Archive for September, 2011

A writer writes

The thoroughly modern me finds it a surprise that the old description, “the three R’s,” is so valid in education today. I am no basics-only advocate. But reading, writing and math are the core of Planet Education and influence, like gravity, everything else. Math is required to move into sciences like physics and chemistry, and writing to answer questions in those subjects as well as all the social sciences and humanities. Reading is required to prosper in any of them. It’s of greatest importance we get it right when we teach the big three.

Last week, I outlined the problems with Pelham’s elementary math curriculum, Pearson’s Investigations in Number, Space and Data. This week, I want to describe the outstanding writing program we have in kindergarten through fifth grades.

read the rest of my column at Ink By The Barrel: A Writer Writes – Pelham, NY Patch.

DBQing the rubric

Watch your rubric before you DBQ the column below. Cathy is spot on. Cluttered language is a big problem in education. Where else would English be turned into English language arts (a triple redundancy using a double modifier)?

For the love of phonemes!

It’s back to school time again, which, for parents means that we run the risk of being confronted with jargon. That may go down well in the fine teaching academies of our country, but only raises question marks when you’re trying to understand what your children are doing in school. (A tip of the hat to Rich Zahradnik, whose column last week inspired this one.)

via Moms’ Talk Q&A: A DBQ, By Any Other Name …. – Pelham, NY Patch.

Harlan Ellison, time troll

Harlan Ellison is the patent troll of sci-fi stories about time. I mean that in a good way. I respect Ellison’s tough-minded approach to idea theft, particularly towards Hollywood, where ten people in a room can come up short when looking for one original idea.

I previously wrote about episodes of Outer Limits that Ellison successfully claimed were the idea for the movie Terminator. (Successful in that he has a credit on the movie now and a sealed court settlement.) The Hollywood Reporter reports on his newest effort to protect his intellectual property, this time against “In Time,” a film set to release on Oct. 28:

Science fiction legend Harlan Ellison is attempting to kill a high-profile movie that is scheduled to come out in theaters next month. The Hugo award-winning writer has filed a lawsuit against New Regency and director Andrew Niccol over the 20th Century Fox-distributed film, In Time, starring Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried and Cillian Murphy.

via Harlan Ellison Sues Claiming Fox’s ‘In Time’ Rips Off Sci-Fi Story (Exclusive) – Hollywood Reporter.

The story he alleges was infringed features one of his all-time great titles: “Repent, Harlequin! Said The Ticktockman.”

Secret of their success

One of my occupations is adviser to the student newspaper at my son’s elementary school, the Colonial Times. Our local Patch interviewed the fifth-grade editors of the paper to find out the secrets of their success:

Eight months after it successfully launched the district’s first online newspaper, the Colonial Times’ staff continues to provide cutting-edge journalism.

via Secret of My Success: Staff of the Colonial Times – Pelham, NY Patch.

What I love is how simple and direct are their answers. And I mean simple in a good way. They get right to the heart of the matter. What turns us into such wordy monsters?

Nice email on a Tuesday

After a slow summer, it was so nice to get a request for the full manuscript for LAST WORDS from an agent who “enjoyed” the first two chapters. On such one-word reviews I dine for a week.

The art of fiction

With a manuscript done and in the midst of deciding what to write next, I determined to spend the summer rereading all the best books on writing I’d ever read, and reading the ones I hadn’t. Summers being summer—or maybe me being me—I got through one and a half by the time school started. No matter. It was a worthy exercise  just for picking up again John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers. In chapter 3, I found a passage that reminded me why this became the writing book for me (really it and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird). Gardner deals with interest and appeal in stories, and in particular, the snobbery that favors the serious over the entertaining:

The result of such prejudice or ignorance is that literature courses regularly feature writers less appealing—at least on the immediate, sensual level, but sometimes on deeper levels as well—than Isaac Asimov, Samuel R. Delaney, Walter M. Miller, Jr., Roger Zelazny, or the Strugatsky brothers, science-fiction writers; or even thriller writers like John le Carre and Frederick Forsyth; the creators of the early Spider-Man comics or Howard the Duck. In theory, it may be proper that teachers ignore thrillers, science fiction, and comic books. No one wants Coleridge pushed from the curriculum by a duck “trapped in a world he never made!” But when we begin to list the contemporary “serious” writers who fill highschool and literature courses, Howard the Duck can look not all that bad.

He does caution readers will be disappointed by the boring sameness of fiction that is merely commercial and shoddy imitation. But in allowing Zelazny and Howard the Duck—I read the original limited comic book series, still own 10 of them—into the conversation, he allowed me to think I could practice the art of fiction (though a “young” writer I was not then and am not now).


New new new math

Tom Lehrer, brilliant satirical songwriter and very smart mathematician, penned these words:

It won’t do you a bit of good to review math.

It’s so simple,

So very simple,

That only a child can do it!

Pelham parents struggling to help their elementary kids with the Math Investigations textbooks would be forgiven if they thought Lehrer wrote the lyrics yesterday. As he says in his introduction to the song, which is about a subtraction problem, “but in the new approach, as you know, the important thing is to understand what youre doing rather than to get the right answer.”

Read the rest of my column at Singing the Blues About Pelhams Elementary Math Program – Pelham, NY Patch.

Geo catching

This is a good little news item: Goecaching—21st Century treasure hunting using GPS—caused a scare in Peekskill because  the cache, a plastic pipe, looked like, guess what, a pipe bomb. In the game, GPS-using hunters find the chaches and add something to them to show they were there, then hide the thing again. The Peekskill Patch story says the cache was probably washed near train tracks by Hurricane Irene. And a link in it shows this isn’t the first scare the caches have caused.

Is it our games or our fears we should worry about?

Troubled homework

When I wrote about homework in the Pelham Patch in June, I mainly focused on the meaningless minimums set by some school districts, including ours in Pelham. This piece from the Sunday New York Times, by a writer expert in the science of learning, points out how important quality is over quantity. The techniques, developed by studying how “children absorb, retain and apply knowledge,” make homework smarter. I’m for that.

WHEN you think of America’s students, do you picture overworked, stressed-out children bent under backpacks stuffed with textbooks and worksheets? Or do you call to mind glassy-eyed, empty-headed teenagers sitting before computer screens, consumed by video games and social networking sites, even as their counterparts in China prepare to ace yet another round of academic exams?

via Quality Homework – A Smart Idea –

Riding bikes

My front yard: Six bikes, six kids. They stopped for a snack. This all happened without recourse to phones, email, iCal or that linguistic abomination, “playdate.” I’m time traveling.