Weeding in the SPED Garden

I have multiple jobs – one foot is in ed tech and I do various consulting projects. My other foot is in tutoring. An elbow is in blogging, a wrist in various other non-education writing gigs. One shoulder and hip works with parents of special needs students who need help navigating the mystery maze within hacked up fields of IEPs and 504s. Other wrist and one hand quilts (to keep me sane). I do some volunteer work (also to keep me sane). The other body parts just try to keep up.  In each part of my life, I like to consider it a garden, getting ready for new crops, to grow and bloom and make great flowers, fruits and vegetables.

My days often start at 4:00 AM as I deal with international people; the day’s end late as I tutor. I work to balance my time since so much of me is drawn in many directions all week AND on weekends – by choice.  In many ways I think I am helping shift the fulcrum the world rests on.

Currently I am dealing with a ‘weeding’ project, which is very different from pruning, composting and planting. Weeding is step one so you can clear the land. In the background you compost so you can later add this to the soil. You plant when ready and prune as necessary.

If you are a parent of a special ed student, the following will resonate with you.:

Weeding out is intense – most especially in the SPED garden.  I have to read SELPA paperwork which had to have been designed by people who truly believe any information seeing the light of day is bad information and any information which could lead a person to better analysis, decision-making and planning must be buried and the person trying to make sense of it all, burned at the stake.  These weeds are so entrenched in the garden they are often irremovable and one just tries to garden right around them.

Weeding also  includes finding out why the garden has the following random stones and boulders in it: A teacher gave a math test on perimeter, area and volume in the following manner to a student with dyslexia and other processing problems.

(1)  All problems had a formula written next to it – except in the case of the complex polygon which was a square and semi-circle. Only the formula for the semi-circle was present so students could assume the area of the square need not be calculated.

(2) The question on volume of a cylinder had no formula…..was student to answer the question OR did teacher mean to leave off/scratch out and forgot?

(3) A cone was shown with apex point up and circle opening down. Student was asked what was at top……correct answer: circle.  In previous presentations, the cone was shown circle up. Students were supposed to interpret turning cone in space. Never mind the misconception of a cone having an apex point.

(4) Picture a two layer, four cube per layer form put on paper at an angle and three of the top cubes were removed, leaving five cubes total. Same said dyslexic student was asked to draw what they say on the various faces.  No one bothered to help student number the various faces and then list those numbers/positions on chart with front, side, top, face, etc.

The does not include the supposed ‘assessment’ of 17 pages given to student for IEP (IEP took two separate sessions so assessment was able to ‘slide in under radar’ as it had not been completed prior to original IEP) with none of the accommodations  as noted in original IEP.  There has been no way for me to perform error analysis of student work as it is impossible to sort out grading system/rubric, etc.

Weeding includes talking to school psychologists so they can tell me I should call the stones shale, gneiss and chert, not explain the stones are math problems. If I were to call them stones, surely it would all make more sense as I was weeding.

In addition, weeding involves trying to understand why, week after week for three months a student who should be getting math assistance in study hall can not obtain this assistance as ‘different teachers teach math in different ways’ and the study hall teacher (also a special ed teacher) does not understand how this students math teacher does math.

I am still weeding. Hopefully I can put weeds in a pile and burn add, the ash to compost and start over.

While I have been weeding, I have been planting brand new, fresh, non- gmo seeds with the student based on math the way one would teach a math major or, in layman’s terms, using the book(s) Math on Call and Algebra to Go for concept bases, referring to Khan Academy for process, painstakingly doing notes and samples in organized fashion with student.  I tutor the student two hours a week. By the way, seeds are producing seedlings at this point!

Working with the parent, I have been composting – anything which is not understandable to student (disorganized work in folder, crazy notes, etc.) is being composted. Parent is learning all about IEP  process and throwing out any previous notions regarding the school, the SPED teachers, SPED education programs. All of it is going to compost heap to be mixed with upcoming ashes.  Amazingly, like all good compost, there is no smell. I have not taught parent about schist and chert nor gneiss. It does not help the parent.  I have taught the parent how to look for orderliness in the garden, how to ask for help – with a spade (shovel if necessary), hoe, pruning shears. I had to explain to parent there will always be stones, rocks and occasionally boulders and give the parent tools to remove, even if it requires a tractor (like me).  The parent has earned the right to see their child in a beautiful, thriving garden. The student has earned the right to grow and mature and blossom.

The gardening goal is to have IEP furrows in fine form SOON, by at least last four weeks of school. This is so all teachers can be on board in September of next school year and begin pruning in October as necessary, rather than waiting until March to look at IEP and begin the weeding.

