Sunday, January 27, 2008

How to Create an Extra-Ordinary Relationship with Your Child

On Wednesday, January 30 at 7:00 PM, Aric Bostick will speak to parents
at E.O. Smith High School on "How to Create an Extra-Ordinary
Relationship with Your Child." This presentation is open to parents of
children and teens of all ages. It will be a follow-up to two
presentations reaching all E.O. Smith students earlier in the day and at
a luncheon with student leaders.

Mr. Bostick, a former teacher and coach, offers a high energy message
about how Vision, Identity and Purpose provides students with the tools
necessary to live their dreams. This message has literally helped
thousands of people become motivated to achieve in school and in life.
He speaks at schools, universities and corporations all over the
country. Mr. Bostick was a recent keynote at Connecticut's Mothers
against Drunk Driving "Power Camp" where students Avital Lassow and
Melica Bloom met him and were inspired to start a student group at E.O.
Smith called "MADE" (Making Appropriate Decisions Everyday).

Mr. Bostick will speak to parents on the importance of becoming a V.ery
I.mportant P.art of your child's success and self-esteem. In this
presentation he will discuss:
* Making your child feel important
* Taking a genuine interest in one thing they love
* Celebrating the positive
* Resisting comparisons
* Letting them feel their feelings

This presentation is being sponsored by "MADE" and the
Willington/Ashford/Mansfield Coalition to Stop Underage Drinking.
Coalition Coordinator and local parenting educator, Ruth Freeman,
commented, "E.O. Smith students have chosen Mr. Bostick as their speaker
to kick off a student run initiative to inspire safe decisions among
teens in our towns. For that reason alone, parents will want to hear his
message. In addition, parents will learn important information about
connecting with children of all ages in ways that strengthen the
parent-child relationship and serve to prevent substance abuse."

All parents in the region are invited to attend what promises to be an
energizing and enlightening evening. For additional information, you
may contact Coalition Coordinator Ruth Freeman at the Mansfield
Department of Social Services at 429-3315.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What Colleges Look for in a Basketball Player: Eyes, Ears, Numbers

There's an unattributed quote making the rounds on some of the sports forums. I never publish stuff that has no point of origin but this is so useful and insightful that I'm going to publish it anyway.

It has to do with the kind of player perennial winner San Antonio looks for but it addresses the issue of what a good college coach is looking for as well. This is a rare, concise set of observations about players that address issues that are not racial, conditioning, nor purchased in pay to play leagues.

It also talks about the vision of coaching staff assistants to think outside the box - take the cult of personality, parents, popularity, expectation, and so on out of the evaluation - then what does the player bring to the game?

I'm treating the following quote as fair-use internet myth:
"Kevin Pritchard brought in a saying, I assume it was from San Antonio: 'Eyes, ears, and numbers.'

'Eyes' means what you see. Does a player have a feel for the game? What's his basketball IQ? Does he play winning basketball? What are his skills: shooter, ball handler, athleticism, size, length? You gather visual impressions of what you like and don't.

'Ears' has to do with culture, which is obviously a huge factor for our team. How does a guy fit? We do research on players so we know coming in whether they'll mesh easily or not. This entails talking in person with coaches, calling assistants and strength coaches, building the book on your man. Are they hard workers? Are they dependable? What are they like in the locker room? Do their teammates like them? Do they show leadership skills? And that's just the on-court stuff. We also want to know if they will be good in the community ... what they do in their off time and that kind of thing.

'Numbers' are simply stats. For college we look at things like scoring, field goals, rebounds per minute, assist-to-turnover ratio. We also do quality of opponent analysis. We want to know if a guy has been playing against the best competition and how he fared. We try to look at back-to-back game and one-day-rest patterns to gauge how a guy will hold up physically.

For the NBA we have a simulation guy who uses his own stats analysis. You weigh stats and strengths, digging deeper than the normal boxscore. For instance, which is better: a 90% free throw shooter who goes to the line 3 times a game or a 70% guy who goes 8 times? The boxscore highlights the 90% guy, but is he really more valuable?

