Thursday, April 23, 2009

Good Food And Mixed Messages

Mixed up sorta day, yesterday. It was a Home Day for Elder Son, but the Mau-Mau was home too, and Smaller Son was in da house as well since he had a cough that kept him up all night. It made doing the educational stuff with Elder Son quite challenging, although Godzilla helped for a while, by beating the shit out of MechaGodzilla to keep the younger pair entertained. Thank you, Big G.

Part of the problem was that Elder Son apparently had a report to write about a recent excursion. And unfortunately, his teacher has decided that the home days are perfect for him to catch up on report-writing. Which is entirely not the bloody case.

On top of that, she's assigned him homework. And it's -- well, it's fucking stupid busywork. This kid is reading Conan and Doc Savage and Discworld stuff for his own enjoyment, and for homework, he has to write three sentences using the words stop, with and blue. Then he has to arrange a list of twenty-six words in alphabetic order. They're short words, and it's no coincidence that there's twenty-six: each word starts with a different alphabet letter. Tough task, eh?

Then there's the clown picture on the back. It's a colour-by numbers exercise in which you solve little problems to figure out what colour to use. Problems like 20+10, or 30-5. Again: stupid, and way, way below the level of math he takes in his extension math class at school.

There's more, but it's all much at the same level. And frankly, I'm not going to get him to do it. I've read the research on homework. It's value is limited, at best, and is most effective at a secondary school level. To be any use at all, it has to be of an appropriate time-length, and it absolutely can't be stupid-ass busywork. The researchers are all in agreement there. If the homework is to be any good, it has to extend or reinforce classwork, or the kids rapidly come to see it as a punitive waste of time.

I'd like to just ignore it, but Elder Son already gets in trouble with his teacher because he doesn't work in the manner she's after. I can certainly agree with some of her issues; his disorganization and his lack of listening skills are a pain in the ass. But that report... I had him sitting down for over an hour to write it, and when he was done, it was complete - but flat and dry. Natalie tells me his "draft version" (and yes, apparently they're all expected to do a 'draft' and a 'final') was three pages long, not one page, and it was highly creative and imaginative.

I did see a couple paragraphs. He wrote as though he was a spaceman, exploring a strange world and going out on a trip with the creatures that lived there. So why didn't he complete that version of the report?

Well -- he says that his teacher doesn't respond any better if the report is long and interesting and creative. She just wants it done.

I can see her point. He does need to learn to finish projects. But it seems to me that a little encouragement for the complex, interesting version might have seen it completed. Instead, it became a chore that we had to grind through, spending time we could have spent on more interesting things.

I'm not happy about this. And it's confusing, because at the same time, I've had a note from the school requesting permission for Elder Son to go on a science excursion to Bridport and the beach next week. They've got folks from the Vic Science museum along, and they'll be examining life in the intertidal zone, sampling micromolluscs, identifying algae, and discussing tides in relation to centripetal force and planetary movements -- according to the note, anyhow. Kids from three or four different schools in the area are going, but it's mostly about year 5 and 6. There will be one year 4 student from Scottsdale, but Elder Son is the only year 3.

And I know he'll enjoy it, and get a lot out of it. So why is his homework suitable for a kid two grades lower than he is?

I can't answer that. But I can say categorically that he's not going to be wasting his time at home colouring a clown by numbers. So there's going to be a bit of an issue coming, I suppose.

The evening went well, though. Mike the Historian came by for a drink and a talk, and as it happened, I was making a bit of a surprise meal for Natalie. I can't do the full range of Yum Cha dumplings, but I can do a decent mix of steamed dumplings -- chicken and ginger, chicken and mushroom, pork and ginger, pork and mushroom... add a couple platters of steamed buk choy and carrots with oyster sauce, and a dozen slabs of prawn toast, and you've got a pretty decent meal.

