Thursday, December 30, 2010

Simply Puzzling

National Geographics has an Altas Puzzle page. There are 23 Atlas puzzles of various maps showing countries and continents. The pieces snap into place when you find a match and you don't have to rotate pieces to make them fit. I did the North America puzzle and it took 6 minutes and 52 seconds. Can you beat that? The neat part is that you don't have to worry about missing pieces. If you want to make your own puzzles, you can upload a picture to jigsaw planet. Here is one I made of my daughter and me at Plymouth this summer.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

How to put Quinhagak, Alaska on the map

As I fifth grade teacher, I wish I had thought up something as wonderful as this. I think people around the world are going to be asking, "Where is Quinhagak, Alaska?" All that was needed was a creative teacher, some enthusiastic students, a willing village, the Hallelujah Chorus, and the spirit of Bob Dylan. Enjoy the video and Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sir Ken Robinson: Changing education paradigms

This animated video talk was adapted from a talk given by Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education and creativity expert and recipient of the RSA's Benjamin Franklin award. There is a lot to think about here. You can listen and watch the creative drawings to further engage your mind. Sir Ken Robinson lays out the link between 3 troubling trends: rising drop-out rates, schools' dwindling stake in the arts, and ADHD. Schools should not be "putting kids to sleep, instead we should be waking them up." 


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Diana Laufenberg: How to learn? From mistakes

From Ted Talks: Diana Laufenberg: How to learn? From mistakes
"....learning has to include an amount of failure, because failure is instructional in the process."

Monday, December 13, 2010

What makes a good teacher?

 It took $45 million dollars from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to figure out what makes a successful teacher, according to last week's New York Times article What Works in the Classroom?  Ask the Students by Sam Dillon. What did they do? They took the innovative approach of asking students.

What did this boatload of money find out about good teachers?
Teachers whose students described them as skillful at maintaining classroom order, at focusing their instruction and at helping their charges learn from their mistakes are often the same teachers whose students learn the most in the course of a year, as measured by gains on standardized test scores, according to a progress report on the research.
What did they find out about poor teachers?
One notable early finding, Ms. Phillips said, is that teachers who incessantly drill their students to prepare for standardized tests tend to have lower value-added learning gains than those who simply work their way methodically through the key concepts of literacy and mathematics.
I am amazed at the amount of money and effort that has been spent  trying to get teachers to drill their students in order to increase test scores and pass state tests. Now they are spending more money and finding out this isn't such a great policy after all. Maybe one day they will even pay a bunch more millions for another study and decide to ask teachers about good teaching! I am sure teachers would tell you for free what works and what doesn't work.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

We Used to Wait: The Lost Art of Writing and Letters

On The Arcade Fire's wonderful recent release "The Suburbs" there is a poignant song called "We Used to Wait" that starts with these words, "I used to write, I used to write letters I used to sign my name" and then remembers a time when people used to write letters and then wait for responses. In a world where "our lives are changing fast" when is the last time you wrote or received a real handwritten letter? There are many lost "arts" that the children of today have no clue about. Penmanship seems to be one of those lost arts or disciplines.

Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal published an article called "How Handwriting Trains the Brain" that implies that writing is indeed a key to learning, memory, and ideas. Using MRIs reasearchers have shown that:
...writing by hand is more than just a way to communicate. The practice helps with learning letters and shapes, can improve idea composition and expression, and may aid fine motor-skill development.

Here is a recap of this and other similar articles from "The Week" magazine: How Writing by Hand Makes Kids Smarter. In a world of computers, keyboards, and texting, it seems that there are many good reasons to keep up the practice of writing by hand as well as writing with good penmanship. It can get ideas out faster, increase neural activity, and make you seem smarter. It seems like it might be wise to keep a pencil as a good friend.

