Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Let's Celebrate Gifted Kids

By Pam Kenney

Sean* is ten and a gifted child. He reads voraciously, thinks way outside the box, and is on a personal quest to understand the world around him by learning as much as he can about everything he can as fast as he can. Like many other bright kids, his social skills aren't as well-developed as those of some of his peers, and he finds many of his classroom assignments needlessly repetitive and not particularly challenging (and says so, of course); he can be a know-it-all.

I know Sean well, and I imagine he can be a handful for his teacher and often irritating to his classmates. His school, though, thinks he may have a "problem". Maybe he needs a social skills class or would benefit from some other type of intervention... After all, the kids in his grade have complained about him because he brags sometimes, and he thinks he's so-o-o smart, and he's quite touchy, reacting verbally when they tease him.

Sean does not need a social skills class. He doesn't have a problem---he's smart. And it's time educators started celebrating the uniqueness of academically gifted students instead of labeling their eccentricities as problems that need to be fixed. Yes, Sean should learn that tooting his own horn isn't the way to make friends, but his classmates need to be taught that their behavior toward him, manifested solely to bring him down a peg or two, is equally inappropriate.

Classrooms are composed of children of every stripe and are ideal environments for teachers to initiate discussions with their students about differences among people, including intellectual and personality-related ones. Kids already know that some of us are more athletic or musical than others; some are good with their hands while others are more awkward. They've been told since they were toddlers that we're all different, and that that's a good thing. Yes, it is a good thing, but schools today are so intent on bolstering children's self-esteem and reassuring them that they are up to every challenge, that they have shied away from celebrating the gifts of unusually smart kids.

Gifted children can be hard to deal with; but so can star athletes, and reluctant readers, and good math students, and introverts, and computer geeks, and kids who sit and stare into space. The personalities and attendant behaviors of all of them are affected by their strengths and weaknesses. They don't need special classes or therapy; they need committed teachers and parents who will take the time to discuss all the ways people differ from one another and how those differences affect how they act. Through example and lots of practice at home and at school, I believe kids are perfectly capable of understanding and accepting each other's idiosyncrasies, not with scorn and ridicule, but with grace and pride.

*name changed to protect the child's identity

Monday, November 8, 2010

Daylight Savings?

By Ed Latham

My natural biorhythm has been complaining much in the last few days as I am still adjusting to our seasonal changing of the clocks. This disruption has forced me to research the why of these time changes in the spring and fall.

I found the following map showing who is still changing these clocks(Blue), who has stopped (Orange) and who never changed them in the first place (Red). One might conclude that the red countries just never got the memo in the first place or have so much sun around the equator they did not see what all the fuss was about. Digging further, I found that many of the reasons for DST (Daylight Savings Time) are interesting when looking at this map. Here are some of the key reasons.
1. Energy Use: The thought was that if we shift the hours around, people would have more natural light and therefore use less artificial, electricity consuming light. As Ben Franklin pointed out, this is a fallacy as the usage of lights in the morning increase to render any benefits from this afternoon shift to be minimal. Given the Blue countries above typically have access and knowledge of energy efficient lighting, any support of energy savings rational for DST today has to be based on an unwillingness or inability to adopt the newer more efficient technologies for lighting.
2. Retail: Originally, more daylight hours after work translated into more people shopping at local stores. With the Internet and our instant access to most any resource (especially in the blue countries in the map), the rational for shifting times around is no longer applicable. In fact, as many are dealing more and more on a global scale, these changes in time often cost more time and money to restructure business connections.
3. Safety: The thought was that more light on the evening commute would equal less fatal accidents. Although the data has shown that less pedestrians get hit with this shift, there has been no solid evidence that when one factors in the morning fatalities from people having disrupted sleep patterns that there is any significant drop in the number of fatalities. Interestingly, the blue countries tend to be the only ones that have tons of cars on the road in the first place. Seems like getting rid of some of the cars might have more of a safety effect than messing with time :)
4. Health: This reason sounds good at first. More daylight in the afternoon equals more physical exercise. Data suggests the disruption in our natural circadian rhythm for up to a month after each shift causes many health detriments. Factoring in the increased suicide rates, especially after the spring switch and one has to question this at a purely data level. Again looking at the health of those in the blue countries, I am seeing the most wealthy of the world. For the most part the blue countries have many more comforts in their lives and through no coincidence have higher rates of obesity and inactivity. Although they can afford nicer exercise equipment and gym memberships, the lack of need of physical exercise is more of a health hazard than the lack of sun in the afternoon. Maybe we all need to have to carry our drinking water home every afternoon and this health issue would be fixed rather than messing with time.

One more observation. The orange countries are those that had DST and then realized the futility of it. In fact, based on population, one could argue that only the richest 2 or 3 percent of the world still stick to this silly tradition. Everyone else must realize that nature has a flow of light and dark periods and they somehow manage to adjust their lives appropriately rather than artificially changing the name of the hour to feel better.

Do you see any other observations from this interesting map? Any thoughts on the whole DST thing as it applies to learning? After all, most adolescents are not even functional mentally until at least 2-3 hours after sunrise, so our students are still sleeping till almost halfway through our school days.

Well, looking at my clock it is either time to get to work or I am already late, or is it early? I think I need to go for a nature walk outside first to find out.