshop.  The reason for this is many people think they know about estate planning or know some pieces of a few things – i.e. having a Will and Living Will but there is so much that they don’t know about that it helps to educate people about what estate planning is all about before they start talking about their own individual situation.  I agree this is a very useful model.  I am a reader and learner so I read up on everything and knew about 85% of the information in the workshop but a) that is not the norm and b) I still learned 15% more information.  My husband knew only about 15% so he got to learn about 85% as did probably many if not most of the people there who probably don’t have “Living Trust” books on their bookshelves at home like I do.

Our workshop was 2 hours, it was a bit long but the lawyer did a good job with stories and examples that explained things and we had snacks and drinks!  She was the author of 3 books and we could choose one after attending.  Many of these attorneys have written books or co-authored books so don’t let that overly impress you, it is par for the course.  My father also went to a workshop and was “wowed” because the attorney had authored a book – I think they all have.

I won’t spend a long time here teaching you about each subject as my goal of this blog post is to discuss the PROCESS, not educate readers on what estate planning options are in detail.

After our workshop, we went home and filled out a 10 page worksheet with all sorts of information about ALL our assets, life insurance, current wills and trusts, children, and what we wanted to get out of “estate planning.”  We scheduled an appointment and I will post further after we have our meeting.

 

 

 
 

The Good and Bad of Common Core Mathematics

21 Dec

Initially I was opposed to Common Core Mathematics and in general, I would say that I am still anti-common core but not for the same reasons that many others are anti-common core.  Since I was against CC, I joined some Stop Common Core groups and visited some groups who support doing away with Common Core.  I listened to a very interesting debate with a Pro Common Core Side and Stop Common Core side and was very disappointed in the ability of the side that was against Common Core to debate its argument effectively.  I also became very disappointed with the arguments of many of the people who were anti-common core.  I don’t believe the larger political argument that it is Bill Gates trying to take over the world and any generalized arguments on that point.  To be honest, I would support a common core if it was good and effective. My feelings of anti-common core (and I am mostly speaking in the area of mathematics because that is the area I am qualified to address) are solely with respect to the effectiveness and appropriateness of the curriculum and its ability to improve mathematics in the classroom.

As a mathematics educator, someone who has a Ph.D. in mathematics education, and someone who actually works with kids at all grades and all levels of ability, I applaud and understand the INTENT behind the goals of the mathematics common core.  When you look at the goals, the expectations, the curriculum, and what the educators who wrote it had in mind, I can clearly see what they WANTED to achieve and on many levels it is wonderful.  The problem that they failed to see is that the implementation of these goals was not feasible and has created utter chaos.  Let’s take an example.

In elementary school, one “common core” objective is working with the decomposition of numbers.  This means the ability to break numbers apart into pieces to create more friendly numbers to make math easier to work with, often in your head and sometimes on paper.  For example, if you were adding 213 + 23 in your head, a mathematician might first add 210 plus 20 to get 230 and then add the 3 afterwards to get 233.  Mathematicians (read Ph.D.’s in math education here too) have a natural number sense to regroup numbers that allow you to add and subtract more efficiently in your head.

So… our wonderful creators of Common Core, thought, “well if this is what good mathematicians do automatically, this is what we should TEACH all kids to do.”  First it will allow them to build more number sense since they will have to understand how numbers are broken up and go back together (place value, etc) and second they will learn how to do math more efficiently.  All of this is good intent, it makes sense on a pedagogical level.

HOWEVER – what did this TRANSLATE to into the hands of TEACHERS and CURRICULUM WRITERS and in the eyes of PARENTS (and filtered down to CHILDREN)…

First, some children will just naturally decompose numbers – the kids that math comes easy to anyway, will just do it on their own!  The kids that math does not come to easily, do not tend to decompose numbers on their own for a reason, it is hard for them, they don’t build number sense at the same rate as the child who would naturally decompose numbers – so the age at which our CC creators choose for us to have kids LEARN to decompose numbers may not be DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE for all children. This is a common problem with lots of Common Core Mathematics.

Second, elementary teachers are teaching children to decompose numbers – this is not something they were taught to do, elementary teachers get VERY LITTLE training in how to teach math and even less time in how to teach math this NEW way, the common core way, which is certainly not how THEY learned math.  So, the lessons may be confusing for students and the reasoning behind WHY they are decomposing numbers may be lost because these elementary teachers are not the ones with Ph.D.’s in mathematics education who understand the theory and the why’s behind all of this.

