The Cat Fell Down the Rabbit Hole

Rabbit holes and I go way back. Read more here!

Exceeds Expectations Learning

When I first heard that the September GHF Blog Hop was on gifted kids and rabbit holes, I burst out laughing. Then I headed towards my computer, my brain already on this blog post… and then I remembered I had to go meet with a couple tutoring students, so I reversed course. I have a long history of going down rabbit holes.

As a homeschooler, rabbit holes were never a problem: If I was curious about something, I read about it. Then I read some more, and maybe watched a video or two about it. (Smartphones weren’t really a thing until I was in my late teens.) Then I went to college, and promptly earned the nickname “Hermione” for my tendency to answer all the teacher’s questions – and to raise my hand and get the class completely sidetracked with my own queries, such as when I asked my chemistry professor…

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Helping Homework Help

Homework is a learning tool. Students may need to be guided through one, two, ten, or twenty practice problems before they understand that they are learning; but in my experience, once they can do two or three problems without guidance, they are ready to move on. When they are asked to continue doing the same few types of problems, over and over again, they often become bored. They may fail to recognize the distinction between being bored by something and being bad at something, and so decide they are bad at a subject they have become bored with.

Homework

Homework is not a teaching tool. Students need guidance before they are ready to work on their own. Giving them homework when they have not been taught how to do it, or without first leading them through similar problems, causes frustration when they are then told to do the problems on their own. If this scenario happens often, the student may become convinced that they are stupid, or bad at the subject.

Boredom and frustration are the two most common obstacles to learning I encounter as a tutor, and they often go hand-in-hand. Bored students may tune out the teacher, and then miss something important for future homework or classes; then, when they discover that they haven’t learned something, they become frustrated. If a student is already confused or frustrated, they might be unable to follow what the teacher is saying, and so become bored.

The problems around homework, then, are twofold. On the one hand, the amount of homework assigned generally far exceeds the amount needed to reinforce the topic, causing boredom. On the other hand, the student often does not have a full working understanding of part or all of the assignment, causing frustration. In both cases, the student often decides they are bad at the subject.

Homework2Once students have adopted the mindset that they are bad at a subject, it can form a mental block that is difficult to move past alone. Parents and tutors can help a student work past that mindset and set reasonable self-expectations. They can also fill the gaps, taking students through practice problems until they are ready to move on. The one-on-one support provided helps build positive relationships as well, giving the individual attention needed to keep a student on track and encouraging student success instead of tearing down self-esteem.

Once students have adopted the mindset that they are bad at a subject, it can form a mental block that is difficult to move past alone. Parents and tutors can help a student work past that mindset and set reasonable self-expectations. They can also fill the gaps, taking students through practice problems until they are ready to move on. The one-on-one support provided helps build positive relationships as well, giving the individual attention needed to keep a student on track and encouraging student success instead of tearing down self-esteem.

An important note: don’t blame the teacher for setting too much homework. They may not have a choice in the curriculum they use or the pace they set. If you’re concerned, talk to the teacher and see how you, the parent, can work with the teacher to support your student. Parents and teachers – and tutors – should be part of a team, and good team members work together.

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[Book Review] Writing Your Own Script: Struggling and Succeeding in Socializing

I last reviewed this book in November 2015. However, my perspective has changed significantly, and I wanted to revisit it.

Finding and making friends has always been really hard for me. My constant refrain as a child was “I don’t want to make new friends, I like the ones I have.” Even after an interstate move when I was ten, I tried to force my old friendships to stay the same as they had always been; I refused to make the effort to meet new people and make new friends. But, of course, that didn’t work in the long run: We grew apart, the distance made it hard to see each other, and after a while we didn’t really have much in common. I became lonely, and I resented my friends for changing – not realizing how much I, too, had changed. The problem, of course, is that friendships aren’t static – people change, move, grow apart, get into arguments… we are, after all, only human. Recognizing and accepting that was one of the hardest lessons I had to learn.

