Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Adventures in Toilet Repair

Once again, it has fallen to me, The One Who Actually Fixes Distasteful Things Around The House, to repair the toilet.

This time the toilet was leaking from the gasket between the tank and the bowl. It took me a while to pin down the exact location of the leak, mostly because after having lived in the manufactured home with crappy plumbing, I was convinced that a Real House couldn't possibly have a leaky toilet, and that the kids were just slopping water all over when they brushed their teeth or took baths. After I got over my denial, it wasn't hard to follow the hard water residue and figure out where the leak was.

I shut off the water to the toilet and drained the tank. Then I removed the tank by loosening the bolts that held it on. The bolts were so rusted that they looked like relics of the Titanic. The gasket was so crusted with hard water that it was gritty all over. Also, the washers on the bolts were deteriorated, which was probably not helping guarantee the watertightness of the tank either. So I was glad I bought the kit that came with new bolts, instead of getting all cheap and getting just the gasket. (Not like it was that expensive anyway-- only about $4.) I took the opportunity to clean off the hard water residue with some full-strength CLR. Once that was done and the new gasket and bolts put on, I hooked the water line back up and voila! instant fixed toilet. Upon inspecting the finished job, we noticed that the valve inside the tank is also leaking, but that will have to wait for another day. The toilet had already been down all afternoon, and since it was the kids' bathroom toilet, I was not too keen on having it be down for the night as well. The kids would have to either climb down two flights of stairs to the basement toilet, or traipse through our bedroom to use ours.

I am very proud of being able to fix a toilet. I couldn't fix toilets a couple of years ago; they were just great big mystery tanks to me. You flushed them, and stuff just disappeared. I was ashamed that in the thirty years or so since I'd potty trained, my knowledge of toilets had not expanded in the slightest. I couldn't believe I had neglected this obviously important area of my education. And besides, FH wouldn't touch toilets with a ten foot pole, and my dad thought I was being whiny by asking him to come help me fix one, so I was the only one left to do the job. Now I can replace valves, gaskets, and I even once did a wax ring (for the uninitiated, that's the ring that goes between the very bottom of the toilet and the sewer pipe... really gross, and you have to remove the entire toilet to replace it). I think I could probably even manage installing a toilet, if I could carry the damn thing home from the Home Depot.

So Much For Childproofing

I had bought a small stool for my kitchen so that I could reach some of the higher cupboards. (For some reason that I have never been able to figure out, kitchens just don't seem to be built with short-armed 5'2" women in mind.) About a week ago, though, I realized that Bagel was using the kitchen stool to get into things. The stool was light enough that he could drag it all over, and high enough that he could reach the suckers, the bread cooling on the counter, etc. And of course he'd watched me stand on the stool while cooking dinner, so he knew how it was used. So I started shutting the stool up in the pantry when not in use.

Today while I was upstairs I heard the toaster "pop", so I went down to see what Bagel was doing. He'd pulled a kitchen chair over and pushed down the toaster button.

So much for childproofing. Nothing gets past little Mr. Mechanical.

Better Late Than Never

Sorry for putting this off for so long, but I've been kinda busy...

TD&M hits the nail right on the head-- again and again and again-- in the most satisfying smackdown I've ever read of the prototypical clueless student. She says everything I've ever wanted to say back to students like these, only louder (I muttered it all under my breath after they were out of earshot). And she brought back all sorts of memories.

I remember this one calculus student who got a failing grade on his quiz because he was not applying the chain rule correctly (if I recall, he was making the common mistake of inserting the derivative of the inside function into the outside function, instead of multiplying by it at the end). He came up to ask me to change his grade. He said he knew how to use the chain rule and I ought to give him a better grade just for that, and I told him I would not because he did not use the chain rule correctly on his quiz, at which point he called my grading "bull$#!^" at a volume loud enough for the class to hear. I told him I would see him after class.

