Friday, March 28, 2014

Read How a Mom Doesn't Destroy Common Core (Warning: It takes me more than 3 minutes)

Okay, "Uncle, uncle"! Please everyone stop with the common core posts! I can't take anymore. I've been trying so hard to hold my peace and not write a super long blog post about this but it's starting to bubble over and I can't stop typing...and, oh no...here it comes...

As many of my friends know, I was a teacher in a former life before having the 4 cutest little girls ever!  So as a former teacher, and now as a parent, I try to keep up with whats happening in our schools. I've been doing my best to follow common core, listen to its supporters and opponents, talk with teachers, check out how it's being implemented in my child's school, etc. I assumed that most other parents would be doing the same things. Unfortunately, it seems many don't have time because instead they are too busy writing and reading never-ending rants of other parents who are supposedly "destroying" common core in 4 min. (I've also enjoyed how it has kind of become an internet game now, similar to "name that tune".  I can destroy common core in 3 min.  Well I can do it in 2. Okay then Lou, destroy that common core!) I mean don't get me wrong, I'm all for shorter rants but the fact of the matter is I've yet to see a video that actually "destroyed" anything but my belief that most adults have a working knowledge of how their child's education system actually works. 

Let me start by explaining that a core standard (be it a standard written under no child left behind or under common core) is simply a statement of WHAT should be taught, it does not dictate HOW it should be taught.  And while they are sectioned into grade levels common core doesn't even specify when in the year it should be taught.  Common core is not a curriculum.  Common core is not the one creating the homework problems you see on Facebook.  Common core is a set of standards that set the bar for whatever curriculum a state, district or school chooses.  So basically it says, choose whatever texts you want but at the end of the year here is a list of what your child should know.  So standards are important.  I'm not here to argue with people about if those standards should be decided locally or federally or what...but I just want people to understand what a standard is and why knowing the standards for you child's grade level is helpful and important!  To find out what the actual standards are please visit http://www.corestandards.org/  You might be surprised to find that the standards have nothing to do with any of the memes you've seen on facebook.  In fact, hopefully you'll read them and say "I remember learning that!".

So, what is a curriculum you ask? Well, in the United States there are numerous companies which sell curriculum plans for districts to use.  When I did my student teaching they used Investigations. When I taught we used Saxon.  Currently my daughter's school uses Everyday Math.  Just to name a few! So when you see a homework assignment on Facebook labeled "Common Core", it's really Investigations, or Everyday Math or something like that. So if you are unhappy with your child's math program then the first step is to find out what math curriculum your school district has selected.  This would be true for your child's reading program also.  Since these curriculums are not chosen federally, if you see a bizarre homework assignment from someone in Florida and you currently live in North Dakota, chances are your child isn't even participating in the same curriculum. So before you freak out and send out a spam email to everyone you know, check out what curriculum your child is using.

Right now, you probably want to argue that the standardized testing associated with common core is what is driving these curriculum programs to write all these crazy homework pages that you've never learned before.  However, most of these programs existed long before common core was in place.  Some may even pre-date no child left behind. Also keep in mind that they are not all created equal. Do some research and see what you think.  Even in my few years of teaching I could easily determine my preference for Saxon over Invesigations. Do some research. What do you like, what don't you like? What is working, what isn't?  

Okay, so you've figured out what curriculum your child school is using but you are still unhappy with the work.  What's the next step to making a change? (Hint: it's not writing an angry Facebook post).  You need to find out who chose the curriculum, how long they've been using the curriculum, who chooses the textbooks, and how to get involved.  Often a district will be given suggested texts or curriculum programs from the state and a district commitee will then decide what they are going to use.  In my town they have a curriculum committee and a textbook committee. These boards are often comprised of parents, community representatives, teachers, principals, and district representatives. Find out when open school board meetings are, when they are planning to discuss curriculums, and what committees have openings.  You can find out this info by visiting your districts website. If you still have more questions go visit the district offices and they will help you.  I know it sounds like a lot of work...but you cared enough to discuss it on facebook...the next step is to get involved.

Now, just as not all curriculums are created equal, we also have to remember that the same is true of parents and teachers. Each of us is wired differently.  Some people can see a problem in many different forms and solve it but most of us are going to pick and choose which method works the best for us.  I get that, and as the parent of a special needs daughter, I understand the frustration of having to teach our children new ways of doing something when they already had to fight to find one way that works.  But I do know that being able to come to a solution or tackle a problem in a variety of ways is important for critical thinking.  The more ways we teach our students to look at a problem the better chance they have of understanding the reasons behind the formula and/or finding the way that clicks for them.  In some real life situations simplicity will be valued but in many scientific or technical jobs memorization of formulas is not enough.  My husband works in a job where it is critical for all involved to understand the WHY of the processes they complete just as much as understanding the HOW. So, a complete education becomes a balance then of learning the formulas and also the process behind the formula.

