Thursday, September 18, 2014

Training Your Brain

Can we talk about Common Core for a minute? You know, the new standards being rolled out in public schools across the United States? The theory behind them is that they are supposed to help kids develop critical thinking and real-world problem-solving skills.

When I first started reading about Common Core, I thought, “Well, how could that be a bad thing?” and a little later on, “What are people so up in arms about?” and “What is the big deal with Common Core?”

Oh, my friends, now I know.

A quick detour:  my oldest child, Viva, has always been a good student. Her favorite subject is math. She was fortunate to have a 3rd grade teacher who was nuts about math and imparted that enthusiasm to her class. In the 4th grade, Viva was graced with another great teacher – a former engineer – who nurtured that enthusiasm and then “looped” with the class, teaching them 5th grade the following year. He developed units on entrepreneurship and running a business, and created a mock medical school program. He selected Viva as one of a group of students to troubleshoot computer issues for her classmates on their iPads. He got her excited about Science Camp! All of these experiences pretty much solidified Viva’s desire to study engineering and/or computer coding when she attends college in the Great Someday.

Until this week, when she brought home a math test with a score of 83. Now, 83/100 is not a bad score. But it is not the type of grade she usually brings home, and she was upset. And when I began reviewing the test, I started to understand why. In Common Core, when you solve a math problem, you don’t just write down the answer and move on. You write down the answer and you have to explain how you got there. And if you don’t explain it exactly as the teacher wants you to, you don’t get full credit for the right answer. So if a question is worth four points, and you get the problem right but don’t explain it “correctly,” you lose a point. On nearly every question, instead of getting a 4/4, Viva was getting 3’s.

For one question, the teacher took issue with Viva writing that an explanation about the “larger” number as opposed to the “greater” number. Seriously. She took off a point for that. Sweet Dub and I reviewed the entire test with her and came to the following conclusion: you basically just have to learn the game. It sucks, because they are now changing the rules midstream, but it’s a game. And that sucks, because what it bolls down to is, you have to now figure out what the teacher wants to hear. Which isn’t critical thinking at all.

Last night, we were reviewing her math homework, and Viva was now getting stuck. Intimidated by this new challenge. She told me that she was certain now that she was going to get it wrong, no matter what she did.

I won’t lie. My first reaction, because I am from Boston and we are all filled with rage, was to be pissed. I know that middle school is when girls slide away from math. They start to think of it as a “boys” subject. And even when they have a natural talent for it, they stop excelling at it. This is why we have so few women in math and science fields. But then I stopped myself. Because I realize it is something new, and it is hard, and when I asked Viva to explain her rationale for one problem, she did. And she was right, at least from my perspective.

And I think this is good for her. She’s lucky that so far math has come easy to her, but research shows that when you realize that you can build up your abilities through effort you actually learn more.

Today, I read an article which reinforced this for me. It’s called “The Learning Myth:  Why I’llNever Tell My Son He’s Smart.” I particularly liked this:

Recently, I put into practice research I had been reading about for the past few years: I decided to praise my son not when he succeeded at things he was already good at, but when he persevered with things that he found difficult. I stressed to him that by struggling, your brain grows.

Here’s to growth, and to helping all of us persevere.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

All In

So life has sped up, as it often does once the summer break from school ends and the new school year begins. Our day-to-day life is more hectic, and we all seem to feel a bit frazzled and disconnected. Added to that, here in greater Los Angeles we are experiencing a heat wave, so our apartment radiates with the heat of one thousand suns.

Last night when I came home, Ceeya was wandering about in nothing but her underpants and Sweet Dub was lolling about in an armchair with an ice pack on his head. (We don't have air conditioning.)

"Everybody get themselves together," I said. "We are out of here in five minutes!"

And we went and picked up sandwiches and trekked out to the beach for a picnic dinner on the sand. The surf was really high, waves were crashing fantastically against the shore, the kids leaped about shrieking and laughing, and Sweet Dub and I sat on the blanket and breathed in the air and leaned into each other in quiet (and cool!) contentment. We watched the sunset. We watched our babies:

And then today I read this, and I loved it. It just reinforced how such simple things are so important and can help keep it all in perspective.
Because at some point in life the going in gets harder and so now, while you can, go in the water. …Go in before the going in feels impossible.

And this is a perfect reminder for me right now.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

In Which I Bemoan My Lack of Writingz of Late

You know, writing is hard. I am trying to figure out exactly what has pulled me away from writing here. Have I run out of things to say? Uh, no, as anyone who knows me personally would attest. The problem as I see it is that I have so many damn things to say that I don't quite know where to begin.

In the past few weeks, I have wanted to write about (and have composed posts in my head about) the murder of Michael Brown and racial profiling by police; an update on my endless struggle with the school district to not have Ceeya repeat kindergarten; an explanation of the current craziness in my family of origin (but told how? the craziness of my family merits its own book, I've been told many times, but I can't relate it here without violating people's privacy); a related post on childhood trauma and its long-term impact; the evolution of style - Viva's style, that is; the video of Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancee/now-wife (!! it boggles the mind) out in an elevator, and a related post about domestic violence. Also, in a Seinfeldian homage of writing about nothing: a post about how you are charged tax on coffee when consumed on premises but not when it's to-go (I just learned this - that's why they ask, even when you are drinking it out of the same identical cup). Okay, because I just can't NOT say it:  my mother and my stepfather, who were married for 18 years and divorced when I was in my early 20s, recently got back together. (Note that I am now 46.) And when I say got back together, I mean my stepfather moved 3,000 miles across the country back to California by train and is now living in the same house with my mom, my sister, my brother-in-law, my two nephews, their dog and assorted reptiles, based on some scattered phone calls and emails. (You can see that this is a situation ripe with possibilities for literary gold. I must refrain.)

But I haven't written about any of these things. I am stressed and depressed, which I guess is nothing new in this space, unfortunately. Honestly, that has a lot to do with why I haven't been writing. Which makes me depressed. Oooh, it's a fun little carnival ride.

I miss that part of myself. I miss myself. I share an office at work and I share my home, at home. My kids are not part of that "early to bed, early to rise" crowd. (Is there one of those? Where can I sign them up and get my free water bottle?) My time (and space) to myself is very limited; one might say nonexistent. But I NEED that time and space. I feel a little crazy and a little spaced out without it.

Some days on my lunch hour, I take my lunch to the park and sit. I keep a notebook and a sketchbook in the car, and that is my little bit of calm and re-centers me in the middle of my day. Mainly I jot down ideas for a new blog that would be more focused (don't laugh) and story ideas for creative writing projects - one, an adult novel and the other, a series of books for young kids. And I eat salad. I don't know if I have ever mentioned this but I am a big fan of salads of all kinds. Minimal dressing. It's all about really fresh veggies and a variety of different textures.

Coming way back around to my point:  I have been a writer since I was a little kid. It is an important piece of who I am and it is feeling ignored and shut away and that is making me super crankypants. I don't want to be crankypants. I want to be badassbritches.

And I don't want to read this in a month or six months or whatever and want to kick myself in the head because nothing has changed. So I'm starting here. I'm writing more. So help me God.