Friday, December 30, 2011

Financial Friday: A Pack of Construction Paper

 A pack of construction paper can create many, many learning opportunities.

My local Big Lots always has nice pads of construction paper for $1. This one dollar always provides endless projects and hours of learning. Ty and Za create art and presents, and even decorate for the holidays.

Last year we made a Christmas paper chain and practiced sorting, counting, and sharing.

This year's paper chain for the playroom.

We are taking our Christmas decorations down, which includes cleaning up the kids' playroom. Za wanted to cut the strips of paper and while I knew this would be messy, I knew I should let her because it is great practice with the scissors.

Za's cutting project.

Sure enough, she started cutting and playing with the little pieces. Then she added them to bowls in her pretend kitchen.

Her homemade salad. Next time, we'll add "mushrooms" and "onions" too.

Viola! A "salad." I never thought to turn used construction paper into pretend food, but it is an idea we'll have to use again. Stretching the pad of construction paper even farther? - an easy Financial Friday project, almost free.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sub Plans

My children were both sick the other day, so I had to call into work at my new job for the first time. Luckily, I live close enough to this job that I am able to run up to my classroom and set up plans. They look so tidy:

I think it is also a nice summary of what I am teaching, from left to right:
(my red grade-book)
American Literature
British Literature
That Was Then, This Is Now
Killing Mr. Griffin 
Anne Frank

I also did my sub plans differently than in previous years. At this school (it is tiny - we have 5 teachers total) the teachers take turn covering the classes. I wrote directions on a piece of paper - one  piece of paper per class. It worked well and I hope it was less confusing than a long set of directions would be.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Chocolate War: Review Day

I recently finished teaching The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier. (This was my first time teaching it. I found it to be fabulous young adult literature, with strong anti-bullying themes. My students also liked it).

For fun on review day, this is what greeted my students:

Chocolates in "Trinity" boxes as well as homemade brownies. A sweet treat, for my sweet seniors.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Learning Is Everywhere, Especially With Mom's Stuff

Learning Is Everywhere!

Just ask my Ty. While I painstakingly decorated our banister for Christmas, Ty took several cable ties (more than pictured) and began turning them into numbers. He proudly exclaimed, "mom! numbers!" He made 1's, and several 6's and 9's. I think the ties are really difficult to bend, so he didn't make many other numbers, aside from a few really large 4's.

The number 1's and 4's really caused no problem, but I had many cable ties ruined from the 6's and the 9's (pictured).

I ran out of ties and had to substitute with tape (which will probably fall) but it is darn hard to get mad at a kid for ruining your supplies in the name of learning. I always try to show him that learning is everywhere, and if this is the result, I'll take it. 

Happy Holiday Season everyone! Sorry for the spotty posting. I have been very busy teaching full-time. I shall get back to blogging once I catch my breath, even if that means June.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Brain-Based Learning: Guideline Nine

This is it! The final guideline under Dr. Sousa's "daily planning, general guidelines." When I started this series, I wondered if each guideline differed enough to warrant nine separate posts. I think they do.

The final guideline:

Each brain is unique.

Ahh, clearly the obvious. Obviously the simple truth all teachers and parents know. Each child and his/her brain is unique.

Everyone brings unique perspectives and different experiences to each lesson, making each response unique. The other day I posted on Facebook a cartoon about fairy tales. Everyone chimed in, but it turns out that the way everyone interpreted the cartoon largely depended on each experience of growing up with these cartoons - old Halloween costumes, their parents' reactions, etc. (Even adults forget this fact that tons of experiences form an outlook). It is overwhelming to think that students and children have so many different experiences.

Each brain is unique, and every building will be unique as well.

That is the "nurture" part that contributes to each brain being unique. I feel like science is now impressing facts in education, that leads to the idea - what about the physical part of each brain? How is each brain unique, physically - perhaps "nature"?

It could begin in-utero, when brains begin to form. The research is strong on what happens to early brains. Zero to Three covers everything from abuse to general experiences form the physical aspects of the brain. What food the parents feed the child contributes to brain development as well.

How do we separate the nurture and nature aspects of the brain? I think this is what brain-based learning is telling parents and teachers - they cannot be separated. Everything influences children's brains.

Which leads us to a challenging, scary, and important fact: if each brain is unique, each learning pattern is unique. As a parent, as a teacher, that makes my eyebrows go up. Rarely do I teach a lesson and feel I reached every student. I keep trying, being patient, explaining different ways - am I alone here?

I fear that I leave this brain-based learning series with more questions than answers. Each brain is unique, which is wonderful and what makes each student special. It also makes teaching and reaching each student that much more important. That is a tough order.

So, does brain-based learning impress you, or does it overwhelm you? What do you think now that we have covered it all?

Photo Credit

Monday, October 10, 2011

Brain-Based Learning: Guideline Eight

This week's educational theory is the sixth brain-based learning guideline according to Dr. Sousa: 

Practice does not make perfect.
That might sound odd, especially since the previous week's post was rehearsal is essential for retention. Before I started applying this guideline to my children and students, I wanted to read more because it sounds misleading.
On page 99 in How the Brain Learns, Dr. Sousa states that practice does make permanent, not perfect. Students should practice learning correctly from the beginning, and not have to relearn, which is difficult. With this, Sousa suggests that educators give guided practice, and then independent practice. 

This immediately jump to shoe-tying and buttoning skills that my four-year old works on. I wonder what happens when you cannot give the guided practice first. For example, he has seen me tie shoes thousands of times. He tries to cram the shoe lace together and wave his hands; I know he thinks this is what I do. It is probably what it looks like to him. 

