Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sometimes I am a Good Husband

Whew.  Finally I, my wife, and Smiley have all finished with the cold that's going around.  It has been a tough three weeks.  Now there is time and energy for blogging again.

To celebrate, the silliest conversation with Smiley recently (from November 21st).  Admittedly, it's probably not as funny unless you were there, but Smiley's concluding statement is pretty classic.
Smiley: You can be my [turtle] shell.
     Daddy: Okay. [I cuddle over him]
[He stands up.] I need to get some food.
    [Smiley enjoys feeding the tortises at the local reptile store.] Okay.
You can eat some food too.
    If I'm your shell I don't have a mouth. You are pretending to be the part of the turtle with the mouth.
I have a mouth. [Points to his mouth.] And you have a mouth. [Points to my mouth.]
    I do. But if I'm pretending to be a shell, then I pretend I don't have a mouth. Shells don't have a mouth.
Daddy, you should pretend to be my husband. [Mommy and I laugh.]
    What is a husband?
You should pretend to be my husband.
    What is a husband?
[Smiley says something long and unintelligable.]
    What does a husband do?
He does whatever he wants to do.
    Does he take care of someone? [Mommy has been sick, and often telling me I'm a good husband.]
We can look in a book.
    Which book has a husband?
That book and that book. [Points to "Daisy and the Egg" and a Richard Scarry book.]
    Show me the husband. I don't think the Egg book has a husband in it; that one has a mommy a brother and a sister.
[Smiley pauses.] Those books don't have hubands. But we can go buy one with a huband if you want.
    How did you hear about husbands? Did you hear mommy say I was a good husband?
Yes. Sometimes you are and sometimes you aren't.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pumpkin Bread

Today I finally took a moment to put our pumpkin bread recipe on the website.

Smiley loves canned pumpkin.  It is now the vegetable he eats the most of each week.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Scaffolding for Child Self-Direction?

My previous blog post was about a pedagogical issue for which I've had both training and years of experience.  This time I'm in uncharted waters and asking for help!

Winter is coming, with cold and gray days.  There are plenty of things to do in our house.  But Smiley is so young that he has trouble brainstorming what to do next: if something to do is not a habitual favorite, recent memory, or visibly in front of him he probably will not consider that option.

Sometimes he does ask to do something he has not done in weeks.  But much more often I see him bored but becoming excited by a suggestion taken from a list of options I provided.  (Play with clay?  Yay!  I had forgotten about that activity and it sounds fun!)

So I am looking for a way to add "scaffolding" to his self-direction.  (I admit this sounds oxymoronic.)

My current idea is to photograph Smiley doing all sorts of things, then put the photographs together to make a literal menu of options.  Then he can "brainstorm" by turning the pages and looking at dozens of photographs.  However, this solution has a danger also: it would be possible but difficult to make an effective page for "invent a new kind of play".  In order to avoid the implication that the photographed options are the only valid choices, I would need to ensure the menu is something to consult when bored and out of ideas.  If the menu became a new habit whenever Smiley returned home from errands or finished a meal, I would have created one problem while solving another.

When I taught Head Start I used a traditional classroom-based solution, which is not a fit for at home but is worth mentioning.  I made a huge board, covered with library card pockets.  Each pocket had a picture showing one thing to do.  The students each had a 3x5 card with their name and photograph.  They would "sign up" for an activity by putting their card in a pocket.  (Most things to do had multiple pockets, purposefully limiting each activity to the appropriate number of students while also encouraging students play together cooperatively.)  In the classroom the danger of implying that only pocket activities are valid choices was not much of a drawback: with so many students in the room there was plenty of creativity at any moment!

So... any other ideas for how to help a toddler brainstorm things to do?

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Planning Art Activities for Toddlers

Smiley is enjoying his Art Play for Tykes class at the Amazon Community Center.  He calls it Messy Art Class.  We're now starting a second edition of the class.

We've had several teachers, and all were friendly and capable.  But none really understood toddler psychology, and often the activities were "parent projects with kids told they were helping".  So here is my explanation about pedagogy for toddler art projects.

I'll use photographs from one of the best projects we've done, which still required a bit of my own tweaking.

Phase One

Before the project starts, most toddlers need a few minutes to simply explore the materials.  This is especially true in a classroom setting, when it should be assumed that some toddlers have not had any previous exposure to clay, paints, or perhaps even markers.

