Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Terrible Timed Tests

We are on our fourth year of using RightStart math curriculum.  I love almost everything about it and it's worked really well for us.  One thing in particular that I love is there are no timed tests in RightStart.

Yup, that childhood right of passage from math class is missing.  No 2 minute, "do as many of these problems as you can" worksheets cross my childrens' desks.  However, there are practice sheets.  Practice sheets look awfully similar--50 questions to be done while the child is timed.

Wait a minute, didn't I just say no timed tests?  Yes, yes I did.  There is a crucial difference here.  Rather than imposing a time limit on the child, they are told to finish the entire sheet while I time them.  After they are done, we check for accuracy and then graph their time.  Doesn't seem like much difference does it?  The child is timed either way, it's just a matter of whether there is a time limit or an open ended timing.

There are four main problems with setting a time limit.  First, imagine you're at work and your boss gives you a task, virtually any task, to complete and says, "oh, by the way, I need this done in 2 minutes starting................NOW".  For many people, just imagining the scenario will raise your heart rate a bit.  Impose the same pressure on a elementary student and a lot of them are going to have some amount of anxiety.  Anxiety that will hinder their ability to store what they are studying in their long term memory.  In short, it defeats the purpose.  Second, a child who cannot finish the sheet in the time limit automatically feels like they've failed.  Especially if they have a lot of blank space left, all they see is what they can't do.   Third, those children who can't finish the sheet within the time limit are the last ones who should have their practice cut short.  You end up with the kids who can do all of the problems in the time limit doing 50 problems while the ones who are struggling only do 25.  And don't bother telling me the solution to this is to make them skip recess to do extra math lessons.  That completely ignores the fact that a child who is struggling is in no way going to benefit from having all of their mental breaks taking away.  Lastly, the time limit encourages kids to answer quickly when their focus really ought to be on accuracy.  In math (and many other things), speed doesn't mean diddly squat if you aren't doing it right.  Children need to be able to get the right answers first.  Speed will come with practice as they become more comfortable with the problems.  Timed tests and that amped up anxiety encourage children to rush through in an attempt to answer all of the questions.  After all, the focus has been on "you need to be able to get through all of these problems in the allotted time".  They will try to do that and they will rush.  You tell you do better work when you rush through a task, or when you take a moment to really focus on what you're doing? 

While we do these same worksheets, RightStart suggests always letting the child finish the worksheet and simply timing how long it takes them to finish.  This does not bring up the "I can't even finish" issues, doesn't cut their practice short, and encourages accuracy before speed.  With more practice, the child naturally gets faster and all the while the correct answers are sticking in their memory.  After each worksheet, we plot the time (with a note of how many answers were correct) on a graph so the child can look back and see how they've improved (as well as practice plotting points on a graph).  The child is competing with themselves and building confidence as they see their own improvement rather than trying to beat an arbitrary time on the clock.   This method can still raise the same anxiety issues in some children and the curriculum suggests if that is the case to not time the child at all to begin with.  Instead, you can just graph how many they get right.  Let the child build confidence in their ability to get all or mostly all of the answer correct before introducing a timer.  There have also been times I've only timed "on the sly" if one of my girls seemed stressed out despite their ability to get the correct answers.  I graph the time on my own and only show them the graph after a few weeks to show them their improvement.

Many people will argue that these kids will have to take some form of timed test at some point in their future so they might as well get used to it now.  No.  No, no, no, no, no.  Let's focus on teaching children in such a way that they understand what they are doing and are so comfortable with the material that those standardized test time limits are ridiculously long to them.  If (while fighting the completely dysfunctional testing system we currently have) it is necessary to teach test taking skills--things like answering the easy problems first and using process of elimination on multiple choice questions, then do that.  Add in a 20-30 minute test taking class every day.  Leave it out of the classroom.  I've tutored people through SATs, ACTs and GREs, a shocking amount of success is based simply on the ability to take the test.   Rather than inundating kids with test prep all day long, let classroom time be classroom time and simply teach the subject.  Teach test taking skills (including how to handle a time limit) separately.

