Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Four Keys to a Successful Online Program

A follow up to yesterday's blog about increased access to free online education; this article discusses the keys to a successful online program. They are pretty straightforward:
  1. The acquisition of mission-critical tools that foster collaboration and enable effective communication;
  2. The implementation of a flexible, focused curriculum that can be tailored to the individual student;
  3. The relevant, timely, and in-depth training of all stakeholders, including administrators, teachers, and parents; and,
  4. The development of an immediate, effective technical and academic support system.
I am not sure that most online providers have these four systems down; our experience with K12 (one of the providers quoted in the article) was that they were not flexible with regard to curriculum, and the actual instruction was simply regular public school in the sense that the instruction was focused squarely on the middle students. The technical support system was great (K12 will provide a computer and a printer for students who need it, all for free through several public systems across the country), but overall, had I not been a teacher, the year would have been a wash, with The Kid completing grinding hours of work in front of a computer, churning out useless repetitive worksheets and exploring an inch of each subject.

Still, my professional learning network on Twitter (@HoneyFernDotOrg) is doing great things in the classroom, inlcuding mystery Skype sessions with other classes across the country, helping their kids design videogames and "flipping" their classes; Edmodo and Moodle and other online platforms are more conducive to collaboration, and Google+ offers tools, too. I am still not totally convinced that all online is the way to go, but there are inroads.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Free, Quality, Online Education

Is this an oxymoron? Quality online education?

Many colleges and universities are diving into the fray of free online education, including Stanford, which is offering a slate of 17 free online classes this summer, classes that include actual grades (although not credit; you have to enroll, be accepted and pay $40-50,000 for that).

Access to education is not consistent; many countries in the world have little, if any, local schooling. Online classes could be an answer.

Then again, maybe not. If there are no schools, what is the guarantee that there is technology? There are programs that are trying to get laptops with imbedded satellite internet capabilities to every child on the globe, but this dream will take time and money to fulfill.

Other issues in the push for online education are that the education being pushed is a predominently western one, with western ideals of what being educated means, including the manner in which education is delivered and the content of that education. Perhaps the best candidate for online education at this point is the one who doesn't need it: from a developed country, motivated and with the resources to make best use of the delivery model.

Still, all of these ideas are tools to be incorporated. Now that Sal Khan's methodology has been debunked just a little (the debate skews to the side of no research on its effectiveness and the fact that a teacher is missing), the education establishment is looking a little more closely at the design of online classes and trying to figure out ways to make it more inclusive and accessible to the wide variety of students who could potentially benefit from it.

This is a good thing, and the development of more options for students bears watching.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

FRESH: The Movie - Free Online Until February 1st

FRESH, a movie about sustainable, environmentally conscious growing, is available for free until Wednesday, February 1st.

A synopsis from their website:

FRESH celebrates the farmers, thinkers and business people across America who are re-inventing our food system. Each has witnessed the rapid transformation of our agriculture into an industrial model, and confronted the consequences: food contamination, environmental pollution, depletion of natural resources, and morbid obesity. Forging healthier, sustainable alternatives, they offer a practical vision for a future of our food and our planet.

Among several main characters, FRESH features urban farmer and activist, Will Allen, the recipient of MacArthur’s 2008 Genius Award; sustainable farmer and entrepreneur, Joel Salatin, made famous by Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma; and supermarket owner, David Ball, challenging our Wal-Mart dominated economy.

Happy watching!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

What's Wrong With the Teenaged Mind?

We (the students and I)  were discussing this very thing while dissecting sheep brains the other day at HoneyFern School. Yes, you can look at the physical mass of brain as an intricate network of neural connections with specific functions for emotion, senses and actions, but to understand how and why adolescents are the way they are is a whole other ball of wax.

Seems like kids are starting puberty earlier and entering adulthood later. My grandmother was married on Christmas Eve by 20 and was raising a baby and working full-time shortly thereafter. She grew up during the Depression and worked a job as soon as she could to help support her family. My grandfather was off fighting in World War II (can't grow up much faster than fighting a war) and then came back to a job that he worked very nearly until retirement, raising three kids with his wife. My parents were the same way, and I had my first job at 15, the earliest I could get one, craving both spending money and independence.

These days, the biological age at which kids begin their sexual development (puberty) is getting lower and lower while the entrance into the "normal" occupations of adulthood is coming later and later; in 2008, the College Board reported that only 57% of enrolled college students would finish their degree within six years, and young adults are delaying marriage and childbearing at historic rates as well (median age at first marriage chart here).

