Archive for the ‘education’ Category

Not Quite Up To Third Grade Competence

Saturday, June 26th, 2021

I can’t speak to now, but when I was in school and for the 39 years I taught young children, problem solving in math was introduced in third grade.  Like most other school-related learning situations, some kids loved “story problems.”  Some did not.  (I notice that they are calling them “word” problems today. Why?  More grown-up sounding?  Definitely not as intriguing.  But I digress…)

As we got to the chapters on story problems each year, more than one teacher said, “You’ll use these skills for the rest of your life.  After all, that’s what life is — a series of problem-solving events.”  I’m sure I said something similar to my third graders and now, the older I get, the more I agree with that sentiment.

In recent years, however, I’ve had far more opportunities to observe chickens than kids.  And, I have to say, almost all of our girls are good problem solvers. In fact, according to Chicken Industry.com:  Chickens are complex, inquisitive animals who form social bonds, understand their place in the “pecking order,” and have advanced problem-solving skills.

The article goes on to say: Decades of research have transformed the meaning of “bird brain,” revealing chickens’ “finely honed sensory capacities, their ability to think, draw inferences, apply logic and plan ahead,” according to Christine Nicol, professor of animal welfare at Bristol University.  And scientists have learned that, like some other animals including pigs, chickens are smarter than four-year-old children when it comes to skills involving math, self control, and logic. These birds can reason through deduction, a skill picked up by human children around the age of seven.

At birth, chicks already have a basic understanding of numbers and can differentiate between different quantities. Five-day-old chicks have even demonstrated a knack for arithmetic in tracking sets of objects of different quantities hidden behind screens. These birds perform similarly to primates in terms of memory, recalling the path of a hidden ball for more than two minutes.

The article goes on to say that chickens form deep bonds and can remember the faces of more than 100 other birds!  Among our very tiny flock — just three old biddies right now — there is no question about their recognizing one another, of course!  We are also well aware of some of their “24 different vocalizations” and of their understanding and acceptance of their roles in the pecking order.

However,  of all the chicken information cited, I was most interested that chickens are capable of deceit – for example, when males falsely announce the arrival of food to grab the attention of females and keep other males away. Females can quickly pick up on this deception, however, and ignore males who don’t tell the truth.    

I almost think that the same is true (only, perhaps in different circumstances) of third grade girls and boys and their various interactions.  Not that it’s only males who may not be telling the truth.  But I do think that little girls pick up the nuances more quickly than do the boys…  Or perhaps I’m confusing those third graders with the girls in the coop.

 

I never did like Home Ec…

Thursday, April 29th, 2021

Florence Sewing Machine – Patented 1850

Back in the 1950s,  Home Economics was still part of the required curriculum for eighth grade girls and Shop was the equivalent requirement for boys.  For some reason, the year I had “Home Ec,” as we called it, the cooking component wasn’t taught — just sewing.  I think that was fine by me.  I wasn’t really interested in any of the “domestic sciences.”  (I understand the term is now “Family & Consumer Sciences” in most school districts where home ec is still taught — usually only as a high school elective, now.)

I have to reluctantly admit that the skills I learned at age twelve stood me in good stead — especially during college and my early married years.  Money was scarce and if I wanted a new skirt or dress, I could usually justify spending a bit for fabric and thread.  My Aunt Mona gave me her portable Singer sewing machine which I still have, though I use it infrequently these days. We also have, upstairs, a very old treadle sewing machine — a Florence patented in 1850.

Judging by the letters she wrote to Medora in the early 1900s talking about borrowing Tina Wachsmuth’s machine, I don’t think that the Florence machine belonged to my grandmother.  Perhaps it was my great-grandmother Julia’s and came into this house later on.  Or maybe it wasn’t working properly.  I’ve never had the gumption to try it.

An Antique Sampler

But I do have a drawer of “sewing stuff” at the bottom of the wardrobe closet in my bedroom — boxes of buttons, papers of pins and needles, odd bits of rick-rack and a tape measure or two.  There are remnants from various sewing projects, a collection of old patterns and even a darning egg I think.  (I don’t think I’ve darned a sock since 1960!) I get into that drawer less and less frequently nowadays.  But every time I do, I remember that eighth grade sewing class and the patient advice of the teacher.  What was her name?  Mrs. Curry?

One of my cousins has a sampler so carefully stitched by one of our great-great-greats  (Mary Ann McKee ?) in the 1800s. These samplers were stitched more to demonstrate knowledge than to preserve skill. The stitching of samplers was believed to be a sign of virtue, achievement and industry, and girls were taught the art from a young age.  That style of needlework reached its height of popularity between the 1830s and 1870s.   I wonder if home-sewn clothing will ever completely disappear and if examples will be found framed on the walls of the seamstress’s descendants.  Or, perhaps, in museums.