Smiley was one of the toddlers that had never used markers before.  At home we only use crayons, to make clean-up as easy as possible.  So he was given a few minutes to draw however he wanted, to learn what markers are like.  (These drew a bit differently than his crayons, and were also strongly scented.  Also, at home we ask him to use one crayon at a time and put it back in the box before taking a new crayon -- here he had a pile of markers to use but had to share them with his neighbor.)

To wind down the exploration phase, I offered a general suggestion (make circles).  This tested whether the exploration had "gotten out of his system" and he was ready to do guided work.

As another example of how deep is the drive for exploring new materials, the first time Smiley was given clay he simply washed it with a small potter's sponge for almost ten minutes.  The textures were numerous and captivating: the smooth and slightly squishy clay, the cold water in a small bowl, the rough and very squishy sponge, the slippery yet sticky wet clay that began to coat the workbench...

Phase Two

Now the actual project begins.  We were supposed to make puppets from white paper lunch bags.

Even with the teacher's sample puppet this was a very abstract activity.  So we began with a lot of guidance and some help.  I asked him about body parts, one by one, and he drew them on the bag.  He said the puppet was of a bear, so I drew an outline to reinforce that this puppet was a pretend bear and not an anthropomorphic paper bag.

The mouth, hidden inside the flap, was an especially abstract and confusing part.  He was obviously totally confused by the mouth, so I drew that for him.

Phase Three

Now we repeat the project with minimal guidance and preferably no help.  (Using Vygotsky's terms, we are reducing the scaffolding and letting the kid produce his or her own work.)

Starting over, Smiley makes a second puppet doing all the work himself.  I still prompt him when he is stalled or confused, for example asking him if his puppet will have a nose.

This time he understands the mouth and draws one himself.

Phase Four

The last "productive" phase is to let the child enhance his or her own work.  The teacher had a nice supply of googly eyes, sequins, feathers, sticks, and other materials to glue on the puppets.

Smiley picked two googly eyes for eyes, a third small one to be a nose, and two sticks for hands.

He also used a feather for the tongue.

Notice that his googly eyes were not put on the drawn eyes, and the "hands" are placed in a way that only makes sense to him.  That's okay.  This puppet is 100% his work and choices.  As another example, the first puppet had a tail but he decided the second would not, and it would have been equally valid if the second puppet had no nose or feet.

Any toddler art project can be enhanced, but some of the most interesting ways are unfortunately difficult to find in books.  For example, after making a watercolor painting, try sprinkling salt onto it, or (with close parental supervision!) dabbing it with a Q-Tip dipped in bleach.

Phase Five

If the project was happening at home then we could stop, clean up, and be done.  But in a classroom setting there is the practical matter that the kids will not all finish Phase Four at the same time.  We need a "filler activity" until the next project begins or the class is dismissed.

So we went back to drawing with markers on plain paper.  This time I prompted Smiley to try more advanced techniques: pressing hard or soft (which he was delighted to see had more dramatic effect than with crayons), making dots, etc.

Last week we were painting with brushes, and I introduced Smiley to finger painting during the last few minutes before class was dismissed.

Using the Phase Four enhancements on the Phase One explorations is also a sensible thing to do as a "filler activity".

Alternately, set aside one type of enhancement for kids who finish early.  For example, in this class students who finished early could have had a chance to use their puppets outside in an impromptu puppet show booth.

Pathfinder Pugilist

The other day I was wondering which Pathfinder character would make a better unarmed fighter, a Monk or a Fighter who specialized in unarmed combat.

The answer is partially a matter of style.  The Monk would be much more mobile.  The Fighter could enjoy using any magic weapons and armor found while adventuring.  What about sheer damage?

Let's assume our Fighter has a starting STR and DEX both 16, and will increment DEX at levels 4, 8, and 12 to qualify for all of the two-weapon feats.

When writing attack bonuses, I'll use green for primary-hand attacks and red for off-hand attacks.