Our simulation guy doesn't watch many games. He just goes by the numbers. It gives us a different perspective. It lets you watch players differently."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Libraries, Generation Y, and the Internet

At the end of last year an interesting article caught my attention about who is using libraries these days. Most interesting of all is the assertion that those who use the internet are more likely to use a library than those who aren't surfers. From the Brisbane Times, Generation Y biggest user of US libraries;
Of the 53 per cent of US adults who said they visited a library in 2007, the biggest users were young adults aged 18 to 30 in the tech-loving group known as Generation Y, the survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project said.

"These findings turn our thinking about libraries upside down," said Leigh Estabrook, a professor emerita at the University of Illinois and co-author of a report on the survey results.

"Internet use seems to create an information hunger and it is information-savvy young people who are most likely to visit libraries," she said.

Internet users were more than twice as likely to patronise libraries as non-internet users, according to the survey.

More than two-thirds of library visitors in all age groups said they used computers while at the library.

Sixty-five per cent of them looked up information on the internet while 62 per cent used computers to check into the library's resources.

Public libraries now offer virtual homework help, special gaming software programs, and some librarians even have created characters in the Second Life virtual world, Estabrook said.

Libraries also remain a community hub or gathering place in many neighbourhoods, she said.

The survey showed 62 per cent of Generation Y respondents said they visited a public library in the past year, with a steady decline in usage according to age. Some 57 per cent of adults aged 43 to 52 said they visited a library in 2007, followed by 46 per cent of adults aged 53 to 61; 42 per cent of adults aged 62 to 71; and just 32 per cent of adults over 72.

"We were surprised by these findings, particularly in relation to Generation Y," said Lee Rainie, co-author of the study and director of the Pew project. In 1996 a survey by the Benton Foundation found young adults saw libraries becoming less relevant in the future.

"Scroll forward 10 years and their younger brothers and sisters are now the most avid library users," Rainie said.
PBS took note as well. See their documentary here.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

But Can It Reverse Global Warming

Mark Dursin, in today's Courant, informs us of a heretofore unknown ritual secretly shared by children who believe in the powers of pajamas to create a school snow day. From The Secret Power Of Pajamas:
Question: "Do you wear the pajamas inside out, or inside out and backward?"

Answer: "Just inside out. Once I wore them inside out and backward and the big tag kept scratching my neck and chin all night. The next morning, I had school and a rash on my neck."

Question: "Can I do this in, like, May?"

Answer: "Sorry, but you can only do it when they are actually predicting snow."

Question: "While online, I read that some people throw ice cubes in the toilet in the hopes of getting a snow day. What do you think about that?"

Answer: "Well, that's just silly."

But when I asked if the pajamas/spoon combo works, I got several different answers. Some students squealed, "Yes, definitely!" and had anecdotal evidence to prove it. Others admitted, "Only sometimes" — but even those doubters still do it.

And therein, I think, lies the key. Think about it: we live in a world where multimillion-dollar geostationary weather satellites, orbiting 22,000 miles above our heads, can tell us the weather conditions anywhere on the planet.

All that technology should be enough for anyone, but especially for teenagers, who rely on technology for pretty much everything.

Consider, for a moment, your Typical Teen: When her ear isn't occupied by an iPod, she's got a cellphone up to it. And, when she isn't talking to her friends on her cell, she's IM-ing them about the new photos she uploaded to her Facebook page. While online, she may at some point click back over to her U.S. history term paper, which she can research and write without entering a library or opening a book. She is, in short, inextricably bound to technology.

And yet that same girl, when she hears about a potential nor'easter, will push aside all her electronics, grab a decidedly low-tech spoon and embrace the deliciously irrational possibility of magic and wonder. And there's something sweet about that. Don't get me wrong: The idea of an 18-year-old sleeping in inside-out pajamas with a spoon under her pillow is still kooky. But it's also sweet, and refreshingly innocent.

So yes, this winter my students taught me an important lesson — allow for more magic in your life. Next time they're predicting snow, I'm taking my chances with the spoon.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

"....you're talking about let's put all our resources into the prisons"!

Last Night's High School Reform meeting still has me upset with the arrogant and myopic condition the Department of Education is in. The cliche that when Republicans run the government they self-fulfill their complaint that government doesn't work and is a waste.