 

 

 

You can’t tell a book by its… title.

Monday, January 18th, 2021

“Two Loaves” starring Shirley MacLaine was based on this book.

Spinster.  Now, there’s a word you don’t hear much anymore.  In fact, it’s a term that’s been out of fashion for my entire lifetime.  Even so, it’s the title of a book I first read in 1960 — just a year after it was published by Simon and Schuster.  It was recommended reading for one of the post-baccalaureate education classes I took in order to get my teaching credential.  It seemed, at the time, to be the most incongruous suggestion I’d ever heard from a college professor.

That’s what I thought then and what I continue to think, even now.  It’s the story (fictional) of a teacher among the Maori of New Zealand.  It’s long out of print — Timberland Library got it for me through inter-library loan from Western Oregon University in Oregon.  My memory of the book is about how, some days, the spinster fortified herself for school with a half a tumbler of brandy.

And I’ve remembered how she captured the hub-bub and enthusiasm of the infant room where she was the only teacher of 70 four-and five-year-olds.  And, for all these years, I’ve remembered her firm belief that children come to school chock-a-block full of experiences and wonder and joy and anger.  We have only to help them unlock it all and put it into context — that’s the sum total of our job as teachers;  The rest will come.

Sylvia Ashton-Warner, 1908-1984

Well, that’s what I remember of the book.  That, plus it’s one of the most important books about teaching I’ve ever run across.  At first, I wondered why it was so strongly recommended to us fledglings… I was probably stuck on the brandy and a bit horrified by it.  Now as I re-read Spinster, I realize that it was Ms. Ashton-Warner who turned my interest toward our youngest learners and that her unconventional thoughts and methods were the underpinnings of my teaching for all those years — though not the brandy part, I hasten to add.

Seen through the broader context of today’s racism and divisiveness, it resonates even more deeply today.   It’s a must read, especially for  teachers — past, present, future.  I urge my readers to track it down and be prepared to see the world differently while you’re reading it — and maybe for the rest of your life.  Don’t confuse it with her second book, Teacher, which is also good.  But not as.

Are the girls learning yet another language?

Thursday, November 19th, 2020

Lake Little, 11-19-20

Now that the tide has decided to stay within its normal boundaries and not wander around while high, Lake Little has also resumed it’s usual winter size.  Granted, it fluctuates with the amount of rain we must all endure, but it seems to call out to the waterfowl, “Come on in!  It’s a good day for ducks.”  And come they do.

I wish my duck I.D.-ing skills were better.  All I can say about who is visiting right now is that there seem to be quite a variety and they are LOUD!  Loud and busy.  I imagine they are talking to one another, mostly, but I’ve noticed these last few mornings that our chickens seem to be trying to get into the conversation.

Lake Little 11-17-20

Truly!  Amidst their usual clucking and squawking, I’m hearing  the chickens chatter with sounds suspiciously like quacking.  Plus they seem to wait for responses from the gaggle on the lake.  I’m thinking that now that they’ve mastered a little human speak (they have been quite receptive to my constant demands for “Egg! Egg!”) they are branching out.

I should point out that the above reference should read “raft on the lake” rather than “gaggle on the lake.”  Geese gather in gaggles and I have not yet seen any geese on Lake Little this year.  Ducks gather in rafts, apparently, but when talking about how noisy they are, “gaggle” seems louder than “raft.”  Maybe I should just referto them as a “gabble  on  the lake”…

Little Red Hen Listening to the Ducks

But I digress.  I just wanted to let everyone know that the girls in the coop seem to be in favor of virtual learning.  At least, I’ve never seen them actually approach the pond for up close instruction in duck dialects.  Nevertheless, I think they are getting the hang of it.  You never can tell with chickens…

“It’s required.” Except when it’s not?

Friday, May 1st, 2020

I was five years old when the United States entered World War Two.  I spent my early school years collecting tin foil, buying savings bonds, standing in lines with my mom with our ration books.  I remember us all being full of patriotic fervor and singing songs like “The White Cliffs of Dover”  and “Over There.”  It was our government right or wrong, no question.

By 1970, I was married, had a teenaged son, and had been teaching for a decade.  We watched the news and “special coverage” programs on television and felt “up close and personal” with regard to the war in Vietnam.  We participated in the Peace Marches in San Francisco and sang “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” and “If I had a Hammer.”  We wore peace buttons, urged “Save the Whales” and “Make Love Not War.”  We questioned everything, especially the government.

So here we are in 2020.  In the midst of this unprecedented pandemic, we look for leadership and wisdom.  Directions from the government are conflicted; from the scientists and health officials, more cautious and, seemingly, more sensible.  If we have to trust one or the other, I’m putting my faith in the science and health departments.