Now that I am trying to teach him, I wonder if I am teaching someone who is practicing incorrectly and must relearn. In situations like that, is is even possible to change? Will children automatically have to relearn some things in life because they have preconceived notions of completion?

This also made me wonder about the noun-pronoun-adjective differentiation assignments some of my students struggle to learn. Those words can be used interchangeably which makes them confusing. Originally, I did guided practice before I let them practice independently. We are still going to practice more this week, because the grades could be better.

So here is my question: even if teachers/parents follow this brain-based learning suggestion, how do we ensure that students are practicing correctly? If it is troublesome to have them relearn, how do we ensure they practice right?  

Photo Credit

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Switching Update

It's been three weeks since I switched back to being a teacher in a typical classroom and stopped being a SAHM. I hope the kinks are worked out in schedules and moods. The family had an adjustment period but I am hoping that is over. Smooth sailing, right?

Probably not. I have realized a few things during all these switches. I have learned that some things never change - working, SAHM, alone, with kids in tow. Here is what I know about myself, because some things just don't change:

1. I will never remember my reusable bags for the grocery store. If I do happen to remember them, I will leave them in the car when I go in the store or will have not brought enough. Miraculously if I bring them in the store and have enough, I will have forgotten the plastic bags to recycle. My grocery store trips, no matter how organized I want to be, will be messy.

2. I will never be a morning person. No matter how early I go to bed, I will hit snooze on the alarm clock. It also doesn't matter if small adorable people wake me, or an alarm clock does. I will be fine when I am actually up (and have coffee) but before then, I want to sleep.

Za will always dump out my purse, SAHM or not.

3. I will always read to my kids. If I am very tired from work, I still believe enjoying reading and having strong reading comprehension skills are the foundation for a good education. My voices may not be as enthusiastic as my former SAHM's character interpretations, but I will always read.

4. I will dread messy art projects. When I became a SAHM, I thought surely, I would not mind paint dripped on the floor and glue on the table. I did though, even though art projects were daily at our house. Then when I switched back to work, I thought surely, the kids would do fewer messy art projects and I would not mind picking up every once in awhile. Nope; even though I love my kids being creative and having fun, cleaning up art leftovers will always be a big sigh for me.

5. I will miss my kids like crazy no matter where I am. You know that quote that having kids is like having a part of you walk outside your body forever? That is how I feel. Even when I was a SAHM and went somewhere along, I wondered if they were getting along or having fun. I just think about them, working or not.

As I settle back into a working routine, I see the patterns that make me a mom, working or not. I hope my kids laugh some day that I will remember reusable grocery bags about the time I get out my money to pay or that I am always missing wayward streaks of glue on the kitchen table. It's nice to realize the mom characteristics that are me.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Brain-Based Learning: Guideline Seven

This week's educational theory is the sixth brain-based learning guideline according to Dr. Sousa:  

Rehearsal is essential for retention.

The dictionary defines "rehearsal" as a session of exercise, drill, or practice; a repeating. I think we know what this rehearsal entails, and that is the part that kids so often dislike. Rehearsal is necessary, but how teachers and parents present it is what matters.

So how can we have students rehearse while still considering the other brain-based learning guidelines? I can think of several.

Guideline six states that lecture usually results in the lowest degree of retention. Yet how do so many parents and teachers (this one included) review before a big test? We run down the list of facts and terms students need to know. Perhaps while rehearsing we could spend time connecting material to prior knowledge (guideline two) and thus building links to students' emotions.

Plus, since I'm one who believes cramming before the big test often hurts rather than helps, doing a tad bit of rehearsal every day may ease a large rehearsal the night before (or morning of) a test - the testing of retention. I try to do this everyday in my classroom, when we review the part of speech we are studying, we actually review all that we have so far covered. I also do it with my kids when we run through colors, body parts, or safety rules.

What other methods contribute to honest rehearsal, rather than rushed and incomplete?

Photo Credit

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fall Wreath: Easy Financial Friday

We have two huge trees in our back yard and one in the front. Our leaves fall early and plentiful. I Googled leaf activities for kids and got plenty. Wreaths seemed like the easiest, so we tackled that. Kid Kapers gave me some ideas, as did Katie's Nesting Spot. Some people used real leaves while others used construction paper. Since I wanted a wreath for my outside door, we used real ones.

I thought about using glue, but decided it would be way too messy.

I cut the middle from a paper plate and covered it with duct tape. I sent the kids out to find leaves. I had them take turns adding leaves.

Taking turns, working on patience!

We discussed the different colors of leaves. We also talked about what the trees would look like with no leaves in a few months.

The project only took about twenty minutes, but the kids were very specific about where each leaf went, and its direction. I like showing them how all the steps of a project - taking turns, staring out slowly with preparation, and on.

Almost done!
Of course, this does relate to the naturalist intelligence, but I also think it relates to interpersonal intelligence as well. My kids made one project, together. They had to take turns and decide which direction they wanted the leaves. There was also talk of only using red or orange leaves before we decided (I heavily persuaded!) to use a variety of colors. I think the final product is adorable:

I poked a hole in the top and tied it with a piece of yarn. Educational, and always, inexpensive.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Brain-Based Learning: Guideline Six

This week's educational theory is the sixth brain-based learning guideline according to Dr. Sousa: 

Lecture usually results in the lowest degree of retention.

I used to fall asleep in lecture classes. Head on the desk, pencil stuck to the cheek, asleep.

Perhaps one reason lecture results in the lowest degree of retention (I'm guessing the rest of the statement is "out of all types of teaching methods") is because it is boring. I struggle to retain information presented in a boring manner: someone talking, and not doing anything else.

