Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What Really Goes on in their Heads!

With all the incredible teaching we do, teachers expect their students to pay rapt attention. Do you think that is what really goes on in your class? Do you have students who do not seem to be paying attention and do you wonder what is going on in their heads? Well the good news is that something really is going on. According to physician and philosopher Raymond Talli in this Daily Mail (England) article "From blushing to laughter fits, discover what REALLY goes on in our heads". all sorts of interesting things go on inside the human brain.

The human head is fascinating on many different levels. Once you remove it from your body (not an easy task according to the article) it weighs about 11 pounds (sans hair) or about 8% of your total body weight. That is an interesting math fact for you to consider.

We breathe through some holes in our head but most of the work is done in the lungs. Once the air enters the head we do some interesting things with it as it passes by. We speak, we sneeze, we laugh. Take laughter. Did you realize that even when your class is laughing they follow some consistent conventions. Once a laugh has started it tends to stay with that same vowel sound: "Ha-Ha-Ha" not "Ha-Ho-Ha". If you think your class has the sillies, wait until you hear about the school in Tanzania that had uncontrollable fits of laughter. It spread into the community and lasted two years. We also laugh 30 times more often when we are with others than when we are by ourselves. Which makes me wonder as to just why my class never laughs at my jokes. You would think I would have a better success rate in a crowd.

If you think your class doesn't listen, at least take into account that something important is happening in their ears: ear wax! You can even trace your ancestry through your ear wax: "While people of European and African origin usually have earwax which is wet and honey-brown, a genetic mutation thousands of years ago ago resulted in most Asian people - as well as native Americans and Inuits who have Asian origins - developing earwax which is dry, flaky and grey. Indeed, it has proved possible to track human migratory patterns, such as those of the Inuit, by looking at earwax type." Sometimes I think some students have a little too much ear wax. There has to be some reason for their lack of listening.

Noses also do interesting things. According to the article humans do smell fear. That sort of explains what happens when a substitute is in your classroom! Human noses can detect about 10,000 different odors. Unfortunately many of the strangest smells do turn up in my fourth grade classroom at various times.

Every time a student yawns in your classroom, you can rest assured they they are one more yawn closer to the 250,000 yawns they will make in their lifetime. It is true that when one person yawns 50% of the people nearby will also yawn. Don't you wish that if only one child listened to your lesson that 50% of the other children would involuntarily listen too?

Even though our faces can make 10,000 expressions, there are seven basic emotions that are expressed in the same way in every culture: sadness, anger, surprise, fear, enjoyment, disgust and contempt. You are born with these expressions as even people who are born blind naturally use these same facial expressions. Notice the absence of an emotion like alertness!

Rest assured that even on those days when you can't seem to get anything into your student's heads that at least there is something going on upstairs!

This entry has been posted at the 166th Carnival of Education.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Teachers Who Steal

OK I admit it, I have a stealing problem. I like to get ideas from other teachers and them try them out myself. So this week I stole a simple one from Mrs. Porter's classroom. Whenever I go into another classroom I look around for ideas and inspiration. So after a few too many meetings in her classroom in the past few weeks I was looking at the selection of books all neatly arranged for her students. I noticed little notes on each shelf that said something like this, "this shelf was brought to you by ______" and then mentioned a student's name. I figured that the named child was responsible for keeping that shelf neat and organized. So I stole.

This week I made little number tags and put them on various bookshelves around the room. I then put numbers on the board with each student's name on them. The class was getting real interested in what these numbers meant. I then spoke to each child about their numbered shelf or place in the room and let them know they were responsible for keeping that area clean, organized, and dusted from that Mount Pleasant dust that never seems to go away.

Now my room and books will be much more organized and clean and I won't be the one doing all the work. My students are excited about the extra responsibilities that they can perform in the classroom. Everything is good. Now my kids at home are wondering about all those numbers I am putting around the house!

Teachers need inspiration. You can even call good teaching an art. So I'll let you steal from me, but just expect me to steal from you!

“Good artists copy, great artists steal”
Pablo Picasso

"every poet is a thief"

Monday, March 17, 2008

Keep this Book within Reach

Today was St. Patrick's Day so I introduced my class to a new poem. Actually it is an old Irish poem from the 14th century:

The Irish Dancer

Ich am of Irlaunde.
Ant of the holy londe
Of Irlaunde.
Gode sire, pray ich the,
For of saynte charite,
Come ant daunce wyth me
In Irllaunde.