There are many other great things about RightStart aside from the timed test difference.  One of my favorites is the emphasis on understanding why things work the way they do rather than only being given algorithms to follow.  The children are also guided (with certain examples and dialogue with the teacher) through figuring these things out on their own rather than just being told about them.  This helps them truly understand math and takes advantage of the natural joy that comes with figuring out something new to help them enjoy math.  It also avoids the pitfalls that can often come in the later elementary and algebra years when there has been an emphasis on what to do rather than why to do it. 

If you'd like to read more about timed tests (complete with the research that shows how they affect children and their math skills), check out this article on Education Week.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Free Halloween Math Worksheets

With Halloween coming up this week, I've been debating whether to skip school all together on Friday or try to deal with overly excited, overly sugared up children.  I've settled on a light day that incorporates their excitement over their newly acquired loot. 

I made up a few quick math worksheets that focus on some skills they are either working on or have recently learned and also uses their candy.  As always, these sheets are available for free to you.  They may be downloaded for an individual family or classroom, I simply ask that you do not share them directly with other people, but share the link to this post instead.  Worksheets can be downloaded at these links:

1st grade sheets

4th grade sheets

Both the 1st and 4th grade worksheets start out by graphing the types of candies received, but they have different questions following the graph based on what each of the girls are currently doing.  Toddlers can easily get in on the candy math as well by sorting their candy based on type, or sorting M&Ms, Starbursts or Skittles based on colors.

When you're done with candy math, give candy science a try too!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Floods and Waterparks

Life has not been boring lately.  Two weeks ago, a big storm rolled through town.  We ended up getting over 4 inches of rain and most of it fell in less than an hour.   A little background: we used to live in the flood plain.  About 18 months ago, our town had a very similar storm.  Our yard was severely flooded, but the house stayed dry.  Our new house is on a large hill and not in the flood plain.  Standing water should never be a problem, but we are downhill from our neighbors.  The house has french drains and they have worked well to clear out water during thunderstorms.  However, 3-4 inches of rain per hour is going to overload just about any small drainage system.  And that's how we found ourselves scrambling around the house at 3am on a Saturday night trying to figure out where the water was coming from and where it all had spread.   'Cause you know, when you move OUT of the flood plain is the perfect time for your first house flood.

Long story short, it all came in the master bedroom closet and it spread from there, into the master bath and master bedroom and all the way across the dance studio in the back (which is the entire width of the house).  Basically, the water flowed through our house instead of around it.   Thankfully, it stopped coming into the house as soon as the rain rate slacked off (even though a light rain continued for days).   We vacuumed up a lot of water, moved a lot of furniture, soaked a lot of towels, and pulled up carpet. 

 The carpet in the closet obviously had to go that night, it was under water.  We were hopeful we could save the master bedroom carpet and just replace part of the padding, and that the dance room floor would be okay after vacuuming and and drying.
It was not meant to be though.  The carpet just smelled mustier and mustier after it dried (we had put large fans on it for a couple days), and the wood started cupping. 

When it was all said and done, we pulled out all the master bedroom carpeting, and we're working on refinishing the wood floors.  We ran a dehumidifier in the room for days and sanded them down, which greatly improved the cupping, but sadly, I don't think they'll ever be completely flat again in the damaged areas.  It was either replace them or deal with some very minor "not 100% flat" sections.  Even with being DIYers and not replacing completely, fixing this floor is running us several hundred dollars, not to mention our bedroom, which is just bare concrete because we haven't decided what to do there yet.  Incidentally, you'll have noticed more sponsored posts from me lately because, you know, when we really do like tomato soup and Monsters movies, and we need new flooring, I figured I might as well make a little extra money. 

The irony of all of this is that we woke up at 3am to curse all the water in our house and work our tails off, but we had already booked a trip to Great Wolf Lodge that was scheduled to start that same day.  We had snagged a groupon deal for a 2 night stay.  We debated trying to push the trip back a day, but in the end, the floor was as dry as we could get it, so we had a friend come over to turn off fans at night and went anyway.  You know, escaping the going to a water park.  Makes sense, right?   It was nice to have fun and de-stress and we couldn't have done much at the house at that point in time anyway.  The girls had a blast.  I was so proud of Secora, she did SO much better than last year.  She really enjoyed herself this time around (aside from the time a big kid purposely sprayed her directly in the face at close range and kept doing it despite her obvious crying and panic...I was livid, and told him so).  She discovered the kiddie slides and went down over and over and over again.  The big girls had a blast on the bigger attractions. 

