Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
"Can ants count? Not out loud they can't. Not the way you and I count. But an ingenious experiment conducted in the Sahara suggests maybe ants do count."
Ants use a variety of ways to travel home after their journeys. In the forest, they leave a scent trail. Celestial clues are also used by some ants to help them travel home. One commentor on the article says that desert ants use a polarized light map to help them with their directions. This study looked at desert ants whose scent trail might be lost in the desert. The experiment was simple and is wonderfully explained in this video (if you are squeamish about the little ants realize that in the experiment little ant legs were cut off some ants- although the video is a cartoon-you may not appreciate that fact). Anyhow, interesting things happened when ants were put on little ant stilts or had their legs cut off at the knee. They seemed to count their steps as if they had normal ant legs and never made it home. On stilts they travel too far and with cut off legs, they didn't travel far enough.
The experiment concludes that,
"Ants don't have maps in their heads and don't recognize markers along the route. This experiment strongly suggests that ants do have internal pedometers that allow them to "count" their way home."
I think the video would be interesting for a class to view as the scientific process and thinking is explained in an easy to understand way.
Listen to the story here.
This story reminds me of the Proverb, "Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!"
Well. I guess ants are pretty smart about things, but they still can't compare with a talking horse!
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
I enjoy moving around and learning about how the body moves. If I was going back to college, I would be interested in the field of Kinesiology and I probably would not be interested in the field of education (one lifetime spent teaching is enough!). I like to run and exercise and find the times I am running or working out are the times when I do my best thinking. Sitting still is not something I enjoy doing at all. However, I am a teacher and sometimes I feel that my job is finding ways to get my students to sit still. After all, they are "supposed" to be thinking and working and when do we ever equate movement with either of those in the classroom?
Now comes a study out of the University of Illinois that shows for the first time that how a person solves a problem can be "influenced" by how that person moves. Psychology professor Alejandro Lleras, who conducted the study with Vanderbilt University postdoctoral researcher Laura Thomas, observed that participants who swung their arms were more able to solve a problem whose solution involved swinging strings. This demonstrates that the brain can use bodily cues to help understand and solve complex problems. This experiment shows a link between the body and the mind, something called "embodied cognition." Lleras said:
“People tend to think that their mind lives in their brain, dealing in conceptual abstractions, very much disconnected from the body. This emerging research is fascinating because it is demonstrating how your body is a part of your mind in a powerful way. The way you think is affected by your body and, in fact, we can use our bodies to help us think.”The experiment was fascinating as described here.
The researchers asked study subjects to tie the ends of two strings together. The strings dangled from ceiling rafters and were so far apart that a person grasping one could not reach the other. A few tools were also available: a paperback book, a wrench, two small dumbbells, and a plate. Subjects were given eight, two-minute sessions to solve the problem, with 100 seconds devoted to finding a solution, interrupted by 20 seconds of exercise.
Some subjects were told to swing their arms forward and backward during the exercise sessions, while others were directed to alternately stretch one arm, and then the other, to the side. To prevent them from consciously connecting these activities to the problem of the strings, the researchers had them count backwards by threes while exercising.
You can see short videos of the subjects here:
Participant during a swinging exercise break
Participant during a stretching exercise break
Swing group participant attempting to solve the problem
Stretch group participant attempting to solve the problem
The subjects in the arm-swinging group were more likely than those in the stretch group to solve the problem, which required attaching an object to one of the strings and swinging it so that it could be grasped while also holding the other string. By the end of the 16-minute deadline, participants in the arm-swinging group were 40 percent more likely than those in the stretch group to solve the problem.
"By making you swing your arms in a particular way, we're activating a part of your brain that deals with swinging motions," Lleras said. "That sort of activity in your brain then unconsciously leads you to think about that type of motion when you're trying to solve the problem."
Now I am not sure how this all applies directly to the classroom. As you may have noticed, it was not just any movement that helped the subjects solve the problem. It was a more directed movement that "played into" the solution. The study is fascinating and I was also intrigued by the hint of a previous study by Lleras and his colleagues that has shown that directing a person’s eye movements or attention in specific patterns can also aid in solving complex problems.
However you take the study Lleraa offers some practical thoughts:
“We view this as a really important new window into understanding the complexity of human thought,” he said. “I guess another take-home message is this: If you are stuck trying to solve a problem, take a break. Go do something else. This will ensure that the next time you think about that problem you will literally approach it with a different mind. And that may help!”Read about the study here.
One of the practices I have been applying to my own athletic endeavors is called Z-Health. Z-Health is a joint mobility program that strives to re-educate the nervous system to improve poor movement patterns. I think that this study parallels some of the concepts of Z-Health through its use of precise movement patterns to rewire the nervous system for better performance. I should also note that some Z-Health drills also target eye-movements.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
You can view sample pages here.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
It seems like this entertaining video is based on a similar test that followed young marshmallow eaters or avoiders into their adulthood. Those that were able to delay eating the marshmallow enjoyed greater success in their life, as marked by SAT scores, college attendance, and even debt avoidance. Those are some measures of what makes a successful life and were the measures looked at in the studies. There are other measures of what being a successful person truly means, but I think that it is true that the ability to delay gratification is a skill that is admirable and needed in our "instant" and "self-centered" society.
You can see another video that explains this test more. It is another TedTalks video: this time of motivational speaker, Joachim de Posada,sho is also the author of the book Don't Eat The Marshmallow Yet!: The Secret to Sweet Success in Work and Life.
It is again filled with video of children trying their hardest not to eat the marshmallow. He explains some of the lessons we can learn about the benefits of delaying gratification. He even goes so far as to infer that our country has a problem with, "Eating more marshmallows then it produces."
