Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mele Kalikamaka and All That

I hate to say it but we had a mixed Christmas. Leading up to the day was hectic between singing gigs (four on December 19 including the fun off singing Mele Kalikimaka while wearing leis), parties, and a bonfire. Besides homeschooling, helping to design a website for my church distracted me too.

It all started out well on Christmas Eve. We attended a "candles in the round" service, which alternated reading Bible passages on the birth of Jesus and beloved Christmas carols. Then everyone gathered near the front of the church in a circle for the candle lighting. Pamela had not attended a service like this in eons, so, when the deacons flipped off the lights, Pamela asked rather loudly, "Is the power out?" She didn't want her candle lit and was fine until Steve tried. She said, "Don't burn me!" and he gave up. Yep, she is finally saying those funny little things that kids say in church about twenty years late. I am so glad we have a relaxed, loving church family who rolls with the punches when kids of any age speak their mind. It was a beautiful service, outbursts and all.

After church we headed to my folks house. We didn't have to go over the meadows and through the woods to get to grandmother's house. We just walked across the street. We saw my brother (who is in the Navy) and his family plus my local brother (and three friends that he brought unannounced). My mom made homemade pizza but not enough for everyone but baked some frozen ones so she managed).

The kids opened gifts.

We had a lot of laughs. How could you not laugh with the dynamic duo David and Daniel!

Oliver, my brother's westy, was a mess. He fell in love with a blue squeak pig and would do anything to get to it. The poor guy tried all sorts of maneuvers to get at the toy when we put it on the top shelf. He has a very good sense of object permanence apparently.

We stayed up late, talking into the night. Because the kids opened the presents the night before (a family tradition), I slept in until 9:30! I spent part of the morning cooking food for Pamela. Mom wanted to try something different for Christmas dinner, so she chose goulash. She didn't add flour until the very end and set aside a flourless portion for Pamela. I made a gluten-free version of the tradition noodles used for this dish: nockerl. Since some folks were on low-carbohydrate noodles, I chose soy flour as one of the flours to make it an alternative for others. The other flour had on hand was sorghum and the nockerl were quite tasty the next day when I recycled the leftovers with spaghetti sauce and hamburger meat. For dessert, I baked a gluten-free, casein-free impossibly easy coconut pie that was absolutely delicious. I tweaked the recipe by using coconut milk for the milk, Earth balance butter, and frozen coconut (not the dried, flakes kind) and cutting down the sugar to half a cup because we like our sweets less sweet.

After dinner, we opened the adult gifts. Steve played disk jockey, and we listened to LPs (long playing records, vinyl) from the 1960s while my brother and his crew looked through old photo albums. His wife saw a few pictures of Pamela right before autism hit hard. Yes, she did look at people in the face. She did have vocal play and did the back and forth babble with us. Some of the sensory issues had already hit her for she craved vestibular stimulation (bouncing while being held) and tended to leave overcrowded noisy rooms. Her social and verbal delays were mild at that point.

Then, we taught my mother how to play Blackjack. Steve loves this game and made a most excellent dealer too. We went home at about nine and a half hour later Mom called with the awful news. My dad's surviving sibling Jerry died on Christmas Day. We knew it was coming for the doctors had diagnosed him with treatable but uncurable Stage IV lung cancer last summer. About a month ago, they stopped the treatments which were not doing much for his quality of life.

Uncle Jerry knew the Lord and we have no doubt that we will see him in Heaven. The timing stinks. Aunt Edna had already lost a daughter a couple years ago and a grandson a year after that. Now, she has lost her husband of fifty-four years on Christmas day. I cannot imagine how she will be able to get through Christmas from here on out. Only God can get you through that kind of ache.

On the other hand, it causes one to think about the real meaning behind Christmas. The babe in the manger was no ordinary child. He came here to die so that we could live. Processing the death of a loved one on Christmas day reveals the truth behind it . . .
Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Recovering Enlightenment Thinker Muses on Math Part III

Why all these math posts at Christmas? Many schools and homeschools have either made it through their first semester or term and are assessing how the academic year is going. Mathematics is often a sore spot, making these posts timely.