When I got him by himself, I told him to work a chain rule problem on the board so that we could see whether he really knew the chain rule or was just bull$#!^ting me. He raised his eyebrows at me using the cuss word to apply to his work, but worked the problem I gave him anyway. I think I impressed him against his will when I looked him straight in the eye and cussed right back at him without flinching. He did this problem exactly the same wrong way he'd done the others. Then I showed him the right way. He insisted that his way was "just as right" as my way, because it was his (behold the glory of constructivist math!) and he insisted that since it included the derivative of the inside function, it must be right even though it is not identical to my result. I patiently explained to him that math does not follow the rules you would like it to follow just because you have all the same elements, that you don't get points for creatively rearranging the rules, that the chain rule is true in the form I presented it because it is provable, etc. etc. I was finally able to convince him to do it my way, although to this day I still think he did it only because he didn't want to fail. He'll probably go to his grave thinking that he was right and I was just being a nitpicky bitch who cussed at him unfairly. However, he never tried to engage me in a power struggle again. An important part of this whole interaction was proving myself to be the alpha dog. If I had backed down, I would have lost control of the classroom, or at least of him in the classroom.

And then there was the student who excoriated me for twenty full minutes (I was watching the clock) after a test. He said he had never seen such a horrible test in his life. I tried to make him feel I was taking his complaints seriously. He complained that not only was the test too long, it had only 10 problems to 125 pages of material in the textbook (he waved the 125 pages of textbook in my face to make his point). I told him there were three solutions to that: I could add more problems to the test, I could give tests more often, or I could skip over whole sections when selecting the problems: and I asked him which he thought would be the better solution. None of those seemed to be acceptable to him, and he seemed mightily flustered that I'd trapped him with his own logic. So then he went off on the difficulty level of the problems and said they were "nothing like the homework" (I get this a lot, even on homework quizzes which are explicitly composed of nothing but homework problems). So I went through the book and showed him how I'd taken the test problems verbatim from the unassigned problems in the problem set. This flustered him even more, so he started to question my qualifications for teaching the class. He claimed I was totally unqualified because I hadn't taken reams of pedagogy classes instead of math classes. I explained to him that actually, in fact I had taken teacher ed classes as an undergrad, that the math department holds workshops for the express purpose of training their TA's in pedagogy, and that I had taught this class before, and that if he thought I was unqualified, he ought to take it up with the math department, as they had many more TA's who (according to his standards) were less qualified to teach than I was, and that he was welcome to transfer to one of their classes. After ranting on for a full 20 minutes questioning everything about me but my parentage, I think he started to realize what an illogical and insulting @$$hole he was being, and he calmed down a bit.

OK, that's enough Student Horror Stories for one day.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

What Did I Just Do???

I kept on getting phone calls from a merchant services firm that wanted to lease me a credit card reader. I finally agreed to meet with their rep. I figured that it would accomplish two things: they'd quit calling me, and I could find out what sort of wonderful deal I might be interested in getting later down the line when I really needed their services. After all, I accept credit cards through PayPal on the website, and I'd done just fine taking cash and checks at farmer's markets and shows.

So I met with the guy, and as I was talking with him it occurred to me that I was going to need to do something like this if I ever wanted my business to be more than a time-consuming subsidized hobby. I've known for a long time that I'm going to have to do more sales volume if I ever want to bring home more than bacon bits. And being able to accept credit cards at my booth is going to be a big plus. I've had a lot of customers at the Gardeners' Market ask me if I'm going to be there next week, because they only brought enough money with them to buy the vegetables they came to get and weren't expecting to find something so cool as my merchandise at the market. Last year I could answer yes, but this year I won't be able to, and I'll miss a lot of impulse buys if I don't accept credit cards. Also, the offer includes SSL for my website, check verification, and two free three-day-two-night vacations to give away.

To tell the truth, I hadn't thought of accepting credit cards as a way to increase sales volume, but it makes perfect sense. I called Vince at work to see what he thought. I talked the guy down from the fancy plan he was offering, to a cheaper one with less whiz-bang technology. And, at the end of the day, I'm getting a merchant account, and the guy is coming tomorrow to install my card reader. Luckily (or providentially?) we have just installed a phone jack right next to the computer.

And now I'm a little dizzy: what did I just do? Did I just sign my life away for the next four years, or did I open a door to marvelous profitability and the business of my dreams? Should I be rushing into this new opportunity with heady optimism, or will I come to rue the day I signed the contract?

