Archive | September, 2011

A few notes about nutrition, fruit juice and Arsenic

30 Sep

There was some news that broke about arsenic in fruit juices and my wife was all over it, I think because HER mother had heard about it.  So I was enjoined to study and read up on the topic and here are articles and resources I have read about arsenic and Lead in Juice:

This is about traces of lead found in Juice boxes
.  You’ll notice that Minute Maid Apple juice, the preferred substitute for the juice I had been buying is on this list. There is a couple of good follow-up links about this and other heavy-metal scare studies.  Again, the recommendation is to have whole fruits and vegetables.  But more on that in a second…

I did read about the arsenic in juice, specifically the Dr. Oz study as well as other sites associated with the Tampa Bay press-commissioned study.

Next, I read rebuttles from one company as well as the one from the juice industry.

The conclusions are:
- There are no safe levels of lead Or arsenic
- lead and arsenic are found in the soil, the water and the air
- therefore, breathing, drinking and eating will be fatal no matter what…it is found EVERYWHERE.

Having said all of that, the reason for all of this for us, is trying to treat a chronic constipation problem in one member of my family.  So it might be helpful to see what nutritionists and doctors have to say about the topic, from the Dr. DMK collecton:

This one is by a pediatric gastroentologist about what to do.  Lots of info here, but a bit more complex and boring for most kids.
This is a simpler video that our kids might even be able to watch which has some different ideas.
And this is a video by a nutritionist talking about juice v. fresh fruit.  Kids could could and should watch this too.

Dr. MDK is a pediatrician from the New York area who interviews experts in many different fields.  This is actually a great resource for ANY medical question as the videos tend to be very concise and helpful.  And yes, he has done a variety of videos about autism and disabilities.

SO when buying, preparing and eating food, I try to look at all the factors, including taste, allergies and economics.  Everyone has different needs and preferences which makes food preparation a daunting task on even the best of days.  I’m quickly discovering that the freezer is my friend so if someone wants something not on the menu, there ARE healthy alternatives that can be relatively quick and easy.  Quick, easy and tasty rule the day around here, and so I’ve had to come up with ways to sneak in nutrition and fiber.

Having everyone armed with the facts at least minimizes the arguments so we can all make better choices.

The End of NCLB..?

25 Sep

On Friday afternoon, my wife called out to me “Hey!  You have to see this!”

And there on the news was a story about the waivers offered by our beloved national education secretary that would allow states to escape many of the more ornerous NCLB provisions.  Which is to say, almost all of them.  And the headline read “No Child Left Behind Ends.”

Could it be true?  Could it REALLY be true?  To me, this would be the educational equivalent of the the falling of the Berlin Wall.  Perhaps…just perhaps..we might see some real reform in education.  Meaningful reform.  Something besides the test scores.

Georgia is a state that has already delivered its waiver application.  Oddly enough, it was delivered by one of the authors of the original NCLB law, Johnny Isakson.  Remember him?  Basically, congress has not done its job in doing anything to fix this law simply because it is unfix-able.  It never was and it never will be.

Isakson was one of the original authors of No Child Left Behind. But last week the Georgia Republican sponsored a bill with other GOP lawmakers to scrap the adequate yearly progress requirement. No Child Left Behind requires that all students be “proficient” in math and science by 2014. Those benchmarks are widely considered to be unrealistic.

Isakson said that after a decade of implementation the law “has served its purpose in raising expectations and standards.””We knew when we wrote No Child Left Behind that if it worked, we would reach this point where schools would not be able to continue to meet AYP (adequate yearly progress) because the bar is set higher and higher each year for schools,” he said.

According to Isakson, they knew when they wrote the law, that schools would eventually all fail. The law was PROGRAMMED to fail!  These are the people we send to Washington and this is what drinking that water and breathing that air does to people.  And it illustrates perfectly why the congress has no business dictating federal education standards.  The law was destined for bankruptcy even while it was being written and the lawmakers who wrote it KNEW it!

