Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Go, you chicken fat. go!

Wow, I had a flashback to my childhood when I heard this song for the first time in many years. I remember this being played in school. How are we encouraging movement and healthy exercise habits is school today?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

You can Google that: Rethinking our approach to Education

"Would a person with good handwriting, spelling and grammar and instant recall of multiplication tables be considered a better candidate for a job than, say, one who knows how to configure a peer-to-peer network of devices, set up an organisation-wide Google calendar and find out where the most reliable sources of venture capital are, I wonder? The former set of skills are taught in schools, the latter are not."

So begins an editorial by Sugata Mitra, the winner of the one million dollar TED prize in 2013, in a Guardian.UK piece called  Advent of Google means we must rethink our approach to education. He is a proponent of something he calls Self Organized Learning Environment’s (SOLE) and his “Hole in the Wall” experiments have shown that, in the absence of supervision or formal teaching, children can teach themselves and each other, if they’re motivated by curiosity and peer interest.

We tend to be hanging onto romanticized ideas of education and skills that are no longer relevant. Education, according to Mitra, should look something like this:

"If examinations challenge learners to solve problems the way they are solved in real life today, the educational system will change for ever. It is a small policy change that is required. Allow the use of the internet and collaboration during an examination.
If we did that to exams,  the curriculum would have to be different. We would not need to emphasize facts or figures or dates. The curriculum would have to become questions that have strange and interesting answers. "Where did language come from?", "Why were the pyramids built?", "Is life on Earth sustainable?", "What is the purpose of theater?"
Questions that engage learners in a world of unknowns. Questions that will occupy their minds through their waking hours and sometimes their dreams. 
Teaching in an environment where the internet and discussion are allowed in exams would be different. The ability to find things out quickly and accurately would become the predominant skill. The ability to discriminate between alternatives, then put facts together to solve problems would be critical. That's a skill that future employers would admire immensely."
You can read the whole article here. His TED talk is below.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

How to deal with kid's math anxiety

Annie Murphy Paul wrote this article How to Deal with Kid' Math Anxiety that gives some wonderful information and tips for dealing with children who are more than capable of understanding and doing math, but freeze up in ways that leave to frustration and disappointment. The article is based on a recent findings published in Psychological Science journal.

Math anxiety is a negative emotional reaction to situations involving mathematical problem solving. Math anxiety has a detrimental impact on an individual’s long-term professional success, but its neurodevelopmental origins are unknown. In a functional MRI study on 7- to 9-year-old children, we showed that math anxiety was associated with hyperactivity in right amygdala regions that are important for processing negative emotions. In addition, we found that math anxiety was associated with reduced activity in posterior parietal and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex regions involved in mathematical reasoning. Multivariate classification analysis revealed distinct multivoxel activity patterns, which were independent of overall activation levels in the right amygdala. Furthermore, effective connectivity between the amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex regions that regulate negative emotions was elevated in children with math anxiety. These effects were specific to math anxiety and unrelated to general anxiety, intelligence, working memory, or reading ability. Our study identified the neural correlates of math anxiety for the first time, and our findings have significant implications for its early identification and treatment.

 The study used MRI scans of children's brains (getting kids to lie still in an MRI must have been an achievement in itself). Ms. Paul reports on the findings:

Regions of a brain structure called the amygdala, responsible for processing negative emotions, were hyperactive. At the same time, activity in the posterior parietal and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex—areas involved in mathematical reasoning—was diminished. The scientists’ analysis of neural networks revealed that the two activity levels were connected: The buzz in the brain’s fear center was interfering with the ability of its problem-solving regions to do their job. The pattern the paper’s authors identified was specific to math, unrelated to general intelligence or to other kinds of anxiety.

 I have had many students in the past who demonstrate this math anxiety, so I wanted to know what to do about this. Fortunately, the author provided some answers based on other research.

One way to relieve this burden on working memory, Beilock and her colleagues have found, is to spend ten minutes writing about one’s thoughts and feelings about a math exam just before taking it. Students effectively offload their worries onto the page, enabling them to tackle the test with a mind free of rumination and distraction. In the lab, Beilock reports, engaging in this exercise “eliminates poor performance under pressure,” and the method has produced encouraging results in real-life classroom settings as well.