I signed up in part because I have this gut feeling that I'm being sent the opportunity. It all started when the AWHC called and invited me to be a vendor for Baby Animal Days. I've been praying for my business to take off so that I don't have to work outside of my home any more; maybe the Lord is bringing all the necessary pieces together. On the other hand, maybe I'm just another businesswoman, and a lot of businesspeople make mistakes.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Adventures in Metalworking

or, How To Fix A Broken Crib With One Baby On Your Back And The Other On Your Breast
or, Why I Want A Bench Vise For My Birthday

Materials needed:
1/2" wood boring drill bit
1/4" just plain boring drill bit
1/4" metal rod
2 1/4" nuts
diapers to fit both babies

Tools needed:
rusty hacksaw
vise grips
nail clipper
computer with internet access
die set
socket wrench

1. With wood boring bit, drill holes partially through the horizontal bottom and top pieces of the crib.
2. With 1/4" bit, drill the holes from step 1 the rest of the way through the pieces.
3. Stop and change two diapers.
4. With yardstick, measure the distance between the two horizontal pieces. With rusty hacksaw, cut a piece of 1/4" metal rod to this measurement.
5. With nail clipper, cut off broken nail.
6. Stop and nurse baby.
7. Try to thread the ends of the metal rod with the tap wrench.
8. Look up on internet how to use a tap and die, and what the difference is between them.
9. Stop and change diapers.
10. With die set, thread the ends of metal rod. Use vise grips to tear up the metal rod hold the rod still.
11. Look all over house for missing Home Depot bag with nuts inside it.
12. Fail to find bag; go back to Home Depot to get 8 cents worth of nuts.
13. Find bag on return home; decide it isn't worth spending the gas money to go back to Home Depot and return 8 cents worth of nuts.
14. Screw nuts on each end of rod.
15. Cut off remaining broken nails.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Do They Make Muzzles For Toddlers?

Bagel's got quite a biting problem. This morning he bit Knuckles' face and drew blood. More typically he tries to bite Knuckles' toes while he's nursing. The problem is, he thinks biting is a way to show affection or get attention, and he doesn't understand that it hurts. And I don't know how to get that through to him, since he's only 21 months old.

Basically, when a child is doing something you don't want him to do, you have three options: you can get the child to quit doing it, you can block the child from being physically able to do it, or you can remove the child from the situation. The first, of course, is the most desirable, since the child will eventually have to learn to quit doing it anyway. The second is more of a temporary solution; children are smart and eventually will figure out how to defeat any barrier we adults can come up with. The third is great if you plan to reintroduce the child to the situation later on when they're more mature.

Solution #3 is, of course, impractical: we can't remove Bagel from the family. We've tried Solution #1 to no avail. Bagel interprets our attempts at verbal discipline as non-binding suggestions not to bite his brother, and our pushing him back or pulling him off the baby as playful attempts to play keep-away with the baby as the object. He's too young to be reasoned with and told that biting hurts, so we've tried a program of slapping him whenever he bites so that he comes to associate biting with pain. None of these have worked, and we're out of ideas. We don't want to bite him back as hard as he bites because we really don't want him genuinely hurt. Bagel is leaving marks and even drawing blood with some of these bites.

That leaves Solution #2: childproof the baby. We can partially do this by putting the baby in the crib... if we can keep Bagel off the baby long enough to get the crib fixed (it's still broken from the jailbreak episode). [UPDATE: I broke out the playpen and put Knuckles in the playpen, but when Bagel couldn't bite or scratch, he took 1 pound cones of yarn and threw them at Knuckles' head.] But that won't stop the biting of toes during Knuckles' feedings. I'm currently shutting Bagel up in his room with the door locked (since he can open it) if he can't control himself, but that's not teaching him not to bite. So I'm wondering if it would be cruel to find some way to muzzle Bagel so that he can't bite, at least until he's old enough to be reasoned with and be made to understand that biting hurts the baby and he has to stop it. Alternatively, we could try to find some sort of cage to put around Knuckles so that Bagel can't get to him. (I'm visualizing Knuckles crawling around inside some sort of giant hamster ball.) But even that wouldn't stop Bagel from biting me, which he does whenever I don't immediately get up and serve him food on demand.

