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Thursday, October 29, 2009


For twenty years, I have bundled up precious cargo, hopped into the car or walked through a neighborhood, and participated in the ancient ritual called Halloween. I have never objected to its horrific side. I just ignore it and enjoy the excitement children exhibit when faced with large amounts of free candy.

The first year I lived on a farm, I bought bags of candy and waited for Trick-or-Treaters to appear, as they had in my suburban hometown. What a letdown! Not one goblin showed up. People on farms have to make appointments or they will pass each other in their cars. There are side benefits, however. Grandmas and neighbors make up for fewer stops by giving large bags of homemade cookies as well as full-size candy bars.

My favorite Halloween was in 1989. I had moved back to my hometown with three children, two hundred dollars and a college education. While looking for a job, I was a substitute teacher in five school districts comprised of more than fifty schools. With traumatized children and anxious parents, I cried every day over the loss of a farm, friends and my previous job. It was hard to get up in the morning, and the days didn’t get any easier.

October 31 came and we went trick-or-treating in Grandma’s neighborhood, where I had grown up. A transformation had occurred in this quiet middle class section of town. Decorations abounded in the yards, including strings of Halloween lights. One neighbor dressed up like a witch and cackled at the children from the top half of a Dutch door as she dropped candy into their bags. The weather was so warm we didn’t even have to wear jackets, and leaves crunched under foot as we walked. Friends walked together and greeted each other as children eagerly ran up to doorbells and gave their personalized rendition of “Trick or Treat.” For the first time since my loss, I had a sense of community. The children had never gotten grocery bags full of candy before. Although they always missed their father on holidays, they were pretty happy with this turn of events.

The weather didn’t always cooperate on Halloween. In 1995, the weather was the worst I can ever remember. In a pouring rain with a wind chill reading of twenty-nine degrees, I let my youngest child (aged 12) talk me into circling two blocks. The following week, she was sick. I am glad I went, however. The following year she preferred a junior high party to trick or treating. Had I known it was my last trip, I would have enjoyed it more.

©Linda Wallin 1997

Sunday, October 25, 2009


In the last few years, my work in special education has led me to disabled children who live in poverty. While it was a rare occurrence even five or ten years ago, it is now much more common. I can't quote statistics on this, although I hope to do some study on this topic. I can only speak from personal experience. Last year, my class was small and the poverty level was high. I think only one of my students was NOT in poverty (out of five or six). This year, out of nine students, six of them were receiving free lunches. For those of you who don't know, the poverty level was calculated in the 1955 by calculating the yearly cost of food for an adult or child, omitting the purchase of meat, and multiplying by three (Ross, 2009). Thankfully, Congressmen Dodd and McDermitt have introduced legislation to bring the formula more in line with present-day realities.

I must confess I lived below the poverty line for a year when I became a single parent with three children. The lessons I learned have compelled me to speak out about this devastating hardship for children who have no platform to speak. As a parent and as a teacher, I see children who cannot develop their abilities to the fullest because they are held back by lack of day care options, medical options, and grocery limits. I teach children who do not know what to do with a Book Club book because no one has bought them one before. I see children who get excited about technology and can learn math, reading, graphics, writing, storytelling, and simple computer science concepts when they gain access to machines and programs appropriate for their abilities.

Recently Stephen Krashen, who writes about second-language acquisition, wrote about the relationship between poverty and achievement in his newsletter. He objected to the administration focus on higher standards. I concur. Higher standards will not provide better nutrition or more educational experiences for children whose parents may be working one or two jobs apiece. Higher standards will not allow children to spend more after-school time outside because they have adequate supervision. Higher standards will only create more paperwork for an overworked educational sector.

Those who use the phrase "throw money at a problem" are almost always trying to prevent spending. Yet if children come from homes where there are no books, educational toys, educational videos and outdoor activity, where are they going to get them? If they are learning another language in the process, they are under siege cognitively. Without the words to express what they see in the world, their power is limited and their needs ignored. President Obama overcame hardship in his childhood. Let’s hope he has not lost his compassion.

