Sunday, July 28, 2013

An Unusual Question

Our big kitchen table is covered with maps (world on one end, U.S. on the other), and then a big plastic sheet that I get from JoAnn's Fabrics over top, so it is easy to wipe off.  I was sitting on the end last night, and after dinner, I was casually wiping off a few crumbs from the edge of the table where the bench is.  It seemed a little bit . . . lumpy, so I reached my hand under the plastic and the map to see what was there.  I quickly yanked my hand back out, because whatever it was, was VERY squishy and yucky!  As soon as I flipped the map up, I could see what this gross mystery substance was--hard-boiled egg yolk, at least several days old, given its smell, all squished around under the map.  Disgusting!!!

Of course, we all knew who the culprit was:
Micah loves hard-boiled eggs!  In fact, he often pitches a temper tantrum when I won't allow him to eat more than 2 at a time!  But he only eats the egg whites, never the yolks.  Usually he leaves them on the table, like a little tip for the serving girl, but obviously one time he had the grand idea of hiding them under the table mat and then enjoying the nice feel of squishing them all around under there. 
SO that leaves me with my unusual question:  how do you get the smell of rotten eggs out of your beautiful hardwood table?  It is indeed a question I never imagined I would be asking!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Swim Team

 This year, we did swim team for the first time!  Caleb and Jonathan were the only ones, and it worked out really well because they were in the same age group, so they had their morning practices at the same time.  We thought we'd start this new thing gradually!

Bob has wanted the kids to do swim team for, well, forever.  He and his family are all total fishes in the water, and they did swim team, diving, lifeguarding, the whole water thing, while they were growing up.  I, on the other hand, greatly dislike water.  I don't like water on my face, in my hair, anywhere, really, and I despise being in a swimsuit, especially after having so many kids.  So swim team was never my priority, certainly not in the early summer mornings! 

When we moved here to VA back in 2004, we didn't realize that pretty much every neighborhood around here has their own pool and swim team.  That was not even on our radar screen as something to look for, so we landed in a small neighborhood, one of the only ones without a pool.  I was never bothered, but the kids and Bob do enjoy swimming in the summer, so we would pay to join pools around us, but either not really close enough to do swim team, or one without a team.  But this year the mom of one of Nathan's football teammates emailed to say a friend was selling her membership to their pool, and it was really cheap.  I also happened to know this friend from homeschooling, so I contacted her right away, and we bought her membership.  The pool is still not right in our neighborhood, but it is an easy drive--about 10 minutes away--and not fighting traffic.  It's really nice, and it was so nice to already know Leanne and her family.  They are bigwigs in the whole swim scene, so she was able to help us know what to do.
 It was a good choice to just sign up Caleb and Jonathan, even though I know Anna would have loved doing it.  It was still a challenge getting them to practice, especially before it switched to mornings.  The thing I loved about this team was that when we signed up, we wrote them a check for $40, and then if we didn't volunteer our 5 shifts at meets, then they would cash it.  Oh, I would have GLADLY paid much more than that to not have to be at meets!  We were gone 2 different weeks because we had already planned vacations before we heard about buying the membership.  Plus, although Caleb and Jonathan could swim, they had no idea how to do butterfly and breaststroke.  They are definitely behind!  Jonathan did decide to swim in one meet, but Caleb had no desire to swim in front of people at all.  And hey, I was fine with not getting up to be at the pool for hours on Saturday mornings, starting at 7:15.  I know most teams don't have this policy, so I was incredibly thankful for it!  Now maybe we can do swim team again next year, and we'll ease into volunteering and meets, LOL.

 Once practices moved to the mornings, Caleb and Jonathan had practice from 8:30-9:15.  So I would nurse Drew at 7:45, leave him and everyone else with the older boys, drop off Caleb and Jonathan at the pool, and then I would walk for 45 minutes in the neighborhoods all around the pool!  It was so fun to walk around new neighborhoods!  I have walked around our neighborhood sooooo many times, with all these pregnancies and the gestational diabetes especially.  Nothing new to see there! 
There is also a lovely shady walking path behind the pool and continuing on for a long, long way.  This past week it was unbearably hot and humid, even in the morning, so I walked on the path every day.  It was so pretty!  It follows a pretty creek. I really enjoyed having this time of exercise all to myself for the past several weeks.  I will miss that!  It will be a real let-down to start walking around our neighborhood again!  But now swim team is all done.  At least we won't have to rush out the door every morning anymore!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Poor Drew

