Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Self-Regulation, Motivation and Enthusiasm for Academic Success in Tweens and Adolescents

One of the most fun aspects of keeping a blog is checking stats.  It sounds boring, but stats reveal facts that I, the lover of math, numbers and cultures, find fascinating. For instance, one of my first foreign visitors, after Russia, was Thailand.  Who knew?  And the French, my favorite people, why, they took some four months to find my site.  Peut-etre c'est la faute du langue?  Est-ce que vous preferez plus de francais?  I keep a country counter for this reason.  You can also see top referring sites, and for the most part, mine consists of spam and facebook. 

But the most helpful statistic is the page hits.  It turns out that a handful of my posts are much more popular than the rest.  The biggest hits seem to come from two different populations: those wanting to make an mini Arco lamp, and those wanting to motivate an unenthusiastic student.  I have now documented the process of the Arco lamp fairly thoroughly, and if I can ever figure out how to load a video, I will post the amateur video of its assembly.  But, until now, I have not described how to motivate an adolescent, primarily because precious little can be found on this topic once a child is past a certain age.  I do know that enthusiasm and ability to put off immediate gratification are involved, and an article by NPR lists many ways to increase self-regulation, including playing Simon Says, long imaginative play where the child must plan and enact a scenario, shared storybook time, self-talking, and activities that require planning.  The same article reiterates that:

"Poor executive function is associated with high dropout rates, drug use and crime. In fact, good executive function is a better predictor of success in school than a child's IQ. Children who are able to manage their feelings and pay attention are better able to learn. As executive function researcher Laura Berk explains, "Self-regulation predicts effective development in virtually every domain."
The emphasis on "pay attention" is my own.  So, we know what to do for the little ones, which is good for me as a parent of a five year old.  But as a teacher of tweens and young adolescents, how do I motivate 90 of students, in a period of six hours a week, for ten months of their lives.  That is a different animal entirely.

Well, it turns out, a study by Gestsdottir and Lerner asserts that it is not too late.  It seems like at young ages, emotional and physiological self-regulation is indeed primarily developed, but that intentional, goal-oriented self-regulation is developed in adolescence, when the brain is cognitively prepared and the individual can picture a future for themselves, which younger children cannot.  The first step would, of course, be to turn off the tv, and to not replace it with any other screens.  Sorry, parents.  Parenthood impinges on self-actualization, so deal. 
And, as a teacher, it turns out that those maligned goal sheets will help a middle school child learn how to become more self-regulated.  Setting goals will help students develop a goal hierarchy, and they will need to select "persistence, focused attention, delay of gratification, and practice of skills" over immediate gratification.  A unsurprising result, at least to me, of such goal optimization is its correlatatopm with healthy and happy development.  A teacher of a top or a bottom class could tell you the same thing.
Your child's brain on video games.  Any questions?
So, don't give up, parents and teachers who are reaching the end of their ropes.  You can still learn self-regulation as an adolescent and even as an adult.  This subject interests me, so the more I learn, the more I'll blog.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

More Cheating on the High-Stakes Test

I couldn't help but feel deja-vu when I read an article about elementary schools that cheat on high stakes tests, and how they were discovered.  It seems that the intermediate school that these students fed into experienced drops some 15 times greater than average.  Certain students were unable to speak English, never mind read or write at a proficient level (which, according to their elementary scores, they could do). 

I have taken informal polls of my students to ascertain which schools are cheating, since they are very obviously doing so, and it seems that I have already sussed out the feeder schools that do and do not cheat.  We don't need private investigators and hard-hitting journalists to tell us this, you just need common sense.  Since my job depends on the students' growth, it concerns me.  Those of us who teach sixth grade can tell you we are in trouble.  I asked to loop to seventh grade, and part of the reason is the inflated fifth grade scores that are going to kill my teacher data report.  This high-stakes testing is so wrong any way you look at it.  It's sick.

Friday, May 25, 2012

La Petite Moderne: Working Miniature Arco Lamp Tutorial

La Petite Moderne: Working Miniature Arco Lamp Tutorial: After  many months of preparing and dwelling on the idea, I have finally finished my video tutorial.  The hold-up was over the lack of a tr...

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Etsy Store - View my Miniature Marble-top Tulip Table

Come visit my etsy store with its vast inventory of one product.  Be a part of history and purchase my first item available to the public: the Eames tulip table.  My shop link is http://www.etsy.com/shop/LaPetiteModerne.  Who will start this business ball rolling?  This item is sure to quadruple in value when the dollhouse museum is looking for prototypes and early models of the hugely successful La Petite Modern furniture collection.  Don't say I didn't tell you so.