Friday, October 2, 2009
I have not had enough time to study "play" as much as I would like, but I see the need for playfulness not only in our adult lives but in the lives of our children. I predict that in a few years fitness activities will move away from gyms and machines and we will see more activities being performed in the natural outdoor arena as adults learn to play as they used to when they were children. Some websites already promote this type of natural play and fitness, such as Erwin Le Corr's Movnat (Move Naturally) and Frank Forencich's The Exuberant Animal.
"All the science that we've come up with backs up what we used to do as kids."
As an athlete, I have been challenged to undo the effects of too much running and biking and having to spend years trying to unravel the damage it has done to my body. I am learning that it is not strength training or stretches that is going to rebuild the balance in my body, rather it is a retraining of the brain. I am doing this through Z-Health joint -mobility exercises that target the nervous system in order to produce movement that is more efficient and through Feldenkrais exercises that retrain neuromuscular patterns so that I can move more correctly and naturally. Interestingly enough both movement therapies deal with how the brain relates and controls movements. I am coming to understand how the brain, thinking, and movement are wonderfully connected.
And then we have school!
Students become mini-adults and sit in uncomfortable chairs and work on paper and pencil assignments, many times quietly and by themselves without any movement or fun. Teachers often appreciate the “quieter” and "still" students over those with energy to spare. Then we notice the tendencies of children to act up or lose concentration in many ways as they become bored and restless. I have been challenging myself to find ways to bring play into the classroom as well as movement, without losing the goal of giving my students a superior education. Responsive Classroom activities, greetings, and games bring in some element of play, but it certainly is not enough. The question then is how do we allow and advocate for movement without losing control of a class, particularly when we know that it allows for thinking that is more creative and invigorated minds.
I am still looking. Brain Gym is a program I have heard about that integrates play, movement exercises, and learning. I have not taken the Brain Gym courses, but the movements remind me somewhat of some Z-Health exercises. These movements are supposed to stimulate learning through movement. There are many Brain Gym books such as Hands on: How to Use Brain Gym in the Classroom that I would like to order some day to explore the concept more closely.
I was investigating another Scholastic book earlier this week called Brain Breaks for the Classroom: Quick and Easy Breathing and Movement Activities That Help Students Reenergize, Refocus, and Boost Brain Power-Anytime of the Day! and I may order this one some day, as it seems to be a possible take-off of Brain Gym, but I am not sure. It looks like it may have some good ideas on helping children concentrate and learn better through play and short activity breaks. While I was looking at this book, I noticed another book that I did order and I received it yesterday.
The book, Silly Sports and Goofy Games, contains many games and activities that look like fun and would be useful mainly outdoors. We did play one game as a greeting this morning as we tossed imaginary objects like an egg, a very hot "hot" potato, a slimy snake, and even a Volkswagens at each other. However today was an end of month Fun Friday for the fifth grade at New Searles School so we went outside to a playing field and a group of students hung around with me and played many versions of tag that I found in the book as well as some balance games. My favorite of the balance games we played looks just like one of the games in the Exuberant Animal video above. It was a lot of fun trying out games and there was a lot of laughter and cooperation. I look forward to trying more ideas from this book and finding away to integrate play into the daily work of my 27 fifth graders.
Finally, here is a wonderful and thought provoking TedTalks video presented by a pioneer in research on play, Stuart Brown, called "Why Play is Vital, No Matter your Age." Have fun watching this and then get outside and play!
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Monday, September 7, 2009
Not being one to procrastinate when it comes to teaching, I got the class off to their first project on the first day of school. Fortunately we have been having gorgeous weather in Nashua and that of course meant we had to go outside and study some of the trees in front of the school. Before we did that however we had a lesson that focused in on words and how they can be used (and how to play around with them). I prepared a similar lesson at Mount Pleasant School last year and wrote about it here. Briefly I gave each students all of the words from William Carlos Williams poem, "The Locust Tree in Flower":
The Locust Tree in Flower
The words were not in order. I asked them to make sense out of these words. They could add words if they wanted and could write in phrases, sentences, a paragraph, or even poetry form. When I showed the class the poem they were a little confused as it didn't make sense. I told them my best interpretation of the poem is that William Carlos Williams put the words in a random type of order with some omissions of important words. Upon reading the poem a few times the class matched up some words together and started making some sense of the poem.
I took the class outside and divided them into four groups to study four different trees in front of New Searles School. I told them to write down words or phrases that described the tree and its surroundings. Later upon entering the school, we used the words to create our own poems like "The Locust Tree in Flower". I told them poets are rule breakers and get to write their own rules. The rules I wanted them to follow was to have a title, and a thirteen word poem (one word per line), and to arrange it like Williams' poem 3 words, space, 3 words, space, 3 words, space, 1 word. For homework I had them tear out the paper and colorize each word on each piece of paper. The next day we went outside and arranged the papers on the grass. Fortunately it was another nice day and the papers did not blow away. I took 27 times 15-20 photos for each poem in under 45 minutes and filled up my memory card on the last photo! I did see some students took the "poets can make up their own rules" in their own way and misspelled some words or put more than one word on a line.
The photos will be used to make animoto videos (Digital Poetry) of each student's work. I made a couple of sample videos here. I have a ways to go since the school computers cannot handle this task. However, I think some students may wish to try this at home so for those who choose to do that I will send them the photos.
Animoto is a fun little program. Teachers can sign up for a free account here. It makes professional looking videos that are matched up with music. Each video is unique and can be shared. A free account will let you make videos at home, but they are limited to 30 seconds each. Animoto just announced that you can insert video clips into the videos now, so I went back to the school on Sunday and took a few brief videos of each tree (well one tree was the wrong tree!) and included a video clip in both of the sample videos that I made. The first is Darcy's poem and the second is the poem that James wrote.