 Drew had a fun time at White Sulphur Springs too!  He loved playing with this big wooden thing in the lobby.  We were glad he was healthy because 2 weeks ago Monday I had to take him to Bethesda yet again.  He had been coughing a bit, and then he started running a little fever off and on.  But Sunday afternoon the fever came up and wouldn't go down, even once I started alternating motrin and Tylenol.  So we trekked off to Bethesda again, and he was diagnosed with pneumonia.  I picked up amoxicillin and started him on that, and his cough and fever cleared up over the next few days, so we were good to go to White Sulphur Springs last weekend!  Whew!
 On Monday morning after breakfast, another woman was holding him while I helped clean up the table.  She noticed he had some spots on his hands.  I immediately thought "food allergy!" and started going over what he had eaten for breakfast.  The only thing I could come up with was that I had given him a few bites of Micah's oatmeal, which I had poured soy milk over.  Could he be allergic to soy?!  No!!
 We headed off to Idlewild, and over the course of the day, Drew developed a rash all over.  It didn't seem to bother him, but he sure looked like he had some dread plague!  We stopped at Giant Eagle so I could buy some children's benedryl, and I gave him a dose right away.  It didn't help though.  By the next day, the rash was all over, head to toe, and very connected. 
 One of the women who is in staff there is a nurse, so I asked her what she thought.  The first thing I told her was that he was taking amoxicillin, and as soon as I said that, she said, "He's reacting to that!  I'm almost sure that's it!"  So I guess it is one of those threshold reactions, where he didn't react until there was so much in his system.  And he continued reacting because I faithfully gave him his doses Monday night and Tuesday morning, LOL.  Obviously I stopped giving him the antibiotic right then--he was only lacking 3 doses, so I felt confidant that I didn't need a different one--and eventually he did get better by the time we left.
Here he is smiling because his 4th tooth broke through while we were up there.  His big sister Anna had a eventful tooth week as well--she lost 3 teeth!  I didn't even realize she had that many loose!

We have really not had to use antibiotics very often, thankfully.  No one else has ever reacted to amoxicillin, but then again, Micah and Faith have never had it, and most of the others have probably only been prescribed it once or so, and not as young as Drew is either.  I am allergic to penicillin, so the propensity is there.  Well, hopefully this little incident will end our terrible month of sickness!  Crazy times!

White Sulphur Springs

We just got back from the most wonderful and relaxing week of Family Camp at White Sulphur Springs.  (WSS is one of the retreat/conference centers run by the Officers' Christian Fellowship, and it is in Pennsylvania.)  We used to take family pictures in this wagon, down by the old hotel, all the time, but we haven't done it in a few years!  Micah was very uncooperative, LOL.

The nice thing about WSS is that it is both mentally and spiritually refreshing.  We had a wonderful speaker in Tom Joyce, and we thoroughly enjoyed all the other families that were up the same week as us. 
The kids were happily occupied the whole week.  We only had the younger 5 actually with us for the week.  Nathan was on staff, Luke was doing their teen adventure program (AO!), and Caleb and Jonathan were at their Camp Caleb camp.  The girls had classes in the mornings and evenings, which they loved, and Micah and Drew were in the nursery.  There were a ton of other little girls, so Anna, Grace, and Faith made friends and played happily all week.  I hardly saw them! 

Here they are having tea.  There was also a picnic at the pond, a western night with a square dance, a campfire with a hayride, rock-climbing, ice cream, swimming in the pond, and much more to fill their time!
We snuck away Monday to go to Idlewild, the little amusement park not too far from Bob's parents' house.  It was very hot and muggy, but the kids had fun.  Wednesday we drove over to visit Bob's parents, about an hour and a half from WSS.  We had a lovely visit with them!
Here are all the busy boys.  They all had wonderful times, and we are still hearing stories!  Luke got especially wet because it poured down rain multiple times during the week, but that didn't seem to phase him.  His clothes were all sopping wet and musty, so they went straight into the washer when we got home!  Luke said his favorite part was the high ropes course, but he liked it all.  Caleb and Jonathan got to be in the same Camp Caleb this year.  They liked their counselors and their fellow campers.  It rained on them too, but they were able to stay better sheltered, LOL. 

AP Wrap-Up

On June 26, the College Board released a score report for the new AP biology exam that was administered this year.  It had some very startling statistics.  Here are the percentages for each score, compared with last year:

AP Grade

So you can see that there was a tremendous reduction in 5's, although over all more people passed (3 and above is passing, although hardly any college gives credit for a 3, and many only give credit for a 5).  I had thought the curve would be generous, since this was the first year of a completely new and redesigned test, but alas, that was not to be.  Instead, the CB went with an absolute standard, where you had to get so many points (78/99 unweighted) to get a 5, no curving at all.    To get a 4, you needed 64 raw points, a 3 needed 45 points, a 2 needed 26, and I guess a 1 was anything less than 26.  That seems a bit arbitrary--who knows how they came up with these breaks?--but oh well.  (Edited to add:  I've actually read a lot more from the College Board, and the average scores actually were not very different, compared to previous years' tests--but the cut-offs were very different.  Weird.  Nathan is a guinea pig again!  Story of his life, LOL.)