I really am in the Christmas spirit! David finished putting up the tree yesterday. I'm not doing any heavy duty baking because the lad is very close to his goal weight for finalizing his acceptance to his college of choice, The Citadel. I've been heavily involved in our church Christmas programs like Operation Christmas Child, the Christmas party for the local nursing home we adopted, special music, and our musical "Where Are You, Christmas?" (which you can't find anywhere because our choir director put the music together and wrote her own script). Tonight, we're going to a Christmas bon fire. Last night, I had a blast creating a video from the still shots from our program and I dare you to watch it and not get into the Christmas spirit! Yesterday, I attended a neighbor's informal Christmas party and what was on her mind? Finding a math tutor for her grandson over the holidays!

While some children memorize their times tables very quickly, others struggle! My son continued to use his "cheat sheet" (a table of multiplication facts) until eighth grade. Simply drilling him with flashcards like I did as a child wasn't effective. I figured, with enough use, he would internalize them, and he did.

I should have employed more strategies in helping him nail them down earlier. In his article on the bogus dichotomy in mathematics education, Hung-Hsi Wu writes, "It is the fluency in executing a basic skill that is essential for further progress in the course of one’s mathematics education. The automaticity in putting a skill to use frees up mental energy to focus on the more rigorous demands of a complicated problem." Making a times table chart available enabled him to make progress, but at a slower pace. While many students take algebra in eighth grade, we waited until ninth for David. All wasn't lost. He made it all the way through precalculus (and earned a high B in that class) and did well enough on the SATs to get accepted by his Plan A and Plan B colleges.

Helping Students Learn Multiplication Combinations has a great list of strategies:
  • Using repeated addition (3 x 5 = 3+3+3+3+3)
  • Skip-counting by multiples (2, 4, 6, 8, 10, . . .)
  • Patterns found in multiples (11, 22, 33, 44, 55, . . .)
  • Doubling (double your 3s to get your 6s)
  • Using partial products (6 x 9 = 5x9 + 1x9)
  • Using five-times and ten-times (9 x 12 = 10x12 - 12)
  • Patterns found in 9s (For two digit numbers, add the digits and you must get 9. Also, look for the symmetry in 09, 18, 27, 36, 45, 54, 63, 72, 81, 90.)
  • Properties of mathematics: commutative (8 x 2 = 2 x 8), distributive/partial products (8 x 6 = 8x5 + 8x1), identity (any number times one is itself)
  • Using known facts to find unknown facts (I know my 2s and 5s can use them to get 7s)

Last year, I profiled Greg Tang's The Best of Times last year. Pamela and I read it to help her view calculation in more flexible ways. You can do 69 x 12 in your head if you realize that 69 x 12 = 70x12 - 1x12 = 840 - 12 = 828. This book covers many of the strategies listed above as it goes through basic multiplication facts. You can do some mental math by kicking up his ideas a notch.
  • Double is repeated adding: you add a number to itself: 56 x 2 = 56 + 56 = 112.
  • Triple is also repeated adding but it might be easier to double it and add the original number to the double. 38 x 3 = 38x2 + 38 = 76 + 38 = 114.
  • Quadruple is repeated adding, of course, but you may want to double the double: 49 x 4 = 49x2 x 2 = 98 x 2 = 196.
  • Struggling with skip counting for 5s? Take half of the 10s: 92 x 5 = 92x10 / 2 = 920/2 = 460.
  • Can't do 6s? Triple the double (or double the triple): 66x2 x 3 = 132 x 3 = 396.
  • 7s not heaven? Add the 5s and 2s: 84 x 7 = 84 x 5 + 84 x 2 = 420 + 168 = 588.
  • Bet you can guess 8s . . . Double the double of the double: 78x2 x 2 x 2 = 156x2 x 2 = 312 x 2 = 624.
  • What about 9s? No, it's not triple the triple, but you can do that if you like. Do 10s and subtract the number: 99 x 9 = 99x10 - 99x1 = 990 - 99 = 891.

