Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Trouble With Boys by Peg Tyre: A Must Read Book!

"The Trouble With Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents and Educators Must Do" is a very interesting book that I read when the electricity was out for 5 days. The book was written by former Newsweek reporter Peg Trye after the responses whe received to a Newsweek cover article she wrote in 2006. This book looks at the trend in education that has boys underachieving and struggling in school. As an elementary educator I see part of this problem. I did not realize that it now extends up into colleges where we now are having a "girl" problem. Many girls, after working hard and reaching for their dreams, are finding it harder to get into some colleges as a college may be more willing to take a "weaker" academic boy in trying to maintain a more equal balance of student enrollment.

Upon my first read I found many interesting ideas, but what resonated with me was how she tracked the changes in education through the years. I found many of the trends that she mentioned were changes that were part of my education. From the experimental 60's, when I was part of a school system that liked to try "new" ideas in education, to attending a College Prep boarding school that had just started admitting girls as students. Even in my teaching career when it was drilled into us to teach to the girls the changes continued. Peg Tyre now maintains that we have to do the same for boys!

I agree with Peg. I have always been an advocate for finding ways to teach all students and that when we teach boys we need do it in boy-friendly terms. Many boys, and some girls, do not learn best in an classroom environment where they are made to sit still, be quiet, and to complete worksheets, and to keep all their work looking "pretty". As an elementary male teacher, I sometimes find that this is a hard concept to get across to some teachers. One comment that I liked in this book, and that I didn't expect, is that while Peg Tyre agrees that we need more male teachers in the elementary schools, she does say that "good teaching is good teaching" and that female teachers can do all the things necessary to help her male students achieve.

It certainly is a topic that I don't find addressed in the schools as much as I would like to see it being talked about (which should be as often as possible!). I wonder what would happen if on the state testing one of the subgroups that the test looks at would be the boy students.

I will have to reread the book again to collect my thoughts as I read it in the dark under some blankets and with gloves on my cold fingers. I was not interested in taking notes or marking up the book. I certainly feel it is a book that teachers and parents should definitely read.

Here is an excellent "authors/google" lecture given by Peg Tyre about the boy problem and her book. You can get a good feel for the book by listening to her speech.

Here is an appearance by Peg Tyre on the Today show.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Simply Immature

"The Encyclopedia of Immaturity" by the Editors of Klutz is a book you want to read (many times) if you are an elementary school teacher. I think it particularly suits fourth grade teachers well as this is a book that basically describes what it is like to be inside the mind of a fourth grader. You will laugh and giggle as you read through the book and may even try a few (or many) of these pranks, jokes, and tricks on your students, family, and friends. These are the kinds of things you wish you knew how to do when you were in fourth grade because you would certainly get everyone's attention. I recommend this book to everyone that enjoys a good laugh except the students in my fourth grade class!

My third grade daughter and myself spent many a delightful hour howling with laughter at this book as we waited for our electricity to be restored after the recent ice storm (it took 5 days!). Here is what the ice storm looked like at our house. There was lots and lots of noise all night as branches and trees crashed to the earth. There is now a lot of clean up to be done.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Simple Way to Project Images and Movies in the Classroom

I have always enjoyed bringing technology into my classroom. Unfortunately schools find it hard to enable teachers to use the newest and most interesting technology because of the expense. That has left me trying to figure out how I can get a projector into my classroom and I really couldn't find an inexpensive way to do so. This week, I finally did find something extremely cool and useful that I think teachers could put to good use in their class and it does more than just a standard projector.

Th 3M Micro Professional Projector is a wallet sized projector that can be connected to computers, iPods, digital cameras, and other pieces of technology to project images on a wall or screen. It uses LED lights so it doesn't get hot and you can carry it around and project wherever you are because it can be powered by its own battery. It projects an image large and clear enough to fill up the screen in my classroom (although it looks better with the lights out). I took photos and movies on my digital camera and was able to show them immediately to my class. I see it as being very useful to show all the short movie clips I use in my classroom. Of course now I will have to get a video iPod to store all those movies! I think it would be very easy to keep my videos (such as the animoto videos of my student's poetry)on an iPod and project them on a wall or board when I am meeting with a small group or if I am teaching a whole class lesson. I see so many practical uses for the projector that I think it is a great use and addition of technology to my class.