And just when is the last time you wrote or received a letter? Last month I found an unexpected letter in my mailbox and I realized it has been a long time since I last communicated by letter with anyone. The letter was a surprise from the daughter of my high school running coach (an inspiring coach, teacher, and mentor). Although, I don't recall ever meeting her, she had read some comments I had made in my running blog online about her father and wrote a nice handwritten letter in reply (something her dad used to do also as you can see in the post) and included some old pictures: a letter from the past.

Strangely enough, the first time I listened to "The Suburbs" was when I visited my parents and hometown on Cape Cod this summer. I went for a long 15 mile run from my parents house and ran along the beaches and running routes of my younger years. I also ran by the house I grew up in, which was very interesting as I listened on my iPod to this music that so often references growing up, hometowns, and the lost life of our past. I also ran by an address, that I recognize now as  the place where my coaches daughter now lives. This is unusual because I went to high school on Long Island in New York. Maybe I will have a chance to visit and meet with her someday as she lives only a couple of miles from my parents. I got this all from a letter!

For an unusual personalized video of "We Used to Wait" go to "The Wilderness Downtown" on a  powerful computer, hopefully one with the Chrome browser. You input the address of the home where you grew up and it creates an interactive film using google images (including a postcard to your past) that you can view. I like the running theme to the video, too! Unfortunately, Google street view doesn't have enough images of the home I grew up in, so it can't recreate a run  similar to the one I had this summer.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

What Albert Einstein Said...

"Creativity is intelligence having fun."

"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."

"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."

"I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world."

"Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe."

"If A is a success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x; y is play; and z is keeping your mouth shut"

"It is not that I'm so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer."

"Albert Einstein's Rules of Work:

1) Out of clutter, find simplicity.
2) From discord, find harmony.
3) In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity."

"Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions."

"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales."

"The difference between genius and stupidity is; genius has its limits."

"Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere."

"If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself."
"Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new."
"Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving."
"I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university."
"Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school."

"I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious."

"Nothing happens until something moves."

"Any fool can know. The point is to understand. "

"It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge."

"The only sure way to avoid making mistakes is to have no new ideas."

"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning."

"Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value."

"In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity"

"You never fail until you stop trying."

"If a cluttered desk is that of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk?"

"What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right."

"Immagination is the highest form of research."

"A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So is a lot."

"Information is not knowledge."

"Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful."

"I do not teach anyone I only provide the environment in which they can learn"

"At least once a day, allow yourself the freedom to think and dream for yourself."

"Joy in looking and comprehending is nature's most beautiful gift."

"You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother."

"Play is the highest form of research."

"The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library."



Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Exercising Makes Kids Smarter!

According to an article in today's New York Times, Phys Ed: Can Exercise Make Kids Smarter? two new studies have shown that exercising aerobically can make kids smarter and help them perform better on tests. It can even enlarge important portions of the brain (9 and 10 year old children were tested and imaged).

Previous studies found that fitter kids generally scored better on such tests. And in this case, too, those children performed better on the tests. But the M.R.I.’s provided a clearer picture of how it might work. They showed that fit children had significantly larger basal ganglia, a key part of the brain that aids in maintaining attention and “executive control,” or the ability to coordinate actions and thoughts crisply.
Meanwhile, in a separate, newly completed study by many of the same researchers at the University of Illinois, a second group of 9- and 10-year-old children were also categorized by fitness levels and had their brains scanned, but they completed different tests, this time focusing on complex memory. Such thinking is associated with activity in the hippocampus, a structure in the brain’s medial temporal lobes. Sure enough, the M.R.I. scans revealed that the fittest children had heftier hippocampi.
When looking at the result of these two studies researchers noted:
The two studies did not directly overlap, but the researchers, in their separate reports, noted that the hippocampus and basal ganglia regions interact in the human brain, structurally and functionally. Together they allow some of the most intricate thinking. If exercise is responsible for increasing the size of these regions and strengthening the connection between them, being fit may “enhance neurocognition” in young people, the authors concluded.

So kids need to get moving so they can develop a larger basal ganglia and a larger hippocampus. I am thrilled to see that running is incoperated into the PE program at New Searles this year for all children. Many students in the upper grades are also participating in the cross-country program. Exercise is just plain fun, too!

