Saturday, May 30, 2009

SOL Tests to Change?

So, the state (Virginia) DOE is contemplating getting rid of Social Science (Social Studies) and Science SOL tests for third graders...

Now that the initial cheering has stopped, you must consider what happens next.

Like many, my initial reaction was to leap for joy. Two fewer tests for over-stressed children and teachers! Life could go back to the way it was before the tests when we had standards (1988-1994). In those years, we had a unified state curriculum, and we had unencumbered time to teach and develop creative instruction. But I've learned that you can never really go back in time.

These aren't the 80's and early 90's. The unified curriculum powerfully codified the haphazard curriculum pieces from each of the 135 school divisions. I remember my children groaning prior to the curriculum realignment when we'd begin our study on "The Human Body."

"What do cells do?"

"They help you live and grow."

It seems that kids had been taught the same thing year after year. The new standards erased all of that, and education across the state was unified and broadened.

The tests, however, DESTROYED education in Virginia. Over the past 14 years since the testing component was first piloted then fully implemented, public school education has gone comparatively from a fine meal at an Italian restaurant (okay an exaggeration: Olive Garden) to some kind of McDonald's Happy Meal with a Star Wars action figure. In addition, today's education is like waiting in line for that Happy Meal with hoards of sick people with strep throat sniveling next to you while you all watch the customer countdown clock for your meal. When you finally get your meal, you just want to flee from there as quickly as possible.

What I'm trying to say is that the tests have taken joy out of teaching and replaced it with non-productive stress. Why we are subjecting anyone to these stress levels is beyond my comprehension. Moreover, subjecting 8 year old children to this stress is criminal. So you can understand why I would leap with joy to hear that two of the four tests for third graders would be obliterated.

The story isn't quite as simple as all that, however. Latest word I'm hearing is that the state doesn't just want to get rid of the tests because they realize that 8 and 9 year-olds are being over-tested and stressed-out (wow...a triple hyphen sentence). Instead, they want to REPLACE the test with a NEW test on Algebraic functions. That's right, a SECOND MATH TEST!

I've long argued for a mathematics program that embeds algebraic theory in the earliest levels of instruction. We're too stuck on computation to see that mathematics truly is a language. You don't learn German by memorizing a few words and rules. You learn it by being immersed in the its whole complexity. The funny thing is that back in the late 1980's-through early 1990's, such a program existed. It was called Comprehensive School Mathematics Program (CSMP). This program, which was created by a team of teachers and engineers after the 1980 NCTM standards were approved, was a successful public/private partnership geared to the infusion of logical thinking, algebraic functions, computation, probability and set theory into one cohesive program. The program began at Kindergarten and had initially expanded to sixth grade where more traditional math classes picked up. CSMP, however, died when federal support dried up in the late 80's and the state assessment program followed a different, computational/word problem based curriculum in the mid 90's. Now the state wants Algebra back in...[sigh].

Back to the original subject, I also have fears that Social Studies and Science instruction will suffer if the tests are erased. As long as there are high stakes tests in other subjects, then teachers will feel intense pressure to devote the lion share of their instructional time to the tested subjects. History, Geography, Science may all suffer from instructional starvation. Starving these areas won't help at all when these children reach the upper elementary grades and are faced with Social Studies and Science tests that cover massive amounts of material.

Anyway, taking away the tests isn't as simple and liberating as it may at first appear. Crack is highly addictive, and it's very bad for you.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Gardens Alive

We've had a soggy month. It's been cloudy since Sunday. Drenching tropical rains come in waves. While, overall, we have floated away, we haven't been able to get out and tend the yards either. My grass has leaped up and will soon grow over top my house.

The Catawba Gardener's annoyiing self-propagating onion.

Here's a look at my tomato plant left-overs.

A row of tomato plants hidden in between some peas and flowers.

A typical tomato caging.

Young squash/zuchinni

Young squash/zuchinni again

A experimental planter. Kids can watch the roots grow. Unfortunately, the box has rotted out.

Finches love these red hot pokers.

Bush beans and pole beans. I accidentally mixed the pole beans in with the bush beans. That makes for more work.

My neighbor gave me this tower years ago. I reconditioned it this year.

Peas gone wild.

The groundhog allowed these pea plants to live. They responded by putting out the first pods.

A Nadia eggplant.

By fall this small bed will be fill with brilliant hot peppers. I put the plants in this past weekend.

My Eastern Garter Snake lives on the black leaf bags behind my garbage cans. He enjoys spiders and worms.

The cucumbers are ready to grow up my cages.

This cabbage is rapidly becoming massive.

Becky's yellow Flower began blooming yesterday. Hopefully the sun will come out long enough for us to enjoy it.