I was worried that it would be hard to focus or the images would not be clear. I was surprised when I tried it that the focus remained true even if I was holding the projector in my hand. The images and movies were clear and focused and certainly grabbed my student's attention.

Here are some newer low-cost more advanced alternatives:

AAXA LED Pico Projector with 80 Minute Battery Life, Pocket Size, Mini-HDMI, 15,000 hour LED Life, and Media Player

Taotaole Multi-media 150 Lumens Portable LED Projection Micro Projector

A Simple Way to see Tiny Things

My class has been learning about rocks and minerals. I made "mock" rocks so that each student could break a rock down into smaller "minerals". First they broke apart the mock rocks into red gravel, blue gravel, oyster shells, and a powdery "other stuff".

It was easy to see the "minerals" that made up the rock, but they weren't sure what the other stuff was. So we put it in water and overnight some sediment has settled on the bottom.

However the water was cloudy so the water was placed into cups and evaporated. When the water was gone some cystals had grown on the bottom of the cup. We had sheets that showed different types of crystals and the students were able to identify the crystals as salt crystals. We looked at some of the salt crystals under my digital microscope and were able to see them more clearly. Here are a few of the photos we took.

After leaving the crystals out for a bit it seemed we had some "life" starting to grow under the microscope!

The digital microscope I use in my class is called the Intel Play QX3 and it easily hooks up to a computer through the usb port. The software is fun and allows you to see things at 10x, 60x, and 200x the normal size. You can take pictures, movies, or time lapse photography and then for fun play around with the pictures and add things like little salamanders or other creepy things that kids seem to like (see picture above). The class always enjoys seeing close up photos of their eyeballs, skin, or the fabric of their clothes. Anything tiny is fun to look at with this microscope. It is a wonderful and fun tool to have in the classroom. Here is the microscope that I use:

This looks like a lower cost way to do the same thing:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Teachers Raise Achievement with High Expectations

Faubian Elementary is a school in Portland, Oregon with many minority students from low-income families. However, the teachers at the school have high expectations for their students and because of their hard work the school the school has made dramatic jumps in their statewide assessments. Viewing the video below shows us what a crucial role the teachers play in creating a superior educational environment. The teachers collaborate and work together using a variety a techniques that best suit the individual needs of each student. What I noticed was the flexibility the teachers had to do what they thought was best for the students. The teachers seemed active and willingly engaged in doing the "hard work". I also noticed that a "program" didn't "run" the school. Teachers bought in because they were valued and were considered "the experts". For example, from an article about the school I learned that for 2 hours every other Monday,

"The staff meets to tackle one in a rotating list of topics: math, reading,writing, and life-skills education. They use the time to assess data, develop curriculum, discuss the needs of individual students, and participate in professional-development workshops -- sessions often led by Faubion teachers who have completed outside training on particular skills."
That sounds like a lot of meeting time, but note that it is the teachers who are considered the experts. They don't follow what they are told they must follow, but instead there is a choice involved. When given the choice, the teachers do what needs to be done and they seem to do it willingly, happily, and with great success.

"The key to this training is that teachers choose what they want to learn; each year, they agree on one weak area to give particular emphasis (this year, writing), and it's typically the area where test results show students need the most help. As Harbolt says, "We figure if they're weak on it, we must be weak on it.""
When the teachers are considered the experts, they do the "expert" things. There are a lot of innovative and interesting techniques going on throughout the video.

Lessons learned:

If you want to create a successful school, it takes hard work.

It's not about the "program"! It is about the best experts in the business: the classroom teacher. Treat the teachers like the experts they are. Give them the power and the support they need to do what they know needs to be done. Then, and only then, will wonderful things happen! Bravo! to the Faubian Elementary School!