Another note in the article mentions the benefit of a walk before taking a test.

At the same time, evidence accumulates about the positive impact of even small amounts of aerobic activity. Past studies from the University of Illinois found that “just 20 minutes of walking” before a test raised children’s scores, even if the children were otherwise unfit or overweight, says Charles Hillman, a professor of kinesiology at the university and the senior author of many of the recent studies.
And if you think just playing around on the Wi is adequate exercise, a final note states:

So get kids moving, he added, and preferably away from their Wiis. A still-unpublished study from his lab compared the cognitive impact in young people of 20 minutes of running on a treadmill with 20 minutes of playing sports-style video games at a similar intensity. Running improved test scores immediately afterward. Playing video games did not.

A simply wonderful book about the value of exercise in the life of students is Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey. After reading just the first chapters of the book last spring, I wanted to buy copies for the entire Nashua Board of Education, but then I remembered that they don't pay me enough to be so generous, so I went out for long run instead.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A fresh look at study habits

"Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits" is an article in the New York Times written by Benedict Carey. At the beginning of this new school year, it is interesting to note that current research shows that what is often assumed to be good study habits, "Clear a quiet work space. Stick to a homework schedule. Set goals. Set boundaries. Do not bribe (except in emergencies) may not really be the best way to study after all. The article states that "cognitive scientists have shown that a few simple techniques can reliably improve what matters most: how much a student learns from studying." Research shows that, "instead of sticking to one study location, simply alternating the room where a person studies improves retention. So does studying distinct but related skills or concepts in one sitting, rather than focusing intensely on a single thing." The article goes on to describe why this may matter in our minds. It is an interesting article definitely worth studying.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

I have read my first book of this summer vacation and it wasn't one of the books I had stacked up on a shelf waiting to be read, instead it was The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. I had not heard of this book before but my daughter had borrowed it from the library because it was listed on her school's summer reading list. She is going to be a fifth grader next year. Hannah started reading the book, but said it was too scary and she did not want to read it at all anyore. So I grabbed it to see what the fuss was about.

The book starts out with a hand in the darkness carrying a knife.
"If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately."
The knife we learn is wet with blood.
"The hunt was almost over. He had left the woman in her bed, the man on the bedroom floor, the other child in her brightly colored bedroom...That only left the little one, a baby barely a toddler to take care of. One more and the task would be done."
By the second page of the book we have the murder of a family, including a child, and the attempted murder of a baby. I agree with my daughter that this is a scary and shocking start to book and something that many kids will not want to read. The book is recommended for 5-8 graders.

I kept reading. The boy escapes to a graveyard where he is brought up by its inhabitants: ghosts, witches, werewolves, the undead (a vampire maybe?), and other sorts that train and teach him in the ways of the living and the dead. The boy is named "Nobody", Bod for short, and is kept safe and sound from the scary world of the living in the confines of the graveyard. We eventually learn that the murderer of his family is still looking for him in order to complete the task and Bod must use the resources around him to stand up to and destroy the evil man. There is an underground hidden chamber with a giant snake-like creature and enough characters and plot twists to make you think of another boy who faced similar difficulties with the help of some other similar and  unusual characters named Harry Potter.

In the end it is an enjoyable read. When Bod talks to his guardian about his "dead" friends he is told,
"They are. They are for the most part done with the world. You are not. You're alive, Bod. That means that you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you change the world, the world will change. Potential."
The books ends on a much happier note than how it begins, with Bod entering the land of the living rather than how it began with his entering into the land of the dead. If you enjoy well written books, then this might be a book worth reading, however it is not for everyone and my daughter will be just content to just leave The Graveyard Book alone. I enjoyed the book and I think plenty of my students would  too, but it is not a book I would use as a read-aloud in the classroom.

NEIL GAIMAN talks about The Graveyard Book

You can find videos of Neil Gaiman reading the entire book as well as answering questions about the book at his website.

