Add to Google Reader or Homepage

Educator Issues: 2007

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Year of Firsts, Governor Visit and Snake Poop

Subscribe in a reader
It has been a year of firsts. My Jungle Carpet Python, Flover, is about five feet long. Flover fully relieved himself of his waste materials as I held him on my shoulders. The students had a fantastic and horribly gross, smelly show as they watched the scales near his back end open and excrement the size of something a rottweiler might expel erupted. What made it even more awful was the fact that a snake does not urinate separately. It all comes at once. Thankfully his anus was not lying up against my chest or head, but was extended out just enough to allow the feces to splatter near my foot and splash up on my shoe and leg. I really could do nothing to stop this show of shoo shoo. The students exclaimed wildly. When Flover finished the filthy dropping, I moved to another area of the classroom. Our saintly custodian was called to come in and take care of the mess. I required the students to write an observation in which they described the appearance, sound, and smell. That had to be my least favorite first.
Students brought in two praying mantises. It just turned out that one was a male and one a female. They looked a bit lonely, so we put them together even though they tend to be cannibalistic carnivores. They mated! We discovered that they remained connected for just over 2 days! I've read the average for them is approximately 6 hours. I suspect the male chose not to disconnect for fear that the vicious female would eat him for her next meal! When they did finally detach, I rescued him and released him in the school courtyard. Within a week, she had left her egg case attached to the lid of the cage! We look forward to these hatching in the spring!
Governor Blunt visited our classroom! Mr. Cook said he knew of no other time in Jefferson Elementary's 50 years that a governor has EVER come to Jefferson. My students were the privileged ones to enjoy his visit. He observed students using handheld computers (PDA's), research using good old fashioned books, investigate cicadas, and explore a worm factory. The governor was even brave enough to hold a worm. I asked if he would like to hold Flover. He wisely declined and stayed poop free - unless that worm provided him with a gift. See more pictures here.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Goal Number Two - Leadership

I want my students to recognize themselves as leaders. I will arrange situations in which they will develop leadership skills.
What are my views of essential leadership skills?

  1. Positive and Optimistic attitude
  2. Willingness to serve others
  3. Freedom from the need to be validated by others [living by ideals and virtues rather than a perception of what others think as a definition of personal identity]
  4. Ability to recognize problems and needs and take positive initiative
  5. Confidence to take risks and make mistakes
  6. Courage to stand for what is true and right
  7. Excellent communication skills
  8. Ability to multi-task and be flexible
  9. Perseverance and effective problem solving skills
  10. Responsibility and willingness to acknowledge personal weaknesses
  11. Discernment to prioritize correctly
One major way I deliver lessons on all of these character traits is through the study of famous role models such as George Washington Carver, Benjamin Franklin, Rachel Carson, and Martin Luther King, Jr., but I also want to emphasize the importance of identifying positive role models in our daily lives - those who live within our homes and community. Interesting thoughts on role models can be found all over the web, like the online "Women and Girls - Tech Up" where the goal is to: encourage women and girls - and the organizations which serve them - to use technology to share ideas, opinions, support, creativity and political action. They have some wonderful thoughts about what defines a role model.

I found an elementary school that actually has a program in which they develop student leaders to contribute to a positive learning environment. I like the way it is explained in their mission.

Goal for This Year

My goal for my students during this year is that they will gain ALL that is possible for them to gain under my educational care to be fully prepared for success in their future.

My most painful thought as a teacher is that my students may not reach their full potential.

This goal leads to an obvious question - What is Success? I've known many people who are financially well-off, and who have careers they sought and acquired, yet they are not fulfilled and satisfied in their lives and are not functioning at full potential. So, how can I, as a 4th grade teacher, provide a year's worth of training to move my students toward a position of true success?

I believe true success is deeply rooted in relationship. In fact, I think a person who has positive relationships is successful beyond any level that career and financial gain can ever permit. I know that my job as an educator is to prepare my students academically, but I also cannot ignore the relational and emotional damage that many of them already experience. I must work toward nurturing safety and love as a foundation from which learning academic skills may grow. I've been teaching long enough to see that my students who have unstable and frightening living situations are also those who struggle academically. I've also observed that the learning is much more effective when the child has a sense of safety and stability.

From the book, Failure Is NOT an Option, by Alan M. Blankstein, the following statements are shared:

“The relationship among the adults in the schoolhouse has more impact on the quality and the character of the schoolhouse – and on the accomplishment of youngsters – than any other." Quote by Roland Barth 2001 (p. 58)

“Students felt cared about and respected, teachers shared a vision and sense of purpose, teachers and students maintained free and open communication, and all parties shared a deep sense of trust.” (p. 58)

“Relationships are at the core of successful learning communities as well as
student success.” (p. 58)

“Stated simply, positive relationships are essential to a child’s ability to grow up healthy and achieve later social, emotional, and academic success” (p. 59)

I have felt this personally, in powerful ways. When I'm stressed in a major way, it becomes MUCH more difficult to think clearly, concentrate, and retain information.