Monday, June 22, 2009
I had just got married to Sarah and we moved to Nashua where I promptly crashed my bike, broke my collarbone (ending a five year string of competing in Ironman distance triathlons-1983 version here-at 30 seconds in, I am the very skinny guy standing next to race promoter Dave McGillivray-17 years later I would run the Boston Marathon with him) and forced me to start my public school teaching career with an arm that I could barely lift to write on the lowest part of the chalkboard (note how I hold my arm awkwardly in the picture above). On my first day of school I was greeted by a tough little girl looking up at me and saying, "You can't be a good teacher, because my mom said that men are not good teachers." On that note I started a 21 year run of trying to prove that little girl and her mother wrong.
Just like when I left my first teaching position, the hardest part of moving on is leaving a group of teachers and staff behind. I started at Mount Pleasant teamed up with a little dynamo of a lady named Ceal Roy. I worked with her for many years and she taught me that first of all you have to enjoy your students and have fun in the classroom. We added a new member to our team in the middle of the year seventeen years ago. Nancy Bozek has the best laugh at Mount Pleasant, which she will take to her new school next year. I know she will get more than a chuckle out of this video then I ever will.
Through the years, I have had many other great teammates at Mount Pleasant, including Tim Caster and Caitlin Maynard who joined the staff this year. We have had a lot of fun together and I wish I could continue working with them some more. While they may have been rookie teachers at Mount Pleasant, I learned an awful lot from them. Tim continually makes his students his primary commitment and Caitlin in her first year of teaching not only taught like a veteran and kept the "boys" organized, but she also knows how to have fun with teaching and her students.
When I first started teaching at Mount Pleasant it was overwhelming. I was quiet and reserved hoping that no one would notice that I wasn't sure about what I was doing half the time. One Spring I got a phone call from Sue Porter wanting to know if I would like to teach the ESL summer school with her. I thought it was pretty funny that I would be asked to do this since I couldn't speak another language. She was convinced I would be good for the job and that I didn't need to know another language, so I decided to try it out since she had a bit of faith in me. That started many summers of some of the best teaching moments. We worked hard at creating experiences for the ESL students that were creative, hands-on, and fun. Each week we went on a field trip, cooked or made food, read books, created posters, videos, and computer presentations. Everything we did was tied together in themes and many current Mount Pleasant staff joined us on our many adventures (and misadventures) as fellow teachers or paras during many of those summers. It was hard work, great teaching, and loads of fun. Through those experiences I really became a "member" of the Mount Pleasant family.
The Mount Pleasant staff are really a family. While we often called our school "The Best School in Nashua", I think I can say quite plainly that it is the best group of teachers and staff in Nashua and they have proved that again and again through the years. They have proved that many times for me. When I chose to pursue an opportunity to teach at another school next year, they were very supportive, but also they were the reason I hesitated about leaving. This is the staff that helped make the 2000 Boston Marathon such a wonderful success. When the school district would not allow me to take a personal day to run the race. I decided to run it after my day of teaching. Two carloads of teachers drove me down to the start as soon as school ended and I ran the race with the race director Dave McGillivray (starting 4 hours after the official start of the race). When we finished, there were the Mount Pleasant teachers at the finish line cheering me on. We even made the news that night on the Boston television stations.
On the last day of school that first year at Mount Pleasant, flowers were sent to me by my wife. Sarah was pregnant. The next year, I had to go through a Mount Pleasant baby shower and then my son Andrew was born. Many teachers have watched Andy grow up. On Sunday he graduated from Nashua South and he will be off this Fall to Gordon College. Mount Pleasant played even a bigger part in Andy's life. Andrew attended Mount Pleasant School for his fourth through sixth grades and the staff of Mount Pleasant were beyond supportive when Andy attended here.
I have made many life-long friends at Mount Pleasant and wish to tell the staff how much I enjoyed working with them. When reading a story about Lou Gehrig, I sometimes had my students deliver farewell speeches like Lou Gehrig's speech. Maybe, I should try something like that, but I'm not dying, I am just moving down the road to New Searles Elementary School and I am so excited to get started there and being a rookie at the grade 5 level.
But I would like to thank, all of the teachers and staff at Mount Pleasant. You are the best and filled many days with laughter and friendship. You are great teachers. Earlier this year, I received an award from the Boys and Girls Club of Nashua for Excellence in teaching. I believe that any teacher at the school could have or should have received the same honor. Every teacher has their own style, interests, and strengths as a teacher. However, every teacher puts the students of Mount Pleasant first. While we all teach in different ways, somehow our individual styles meet the needs of the students and make Mount Pleasant such a unique and caring place.
I have always enjoyed my teammates through the years and up on the third floor, where my classroom was located, I always noted the stellar teaching and dedicated staff in the upper grades. I am simply amazed at what goes on in the lower grades. Those people need to be paid more! Teaching children not only how to read, but how to behave and get along with others, so that they be successful in life is such a daunting task. The teachers at Mount Pleasant do it with so much enthusiasm and dedication. No matter what the difficulties, they never seem to give up, but look for new ways to teach.
I am not sure if the students at Mount Pleasant realize how good they have it! The support staff at the school are simply amazing. What goes on in the Title One rooms, the ESL classes, and during reading intervention times is so helpful to building successful students, but it also adds an extra personal layer of support to students that very much need it. Sometimes I would go back at night to work at the school and I would see Special Ed teachers Donna Kenney and Mary O'Doherty still working away to provide the best services to their students. I swear some teachers live at the school. I am always dumbfounded when I bump into them at grocery stores or the mall. I always thought they eat and sleep at the school!