Of course, you don't want to sock a child with all of these at once. If I could have a do-over for David and his times tables, I think I would have done a multiplication intervention. First, I would randomly zip through flashcards of all multiplication facts through 12 to figure out which ones he has down cold. Then, I would create a chart of all of his knowns and analyze his known to pick the strategies that had the most bang for the buck. For example, suppose he consistently knew facts like 4 x 8 = 32 but not 8 x 4 or 6 x 12 = 72 but not 12 x 6. That would tell me he need to learn that multiplication is commutative (a x b = b x a). Of course, I would not put it that way to him. Rather, I would set up paired problems for him to figure out by making arrays of pennies until he saw the pattern and convinced himself this property of multiplication was true. As Wu put it, "Children always respont to reason when it is carefully explained to them," which sounds a lot like Charlotte Mason ("Arithmetic becomes an elementary mathematical training only in so far as the reason why of every process is clear to the child. 2+2=4, is a self-evident fact, admitting of little demonstration; but 4x7=28 may be proved" (Page 255)).

Once David mastered one strategy, I would study his known chart and find another that would help him fill in several holes in one swoop and go on to demonstrate each strategy, one at a time. As Daniel Willingham (Page 18) puts it, "New concepts must build upon something that students already know." After we covered enough to build up his confidence, I would quiz him with flashcards again and record any new knowns into the chart. What is beautiful about these strategies is they illustrate what Wu calls "heeding the call of the indispensable mathematical principle to always break down a complicated problem into simple components" which sounds a lot like Mason, "Nothing can be more delightful than the careful analysis of numbers and the beautiful graduation of the work, 'only one difficulty at a time being presented to the mind'" (Page 262).

Teaching children in such a thoughtful manner requires insight and creativity, something one might not associate with math instruction. The problem is many of us were poorly taught as were many mathematics teachers today! Wu writes that rote learning takes place "when the teacher does not possess a deep enough understanding of the underlying mathematics to explain it well. The problem of rote learning then lies with inadequate professional development and not with the algorithm." And guess who wrote something similar a century ago, "Mathematics depend upon the teacher rather than upon the text-book and few subjects are worse taught; chiefly because teachers have seldom time to give the inspiring ideas" (Page 233).

All is not lost. The internet is full of inspiring ideas and meaningful ways to demonstrate math. While much of online mathematics is fancified rote learning, you can find gems that give the kind of strategies to help our children reason more clearly and with greater confidence.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Recovering Enlightenment Thinker Muses on Math Part II

Making Math Meaningful introduced two-digit multiplication through partial products but differently arranged from the illustration on the left. Once my children had internalized the concept, they learned the traditional algorithm most of us learned. To this day, when Pamela verbalizes such multiplication problems as she works through the traditional algorithm, she says, "twenty times eight" and always gets it right. My children transitioned really well from one method to the other.

Mathematics educators debate memorizing procedures and facts versus understanding concepts in a way that reminds me of the sight reading versus phonics debate. My children needed both sight words and phonics to read well. I think the same applies to the math wars. This video is an example of the anti-partial products crowd. I spotted a couple of fallacies. While the academic sort of kid may pick up on the traditional algorithm, those who need a more intuitive conceptual way get bogged down in a problem like this because they forget that they are not multiplying 2 x 8, but 20 x 8. Even though the presenter explains that, it is easy forget unless you have not learned "partial products" first. Last week, I was helping a fifth-grader with his homework. The traditional method confused him because he didn't know where to put the carried number. He told me he knew another way and quickly came up with the solution based on the partial products method without any hesitation and finished the rest of his problems without asking any more questions.

The presenter complains about finding "the bits" confusing but she wouldn't if she had learned partial products in the way my children learned, which smoothed the way to the traditional algorithm. Many things are evident in the problem on the left. (1) We carry the one because it is in the tens place and needs to be added there. (2) We write the zero in the second line because we are multiplying by 20, not 2 (it is easy to forget that, if you learn the traditional algorithm off the bat).

The placement of zeroes became evident even for tricky problems like 75 x 23. Kids who lack a good memory or mastery of the concept get tripped up after multiplying 5 x 2. A student trapped in rule thinking squirms over whether or not they should write two 0's or one if they forgot they are really multiplying 20 x 5. Partials make it evident that you put down 00 rather than 10.

Of course, the traditional algorithm really is more efficient, especially when you hit larger problems. However, by this point, most students may have already shifted to the traditional method. For a child who struggles with internalizing procedures that are not evident, this may be the most efficient way for them. I believe both ought to be taught because having multiple strategies helps children understand that there is more than one way to solve a problem and gives them a backup when they waver over a problem.

