May 182014
 
My daughter considering a problem in her Common Core workbook.

My daughter considering a problem in her Common Core workbook.

I was an honors student at the public high school I attended. From the 9th grade onward, I was always placed in “Honors” English and the most advanced math courses for my grade. I took AP classes from 10th grade onward, including AP Calculus.

I never felt special or brilliant for doing any of this. There were about 100 other kids in my grade who were doing variations of the same thing and my sisters were all on the same track too. To me, these advanced classes were just what it meant to attend high school.

While Virginia is one of the handful of states that has not adopted the Common Core standards, our family has been exposed to them in the “Daily Review” workbooks we use throughout the year to prepare for standardized testing. I chose the Common Core books only because they were cheaper than the other workbooks I had been using. When I first opened the Common Core books at the beginning of the year, I remember thinking, “Wow! This is quite a bit more challenging than what we are used to.”

I have smart kids. They learned to read early. They work hard at but don’t struggle with math. They have no significant learning disabilities or developmental delays. I have always felt that they performed a bit above their respective grade levels. The Common Core workbooks indicated that my “smart” kids were merely performing according to standard and it was even stretching them to work just a little bit harder.

For my children, Common Core is like being in the honors program while in elementary school. For them, Common Core works. Common Core is not that much different from what we are doing already. The math is almost, but not quite, as challenging as the Singapore Math curriculum we are using. Language arts tracks similarly to the Brave Writer program.

The Common Core standards for high school seniors are not that different from the honors track I pursued. The language arts standards seem a smidge more demanding in the details and the math does not require calculus but substitutes statistical analysis and data modeling instead. Below are some of the more challenging of these 12th grade standards:

  • Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning (e.g., in U.S. Supreme Court majority opinions and dissents) and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy (e.g., The Federalist, presidential addresses).
  • Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases.
  • Develop a probability distribution for a random variable defined for a sample space in which probabilities are assigned empirically; find the expected value. For example, find a current data distribution on the number of TV sets per household in the United States, and calculate the expected number of sets per household. How many TV sets would you expect to find in 100 randomly selected households?
  • Resolve issues of complex or contested usage, consulting references (e.g., Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, Garner’s Modern American Usage) as needed.
  • Vary syntax for effect, consulting references (e.g., Tufte’s Artful Sentences) for guidance as needed; apply an understanding of syntax to the study of complex texts when reading.

What makes me wonder about Common Core, however, is how this works for parents who don’t feel their children are academically gifted. Common core assumes a natural, linear progression for child academic development. This is true for my children but I have met many parents with children for whom this is not true. Some children are still struggling with reading at 8 or 9 and catch on later. Some kids are still working on their attention spans. Some are still learning not to wet the bed at night. These children aren’t doomed by any means but their academic progression might be in irregular bursts rather than steady progress. How do these children fare when the standard is set about as high as it possibly can be and increases in difficulty each year?

This year, the math program for my third grade daughter has been especially challenging. She can do it but she does have to put more energy into learning math than she ever has before. Sometimes it is frustrating and it makes her cry.

I'm not smart!

she will sometimes wail when I correct a mistake. The despair passes fairly quickly when I reassure her that she is indeed very smart and when I point out that she has completed by herself whatever assignment she thought she couldn’t do. She smiles, feels proud of herself and moves on.

The psychological aspect of Common Core is what I wonder about the most. Children obviously do pick up cues about their self-worth based on how they are performing in school. There is a fine line between being challenged and being demoralized. How does the Common Core continue to motivate students who fall short of expectations? How does it motivate teachers when despite best efforts their classes don’t perform where they need to be? How do we avoid threatening parents or siblings with the prospect that younger generations will know far more than they do? As human beings, we only have to be told once that we are not good at something to adopt a permanent mindset that we shouldn’t try. I wish I saw more psychological support associated with Common Core. Funding for motivational speakers for teachers, parents and children during this time of change would be a marvelous idea.

The other thing I wonder about is whether Common Core gets right the fundamental question of whether we have chosen the right educational aims for all American children. This is a huge responsibility. We don’t know what the future will require of any of us. Is “every child an honors student” the right path?

Are we discouraging individuality and innovation with these standards? With the Common Core standards so demanding, it would be hard for any child to have enough time to learn on their own to pursue their own interests or for a teacher to introduce any elective subjects. The two quotes below, while not on the subject of Common Core, raise the importance of allowing children space to learn and experiment.

2014-05-18-haxquote

2014-05-18-noamchomsky

It is easy to find any number of ways to attack the Common Core standards. But if the Common Core needs a defender it can look no further than my husband.

I have had many discussions with my husband about Common Core. He doesn’t find it much of interest to debate whether Common Core is a good idea as his natural inclination when faced with an intellectual challenge is to accept the standard and meet it. He believes strongly in the value of intelligence and learning. When I point out the difficult reality of implementing these learning objectives as a teacher, he has little sympathy for me. Finally, he came up with an argument that converted me to his point of view, looking to the past for guidance about the future. I asked him to write it down for me.