I am always amazed at the quality that the specialists bring to their teaching at Mount Pleasant. I always appreciate the extra support of the wonderful paras that we have at Mount Pleasant. I need to mention the paras that have spent a whole year full time in my classroom through the years. They see exactly how you teach and interact with students day in and day out. I have enjoyed working with Darlene Ledoux, Karen Frasca, and Dee Krammes when they were assigned to my class and I always enjoyed those years when I had such quality help and a good friend in the class.
Everyone at the school it top notch. Why do all the students like to visit Ann Vose? Because she is such a great nurse and a person the kids like to see (some times daily and some times hourly!). The secretaries, Joanne Ritchie and Terry Scarpati, may take time out of their lunches to meet with children. Paula Daneau provides great guidance to those who need it. Linda Morehouse was always showing me new ways to teach reading strategies to my class, that always seemed to reinvigorate my teaching, The entire staff is friendly. Bruce Geer was my principal for most of my years at Mount Pleasant. He was always fair, honest, and encouraging. Plus he was always good for a laugh or a "pat on the back". What more could you want from a principal?
Thanks to all these people for making my years at Mount Pleasant so rewarding. I will miss the staff. I will miss the students. Mount Pleasant has a unique mix of children. Each new year was always different than the preceding year. I will miss seeing children returning (well actually many of them are now adults and parents themselves). Many have gone on to very successful careers. It is always nice, staying in a school and seeing kids return to update you on their lives.
I extend my best wishes to Mount Peasant School, but I do look forward see what else is out there. New Searles Elementary School and the staff there look like a great opportunity for me to expand my boundaries and continue to enjoy my profession of simply teaching!
Here is a animoto video of Mount Pleasant School, that I made last fall.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Here is an animoto video of some of our National symbols, monuments, and landmarks. Take a look at the wonderful lettering on the posters. We tried something new called "word clouds". Maybe you have seen them before on web pages. Students learned how you can make a word cloud on wordle.net and then chose important words from their project to put in their own "word cloud".
Using the "create" screen at wordle.net, you can type in words to make a word cloud, or paste in test or a report. You can also put in the URL of a website. Here are some wordle word clouds based on our blog post on our Benjamin Franklin Museum. They were simply created by pasting the text from the blog page onto the wordle "Create" page. If you don't like the design of your word cloud you can hit the randomize button to create a different version. Here are three different versions from the same words.
I can see many applications for wordle in the classroom. It seems to be an interesting way to introduce important words from or about a story.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Here is an Animoto video of our visit to the New Hampshire State Historical Society. We were investigating everyday things that people used in the past.
Here is an Animoto video of some of the Benjamin Franklin projects my class made for a Benjamin Franklin Museum. We read about Benjamin Franklin in the Scott Foresman story "Out of the Blue" based on the Jean Fritz book, "What's the Big Idea, Ben Franklin?" Earlier in the year I had bought a copy of the book, "Amazing Ben Franklin Inventions" by Carmella Van Vleet and decided to use many of the creative ideas in it with my class. Every student chose a project that was in some way related to Benjamin Franklin. The projects were not difficult and they were fun for the students to make. We displayed our projects and posters as well as presented our projects to the other fourth grade classes. This is the book that is full of ideas, clever projects, and interesting activities. I would like to do this activity again with another class. We were able to learn about all the different activities, ideas, and inventions that Benjamin Franklin was involved with.
I found this book on Amazon and have ordered it. It looks like a perfect companion book for the projects.
One note about this Animoto video. I found a button to slow down the pictures as I did not have that many. It now spends more time on the picture. I like how every Animoto has different transitions and how they always seem so perfect for the pictures.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
"Are we human...or our we dancer?" That is a line from "The Killers" song "Human". I understand that the song was a reaction to a remark once made by the late Hunter S. Thompson, an acerbic journalist famed for “telling it like it is”, often in offensive terms. He had commented that America is nowadays raising a “generation of dancers”. I don't think he meant that in a positive light!Thompson committed suicide in 2005. This song seems to be about people losing their humanity and all being trained to be the same. When it comes to being different or pursuing an "open door" the lyrics go:
I did my best to notice
when the call came down the line
up to the platform of surrender
I was brought but I was kind
and sometimes I get nervous
when I see an open door
close your eyes, clear your heart
cut the cord
are we human or are we dancer
my sign is vital, my hands are cold
and I'm on my knees looking for the answer
are we human or are we dancer
After listening to this speech, I think of "Are we dancers" in a different light. Are we allowing our children to dance to the beat of their own creativity? Our we allowing that particular door to be opened? Or our we and our educational system closing that door to our children in the pursuit of other lofty goals? You will get it when you hear the story about the dancer at the end.
Sir Ken Robinson gave this speech in June 2006 for the TED conference. Here is the introduction from the TED blog.
"Why you should listen to him: Why don't we get the best out of people? Sir Ken Robinson argues that it's because we've been educated to become good workers, rather than creative thinkers. Students with restless minds and bodies -- far from being cultivated for their energy and curiosity -- are ignored or even stigmatized, with terrible consequences. "We are educating people out of their creativity," Robinson says. It's a message with deep resonance. Robinson's TEDTalk has been distributed widely around the Web since its release in June 2006. The most popular words framing blog posts on his talk? "Everyone should watch this." "
This is an entertaining speech that will make you think. Here are some "killer" lines from the speech. There are more, give it a listen.
"And my contention is, all kids have tremendous talents and we squander them, pretty ruthlessly.
So I want to talk about education and I want to talk about creativity. My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status"
I want to hang that one on my classroom wall, or at least write it out and leave it on my teacher's desk to remind me not to "lose" the teaching of creativity.