What happens when children reach puberty earlier and adulthood later? The answer is: a good deal of teenage weirdness. Fortunately, developmental psychologists and neuroscientists are starting to explain the foundations of that weirdness.
The crucial new idea is that there are two different neural and psychological systems that interact to turn children into adults. Over the past two centuries, and even more over the past generation, the developmental timing of these two systems has changed. That, in turn, has profoundly changed adolescence and produced new kinds of adolescent woe. The big question for anyone who deals with young people today is how we can go about bringing these cogs of the teenage mind into sync once again.

Bringing them "into sync" is crucial, both for their health and happiness. If the first system deals with reward (primarily social rewards from peers for teens) and the second deals with control (learning not to make the same mistakes over and over again), then adolescents need lots of opportunities to be successful and brilliant (ideally in front of an appreciative, supportive peer group) and to fail (ideally in front of a supportive, instructive adult or mentor who can help them work through their mistakes and learn to avoid them in the future).

In the distant (and even the not-so-distant) historical past, these systems of motivation and control were largely in sync. In gatherer-hunter and farming societies, childhood education involves formal and informal apprenticeship. Children have lots of chances to practice the skills that they need to accomplish their goals as adults, and so to become expert planners and actors. 

In the past, to become a good gatherer or hunter, cook or caregiver, you would actually practice gathering, hunting, cooking and taking care of children all through middle childhood and early adolescence—tuning up just the prefrontal wiring you'd need as an adult. But you'd do all that under expert adult supervision and in the protected world of childhood, where the impact of your inevitable failures would be blunted. When the motivational juice of puberty arrived, you'd be ready to go after the real rewards, in the world outside, with new intensity and exuberance, but you'd also have the skill and control to do it effectively and reasonably safely.

Our current system of education does not encourage these types of practice in the skills that adolescents need to survive today.

The experience of trying to achieve a real goal in real time in the real world is increasingly delayed, and the growth of the control system depends on just those experiences.

This results in young adults who cannot move out of their parents' basements because they lack the skills and confidence to truly manage their own life and experiences. The article under discussion points out that kids today are not "stupider" and are, in fact, much smarter and more savvy in many ways. Still, without the practice of skills and independence, the accountability and correction of failure and the encouragement of peers and involved adults, we are winding up with young adults who "develop and accelerator long before they develop a brake."

Adolescents need opportunities for practice, for success and failure, for specialization in something they love and for building life skills, starting in pre-adolescence and continuing until they are on their way into the world. This is not how our current system of education is structured, and it is not how it is currently being "reformed." Ask yourself this: what are the chances of success in education if it ignores the way our brains develop?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Women in the Media.

Take a moment out of your day to watch this, parents of girls AND boys.

Media is not something to take lightly, and it is not something let your kids consume mindlessly. This what your kids see in everything they view.

What will you do to combat this voice and help your kids think for themselves?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Using The Arts to Build Executive Function

"Executive function" is one of the latest buzzphrases in education; this replaces the more-familiar "oganizational skills" or "time management" descriptors of the past. It is becoming clearer that in our increasingly distracting and multi-tasked world, students need strategies and explicit instruction in developing these skills, but methods of teaching executive function can vary widely and are generally met with groans and blank stares.

Enter The Arts. Apparently, using The Arts (music, dance, song, art) in class relaxes the brain and makes it more receptive, open and organized; teachers can use color, sound, light and patterns, as well as movement, anticipation and "curious objects" to open up a student to organization.

I love art, and I love making art with students. One of my fondest memories with students is taking a lunchtime art class with them; my planning period was during lunch, so I took a couple days a week and sat in on their art class and worked on the same projects they did. This changed the dynamic with my students and me; they got to see me struggle with my own perfectionist tendencies, they got to be better than me at something and we had relaxed conversations about whatever. There was some uncharitable grumbling from other teachers that I was "goofing off" during my planning period, so I must not have had enough to do, but the time with the kids was invaluable. It was a rejuvenating break in the middle of the day, and I found myself relaxed and more focused on the days I did art.

Perhaps this is the key in the research. Art itself takes time and attention, a thoughtful shift in focus. If we can tune out all of the mental chatter (the little voice that tells us we can't draw or dance or sing, the one that wakes up right around 5th grade as we begin to measure our work against others instead of just creating for the sake of creation), perhaps we can also learn how to tune out the distractions of daily life, organizing, prioritizing and vitalizing out daily executive functioning.

At any rate, this is a great excuse to make art daily. As if anyone should need an excuse...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

More on Motivation

I am journeying to Birmingham on January 28th to listen to Alfie Kohn deliver the keynote speech for the Alabama Council of Teachers of English (thanks for the heads-up, Helen Smith!), so I have motivation on the brain these days. It is a complex issue for anyone who teaches anyone (which is everyone, if you include training coworkers or interacting with customers, which I do).

