Archive for January 2008

Are Schools Killing Creativity?   Leave a comment

This video is worth your time since the speaker is a key person at the J. Paul Getty Foundation which studies education.

Education is supposed to ready our future leaders …. is that getting done?
What are the accomplishments of schools and how does school nurture creativity?

I think this is an excellent talk and well worth your 18 minutes to view it.


Posted January 30, 2008 by Jack in creativity, education, pedagogy, schools, Ted

Students Motivate Themselves in Environmental Education   Leave a comment

K-12 students in Kenya, Paris, or San Diego all have one significant commonality: the environment. What Inconvenient Truth did for raising the bar on environmental education is, without a doubt, “global awareness.” I think whoever watches it, even if they don’t agree with the message, gets a clear picture of how different aspects of the environment are directly connected to our life styles. Every class of my high school students watching that movie have concluded with the question, “What can I do?” Young people today do care about what happens with the environment; yet many feel overwhelmed or powerless in dealing with environmental issues. My experience leads me to believe that the time has arrived to capture their interest with learning experiences to discover appropriate care of tomorrow’s healthy environment, which means providing environmental education that is academically focused and civically pointed.

Service learning contributes to student education, along with building social skills: character building. Service-learning is considered a constructivist approach to teaching and learning. Constructivists (e.g., Brooks & Brooks, 1999) propose that students actively create their own knowledge using real world situations to examine essential concepts in a context that is personally meaningful. Service-learning has been around since for almost 100 years as a method to enhance education. Since the early 1990’s there have been more and more legislative efforts and comprehensive national programs to emphasize and support this learning. Today, there’s a growing interest on the part of educators as more studies point out the cross- curriculum benefits.

Producing projects that combine service learning and environmental education is easily accomplished to fulfill lesson objectives and it can be molded to fit class characteristics. Here are two examples of projects for grades 5-12: A) students in a middle school science class studying the environment help preserve the species of birch trees, local to their area, by raising money to purchase some small birch trees and then plant them at a local park or forested area; B) students concerned with the quality of the environment organize a recycling effort at school by establishing and carrying-out a schedule of regularly picking up recyclable materials from classes and offices; then depositing that material in a campus bin that is picked up by a recycle vendor. There are volumes of benefits for students in a doing project.

Educators have to take the lead in class environmental projects. The teacher has to get them pointed in the right direction, assist them in getting organized, and keep them on track. When I hear my students asking about what they can do, I take their interest down to our local level. We begin talking about ideas to clean up the campus, teaching other students about the environment, or doing some work in the neighborhood. We begin with brainstorming on ideas as a class. The next step is alignment, making a commitment as a class to take some action on at least one project we have discussed. The last step is the most comprehensive because it involves the actual project work. The pivotal point is the students taking control and running the project work, which happens when the teacher becomes a resource or Subject Matter Expert.

Brooks, Jacqueline Grennon, Martin Brooks. In search of understanding: The case for constructivist classrooms. Alexandria, VA; Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development,1999.

Posted January 28, 2008 by Jack in cross- curriculum, environment, service elarning

The Law of the Garbage Truck   Leave a comment

In my classes we are doing a project in pairs to explore genes, traits and other genetic concepts. One of my teaching goals, most of the time, is to not answer student questions directly but to encourage them to think.

In my professional development classes and in the research reading I’ve done, it seems students stop, or significantly decrease, their thinking when teachers give them an answer. I make a concentrated effort to encourage and encourage them some more to think the situation/problem through and arrive at their own conclusion.

Yesterday there were two students who were struggling with the exercise. One was energetic and the other was doubtful and not contributing a lot of positive thinking to the work that needed to be accomplished. It was an excellent opening for me to share the law of the garbage truck with the class……

A husband and wife were on vacation in NYC when they hopped in a taxi and took off for Grand Central Station. They were driving in the right lane when, all of a sudden, a black car jumped out of a parking space right in front of them. Their taxi driver slammed on his breaks, skidded, and missed the other car’s back end by just inches! The driver of the other car, the guy who almost caused a big accident, whipped his head around and started yelling bad words at us. Their taxi driver just smiled and waved at the guy. So, they said, “Why did you just do that? This guy almost ruined your car and sent us to the hospital!” And this is when their taxi driver told them what is known as, “The Law of the Garbage Truck.” Many people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment. As their garbage piles up, they need a place to dump it. And if you let them, they’ll dump it on you. When someone wants to dump on you, don’t take it personally. You just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on. You’ll be happy you did. So this was it: “The Law of the Garbage Truck.”

Posted January 25, 2008 by Jack in Instruction

Change is Commonality: USA K-12 education & USA economy   Leave a comment

Nothing but the bad sate of the economy in the news today. I’m no expert there but listening to the facts, it sounds like us folks living in the USA will have to borrow money from another country to “stimulate” our own economy. Somehow that just doesn’t sound right at all.

Are you wondering why I’m talking about the economy in my blog that deals with K-12 education?

The economy and K-12 education both need change to benefit the citizens. For example, let’s look at the schedule and curriculum of K-12 education. The schedule today is the same as it was in the 1950’s. Students start school early in the morning and get out in the afternoon. Is that still the best structure? Has anything else changed in the last 60 years? Everything about cars has changed since the 1950’s; except they still ride on four wheels. Wardrobes have changed more than once. The power of the dollar has change many times. What is considered to be nutritious has changed and so has our idea of smoking.

Computers and iPods weren’t even available 10 years ago. Why is it we can’t fund some research on what schedule works best for young people to optimize their time tables? After all, their brain is still growing as research has already detailed. Perhaps, maybe, they might retain more and participate more in class if the schedule began later and ended later in the day?