A Reading Program in Need of Improvement!

Today's Washington Post reports on a Reading Program in Need of Improvement. The article "Study of Reading Program Finds a Lack of Progress" by Maria Glod takes to task the $6 billion Reading First program after a congressionally mandated study determined that students have made no greater improvements or scored no better than students in similar schools who did not use the Reading First program. Of course Reading First is a program funded by the No Child Left Behind law. Here is a sad comment from the article:

"It is a program that needs to be improved," said Grover J. "Russ" Whitehurst,director of the Institute of Education Sciences, the department's research arm."I don't think anyone should be celebrating that the federal government has spent $6 billion on a reading program that has had no impact on reading comprehension."

Of course the article also mentions that not so new allegations that some of the people who had oversight over the Reading First program also had financial ties to the publishers of Reading First materials. Did I mention that this is a $6 billion program? I think I smell a program in need of some corrective action.

There are some really useful things in the Reading First program and there are some dreadful things. However when will the politicians learn that it is not a program that works with students, it is the teachers. Hire good teachers and support them as much as possible so that they can do their job, but don't expect a $6 billion program to be the answer. It sounds like a lot of wasted money.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Simple Way to Learn Luxembourgish (or many other languages)

One Minute Languages is an interesting website where you can learn the basics of another language in ten short 'couple of minutes' lessons. So if you ever wanted to learn Luxembourgish, Norwegian, Russian, Japaneses, or a roster of other languages this is the place to go. Your students might find it fun to learn how to greet someone, to count to ten, or to learn a few useful phrases in different languages. If you are reading a story that takes place in one of these countries, this might be a fun website to share or use with your class.

And if you are not sure why you might want to learn Luxembourgish, just become a fan of the Tour de France. Last year three of the tours top riders where from Luxembourg. Two of them wore the yellow jersey (as tour leader) for six of the stages. What is Luxembourgish for yellow jersey?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Journey Back in Time

Things do change! Check out this class photo from Mr. Hansen's fourth grade class, when he was a student at the Mullen-Hall School in Falmouth, Ma. He is sitting right in front of the teacher, Miss Costello. Kids dressed for school differently back then, but Miss Costello looks like she would fit in as a teacher today! Kids also seemed much smaller. I think the front two rows of the class look like today's' second graders.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Tale of Despereaux

Today I just finished reading the wonderful book "The Tale of Despereaux" by Kate DiCamillo to my class. Like every class the past few years who have heard me read this book, they absolutely love this story about a brave little mouse. Today I ran across a trailer for an animated version of this story coming out this Christmas.

Oh no! This is not the book! Everything is different: the vocabulary, the scenes, and in particular, this is not how I visualized the book. Hopefully the movie will be great in its own way, but before you go see this movie, read the Newbery Medal winning book.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

More Animoto Video Poems: Based on "The Red Wheelbarrow"

We have made more amazing poetry videos using the animoto website. First we looked at our third William Carlos William poem of the year. Previously we wrote poems based on "A Locust Tree in Bloom" and "This is Just to Say". This time we had fun with "A Red Wheelbarrow".

Who know what is so special about the red wheelbarrow in the poem, but it is fun to speculate. The mystery behind the wheelbarrow and why "so much depends upon it" makes the poem enjoyable. We discussed the "rules" that the author followed to write the poem primarily describing something seemingly insignificant as important without telling why. We also looked at the structure of the title, stanzas, and lines.

Here is a Library of Congress recordings of William Carlos William reciting the poem in 1945.

William Carlos Williams - The Red Wheelbarrow
Found at bee mp3 search engine

Here William Carlos Williams talks a bit about the poem (from 1952).

William Carlos Williams - The Red Wheelbarrow
Found at bee mp3 search engine

Next I reminded the class about the story I have been reading to them: "The Tale of Despereaux". We then wrote about something from the story that wouldn't seem that important at all to someone who may have not have read the book but carries loads of tragic meaning to a person who does know the book. The poem we wrote together is called "The Red Tablecloth".

