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.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Simple Way to View Children's Books

Lookeybook is an interesting and new way to view children's picture books online. You can actually flip through the entire book to get a feel for its contents. The entire book is posted and the site is easy to use. Now you don't have to go to a bookstore or guess what a book is like if you are buying it online. Time Magazine recently rated it one of the 50 best websites for 2008.

To see how it works you can click through this mini book version of "Action Jackson" that was written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan and illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker. This picture book profiles abstract artist Jackson Pollack, concentrating on the period when he created one of his most famous pieces, "Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist)." You can click on the eyeballs to go to the website and see a larger version of the book.

If you feel extremely creative, you can create your own Jackson Pollack picture below. Just move your mouse over the white space and click the mouse button to change colors. Click "enter" to erase and start again. Have fun!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Simple Origami

At the beginning of the school my class has fun learning the art of origami and making paper cranes. We learn the story of Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who developed leukemia after the atom bomb explosion over Hiroshima. Sadako tried to fold 1000 paper cranes after a friend told her that doing so might make her well again. Sadako never completed her task before dying.

My class learns the story through books and a video. Then we learn how to fold paper cranes through another entertaining companion video. Here are printable directions to fold a paper crane. We talk about the math of paper folding. Our first chapter in "Everyday Math" includes work with geometric shapes. In working out the origami cranes we can find many geometric shapes along the way: squares, triangles, rectangles, kites, parallelograms, and others. There are many other educational benefits to working with origami. Once a child creates their first paper crane there is a huge sense of accomplishment!

This site however is about doing teaching in simple ways, so here is a website that demonstrates how to do simple origami. It is called Instant Origami and you might get a kick out of their instant hands-on lessons in origami. It takes origami in a completely new direction. Look for the "instructions" link as it clearly gives you an understanding of everything you wanted to know.

On the Polar Origami site you will find video tutorials on creating origami creations from the beginner iceberg to the more advanced polar bear.

On the related Origami Now site you will get video instruction for making animals from beginner frogs to advanced butterflies. There is an interesting video of "wet-folding" an origami bat. Using wet paper can make more graceful and rounded folds.

A Simple Way to Practice Spelling

studying for your weekly spelling test has never been easier.

I am of the opinion that memorizing lists of random spelling words is not the best way to learn how to be a good speller. Will anyone ever learn all the words in the English language this way? Learning spelling patterns and rules and rule breakers seem to be a much better way to learn the intricacies of spelling. However, I think that the most important thing that a person needs to know related to spelling is that they have to be able to look at their own writing, recognize which words may not be spelled or used correctly, and then know what to do to check and correct their work. This is the done in the editing phase of writing. I don't think memorizing spelling lists really helps us become better editors.

Spelling lists are here however and they are a good indicator of who studies, who are the good spellers, and who has a difficult time spelling words. Is there even a carry over to a student's writing after they have memorized a spelling list? Some teachers even think spelling tests are not necessary. Don't even get me going on those teachers my own children sometimes have had who force the class to copy dictionary meanings for all of their spelling or vocabulary lists each week and other such "busy" work that is always a nightly homework assignment in some brain paralyzing and time-consuming form.

If you do have spelling lists and you have a few students that may need or like some practice with the words you may find Spelling City helpful. A teacher, parent, or child can enter a list of words on the site (or choose lists already posted). Students can take practice tests, be taught, or even play a game based on their words. Words and sentences are read out loud to the student. The human voices are real humans, not synthesized speech. It may be a good confidence builder for a student that needs a little practice to master their weekly spelling lists. Students with computers can use it at home or it can be used in school.

I read this blog entry out loud to myself and found two simple spelling mistakes. I ran the spell checker and found three more. I would have got all five words correct on a spelling test. We do need to have strategies to check our own written work! If anyone finds mistakes in my blog let me know. I could use a few good partner editors!

You can click here to get started on Spelling City. It is a free website.

Learn to spell it right at Spelling City!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

How to Protect Your Lunch

If your lunch is not safe in the teacher's dining room, here is a little trick you might try to keep it safe.

This is from a site called Fun Forever which looks like an interesting place to go if you have some time to spare or if you need to put some creativity back into your life.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

For the Fun of It

Do you remember the guy Matt who did his silly dance all around the world?

Do you remember when I went to Hawaii and tried to play the Tongan drums?

