ATTN: iPad users! If this post doesn’t display properly, with all its nifty graphic and text links, try here. Stuart’s workshop on Visual Learning and Story Telling in Early Childhood Education will take place on Friday, January 27, from 2:00 to 3:30 p.m., in Room 192C, West Building, McCormick Place. Hope to see you there!
Archive for the ‘eduation’ Category
On the the thrill of learning to write your own name, Percy’s pedal-car diversion, helpful moms, practice, practice, practice & Miss Cathy’s (no longer) secret love of ancient Runes…
by J.A. Ginsburg
Cleaning out old boxes the other day, I came across one of the first books that was mine, all mine, not a hand-me-down from my sister or brother: a Golden Book classic, We Help Mommy. The story line followed the seemingly endless labors of young Martha and Bobby, who helped prepare breakfast, make beds, dust, mop, wash, shop, bake, set the table, and, of course, put away all their toys without even a hint of complaint. Who were these Stepford children?
I don’t blame my mother for trying. Still, I was rather delighted to see I used the book mainly for coloring. Martha and Bobby may not have known the joy of play, but I sure did.
For me, the very best part of the book was the inside cover where I wrote my name. I remember writing it, too, because it was something a “big person” would do. Thrilling.
Carlos wants to learn how to write his name, just like is friend Ajay. He knows the alphabet, so is off to a good start (the alphabet runs along the bottom border each double-page spread as a reference). His mom is a big help, too, spelling out the first three letters—C-a-r.
At the park the next day, Carlos and some of his friends from Ready, Set Pre-K—Freda, Percy and Ajay—are playing in the sandbox, writing their names in the sand. Percy, of course, being Percy, draws a self-portrait. When Carlos spells “C-a-r,” Percy (oh that Percy!), jumps into his pedal-car and leads everyone for quick spin around the playground.
That night, Carlos works on the last three letters of his name next: “l-o-s.” His mom gives him lots of paper and he practices and practices and practices!
A few days later, he joins his friends who are writing their names in chalk on the sidewalk (except, of course, for Percy, who, being Percy, has drawn a self-portrait). C-a-r. Percy is off in his pedal-car again, but Carlos keeps writing: l-o-s. Freda and Ajay stop to watch. Even Percy pedals over.
“‘Carlos. That’s ME!,’ shouted Carlos.”
Yes it is!
Being able to write one’s name is a cognitive skill: letter recognition is stepping stone to reading. It also boosts self confidence. A child who can write his own name knows he can write anything. All it takes is practice!
TEACHERS! PARENTS! CARE-GIVERS!
Each I See I Learn book includes a two-page spread called “A Closer Look,” designed to review key points:
- How do you write your name?
- Can you write the names of other members of your family?
- Can you write the names of any of your friends, or pets?
MISS CATHY RECOMMENDS:
- Writing Paper to Practice Handwriting for Preschool and Kindergarten: Free printables (website)
- Learn to Write…Free Tracing Paper: What a fun program from “My Moondrops!” Type your child’s name in a box and it generates a printable page with traceable letters. (website)
- Message in a Backpack: Supporting writing at home / NAEYC’s “Teaching Young Children” magazine: Teachers: TIY’s aptly named “Message in a Backpack” pdf’s are full of useful suggestions for parents. Great writers write all the time—at school and at home, too!
- Your Name In Runes / PBS Can I tell you a secret? I adore old alphabets! Type your child’s name in the box on the website and you can see what it looks like in 15th century Viking letters. Now that’s Write On!
Be sure to check out all of Stuart J. Murphy’s I See I Learn books! His Level 1 MathStart books are perfect for Pre-K. You can follow us on twitter and Facebook. Sign up for our FREE e-newsletter, too! (sample)
by J. A. Ginsburg
On rethinking school, digitally transcending (crumbling) walls and preparing 21st century students for a collaborative, networked world
The official theme of TEDxNYED 2011 was “Empowering Innovation in Education,” but it just as easily could have been the “The Best of Times / The Worst of Times.” On the 40th floor, in the gleaming glass aerie of the New York Academy of Sciences, a group of passionate, endlessly creative and deeply concerned educators gathered to talk about tech revolutions and tight budgets, boundary-blind collaborations and soaring drop-out rates, of potential and potential throttled.