My one product in all its glory

Starting a Business: Dreams of St. John and Beyond

The demands of life very often necessitate "little emergencies" that will prevent a person from achieving their dreams.  Educations have been curtailed by unexpected parenthood or other responsibilities, athletic and artistic inspirations have been forgotten in the name of practicality, and living the life you want to live is replaced with a series of compromises and good-enoughs.

I've come to realize that my life's calling is not teaching.  I don't love it.  I'm not sure I ever loved it.  Perhaps if I get my gifted and talented extension the excitement and thrill of teaching will be rekindled.  I do love math, and I adore helping students who want to learn, but the number of students who do not value their own education has grown to a level that saps the enthusiasm from me.  I can't teach those who don't wish to learn, and that constant struggle wears me down.  I have been working for my sabbatical, which is at least six years away.  That is a long time to be unsatisfied.

On my sabbatical, I want to ride a
lot of trains and learn a completely
useless skill
I have long had a dream of something better than the nine-to-five.  I enjoyed my first career, but so much of my work was very soon rendered obsolete when the companies I worked for ceased to exist during the tech bubble.  Even in the first occupation, I longed to work for myself, but didn't know how to go about it, or even what I would do.  I considered food, since I have a passion for it and enjoy cooking, but my palate is not what I would call "refined": I like and appreciate almost everything I've ever been served.  After that, once I started teaching, I looked at an afterschool enrichment program.  Maybe I could move up the educational ladder as a math coach, or, since my favorite part of the job is lesson planning on the smartboard, I could sell my lessons.  But I finally hit upon something that I enjoy, that I am skilled at, and that is not overwhelmingly complicated or expensive to start-up.

But then, things happen, life interferes.  I have to write lesson plans, or I have to plan a party, or design a kitchen.  The dream remains but the work that must be done to achieve the dream goes on hiatus.

And then, I'd like to have a leisurely life
on St. John.  I'll wake up, go for a swim or
a hike and then build or mail out some models.
At the end of the day, amongst the palms,
I sit and feel the Carribbean breeze
My business advisor asked me three very important questions: why this business, what do I bring to the market that is different, and what do I hope to achieve with this business.  I have already written about why I chose this business and the special niche I hope to service.  But the third and most exciting question to respond to has not been answered in blog form...until now.  I hope to achieve a nice life, by which I mean I hope to enjoy my work, make enough to survive and thrive, and be able to travel.  I desire more time with my daughter; I'd like to be able to have more "girls' days" and chaperone her class trips.  Eventually, I'd like to move to St. John and set up my business in the United States, but in an environment that is as far from the rat race as can be on American soil.  But, before I do so, I'd like to take my sabbatical overseas, and expose my daughter to another culture or cultures.  These dreams are what keep me going.  I keep them with me at all times, and they help me get through the daily slog. 

Do you have a dream?  Do you work towards your dream regularly, or do you just wait for "someday".  Has anyone made their dream a reality?  Please comment and inspire others to keep their dreams alive.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

True Educational Hardship

I'm guessing it's "Africa hot" in this classroom, and
there's not a lot of desks to rest your head on.
I count 49 students in the frame
It's that time of year when normally disinterested students become completely disengaged.  Before the all-important standardized test, they are lethargic, distracted, unenthusiastic students.  Now that the test is over, they can no longer even keep their heads up!  After a long week, in hot, though not humid temperatures, and after a period of non-stop disruptions, disrespect and disinterest, I had to put things into perspective for my students (read that as "yell").  Yes, it is hot, but it's not physical labor I am requiring of these young people.  And they are sitting, and I am standing in heels, so buck up, kiddos.  If I'm working harder than anyone else in the class, then there is something very wrong.  I put together completely interactive and visual lesson plans that, if they were broken down any further, I'd need an atom smasher.  Every night I'm working on these lessons, or grading papers, or documenting everything.  The work of a teacher is never done.  And in return, I ask that they at least listen to the lessons, and engage their brains.  This is apparently far too much.
These students are not
distracted by a goat

No books to destroy here
And so, the yelling began.  And, as with all yelling, it worked temporarily.  It's not a great motivator, but I have to resort to it every once in a while.  I told them of a student that came to this country from Yemen, who spoke no English, and no one in the class spoke his native Arabic.  At the end of his first year, he scored the highest level possible on the math test in a language he had not yet mastered, not because he was smarter, but because he worked harder than a student has ever worked.  I mentionned how children in other countries are denied education based on their gender or ethnicity, or how they cannot attend school because it is dangerous to do so, or it's economically impossible.  For my final, rousing coup de grace, I told them how, to become a garbage collector, you have to pass a civil service exam and that there is math on that test.  That got their attention!  I did it!!  They paid attention...for the last 20 minutes of the class. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

