Monday, September 17, 2012


Last week I went to my sons' middle school back to school orientation. It is a little like the worst relay you've ever seen. Each teacher gets seven minutes per period, with 3 minutes in between. So you go from one incredibly rushed presentation to the next, until at the end of the night you can't remember anything except the cool fish light in the science teacher's room.

I felt so odd sitting there, remembering my own middle school experience. At first I felt that all the talk about goals for the year and learning strategies and such were so much hooey. They never had that kind of stuff when I was a kid, we just did our work and that's what the teachers focused on. Or maybe not.

I suddenly realized the difference in perspective between a child and a parent regarding school. I know that it is there, but I always figured it was no more than the difference between being the boss and being the employee. The idea that teachers had a higher goal than just getting me to finish any given assignment rarely occurred to me as a child. The notion of the numerous goals teachers have at seemed odd and overblown. Why so much structure and learning goals that have nothing to do with my child's ability to remember the dates to the revolutionary war or how to find x?

Since I have always been prone to daydream in a school setting it was the perfect place to ponder this change in educational styles since my youth. I came to the amazing conclusion that perhaps teacher styles haven't changed that much after all. I never paid attention to the "goals" in any given class. I wanted to pass the test and do the assignments and get as high a grade as possible with as little effort as possible. (The fact that often this grade was an A makes my husband mutter things under his breath.) I was not an ideal candidate for many of the educational theories wandering around campuses at the time.

On Saturday I happened across this episode of This American Life. It talks about the different ways children are adversely affected by poverty and what comes of it, then it explains how the right methods can overcome those bad beginnings and improve all kinds of outcomes for these children. It was the most positive episode of the show I've ever heard.

Combined with my musings about teachers and their goals I have reached an important decision. I don't think I would make a good teacher, at least right now. I had often thought if something happened to my husband I would get my teaching certificate quickly and go right into teaching, no problem. I could start substitute teaching almost immediately. What I didn't understand is the depth of knowledge involved in the art of pedagogy. Anyone who had been in college knows that some people just weren't cut out to teach. Since you aren't required to learn about teaching to be a professor, you get whatever native ability comes with each one.

Pedagogy is an art, but one that can be taught. Like any art some are better than others and some should just give up and find something else to do. Teaching cognitive abilities (facts) is such a small part of what happens in a classroom. Those facts do nothing for a child if they can't sit still, pay attention, complete an assignment, plan ahead. The list of non-factual abilities is endless. Any child who wishes to succeed must also master these. That is what all those weird goals are about. Teaching children how to "do school" in such a way that they then can "do life."

I always pray for my children as they go off to school. Perhaps I should remember their teachers as well, for they have an incredibly difficult and important job ahead of them.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Eruptions That Shook the World

I love science. This is probably not new to any of you who know me. When I was a kid I wanted to be a physicist before I could even pronounce the word. I loved A Wrinkle in Time because I saw how the mom was a scientist and a mom. That was the kind of life I wanted.

In college I tried to be practical and ambitious at the same time. I had a physics/English double major. This went well until I came home from my mission. Two years without math makes it very hard to pick up just when the physics gets really scary. So I gave up the major, contented myself with math & physics minors and moved on. At least I came back still knowing English.

Not only did this decision leave me with lingering regrets over my mathematical ability, it left me with a thirst to understand more about everything. I love science books, especially those written with a bit of humor and lots of information I've never seen.  Many general science books are dumbed down so much it is painful and/or boring to read them. This one was neither.

Judging from the equations and detailed charts, it probably doesn't count as a general science book anyway. It was fascinating. It described why the solid mantle melts to form magma; the different types of magma and why it matters; the method used to estimate the size of eruptions and why volume works best. All things that are glossed over in most easy descriptions of volcanoes.

I couldn't get over the amount of estimation used in this science though. In one place the term "orders of magnitude" was used to describe the uncertainty of the size of an explosion. That is the difference between 10 and 100 and 1000. That by itself wouldn't be so horrible, I've seen that before in emerging sciences. What amazed me was that computer models were being made with that kind of information. The computer models have definite answers, so when you use them it sounds like you really know what will happen in any given event. But when the data going into the making of the model could by off by that amount, your model is less likely to reflect the real world.

So often the author admits to a lack of knowledge. This is a good thing. Though I thought the modelling was weird I love the honesty of a professor who confesses that the models can't figure out why a certain thing happened or that they can't find the volcano that caused certain effects. It shows that science is still progressing and there is still so much to learn. While I was reading the uncertainty annoyed me, in retrospect I love knowing that there is still so much to learn. How exciting it must be to work in a field where every day new information is coming in, new hypothesis being tested. It must almost be as exciting as the field I finally chose for myself: motherhood.

Eruptions That Shook the World. Clive Oppenheimer. Oxford Press. 2012

Friday, September 7, 2012


I haven't done the book review thing in a long time. Partly because I haven't truly blogged in a long time and also because I haven't been reading as much. I'm not sure why my reading has slowed down. Perhaps I've just been busier. I also spread my time around more than I used to.

This causes a vague anxiety that is only made worse by Goodreads' reading challenge.  I enjoy knowing how many books I read in a year. That was one of the original reasons for starting this thing. I might not have accomplished much last year, but I read over 100 books. That has to count for something, right? As long as we are not discussing the quality of said books.

This year I put down 150 books. Then promptly got caught in a re-read of the Wheel of Time books by Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson. And not only re-reading books I already have on my Goodreads list, but reading the blogged re-read on which sucks up lots of time and has lots of good fan-type content, but does not count on Goodreads.

It is like a mental itch that I can't scratch. The low number on the goal bothers me, yet quitting the re-reads would bother me, so I cross-stitch instead. That pretty much sums up how I deal with stressful things. Explains the state of my house too.

But going back to the books. The number of books I read doesn't really matter. But as a reflection of how I see myself it does. Since I have decided this blog can now be much more self-indulgent and me-ish it is a valid topic of concern.

In a very well thought out blog post (unlike this one) Dan Wells posts a formula for figuring out how many books you can expect to read before you die.  For me that works out to be a little over 5000. AAAAAAAAAH! What am I doing wasting my time reading stupid mysteries with recipes in them? Well, the answer to that is I can't read amazing things all the time. My brain gets stoppered up and then I don't enjoy it. That's what happened when I read a thousand page history of Europe. Interesting, but too much by the end.

I will keep going to Goodreads, I even encourage you to go to Goodreads if you haven't already, a little neurosis is good for you. Really. And soon, when I get out of my system, maybe my tally will catch up.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What do you do in the summertime?

I already wrote about how I feel weird with this year's school schedule. All that empty time, just waiting to be filled up. I should have waited a week or so. I now think that having all that time is only fair considering the crazyness that happens once the kids get home.

Most of the time from three on I am pretty busy, with gathering children from different areas. Normally I would let them take the bus home but for various reasons my three older children can't. So I drive them around. Then I come home and make dinner, force and check homework, look over folders and such.

But ever so often I get to have a day like today. When I brought my son home at four he said he wanted to attend an event that started at 5. He didn't realize that it was today. So I drive him there, come home in time to get my husband and two daughters to go to their orientation. Bring them home in time to go back and get my oldest, then take him with me to go have a church interview. Leave the house at 4:30, get home at 9, with many different things accomplished.

The car was making funny noises when I arrived so I don't have to do any of those things tomorrow. I still have to figure out how to get everyone home, but no driving for me tomorrow.

How odd.

Those summer days of going nowhere are looking better and better.