Saturday, January 31, 2015

Parenting Month 51: I can do that

Cutting peppers to go on a pizza
Cutting peppers to go on a pizza

This month's catch phrase is "I can do that."  I think that a characteristic of the pre-school years is the see-saw back and forth between a child wanting to become independent, but wanting the security of the parents. In our case, it expresses itself in the form of competency. And right now, we are well into the development of competency side of the spectrum.  

Competency has a number of manifestations with T.  One is the reading. At this point, he is at the Dr. Seuss level of reading. The small books are easy. The longer classics are not hard, but they are long and they test his endurance more than his reading ability.  We are at the point where it is possible to put him on the floor or couch with a pile of books and he will read away.  What is really cute is when we put him next to A and he reads to his little sister (and she pays attention!).  The other place this shows up are LEGO sets. He can now read instructions well enough to follow instructions on reasonably complex sets (where the recommended age range begins at 8 or lower).  His most recent one was the LEGO Movie trash chomper (recommended age begins at 8). It took him three days to complete it, but he did it pretty much on his own.

Building the LEGO Master Builder Academy Space Fighter
Building a LEGO Master Builder Academy Space design #3
The second place that competency manifests is in taking part of tasks around the house. He can handle simple tools (hammer, screwdriver) and can do set tasks (nail in place, screw already set) and we have him at least touch many such tasks as they come up (he does not have the strength to finish the job).  Also light vegetable cutting (with a plastic knife) and food prep (mixing) is within his level of competence.

And while he has better and worse days, there are the days where he is very helpful around the house (cleaning up, clearing the table). Actually, there are days where he is hyper-polite and helpful. It is cute and almost funny as he says please and thank you and does things like get food, help prepare, put the used dishes in the sink, and even help take care of mei-mei (little sister), and he keeps this up all day! (the consistent use of polite words after an half an hour or so drives S and I to the point where we have to make an effort to keep from laughing)

Dinner time. Is this yummy?
Dinner time for mei-mei

The Taikwondo classes have been a contributor to this. Each month has a character building theme, and this month the theme was 'goals.' And part of the assessment is to develop a list of 10 goals, and for T, these were dominated by goals to do standard daily tasks himself (put on/take off shoes, jacket, clothes, etc.). He has gotten into it. He thinks of goals at all sorts of times (especially at night when we talk about what he did during the day) and he immediately wants to add it to the list (which he will remember the next morning!).  And reminding him that he declared something a goal is incentive enough for him to give it a good try.

Sibling interaction is another area where we are quite fortunate. T and A are quite fond of each other. A is easily amused by T's activities, and T actively assists in entertaining and taking care of A (given his size as a four year old). What is amusing is now that A is semi-mobile and can scoot, she tries to join in with whatever T is doing if he is close to reaching distance. And sometime he is not careful and she turns out to be a lot closer than he thought and can grab something.

A is turning into a babbler.  Typically, after she eats, she is good for an extended period of babbling away if there is a willing conversation partner. I usually get this dark and early in the morning when I get her when she is awake and everyone else wants to sleep longer. (typically after she gets fed) I get breakfast for myself and she babbles away.  Today I brought her to a Red Cross meeting and she amused everyone by babbling after eating (I took her out to a hallway) until she finally stopped, because she fell asleep!  Everyone joked that it sounded like she was telling a story, not just vocalizing.

As far as parenting was concerned, this was a very pleasant month. Both children being engaged in their worlds, and increasing their competencies at the level they are at. And both being well behaved in the outside world. While both are not pass around kids (neither of them takes well to strangers), we joke that they are both advertisements for having children and we both get encouraging comments while out and about.

Up next, getting ready for pre-kindergarden assessments for T (we really don't want to have him do pre-K again next year like his birthday would require, and his reactions to stranger can lead to problems when it is time to do assessment).  And we probably should try to get A out and about more for more interaction with people (even if we are in a cold northeastern winter!)

Friday, January 30, 2015

Lessons in teaching: Fall 2014 edition - Using the news

I had started using news articles to illustrate class concepts last year, but this year I started doing so from the very beginning and made it a standing part of the class to do this once a week in both of my classes last semester.  Of course, taking 10~30 minutes a week out of class came at a price.  In both cases it meant a chapter not being covered. And I pointed this out to the class when time came for course evaluations.

Every week I would identify news articles, magazine articles, or blog posts to discuss in class.  (or sometimes it was a historical case).  The discussion would always open by evaluating the article through a standard technique.  In my decision analysis class it was either generating a value tree or a decision tree.  In my simulation class it was generally generating an event diagram (i.e. a white board exercise).

The cases included the international and domestic (U.S.) handling of the Ebola outbreak, health care provider reactions to the rise of independent urgent care clinics, potential expansion of a light manufacturer, pulling a goalie in hockey in the final minutes, flu vaccinations, Corporate restructuring, the construction of super containerships, NASA Commercial Space initiatives, waving a (baseball) runner home, handling of death threats (Gamergate), Space Shuttle Challenger launch decision, automation of warehouses and manufacturing, delivery of disaster response services, and hub and spoke airline operations.

For the discussions themselves, it was a great way of getting students interested. Because of the wide range of topics, international, domestic US, health, industrial, sports, space, different people tended to get into different discussion topics, so across all of the cases, a very large portion of the classes contributed to the conversation at some point.

The other big benefit of the cases was to reinforce the modeling aspect of both classes. For decision models this meant many opportunities to consider the value tree and decision trees, even as we moved to other techniques and topics. For simulation, this was the chance to work on modeling while the course focused on analytical and statistical methods.  Even for those who did not take part in the class discussion, there were a few discussions that I think were particularly memorable.

One unexpected benefit was that I had an opportunity to engage in give and take.  Once we got past the first few sessions, we were comfortable with me questioning some of the responses, or asking to go a little deeper than the first answer.  (without scaring the student into a shell) Students also started asking questions, so we occasionally got a real discussion going.

Sometimes it was fairly light and even entertaining discussion (sports were good for that). And there were times that it went very serious (we looked at the decision not to provide protection from threats of mass murder with plans in Utah with Anita Sarkeesian (meaning it also involved the politics of gender oppression). Ebola was also a big one in September.

So, when compared to the loss of a chapter of coverage, I think that this was a worthwhile direction. The course evaluations commented on how much the students liked using current events as examples of material, and that they felt confident in modeling (which is only one or two chapters in each subject).  Compared to a chapter of material that would probably be forgotten, I'll take the tradeoff.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Small Town Heroes by Harmon: Book Review

Small Town Heroes (Wearing the Cape, #4)Small Town Heroes by Marion G. Harmon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So the main character of the series, Astra, gets herself taken away from Chicago, her home, and her friends, because she sees a vision of something she should not know anything about. She makes new friends, learns how to work with others who are extremely competent, and her old team gets to meet the new ones.

I liked this book because it maintains that in the world of superheroes, the most dangerous ones are the ones that can plan. Astra is depicted as someone who is learning how to do this, and she spends the book recognizing she is around people who do it well. A team of third-string supersoldiers is depicted as being a match for a first-string villian because of teamwork, and these opponents are the most dangerous, not because they are the most powerful that Astra has faced, nor because the Young Sentinals are weaker than the main Sentinal team, but because this group works well together. All of the supers (and other leadership figures) are highly competent and dangerous, and that makes for a better story than many.

The book can get a little corny/sappy occasionally, and that may be because the main character is a pixie teenage girl. But it helps that everyone is competent, and the main hero, while competent and universally accepted, still has much to learn and the others around her have much to teach

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