Once I entered college, I at least made an effort to make friends with my classmates, but I didn’t really know how. I had essentially been born into a friend circle, spending time with the other smart, quirky kids of the software engineers who inhabited the Silicon Valley in the late 1990s. Thus, as a small child, I didn’t have to work very hard to make new friends: I just played with the kids who got dropped off at my house, or whose house I got dropped off at. I also looked very much like the thirteen-year-old I was when I entered college, and that was likely off-putting for some of the classmates I approached and tried to talk to. As a result, the years after I moved to a small, rural, anti-intellectual community were filled with loneliness – and bewilderment, because why did I seem to be so different from the other kids at the various homeschool groups I attended? Why didn’t the other kids want to talk to me? What was wrong with me?

Writing Your Own Script, by Corin Barsily Goodwin and Mika Gustavson, MFT (co-authors of Making The Choice: When Typical School Doesn’t Fit Your Atypical Child), was the answer to those questions, and illuminated for me the efforts my mom went to for me all those years. There is nothing wrong with me. The other kids didn’t want to talk to me because I was different. I am twice-exceptional (2e) – gifted with other exceptionalities (in my case, ASD, SPD, APD, food allergies, and a variety of health complications). My brain is qualitatively and quantitatively different from those of the kids I tried to talk to – the neurotypical ones. We can even say in what ways gifted brains are different, as Corin Goodwin (one of WYOS’s authors), Sharon Duncan, Joanna Haase, and Sarah Wilson do in their Neuroscience of Giftedness article series.

Gifted brains develop differently from typical brains; and so gifted children develop differently from neurotypical children. Additionally, the more significant the deviation from the norm, the greater the gap between any two neurodivergent children. Writing Your Own Script explains why and how these differences matter, including overexcitabilities, asynchronous development, and obscure interests. Even more importantly for parents, Goodwin and Gustavson provide a guide for supporting gifted children in their social development.

Friendship for gifted children doesn’t always look like friendship between neurotypical kids. The adjective I have heard most often used to describe gifted people is intense. This applies to friendship as well. When other kids are looking for “play partners” with whom to share toys and play, gifted kids may already be seeking conversation partners; the other children may shun the “weirdo” who tries to talk to them about books, the history of fashion, or astrophysics. Finding people with whom your child can engage in those conversations can be a challenge. When I was about six, I became passionate about realistic historical reenactment. While my friends wanted to play house and be mommy and daddy, I wanted to play house and wash doll clothes by hand and have one-room schoolhouse lessons. As a result, the other kids rarely wanted to play with me – but my mom (after being rejected by several people) found a sewing teacher who could and would hold a detailed discussion of the effects of corsets on women’s physiology with a seven-year-old.

CamilleMeHSC Many gifted kids find that they get along better with older kids or adults, and so develop close relationships with teachers and mentors while having few friends their own age. Alternatively, they may become good friends with another kid their age who shares their interests through online classes or summer camps, and stay in touch via email or other online platforms. These friendships are valuable, and should not be discounted; what Goodwin and Gustavson don’t touch on, though, is the sorrow kids may feel at missing out on what they may perceive as important experiences for their age: sleepovers, birthday parties, dances, and other in-person social activities. While there is little parents can do to fill in those gaps, they should recognize the validity of their child’s feelings of missing out, and provide what emotional and other support they can.

Friendship does not automatically happen just because two people with similar interests are put together, however. While many people seem to pick up on social cues intuitively, gifted kids are not “many people.” Appropriate behavior, theory of mind, and social interactions can seem a mystery or a maze of pitfalls for the gifted child, and left to their own devices, they can be their own worst enemy when trying to make friends. The parent’s role, then, is not simply to find potential friends – they may also need to act as a guide or coach, explaining the unwritten rules of social interactions and providing insight into other people’s thoughts, feelings, and perceptions.

I was born in 1996. When I moved states in 2006, most of my friends had one or two desktop computers in their house; even if they had email, they didn’t check it very often. I got my first laptop about two years later; most of my friends didn’t have those yet. Facebook was just taking off as I started college in 2009. I made a few friends online, in the FooPets discussion forums, during those years – all of them significantly older than me. Since then, I have made friends through college, grad school, and volunteering; I’ve turned 21 and can now go to bars, though mostly I just go for trivia nights (I’m terrible at most pop culture questions, but have won every Harry Potter trivia night I’ve gone to). Some of the best friends I’ve made I met through (what are supposed to be) dating apps – where I get to chat with and get to know them before meeting in person.

