Category Archives: learning

Changing it up!

A blog worth sharing- and spaces that may in reality be in class rooms- with a caveat: chairs, desks, tables, technology, indoor /outdoor- what really must be in the room? IDEAS, and an energy for sharing ideas, learning ideas (from and with the students) and the sense of safety and respect that doesn’t come from tables, chairs, or technology, but is absorbed and passed on person to person, when learners, regardless of age and background feel that they too, can be a part of the inquiry process.

Having said that, this set of downloadable and free cards offered through the The Third Teacher website* makes a great reminder to us how we may play within the learning environment, changing it up a bit depending on varying student needs, and also encourage students to enjoy moving around their (our) learning stations.

The saying that “Change is as good as a rest” (variously attributed, but Churchill seems most popular) is easily debated – regardless- students quickly tend to flock to the same seating patterns, same spaces even when unassigned- a quick way to add a bit of extra challenge then would be to have them redesign the classroom every quarter- not merely empty and clean desks but make their own democratic suggestions about what could be a productive way of grouping (or ungrouping) desks etc. I know that movement around and through a space is essential not merely for fire drills, but also for the sense of belonging and ownership that results when one is able to touch and explore.
What do you think?

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

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!

on a limb…

It is everywhere! The statement that ” the only way to do a good job is to love what you do”.  UM- not necessarily, and not really what we need to be proclaiming on classroom walls- as students rarely love drills- rarely love rewrites, rarely love the extra practice that must be undertaken to improve in any form of craft- or academic work.

How could we change it up then? This has been a constant desire of mine- to create a learning environment where all students receive the respect and opportunity to grow regardless of how much “hard work” both the educator and the student must apply before changes appear evident- and hard work isn’t always fun, nor is it always something one loves to do.

When we constantly toss about ideals that suggest “Passion” is all that is needed the craft behind the making may get lost in the dream that suggested “love is all you need”.  I love the Beatles and all that they stood for, but would hazard a guess that not one of them really meant the statement literally.  We need to get back to the core sense of practice, refining a skill and /or set of skills that will become, if not actually automatic, as close to automatic that an individual may muster and be able to call upon these skills as needed.

I cook, and when asked the secret ingredient have been known to answer “love” so indeed we all employ the suggestion that adding CARE will make a difference.  And I am for caring classrooms everywhere- but not to the detriment of students being giving only the promise of learning without the practical tools.  To truly empower students we need to offer guidelines; students whether in a regular or a flipped classroom, whether home-schooled or one of 50 in a classroom, benefit when the rules are clearly laid out, when the rubric is explained, and when the student is shown how to do something.

Practice may not make “perfect” but it will promote understanding; if the reasoning behind the practice is questioned, then dear teachers, do please have an explanation ready.  Or depending on the age group of your students, think about sharing something that will spark discussion regarding why some types of practical actions do not always appear to be on target but indeed get the results- a classic film comes to mind- the original Karate Kid– hard to forget “wash on, wash off” as a muscle builder…

Sports and the Arts both offer a form of apprenticeship during which time participants improve their practice under the guidance of “master coaches”.  The two words were juxtaposed on purpose, for mastery is what in the end produces that amazing result- the one that moves beyond rote and adapts or is applied to a specific situation, creating grace in action, be it a line on a page, a puck spinning towards a goal, or a new computer application.  We all improve through practice if and when the areas where improvement is suggested are clearly defined, and clearly demonstrated with /through examples where these practical changes made a difference to the finished product.

It is about product in addition to process, and if/when we forget this we short change a student.  Students are very self aware, and to be up lifted do not need simple pats on the back; they too want to recognize results and be proud of their own accomplishments.  When a student is able to say “I worked hard on this and believe it says what I wanted it to say” the student is taking ownership of his/her learning- isn’t that really what as teachers we wish to produce?


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:

–  “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….  Shel Silverstein: collection of poetry for children – Full lyrics to the Unicorn may be found in his book


For future princes and princesses, everywhere…

As we prepare:

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless seas.”
-Antoine de Saint-Exupery The Little Prince

For WHEN: ID-100237304- books and grad hat

To our future makers, doers, thinkers, and believers.

For the upcoming 2014-2015 School year

Dreams DO come true

Academic writing: some specifics to prepare for

Students who wish to do well on exams should know as much as possible about the topic”

An actual educator’s suggestion or an exam prompt for an SAT or other Standardized test? Reading and writing labs across the globe deal with the mechanics, the “how to” of crafting an essay, few of these labs have the time to question if the student’s answer will even be relevant to the teacher’s question. And this is where the mechanics, -the how to- even if deliberately applied, surprise a student with a less than stellar mark- and then they arrive at my door with a bleak outlook on their academic prospects and an even bleaker expectation of how they might improve.

With School year 2014-2015 approaching, and students currently choosing timetables, some lucky few may actually be selecting courses they have a strong interest in-but a large number choose a class based on availability, the course being required, and /or “others” as in friends, being in that time slot. Surprise, the course outline does contain a timetable, a syllabus, and very important- the teacher/professor’s expectations- here is the “secret” to identifying a topic which will demonstrate one was actually a participant in the course- something that educators really do look for! 🙂

To write 5 pages or 15, or 150 is considered part of the gradual learning process- but to jump from a “5 paragraph” essay to 3-5 solid pages of information is very difficult for many who weren’t shown that the information must be balanced with opinion to help focus an argument. Random inspirational quotes can be found – begin with one and ask- what does it mean? followed by how do you know? And, could we research the origin of the quote? this little exercise moves one from blindly copy/ pasting words, to actually wondering about those words- who said them? why do we continue to pass them around? how is it we are able to grasp at the metaphor if the quote offers within it a metaphor? Do we know if we are “right”? Now what inspired the teacher/professor to offer a particular course? Does he/she tell us in the course outline? Do the suggested reading materials offer a “clue” to how others view the main topic? And did any of these readings hold any real appeal to you- the student?

As early as grade 3 we formally introduce metaphor into the curriculum. If “Hope Floats” can it be a heavy object? If Emily Dickinson later further adds that “hope is a feather” she has given readers a simile, a concrete object to recognize and discuss, but back to the emotion that is floating somewhere- and offer bubbles and balloons and other light weight objects, before discussing a very heavy weight topic- the concept of “hope”; a feeling? an emotion? is there a difference? Hold a circle time and share Pandora’s Box; have the class suggest the meaning, and openly discuss what the author was teaching a reader.

“Education breeds confidence; confidence breeds hope; hope breeds peace.” Confucious (Kung Fu Tze)

In this current global situation, education and its ability to encourage tolerance is ever more required; how we teach “critical thinking” will effect the kind of communities, diverse, exploratory, and engaged, or private, contained and fearful of others, that we as educators help to grow.