My New Business Logo

I have a very talented sister who has always had my father's artistic gift.  Somehow, I didn't inherit that from Dad, just his height, his small hands and feet, the aforementioned teeth, and hair color.  In any case, my sister attended art school in London and I asked her for a logo design.  If there is a better person to ask for small, architectural items, I would love to meet her.  This is the sister who made an Indian diorama and built a bark canoe and had a silly putty bowl filled with cornmeal!  She also made a tiny paper suburban neighborhood complete with lawn furniture, for fun.  Boy, the days before cable tv and cellphones were a dull time, weren't they?

In any case, my lovely sister whipped up this cool logo.  What do you think?  Isn't she the best?  It's starting to feel like a real business.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

My Latest Miniature Masterpiece Castle

This miniature castle was created in 3 days and lasted around 15 minutes.  It was a challenge, but it was fun.  My inspiration was the princess cake from coolest-birthday-cakes.com.  That site has some great cakes!  The bottom is a frosted upside-down pan, just like the original.  If I hadn't gotten ahold of that secret, I'd be baking all night and we'd be having cake for another half a year.  The towers are flat bottomed and pointy ice cream cones.  The princesses are Polly Pockets run through the dishwasher, the railings are yogurt covered pretzels, and the rest is a marshmallow fondant covered cake. 

I love my yearly, or biannual, cake making experiences.  And my husband had the good sense to NOT say that I just copied it  from the internet, like he did with my Care Bear cake.  If there is a button on the web that I could just print a cake from, that would be an IPO I'd get behind!  The smile on my daughter's face makes the work worth it.  Happy Mother's Day to the Moms and all they do! 

Friday, May 11, 2012

More Fuzzy Math - School Report Cards, High-Stakes Testing

In trying to determine the formula that determines which schools are selected for closing in New York City, I came across this article.  Would it surprise anyone that the algorithm is unclear, arbitrary and based on minute differences that are greatly exaggerated in the process (like the unbelieveably stupid teacher data reports, that I highlighted in a separate post.  I remember when the school report cards first came out and I looked to see the grades, and some really awful schools received "A"'s.  And then there's my local school, which, although not perfect, is certainly better than a lot of the "A" schools, routinely received "B"'s.  These grades were supposed to help parents more easily determine a "good" school from a "bad" school, but my judgements were not borne out from these grades; there were a lot of "A" schools that I wouldn't dream of having my child attend.

If you don't get this picture, either
you're not a test question developer, or
I need what ever you're smoking
Since becoming a teacher, I have said that I wanted to be a textbook editor.  It doesn't seem like they do much, based on the errors that I have seen.  Silly things most people wouldn't care about like putting square units on an volume problem, that, when teaching children math, does strike one as important.  In any case, it now seems like there are new "easy street" jobs out there, including statisticians at the Department of Education, and, everyone's favorite new field, standardized test question writer.  Is this a new business model, having your customers "pay" for your research and development (field test questions)?  Could drug manufacturers then "field test" medications by mixing in new pills in with the correct prescriptions?  Could car companies now sell you unproven, not very well thought through, new cars, so they could see which ones "drove well"?  I'm certain there are people sitting in a board room this very moment trying to determine a way to do just this.

"It looks like the vendor has worked out an amazing testing scheme — producing items along the way, paid for by one or another state, owned by Pearson, and then re-sold and re-sold to other states for developmental purposes or operational use."
 My goodness, there is a whole new job market opening up here.  What am I doing still teaching?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

This One Time, in Poughkeepsie, I Had Stroke

It occurred to me that one of purported topics of this blog is the stroke I suffered over three years ago.  I have not posted anything about my stroke, and I think that says a lot about how I'm dealing with it.  In other words, I sort of pretend that nothing is different, when in reality, everything is different.

It was a nice trip.

Although, it might have been...
a bit too much lifting...

Saturday, Feb. 21, 2009 at Bear Mountain
 So, let me finally recount in written form the first days of my stroke.  Three years ago, my family went on a mini-vacation to Poughkeepsie.  We swam in the hotel pool, hiked around Locust Grove, and had a dinner at the Culinary Institute of America, which was on my list of things to do before I die.  I had borrowed a friend's "baby backpack", and my daughter was carried primarily by me (except for the emergency descent from the mountaintop, but that's a story for another day).  I did feel some discomfort, but nothing out of the ordinary for someone carrying a 20 pound blob.  The last day of the trip, a Saturday, we visited Bear Mountain, and although we didn't hike, we wanted to see the small zoo and the merry-go-round, and the distances between them are long for emergent walkers like my 20-month old child, so I carried her on my shoulders for convenience's sake.

