Category Archives: home schooling

Picking a Cause

“I don’t know”

Is there a teacher at any grade who hasn’t heard that comment at one point or another? And not in relation to a specific question/answer such as a Mathematical equation, but in relation to the more general questions which we as Educators ask: What type of books do you enjoy reading? What topic have you selected to research? Did you include a personal reflection at the end of the unit? Will you be ready to present next week?

What do you think…? is behind the questions, and such a question in itself is scary for many to answer.  Lately I have been wondering why we make it so difficult for students to consider their own “meta-cognition” or personal responses and evaluations of their own understood if not spoken “gut reactions” to situations because as educators the entire “take back Education” movement is only partially resonating and if an Educator is unable to model expressing opinions beyond teaching to the test, and then sharing only a series of prescribed responses, the students are neither seeing nor hearing the multiple ways in which we as adults and as engaged members of society do wrestle with many ideas- the simple and the complex, from how to organize the environment (complex unless objects like desks and chairs are fixed, then each teacher may stamp a personality on the room) to what ought to occur when a bell goes (simple as this action has been practiced and is prescribed) and only if we begin to share more openly the doodles, notes in margins, rehearsed speeches and other actions each of us allows ourselves to express privately will that sense of their doing so become more than “come on class it is mind mapping time!”

Years ago I began teaching my youngest students to enjoy their wonderful smelling erasers and to use them for their best copies only- and to draw a line through any inaccurate word or number and to write the corrected response on the page that later in preparing for any test or quiz the students would see the areas where they had felt challenged and be able to see also the changes made. When I switched to higher grades I was stunned to discover how many students simply copied in the correct answers and didn’t take time to question why any changes might be suggested; Learning to Question WHY became a strong theme in middle school and often carried over to High School.  But still, High School students could stare, startled, at the question, ” Did you enjoy the…?” as if enjoying any aspect of school, or learning or even attending an out of school event hadn’t been organized with the hope that students would not only participate but also communicate why such events -curricular or extra-curricular were of value.  Yes, even as adults we really simply wish to be participatory and not always analyzing every detail however it is essential when we prepare programs, and these I have recently done also for fellow teachers, that we encourage those involved to suggest not only improvements but also what to keep.

And then it dawned on me how much more responsive individuals are when not worried about their placement within the “group,” and how much quicker to venture an opinion and to share insight.  Somewhere between grade five and grade nine- those middle school formative years, students move from not worrying about sticking out as individuals to almost cloning themselves within many a school environment! And with all the current discussions about the culture of a school- its atmosphere and its opportunity for students to extend themselves we must then make time for all students to get some quiet time for reflection, and time to communicate directly and the only way we as Educators make this possible is through open and expected mini conferences and whole school collaborative activities.

Tests abound; we continue to prepare students for them whether we label them “common core” or any other title, but none of these formal tests come anywhere near the types of constant decision making all of our young adults are faced with deciding upon, sometimes hourly! And for these real decisions, there is only trial and error- and kids recognize that aspect of participation, and we as adults owe it to all of them to respect each and every choice without condemnation and with the understanding that being an “Educator” is supposed to instill; “supposed to” – for each of us is “human” and as capable of going for the wrong door as any television contestant who publicly demonstrates the mistake making that can happen.  We must therefore recognize that the real value for some students when self challenging using a game like Minecraft is the safe aspect of where the trial and error will take them- only inside the game after all. But we must also recognize that school should not be the place that provokes negative; we need more than posters that speak out against bullying on the walls, we need active demonstrations of how students need to get along for the school itself to thrive and then we will be teaching the reflective stance when we encourage the students – all the students not only those who elected to be student representatives on council – to share in decision making- and to recognize when erasing a mistake is of value, and when placing the better solution on the table will actually provide results.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On giving and receiving advice!

