Thursday, September 18, 2014

Training Your Brain



Can we talk about Common Core for a minute? You know, the new standards being rolled out in public schools across the United States? The theory behind them is that they are supposed to help kids develop critical thinking and real-world problem-solving skills.

When I first started reading about Common Core, I thought, “Well, how could that be a bad thing?” and a little later on, “What are people so up in arms about?” and “What is the big deal with Common Core?”

Oh, my friends, now I know.

A quick detour:  my oldest child, Viva, has always been a good student. Her favorite subject is math. She was fortunate to have a 3rd grade teacher who was nuts about math and imparted that enthusiasm to her class. In the 4th grade, Viva was graced with another great teacher – a former engineer – who nurtured that enthusiasm and then “looped” with the class, teaching them 5th grade the following year. He developed units on entrepreneurship and running a business, and created a mock medical school program. He selected Viva as one of a group of students to troubleshoot computer issues for her classmates on their iPads. He got her excited about Science Camp! All of these experiences pretty much solidified Viva’s desire to study engineering and/or computer coding when she attends college in the Great Someday.

Until this week, when she brought home a math test with a score of 83. Now, 83/100 is not a bad score. But it is not the type of grade she usually brings home, and she was upset. And when I began reviewing the test, I started to understand why. In Common Core, when you solve a math problem, you don’t just write down the answer and move on. You write down the answer and you have to explain how you got there. And if you don’t explain it exactly as the teacher wants you to, you don’t get full credit for the right answer. So if a question is worth four points, and you get the problem right but don’t explain it “correctly,” you lose a point. On nearly every question, instead of getting a 4/4, Viva was getting 3’s.

For one question, the teacher took issue with Viva writing that an explanation about the “larger” number as opposed to the “greater” number. Seriously. She took off a point for that. Sweet Dub and I reviewed the entire test with her and came to the following conclusion: you basically just have to learn the game. It sucks, because they are now changing the rules midstream, but it’s a game. And that sucks, because what it bolls down to is, you have to now figure out what the teacher wants to hear. Which isn’t critical thinking at all.

Last night, we were reviewing her math homework, and Viva was now getting stuck. Intimidated by this new challenge. She told me that she was certain now that she was going to get it wrong, no matter what she did.

I won’t lie. My first reaction, because I am from Boston and we are all filled with rage, was to be pissed. I know that middle school is when girls slide away from math. They start to think of it as a “boys” subject. And even when they have a natural talent for it, they stop excelling at it. This is why we have so few women in math and science fields. But then I stopped myself. Because I realize it is something new, and it is hard, and when I asked Viva to explain her rationale for one problem, she did. And she was right, at least from my perspective.

And I think this is good for her. She’s lucky that so far math has come easy to her, but research shows that when you realize that you can build up your abilities through effort you actually learn more.

Today, I read an article which reinforced this for me. It’s called “The Learning Myth:  Why I’llNever Tell My Son He’s Smart.” I particularly liked this:


Recently, I put into practice research I had been reading about for the past few years: I decided to praise my son not when he succeeded at things he was already good at, but when he persevered with things that he found difficult. I stressed to him that by struggling, your brain grows.


Here’s to growth, and to helping all of us persevere.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

All In



So life has sped up, as it often does once the summer break from school ends and the new school year begins. Our day-to-day life is more hectic, and we all seem to feel a bit frazzled and disconnected. Added to that, here in greater Los Angeles we are experiencing a heat wave, so our apartment radiates with the heat of one thousand suns.

Last night when I came home, Ceeya was wandering about in nothing but her underpants and Sweet Dub was lolling about in an armchair with an ice pack on his head. (We don't have air conditioning.)

"Everybody get themselves together," I said. "We are out of here in five minutes!"

And we went and picked up sandwiches and trekked out to the beach for a picnic dinner on the sand. The surf was really high, waves were crashing fantastically against the shore, the kids leaped about shrieking and laughing, and Sweet Dub and I sat on the blanket and breathed in the air and leaned into each other in quiet (and cool!) contentment. We watched the sunset. We watched our babies:



And then today I read this, and I loved it. It just reinforced how such simple things are so important and can help keep it all in perspective.
  
Because at some point in life the going in gets harder and so now, while you can, go in the water. …Go in before the going in feels impossible.

And this is a perfect reminder for me right now.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

In Which I Bemoan My Lack of Writingz of Late

You know, writing is hard. I am trying to figure out exactly what has pulled me away from writing here. Have I run out of things to say? Uh, no, as anyone who knows me personally would attest. The problem as I see it is that I have so many damn things to say that I don't quite know where to begin.

In the past few weeks, I have wanted to write about (and have composed posts in my head about) the murder of Michael Brown and racial profiling by police; an update on my endless struggle with the school district to not have Ceeya repeat kindergarten; an explanation of the current craziness in my family of origin (also boggling the mind) (but told how? the craziness of my family merits its own book, I've been told many times, but I can't relate it here without violating people's privacy); a related post on childhood trauma and its long-term impact; the evolution of style - Viva's style, that is; the video of Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancee/now-wife (!! it boggles the mind) out in an elevator, and a related post about domestic violence. Also, in a Seinfeldian homage of writing about nothing: a post about how you are charged tax on coffee when consumed on premises but not when it's to-go (I just learned this - that's why they ask, even when you are drinking it out of the same identical cup). Okay, because I just can't NOT say it:  my mother and my stepfather, who were married for 18 years and divorced when I was in my early 20s, recently got back together. (Note that I am now 46.) And when I say got back together, I mean my stepfather moved 3,000 miles across the country back to California by train and is now living in the same house with my mom, my sister, my brother-in-law, my two nephews, their dog and assorted reptiles, based on some scattered phone calls and emails. (You can see that this is a situation ripe with possibilities for literary gold. I must refrain.)