Any ideas would be welcome. I'm about at the end of my rope today. It's so bad that I sent Bagel outside to play with Sonshine because he was in less danger of getting hurt outside in the street with his brother than inside the house with me.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

I Do Nothing All Day But Feed Boys

Boys sure do eat a LOT, and I have three of them. The bad part about that is the food costs twice as much for a boy as for a girl. The good part is, you don't have to pay for a wedding. But until they turn 18 and I can legally make them pay for their own damn food, I spend my entire day doing scarcely anything but feed boys.

6:30 am: Wake up groggily to the melodious sounds of Bagel crying out, "Foo-foo! Foo-foo!"
6:35 am: Bagel's request turns into a melodramatic scene of betrayal, since I haven't yet gotten out of bed and put foo-foo [food] in front of him.
6:37 am: Bagel bites my knee and scratches my arm in an attempt to improve service.
6:38 am: Bagel, seated in his chair, screams at me because I've set him a bowl but it has not yet been filled with cereal.
6:49 am: Admonish Sonshine for giving himself, the table, and the kitchen chair a milk shower while slopping cereal into his mouth.
6:50 am: Breastfeed Knuckles.
7:00 am: Put Knuckles down, remove Bagel from chair.
7:01 am: Breastfeed Knuckles.
7:54 am: Breastfeed Knuckles.
8:10 am: Breastfeed Knuckles. [Knuckles weighs over 9 pounds now, at age 1 month.]
8:30 am: Sonshine goes off to school.
8:45 am: Breastfeed Knuckles. Encourage Bagel to not try to rip Knuckles' face off.
8:53 am: Serve Bagel's second breakfast.
9:30 am: Bagel's morning snack.
9:31 am: Breastfeed Knuckles.
9:32 am: Bagel, abandoning his snack, tries to bite Knuckles' toes.
9:33 am: Bagel has been put down for a nap; breastfeed Knuckles.
9:45 am: Eat a little breakfast before Bagel wakes up and demands his share of it.
10:52 am: Bagel wakes up and demands his snack again.
11:30 am: Pick up Sonshine at school.
11:40 am: Serve lunch to two very hungry and impatient boys.
11:41 am: Breastfeed the other very hungry and impatient boy.
12:00 pm: Strip food-covered clothes off Bagel.
12:30 pm: Pull Bagel off the leftover soup.
12:45 pm: Breastfeed Knuckles.
1:00 pm: Put away the stool so that Bagel can no longer pick the crusts off the bread that was supposed to be for the neighbors.
1:15 pm: Breastfeed Knuckles.
2:30 pm: Snack for Sonshine.
2:31 pm: Snack for Bagel.
2:32 pm: Breastfeed Knuckles.
3:00 pm: Pick up Princess at school.
3:20 pm: Snack for Princess, Sonshine, and Bagel.
3:59 pm: Remind Princess that she can't eat her snack all day long and she has homework to do.
4:30 pm: Try to breastfeed Knuckles while Bagel tries to rip his face off.
4:31 pm: Bagel goes down for a nap.
4:32 pm: Breastfeed Knuckles.
5:00 pm: Start cooking dinner.
5:04 pm: Bagel smells food and wakes up.
5:06 pm: Bagel climbs up on the kitchen stool and tries to eat the raw chicken while I'm not looking.
5:07 pm: Bagel screams, "Chicky!!!!" as I take the raw chicken away from him.
5:15 pm: Pause in cooking dinner to breastfeed Knuckles.
5:20 pm: Sonshine wants a snack.
5:26 pm: Start cooking dinner again.
5:30 pm: With dinner in the pot, breastfeed Knuckles.
6:03 pm: Dinner is served.
6:04 pm: Breastfeed Knuckles.
6:30 pm: Bath time. Wash food off boys.
7:02 pm: Start bedtime routine.
7:45 pm: Breastfeed Knuckles.
8:03 pm: Breastfeed Knuckles.
8:16 pm: Finish bedtime routine.
8:17 pm: Eat a cold dinner.
8:23 pm: Collapse in a weary heap.
9:48 pm: Wake up and put away leftover food; breastfeed Knuckles.
10:04 pm, 10:30 pm, 10:45 pm, 11:00 pm: Breastfeed Knuckles.
1:00 am: Breastfeed Knuckles.
3:00 am: Breastfeed Knuckles.
5:30 am: Breastfeed Knuckles.
6:30 am: Repeat.