In the weeding process, I have almost had the metaphorical hoe taken to my forehead a couple of times, had dandelion seeds scattered about to see if I would catch them and water put in the garden to flood it. This gardener has stood steadfast.  What is interesting is this garden wants so desperately to grow it is happening before my very eyes.

Update:  After participating in a final four hour marathon IEP meeting, a reasonable IEP which can be understood and implemented has been achieved.  The effort was worth the fits and starts of achievement in order to get something which truly demonstrates where student is currently at academically and how to proceed forward. Overall, this particular IEP took a minimum of 15 hours between actual meetings, phone calls, e-mails, going to classroom to attempt to ascertain disconnect from school to tutoring.  I would do it all again in a heartbeat as this student is going to become a steadfast beautiful tree in a forest of strong, brave, smart and wonderful trees.


When will I use science?


Previously I wrote a blog piece on Algebra as it is the fundamental and critical aspect of education which allows one to most ‘likely’ excel.  Algebra is the quintessential  beginning of abstract thinking with which students move on to a more open, questioning mind.  Math is the language of science…..

With common core standards coming down the pike in the U.S. public education system, it behooves us to think about how one will use science knowledge, which is based on the language of maths. I would like to broadly apply how science benefits us and assists in a life well lived. Above and beyond, I would like to put the kibosh on some of the ardor people find in misconstruing hypothesis for theory for fact and calling it knowledge, an abhorrence to even novice scientists.

Daily I use the most basic concepts of hypothesis vs. theory vs. fact vs. opinion when I listen to the news. I am not so naive to believe there is anything as perfect as flawless journalism and keep my mind open – to reasonable ideas. Some things which come across me in conversation, computer, newspaper, etc. are just ridiculous and make me pause to wonder who amongst people I know or am acquainted with might be a ‘believer’  (see URL above).  I pause as the actual thought in my brain is something along the lines of, “Did you complete Algebra?” and I need to restrain myself from saying what is making me smile.

If we are to actually ‘arrive’ in the 21st Century, we will need to start thinking as though we are in the 21st Century and stop relying on misguided beliefs which brought us The Salem Witch Trials, The Scopes Monkey Trial and the five (or ten or 60 ) second rule which was recently clarified by Jillian Clarke at University of Illinois, Urbana -Champaign.   In each instance, people wished to ‘believe’ something not only on the limited knowledge they had on hand at the time, the bigger issue was the lack of continuing to ASK QUESTIONS, which is what all good/great scientists do.

Those who are unwilling to experiment are not ready to accept science as science RARELY calls something a fact:

Just as in philosophy, the scientific concept of fact sometimes referred to as empirical evidence is central to building scientific theories and fundamental questions regarding the natural phenomena of Naturescientific method, scope and validity of scientific reasoning.

In the most basic sense, a scientific fact is an objective and verifiable observation, in contrast with a hypothesis or theory, which is intended to explain or interpret facts.

Various scholars have offered significant refinements to this basic formulation (details below). Also, rigorous scientific use of the term “fact” is careful to distinguish: 1) states of affairs in the external world; from 2) assertions of fact that may be considered relevant in scientific analysis. The term is used in both senses in the philosophy of science.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fact#Fact_in_science

Being closed-minded is limiting ones ability to be creative, ask important questions and think through various ideas (Shrodinger’s Cat). Closing off the power to think is the antithesis to what anyone would wish to do if they wanted self efficacy, empowerment and a better world.

Examples where understanding and using scientific knowledge abound. I will select a few to think about and digest so the conversation can not be waylaid into something other than improving science education and scientific thought in the U.S.

There are many people who are hateful of GMO foods. If you ask these people to compare/contrast the technology used to create gene therapies for people with medical conditions, they are in favor of genetic manipulation. When asked to have discussion/dialogue on these two different yet related  concepts, most people are unable to have said conversation as they lack the basic understanding of genetics and epigenetics although they are sure anything with genetic manipulation must be bad…..unless it cures a health condition.  This should then lead into a conversation on ethics which is every part as necessary since the ability to perform a genetic change/alteration is not permission to do so (even though Der Spiegel felt a certain scientist must be running around looking for a womb to implant Neanderthal DNA recently inserted into an ova….).