"I heard a great story recently, I love telling it, of a little girl who was in a drawing lesson, she was 6 and she was at the back, drawing, and the teacher said this little girl hardly paid attention, and in this drawing lesson she did. The teacher was fascinated and she went over to her and she said, "What are you drawing?" and the girl said, "I'm drawing a picture of God." And the teacher said, "But nobody knows what God looks like." And the girl said, "They will in a minute."
I wonder how many kids like this, we miss in our classes as we don't allow them to pursue something passionately.
"You'll never come up with anything original, if you're not prepared to be wrong. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong.
And we run our companies like this, by the way, we stigmatize mistakes. And we're now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make.
And the result is, we are educating people out of their creative capacities."
I actually have had a quote similar to this on a poster I created, up on my classroom wall. "You can't make anything, if you are afraid to make mistakes."
"Picasso once said this, he said that all children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up. I believe this passionately, that we don't grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather we get educated out of it. So why is this?"
I always tell my class, something similar about science. They were all great scientists once before they got to school. They threw their food off the high chair while they ate, to see how gravity worked. It kept working until someone gave them a helium filled balloon! And the questions that little kids ask, "Why? How come? and so forth. Where did they go? Recall how easily a 3-year old studies ants on the ground. I asked my class a week ago, when was the last time they observed ants. It had been a few years! Where did their enthusiasm for science go?
"But something strikes you when you move to America and when you travel around the world: every education system on earth has the same hierarchy of subjects. Every one, doesn't matter where you go, you'd think it would be otherwise but it isn't. At the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and the bottom are the arts. Everywhere on earth.
And in pretty much every system too, there's a hierarchy within the arts. Art and music are normally given a higher status in schools than drama and dance. There isn't an education system on the planet that teaches dance every day to children the way we teach them mathematics. Why? Why not? I think this is rather important. I think maths is very important but so is dance. Children dance all the time if they're allowed to, we all do. We all have bodies, don't we? Did I miss a meeting?
Truthfully what happens is, as children grow up we start to educate them progressively from the waist up. And then we focus on their heads. And slightly to one side."
There are plenty of other great quotes in this video. Wait until you hear about the "dancing" girl. Everyone should watch this.
By the way, I can't dance. Not one step! I have to be the world's worst dancer!
Here is a more recent post by Sir Ken Robinson about not just reforming education, but transforming it.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Here is an Animoto video of our field trip.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Brain Bashers is a collection of brain teasers, puzzles, riddles, games and optical illusions. With thousands of brain teasers and puzzles, over one hundred awards, BrainBashers is updated with optical illusions and games regularly and has 5 new puzzles added every other week. It looks like a fun site to go to when you have a few minutes and want something fun or challenging for your class (or a students to do).
Monday, April 20, 2009
Saturday, April 11, 2009
I have started putting some of my class projects on a different blog: Simple Show and Tell.
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Here is a five minute song to help you think about things you can fix in a short period of time.
Here is my quick list:
Things I Can Fix in 5 Minutes
1)my messy desk
2)putting a smile on my face
3)I can say encouraging words to someone who needs them
4)mistakes in my writing by reading it outloud as I edit
5)the grand "rush" through the curriculum by slowing things down so students have time to think and process what is being taught
6)allowing more time for students to share
7)cutting down on things that clutter
9)greeting each student every morning
10)taking time to go over a problem when a student doesn't get it
Things I Can't Fix
1)a student's home situation
4)my bad jokes
5)traffic on the way to school
6)the amount of television watched, video games played, or types of movies that parents allow
7)the language a family uses or allows at home
8)the current emphasis on testing in the schools
9)lack of modern and up to date technology in my classroom
I have to think more about this. It could be used as an interesting lesson in my class.
UPDATE: Here are some of the ideas generated by my students. Some were serious. Some were humorous.
Last week I attended a function honoring local teachers at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Nashua. One of my current students had nominated me for an award which I was honored to accept. I had a nice dinner with this student and his mom and older brother and sister. We watched staff members from the Club (including a former student of mine) dance with high school club members in a sort of "Dancing with the Stars" performance of dances they had been practicing. Then teachers were honored with their awards. It was a very nice evening. I even saw a student from my class last year recieve an award for excellence. It was gratifying to see him continue to do the right things to better himself. Unfortunately he left before I could congratulate him and since he is at a different school this year I would have very much liked to talk with him. I very much enjoyed this event put on by the Boys and Girls Club.
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Imagine, if you will, that you taught in a school that was deemed a "failing school" due to low scores on a state test. Imagine if your school now had to undergo state mandated restructuring in order to make the school a more productive school, you know to "Get those test grades up!" I was thinking about just this sort of question and I came up with a simple change that would make it easier to actually teach students in such a school. This is just my quick outline of ideas. In real life no one has actually asked me what I would do in such a situation, but if they asked this is what I would say. Would it allowed? Probably not, I am sure there are some governmental rules that would disallow these easy changes, but here is my simple plan anyway.
One of the biggest problems getting children from non-English speaking backgrounds or from poverty to achieve success in school is to get them to learn to read. They must learn how to read at grade level too, so a lot of attention in the early years is spent on intervention of all sorts to give these kids a chance at being good readers. Unfortunately to give them the extra support they need, they are often taken out of the regular classroom and they miss many lessons: like math, social studies, and science lessons. As they try to catch up in reading they fall behind in other subjects. What if they were good in math but now miss out on math lessons? What if science is the one subject that would attract their attention, but they always miss the science lessons? Well teachers are supposed to "catch them up" but when?
There are five specialist classes where kids are never allowed to be pulled from: art, music, gym, computers, and library. Now I agree that the arts and gym are important in the education of all children and should never be abandoned from the curriculum. But it is silly to think that we protect these classes and instead have kids pulled from academic classes (where the teachers are held accountable to teaching so that students can pass the state tests) because we do not protect these subjects.