The New York Times hosted a guest article on helping students motivate themselves (the original Golden Ticket - intrinsic motivation), and it made these suggestions:

1. Praise effort, not intelligence (think, "You were very persistent," instead of, "You are so smart!")
2. Help students understand and develop self control (the famous Marshmallow Experiment)
3.Assign a 15-minute, values-based writing assignment (to remind students what is important to them)

These are all research-based suggestions, which means that they carry a lot of weight in the education world (think "best practices" which are generally "research-based"). I see the value in these, and the marshmallow video is just fun to watch, too. I do find it interesting that the age of students is not mentioned in any one of these suggestions (even the Marshmallow Experiment write-up does not indicate that this experiement was done with younger students - just that results happened over time). Are we all motivated by the same things at the same age?

I can say that most adolescents can smell insincerity a mile away; if you are praising their effort and don't mean it, you might as well forget it. They will also not be interested in a values-based writing assignment unless you can tie it to their lives in a meaningful way (as opposed to an afterschool special kind of way). Adolescents and teenagers want to know "why?" constantly, and unless you are prepared with an answer to that question, the research above is meaningless. I realize that I am generalizing about younger kids, and it is important to be authentic with them as well, but for adolescents and teens, relationships that are real, with adults who genuinely care about them, may be the key to helping them become more intrinsically motivated.

The jury is out until early adulthood, though. What a kid does in elementary, middle and high school may have nothing to do with their actions in adult life. Motivation is an ever-shifting paradigm, hard to measure and encapsulate in simple bulleted points. What do you do to develop intrinsically motivated kids?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Should Your Gifted Kid Take All AP Classes?

Not according to this article, and I have to say I agree.

AP classes are not targeted to gifted students; they are targeted to MOTIVATED students, and this excludes a large number of high-IQ kids. One of the great myths of gifted kids is that they are all super-motivated, enthusiastic learners who dive into every learning task.

Not so, my friend.

Gifted students are a motley bunch, all regular kids (except for the minor issue of the fact that their brains process and integrate facts much more efficiently than their non-gifted peers). I strongly disagree with the quote in this article, and all the burden it lays on these kids:

A gifted student, not atypically, is intrinsically motivated to tackle the hardest, most rigorous option of, well nearly anything!

Not even close, in my experience (thirteen years with the gifted). The only time intrinsic motivation is present for all gifted kids is when the subject is something interesting to the student. Full stop. I find intrisically motivated gifted kids to be very atypical, and I find the most intrinsically motivated kids are on the lower end of the gifted spectrum; they are smart enough to know that hard work and persistence can beat apathetic, procrastinating smarts.

AP classes (of which I teach four) are college-level classes with massive amounts of reading and information. Only the most motivated and self-directed of kids should consider them, and these are generally not students who are identified as gifted (again, in my experience) unless the subject is something they are passionate about (i.e., don't stick a brilliant math student who is apathetic about writing into an AP Language and Comp class.). A motivated gifted kid would be incredible in an AP class, though, especially if it was in their area of interest.

If you are really looking at what is best for your gifted student, drop the notion of appearance, that since they are gifted, they should be gifted in all things. Yes, a "B" in an AP class is the same weight as an "A" in a regular class, but at what price? How much stress can your kid handle before they shut down, and is it in their best interest to make them take these classes in high school?

I don't think so. Let them follow their passions and guide their learning, and watch them grow into the brilliant people they can be. AP classes are not for everyone; evaluate what it best for your kid, regardless of their label. You will all be better off!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Expanding Our Culture!

This coming Tuesday we will welcome a mid-year student, Monica, to HoneyFern. Monica is an American-born Nicaraguan who was raised in Nicaragua and moved to Atlanta just last week; she greeted me at my door with a kiss on the cheek, and we got to spend several hours today getting to know her family.

I am looking forward to getting to know her better as we work together, learning about her culture as she learns about ours. I am putting myself in her shoes as I plan for her work; she is immersed in a new culture, learning a language that she has very little experience in, with a separate branch of her family. She has to become accustomed to new food, new music, new technology and a suddenly expanded world.

Where would you start? What would you need to know the most in order to not be overwhelmed and discouraged? What essential advice would you give her as she starts her new life?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

All You Need is a Library Card...and Some Motivation

Motivation is a four-letter word.

I have found that one can plan the best lessons, or simply let the kid lead, or crack the whip, or use the laissez-faire approach...and it can potentially yield the same result.

Absolutely nothing.

Motivation is crucial to success, not just in academia but also in life. How does one teach motivation? Excellent question.