Clocking in at 17 speakers, one folksinger, a few hundred attendees and over 5,000 watching via livestream (last year, that was me, a whole Saturday spent unexpectedly tethered to a laptop after serendipitously catching an early morning tweet tip…), the day-long event was packed and intense. Perhaps a bit too packed. There’s comes a point—somewhere near 3 in the afternoon, when brains top-off for the day, the bell should ring and golly, isn’t it time for recess? What starts out as a bright-eyed idea-fest morphs into a marathon of determined paying attention. But by that time, you’re hooked, addicted, need—really need—to know what the next speaker has to say because, well, it could be great…
This morning—the morning after—my brain having now diced and sliced its dreamy way to synthesized thought, and armed with a stack of just-shy of indecipherable scribbled notes, it is striking how many of the speakers delivered theme and variation on tha same core message:
- To succeed, indeed survive, in the 21st century, students must learn how to collaborate and network, and to sift through, sort and connect-the-dots from gushers of information.
- It is no longer about teaching children how to be taught, but teaching them how to be learners
- Technology is not a gee-whiz add-on—digital frosting to the analog cake of basic learning—but part and parcel of daily life for nearly all 7 billion people on the planet, rich and poor, urban and rural. It is how we function, almost as basic as breathing.
BETTER / DIFFERENT
Curriculum designer Heidi Hayes Jacobs wryly notes most schools are preparing kids for 1991, perhaps because “we were happier then.” But tech as a stand alone isn’t the answer. “We can do dumb things with a smartboard.” Rather than school reform, which only tweaks things, Jacobs proposes a new form of school, a complete rethink not only of what is being taught and how, but also how it is assessed. “Students should be futurists, now.”
Jacobs is a veritable volcano of assignment ideas that sound like so much fun, I’d like to give them a try myself:
- Put “geo” in front of everything you teach: geo-history, geo-science, geo-literature. Now tag, map and go!
- Ask “What does a quality fill-in-the-blank look like? (a quality blog? a quality podcast?) Create one.
- Pretend you’re Ben Franklin and it’s the night before the start of the Revolutionary War. What would you tweet? (h’mmmm, isn’t that Wael Ghonim?)
- Create a Facebook page for Julius Caesar complete with status updates and wall posts (“Get out of town in March…”)
- Build an app
In short, enough with oral reports and pen-to-paper multiple choice tests. Use digital media for all the new ways it allows us to learn, understand, communicate and share.
As education consultant Alan November points out, children are going off the curricular script on their own already, in all kinds of impressively imaginative ways. He tells the story of a gifted, prolific young fan-fiction author writing Harry Potter riffs in the style of J.K Rowling, only eeking by in school. When he asks her about the disconnect, she responds with a mix of practicality and mission: She can either write for her teacher or publish for the world. Smart girl. No doubt her impressive digital portfolio of well-written stories and impressive social network will take her further than an good grade in a soon-forgotten class. She didn’t fail school. She “failed” her school for failing her.
Citing Daniel Pink’s book Drive, November notes, “Purpose is everything.” When children—and adults for that matter—feel they are creating content that adds value, they work harder, longer and produce better work.
So basic is this need, it is hard to believe it needs to be stated. Yet it has become an epiphanous meme of modern educational research. Kids—no surprise—can smell a boring there’s-45-minutes-I’m-never-getting-back lesson from miles away, seizing the opportunity to master the fine art of zoning out. Give them a challenge that plays to their interests and brilliance almost predictably ensues. The projects become catalysts to learning: All roads leads to math…and science, reading, history, literature and art.
Consultant Gary Stager tells of a juvenile detention center in Maine where a collection of boys considered to be hopeless cases, many with learning disabilities, thrive in a constructivist learning setting. One boy wants to build a guitar. Five-hundred hours and considerable collaboration later, the hand-crafted, meticulously engineered guitars are used to create music. Another child, declared a non-reader ADHD-package-of-trouble by age 7, finds his way through a combination of the internet, NASA and tinkering with electronics, and writes a 13,000 word autobiography.
Discipline problems, a once-daily occurrence, dropped to near-zero. The boys had context, purpose, focus. They were simply too engaged to cause trouble. The take-away, says Stager, is that education needs to be “less us, more them.”
