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April 17, 2009

Teach Your Children Well

In my Inbox this morning:

The phone didn't ring by 3:00, and I knew Brody was out of school at 2:30. I tried to call him, but there was no answer. I tried Gayle's cell phone, no answer. The suspense was killing me. Just a few moments later, the phone rang.

"Grandma, I missed it by one word."

Grandma groans. "Oh, Brody, I'm so sorry."

"Just kiddin'. I did it." I could see his impish grin.

Relief! We had spent the past two days, and an hour before school this morning working on the last part of this project.

I'm just so doggone proud of my grandson, I could pop a button.

Today in school, Brody recited the Gettysburg Address and an abbreviated portion of the Declaration of Independence as the final two items to pass off to earn The Great American Challenge from his teacher. Today was the last opportunity he would have. It was do or die.

Before the school year even began last summer, Brody's teacher visited him and each of the rest of her students to get to know them and to present them with the first item of this challenge: before the first day of school, she expected them to memorize all 50 states and their capitals, correctly spelled, in alphabetical order, and be able to locate them on a map. On our road trip to Michigan, we drilled and drilled, and by the time we got home a few weeks later, he was well on the way to knowing them.

The first week of school, his teacher presented the class with the rest of the Challenge. They would have until April 15 to memorize the additional six items and recite to the class:

1) Star Spangled Banner
2) Preamble to the Constitution
3) all 44 Presidents, in order
4) Pledge of Allegiance (written, with 100% spelling and punctuation)
5) Gettysburg Address (up to 8 assists)
6) An abbreviated version of the Declaration of Independence (up to 8 assists)

Brody mentioned to me this morning that Ms. Louw had told the class that only two or three students each year meet the challenge. He only knew of one other classmate that was close, a boy who had already tried twice to pass off the presidents as his last challenge, and today would be his third and last attempt. (Yes, he finally did it too!)

Brody had passed off all but these last two items, and then last week realized with spring break, he would have to memorize and recite them both today, since Monday was the only day their class took time for this project. Between a heavy homework load, and a demanding soccer schedule, Saturday was the first opportunity he had to buckle down to study them. I offered to help. He gratefully accepted. He spent hours reading, reciting, re-reading, and writing. I bribed him with chocolate chip cookies that I promised would nourish his overworked brain. We laughed together. He teased me. I told him more than he wanted to know about the Gettysburg Address and the Declaration. He listened patiently with glassy eyes while other things were probably rolling around in his mind. But he listened. And he worked so hard.

And today, he did it.

The other day I was talking with some friends and their 7 year old came into the room, pleased as punch, with a giant piece of posterboard with a hole for his face and a NY Yankees uniform carefully drawn beneath the face hole. I began to joke with him:

"Since when did you become a Yankees fan? We don't allow that around here..."

He flashed a grin and said, "I'm not a Yankees fan - I just did a report on Roger Maris at school". He then proceeded to cite an impressive list of statistics I hadn't expected to hear from a 7 year old.

As I talked with him, I remembered reports I'd done as a child. It's amazing how, to this day, I maintain an interest in some of the subjects of those reports even though few of them were about anything I'd normally be interested in. Which leads me to this thought:

Do you remember the projects you did in school? Which were the most memorable, and why?

Did any of them have an effect on your life?

Posted by Cassandra at April 17, 2009 08:38 AM

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Believe it or not, I did like math, but when I got to junior high, it was so badly taught that I began to hate it. Even now, if things are not explained or laid out so I can 'take off' on my own, I tend to dismiss it as not worth learning because it wasn't worth teaching.

However, I did love reading and writing. One year, in our reading group (I was in sixth grade) we read 'Kon Tiki.' It interested me in other adventure literature, both fiction and non-fiction. We wrote a play, acted it out and learned all kinds of stuff about the South Pacific, South America, archeology, history. I have a 1950s edition of Richard Halliburton's Book of Marvels. It is a romping good read and had it not been for Thor Heyedahl, I would never have picked it up. Because of 'Kon Tiki,' I had to read the literature of other countries..fiction, poetry, non-fiction, myths, legends, fables and sacred writings.

I am not a scholar by any means, but it is a hobby and it drives the Engineer batty.

Posted by: Cricket at April 17, 2009 09:17 AM

Oh yes! Go ahead, ask me about the Russian Revolution! And I can still recite all 50 states in alphabetical order because of the song "50 Nifty United States" from 6th grade music.

When I was teaching Science in Middle School, I totally changed the tests for my 8th grade class (it was physical science). Rather than just give them random questions about velocity etc., I pulled out AFG's copy of Jane's and had them act like "aerospace engineers" for a test. They figured out which aircraft to use for which missions, etc.

