Why are we educating this way?

I teach STEM. In middle school.  For those that haven’t kept up with the countless acronyms n education, it stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  It’s pretty much a buzz word these days, and it is the Wild West as far as useful curriculum.  

According to many politicians, this will save America from the downward spiral that we seem to be riding all the way to the bottom.  Gotta tell ya, it helps, but without the support from the country on this it’s just more crap.  Yep, I said it.  We can create new buzz words for the media and appear to embrace the philosophy, yet when scrutinized the hoopla is just more cheering for a failing system.

We hold the belief that kids need separate subjects in order to concentrate on during different times throughout their days.  *RING* time for math.  Engage our thoughts to focus on the subject that so many students think is useless outside of school.  *RING*. Time to go to science.  Follow the scientific method, complete some worksheets, and wait for the next *RING* when you can forget science and focus on another subject.  Problem here?  Hell yes.

So, what IS the problem here?  


Ayers on Curriculum

I really am liking this Ayers guy.  His ideas about education and the meanings in the methods that he proposes really seem to hit home in many instances for me.  In many places throughout the book, such as when he spoke about his son’s coming of age ceremony, I found myself rereading the passage again simply because it seemed to say so much more than I could absorb in one pass.  His ideas ring true with me for some reason, but then again, I’ve always liked those radical types of people who are trying to bring about change.


This weeks reading focused upon curriculum, and what the concept of curriculum means.  Too man y times, he points out, people believe that curriculum is thought of as knowledge that can be attained and completed.  This he argues, is a fatal flaw.  In the act of calling curriculum complete, you limit the learning process, and then limit what your students can learn.  Knowledge is not something that has an endpoint, and therefore neither should curriculum, but it should be something that is constantly looked at as a reference point of something that can be discovered and something that can still cause excitement for the learning community- that the teacher must be a part of in an effective community.  The teacher is not the one who knows all (the “curriculum”), but is one who actively participates in engaging ways of learning about the curriculum that has been decided upon by the community.  If this is done in the right way, the spark of discovery will nor be lost and the teacher will be enthusiastic in their practice.  That sounds good to me.


Perhaps one of the greatest things I have found in our readings to this point thus far are the rules that Ayers lays out for himself that are listed on pages 91 and 92.  These rules are the sort of ‘litmus test’ that one can post by their computer monitor to sort of give themselves a check from time to time (probably more often in the beginning) to ensure that you are doing the best job possible and that you are keeping yourself on track and staying true to your goals.


Are there opportunities for discovery and surprise? When students lose the ability to discover things for themselves through the exploration of primary sources, they lose quite a bit.  Students do not need to learn through someone else’s interpretation of what something means; it is far more valuable for them to decipher and question the information for themselves.  This is the heart of the scientific method.


Are students actively engaged with primary sources and hands-on materials?  Once again, there needs to be things for them to become engaged with, readily available.  Take the initiative to go out and find things that will spark their curiosity.  What interested you when you were that age?  Kids are still kids- find things that they will want to look at and become involved with.


Is productive work going on?  Productive work can take many forms.  Productive work need not be in the form of a written essay to have value.  Kids discussing the deeper meaning of what a song means can be a great means of productive work as long as there is some sort of guidance there.  Productive work does not need to look like “Leave it to Beaver”, but can actually be fun for the kids to participate in.  I believe that when kids learn, it’s productive.  And if they’re engaged, all the better.


Is the work linked to student questions or interests?  If you don’t make it interesting, you’ll run the risk of losing the kids.  It’s what happened to me, and it will happen to other kids as well.  One of the biggest crimes we can commit against a classroom full of students is to provide work that is not of interest to them, as they will be apathetic towards the work and ultimately towards school.  Keep it interesting.


Are problems in the classroom, the community, the school, the larger community part of student consciousness?   I think that it’s important to help kids realize the issues that are happening around the area and the community, and to reflect ways of coping with the issues in classroom discussions.  By doing so, kids can find ways to cope with the problems in the safe community environment that I hope to provide (that I will provide!).


These rules, I think, are a great set of guidelines to get me started in thinking of how to approach the ways in which I hope to teach.  By approaching them with tact and thought, it would be difficult not to make my classroom a better place.  Time will tell.

