Sunday, September 18, 2011

If Walls Could Speak...

Yesterday, my older son was frustrated trying to gather research on his person and place for the ghost story he was writing for school.  He had to gather information about Stephen Mallory, a significant member of the Confederate army and the old Sacred Heart hospital on 12th avenue, a lovely gothic structure that has stood for over one hundred years.  Finally I told him, "Let's go do your research for real."  We loaded up the car and set out to visit the sites.

Upon arriving at the Sacred Heart hospital, we walked around, soaking in the architecture from outside and discussing the arches and other features.  However, when we went to enter the hospital, the front door was locked.  Undeterred, we walked around to the pizza place, Ozone,  which was open on the other side of the building, and used it as an entrance.  We then proceeded to walk around the three open floors, taking pictures picking up historical flyers, and looking at artifacts and photos from the old hospital.  As we left the hospital, still discussing it, almost to the car, I decided to throw in a tidbit I had read when we were researching on the internet.

"Did you know what Ozone pizza used to be?"
"No, what was it?"
"That was the old morgue where all the bodies were kept...."

Suddenly, a sharp voice emanated from the building, "No, it wasn't!"
I sad, to the building, "But the research on the internet..."
"Was obviously a story put there by someone who thought it would sound good!  Ozone pizza is where the old hospital kitchens used to be.  They had two large tureens - one for soup and one for coffee.  The reason the walls are all tile was that it helped keep them clean when they were trying to prepare food for a hundred and fifty people."
As he talked, I finally located the elderly man, perched on the window sill, his head sticking partially out.
"How do you know?"
"We have all the old documents up here in the office."
"Could we come up and see them?"
"So how should we do research, if there are no books and the internet is wrong...?
"Check the East Hill Tower webpage."
"Well, we did, but there was not much historical information there."
"You're right."
"So then...?"
"You can e-mail me."  (Note that at no time was I given a name or anything else about the gentleman...)
"And you are..."
"On the webpage."
Apparently that was the end.  I thanked the bizarre apparition and we loaded into the car, moving on to the St. Michael's cemetary.  But for anyone who wants true information abut the old Sacred Heart Hospital, you should e-mail the elderly balding gentleman on the Tower East webpage....unless he is a ghost, of course.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Quest for a Decent Program for ADHD

Having taught gifted for several years, I have seen amazing things created in the name of gifted education.  There is creativity training with the Taylor talents.  There are menus, acceleration, compacting, differentiation....and I am only just scratching the surface.  My older, gifted child has many options and with him starting at a magnet school with thematic units I can breathe for a minute and feel that for the next year he will have a decent year in school.

My younger son has ADHD.  I fought the label for years, avoided the testing, and tried diet, behavoral alterations, etc. but ultimately I tried medication and his life was transformed overnight.  He was finally capable of concentrating and focusing when he wished.  He is still energetic and excited.  He still gets fascinated by animals, creative endeavors like acting, costuming, and dance, athletics, and science fiction.  He doesn't eat as much during the day, and he can have moments when he gets frustrated at night as the medicine is wearing off, but he does benefit and he is doing well.

That said, there is NOTHING to help him at school.  If he tested as gifted, he could receive that range of services.  However, even looking at the range of educational tools we have for gifted, I have begun to discover there is nothing equivalent for ADHD.  Most of the guidelines they have for ADHD fall under the ESE umbrella and they are things like: Make a list so the child can refer back to it. In short, they are accomodations of the sort one would use for a disability.  However, one thing I have begun to discover about my own child (and if it affects him, I am certain there are others the same way) is that the ADHD mind has huge advantages and abilities, as well.  For example:

He can memorize a script almost upon reading it.
He can look at a room and see if anything has been moved or changed.
He can empathize with almost anyone, seeing things from their point of view so he can predict their actions
He is extremely aware of the world around him, especially animals and environmental concerns and how they affect him.

There are also difficulties:
He is extremely emotional/sensitive and takes every criticism to heart
He gets extremely frustrated by alterations to routine or expectation
He is easily distracted and pulled in varying directions
Even on medication, he is impulsive and will act without thinking

Although there are educational accomodations that are suggested on many of the sites, there is not a comprehensive educational plan for teachers to take advantage of the huge potential of these children.  Some test as gifted.  Most don't, however all of these children have high IQ's and immense potential.  However, there is not anything available to challenge these students specifically in their areas of strength.  These students are many of the ones who will drive a teacher to distraction because they are so easily distracted and so difficult to anchor.  However, they have the potential to be immensely successful and valuable in future life.  Studies have shown that adults with ADHD have difficulty finding employment and tend to end up in positions that are less than their capabilities because of their difficulty remaining focused.  I cannot fathom this happening to my child, and I refuse to believe there is nothing that can be done to harness his creative and investigative potential.  If I have to, I will create a program that can be used in schools for him and others like him.