The brain is a parallel processor which means it does more than one action: it controls tastes and smells; it works on both reading and typing. Is it that lecture just doesn't activate the brain enough? The brain could want to process more but have nothing else but to hear the words. When I would write, I would learn more - that is doing two things though. How many students don't take notes? Plenty. Lectures are difficult to sit through.

How can parents and teachers use this theory in life? I had a few ideas:


At first I was struck that parents don't "lecture" to preschool children, in the way they do not sit a child down and drill them on notes. That is true, but do we lecture preschool children concerning behavior? What would happen if parents (myself included) role-played rather than gave rules? Instead of lecturing for a ridiculous number of times, I could try asking one of my children what he or she would do if someone ____ (insert behavior) him or her. We could discuss feelings and emotions to reaffirm the rule, which of course, is important too.

I'm not pumped up about word searches, so I need to keep searching for meaningful activities with spelling words.

Older Children

This week, I will be teaching my first spelling words ever. I have never taught junior high before, but I do have a junior high language arts class and we will be doing spelling words. I remember doing crossword puzzles and word searches with my spelling words, but I don't think that necessarily helped me. I need to find other non-lecturing activities.

I thought about doing board races, as this class seems to like activity. They like being "up" and not just sitting. I don't know what to offer as a reward, though, as candy seems like an outdated prize. I also though about playing "around the world" which again allows physical movement.

I'll gladly take tips for non-lecturing spelling word activities! (And possible prizes!)

High School Children

Alas, my high school students. I will teach slave narratives and Puritan writings this week. Instead of lecturing about the facts, I will have students read about the writings. I will assign each student a certain number of sticky-notes (I am thinking five each) to write facts. The class will assemble the notes and we will review them together.

There are different age groups and how I am going to avoid lecturing to them this week. Any ideas to add?

Photo Credit 
Photo Credit II

Friday, September 16, 2011

Financial Friday: A Bag of Art Stuff

The magical bag of "art stuff."

My kids have a bag of miscellaneous items. They call this bag their "art stuff." I don't let them get it out every day - it is a huge mess. They do, however, ask for it almost every day. This is so funny to me because it is so simple and inexpensive.

The bag is an old shopping bag. It's getting holes on the sides. I probably need to replace it soon.

It came to be when they had art supplies strewn on the kitchen table. I grabbed the bag closest to me and threw it all in the bag. I never organized it - I never sorted through it. It is simply a bag of scraps of paper, crayons, safety scissors, old magazines, and stickers.

Ty, dumping out the art stuff.

When I need down time or when the kids are lost with "nothing to do," I get out the magical bag. Sometimes I sit and color with them, or write out words when they want a project labeled. Sometimes I load the dishwasher or cook because they are in eyesight. It keeps them entertained for hours.

Ty, overlapping pieces of paper.

Gathering the "art stuff" was simple. The supplies were free: leftover scraps of other art projects and junk mail. The supplies were also inexpensive: glue, crayons, and markers. Last Christmas when I made the kids their folders, the leftover papers and inserts became part of this bag, especially the stickers. The best part? When they finish, I keep their finished masterpieces out and throw the rest in the bag.

The bag, born out of a quick hiding idea, is now a staple at our house. It makes me happy because I have read in numerous places that free play benefits children. For instance, the AAP suggests:

Emphasizing the benefits of "true toys", such as blocks and dolls, in which children use their imagination fully over passive toys that require limited imagination.

My kids create by coloring, cutting, gluing, and folding. They are not passive like if they watch television; they are engaged in their creation. What more could a SAHM want?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

To My Students

I will meet about 40 new students this week!

Dear Students,

I haven't met you yet, but I have prepared to teach you for years. I'm excited for this semester. I probably won't be able to sleep the night before we meet. I never can, 10 years after getting my teaching certificate.

My mind overflows with ideas for readings, activities, and discussions. I want to show you how literature connects the world; everything from societal ills to economic struggles, human triumph to engineering feats - stories hold history lessons, which can then be guides for the future. I want to examine how to manipulate the written word in writing and speech. I want to study the craft that is language arts.

I also want to learn fun and interesting intricacies about you. I want you to share your life with me through writing and connect it to literature. I promise to provide plenty of examples of how literature connects to me.
You will learn that I drink lots of coffee.

I never stop thinking about education and how to influence yours the best I can. The more I learn about teaching, leadership - the monster named education - the more I realize all these outside factors influence you, heavily. More than I can. More than you may want them to weigh on you. More than you may even know.

So I propose that we go into this school year together. I promise to teach you the best I can. I hope you promise to learn the best that you can. If you have those outside influences weighing on you, let me know. Maybe I can help, maybe I can find someone to help you. I will at least try to understand.

I hope that you leave my class believing you got a fair deal - that we worked, but that the workload and your treatment was fair. I will do the best that I can everyday, and I hope you do as well.


Mrs. M.

Photo Credit

Monday, September 12, 2011

To My Kids

I return to teaching high school English today. I spent two years home with my children.

Dear Ty and Za,

I am going back to work today. Work, that is, outside the home. I clarify because I have worked hard these last two years. I took my SAHM gig as seriously as I would any other teaching job. I stayed home because I wanted to teach you. I wanted to take you on field trips, feed you healthy brain-nourishing foods, read to you, teach you morals and manners, show you love, and build a bond with you. I hope I did enough - I think I did. I can't believe these two years are over already.

Ty hiding, Za fist bumping.

Of course when I embarked on my life as a SAHM, I struggled. I cried. (We all cried). I became frustrated with housekeeping and cooking. Like my previous job teaching high school students, I worked to find a balance at giving you freedom and my guidance. I struggled to balance teaching you all your "subjects." I figured most of it out and when I listen to you talk, play, and act, well, I do take pride in you plenty.