I had them try to read it on the board and figure out the old English. Then I read it out loud. The class even enjoyed my poor Irish accent. The class then enjoyed reading it together. It is a simple invitation and I showed them a translation:

I am of Ireland
And the holy land
Of Ireland
Good sir, I pray thee,
For holy charity,
Come and dance with me
in Ireland.

Tonight they are going to find out what country there ancestors or family comes from. They are to ask what sports, dance, or fun things that people do in that home country. They can also find out what that country is like.

Tomorrow they will spend a few minutes writing invitation poems of their own. They will tell where they are from, and invite someone to their land, where they can have fun doing something traditional in that place. For those who finish, or did not ask their parents the homework questions, they can simply write about any place they have been, or lived, or even wanted to be from. I know their poems will be easy to write and come out wonderful. How do I know? Because I have done this poem many times with different classes through the years and it is a fun and easy way to write a playful poem.

I got this poem from a book that is the most useful (and most used) book out of all the books on teaching that I have read. I first used it when I taught 7th grade more than 20 years ago and it is the one book that I know where I always keep it and (sorry) I will never lend it out lest it get lost! It is Kenneth Koch's, "Rose, Where did you get that Red? Teaching Great Poetry to Children"

The author takes great and classic poems and introduces them to children, giving them a hook, idea, or theme to start them writing their own poems. My classes through the years have been introduced to William Blakes, "The Tyger" in which they, too, ask questions of an animal in their own poems. What fun it is to introduce 4th graders to one of the most famous poems in the English language:

Tyger! Tyger burning bright
In the forests of the night.
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?"

We talk about glowing cats and dogs eyes caught in the headlights of a car when we read"

In what distant deep or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes.

We consider the twisting of the sinews of the tyger's heart as it is being made.

And when thy heart began to beat...

We stick are hands over our ears and listen to the rhythm and pounding within our own bodies."

As we contemplate who could create such a being as a tyger, what boy doesn't love the lines:

"What the hammer? What the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

Then I always ask for ideas on these lines which appear to defy an easy explanation. It also lets the kids think up their own interpretations:

When the stars threw down their spears
And water'd heaven with their tears...

We have a fun time analyzing the poem. We look at a Calvin and Hobbes comic that references the poem with a question about "flaming felines" and also other poems and books that take off on "The Tyger". But the most fun comes when kids learn that they can write their own poems. Kenneth Koch gives many ways to quickly and easily make a poem accessible to children when most adults may have trouble getting meaning from the poem. In the student poems the class is asked to imagine if they could speak the secret language of an animal and ask it a question in a style like William Blake used. Don't have your students worry about length or rhyme but instead work on the inspiration and creativity.

For the past two years I have used William Carlos Williams poems to introduce my class to words, phrases, sentences, paragraph form and poetry form (I describe it as writing without rules: the kids like that they can make up their own rules about how a poem looks and is written- a small act of writing rebellion in their school which is a place where writing is usually full of rules).

The Locust Tree in Flower






At first the class can't believe this is a poem. Then they see that some words might be missing or that the words can be put together in different ways. We then go out to the playground to look at one of the old oaks and they write phrases describing what they see. We come back to the room and list them on the board. Then we pick words from the lists and write a class poem (like jigsaw puzzle pieces all scrambled up with many pieces missing). We make up our rules: use 13 words (set up as 3,3,3, and 1) with one word per line. Instead of "Among" we might use a preposition like under or above and we try not to let the poem make sense by having full phrases in our poem. After just a few minutes the class has written a poem and they are now ready to try writing their own poems that capture a small moment of beauty in just a few words on a page.

We use "Between Walls" to talk about phrases.

the back wings
of the

hospital where

will grow lie

in which shine

pieces of green

They then write poems about something that can be seen as beautiful even if most people would not see it that way.

We then get into writing sentences and comparing that to poetry form. I show the class a mock up of a note left by someone:

"This is just to say I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast. Forgive me. They were delicious, so sweet, and so cold."

They are not impressed. Then I show them the famous poem:

This Is Just to Say

I have eaten the
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Same words! Just reorganized into a different layout. I teach them the difference between paragraph form and poetry form (make up your own rules). Then they write an apology: telling someone they are sorry for doing something, even though they may have secretly enjoyed the act! The class like being a big subversive in their apology!

The book is full of great poems from great poets: Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, John Donne, among others as well as poems in other languages and from different parts of the world. They all include ways to get your students thinking about poems and writing their own poetry. It is inspiring just to read through the great poems time after time and learn some more about them and to enjoy the poems that children wrote based on these poems. The title of the book is based on "The Tyger" as one student asks a rose, "Rose, where did you get that Red?" I wish I had more time to try a greater variety of poems with my classes.