But I haven't written about any of these things. I am stressed and depressed, which I guess is nothing new in this space, unfortunately. Honestly, that has a lot to do with why I haven't been writing. Which makes me depressed. Oooh, it's a fun little carnival ride.

I miss that part of myself. I miss myself. I share an office at work and I share my home, at home. My kids are not part of that "early to bed, early to rise" crowd. (Is there one of those? Where can I sign them up and get my free water bottle?) My time (and space) to myself is very limited; one might say nonexistent. But I NEED that time and space. I feel a little crazy and a little spaced out without it.

Some days on my lunch hour, I take my lunch to the park and sit. I keep a notebook and a sketchbook in the car, and that is my little bit of calm and re-centers me in the middle of my day. Mainly I jot down ideas for a new blog that would be more focused (don't laugh) and story ideas for creative writing projects - one, an adult novel and the other, a series of books for young kids. And I eat salad. I don't know if I have ever mentioned this but I am a big fan of salads of all kinds. Minimal dressing. It's all about really fresh veggies and a variety of different textures.

Coming way back around to my point:  I have been a writer since I was a little kid. It is an important piece of who I am and it is feeling ignored and shut away and that is making me super crankypants. I don't want to be crankypants. I want to be badassbritches.

And I don't want to read this in a month or six months or whatever and want to kick myself in the head because nothing has changed. So I'm starting here. I'm writing more. So help me God.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Four Six

I am forty-six years old today and as I begin another turn around the sun, it's as good a time as any to take stock.

At the beginning of the year, I chose the word "stretch" as my word of the year. I wanted to challenge myself to move out of my comfort zone.

And indeed this year, I have stretched. My job responsibilities have changed, with the full participation and involvement of my boss. She has pushed for me to be less chained to my desk and more engaged out in the field. This has been fun and has led to a really productive year to date. I've been meeting a lot of people and while I am an introvert I am also good with people, so this has worked out well.

I am no longer looking for a new job. I have made a commitment to continue on this new path. I am also looking to see how I might guide my staff person to help her be more engaged, to help her spread her wings if she is so inclined. This is more of a stretch because she is very negative of late (bad breakup, for one thing). But I do want to try.

The downside to all this new work activity is that I haven't been doing much of my own writing. But I have been stretching in other ways, using my long experience in fundraising. Last month, I wrote a grant request for a film project for Sweet Dub. We will know the result in September. I don't know if we will get it, but we had to collaborate with another nonprofit to put it together, and they want to work with both of us on other projects. Time will tell what that brings...

I also started doing more yoga and body weight exercises this year, so I am literally stretching more than in recent years -- and I love it. Feeling better physically.

Emotionally this has been a rough year and I guess in that sense I am stretching too. Lots of family stuff going on, lots of opportunity for self-examination! Not comfortable, but definitely stretching my perceptions of who I am and where I fit and what the past means.

All that said, I still can't believe I am 46. Shouldn't I have it all figured out by now?!

- Posted using BlogPress

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Untitled

Apparently I am not cut out for blogging at this point in my life. This is odd, because I actually want to blog, because I like the idea of connecting with people over shared interests, etc.

It's just not happening.

I should mention that I finished my ecourse on blogging and honestly it would make you laugh. It made me laugh. All this connecting your blog to your Twitter feed and your Instagram and Pinterest and podcasts and AdSense and affiliate links. Jesus Lord, it made me hate the very idea of blogging.

Clearly I am not cut out for that level of blogging. Honestly I am thoroughly sick of all social media at this moment. But perhaps I am just having a bad, particularly curmudgeonly day. I am kind of pissed at everyone today.

So don't take it to heart, O ye anonymous Internet. Perhaps it shall pass.

Far too much to get into here but I believe I am honestly having a PTSD issue related to stuff from my childhood, long repressed & resuscitated by recent family events. I just want to go to bed but I have to press on. It is a crushing feeling.

(Insert witty +/or poignant concluding statement here.)

I am at the park for lunch. I am now going to turn on my car and drive back to work blasting "Bohemian Rhapsody" and singing as loud as I can.

To better days.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Throwing Down Some Wisdom

Yesterday after work I was sitting next to Viva on the couch. Out of nowhere and with no prompting whatsoever she turned to me and said, "You know, Mom? I think we're RICH."

"We ARE rich," I said. "Rich in love."

"No, I don't mean like that," she said. "I mean rich because we have our whole family and we're all together."

(Had I been at my snottiest, I would have said, "Same thing." I am so annoying. I am so glad I did not do that. Yay, me!)

"That is really nice that you feel that way," I said. "You are right, we are so lucky to have each other. I feel grateful every day."

And I do. Much as I may complain about things, at the end of the day I am happy. What more can you ask than that?

P.S. Also, super pleased that she is aware that she is in an unusual position and doesn't take her blessings for granted. She is happy - not in a simple-minded, Pollyannaish sort of way, but in a "I've checked it out and I gotta say, I got it pretty dang good" kind of way.  I like that she doesn't define richness by having things, but by having close relationships with people who love her. Oh, my girl. She just captures my heart afresh, that one.

Friday, June 20, 2014

How Others See You

Recently, we were playing this game at the dinner table. It's a fun game, can be thought-provoking, and the answers may surprise you. 

One of the questions was (and I paraphrase): "What is a quality that one of the people at this table has, that you wish you had?"

Viva looked at me and said:  "I wish I were more like you in not being afraid of so many different things. I mean, you're not afraid of anything!"

I was stunned. I said, "You mean you think I'm BRAVE?"

"Yeah, you are," she said.

Wow. That might be one of the greatest things anyone has ever said about me.

What do you think your loved ones might say about you? Ask them. You might be surprised.