Here are a few of their other comments from the report:
Educators and students had reported perceptions that the multiple-choice section was easy, that it did not require content knowledge, or that it was a test of reading comprehension. None of these perceptions proved accurate. The panelists who took the exam themselves felt that the questions effectively balanced required content knowledge with fundamental quantitative, analysis, experimental design, and data interpretation skills. Student performance does not indicate that the section was easy. In fact, the results show that AP Biology students on average are not yet performing as well as college students on such tasks.

On the multiple-choice and grid-in questions, AP Biology students scored, on average, 61% correct.

By way of comparison, the mean score on the “old” AP Biology Exam (2012) multiple-choice section was 63% correct.
Five questions in a new grid-in question type required students to meet college biology’s standards for use of mathematics to solve biological problems and understand biological concepts.

The performance of AP Biology students on these questions was very low, with an average correct score of just 36%.
The low student performance, in general, on most of the free-response questions had a significant impact on this year’s AP scores.
AP Biology teachers are doing tremendous work to help their students develop the knowledge and skills essential to success in biology majors and careers, and measured by the multiple-choice, grid-in, and free-response questions on the redesigned AP Biology Exam. In many instances, AP Biology teachers are receiving students who have spent years in science classrooms that never moved beyond rapid coverage of textbook content, with very little understanding or retention of such information. The work needed to improve student learning of biology is made visible by very low scores on most of the AP Biology grid-in and free-response questions – the questions that require students to perform mathematics and describe, explain, and predict fundamental biological principles and outcomes. Many incoming AP Biology students have never been taught or required to demonstrate the quantitative, analytic, and interpretive skills now required, so struggled on the redesigned AP Biology exam.

College faculty who participated in the AP Biology standard setting agree that their own students are similarly challenged, and that the redesigned AP Biology program is the new gold standard, one that gives them confidence that AP students earning qualifying exam scores deserve placement and will be much better prepared for science majors than students who take their own colleges’ introductory biology courses. The college faculty participating on the panel sang the praises of AP teachers for teaching a course that is now an exemplar for college-level introductory biology.

The small percentage of students demonstrating performance needed for a score of 5 signals a need in particular to help students improve their performance on the grid-in and free-response questions. To earn a 5, students must learn the course content well enough to be able to perform the skills required in the grid-ins and the free-response section: when confronted with scientific data or evidence illustrative of the required course content, students must be able to “calculate,” “predict,” “justify,” “propose,” “explain,” “perform,” “specify,” “identify,” “describe,” “pose a scientific question,” and “state a hypothesis.” True understanding requires that students develop the depth of understanding required to perform such tasks with accuracy and precision.
We encourage AP Biology teachers to take heart and recognize that shifting years of students’ prior ways of learning science can take time. But what the AP teaching community has shown, year after year, is that they can meet and exceed the standards required of colleges for credit and placement. More importantly, AP Biology teachers are transforming the depth of science understanding and skills when in classrooms worldwide they shift the focus of classroom instruction away from rapid content coverage to help students learn to explain and describe their understanding of science content, and to design and conduct laboratory and mathematical tasks essential to understanding natural phenomena. If a student cannot perform such tasks, the research consistently shows that they will not retain or use the knowledge they have learned in AP Biology, and will be insufficiently prepared for much of what they will be required to do in science majors. Hats off to the AP Biology teaching community for the tremendous change you are seeking to effect in your students’ understanding of biology.
After reading that back in June, I was quite worried about how my students did!  Well, scores have been released, and I am very pleased to say that Nathan got a 4!  So did Isaac McC!  I'm very proud of them all.  It was hard to prepare for a test where we had no idea how it would actually look.  This year was definitely challenging for all of us, but the boys all worked so hard.  Most of the other kids taking this exam were juniors and seniors, whereas my kids were either a sophomore (Nathan) or freshmen (the other 3).  They did not have an honors or pre-AP biology class, other than life science 2 years ago, or a chemistry class other than BJU Physical Science year before last. 
I would love to be able to access a teacher score report for them, but that won't happen, since we're not part of an official "school".  That would give me more information on what exactly they missed, which would be helpful for me when I teach this again in another year to Luke and Caleb McC.  Oh well.  Even without that information, I have learned a lot, and now that I have access to the AP bio teacher forum on the College Board website, that has been so helpful as well.  (In fact, that is where I got this score report!) 
So the glory goes to the Lord.  None of us could have been successful this year without Him guiding us, showing me what to focus on, helping me help the boys understand the concepts, leading me to find resources, and so on.  I am so thankful!!