As health care changes and improves, people should be allowed more and stronger input into their end of life.  In fact, people should be able to select and elect how they wish to die. Being able to understand the choices requires some degree of science knowledge and ones own risk tolerance. An example is when some one has cancer and is given options of treatment: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, nothing. Each choice has a set of risks and rewards and contains a certain determination regarding how ones life will end from cancer. Some people choose to do surgery if it is clear the doctor feels they can get the tumor out with good margin, they are young enough that anesthesia will not unduly harm them, the surgery can be life-sustaining for a period of time. Some people choose not  to do something so invasive and opt for chemo or radiation. Some people opt for all three until they can no longer take the side effects. Some people do ‘none of the above’. In each case, each person should get to decide for themselves what they feel is best for their quality of life. This is difficult if some one does not understand how the various factors come into play AND know each choice is equally valid and depends upon the person.  The misconstruction of this conversation, where  a doctor and/or medical team educates a patient so they can advocate for their end of life is known as a death panel in some circles…….

We should all be able to make decisions as to the quality of life we live. In this case, we should get to choose if we would like to be able to live long lives where we are healthy and relatively disease free  OR  would  we like a shorter life with more indulgence or even something in between. In order to make the choices, we do need to know what the various activities we do or choose not to do have to do with actuarial tables (those things insurance companies use for so much of their decision-making on risk).  An example would be nutrition. Since both diabetes and obesity are on the upswing, understanding the underlying genetic propensity AND epigenetic factors would help us to some degree in choosing what we eat as living with diabetes is not pleasant.  If we were to actually know the food groups – protein, fats and carbohydrates, we could do better in evaluating information on food packaging which is listed in this format.  We have spent at least my life time talking about milk, meat, vegetables, fruit, beans, legumes, plant, animal, fat……without really ever putting it into a context of what is fat for, what is protein for, simple vs. complex sugars in our diet and how vitamins help us process nutrients. It is difficult to tell some one not to drink soda when they do not understand how the body uses sugar.  Why is this so? Look at a school text-book, which is how most science is taught. You will note sugar (if it is even referred to as carbohydrate) is for energy. This seems logical if you don’t know better and leads to thinking a soda will help a person get through the day, not what the body has to do to process the sugar.

We have created a nation of people taught to read a science book, answer a few questions and move through life. When Harvard University began studying science misconceptions in education, they put together The Private Universe Project. One film was quite telling – it included interviews of Harvard and MIT grads on graduation day in the 1980’s NOT being able to  explain photosynthesis   http://www.learner.org/vod/vod_window.html?pid=77      You watch the movie and immediately understand science has to be something more important and less of a ‘special’ activity.  If we are to get past people thinking we can just go out and find a womb to implant a Neanderthal, we might do well just to learn photosynthesis.

We can do better – we have to leave the books and multiple choice testing behind.  If Algebra is a gateway…..science most definitely is the road we need to walk.

Truly Weird Food Groups


How is it no one  seemingly  caught the real problem?

Over the last few days, I have looked to find anything which shows anyone angry about the correct issue, which is following….

Let me start from the top: In the real world, the one I habitate, food groups are as follows- fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamin/mineral, water.  These food groups are based on how living organisms (in this case human mammals) break down nutrients for use within the body.

This article treats dairy as a food group – it is not. Dairy can have varying amounts of fat, protein, calcium, etc. Due to dairy having varying amounts of food within them, a slice of cheese is NOT the same as a 2% glass of milk or full fat fresh mozzarella, but I digress.

Part of the problem we have in this country is that most, if not all of you got outraged about the chicken nuggets, which is protein, fat and carbohydrates – and probably too much fat proportionate to protein instead of being angry at a The Division of Child Development and Early Education at the Department of Health and Human Services, Jani Kozlowski (who managed to get protein right but classified grain as grain, not carbohydrate with potential for some protein….), the mother, the grandmother, the principal……..and so forth. 

Anyways, back to my point:  we need to learn about nutrition in this country so when Michelle Obama explains fresh foods from the garden, we understand why (carbohydrates with lots of water degrade immediately after picking which grains and nuts can be dried) they need to be fresh. When we talk about the so-called food ghetto deserts in America, we understand it to mean lacking appropriate protein, the right types of fats and fresh carbohydrates with all the vitamins and minerals.

If you were angry about the chicken nuggets, YOU MISSED THE POINT!

PLEASE DO GET ANGRY AND OUTRAGED about the correct issues. Write to the USDA, The Division of Child Development and Early Education at the Department of Health and Human Services, the people who work in the school cafeteria, Michelle Obama and so on and so forth and explain you want your child eating properly and well to prevent obesity, diabetes, etc. In order for your child to eat properly and well, we, the adults in this relationship need to use the proper food groups. Stop allowing your government to treat you as if you did not know better and raise the bar – this is about YOUR KIDS.

U.S. Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Ave., S.W.

Washington, DC 20250


USDHHS      http://www.acf.hhs.gov/index.html


Michelle Obama- Let’s Move