Posts filed under ‘Random topics’

So I guess this means the cold war is over?

One thing I love about the Chicago schools is the great old buildings.  Many of the north side schools were built around the turn of the century and have so much more character than the modern schools that are all over the suburbs.  My son’s school has great woodwork, big windows, and lots of character.

At the begining of the school year I noticed this sign still up from what I assume was the 50’s? (I lack brain space for history so feel free to correct me.)  I imagine that kids back then would do drills where they ran to the (supposedly) bomb-resistant parts of the school.  Not sure where they crammed all those kids, but the current bomb shelter at our school also doubles as the teachers’ lounge.

I loved that quirky little sign.  And now it’s gone.  Darn, I should have tried to nab it for my basement.


March 14, 2009 at 11:17 am Leave a comment

Gender Differences in Learning and Play

I went to an interesting talk at my son’s school last night about differences in boys and girls in learning and play.  The speakers were 2 academic PhD types who have read every book on the topic and also have a private practice in counseling little kids.

They began the session with a great story, excerpted I think from Raising Cain (one of the definitive books about how the education system is squelching boys’ natural exuberance and society kills their emotional side.)   It was about a group of elementary school kids who were divided by gender for a woodworking activity and each side had to work together and decide whether they would build a bridge or a catapult.   Girls typically chose bridge and boys always chose catapult.   Then the girls got together in an organized fashion planning their bridge, discussing ideas, etc. (much like a business meeting I gather.)  The boys, on the other hand, each went off on their own, slapping together ramshackle catapults with little planning or discussion, trying to out-catapult each other.  They were more energetic and crazy and got madder and more frustrated, but soon the best catapults rose out of the rubble, then the boys would come together more, fine tune, share ideas, and ultimately a very fine catapult was build using the best ideas from the group.

But you can see where a teacher or parent would probably be telling the boys to work more like the girls and to pipe down, not goof around, etc.  Yet the speakers pointed out that the boys took more risks and may have ended up with a better catapult than if they’d sat there and “ideated” for a while.  So in the end, each side can learn from each other about ways to work as a team.  She didn’t mention it, but I bet the boys tried to use the catapult to smash the girls’ bridge.

Some other points that they made that are good for parents to know included:

Just because your son plays with fake guns or is enamored of voilence doesn’t mean he will grow up to be a gang member, NRA member, prison guard, criminal, etc.  He could just as easily be something peaceful (and make his mother proud.) As long as you keep reinforcing positive messages.

Just because your daughter is obessessed with princesses doesn’t mean she’ll grow up to be shallow fashion-loving bimbo.   As long as you keep reinforcing positive messages.

Just because your teenage son acts homophobic doesn’t mean he will be so as an adult.  As long as you keep reinforcing positive messages.

Young girls today are much more progressive in their thinking – they believe the world is their oyster, they can do anything, etc.  But they will still likely revert to the typical old pre-teen/teen girl way of thinking that will make you want to cringe (caring about what the bitchy girls at school think, treating other meanly, seeking approval from the opposite sex, etc.)  But they will emerge OK if you keep reinforcing positive messages.

Boys and men have a harder time multitasking than girls/women do.  So when you are reinforcing your positive messages to boys, don’t do it while they are deeply involved in another task.

Reading disabilities in 1st an 2nd grade are no predictor of future academic success IF they are dealt with.  Most can be corrected.  BUT, if a child continues to 3rd grade and on and these reading problems haven’t been dealt with they will likely be behind for the rest of school.

The recommended a book called Boys & Girls by Vivan Gussin Paley, a teacher who explored the differences in play and words of her Kindergarten class one year.

When I read Raising Cain last year, I did get a big apprehensive about putting a boy into CPS where there are big classes that are harder to control and plenty of teacher who use the traditional techniques to keep the kids in line.  So, plenty of opportunity for a rambunctious boy to be told he’s naughty.  I have to see how this pans out.  My son’s latent naughty side is now emerging so I may find out first hand how it is dealt with.