Everyone loved playing in the arcade at night.  Sierra won a 5,000 ticket jackpot the first night and another 500 ticket jackpot the second night.  The little girls discovered a love of whack-a-mole.   We didn't play magiquest this time because the girls opted for more waterpark time.  As part of our groupon deal, we had a dining credit, so we were able to eat two meals at the Camp Critter Grill this time around.  The food was really good (Josh and I split an entree each time since we couldn't easily save leftovers), but I wish there was more selection available.   Since it's October, we also got to participate in the Halloween festivities.   The lobby is fully decorated and the kids get to trick or treat every evening.  Story time also involves a Halloween book, and some of the employees that are around kids the most dress up.  Since we have early risers, we have always gone to the water park first thing in the morning, as soon as it opens.  This works out well, there are no lines for any rides and the kids have plenty of space to do whichever activities they want.  We realized on this trip that closing time is the same way.  A lot of families go to story time, so about 7p-9p, the waterpark is pretty much empty again.  Also, the arcade is empty during the day and packed at night.  The standard flow seems to be families having a relaxed breakfast, hitting the waterpark during the day, then doing some combination of dinner/arcade/story time.  You could really avoid the crowds if you start the day at the water park, then take a break to eat lunch, visit the arcade and play magiquest, then eat dinner and go back to the water park.

We didn't carry a camera around so I got a total of 2 pictures while we were there.  Secora and I ran the swim suits through the suit spinner on our way out and I stopped to take a picture of her.  Lots of good memories though!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Apple Pie Jam

A couple of weeks ago, we purchased a bushel of apples, which we intended to turn into applesauce.  I wanted a change of pace rather than making quarts and quarts of applesauce though. I keep wanting to can apple pie filling, but I never buy the ClearJel ahead of time and it's not available locally (or, at least, I haven't found it).  When I was looking through the index of our home preservation book, I came across Apple Pie in a Jar.  I checked it out thinking it might be a different version of pie filling.  Turned out it's apple cranberry jam.  Win-win situation, we were running low on jam and it was something new to try. 

The recipe makes about six 8oz jars and you should be familiar with boiling water bath canning before you try it (the National Center for Home Food Preservation is a great resource if you're just starting out)

3/4c dried cranberries or raisins (I think the cranberries make a prettier jam)
6c chopped, cored and peeled tart apples
juice of one lemon
1c unsweetened apple juice
1 package powdered pectin
9c granulated sugar (hey, it's one said it was super healthy)
1tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1. Prepare your canner, jars and lids
2. Cook apples, lemon juice and apple juice at a boil until apples are softened.  While cooking, finely chop cranberries (a food processor works well).
3. Remove apples from heat and stir in pectin until dissolved.  Stir in cranberries and return to high head until it boils.
4. Add sugar all at once and stir constantly until it returns to a full rolling boil.  Boil 1 minute.  Remove from heat and add spices. 
5. Fill jars and process for 10 minutes in boiling water bath. 

It's tasty and pretty!  Here are our finished jars.  The ones on the left have raisins, the ones on the right have cranberries. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

101 Goals Wrap-Up

It's hard to believe 1001 days have passed since I set 101 goals for myself back in 2011.

I completed less than half of the goals, but most of the ones I have not accomplished, I'm okay with missing out on.  A few were things I added only because it was a real struggle to come up with 101.  A few were goals I would have loved to accomplish (mostly the travel ones and some of the kid ones), but with Secora's sensory problems, two job changes and a cross country move, it just hasn't happened.   Overall, I completed 46, which another 12 being in progress.

It was harder than I thought to get through the list.  I learned I need shorter time frames, maybe 5 goals every 50 days instead. There was definitely a rush in the last 2 weeks to finish some things up because I felt the time pressure.  I'm too much of a procrastinator to feel motivated 300 days in when it seems like I have forever to accomplish the goals.

This weekend, I finished up a few more things that were easy and there was really no reason to put off.

First, I made homemade bagels.  I went with cinnamon raisin and they were a lot more easy than I thought they'd be to make. 

I also made a chocolate souffle.  I didn't have a souffle pan to use though, so I used a spring form pan.  It turned out pretty well too, but was a little more tricky to make. 