The key to using the book is to make connections with the curriculum. Does a poem fit in some way with a story you are reading? Can you teach the writing of questions with "The Tyger" or about paragraph form with "This is Just to Say"? Rather than valentines can your kids write friendship oaths base on this ancient Chinese poem:

Shang Ya

I want to be your friend
For ever and ever without break or decay.
When the hills are all flat
And the rivers are all dry,
When it lightens and thunders in winter,
When it rains and snows in summer,
When heaven and earth mingle-
Not till then will I part from you.

My class writes friendship poems that promise everlasting friendship (or until something happens that really never will happen- "when pigs fly"). Sometimes we pretend we are on the top of some ancient mountain in China and the students recite their poems to their friends.

The book is full of inspiration and you don't have to be a great poet to write poetry. I write spur of the moment poems to model the writing process to my class. I have fun. The kids laugh. They can often write a lovely poem in minutes and some students can write many poems in a short time before they find the one makes them really proud.

Of course if you enjoy teaching using this style of teaching, you will have to check out "Love that Dog" by Sharon Creech. It is one of my favorite children's books and it is basically a journal a boy keeps as he learns to write poems based on great and classic poems and how he learns to tell his teacher something important that happened to his dog.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Remembering the Buzz

I had completely forgotten about an easy game that I used to play with my class. Recently, after a couple of years without play, I recalled the game and started playing it again during morning meetings. You know that you have found a good game to play when the class asks to play it and that is what is happening in my room. The game is called "Buzz" and it only takes a few minutes to play a round. It works like this. The class is sitting in a circle. I announce a number that the class cannot say-let's use 9-and they have to say the word "Buzz" instead of anything to do with the number 9. As we go around the room counting to 100, no one may say the number nine (they can't say 9, 19, and up to 91 because these number contain a 9 in them. They may also not say a multiple of 9 such as 9, 18, 27, and up to 99. After a couple of days I told them that they could not say numbers whose digits equaled 9. They would say Buzz instead of 45 because 4 plus 5 equals 9.

Part of game may sound like this...
Buzz (3+6=9)
Buzz (cannot say the 9 in 39)
Buzz (45 is a multiple of 9; also 4+5+9)
Buzz (cannot say the 9 in 49)
and so on up to 100.

It gets fun when they hit 88, Buzz, Buzz, Buzz...Buzz, 100 (can't say the 9 in ninety something) Try to keep track as they go around in a circle!

I give the kids time to think if they need it and go back a few people and try again is someone didn't quite get one correct. This way a few kids are thinking if they got their number right or wrong because they don't know who made the mistake. Sometimes I offer clues to students who need them. I know that some teachers play the game as an elimination game and point to students randomly instead of going around in a circle but for my class I like to keep everyone involved.

I also do a mini-lesson before starting the game. I may go over the multiples of 9 up to 81 and then help them rediscover one of the many 9 patterns. I also may go over the multiples of numbers greater than the ones they are familiar with and teach them mental math strategies to help them find a multiple. So when going over 9 for the first time all of the multiples may have been written on the board before beginning the game and the class is more attentive because it may help them when playing. I do erase all clues before game play though.

Last week we reviewed square numbers and used them in a game of Buzz. You could do the same for prime numbers if you wanted. I do like to the students to tell me why the buzzed a number and other than that we have a lot of fun with the game. It is great math and thinking practice and it helps the class with concentration skills as well as reinforcing the need to pay attention. If you haven't tried Buzz with your class yet, set aside a few minutes and let them have some fun while doing math. It sure beats giving them a basic facts worksheet!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Blazeman, Lou Gehrig, and Fulfilling a Dream

In fourth grade, one story that we enjoy reading is a retelling of baseball great Lou Gehrig's story from "The Luckiest Man" by David Adler. The fourth graders learn that Lou Gehrig was nicknamed "The Iron Horse" because he played 2130 consecutive baseball games over 15 years before succumbing to ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) which is often called Lou Gehrig's disease. We learn how upon retiring from baseball he gave a speech where he called himself, "The luckiest man on the face of the earth."