This morning I was relaying the story about the catapult experiment to my son.  Of course he was interested in building the catapult and his main comment on the whole things was “But how BIG was the catapult?!”  I guess I should have asked.  Gender difference.

January 29, 2009 at 2:45 pm Leave a comment

CPS Worries – Classroom Management

I imagine there will be more of these down the road, and maybe this first one is just a school thing and not specific to CPS, but here goes:

One thing that makes me crazy about the big classes is the time spent on classroom management.   My son’s Kindergarten teacher is amazing – possibly one of the best he’ll have in CPS over the years.   She knows all kinds of tricks to help prevent the kids from getting out of control and when a child has a particular problem she seems to work with the parents to set up a system that works for the child and that the parents are on board with.  I’ve marveled repeatedly at how well-behaved the class is.   But now that a few months have passed and the kids are buddying up, the talking and goofing off factor is growing.  For the first time I was in the classroom in the mid-afternoon and the noise factor was crazy.  The kids spend a good part of classroom time in centers where they sit at a table of 5-6 kids to work on a learning project.  Which is how parents want it these days since the traditional all-kids-at-desks-facing-front classroom is totally frowned upon.  The problem is, this system really relies on the kids teaching themselves or each other the materials.   My son DOES seem to be learning a ton at school so it appears to be working, but man, it is SO hard to believe that in that loud, crazy, boisterous room they are learning math.  The teacher works with one center at a time, yet has to keep her ears open for the tables that have veered off course (namely one child hogging all the dominoes and another one freaking out about it – typical 5yo behavior.)

A couple months ago I happened to be in the computer lab filing stuff while a kindergarten class was learning some basics on computer usage.  The teacher was infinitely patient, but his talk was something like this “OK, let’s find the letter P.  Who can find the P?  OK, I need everyone to sit still and not talk.  This side of the room is doing a very good job.  If you get this finished you can have computer free time at the end.  Did everyone find P?  OK, someone over there may not get free time. Find the P.  Quiet everyone.  I need everyone to look at the keyboard and find the P.    OK, now lets look for the B.  But we need to ALL be quiet.  And find the B.”    This went on for a good 20 minutes and it took all the composure I had not to just blurt out “It’s!  Just type it in!”  Or just walk around and show each kid individually which would have taken half the time.  Honestly, it was torture to listen to.  I have to keep reminding myself that part of being at school is learning how to act in a classroom setting and that keeping Kindergarten kids in line is like herding wild kangaroos.  Or curious monkeys.   Or bored cats.  It just is bothersome when you think about how little times is probably spent each day on actual learning.

Today my son reported that “we didn’t do anything in art class except learn how to behave and what the rules are.”  Damn, they only get art once a week.  They have to spend the whole class session one week learning rules?!  Its just seems like its sucking the joy out of school.

I sense that these are good teachers and I have to assume that a class of 27 kids needs a lot of “molding” so they don’t stage a rebellion, but these are the times I can’t help but be wistful for the smaller classes of a private school where I imagine that controlling the masses isn’t as big a part of the day.

January 28, 2009 at 1:30 am 5 comments

Consent Decree Hearing – What Next?

The consent decree hearing took place last week, where parents were able to voice their opinions on whether CPS should continue to require magnet/gifted schools to keep a ratio of 15-35% white kids.  According to a Tribune article CPS district officials say they have met the goals of the 1980 consent decree that ordered them to set up magnet schools as a way to get children from diverse neighborhoods into integrated schools.

I personally have no way of knowing whether this is true or not.  Yes, the magnet schools seem to be very nicely integrated.  No, my son’s gifted class is not integrated at all (although I believe CPS tried, it was hard to find minority students who wanted to start in a new program on the north side.)  What I don’t know is whether parents of minority kids who are in neighborhoods with the worst CPS schools really feel like they have a decent shot at getting their kid into a Magnet school. 

The Sun Times article reported the following: Wanda Hopkins of Parents United for Responsible Education said she got one child into a magnet school, Andrew Jackson Language Academy, by complaining to CPS about a long list of rejections. 

