Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Music Lives Inside Us

Mother knows best ... especially when she is connected to her child.  Several years ago Zion told me he wanted to play piano.  I jumped right on it and enrolled him at Levine School of Music.  I chose Levine because I wanted him to be in a place that would allow him to grow musically.  Consistency and continuity is very important to me.  After a year, Zion started to groan about having to go to piano lessons.  Then one day on the ride over to THEARC, he said to me, "mom, you know I don't want to come to my lessons, but once I get there, I really enjoy it and feel good about myself."  How sweet it is! I can't wait to see how accomplished he becomes years from now.  It's not about being a professional, it's about cultivating the inner artist in us all.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Forget Homework - It's a Waste of Time!

Forget Homework
It's a waste of time for elementary-school students.

By Emily Bazelon

Over the last decade, Japanese schools have been scrapping homework while American elementary schools have been assigning more of it. What gives-aren't they supposed to be the model achievers while we're the slackers? No doubt our eagerness to shed the slacker mantle has helped feed the American homework maw. But it may be the Japanese, once again, who know what they're doing.

Such is my conclusion after reading three new books on the subject: The Case Against Homework by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish; The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn; and the third edition of The Battle Over Homework by Duke psychology professor Harris Cooper. If you already despise homework, Bennett and Kalish provide advice on how to plead with teachers and schools for mercy. If you're agnostic, as I was, Kohn is the meatier read. Kohn is the author of several rebellious books about education, and he exposes the lack of evidence for many of the standard arguments in favor of homework: that it boosts achievement, that it inculcates good study habits, that it teaches kids to take the initiative, that it's better than video games or whatever else kids do in their free time.

Cooper is one of Kohn's main foils and a leading scholar on the subject, so I picked up his book expecting to find a convincing counterargument defending homework. I didn't. Cooper's research shows that, much of the time, take-home assignments in elementary school are an act of faith. No one really knows whether all those math sheets and spelling drills add up to anything. If there's little or no evidence that younger students benefit from homework, why assign it at all? Or, to adopt Kohn's less extreme position in The Homework Myth, why make homework the rule rather than the rare and thought-through exception?

In The Battle Over Homework, Cooper has crunched the numbers on dozens of studies of homework for students of all ages. Looking across all the studies is supposed to offer a fairly accurate picture even though the science behind some of them is sketchy. For elementary-school students, Cooper found that "the average correlation between time spent on homework and achievement . hovered around zero." In Kohn's book, he highlights a 1998 study that Cooper and his colleagues did with second- through 12th-graders. For younger students, the amount of homework completed had no effect on test scores and bore a negative relationship to grades. (The results weren't quite so grim for older students. Their grades rose in relation to the amount of homework they completed, though their test scores did not.) Kohn looks at these findings and concludes that most homework is at best a waste of time and at worst a source of tedious vexation.

Cooper, despite his findings, continues to back the "10-minute rule"-10 minutes of homework in kindergarten and first grade, with 10 more minutes for each additional grade level. For support, he zeroes in on six studies conducted between 1987 and 2003. These included third- through fifth-graders, and they compared kids who did homework with kids who didn't. (In a rare moment of good science in this field, the kids were assigned randomly to one group or the other in four of the studies.) The homework kids performed better, but only on a "unit test"-a test of the material they'd been sent home to study. Which means that Cooper's best evidence doesn't refute one of Kohn's central claims-that the measurable benefits of homework diminish the longer students are tracked for. Take a snapshot of a math quiz on fractions after kids drill fractions at night and homework looks good. Take a longer view and the shine comes off.
Cooper's support for the 10-minute rule actually makes him a voice of homework moderation in light of evil-homework tales of kindergartners slogging through 130-word lists. But as Kohn writes, "We sometimes forget that not everything that's destructive when done to excess is innocuous when done in moderation." In response, homework advocates emphasize the inviting notion that homework in elementary school fosters good study habits. "Before you can build a house, you need to build the scaffolding," Cooper says. Giving young kids briefer take-home assignments "is like learning to add single-digit numbers before you can add double digits."
This claim seems to make intuitive sense to a lot of people, but there is no research to either support or debunk it-the association between early homework and study habits simply hasn't been studied. And to me, it makes no sense at all. Time management and a general notion of discipline are not refined and specific and cumulative skills like playing tennis or baseball. So, why should we think that practicing homework in first grade will make you better at doing it in middle school? Doesn't the opposite seem equally plausible: that it's counterproductive to ask children to sit down and work at night before they're developmentally ready because you'll just make them tired and cross? "Most twelve-year-olds are better [at time management] than most seven-year-olds regardless of how much homework they've been assigned," Kohn writes. "It's both naive and unhelpful to expect younger children to defer gratification or know how to engage in long-term planning."

Nor does most homework teach kids to take the initiative and make learning their own. Instead, it's about following directions. In The Homework Myth, Kohn muses that the real purpose may be to foster uncritical obedience so that when kids grow up they'll accept the long hours Americans are expected to work. I'm not sure I'm ready to join that conspiracy theory, but I do resent the lemminglike nature of homework and its incursion on my kid's time. Eli is at school for 6.5 hours a day already-that seems like plenty of opportunity to get across what they want to teach him.

Kohn makes one major exception to his skepticism about homework-the encouragement of reading for pleasure. But he counsels that schools should take care lest their prodding turn books from a joy into a chore. Eli and his classmates are supposed to write down the books that they've read or had read to them. I'm willing to try this, but wary. It's only the first month of school, and a friend's daughter has already pretended to have read books that clearly haven't left her shelf. Homework as temptation to fib: not the lesson that schools intend to teach, but probably one that a lot of students learn.