IN THE CLASSROOM
Following and nurturing a child’s interests is, of course, music to the ears of Dennis Littky, who has made it his life’s work, founding schools designed to do just that (Big Picture Learning, The Met School and College Unbound). Littky starts his 15-minutes in the TEDx spotlight flinging little pieces of green paper from a bag onto the stage. Each piece represents a student who has given up and dropped out. As an aggregate, the the confetti on the floor represents the number of kids who had dropped out just that morning: one every 13 seconds for a total of 800 (and counting…). Each a private tragedy. Collectively, a public catastrophe.
While Littky starts by asking kids about their interests, Steve Bergen, a veteran math teacher-turned-edu-activist, CIO (Chief Information Officer) and computer teacher at The Children’s Storefront, an independent Pre-K – 8 school in Harlem, focuses on the mix of hardware, software and “humanware.” Skills are key, including such hands-on practical skills learned through reconditioning old computers (also see Tech Saturdays and the Summercore program). His is really another door to the same house: learning by doing. Bergen also wants children to develop “Plan B” skills,” so they know what do when they get stuck.”
Given the incredible ever-shrinking school district budget, we could all use some “Plan B” skills. Brian Crosby, a grade school teacher from the small city of Sparks, Nevada, near Reno, has plenty, and is happy to share. Technology, notes Crosby, can make all sorts of things possible, but it is the pedagogy that provides substance. No longer must students passively sit at their desks, watching the teacher. They are active learners, using the web for research, skyping with classrooms all over the world, collaborating on projects via Google docs, documenting progress via video and blogging, blogging, blogging. They are reading and writing more, networking and collaborating more effectively and globally, thinking more deeply and “learning how to be learners.”
“What if school was the best seven hours of a kid’s day?” asks Stager. In Crosby’s classroom, they just may be.
At this point, making sure kids have web access is “almost a moral imperative,” says consultant and author Will Richardson. “In this moment, kids can learn what they want, pretty much whenever they want to.” Richardson’s daughter downloads a video to a rock song to help her learn how to play it on the piano. A teenager in Toronto learns about video editing via the web, his videos develop a following and a promising career begins.”Kids are not waiting for curriculum. …There are billion potential teachers out there.”
Yet assessments still rule when it comes to the nuts and bolts of American public education. Funding, and sometimes teachers’ salaries, rise and fall based on test scores. The eternal quest for standards, says Richardson, is fast turning teaching into test prep.
It is time to stop trying to do schools “better” and do schools “different.” …None of this is the stuff of test prep. It is the stuff of life prep.”
Luyen Chou, a former private school teacher and administrator now focused on working with public schools, thinks the problem isn’t so much assessments per se, but rather what is being assessed. He envisions project-based assessments (a la Heidi Hayes Jacobs), coupled with Google-style analytics. In fact, he says, assessments could help the cause, showing how a constructivist approach to teaching leads to students with better critical thinking skills and better test scores.
Don’t see assessment as the enemy. Embrace it. If you do it right, we’re in a position to tell a story no one has. Viva la Revolucion!
ON A THRESHOLD
With those stirring words, my thoughts drifted to Wisconsin, where exactly one week earlier I had been in Madison at a massive rally of teachers and other state employees protesting legislation threatening their rights to collective bargaining. Yet even if they win what has shaped up to be long and bruising battle, municipalities—and their school districts—throughout the state face draconian budget cuts: an estimated 20% in Madison itself. Whether such severe cuts are the start of a nationwide trend remains to be seen, but it is doubtful that there are very many places where school budgets are increasing.
Beyond all the finger-pointing (Bill Gates’ TED talk last week, which singled out states’ wacky accounting practices and ballooning pension and health insurance obligations, received a notably mixed-to-sharply-negative reviews from the TEDxNYED crowd), the economic reality for teachers is stark: Lower or stagnant salaries. Higher expenses. Often working in buildings in need of repair or upgrading. In some states, no right to strike and limited input. College debt. The teacher “churn” rate is currently 25% at three years, which means that 1 out of every 4 teachers drops out of the profession just as they are starting to get the hang of it. At the other end of the career arc, experienced Baby Boom-generation teachers are retiring. And caught in between are mid-career teachers, now faced with the specter of annual lay-offs.