And their scores went up like you wouldn't believe, even the girls who weren't particularly interested in which planes did what. It gave them a context in which to learn the abstract.

This is also why I use the curriculum that I home school with - it is a literature based curriculum (for instance - when learning about the Revolution, we read Johnny Tremain). This creates not just interest in the subject at hand for my children, but a fascination in what else there is to learn of certain subjects. It makes it *real*.

Posted by: airforcewife at April 17, 2009 10:14 AM

One of my sixth grade projects was a series of maps depicting the first battle of the Revolution. I cited several contemporary accounts which had been published in American Heritage, and used them to trace the most-probable British line of advance to the colonists' position, and cited several studies which concluded the battle was actually fought on Breed's Hill, rather than on Bunker Hill.

I got an F -- because our history textbook called it the Battle of *Bunker* Hill and there was no reference to Breed's Hill in it.


I received additional points off for spelling on the accompanying report when I cited -- verbatim -- a British account of proceeding "into a veritabal Furnass of musquetry"...

The other kids were impressed, not with my research ability, but that I was the only student in the class who'd ever scored an "F minus" on anything...

Posted by: BillT at April 17, 2009 10:51 AM

'F-minus'? Nothing like the teacher turning the knife into the heart of your research! My teacher was less than thrilled with my report on Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Apparently I missed the racism in the relationship between Tom and Huck, Jim and Injun' Joe. I then had the temerity to ask if it was racist to eat pancakes and eggs at SAMBO's which I always thought was historical based on my reading of "Little Black Sambo?" It became confusing watching Amos and Andy on the black and white TV, with tin foil on the rabbit ears catching a broadcast bounce off some nearby mountains. Then there was Rochester on the Jack Benny show.

My grade suffered accordingly as I was ushered into the stirring monster of political correctness and history rewritten. Citing the noble land rushers in Cimarron, the Cravats, didn't help much either. School was confusing to me during the late 50's and early 60's. I will save my post-military college education experience for another time.

Posted by: vet66 at April 17, 2009 11:06 AM

I was home schooled.
My first big project was to eliminate a rat fink supplier that had turned on my family in court. I took him out in his hotel room.
It had a profound impact. I was promoted to Captain, and soon thereafter eliminated the boss to become the head of worldwide crime.

Posted by: Kayser Soze at April 17, 2009 02:24 PM

/smack! :)

Posted by: Cassandra at April 17, 2009 02:26 PM

"Between a heavy homework load, and a demanding soccer schedule, Saturday was the first opportunity he had to buckle down to study them."

I can't believe someone lets soccer interfere with ... with ... well, anything worthwhile. Baseball, football, basketball, lawn darts - sure, those are worthwhile pursuits for a young male. But soccer?

Posted by: LeBron at April 17, 2009 02:29 PM

your teacher was an ignorant moron. Even my soviet teachers did not give me 2 (Russian equivalent of F) for going outside the textbook (as long as the final result was in compliance with the official history/ideology)
The only made-something project was the making of a periscope to illustrate the refraction(??) of light.
The report on the life and achievements of the first soviet-era director of the Hermitage museum was not a life-changing event since my parents had already exposed me to the arts since I was a baby, but it made me wonder what other treasures the soviet gov't sold to A.Hammer & Co under the guise of getting more engines for the fledging soviet economy...
The report on the life and achievements of Che that got me to the city-wide history championship (did not win it though LOL) made me acutely aware of how evil that man was...
With the official conclusions being in line with the official party line and the real results being on the direct collision course with said party line, this school-project experience made for quite a number of deep-dispari-filled moments...

Posted by: olga at April 17, 2009 02:38 PM

But soccer?

Check your mail :p

Posted by: Cassandra at April 17, 2009 02:45 PM

BillT, your teacher was an ignorant moron.

On a positive note, she *did* manage to install the French language firmly into my subconscious, so I was able to dredge it out in 1970 and convince a Cambodian colonel who spoke no English that I wouldn't perpetrate any Blue-on-Blue on his troops...

Posted by: BillT at April 17, 2009 03:03 PM

Kayser Soze,
You are living proof that homeschooling works. Your achievements are up there with the ambitions I have for my children. I had them watch 'Pinky and the Brain' for world takeover tips. However, when cable got cut, we did a retrospective and are currently watching the archived episodes of 'Have Gun-Will Travel.'

Posted by: Cricket-on-the-Seine at April 17, 2009 03:49 PM

You know what?