However, teaching a variety of methods requires a higher undestanding on the part of the teacher, or parent, or tutor.  I'm not saying this is an "always" true statement but is it possible that some of the frustration with the "new" math (which isn't really all that "new" anymore) is actually rooted in the parent or teacher not understanding the math as deeply as they need to? Please don't get me wrong my children and I have had wonderful teachers who completely know their stuff inside and out! However,  I also have vivid memories from when I was obtaining my degree of a group of grown women crying in my "teaching mathematics" course because they didn't know HOW to multiply fractions, let alone teach it.  They were angry at the teacher when she told them that her course was to instruct them how to teach math not how to do it.  You see my university, as well as myself, was under the assumption that someone who had entered a four year university had a 4th grade knowledge of math. I also remember my first day of student teaching.  I watched my mentor try for half an hour to teach the class a problem from Investigations math and without getting the right answer.  I knew in 2 min. what she was doing wrong but I was too nervous to speak up.  Finally she asked me if I knew what to do and when I got it right she said "Perfect! You can teach for the rest of the time you're here". And from then on, I kid you not, she went to the teachers lounge and took a nap every day while I taught math.  I'm really not trying to get into a teacher bashing session here but I have to admit that both of these stories rattle around in my little brain often.  And then I add that to the hundreds of other parents complaining on Facebook that they don't understand how to use a number line (and that they aren't embarrased to admit that in front of hundreds of people). So am I really that bad of a person when I begin to think maybe it's more of a comment on the educational system of the 80s and 90s than it is about common core. Really, we can't figure out number lines?

So now lets discuss the many, many teachers who are amazing and know their stuff.  They work hard to help our children succeed.  They spend countless hours coming up with lesson plans, getting supplies collected and organized, grading our children's papers, and preparing our kids for the next level.  We've also been hearing from an increased number of teachers that they are spending a significant amount of their time reteaching their students information that they should have been learning in earlier grades.  Many people attribute this to poorly written standards.  However if you look back over the last 20 years how many times have the standards and tests changed? Is it possible that it's actually the swinging pendulum of educational standards that is making life harder for our teachers and not the standards themselves?  When the target keeps changing how can we expect teachers, or parents, or children to hit it?  I've had several friends ask me how I can't get worked up about what my child is going to have to know in high school or how common core will affect my special needs daughter and my answer is usually that the whole system will probably be revamped in the 8 years before my kids even get to high school. In my opinion the biggest threat to my child's education isn't the common core standards, it is the fact that the standards will never be constant.  It's the fact that every time a different political party gets a majority they will roll out a new program and millions of people will love it or hate simply based on if their "guy" is in charge.  That people will continue to post angry Facebook posts about educational systems they haven't researched for five minutes.  We have got to value and listen to our teachers.  They are the ones in the trenches.  We've got to find out what they need, what they like, what's important and how we can get involved.

So in conclusion, I get that people are unhappy with the way public schools are heading. I hear you loud and clear.  I have my concerns too.  Hopefully after reading this you can at least realize that your problems may be with your child's curriculum instead of common core.  Identifying the problem is half the battle.  I've yet to see one article about common core that actually addresses a specific standard from common core. But whatever your concern, you are left with a choice.  You can A) write a sarcastic Facebook post and hope it goes viral or B) you can identify the problems, do your own research, get involved, and actually be a part of a solution.

Well, if you've made it this far through this super long post...kudos.  I would love to hear your thoughts on the issue. You may be nodding in agreement or you may be fuming mad. I'm hoping we can all still be friends but if you must "destroy" me in a Youtube video I only ask that you do it in less than three minutes.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Pork Carnitas




So this picture doesn't do them justice but this recipe has to be shared!  I will try and get a better picture when I make these again in the near future (they are so good).  I got this recipe from my fantastic husband who made it for a date night.  My dad was out of town so Alex went over and made them in the crock-pot at my dad's house.  Then got a babysitter as a surprise and he and I went and had a meal without the kiddos! I even got to eat my food while it was still hot...glorious!

Anyway, they have now worked their way into our normal rotation.  They are delicious, healthy and a crock-pot recipe.  With our kids starting to have more and more after school activities I need all the crock pot recipes I can get!  You broil them at the end to get the meat a little crispy which sets them apart from other crock pot recipes I've had. We served them with a southwest chopped salad, black beans and whole wheat tortillas.  Our kids loved them too!

Pork Carnitas
4 lbs. pork shoulder (cut into strips)
1 med. yellow onion (chopped)
1 T. cumin
1 T. coriander
1 T. oregano
1 tsp. garlic (minced)
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup diced green chile (I used frozen)
1 jalapeno (chopped)
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup orange juice
2 limes (juiced)
salt and pepper to taste
shredded lettuce
shredded cheddar and jack cheeses
8 whole wheat tortillas
avocado (chopped)
sour cream (optional)
fresh cilantro (optional)

Chop onion and place in bottom of crock pot.  Add pork to crock pot and coat evenly with all of the spices.  Top with green chilies and jalapenos.  Pour chicken broth and juices over the top.  Cook on high for 4.5 hours.  Shred meat and spread evenly on a large baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Broil on high for 5-10 minutes or until meat is slightly crispy and amazing! Serve in warm tortillas with lettuce, cheese, avocado, sour cream and fresh cilantro to taste.