L1 Improved Unarmed Strike, Two-Weapon Fighting: -1/-1 , no damage bonus
  BAB +1, then -2/-2 for TWF
L2 Weapon Focus (unarmed)+1/+1 , no damage bonus
  BAB +2, then -2/-2 for TWF, then +1 for Weapon Focus
L3 Power Attack: +1/+1 , damage +2
  BAB +3, then -2/-2 for TWF, then +1 for Weapon Focus, then -1 for Power Attack
  damage +2 from Power Attack
L4 Weapon Specialization (unarmed), Power Attack increments: +1/+1 , damage +6
  BAB +4, then -2/-2 for TWF, then +1 for Weapon Focus, then -2 for Power Attack
  damage +4 from Power Attack, then +2 from Weapon Specialization
L5 Double Slice, Weapon Training 1 (unarmed): +3/+3 , damage +7
  BAB +5, -2/-2 for TWF, +1 for Weapon Focus, -2 for Power Attack, +1 for Weapon Training
  damage +4 from Power Attack, +2 from Weapon Specialization, +1 from Weapon Training
  Double Slice allows full STR modifier to apply to off-hand damage
L6 Improved Two-Weapon Fighting: +4/+4/-1/-1 , damage +7
  BAB +6, -2/-2 for TWF, +1 for Weapon Focus, -2 for Power Attack, +1 for Weapon Training
  second primary hand attack at -5 because of BAB +6, second off-hand attack at -5 from ITWF
  damage +4 from Power Attack, +2 from Weapon Specialization, +1 from Weapon Training
L7 ?: +5/+5/+0/+0 , damage +7
  BAB increments.  For feat options at this level, see suggestions below.
L8 Greater Weapon Focus (unarmed), Power Attack increments: +6/+6/+1/+1 , damage +9
  BAB +8, -2/-2 TWF, +2 Weapon Focus & GWF, -3 Power Attack, +1 Weapon Training
  damage +6 from Power Attack, +2 from Weapon Specialization, +1 from Weapon Training
L9 ?, Weapon Training 2 (unarmed): +8/+8/+3/+3 , damage +10
  BAB +9, -2/-2 TWF, +2 Weapon Focus & GWF, -3 Power Attack, +2 Weapon Trainings
  damage +6 from Power Attack, +2 from Weapon Specialization, +2 from Weapon Trainings 
  For feat options at this level, see suggestions below
L10 ?: +9/+9/+4/+4 , damage +10
  BAB increments.  For feat options at this level, see suggestions below
L11 Two-Weapon Rend: +10/+10/+5/+5/+0 , damage +10
  BAB increments.  Two-Weapon Rend causes possible per-round extra damage d10 + STR x 1.5
  Third primary hand attack at -10 because of BAB +11
L12 Greater Weapon Specialization (unarmed), Power Attack increments: +10/+10/+5/+5/+0 , damage +14
  BAB +12, -2/-2 TWF, +2 Weapon Focus & GWF, -4 Power Attack, +2 Weapon Trainings
  damage +8 from Power Attack, +4 from Weapon Specializations, +2 from Weapon Trainings
L13 Greater Two-Weapon Fighting, Weapon Training 3 (unarmed): +12/+12/+7/+7/+2/+2 , damage +15
  BAB +13, -2/-2 TWF, +2 Weapon Focus & GWF, -4 Power Attack, +3 Weapon Trainings
  Third off-hand attack at -10 because of Greater Two-Weapon Fighting
  damage +8 from Power Attack, +4 from Weapon Specializations, +3 from Weapon Trainings

(Nothing special in the above plan: I expect it is how many dual wield Fighters advance, with their favored weapon used instead of unarmed combat.)

What could our Fighter do with the three "free" feats above?  One option is to learn "wrestling" by taking Enforcer, Combat Expertise, and Improved Trip.  Another option is to become an effective archer by using second-tier Weapons Training for bow use and taking the three basic archery feats of Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot, and Rapid Shot.

So, at level 13, how much damage is this Fighter doing on average when all six attacks hit?
     12 (d3, 6x) + 18 (STR modifier of 3, 6x) + 90 (damage bonus 15, 6x) + 9 (Two-Weapon Rend) = 129 damage

In comparison, a level 13 Monk has five attacks and only two feats to boost damage: Power Attack and Two-Weapon Rend.  With Weapon Focus (unarmed) the Monk attacks at +8/+8/+3/+3/-2 and if all five of these inferior attacks hit still only has an average damage of:
     35 (2d6, 5x) + 15 (STR modifier of 3, 5x) + 40 (Power Attack +8, 5x) + 9 (Two-Weapon Rend) = 89 damage

So the fighter does an average of 45% more damage.  The Monk's extra movement speed and abilities that help escape harmful situations is useful, and he is a much superior grappler.  But I expect most groups of adventurers would prefer to have the Fighter with them, who would finish the combat sooner to keep the entire party safer.

(The Monk could close the gap if he could take the Improved Natural Attack feat, but the online Bestiary errata specifies that the feat does not apply to Unarmed Strikes.)

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Bright and Early

Oops.  Last night I did not adjust the clocks for Daylight Savings Time until late, and was neglectfully tired and set them the wrong way.