Living and accepting his fate with great dignity and grace is noteworthy to the class, but I felt it was still hard for them to get a grasp of a disease like ALS. So for the past two years I have introduced my students to another compelling story of an athletic hero who faced ALS with the same positive characteristics as Lou Gehrig. John Blais, Blazeman, was a teacher in Rhode Island who dreamed of competing in the Ironman Triathon. While training for the world famous Hawaii Ironman Triathlon he found out that he had ALS. Blazeman decided to do the race despite the disease, which was already starting to make his fingers useless and starting in on his larger muscles. He decided to go on with the 2005 Ironman and said that if he couldn't countinue running he would roll until he crossed the finish line.

Blazeman completed the race and you can see the inspiring video from the NBC show right here. Ladies get out your tissues!

The class watches this video and learns about John Blais. They also learn that an Ironman is a long race (2.4 miles swimming, 112 miles biking, and a full 26.2 mile marathon) and that they better not mess with Mr. Hansen because he has completed 5 Ironman distance triathlons himself! I also tell them how I briefly met John's dad in Rhode Island. He was handing out brochures for a race in honor of his son, so I told him my class was reading a story about Lou Gehrig and ALS. When he mentioned, through teary eyes, that his son just completed the Ironman, I remembered watching that son months earlier on TV. That is when I first decided to introduce my class to John Blais.

To show the devestation of ALS, I follow up with a video of John Blais one year later at the 2006 Hawaii Ironman. ALS had confided Blazeman to a wheelchair and he could barely stand. Another athlete had taken up Blazeman's challenge and ran the race in his place as part of a "War on ALS". In honor of Blazeman, Brian Breen "rolled" across the finish line. Blazeman died just a few months after the 2006 Triathlon was filmed.
Now whenver an Ironman Triathlons is held anywhere in the world many triathletes will roll across the finish line in Blazeman's memory and one dedicated competitor will wear his number #179.

You can see Blazeman in these videos. I have my own clip of the parts I want to show the class that I put together on my computer, but I can only find the whole Ironman race online (in 9 parts). Here are just the clips about Blazeman and Brian Breen.

The introduction to the Ironman is here. Great start... "You can learn a lot about life on the big Island of Hawaii." John Blais is revisited at about 2:45 minutes.

You can view more on John Blais and Brian Breen here at 2:30 and again at 7:30.

And then continue with the inspiring finish here:

My class learns to appreciate Lou Gehrig and his remarkable speech even more as they see the effects of ALS on John Blais. They also learn the triumph of the human spirit and as Blazeman says, "to learn to live life to the fullest." I also give a name to Blazeman's spirit when I tell the class that when life gets them down they should learn to "roll with it". Last year I also used two of my other favorite athletic stories to even further dramatize that point. They learn about Julie Moss and her crawl to the Ironman finish line in 1982. I watched this on TV in 1982 and was so inspired that I became an Ironman finisher myself within a year even though I had no prior competitive biking or swimming experience. At this point, I told the class, "if life is getting you down "crawl" if you have to, but don't quit!"

Finally, I told the class about the 2004 Olympic Marathon in Athens where the race leader, Vanderlei de Lima from Brazil, is tackled by a protesting fan. He later is passed twice by other competitors (they probably would have passed him anyway) before finishing as the bronze medalist. The remarkable thing with this runner was how he finished the marathon. He entered the stadium with his arms outspread soaring like an bird or an airplane fully celebrating like a happy child to the finish. He didn't give up when the unthinkable happened (being tackled and pushed off the course) but instead "soared" to the finish line. He never complained or made excuses for his finish either. So I tell my class that when life gets rough or things don't happen as they planned them to; they can "roll", "crawl", or "soar" but they should never give up. (Sometimes you even have to make a 23 mile walk home when you lock your keys in a car! I have to force myself to listen to my own messages every once in a while!)

Unfortunately I can't find an online video of this finish, but I do have it on my computer if you want to see it sometime!

Here is another great tie in with the Lou Gehrig story:

When reading about Lou Gehrig and his consecutive streak and his successor "Ironman" Cal Ripkin, who is also introduced in the Scott Foresman book, we read the full text of each man's "retirement" speeches and watch videos or listen to audio of the speeches. I also do the same with Babe Ruth's speech. Then they choose one speech (or parts of a speech) to practice and read. Finally they are recorded reading the speech. I use a Karaoke microphone I have that has special effects so that they can sound like they are reading the speech in a stadium and, if they want, the tone of their voice can be lowered so that they sound like old men giving speeches. This is a lot of fun and very motivating to the class. I was surprised that some students had even memorized the speeches before performing them!