I started teaching for GHF Online in 2015 and became the director in 2017. I also founded my own tutoring and mentoring business, Exceeds Expectations Learning. In my work with gifted and twice-exceptional kids through these two places, I have borne witness to the enormous changes the internet has made in enabling these kids to findfriends. Many of my students exchange email addresses before the end of class; geography no longer isolates as it did when I was their age. This summer I taught a class that included students from Ontario, Canada; Maryland, U.S.; England; and China. These particular students have taken many classes with me over the last few semesters, and it has been a pure joy to watch them become friends and hear about their email exchanges.

One of the main challenges to finding friends for your gifted child (or for yourself, the gifted adult) is the feeling of looking for a specific type of needle in a haystack. Not only do you have to find a needle – another neurodivergent person – they have to be the RIGHT needle/person for a friendship to form. The internet has shrunk the world, and provided something of a search function: you can reduce the odds of finding the right people if you find the existing gifted communities. This does not make Writing Your Own Script less relevant, however. Rather, it makes it more relevant, helping you find the right people for your child and guide their social and emotional learning and growth in the way that works for them.


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This post is part of the GHF August 2018 Blog Hop, The Scoop on Gifted, Homeschooling, & Education: Our Book Reviews

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Exceeding Expectations in Tutoring and Mentoring

I’ve known I wanted to teach since I was a little kid. My dolls were lined up for lessons; my poor brother and cousins got roped into “playing school” with me. All through college and grad school, I would watch my professors, making notes of things I would and wouldn’t do when I was a teacher.

In undergrad, I started meeting with classmates to do our homework together. Then I offered to help students in classes I’d already taken. My tutoring business began!

I have always liked working with students and helping facilitate the learning process. In particular, I enjoy getting to know the people I work with, and using analogies and Image result for Cell biology embroiderystorytelling to make concepts more relevant. A star basketball player struggling to understand the physiological impacts of increasing global temperatures understands when I ask what would happen if the temperature of the basketball court went up. A budding seamstress baffled by cell biology can more readily conceptualize protein manufacturing when it is put in terms of cloth manufacturing. Students perplexed by the relationships between pressure, volume, and temperature often get a good laugh when I phrase the idea as cold children sitting quietly huddled together versus warm kids running around taking up lots of space.

For the past 3 ½ years, I have been working with gifted and 2e kids, teaching classes through (and eventually becoming director of) GHF Online. Simultaneously, I have continued working as a tutor, independently and through agencies. Now, I am combining my online teaching experience, my tutoring work, and my expertise in gifted, 2e, and homeschooling families to launch Exceeds Expectations Learning, which provides interdisciplinary and individualized tutoring and mentoring services for students around the world!

While you don’t have to be gifted, 2e, or homeschooling to benefit from my assistance – IImage result for ghf online have lots of experience with neurotypical public and private school students, too! – those are the populations I specialize in. I offer tutoring in a diverse range of subjects, and mentoring for students pursuing their passions or on the early college track. The best part? You also don’t have to live near me! Using Skype and Zoom, we can work together whether we’re across the street or across the planet from each other.

P.S. My political beliefs are my own and are not in any way reflected in my professional life. If you have questions, feel free to contact me at exceedsexpectationslearning@gmail.com.

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Since the Impossible Happened

I never expected this to happen. I never thought it COULD happen. And yet on November 8, 2016, my world imploded. Instead of my lifelong dream14721549_1344021028943931_237385660179562321_n.jpg of seeing the first female president, and my dream since I was 11 of having President Hillary Clinton, I watched helplessly as a man who represented everything I hated, feared, and loathed because president of the United States of America. It has been almost a year and a half since that fateful night, and I am no closer to comprehending it now than I was then. I have not yet truly mourned what has been lost, because I have not yet been able to integrate this external reality into my personal truth.