“Buyer beware” is an old saying- and one I usually put into practice- after all, education plus experience is meant to be worth something- isn’t it?  and of course- everyone makes mistakes …

As I type this my left eyelid is swelling, my left cheek is bruised and my left side of my face- well- I hope it won’t be scarred.  In any event three red welts have already encircled that left eye and I either look like a prize ring boxer or a lady who went for plastic surgery and it didn’t take.   In reality I am neither- neither the boxer nor the person undergoing plastic surgery- an ordinary teacher rushing to a bus with books in an unusual position-books in one of those “neat- little- carry- on- carts” that some people seem to either push or pull effortlessly and what others- who hardly ever carry a thing- exhort as the latest and greatest non technological advance- “imagine” – it slides on wheels! and suddenly all one has to do is pile it with all the paraphernalia that we who teach or carry objects to and fro usually lug in bags over the shoulder or the wrist, – “freedom?!”

Up early double cup of coffee- lunch made, books in order- bus at the corner – just go! And everyday except this morning- no problem- today = the unwieldy “neat-little-carry-on-cart” just toss everything in and – boom- flat on my face on the sidewalk- the – neat -little- carry-on-cart standing at attention after it had picked up speed and smashed into my ankles- I was pulling rather than pushing it- and hadn’t realized that the objects inside would have had to have been placed- “just so” to give it ballast- either way- kind gentleman and his dog looking extremely worried as I begin to stand up- my face had hit the ground- hard; glasses cutting into my cheek may have prevented further damage as no ground went into the eye proper- but I do look a sight! A bit scary really – for even with 1/2 hour of an ice pack (actually a frozen bag of corn- peas would have worked too!) the bruising and cuts are evident.  So …advice to the ones who may consider purchasing one of these “neat-little-carry-on-carts” buyer beware- give me an old fashioned bag or two any day, and I will restrict the carts which I push  to carts in a grocery store.  And don’t look askance please if you should see a lady carrying her books old-fashioned school girl style – in her arms- instead of in one of those “neat-little-carry-on-carts”; mine will be going in the garbage can while my head is still on my shoulders;  and next time someone suggests I could make my life easier if I were to*…I might just buy a pair of running shoes…instead.

Thanks for reading.

*sit down, relax and put my feet up- that didn’t work either- but that’s another story…

I had a basket of citrus fruit so…

citrus photography

Funny, we say “Oh that’s a lemon”  as an English expression for when something, say a second hand car, doesn’t work to expectations.  We also remind people to “make lemonade” or not waste the product.  I simply love the image of a bunch of cheerful bright colours, and this image reminded me of a children’s poem:

Oranges and lemons sang the bells of St. Clements

Oranges and lemons
Say the bells of St Clements
You owe me five farthings
Say the bells of St Martins
When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey
When I grow rich
Say the bells of Shoreditch
When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney
I’m sure I don’t know
Says the great bell at Bow

Now we hear many an injunction to bring back PLAY- one of the better ways to incorporate play, and if it isn’t happening at a kindergarten and other elementary class near you, make it happen by having a small group(s) of children enact actions to some of the “tried and true” nursery rhymes.  Remember “London Bridge is falling down” ? when making a bridge and moving underneath it and taking turns being the bridge itself, children and the adults helping are encouraging literacy.  In the poem above, children hear both rhythm and rhyme.  For a slightly older child, have him/her look at the poem, speak it a few times, then try to write it from memory.  Help by offering a prompt – but not till asked 🙂 And if working with a child at the age to be curious about geography a mini history/geography lesson may happen.  Apparently the rhyme dates back to the mid 1600s and was actually danced to!

Lemons, limes and oranges, tart, semi-tart, and sweet- something for every taste; they add a dash of freshness to any environment.  Got a lemon?

Here is a science experiment just made for the lemon: http://www.education.com/science-fair/article/lemon-cleaning-products/   and a new use for the copper penny. 

 

 

 

Academics for all subjects

A reading is thinking poster

With science / math write-ups we also READ

Begin with prediction: = hypothesis

Visualize: what object are needed for (this)experiment? What amounts?

