Monday, July 23, 2007

Intelligent Life in the Classroom by Karen Isaacson and Tamara Fisher

Parts of this book are interesting and parts of it I found annoying. The part that I find most annoying is that I didn't see any acknowledgement that teachers often do not have much choice in the material they present or the manner in which it is presented. For instance, the district I sub in has adopted curricula in all of the subject areas in the elementary grades. For reading and math, the adopted curricula include textbooks that have mostly scripted lessons. This past year, since the math program was new, teachers were urged to follow the program explicitly. That meant that the lesson was pretty much pre-planned and there was very little chance to deviate from it. In fact, the textbooks and teachers' manuals are so overwhelming that very few teachers were able to include all of the material they were supposed to cover - there was simply too much.

Now, I know this book is supposed to be about taking GT kids into account and believe me, I think that is super important, but how does the regular classroom teacher have time to do that? When the teachers are struggling to just get through the regular material, how do they have time or energy to do the extension activities or even, for that matter, the activities for English language learners or those for kids who need more support? When the book fails to take any of this into account, it seems completely unrealistic to me. Sure, it would be lovely to be able to chuck your whole lesson because one of your students was super interested in mold. But teachers have this thing called accountability and they can't do that very often. Yes, that is a fault of the system, but to present it as though the teachers have a choice in the matter is a bit unfair.

The part of the book that I found interesting was the description of the pullout classes. I ran pullout classes for 5 years and remember them fondly. I never had any particular child as outstanding as the girls described in this book, but we did some very interesting and worthwhile stuff. One of my favorites was dissecting old computers and then dissecting fetal pigs and comparing them as systems. I would love to do that kind of thing again.

This isn't a bad book - a bit condescending in places and, as described above, a bit unrealistic. But it might make a reasonable introduction to giftedness for some teachers. There are better books in terms of practicality, but this one is OK for motivation.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Driving the Dalton Highway

We had house guests this past week. They were husband/wife scientists studying the effects of ground cover on climate and weather. While they were here, they wanted to drive up to the Dalton Highway to Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay, looking at and photographing vegetation and land forms on the trip.

So, last weekend we drove the Dalton Highway with them. It is a 13 hour drive up and also back (i.e., each way) and was a real experience. It is a good thing we did it in a rental car or our car would have taken a real beating. We were bombarded with rocks on long stretches of bumpy "road" and by the time we got back, the car was covered in mud, from where they spray the road with a solution of calcium chloride and water to try to keep the dust down. Of course, it was even worse on the motorcyclists, of which there were, surprisingly, quite a few.

On the plus side, we saw lots of caribou, quite a few sik-sik (aka arctic ground squirrels), swans, geese, and 4 moose. We also saw lots of gorgeous scenery - mountains, hills, wild flowers, etc. And I learned about pingos, tundra polygons, and solifluction lobes.

On the negative side: Deadhorse is a dump. It is purely functional, with virtually nothing aesthetic around. It is a good thing the trip up and back provided for a lot of that. We took a tour of Prudhoe Bay. The tour guide was very interested in giving us good oil company PR. I would have welcomed more candor. There wasn't one word about the fact that they had to shut down a huge portion of the oil fields in the past year, due to massive leaks in the pipes and in the pipeline itself.

We did, however, also get a chance to go into the Arctic Ocean on the tour. It is - surprise - VERY COLD. I went in - just wading and got a certificate and our guests did, too. My husband didn't - he said he had gone in when he was in Barrow and that was enough.