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At the book fair November 8, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in science.
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Falling to pieces August 1, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, photography.
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Yesterday, I posted a picture of a textbook I use as a reference.  The picture showed pages detaching from the glue binding.  Sadly, the problem is worse than it appears:


I’m beginning to think a lot of textbook manufacturers aren’t really using glue but maybe teflon in their binding.  Or something along those lines.  My husband has an older edition of this book that’s held up better than this one.  I would like to replace it with an ebook, but my brain has a hard time handling technical information on a computer screen.  Paper seems to be best.

Better find the duct tape.

Wordless Wednesday: Coming unglued July 31, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in electromagnetics, engineering, photography.
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From whom it has concerned November 10, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in feminism.
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I was buying some items at Barnes and Noble today when the cashier asked if I wanted to buy a book to donate.  I picked a Lego book of some sort, and the cashier handed me a card and asked me to fill in the “From” line.  I contemplated a second, and he said, “You can just write in Santa if you like.”

That didn’t feel quite right, so I wrote in, “Santa and Mrs. Claus.”  (Does Mrs. Claus have a first name?  I feel horrible for not knowing.)

The cashier looked and smiled.  “Hmm…no one has written that before.  But you know, that makes sense.  She’s probably the brains of the operation, planning everything out.  She should get some credit, too.”

Indeed, she should.   But I imagine the elves are going to complain that they were left out…or the reindeer.

Bed time reading July 24, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in younger son.
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Last fall, we took a trip to Minneapolis and decided to visit the science fiction bookstore, Uncle Hugo’s.  While I found a slew of books, I was hoping to find copies of a three books I’d read in my youth by Philip Curtis.  All of the stories were “Invasion of…”, but the only one I could definitely remember was “Invasion of the Brain Sharpeners”.

I was ten when I read those books.  I honestly don’t remember a thing about them other than that each featured a kid who saved Earth from some sort of alien invasion.  What I do remember is that I was completely transfixed by them and that I got in trouble for reading them when I should’ve been doing schoolwork.  I wanted to find copies in case the younger boy was interested in reading them.  And, well, I sort of wanted to reread them myself.

The bookstore had no copies, and after I spent time hunting around, I realized why.  Apparently the only copies still in existence seem to be old school library copies, so I ordered all three from various people selling them on Amazon.  One of the books may not have ever been in a library, but it was probably in a classroom of some sort.  It is very well used. The second was at a place called Newark Valley Middle School.  I have no idea where it is, but the last page is ripped in half because they removed the checkout card.

The third one was a real gem.  It belonged to Price Laboratory School Library at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.  These wise people had the wisdom to leave the checkout card still in it.  They attempted to blot out the names on the card, but I can still read a few.  More importantly, I can see when the book was checked out.  It was only checked out 17 times in the 20 years before it was withdrawn.  It looks like it was pulled out in 2001 and must’ve been waiting to be bought for over a decade.  Or maybe it’s been bought and sold several times since then.  Hard to say.  It was checked out a lot in the early 80s, only 4 times in the entirety of the 90s.

This book, incidentally, is the one that I decided to sit down and read with younger boy.  Given I can’t even find a lexile score for the books, I have no idea where they are.  We take turns reading alternating paragraphs.  It appears that they use a lot of words that the younger boy can read but doesn’t necessarily know, so he’s being stretched.  He seemed to enjoy it and even would spend longer than the 20 minutes that I suggested for reading time.  (He could’ve also been trying to push off his bed time.)  We finished it in about a week because the younger boy was so interested.

It turns out that the books aren’t as good as I remember, but I can definitely see how a 5th grader would find them captivating.  And I was pleasantly surprised that the ending wasn’t as predictable as one would have imagined.  Things have been busy, so we haven’t started the next one yet, but I’m looking forward to it.

Do you have any books that you have shared or would like to share with your kids?

What my kids read… May 3, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, younger son.
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The younger son has had a fear of reading due to his perfectionistic tendencies.  In the past few months, however, he’s really taken an interest in it, especially when there are comic books available.  (Yay for Marvel comics!)  I’m really not too picky about what my kids read.  I’m of the opinion that the more you read, the more you learn to think critically.

Or at least, that’s what I thought until the younger boy brought a book home from the library on “Unsolved Mysteries.”  Basically, the book talks about all these events that are apparently paranormal.  As a scientist who is also a bit on the skeptical side (though I don’t like the term skeptic, despite our subscription to Skeptical Inquirer), I have to admit that it got my hackles up a bit.  At first, I wanted to go complain to the librarian.

The funny thing is, though, that I had to sit back and remember that I used to read this stuff, too.  I remember checking out books on the Bermuda Triangle and astrology.  In fact, I, at one point, went through and plotted out full astrology charts for everyone in my family.  I fascinated my family by finding out interesting little factoids like that my sister was actually a Taurus and not an Aries, like we’d always thought, because her sign didn’t fall on the normal dates the year she was born, for some strange reason.