Well in this video Matt plays the drums and dances with Huli Wigmen in New Guinea. You can see how he films a short segment and the video has its funny moments. It is interesting seeing someone else having a hard time playing the drums and following directions. Whatever you do: teaching or otherwise, keep it fun!

Dancing with the Huli Wigmen from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Recognizing Greatness: Write Their Name in the Teacher's Book or Hand them a Flag

This week my class is reading about the Orphan Train Children. Our selection in the Scott-Foresman program is called "Train to Somewhere" written by Eve Bunting. In this story children leave an orphanage in New York City and are taken by train to the Midwest where families greet them and choose a child that they may adopt. The girl telling the story is the last child on the train after all the others have been picked. She is waiting with the hope that maybe her mother will be at the next stop and feels that she might never be adopted.

An older couple arrives at the last stop. The man is tall and stooped. The woman is small and round as a dumpling. It seems they wanted a boy and Marianne is all that is left. The woman starts to say, "Is she all..." but then stops herself and looks at Marianne closely. Marianne sees the woman's face change with a softness in it.

Marianne thinks, "Somehow this woman understands about me. How it felt when nobody wanted me even though I was waiting inside myself for my mother to come. Somehow she understands my hurt."

Last year my class read that section and one of my tough boys raised his hand and said, "Mr. Hansen, that is an example of empathy." I wasn't looking for that but he was right. The previous week we had gone over a poster in my room I had made based on a Responsive Classroom workshop I had previously taken. It has an acrostic for "CARES". I teach the class that we want a classroom that "cares". I want students to be caring, to be assertive, to be responsible, to have empathy for others, and to practice self-control. We had gone over all these words to make sure they knew what they meant. You never know if they listen, but this boy surely did and it was great that he pointed out a situation where a character showed empathy.

Whenever students come up with a creative answer, question, or thought I write it down in my teacher's book along with their name and year. Then when I come upon the comment another year I might say the comment and tell about the child who said it. I tell the class I do this and they get real excited if their comment makes my teacher's book. After all their name will go down in history!

To go along with this story I ask my class if children today are taken to new places to settle due to life circumstances. They think not. I tell them about my in-laws who were children in London during the bombings of WW2 and how they were placed on trains and sent to live with strangers out in the country until the war was over. They know this story if they have read or watched "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe". But that was an incident still too far in the past for my students.

So I tell them about the Lost Boys of Sudan who were brought to America a few years ago after fleeing Sudan for Ethiopia and then to Kenya where they lived in a refuge camp for many years. They enjoy my reading of "Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan."

I tell them and show the front page Boston Globe articles of my sister's family who took in four of the Lost Boys (who have all since moved on to college and beyond).

I tell them of the recent Olympic Games held in Bejing, where a Lost Boy, Lopez Lomong, not only made the USA track team in the 1500 run but was elected by all the athletes on the American team to hold the American flag as the American athletes entered the stadium for the opening ceremonies.

Here is a story on Lopez Lomong and below is a video.

My sister no longer has the four Lost Boys in her home, but last year she took in a high school girl from Burma who was rescued from a life of virtual slavery after fleeing for her safety and life from the Burmese soldiers who took an interest in her. She is now earning high grades in high school in Winchester, MA.

So yes, children today often do leave the places they know and are transported to new places where they might have a chance at a better life. In that new place or country they can find a new life and sometimes even greatness!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

What is Men's Work? What is Women's Work?

This was the question I asked my class to respond to before reading our first reading selection this year. We were reading a story called "A Visit with Grandpa" written by Mildred Pitts Walter. It is excerpted from the book, "Justin and the Best Biscuits in the World". Justin is a boy who doesn't like to do household chores. He thinks they are women's work and he finds them hard to do. His Grandpa takes him to his ranch and shows him that men can do hard work like cooking and cleaning, and also do hard work like "riding fence" on the ranch. Grandpa also teaches Justin about some of the famous black cowboys.

I decided to get my class to respond to the questions, "What is women's work and what is men's work?" before reading the text. I thought their responses were very interesting and I thought I would share them. They wrote these in groups. One group had all boys, one all girls, and the others were mixed. I thought they were going places when I looked to see that a group of girls had listed that women could be "eye doctors" but then then went traditional with "nurses" further on down the list. The lists get very interesting in how the class responded. I am just not sure who they were holding a mirror up to with these repsonses?