Now let's suppose our imaginary school that needs to be restructured has a wonderful after-school program with sports, music, and art activities that children can choose to participate in daily. Here is what I would do. In the "school in need of improvement" restructuring process, I would simply extend the school day for an hour or more. Any child who is not up to grade level in reading and needs the extra intervention time would not participate in the daily specialist classes. During that specialist time that student would work with the support staff and do all the things that the support staff do so well. The students who need intervention would then not miss the other subjects being taught by the classroom teacher. These students would then get their "specialist time" after school by participating in the after school offerings. In may not seem fair to miss the standard specialist classes but now the students have an incentive to work harder to achieve the scores necessary to rejoin their classes during this time. Students who do not need the intervention can go home at the standard end of school time, but are just as welcome to participate in all the after school activities.
I know the government probably has rules against something like this, but it is the government rules who say these kids are "failing" in the first place. Why not have a simple solution that would be easy to implement in any school. But then again, I am not the boss, I don't make the rules, and I don't get asked for my ideas about how I would create a better school. If I were able to restructure a school, this is where I would start.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Michael Brindley writes concerning the theme of the book:
"Education has transformed into a warehouse where students are being pushed through scripted, test-driven schools with no room for creativity or imagination from teachers.
Welcome to the machine."
I was a district curriculum meeting today and after I made a light-hearted comment I was called, also in a light-hearted way, a "troublemaker". At the conclusion of the meeting I stated that I am very curious and like to think about what I teach and what I am being asked to teach. I do enjoy being part of the conversation about education, after all it is a major part of my life. I was told that I had been asked to be on the committee because I am a "dissenter". At which point the silly labels were getting a little strange. I always thought I was a nice enough guy, but now I seem to be some type of "bad boy". If I am to be a part of the educational machine, I certainly want things explained to me and I will ask questions to try to get some meaning out of where the educational world is going. I don't think there is anything bad in that. In fact, the asking of questions and ensuing conversations should be valued and not criticized.
I look forward to reading this book, maybe I will find a kindred "dissenter" and "trouble-maker" in Thomas Newkirk. Most importantly, I hope to also find some some serious wisdom that can add to the ongoing conversations about how to best engage and educate our children.
Another review of the book "Rage against the machine, professor tells teachers" quotes Thomas Newkirk...
"‘Holding On to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones’ is for every teacher whose good, humane, and sensitive ways of teaching literacy are threatened by rigid, mechanical programs. It is for teachers who feel they are losing control of their daily work."
"What I see happening is the mechanization of teaching. Teachers are told to teach to the test and pay more attention to research results than to their classroom experience. Instead of treating teachers like professionals capable of determining what is best for the individual learning styles of their students, we have created a system in which teachers and students are caught in a machine that they can’t control. Ultimately this is counterproductive because teaching to the test is not learning and it puts kids in the humiliating situation of being in a punitive system."
In the book, Thomas Newkirk presents six ideas worth fighting for:
- Increase the instructional emphasis on writing to reflect the reality that producing text is more important than ever.
- Help students access deep knowledge and expand their thinking through time to write freely.
- Build strong connections between school learning and the real world by teaching with popular culture.
- Propel the development of reading skills by helping students discover the pleasure of reading.
- Provide the time and space for meaningful, long-lasting teaching and learning by uncluttering the curriculum.
- Spark professional growth and avoid stagnation by discussing failure and uncertainty with colleagues.
Notice the last one. Discussion is good! I don't always agree with what I hear, if I hear anything at all, about all the new directions that education is taking. I have a desire to discuss and know more. It is not "trouble-making" to ask for honest conversations. The art of good teaching and the joy of learning can easily get lost in the rush to improve test scores. Particularly if we just follow that path blindly. I look forward to reading the book after reading Michael Brindley's reviews and the editorial reviews on Amazon.com.
In checking out the book on Amazon, I noticed another interesting book by Thomas Newkirk. I am ordering this also, so I can get free shipping! It is called "Misreading Masculinity: Boys, Literacy, and Popular Culture". This sounds like an interesting read about an educational subject close to my heart: the way we teach boys in our elementary schools.
Friday, March 20, 2009
So where are the male teachers? The article claims that nationwide only 17 percent of elementary school teachers are male. I wonder if that includes gym teachers and other non-classroom teachers in the percentages. It seems high to me. In my 21 years at Mount Pleasant School there have never been more that two male classroom teachers at a time in the school and often I have been the only male classroom teacher in the entire school. In fact when teachers have been brought together from different schools for grade level meetings, I have often found myself alone in a room full of 30-50 females or maybe with one or two other guy teachers. Last year I went to a conference for teachers at Reading First schools in New Hampshire to hear Isabel Beck speak. As I looked around at the approximately 200 teachers in the audience, I saw Mr. Geer, the principal of my school, another male administrator, and no other male representatives. I was the only male classroom teacher in attendance.
According to the article there are various reasons why men don't teach in elementary schools: the economics of teaching (the pay is not enough to entice men to the job), the nurturing aspect of teaching (the article claims that this is what draws women to the job- however some of the most nurturing teachers I have met have been men), or the feeling that men who want to work with children are looked at suspiciously. This article gives another interesting, surprising, and historical reason why there are fewer male teachers. Whatever the reasons:
The small number of male teachers, especially at the elementary school level,
"is a problem in the same way we don't have enough minority teachers for kids to
connect with," said Jeanne Harmon, executive director of the non-profit Center
for Strengthening the Teaching Profession.