As soon as we got home, I remember sitting at the kitchen table when a headache came on all of a sudden, like the proverbial switch.  I had asked my husband for an aspirin, but he told me I was probably dehydrated.  That night, the headache hadn't subsided and I woke up and begged him for an aspirin, which did nothing.  The next morning, I remember my daughter wanting to do something with me that required jumping and the headache was so extreme that I couldn't.  And then, it happened. 

I was making dinner and all of a sudden I felt the urge to sit down.  The last thing I said was "whoa", and I sat in a chair.  My husband became immediately alarmed and was squatting next to me, trying to get me to say if I was okay, and I remember thinking that it was funny that I couldn't answer him.  I could see that he was very, very concerned, but it didn't register any reciprocal feeling in me at all.  I kept tipping off the chair, so he set me on the floor, and made many phone calls which I could hear and understand what he was saying, but, again, it ellicited no emotion from me.  When the paramedics came to the door, my little girl stood over me calling "Mommy, Mommy", and I thought that a mother would try to respond to her and comfort her, because she was obviously upset, but I remained blissfully unaffected.  My father-in-law entered the kitchen, and even though I knew he was there, I didn't bother to greet him.  I remember feeling strange when the paramedics had to take me down the three flights of stairs with great difficulty and thinking it was a huge production, but again, oh well.  Nothing bothered me.

I remember everything, but I reacted to nothing.  I liken it to death, or at least Hollywood movie death, where you can see what is happening, but you are strangely removed.  Only, in the movies, the dead people are still feeling emotions, where all I felt was peace.  And then, as soon as it had started, it was over.  The doctors had given me a tPA, and I was back among the living.  When I was told what had happened, I was bemused.  I really never understood what a stroke was or how it was experienced.  And because I was completely restored to my old self, I thought it was a bizarre and, in its own way, enjoyable experience.

I didn't understand why I couldn't leave the hospital since I was obviously completely cured.  I did not fall asleep that night until after 5 am; I was too scared.  I was alone and I didn't understand what had happened to me or why.  The next day, Monday, the doctors had still not gotten around to trying to determine any sort of cause for the stroke, and I was becoming impatient, because I wanted to go home to see my little girl.  While my husband was there, I felt nauseous, threw up, and it happened again.  I remember seeing the doctors outside the glass wall of my hospital room, and my husband, in his royal blue jacket, appearing and disappearing.  I remember the long ambulance drive and I somehow knew where we were going.  I knew we were on the Triborough Bridge, stuck in rush-hour traffic.  And my husband's look of fear and panic registered, since it was obviously caused by me, but I was no longer afraid.  I was unaffected by the traffic, the siren, the long, long wait for medical treatment, and the stress that plagued my husband.  When we finally made our destination, I was put into an MRI machine, still in my peaceful state. 

Feb. 28, 2009, I finally got to see my daughter after
six days in the hospital.  This picture still brings tears
to my eyes.
 This second time, there was no "coming to" moment.  I was in a haze for I don't know how long, and the only clear memory I have is the very strong neck and skull pain that I forced me to somehow ask the nurses for more medicine.  Perhaps the nurses just sensed that I would need more and asked me yes/no questions.  I remember the nurses coming in to "bathe" me, and inserting catheters for me to relieve myself, although I only sensed these activities.  The first time that I remember interacting was when a team of doctors would come in, it seemed like 5 times a day, and ask me the same questions over and over again.  "Who are you?  Where are you?  Who is the president?"  Barack Obama had just been inaugurated one month before, but luckily, I recalled this because Laura pronounced his name "Baba Babama".  That is not something that one forgets easily.  I remember many doctors coming in to insert a needle into my arm, and none of them being able to do it correctly.  I have no idea how many days this daze lasted. 
This picture shows how I felt that day that I was reunited
with her.

This second stroke was not like the first.  I was no longer my old self.  I could no longer do the things I'd once done.  I would say that the stroke cut my life into two pieces: there would be no mid-life crisis for me.  I went from young and healthy, to old and incapacitated overnight.  I couldn't recall words easily, I couldn't feed myself with my right hand, couldn't walk, couldn't write, couldn't type.  I wasn't even the same person I was before, since the brain was altered.  I would constantly ask my husband for reassurances that I hadn't changed, which he would never answer directly.  Thank God, I have recovered almost all my physical functions very quickly.  It was a long journey back from the second stroke, and three years later, I'm still not in the place where I started from.

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