Third, the reason for decomposing numbers is usually to provide the ability to do math quickly in one’s head, not to do it long hand on paper – but again this got lost in translation, the teachers and curriculum writers don’t understand the REASON behind the goal, they just know the goal:  Decompose numbers and learn to add this way (because this is what the higher ups say is good to do).  So, now kids are learning to add numbers on paper using friendly numbers where it takes 5 minutes to do a problem that should take 1 minute if using the most effective way.  By this I mean, if it is small enough to do in your head, you should use the friendly number approach and decompose your numbers BUT if they are big numbers, you should use the traditional algorithm and do it on paper.  Students should be learning to take the most efficient approach and that the reason for decomposition and friendly numbers is that it will help them with mental math but there is still a place for the traditional algorithm and this method is not meant to replace it.

It got to the point where parents would post “bad” math common core homework assignments on this Stop Common Core site so everyone could see and comment.  At first, there were legit bad assignments –

  • some were developmentally inappropriate
  • some were new common core ideas that had no directions so both parent and child were lost or used vocabulary that the teacher had never provided to student / parent
  • some were things that I just mentioned, where it was something that was completely out of context, long tedious multi-step problems that could and should be done more effectively with a traditional algorithm

but, it reached a point that parents began to just be ANTI-COMMON CORE and ANY and ALL math homework was bad in their mind and they were posting things that were:

  • assignments that you have seen pre-common core
  • very good assignments that taught strong math concepts
  • anything that was slightly different or didn’t require the memorization of math facts was considered BAD

So, I want to make a point that being anti-common core doesn’t mean you agree that all of common core is bad.  I see a lot of merit is the ideas behind common core math, however, the implementation is a disaster and I feel strongly until (and if) that can be fixed, we are simply confusing students more.  Teachers are requiring students to “only do it the common core way,” instead of saying, “here is a tool box,” use this tool box but as long as you get there – both procedurally and conceptually, I don’t care how you do it.  I also think that Common Core pushes the concept and the why too much at the expense of the procedure.  Again, to do math, you need to have a tool box of procedures, the why and the applications come for students who are successful with strong procedural knowledge and when we over-focus on the concepts and the essay writing, students lose the practice time which also helps the light bulbs go off.  There has to be a balance.

 

Lynne Gregorio, Ph.D. Mathematics Education

 
 

Parenting and Education – How to help your child be successful in school

19 Dec

What is our role as parents in terms of helping our children be successful in school?  There are probably many different views on this subject.  The first and most important thing to know about parenting and education is that EVERY child is DIFFERENT.  What one child needs from their parents in this regard may be different from what another child needs so as parents you can’t just take one view and use this as your “philosophy.”  Here are some possible parenting styles (this is not an inclusive list, obviously, just a few of the problem situations) when it comes to education:

1.  Hands-off parent:  This style is where the parent puts it on the child to take charge of their success in school.  This is especially true for older children and high school age children.  Parents assume that it is the child’s responsibility.  They rationalize that in order to learn to be successful, the child needs to make mistakes and these mistakes will be self-correcting.  If the child doesn’t turn in homework, they will get F’s, if the child doesn’t study, they will get bad grades – these bad grades will then motivate the child (either on their own or because the parent punishes the child for the bad grades) and so the child will self-correct and get the needed work done.  Parents who adopt this style were often parented this way or were able to successful in school on their own and don’t understand why a child can’t figure it out on their own.  They rationalize that they aren’t going to be around to hold their hand later in life, so it is time they learned to swim on their own.

2.  Hovering – Helicopter parent:  This style is where the parent is very obsessed with the child’s school work.  When the child comes home from school, they want to see every assignment they child has, they make the child do their work right away, the child often feels stressed about school and is an overachiever and is very upset about getting bad grades.  The parent may assign extra work, extra worksheets that the child has to do above and beyond the work that the school assigns.

3.  Outsourcing Parent:  This style is where a parent knows their child is struggling in one or more subjects and they feel they should do something, so they hire a tutor.  They feel that this is what is sufficient, even if it doesn’t solve the problem.  The tutor might suggest the parent get involved more, check on the student work, work hands on with the student, but the outsourcing parent is often very busy and only has time for their child to do their 1-2 hours a week with the tutor but not get involved themselves on a regular basis to help their child be successful.  This is not saying that all parents who hire a tutor are “outsourcing parents,” just that some parents choose outsourcing, think this is all they need to do.