I realize this is corny, but I love you guys. You never fail to make me laugh.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 17, 2009 03:54 PM

When I'm on my deathbed, I'm sure I'll still know pi to ten decimal places because of a 7th-grade project that had something to do with how the number is calculated.

But the project I really remember is the miniature Egyptian pyramid I made with my dad. We both learned about hieroglyphs and wrote them all over the walls of the plaster-of-paris cut-away burial chamber. We made little sarcophagi and filled little urns with gold wire. Always fun building things with him.

Posted by: Texan99 at April 17, 2009 04:03 PM

My Dad was a destroyer guy, but he majored in Engineering in college so he did a lot of that sort of thing in the Navy. I spent many happy hours prowling Hechingers with him, or learning how to change spark plugs, fix a carbeurator, or use a drill press in his workshop. I got my love of power tools from him.

I don't think there was a gadget he didn't have. The best was the enormous Craftsman Shopsmith he had in the basement.

Dads rock.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 17, 2009 04:25 PM

A Shopsmith! Wow, I'm jealous. I always wanted a Shopsmith, but could never figure out how to justify one. So I picked up a delta table saw, lathe and a drill press over the years and individually as projects warranted. Not nearly as spiffy as a Shopsmith though.

My favorite classes were math and science classes. Two memorable teachers from my middle-high school years were my 1st year geometry teacher and a lab science teacher.

My 9th grade geometry teacher was young, smart and a knockout to boot! I was in love and actively plotted against her husband. Just kidding!

My 9th grade lab science instructor was Jonathan Winters twin brother with a smattering of Mr. Wizard thrown in. What a great teacher he was. Lots of memorable acid etched flooring, gas induced class evacuations and small explosions in that class. And the humor... JW's twin, I swear. Just outstanding.

All in all, I loved most of my studies as a youngster, with the exception being languages, philosophy and biology. Four decades later, and after having read yours and Grim's work, I find myself being drawn to go to university to take another pass at things I blew off so long ago.

Hmmm, I wonder if I have the patience to listen to and not cane any commie-pinko-anarchists professors, should I have the misfortune to draw one for any given class?

Posted by: bthun at April 17, 2009 05:59 PM

In junior high, I was the only girl in shop class two years running. I loved to make things. My dad still has the pipe holder I made him. I made a pot rack for the kitchen too, and one of those bizarre band iron lamps everyone was making.

You should go back to school.

I always meant to go to grad school but I got caught up in working and somehow never made the time. I should have gone right after I graduated from college but I was busy putting my own kids through college, and after several years of working 40 hour weeks and then going to school until 10 pm, I was tired.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 17, 2009 06:54 PM

Did you ever do the sulfuric acid and sugar *experiment*? heh Got out of four days of school with that one.....the smell was still in the classroom carpets until summer vacation.
Did I mention that my Pop was the janitor?

Then there was the yellow dye in the water supply *experiment*....oh, wait, that was just juvenile deliquency....um......nevermind.

Posted by: DL Sly at April 17, 2009 07:12 PM

Oh yeah...The CLUs are also enamored of 'MacGyver,' as we have not yet covered 'Duck Tape and its Range of Uses.' This also segues into math, as we are trying to square infinity, which, I understand, is the number of uses for Duck Tape.

Posted by: Cricket at April 17, 2009 08:03 PM

"3) all 44 Presidents, in order"

At least we're not British - they have about a hundred kings and queens, and in different families.

The earliest thing I can recall memorizing is Carroll's "The Jabberwocky". I did it as a recitation in school. I can still remember a few opening lines. We got to choose the piece.

airforcewife"I can still recite all 50 states in alphabetical order because of the song "50 Nifty United States" from 6th grade music."

??? What? They used to do music in school?

Here's another classic: Tom Lehrer's "The Elements". Unfortunately, they're not in order - but there is a certain order in the way he sings it. ("Lehrer", of course, is German for "teacher".)

olga: Здравствуйте. "... a periscope to illustrate the refraction(??) of light."

Reflection. Refraction is when light goes through a surface, like water, or a prism. If you made it with prisms, you're right.

Speaking of the Heritage, there's a remarkable film called "Russian Ark". It takes place entirely in the Heritage. The story covers about 300 years of history, it runs about 100 minutes - and is taken in exactly one shot.

bthun"I find myself being drawn to go to university to take another pass at things I blew off so long ago."

Don't go back. It will only rot your mind (unless you're going for a degree in particle physics, in which case it will still rot your mind, but in a much better way).