"It's a big problem when kids
don't see themselves reflected in the teaching staff."
benefit by seeing more men in the classroom, and for some students, especially
those from single-parent homes, a male teacher at school might be the only
positive male role model in their lives, she said.
I do know that there are a lot of men out there who would like to be teachers. I have been told by many "burned-out at their jobs" male friends that they wished they could get into teaching. Of course my friend's houses and cars are much nicer than mine, but after building a career they admit they wish they could have done something more worthwhile and fulfilling.
Shouldn't it be Against the Law for Men to be Near Children?
An ABC News article "The Mistrusted Male Teacher" talks about the bias many males face as teachers in the elementary schools, particularly the attitude that there is something "wrong" about a male wanting to teach young children. I haven't experienced that attitude in a long time, although some kids are anxious when they first find out their teacher is a man. I recall my first day ever at Mount Pleasant School when a challenging young girl looked up at me and said, "You can't be a good teacher, because my mom said that men aren't real teachers!"
When I was looking for a new teaching job back in 1988 due to getting married, I was called early one morning by a principal in southern New Hampshire to come for an interview. She wanted me there as soon as possible so I went up that day and had a terrific interview. The principal and I hit it off and she all but offered me the job on the spot. I went home with the promise that she would call me in a couple of days with all the details. I never heard back. When I called the administration building for that district, I was told they had never heard of my name and the principal would be unavailable to talk to. I never did hear a thing from that lady.
Nashua treated me right when I applied for a job and I have always been thankful for the class they showed. I was told after my interviews that I would have to wait a few weeks to hear from them. I was getting married and going on a honeymoon during that time and was trying to figure out how to find out if I would be offered the job while I was away (this was a time before the internet and cell phones). I was also wondering if I would have to cut my honeymoon short to do other job interviews. A couple of days before my wedding, I got a call from Nashua. They really wanted me to teach at Mount Pleasant School and were calling me much earlier than expected because they knew I was getting married. I was told, "Have a great honeymoon and enjoy it without worrying about getting a job." I have worked extremely hard for Nashua ever since that day!
Now about that other school and principal? A strange thing happened my first year at Mount Pleasant. My principal put my name on a list of teachers to be part of an evaluation team for other schools in New Hampshire. I was eventually given an assignment to help evaluate a school. My jaw dropped when I saw that the school I was to be evaluating was the same one that had "never heard of me". I could have had great fun with that assignment, but I called the committee and explained why I should not evaluate that school. I was given another school in the same district to evaluate. It was an interesting few days, but the most interesting part was when my evaluation team met with the district's school board. The school board was telling us about their school system and then a few of the members starting talking about males in the elementary schools. We were told they do not like men in their buildings. They did not want male teachers in the elementary grades at all. In fact they only allowed female janitors in the school during the day and men would have to work after the children left the building. I got the picture about why that district "never heard of me" or why the principal was "silenced". I truly believed she was trying to get a male teacher into her school, but was told off. I saw her at an "evaluation" meeting for all the schools during that trip, but I didn't go up and talk to her. I wish I had. It would have been interesting to get the whole story. And it would have been so fun if I had shown up as the evaluator of that school!
So Why do Men Teach in Elementary Schools?
I went to college as an economics major. I thought about teaching, but I thought it would only be an option if I could only find out what subject I enjoyed the most. I only really considered being a high school teacher and coach. I had a change of heart (and courses) my senior year of college. I took a class on the stages of human development and learned about the mind and the stages of learning and growth and it occurred to me that young kids were more than "little beings" but that they had interesting and developing minds. All of a sudden teaching younger kids sounded real interesting. I realized that I could teach all subjects and not have to choose a favorite if I just taught in an elementary school.
There are so many things I can be in my classroom: a comedian, an artist, a reader, a scientist, a mathematician, or an expert on my city and state. I can ask and answer interesting questions throughout the day and help kids with family issues, friendship issues, or just life issues. I can encourage, motivate, and explain the workings of the world. I can read the most interesting books to a captivated audience. I can move around, create, and inspire. I could also continue learning new things all the time. In fact, I could have a lot of fun. The list of things I get to do are unending. It is wondrous fun when you can do such important things to help your students be better people and better learners. Who wouldn't want such and interesting and essential job?
Some guys have figured it out and enjoy the thrill of being an elementary school teacher. In this article "The Few. The Proud. The Male Teachers" about teacher Nick Holtvluwer we see a bit into the life of a male teacher who enjoys the job. Some females have figured it out too and do just the same wonderful job for all the right reasons. A good teacher is a good teacher. My own children have had many great teachers in their elementary years in Nashua (including those here at Mount Pleasant). They have also had some terrible teachers and experiences in this school system. However two of the most nurturing and understanding teachers that any of my children have encountered were the two male teachers that my daughter had in elementary school. Just the same, in the older grades they have encountered some horrible male teachers too! A good teacher is a good teacher! I just find that many of the men who are willing to dedicate themselves to the younger child are in teaching for all the right reasons.
The Care and Feeding of Your Male Teachers
I haven't given this question a lot of thought until recently. In former years when I was the lone male teacher, unlike this year where I have an excellent new teammate in Tim Caster, being an outnumbered minority in a school full of women can make it very hard to fit in. I have always done the best I can, but in reality. I am an outsider in a woman's world (as the token male teacher). I enjoy talking with my friends on the staff and usually get along fine with everyone. Mount Pleasant School has a tremendous staff of dedicated teachers and I believe it is the best group of teachers in the entire district. But I live in a world where cooking and things that interest women are often discussed and while I don't mind eating, I don't cook. I have to navigate a world of baby showers and party decorations, Avon catalogs, and woman talk. There are a lot of things that are discussed or events that happen that just don't interest me and there are so many things that interest me that aren't part of the conversations or interests of a female staff.