Reflecting, you did teach me more than I I taught you. As a SAHM, I learned:

  1. Everything is useful. I no longer doubt you when you see a piece of trash, declare it treasure, and turn it into art or a play toy. Your creativity and interest show me to look at everyday items with potential, not just as rocks or paper, but as so much more.
  2. Doubt wastes time. Did I make a healthy enough lunch?? Should we do a puzzle inside or play outside? You are both so confident in your actions. You lack the adult experiences to make you say "what if." And in childhood, that is ok. Desired, in fact. I am envious of it.
  3. Everyone learns differently. I knew this as a high school teacher. I understood this. I believed this theory. I did not know the depth of how everyone has a unique learning process until I witnessed two children do the same actions two years apart so completely differently. Your processes in learning to read, attempts in walking, drawing, playing house, building a sandcastle - all different. All unique, all wonderful.
You both taught me that I teach you because I love you and I want nothing but the best for you. You both reaffirmed my belief that education is the root of society. Without the care and attention education deserves, society will fail. As a SAHM I was so entwined with your learning that it made me realize the time and commitment our youngest society members need. I will forever me grateful that I got to give so much to you.



Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sunday Reading

I am getting ready to start teaching high school students again, so I have been busy with lesson plans. I did not have as much time to read other posts this week, but I did come across some of interest I wanted to pass to my readers.

First, let me backtrack. This is my poster for the kids when they get ready for preschool:

Not too fancy, yet.

I did it this way first so we could alter it if needed. I figured once it was set, I could make a large one, complete with pictures or graphics. I researched a little, and came across this post by Little Illuminations. I think I will use pictures of my kids getting ready in the morning to make their checklist.

I also found tons of fun, easy, and inexpensive crafts that I want to do with the kids.

Mess For Less created a math lesson out of pipe cleaners and beads.

Mama Pea Pod made pasta necklaces with her kids. They were really pretty and with the holidays coming up, I know some grandparents who will probably receive such gifts.

A Mom With A Lesson Plan came up with a scavenger hunt around the house. This sounds like a long and entertaining activity, which is great, especially since cold months are coming.

Finally, CNN published an op-ed piece by Ron Clark. It might hurt to read it, but it expresses the point of view of many educators. I know my Facebook page blew up with it. Parents and teachers alike posted it: some complained, others cheered. It is worth a read, no matter what.

Happy Sunday!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Financial Friday: Playing With A Deck of Cards

Using a deck of cards works with the logical-mathematical intelligence.

As I continue to clean out my kitchen drawers, I find more junk. This week brought me to the drawer underneath the microwave. It is full of paint swatches for when I imagined having a dining room. (The dining room is now a playroom). It is full of tons of other small items, including decks of cards. I think we get so many from my husband's golf outings' goody bags. (I'm pretty sure that's not what the golfers call them, but in simple terms, that is what they are). Most of the decks are still in the package, but one was not.

Za standing in front of the cards while we discussed what to play.
I pulled the cards out, knowing that numbers and colors were on the shiny cards. I figured the kids and I would figure something out with them, and we did.

The cards reminded Za of Memory.

First, Za just started playing with them, turning them over like when we play Memory, which gave me the idea to talk about similarities and differences.

Simple sorting.

We divided the cards by colors: black and red. This was simple, but great for my two-year old. She found quick success with this and was very proud of herself. 

Fixing the order of numbers.

Next I had the idea to lay the cards somewhat in numerical order, just leaving spots where cards needed to go. I put "2, 3, 6" and then we counted. When we came to the spot for "4" we found the four (and then the 5) and filled it in. Ty helped with this but Za still did as well. We played this way for a long time.

Messy triangle.
 As we started to wind down from playing, I turned the cards into shapes, which Za gleefully identified. (She really likes her shapes!)

It was a square.

The last shape turned into a racetrack for cars, which is how the kids played with them until we later picked them up.

Later, Ty started adding the numbers. He liked it because he could count the diamonds, hearts, or whatever and that is how he added. I suppose we could move onto subtraction as well.

I loved that this project addressed the logical-mathematical intelligence and that it was appropriate for Za's level. Later when Ty (who is four) wanted to play, I made the games more difficult. It was easy to adjust for their particular ages. Did I also mention how inexpensive this activity was?

So there has to be more ways to play with cards! Add them below please! What would you play with a deck of cards?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Gardening Lessons: When Your Garden's A Flop

This year my husband and I planted a huge garden. (Huge by our standards. Other people might call it a "beginner" garden). We had some vegetables in the ground, others in pots.

Our onions were a pretty big flop. The kids always wanted to pick them and they never got to experience the satisfaction from really gathering onions into a bunch.
I planted the garden for a variety of reasons. It would force us to be outside, engaging the kids' naturalistic intelligences. Lots of our work with that intelligence focus on recycling - which is great, but I wanted to purposely expand.

Then I had the opportunity to write about my family garden and gardening activities with kids. I was thrilled since I was paid to write about an activity I had already planned. I wrote about the good and the bad of my gardening experience.

The finished garden - all ready to grow!

Most importantly I also wanted to have vegetables ready for my family to eat. I wanted healthy food that my kids helped plant and then watched grow. I wanted them to know where food came from and I wanted them to appreciate the hard work that a garden requires.

Ty adding dirt for the herb container.

We learned all that. We also learned the lesson of failure. Because despite all our efforts and rule-following, our garden was, overall, a flop.