As I continued to read and learn about this stuff, however, I started coming across counter points to all the supernatural phenomena I was interested in.  As I became more educated as a scientist, I began looking at how people were conducting their ‘experiments’.  And, probably most important, I wanted to know how things worked: I wasn’t satisfied with explanations of, “It can’t be explained!”  Eventually, I began looking at things much differently.

I realize the younger boy will probably be walking around for a while talking about the stuff he reads in the book.  However, I’m trying to look at this as an opportunity to introduce him to questioning things that he reads and get him thinking about whether or not he can find what might be a more realistic explanation of how things work.  It’s a slow process, and it won’t be helped by not exposing him to these things.  And having a cultural reference to these things aren’t always bad: we still like to joke about my sister being bull-headed.

Wordless Wednesday: Microcat becomes aware of the turbulence around her February 29, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in pets, photography, Uncategorized.
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Lexile ranges December 19, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, older son, science fiction, societal commentary, teaching, younger son.
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The younger boy’s school sent home a bunch of information on lexile range.  I’d never heard of this before, but it’s a way to rate books so that kids are reading at an appropriate level.  On the surface, it seems like a good idea: it’s very hard, as a parent, to provide reading material for your kids that’s appropriate.  Aside from the basic issues of whether they’ll understand the language and sentence structures of a book, there are the themes and situations: are they too complex or adult-oriented for a child to read?

A lot of this, of course, depends not only on cognitive ability but emotional maturity, as well.  I remember how my older boy started reading Harry Potter very early.  Sometime in third grade, he read the fifth book.  I began to wonder about him reading the fourth and fifth books at such a young age because of the adult themes.  We were fortunate, however.  Reading books about such emotional and adult themes started giving him words to explain a lot of his thoughts and feelings with minimal emotional fallout.

After receiving these results, I dutifully trucked my troops down to the library (no complaints from said troops) where they had a program to help us find books in the appropriate range.  However, I forgot the letter with the lexile range and so had to guess where he was at.  The younger boy had already been reading Magic Tree House books, so I figured some of the Dragon Slayer Academy books might be up his alley.  We got those and some Bionicle books and headed home.  He really seemed to like the Dragon Slayer Academy books and has been reading bits at a time.  Language-wise, they seemed perfect, although their length is a bit intimidating for him.

It turned out, I had remembered the incorrect values.  The books we picked were near the top of his range.  And yet, I was confused.  If these were supposed to be too difficult, why was he having no difficulty reading them?

Mike, unbeknownst to me, had also started looking at lexile information on specific books.  He was curious where he would’ve been placed when he was in various stages of school.  After we returned from the library, he started telling me about this and that he didn’t buy the results.  He’d been comparing some of his favorite sci-fi books, and he was puzzled at the results.  I threw out some books I read as a kid and made some comparisons.  Books that I thought were very difficult showed up as supposedly easier to read than ones I’d zipped through.

We looked up the criteria for determining lexile range:

A Lexile measure does not address the content or quality of the book. Lexile measures are based on two well-established predictors of how difficult a text is to comprehend: word frequency and sentence length. Many other factors affect the relationship between a reader and a book, including its content, the age and interests of the reader, and the design of the actual book. The Lexile measure is a good starting point in your book-selection process, but you should always consider these other factors when making a decision about which book to choose.

Both Mike and I read this and shook our heads.  We both had different takes on it.  I found that one thing that made a book challenging for me was dealing with vocabulary.  It’s not clear to me whether or not this is reflected in the “word frequency” measure.  (Do they mean word frequency in the book or relative to the English language?)  Mike felt he struggled most with books that had very adult themes, something not reflected in the range.

Our take on this is that this is only a very rough guideline, and probably not a good one to use.  We both felt that interest in a book or topic was probably going to be a far better predictor of readability than using the lexile range.  I suppose that’s what they’re saying about considering other factors.

My concern in this is that some schools go a bit overboard with these things.  When the older boy was in fifth grade, he was going to public school part time.  I got a couple calls from the school librarian because he wanted to check out books that were designated for 7th-9th graders.  I felt this was silly because he’d been reading at above that level already, and probably had come across themes in his reading that were more adult than what was in those books.  I told her it alright for him to check the books out, but she seemed to be very opposed to it.  I finally gave up and told older son that he should just probably check most of his books out from the public library.

I’m hoping I don’t see something similar happen with the younger son, i.e., that he not be allowed to check books out from the library if they’re outside of his lexile range.  On the other hand, I’m glad that they seem to be promoting reading at the upper end of the scale so that kids will stretch their mental muscles a bit as well as that they make the point that within any grade level, you’ll have a wide variety of reading levels.  In other words, it seems like they’re trying to get rid of the fantasy that kids all read at the same level and thus require the same reading level.  Therefore, while I may disagree with assessments of individual books, I think they’re definitely taking a huge step in the right direction.


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