When I shopped around the arguments against homework, I discovered that how you feel about it depends a lot on what you think kids will do if they don't have any. Eli's homework seems like an imposition when I measure it against running around the playground or playing card games or building with blocks or talking to his little brother.

In response to this, Cooper delicately suggested that my idea of a childhood afternoon well-spent is idealized and elitist. Maybe so. But the argument that homework is a net benefit for most kids has a big weakness. When homework boosts achievement, it mostly boosts the achievement of affluent students. They're the ones whose parents are most likely to make them do the assignments, and who have the education to explain and help. "If we sat around and deliberately tried to come up with a way to further enlarge the achievement gap, we might just invent homework," New York educator Deborah Meier told Kohn.

I e-mailed the principal of Eli's public elementary school, Scott Cartland, to ask about homework, and he emphasized the value of encouraging reading and making room for long-term projects. But he also fell back on logic that he admits is not, well, logical. "It has been drilled into our collective psyche that rigorous schools assign rigorous homework," Cartland wrote. "I recognize that this is a ridiculous thought process, particularly since your research suggests otherwise, but it's hard to break the thinking on this one. How could we be a high-achieving school and not assign homework?" How indeed. I hope the education establishment begins to wrestle with this question. If not, maybe it's time to move to Japan.

Emily Bazelon is a Slate senior editor.Article URL: http://www.blogger.com/

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Summer Fun 2007

Science Adventures Camp

Science Adventures Camp was really fun. I did a whole bunch of stuff. I made a space rover, space rocks, telescope, constellation box, and a science adventures board game. We went to Six Flags and we went to a water park instead of a regular pool. I got on the Superman roller coaster with Daddy and the Hurricane. The ride I like the most is the Hurricane and Superman roller coaster because it was fun and it went fast. It made me feel scary because of my stomach, even though it was a 35 foot drop, I wasn't afraid because I was with Daddy.

Washington International School

Dad became the "cool dad" of the camp with requests for
games of ping-pong and basketball. Before Eric started
started playing, none of the kids played Ping Pong.

Zion plays his favorite game BASKETBALL at WIS.

Zion always plays with the big boys at WIS.
Washington International School

In Zion's own words:
"I love this camp because I met new friends and had friends from last summer. I like the fact that we change classes. I took sports first and science and technology. I really like Zack, the counselor, because he knows how to play basketball and he played with me every day at camp. I like meeting people from all over the world. Obassa was from West Africa. Rahul was from

Thursday, July 5, 2007

How to Eat to Live

Zion participated in a gardening workshop that was a part of the Growing Food and Building Confidence program sponsored by the Nation of Islam. We learned the importance of urban gardening. Zion planted okra, created a seed chart, and transplated a flower. Next April we plan to participate in the gardening program offered by the Lederer Environmental Center in D.C. Each child get's his own plot of land to plant and harvest a variety of produce. It's a free program taught by an African American male horticulturalist with 30 years experience. You can't get any better than that!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

My Little Genius

Zion has been so blessed to participate in a wonderful program since the Fall of 2006. Little Genius Science and Math combines hands-on experiences with science and math, mentoring, and of course, interaction with peers whose parents hold them to the same standards of excellence that we have for Zion. I told Jennifer (the founder of the program) today that I love the class. I learn so much. Today Zion learned about the anatomy of the eye and took home an eyeball he made. Anita, the curriculum writer, is awesome too. Each week I am so amazed. Now my son knows that he can have a career making artificial eyes. They are called OCULARISTS. Who knew!

For more information about Little Genius Science & Math Program, view this link:

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Playtime after a Day of Work

Since I was still in the hospital with Ayinde, today Zion spent part of the day working with Daddy delivering roses. In my opinion, this teaches him so much more than any of the “seat work” he does on a daily basis. He is learning that Daddy will do what is necessary to make extra money for the family. He is learning the value of hard work. He is learning how to be enterprising and conduct business because I know he is recording all of Daddy’s conversations in that Memorex brain of his. And the best part for Zion is pay day. Right now Zion has more money than I do. He’s been saving his birthday money and pay from his “part-time” jobs with Daddy and I think he’s over $100.00. He’s also learning how to budget. About a week ago Zion told me he needed a new toothbrush. I told him to use some of his money and purchase one. He took a second look at his toothbrush and said, “Nevermind. I think it’s okay.” I’ll bet you do. After a long day at work, Dad and Zion came back to the hospital to spend the rest of the evening with family. Their presence made Ayinde feel lessed stressed about being away from home.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Family First

Zion’s little brother Ayinde was admitted to the hospital on Saturday for pneumonia. Zion and dad have been at the hospital all day over the weekend. On Monday Zion had the choice of going for a play/homeschool date or coming to the hospital to be with mommy. He chose to stay with me at the hospital all day. I see this as a “side effect” of homeschooling. Being with his family during a crisis and just in general is not only normal, but enjoyable to Zion. He said he wanted to come to the hospital to help me and play board games with me so I wouldn’t be lonely. I wanted to cry. Zion is only seven years old but very mature and compassionate. My husband and I are so proud of who he is becoming. So dad packed his backpack with some essentials: Singapore Math, Explode the Code, Handwriting Without Tears, Little Genius Science and Math, and a book to read to me. Becasue Zion had a cold, he had to wear a mask while visiting.