My school has had a "teacher's week" for the past few years. Some days we got food, yeah, I am all for that! but other times it was about pampering: getting your nails done, getting samples from some cosmetic company, and other "girly things". I just ignored that stuff. This year our new assistant principal, Scott Jacquith designed a "man's room" for the men in our school on the pampering day. That was cool. There was a recliner set up, sports videos on a television, newspapers to read, some bottles of soda, chips, and other "guy" food. It was neat to know that the men were recognized at our school.
If my elementary school was full of male teachers and there were just one or two female teachers, I am sure the school environment would be a drastically different place (and maybe the teachers room would be a bit cleaner too!). The conversations, activities,and life of the school would drastically change. I would guess that the female teachers would feel very uncomfortable and maybe there would be "laws" and "training" in place so that the men would deal sensitively with the women and not overstep their boundaries. I have never heard of such a thing for the sake of a lone male elementary school teacher. Yet, I feel, we are stepping into a foreign world as we work in female dominated profession. I still don't understand and know how to properly deal with the social "games" that some women can play or understand the "rules" of behavior according to the female code. I don't think I ever will, but when you are the minority and you don't get the "games" and "rules" then you are out of the loop. This can be a great danger for male teachers. It is also one of the great surprises. One of the great things about my school is that I have always got along very well with the staff at my school. They are very accepting of me despite my "quirks" of being a guy and they have been great champions for me when the Boston Marathon issue came up. They turned a horrible district decision into a celebration that made me proud to be a Mount Pleasant teacher. A bunch of guy friends, no matter how great, would never have responded in the same way! Yes, guys do think and act differently!
Sitting through meetings with an abundance of female teachers and often only myself representing the male voice. I have found that I have had to learn to speak up and champion the causes of education from the "male" perspective. Sometimes this is valued, sometimes it is not. If you don't think that there are issues with how boys are taught read "The Trouble With Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents and Educators Must Do" by Peg Tyre (my review here) and if you don't think this impacts the future of girls then read the book again. Sometimes, I know what I say is appreciated and sometimes I get the feeling that I should just "shut up" and sit there dutifully taking notes like a "good girl" would. It is not always "easy" being that voice and maybe sometimes I get it wrong, but the schools do need to listen carefully to all voices. If a school is privileged to have some male teachers then they should do some good listening, because we do offer a completely different and valid perspective. The article "Male Call: Recruiting More Men to Teach Elementary School: Stereotypes and Low Pay Keep Men Away From Teaching. But that Y chromosome can make a huge difference in the classroom." found at Edutopia Magazine addresses some of these differences.
...though males tend to be structured in what they do, they are more willing to use creative means to engage students...In Case You Haven't Noticed: Men and Women are Different!
Male teachers tend to use sports analogies, such as "Standardized tests are the Super Bowl of knowledge." They are more tolerant of chitchat and are more likely to integrate active learning methods, including competitions and games, into the curriculum. They also tend to be funnier (from an informal poll)...
"Men tend to give more direction in their approach to sharing knowledge. They want to appear to be the expert." Women, on the other hand, are more likely to collaborate with students and incorporate their ideas "Therefore, men who are teaching mixed classes must incorporate collaborative and direct instruction to meet the needs of all students." Meeting the needs of all students? That sounds like a great educational environment.
In a Boston.com editorial "The Value of the Male Schoolteacher" Bryan Nelson, director of MenTeach, says that the problem is not that boys need men for academic achievement - little data supports that. He said the lack of men in the lower grades reinforces an endless cycle of inequality in men's and women's roles. He goes on to say that without male teachers...
"We are missing so much," said Nelson, 50. "For instance, there is a playfulness about men kids desperately need at a time the system is so absent of play.
(By the way I just love that quote as I think that describes the way I teach. I could be wrong, but I think I am a "playful" teacher. I also think that the current educational atmosphere across the country no longer values that part of teaching. It can't be measured on a test score- so why value it?)
When a male teacher is expected to "act" like a woman, have interests like a woman, and teach like a woman then the role of that teacher is forever marginalized because men are different! In no way do I care to be a "woman", but it is often assumed and expected that we should act and teach in a way that mirrors the female "way" of teaching as well as respond in meetings as a "female" would. In much the same way, the boys of today are often expected to behave and learn in schools in a more a "female " mode of learning. It is another topic, but boys are not allowed to be boys and that is a affecting the futures of our students and sons. Boys do learn differently from girls and many schools are refusing to recognize that fact.
When I attend district meetings with more male teachers in attendance, including junior high and high school teachers, there is a different energy and attitude. It is not always good, I recently watched a male teacher "flip off" everyone in the meeting. I thought it was rude and unprofessional but most people chuckled along including the administrators at the meeting. I don't think those antics would sit well at an female dominated meeting. It is not that men can be rude, it is that men joke and talk in a different way and get passionate and openly frustrated when they can't fix a problem right away. I notice that men don't want to discuss things endlessly, we want to get to the point and deal with it. We value the "big picture" and not necessarily the little details that can get in the way.
If you have a good male teacher at your school, do value that voice and listen to it, because it will and should be different than the female points of view in your building. If your child has a male teacher, delight yourself in that fact and realize that if his teaching is good, your child will recall that year fondly throughout his or her life. I know at my school many teachers value my voice, even if they don't agree with me, on the other hand I sometimes get the feeling that I am definitely an outsider and an intruder into a woman's world and can at times feel very unwelcome. I guess that is what happens when you are in the minority. Your voice may not be heard or valued. That may just be enough to keep men away from ever wanting to be an elementary school teacher and that would truly be a shame!
This post has been included on the 214th edition of the Carnvial of Education.
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