Connect: get all objects ready in one place / choose one set for the controlled object, the other objects will act upon – with experiments, the idea is to challenge yourself- (safely) and see what happens if…you are asking questions while trying the experiment

Summarize-
the write up tells others what happened
Instead of “clues from the text” the “evidence” is the section in a science write-up known as results- here you have a chance to decide what may not have worked. For example; if you were trying to change a liquid to a solid and doing a simple experiment with water- changing liquid water to solid ice, and the ice didn’t freeze- why not? Was the cold space not cold enough? Perhaps in class you created a mini refrigerator (tin foil and packaging and cardboard box…) and this did not stay cold- what could be done differently next time- where could something be changed?

Science constantly builds upon earlier experiments. When we try something at home or in class, we are practicing to see if a method “works”.

Take cooking for example: you are given a brand new toaster- you like toast nicely browned- first time you plug it in at set the number to 8 out of 10- Oh oh- too crisp- try again, 6? Just right. But wait, now put a bagel instead of another piece from that original loaf of bread. The texture is different and so might be the toasting time.

When scientists speak of the control object, they are saying one object stays the same, while another object changes. In the above case, the toaster stayed the same, while the bread products were changed.

New slice of bread- a piece of Challah- Oh oh- turning temperature down to 4- why? Why might it burn faster? What ingredients were in the Challah slice that are different from the regular piece of white bread, and different from the bagel? We do science experiments all the time, without realizing and labeling them as experiments or science!

In academics, we are asked to share what we are thinking in a write-up. This write-up may be answering questions on a teacher prepared worksheet- it may be drawing a picture of what we just did, it may be going online, and sharing over the internet by using a blog, a wiki, or a tweet  The write-up means one thing, regardless of how and where it is placed- communicating so another may understand; much of the time in school, students often ask- “will this be on the test?” – their point- shall I memorize the “fact” to be able to retell it? In less formal, ongoing assessments, the test begins with the student, and is a part of the student’s inquiry to understand more. A student encouraged from the start to share his/her understanding of what took place, is a student being encouraged to “do” academics- it need not be an either or situation wherein a student is labeled non-academic if we remember that academics simply refers to recognizing bits of theory behind a form of practice. And it is “easy” to share nowadays how recognizing both theory and practice may improve performance. Take Usain Bolt- who isn’t impressed by the lightening speed of this man? And if students are shown how there became a science to his athletic training, science is removed from an esoteric activity and placed smack in the centre of life skills; like being able to tie one’s shoes even if wearing slip-ons with Velcro, it is good to know how to do something, good to be able to feel a purpose behind a set of skills, good to take part in learning. We teachers, parents, adults, want and NEED the next generation curious, active, communicative, and participatory. For not only “science” but humanity will then continue to move forward.

Stepping off my soap-box to wish all a productive and learning filled year!

Teaching for social justice- it matters

Teaching for social justice is different from teaching to prevent crimes. And perhaps this is part, only a part, yes, but still an integral part of the problem. I currently live in Toronto, and ten minutes from my home three young people were shot – one died. I learned of the event via twitter- before it was reported on the news. The person hardest hit was a teacher, a young man of promise – he died- the other two young people, a boy and a girl, late teens, early twenties, hospitalized. No one knows why the event took place; except it is summer, it was a hot evening, people often congregate outside.

I realize what a horrific event transpired in Ferguson. I know what a horrific event took place a stone’s throw from me. I worry about both my young adult children who go out at night, and come home using public transit. I worry about the random acts of violence- but yes I am lucky- for to date, I haven’t seen a reason to worry about the police. Whether in Manhattan, where I lived for a period, or here in Toronto, Canada, the men and women who make up the police force have always been, on the occasion I have had direct contact with them, thoughtful, courteous and direct. Knowing they now patrol the area actually provides a sense of well being. Because one of the victims was a teacher, many children in the area were affected as well. How to explain – to answer the “why?” when the criminals weren’t caught? How to remind that basically this is a safe community, that crime and criminal acts can take place anywhere, and that there are, for lack of a better term- “bad people” out there, but one doesn’t have to emulate them.