Ross, E. (2009, 10 23). Hutchinson News Online Edition. Retrieved 10 25, 2009, from The Hutchinson News:

Monday, August 24, 2009


I used to feel grateful for the beginning of a new school year, because it was like a second New Year's Eve. I got a chance to start over and be a better teacher. This year, I'm in a new school, teaching a new class and I thought I was handling it well. By Friday (Aug. 21), I was sick of being new, not knowing people's names, forgetting where kids were supposed to go, trying to work out bussing with different districts. This week, I feel like I have prepared for the schedule and I am waiting to see if everyone actually gets where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be there. New initiatives have already been introduced, which require after-school training. Parents are waiting to see if they have placed their trust in someone who knows what he/she is doing, and administrators are checking out classrooms to make sure students are engaged and learning. I remember a time fondly when both students and teachers had a few weeks to get into the routine. My mother always said it took us six weeks to get used to our teachers. That was before student performance was tied to teacher performance and everyone wanted a good report card in the newspapers. What is the essential nature of education? The relationship the teacher forms with the students that convinces them they are capable, interesting people who have a valuable role to play in the world.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Challenging Kids

My students are so creative and productive - who could ask for more? Today one group put three motors together to make something that looked like an arm with two elbows. I saw at least three catapults, and one group made a machine that stood three feet tall (and did not fall when it ran). I tried to stump them with a nested loop and recorded action in Logo (Mindstorms' programming language) AND seeing who could make the tallest machine. Next we will learn about the wait and switch buttons. The week will culminate with a robot dance contest on Friday.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Lego Mindstorms NXT

The students in Glenview are learning very fast. Today I showed them a loop structure and will teach a nested loop and switch next week, along with the record button. It has been delightful to haved an LCD projector, so I can show them instead of drawing some really bad pictures on the board, then having them try to remember when they go to the laptops. One young man today wasn't doing anything. When I went over to see if he wanted to change groups or see how to program, he said he was fine just watching. I think we all get tired by Friday. No lack of enthusiasm, however. Some of the parents came in to see what we were doing, and no one noticed.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Day Two

The students in Glenview are taxing my ability to challenge them! I want to keep things simple, but the students want to get on with it and make machines that can catapult (hour two) and walk. I am letting them work ahead if they have had the class before, but I can see some confusion in the faces of the newbies. We will try again tomorrow to use one or two sensors with just the NXT program. Wish I had a nice set of transparencies to illustrate what I want them to do, hint, hint, Lego!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Glenview Lego Lab

The program in Lego robotics started today in Glenview, IL. I was amazed to notice that although I had twice as many students, I did not have more problems with behavior. I would have to admit that the noise level went up, but the Center was kind enough to send an assistant to help. The students are so excited. I actually had someone ask if they could use the Legos, and I said that I believed in hands-on classwork. I start each day with 5-10 minutes of instruction, then let them go to work. One group did not get a machine up and running in the remaining lab time, so they were frustrated. Hopefully they will tomorrow. This is the first time I have one or more groups who have had the instruction before, so I am letting them work ahead. It is so fun to see the kids at work. Team issues are a problem, as well, so we may have to make some changes to the teams. It is better if there are only 2-3 kids on a team, but I think it is also important to group them heterogeneously. I group them according to their interests, so they can make new friends.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Assistive Technology Class

Our graduate class has begun and I have a wonderful group of students. We looked at writing tools last week, including low-tech items purchased cheaply, and high-tech software such as Co:Writer, Intellitools Suite, and Inspiration/Kidspiration. Each person had completed a picture sequence of something they did on a regular basis, to see if they could put individual steps in without leaving any out. We talked about the writing process, which involves the combination of language skills, organizational skills and visual-motor skills. Students may need assistance at any level. I had rifled through my garage digging up my low-tech tools, now I must rifle through to find my low-tech reading aids. How fast this summer is going!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Amazing students