Finally to fulfill a dream:

5 years ago I read about a software program, Visual Communicator, that would allow students to create "newsroom" quality presentations. It is program where you can import images, movies, and written material and then you can create the background behind a presenter (using the green screen) so that it looks like the person being filmed (by a video camera hooked up to the computer) is in front of the picture that is really "in" the computer (like how the TV weatherman does the weather. The script to be read is scrolled by the computer (working like a teleprompter) so that the student can read their report while being filmed. Meanwhile prior to the filming; pictures, movies, labels, music, background, and other parts are all dragged and dropped next to the words on the teleprompter where and when you want them to appear in the presentation. Really it sounds complicated but once you get it going it is simple. When it is ready a student clicks "record" on the computer and reads the speech and all the "magic" happens inside the computer. When done they click "stop". If they make a mistake they can rerecord it. When they like it they can view their "newsroom" presentation and then save it for posterity.

I bought the program 5 years ago and then bought a computer and the proper video card that is needed to run the software. I brought it in to school each day for a week to see how easy it was and my class made a "Weather Alphabet" video report. Then so it wouldn't break I left my computer at home. The school's computers are not powerful enough nor do they have the correct video card or slot to run the camera and program. The school system does not fund purchases like this anymore either. So I sat on my dream for 5 years and no presentations, reports, or broadcasts were made!

At Christmas time, I saw a company was selling refurbished computers that I thought would work. I bought one. It didn't. So I transferred all my home computer stuff to that computer and brought my home computer to school. Getting the program running proved an enigma to me. For almost two months I fiddled with it and bought new parts and fiddled some more until finally after buying a new sound card I got it working!

The first project my class is doing is the story of John Blais. We used sentences written in a vocabulary activity about John Blais to write a script, used pictures off the internet, and included one of John Blais's poems in the story. It came out to be about a 2 minute presentation. What is so fantastic is that I can walk away as students record (after practice- and boy do they practice reading to get it right!), view, and then save their presentation. Most kids are done in 5-10 minutes and everyone gets to record their own video presentation using the same script. After 5 years I was thrilled with how easy our first project was! Now I don't advise everyone to go out and start using a computer setup like this (because I don't want to troubleshoot for you!). And you may then ask, "What is so simple about all this Lou Gehrig stuff that you are doing Mr. Hansen? After all this is the 'Simply Teaching' blog and this sounds very complicated!"

Well the simple truth is the best teaching you can do is when you are enthusiatic about what you are teaching. Try to find connections with the stories your class is reading and with the other lessons that you do in school, so that you can expand on your student's learning and get them interested in "interesting things"! And then have lots of fun with it all!

Live…more than your neighbors.
Unleash yourself upon the world and go places.
Go now.
Stay out past dark and bark at the moon like the wild dog that you are.

Understand that this is not a dress rehearsal.
This is it…your life.
Take it all in.
Yes, every chance you get…come close.
And, by all means, whatever you do…get it on film.

-Jonathan Blais, aka ALS Warrior Poet

Monday, March 10, 2008

Taking Attendance: Making it Meaningful

Here is a simple strategy that can be used during morning attendance to make it easy to practice facts. Currently my class is learning the states and capitals: not for a test or quiz but just for fun. I started off a few weeks ago by giving each of them a capital city. They had to figure out for which state it is the capitol. Then when I read their name for attendance. They said the capital and the state. For example, "Concord is the capital of New Hampshire." Then the class repeated it. After a day of two of practice, they only give the name of the capital city when I call their name. The class responds with the same full phrase, "Boston is the capital of Massachusetts." Then the class repeats it again for those who missed it the first time. After a couple of weeks (and you can change the rules- sometimes I have them list the state and the class repeats the phrase starting with the capital city) I add a second city for each person. Eventually a third state is added until all 50 states are covered. In 5 minutes a morning for about a month the class becomes familiar with the names of all the states and their capitals.

I also use this strategy for math facts. While reviewing multiplication facts each student repeats their fact while letting me know that they are present and the class solves the fact. It is a simple repetitive way for all students to practice their facts and it allows students to feel that they "own" a certain fact. Multiplication facts can be turned around to division facts some mornings for a bit of a challenge.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Four Square: a Simple Way to Improve Test Scores and Write with More Detail

A couple of weeks ago the Mount Pleasant fourth grade team met with Mrs. Bozek to go over the recent NECAP test results. There are many written response questions on the test where students have up to a whole page to fill in an answer. Despite all the training and strategies that we had gone over with students in order to prepare them for the test, we all noted that during the test many students only wrote simple one line responses in their test booklets. Nine students who are now fourth graders missed achieving the next level on their tests by just one point. We discussed how these questions can be worth 4 points each and were graded as 1 point per valid detail. Our students were giving a correct answer and then moving on thinking their work was done, instead of providing more details that would garner them additional points. We discussed how we need to impress upon them the idea that they need four responses for these questions. We played around with ideas and came up with a plan that we call the "Four Square" strategy after the popular playground game.