We experienced disappointment in waves. Some of our plants were brown or gone - ruined by the sun and animals. Other times the plants never grew. Then we had moderate success with the tomatoes. Only a few turned red, but we had a bumper crop of green ones. The carrots grew funny. The only plants that were/ hugely successful were the jalapenos, and my four and two year old just do not hugely care for them.

So what do you do with this large project that took up so much time and largely failed? You discuss patience and effort. (I hope that's what you do. That's what I'm doing). Ty wants to know when he gets to pick red tomatoes and why we never canned any. His father and I have been reiterating for quite a few days now that we tried to grow red tomatoes, but they just didn't turn red very well. Sometimes when you want something, it doesn't happen even though you put lots of effort into the project. And sometimes even mommy and daddy have no good reason why something didn't turn out very well.

Yes, I'm really bummed about the garden. (I really wonder what I did wrong!) My kids are too, which of course makes me want to fix it. It's such a small problem compared to the ones I know they'll face in future years, which is why I'm trying to use it as an organic conversation piece. Next spring when we plan the garden again, we will make accommodations to hopefully fix what went wrong. It will be a lesson in patience and effort for us all.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Brain-Based Learning: Guideline Five

 The working memory and telephone numbers.

This week's educational theory is the fifth brain-based learning guideline according to Dr. Sousa:

The brain's working memory has a limited capacity. 

"Working memory" is a system for temporarily storing and managing the information required to carry out complex cognitive tasks such as learning, reasoning, and comprehension. Basically, working memory is the holding tank for important information. Students are using the information for a bigger task. For example, students might remember the list of supplies that they need to work on a poster that reviews a chapter from the textbook. They understand the textbook chapter, but their working memory is thinking glue, poster board, five key dates from the chapter, and five definitions. Their working memory remembers what it needs to remember. It will probably forget the list when it begins focusing on the actual information.

And that's ok - for the working memory to forget. The problem arises when students try to shove information in the working memory and leave it there. The information isn't attached to something else - it isn't truly learned. It's just sitting there in that holding tank.

Another way to think of the working memory is that it generally can hold seven pieces of information at a time. That is another way it is limited. That is also why phone numbers are seven digits. People truly know the area code (normally when they hear a new number) but can hold those new seven digits until they are put in a contact list. 

So what do we do with this guideline? We work on building the other ones. Last week I covered that past experience always affects new learning. While this can be positive or negative, educators and parents can try to connect the new idea they are teaching to a past one.

Encouraging Ty and Za to be patient for a ball game to start was difficult. We did however connect it to previous times we had to wait for something fun, like Christmas and going over to a friend's house.

How can we do this? If you are reading a story where a character is happy, ask your student to remember a time they felt excited about ___. (Having a party? Starting a new school? Getting a new pet?) If you are starting a science experiment, find a relation to a previously studied concept. If you will be gathering sticks to look at the layers, ask your students to recall or write about the way you once ___. (Gathered leaves? Looked at the layers of dirt?)

Getting information out of the working memory and making the information retained is the goal with this guideline. Those few minutes spent discussing previous experiences before diving into a new lesson are minutes well spent.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sunday Reading

My husband (the fabulous guy!) played with the kids for a few hours and told me to relax. I read my google reader and scrapbooked for a bit. I found some sweet blogs during my free time and reread some from earlier in the week. Here they are.

The teacher at the website Ivy League-West is declaring a parent reform along with a government reform concerning education. She's pretty honest, and you may not agree with all her statements. She gets readers thinking about the role government plays in education and how it interferes with parents' role in education.

Confessions of a Dr. Mom wrote a post that just hit it about motherhood. In I Don't Know How She Does It she explores her feelings concerning moms that seem to have a perfect house, manicured nails, and a happy smile. I always look at my house stacked with papers, chewed nails, and beads of sweat and wonder the same idea.

The mom over at Practical Parenting made a delicious spiced pumpkin bread. It looks like autumn, and she prepared and baked with her kids in the kitchen. I always try to do that too; I feel it teaches kids so many sensible lessons.

Lastly, did anyone see that the people at JCPenney lost their minds this week? Who thought telling girls they couldn't do homework because they were too pretty was ok? Sure they apologized after the public outrage but it would have been better if it just never been put on a shirt and then sold. I imagine huge corporations have many steps before a shirt reaches a webpage. How many people thought it was a dandy shirt? Too many. Makes my "Phineas and Ferb" post have a bit more clout I think.

Enjoy your Sunday. Happy reading!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Financial Friday: Turn Cup Lids Into Stencils and Shapes

Part of my resolution/goal/work-in-progress for this year was organizing my kitchen. I have done some big projects and small ones. My kitchen really doesn't have a new appearance, but as month 9 of the year approaches, I am overall happy with the progress.

One organizing project needed to be the sippy-cup and restaurant take-home plastic cup section. We had so many that finding a proper lid-cup match took longer than pouring the milk. I took this moment to work on organizational skills with the kids. The kids and I sat down and sorted through the cabinet. We organized:

  1. We went around the house, found stray cups, and washed them.
  2. We tossed gross cups and ones with hidden cracks.
  3. We lined up the cups and found matching lids.
  4. We neatly put all the cups back in the cabinet.
After throwing yucky and lost cups away, we were left with about a dozen lids. I figured we could brainstorm a project using bodily-kinesthetic since they were plastic and the kids would probably play with them. Honestly, they sat on my counter for a few days until we decided what to do with them.

I decided to cut them into shapes. I used the straw hole as a starting point for the scissors. My kids know their shapes, so we didn't spend tons of time with them. I was determined to use these almost-free resources, so I kept brainstorming.