So - I just made a lot. I mean, a whole lot. And Eddy came down, with a bottle of bubbly that matched the one I had in the fridge already, and she brought a six-pack of beer, and Natalie brought home a couple six-packs, and the evening went really nicely. Even the Smashed Banana Custard 'Tard was good. (It was meant to be a banana custard tart, but I was too impatient about getting it out of the baking dish, and it all went to hell, shapewise.)

Nice end to the day, anyhow.


  1. Mate thats going to get hard, and i know that you're not one to shirk from a fight. The lads going to have a hard enough time as it is but if you start getting classed as a 'difficult' parent (despite all the work you're obviously putting in to help with his schooling) then you could find yourself doing much more home schooling!

  2. Yeah. I think I've figured a way around it. Just gonna take the shit homework, and 'lift' it a little. So: not three pathetic sentences surrounding three one-syllable words, but three one-panel cartoons using Comic Life, incorporating the stupid words. He'll enjoy that.

    And no brain-dead alpha-sorting. He can look up a dozen or so interesting words and offer dictionary meanings.

    As for colouring the clown -- well, THIS time around ONLY, we'll make it an exercise in teaching him to use the scanner. That way he can scan the fucking thing, turn it into a jpg, use something like Image-forge to click-fill the spaces with the 'right' colours, and print it.

    And I'll send a polite, airheaded note saying that we thought the homework was a little boring so we decided to spice it up.

    We'll see what comes next.

  3. And that old boy is why you are a well regarded author and i'm am stuck in an office dealing with twats..

  4. I'd make the dud homework speed challenges. Calculate a really short amount of time and get him to blast it. Then he can be more ready for real life work, where you blast simple rubbish in seconds, get paid, and surf the interwebs at leisure on interesting stuff :)

    I think it's a valuable lesson in balancing the junk you have to do, and the stuff you want to do. Critical life skill.

    You've got to watch the "I'm to special to do busywork" thing, I've seen it escape into "Details are for drones" while I'm pretty sure there is a lot of truth to "the devil is in the details."

    I had my head in abstract complexities but never turned that into a career as I never had to do detail work, or blasted past it with genius.

    I'm not saying anyone is wrong here, but 'busywork' can be more useful in ways people don't think about.

    As I said - make it a speed challenge - doing easy things really fast and precise is a valuable skill. And in life, there is heaps of stuff you don't want to do, and 'getting around it' can be a dangerous skill when overly developed.

  5. Heh. And if you don't get good at deatils you go on long rambles :)

  6. I fucken hated doing homework - as the teacher I mean.

    I used to set weekend homework only for that age group. They had to write a rundown of what they'd like to do the following week, based on the stuff we'd done in class the previous week, then in stupid arse 'sharing time' on Monday, kids would get up and present their ideas, discuss the possibilities and then vote on the best stuff. 100% attention and participation guaranteed for the rest of the week. 'Course, much more off the top of the head planning for me to work curriculum into it, but much better participation from the kids because they owned it.

    It's why I can't do the teaching thing any more - training perfectly intelligent small sentient beings for mediocrity and conformity makes my teeth hurt.

    The state only wants to ensure subservience, the capacity to add up and divide by three (to fill out a tax return) and be able to read advertising billboards.

    The rest is always up to the parents - cut out the middle man wherever possible I reckon.

  7. Oh, and PS

    Did you happen to hear this abc program?

    Knock me down with a feather, but the school doing this philosophy in schools program is in Queensland! I'm seriously thinking of doing the course to take a program into the local primary school here.

    And, as we discussed ages ago, I did a bit of feeler work re net-nurturing for kids, but the uncle-pervy stranger danger thing has got them spooked.

    This philosophy in the classroom approach is a very attractive alternative.

  8. Bartski: you're right about needing to learn about shitwork. But he's eight years old. It doesn't compute at that age. There's plenty of time to learn that one later. Right now, that wonderfully plastic, rapidly developing brain can learn, say, a language faster now than it ever will in the rest of his life. And he won't learn it by colouring in the clown picture.