The best I can figure it is this: model the behavior you want and then apply the following formula:

Patience + Persistence = Success/Time (TM)

Or, you can simply get your student a library card and send them on their way. I have a sneaking suspicion that the people in the article were motivated to begin with, but what would happen if you just let your kids READ? Self-selected with guidance when asked for and perhaps resource gathering when needed but no other intervention.

I think that would be an awesome Ph.D project - get a large enough sample of parents who are willing to just let their kids read for the whole of their education. Obviously, the kids would need to be able to read, so some type of instruction might be necessary to get the ball rolling, but it wouldn't necessarily need to be formal schooling; kids could be homeschooled or schooled traditionally, and that could be part of the study.

Why yes, as a strong proponent of reading and a gut-level instinct that it would work to produce thoughtful, intelligent and highly educated person, I would love to complete this research! Contact me directly if you'd like to A). fund the research, B) admit me into your Ph.D program, or C) volunteer your kid. I'm going to need an awful lot of them.

Friday, January 20, 2012


HoneyFern School is exploring the idea of a community graden with our food pantry partner Hollydale United Methodist Church. To that end, we have been exploring garden-specific grants as well as grants in general, and I thought I'd share a few links for like-minded folks.

Stonyfield Farms Profit for the Planet

These grants focus on four principle areas: family farming, slowing or reversing climate change, organic agriculture/toxin reduction and avoiding adverse health reactions from agricultural practices.

Seed Grants

Free vegetable seeds for non-profits - just pay shipping and handling.

School Grants - general

Some for specific programs, some for general funding. Not all links are up-to-date, but most are functional and current.

Foundation Grants to Individuals

This is a pay-for-use service that finds grants to individuals, including scholarships, fellowships and grants. Grants for individuals are difficult to find, and this is an affordable resource that brings them together in one place. Worth trying out for $19.95.

And to help you get the grant, here is a resource on writing a successful grant proposal. The first rule of thumb in ensuring your success is making sure your project matches the goals of the grant-making organization.

Happy funding!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Ten Signs You Need a Different Education For Your Child

For me, at this point, the main sign is if your school is public. Although there are some notably fabulous public schools, in the main, our educational philosophies in this country are so far out of whack right now that it is nearly impossible to get a good education at a public institution. I believe in the concept, but not the current iteration.  Having been previously incorrectly labeled as someone who hates public school, I feel the need to make that disclaimer every time I criticize it. I was fortunate to teach at one incredible public school in Seattle for my first job, which is probably why I stayed in teaching and in public school for so long.

Now that that is out of the way, here are the ten signs you need a different education for your child:

1. They say they hate school.
2. They find it difficult to interact with children of different ages or adults.
3. They are fixated on trendy/designer clothes.
4. They come home from school cranky.
5. They complain about situations or conflicts that are unfair and ongoing.
6. They have lost interest in creative expression (art, music, dance, etc)
7. They have no interest in reading or pursuing an interest for fun and are doing the bare minimum.
8. They procrastinate in their homework.
9. They don't come home excited about anything from school.
10. The school nurse suggests a behavior-regulating drug.

Obviously, students demonstrate some or all of these characteristcs across their lives; these are not abnormal in and of themselves.

The key is looking for these signs together, over time, exhibited with more severity than might be usual.

From my personal experience, #7 was a huge warning sign for me. I knew The Child was capable of more, bu she was never asked to do her best, just to do the minimum. She spent much of her primary schooling years reading in the corner because she finished first, learning very quickly that she didn't actually have to go above and beyond to get the grade.

You have options now, options that go beyond expensive private schools and straight-up homeschooling. You don't have to remain on the sinking ship - there are life rafts everywhere; you just have to take them.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Google - What is it Good For?

Quick: when I say Google, what springs to mind?

For me, it is a search engine with cute little doodles on special days.

Sometimes it is Goggle+ hangouts, but rarely, as varying connection speeds among participants make them difficult to navigate and frustrating when they freeze or have a long delay.

But Google is so much more, and I am finding this out. Among the best resources for using Google+, Larry Ferlazzo has written this article, with all cited websites focused on educator uses for Google+ (there is a wealth of information in this article, so allow yourself time to read them, or bookmark for later!).

Additionally, I just discovered Google Lit Trips, a resource that maps out a book's setting using Google Earth (we are currently using this for a lit trip on The Odyssey).

Here are "15 Killer Features" of Google Chrome that you may not know about (which I totally did not, and I am especially interested in syncing bookmarks (the ones that I don't put on Pinterest, at any rate).

There are GoogleDocs, of course, which makes sharing and peer editing documents ridiculously easy, helpful for online classes and group discussions.

Google Scholar offers scholarly research results for your search queries.