Winner of the 2009 Newbery Medal and Hugo Award
At each stop of his 9-city national tour in 2008, master storyteller Neil Gaiman read one chapter from The Graveyard Book and answered audience questions. Watch his tour readings at his website and hear the captivating book in its entirety. Then, watch exclusive tour A videos each week throughout the month of September leading up to the anniversary of The Graveyard Book.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Goal of Education

"The goal of education is not to produce higher scores, but to educate children to become responsible people with well developed minds and good character."

Quote from Dianne Ravitch article entitled “In Need of a Renaissance: Real Reform Will Renew, Not Abandon, Our Neighborhood Schools” in the American Educator, Summer 2010 issue which is excerpted from the book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education

Thursday, May 20, 2010

"Hate That Cat" Poetry

This wasn't that simple, but I wanted to give the presentation software Prezi a second try (first try is here). I like the panning effects that Prezi offers, but I still find the interface clunky and figuring out the how to use the "zebra" tool to be very time-consuming. I did eventually complete my second Prezi. After reading Sharon Creech's excellent book "Love that Dog" to my class earlier in the year and "Hate that Cat" more recently I wanted my students to write poems about pets, real or imagined, based on the wonderful poetry examples used in "Hate that Cat". I decided to write some poetry myself in the style of Jack from the book. Here is my Prezi presentation on my childhood dog. It somewhat tells the story of my much beloved family dog and how she won the title of "Best of Show" in a kid's dog show back when I was in fourth grade. I also won the prize of picking out any bike in a local department store. As you can see, I chose a most excellent banana seat Sting-ray bicycle.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Prezi: A Creative Presentation Tool

I have bookmarked a link to the Prezi website for awhile now, but I have never tried to use the site as I had no presentation system in my classroom. This week with the installation of an Eno board and a ceiling mounted projector a whole new world of creativity and teaching has opened up for me. While I wait for the install of the lesson making software, I decided to give Prezi a try. Teachers can sign up for a free Prezi account here.

According to the Prezi website, Prezi is a living presentation tool.

Prezi is zooming sketches on a digital napkin.

It's visualization and storytelling without slides. Your ideas live on stage and on the web. Have you ever wondered about presenting your thoughts as free as they come? Ever got tired of creating a slideshow?

It's been said, that the best innovations come from people who are unhappy with the tools they use. We realized that our ideas won't fit into slides anymore. Putting together creative thinking and technology expertise, we have created Prezi, a living presentation tool.

I decided to try my hand at Prezi and in about an hour, I came up with this presentation. It is far from perfect and needs a lot fo cleaning up, but it shows the capabilities of the program and I am already thinking of new ways that I can use this in my classroom.

I look forward to seeing how this looks and works on my Eno board when I return to school. Here is an embedded version of my lesson. It is based on a mini writing lesson from Grammar Lessons and Strategies That Strengthen Students¹ Writing.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Best math Lesson EVer?

Sometimes mutliplication and division can seem a bit confusing. Can you figure out what these old-timers are doing wrong when solving the problem 25/5? Does it equal 5 or 14?

Can you think of other ways to do something similar?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Beautiful Minds: The Amazing Power of the Brain

Here is a fascintating video of an autistic man named Steven Wiltshire. In this video Steven takes a 45 minute helicopter trip over Rome, Italy and then spends three days drawing a precise and near perfect aerial view of the city.

Stephen Wiltshire from London is a star among savants. Stephen is autistic. He did not speak his first words "pencil" and "paper" until he was 5. Yet, when he was 11 he drew a perfect aerial view of London after only one helicopter ride. For this film we're testing the "Living camera" in Rome.

A savant is someone who is exceptionally gifted in a specialized field. An autistic savant is a person, like Steven,  can be gifted in music, art, or math. Some savants suffer from a brain injury and then their brain shows remarkable talents like Alonzo Clemons. He can create perfect 3D representations of any animal (except humans) even if only shown a photograph.

The mind is very powerful and has incredible capabilities.