Beans beans and more beans.

The asparagus is beginning to slow down. I'll let it go to seed soon. I like how the stalks are pointed toward the sun.

I hear artichokes can grow as high as one story. This one is beside my house. The other is in my front yard.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Times

A VT message board poster has taken it upon himself to publish pages from The Roanoke Times (with their permission) relating to Virginia Tech football.

As I was searching through his pdf catalog, I stumbled upon the November 25, 1920 edition of The Roanoke Times. VPI was preparing to play arch rival VMI in Roanoke. Civil War Veterans were invited. Each student body rode a train to Roanoke and proceeded to meet in their headquarters before performing drills in competition.

What struck me, beside the pre-game football articles, was the general news of the time.

Joe Jackson admitted to throwing a World Series game.

The US made it to the Pacific Ocean digging the Panama Canal.

Assassinations were the rule in Ireland.

Mexicans were banned from testifying in court cases in the USA.

Sort of an amazing day.

November 25, 1920.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Power Generation

I just have a few minutes before I fall asleep, so I just have time to share the barest sketchy details of what I believe will help save the future: Kid Power.

That's right. I believe that it should be possible to create highly interactive playground equipment for elementary schools which will serve as not only fun places to play but also modern, efficient mini power generation plants.

As the children run around and jump and climb on the playground equipment, their energy is utilized to turn specially designed generators. Classes can access the equipment on a strict regimental schedule thereby maximizing the electrical output. The power generated can then be used to power the school with any excess dumped back in to the public grid.

We can save our world one child at a time.

Good night.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Elf Envy

Elf Envy

In medieval Sweden, valerian root was sometimes placed in the wedding clothes of the groom to ward off the "envy" of the elves.

Rita had obviously been having a long day behind the pharmacy counter at the box store today. As I waited my turn to get to the front of the line, I heard her exhale loudly before offering me an insincere, “May I help you?”

Since my birthday on Friday, I’ve been battling what I had originally thought was allergies. By Sunday night, I was miserable and was forced to sleep propped up in bed so that all of the gunk in my lungs could drain to my toes. This downward action, apparently, upset my touchy right ankle which inexplicably began to throb.

I persevered for a half day at school on Monday because we were giving the official state mathematics test. Teachers aren’t allowed to be sick on those days. Well, actually, it’s just frowned upon since you have to receive special training to proctor these annoying tests. I went home immediately after the test and rested up for an evening retirement reception which my local education was hosting. As MC, I knew I’d have to be “up.”

The event went well. There were hoards of people. My local school division was forced to offer early retirement packages to our teaching force in the hopes that enough of us would leave the profession that they could eliminate our jobs and therefore save the county lots of money so that regular people wouldn’t have to have their real estate taxes raised a few cents. Their plan has worked perfectly. We’ve never had so many teachers retire at once. It’s a mass exodus of vast experience. All in all, while I’m very happy for my colleagues who are escaping to have a life of their own, I’m saddened by their loss.

When I returned home, I was completely exhausted both mentally and physically. I had already decided to take today off and recuperate. I also needed to visit the doctor, or rather my nurse practitioner, to get my blood pressure prescription renewed. I’m not a big fan of “my doctor.” In fact, I try to avoid seeing him. I do like the NP’s that I’ve met, however.

The nurse practitioner and I had a pleasant conversation. She didn’t beat me over the head and tell me to drop twenty pounds. She listened to my chest and took my pulse and didn’t make one comment about the round contoured texture of my chest and stomach.

After some discussion, she gave me three prescriptions: my regular meds for the blood pressure, one oxy-something for the painful ankle, and one antibiotic for any potential lung infection. I tried to talk her out of the Z-Pack, but she insisted that we should just “knock this baby out right now.”

So I took my prescription sheet and headed over to my neighborhood big box store pharmacy where I waited for Rita to acknowledge me.

After snatching my prescriptions from me, Rita took a breath, sighed again, and told me that they’d be ready in about 45 minutes (about was the operative word). So with that much time to kill, I walked over to the local big box electronics store and looked at …electronics. After about a half hour, I went back to my car and drove a short distance to another large big box store and rooted around in the candy section where I found a large movie theater-sized box of chocolate covered raisins for just a dollar! I was the second in line in the “ten items or less” line and waited about fifteen minutes to make it to the front of the line.

As I walked out into the parking lot, I quickly opened my box of chocolate covered raisins, expecting the box to be crammed full of the delightful treats. Instead, I found a little plastic bag filled with just a few of them. Sure I was disappointed, but ultimately, I didn’t care. I was relaxed and just wasting time anyway. Although I was getting a little bit hungry.

