Thinking again- Science Talks

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I know it has been a while- I hope this coming school year, I will get back on board.

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This summer I’ve been thinking about what changes I plan to do/make to really improve the coming year.

Years ago during my masters work I read “Talking Their Way Into Science: Hearing Children’s Questions and Theories, Responding with Curricula” by Karen Gallas.  The school I started working in back in November has 30 minutes a day scheduled for science.  I found this past year, the materials provided for science didn’t sufficiently fill that time.  That we did isolated activities and I supplemented with books and discussion- but it didn’t shine or sparkle.  (Despite what my principal said when he observed part of a lesson)

So, this coming year, whether I am in first or second grade, it is my hope to attempt to implement the student talk in Gallas’s book.  This may be an interesting undertaking.  The goal is that the students do the talking and lead the discussions- take ownership, and the teacher observes and maybe helps maintain procedures- but does not interject or correct students science ideas or misconceptions.    That is my goal.  While I will have to modify it a bit- because I have to cover the set topics based off the curriculum in North Carolina- I want to put as much power as I can in the hands of the students.  I find that when I step back is when the students step up- and that is what this will be an experiment in.  Additionally, it will be a great way to tie in the language- speaking and listening standards.  Or, at least that is what I will put in my lesson plans.

For example:  First Grade, Speaking & Listening Standards

SL.1.1– Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade 1 topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.

SL.1.1A – Follow agreed-upon rules for discussion

SL.1.1B – Build on others’ tak in conversations by responding to the comments of others through mutipple exchanges.

SL.1.1C – Ask questions to clear up any confusion about the topics and texts under discussion.

I find these are the standards that we sometimes do- but rarely focus on, and rarely actually grade.  By handing the conversation over to the students and by myself simply recording their conversations and taking notes- I may be able to actually create mini-lessons on how to help them improve their abilities to have conversations.  A skill that is extremely beneficial in many careers and life.   As, I’m sure you know there are many adults who can barely hold a conversation, and many more who struggle to work effectively in groups and discuss projects.

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New Data: U.S. School System Among “Best in World”

Diane Ravitch's blog

If you think that international test scores are a valuable indicator of educational success (I don’t), you should read this article. When poverty is recognized as an important variable, the scores of U.S. students are among the best in the world.

I don’t consider international test scores to be an accurate meassure of school quality. I am persuaded by Yong Zhao’s work that high test scores may be the result of relentless test prep, which distorts education and discourages creativity.

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Testing the Education Market, Cashing In, and Failing Social Justice Again

radical eyes for equity

On Black Friday 2014—when the U.S. officially begins the Christmas holiday season, revealing that we mostly worship consumerism (all else is mere decoration)—we are poised to be distracted once again from those things that really matter. Shopping feeding frenzies will allow Ferguson and Tamir Rice to fade away for the privileged—while those most directly impacted by racism and classism, poverty and austerity remain trapped in those realities.

History is proof that these failures have lingered, and that they fade. Listen to James Baldwin. Listen to Martin Luther King Jr.

But in the narrower education reform debate, we have also allowed ourselves to be distracted, mostly by the Common Core debate itself. As I have stated more times that I care to note, that Common Core advocates have sustained the debate is both a waste of our precious time and proof that Common Core has won.

As well, we are…

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What’s on a classroom wall?

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Today I had some time to look around some preschool and toddler classrooms.  I wanted to share some of my thoughts about the things I saw.

In the preschool classroom, my first impression was, disorganized.  While the room it self wasn’t that disorganized.  It had the book reading/library area, a block building area, a kitchen area, shelves with small building materials and manipulatives, art supplies kids could access etc… yet, the walls appeared cluttered.  The longer I sat (1 hour total while kids were napping) the more I realized there was no good place in the room for my eyes to rest.  Between kid artwork, job charts, class made posters, teacher papers (check lists, emergency info) and even ages and stages poster and ethics posters in the bathroom areas- there wasn’t a free spot anywhere.  Then, on top of all of that, there were what appeared to be “random” pictures of people and buildings around the room, stapled to the walls, as well as, letters and numbers.  However, the letters and numbers were not organized but rather stapled to the walls at what appeared to be random places.

I wanted to take the time to describe all this, so that you understand what it is I saw.  In today’s age, with so much media, kids are bombarded by images and stimulation constantly.  People are worried about kids not being able focus or “pay attention” and are quick to want to yell, punish, or even put them on medication to make them docile and make them pay attention.  What I need to throw into the air- and I’m sure I’m not the first, is what are we doing proactively about their classroom environments to help young children focus, rather than reactively when they don’t.

As I sat in that room, I had trouble focusing.  My eyes were constantly traveling around the cluttered walls.  Now I personally hang a lot of art in my personal spaces. Some may same I am a pack-rat, and I am most definitely not a neat person. Nevertheless, I have gotten to choose in my own home where I like to have stimulation and where I don’t.  I also got to choose the stimulation.  In a classroom more often than not it is the teachers making all those decisions without, it appeared today, much regard for the children.

I then went on to think about why.  As one looks carefully through the NAEYC accreditation guidelines  (this center is accredited) one can read that images and pictures of diversity count as a way to demonstrate the teachers are meeting a particular standard.  In multiple places it says evidence may include posters or pictures.  For example, it says “Look for evidence of art, music, drama and dance and at least one representation of cultural diversity for each (art, music, drama, dance).  Evidence may include such things as books, posters, lesson plans, posted schedules, and materials that address the benefits of good health practices.” (NAEYC).  I believe that teachers read this or hear about this and think that if they have a picture of art, people dancing in another country, some people putting on a play, and a person playing an instrument in the classroom, no matter where it is posted, then they are demonstrating that standard.  What isn’t explained- is how are just having those pictures randomly posted about the room helpful or meaningful to the children.  To have pictures for pictures sake- does not really meet the intended goal of the standard.

