Saturday, October 23, 2010

Day of the Dead Activities for Kids

I dread sugar holidays.  I was happy about having an autumn baby until I learned about the industry around childrens' birthday parties and the difficulty of getting inside the Party Store during the Halloween season.  A smarter, more systems-thinking mother would have taken American marketing cycles into consideration when conceiving.

LA is full of so much culture, that visitors cannot take it all in.  Many hit just the highlights, like the Getty Center and Disneyland, but we also love the smaller venues.

One such gem is the Fowler Museum on the UCLA campus.  It's free, though you pay for parking in lot 4.

It's not an ART museum; it was founded as the Fowler Museum of Cultural History. It's also home to the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology (yes, that Cotsen).  The level of curation at the Fowler is extraordinary.  Take some time, read the exhibit materials, watch the multimedia content and TAKE THE AUDIOTOUR.

Actually, pick up both the adult and children's audiotour guides.  They're both free, as is admission.  Unlike other museums, the childrens' audiotour is not a dumbed down version of the adult one.  It repeats very little information, focusing instead on the things that children might notice and care about.

Our daughter can spend a long, long time listening to the audiotour and examining the objects.  The museum curators at the Fowler know their stuff, and understand children.  I cannot recommend the place highly enough for families.

Anyway, for a deeper exploration of Halloween, Day of the Dead and death rituals, take your kids to tomorrow's Kids in the Courtyard event, Life Drawing Meets Dead Dancing: A Day of the Dead Celebration.   The kids can have fun, learn about Mexican and Korean cultures, and make some arts/crafts.

Get them the audiotour for kids and that might even buy you enough time to sneak in a lecture about African Art while you are there.  Or at least that is my fantasy.  The lecture is in the basement and the kids' activities are on the first floor.  You can't expect to leave younger kids alone for that long.  Teenagers, perhaps?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Democracy 2

Anyone figured out how they will vote on all the California initiatives yet?  I am still waffling on Prop 19 for reasons I will explain later.  What about Redondo Beach's measure G?

I wish I knew of a California website as thoroughly-researched and thoughtful as Colorado and Boulder Ballot Issues.   Even if you don't live in Colorado, it is worth a read.

Disclaimer: I might be biased because I have talked politics with the anonymous blogger aka Your Ballot Issue Educator over many a meal.  A very good cook, and convincing debater, too!

All happy families are alike

Which would make for a really boring blog.

The last few months have been a blur with all three of us coming and going in all different directions for various commitments.  I think my arthritis flare-up was at least partially due to the stress of it all.

I came home late tonight to watch Bad Dad and Iris curled up on the couch together (she, wearing a flannel nightgown I made for her), watching Iron Man 2.

Well, our life is glamorous and dangerous, just like in the movies.  You want proof?

Mama went to Edwards/Dryden out in the Mojave,
 and saw two generations of Global Hawk UAVs,
 and even slipped out of the meeting to buy my little girl a present from the visitor center store,
while Bad Dad risked his life, flying with his experiment in a thunderstorm nearby.

In true super-hero fashion, I registered you for classes at your new school, did your laundry and helped you pack for your trip that week.

Your parents are superheroes in disguise.  Just remember to let us sleep in on the weekends.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Seam Avoidance 2

I still haven't sewn up October Frost, mainly because I am not sure how to handle the button bands and buttonholes.  But check out another seamless sweater!
Traveling ribs across the front.

Plain ribbed back
Front detail
  • Pattern: Cookie A's Katrina Rib 
    • A really nice top-down design knit in the round
    • My cable cast-on (written in pattern) looks wonky; next time, I will try a tubular cast-on
    • The sleeves were lengthened to 16 rows before the bind-off.  I also picked up extra stitches at the underarm join, which helped keep the rib pattern continuous
  • Yarn: Knit Picks Swish DK in Garnet Heather
    • Is it really merino?  It feels so scratchy compared to other merinos I have used.  
    • I love the color.
    • Note to self, treat myself to better quality materials.  The price difference isn't very much after I factored in the time I spent with materials that didn't thrill and inspire me. 
    • I bought the yardage called for in the pattern, but I have about 120 g (of 350 g) leftover.
Cookie A made this a shareware pattern. Users are expected to donate what they wish for Haiti. Coincidentally, OxFam called our home and asked for a donation for Haiti earthquake relief.  I asked how much we donated last year and then pledged the same amount this year.

This pattern turned out to be the most expensive pattern I ever bought.  ;-)

Seam Avoidance 1

Economic integration of schools

My child attends a Title 1 school, which means 40% or more of the students come from low-income homes.  I didn't know what Title 1 meant until recently, when I saw the sign at her school and looked it up.  Here's what Title 1 means in California.

What does low-income mean? defines low-income as families with incomes less than half of their local metropolitan census tract, which means that 40% of the kids at her school come from families with incomes in the low $30,000 or less.  Some quick arithmetic with sales prices of the new townhomes in our neighborhood and I deduce that there is a full order of magnitude range of household incomes at this school!