An article in the Courant called Pediatrician: Life's Tracks Set By Age 3 by Arielle Levin Becker underscores the disconnect between what's needed and what's being advocated by Rell's Department of Education.
Beginning with early childhood "is economically right, morally right, workforce right," said Janice Gruendel, the governor's senior policy adviser for children and youths and a chairwoman of the state's Early Childhood Education Cabinet. "It makes for a very good argument in a year when you're talking about let's put all our resources into the prisons."

The Early Childhood Education Cabinet is developing a plan to support children from birth to age 3, designed to link to its plans for children in preschool and beyond. The recommendations include improving maternal health and access to prenatal care, fatherhood initiatives, home visits for infants, and increasing slots for care for infants and toddlers.

Shonkoff praised the proposals and said they reflected state-of-the-art science. The science Shonkoff presented stemmed from decades of brain research in neuroscience, developmental psychology, molecular biology and economics.

Stable, safe relationships and rich learning experiences are key to brain development, Shonkoff said. Children can get them at home and in child-care programs, but they must be evidence-based, quality programs, he said. Child care must be treated as something to facilitate child development, not just to allow parents to go to work, he said.

Shonkoff recommended making basic health services and early care and education available to all children, targeting interventions for children in poverty, and providing specialized services to children experiencing significant stress.

"Forget the school budget and even forget the prison budget," he said. "The health budget would be helped even more by helping children when they're young."
It should come as no news to people who care about children that prisons are far more popular than kid advocacy efforts are.

When high school observers advocated a greater emphasis on reading in the elementary grades last night, elementary school teachers bristled as though the issue were about them and not about the fact that the sweet spot for learning language and math are these early years.

The inescapable truth of recent research all indicates that children from birth until grade three or so are voracious learners and the degree of nurturing that feeds that appetite for knowledge, comfort, and self-assurance is critical.

My suggestion last night bears repeating. If the State Department of Education wants to profoundly and effectively improve the quality of education for all children in Connecticut then the State should fully fund (no monkey business here) pre-school through third grade education and mandate no class size larger than 15 in these grades with special emphasis on developing language and math skills.

My second suggestion bears repeating as well. Instead of attempting to pass high school reform that centralizes curriculum, educational regions should be freed to become laboratories and incubators for grassroots school reform. What we need is Magnet School Districts who develop their best ideas about what schools should look like. In five years let's take the best ideas and legislate those.

To hell with sentencing more generations of kids to prison.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Reform School

Tonight, State Education Commissioner Mark K. McQuillan, hosted a High School Reform session at EO smith that lasted almost two and one half hours. Billed as a listening tour, it was no such thing.

If by "reform", McQuillan meant jumping into Peabody's Wayback Machine to visit a 1950's high school which will serve as a model for 2015 then you have an idea of what the State Department of Education is attempting to ram-rod into the legislature.

A panel of partisan hacks put together a "plan" (call it putting lipstick on a pig) for high school reform that essentially calls for legislating more testing, more central State control over curriculum, more uniformity in class offerings across the state, fewer electives, and accommodating a vision of the future that Nostradamus warned us about.

McQuillan was a doubleplusgood duckspeaker that George Orwell would have been proud of. McQuillan listened and carefully dove-tailed every comment, criticism, and compliment into the absolute requirement that "we must do something instead of nothing" and that something was the Republican Department of Education initiative to centralize control of secondary education to the state and away from the elected and accountable Regional Boards of Education.

McQuillan said he was stumping "to win the hearts and minds" as if the State had declared war on the voters and the Governor had decided a George Bush type dictatorship was in the best interest of education. The explicit message the tour recited was, "we want your input" but more than a few attendees got the feeling that they wanted the input to marginalize, ignore, and neutralize it. McQuillan was not attending to gather better ideas or to throw out the State's own handiwork if need be.

He was there so that the district could "Meet the New Boss".

Want to get depressed? More of these meetings are scheduled around the state.

Brutal. Absolutely brutal.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Send in the Clowns

Tomorrow evening at 7:30 at Eo Smith High School the Department of Education is coming to sell what it calls the Redesign of Secondary Education in Connecticut.