Now I'm up two hours too early.  Time to bake cookies!

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Smiley's Similes

Smiley has been working on his understanding of how things have different aspects.  Sometimes things resemble each other in only one minor way.  Sometimes things are completely different.

This leads to some interesting observations.

A few days ago he said:
Scuffy the Tugboat is like Noah's Ark, but different.
Well, I can't argue with that.  They are both boats, even if about as different as two boats can be.

On Wednesday we drove past a utility truck parked within some orange cones, beside a manhole.  He said:
Utility trucks are like babies, but different.
That was more puzzling.  Eventually I guided him to explain his comparison: both utility trucks and babies are noisy.

Last night he was talking about chickens and roosters and declared:
Roosters are not good.  Not good at all.
He does not like roosters, because the one at Annette's scares him with its shrill cry.  So we talked about how the rooster might protect the chickens with that noise.  I offered, "What if a fox wanted to hurt the chickens but the rooster frightened away the fox?"  The rooster could be a little bit good because it protected the chickens, even if it was not all good because it was not friendly to Smiley.  Then he mimicked, "Or an elephant would hurt the chickens but the rooster scared it away."  Um, okay.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Pathfinder Summoner-Monk

Blogging was suspended three weeks as the medications fighting my sinus infection got the best of me, and I became intrigued with designing a Pathfinder Summoner that could actually ride his eidolon into combat safely and helpfully.  More blogging soon.  New Smiley videos are being uploaded as I type.  But first, to finish processing this and finally get it out of my head, I present my new Pathfinder character idea...

UPDATE: After playing a Summoner for a few levels I have given up on the character class in a primary melee role.  The rule granting maximum hit points at first level disguises how weak the PC and eidolon really are.  By fifth level either can be killed in one round by a CR 5 enemy; by tenth level either can often be killed in one attack by a CR 10 enemy.  True, the Summoner could use its many "buff" spells to make the eidolon stronger (see this complete Handbook about doing so), but this is inferior to a full-caster class buffing the party's Fighter.

The Summoner is a good buffer. In playtests it was too powerful when able to use its Spell-Like Ability while the eidolon is out.  This is not surprising: that's a darn nice SLA!  If the class had no eidolon and instead had some other class boost to either buffing or the summon SLA it would be much more solid.  A class that did two things very well would help a party more than a class that does three things moderately well.  (Perhaps a GM could design a house rule of a Summoner with no eidolon that instead chose either buffing or the SLA to focus on, similar to how rangers pick archery or two-weapon combat.)

The key insight from the Handbook is noticing that the Summoner's Spell-Like Ability summons a monster for several minutes, and the eidolon can be brought into play using the first of those minutes.  So if the Summoner has 66 seconds to prepare he can enter a battle with both a summoned creature and the eidolon.

Dr. Jouns Vond
Gnome Monk (Ki Mystic) 1 / Summoner 10 / Sorcerer (Arcane) 1 / Monk (Ki Mystic) ?

Ability Scores: STR 12, DEX 14, CON 10, INT 14, WIS 14, CHA 14
(twenty point build, at 4th and 8th levels raise CHA +1)
Gnome abilities: Low-Light Vision, Keen Senses, Master Tinker, Obsessive, Pyromaniac
General trait: Magical Knack
Kingmaker campaign trait: Orlovsky

Planned Skills: Each level take one rank in Ride, Spellcraft, and Stealth, as well as one other skill.  For thematic reasons, use the "free" skill point at first level for Craft (Weaponsmith).  Study Linguistics twice, to learn to speak Ignan and Terran.

Planned Feats:  During the first five levels pick up Combat Expertise, Deflect Arrows (free with Monk level), Improved Trip, and Improved Familiar.  At seventh level get Leadership, and at ninth level learn Coordinated Maneuvers.  At eleventh get Improved Share Spells (requires 10 ranks of Spellcraft at eleventh level).  Eschew Materials is gained with the Sorcerer level; Combat Reflexes upon returning to Monk at twelfth level.  At thirteenth level take Greater Trip.
(The feats Leadership and Improved Familiar help my character's story.  In general, more combat-worthy replacements would be Mounted Combat and Trick Riding.)

Planned Summoner Spells: Certain Summoner Spells are especially desirable to Jouns.  The feat Improved Share Spells will work well with the first level spells Mage armor, Shield, Expeditious Retreat, and Endure Elements; the second level spells Alter Self, Haste, Bull's Strength, and Barkskin; and the third level spells Displacement, Greater Magic Fang, Greater Invisibility.  He will also seek Slow, Black Tentacles and the variations of Rejuvinate Eidolon.