As I said, every child is different.  Here are some examples of different kinds of students your child might be:

1.  Independent, successful learner – if you have one of these, you should feel lucky – but also, don’t assume that all your children will be the same.  Independent successful learners are able to go to class, write down their assignments, take good notes, get their homework done on time, study independently and successfully for tests, score well on tests, and not need any outside support from anyone else to be successful in school.

2.  Partial Independent, successful learner – This is a student like number one who is able to be successful in most classes but might struggle in a particular class due to its subject matter being difficult for them or because a particular teacher is not a good teacher / grades or tests very unfairly when this student has always had good fair teachers in the past.

3.  Students with ADD/ ADHD / Executive Function struggles:  These students can be very bright but lack the ability to stay focused, remember to turn in homework, write down things like when tests are, take good notes, stay organized, or know how to study effectively for a test.

4.  Students with learning disabilities in a particular subject:  These students might be very bright in most subjects but have a learning struggle in an area that makes learning something in that subject very difficult, examples include math or reading (reading comprehension, of course transcends all subjects since you need to understand what you read to be able to do all subject areas).

5.  Students with slow processing speed:  These students process things very slowly and therefore, everything you teach them and every assignment they do (test they take) requires twice as long as a regular student.  It is very difficult for students with a moderate disability in processing speed to keep up with a class that is all working at a faster pace.

So, what is our responsibility as parents when it comes to education?

Here are three things to keep in mind:

1.  You are responsible for knowing what type of child you have / what type of learner he or she is and if he or she is not an independent, successful learner – then it is your responsibility as a parent to help your child and make adjustments.

2.  You are responsible for finding a school (to the best of your ability, some places have more options than others, although sometimes we are not always aware of our options) that best matches your child’s academic needs – and remember that your child WILL make new friends, so “staying with friends” and failing is NOT a better option than moving to a new school that better academically fits your child.

3.  You are responsible for monitoring their grades as they go so they don’t reach a point where it is too late to recover.

4.  You are responsible for communication with their teachers.  Getting a good teacher is the best gift your child can get to do well in school.  Even struggling students can do well in a subject with a good teacher, however, students will get bad teachers.  Students will get teachers who test on things they don’t teach, grade students harshly, explain things poorly, and the end result will be a bad grade for your child.  However, it is your responsibility to mitigate this as much as possible.  Butt in, push the teacher, demand that your child gets the best he or she can get.  Call conferences, if needed, get the higher up involved.    Don’t assume it is your child and the teacher is always right.

5.  If your child has learning struggles, get him or her an official diagnosis, then get him a 504 plan (or IEP if needed), read up on it, find out what he needs – then make sure it is adhered to.  It is your responsibility to advocate for your child.

6.  If your child is not an independent learner or for example has issues with executive functioning / knowing how to study, etc.  then it is your responsibility to help him or her learn to study.  Find out when tests are, email teachers to figure out how you will know in advance when tests will be given, then help him organize his notes, then quiz him and don’t stop until he is getting all the answers right.  Teach him that this is how you do well in school:  you ask yourself the questions on the information without looking at the answers until you can answer every question without looking and get 100%, then you are ready for the test.  For math, google the topic and look for practice problems that have answer sheets and have her sit and do the problems and then grade them (to study math, you must do problems).

Your child is 14, 15, 16, 17, or 18 – this is the time to be VERY involved in their academics so that they learn HOW to be successful in school, so they learn the skills needed to be the independent, successful learner for when they go to college or start a career and you are not there – this is not the time for you to be hands off.

 

 

The Missing Piece in Education: The “New Teacher” has lost all their freedoms for effective teaching

21 Nov

Being a good teacher is probably one of the things I am most passionate about in life.  I have had experience with education at every level possible.  I have been a mother, I have worked with preschool age children, I have been a substitute teacher of all grade levels, I student taught in middle and high school level and was certified for high school math.  I taught mathematics and statistics to undergraduates and graduate students and I ran my own learning center where I worked with K-12 students in all subjects – reading, writing, mathematics, science, social studies, special education, and study skills.  I have written curriculum materials and have worked with many students who struggle with learning for a variety of reasons.  During all of this, I have witnessed what teachers do in the classroom and remember my own education as a student and when learning how to be an educator.  Most of what I learned about what makes a good educator came from a mixture of own experiences (especially watching what doesn’t work) and working with many different types of students of all ages over the years.