I find it funny that I am the one that has to teach these children about gender roles and the fact that women can do whatever the wish to do and that the gig is up for us guys.

Simple Houses

How simple can you go? What does it really mean to get back to the basics? That are lots of things we can simplify, teaching being one of them, but I was astounded when I saw how simple some people are getting when it comes to housing. There are people and companies like the Tumbleweed Tiny House company that make very tiny houses (some less than 100 square feet) for people to live in. I don't know what this has to do with teaching other than I want to keep these companies away from the classroom. My classroom feels small enough as it is!

This is Jay Shafer's tiny 100 square foot house. He is a the founder of Tumbleweed Houses and has been living in tiny homes for over 10 years. You have to see how he takes a shower in the bathroom and if you stick around until the end, you will have find Jay has a really great "guy" reason for living in a tiny house!

A lady in Washington lives in this 84 square foot house.

Notice Dee enjoys reading Harry Potter, but she has to read it outside the house. I think the book is too big to be read inside her house!

Then there is this old woman...

Friday, September 5, 2008

Do You Believe in Me?

An eloquent 10 year old boy named Dalton Sherman addresses 20,000 teachers in Dallas, Texas and asks them, "Do you believe in me?" If you are a teacher and you haven't seen Dalton give his speech then take a few minutes and be rewarded by his words.

Monday, September 1, 2008

A Bill of Rights for Students

Mark Pullen, a third grade teacher in Michigan, has a blog post called The Student's Bill of Rights. He has some good ideas that I wholeheartedly agree with that look at life in the classroom from the student's point of view. After all education is really about the students! To sum up his ideas students have a right to qualified and caring teachers. They have a right to be safe and have their physical needs met throughout the day. They should have at least one unstructured recess period per day and have teachers who do not read from scripts. Students need both challenge and some choice in their studies. They need to be assessed based on their improvements and they need cutting-edge instruction with a focus on current technologies. They also should have an enjoyable life outside the classroom without the burden of too much homework.
He has a thoughtful blog. Check it out!

The First Week of High School and Science at the Olympics: What Do They Teach Us About Creating Success?

Last week my daughter had her first week of 9th grade at Nashua High School South. She worried and prepared herself for the daunting task of being a freshman at a very large school. You could see her wheels turning in anticipation of how she could ever survive in such a school. Well on the third day of school an administrator took it upon himself to make an example of my very shy and quiet little girl.

It seems he didn't like the fact that she had left her food tray in the cafeteria. She had left it with her friends because they were still eating the french fries on her tray. He sent a girl to chase her down and bring her back. He took her ID card while yelling at her and told her to go to his office. She got lost having no idea where the office was and she was again reprimanded for getting there late. By this time she was in hysterics having no idea what was going on or how to get out of this problem that kept escalating. Then the administrator called my wife on the phone to complain about her behavior. My daughter was in complete meltdown at this point and could barely speak to my wife. The administrator then had the nerve to tell my wife that he expects parents to support the school and make sure that students pick up after themselves. He strongly hinted that we were not making the grade as parents. My wife was now shocked and didn't know what to say. What a complete buffoon that man was. I am sure he felt powerful and in control having picked on the smallest and quietest girl he could find in the school and I guess the students at Nashua South know who the "big man" is in charge of things now!

How easy it would have been for this man to gently say to my daughter's friends, "I know that when you are finished eating the fries that you will put your friend's tray away!" That would have solved the "clean-up" issue and we wouldn't have to do damage control all weekend trying to let her know that high school will be OK! In fact now we have the task of trying to get her back into a positive frame of mind about the next four years at this school.

Teachers and administrators there is a much better way to teach and lead children. If you can only get control by berating and bullying students then get out of the profession as you have no business being an educator!

Which brings me to an article called, "SCIENCE AT THE OLYMPICS:Can Neuroscience Provide a Mental Edge?" Maybe you saw the Olympics and American Jenn Stuczynski get berated by her coach on NBC after winning the silver medal in the pole vault. Is this good coaching? According to the psychologists and neuroscientists doing studies on athletes, a quick positive intervention helps an athlete bounce back after a poor performance. Berating an athlete seems to keep an athlete performing poorly. I don't think this is rocket science. Quality educators have known the same thing for years. Guiding is a much more effective approach than bullying.