Some affluent parents in our neighborhood used to apply for permits to neighboring middle schools (MS) in more uniformly affluent areas.  In recent years, we've seen a big change in parent willingness to send their kids to our neighborhood middle school.

It's a beautiful campus, recently remodeled with a combination of  local bond and Title 1 money and donations.  The teachers I met at back to school night have impressive credentials, enthusiasm and energy.

I read with great interest, Study of Montgomery County schools shows benefits of economic integration.
Low-income students in Montgomery County performed better when they attended affluent elementary schools instead of ones with higher concentrations of poverty, according to a new study that suggests economic integration is a powerful but neglected school-reform tool.
Our neighborhood MS has lower average standardized test scores, but produces an outsize share of our city's HS valedictorians.  Bad dad and I wonder if economic integration helps both the poor and affluent children.

We are rather cynical about standardized test scores, but perusal of the STAR test results for 2010 is educational.  Kids that are on the fast track don't train for the tests, but kids on the slow track (at least in elementary years) spend more time being coached for the exams; it is not a valid comparison.  For this reason the scores don't tell you as much as the type of classes the kids are taking. 

Take a look at the scores for the economically disadvantaged kids.  The school has an honors track and the population in them is biased towards kids from middle and upper income homes. 

Kids on the fast math track take pre-algebra in 6th grade and algebra1 in the 7th grade.  Notice the number of low-income kids at my child's school that take math classes that put them on track to take Calculus in 11th grade.  It's not as high a percentage as for the kids from more affluent families, but it is still pretty impressive.

I have some other thoughts about standardized testing.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Blog Action Day 2010: Our water footprint

I walked my watershed for Blog Action Day 2007 to show where my water comes from and where it goes. This time, I will show one stop of our water cycle in detail.

Last November, I had the opportunity to chaperone my daughter's class when they visited the West Basin Water District's Edward C. Little Water Recycling Facility in El Segundo, California.

Here's a Google Earth view of the area.  Most of the waste water from western LA county goes to the Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant for removal of solids and biological treatment with bacteria that eat the smaller particles before settling to the bottom of the holding tanks.  The water is then pumped to the water recycling plant marked by the red asterisk (*).

The world's second largest Whole Foods (marked with the red WF) is adjacent to the water recycling plant, proving that there is absolutely nothing smelly or off-putting about the place.   Some of this country's most expensive real estate is in the southwest corner of this picture.

Notice the density of the residential neighborhoods.  The small plots save tons of water, both because we use less for landscaping, and because of the embedded water in the gasoline we don't consume.

Here's one of the giant tanks on the site.  I am not sure if this is the beginning or the end for the water's sojourn here.

The water goes through a two-step filtration process, first traveling through hollow fibers held together in these rods to remove the larger bacteria and viruses.

It gets scummy looking during the process.

A dispersant agent is used in this step to keep things free-flowing.

The water then undergoes a second filtration, using reverse osmosis through these filters.  The water is pushed with high pressure from the outside to the inside.  The clean water flows out of the center tube.

Here are some filter rods awaiting use.

These are in use.

This removes the smaller bacteria and viruses as well as salt and some pharmaceuticals.  Yup, we collectively take a lot of drugs (both legal and the other kind), excrete them, and then flush them down the toilet.  It all ends up here.

The water is then treated with ultraviolet light to break up the pharmaceuticals and kill any viruses that survived the earlier processes.  UV treatment can create radicals, which are corrosive to pipes.  The water pH is adjusted with lime as a buffer agent to prevent that.  See the characteristic blue-green lime color of the treated water? 

It reminds me of the swimming holes at the base of the water falls in Havasu canyon.  (Havasupai means people of the blue-green water.)

OK, now let's talk about recycling.  The outflow is piped around the Southland for landscape irrigation, flushing and other industrial uses (like cooling water at the many refineries in our region).

It's no accident that the Chevron refinery and two golf courses are located so close to the water recycling plant.  They use reclaimed water.  In fact, many office buildings in our region use reclaimed water for both outdoor irrigation and flushing toilets.  LA Air Force Base and Toyota USA Headquarters are two notable sites.

We also sit upon a giant aquifer, which we pump for drinking water.  During the rainy season, rainwater percolates down to recharge the aquifer.  (Actually, too much of it runs off into the storm drains before they get a chance to percolate into the ground, but that's another discussion.)

At the coast, it is always a battle against salt water incursion into the fresh water aquifer.  That's why we have built a line of injection wells (blue dots) along the coast.
The treated waste water is injected at the bottom of the aquifers.  We also pump water from the top of the aquifers for drinking water.  About 30-40% of my local water supply comes from these wells and directly from the recycling plant. 

