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.