Monday, August 8, 2011

D&D Game Day August 6th 2011

Review: D&D Gameday August 6, 2011

Let's start with the admission that I am NOT a fan of 4th Edition in general.  I love roleplaying because you get to tell a story and take on a persona, developing a character and really allowing the story to unwind before you.  That was the appeal of White Wolf when I lived in Atlanta, and it was the major appeal of D&D 3.0 and 3.5 there, as well.  I would spend hours writing elaborate character histories, determining motivations, and determining how my character would respond to various characters or in various circumstances.

D&D 4.0 has largely diminished the roleplay aspects of the game, requiring a set number of successes in the "noncombat" segments of the game, and having a codified system that reminds me more of a computer game with the "I use this attack" "This is the result" pattern.

That being said, I had more fun with Neverwinter than I had with any previous demo of 4th edition.  Partially, I like the character templates.  They at least hint at the idea that a character history, and by extension character development, might be forthcoming.  I played a healer who had a guardian ability to touch another player and shift them once per combat.  I also had a healing ability I could use on anyone within 5 steps as I did something else.  I discovered there was quite a bit to choosing how to use what I had, sometimes physically healing one person, while I used the ability on a second.  Suddenly even movement became something strategic, and I was surprised by how much that opened up what the character could do.  I still want to see more performance and roleplay in the noncombat portions, but this event gave me the first glimmer of hope that a good DM might be able to take the system and turn it into something with enough roleplay to make the game fun.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Robin's Cosplay at Pelicon

This year marked the first for Pelicon - a board and miniature gaming convention here in Pensacola!  And in celebration, Robin decided to go in costume.  Here he is decked out as Captain America - my born drama geek!  He had a fabulous time along with Jonathan as they tried out a host of new games.  Favorites included Eleminis, Hero Clicks, Forbidden Island, and most of all Ghoulash - Monstrosity.  They also tried out Touch of Evil, which he enjoyed, although it was a bit slow and Last  Night on Earth which was a bit too involved for the younger game enthusiast.  Both of the latter two were by Flying Frog Games

Thursday, August 4, 2011


This recipe comes from a children's recipe book - Emeril's There's a Chef in my World.

7 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 1/2 pounds ground chuck
1 finely chopped onion
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 (14 oz.) can whole tomatoes crushed in juice
1 (14 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup flour
3 cups whole milk
1/4 tsp. ground white pepper
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
2 large eggs, beaten
1 pound elbow macaroni
1 1/2 cups grated parmesan cheese

1. In a medium saucepan over high heat, melt 2 Tbsp. of the butter and add the ground chuck, onion, garlic, 1/4 tsp. of the salt, and black pepper.  Cook, stirring until the meat is browned and the onion is translucent. (About 6 minutes)  Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, bay leaf, and cinnamon, and bring to a low boil.  Reduce heat to simmer about 30 minutes or until sauce is thick and flavorful.

2. While sauce is simmering, make the bechamel sauce.  In medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt 4Tbsp. of butter. Whisk in flour amd cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. (Do not allow flour to brown.) Little by little, add milk, whisking constantly.  Bring to a low boil and allow to boil for 5 minutes or until it becomes quite thick.  (It took a bit longer for me.) Add egg, white pepper (I used black for this instead), and nutmeg, stir until blended, cover, and set aside till ready to assemble.

3. Boil macaroni according to directions.

4. Position rack in center of the oven.  Lightly grease 13x9 casserole dish with remaining tablespoon of butter.  Transfer half of cooked macaroni to prepared casserole dish and cover with half meat sauce.  Repeat with remaining macaroni and remaining meat sauce.  Carefully spoon bechamel over meat sauce, using back of spoon to smooth into even layer that completely covers sauce.  Spread cheese evenly over top of casserole.

5. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes to 1 hour till cheese is golden brown.

6. Using oven mitts, remove from oven and let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Should Gifted Classes be Offered In High School

Today, I had almost an hour-long conversation with the new gifted program specialist in the county where my youngest attends school.  (In her defense, she has been in the position less than a month, and her background was elementary education, so she had never taught gifted in a secondary setting.)  I had initially gone to resolve an issue with my son's testing.  However, I also addressed the reason why my oldest is attending middle school elsewhere.  The middle schools in our area offer one random gifted class at most, and the high schools, none at all.

Her response, a quite typical one, was "Well, we offer advanced classes in high school.  And we have AP and Dual Enrollment.  What else can you do with high school gifted?"  From my own experience, I can unequivocally state, "Quite a bit."  And we talked for quite a long time about what this is.