If you continue on through the video, the presenter covers long division which has stumped Pamela as I discussed yesterday. She just doesn't wrap her head around starting on the left with division with every other algorithm starts on the right. Only one day of trying "partial quotients" worked like a charm. While long division is more efficient, it is not very effective for someone with a mental block against it. I concede the presenter one point: relying too heavily on calculators becomes a crutch if children have not mastered the basics. She will get no arguments from me on that front.

In his article on mathematics, Daniel Willingham spends a great deal of time trying to prove that humans are hard-wired to perceive the concept of number and the sense that numbers and space are related. The point of his assertions is that people who "can't" do math really can under the right instruction. He suggests the three essential ingredients for learning mathematics: factual (knowing your times tables), procedural (the traditional algorithm), and conceptual (why the traditional algorithm works which is more evident through partial products). You really need all three to be not only efficient and accurate in math but to understand why you are doing it and how to think through problems for which you have never learned an algorithm. I have tutored many people in higher level math and Willingham's comment describes the biggest problem I see,
If students fail to gain conceptual understanding, it will become harder and harder to catch up, as new conceptual knowledge depends on the old. Students will become more and more likely to simply memorize algorithms and apply them without understanding. (Page 18)

Recently, a friend emailed me for help in her psychology statistics course. She was close to failing the class, which would have ended her financial aid. She lives in another state, so we faced the disadvantage of discussing statistics by email. When she described her issues, I realized my friend knew the facts and procedures but was totally lost on the concepts. She had no idea that ANOVA (analysis of variance) was a way to assess how closely a line drawn through a bunch of points. Okay, don't worry if that lost you. But, folks that is a big piece of the puzzle to be missing. I found some neat little java applications and flash programs on line and recommended a couple of videos from Khan Academy (thank you Yellow Rose Jenn for that tip). We exchanged a couple of lengthy emails on the concepts and I answered her questions. She told me that it blew her mind how everything started to make sense once we put some critical concepts into place. Two weeks later, I looked at her practice final and only found a couple of the conceptual questions wrong. She told me she had no idea and guessed on those. So, we talked about the concepts behind each question to help her understand them.

So, how did she do? She got an 87.5 on the exam. At first, she thought the professor had given her the wrong test back. But, she really did it. She passed. My friend told me that, if we had started the intervention sooner, she might have even earned an A.

Miracles can happen when you fill in a couple of huge gaping holes in understanding.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Recovering Enlightenment Thinker Muses on Math Part I

When people hear I am a math person, they often tell me how horrible they were at math in school with a hang-dog look on their face. Nearly all are stars in their own right: gifted speakers, talented musicians, skilled craftsman, original thinkers, etc. Although I used to feel pretty smug about my math, now I feel heart-broken that they devalue themselves because of grades. Our society has accepted an outdated system that not only teaches academics poorly but shames those who aren't able to rise to the top of the ranks.

Sir Ken Robinson's speech on changing educational paradigms will give you the context for why I am a recovering Enlightenment thinker. This version is particularly engaging because someone has illustrated his talk beautifully. Enlightenment thinkers designed our education system for an industrialized economy. They assumed there were two kinds of people: academics (smart people) and non-academics (non-smart people). While the current system works great for geeks like me, it has created chaos for others.

You may not have thought through carefully the links between schools and a factory. Schools are run on schedules and ringing bells. Instruction is specialized into specific subjects. Students are measured for conformity to specific standards. Students and schools are graded. Students themselves are churned out in batches based on age, which, as Robinson brilliantly noted is sorting students by their date of manufacture.

Divergent thinking, the ability to see lots of possible answers or ways to get to an answer, has little value in a setting where conforming to a standard is the top goal. Kids learn early on that there is only one answer, and it's in the back of the book. Some researchers studied the creativity of a group of 1500 children and followed them through their school years. The tests asked questions like, "How many uses can you think of for a paper clip?" Earring, Christmas ornament hanger, money clip, etc. In Kindergarten, 98% of these children scored at the genius level. The same group of children were only 32% genius at the ages of 8-10 and only 10% by 13-15. The researchers used 200,000 adult controls and only 2% of them scored at the genius level. What happened?

