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.