You Can’t Play

“You Can’t Play With Us!” is what the straight haired blond girl said to my daughter, Ella, as I dropped her off at her school a week or so ago, and I remember distinctly the feeling I had of trying to figure out a way to make the girl’s hurtful words seem not so bad to Ella.  It was strange, because I really don’t think that the blond girl meant anything malicious by her statement, but was just telling Ella that she was playing a game that she and her other friend had created that only had two characters.  It is similar to the game that Ruthie and another girl are discussing in “You Can’t Say You Can’t Play” on p. 62, where they are playing a Cinderella game and there’s one Cinderella and three stepsisters, but when another girl came up and asked to play they told her no, but there really wasn’t a reason other than they just decided that the game should have three sisters. 


Anyways, The two girls had just finished telling my daughter that she couldn’t play with them, and I felt her hand tighten in mine, the sure sign that she’s about to melt into my leg and cry or get upset somehow, but somehow she simply looked at the two girls and said, “Why?” The two girls told her that she just could not, and I whisked her away as she started to cry and the girls went right back to playing as if nothing had transpired at all.


The event, as well as the reading for today both made me think of ways in which we can help children realize that the things that they say and do have ramifications.  I suppose that there are different stages of learning and that different ages and cognition levels are associated with one’s interaction with the world around themselves, that is to say that what one does influences the world.  I am not sure when this happens, but I would have to think that it happens earlier in a child’s development than their school years.  Are children so oblivious to others feelings that they simply do not realize that their words can have the impact that they do, or do they simply not care?


I think that children just do not understand the damage that they can do with a simple exclusionary boundary that is thrown up, but as we are seeing in Paley’s book, the ways to teach the lesson of this principle are not always so easy to put into a nice neat package.  I really like her way of creating a story to convey some of the meanings, and her obvious agreement that the principle of community is an important part of a healthy classroom.  I like that the children are engaged in the discovery process, and not being led toward a goal that the teacher already has, but one that the teacher is also involved with the students in finding.  By joining them in their journey, it shows them that it is perfectly fine to discover new knowledge, in fact it strengthens the act by showing that their figurehead is actively pursuing it as well. 


This week also brought about poetry, and self-reflection in the form of looking at parts of our lives that determine where I am from.  I have never been excited about poetry, but have always been more involved in writing works of fiction (suspense or horror I suppose would be the genre, but without the strange monsters and such), so this was approached somewhat apprehensively. 


The project turned out to be an exercise in looking at my life, but this time, I kept hearing Jane say that phrase about things that I saw then through the eyes of a child would be seen differently when seen today through the eyes of an adult—or something to that effect.  It was a strange exercise in some ways.  There were many things that I chose not to write about, that perhaps a few years ago I would have.  Maybe I have grown older and wiser.  Maybe I have learned what is really important to be said in an assignment such as this rather than what is better left unsaid.  In any event, I found myself thinking of events that I had not thought of in years, of summers spent on beaches when the concept of time meant nothing to me; of soccer games played in the rain; of times good and bad.  Overall, I am satisfied in the way the final product turned out, and am thoughtful of how my kids (and the kids I will teach) will remember the time spent with me, and what I need to do to ensure that they have great memories of those times.