First and foremost, one of the greatest problems that many gifted students face when they graduate from high school is not that they have to find what they excel in, more that they have to pick from the many areas of excellence, narrow down their choices, and select the area they love most.  Many gifted high school students go into college with only a vague idea of what they like and not a clear picture at all about what different careers do.  In my high school, they offered a gifted externship program where students spent the first six weeks studying various careers, then they picked one and tried it out for a month.  In theory, you could continue this several times if you did not find what you sought.  It was different from the work study programs in that you could change, that you were doing the internship as part of a profession and shadowing a professional, and that the ongoing research into careers assisted.

In addition, I had the opportunity to teach a high school gifted class that was a mix of English (my side), history, and psychology,which the social studies department chair had written.  (He was the other teacher.)  Within that class, the students studied communication, values, history, literature, and society in an engaging, interactive way.  For example, they studied the writings of the colonial era (like "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God", for example)  they studied and simulated the mindsets that existed then.  Then they took the depositions from the Salem Witchcraft trials and reenacted them.They wrote a great deal, through the class, but there were hands on experiences, engaging simulations, and a sheer voume of material that many returned and said took them farther and deeper in their education than any of the AP or Dual Enrollment classes that followed. (This was taught in 10th grade.)  They craved the education and depth of knowledge we brought.

Finally, there are programs like Odyssey of the Mind that allow the students to compete in academic areas, creating their own projects and determining how to demonstrate to an audience their point.  It is self-driven, yet to create the projects they have to learn a host of hands-on, practical skills that allow them to compete.  These include public speaking, set construction, costuming, and construction, but may also include structural support, electronics, etc.  They also learn how to fix a problem on the fly and how to fake it, when something goes wrong at the last minute.  They have to be creative and think on their feet, developing new solutions and divergent methods of problem-solving.

So is there a role for gifted in high school?  Absolutely.  The examples I have given are only some of the ways it can be taught.  The important thing is that ANY of these go far beyond the skills these students would receive in an "advanced class" and are markedly different from the set of knowledges and skills the students would gain in AP or Dual Enrollment.  Now, I still think advanced, AP, and Dual Enrollment are excellent and fill a definite niche.  However, none of them are the same as gifted education, and none of them give that same opportunity to a gifted highschooler to shine in their own way as they would receive with a gifted program.  This is why gifted education is necessary, even in high school. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Summer Learning

Most of the boys' educational opportunities this summer have centered on their activities.  Robin had a role as the Rat King in The Pied Piper of Hamelin and spent till mid-July caught up in a whirlwind of dramatic fervor.  Daniel attended Starbase Atlantis at NAS Pensacola and boy scout camp, as well as spending a week with Uncle Joe and Aunt Sarah - learning all sorts of things about flight, first aid, wood carving, basket weaving, leathercrafting, etc.

For the last couple of weeks of summer, I think we will focus on cultures (in addition to making sure Robin has his multiplication tables down).  Next week - Greece.

1. At least one Greek meal - cooking (Robin loves cooking)
2. Mythology (Daniel loves this)
3. Geography
4. History
5. Math (Pythagoras and Archimedes among others)
6. Science (kind of ties in with the history and math.

I will update with what we do each day - I think we will have a great time!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Firework Cupcakes

For 4th of July, I made Firework cupcakes (from the Cupcake Heaven cookbook my mom gave me for my birthday).  Because of the boys' nut allergies, I had to get creative, as the cake part used ground almonds as a base.  I pulled a different cupcake for the base, but kept the frosting and they turned out very decadent and delicious - everyone enjoyed them.  Here is what I made:

Cake: (From the White Chocolate Devilish recipe)
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar (I used dark, as that was what I had)
1 cup (2 sticks) sweet butter, softened (I did use unsalted)
2 separated large eggs
3 1/2 oz. semisweet chocolate, melted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C) Place 12 paper baking cups in muffin pan.

Sift flour and baking powder together and set aside.  In medium bowl, cream butter and sugar.
Add egg yolks and beat well.  Add melted chocolate and vanilla, mixing well.
Add flour and milk alternately beating after each addition.
Beat egg whites until soft peaks form, and gently fold into batter.
Bake for 20 minutes, let cool in pan 5 minutes, then cool completely on wire rack.

1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz.) of bittersweet chocolate, chopped
generous 1/2 cup of whipping cream.

Heat whipping cream to almost boiling, then pour over chocolate.  Let sit a couple minutes, then stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.  Allow to sit till thickened (about a half hour or so).
Spread frosting over cupcakes.  Decorate.  (The recipe recommended multi-colored dragees or silver ones.  I used red, white, and blue decorating sugar for the 4th.)  Stud each cupcake wth sparkler.  (The recipe recommended mini indoor sparklers.  I couldn't find any, so I used the ordinary ones and served the cupcakes outside.  Light and serve!  Lots of fun, but again if you use ordinary sparklers, I wouldn't serve them in the house!