But then last week, the government and the health officials met, face to mask you might say.  Our second-in-command (government-wise) refused to wear a mask when he visited one of our nation’s most esteemed medical facilities.  Of course there is a huge flap.  After all, the Mayo Clinic REQUIRES that no one enter without a mask.  So, why, one might ask, was Mr. Pence allowed inside?  Does “require” have a new meaning now (health-wise)?  Or are our health officials not to be trusted either?  It is disconcerting to say the least.

Stimulus money for dictionaries all around, I say.  REQUIRED READING. Paid tutors to be provided as needed.

First Picnic of the Season!

Friday, March 20th, 2020

Basking Nyel

I guess summer is usually considered the “Picnic Season,”  not spring.  But what the heck?  The sun was out, the sky was blue, the wind wafted (never mind the chill), and we had plenty of turkey for sandwiches.  So, while Nyel got the picnic lunch together, I hauled a card table and chair (one chair; Nyel’s comes with him) out to our South Garden.

Bundled Sydney

It was lovely!  Nyel closed his eyes, leaned back and basked.  I, the perennially cold one, was bundled up to the eyeballs.  Both of us were content.  And the food was delish — celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, dill pickles, and thick turkey sandwiches.   A few chips would have made it better but… oh well!  There was even a chocolate cupcake to split for dessert!

The only folks who dropped by were the chickens and, even though we had some treats for them, they kept a wary distance.  (I wondered what they’d heard…)  Snowhite headed for our sunny wooden porch where she fluffed herself all up, spread her wings, and lay down to do her own basking.  Slutvana poked and pecked under the rhododendrons.  Little Red Hen ran off to the coop to lay an egg.

Basking Snowhite

It was absolutely splendid.  Not a car on the street; not a soul to be seen.  Good!  I hope everyone was sheltering in a place as delightful as ours!

I can put it down but… do I really want to?

Tuesday, February 4th, 2020

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek was recommended to me by several people after I expressed delight with Where the Crawdads Sing.  I wonder why.  What did they see in this book that reminded them of the other one?  And why don’t I see it?

It’s not that I dislike the book.  Quite the contrary.  But I don’t see much similarity between it and Where the Crawdads Sing.  I am finding Book Woman scary and depressing on just about every level.  But super informative.  And not that I don’t love the concept of women on horseback delivering books to those who would otherwise have no opportunities to read or to learn or to expand their horizons.

But this book covers so much more — extreme poverty, terrifying prejudice, and ignorance of unimaginable proportions.  It’s a horrifying story made more so by it’s proximity to truth.  Mind you, I’ve not finished the book yet, and I may find that it redeems itself, but so far…

And yet… I cannot return it to the library unfinished.  It seems that with each turn of the page there is a new reveal. Like this:

Nester Rylie’s been reading it, and she told me in passing last year, she ain’t rubbed groundhog brains on her babies’ sore teeth or needed to use the hen innards on the gums of her teething ones since.  An after she’d read about a good paste recipe that cured thrush, Nester said, none of her nine young’uns ain’t ever had to drink water from a stranger’s shoe again to get the healing.

More than anything, I wonder what my friends saw in the one book that reminded them of the other.  And I wondered what I am missing.  Come to think of it, though, that’s the best part about expanding our horizons — no two of us end up in exactly the same place,

I’m not sure I’m recommending this book.  But maybe…

Chicken Scratch and Loners In The Coop

Monday, February 3rd, 2020

Sociogram

I love sociograms.  When I was teaching, I found them a wonderful tool for learning how kids were (or were not) relating to one another.  Sometimes, those interactions were obvious but, once in a while, it helped to have a bit more insight.

They worked this way:  Each child and I would have “a secret.”  I’d pass out small pieces of paper — one per student.  Each would write his/her name on one side in red crayon, turn it over and write the name of who they would most like to sit by in green crayon.  Sometimes, if I needed more information, I’d ask them to also write, perhaps in a third color, the name of the person they’d least like to sit next to.  And, “Sh!  Don’t tell!”

2nd Grade, Southgate School, Hayward, CA – 1962

Then I’d take all those papers home and draw a sociogram — each child’s name in a circle with a green arrow pointing to their first choice (and, perhaps, a different colored arrow to their “least” choice.  Instantly, I had a picture of who was most “popular” and who was least liked,  of how much interaction there was between girls and boys, and of who the loners were (if any).  I could act on that information (or not) as I planned group work and team activities — hopefully helping kids expand their social horizons along the way.

I’ve been thinking about those sociograms as I observe our chickens.  All three Rhode Island Reds — the rooster and the two hens — usually hang out together, even though one of the hens is oldest by two years.  The Russian Orloff (Slutvana) sometimes stays near the Reds, especially when it’s snack time.  But she stays on the periphery.

The Loner

Snowhite, the little white hen, seems to be a true loner.  When I take treats out in the morning, she is the last to join in the grazing and usually snatches a large morsel and runs into the cypress “grove” (can one huge tree be a grove?) with it.  She eats quickly and repeats the process — never getting her share, but obviously preferring fewer treats to associating with the others.