Please join the festivities as the assistant Commissioner of Education will attempt to sell their steaming pile of entropy as progressive reform instead of the massively constipated anal retention that anyone thoughtfully examining it might conclude it more truly resembles.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Why I Boo

The EO Smith Men's basketball team played South Windsor High last week in South Windsor. I booed heartily during the varsity game and I'm sure some of you will insist this is bad sportsmanship. Allow me to disagree.

I haven't blogged much about basketball in the past few years because the detail that I used to dedicate to following the statistics is no longer possible given my schedule. I try to keep track of my own boys now but even then I enjoy being a spectator more than a statistician.

And let me tell you up front that EO lost the game to a team that was not very good. I am not writing this because we lost but because of the eerie continuation of last year's ugly contest.

Last year I blogged this:
inevitably every spectator eventually has to endure the team that brilliantly discovers the smash mouth epiphany.

The smash mouth epiphany is the realization by soccer and football coaches who work their way into the basketball world that you can bully basketball players on the other team enough to win with little more than excessive physical play on your team's part.

So last night, down by twenty or so points, I watched a South Windsor player pull the shirt down on an EO player so hard that the player fell down. No big deal because nobody got hurt and the ref signaled a foul. But basketball is not soccer. It is not.

But that incident was just another low point in a game characterized by slapping, yanking, pulling, banging, tripping, and so on. Any sport devolves into brutish, ugly play when the point of either team is to push the envelope on acceptable physical play to gain advantage or a win.

Basketball is and always was a demanding physical play in which athletes (not brutes) play hard, with plenty of contact and spirit to win. And I love to watch games like that. Congratulations to the JV and EO Smith coaches and players who did not allow themselves to be dragged into playing like brutes.
It is no surprise that this year's game reminded me of the near-forgotten experience of last year's game.

This year, in South Windsor, it quickly became apparent that intimidation and brutish behavior is normal operating behavior. EO Smith's basketball team has a loyal following of students who show up at away games top cheer and make some noise for their team. They sat themselves behind the hoop and were joking around when a South Windsor official began harassing them, shouting in their faces, sticking his finger at their noses, and calling in two police officers who seemed on the ready for a riot. They yanked a student or two out into the hallway, no doubt to pester and intimidate them and reminded them there will be no fun had here! Aside from South Windsor parents, the student body of that school had virtually no attendees, probably already knowing they weren't welcome in their own gym.

It was a brutal and unnecessary and unethical display of the abuse of authority.

The varsity game was refereed as if one of the referees were on the payroll of South Windsor or had also succumbed to the thug mentality of the South Windsor location.

EO Smith players again had their shirts pulled with no whistles and a stream of bizarre referee calls against them. EO Smith's players were lectured on not playing defense so closely as if this were an instructional league contest.

I booed because every year the officiating in a game or two of the season is so blatantly bad, so one-side, so paralyzing to the rhythm of one team that expressing one's distaste is, in fact, the best kind of good sportsmanship one can muster.

On one level I'm distressed by having attended a poorly called contest. On another, I'm okay with the honesty of my response and I can't blame other fans, young or old, for expecting more from a game.

Later, I found out that the freshman game, too, was poorly officiated to the point of EO Smith parents walking away in disgust and feeling that the game was fixed.

The governing body of high school athletics should take a hard look at what's going on in South Windsor. Two years in a row of unusual games precludes these observations from being cosmic co-incidence.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Growth Mindset

It comes as no surprise that intelligence as it is exercised by humans is not a fixed commodity, it can expand or contract and our hope as citizens is that the schools we fund contribute to the expansion of intelligence.

Unfortunately our schools, ever fixated on processing the memorization of fact and the limited mind-numbing mechanics of fact often leave children who cannot memorize well feeling incapacitated in terms of intelligence.

A recent NPR report tells us why encouraging children to believe in their capacity for growth rather than their ability to pass a test is a better way to learn.
Dweck wondered whether a child's belief about intelligence has anything to do with academic success. So, first, she looked at several hundred students going into seventh grade, and assessed which students believed their intelligence was unchangeable, and which children believed their intelligence could grow. Then she looked at their math grades over the next two years.

"We saw among those with the growth mindset steadily increasing math grades over the two years," she says. But that wasn't the case for those with the so-called "fixed mindset." They showed a decrease in their math grades.

This led Dweck and her colleague, Lisa Blackwell, from Columbia University to ask another question.