I have been thinking about how the industrialization of teaching math has created a poor outcome for many of our students. Most people my age learned math through procedures and memorization, not through understanding. Think back to learning your times tables. I can remember reciting my math facts while falling asleep at night when I was in elementary school. I used flashcards to drill them into my head. I survived because I have a good memory.

Because we think that early is better, we start kids with skip-counting and repeated mental addition to kickstart the multiplication download into their brains. Even with all that preparation, kids still waver between 54 or 56 when asked for 8 x 7. Then, they fall back into skip counting and hope they land on the right answer. Then, it hit me how one concept could take a child from the early math facts all the way into algebra: partial products. Partial products allow the student to unite two knowns to figure out the known. Here is an illustration of how to apply it to the 8 x 7 conundrum:

The child who gets lost in the bog of skip counting or repeated mental addition may very well find it easier to calculate that 8x2 is 16 and 8x5 is 40 and that makes 56! Even though there is one right answer, there are many and varied ways of nailing down multiplication facts.

Having trouble with the six tables? Fives and ones are very easy. Why not break them up into partial products?

Have a one-track mind? Stick with threes!

Pamela has struggled with long division for a long time. I think I finally figured out why. With addition, subtraction, and multiplication, you start with the right column and work left. With division, it is the opposite. Starting with the right column is so ingrained in her that, Pamela finds traditional long division difficult. Over the weekend, I found an alternative strategy that gets away from thinking in columns. Check out this video on partial quotient division for an illustration. The beauty of partial products is you don't have to start with any column. You think about a likely candidate. If it's not enough, you go another round. Since you don't write your answer above the line until finished, you can focus on the ones-place (right column) or the tens-place (left column) first.

Today, Pamela and I worked through four problems together. She seemed to understand it, so I assigned one problem to do solo and she did well.

When I told her I would give her one more problems, she said, "No! Four!"

That is how much she loved the new method. Pamela correctly answered all four problems.

After musing about these problems, I couldn't tell if trying the partials made a difference. I gave Pamela a more complicated problem which confirms that we are on the right track. None of the erasing represents me correcting the problem. I was out shopping the whole time.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Term 1: Handwork, Wool Felt

Pamela just finished her fourth handwork project. Even though she is almost ready to start finger knitting, we are going to work on the sewing needle case and the knitting needle bag on weekends. Three weeks before Thanksgiving, she put in a request to sew a turkey in honor of the holiday. I put the two projects on hold and found a pattern for a gobbler. Because our goal is sewing, I found ways to sew what the patterns suggested to hot glue.

I must put in a plug for Felt on the Fly, which sells pure wool felt in a wide variety of gorgeous colors as you can see in the finished products. Every order has arrived very quickly, wrapped in tissue paper, adorned with a hand-written note and a felt flower. The material feels wonderful to our fingers. We even placed a special order of specific colors we wanted for the turkey and it flew here in just a few days. I love the personal touch and customer service of this seller at Etsy.

Pamela learned many wonderful things this term. She sewed on buttons and did several stitches (whip, blanket, running). She grew more and more precise although I still sit by her side to make sure her work does not become slipshod. With a little bit of scaffolding from me (cutting and even stitches), these projects were within her compass. Everything she made has value and beauty, either serving a purpose or decorative enough to delight the eye. They meet the very brief requirements Charlotte Mason outlined in her first book (Page 315).

Grand Gobbler

Funky Fun Felt Pillow

iPod Cozy

Precious Pincushion

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dead Women Won't Wear Plaid

Yesterday we read the very last chapter of The Tarantula in My Purse *sniff*. As soon as we read the last word, a beautiful smile dawned on Pamela's face and she asked, "Who gets the book?" I hugged the book and looked at her playfully, "It's mine!" She could tell by my expression that I was only playing around and laughed at my silliness.

Between rescuing raptors and studying a paper nest abandoned by wasps, my cyber friend Mrs. C is questioning my sanity. She suggested doing a television series called "Grizzly Glaser" featuring a pet bear and me in plaid. My sister added to grow a beard, so long as it's not a wasp beard. At least, one of my Charlotte Mason friends didn't blink an eye and only asked me to take pictures, hopefully not of the woman running with arms flailing over her head as another friend envisioned.