In the story a rat steals a red tablecloth from a man sent to a dungeon and in doing so takes away his only comfort. We later learn that the man had earlier traded his daughter for that same tablecloth. It ends up being an object in the story that "so much depends on".

I then gave each student a photograph that I had cut our from old "National Geographic" magazines. I had them look for an object to write about and to write a creative poem of their own inspired by William Carlos Williams. Then I used my digital camera to get close up images of the photograph as well as lines from the poem that had been printed out by each student poet. What do you think of these "poetic" videos? Please note that I am using the music on the Animoto website. I try to match tunes to poems, but there is only a limited number of songs and it is hard to find songs without words. However in most cases the songs match up wonderfully to the poem.

In a couple of weeks I will be reading the class one of my favorite children's books, "Love That Dog", by Sharon Creech. In this excellent book a boy learns to enjoy and write poetry with the help of his teacher. The teacher uses famous poems to model poetry writing to her class. William Carlos Williams' poem "The Red Wheelbarrow" plays an important role in this book. The class will be thrilled when this connection is made!

"The Big Mustache" by JB


"The Black Dog" by AA


"A Girl Catching Fish"


"A Sweaty Working Man" by WP


"An Old Cow" by IM


"The Brown Gourd" by TE


"The Brown Wooden Swing" by LE


"The Head Band" by JP


"The Big Paper Umbrella" by EV


"The Red Flowery Dress" by SV


"The Walking Stick"


"A Sitting Down Dog" by CA


"A Hole in a Wall" by JR


"A White Furry Goat" by JS


Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Simple Truth Found in a Rubik's Cube

William Wissemann is an 18 year old college freshman who used a Rubik's Cube to teach himself some valuable life lessons. You can listen to or read his "This I Believe" speech called "Accomplishing Big Things In Small Pieces" here. It originally aired as a NPR segment.

William had to leave his public school after fourth grade because of a language-processing disorder. Solving a Rubik's Cube helped William understand that he had to first break problems down before he could solve them. It mirrored his own progress in breaking down language in order to use it effectively. A simple Rubik's Cube taught William many other important lessons about dealing with frustrations and reaching goals. It is a wonderful essay.

"This I Believe" is an international project engaging people in writing, sharing, and discussing the core values that guide their daily lives. These short statements of belief, written by people from all walks of life, are archived here and featured on public radio in the United States and Canada, as well as in regular broadcasts on NPR. The project is based on the popular 1950s radio series of the same name hosted by Edward R. Murrow.

Here a school administrator starts his own "This I Believe" list. What an interesting way to reflect about what is important to you as an educator or person.

I have never been able to solve the Rubik's Cube on my own, unless you count the time I took the stickers off and just rearranged them by color! After I graduated from College I worked for a summer at a day camp run by The Stony Brook School, the college prep boarding school I had attended for three years. There was one fourth grade boy attending the camp who could consistently solve the Rubik's Cube (it was new then) in a very short amount of time. I even watched him solve it in under a minute a few times.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Maple Tree: Creating Videos from Student Poetry

On the first day of school this year I introduced my class to William Carlos Williams' poem "A Locust Tree in Flower". I found the poem a few years ago while using some other of his poems in my class. I found it to be an unusual and simple poem, but there was something about it that begged me to ask, "What is this?"

I decided to use it in my class as a lesson on words and how we use them, as well as a clever introduction to poetry. In subsequent lessons I use "This is Just to Say" by William Carlos Williams to teach poetry form versus paragraph form and "The Red Wheelbarrow" for creating meaning from insignificant details.

This year I handed out a sheet to every student with each word from the poem printed in random order on small squares that they could cut out. I asked them to try to put these words into some kind of written form and make sense out of them. I told them they could even add words if they needed to in order to give the words some meaning. The class played around with the words for a bit and discovered what they could or couldn't do with the words.