Many of the great minds were self-educated. The way to go is to read. Start with "The Great Books". Another really good resource is The Teaching Company: www.teach12.com The courses come on CD or DVD, the professors are tops, and they have sales throughout the year. When you get o n their mailing list, the catalogs are worth reading just by themselves. There's usually a sample chapter or two.

I remember only two grade school teachers, Miss Hantleman, taught English. She taught diagramming sentences by starting with "Oliver eats onions". Another was Mr Snow, who could do just about everything: art, music, ....

I always believed that a teenager who can remember the words (not "lyrics" any more) to a dozen or more songs surely ought to be able to remember a few basic facts.

Like, "In fourteen hundred and ninety-three
Columbus sailed the deep blue sea."

Posted by: ZZMike at April 17, 2009 08:17 PM

"Did you ever do the sulfuric acid and sugar *experiment*?"
Heheheh. The possibility for too many odious jokes to count wafts by on that sulfuric breeze.

At one time as a preteen, I had the periodic table memorized. And I think, if I were to sit quietly for a moment or two, I could remember almost every teacher, instructor, and professor I ever had. Heck I even remembered Kbob in Katy from 35+ years ago!

Speaking of sea-stories, only this one is a true story that I'll share only because the antagonists in this tale must now be in their 70's and the statute of limitations for punkin' college dweebs has long since expired.

One junior egghead fellow I grew up with once assisted me in some payback on some local college dweebs via the application of science and tactics gleaned from 25¢ Saturday WWII movies.

This fellow, I'll call him Mark, and I were two mischievous young'uns armed with homemade stink bombs courtesy of my Junior Mr. Wizard Science kit and naive and/or clueless clerks at the local Rx/soda fountain. That Jr.MWS kit was an awesome Christmas gift I might add.

Well, we had some small grievance with some fellows from a frat house who had inflicted some now forgotten slight upon us.

So armed with a vengeful spirit, a ton of Mad magazines on which we adjusted for declination and thus plotted our course via our skewed, What? Me Worry moral compass, and my Jr.MWS kit, we prepped a few homemade this must be what the inside of a cow smells like smoke instruments. Then late one afternoon, we stood by a road near the local frat house. When a car load of them went past, we popped tall and flipped them off with a right snappy salute-like gesture. This must of been around 1962 or 63.

Anyway, there was a new library under construction on a lot behind our position. And on this lot, running in all directions under the library were water drainage pipes that were large enough, at least at their openings by this road, to ride a little 20" bicycle into them. IIRC, they were maybe 4 feet in diameter, give or take a bit.

As planned, we drew the frat boys into the pipes and once we had them deep into the Morlock maze, we had their Eloi arses where we wanted them. And so we proceeded to light off smoke bombs between them and the world from whence they had come.

Meanwhile we ducked out via some small pipes near a park. The moral of the story was, don't mess with the Morlocks. Even iddy biddy Morlocks.

Yeah, I suppose it's safe to say that I enjoyed scientific inquiry from a very early age. And I especially enjoyed the practical application of those discoveries. =8^}

Shortly thereafter, I took up with the Boy Scouts. Fortuitous I'd say.

Dang! A second Crown Vic has pulled up out front! I've gotta run.

Posted by: bthun at April 17, 2009 08:34 PM

I live for pranks. Teaching the football players in Balliff Hall about how to reason and make predictions was so much fun...

bthun, I heard a rumor that Cal Tech had a house that the engineering and geek types had to break into..sort of like Sneakers without the political garbage.

Posted by: Cricket at April 17, 2009 09:11 PM

I remember making bridges from toothpick in Jr High - it was in a class for gifted & talented students. We had a little competition about whose bridge could bear the most weight. Don't remember who won.

I remember doing a report on Japan in 6th grade.

I remember studying the early explorers of the New World, and making a diorama of one of them.

I remember my 3rd grade teacher had us transcribe
from the overhead projector all the lyrics to the songs from Fiddler on the Roof, though to this day I have no idea what the purpose of that was...

I do remember having to memorize Paul Revere's Ride, too, though I don't remember how well I did with that...

But, I think more of my learning memories of childhood comes from the places I went and the things I saw. My parents always took us kids places - when we lived in San Antonio, we went to the Alamo, of course, and I did a project in Brownies to earn a special badge which included visits and reports on all the old Spanish missions in and around San Antonio. I remember visiting Dachau. And Rothenburg. And a bunch of the old castles around Germany. Going to Berlin before The Wall came down, and then being able to go again the summer after it fell, walking the old Eastern Germany guard paths, and seeing how the buildings on the East side of The Wall had never been repaired after WWII - they were still pockmarked from bullets or bombs and such.