So:

How can we meet the standards as intended- but in meaningful ways?

How should materials be organized on walls to be the most meaningful?

What really should be on the walls to support children’s learning and development?

To be continued.

(Sorry it was so long, and sorry it was so long between posts.)

 

Liking versus Action

Term Limits for Congress

So, as May 26 approaches– the number of people “liking” the idea of Term Limits for U.S. Congress is growing… but the number of people agreeing to actually participate is barely increasing at a crawl.

This message went out from the NC leads-

“A message from Kelly Rae and James.
Hello North Carolina.
So we are sitting here looking at the Term Limits for US Congress North Carolina Facebook page and wondering how is it that we have over 800 likes but only 6 people who have volunteered to be County leads when we have 100 counties to fill, not including all of the petitioners that we need going forward.
Have we just not reached the right people? Are people just too busy? Are people afraid to take on one more thing. Are people just afraid? Do people not know how important they truly are?
Please let me be…

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Citizen Re-engagement

Time to get involved.

Term Limits for Congress

“It will take a political metamorphosis, a populist renaissance, in America to reverse the political and economic tides… to make our country strong and whole again.  The Toynbeean challenge we face requires a response from all of us, a rebirth of civic activism from average people at the grass roots as well as from America’s political and economic leaders.  Millions of Americans will have to come off the sidelines and reengage in direct citizen action in order to reestablish “government of the people by the people, for the people” and to achieve a genuine people’s agenda in Washington” (Smith, xxv).

If we want change- we need to believe that we have the power to make that change happen.  Together we can let those at the top feel our strength and our power.

Term Limits for U.S. Congress might be that grass roots movement that can start to make the changes…

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Politics and Education

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If you are currently frustrated with the way government is handling education– you are not alone.

So what can be done?

Well– we have to get the politicians back on the side of the people… to do that, one option, one good real option, is instituting term limits on the U.S. Congress.  It’s time we remind Congress who they are supposed to be working for- the people.

Check out —

congressneedstermlimits.wordpress.com

or

https://www.facebook.com/TermLimitsforUSCongress

This is a real movement.  I hope you will take a second to consider it, then read up on it, and then join it.  It’s not about parties, it’s about people.

“Children learn what they live”

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“Children learn what they live, what they hear and try to speak, in a context of meaningful, functional use with people who care about them and have confidence that they will learn” (Cazden, 1992, 10-11).

This quote has struck a major cord with me.  I felt an intense need to share this idea with everyone, educators and non-educators alike.  “Children learn what they live” (Cazden, 1992, 10)– isn’t that the truth.  What kind of environment do we create for children?  What kind of life do we provide for them?  Why is hard for someone to move out of poverty?  Why do some wealthy children grow up to feel entitled?  Why do some languages have multiple words for snow while others may have one, or maybe even none?  We all learn what we live.

When educators  think about teaching, they need to think more about the whole world they create- the environment, not just about some skill or fact.  What are we teaching can be pushed aside.  More importantly we need to ask what are they really learning.

Children learn what they live-
from behind the bars of a crib, 
from behind the desk,
from the words spoken at them, & the words left unsaid…

So please take a moment to ponder what kind of world children are growing up in, what they are surrounded by, and what you can surround them with…

To Be Continued…

Toddlers, letters, & airplanes

You’re in a room with eight toddlers.  Some are not yet two-years old while others have just turned two-years old.  What should their day look like?  What kinds of activities should be planned?

Sure there is snack, lunch, naps, outdoor play… these are a given, I would hope.  But, what about some planned activities. Things that will spark their interests and get them engaged.

I recently discovered that one toddler room in a child care center was following weekly themes.  Each week was focused on a letter and it’s sound.  I’d seen this many times before.  I’d seen this type of planning in three- and four-year old preschool classrooms.  I’d also witnessed it in many Kindergarten classrooms.  So, why I wondered– would these be done in a toddler room too.

Is this really appropriate or meaningful for toddlers?

For example, during the week of “J”– one day was “Jam” and they used purple paint on brown paper, “Jam on bread.”  It’s cute enough.  The toddlers did get to enjoy playing with paint… but is it meaningful?

The next day the activity was about “Jets.”  The toddlers were going to try and look for airplanes.  From playing with and observing the toddlers I know that most of them love to see the planes in the sky.  So, the plan to look for jets sounded like a good one.  But I wonder, instead of J, why didn’t the teachers plan for the theme of transportation or planes.

The toddlers would love to spend time playing with toy planes.  I already know they enjoy looking for real planes.  Teachers could support the toddlers developing language as they read about and talked about planes and jets.  The conversation could also move to include other things that fly.  Some of the children are always quick to point out the birds during outdoor play.  This type of theme or unit could go on for days or even weeks as it expanded based on the toddlers interests.

What sounds more interesting for a toddler the letter “J” or air planes?

We need to think about what will be meaningful to the students- pull a page out of Reggio Emilia’s play book, pull a page from “The Project Approach” (Judy Harris Helm & Lilian Katz, Sylvia Chard).  Let the children guide the planning.  Be open to possibility.

Picture from a Pinterest post-  Inspire.  The world is more than letters, and there is plenty of time to learn letters.  Let’s learn to talk first.

plane

 

Your Educational Holiday Wish List

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With the holidays here for some already, and just around the corner for others… I ask, what is on your education wish list?

What kind of things would you love schools to be given?

Or,

What “magic” gift do you think could really improve education in schools?

Please share your ideas.  Wild dreams and imaginative answers encouraged.