There is so much more than a search engine behind Google, as I have been finding out. See it all here, and enjoy!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Chemistry and Biology Team Up

The idea of living chemistry - integrating the biology of the body and its chemical components and interactions - seems pretty straightforward to me, but apparently this is a new concept for scientists.

Not that body chemistry hasn't been discussed before; commercials advertising for deodorant used to tout how women's body chemistry was so different from men's that they required and entirely separate formula (mostly just a different smell added).

Perhaps it isn't a new fiedl so much as it is an intensified field. With humanity teetering on the precipice of discoveries to end potentially life-threatening diseases, then cooperation between chemists studying the chemical architecture of the body and biologists studying the functions of it, the possibilities are exciting and intriguing.

Plus, it is interesting to visualize the periodic table coursing through your veins...I wonder what my atomic weight is....

Why the United States is Destroying Its Education System

Copied and pasted, whole-cloth, from an article published earlier in the year. Take time to read and think about the future implications of what we are doing to our educational system in this country. If we do not act to change this course we are on, ever more testing, ever more standardizing....we, and our children, are lost.

Why the United States Is Destroying Its Education System


Posted on Apr 11, 2011

Monday, January 16, 2012

Discovery Through Dissection

The best part of school is when we get hands-on, do things we thought we couldn't do and learn deeply.

Dissecting owl pellets last week did all of those things; this week we move on to the vascular and nervous systems with sheep hearts and brains, and then on to six different phyla dissections.


And a Little Slug Shall Lead Them

Don't you love it when oddball, seemingly-disparate science has application to students and education?

For years, teachers have exhorted their students not to cram for tests, begging them to instead follow the less flashy practice of reviewing in bits all the way up to the Big Day. Turns out, there is a biological basis  for this advice, as demonstrated by sea slugs. Slugs were shocked and then shocked again later, and scientists checked them to see if they remembered who did the shocking.

Seems like an odd way to study brain chemistry (and poor slugs!), but

Better ways to learn based on brain science would have enormous ramifications for educational practices. "It's not going to be an easy direction to follow because it means a lot of painstaking and detailed work to understand the biochemistry of learning," Byrne says. "But I think what it demonstrates is that if you have that information you may be able to make some big advancements in improving learning abilities by being in sync with the underlying molecular dynamics. Rather than taking cognitive enhancement drugs, you could have better training procedures."

I am not sure that a student who routinely crams for tests will be swayed by brain science, but the study itself reaffirms that acquiring knowledge is a slow, steady build not a hasty stacking. Perhaps fitting that a slug would lead the way.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

MLK Day - Lessons

Many schools are out tomorrow, but I came across a great lesson that analyzes the language in MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech. The text of the full speech and a video are included in the lesson, and it is an excellent way to not only work with the ideas behind the speech but also the structure of it.

This day has seemed to lose its luster over the years (Arizona still refuses to acknowledge it), with many younger students questioning what all the fuss is bout. They take for granted classes of all races and restaurants where everyone can eat. They assume that racism is a construct and that we have moved past it.

And then a study reveals that African American students, boys especially, are disciplined more and more severely, receive less positive attention and earn lower grades than their white counterparts all the way through college. Anti-Hispanic discrimination is rising with the tide of immigrant law, and this issue is a major part of the presidential campaign.

We are not done; discrimination has become institutionalized and more subtle. It is not gone, and pretending that it is. shoving it underground or only acknowledging extremist groups as racists excuses the sneakier ways we are perpetrating racism daily.

We are different; this is not about homogenizing. Discussing issues of race (and class, so inextricably intertwined these days) helps us to understand others and, in doing that, ourselves.

We are not quite "free at last."

Saturday, January 14, 2012

What Can't Good Teachers Do? And Is That What Will Save Schools?

It is budget discussion time for many schools around the country, and it shows in the educational articles in recent weeks. This is a time when teachers and their work come under scrutiny as districts tighten belts and examine what they can cut; schools are still suffering and will continue to suffer for many more years as property tax rates decline (and thus, school revenues decline).

Last week Slate published a great article on elementary school teachers and their ability to not only increase college attendance rates but also decrease teen pregnancy rates. The article is actually about value-added teacher evaluation systems; simply put, these systems look at a student's test scores with a particular teacher. The more the scores go up, the more value a teacher has added, and the more effective a teacher is deemed to be. Obviously, the converse is also true. Bonuses and base pay are trending this way in education, and some teachers are arguing (rightly so) that basing an evaluation solely on a standardized test score is misleading and will not give a true measure of a teacher's performance.  The other argument is that teachers under this system may simply teach to the test.