I wish I knew how each of those chickens felt about the others.  Is Snowhite’s behavior one-sided or have the others made her life miserable so she’s avoiding them as much as possible?  Who would she really like to sit next to?  Who would secretly like to sit next to her?

The Three Reds

Last night when I went to say “good night,”  the three Reds were on the roost on one side of the coop. On the opposite wall, the Russian and the White hen were settled into the north and south nest boxes with an empty nest box in between.  The Reds were totally isolated from the others and, though they could see those on the opposite side of the coop, there was no chance of interaction.

Would that I could pass out paper and do a sociogram!  If only I could read chicken scratch, it might just be helpful.

Raise your hand if you remember!

Monday, January 27th, 2020

Learning About The Olden Days

“Do you miss teaching?” my friend, Miki, asked me.  “No!  Not a bit!” was my instant retort.  Since this is the first year of her retirement as opposed to my twentieth, I thought that maybe the question was more a reflection of her own feelings than an interest in mine.  But, as I thought about it, I back-pedaled a bit.

“Actually I don’t miss the job,” I said.  “But I truly miss the kids — the first, second, and third graders.  I miss the incredibly cogent things they say.  I miss their unfiltered look at the world.  I miss their artwork and their wonderful journal entries.  And I miss reading aloud to them and explaining ‘hard stuff’ and seeing those aha moments when it would all become clear.”

All Aboard in Kelso!

Miki nodded and murmured in agreement.  “Yes!  It’s the kids and the real teaching I miss,” she said.  “Not all the proscribed, lock-step, formulaic stuff that we had to test them on again and again ad nauseam.”

I don’t know if I said, “Yes, the things the textbook companies say are important and the testing companies are making millions from.  Corporate America has been in the classroom for a very long time.”  But even if I didn’t say it this time, Miki and I have had this discussion before.  And will probably have it again.

Easel Painting

Sometimes I think that public school teaching and our political system ran amok at about the same time.  I think both were better in the 1960s when I was yet a new teacher and a young voter.   I am thankful for those years — the years we could teach kids what they wanted and needed to learn (not teach them to simply pass tests) and we still felt that we could make a difference in the voting booth!

Raise your hand if you remember…

 

There’s Still Space Available at OSA!

Saturday, July 20th, 2019

Sydney c. 1944

When I was a kid in Oysterville seven or eight decades ago, summers were all about freedom and being outside and playing and exploring.  My memories are filled with picking blackberries in the meadow,  of finding the baby crabs that lived under the ballast rocks at the bay, of talking with Jimmy Anderson when he walked into town for his “fresh” can of milk each day.  The days were long, though the summers, too short.

Too, for part of each summer I attended Camp Willapa which was run by family friend Dorothy Elliott.  Although there were “rules” and “schedules” it’s the fabulous adventures I remember — the three-or-four-day canoe trips over to Long Island or up the Naselle.  Or camping at Beard’s Hollow or fishing off the end of the old wooden Nahcotta Dock.  There were animals to care for — bunnies and ducks and horses and goats — and new kids to meet who would become life-long friends.

The Oysterville School – Home of Oysterville Science Academy

I thought about all that when I received a note yesterday from a former Oysterville Science Academy student.  This is what it said:  OSA was one of my favorite camps! I loved participating in this weeklong camp for many reasons. One of them was meeting so many interesting people! We got to meet a blind wood worker, and many other awesome crafts people and scientists! Another great thing that happened was being able to go outside as much as we did! We got to go on little field trips, play in a tree fort, run around, and hang! We had great fun with an abacus and geography stars! My aunt got to talk to us about her Mars mission, which was really special. OSA was a great experience and I think others will enjoy it as much as me and my friends did!

This will be the fifth year of the three-week-long Oysterville Science Academy.  Each year I have taken great pleasure in seeing and hearing children’s voices over in the school yard.  (The Oysterville School has been closed for lack of students since 1957!!)  I have marveled at descriptions of their “process-driven” curriculum — presenting the building blocks of science (observation, classification,inference, measurement, etc.) while meeting experts and investigation the world (Oysterville!) around them.

OSA Students in Lab Coats, 2016

But I never quite equated it with summer camp.  And, yet… how did I miss that!  I am told there are still spaces available for this year’s Academy which will be held August 12 – August 20.   Incoming or outgoing fourth graders are the target participants.  If you know of a likely candidate — a neighbor, a friend’s child or grandchild — please spread the word.  It’s free!  It’s fun!  And it’s state-of-the-art science in an old-fashioned, historic setting.  Would that I were nine again!

For further information, contact Diane Buttrell at edianebuttrell@gmail.com or 360-214-1267.  Hurry!  Time flies in summer!