Then there is the curriculum. Today, just like in the past, states are still driving their own Standards for what needs to be taught. Classes are still taught in segments; math in one class, reading in another, science in a different one, and so forth. What about cross curriculum schedules where students learn multiple content areas while working in a class or project? Here’s a novel idea, what if students worked on a project team to build a robot that competed with other student teams; where the awards are based on demonstrating respect and gracious professionalism in your team and with other teams? We’re talking about science, math, reading, writing, and serious life skill building now. Cool idea – right? I think so. BTW, this already exists at FIRST.

Another perspective, are we teaching K-12 students what they need to know when they graduate? I’m not sure we can answer this question since we are busy focusing on getting them prepared to pass a test based on locally determined education priorities. What about the basics? Can they balance a checkbook? What about a profit and loss statement, can they understand the differences and plan accordingly? Based on recent research of small business failures I think not.

There’s a long way to go on answering the questions here and I know there’s no quick fix. Yet, we didn’t know how to get to the moon and we did it in a relatively short period of time with a focused effort. For some background material on the state of education there are links to five key reports produced by leading education researchers available at the ERI web site.

I’m no pundit. I do think we deserve to give our K-12 students the best education possible. When we do that, the future for this great country will get brighter.

Here is a great read on the questions raised: Are Schools Failing Kids in 21st Century Skills?

Posted January 23, 2008 by Jack in Curriculum, edcation reform, K-12

The best FREE lunch in education you’ll get   1 comment

I think we’re all going to agree that education should be free after K-12 – yes?

Here is your source for that …. from prestigious university classes: MIT, Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon and many more: click here.

This site has all content areas. It has languages. It even has ear training software. Most classes are videos taking during the class – excellent. I heard that MIT has said they are going to get all classes taught at that university on this free distribution system by end of this year.

You have to check out this site. If not for you than for you kids sake. This resources supplies what, to me, education is supposed to be: filled with quality and free. It’s not a replacement for sitting in the class as an enrolled student but it sure is a darn good start.

Posted January 22, 2008 by Jack in Instruction

Take Green Action Next Week – Focus the Nation   Leave a comment

It’s Sunday night and tomorrow is a holiday here in USA, which means I’m not preparing my lessons until tomorrow.

Something exciting and important is happening on January 31st that I read about today:Focus the Nation.

Focus the Nation examines the greening America and reducing global warming with different strategies. It’s an educational initiative and includes civic engagement.

= One effort is to engage and work on green democracy
= There is a National Teach In on January 31st where you can participate
= You can cast your vote to choose the green options you think are best
= The 2% Solution is a webcast you can attend on January 30

This seems like a great opportunity and I plan on getting an event scheduled at my high school for January 31st, attending the webcast, and voting too.

Posted January 21, 2008 by Jack in Instruction

Classroom social dynamics – where do they come from?   Leave a comment

Yesterday I had small groups discuss some questions in class related to the key concepts we were learning this week. I gave them three to five minutes depending on the question, the incentive was that the table(s) with correct answers would receive bonus points.

As I wandered the room and monitored each table, I saw something that didn’t surprise me much. At tables where there were lively discussions everyone had an equal vote, no one really swayed the conversation – unless someone produced a note they had taken as evidence. Conversely, key students – those students with a “reputation” as being smart” due to their grades and comments in class – could sway a conversation just with a comment …. They didn’t need any evidence – there was an inherent trust in what they said.

Today I gave a quiz that I had been talking about all week. In scoring it, I noticed the students that were actively participating in the discussion yesterday scored higher on the quiz. In case you’re wondering, yes – the questions yesterday were about the topics on the quiz.

As a teacher, what did I learn from this?

Social dynamics is a key part of class and no one taught me this in my bachelors to get a teaching certificate. In my Master’s we covered it indirectly. Yes, I was taught classroom management and that was/is immensely helpful. But, social dynamics is different.

For me, social dynamics equates to students getting “out of their thinking box” and looking at situations/conversations freshly. This is much easier than is sounds.
We began a new semester two weeks ago and now I have all the new students I will get – schedules are finally settling down. The difference in thinking levels between the new students and ones who were with me last semester are night and day.
I use a lot of discussions in my teaching. I’m convinced that students learn more from each other in these group discussions than any time, energy or material I present. I always have discussions after I present material to let students absorb it.

I ask a lot of questions to students in my teaching. What was apparent from the discussion yesterday is I have to be careful about the mix of students in group work, given the high number of new students I have. I need to mix the old students with the new students, otherwise the new students are bound to get off track … both in groups and in seating and also in class discussions. This takes an enormous amount of focus and concentration on my part – stamina.

I think that stamina comes from my business career. To be successful in business you have to dissect situations and examine them against your goals – at least I had to do that as a project manager. Honestly, I don’t see where they young teachers – just out of college – get that knack – that insight. I know there are no college classes teaching social dynamics.

The push in assimilating new teachers seems to be focused on college grads. Are we setting them up to lose? What if we focused on pulling successful business people into teaching ……would they stand a better chance for success?

People skills. Without those skills a teacher is going to be hurting, perhaps trying to make friends with students rather than teach them. I think we need to hire teachers with strong people skills and equally strong content knowledge.

Hiring a nerd won’t work – students will eat them alive. At the other end, hiring someone with no content knowledge won’t help the students learn much. We need a knowledge skill and people skill balance in teachers.

That’s my two cents today.

BTW, here is an excellent video about getting out of the box. (grin)

Posted January 19, 2008 by Jack in Instruction