I wasn't too worried. We had a major arctic blast last week with temperatures as low as 19 degrees Fahrenheit. That night was miserable in the Glaser household because a transformer blew in the middle of the night and we lost power for four hours. The warmest room in the house (the kitchen) hit an all-time low of 50 degrees!

Since so many people feared for our safety, I did a little research:
The colony dies in the fall with only the newly produced queens surviving the winter. The new queens leave their nests during late summer and mate with males. The queens then seek out overwintering sites, such as under loose bark, in rotted logs, under siding or tile, and in other small crevices and spaces, where they become dormant. These queens become active the following spring when temperatures warm. They search for favorable nesting sites to construct new nests. They do not reuse old nests. . .

At temperatures below 50° F, wasps have difficulty flying. Never seal a wasp nest until you are sure there are no surviving wasps inside. If a nest is not discovered until fall, control may be unnecessary as imminent freezing temperatures will kill the colony.

We started this nature study early in the fall when the wasps were active. Wasps love our camellia, which is right next to the old cookhouse in our yard, where the wasps like to build paper nests. From time to time, I sneaked in and snapped pictures of the relatively small nests. We wrapped up the ladybug study and segued into wasps by comparing the physical similarities and differences. I'm not crazy enough to handle live wasps and we relied upon photographs for our Venn diagram.

A month later, on a particularly cold day, we studied the wasp colony again. Because the nest looked abandoned, I thought we were safe to study it. Closer inspection revealed what surviving wasps do to stay warm. We documented the dwindling of its population on a Venn diagram and recorded our observations.

Pamela also made entries in her nature journal.

Yesterday, before hastily grabbing the nest, I checked behind it and looked for evidence of live wasps. Once I was absolutely certain of our safety, I called Pamela into the cookhouse. As you can see in the video below Pamela showed wise caution and overcame her mild fears when she saw me standing in the cookhouse unmolested. We removed the nest and headed in the house to study it.


Shea, the friend who invited me on the raptor adventure, told me how brave her grandmother was, "My Maw-Maw used to pull down the one's full of larva when the adults were not around and use the larva as fishing bait. I was always terrified when she would break into one of those cells and pull out the wasps in various stages of development . . . talk about bravado!"

Yeah, well . . . I'm going to have to think about that . . . maybe early next summer when the colony is weak. I'll face the fierce wasps and grow a beard. But, I won't wear plaid!

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Raptor in My Prius

"It is a dangerous business going out your front door." J. R. R. Tolkien

When caught up in the middle of a rip-roaring adventure book, I secretly wish to be part of it until reality sinks in. The Tarantula in My Purse is not that kind of book. However, as Pamela and read it together, I sometimes wondered what it would be like to have enough courage to build an indoor pond for tadpoles or keep a bat in the refrigerator. The truth is I am too much of a chicken to try it, and Steve would probably haul me into divorce court or a psychiatric hospital. Besides, I can hardly handle it when our pooch leaves us a little present on the floor.

Last Monday, God granted my wish and Pamela and I got a taste of what a life in the day of Jean Craighead George would be like. Before getting started teaching Pamela, I checked Facebook and commented on a picture of an injured red-tailed hawk found by my friend Shea.

Me: Where are you? Are you in Manning? Can we come and see it? (Seriously!!!! Great opportunity for nature study!)

Shea: We are! We'll stop by your house. You live next door to your parents right?

Me: Really? I live in the old Plowden/Mill house. Same street as my folks. The white two-story house with a green metal roof. It's not next door but across the street in a diagonal way. When?

Shea: Okay! We're picking up our kids from school. Then we'll come by! We are taking the bird to Awendaw to the Bird of Prey Center!

And, then, the adventure began!

Shea and her family live in a very rural area. Ten years ago, they found a Cooper's hawk with a broken wing. He had ended up trapped behind some fencing for two weeks and grew terribly emaciated. After extricating him, they named him Gary Cooper and headed to the Center for Birds of Prey in Awendaw, SC. He survived but not well enough to live out in the wild again, and Gary now spends his days educating people about hawks.

