Daddy School: Week 2

Current events, Khan Academy math, cartooning, and an apprenticeship in watching TV.



By 04/15/2020

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A man and two children looking at a tablet computer on a table.

I’m succeeding in my goal of running a B-minus Daddy Home School. Specifically I wanted:

1. Something low prep, and sorta fun, for me. Two strong check marks.

2. Kids remember it fondly five years from now. Jury’s still out, but no picket lines to date.

3. Kids learn a little. More on that below.

Meanwhile, my friend Jal Mehta shared some ideas on running an A+ Daddy School: “How to Deliver Deeper Learning During the Coronavirus Shutdown.”

Jal writes:

Apprenticeship learning feels less like school….[I]f parents have a skill or passion—like graphic design, chess, cooking, basketball, or computer programming—this would be a good time to invite their children into learning how to do it.

I’m not much at graphic design, but I do have a passion for… watching TV. I’m not sure if my kids needed any more apprenticing here. But they’ve gamely joined in.

We watched a season of “Jack Ryan.” We learned about geopolitics, Yemen, Navy SEALS, sarin gas, and Doctors Without Borders. I think E.D. Hirsch would give me half a checkmark for Core Knowledge progress.

We watched a few episodes of “Mad Money.” Jim Cramer taught us that, even though Apache Corporation has fallen from $30 to $4, it is not a buy because you don’t want to own oil right now. Our family doesn’t really buy individual stocks, but we discussed that if we did, maybe buy Six Flags, down 80 percent on the year, because per my son: “Everyone is going to want to go there this summer once this is all over and we’re allowed back outside.” He may have a point there. I’ll buy it for his college fund. If he’s wrong, he can go to whatever disruptive online college costs $100 per year at that point.

We watched “Bar Rescue.” Jon Taffer, we learned, doesn’t embrace excuses. You should not coddle your bad employees. You should yell at them and fire them and maybe train them. Also most bars are filthy.

Okay, I’m half joking. We have actually watched all these shows, and honestly, the kids are learning a ton that way. With the right mix of shows and Q & A, there is real learning. But I’m not counting this time as “Daddy School.”

Here’s our updated story.

The sixth grader today: “Oy! I have a class Zoom meeting in two minutes.” (Races to change out of pajamas. It is 11:30 a.m.) His teachers do the thirty-minute get-togethers twice a week, so the kids can socialize a bit. Otherwise, he has daily assignments that mostly keep him occupied.

My fourth grader got her school’s whole week of assignments done in a single day, however. So for her, I’m still the “Curriculum Director” of “Daddy School.”

9:00 to 9:30 a.m.: Oversimplified history videos Read news together

We finished the Oversimplified series, so we turned to Robert Pondiscio for advice, who wrote: “The juiciest bit of low-hanging educational fruit might be cultivating children’s interest in news and reviving current events.”

He’s right! Today we read “A Million N95 Masks Are Coming From China”—on board the New England Patriots’ plane. We’ve alternated between newspaper and TV. We flick between MSNBC and FOX to discuss two totally different versions of our world.

9:30 to 10:00 a.m.: Math

Khan Academy Math continues to productively occupy my sixth grader, which frees me to work alongside my fourth grader. She and I continue to bang away on fractions, decimals, percentages. Huge gains since last week.

I am bummed that the state exams will be cancelled because I’d love her to notice her math gains and realize she is a “math person.”

The gains come from what every teacher dreams of: lots of relaxed one-on-one time with a kid, so you can kinda “reach into the brain” and pull out misunderstandings. Software alone can’t do that well, not yet. Even as some nonprofits provide precisely this sort of high-dosage math tutoring—with insanely large results in randomized trials—most districts refuse to provide it.

Now with that said, sometimes I fall short as a tutor and struggle to hold her attention. Like today:

Me: Okay, so you convert this to an improper fraction…

She: Dad, you hair is so white. (Starts pulling on it).

Me: Pay attention, hon.

She: This part in the back is so infected with white hair. It’s hard to find a single strand that is not at least partially infected.

Me: I wouldn’t use the word “infected.”

She: Almost no brown is left…

10:00 to 10:30 a.m.: Nonfiction book club Silent reading 

Jal writes in his article: “Pick a topic about which they have some interest (and you have some interest!), and then have them make a list of questions that they have. We picked evolution.”

Jal’s kids picked evolution. They will undoubtedly one day join him at Harvard.

My daughter picked “I want a dog.” So she’s read two books raising puppies in the last six days. The good news is this productively soaks up an hour each day of the three-hour Daddy School. The bad news is there is so much Dog Momentum that I think my next fourteen years probably includes a nightly 10:30 p.m. walk in my pajamas.

10:30 to 10:45 a.m.: Snack and nerf basketball

I’ll just say it: I don’t think my fourth grader’s defense is legal. She gets “under me,” Patrick Beverly style, so I am immobilized. My sixth grader has perfected a Kemba Walker style floater.

10:45 to 11:15 a.m.: Ted Talks Zoom Interviews

We’re experimenting with something more active that watching Ted Talks. Yesterday we tried a webinar—“Cartoon Workshop with Pulitzer Prize Winning Matt Wuerker”—and it was a hit. Today we did our own “journalism.” She interviewed my buddy Geordie, from Philly, who is getting a dog this weekend.

Why are you getting a dog now? 

Did you consider getting a puppy instead of a rescue?

What breed?

What kind of supplies are you getting?

One thing that surprised us: Because his dog is from a puppy mill, where she just lived in a cage with no human attention besides food, she is four years old but was never given a name! That was hard for us to comprehend—that old with no name. Geordie is considering “Alberta,” but it’s still pending girlfriend approval.

We’ll check back next week to meet Alberta and see how it’s going.

11:15 to 11:45 a.m.: Science videos Covid-19 Learning

Tuesday was a discussion of whether we should take up my Chinese friend Weiqi on his offer to ship us 500 masks from Shanghai, so Pru can donate to the nurses at the Boston hospital where she works.

Wednesday’s lesson was about medicines.

Part 1: “Go to the pantry and find two medicines that you know and one that you don’t.” And from that, prescriptions versus over-the-counter medication, generic versus brand-name, proactive versus reactive. Good stuff. Also we found an unopened bottle of gummy vitamins long thought to be lost.

Part 2: This video on Drug Trials was good. Just three minutes. Covered the basics. Of course, the risk of YouTube is you can easily click to a new video that you haven’t pre-screened. That’s what happened. Instead of a smooth explanation about drugs —“dream up a possible drug, try it on mice, then if it works, try it on humans in phases one, two, three, etc.—we ended up on “The Problem With Lab Mice” by Adam Ruins Everything. The video did, indeed, muddy the kids’ understanding. They didn’t have the basics down when we introduced a complication. That said, the video raised some good ethical issues, particularly for kids who own gerbils named Puff and Tuff, so the detour was a net positive.

Part 3: Hydroxychloroquine discussion. Should doctors use it now even though they’re not 100 percent sure it helps treat this coronavirus? What if using it now for Covid-19 creates shortages? Would you take it now if you were infected?

11:45 to 11:55 a.m.: “Test for treats”

What started as “fun” two weeks ago has turned into an “Entitlement.” The kids now demand the right to earn candy by answering questions. I suspect the authors of How to Educate an American: The Conservative Vision for Tomorrow’s Schools warn about this unintended consequence. I probably should read that book.

Mike Goldstein is the founder of Match Education in Boston.

This post originally appeared in Flypaper.

Read more from Education Next on coronavirus and Covid-19.




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