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History had a path to follow. Hillary was supposed to win. She would give her victory speech in a white pantsuit, and Bill would beam with pride. She would appoint Merrick Garland or someone equally qualified and intelligent to the Supreme Court. Tim Kaine would be a less inappropriate version of Joe Biden. Foreign relations would flourish under Hillary’s experienced hand. Common-sense gun control laws, universal healthcare, student loan relief, strong climate action, equal rights and equal pay for all, paid family leave, poverty, sexual harassment, and racial justice would all be subjects of debate in Congress. We would still have the Blue Wave and flood of new women candidates, but driven by hope, not fear.

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But… that’s not what happened. Fear fueled by ignorance turned into hate, and a man who did not even want to win, despite running a brutal campaign, is now the so-called leader of the free world. I cannot comprehend how it is possible that such an atrocious man is our president – and yet I also cannot fathom how the situation could be improved, because impeachment would give us President Pence; even if both were impeached, we would have President Ryan; and I do not believe either would be an improvement, for despite their more stable temperaments, they have the same goals as Trump, and they have far more political cunning with which to achieve them.

I used to read the news every day, scrolling through headlines and diving into commentary, reports, and analyses. The further into the Trump presidency we get, the less I am able to stomach; these days I barely open Facebook or Twitter for fear of what I will see. Knowledge is the key to resistance, but what can I do? My senators have been among the leaders of the resistance to Trump, and I have too much anxiety to make daily (or even monthly!) phone calls. I can’t travel, protests have thus far been entirely ineffective, and I don’t have money or energy to donate to a campaign. I am disabled in ways that render me powerless. All I have is my writing and my teaching.

Meanwhile, people I know are being targeted for deportation, victimized by racial profiling, terrorized for going to school, sexually harassed at work, and forced to delay or forfeit school, parenthood, travel, moving, and job changes. I am queer, female, disabled, and Jewish; attacks on these identities are on the rise. I am white, college-educated, and from a middle-class family; the privileges afforded to me by these aspects of my life are hard to perceive from within, yet ensure that I am not targeted by racism (anti-Semitism is another story) or left without a roof over my head and food in my belly.

How do we improve the lives of ourselves, our families and friends and neighbors? Will we all perish in nuclear warfare? Can we foster empathy and compassion in a society that is fueled by fear and hate? Is there hope for a better tomorrow?

What can I do?

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Climate Reality Corps: Send me to Denver!

The Climate Reality Project, founded by former Vice President Al Gore, works to promote action on climate change worldwide through a variety of initiatives to crlclogopressure world leaders, help communities organize, and train leaders. Through the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, activists receive training in climate science, communication, and organizing. Attendees are added to a crlgrouplist of speakers from which other organizations can request presentations for events, and are given support to help bring about change at a local level. The next training is in Denver, Colorado, March 2-4… and I’ve been accepted for it!12019775_10154419935943475_4106408606014142449_n

I have earned a B.Sc. in biology and environmental studies and a Masters of Environmental Studies, and I’ve been a vocal climate change activist since I was 15. Attending this training will give me specialized credentials that will help me spread actual (not alternative) facts about climate change. At this time, in this political climate, these presentations are more important than ever.

Travel isn’t cheap, and while I’m not a spendthrift, I do have extra expenses: accommodations for severe food allergies on flights and while dining, and autism-friendly lodging. Can you help send me to Denver?

I’m trying to raise $1000: $200 for airfare, $450 for lodging (3 nights), $150 for food, $100 for miscellaneous expenses (transportation, baggage fees, etc).

If you want to contribute, you can donate here!

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Student Success Means Supporting Girls

I’ve had two different encounters with sexism in the past 24 hours, and together they represent my professional raison d’etre.

Credit: Unknown

The first was last night. I was at a meeting, the monthly meeting of a local climate change group. There were three presenters, two men and one woman, and a room with about the same gender ratio. Everyone there was white. After the presentation, there was time for Q&A, which was dominated by the male presenters. I had a question, so I raised my hand. When a related question was asked, I said mine was a good follow-up, so I got called on. Meantime, I had watched the same woman put her hand up… over, and over, and over, without being called on. Several men had been called on despite putting their hands up more recently. So, standing in the back, I called out, “This woman has had her hand up for a while. Do you want to call on her next?” She was called on then and there.

