Saturday, October 28, 2006

Unicorn bits

When I left the UK 21 years ago, Halloween was not a particularly big deal there. We never went trick-or-treating and didn't carve pumpkins. I do remember bobbing for apples. I also remember trying to carve what I think must have been turnips at Guides - boy, was that hard! One of my nephews celebrates his birthday at the end of October and for one of his birthday parties when he was very little I sent over a box of Halloween related stuff - paper plates and cups, and decorations. My sister had asked me to send them over because it wasn't easy to find them in the UK. She's told me that's no longer the case. I believe it as my brother has just sent me pictures of the pumpkins he carved with his kids this week - beautifully done - and the kids and his wife trying on their costumes before the big night. Fun as it is for them, I think it's a bit sad really - another example of the homogenization of cultures.

We live in a neighborhood with lots of kids and Halloween is definitely a big deal here. I forget how many pounds of candy we got through last year and I'm a bit worried I haven't bought enough for this year. Of course I'd rather have too much than too little. The leftover candy always gets eaten eventually, so it's not wasted. It does contribute significantly to the seasonal weight gain though - Halloween followed by Thanksgiving and Christmas. Three occasions for overeating, all too close together. We have neighbors who give out stickers instead of candy, which I think is a great idea. A dentist friend always has a bowl of candy and a bowl of toothbrushes. It's amazing how popular the toothbrushes are with the kids!

Many schools here are careful about how they deal with Halloween as there are families that strongly disapprove of it for religious reasons (even to the point of keeping their kids home from school for the day.) The Littlest American had a Halloween celebration at his pre-school on Friday though - they were trying to spread out the sugar high. He had a wonderful time wearing his frog costume and trick-or-treating. He said his favorite treat of the day was the 'unicorn bits' on the cupcakes. It took us a while to figure out that he was talking about candy corn - a popular candy at this time of year. We asked who told him it was called unicorn bits and he insists he decided on that name for himself. Seems like a good name for it.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Lingering memories of last Christmas

The Littlest American was asking recently if we can go to see the baby penguins and the house where Father Christmas lives again this year. I had to think for a moment to realize that effectively what he was asking for was another trip to the UK for Christmas - we spent Christmas there last year and went to see Father Christmas at the zoo. There are a host of reasons why we can't do that this year so he is going to be sorely disappointed.

Meanwhile the Little American is proving herself to be surprisingly bilingual. On our trip last December we'd only been in London 24 hours or so before she started sounding like her cousins. Even now when she really wants something she switches to calling me 'Mummy' instead of 'Mommy'. This morning she commented that Daddy didn't buy her any of the sweeties she saw at Stop & Shop. Upon questioning her, I discovered that she did indeed mean 'sweeties' and not 'candy' - she'd seen some Smarties on the shelves of imported foods. Smarties are from England and therefore are 'sweeties' whereas M&Ms are 'candy'! Rats - I knew I should have been speaking to her in French all along so she could be truly bilingual! I guess it's not too late, though Spanish might prove more useful to her in the long run around here.

The wonders of technology?

American education blogger Will Richardson wrote about his most recent trip to the UK this week. He feels that in some respects schools in the UK are ahead of the US in their use of technology. He mentions the proposal that by 2008 every student in the UK should have a digital portfolio as one example - it's a concept that has not been bandied about much here in the US yet.

I am sure the reality is that there are some schools in the US that are well ahead of the curve just as there are schools in the UK that are leading the way in technology use. Will surely met some of those in the UK who are most interested in it - they invited him to come and speak to them after all! Mr Chalk, a teacher in an inner city comprehensive somewhere in the UK, wrote back on September 14th:
The kids still share textbooks, discipline has gone out of the window, lessons have become crowd control. [...] There is no shortage of computers however.

OK, so Mr Chalk is often very cynical and writes with an eye towards entertaining, but clearly simply throwing technology into schools and requiring it of kids and teachers is not a panacea. Will has a very positive attitude to educational technology - it's his livelihood after all. Mr Chalk sees what other things the money might have been spent on rather than computers.

The question is, will the investment in technology pay off? Will it inspire kids to learn, and more importantly to learn how to learn? (And if I visit a couple of schools in the UK on my next trip there, can I write the trip off as a business expense?)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Supersize me

My parents have just spent a couple of weeks in the United States. Not visiting us, sad to say, but travelling to interesting places such as the Grand Canyon, Canyon de Chelly, Pike's Peak. (Oh, and Wyoming which they dismissed as 'boring - avoid it at all costs!') My mother wanted to know why I hadn't warned her what she would get if she ordered ribs. She claimed the plate of food was so large it arrived in a pantechnicon. OK, so she has a tendency to exagerate, but her point was that she still finds American portion sizes overly large. She complained that she put on a significant amount of weight in the short time she was here. Hmm - I guess despite thinking the portions were too large, she indulged anyway?

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