So we are poised between two trends. The first, tech-driven, brimming with innovation, imagination and possibility. The second, a crumbling bricks-and-mortar analog infrastructure. How these two weave together, perhaps creating a better third answer, remains to be seen.
But the times, most definitely, are a’changing.
TEDxNYED 2011 Videos: Direct Links to Speakers Referenced in this Post:
RELATED ARTICLES / RESOURCES
- A Schoolmaster of the Great City: A Progressive Education Pioneer’s Vision for Urban Schools by Angelo Patri (published in 1917, recommended by Gary Stager)
- The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris van Allsburg (recommended by by Brian Crosby)
- Reno Bike Project (recommended by Brian Crosby / website)
- David Langford / Langford International (recommended by Heidi Hayes Jacobs)
- Morley (website)
- Patrick Carman books (website)
- A New Culture of Learning by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown / Review by Maria Popova, Brain Pickings
The Third Teacher: On School, Memories, Low-Hanging Fruit, Lessons from the Past & Better Ideas for the FutureThursday, February 10th, 2011
by J. A. Ginsburg
Close your eyes. Think back to when you were in elementary school. What do you remember?
For me, it’s the smell of mimeographed hand-outs, still damp with purple ink, and tall windows with tan shades. It’s polished terrazzo floors and my desk with a lift-up top. It’s the certainty of bells, the slam of lockers, the echoes of kick-balls bouncing in the gym. It’s the smell of a bologna sandwich in a brown paper bag and the challenge of eating “strawberry” ice cream from a little plastic cup armed only with a thin hourglass-shaped sliver of wood.
Construction paper. Pencil sharpeners. Crayons. Manila folders. Paste. On the swings, trying to touch the sky with my toes, and climbing metal monkeybars, giggling with my girlfriends.
It’s walking six blocks to and from school every day with my older siblings, navigating snowbanks in the winter and watching cottonwood seeds drift by come spring.
It’s the light in the classroom on a rainy day and listening to my teacher read the class a chapter from Stuart Little.
My memories of actual in-class instruction are rather dim, even though I spent thousands of hours in school and always did well. Somewhere in there I learned how to read, write and “do” math. A few wonderful teachers—and one utter disaster—stand out, but most of the memories have to do with places and senses: what I felt more than what I thought.
I was surprised by what had faded from memory and what had managed to cut through with such stunning clarity. Yet it makes sense from the perspective of a young child, for whom learning, like breathing, is just something that happens. Whether a child is learning how to read or figuring how to navigate a difficult classroom, she is learning…
And, unlike adults, who tend to think “thinking” is a neck-up activity, young children are much more tuned into “multiple intelligences,” gathering and synthesizing information from all their senses. Divisions between mind and body are blurrier. To think—and to learn—is to move, smell, touch, see, hear.
THE THIRD TEACHER
I took this meander back to childhood after reading (make that “gulping”) The Third Teacher, a book / “collaboration project” created by:
- OWP/P Cannon Design, an American architecture firm specializing in school buildings
- VS Furniture, a Germany company with a rich century-plus history that includes working with Maria Montessori herself
- Bruce Mau Design, a Canada-based consultancy known for combining a “design-thinking” approach with a futurist perspective
The eponymous “third teacher” is the environment, a reference to the Reggio Emilia interactions-based approach to education: adults, peers, surroundings. School buildings and classrooms have a profound impact on how we develop and what we learn. Or what we don’t learn.
As common-sense as that sounds, it is too often overlooked, with especially dramatic and potentially tragic implications for young children.
The Third Teacher, which developed through a series of workshops in the United States, Canada, Germany and England, is split into eight sections, covering “79 Ways You Can Use Design to Transform Teaching & Learning.” It begins at the beginning with Maslow’s basic needs and a two-page spread of gobsmacking statistics:
- Students with limited classroom daylight were outperformed by those with the most natural light by 20% in math and 26% on reading tests
- Asthma is the most common chronic disorder in childhood, currently affecting an estimated 6.2 million children under 18 years of age
- Many classrooms feature a speech intelligibility rating of 75% or less. That means listeners understand only 75% of the words read from a list
- American school children missed 12 million days of school due to the asthma
Clean air. Good light. Good acoustics. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask, yet nearly a quarter of US schools are in serious need of repair.