I tried this with some students that show anxiety during math tests and they felt and worked better.

Other approaches that have proven successful at reducing math anxiety and improving performance include having students reaffirm their self-worth by listing important values like relationships with friends and family, and having students think about why they might do well(“I am a student at a high-level university”) rather than poorly (“I am a girl taking a difficult math test”). These interventions are simple but effective: By deliberately shifting their frame of mind, students can make that creepy-crawly feeling of anxiety go away.

I think this is a very important article that can help teachers and parents better understand the frustrations of many of their students during tests or homework.  A child with math anxiety may not be just a child that is doing poorly at math. I shared this article with the teachers at my school last Spring and got a lot of positive feedback.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Two Rules for Writing an Effective Paragraph

This is a Teachers Pay Teachers download that I wrote and developed. I use these lessons at the beginning of every year with my class and they can always retell me the "Two Rules for Writing Effective Paragraphs" at any point in the year after that. I always ask them, "What do you need to do to be an effective writer?" before any writing assignment and it helps them to remember to 1) stick to the point and 2) use descriptive words. This is a paid digital download and can be found here along with more information on the contents of the download.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

10 Things to do without worksheets for Sarah, Plain and Tall

I am learning about how to use the Teachers Pay Teachers website and today I put up my first product. It is free is you want to check it out. I would love to hear any feedback, both positive or negative particularly if you ideas for making this better. I produced an activity guide called 10 Things to do without worksheets for Sarah, Plain and Tall that teachers can use for creative type activities that do not involve worksheets. I dislike worksheets! It is for the book Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan. There are 10 simple and fun ideas in the book, although I have to warn all teachers NOT to attempt one of the ideas! There are a lot of great teacher created resources on Teachers Pay Teachers website and many of them are free. I learned two things over the course of creating this resource. It is much easier to create a file like this in Powerpoint than in Microsoft word. I also learned how easy it is to turn a Powerpoint file into a PDF. You can sign up to promote your own lessons and products here.

3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th - Poetry, Reading, Arithmetic -

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Lessons from an ice cream bowl

Here are some pictures of an end-of-year thank-you gift from one of my students this year. He made me this super large "ice-cream" bowl so that I can enjoy my favorite food. I love how he chose lessons from the school year to personalize the bowl and commemorate the year.

The center of the bowl is the Kenyan flag. Of course, I went on a trip to Kenya last summer and I shared so much of what I saw and experienced with my class.  That was such a big part of my year and what I learned and saw in Kenya was certainly important to my teaching this year. As a personal note to Nathan, I am surprised that the word "stuff" is not included on the bowl. The class and I had laughs all year over how I described elephants raising their trunks while on safari (youtube moment here, full safari video here). This from a teacher who asks that student's learn to use precise words!

He also placed the names of the two Brian Selznick books that I read aloud to the class early in the year. The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck. I loved sharing these books with the class and the class thoroughly enjoyed delving into all sorts of topics related to both books.

The exterior of the bowl has pictures of ice cream cones. Ice cream is not only my favorite food, but our class won an ice-cream party at the end of the year. Ice cream rules!

Then there is the poem, "The Red Wheelbarrow" printed on the bowl. We do a lot of poetry writing and a lot of the poems we write are inspired by the poetry of William Carlos Williams. The class also learned how to use Animoto to create digital poetry and showcase their own creativity.

Finally, there is an Ironman symbol. I am not sure if this was placed on the bowl because I completed 5 Ironman distance triathlons back in the 1980s (1983 and 1984 through 1987) or if it is because of the times I talk to the class about difficult situations and how they can handle them. I talk about Ironman John Blais who died of Lou Gehrig's disease and who teaches us to "roll through" difficult situations or about Ironman Jullie Moss, who teaches us to "crawl through" difficult times.

I absolutely love this gift. Well done, Nathan! What I appreciate as a teacher is that he chose important lessons from throughout the year that had nothing to do with the official school curriculum. As a teacher, you have to bring your own interests and personality into your classroom, for it seems that these are the times that you can make the biggest impression on a student. When you can tie your interests into the curriculum, then you deserve a big heaping bowl of your favorite ice cream, but this bowl is too nice for any amount of ice cream!