    I take your point, sure. There's a lot to be learned about dealing with bureaucracies, about protective colouration, about colouring between the lines -- but it can come later. You don't get to be eight years old for very long, and I won't be the father who tells him to waste it on repeating bullshit lessons he learned two years ago already.

    It's not that he's too special to do busywork. It's that every kid, and any kid -- they're ALL too special to waste their time on busywork. Remember, mate: when you 'blast simple rubbish', you get paid real dollars to do it. He doesn't. He just loses more of the most fantastic moments of his life.

    If he's trading those moments for genuine learning, it's reasonable. But trading them for somebody's idea of 'proper homework' is about as unfair a transaction as it's possible to inflict on anybody. I will, quite literally, yank him out of the school and burn the whole fucking education system to the ground before I agree to turn his young life into a parade of meaningless bullshit.

    That's the Dad contract, after all. When someone actively sets out to hurt your kid -- whether deliberately, or as in this case by accident -- you prevent it. If they want to pay him real money to 'blast simple rubbish,' we can talk. Until then, they don't get that option.

  9. Hughesy -- that business about the net-perv fear annoys the shit out of me. Half the point of setting up a secure, students-only social networking system is that it allows them to learn useful habits which will PROTECT them when they decide to join MySpace or FaceBook or whatever.

    It drives me crazy. The schools have secure servers. They have the software already. It's entirely within the capacity of their existing infrastructure to do this, and do it in a fashion that excludes Uncle Pervy in a way that the "real" social spaces do not and cannot.


  10. That kind of homework is no different than coaching a soccer team, and teaching the kids they have to pass the ball after three touches, or in practice standing still and passing the ball back and forth. It stifles creativity, and teaches kids that the game is mechanical and boring. I like the approach of scanning the color chart, or the other ideas you came up with. It'll teach him improv, and solution-seeking.

  11. Dam, Steve, its a balancing act, and would suggest sport is a little different to Homework. A lot of base skills with sport come for the majority from repetition, so it becomes second nature as such, the key is carefully on serving the kids to determine who needs to progress and who doesn't, that and whilst at it, ensuring they remained sufficiently stimulated, from this, it means keeping it varied and finding ways to teach the same skill, but via a different exercise. Most people I know, would call this thinking outside the box, alas, some coaches have the mental agility of a brick.

    Dirk, flat out with you on the homework issue and the parents obligation to run interference, that means I don't give a fuck if the teacher or principle think I am a hard arse, its determining whats best for my child and how to achieve that. Occasionally that means letting open the cage door, at other times, you have to quietly slip the blade in, either way, its a never ending series of battle, but for the betterment of the kids, well worth the aggravation and testosterone expenditure.

  12. The "Big G" was a great help when I was raising my son (now 17).

  13. Any teacher that has time in her/his class for "busy work" isn't doing their job correctly. Every lesson must have context within a structure with clearly defined goals and outcomes. Stand your ground and refuse the assignments that do not further your son's intellectual progress.

    Go ahead and redo the assignments she gives and increase their degree of difficulty after you've work with your son to make sure he can progress at the higher level. At this time in grade three, Spring Semester, the student should begin basic principles of division. Students shouldn't be drilled into hating school, especially at the grade school level.

    Stand your ground on this one.



  14. Thanks J... I ain't moving, I assure you.

  15. Havock, you're right, a better way to show my example is how some coaches, again using soccer as an example, have their kids warm up by having them pass back and forth in a straight line, neither player moving....static.

    Instead, you get 3 players, pass back and forth, and after each pass, they move to a different position, "pass and move." You still get learning the mechanics through repetition, but you're teaching it in a way that they'll actually use on the field, because in no sport does any player stand still, except maybe golf.

    So, you find a way to teach that gets the kids thinking in a dynamic, not static, fashion. For example, coloring by numbers, but using computer technology to do it, or alphabetizing using words where the first 3/4 letters are the same, so you have to go to the 4th/5th letter to categorize it, that kind of thing.