Soon, we had the paint out using them as stencils. What worked so well was that the ridge of the lid gave my kids a great place to hold so they did not scoot around.

As we continued, my two-year-old struggled a bit. She couldn't move the paint and hold the lid simultaneously.

We put the paint in the middle of the shapes instead of transferring paint from a cup to the stencil's center.

She was incredibly proud of her work. and thrilled that her shapes looked like shapes and not blobs.

The kids were giggly-excited over their work and they have no idea that the project that kept them entertained for so long was almost free. 

Find more blog posts with activities for preschoolers and link up your own blog post.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

This Blog Has No Pictures, and Here Is Why

I'm having a crummy week. 

Despite all my efforts at finding learning in everyday activities and applying educational theories to everyday life, I fail. I am failing miserably this week.

We are just on a bad-week right now. I can't get anything accomplished. I have half-finished blogs. I have half-eaten sandwiches in the kitchen. The dishwasher and laundry are not close to half-done. I want to sit and cry but I can't sit down because the kids will destroy the house and I can't cry because I'm too tired.

My most recent conversation with Za illustrates this. Just imagine me trying to feed Ty while the dog whines and I hear her bumbling about.

Me to Za:

I've tried to get you underwear. I will find more in a minute. Where did you get that money? Where did you find last year's Halloween costume? Why do you have my jewelry? How did you carry your radio downstairs with all that other stuff in your hands? How did you do all of this while I made a sandwich for your brother?

And on. With both kids. Both at the same time.

Me to Ty:

We have to eat because our body needs energy. It's like diesel for your engine (he has a train that needs pretend diesel to run). People need to eat (it's almost noon and he has refused all food this morning).

Me, in my head:

If this kid doesn't eat, he's going to have a meltdown and then I'm going to have a meltdown and then Za will probably join in. He hasn't eaten since dinner last night. My husband will come home and find the house colored in markers and me still in this kitchen, crying over a sandwich.

Ty: Is daddy home yet? I'll eat when daddy comes home.

So I decide that this can be a teachable moment, at least about patience, at the very, very minimal. I explain we all need a time-out. I give Ty his sandwich, take the choke-able money away from Za, the radio with an electrical cord away from Za, the too-long and trip-able costumes away from Za, and my somewhat expensive jewelry away. from. Za. The kitchen is behind me and I can see Ty with his sandwich. I sit Za down to play. I sit down to type this post and possibly rejoin the adult world for a moment.

I sit and close all my Internet windows with partially written posts. I start typing. Za is quiet and I turn around to find her emptying her package of hair bands. (You know the package sold at major stores? The one with six little compartments and about 200 of those suckers jammed in there? They are all over my floor. She looks so happy. I take her picture for this post). We manage to fit all the bands back in the container.

I keep typing.

Ty comes in from eating his sandwich (I hope) and sits at the piano. He counts every key as he bangs it. I keep typing. I take a picture of him doing that for this post. I keep typing.

Za gets up and walks up the stairs. I follow, only to realize that I know why all those rubber-bands fit in the tiny box: the rest are actually all over the stairs and second floor, like gingerbread crumbs leading me to her messes, which include toothpaste on the carpet and her bedding shoved in her closet.

I leave it all and decide to wrap-up this post before I clean. I take the card from my camera and look for the connector-thing for my computer. I can't find it. I text my husband. He has it. Of course. I decide to hit 'publish' and then I hear a noise. I turn around.

Me: Why do you have my purse?

Za: Me want daddy.

Me too Za. And not just for my dang camera-card reader.

SAHM successes are important, and their value will show in our children.  (Or at least how we handle our trying experiences).

Friday, August 19, 2011

Financial Friday: Organic Talk is Free

Situations can change with intelligent debate.

Last Wednesday my "Wonder Why" column concerned the portrayal of male and females on children's television shows. I could say that people had strong opinions, but that would be an understating the situation. I believe in respectful debate, so I tried to listen to all sides. One reader did have this to say:

I think that allowing your child's favorite TV programs and other social norms provoke conversation will not only allow you, as the parent, a portal into your child's perceptions but also feel more organic to the child than sitting him or her down for a "discussion." Many parents make the mistake of formalizing conversation and turn their child off to the idea of talking with mom or dad long before the dreaded preteen and teen phases.

The idea of "organic" conversation spoke to me. When I think of that term, I envision natural, true, unforced talk. I thought of several examples from my children's lives:

  • When putting on their shoes, we name "left" and "right."
  • We discuss colors as we take walks - the mailboxes, sky, trees, vehicles, etc.
  • We say prepositions, or position words, with our objects and locations - the bear is on the shelf, under the desk.
In all of those situations, our conversations are organic and my children understand the lessons well. For example, our discussions over colors leads to deciding if a mailbox is blue, or a light gray.

When Ty did this art project, we had an endless conversation about what you can do with a cereal box.

Instead of eliminating or limiting generally safe shows, using the problems as platforms for organic discussions (preschool or preteen) may be the safer route.

The idea of organic conversations with children seems so simple but I know I don't always follow through with them. What are other opportunities for organic conversations?

SAHM successes are important, and their value will show in our children. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Switching Classrooms, Again

Switching, transitioning - sometimes life changes. 

I taught high school English for over seven years. The job was incredibly rewarding, but when I had 2-year-old Ty and 4-month-old Za, it became quite necessary for me to resign. I could not do justice to two very important jobs: teaching and parenting.

Good-bye message from sweet students.

I started this blog as a way to kill time and explore how my life changed, or transitioned. I wrote about my kids, my life. The teacher in me just didn't disappear though.