The second was just a few hours ago. One of my tutoring students is an African-American middle-schooler, whom I’ve been working with since October. She had been having trouble with math, so I was helping her with Algebra I. Her improvement has been significant – from failing to acing three tests in a row and making Student of the Month in December. When the improvements first started to show, her confidence soared and it showed in her willingness to answer questions in class. With the start of the new year, though, her confidence has waned. Today at the end of our session, she told me that her math teacher had assigned her specific homework: to participate more in class. So, starting next week, we’ll be working on ways for her to raise her own voice. In the meantime, I told her the story of the meeting last night. I also told her this:

“It doesn’t seem like a lot. So you don’t like to participate in class, so what? But if you practice speaking up with your thoughts now, you’ll be more comfortable doing so later in life. You’ll be willing to take credit for your own ideas in meetings. You’ll be more able to speak out if you are sexually or physically assaulted. You’ll even have more confidence to say no to boys in high school who harass you for a date. I know it feels scary, even to have a wrong answer. I don’t know what your school is like; maybe you’ll be teased for being a know-it-all, maybe you’ll get made fun of for having a wrong answer. But here’s the thing. Society isn’t going to give you a voice. I don’t get called on during Q&As unless I speak up first – I’m a young girl, what can I know? It’s going to be even harder for you, because you’re a woman of color. So you have to raise your own voice. Start by participating in class.”

 

Confronting sexism requires a two-pronged approach. Women have to be willing to amplify each other’s voices, NOW – at school, in meetings, at presentations. And we need to teach our girls, ALL our girls, to raise their own femalefuturevoices, and not let anyone silence them. Those two things are what I aim to do, with my professional life, and as a tutor and mentor for predominantly female students.

Remember: The future is female. Let’s make the future bright by helping women and girls shine.

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A New Era

The general consensus seems to be that 2016 was not a good year. For me as an individual, it was pretty good: I finished my Master’s degree, I’m doing more teaching and tutoring, and my partner and I celebrated our first anniversary together on New Year’s Eve. For my rights as a neurodiverse lesbian millennial of Jewish heritage, however, I agree with the consensus view. 2016 marks the start of a new era: a time of backlash against progressive values; a time of hate, fear, and anger; a time of protests, outcries, and violence.

My emotions on November 9th are familiar to 66 million other people. Fear. Anger. Disbelief. Despair. I still haven’t quite processed the results. Hillary’s defeat broke my heart.

Even more devastating than Hillary’s loss, though, is who won. I will not speak his name, for he does not deserve that respect. You all know who I’m talking about when I refer to Mr Cheeto, right?

The victory of Mr Cheeto was a victory for those who believe that white, straight, cisgender, rich, Christian men are superior to everyone else. It was a victory for those who see people of color as animals; who see women as second-class citizens; who see LGBTQ+ people as abominations of nature; who see poor people as a disease; who see non-Christians (especially Muslims) as terrorists. It was a victory for bigotry, discrimination, fear, and hate.

As a lesbian, I do not know if my partner and I will be able to get married someday. As a Jew, I do not know if I am safe from the same persecution that my family faced just a few generations ago. As a woman, I do not know if I am safe when I leave my house. As a disabled person, I do not know what will happen to my right to reasonable accommodations. As a millennial, I do not know if my future involves a job, a healthy economy, or a livable environment.

As a survivor of domestic violence, I DO know that the next four years are going to be one long PTSD flashback – only this time, the abuser is the President.

So those are the consequences. We can expect 2017 to bring more fear and hate – as, indeed, we already have seen. We can look for the GOP to have a field day with majority control of Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court. We can prepare for the fight of our time: the fight for a future, not a return to the early 1800s.

We face a new era. An era in which the Constitution is no longer respected, our civil rights and personal liberties are under fire, and our environment marches towards the point at which our planet can no longer sustain human life. We cannot turn back and we cannot back down.

So we must educate ourselves, we must unite to work for a common cause, and we must be ready.

Arm yourself with critical thinking, fact-checking skills, and an understanding of lobbying and the policy process.