It is hard to say what the right answer to teacher evaluation is. Teachers deal with living beings, changeable and fractious. They are not crunching numbers or dealing with black and white scenarios, ever. What works brilliantly for one group of students may fail spectacularly the next; which year do you use to evaluate? Is it a straight average? And what are you looking at to decide what has failed and what has succeeded?

Let's look at the larger system of education before we drill down to its smaller bits. I believe we have lost our way in public education, starting with NCLB ten years ago and continuing with Race to the Middle and other standardizing measures. What is our goal in education, and why? Have we set up schools for success by giving them the ability to change what and how they teach based on who they teach? Are our schools student-focused, community-based and success-oriented? Do they empower teachers as trained professionals, or do they view them as babysitters with degrees?

Do our schools have access to meaningful technology? Do they allow for collaboration and problem-solving? Have they allowed time for teachers to build the skills they need to incorporate new technologies, modeling cooperation and collaboration?

Do our schools have high expectations for all students, and do they offer opportunities for useful remediation as well as expansive acceleration? Are they innovative?

Unless we address the larger issues plaguing our schools, we will be unable to move forward, and tecaher evaluation will (continue to) be the least of our worries. All of the reform movements have not looked at larger philosophical underpinnings in public education, and without that close look at what we believe, any reforms we make are simply Band-aids.

Friday, January 13, 2012

2011 Education Year in Review AND Quality Counts 2012!

You only need one link today to tide you over, and here it is:

2011 Year in Review

Teacher issues, politics and blogs and a general compendium of everything educational.

UPDATE: You also need to peruse the annual Quality Counts Report, released this week. Offers information on state rankings and how the country is doing in education. I take this with a HEAPING boulder of salt. Georgia, for example, ranks 7th in standards (a 79.7%) but falls far short of actual achievement. So Georgia can make the table look pretty, but the food never appears. Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?

Oh, and to quote Mark Twain: There are lies, damn lies, and statistics. So tread cautiously.

Also, you will need something to eat; I made this, and it is DELICIOUS.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Strengths, Not Deficits, or How Legos Help

Education is big into deficits. When a kid shows up at school, educators look to see where they are weak and tend to focus on that, ignoring strengths and talents.

Students who are twice-exceptional (2e) get the short end of this stick frequently; a 2e student is one who is gifted but also diagnosed with a learning challenge, anything from clinical ADHD to dyslexia to Asperger's or autism. Most gifted programs are not equipped (in personnel, money or time) to address a significant learning issue, and many 2e students end up being removed from the programs because they cannot keep up with the pace of the program or they need additional help to physically complete the work. The 2e student is then returned to the regular classroom where only their deficit is addressed and their gift remains undeveloped.

That is why I liked this article on a student with Asperger's who is using Legos to help him cope and develop. He is homeschooled, which gives him more flexibility, but the goal is to move into a public high school in the fall. An alternative approach such as this is generally frowned upon in most school settings; would a district evaluator be thrilled to walk into a classroom and see a student building a Lego replica of a movie pirate ship? Probably not, but the student is building spatial awareness and design skills as he does it; he is problem-solving and building mathematical understanding of patterns and repetition. Additionally, this student is building computers from parts cobbled together on craigslist. Does this remind you of anybody? Like maybe the co-founder of one of the most successful computer companies in the world?

Deficit thinking limits success and restrains creativity. Perhaps it's time to think different.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Web 3.0 - The Stupiding of the Universe

What is this?

Web 2.0 brought the internet user into the conversation; the internet became less like a card catalog of information and resources and more like a book club; users not only used the content, they also created it (a blessing and a curse that has made vetting websites an absolute necessity and has led some educators to ban Wikipedia from students' "works cited" lists).

So now we have Web 3.0. For technophobes (and techno-wary folks), this is another startling development, but for your six-year old it will be a normal part of everyday life. For me, it is a little Big Brother-ish and almost what the Apple "1984" series of commercials was railing against (and what George Orwell so presciently wrote about:  "Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?... Has it ever occurred to you...that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now?... The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact, there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking-not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness." George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 5)

Think Siri - your own personal digital assistant who customizes your navigation on the internet based on previous searches, activity, games, etc.

In other words, Web 3.0 brings a better web experience to the user for less effort (bold mine).

How could we possibly expend less effort in the pursuit on knowledge than we already do?!  Not to be alarmist, but the decline in our ability to transform and apply knowledge has (anecdotally in my experience) declined drastically in my 12 years of teaching. Web 3.0 makes it so we don't even need to figure out what is true and what are lies - our avatar in the virtual world will handle that for us.

Thankfully, the internet is nearly universal so everyone in the world will be able to particpate in The Stupiding. Won't it be interesting if the internet-free "deprived" areas of the world end up running things simply because they are not as intellectually lazy as we will have become?