I went directly back to the box store that housed my pharmacy and decided to try their sweet smelling popcorn. I’ve gone to that store many years now, but have never tried the popcorn. In fact, I thought that it might actually be free. But to my surprise, I found that it cost exactly $1.10 with tax added in. So I forked over the money and headed back out to the parking lot to munch on my snack. I figured Rita could use the time, even though the 45 minutes had long since passed.

By the time I got back in, Rita was frantically pacing back and forth dealing with customers while the pharmacist carried on animated conversations on the phone. I got her attention, gave her my name, and she checked the completed order pile and couldn’t find it. I told her that she may not have completed the order yet and sure enough she went over to her incomplete pile and found it. “You’re next.” she said.

In medieval Sweden, valerian root was sometimes placed in the wedding clothes of the groom to ward off the "envy" of the elves.

I didn’t actually know that about valerian root then, but I did spend considerable time over the next few minutes studying the herbal supplement section of the big box store. I looked at the incredible glucosamine gel cap deal ($10.99! for 100 caps). I looked for things that would make me regular, lower my blood pressure, and help me grow unwanted facial hair. There was a clearance deal on “long” Trojan condoms. I guess long is in short supply. I’m not sure I’d purchase my condoms on the clearance rack.

The bottle of valerian root was very seductive. It was Milk of Magnesia electric blue with VALERIAN ROOT written in plain script on the label. Then in a soothing green rectangle, it had the word, “Relaxing...”

“Hmmmm” I thought. “Valerian Root…relaxing…I like relaxing…I’ve been stressed out lately…relaxing…hmmmm…that’d be nice…only $5.99 for 100 gel caps…hmmm.”

I went over to the metallic bench near the counter and sat down with my bottle of valerian root. Relaxing. My seat offered a view of the two pharmacy workers. Rita continued to rush back and forth in the cramped quarters between her computer and the cash register talking to herself or phantom customers. Jamie, I didn’t know his name at the time, stood by the phone resplendent in his white pharmacist coat and colorful tie and carried on conversations over the phone with people who obviously had serious medical prescription questions. Jamie patiently answered every one and raised a few questions himself.

Finally, after waiting about two hours total, Rita called me over and grumped, “Ready.”

Thoroughly relaxed, I hauled myself and my bottle of valerian root over to the counter where I was met by Rita. As she began to ring up my order, Jamie popped over. He immediately launched into a ten-minute lecture about my medications.

“This one can be taken without a meal and this one must have a meal and this one needs at least a snack but they can all be taken with food but you need to take this one twice the first time and then once a day afterwards but the others are taken either once or twice during the day according to the bottle. I like to advise my customers to think of your stomach as a sandwich (so do I…I love sandwiches). You take in a little food, and then add a layer of medication. Add another layer of food, add another medication. You keep doing that until you’re done with your medications. Never take the medications on an empty stomach.”

Jamie’s thoughtful direction relaxed me and made me feel as though I could truly confide in him. So I piped up, “What do you know about valerian root? It says it will help me relax…what do you think?”

Jamie’s face shriveled up in a contorted frown. “No,” he said while shaking his head and giving me a thumbs down. “You know my background was as an herbalist, and I know a lot about these things. You never know what you’re getting in these bottles. I mean some kid in Africa was probably paid 5 cents a day to pick the root and who knows what they would pick. They’d probably pick a bunch of chickweed as soon as pick valerian root. I mean there’s no regulation in the field. You generally get what you pay for. The more expensive herbs are likely to be the best quality. I mean they smell better, taste better and look like they’re supposed to look. You’ve just got to educate yourself. That’s the key. Educate yourself. In fact, I got this website you can check out.”

I nodded. Jamie scrawled the address out on a couple of pieces of pink “Love The Lord Your God With All Your Heart” note paper. Rita shoved a pen in my hand, made me sign for my order, and took my money.

“You know back in the old days, snake-oil salesmen used to peddle their liniments and oils from the back of a wagon claiming that they could heal whatever ails you. What do we got now?” He continued.

I nodded.

“We got a mess… that’s what we got. Hell, look there’s no regulation. I used to work at my parents’ pharmacy. We ran a small pharmacy and my mom and pop used to mix quinine for our customers because quinine is generally regarded as a muscle relaxant. People would take our mix and rub it on their muscles and get true relief. So when the government finally decided to crack down on unproven potions and herbs, what did they hit first? You got it…quinine! The one thing that actually works as advertised… quinine!! Can you believe it? I mean they could have gone after all of these companies like Merck that bought up all these herb companies, but no they didn’t…quinine!”

“I see what you mean… I don’t think I’ll be getting the valerian root.”

Jamie nodded.