Later I showed them the poem, "A Locust Tree in Flower.

The class now saw the words expressed in a poem, but they still had a hard time making sense out of it. I have never studied this poem or read about how William Carlos Williams created it. Maybe there is a story behind it but I just tell the class that this poem reminds me of a puzzle. Each word is like a puzzle piece and some pieces are missing and the pieces may even be out of order, but they are jumbled up together to make this poem. We try imagining which words go together and what words could be missing to help create sensible phrases. By playing around with the words the students start making some meaning as well as have a fun time with words and language.

Then we talk about why I find poetry interesting. They know writing as something that you have to do in school and where the teacher forces them to follow rules. I tell them that poets are "rebels" who like to make up their own rules. That catches a few students off guard a bit (hopefully the boys!) and I hope that they start seeing poetry as more then just writing for "sissies" and something that can be fun, creative, and a bit rebellious as well as an exercise that is more about playing with words then about "making rhymes". Who knows if this is a correct approach to poetry, but at least it makes it interesting and understandable for me.

We talk about how poets can make their own rules and come up with rules for "The Locust Tree in Flower". We decided that William Carlos Williams only put one word on every line. He had four stanzas of three words each and one last word at the end. He gave it a title and placed his words randomly so that they didn't make sense when first reading it, although we can assume that he put great thought into the choice and placement of his words

Then we went outside to observe a Maple Tree on our playground that the kids are all familiar with because it stands right next to the school's playground equipment. We went outside with clipboards and observed the tree and they wrote words and phrases about what they observed

When we came inside we wrote out own "Maple Tree" poems following Williams Carlos Williams rules for writing his poem. A simple poem may take only minutes to write

I took digital pictures while we were outside and when the students later typed the poems into a computer (for their first simple typing exercise in the computer lab) I inserted a picture of the tree on their poem so that they could print it out and show off their first writing assignment of the year

I left the project behind and moved on as the year progressed until a found the Animoto video slideshow program. Within a few minutes of seeing how this program worked I thought to myself that this poem would lend itself wonderfully to being presented with Animoto. After playing with the program a bit and seeing how it worked I tried describing to the class my vision of what we could do with their poems. We didn't have much time so I had them write out the words to their poem on paper and use "tree" colors to color them in. Rather than cut them out I had them rip out the words. Then we went outside with those who completed the task quickly enough and took photos of each word on the wood chips underneath the maple tree. I wish I had more photos of the tree without the students in the photo from the first day, but I didn't know back then that I would be doing this project. I took the photos and uploaded them to the Animoto site and arranged them very quickly into some kind of order, chose a piece of music off the Animoto site, and then let the program perfrom its magic of arranging the poems into a digital-musical slideshow.

I think the results are wonderful and each video has its own flavor and design. At some points in the videos the photos, music, and transitions are just perfect for the poem the student wrote

Take a look at the results. Don't you think these are great.

















While I was looking up information on the poem online, I found another interesting video presentation of "The Locust Tree in Flower". This is from a museum installation by Jason Freeman of the Georgia Insitute of Technology. At his installation people can read the poem. He writes, "The installation invites a single person at a time to create and perform a musical setting of the poem by simply reading it. A short piece of music is generated in real time by applying digital processing, mixing, and looping to the user's voice.". The results are very unusual! You can view a sample recording here. It is very interesting to see the different ways a simple poem can inspire others.

This blog post has now been included in the Carnival of Education's "The Debate Issue" hosted by Eduwonkette. You can read all sorts of educational blogger's posts that have been formatted by Eduwonkette into an entry that at first looks like the presidential candidates debating policy. What a fun and creative way to present all these diverse blog entries. You can find a reference and link to this post by reading what "Sarah Palin" adds to the debate!

Teacher Language

I am not sure where I got this from, but I found it in my things recently. It is a handout titled "Teacher Language" and it has some simple starters to sentences that teachers can use when talking to students. It helps to get to the point clearly.