I know that each of us presented with young minds puzzle at how to teach towards understanding. How to encourage the growth of a caring society, one in which mutual respect exists. One without fear of the very people, our police, who are expected to protect us from just such unthinkable events as what befell the young teacher this summer. But just as we don’t want to turn into a police state, don’t want to need patrol cars on every corner, we must teach that violence is not cool. Because if we teach hatred towards members of a service profession- and the police like the fire department, are providing an essential service, we will not be encouraging people to believe that there might be a place for them within these professions.

When we teach children to care about their place in society we are teaching that they in fact have a place in society. That they belong. That they in time may be able to make a difference; and that is why yes, teaching the stories of others who have made a difference can help. For if indeed these stories may then become part of the backbone of courage that many of our young people will require as they go through life, then we must tell the stories through a whole school project- not in isolation, not as a race or gender issue but as a part of living history- an opportunity to encourage a literacy based, project based, arts integrated, science practiced, full STEAM ahead, school.

When we teach for something we have become proactive. We have become empowered, as teachers, concentrating on transformative curriculum, rather than focused on disciplinary lectures- but the learning has to start early! From preschool up children absorb what they see and hear going on around them- home and school, community and practice. Teaching to prevent crime? Reminiscent of Up the Down Staircase, or To Sir with Love; books and movies in which the teacher wins some and loses some, and everyone marvels at the teacher’s ability to fight the system itself. What if instead, the system and the educator work together? Returning to a whole school approach, and community interaction; when I was little both the Fire Department and the Police came for visits- and we went to the Firehouse and to the Police museum. People who are part of one’s community may lose a bit of mystique, but the community will gain in understanding that the goals of one section are in tandem with the goals of a peaceful society.

For it IS about peace. It is horribly sad to consider why youngsters would need to find surrogate families within gangs and there is as much wrong with our system today as there was in the time of Victor Hugo, but, if we justify looting and robbery, we are saying “might makes right” – in Hugo’s day a character is hounded and imprisoned for stealing food- the greater picture of a hungry society being presented through the eyes of a main character and his villainous tormentor- a member of the police – and readers can’t help but side with the Jean Val Jean character. I can’t imagine what the police in Ferguson were thinking when releasing the video showing Mike Brown behaving like a thug, and stealing from a store; except perhaps to try and de- saint the young person. But – we have been shown the video, and that brings up, why had the character in our modern times believed it was OK to torment the shop owner/employees? In short, why did that action take place at all? Missing in Ferguson appears to be any kind of peace, if looting is common place, if kids are racially profiled, if anger was so close to the surface that it boiled over into this past month of stand offs.

In the end then, regardless of subject we must teach Why something matters. We as teachers, matter. Our students and their hopes and dreams, matter. Each and every person, matters. Again, it begins in preschool, and it can’t be over taught. It must be reiterated each and every year. I didn’t invent the concept – and as a concept it is older than you or I. What matters today is that we remove it from a conceptual ideal and place it squarely into real discussions, real and safe communication, real and daily practice. We must make caring – matter.

information about the incident in Toronto may be found here: http://www.cp24.com/news/victims-of-lawrence-heights-shooting-not-targeted-by-gunmen-police-1.1903477

an American teacher’s set of suggestions for how to teach about Mike Brown may be found here: http://rethinkingschoolsblog.wordpress.com/2014/08/25/teach-about-mike-brown-but-dont-stop-there/

For home, school, in the car…

Preparing for September?  Now I teach year round, (private lessons are open at the student’s request) but still get a soft spot for the month of September.  And I love the combination of poetry and song to get me in the mood for fuller classes.  Super favorites with children of all ages include all the books by Shel Silverstein, but I have a special space for the poems he wrote, or shared, which have a musical component.

Did you know that The Unicorn“* began as a song first recorded by the Irish Rovers in 1962?  The beauty of folk songs was that they became “singable” for everyone (Bob Dylan didn’t create the genre) 🙂

And what folk songs offer is the initiation into the importance of rhythm and cadence to help move both a song and a story along. We sing lullabies to our children regardless of what language we are speaking in the home; we coo, and murmur, and if someone has a set of words to go with these coos- then so much the better.  With these interactions we are starting the process of literacy.  So please, coo, murmur and hum to your children, plus if you can find them, put on the music and let the children ( join in too; they won’t mind if you are off key!) belt it out.