Bring Back The Yellow Card!

When my older two kids were immunized, they recorded the immunizations on a little yellow card, as well as in the computer. This yellow card was nice because you could take it places. You could take it with you every time you got your child immunized; you could use it to fill out forms for school. They would rubber-stamp it with a little old fashioned date stamp.

When Bagel was born, though, they told me they were no longer giving out yellow cards; they were doing everything on the computer now. If I wanted a printout, they could give me one, but there would be no more stamping of the yellow card because it was just getting too unworkable. Parents would forget to bring their yellow cards for shots, and it was just too much trouble to do all those rubber stamps. The computer system is supposed to be easier for doctors to access.

Well, now if I want a copy of my kid's immunization record, I have to ask for it from somebody. I don't ever have a current copy because they don't enter shots in the same time they give them, at least not at the doctor's office that we went to before. This wonderful computer system can only be accessed by begging somebody with access to make a printout for you.

I want my yellow cards! I want to have immediate access to my child's entire immunization record! I don't want to have to drag my kids down to the Health Department to get copies of their shot records every time I need one!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Who Knew?

Geoffrey Chaucer hath a blogge, wherein he answereth ye questions of ye readeres:
My betrothed, a most wicked man, betrayed me near as bad as Tereus did Procne. His woman of choice commited, though, that villainy which women do best, and tempted him away. Presently it is not legal, where I live, to have either of them killed for this treachery -- what shall I do to avenge the wrong they both have done to me, and to my virtue? Their joy at my grief does pain me so.

Cor Fracta Est

Ma Cher Coeur Brisee

Thoughe y love a goode revenge tragedie as much as the nexte guye, y muste counsel yow to a bettre path. Yow sholde maken pece and kepe faithe, not wyth thyne betrothede nor wyth this womanlie Diomede, but rathir with yowrselfe. For vengence aperteneth and longeth al oonly to juges. Remembre yow that pacience is a greet vertu of perfeccioun, and remembre that ther are tymes ordained unto al thynges by the first moevere -- of the ookes, and of the hard stones, and of man and womman seen we also, in youthe as well as age, alle shal be dumped , a kyng as shall a page - som dumped on dates, som dumped by telephone, some dumped in compaignie, som dumped allone - ther helpeth noght, al goth that ilke weye.

And thus, take two pintes of hagen dasz dulce de leche, a ful seson of buffie the vampyre slayre, and calle me in the morninge.

Link via Chequer-Board.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Adventures in ZenCart, Part 2

I successfully installed a mod that allows me to track inventory by attribute. So, for example, if I have onesies in three different sizes, I can track the inventory of each size without listing each size as a separate item. The only problem I had was figuring out what was wrong with the SQL query I had to run to create the necessary table. But I got it all installed on Saturday. Yay!

Life In Sonshineworld

Sonshine has built a little Lego town. It has an airport, a recycling plant, rocket launch pad, a coal delivery system for trains, a junkyard, a duck pond, and an LDS temple.

Funny, the way their little minds work!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Shameless Blatant Advertising

I finally got the tie-dyed onesies up on my business website. To celebrate this major feat that has taken me three lousy months to get around to doing, I've put them all on sale for 30% off through the 8th of April. You buy one now!

Your Dose Of Baby Cuteness

Everyone needs to see cute babies from time to time, so I'm forcing pictures of mine down your throat. It's good for you! ;)

Knuckles looks less and less like a sun-dried tomato every day, as his face fills out with baby fat. At his two week checkup he had gained over a pound from his weight at leaving the hospital. In this picture he's still a bit yellow from normal newborn jaundice. Knuckles is a Twinkie: yellow on the outside, cream-filled on the inside!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Does Closing Your Eyes Count?

I'm supposed to be on bed rest today. I was pretty sick last night. Of course, when you're a mother of four, the closest you get to resting in bed is standing up cooking dinner wishing you were in bed.

I'll put "bed rest" on my To-Do list, right after "wash kitchen floor."

UPDATE: I still haven't washed the kitchen floor, so I haven't gotten any bed rest either.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Pack 'Em Away!

