Monday, September 27, 2010

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Biking Is Not a Crime

On my ride to work today a woman honked at me (which is dangerous and illegal) so she could get my attention and yell out her passenger window that there was a sidewalk.  I was well aware of the sidewalk, but I think she was trying to tell me that I was supposed to ride my bike on it.  I yelled back at her that I had a right to the rode, but I doubt she heard me.

I have two goals for this post.
1) I want to inform people about bicycling laws in Michigan.  Read this.  There that's done.

2) In my search for Michigan bicycling laws, and my desire to procrastinate, I stumbled across an interesting fact.  According to the League of American Bicyclists, Michigan is the 16th most bike friendly state (here).  I have to admit to being a bit surprised, pleasantly.  Though the grades aren't great, we beat out 34 other states.  Michigan is in the top third of something, and it isn't related to crime urban decay, or unemployment.  Given our history as the vehicle state and the abuse our state gets in the media, that was nice to see.  I wasn't surprised to see that Flint was not on the list of bike friendly communities (pdf).  Sure Flint doesn't have many bike lanes, many bike racks, businesses catering to bicyclists, but since I've been regularly commuting via bike, today's incident is only the second time someone has been inconsiderate.  Actually, I've been amazingly impressed with how courteous drivers typically are when I ride.  I'm not sure if they think they'll catch bike cooties or if drivers are intentionally courteous, but drivers typically move as far from me as possible and regularly wait to pass me until it is safe.  And I'm appreciative of that.  I particularly appreciate it because I have children, so if I get hurt, it hurts more than me. I definitely bike for me, but I also think of the message it sends my children and the health benefits as I age and try to keep up with perpetual motion machines.

Flint has a great and growing trail along the Flint River, it has a Critical Mass ride on the last Friday of every month, and it has a road race.  Heck, they even added bike lanes to Saginaw Street.  Maybe we're on our way to being added to the list of bike friendly communities.  

Maybe biking and courteous drivers is something the mainstream media can pick up on about Flint for a change.  Hey, Bobby Crim, add a bike race to your festival of races.  Hey, Flint Journal, why don't you write a story about bike commuters in Flint?  Make it a feature in the Sunday magazine.  You can reach me here.  I'll be waiting.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Aligning Stars?

Kids Art: But it's not an octopus!

Thanks to my wife for pointing this out to me. 

(There is a little creepy factor because the post date is Wednesday, September 22, but it's still the 21st here.  I assume it was published across the dateline from us.) 

#3 Commend Effort

In my latest examination of Alyson Schafer's suggestions for encouraging our children, I need to examine one that is a little problematic for me.  For me.  Not the parenting advice.  At a teacher, commending effort is fine, and I believe teachers should commend effort.  But the dark side of that is those that believe effort equates with success.  Effort does not equate with entitlement, and entitlement is a problem teachers encounter on a regular basis.  It seems to be becoming pervasive in the classroom.  Now I sound like an old crotchety teacher (now I am an old crotchety teacher?) On the flip side, commending effort is backhanded way some teachers can say something isn't very good.  Teachers can simply commend the student on their effort rather than the work they did.  Gee, Jenny, I see you worked very hard on that biology lab: 53%. 

I would prefer to not head too far down that path, and I'd like to instead focus on the parenting and commending effort.  But I did want to express my apprehension of commending effort before I explored it from a parenting perspective.

I appreciate what Schafer is trying to impart to parents.  It is important for children to see that their effort will reap rewards.  I often try to commend my twins for their patience, especially when it relates activities involving their little brother.  Sometimes I need to focus on our littlest one and the twins simply have to wait.  Waiting can be a challenge for 4 1/2 year old.  Sometimes the twins are less successful at being patient that others, but I appreciate their efforts and commend them accordingly.

In "The Secret to Raising Smart Kids" Carol Dweck states, "our studies show that teaching people to have a "growth mind-set," which encourages a focus on effort rather than on intelligence or talent, helps make them into high achievers in school and in life." I like how later in the article Dweck describes two kinds of praise, praising stable traits (e.g. You are a good soccer player.) and praising process.  Her research found that praising traits can lead to a child being fragile or defensive.  Praising process, on the other hand, can help a child overcome challenges.