Wow – CPS responds to complaining?  Who knew?  Wanda is from the group PURE that I’ve raved about – a “power to the people” organization that fights for fairness in CPS and helps teach LSCs to demand reform where it’s needed.

At the hearing, kids and parents expressed the need for continued integration among other things (books, better teachers, etc.)

Interestingly, one article reports that “the district” will ask the judge to let CPS switch to an income-based quota system that will make sure a certain % of lower-income kids get into the magnet program.   This seems like a smart way to do it, given that school performance is typically tied to socio-economic background.  I mean if Obama’s kids had gotten into a magnet school based on race, it wouldn’t really be giving them any race-based edge, now would it? (Oh wait, they went to private school of course.)  But man, what a can of worms if CPS has to be checking everyone’s income for enrollment.  Or will they use the honor system like they do now for minority status?  Interesting times ahead….

So for now, I guess the testimony continues, then a judge will decide whether the the integration efforts will continue in the Magnet schools.  It just seems weird that it is all up to one judge to decide.  I hope this dude knows what he’s doing.,CST-NWS-deseg23.article,0,1895023.story


January 25, 2009 at 2:45 pm 2 comments

The Facts of Life

OK, not school related, but the conversation did take place on the way to school last week after discussing how my son is a combination of mine and his Dad’s DNA:

Kid: But if I came out of YOU, then how do I have Dad’s DNA too?

Mom: Well, you’re a combination!

Kid: But how did the DNA get together?

Mom: Uh, heh heh, it’s kind of hard to explain, ha ha.  I’ll tell you later, OK?  Heh heh. (Nervous giggles starting.)

Kid:  Pleaaaaase.  Just tell me.

Mom:  Well, heh heh, mumble mumble *woman* mumble *man* mumble *in love* mumble *kissing* mumble mumble *showing love for each other* mumble *liquid passes* (ack, that was a terrible descriptor) mumble *contains seeds* mumble mumble *seed and egg combine and grows into a baby.*  Whew.  I know that sounds a little weird, doesn’t it.  You’ll understand it better when you’re older.

Kid:  Should we try it at home?

Mom:  Huhhhhh?  Uh.  What?

Kid: Combining a real egg and a seed.  You know, like a hard-boiled egg and some plant seeds.  And growing a baby!

Mom: (Snort) Well, it doesn’t really work with a real egg and seed.  And besides, I don’t really want another baby (because I’d have to go through this whole conversation again in 5 years.)

September 9, 2008 at 12:58 pm 3 comments

Black Market Box Tops

One of the strangest things I’ve run across in my school involvement is related to the Box Tops for Education program.  I run the program with minimal effort at our Neighborhood School.  There is a whole web site devoted to this program where coordinators can share their ideas to increase participation.  Some schools go hogwild, offering contests and prizes for the class or kid who bring in the most box tops.

I haven’t made this level of effort, although I did spring some cash to buy a giant collection box for the school office and some Box Top brand Ziploc bags for the kids to collect in.  There are many lower-income families at the school who probably are not buying many name brand items and I don’t want to make any kid feel like they can’t have a fair shot at a contest.  Actually, even I am buying fewer name brands these days now that I think about it.

I recently found out that people across the country are SELLING box tops that they save on ebay!  They collect them and cut them neatly and sell for their face value or HIGHER!  (That is 10 cents each.)  OK, I guess I can see why people would sell them to get money, despite it being verboten by the Box Tops company.  But why on earth would people BUY them?!?

According to the Box Tops message boards, people go on ebay to buy gobs of them to submit for these school contests so their kid can win the prize.  Or so their kid isn’t the only loser in the class not submitting Box Tops.  This is just too weird to comprehend.  I don’t know whether I think its worse that the school puts enough pressure on parents to buy contraband Box Tops or that parents want to get an easy win for their kids.

Clearly I will never make it into the Box Top Coordinators hall of fame.

June 13, 2008 at 5:35 pm 2 comments

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