Monday, June 27, 2011

Lightweight Summertime Musings

Deer Mom and Dad.... whoops, wrong musing. That was my letter from camp when I was seven years old, in which I described my excitement at catching a "forg" in the pond.

This summer, just a few years after that incident, my summertime musings begin by recalling my final school visit tour of 2010-11, which took place in late May in rural Gallia County, Ohio. It's in southeastern Ohio, near the charming small city of Gallipolis (pronounced nothing like Gallipoli, the peninsula in Turkey, but more like "Galley-Police"). This part of Ohio is in Appalachia, across the river from West Virginia, and just as scenic. Economically similar as well, I believe. I hadn't realized Appalachia extends into Ohio.

Here's a picture taken by my host, Leanna Martin of Addaville Elementary School, who organized my four days in the county schools. Can you tell that I'm demonstrating the principles of proportion? I've got a "tongue" that is half as long as my body, just as the tongues of many chameleon species are half the length of their bodies. (Those are the laggards of the chameleon world. Some species flick out tongues that are three times their body length. Their doctors must regret ever asking them to stick out their tongues for tonsil inspection.)

Anyway, I had a great time with the kids of rural schools in Gallia County. I loved watching them laughing at my math antics and getting all excited about my bags of popcorn that grow in size by powers of ten. Which is pretty much the same reaction I get from kids at suburban schools and urban schools. From white kids, black kids, brown kids. From rich kids, poor kids, in-between kids.

The great thing is that when you give them a chance, kids will be kids in more or less the same way. They find the same things funny, the same things suspenseful and the same things fascinating. There is a variation in taste, of course, but the vast majority will react in more or less the same way to the same stimuli. I'm not sure that's as true with adults. And it's the same with non-fiction books. Kids are curious about their world. They find fascinating facts to be...well, fascinating. Most adults have narrower focus. They're interested in sports...or science...or finance...or politics...or cooking...or children...or home improvements ... I'm not saying they can't have multiple interests but I think kids have a more voracious and undiscriminating palate for the wonders of life. Which sounds delicious to me. Here is a picture of kids in counting to a million by piling up ten imaginary bags of one hundred thousand popcorn kernels. "... seven hundred thousand ... eight hundred thousand ... nine hundred thousand ... ONE MILLION!!!"

OK, here's another summer musing. My deer mom sent me this link:

It takes you to a blog about Egypt with a fascinating math-related post about the origins of the shapes of numbers -- why Arabic numerals (the kind we all use) look the way they do. The answer: you've got to know the angles. The thesis is surprising and delightful. Is it true? I have no idea. I didn't do the research to check it. Hey, it's summertime! (I do have to wonder, though, if the numeral 9 ever really looked like that.)

If you teach K-12, you're probably on vacation now, but that doesn't mean you're necessarily on vacation from discussions about education. Certainly the news media isn't on vacation from discussing (and often distorting) the subject and our politicians aren't on vacation from cutting school budgets and the bloviators aren't on vacation from spreading myths about teachers, students, schools and test scores. So here's a handy "talking-points guide" that you can carry around in your hip pocket if you like. It's part of the semi-weekly "Five Myths" series in the Washington Post that is intended to get you to take a second look at what you think you know. As Will Rogers said, "It isn't what we don't know that gives us trouble. It's what we know that ain't so." So to help in your discussions about education with those who know many things that ain't so, check out "Five Myths About America's Schools." I'll get you started:

Today’s school reform movement conflates the motivations and agendas of politicians seeking reelection, religious figures looking to spread the faith and bureaucrats trying to save a dime. Despite an often earnest desire to help our nation’s children, reformers have spread some fundamental misunderstandings about public education.

You can read all the myths at . I might carry on about my wish that author Paul Farhi had nodded to a sixth myth about school libraries in general and non-fiction literature in particular being disposable "extras" to education rather than one of its lead actors... but I won't.

Happy summer, everyone!

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