Let’s look at the traditional teacher – the traditional teacher is often overworked and underpaid.  This is unfortunate but this doesn’t give educators an excuse to do their jobs poorly.  However, were they ever given the education they needed on how to do their job well? My teacher education program was not where I learned to be a great teacher, I learned the status quo.  Teachers are also expected to follow recipes more and more so they are not allowed any artistic freedoms – let’s say that their classroom is totally lost on a math topic, a good teacher would be able to read their students and make adjustments, slow things down, and adjust the curriculum – teachers are not allowed to do that anymore.  They are told what they need to be teaching day to day, they are given the tests that they should use (even if they aren’t good tests), they can’t adjust and make sure learning happens.  When this is forced upon them, they become the NEW TEACHER – the NEW TEACHER, is not a teacher at all, just someone following a plan prescribed by some higher up and if the kids don’t get it, tough!  Fail them or give them a D and move them on anyway.

Here are the things that made me a great teacher, how many of these freedoms do teachers still have?  How many of them are taught to do these things (why teach them when they can’t use them?)

  • Make my own plan for the semester where I go quickly over easy material and give more time to harder material
  • Read my students and make adjustments for EACH individual class as needed, speeding things up or slowing down, sometimes even leaving out the less important things in order to get mastery of the more important things
  • Decide on what homework my own class should do each night
  • Choosing appropriate homework, so that students don’t do too little or too much and it starts easy and gets more challenging and different types of problems are asked
  • Making sure the homework assigned matches what I will ask students to know on a test
  • Providing students with a list of expectations, giving out a review sheet before a test, and a list of topics that students need to make sure they need to know for a test
  • Making learning more about what students learn than about jumping through hoops
  • Teach dynamically, I teach a concept, I do an example, I give an example for my students to try, I check to see if my students (all) can do it, we move on to next example or topic
  • Write notes for students in organized way that can easily be used for studying, create step by step directions for procedural mathematics rather than just doing an example
  • Not caring too much about penalizing students for late “small” assignments (either natural consequences can be given, instead of a zero, no grade or a reasonable amount taken off, not just, ‘here is a zero!’)
  • Allowing or requiring students to correct their mistakes, if they don’t learn what they did wrong – how is learning taking place?
  • Start from scratch each semester, I get better and better this way, I don’t use the same materials over and over – may use some but each test is new, review sheets are new
  • Making my own tests up and making sure the tests match what I taught in class, are filled with questions at different levels of Blooms Taxonomy, are both procedural and conceptual
  • Allowing students to “get it later,”  if a student is doing terrible but later shows they finally got it and has a full grasp of the concepts by the end of the semester / term / year, do they still deserve for all those poor grades to count against them, they got there, isn’t that our goal!
  • Don’t lose sight of the goal – student learning!!!
  • Realize that student grades are a reflection of how good a job I am doing
  • Make adjustments to an assignment or test if the majority of a class got a problem wrong or misunderstood a problem
  • Never be on a power trip.
  • Reach out to students and parents if they are struggling, have a plan of extra work that students who want to get there but aren’t there can do – never turn away a student who is struggling but wants to get it figured out, help them.

Most teachers these days do the following:

  • Follow a day to day prescribed outline given to them by someone else
  • Move onto the next day regardless of whether the students are confused or lost
  • Read from power points, assign book work, or do examples FOR the student as a method of teaching
  • Teach statically, not dynamically
  • For those that use the “flipped curriculum,” don’t even know how to teach dynamically when using this type of approach which is designed for dynamic teaching
  • Never make up their own problems
  • Rarely create review sheets for students
  • Don’t even know how to “read the class” to see if students are understanding or not
  • Aren’t allowed to use their own tests
  • Are told what homework to assign
  • Don’t know how to create homework that is developmental, starts easy and gets more challenging
  • Don’t know how to break information down into organized steps for students who have trouble doing this
  • Feel overworked
  • Some have lost their passion for teaching all together
  • Don’t understand that grading is a barometer for both student learning and teacher effectiveness

I think our education system just keeps getting worse and worse.  My dream is to some day get financial backing to open a school where I can hire and train a bunch of bright teachers to teach effectively, this is what makes the difference in education.

 

UNC Charlotte Computer Science Program Review

04 Nov

I am going to review the UNCC computer science program from a parent prospective.  I have not been the one who sits in the classes, I only get to hear about what my son has experienced while on campus but I think this perspective is still important as parents consider programs for their children.  I am a former college professor so I know the value of a good school and the inner workings of colleges and universities (to some extent, every school is VERY different), however, with this additional experience it can give prospective parents and students things to consider.