The maternity clothes are now officially Packed Away. I am now wearing only Pre-Maternity Clothes. They're still a little bit tight through the tummy, but not intolerably so; that'll only last a few more weeks at any rate. At least now I look like a woman instead of a beached whale!

Unfortunately, the Pre-Maternity Clothes, when I packed them away early in the pregnancy, were so ratty and awful that I was glad to pack them away in favor of the relatively newer maternity clothes. I need to go shopping! But first, I need to get some money.

Should I Or Shouldn't I?

Late last week I was invited to be a vendor at Baby Animal Days at the American West Heritage Center. For non-Loganites: this is a Big Event in the Logan area. Kids adore Baby Animal Days and drag their grown-ups out to see it every year. There are, of course, soft fuzzy baby animals of every sort available to pet, and loads of kids' activities. This means that for grown-ups, shopping at the booths is the highlight of the whole experience. So this has the potential to get me at least a few hundred, probably more like $500 in sales. I'm trying to decide whether or not to go, but I have to decide NOW because the application is due the end of the week.

I'm leaning toward going, but here are the pros and cons. I rely on my trusty blogreaders to help me make the final decision.

  • I already have enough merchandise, the EZ-UP canopy, the tables, and all the equipment I'd need to fully stock a really great booth.
  • I really need to sell some stuff if I want to make some money.
  • My brand is already established in Logan.
  • We are going up to Logan that weekend anyway, because it's Easter weekend; we'd just have to go a couple days early.
  • The kids have those days off of school.
  • The kids would get to go to Baby Animal Days and pet all the fuzzy soft animals.
  • Family members will be available to watch the kids when they're not off petting all the fuzzy soft animals.
  • We would have to load all of the above merchandise, EZ-UP, tables, and equipment (plus our luggage) into (or more likely onto the roof of) a van, most of whose seats will be occupied by small fussy children.
  • This would be the same van that has 120,000 miles on it, that just had the engine repaired and whose struts are making a Bad Car Noise.
  • Small fussy children make many bathroom stops on a two-hour drive, most of which I anticipate will need to be made while driving through Sardine Canyon, if only because that stretch of road has no rest areas whatsoever.
  • I will need to keep Knuckles with me at all times in my booth, because he nurses too frequently to be left at anyone's house.
  • The weather may not be sunny and bright, which means the ground may not be solid and unslippery, and the air may not be dry and warm. You don't want a newborn child out in weather like that.
  • Leaving early Thursday morning would involve leaving Favorite Husband at home, all by himself, without anyone cooking food for him, for at least one night. FH would follow us up to Logan after work on Friday-- if he hasn't yet fainted from hunger.
  • I really don't have the money right now, although FH has offered me a short-term loan from his laptop fund.
So, guys, whaddya think? Should I go?

UPDATE: I sent in the application.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

An interesting theory

Maybe this is why I've got so many boys:
TOUGH, confident females may be more likely to give birth to sons than women with less pushy personalities, researchers have found.

Scientists have established that eggs taken from female mammals have varying levels of testosterone and that those with the highest levels are more likely to develop into male embryos. Testosterone in women has been linked to more dominant character traits.
I am, after all, rather on the masculine side of the female spectrum, and full of what you might call "dominant character traits". I've never had my testosterone levels checked, but elevated testosterone levels would certainly explain a lot of the other stuff I've always wondered about myself.

Link via Interested Participant.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Stuff To Read

What's long, sticks up, and is full of white stuff?

No, not THAT, this. Get your mind out of the gutter!


Check out this very interesting LDS blog.


You have to get yourself one of these for Easter. My grandma used to make them. I think I'll make some this year, if I can.


Some very good advice from someone more experienced at life than me. Via Dr. Sanity.


Fellow math teacher Tall, Dark, and Mysterious is on a roll this week. Read both of these.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Barbarians At The Gates

There's this guy in my life. Every time he sits at my table, he's not satisfied with the food I've given him. He climbs on top of the table even after I ask him to sit down. He is violent toward me and my new baby, he lets himself get overtired and refuses to sleep, and he whines like a one-year-old child. In fact, he is a one-year-old child. And he hasn't slept in a week. We finally broke down and drugged him to sleep with Benadryl. I'm going to ask the doctor if there are such things as baby tranquilizer darts when I go see him next week.