One of our students brought her home project in today. It was a bot that flipped over backwards, like a gymnast on a high bar. The smiley face on the display made the bot look just like a person. Students understood the physics that were involved - centrifugal force and gravity. Kudos, Schuyler! And a girl, yet! I have spoken to several parents about the need to encourage gifted girls in the fields of math and science. My daughter decided by sixth grade that she was not good in math or science and dropped out of AP Physics in high school, against the advice of her teacher. She resisted computer use, since the other three members of the family spent a lot of time on the computer. She used it to check the humidity in order to know whether to put her hair up or not.

We learned today how to record an action, upload it to the computer, save it and run it with the action in the program. Some of the students had to rerun their program over and over to get it to run. They are definitely ready for a career in computer science, where perseverance in the face of adversity is a great strength.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Lego Lab Week One

My dear Aunt Maxine died Monday night, June 22, and I have taken a few days to get used to the idea. She was one of my favorite relatives, loving and smart, family historian, beautiful and kind. She lived with my Uncle Jake in Washington, D.C. most of her life, but she told me stories about living in Stanton, Iowa as a child and teen. I will miss her, but it is a blessing that she could go peacefully at age 93.

Lego Lab has been a joy, as usual. I get so involved with the kids, machines and programming that I forget to allow time to clean up! (The story of my life.) I am so amazed at the creativity and resourcefulness of the students. Two students created a machine that takes only minutes to assemble. When I tried to replicate the effort, I had connected a motor incorrectly. A student patiently waited for me to see my error, then suggested courteously that I had it backwards. I guess my Lego-deprived childhood has had its effect.

If any of you have contacts with the Lego Company, I would like to suggest that they create some more feminine projects and bricks. Last May, I went to the Lego store at Woodfield and had a hard time finding a small Lego gift for one of my female students.

I hope you are aware of the Legoland in Schaumburg, IL. I have not been there, but my students recommend it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

First Day of Lego Lab

Brickworld was just hosted in Chicago last weekend. Watch for it next year.

Today was the first day of Lego Lab in Grayslake IL. The classes did not include second graders, and I think that was a helpful decision. Some of those bricks are so small they are hard for me to manipulate. The students were quiet, at first, but soon began using the "Try Me" program on the main brick, called the NXT. Their excitement was infectious and I once again enjoyed the enthusiasm gifted children bring to new learning. A few students had taken the class last year, so I let them work ahead. They created a vehicle that could go over a short wall of tires. The other kids seemed envious, but I told them, "You'll be doing this by the end of next week!" I am more relaxed and flexible this year. I just wish I had a set of these at home so I could play with them on my own time. Tomorrow we will use the firmware built into the NXT "brains."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Overcoming Inertia

One of the great joys in my life is teaching. I am constantly learning all manner of things: ideas, methods, skills, where to find resources, and the nature of personality. This week I am preparing for NXT Mindstorms at the Worlds of Wisdom and Wonder of the Center for Gifted, National-Louis University, as well as preparing for Assistive Technology in the Classroom in Chicago (also NLU). Of course, my Dreamweaver has been disrupted by a computer upgrade, as has my Voyager FTP. It looks like Firefox's free plug-in ftp is gonna work, but two shareware wysiwyg editors are providing a steep learning curve just as I need to be adding web resources, not learning how to edit a page. Thank heavens for wikis! I shall post needed resources to my Assistive Technology Wiki easily. I am also taking Summer Camp from PBWiki to learn how to use a wiki in class. Maybe I will just scrap the whole web site thingy and use this blog for my Lego-Logo classes. Yeah! That's it! Stay tuned for further adventures.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Northwest Washington State and Vancouver

Whenever I travel, I am full of questions. What kind of moss is that hanging from the trees? Where do the people of the area come from? Where's the nearest collection of indigenous peoples' art?