Here is a sample: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_EPsuOEH1fY

–  “those green alligators and long necked beasts” will have the kids jumping up and down- and you can be sure and find others that offer the same tongue challenges while giving everyone a chance to PLAY!

To add to the process grab some chalk and see if the children can draw the images -( one of the better uses of sidewalks- but be aware, children often enjoy hearing something again, and again, and again….

https://mytutoringspace.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/faa6a-wherethe.jpg  Shel Silverstein: collection of poetry for children – Full lyrics to the Unicorn may be found in his book

 

Challenging the Bully

While at work at a company recently I had the following experience; arriving on a Monday to pick up messages I heard the taped conversation on the voice mail, detailing a divorce proceeding. This detailing, that is the reading of the divorce papers, was being done in a male voice – done deliberately- to what purpose- I do not know. Yes I am divorced and have been for a number of years. Should I have been asked to listen to someone reading such personal information? The message had been left on the machine DELIBERATELY – harassment is a funny thing- it is often done under the table instead of what one usually reads about – the in your face comments, the rude snubs- Oh no- real harassment is the more ugly, subtle kind. For the record, I did not delete the message -I left it there, wondering what further games might occur.

Now as an educator I am on the lookout for bullying amongst students. And one thing I have learned over the years is that children will bounce back from the open threats; it is the continuous wearing of one down that hurts the most. I am going to be very clear here- open threats allow an educator to observe the bullying and to intervene; the student doesn’t need to tattle, and risk further trouble. But under the table actions, the kind that are meant to do one thing only- to instill fear, discomfort, worry, stress; all the statements about a bully being a coward etc., will do little to alleviate worry if the bullies’ actions can’t be curtailed, and if the bully can’t be snuffed out.

At this same position I arrived another Monday to hear the following message, this time in a female voice: “Well, slightly drawled, she is very creative, but she is not a manager”- again the portion of a recorded conversation, left on purpose for me to hear. I was going to write overhear, but that would be inaccurate as picking up and sharing messages was part of that particular job description. Now there is perhaps a backwards compliment in there, if indeed leaders are depicted as creative, and managers as drones. I have never been accused of being a drone. But as an adult, I once again resented receiving a message second hand- as bullying goes, it is not as obscene as the type I have witnessed on a playground, but it is still bullying. Face to face communication is a statement to a person, that the person is valued as a human being. Which is why I always appreciated a New York attitude that was once explained to me as: “people may agree to dislike each other but would still do business with each other.” Here in Toronto, the subtle attacks are unnerving, demoralizing, and much harder to eradicate.*

A colleague has a blog and asked for comments regarding bullying – sparking both the memory and the effort I have always made to not be a bystander. I recognize that each of us has a particular upbringing; mine was wrapped up in the need to care for others. This translated early into using an ability to speak, to speak on behalf of another if requested to. We as educators are tasked with the goal of encouraging students to recognize bullying when they see it and to create the environment in which it will be possible to ask for help to curtail the bully – to create the safest environment possible, wherein each student feels that the classroom, the school grounds, and the topics of conversation which will take place, are going to be encouraging, welcoming, and both open and fair. It is not an easy position, and at times, subtlety is called for in a learning environment- but not when it comes to preventing bullying. Bullying must be challenged head on, discussed, and as many outlets and options be made clear to as many students as possible if the school environment is to do its job and truly offer a safe and accepting learning space. Good luck to all teachers preparing just such environments in anticipation of the 2014-2015 year.

• I typed it as I had felt it; and mean no disrespect to my “adopted” city; the place where my children are pleased to call “home”. I also recognize that cultural expectations may come into play- but regardless, bullying has no place in either the workplace or the school.

Websites you may enjoy:

http://www.randomactsofkindness.org/

https://www.facebook.com/GoodGoals/info

http://talkingspecialneeds.com/education

http://arbordalekids.wordpress.com/2014/08/04/happy-friendship-day/

http://www.pinterest.com/alibayer/ lots to share here