"If we gave students a growth mindset, if we taught them how to think about their intelligence, would that benefit their grades?" Dweck wondered.

So, about 100 seventh graders, all doing poorly in math, were randomly assigned to workshops on good study skills. One workshop gave lessons on how to study well. The other taught about the expanding nature of intelligence and the brain.

The students in the latter group "learned that the brain actually forms new connections every time you learn something new, and that over time, this makes you smarter."

Basically, the students were given a mini-neuroscience course on how the brain works. By the end of the semester, the group of kids who had been taught that the brain can grow smarter, had significantly better math grades than the other group.

"When they studied, they thought about those neurons forming new connections," Dweck says. "When they worked hard in school, they actually visualized how their brain was growing."

Dweck says this new mindset changed the kids' attitude toward learning and their willingness to put forth effort. Duke University psychologist, Steven Asher, agrees. Teaching children that they're in charge of their own intellectual growth motivates a child to work hard, he says.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Are Word Processors Creating Writer's Schlock?

Virginia Hefferman, writing in this week's New York Times Magazine in an article titled, An Interface of One’s Own, asks some serious questions. And these questions must be taken seriously by all educational institutions concerned about creative writing.
After lo this lifetime of servitude, I intend to break free. I seek a writing program that understands me. Goodbye to Word’s prim rulers, its officious yardsticks, its self-serious formatting toolbar with cryptic abbreviations (ComicSansMS?) and trinkety icons. Goodbye to glitches, bipolar paragraph breaks and 400 options for making overly colorful charts.

Goodbye, especially, to the mean, white and narrow page — which is hardly the intoxicating mental expanse Kerouac and Cather must have enjoyed. With Word, I always feel as if I’m taking an essay test.

So I have come to admire Steven Poole, author of books on video games and language, who trumpets a new radicalism on stevenpoole.net. He has purged his life of Word entirely, and he says he feels great. He had nothing to lose but his chains.

Our redeemer is Scrivener, the independently produced word-processing program of the aspiring novelist Keith Blount, a Londoner who taught himself code and graphic design and marketing, just to create a software that jibes with the way writers think. As its name makes plain, Scrivener takes our side; it roots for the writer and not for the final product — the stubborn Word. The happy, broad-minded, process-friendly Scrivener software encourages note-taking and outlining and restructuring and promises all the exhilaration of a productive desk: “a ring-binder, a scrapbook, a corkboard, an outliner and text editor all rolled into one.”

Ring, scrap and cork sound like fun, a Montessori playroom. But read on — and download the free trial — and being a Scrivener-empowered scrivener comes to seem like life’s greatest role. Scriveners, unlike Word-slaves, have florid psychologies, esoteric requirements and arcane desires. They’re artists. They’re historians. With needs. Scrivener is “aimed at writers of all kinds — novelists, journalists, academics, screenwriters, playwrights — who need to refer to various research documents and have access to different organizational tools whilst aiming to create a finished piece of text.”

That “whilst”! It alone makes me feel like writing.

Scrivener, then, is one of us, at home in the writer’s jumpy emotional and procedural universe. Consider its desktop icon. It greets you without Word’s back-slanted, subliterate “W” — speeding nervously to the finish line — but with an open-minded yin-yang adorned with quotation marks. Unlike so many twerpy little applications, the Scrivener icon eschews that ubiquitous CuraƧao blue. Neither is it slightly rounded like some squishy teething toy. Instead, it shines and stands upright like a domino, which makes you think of a brisk “click” instead of a software “blurp.” It’s also black and white, like words on a page.

To create art, you need peace and quiet. Not only does Scrivener save like a maniac so you needn’t bother, you also get to drop the curtain on life’s prosaic demands with a feature that makes its users swoon: full screen. When you’re working on a Scrivener opus, you’re not surrounded by teetering stacks of Firefox windows showing old Google searches or Citibank reports of suspicious activity. Life’s daily cares slip into the shadows. What emerges instead is one pristine and welcoming scroll: Your clean and focused mind.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Responsible Citizenship 101

I came across this piece a few months ago and it still makes great sense. From an address by Salt lake City mayor, David Swanson.
As loyal Americans, without regard to political partisanship - as veterans, as teachers, as religious leaders, as working men and women, as students, as professionals, as businesspeople, as public servants, as retirees, as people of all ages, races, ethnic origins, sexual orientations, and faiths - we are here to say to the Bush administration, to the majority of Congress, and to the mainstream media: "You have violated your solemn responsibilities. You have undermined our democracy, spat upon our Constitution, and engaged in outrageous, despicable acts. You have brought our nation to a point of immorality, inhumanity, and illegality of immense, tragic, unprecedented proportions."