(write that down. I am the Nostradamus of 2012. Double-plus good thinking.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Risk-taking v. Risk-making

From James Delisle comes an excellent article on the difference between risk-taking (someone pushes you to take a risk) and risk-making (you push yourself). In the former, the student's success or failure is celebrated/blamed more on the person setting up the risk (e.g., the teacher or parent who encourages a student to enter a competition or take up a new hobby), while in the latter the student feels the brunt of the glory or defeat.

So which is better?

In risk-taking:

*You try what you might not normally;
*You generally have a ready-made mentor (hopefully the person who encouraged you!);
*You don't have full ownership of the result;
*There is a goal in mind so it is easy to set up steps to reach it.

In risk-making:

*You tend to stick with the somewhat familiar;
*You may have to locate your own cheerleaders (i.e., if no one in your circle knits, you need to look for someone with expertise);
*Your success is your own, as is your failure;
*Uncharted territory means a little more work on the front end to figure out what is involved in the activity.

These are simplified lists.

Which do you think is more rewarding in the long run? The goal someone else sets for you, or the goal you set for yourself? It seems very attractive to be able to have a fall guy to blame your failure on, but there is also the risk of "disappointing" the person who is encouraging you. In risk-taking, too, you are at the mercy of someone else's vision, whereas with risk-making you can dream as largely as you wish.

Which one of these is utilized in traditional education? No surprise to note that when it encourages risk at all, traditional schooling is teacher- and adult-centered risk-taking; when comments on a report card note that a student takes risks, it is understood that the risks being taken are school-sanctioned and approved (and thus a bit tame). A student who is seen as impulsive and off-task, or one that falls outside the norm of what is acceptable in a particular school is seen as a troublemaker, not for what they really are (a risk-maker with risks that are not approved). It should go without saying that there are certain behaviors that are in neither category (e.g., violence in any iteration).

I can say that students I have worked with initially don't even know how to begin to risk-make. They can't fathom a place where they can decide what they want to do and then work with guidance on doing it. Their dreams are small, squashed as they are by a system that does not encourage free thinking and innovation for the masses; when they do come up with an idea, they do not know how to structure their work around it, and they are quickly stymied by roadbloacks or failure. They see their first idea as their best one (cannot brainstorm), and they are limited by imaginations stunted by worksheets, videos and television. They submit to someone else's vision and don't create their own.

Education reform has to include our own version of risk-making; we need to ask ourselves this: what would we try if we knew we would succeed?

If you knew that, with persistence, practice and patience, you would ultimately be successful, what would you start today? This minute?

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Benefits of Failure

Here in America, we don't want our children to suffer. We don't want them to struggle, feel pain or have challenges.

Here in America, we are handicapping our children and setting them up for disaster as adults.

Newsflash: failure IS an option, and it is not always a bad thing.

Success consists of going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm. ~Winston Churchill

Failure isn't fun. Like the author of this article, I have had my fair share. I diidn't make my varsity soccer team. I dropped out of high school. I declared bankruptcy at 21. I have had articles, stories and poetry rejected. I have lost at love and experienced failure as both a teacher and student. I can say, confidently, that after a long string of what I would consider failures, I wasn't particularly enthusiastic.

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. ~Winston Churchill

Somehow along the way I had someone or something model the importance of getting up after failure and trying again. This is not pithy advice, offered lightly. Struggling is no fun. Failing feels really bad. It may make you cry, berate yourself, snap at your kids and be a generally horrible person for a time. You may get weary of starting over, and you may throw up your hands, at times.

If you are watching your kid fail at something, you may be inclined to intercede on their behalf so they do not feel this way. Unless it is a safety situation, DO NOT. Allow them to struggle when the struggle isn't life-threatening.

Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure. ~Confucius

Failing is preparation for something else. Your kid will not work hard without skin in the game. Life is neither easy nor fair, and if you strive to provide a childhood in which it is both, you will instead create an adulthood of constant disappointment and disillusionment.

The majority of [people] meet with failure because of their lack of persistence in creating new plans to take the place of those which fail. ~Napoleon Hill
If you want to help your kid (and yourself), help them learn to create new plans after they fail. Help them develop an understanding of multiple perspectives and allow them to try them all on for size. One of the benefits of failure (ours and our children's) is that it teaches us more about ourselves and gives us a lifetime of ways to learn and grow. If you constantly buffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, your child will remain a child, never growing into their potential.
Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes. ~John Dewey
Failing carries benefits that can foster long-term success and happiness. Don't deny your kids the opportunity to be truly incredible.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Resource Friday

The What Are You Studying? Edition.