Planned Sorcerer Spells: Four more cantrips: Ray of Frost, Spark, Touch of Fatigue, Arcane Mark.  First level spells Disguise Self and True Strike.

Jouns spent his early adulthood with other Pyromaniac Gnome Tinkers trying to develop fire-based weapons.  But Jouns became fascinated with Irori, and switched from researching devices to the path of monastic self-improvement--secretly hoping that meditating on candle flames would inspire him to invent a new fiery martial art form.  Ultimately, however, Irori had other plans for Jouns.  When adventurers are assigned the task of taming some wild lands and establishing a town, Jouns is joins the chartered group.  Soon afterwards, Irori sent a strange creature slightly like an earth elemental to Jouns, instructing him to focus on rock instead of fire as the source of a new meditative style and a martial art ("The Way of Stone and Shadow").  When the new town is founded, Jouns establishes a small monastery for followers of Irori.

Partway through his adventures (at fifth level), Jouns is surprised again when some elemental magic in his veins awakens.  He learns some new spells and gains a small Earth Elemental familiar.

Toward the end of his campagin (at twelfth level, with ten levels of Summoner) Jouns feels he has learned all that he can from the ways of a Summoner: he has trained his eidolon to be an accomplished grappler, he can summon large Elementals and cast fourth-level spells, and he can shift elemental energies into his own body.  With Irori's blessing, he declares his study of elemental-themed energy complete and shifts his efforts of self-improvement back to the traditional monastic paths.

Jouns rides his eidolon during combat.  As a Master Tinker, he is proficient with a whip he braids himself.  During the first two levels the eidolon seldom charges, instead using its five foot step after a Full Attack to provide reach for Joun's whip to attempt a trip or disarm.  Starting at third level he attacks with Flurry of Blows to make two trip attempts each combat round, unless using the whip to disarm is smarter.  When a tripped opponent attempts to stand up, both Jouns and his eidolon (and often their allies) can make an AOO

Jouns is indeed a bit vulnerable in the midst of combat.  He is slightly aided by his Monk training (adding Wisdom modifier to AC, the feat Deflect Arrows), which also allows more magical items to help him defensively (any that increase Wisdom, Monk's Robe).  Mostly he relies on hindering adjacent foes with his trip and disarm, his eidolon's grapple, and spells such as the bard's Grease and the druid's Entangle.  He also wears Mage Armor most combats and in risky situations uses Shield.
For some reason the Pathfinder SRD does not have the alternate Monk Archetypes from the Advanced Player's Guide.  The Ki Mystic is unchanged at the first two monk levels, and then has the ability Still Mind replaced by the following new ability:
Ki Mystic (Su): At 3rd level, a Ki Mystic gains a pool of ki points equal to his Wisdom modifier. The pool increases to 1/2 his monk level + his Wisdom modifier + 2 at level 4. If the monk has at least 1 point of ki in his ki pool, he gains a +2 bonus on all Knowledge skill checks. As a swift action, the monk can spend 1 ki point immediately before making an ability or skill check to gain a +4 insight bonus on the check.

medium quadruped eidolon (a rocky lizard, somewhat like a stumpy alligator)

Planned Skills: The eidolon gets four flexible class skills: use Acrobatics, Disable DeviceSurvival, and Use Magic Device. With every eidolon hit die take one rank in Perception, Stealth, and Use Magic Device.  After putting one rank into Survival to activate the class skill bonus, alternate the fourth skill rank between Acrobatics and Disable Device.

Planned Feats: Power Attack, Improved Grapple, Coordinated Maneuvers, and Greater Grapple.

Planned Evolutions: Always have Mount, Claws, and Pounce.  Once qualified, always have Rake and Energy Attacks.  Ozzie will eventually have twelve evolution points: his final form will have Mount, Claws, Pounce, Improved Natural Armor twice, Skilled (Stealth), Rake, Energy Attacks, and Trip.

Ozzie often charges.  He attacks with his bite and both claws in combat rounds when being grappled is too dangerous.  But most of the time he grapples, since each grappling "damage" attempt attacks with bite and two raking claws, which does the same damage but further hinders the opponent.  After ninth level grappling really shines because the feat Greater Grapple allows two sets of bite and two raking class each turn.

When Ozzie grapples then Jouns cannot use the "Cover" Ride action and must keep one hand on the horn of his military saddle.