2014-05-18-commoncoredefense

His words were very powerful to me. We need to get out of the weeds when thinking about Common Core and stop focusing exclusively on the nitty gritty implementation details. We need to remember the bigger picture of expanding human potential. This is our gift to the future.

Just as the peasant farmer may have found it pointless to learn to read and could not have anticipated that the simple act of reading would one day lead to newspapers, email and the Internet, we can’t imagine what it will mean to the future when we raise proficiency for English and mathematics.

So, I will go on record as a newly converted Common Core supporter. There are likely still many problems to iron out and if nothing else, the program will require a lot more funding and maybe a revised implementation plan that gradually ramps up the difficulty year by year, but I have decided focus my efforts on resolving these problems and moving the effort forward rather than accepting the status quo.

How do you feel about Common Core? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on May 18, 2014 General Tagged with: , , ,
Mar 032014
 
Taking a break from snow shoveling to admire the sunset tonight.  Gorgeous!

Taking a break from snow shoveling to admire the sunset tonight. Gorgeous!

We are now starting our third month of 2014! I don’t know about you but so far 2014 has been wild and a bit rocky! January was particularly odd for some reason and it seemed like it wasn’t just us.

Here in the Virginia/DC area, there were a lot of sad and shocking events in January, like our local newspaper filing for bankruptcy the indictment of the former Governor of Virginia and his wife, and a horrible mall shooting.

Personally, we had a string of bizarre, minor accidents with our children in January, including stitches and emergency visits to the dentist for cracked teeth. Fortunately, none of these were serious but they certainly raised our blood pressure. Our dentist joked that we need to bubblewrap the entire family as a precaution.

Part of January's battle wounds.

Part of January’s battle wounds.

February brought snowstorm after snowstorm disrupting family and school schedules and draining local budgets for snow removal. Even though we aren’t part of the school system, all of the canceled and rescheduled extracurricular activities and the general sense of chaos was a bit much to deal with.

Shoveling snow became a new part of my exercise routine in February.  Almost no one in Virginia owns a snowblower.

Shoveling snow became a new part of my exercise routine in February. Almost no one in Virginia owns a snowblower.

We have had crazy weather here of late, changing from snow one moment to sunny and 60 degrees the next.  One day it snowed this beautiful, lacy snow and it all melted away 2 hours later.

We have had crazy weather here of late, changing from snow one moment to sunny and 60 degrees the next. One day it snowed this beautiful, lacy snow and it all melted away 2 hours later.

Sadly, March is off to an odd start with 5 inches of snow falling today and more closures and reschedulings. March also means working on projects like filing taxes and spring cleaning, an overwhelming combination. And if that’s not quite enough for you, daylight savings time (losing one hour) starts this weekend as well!

Today's snowfall.

Today’s snowfall.

If you are in the same boat and all your best intentions for the new year seem to have fallen apart perhaps due to forces beyond your control, I would ask you to take a moment to set a restart date for your goals. Forget what has happened in the past and try again. There is still plenty of time in 2014 to make a positive difference in your life.

For me, I am going to be using the Lenten period (March 5 – April 19) as my restarting period. I had great success last year working on diet and exercise and am going to do a variation of that again this year that I will write more about this month.

If Lent is not a good time for you, think about when might be a good time to try a few life experiments (end of the school year? summer vacation? next fall when school is back in session?). Usually, you don’t need a lot of time to make a big difference. Even if you can only set aside a 3-day weekend, or one week or one month, you will be amazed at what you can learn and accomplish.

Perhaps 2014 is going to be a chaotic year generally but I am hopeful that we might just be shaking out a few bumps early on.

How is your year going so far? Are you in need of a restart? Please share in the comments.

P.S. Lest you think I am a gloomy, glass half-empty type, here are two of the great things that happened between January and March for us.

We were shocked and delighted to see our county featured in House of Cards!  While it doesn't look like the show actually filmed in our county, the storyline was great with so much international drama supposedly occurring in our "backyard."  As a fan, it felt like a personal hello from the actors and the show.

We were shocked and delighted to see our county featured in House of Cards! While it doesn’t look like the show actually filmed in our county, the storyline was great with so much international drama supposedly occurring in our “backyard.” As a fan, it felt like a personal hello from the actors and the show.

Beneath all that snow....spring is on its way!  Daffodils starting to come up in my yard.

Beneath all that snow….spring is on its way! Daffodils starting to come up in my yard.

 Posted by on March 3, 2014 General Tagged with: , , ,
Jan 042014
 
You could say that my theme word for 2014 was inspired by our recent travels.  No matter the weather challenge, we were headed forward!

You could say that my theme word for 2014 was inspired by our recent travels. No matter the weather challenge, we were headed forward!

2013-12-31-memphis-rainyconditions

A little rain could not hold us back.

2013-12-29-texas-tumbleweed

Even tumbleweeds were not going to stop us!