Soon it became obvious: I had to write about education. Thus, I began focusing on bridging that gap between parents and teachers. I felt I sat on both sides of that theoretical fence. I knew the two questions asked:

1. Parents asked: why do teachers do this ("this," of course could be a worksheet, activity, lecture - anything really).
2. Teachers asked: why do parents not understand what I am trying to accomplish? Do they not know I want their child to learn?

Are flashcards inherently bad? I need to know.

So I knew of this discordance, this disconnect between the two sides. It is still there, of course, larger than ever, maybe. I knew that with the exception of a few, both teachers and parents wanted nothing but the best for children: independent learners, confident people, well-rounded in academics. Eventually my blog grew into addressing the idea that everyone is a teacher, everyone in society, especially parents. Maybe, I thought, if parents knew why teachers did what they did, maybe harmony would replace hostility. Maybe if parents knew that teachers did not require memorization of vocabulary words as torture techniques, but as a way to activate the knowledge and comprehension aspects of Bloom's Taxonomy, they would support the entire process. Maybe.

And quite honestly, I wanted to tell parents not to ease the teachers' jobs, but because they should know. It is not fair that teachers do all this educational 'stuff' with their kids and they have no idea. Parents should be familiar with this terminology. After all, they will be dealing with it for a minimum of 13 years!

What is Ty learning here? More than educators probably know.

I look back at when this blog started and remember wondering if I would continue with it or discard it after a few months. I kept with it, even when it was hard. I have found some pretty loyal readers. I've had some interesting discussions. I've met some fun people along the way.

And I think it is important. And I can't stop now.

I need to continue blogging, exploring this lack of a bridge between parents and teachers. Parents need to know what teachers do and why they do it. They deserve that. When that happens, who knows. Really, it could be powerful if everyone was in this educational arena together.

When I say that I am switching classrooms, again, I mean that I have taken a full-time teaching position. I will be transitioning again, only in a much different way. I must balance my children and a classroom rather than learning how to become a SAHM.

My new teacher's desk, complete with a bottle of Diet Coke.

I will still be blogging here, though. It is a passion, this explanation of how the teaching world has unknown commonality with the teaching world. Parents and teachers switch classrooms; a room with children is a classroom.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wonder Why Wednesday: Lots of Education Thoughts

I'm rambling today - lots of questions pouring out faster than I can type them. These are loosely connected - like I said, I am really "wondering" today. Feel free to comment and my readers and I can examine this together. 

I was inspired by Brian Harke's article, and this blog is in response to his latest post, High School to College Transition, Part Two: Academic Expectations. (It is a solid article with nice ideas, for all parents of future college students).

I'm not going to reiterate the entire post, or analyze it either. One part stood out to me, and I kept rereading it. Right away, Dr. Harke discusses the manner in which freshman enter college. He says:

High schools often reinforce these expectations [that college will be like high school] by unwittingly allowing students to enter college as dependent learners rather than independent learners. I say this not to place blame, but to recognize that up to this point most students have had teams of people supporting them, keeping track of their academic progress and looking out for their best interests. Since this has been their norm for 12 years, new college students are often at a loss when faced with the reality that it is up to them to manage their academic independence.

I liked that he said "I say this not to place blame" because blaming others for a large problem diverts attention from actually solving the problem. I agree with Dr. Harke wrote that. College, trade school, or a job requires people be independent learners. Can you imagine showing up to work and the boss saying, "Did you read the manual? Nope? No time? You didn't use the time I gave you yesterday? OK, I'll give you some time today."

I can't imagine that, and I know that never happened to me as an undergraduate, and my goodness, never as a graduate student. It probably shouldn't happen in high school either, especially if teachers are training students for a big world they will enter in four years or less. High school teachers do that, though. I've done that. I have enabled students to stay dependent learners instead of growing as independent learners. Why? Well, I can try and explain.

When I entered teaching, I knew not to do that. I just finished college where I studied to hold students accountable for their actions. Then students got tired (from after school jobs and extracurricular activities) or were absent. Whatever the reason they were not learning. They did not have the work done. They did not understand. And I had to do something. I not only re-taught material, I allowed students to finish their worksheets and reading assignments in class.

And no one cared. I felt like I did a disservice, but the grades were raised. I felt like I was teaching students to become dependent on me and not independent learners. I felt like I was telling them one thing but doing another. However grades were improved and everyone was happier. I still feel like I failed those students, but everyone else was pleased.

Which leads me to this very large question: Are schools what parents and society want them to be? To be cynical, I could say that fried food often made with white flour and nothing fresh is part of our school system. I could also look at kids sleeping in classes and being passed from one grade level to the next without earning those grades. I know the school system is made of more than this. (I believe it is more than this). Then why do teachers slacken standards? Why do others encourage them to do so?

More often than not, conversations concerning schools leads to complaints that teachers make too much money while not creating independent learners (just look at the comments under Harke's article). I have never heard a conversation about schools not include some reference to that. I have also never heard a conversation that didn't include the idea that teachers need to do more for students.

Those ideas don't click with me. Imagine me saying that I wanted a better reputed surgeon, or a better masseuse, or even someone who mowed my lawn faster and wanted to pay him/her the same measly wage. A group of friends would laugh instead of nodding their heads as they when money and teachers are discussed.

Does society need to revamp the teaching profession? Part-time teachers? People (doctors, lawyers, engineers, electricians-specialists in some field) teaching math and reading? Showing kids a direct correlation of their present schoolwork to their futures? Something has to change: are teachers going to be held more accountable, and be paid more - OR- are standards to relax so teachers can continue with this pay?