At the plant, they are careful to show the injection wells and water source wells on different pictures.  ;-)   Perhaps they think we will be grossed out?  I am not bothered by it.  In fact, I am proud of the ingenuity demonstrated in this water recycling plant.

Did you know that 20-25% of California's electricity usage is to move water around?  The more we recycle our water, the lower our carbon and water footprints.

As we walked around the plant, I found many golf balls
that had escaped the driving range next door.

Please leave more links in the comments.  Thanks!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Water Harvest 2010

The focus of Blog Action Day 2010 (October 15) is a subject I revisit periodically, water.

How timely that our own West Basin Municipal Water District is hosting Water Harvest Day on Saturday October 16.  View the flyer here
Join us for a fun-filled, half day festival that includes stage shows about important water issues, free food and games and fun booths to explore. Tours will be offered of the Edward C. Little Water Recycling Facility. Event is from 10:00am to 2:00pm at the Ed Little Facility, 1935 S. Hughes Way in El Segundo.  FREE parking and shuttles are available at 1960 E. Grand Ave (off Sepulveda, near El Segundo Blvd) from 9:30am to 2:30pm. Shuttles run approximately every 10 minutes.
I took the tour with my daughter's fifth grade class and it was very enlightening. It's worthwhile even if you don't have kids.  More later on Friday, Blog Action Day.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Bending the metrics

Here are a couple of examples that I observed that you won't be able to detect no matter how much time you spend online looking at CA STAR test results or

My daughter's third grade teacher did not originally impress me.  For one, she was always late picking up her kids before school or at the end of recess.

But, when Bad Dad and I walked around open house and looked at the writing samples on her classroom walls, we were astonished at the sophistication of the writing for third grade.  The kids actually developed their ideas logically in addition to mostly correct grammar and spelling.  We strolled through other classrooms to compare.  Nope, the other classrooms showed more uneven writing samples.  What was different in her classroom?

A chance conversation with another parent cleared up the mystery.  She explained that this quiet teacher was the best teacher her children had in the whole school; she worked individually with every child to get them a solid start on writing.

How did she find the time?  She met one on one with the kids before school, at recess, at lunch and after school.  We were aware that she had worked one on one with our child, but we didn't know she made the time for every child.

Writing is not tested in third grade.  Her work will not be recognized on the battery of standardized tests.  If exceptional teaching is not tested, does it still exist?

California tests kids on science in the fifth grade.  I don't particularly care for the laundry list or the rote memorization aspect of the tests, but I have to give the tests credit for ensuring that every school in California now teaches some science in elementary school.  Before that, many elementary school teachers skipped teaching science altogether.

I was initially puzzled by the way my daughter's fifth grade teacher taught the textbook chapters out of sequence.  She started with the physical and earth sciences in the middle and back of the book, and then went back to the life sciences at the beginning of the book in the Spring.

I figured it out when the test scores came out.  Many classes don't get to the end of the book.  The standardized tests are front-loaded; there are more test questions from the beginning of the curriculum.  A teacher confident that her class will be able to cover the entire book can safely teach out of sequence, knowing that she will have the time to cover the life science at the end.  This way, the material is fresh on the kids' minds and they will ace the test.

I don't consider this cheating.  I think this just proves Iris had a smart teacher.

Don't confuse metrics for outcomes

I just want to add a caveat to my earlier post, Value-added teaching.

Higher test scores are an indicator of higher test scores.  We hope that they mean the kids learned more, but measurements are not necessarily reality.  Metrics can be gamed.

For instance, when we took a trip to Hawaii during late April a couple of years ago, we were astonished at the number of children at the hotel.  Didn't the kids have school?  And why were all the school-aged kids at the pool incredibly precocious?

The other parents clued me in.  (One was a pediatrician at a major research hospital & medical school.)

Standardized tests are given in May.  April is drill and kill time at schools around the country.  Kids that already know the material covered in the tests are bored to tears by drill and kill.  The teachers don't want them in the classroom, causing a ruckus and distracting the other kids.  Late April, after Spring break is over, is a wonderful time to book cheap airfares and hotels.

So how do we know whether a high score is due to coaching or deep mastery of a subject? 

We don't. 

As a scientist and a mommy, I am comfortable with ambiguity, but I know that I can never run for public office.  ;-)

To better measure how well someone has learned something, wait a few years and test their skills again.

Because we can't time travel and see if that kid really understands fractions and long-division, perhaps we can test their parents.

Sandra says that real-estate agents really stress school test scores, whipping potential home buyers into an emotional buying frenzy.  Perhaps real estate agents should be tested in elementary mathematics and the scores can be posted on the internet for easy comparison shopping?

If you read my education posts, you can see how my feelings toward our local school and school district have evolved.  I think that our family arrived in the school district at a particularly turbulent time, with a new principal and new district superintendent--both bent on making their mark.  Once they relaxed a bit, and we learned how to play the game, our experiences have been much, much better.