“Listen, I really appreciate your help here today, what’s your name by the way?”

“Jamie,” he replied, “I don’t usually work here, I’m from the other side of the state and am just helping out around here.”

“Well, it was great meeting you Jamie.”

As I left the counter with my prescriptions and not the valerian root, I was flooded with all sorts of thoughts. Wouldn’t it be cool to watch a TV drama featuring a pharmacist and his assistant? Maybe not, but I bet they’d have some stories to tell.

I also began to understand why Rita might be a little grumpy. There she was a pudgy 60-something year old lady forced to hustle back and forth while the pharmacist gabbed with the customers.

In medieval Sweden, valerian root was sometimes placed in the wedding clothes of the groom to ward off the "envy" of the elves.

I sort of wonder what those elves would do to the groom if he didn’t place the valerian root in his clothes. Did you know that valerian root has an effect on cats and dogs similar to the effect cats have when rolling in catnip? Did you know that real valerian root smells like either moldy cheese or wet dog fur? I guess that’s why dogs like it so much and elves don’t. Everyone knows that elves don’t like moldy cheese.

You’ve just got to educate yourself. That’s the key.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Massive 2.6 Magnitude Earthquake Strikes the Star City

[Click to enrage]

4am. Wife was awakened.

This is located just across from Oak Grove Elementary.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Loose Ends

These are a collection of photos from Saturday May 2, 2009. Sam had just finished the Change in Command ceremony and Pass In Review. He's posing here with two of his friends, Javier and Brian. For those looking at the Mother's Day photo of my two kids on this blog, you'll note that I used the picture of Sam from the shot above this text to cut and paste onto a picture of my daughter. Sort of like photoshopping without Photoshop.

Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Relatives Come A'Callin'

Thursdays in the Spring, Summer and Fall are weed eatin' days at my parents' house. Over the past week, we've endured days of the midnight sun here in Roanoke. Clouds and rain have been wholly encompassing. Today, in stark contrast, offered a glimpse of sun and an opportunity to catch up in the yard.

I went over to my parents' house today and began working on the yard. Weeds had taken advantage of the rain and had leap ahead at warp speed. My father had tamed the largest portion of the yard by running his trademarked Cub Cadet. It took a while, but the weeding and associated blowing was eventually completed.

The great surprise for me on this visit was news that my Uncle Tony and his two sons would be stopping over this evening. I haven't seen "The Ohio Ryders" in some time. So I made plans to stay. I always enjoy seeing Uncle Tony. Anthony Ryder is the oldest of my father's surviving siblings. He was born in 1912, I believe, which puts him in his upper 90's. Uncle Tony doesn't hear well, uses a cane to get around, but he is spry and still packs a powerful handshake. Uncle Tony is a man who has always taken a firm hand and looked the person dead in the eye. That style of handshake, these days, is rare.

Uncle Tony was escorted by his two sons and his daughter-in-law. He was returning from a week-long visit with his Alabama son, Steve and his wife Shirley. His son Joe came to Roanoke from New jersey to pick him up to take back to their home. Since Tony's wife, Bee, passed away a few years ago, he has lived with Joe.

It was great seeing my cousins again. We are all so "Ryder." It's so obvious to me that we come from the same family. Joe is a dead ringer for my late Uncle Stan, at least as I remember him. While Steve and my brother Joe share distinct physical similarities.

We talked out on the back porch as evening descended. Squirrels, possoms, skunks, and other critters eventually wove their way into the discourse. Eventually, and as you might expect, the conversation turned to North Haven, New York-home of our grandparents. Joe told of his kayak expedition around the island last summer. How they launched from Sunset Beach and luckily paddled across the Shelter Island ferry landing at slack tide. Then how they got caught in a lightning storm and had to hide under the Sag Harbor bridge before making a sprint for Long Beach. I could clearly see each piece of their adventure. It occured to me that the Ohio Ryders and the Roanoke Ryders all shared similar experiences growing up as we visited Long Island to reconnect with the family home base.

It sure was great seeing the Ohio relatives.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Consoler Of The Lonely

Been sort of bleak weather-wise around here for over a week now with more clouds on the horizon. This song by The Raconteurs (Jack White and others) sort of captures the mood.

Consoler Of The Lonely

Haven't seen the sun in weeks
My skin is getting pale
Haven't got a mind left to speak
And I'm skinny as a rail

Lightbulbs are getting dim
My interests are starting to wane
I'm told it's everything a man could want
And I shouldn't complain

Conversations getting dull
There's a constant buzzing in my ears
Sense of humor's void and numb
And I'm bored to tears

I'm bored to tears, yeah...
I'm bored to tears, yeah...