Coming January 21st, 2017: A New Era: The fight for the future.

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Teaching for the Future

Teaching is the only social interaction that comes naturally to me. Sharing information, explaining things to other people – it is not only easy, but it gives me joy. That is why I teach for GHF Online, and why I started Master MImage result for ghf onlineinds.

Last Wednesday marked the end of my second year with GHF Online. As always, the end of the semester was bitter-sweet: I am so proud of how far my students have come, but I will miss “my” kids. Some of them will be coming back to my classes next term, when I teach Meet the Biosphere and Citizen Science Adventures. Others will be moving on.

This term has been harder than previous semesters, for a few reasons. I had two classes, not just one; I had a bigger class than I was used to. Mostly, though, what made it difficult was the election.

I teach environmental sciences, and climate change features prominently in my classes. My students know what climatograms are, and how they’re changing; and they know that humans are causing environmental damage to all the Earth’s ecosystems, and climate change threatens us all. Normally, I am able to help them cope reasonably well: I offer examples of policies being proposed or implemented, we discuss ways that they can make a difference, and they find things to be positive about. In other words, I practice what I preached in my last blog post.

But this term was different. This term, on November 9th, my students showed up to class and asked me what we were going to do now that the President-elect believes climate change is a hoax. And I did not have an answer, because I did not know myself.

I have an answer now. I know what I am going to do, and I know what they can do.

sciencevolunteerI’m going to teach. I’m going to educate the current generations about what we can do now, and I’m going to prepare the next generations for what is coming and what they will need to do.

In this new “post-truth” world, teaching science feels like an act of rebellion. In a time when climate scientists’ names are demanded and researchers fear the destruction of climate change data, defending solar and wind and protesting fossil fuels is a show of defiance. Sharing facts, and data, and evidence, searching for the truth – that is a display of resistance.

Join me. Teach your friends and family about climate change, about the importance of research and evidence. Share facts. The damage possible now is immense, but so too is our power as citizens. socanmeeting

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” ~Margaret Mead

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Talking Climate Change with Kids

As an environmental science instructor, there kidsclimateartcomes a time each term where I have to talk about climate change with my students. The reaction is predictable: they start saying how awful it is, they get scared about the consequences, and they ask why it is still happening if we know what is going on and how we are causing it. Over the years, I have found a few techniques and resources to be particularly useful.

Don’t show despair

If you have lost hope, don’t let it show. The kids will pick up on it, and it is far better to communicate to them that the best and brightest minds are working on the problem.

Give them ways to engage with the problem

Provide examples of how their everyday behaviors contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, and then show ways that they can change to reduce their carbon footprint. Offer action items like letter-writing, community outreach, fundraising for an organization, and joining groups working on the problem in your community. Help them come up with their own ideas for solutions, and support development of their innovative ideas.

Make it a science lesson, not an existential crisis

There is a lot more to climate change than “we’re all going to die.” How do we measure carbon in the atmosphere? What are carbon sinks? How much carbon can one tree absorb? How does the ocean absorb carbon dioxide? Where can the carbon go besides the atmosphere? What are other technologies we can use? How do solar panels turn sunlight into electricity? Answering these questions helps children to understand the scope of the problem, while also providing them with an understanding of the solutions. I have written posts about the importance of science and the basic science of climate change.

Help them understand how we got here

Older children and teenagers will be asking how we got to this point, and they deserve answers. Explain the political battles, the denial and its roots, and scientific conservatism when it comes to raising concerns. Include the progress we have made, too – the growth of renewable energy, the international agreements, the local actions, and the grassroots organizing.

Resources

NASA’s Climate Kids provides a multitude of learning opportunities, along with innovation opportunities and teaching resources.

Global Warming Timeline shows the progression of climate change through science and the public mind.

What You Can Do About Climate Change offers dozens of ways that both children and adults can take to reduce their individual footprint and take larger actions to fight climate change.

Our Children’s Trust is a group of kids and lawyers who are currently suing state and federal governments in the United States, with the goal of forcing climate action by arguing that climate change violates their constitutional right to life and liberty.

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