Communities In The Classroom

This week’s readings included Maria Sapon-Shevin’s Building a Safe Learning Community and M. Green’s Imagination, Community and the School. The articles were worthwhile reading and raised valid points for discussion, and were maybe slightly brighter readings that were have been accustomed to thus far in our coursework this quarter.
In Maria Sapon-Shevin’s Building a Safe Learning Community, the focus of the article is obviously about building a safe environment in the classroom in which every student can feel that they are part of the learning community regardless of any possible differences that they may have from others. This seems like a small synopsis for an article with so much to say, and does not do it justice.
Many great points were made. First off, the need for students to feel that their classroom is a safe environment where they are able to express their feelings and be allowed to speak with respect to others is paramount. In a situation like this, a student is made to feel as though they are valued as a member of the community and that they matter, that they are valued. The emphasis of equality and importance of all members of the community is stressed, and is put into action by finding ways in which each student is able to be seen as an asset to the community in some way by exploiting some talent or special thing that that person has as part of their persona. By finding their special trait or talent, each person in the classroom can be made to feel as though they have something to contribute to the community, and that they are special in some way, shape or form. We all like to feel like we’re special in some way, and this helps to build the sense that the community is made up of special people.
But, building a community is not an easy process by any stretch. Building a community is not something that can be done in the first day of class, in the first couple of hours, and then called complete. It must be nurtured and built over time, and constantly monitored for health once it is established for any signs that there are problems. If the community is a healthy one, then the problems should be addressed and discussed as a community to resolve the issue. If it is not quite a healthy one yet, then the same rules apply, but there are also more rules that need to be understood and agreed upon by all that wish the community to succeed. I like the suggestion that was given that said that everyone agrees that they will not hold side conversations but will address problems with those that they have the problems with firsthand, as I believe that it will allow resolution to many issues that could decay parts of a community if left to their own devices.
I liked the article that spoke of instanced where the students would act on their own accord to let others know that people that were ability challenged were part of the community with their words. By creating communities with bonds that tie students together without any stigmas, students can to know others that they may not have known before the community was formed. Any time that you can get to know another person that can enrich your life through their experiences and viewpoints, it’s a worthwhile thing. In addition, the inclusion of everyone does nothing but good things for people’s self-confidence and that can’t be bad.
In building a classroom community, there are obviously many strategies that can be employed. In finding the right way to build a community in my classroom, I will need to consult other educators that have created that community in their classrooms, and others (maybe in our cohort) to see what good ideas come forth. I’m sure there’s other resources out there that we can find, possibly books by good coaches would have some relevance.
The next article, Imagination, Community and the School, predominantly deals with the subject of imagination and the need for a strong imagination in the educational system. The article makes good points about at-risk kids not being thought of in the sense of imagination, but the focus with them is upon new programs that seem to lack imagination. It also speaks of the need for imagination in educators, and that with imagination we can build better communities.
Her point is that a community must be something that people can get together and imagine what the possibilities are for the group, and how the group can get there. “It has to be achieved by persons offered the space in which to discover what they recognize together and appreciate in common…it ought to be a space infused by the kind of imaginative awareness that enables those involved to imagine alternative possibilities for their own becoming and their group’s becoming.”
Communities are paramount in providing a place where kids can feel like they are allowed to flourish and learn. As a future educator, it will be my responsibility to find a way to create a thriving community in my classroom. That’s that kind of class that I’d like to be a part of.

Week 4, Belated.

Week Four, Belated.  Sometimes the best intentions are delayed due to unforeseen things- basically just too much stuff going on at once, and some things slip through the cracks of our lives.  Unfortunately, this time I completely spaced blogging until it was well past the due date, and I blew it.  In any event, I do have things rattling around in my head about last weeks readings that I guess I need to just get out on to some form of media (paper?).  Credit or no, it will do me some good to sort through these things by getting them down this way.


So, busy week of readings, with many concepts that could be seen as discouraging if not digested in the right way.  For that matter, much of what we’ve been discussing in our program thus far could be interpreted that way, but I’m glad that we’re looking at the realities of the world rather than some pretty picture of a flowery field full of smiling kids from a Benetton commercial and a smiling, happy teacher without a care in the world.  You know, no school boards needing to make cuts because of a lack of funding because of lack of public support.  (That always amazes me, to see a school levy failing.  How can people allow that?).


So back to the topic at hand.  Ayres raises the point that “Outstanding teaching is built on a base of knowledge about students” (p.73).  This is what I’ve been hitting on in all of my assignments up to here, and will more than likely continue to bring up- you need to find ways to connect to the kids that are in your class in order to provide them with the best possible education that you can provide.  That connection, that simple thing that lets them know that you think that they mean something to you, that you care about them, that they are IMPORTANT to you, is so powerful. 


Bringing cultures into a classroom is a great way to recognize each child’s individual background, but there are some areas where I think you might need to exercise a little caution.  When enlisting help from parents, perhaps by sending a letter home, or by talking to them via telephone if they are not available in person, or even by a face to face meeting if they have no phone, one needs to be sensitive to each child’s individual situation.  Though everyone has a place where their family comes from, some children do not know their history- such as adopted kids.  Imagine how it would make them feel if they were already sensitive to a situation like that and then to have it magnified by an insensitive teacher who really didn’t mean any harm, but caused it inadvertently. 