The Truth of Troy

A great BBC documentary about whether or not Troy actually existed in history. Broken up into 10 minutes segments and a great way to bring together science, literature and history.

A Glossary of Literary Terms

The best part about this is the fact that it offers examples of each term, either authors or major works.

America's History in the Making

A great resource from the Annenberg Learner Foundation; notes and visuals for the study of American history.

And as the weather in Georgia drops down into the 20s tonight and doesn't rise out of the 30s tomorrow, a recipe that screams "SUMMER!"

Hope your first week of 2012 was a good one!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Benefits of Being Gifted

There are many, many myths about being gifted. Many parents of non-gifted children have the misconception that raising a gifted child is all hearts and flowers and intellectual conversations at the dinner table; gifted children are naturally curious, intuitive and motivated, right? And they always do their homework, right?


Gifted kids can be some of the least motivated and most frustrating group of students EVER. Because these myths about their intrinsic motivation perpetuate, parents of average or just really smart kids don't see the problems that come with attempting to engage a child that is sometimes smarter than you by A LOT (you know more than they do...keep that in mind).

But there are substantial benefits in being gifted, across a lifetime. This article lists the many benefits of giftedness and is worth reading, especially for parents whose gifted kid is failing the subject in which they are gifted (happens way more that one would thing. Seriously.). It is nice to know that if you can get past the perfectionism or laissez-faire approach to homework, the over- or under-achieving and the drive to know EVERYTHING or the desire to play 14 hours of videogames daily, your gifted kid will be, overall, just fine and perhaps even better than just fine.

My gift to you in 2012. :)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Perseverance - Hardwired in Your Brain?

That's the bad news:

Scientists have identified higher levels of dopamine -- also known as the "reward molecule" -- as being linked to forming lifelong habits, such as perseverance.

The good news is that you can trigger the release of dopamine in your brain, the "reward molecule" that make humans want to repeat whatever it was that triggered the dopamine production (including, in other bad news, drug addiction).

Christopher Bergland offers seven ways to trigger dopamine production, and thus, increase the development of perseverance, the elusive trait linked so closely to success in, well, everything. Many of the suggestions are simply changing your mind, a not-so-simple thing. By re-framing the outcome of an event in a more positive way, or by setting manageable goals, or by picturing yourself being successful, you can trigger dopamine production in your brain, which will encourage you to continue that behavior. Being methodical and breaking larger goals into smaller, achievable steps helps trigger dopamine release, as does tooting your own horn when you do something well.

The reality is that motivation and students can sometimes be like oil and water. It's hard; they don't want to do it. They can't see the end of the task so they don't want to start. In our culture today, you can have whatever you want in 3.7 seconds, so delayed gratification is harder to push as a valuable modus operandi. Scott Hamilton, Olympic gold medal-winning figure skater said, "Adversity, and perseverance and all these things can shape you. They can give you a value and a self-esteem that is priceless." Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, figures it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to be truly great at something.
That's a lot of dopamine, but the rewards can be tremendous. We do the best by our kids when we model perseverance and help them develop and utilize that trait.

Patience + persistence = success/time (TM).

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Middle School Model Re-Thought

Middle schools came about when researchers and psychologists discovered that middle schoolers may be better off with specialized, small learning communities, building relationships with a core of teachers and gradually building content and social knowledge while acknowledging the special emotional challenges of adolescence.

Turns out, some researchers disagree with this assessment.

The Brookings Institute in Washington, DC published a recent study recommending that schools "substantially improve" student achievement by moving to a K-8 model, and many schools are considering a move to either 6-12 or 7-12 model.

The report noted that in New York City and Florida, test scores of students entering a separate middle school declined markedly relative to the scores of students in K-8 schools.

Others argue that it is teaching methods that need to be adjusted,  not which grades are housed together.

It is important to note that there are no major studies indicating what is best, one way or another. It is also important to note that "success" in these studies is measured solely by performance on standardized tests which have been proven to be substantially flawed measures of students' actual ability.

There is quite a bit of research indicating that the transition between 5th and 6th grade is very difficult and may be better handled if it is eliminated entirely or put off until 7th grade.

Personally, I feel that grade divisions are arbitrary and silly. I have known too many students who are years "ahead" in one subject or profoundly gifted in all and are held back because of their biological slot into a grade. I also taught in a school that refused to teach kids where they were; students who came in reading lower than their grade level were taught using on-grade materials and thus made no progress, were absent at much higher rates and transferred out of our school (perhaps that was the point). Students who were gifted got limited support in one subject area and were taught along with every other level in heterogeneous classrooms focused on making AYP.

Offer support - academic, emotional and social - along with high expectations (of parents and students) and it should not matter what grades are grouped in which configurations.