We decided to train students to draw a small foursquare game board on their page to plan out four details before answering a question. They could put words, phrases, pictures, or page numbers in each square. They would learn to value giving more detailed answers when writing and hopefully learn a technique to earn more points when taking a test.

I immediately wanted to introduce the technique to my class, so the next morning as they arrived in the class they were prompted to redraw a 4square box on a paper and to list one positive descriptive adjective for themselves in each box. At morning meeting time they brought their pages up and handed them in. I read them anonymously and tried to see if anyone could identify the person I was reading about. Sadly many children didn't have even 4 adjectives down and many were simple words like "nice". Something needed to be done, so I changed gears and changed the assignment. This time I said a student's name and the classmates gave me 4 different adjectives to describe that student. We were able to talk about the difference between "rich" adjectives" and "cheap" ones (like nice). Everyone wanted their turn and we quickly made it through everyone in the class. I wrote down for each person their 4square chart so that they could keep and reflect on it. Strangely enough one adjective was repeated for every boy and one for every girl. Each girl was "beautiful" and every boy was "active".

After being introduced to the 4square chart we started using them in language arts activities. Many questions in the Scott-Foresman curriculum lend themselves to this strategy. The mid point and end of story questions are perfect and many of the "test prep" questions are the ideal setup for such a stategy. At first I had the students prepare answers on a 4square chart with partners. Then we discussed the answers and wrote out how an answer would look on the whiteboard together. After practice they started doing this on their own. After three days of practice they were ready to write out an answer on their own using the method. I found they gave much more detailed answers and spent more time reflecting on writing a good answer rather than just getting the question over with. Of course, you would need to find a question with 4 or more details that students can find, although you could also tell them to put an X through one square if only 3 details were available for an answer.

This stategy can be introduced at all grade levels during many lessons and activities. We just need to emphasize that 4square is a valuable technique. I think that if we do it well and the kids catch on, we can see a large increase in our scores on the NECAP tests!

UPDATE: The next time (Fall 2009) the students at Mount Pleasant School took the NECAP test, the school passed the reading portion of the test for the first time in years!!! Hopefully they will continue to improve their test scores through using the four-square method and all the other techniques that the teachers at Mount Pleasant are so good at teaching.

The Joys of Boredom

"I am bored," is not a phrase we like to hear from students or our own children, and it is certainly not a phrase that we like to utter ourselves. Carolyn Y. Johnson of the Boston Globe contends that surprising things can happen when one is bored. She writes that:

"We are most human when we feel dull. Lolling around in a state of restlessness is one of life's greatest luxuries -- one not available to creatures that spend all their time pursuing mere survival. To be bored is to stop reacting to the external world, and to explore the internal one. It is in these times of reflection that people often discover something new, whether it is an epiphany about a relationship or a new theory about the way the universe an essential human emotion that underlies art, literature, philosophy, science, and even love."

It is all about the busyness of the "connected" world and life today. From electronic media to over stimulation, over scheduling, and instant gratification. We are all on the fast track to a place where free time is nonexistent and when we do find it we "plug in" instead. As teachers we try to use each moment in the day to keep kids busy and learning (or should I say busy "or" learning?)and we fail to understand the need for everyone to sit back and reflect and be bored (although our students will tell us otherwise). It reminds me of one of the best books I have read on education, Chip Woods "Time to Teach, Time to Learn
Changing the Pace of School
". In it he shows shows, "How changing the way we use time will transform our schools from the "fact factories" they have become into the democratic communities of learning which they can and should be, schools in which the pace of the day encourages investigation, contemplation, completion, and community."

There needs to time in every one's day to be bored in order to be human.

If you are feeling a little bored it might be best to go play in the sandbox, just like those little kids do! You can see a video of "Phun" a 2D Physics Sandbox that you can download for free if you have some time to kill on your hands.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A New Question for my Class

I had a new question to ask my class on Monday. Every few weeks I ask them, "What year will you start attending college?" Of course I want to impress upon them the importance of earning a high school diploma and that they should set their sights on attending college. I also related to them the many reasons that college is important. It is not only fun, but stimulating, and necessary for their future welfare. They all can answer, "2116" to my question.