The biggest article of the week obviously was the one by Margret Buchmann.  This article challenged us in many ways, the first way was that it questioned the role of one’s personal role and interpretation of the material presented while being taught.  Does one’s influence and bias need to be infused into the data being disseminated to the children who are no doubt going to be influence in some form by your biases? 


This article was especially troubling to me when illustrating the point about the science teaching practices in the classrooms.  In some classrooms, science was taught so that kids would be able to discover and question the processes inherent to the principles of science: the crux of the field.  In other classrooms, other educators who did not fully understand or perhaps were not fully comfortable with the concepts being presented would not allow the children to explore their ideas, thereby quelling their innate spirit of curiosity and perhaps doing permanent damage in the child’s mind when associating these practices with science- leaving a bad taste in their mouth so to speak- about science altogether.  The sheer difference in time spent teaching the different subjects, especially math, was really troubling.  Why would it be acceptable for one teacher’s comfort level with a subject to dictate the amount of education that a child receives in that subject?  The point is, is that is it not.


The article challenges us to step out of our comfort zone, and to become a better educator we must do this.  Though I did not enjoy math, I still know that I need to understand and emulate someone who loves it while in front of kids.  Kids are not as blind as people think, they notice just about everything.  My kids sure do.  If I show that I do not like math, they will in turn pick up on that, and I can’t allow my influence to have that impact.  I have to learn to love math.  Just deal with it. 

Week Three Thoughts

This week has been a good one for our Cohort. We’ve gotten to know each other a little better, and have seen some of the new technology that we will probably see in our future classrooms. I think that it’s really exciting to see that technology in general is finally being embraced, because I was in “the industry” for so long, and saw so many neat things that it could be used for that were often just passed of as a waste of time.
Classrooms have changed drastically from the old wooden floored rooms that I remember in my youth. I suppose that Seattle Public Schools still have those wood lined floors, as replacing them would be quite expensive and there’s certainly no money in the budget for that. The technology that we used when I was a child was comprised mainly of maps that were pulled down from their rolls placed on top of the green “blackboard” and an overhead that would be used with some transparencies- the epitome of high tech. Once in a while, we were able to wheel in a television and tune in a tv channel to watch a program. I specifically remember my 5th grade teacher allowing our class to watch the Sonics parade after they won the ’79 NBA Championship (no fair doing the math).
Today’s classrooms are filled with all kinds of things that just make teaching more full of life if used right. No longer does a teacher have to try and paint a picture of what the Great Wall of China looks like simply by using colorful metaphors and descriptive language; now you can literally go online and display lots of different pictures of the structure for your class to actually see the magnificent structure projected on their whiteboard.
My point is that yes, there are advantages to having that kind of technology available at your disposal, and it may be simply grand to be able to show an actual video of what a manatee looks like when a child wonders what one is. The problem is that sometimes it is going to be hard to convince those that make the decisions in the schools that the use of technology is actually beneficial for all involved, and not just a fancy- schmancy waste of the students time.
In Jane’s class last week, there was an example shown of a classroom wiki site that was created by students in…was it Abu Dhabi? Anyways, the point here is that those kids did something that they were genuinely interested in, and I’m pretty sure that a highlight of their day was to look and see who ha visited their website (or wiki) and left comments about their work. How absolutely cool is that to have people on the other side of the planet looking at what you have been doing in school and learning from your work? This sort of project fosters ownership of the material, and in turn enlists each child to become personally involved in the material that they are presenting and learning about. When this sort of this happens—a connection—it’s what leaning is all about. If you can find a connection that the kids can become excited about, something that they can become genuinely engaged and feel like what they are doing is something that they really, truly want to explore, then you have them in the position of being excited and ready to learn on their own. In a situation like that, it’s hard not to be excited about what’s going on in the classroom; and the classroom has expanded to include the world.
Ayers is a good read and tends to ground one when thinking about the teaching profession. I sincerely like the way that he reminds people not to look down at children, and that each child is special in their own way.
This week’s passage reminds us that just because someone excels in one area of knowledge, it does not mean that they are superiors to all others, it simply means that they’re are good in that area. The example of the young Native child who knew that a perfectly balanced eagle has 13 tail feathers, but was seen as a slow learner due to his reading ability especially rang true with me.
The passage reminds me of something that I heard once, I’m not sure where. America is the most optimistic country in the world. No where else can a person believe that with hard work and determination they can achieve anything. The truth is that each of us learn at different rates and have different aptitudes to learn different things at different abilities. But the belief that we all hold on to, the one that we can all achieve anything, makes us the best because we’re the most optimistic, and that counts for something. A good attitude is half of the battle- at least it seems to help from my experience in life.
This week will be interesting, I’ll be attending a Northshore School District Board Meeting. I’ve been to Board Meetings before, but this one’s going to have some added excitement going on with the recent issues surrounding the closing, then reopening of Woodin Elementary. I’m looking forward to the experience-