But this is not the end of NCLB.  It is not the end of testing.  It is not the end of the alternate assessment that has plagued those teachers of students with multiple and severe disabilities.  There is still Race To The Top, which Georgia just received a year ago.  And those who are most saddled by a law that never had them in mind when it was written, will be the last to realize the benefits of this waiver.  That is because the waiver was also not written with these students in mind.  But hopefully what eventually trickles down will be no worse than what is already in place.

I am somewhat hopeful that the career and work-ready provisions might at least help those students who could be employable with enough and the right kind of training, when they would otherwise stand no chance of getting into a college. And yes, there are a large number of students where this is true; they will not be able to get into a college and they have no desire to do so.  But at least by fostering a culture of productivity and relevant skill-based training, it might prevent them from dropping out and actually give them an edge in life.  At the present time, the work skills of a college drop-out and a high school drop-out are almost exactly the same due to vocational funding and programs being cut and minimized in order to switch the focus to collage-ready.  And this focus has been particularly hard-felt for students with disabilities.

NCLB has been little more than an expensive and nightmarish public awareness campaign.  According to Isakson, they wanted to put a spotlight on poor performing schools and poor performing groups of students by raising expectations and raising standards.  But the law was outdated the day it was signed, as the world economy has been globalized.    We need innovation, creativity, enthusiasm for learning, entrepreneurship and exploration.  And these were exactly the things that NCLB has succeeded in killing with the standardized test-taking culture that saw the diminishing or elimination of the arts in education.  While the rest of the world has been learning how to solve problems and create, our kids have been learning how to fill in bubbles.

One more thought on Homework…

9 Sep

As part of my previous article on homework, I did read an older article from 1999 that could have been written today.  But I did not use or source it because it seemed a bit old and dated.  However it does introduce one cause of the homework epidemic that I did not give adequate attention to.

For sure the accountability movement and testing climate have driven much of the homework given, there is one other notable factor driving homework and the problems associated with it.

Namely a certain demographic of parents.  That’s right, there are parents who are demanding homework for their kids.  If there is no homework, the parents assume it is a poor school or that their student is not learning anything.  To be sure, I would not advocate *no* homework, but would strive to cut the current load in half, at least.  But some parents are convinced the more homework will somehow give their children a competitive edge and parents who fuss and complain about there not being enough homework tend to be competitive overachievers.

I would guess that very few of these are parents of students with disabilities.  Those of us that have to deal with issues of poor attention, sensory issues, cognitive deficits and and any sort of behavior issues are clamoring for more homework.  In fact, I would argue that for students with disabilities, less is more.  Since they may languish longer in the acquisition stage, the amounts need to be bite-sized until some level of competence is achieved to where they can do it independently.

One other thing that I need to reiterate, based on my latest experiences with homework, is that sometimes even 4th grade math becomes too difficult to teach our own kids.  It’s not that I can’t multiply 2-by-2-digit numbers.  I can.  But the way it is taught now is entirely different and totally confusing and non-intuitive to those of us who learned to do this over 20 years ago. I know that the more mathematically inclined may be able to make complete sense of this but it took me several passes to figure this out for my gifted 4th grader.  I eventually got the idea, but even after I did and we were able to show our work and get the right answer, it still was not the way his teacher wanted it.

Welcome to a world where conformity is rewarded and innovation is punished or at best dismissed.

Homework: A Harsh Ruler

6 Sep

This is what dominates our house on a nightly basis.  And by dominate, I mean in the most oppressive sense possible.  In the same way Pharaoh dominated the Israelites by forcing them to make bricks without straw, so it is that we seem to be forced to toil under the oppression of a load of homework.  I don’t think teachers and administrators fully understand the weight and stress of homework on a family that makes an attempt at doing the right thing and being involved in the sense that schools like.