I decided that getting to college wasn't the only goal for my students to have. They had to graduate too. We looked at a poster I made of educational opportunities that listed the choices they had before them: dropping out, high school diploma, GED, certificate programs, junior colleges, vocational training, and community colleges and the fact that in two years they could earn an Associates degree. Then I talked about colleges that offer 4 year Bachelor degrees. We further talked about continuing ones education with Graduate schools and earning Master's degrees and Doctorate degrees. They learn that just because it is called a doctorate degree and a person with this degree is called Dr. that one cannot perform surgery. One can get an advanced degree in many different fields. My brother and a sister both have a doctorate degree but I would want neither to even put a bandage on me!

I also informed them that sometimes kids are not made for college. I am still waiting for a former student to become a mechanic. He will probably be the best mechanic around. He had a profound love of motors and cars and always came to school with stories about the engine or machine he was pulling apart and tinkering with. School was not easy for him but engines where his delight! Other children don't have the chance. I told them about a former student that I ran into a month ago. She is 17 and has a child. The father is in Mexico and she wants to go there to be with him. She has already dropped out of school. I told them that when you are young a baby seems like a lot of fun, but look at all this girl is going to miss out on in her life. That doesn't mean the girl will be a bad parent. I know a few kids in my class whose mom had their first child at 16 years old. It is not always easy for the mom, but one girl in my class is one of my brightest and hardest working girls and her mom is only 26! She is doing a fantastic job with her daughter!

Anyhow this is where the lesson comes in. On I noticed a photo essay called "In the Year 2016: The 30 Fastest-growing Occupations". Seeing that is the year my class would graduate from high school, I thought that I would inform them of the predicted possibilities of professions that may be looking for workers in their coming future.

I printed and cut out all 30 pages of professions. Each page listed and explained the job, listed the present "median" income for the job, explained why the job may be in demand, and listed what type of experience or degree one would need for the job. I then introduced and quickly explained each job and made reference to my poster showing what educational level would be needed to hold such a job. The class noticed a few trends immediately. The highest paying jobs needed at least a college degree or beyond. All of the high paying jobs had to do with numbers and finance or computers and computer systems. I told them they when they get to high school not to poke fun at the "nerds" because one day the "nerds" will be living in the best houses! They also noticed that few jobs were available to dropouts and those that did paid the least amount of money. When I mentioned "manicurists and pedicurists" all the girls got real excited: then the saw the median salary and their job focus started shifting!

Another sad trend was that people in the helping professions: such as from the well educated marriage, family, and substance abuse counselors all they way down to the #2 and #3 fastest rising jobs (and lowest paid) the home-health care workers were paid far less than other comparable jobs. We decided that these were real important jobs that needed special people to fill them, but being helpers does not always pay well, although it sure feels good to help others.

The pages also listed other training: courses, certificates, on-the-job work, licenses, continuing education and so on that a worker may need to have and also the all important "customer service" that many businesses require. We talked about not only do you have to do a job well, you have to be nice when you do it.

It was a fun and interesting excursion that hopefully motivated my class or caused some students to think. One never knows, however, what the kids get out of a lesson like this. But I felt real validated the next morning as I was hanging up the cards on the wall for the class to inspect. The one girl who had been absent during the lesson came over to see what I was doing. She began reading the cards and making comments and noticing some of the same trends that the class and I had explored together previously. She engaged me in a good 15 minutes of conversation about her findings and what it all meant along with which jobs she would be most interested in as she gets older. We had a great conversation.

My new question is this, "What year will you graduate from college?" The stakes have been raised.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Nature Deficit Disorder: Get Those Kids Outdoors!

I was reading an article in U.S. News and World Reports tonight on why kids need to be outside and experience nature. It is based on a short interview with Robert Louv concerning his book "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder". In the interview we learn that "a recent study from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that kids between the ages of 8 and 18 spend an average of 6.5 hours a day with electronic media" such as video games, ipods, computers, and television. Parents are also fearful of letting their kids outside.

He maintains that N.D.D. is not a medical diagnosis, it "describes the human costs of alienation from nature, including diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional sickness. Nature deficit can even change human behavior in cities. Long-standing studies show that the absence or inaccessibility of parks and open space is associated with high crime rates, depression, and other urban maladies." Wow that is a large price to pay for a child's inability or lack of opportunity to "play" in the trees!

Playing in nature can also fill a role in lessening some of the ailments that affect many children today. "Research is powerfully suggestive that there is a relationship between nature exposure and reduced symptoms of ADD, that lack of exposure plays a role in childhood obesity, and that time in nature can help quell symptoms of depression." Not only that outdoors play helps with "increased self-confidence, better body image, and cognitive benefits. Kids who spend more time outdoors tend to do better on testing; they do better on science; they tend to play more cooperatively."