  I also picked up a fabric I really liked a little while back and made something with it.  I chose a little sewing kit.  This let me try out a lot of new things.  I tried my hand at hexagons, english paper piecing, and applique for the first time. 
 The booklet snaps shut and holds scissors, thread, thimble, needles and some little extras. 

And just this morning, I tried my hand at making silhouettes of the girls. This was also easier than I expected, but I need a little more practice at it.

So that's it for the 101 in 1001!  

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Wise Rainy Day Dinner

This post brought to you by Campbell's and BlogHer.
Sedona is one smart kid. She's always sharing little gems of wisdom, like "you should not scuba dive with sharks without a buddy". I mean, I totally thought swimming with sharks was an ideal alone time activity, but now I know better. Sometimes, she seems a little too wise for her (and my) own good. Like the day she told me, "popsicles do not have seeds in the middle, so they must be vegetables".

This is what I'm facing with dinner planning. It can be difficult to get kids to willingly eat dinner when they are utterly convinced a well balanced meal consists of a slice of cake, a cup of pudding and a popsicle. I know I'm not the only one facing this problem. Campbell's has been helping create tasty meals for 144 years and in the age of the internet, you can find a ton of great recipe ideas at Campbell's Kitchen. And now, Campbell's is helping satisfy even picky eaters with the help of the Wisest Kid in the Whole World. You can discover fabulous meal ideas kids will love and also share wisdom from a kid in your life.

We're having our first big cold front of the year move through today and that means we're ready for two things: hot chocolate and grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup. It also means our own wise kids are likely to talk Josh into activities like this:

My girls, who avoid tomatoes whenever possible, happily eat Campbell's tomato soup. It doesn't hurt that they get permission to dip their sandwiches. They also have a fun time cutting any sandwiches into shapes. On a rainy fall day like this one, some Halloween themed sandwiches are a perfect way to end the day.

Flying a grilled cheese bat around her plate
Thumbs up!
Dipping a grilled cheese pumpkin

Don't be afraid to branch out from standard cheddar or American cheese either. Sierra loves to look through the fridge and choose a variety of cheeses for her sandwich, the more the merrier!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Three and a Half Years in the Making

Once upon a time, I had a very misguided notion that I could whip up a king-sized quilt rather quickly.  So in March of 2010, I picked a scrappy pattern, dug through all my fabric bins and sewed together 113 blocks over the course of a month.   Then I began an unusually difficult pregnancy, and we moved across the country, and had a baby, and moved back across the country, and along the way I realized the only quilting design I liked for this pattern had to be done by hand.   It's the hand quilting that really set me back.  Each block took about an hour to do.  I got fed up and took a lot of long breaks along the way.  But today.......the quilt is finished!!!!!!!! 
I used a solid purple binding and stayed up well past midnight last night working on it because once you're THAT close to being done after 3.5 years, it's hard to stop. 
I definitely learned how to quilt better over the course of this project.  I started out making one stitch at a time, and my stitches were pretty long and spaced out.  By the end, I could do five or six stitches at once, evenly spaced and small.   I also learned to think long and hard before deciding to hand quilt such a large project. 

I must not have completely learned my lesson though because I already have fabric in the washer prepping it for my next project. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Almost a Decade

Sierra is 9 years old today!  Of course, it seems like yesterday that she introduced us to this crazy thing called parenthood. She has done a lot of growing up this year and is definitely heading into tween territory.  She's showing more responsibility all the time and taking more initiative with her school work this year.  She still loves her theater classes and being in plays, and is auditioning for Annie Jr. tonight.  Her singing has greatly improved in the last few months, since she had a part in Little Mermaid Jr. and received some voice instruction.  One of her favorite things to do in her free time is ride her bike.  We have our normal ups and downs as we move into the fun mood swings of the tween years, but overall she is so mindful of being kind and standing up for anyone who needs a friend in their corner, and I'm so proud of her for both developing that empathy and putting it into action. 
Teeny Tiny Sierra
"Hello big human, do you know what you're doing?"  "No, not really tiny human, but we'll figure it out eventually."
First birthday
Two and into being messy
Settling into the big sister role
Fun times on the road
First grade and making a mummy for history
Last week, building atoms as she begins learning about the periodic table
Happy Birthday to my big girl!!


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