Any sort of church or other activities during the week are absolutely out of the question.  My oldest in middle school does not get home until almost 5 in the evening.  Any sort of written assignment will take him hours to complete simply because he labors long and hard at those types of assignments.   Of course he also chooses to dawdle and procrastinate as much as possible, making homework time even longer and making it more painful.  If the school is Pharaoh, we his parents are the overseers charged with wielding the whip to keep him producing.   There is much raging and gnashing of teeth, especially since we are all tired, hungry and irritable at the end of the day.  But experience tells us that letting them eat before homework will delay the completion even longer into the night.

There are several factors which make homework more painful than it needs to be.  Some of these are because of the student (my kids) and some of these are because of the school and others are a combination of the two.  As parents, we try to take care of those things that we can in our own kids by not letting them procrastinate and making sure they do the assignments right.  But sometimes that is not an easy task.

Sometimes we don’t even know there is an assignment due. I know it is hard to imagine, but sometimes when we ask our kids if they have homework or if it finished, they lie.  That’s right.  They tell us they have no homework or they tell us it is finished.   However, the past several years, some teachers have active and updated Moodle sites (called ELearn in our county)  where they list the assignments and may even have copies of some of the material they pass out in class as well as other resources to help parents keep up.  It makes being an involved parent MUCH easier.  I know this is one more thing a teacher has to do, but nowadays, most grades and subjects are following each other, they might be giving the same assignments.  In fact we did use that knowledge once when my youngest didn’t write down his assignment.  While his 4th grade teacher did not have an active site, there was one across town who did, and we happened to know she did from prior experience with our oldest child.  So it was simple for us.  But if a teacher does not have an active site, they really should consider linking to one that is active.

Sometimes they forget their book or other needed material.  Kids can be forgetful, careless and disorganized.  Again, having an active web page that is updates can help.  And nowadays most textbooks have an online version available.  This has also made things easier for us.

Sometimes they did not learn the concept at school and have to be taught at home.  This can be a pet peeve of mine, although I understand there are a lot of reasons why a student does not get it at school, including distractions or their own inattentiveness.  Nevertheless, homework is supposed to be something the student should be able to do independently as a way to get more practice toward mastery.  However, many times the student has not even reached the acquisition stage of a skill or concept.  At this point, we as parent have to step in and take over their education because the school, for whatever reason, has failed to teach them.  I know this sounds like a harsh indictment, it is a simple fact that if my child has work to do and they have no clue how to do it, they have failed to learn it at school.  No matter the reason, the child still has to be taught and this makes the process of homework completion more drawn out.  And more oppressive.

Sometimes there is too much homework.  My middle schooler has 4 core subjects plus two electives, one of which is band.  If you want to be good at band you have to practice and they recommend 30 minutes per day.  So if each core subject follows the same guideline, we can have a total of over 2 hours of homework.  Fortunately it has not been that bad, but the estimated time is not the actual time.  30 minutes easily becomes 2 hours if any one of the above factors is true.  Teachers need to assign based on estimates and then dial it back by at least a third.  I would say cut it in half because a large portion of the students will take twice as long as you think they should.

Sometimes we, as parents, have no clue what they are supposed to be doing or we have to teach/reteach ourselves before teaching our kids.  For me this is less true of science but I can see many parents struggling with any or all of the subjects they have not used in years and years.  Just watch a few game show fails and you see how little many adults retained from their own schooling.

People just like these, everywhere, are making babies who grow up to be school children who will need help on their homework.  And seriously, even those of us with college degrees will struggle with 4th grade math the way it is being taught in schools decades after we were taught the same sort of math.  They are teaching it totally different from anything that I ever studied in an effort to increase math scores.  So if we have to teach ourselves before we teach out children, this will further slow and burden the homework process, as well as add to the considerable fatigue and stress of it.

Don’t forget all of those nifty projects that may not be mentioned until the night before they are due.  I have issues with projects that demand considerable time and resources from the parents.  I think about the single mother working 2 jobs to support her family and then she has to go by the store to pick up extra supplies for some sort of project assigned by the school.  Wealthy kids with wealthy parents have the nicer looking projects because their parents can spend the money and time to make it look really polished.  But even outside of this, the projects usually demand time above and beyond regular homework assignments and can take an entire weekend to complete.  So now in addition to the stresses of the week, it bleeds over into weekends and over breaks.  Our school board does mandate that no homework be assigned over breaks, which gives some relief.