I guess it is time to get children to turn off the electronics, open the doors to the outside world, and enjoy the fun of a childhood spent outdoors. Nothing could be simpler than that!

Books are for Recommending

In our first morning meeting after winter vacation, different students signed up to tell their classmates about something interesting they did over the break. Of course, I signed up and being the biggest in the class, I got to go first.

I told them that I didn't do much (except for driving my children here and there) but I did go to Barnes and Noble to look around and that I brought to class three books that I bought and was reading. I first showed them "Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56" by Rafe Esquith. I told them what a great and inspiring book it was, but the only reason I was reading it was because someone, Mrs. Young, had recommended it to me. I asked them if they ever recommended books to read to their friends or if they ever read books that their friends recommended to them. I let them know that this was a great way to learn about books that they might like.

I then showed them the next book, because I knew they would be intrigued with the subject matter. I had read magazine articles and seen TV shows on Aron Ralston, and even though I knew his story I wanted to read his book. He wrote a book called "Between a Rock and a Hard Place." I told them to scrutinize the cover because they may see something unusual about the cover picture. You may remember the story of Aron Raslton, he was the hiker who went into some canyons for a hike, but never told anyone his destination. As he was climbing over some rocks a large boulder shifted and his arm was stuck between the rock and the wall. With no hope of rescue and no other chance of survival he broke his arm and then cut off his arm so that he could survive. The children then noticed the prosthetic arm that Aron wielded in the cover picture.

The third book I showed them was a running book called "Brain Training for Runners". I showed them this because I told them that I had already written a book report on the book (yes teachers can write reports)-this is on a running blog I recently started. Just as interesting (I hope) is that I informed them that the author of the book, Matt Fitzgerald, and I have already communicated by e-mail (yes- you can easily write to authors through the Internet). Hopefully my sharing gave them some food for thought.

Then I sat back and listened to the fun stories about what my students did over vacation!

Where in the World is Iraq?

Remember the old computer game and TV show called "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego"? Sorry for putting that song in your head! Today I played my own limited version of the game with my students.

Probably in the lifetime of my students, the one foreign country that has been mentioned and talked about the most is Iraq. It's on the news, in the presidential elections, in discussions at home (hopefully) and some students may even have a family member or relative in Iraq. So I tried something today inspired by the book Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56
by Rafe Esquith. I gave each student a blank world map. I told them that I was curious if anyone could locate the country of Iraq on the map (after discussing why it was so important). I told them to put a dot on the country that they thought was Iraq.

I watched as they "scrutinized" (one of our vocabulary words this week) the map. I had to stop the class as 1/2 of them had placed the map sideways as it was printed and I had to orient the map so they could recognize the world. The students started to raise their hands. About four children located Iraq somewhere in Canada, one person had it in Australia, and three had it in South America. Two more had it in Russia and someone else had it in the Sea of Japan. Others found Iraq in Europe, Africa, and the closest anyone came was India.

It was almost lunchtime and I desperately wanted to let them look at a map and find Iraq. But I also knew they might take the maps and see if any adults in the school could find the country. I didn't want to put any of my fellow staff on the spot so I told them we would find Iraq after lunch.

I printed out a fact sheet on Iraq from and cut and pasted the information that was important including some pictures and maps of the country and its place in the world. Mrs. Kluger also donated some extra Time For Kids issues that had information on Iraq and a beautiful full color map that was easier to view.

Then I asked them to find Iraq on the map. Even though we have spent the last couple of weeks trying to draw maps of the states within different regions of the United States (they are having a hard time visualizing and representing the states on a self-drawn map) they still had a hard time locating Iraq. Now the map they were using was very small but with a "keen"(another vocabulary word this week)eye I thought they should find it. It took over 10 minutes for most everyone to find Iraq on the map. They would come check with me and I would say look to the west or east, or I would tell them that had found a bordering country, or that they were in the wrong continet and this presented them with a new challenge to think about as they scanned the maps.

Once they all found Iraq they highlighted the country and I gave them a new blank map. They are now going to see if they can find anyone at home who can locate Iraq on the map. Maybe they can do some "elucidation" (a third vocabulary word, do I get extra credit?) tonight as they clarify Iraq's location with family and friends. This was a fun, short, and surprising lesson.

We need to do more map work to find out where places are in this world. Where in the world...indeed!