I'm less successful at commending effort when it comes to activities such as art.  I try to comment on focus or attention, but I find it hard to not make positive qualitative comments about their work.  Dweck has one example of commending effort that appear to my lay eyes to be a positivist comment ("You did a good job drawing. I like the detail you added to the people's faces."). Other examples are far more effort-oriented (I like the way you tried a lot of different strategies on that math problem until you finally got it.").  Twin M is very critical of his own work and he can be very focused on it.  As a parent who wants his children to be happy, I want to tell him that his art looks great.  And to me, it does.  It wasn't that long ago that he ate crayons rather than colored with them.  But he may be dissatisfied, occasionally resulting in a tantrum.  His opinion is valuable and I shouldn't be quick to dismiss it as a mean to ease his frustration.  He should be the judge of his own art.

That doesn't mean I can't say I don't like it; it just means I need to refrain from positivist statements of quality that undermine his judgment.  Instead, I should focus on his attention, his focus and work ethic.  But in the moment, that can be hard, and I need to accept that he will be disappointment and I can't fix everything.  I need to be skillful at commending his effort so when he is disappointed, he will persevere until he accomplishes his goal to his satisfaction. And I know it won't be too long before he is teaching me something about technology, and I hope he commends my effort as well as my success. 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Defying the Laws of Physics

Arnac Le Brela

Today I learned what a pooptagon is. Do you know? Apparently, according to my twins, a pooptagon is a poop in the shape of a letter, commonly the letter J I've been told. If the poop has been stepped on, it is no longer a pooptagon.

The burning question. How does a pooptagon defy Newtonian physics? According to my twins a pooptagon has no sides. I find that fascinating.

Editorial note: Okay, I can't help but editorialize. This is actually a great learning demonstration for my twins. They obviously have been learning about shapes, which is geometry, something I learned as a sophomore in high school, and they made it into a game demonstrating first that they understand what a shape is and that it has sides. And then they thought it would be funny to have a shape with no sides, defying the rules they learned for other shapes. I know part of this grows out of a conversation they had with their grandfather about circles having only one side. They had guessed it had no sides (smartly I might add (assume?) because they deduced it had no sides because it had no corners -- a logical extension of an assumption about sides and corners). Kids are smart and encouraging them only makes them smarter, more playful, and generally fun to be around.  And I'll never be able to look in a toilet the same way again. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

2. Work for Improvement, Not Perfection

Part two of Encouraging our Children is work for improvement, not perfection.  In this entry, Schafer argues that parents need to reconceptualize how they encourage childrens' achievements.  I must admit that this one seems a bit touchy-feely to me.  I am a perpetually frustrated perfectionist and I generally have high expectations for others, including my children. 

But I don't think Schafer is really saying parents should lower their expectations, or at least I hope not.  No.  I think she is saying parents should take a different approach to how we encourage our children to achieve the best they can.  And she has some simple advice for doing it.  Essentially her advice is to encourage what the child has done, rather than what he hasn't done and to encourage the child to do more within reason.  It reminds me of Vygotsky's zone of proximal development in which the parent or teacher pushes the child or student just beyond their understanding, but not so far as to stifle any learning.  Of course, it's more complex than that, but it makes sense to me as a parent and a teacher. 

On a more practical level, I like to use the example of climbing a mountain.  If one looks to the top of the mountain from the bottom, it looks daunting -- enough so that a novice hiker might quit.  But, if the hiker simply keeps her eye on the trail a few feet in front of her (e.g. a reasonable distance to climb), she will find herself on the summit before she knows it.  This has certainly been the case for me when I've biked up steep hills.

So with my boys I am going to try to remember to encourage what they have done and not to correct or fix what they have haven't done or done well, especially when it involves something with the rest of the family, such as cooking.  I am going to try to offer jobs to my boys that push their skills, even though it may mean the food isn't perfect or they make a bigger mess, so they can learn by experimentation with cooking as well as developing their fine motor skills. 

This morning, before I had even reviewed Schafer's book (writes a proud father), I was working with Twin M. on making and freezing sausage patties.  It became a great lesson in freezing and cooking.  First, we discussed why we flatten the patties, why we want them thin (they cook faster), and why it is important to be careful with them so they freeze flat.  Then Twin M. got to practice flattening patties and placing them gently in a freezer bag.  (Full disclosure: I did "perfect" some of his patties by flattening them a bit more -- shame on me.)  He was happy to help prep for one of his favorite foods and I was happy to have the focused help.  Hopefully there will be lots more moments like that one.