The entire concept of homework needs to be reevaluated as to how it is assigned in both quality and quantity.  There are books and  a site devoted to lessening the homework crunch, largely caused by pressures caused by AYP and NCLB.  There is also research suggesting that homework is of little benefit anyway.

The Future of Education?

1 Sep

Once again, I am back in my old room as a substitute and meeting a new teacher for my old students and a few new ones. It’s just like riding a bike…it just becomes a natural extension of you as you know what to do instinctively. And so it is with this population of students. I kind of amazed myself with how quickly I was able to bond with the new students. A bit more about my status later.

But first I want to talk about a podcast that aired recently on the Future of Education website. You can listen to it too!

I bought Bob Compton’s 2 Million Minutes documentary, and he made a lot of astute observations about the education systems in India, China and the U.S. In his latest documentary, he teams up with Dr. Tony Wagner (The Global Achievement Gap) whose book I have read and even gave a few copies away to administrators. The Finland Phenomenon explores the education system in Finland, often regarded as the top system in the world. Compton and Wagner wanted to find out more about the Finnish educational system and why it is as good as it is.

I have not yet seen this film but do plan on seeing it and reviewing it. But I wanted to talk a bit about some things Compton said in this podcast. He talked a bit about barriers to true and genuine innovation and I was struck by his description of how large organizations try to kill or squash innovation. Basically, if there is someone who starts to excel, it makes the rest of the organization look bad or at the very least exposes mediocrity. And since no one wants to feel bad, the out-lier is attacked and either put in their place or ostracized almost out of existence. This is just the organization striving for self-preservation. People don’t like change and innovation has a habit of forcing change upon people. This is also discussed in the book about educational disruption in education that I read a couple years ago about the time I was also reading Tony Wagner’s book.

So…could that be the answer to the question I am too embarrassed to ask or talk much about? During my tenure teaching individuals with severe disabilities I was innovating and shaping things way beyond what anyone else was doing at the time.

  • I had an active Moodle site that was a repository of knowledge to help other teachers who teach students with severe disabilities.
  • I had an active blog, informing other teachers, future teachers, policiy makers and parents the effects of certain government policies on the classroom
  • I recorded and posted scores of videos on Teachertube, sharing best practices in how to use different types of technology in the classroom
  • I experimented with many different types of technology including mp4 players, open source programs and various switches and AAC devices
  • I encouraged the faculty to use the collaboration software that the county had purchased in order to collaborate and share their ideas and thoughts rather than burdening the email system.
  • We experimented with research-based interventions such as electronic social stories and video modeling to teach new behaviors.
  • I tried to get school leaders to use technology to reach or teach the staff asynchronously in order to afford greater flexibility with staff development and to leverage the technology to build capacity for more staff development options and offerings.
  • Participated and attended staff development activities such as Future of Education webinars, and subscribed to various educational podcasts, even experimenting with my own podcasting site.

These efforts were not always greeted with open arms. Sometimes there was active opposition to some of the ideas but most of the time efforts to reform practice was met with a polite smile and then people continued to do what they were used to doing. I was clearly out in front of most of my colleagues when it came to technology and ideas for building capacity especially in regards to staff development using multimedia and social collaboration.

And these activities are STILL regarded with a great deal of resistance and suspicion from many people who make decisions about education. Being an innovator is often very politically risky and I have to admit to being often very naive when it comes to politics. My thought is that the needs of the students should be greater than the need for any particular political vendetta. We might disagree about certain policies, but in the end we are charged with the trust of caring and educating all students.

I’m a bit lost as to what to do about whatever it is that keeps me from getting back into the classroom full-time and need to look at all other options. Surely some of these skills must translate into something else that is useful to someone.

OH…by the way, look at some of the other blogs who made the list!  What an honor and a treat to be listed alongside so many other excellent special education bloggers.

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