The Northwest Coast of the United States and lower Canada are amazing! There are mountains, ocean, rivers, forests, and lakes. Friendly people are happy to recommend places to see if you will only be here a short time. Seafood is excellent, and I was happy to have some sockeye salmon yesterday in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. The art of the native tribes is fascinating, and hiking is rigorous and beautiful.

This part of the country does not seem to be suffering much from the economy yet, and housing prices remain much higher than the Midwest. Vancouver was preparing for the 2010 Olympics and had a much lower homeless population in the downtown area than Chicago. As the taxes from incomes dwindle, more and more people are being affected. Will there be pockets of the country that are protected from the shock most of us have been through? I certainly hope so. Michigan is being forced to retool itself, which is a good thing. Much like the Quad-Cities (IL-IA) during the farm debt crisis, Michigan will have to diversify in order to survive. Yet the suffering of financial insecurity is so unpleasant I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Equal Pay Day 2009

About two decades ago, I was doing an independent study comparing the Women's Rights Movements in the 1870s in Scandinavia to the 1970s in the U.S. It was encouraging to see that women had gained the right to vote in that century, but I wonder how long it will take to earn the same salary for the same work. According to Encyclopeadia Britannica Online, women earned 45% less than men when the 1963 Equal Pay Act was passed(1). This year, women have reached 22% less(2). Will it take another sixty years to reach equality in pay?

I think the era of the invisible housewife is ending, although women still receive no wages for homemaking. When divorce or retirement occur, there are no provisions for their financial well-being. I finished reading a book called The Economics of Being a Woman this year. It was written in 1970 by Dee Dee Ahern with Betsy Bliss. Sadly, most of the problems they cited in the book have been exacerbated by the long slow inflation of the last few decades. My mom, who was a part-time nurse, received social security benefits on her underpaid, underemployed income until my dad died, when she was able to receive his instead of hers. She lived on a small investment that had grown over the years until last fall.

Divorce provides more support for the lower wage earner these days, but it is still dependent on the good will and honesty of the person court-ordered to pay maintenance and support, unless the custodial parent is on welfare or wealthy enough to go to court repeatedly (in which case, there would probably be no maintenance).

My grandmother lived on social security for twenty years, a figure that amounted to about $150 a month. She would serve us meat every day for a week when we went for a visit, but could not afford to eat it herself. My inheritance from her consisted of a couple of handmade quilts and wooden canisters (which I treasure).

When I think about retirement, I think about spending my time working for just causes, and this is certainly one I value. My mother's generation was able to devote time and attention to volunteer work all their lives, but my generation may just change the meaning of retirement for all women...if we have enough to live on.

(1)Equal Pay Act. (2009). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved April 28, 2009, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online:

(2)Falling Short in Every State:
The Wage Gap and Harsh Economic Realities for Women Persist(2009).

Retrieved April 28, 2009, from National Women's Law Center:

Monday, February 23, 2009

Learning All the Time

Once again I find myself in the position of learning a great deal in a short time. Please visit my Wiki for the ICE 2009 Conference and let me know what you think. My handouts and presentation will be available on the ICE Wiki and my web page. Hope you can make it to the ICE conference in St. Charles, IL.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


For me, almost all of my learning occurs for two reasons: either I want to learn something or I have to learn something to make my life easier. My learning at work this year has been monumental, almost equal to the learning I undertook as a single parent, taking coursework in Learning Disabilities, Gifted Education, and Technology in Education. This year, I have learned how to use Guided Reading groups, Project Read phonics lessons, Balanced Math curriculum, behavior reinforcement systems for elementary-aged students, and social skill curricula. As a presenter at the ICE conference, I am already learning more about Assistive Technology. Although my experience with its use in Early Childhood qualifies me as more than just a beginner, I am exploring what is out there to make sure I am updated on the latest trends. I will just be presenting on some very simple things teachers can do to make their lives easier by meeting students' needs, but it gives me the opportunity to catch up on the latest information since I last took Donna Wakefield's great class at National-Louis University. I have created a Wiki for posting resources(see sidebar).