Professional organizer Marcia Francois is the genius behind the annual theme word concept. Each year, she advises everyone to choose one word to focus on throughout the year–one word that is the broad theme behind any resolutions or goals you are hoping to achieve.

Last year, my theme word was “routine.” Routine is a complex concept that encompasses stability, predictability, dedication, motivation, and, as diadia so aptly commented, history. Routine is largely about using your accumulated knowledge to maintain your current goals.

Until just recently, I was stumped as to what my theme word for 2014 would be. I was concerned that nothing was coming to mind.

Then, one day I was listening to Dave Ramsey’s radio/online program and he was talking about people who get stuck doing the same thing over and over with the same results and never seem to move forward. He said that people need to make changes in order to achieve “traction.” I knew immediately that this was my next theme word.

2014-01-04-traction

So, for 2014, I am focusing on “traction.” The first thing I have to determine is what this word means to me. Broadly, “traction” to me means the following:

  • getting unstuck from unhealthy or unproductive behaviors
  • continuing to try new ideas until you find an effective solution for your problem
  • eliminating complacency and remaining aware of opportunities for improvement even in areas where you are performing well
  • forging into unknown, messy and complex situations
  • moving noticeably forward, whether by an inch or a mile

I am now off to update the photo frame for my desk so I have a visual reminder.

What is your theme word for 2014? Ruth shared in the comments previously that she has chosen “patience,” a challenge for us all!

*Font credit: “Dirty Ego” by Misprinted Type.

 Posted by on January 4, 2014 General Tagged with: , , ,
Jan 032014
 
Something that is not routine in Virginia . . . snow!  A scene from last night's storm.

Something that is not routine in Virginia . . . snow! A scene from last night’s storm.

Another blog housekeeping item on my list is to look back on my theme word for 2013: routine. I noted at the time that this word is not very exciting. When I first thought of the word routine, I generally thought about staying in place or even stagnating. I came to learn that there is far more to routine than that.

I really tried to keep the idea “routine” top of mind and gained some incredible insights over the course of a year. In one area, diet and exercise, I excelled at implementing new routines and made a huge positive difference in my life. In other areas, I could have done better.

Even if I didn’t always succeed in implementing an actual routine in a particular area, by focusing in on what routine meant to me, I gained philosophical insights that helped me. The inspiration came from a variety of places: from my initial reflections, from my diet and exercise regimen, from travel and from reading good books.

Below are the 6 biggest insights I had about routine.

2014-01-03-routine-baseline

2014-01-03-routine-priorities

2013-01-03-routine-self-knowledge

2014-01-03-routine-begetsroutine

2014-01-03-routine-hardtobreak

2014-01-03-routine-wahlinsight

Did you choose a theme word for 2013? If yes, what were your biggest insights? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on January 3, 2014 General Tagged with: , , , , ,
Mar 042013
 
Ready or not . . . here spring comes!

Ready or not . . . here spring comes!

Wow! The end of February has come altogether too quickly. Here we are 4 days into March!

February ended up being a bit of a blur for me.

We finished up our ski lessons.

and prepared to celebrate Valentine’s Day

There were many ways to spend time screen-gazing this month. I reviewed three major online events:

We looked at the fitness routines of the ultra-skinny

and checked out the athletic prowess of The Washington Ballet

I began my own fitness routine

and gave an update on how I am doing after one week on my new regimen.

If all of this activity caused anyone anxiety, Guest Blogger Ryan Rivera shared his insight, particularly anxiety in women.

Honestly, I fell off my routine-tracking about mid-month and have been struggling to getting back to it.

March is going to be hugely busy for me. The weather is starting to turn spring-like and that means three things for me:

1) Gardening
2) Spring cleaning
3) Tax preparation

All of this comes on top of what I am already doing so I have to find a way to work that into my routine. Even though my first reaction is to throw my hands up, scream, “That’s impossible!” and forget about it all, I know that if I can stay focused and disciplined and work really hard this month, I will be in excellent shape for the rest of spring and summer. So I tell myself that all this craziness is only for 30 days, that I will get through it and my reward is to celebrate Easter at the end of the month with my family, in a gorgeously clean and organized house, (hopefully) with a trim body and a yard that is at least progressing in the right direction.

It’s going to be a LOT of work this month but I am trying to build myself up and stay positive that it can be done. The change in seasons is really giving me a lift. I love seeing all that sunshine! Of course, life will happen too and I will adjust as needed but for now I am starting off with guns blazing.

This past weekend, I began a deep spring cleaning on the main floor of my home. It took forever but now we are enjoying the progress we have made. It seems less intimidating now to work on maintaining the organization we have just achieved. Sometimes you can organize a little at a time but what a boost it gives you to do it all in one big swoop!

However, while I was focusing on the spring cleaning, I fell off on my other goals. So, you can’t have it all!

Here is a blank goals/routine checklist for March if you need a reminder to get yourself back on track.

Are you amped up for March? What is on your to do list? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on March 4, 2013 Monthly Recap Tagged with: , , ,