Photo Credit

Monday, August 15, 2011

Brain-Based Learning: Guideline Four

The fourth brain-based learning guideline according to Dr. Sousa is:

past experience always affects new learning.

This is huge, maybe more than the brain based theory from two weeks ago that emotions affect aspects of learning, retention, and recall.

The simplest example I can think that supports this theory is that when children have a positive experience they are more willing to learn a similar task. For example, Ty does multiple puzzles a day. He naturally started with board puzzles and experienced excitement from the reward of seeing the puzzle together. He continues to work his way up to more and more pieces of jigsaw puzzles. Part of that is because he learned the skills. It is also because his past experiences were enjoyable and that transfers to his new learning with so many puzzle pieces.

So what is the flip-side of that? Children who were screamed at in the past for not understanding a new concept may react with fear when they do not understand a new concept. They may lie and say they do understand. They may shut down. They may cheat.

Emotions from past experiences, shame or joy, influences present learning.

Those are two extremes, the positive and the negative of past experience affecting new learning. Capitalizing on this guideline can help parents learn more, in better ways. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Yes, yes I do worry about "Phineas and Ferb"

We should look at the irony in the messages we send young girls compared to the messages older girls sing. 

Over a year ago I discussed what Mickey Mouse directly and indirectly teaches children.  I remarked that even though I strive to limit my children's television viewing, they inevitably see some. Mickey Mouse is a favorite. I allow it, even though I worry its messages muddle the lessons my children's parents teach them.

See these costumes? Should I have done this? Mom guilt riddles me.

As Ty gets older, he naturally moves onto other shows. "Phineas and Ferb" is his new favorite. The show focuses on Phineas Flynn and Ferb Fletcher, who are step-brothers. Phineas is boisterous, which smartly offsets Ferb's reserved personality. They have a pet platypus, Perry, who is also an underground secret agent. The boys and the platypus' antics engage my son.

Every day Phineas and Ferb build outlandish buildings, computers, airplanes, and roller-coasters while Perry saves the area from an evil doctor. The plots occur separately, but typically intertwine at the end. The boys have friends (with minor roles) and parents (with even more minor roles).

My son relates to the creativity on the show.

Aside from the mom, female characters are limited. The boys have a sister, Candace Flynn. Candace's best friend is Stacy. Isabella crushes on Phineas, and she is leader of a the Fireside Girls, which is much like Girl Scouts.

Sometimes I laugh at the show. Phineas pulls ingenious stunts while his British brother says little but pulls solutions out of his hat. Perry the Platypus sneaks around. The mom gets her hair done thirty times a month. We have no idea where the dad is. Phineas shows no knowledge that Isabella likes him, which leaves me wondering the same way I did while Niles liked Daphne on "Frasier." The show has advanced themes that play on a kid's level, but a higher level for adults.

I enjoy the show, which is why it is strange that it simultaneously makes me want to puke and pull my hair out. "Phineas and Ferb" sends messages to young children that are inappropriate and perhaps even dangerous - and I am not talking about what Phineas and Ferb build.

I hope my daughter fails to relate to the female characters on the show.

I've complained before about Minnie and Daisy's lack of character development compared to their male costars. "The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse", a show directed at preschool students, unfortunately sends a simplistic message about females. "Phineas and Ferb," a show directed at elementary students, sends a complex one. Females no longer have bland and simplistic personalities; they have male-centered personalities. "Phineas and Ferb" is anachronistic in its portrayal of girls.  

Every action from Candace is male-focused. Largely, Candace spends her days "busting" her brothers, or trying to rat them out to her mother for their misbehavior. She never succeeds. She instead traps herself in shemozzles striving to tattle. Her mom then sighs at her, and Candace leaves, defeated, wondering why she failed. The men (even Perry) stultify her attempts, every, single, time.

When not worrying about her brothers, Candace is waiting for her boyfriend's phone call, waiting for him to call her his "girlfriend," or preparing for a date. Candace is a maven at disguising her true personality for Jeremy, her love interest. Take the time Jeremy participates in a pet wash. As Candace complains at Perry for being a "meat-brick," Jeremy explains how you can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat animals. Candace immediately changes her demeanor and attitude toward Perry, and takes him to the pet wash to continue the front that she loves her pet. When not focusing on her brothers, Candace sedulously works to change herself to please her boyfriend.

The female characters on "Phineas and Ferb" are obsessed with males - whether it be a boyfriend or brother. They are not gormless, but their worlds focus on pleasing men through their actions, sincere or not. Even the minor characters, such as Isabella, strive to gain the affections of males through lies. (How many Fireside Girl badges does Isabella have connected to helping Phineas?) Young girls mimic these female characters, and these characters do not focus on themselves like the males do. Everyone concentrates on males. 

What are these shows teaching our youth? The direct messages seem safe, but the indirect messages scare me. Are they mimicking society? Are they dictating society? Impressing these roles on young children is dangerous: males build and create, females concern themselves with males. This must influences girls who grow up watching such situations play out. What characters will my daughter see in the coming years?

As I travel this parenting road, I worry what shows my children will face as they grow. From viewing a few clips directed at older children ("Good Luck Charlie" and "Ant Farm"), the obvious demeaning qualities in females seem to be gone, but maybe they are present and just less obvious. My infrequent viewing of them may be at fault too, as I only have a four and two year-old and have not watched them in-depth. I have, however, seen the Selena Gomez video "Who Says" shown during breaks of "Phineas and Ferb":

You made me insecure
Told me I wasn't good enough...
Who says you're not perfect
Who says you're not worth it
Who says you're not pretty
Who says you're not beautiful

Older girls watching that video, wondering "who says"? I know who told you that you were inferior. Now you know too.