Week 2

This weeks’ readings were focused upon the book Tested by Linda Perlstein.  I’ve never read any of her books before, but after the short venture into her world, I think that I’ll be going there again.  She has a knack for bringing the reader into the lives of those that she describes in her writings, and makes the people seem like more than simply characters in a piece of non-fiction literature.  Somehow, she adds a little compassion to the characters, something that all good non-fiction narratives seem to do, and engages the reader on their level. 

Hey, there’s that connection thing again.  You’ve got to connect with someone to engage them.  It’s human nature.  We do it throughout our lives, and in order to teach successfully, we must practice it in our craft.  This is kind of my soapbox.

Back to the book.  I’m sure that if you’re reading this, you’re familiar with the book, you know that it’s set in an elementary school called Tyler Heights located in Maryland.  The school is run down, has many Title I kids, and has it’s share of problems, including the high test scores that the principal, Tina McKnight, was able to drive the kids to achieve the last school year.  The school was recognized as one of the most improved in the state, but that in turn brings along extremely great pressure to repeat the performance and actually to top the performance of last year’s students.

What I find really interesting so far is the humanistic side of the story being told, from the standpoint of the new teachers that are dealing with the situation that they have gotten themselves into.  While many are driven and determined to make a difference, as I think we all are at this point in our cohort lives, we see the questioning that they start to do when confronted by the realities of kids not listening to their direction, parents not helping when it comes to supporting their efforts, and the helpless feelings that they feel in their new careers. 

I’m only in three chapters, so I’m not sure of how the story ends.  The book brings up serious questions about mandatory testing due to the No Child Left Behind laws, and many other things that one wonders about when engaging a path to becoming an educator. 

There was one sentence in particular that stuck out for me.  She said something to the effect that “many of the teachers could converse very well with kids but when faced with adults they became a little awkward”.  I’ve noticed that about many of the teachers that I’ve worked with during my service learning time, and with the teachers that my kids have had recently.  One of the best teachers that I’ve ever met, Mr. V., who was a Master Teacher for years taught my son Cole for a while before retiring for health reasons recently.  I was lucky enough to work with him for a few months and got to know him a little better, but saw how flustered he would get when he would have to do any sort of parent’s night.  Maybe it was because he felt like he was being put under a microscope or something?  Not sure.  I suppose I can understand.  I can feel like that at times.

The question of teaching kids to pass a test seems to me like a way to teach kids to figure out a way to get through school without learning what is really important.  It seems like we’re teaching them how to test, rather than giving them a real education.  I want my kids to understand the difference between meiosis and mitosis, and know what each really is, rather than simply being able to determine what answer fits best. 

In teaching for the test, we’re also losing other ‘non essential’ programs.  It’s no secret that music, art and drama programs are all being cut to make more time to study for (insert YOUR state’s federally mandated test here).  If we lose the arts, we lose some of our culture, and is it really all right to do that?  I’m not fine with that.  Kids need art, they need to have ways to express their creativity.

There’s got to be a better way to measure progress.  I wish I had all of the answers.  I just don’t right now. 

The cohort is really starting to take a life of its’ own.  The emails are flying rampantly.  It’s good to have involvement like that.  Good to have such a vibrant, vocal group.  Seems like everyone here genuinely is engaged, something that’s refreshing.  I haven’t seen that in quite some time.  Unlike undergrad classes, people are here because they want to be here, there’s a difference.  It’s nice.

Looking forward to class this week.  I’m eager to discuss what Ayers says in his first chapter.  See you there-