I had previously explained to my kids the origin of the word "barbarian". They got all excited and went around saying "Bar bar bar, bar bar!" to each other. Civilizing these little barbarians, though, is quite another matter from educating them. With all the turmoil from the birth of the new baby, the barbarian in them has resurfaced. Sonshine just needs some reminders to get his inner barbarian under control. With Bagel, there is no outer Roman to control his inner barbarian, so he's overrunning the gates of my sanity.

On top of all this, FH is very much disenchanted with the education our kids are getting at the People's RePublic School, and he wants to start a charter school. I'm not thrilled with the situation either, and I'd prefer a charter school setting, but it's not that simple. I have been at great pains to impress upon him the sheer quantity of paperwork and time it will take to do something like that. It's not like you just saunter on down to your local charter school office and fill out a two-page form; it took half a dozen families a few years to get TECS started. Normally I'm a rabble-rouser type and I would gladly engage in such a subversive act, even as I found it scary; but right now I'm exhausted just trying to keep Knuckles fed and keep Bagel from throwing food all over the kitchen. I am being overrun by barbarians, and I have to make that my first priority.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Case For A Math Specialist

So, you're a teacher, and you have a class full of children who are at multiple ability levels in math. What do you do? Well, conventionally, you let the more advanced children rot in the muck of boredom while you give your attention to the students who need it most. Bzzzzzz! Wrong answer.

A better idea would be to have a multi-tiered lesson plan, one where you are prepared to give more advanced work to students who finish the required work early. By "more advanced" I don't mean "work that you will be doing in the future with the class," I mean "work that enriches the students' experience." This is not that difficult to implement, once you have such a lesson plan. Kids who have mastered addition can generate Pascal's Triangle and color in all the odd numbers. Those bored with multi-digit multiplication can be taught to multiply ancient Egyptian style (by doubling), use gelosia arrays for multiplication, or do multiplication in binary. There are also plenty of mathematical yet non-curriculum-related activities: the Tower of Hanoi puzzle comes to mind.

For example, I had an algebra class where the students were learning to factor quadratic trinomials. My lesson plan consisted solely of three pages of quadratic trinomials, sorted into types (two positive roots, two negative roots, one positive one negative, leading coefficient not 1, etc.) All the students were started off factoring trinomials with two positive roots at the board; each student worked by himself. When a student successfully completed one of that type and had had enough practice, he or she was given problems of the next type. By the end of the lesson, the "lowest" students were mastering the two positive root case. There were several students who mastered that in the first five minutes of class; by the end of the lesson they were factoring quadratic form trinomials with non-1 leading coefficients and fractional exponents. (They could handle fractional exponents because in an earlier lesson, while their classmates were learning the exponent laws with whole-number exponents, I'd given them fractional exponents to keep their minds expanding.) Thus I kept the entire class busy and learning, without letting anyone in the class get "ahead" to the point where they'd be bored later on in the semester.

The main reason why such lesson plans are not regularly implemented is not that they're rocket science; it's that they're mathematics. Few, if any, elementary level teachers (and few enough secondary teachers) have enough of a math background that they could even conceive of mathematical activities that lie off to the side of the curriculum's beaten path. How many teachers have done, just to take one example, multiplication in binary themselves? How many can generate Pascal's Triangle or know what happens when you color all the odd numbers? It would simply not be practical to expect elementary school teachers to take the math courses they'd need to learn how to do modular arithmetic and all the wonderful things they could be teaching their students.

That's why schools and/or districts really ought to have a math specialist in their employ. Schools already have reading specialists; why not math? The math specialist would be someone whom teachers could consult for ideas such as these; someone with the necessary training to conduct inservice for teachers, come up with multi-tiered lesson plans of this sort, and generally serve as a resource for teachers to expand their ability to teach math to the above-average students (or even, in the ideal case, to have the specialist teach these students himself).

There is also a lack of curricula in the area of real math enrichment at the elementary level. One of these days, when I run out of things to do (ha!), I'll have more time to work on the one I was designing, a supplemental curriculum for the upper grades that introduces some of the history of math and shows how math was done in ancient cultures.