They have been watching a red-tailed hawk for years. Every morning, they saw him hunt his prey and feed on breakfast. He only recently changed his behavior and began dining with the vultures. Finally, Shea's husband Mike found him on the side of the road so they nabbed him and put him in a cage, borrowed from a friend who works for the Department of Natural Resources.

Shea's older children attend school, so she and Mike decided to pull them out for an impromptu field trip. One of the teachers took advantage of the opportunity and herded her students outdoors to see the hawk and its beautiful feathers. Then, they drove over to my house so we could take a peek.

I didn't let Pamela in on the secret because sometimes things fall apart and I didn't want to build up her hopes for nought. She must have thought I was acting strange because I ran around the house looking for the memory card, which needed reformatting——ACK, batteries, her nature notebook and markers, and masking tape for the broken latch to the battery compartment. Pamela grew miffed because, instead of letting her choose, I picked the tarantula book and we started reading about Jean hatching and raising seven northern bobwhite quails. We alternated reading aloud sentences for two pages, and, the moment I read aloud "red-shouldered hawk," the door bell rang! Talk about a wink from God!

I told Pamela that Shea had a surprise to show us in her car and filmed her reaction. She knew it was a hawk and that hawks weren't tame pets. The moment Pamela realized they were taking him to a center, she shifted gears into knowing where they were going and how to get there. The raptor center, which had already taken in two birds in this cold snap, asked if Mike and Shea could pick up another hawk 45 minutes in the wrong direction. With three kids, booster seats, car seats, and one huge bird cage packed into their SUV, Mike and Shea weren't sure they had the space. Since I had nothing better to do that day than homeschool, I made a snap decision to follow them in my car. Pamela, surprisingly flexible for an autistic person, joyfully galloped to the house and we were out the door in five minutes!


Picking Up a Bird in a Box

An hour later, we picked up the bird and migrated south to the raptor center. Although we left home just before noon, none of us had discussed lunch. With the bird onboard, Pamela's attention turned toward food. She asked me about lunch and I told her the truth: I had no idea! She took the uncertainty calmly and I consoled her, "They have three kids under the age of eight in that car. You know they will eat soon." Once we hit a largish town, Mike peeled off to a Hardee's. Apparently, their flock was hungry, too. Then, we did something we never do. We ate in the car!

The trip to Awendaw took almost three hours between the food and potty stops. I began to wonder how our feathered passenger was doing. During the last half hour of the trip, I could here it scratching the box and began to worry about what it was doing. There was a raptor in my Prius and the only thing separating it from us was cardboard and duct tape! I realized that rule number one of adventuring was not to get too far ahead of reality.

We turned into the raptor center at three o'clock. It is only open on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and it felt daring to have to open the gate and take the roads for authorized personnel only. We dropped off the hawks and, while we waited one of the board of directors gave us a tour of all their birds of prey and one crow. We didn't care that it was 45 degrees outside for we needed to stretch our legs and loved the idea of getting our own personal tour.

You can imagine that keeping track of this bunch was a bit like herding cats! The board of director was the only one paying attention to the photographer. The kids' energy and exuberance at playing hooky from school and doing something important made me smile. The most precious moment that I will treasure in my heart is all four children gravitating to a patch of discarded ice. It taught me that it is never too late to enjoy being one with other children, doing something adults really don't understand.

After the tour, we headed back to the bird hospital. Mike filled out paperwork while the director learned the status of the hawks. The director briefed us and let us take a peek at the birds. They had an observation window just like maternity wards have for visitors to see newborns without disturbing them. The doctor inside the ward solemnly lifted the blanket of each bird, and we caught one last glimpse before heading home. Actually, for the mystery hawk, it was our first and only glimpse!

The red-tailed hawk was in terrible shape. The pictures below illustrate how much he had declined during the car ride. The doctors weren't optimistic about its condition and sadly they were right. One eye was blind and he had sustained significant pelvic damage. Had he survived, he would have never lived free. The mystery hawk that listened to Pamela's eclectic music in the car (Bach, Beethoven, Latin American rhythms, and big band) turned out to be a red-shouldered hawk. His shoulder injury is mild and he should return to the wild some day. We are crossing our fingers that we get invited to his release.

Nature Journal Entry
"The wild hawk stood with the down on his beak, and stared, with his foot on the prey" Tennyson

Birds of Prey and a Fish Crow in No Particular Order