Not all learning is done in the classroom. I hope to teach that to my own students someday. I especially would like to get any students of mine interested in the real history of our great nation, though how I go about doing that will vary greatly, based on what grade I get to teach once I find a teaching job. Wish me luck - I have an interview Thursday next week!

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at April 17, 2009 09:13 PM

Congratulations to our Ladybug! Keeping eyes, fingers and toes crossed, as well as in my prayers.

Posted by: Cricket at April 18, 2009 10:28 AM

Indeed! Best of luck to you Miss LB.

Posted by: bthun at April 18, 2009 10:41 AM

Miss Ladybug!

Congratulations - I'm excited for you :) Interviewing for jobs is always kind of scary, but no matter the outcome, it's all good experience and you learn something every time you do it.

Good luck - you will make a fantastic teacher: I just know it.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 18, 2009 10:44 AM

Got a kick out of reading the above accounts. Made me trip back through memory lane when I was in 3rd grade in a Southern Cal grade school(circa 1960!) studying the 21 Spanish-built missions along the El Camino Real (Yes, these were in the pre-La Raza indoctrination days).

Anyway, Dad and I collaborated on building a model of the San Fernando Rey de Espana mission for a school "mission show". Won grand prize! Our model even went to the Pomona Country Fair, where it was displayed with what seemed like hundreds of other "grand prize" winners. Ha.

Glory days! and a fond rememberance of Dad.*Sigh*

Posted by: Ziobuck at April 18, 2009 01:35 PM

Yes! Someone did the Missions thing in the 60s as well! El Camino Real..the King's Highway. Thing is, Ziobuck, what we studied was Spanish culture with a religious influence from Rome.

Did you ever visit any other missions? Carmel was my favorite, but mission San Antonio at Hunter Ligget was awesome too, once it started getting restored.

Posted by: Cricket at April 18, 2009 03:23 PM

Hey, Cricket, I've visited a few, i.e., Santa Barbara, San Gabriel, and San Buenoventura. My favorite was La Purisima (founded in 1787). It seemed unchanged (unspoiled) from any modern day encroachments. Ya really got a feel for how it must have been. Yet, my visit there was over 30 years ago (OMG! Talk about antediluvian! Man, I didn't even have grandkids, kids, wifey, or even glints-in-my-eyes in those days. Ha.).

Posted by: Ziobuck at April 18, 2009 04:16 PM

Never got into the chem-pranks of DL Sly. I was too much of a "goody-two-shoes" in my chem classes. Case in point, I experimented with the partial thermal degradation of polysaccharides in a beaker with protein inclusions. In other words, peanut brittle! :) However, I did learn enough about the dangers of chemicals while working for a metalurgist for a year and half. Use to freak my mother out with my black-stained hands caused by silver nitrate. As far as I know I've never had any lasting, long term ah..af..affects.

Posted by: Ziobuck at April 18, 2009 04:40 PM

Thanks for the well-wishes, all! I went to a job fair in Copperas Cove this morning, and one woman I spoke to seemed to like me, and while there aren't any current openings, they anticipate having some. I really hope this time I find a position, otherwise, I'm going to have to decide on something else to do to make a living, and wonder if going back to school was really the right choice 4 years ago...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at April 18, 2009 06:12 PM

Miss Ladybug, never doubt that going back to school was the right decision. I just wish I could find a PhD and start my own charter school with like minded teachers!

We found one and it looks good so far...

Posted by: Cricket at April 18, 2009 06:42 PM

*crossing fingers*

*removing boots and socks and crossing toes*

*cosrsgni eyse*

Posted by: BillT at April 18, 2009 06:51 PM

Thanks, Cricket!

*grinning at BillT*

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at April 18, 2009 09:24 PM

When I was in 7th grade, I moved to a new school. Our English teacher gave us a project to create and put on a play lasting 5 minutes. He told us to break up into groups of three, and when the dust settled, I was in the last group of only two with the class druggie.

During the next week, he dropped out of school leaving me all alone to do the project (which was much better because I didn't have to drag his deadwood around).

I decided to do the play with two "persons". I was one person, the other "person" was an outer space alien communicating via radio.

I made a "radio" out of a shoe box tin foil and some knobs. Inside I put my cassette tape recorder, and I tore apart an old microphone to get the on-off switch the controlled it remotely.

I set it up in front of class, and with my hand behind the box, I played both parts of the play.

I got an A+ on the project with Mr. Ryan asking "how did you do that?".

A side effect of this was that I went from being the last picked for projects to one of the first.

I learned a very important lesson. You can't count on many other people, and have to be ready to go it alone.

Posted by: Tony at April 23, 2009 04:04 PM