The first question I ask myself when considering a program at a college/university (from now on I will just write college since it is shorter, but I mean college or university) is “How good is the program/major that my child is interested in?”  Related to that question are some sub-questions, “What is the reputation of the school with regards to that program?”  “What level and variety of classes are offered within that program?”  “Who are teaching the classes?”  “How many classes are required?”  “What are the specific classes required?”  “Are the required classes actually mostly within the field itself or are they pulling a lot of classes from other fields to fill the degree because they don’t have enough classes in that area?”

So let’s analyze each of those for UNCC:

1.  “What is the reputation of the school with regards to that program?” – For NC schools, UNCC probably doesn’t have the BEST reputation, however, within some specific fields it does have a better reputation and computer science is one of those fields.  It is “up and coming,” as they say.  NC State and UNC – CH are probably two other schools that good reputations in the STEM areas but UNC- CH falls short in some of the other areas where UNCC does not.  If you look at general reputation, UNCC is probably not the winner though, I would say NC State is, but I did not hear bad things in terms of a reputation of UNCC computer science when we applied – so if I were to give this area a grade, it would get a C.

2.   “What level and variety of classes are offered within that program?” – This is where UNCC outshines most other NC schools.  Look at the course selections at the different schools.  UNCC has a very large variety and selection of classes, I would give it an A.

3.  “Who are teaching the classes?” – When we spoke with the department head at the school before applying he said there were “teaching faculty” at the school.  Faculty who are meant to teach only and not divide time between research and teaching.  This usually means improved teaching.  However, overall, my son reports that his professors have not been that great.  On the other hand, this is not uncommon for many schools and he has only attended one other school with mostly online classes so I can’t compare this other NC schools.  There have been a few good professors in the game design classes he has taken that he really likes but overall, his professors are probably a C+.

4.  “How many classes are required?”  This can be a good thing or a bad thing.  If too few classes are required (especially if the department is pulling in engineering classes and a lot of science classes instead of computer science classes as major requirements) the student doesn’t learn enough and that is a bad thing.  If too many classes are required, it can make it difficult to graduate in four years because there is no breathing room.  UNCC has too many requirements.  You can end up with only 1 credit of true electives which means transfer students cannot graduate in four years.  UNCC needs to cut back a little, however, there are many other schools who need to require more to make sure students are prepared for the work force.   I give UNCC a D because they are just too tight, taking out their required minor (they don’t call it that but it is essentially what it is) would allow students more flexibility.

5.  “What are the specific classes required?”   “Are the required classes actually mostly within the field itself or are they pulling a lot of classes from other fields to fill the degree because they don’t have enough classes in that area?”  When we looked at many different programs and what classes were required in the major, the classes were a handful of computer science classes and then filler classes from other programs, they might include 2 physics classes and 2 biology classes or chemistry classes, others were 3-4 classes from the Engineering degree program.  I want the computer science degree to be focused on COMPUTER SCIENCE, if my son wants to take additional sciences or engineering, he should have the space in his schedule to do so but chemistry is not going to help him in computer science.  I can see some slight relationships but mostly the reason these courses are there are because they don’t have enough computer science classes to make a full degree so they put these filler “related” classes in.  While if you look at UNCC’s requirements – your non-computer science classes are your math (that all colleges require) – Calc 1, 2, and Linear Algebra (which is needed for computer science), and Statistics.  The other classes are general ed classes that are classes that actually are also computer science related but fulfill general education requirements.  You can take any science you want to with a lab and one without.  All the CS courses make up the degree, my only complaint is the required minor (since it makes the major have too many credit requirements). The student also picks a focus area and then chooses 4 courses within a focus area such as Game Design or Networking – besides the analytical math, there are no outside major classes other than the whole required minor thing (which should go away in my opinion). So, again an A to UNCC in that area.

What are the negatives?  It wouldn’t be fair to not include this – however, I think this is going to be true of most every NC college and most colleges in all the US.  Maybe (and I know nothing about the big name universities and I am probably giving them more respect than they deserve) schools with high CS reputations are better at this…

** There is not enough time spent in situations that mimic real world job situations to prepare them for the work force

**They don’t spend enough time coding in classes, too much time listening to lectures instead of coding and getting real world experience

**There should be more hands on labs with challenging problems.

**There should be a class for seniors where the teachers work through interview questions on data structures and programming problems

In conclusion, UNCC has a lot to offer from the CS degree.  It is an affordable school, a beautiful campus, and my son seemed to enjoy his three years on campus.  We liked that they had the Game Design focus and other schools were not offering that at the time although finding jobs in the game industry post graduation is difficult.