"But we will live up to our responsibilities as citizens, as brothers and sisters of those who have suffered as a result of the imperial bullying of the United States government, and as moral actors who must take a stand: And we will, and must, mean it when we say 'We won't take it any more.'"

If we want principled, courageous elected officials, we need to be principled, courageous, and tenacious ourselves. History has demonstrated that our elected officials are not the leaders - the leadership has to come from us. If we don't insist, if we don't persist, then we are not living up to our responsibilities as citizens in a democracy - and our responsibilities as moral human beings. If we remain silent, we signal to Congress and the Bush administration - and to candidates running for office - and to the world - that we support the status quo.

Silence is complicity. Only by standing up for what's right and never letting down can we say we are doing our part.

Our government, on the basis of a campaign we now know was entirely fraudulent, attacked and militarily occupied a nation that posed no danger to the United States. Our government, acting in our name, has caused immense, unjustified death and destruction.

It all started five years ago, yet where have we, the American people, been? At this point, we are responsible. We get together once in a while at demonstrations and complain about Bush and Cheney, about Congress, and about the pathetic news media. We point fingers and yell a lot. Then most people politely go away until another demonstration a few months later.

How many people can honestly say they have spent as much time learning about and opposing the outrages of the Bush administration as they have spent watching sports or mindless television programs during the past five years? Escapist, time-sapping sports and insipid entertainment have indeed become the opiate of the masses.

Why is this country so sound asleep? Why do we abide what is happening to our nation, to our Constitution, to the cause of peace and international law and order? Why are we not doing all in our power to put an end to this madness?

We should be in the streets regularly and students should be raising hell on our campuses. We should be making it clear in every way possible that apologies or convoluted, disingenuous explanations just don't cut it when presidential candidates and so many others voted to authorize George Bush and his neo-con buddies to send American men and women to attack and occupy Iraq.

Let's awaken, and wake up the country by committing here and now to do all each of us can to take our nation back. Let them hear us across the country, as we ask others to join us: "We won't take it any more!"

I implore you: Draw a line. Figure out exactly where your own moral breaking point is. How much will you put up with before you say "No more" and mean it?

I have drawn my line as a matter of simple personal morality: I cannot, and will not, support any candidate who has voted to fund the atrocities in Iraq. I cannot, and will not, support any candidate who will not commit to remove all US troops, as soon as possible, from Iraq. I cannot, and will not, support any candidate who has supported legislation that takes us one step closer to attacking Iran. I cannot, and will not, support any candidate who has not fought to stop the kidnapping, disappearances, and torture being carried on in our name.

If we expect our nation's elected officials to take us seriously, let us send a powerful message they cannot misunderstand. Let them know we really do have our moral breaking point. Let them know we have drawn a bright line. Let them know they cannot take our support for granted - that, regardless of their party and regardless of other political considerations, they will not have our support if they cannot provide, and have not provided, principled leadership.

The people of this nation may have been far too quiet for five years, but let us pledge that we won't let it go on one more day - that we will do all we can to put an end to the illegalities, the moral degradation, and the disintegration of our nation's reputation in the world.

Let us be unified in drawing the line - in declaring that we do have a moral breaking point. Let us insist, together, in supporting our troops and in gratitude for the freedoms for which our veterans gave so much, that we bring our troops home from Iraq, that we return our government to a constitutional democracy, and that we commit to honoring the fundamental principles of human rights.

In defense of our country, in defense of our Constitution, in defense of our shared values as Americans - and as moral human beings - we declare today that we will fight in every way possible to stop the insanity, stop the continued military occupation of Iraq, and stop the moral depravity reflected by the kidnapping, disappearing, and torture of people around the world.

Cartoons (click to site of ownership):