Even the most inspired educators are stymied when forced to do battle with their classrooms. It is a waste not only of precious time and effort, but also of precious money. This is classic “low-hanging fruit”: Green schools aren’t just better for learning, they are also cheaper to run:
- The financial benefits of greening school are about $70 per square foot, more than 20 times as high as the cost of going green
- Schools in the US spend $7.8 billion on energy each year—more than the cost of computers and textbooks combined
- On average, green schools saved $100,000 per year—enough to hire two new teachers, buy 200 new computers, or purchase 5,000 new textbooks
FUTURE / PRESENT / PAST
The need to design for the future is an underlying theme throughout the book. Technological capacity doubles each year, notes Bruce Mau. That means “…children starting kindergarten this fall will have…a million times greater capacity to shape the world around them by the time they finish university.” One look at at an iPad—a device that didn’t exist before 2010—and instinctively you know this staggering fact to be true.
But it is goes much deeper than ever-gee-whizzier tools. Schools are charged with preparing children for a world none of us can entirely imagine, for jobs that don’t yet exist, for a future full of uncertainties. How will climate change affect...everything? Will the planet’s natural resources be able to support a global population expected to punch through the 8 billion mark by 2020’s, a 30% increase from 2000?
In order to “shape the world around them” wisely, today’s children first have to understand it, which leads to a second major theme running through the book: environmental awareness and ecological thinking. Schools for the future need to be designed for all sorts of connections: technological, social, neurological, physical, cultural, environmental. And some of the best answers for how to do this come from the past.
My elementary school was not built to be green (in fact, it was ultimately torn down due to asbestos). But those tall windows not only let it wonderful light (back when light was light and not “daylighting”), they also easy to open, too. How delicious to smell a spring breeze or hear the rustle of falling leaves in autumn. The daily walk to school, though a trudge in winter, guaranteed that we all spent some time outdoors. Recess—we had three, two 15-minute breaks and and a full period for lunch—gave us a chance to run around and explore. By contrast:
- 7% of first graders (in the US) now get no recess at all, with many more having their minutes drastically cut; the poorer the school, the less time is dedicated to it.
- On average, children of primary school age spend 9 hours per day sitting.
- While 71% of adult Americans say they walked or rode a bike to school when they were a child, today less than two in ten (17%) of school-age children walk.
- The percentage of children who live within a mile of school and who walk or bike to school has declined by nearly 25% in the last 30 years. Barely 21% of children today live within a mile of their school.
This is not helping the cause vis a vis the obesity epidemic, either.
Notably, many of the of the ideas presented in The Third Teacher have dovetailing “goods”:
- School gardens double as living science labs connecting children to nature while producing tasty vegetables for a healthier lunch
- Playgrounds are places for exercise and imagination (“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere” – Albert Einstein—perhaps my favorite quote from this quotalicious tome)
- Desks and chairs designed to work with young fidgety bodies, rather than restrain them, help release nervous energy, making it possible for children to think better. The mind-body connection is particularly important in the young. Movement plays a key role neurological wiring.
- The school itself as community “teacher,” a working example of how to to upgrade to greener design
All 79 ideas, along with a selection of case studies, are available for free on the Third Teacher website, but the book is the better package. Each idea is paired with a case study or a short essay by a delightful range of experts, spanning the famous—Ken Robinson, Raffi, James Dyson—to the famous-in-their-communities—teachers, parents, students. Studies a-plenty are excerpted and quoted. The insights of Maslow, Piaget, Gardner, Dewey and Toffler infuse the conversation—and a conversation it is.
This is not a standard book with page after page of identically laid-out text, with a few illustrations sprinkled in. This is a design extravaganza that manages to mix an astounding amount of information onto every page (hence the plentiful post-its on my well-thumbed copy pictured above…) The Third Teacher is a reference designed to engage, culminating, of course, with idea #79: “Add to this list.”
So get to it. The future is coming fast and there’s no time to waste.
Ken Robinson on educational paradigms (live link / embed below may not appear on iPad)