Teacher Authority and the Business of School

Sitting in the speaker’s chair at morning meeting Claire presented a yellow silk scarf to her class. As she spoke she floated it through her hands and around her neck, all eyes of her second grade classmates were on her. Continue reading

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Building Strong Brains: The Real Reason Schools Need Environmental Education

One day second grader Miranda said: “I was in the garden looking at the tomatoes with Patrice and Josh, and we saw a wasp tackling a fly.  Then it tore the fly’s head off and flew away with the body.  An ant found the head and started eating it and the fly’s eyes separated from its head.”

The teacher asked, “What did you think about when you were watching this happen?”

She replied, “I thought, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I wouldn’t want to be that fly.”

Later that same afternoon Sasha and Kate joined in the insect hunt and Kate said, “The garden seems to be so calm when you first look at it but when you look closer it’s very alive.”

On another day first graders found the front half of a dead snake and immediately started generating hypotheses as to what happened: Continue reading

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The Natural Resilience of Children

Dominique, age 8, sat in front of a computer screen doing addition problems—level one on Khan Academy.

When 9 + 3 = ? appeared on the screen, “That’s easy,” she said, and started hunting for 1 on the keyboard. She was new to the computer, and it was slower than she was. Nonetheless her approach was determined and persistent. She found the 1, hit it with her forefinger, found 2 next to it, hit that, moved the curser to the green “Check answer” button and clicked. For her efforts she got a smiley face. A bright bar of royal blue appeared in the success bar just above the answer box, and Dominique smiled. Continue reading

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New Media Are Neither Good Nor Bad. It’s Parenting Makes It So.

Ever since I was seven, when my father compromised his stand on the new technology, by allowing a television in our house, there has been a running dialog in this country about the evils of new media. As in my father’s original stance, the central question of the conversation is usually about exposure. How much, if any, exposure should parents allow their children?

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How Do You Get Your Child to Love Learning?

Well, it’s a trick question. Your child automatically does love learning. The question really is, “How do we get him to love to learn what we want him to learn?” It should be the job school to get kids to love school work, but what if they are not doing their job?

When a child is not motivated by school work, getting that to change is tricky business—it’s not hard; it’s just tricky. Here is one success story with a few moments of parental brilliance that might inspire others to be creative about how to get our children to love doing school work on their own (based on a year’s worth of email reporting on Daniel’s progress through fifth grade.)

Email from Daniel’s Father on September 28

Daniel makes no bones about not liking school and only being interested in video games (specifically “Zelda” games–Daniel is in love with Zelda). Continue reading

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Mathematics, Creativity, Play and the Essence of Good Teaching

Last week Madeleine, one of my virtual friends who writes limericks, asked me if I would be celebrating Tau Day, June 28th. After watching this video, I think you will all agree that Tau Day is worth celebrating if only as a reminder that creativity is an essential element of education. Perhaps creativity is the essential element of education, (Would Sir Ken Robinson agree?), and play is at the heart of creativity.

Sure Pi=3.14159…, and it is useful to know how to calculate the circumference of a circle, but kids learn anything better when they experience it in the context of something real to them. You don’t really know it until you can turn it upside down, reverse it, negate it, and see what happens.

This is what is going on when we play with something. It seems frivolous because it doesn’t seem goal directed, but it is goal directed. The goal is brain development. Continue reading

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Parents, Teachers, Do You Trust Your Children? What Does it Mean to Trust a Child?

“I Want to be Trusted.”

When Katie was growing up, every once in a while she would blurt out an emphatic, “I want to be trusted.” She would always say it with an intensity that was a little startling, as if she were mad at not feeling trusted, or profoundly afraid that she would not be, or terrified, herself, that she was not trustworthy. Perhaps it was an emotional outburst in anticipation of a scary decision she was about to make. Continue reading

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Kids Online: How involved should parents be?

“Children need people in order to become human…. It is primarily through observing, playing, and working with others older and younger than himself that a child discovers both what he can do and who he can become—that he develops both his ability and his identity….”Urie Bronfenbrenner

CommonSenseMedia tends to go over the top in trying to motivate parents to use common sense when addressing the dangers of new technology to their children. At a recent gathering of over 200 parents and other educators in San Francisco, they opened the evening with a movie which communicates: “Watch out, or OMG will happen to your kids.” Although the video was NR, I would have rated it X for all the sex and violence it portrayed.

Is technology a force for evil or a force for good? What’s a parent to do? Although the scare tactics are unnecessary, the question is good. One parent, for instance, emailed me: “I’m concerned with the intrusion on schoolwork, the exposure to sex and violence, the creation of jaded kids instead of enthusiastic, inspired, and pro-active kids. And I’m equally concernedwith the health risks of not getting enough sleep, not getting enough time outdoors.”

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Kids and Social Media

The parent of a sixth grader emailed me from her iphone:

” My adjustment to Marcus’s emerging, pre-teen social media life is akin to the four stages of grief—denial, anger, depression, and acceptance. I started with ‘get off the computer now,’ as I witnessed this new viral habit consuming his attention (that previously went to piano practice, reading, and family time). Then, I tried the logical approach. ‘Hey, why don’t you finish up that chat (as the screen pings and his fingers fly across the keyboard in cryptic abbreviations) so that you have time to finish preparing for your math test.’ But I started to recognize that I need to respect his new social media world enough to give it some degree of privacy. I began to notice the rare (and not altogether reliable) sparks of maturity when he might sometimes ask me to help him: ‘Mom. Interrupt me in 20 minutes. I have some other things I want to do besides be on facebook.'”

I congratulate this parent on coming up the learning curve rapidly. The standard adult knee-jerk reactions of denial and anger are bad for many reasons: a) anger is not helpful, b) denial models decision-making based on ignorance, c) the technology is actually turning out to be very useful, and d) it is here to stay. In most cases controlling a child’s use of the technology is proving less effective than staying up-to-date with the latest advances. As parents we tend to forget that our kids have to learn good decision-making by actually making decisions.

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