I noticed...

I heard you...

Thank you for...

I see that...

I appreciate...

Show me...

You need to...

How can you...

Tell me what you will need to...

Your choice is to...

How simple is that?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Playing Around with Animoto

I have been playing around with a nifty little program called Animoto. It is a program that easily makes custom slideshows using your digital pictures and music. Teachers can use this program for free after signing up with Animoto (just be warned if you are a Nashua teacher that the emails from Animoto went into my spam folder- I had to send an email to the company to get it straightened out).

The other day I took my class on a stroll around Mount Pleasant School. I explained the photos I was taking as I walked around the school. I told my class what I wanted to do with the photos. I was suprised when one boy said, "So you are basically making a collage!"

I said, "Yes that is right, but it will be a photo-video collage on the computer." I realised after awhile that I was taking photos of round things, signs, numbers, and different views of the school. Here is one of the videos Animoto put together for me. What do you think?

Hopefully this program will work on the district's computers. I have some ideas for my class that would be very fun to work on together.

Sorry for the music. I have to find some appropriate tunes.


Sunday, October 5, 2008

Common Ground: A Simple Look at Changes in our World

This is a wonderful piece of visual journalism as a 100+ acre cattle farm in Illinois is torn down to make space for a new housing development.

Why might you show this to Elementary school students? I think students can understand the highly visual juxtaposition of images, video clips, and sound bytes to get the "big picture" that is created in this piece. It shows the changing of land use from rural to suburban, it tells about the loss of family farms (with a non judgmental tone), it displays human emotions brought on by change in the world, and it does so with a simple creativity. It also show how many things we hold in common. Check out how the pictures of the farm family and the new residents are compared and contrasted by similarity of images. My favorite is the photo of the cattle with their heads in the feeding pail next to the photo of a girl riding her toy bike on the driveway with a plastic bucket on her head. I think children would thrill to see how a creative person put these together with purpose. Some of the images on the screen are worth stopping this presentation for so as to discuss with a class. I like the quote at the end of the piece, "Farmland changes. You still see the same qualities of life even though it is no longer a farmland."

I can see how a short piece like this could fit in a Social Studies unit on regions of the US or on rural areas becoming suburban areas. It could also fit in a literary unit such as stories on the prairie like my class is reading now. It might also be used after reading a book like "What You Knew First" by Patricia MacClachlan about a family leaving a farm on the prairie behind. It is almost like a modern sequel to the simple children's book.

A Simple Way to Create Dancing Animations

Here is a simple and fun online program called pictaps. You can design and create a 2D character and then watch Pictaps turn it into a 3D character that will dance with clones of itself. It takes minutes to draw a character and the animations are fun and artistic. Children may have fun designing with this program which delights the imagination. Here is a simple alien that I drew. It is also fun to revisit the drawing process as your character is redrawn in the animation.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Learning from your Mistakes is Not that Simple for Some!

A new study suggests that children under 12 years of age have a difficult time processing negative feedback and hence the ability to learn from their mistakes. According to an article in Science Daily...

"Eight-year-old children have a radically different learning strategy from twelve-year-olds and adults. Eight-year-olds learn primarily from positive feedback ('Well done!'), whereas negative feedback ('Got it wrong this time') scarcely causes any alarm bells to ring."

This pattern has been seen in behavioral research as well as when scientists look inside the brain.
"In children of eight and nine, these areas of the brain react strongly to positive feedback and scarcely respond at all to negative feedback. But in children of 12 and 13, and also in adults, the opposite is the case. Their control centers' in the brain are more strongly activated by negative feedback and much less by positive feedback."

According to the researchers this may be because...
"From the literature, it appears that young children respond better to reward than to punishment...The information that you have not done something well is more complicated than the information that you have done something well. Learning from mistakes is more complex than carrying on in the same way as before. You have to ask yourself what precisely went wrong and how it was possible."

This is all very interesting and makes me think of many implications within the classroom.