All this said, my goal is to work more deliberately on forming positive relationships with parents, students, and fellow staff. I will begin this at our back to school orientation where I will explain these findings to parents. I have devised an activity in which parents and students will share thoughts (individually and independently of each other), concerning favorite classes, hobbies, struggles, hopes for this school year, etc. They will then come together to share their thoughts. I have a feeling that while many of their views will be similar, they will learn some things about each other that will cause them to be closer and have more of a shared vision for the coming year. I'm excited.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Education is Obsolete

Bill Gates stated a couple of years ago that our current system of education is "obsolete". See the article that shares more of his comments here. A video slide show sometimes called "Shift Happens" reveals statistics on globalization and current trends in this information age. It states that we are preparing today's students for jobs that do not yet exist.
At last year's Missouri METS Summit meeting, a host of statistics was shared with the attendees, including the fact that over 50% of the U.S. revenue is generated by technology.
My students spend only one hour each week in the computer lab. We are very fortunate to have Smartboards in each of our classrooms. This allows for student exposure to technology to be increased a bit.
My observation is that the way we teach is more problematic than the particular set-up of the school environment (although this also has so much room for improvement). Currently, the institution [schools] are viewed as the responsible party to ensure that students receive the highest quality education. Evidence of the negative nature of this is observed as the state accountability testing time approaches and teachers become the pacing, nail-biting basket of anxious nerves while many students continue to find ways to entertain themselves and classmates with "off-task" behaviors. Schools have resorted to bribing students to do well by promising rewards for exhibiting appropriate testing behavior. Many try to create a sense of motivation in the students by hosting "testing" parties and afterschool events in which parents and students take sample tests. As a result of this wrongly placed accountability, schools have become ridiculously "assessment oriented". We give a test to make sure the students are prepared for the test that will serve as a practice to the test. I've heard several teachers reminisce on the great days when they enjoyed summer school teaching because it was "fun teaching". In other words, the teacher was actually allowed to behave as the professional, find engaging learning activities that students would enjoy, and interact with the students in high-level activities without all the pressure. Now the summer school session is structured entirely around assessment, just as the school year is. This will never result in the most successful learning situation for our youth. A shift must occur in which the pupil gains the fundamental understanding that s/he is ultimately responsible for learning. Students need a visual way to measure their own success. This definitely is NOT the current grading method of assigning A,B,C,D, or F to performance. It is a list of specific objectives that a student is able to determine [see visually] clear mastery of the learning goal.
I believe that is if the student is responsible for learning and able to see progress regularly, it will be motivation enough to keep the student desirous of further accomplishment. Consider video games. A video game is full of failings and difficult challenges, but keeps the player fully engaged with a succession of achievements.
If we are to produce the kind of thinking necessary for the success of our youth, we must allow them to take ownership of discovery and problem solving. We must provide our students with access to the most advanced kinds of technology and allow them to be the "experts" in the using of them, including troubleshooting. We must maximize the physical environment to provide for the best kinds of learning opportunities for student-initiated exploration and innovation. It will take the entire community in beneficial partnerships for this kind of optimal learning. It is time for us to teach smarter and rid ourselves of the hindrances to effective teaching. For example, teachers need time to interact with students, collaborate with fellow professionals, reflect on current practices with a vision to always improve, facilitate the lessons that will truly engage students, and locate resources [grants, community partnerships, real-world field trips, etc] to prepare students for true success. Schools need to find ways to support family relationships rather than seeking ways to remove children from their family for longer periods of time. Finally, our nation must do some serious introspection and face our flawed cultural values. We have to see the value of our youth and support them in their development in a way that we have not in the past and certainly not in the current time. Our media emphasis with music, video games, and movies promotes a way of thinking that is continuously eroding the efforts of those who seek to instill virtues and the values that will set our children on a path toward their full potential.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Community Connections

School will be under way in just two weeks. It is a perfect time to consider beneficial community connections. The possibilities are truly limitless. The university may be a great partner for combining their students with my students, particularly in the sciences. How fantastic if a group of university students who are studying biology or physics could come to my class, my students could don lab coats and the entire group engage in some fantastic experimentation and research! Just one possibility. I wonder what a local greenhouse could offer or perhaps Lowes could provide materials to design some mousetrap race cars. Last year we had a visitor from a bank come and provide a series of lessons on economics, but what are some extensions to this? Perhaps an architectural firm might provide some Popsicle sticks and basic instruction on various structural designs. I wonder what Proctor and Gamble may offer. The list goes on.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Who are the Experts?

I have a theory. Of course, I'm just a layperson. I've been to many, many workshops and professional development activities in which an expert offered techniques, research, and tools for me to become a better teacher. Some of these have been highly beneficial, others have been purely a waste of time. It's the sifting process, I suppose.
My theory is based on a study in a recent educational publication. The author of the book says that research shows that when laypeople are provided with the time and structure to reflect and share ideas, they often come to the same conclusions as the experts! What a profound finding!!
Simply stated: Schools could have much greater benefits if they sought ways to create reflection time and sharing of expertise among the teachers in the building and between buildings within districts. How much money could schools and professional development programs save if they simply applied their funding and resources to creating time and structure for the laypeople (in truth, these are the professionals who have been trained to educate others and who know their schools' struggles most clearly) to reflect and share ideas. Granted, the danger is that when given extra time to collaborate, some may waste the time and not dig deeply to find solutions. Also, it can be refreshing to have an outside perspective from someone who is truly qualified to offer assistance. But, it seems that this is such a largely untapped solution from which districts could benefit.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Summer Science Institute

I just spent a fantastic week working with a fellow presenter (two, really, including our RPDC coordinator) and a group of 8 wonderful science workshop participants. We had so much fun designing meal worm habitats, investigating a worm factory with all of its decomposer residents, learning about G. W. Carver, taking a nature observation walk, checking out a stream table, studying soil, creating a candy rock cycle and awesome edible rocks, and making expandable paper books. We took an entire afternoon to look at and share useful websites. Each teacher had the opportunity to create a "portaportal" to store and organize their sites of choice. The teachers became researchers in competition as they completed an information "scavenger hunt" using the parts of nonfiction books to find answers to questions. An excellent presenter came from NASA to do some hands-on activities with group. Finally, the teachers investigated forces and motion by creating "dragon racers" and measuring their movement on various materials.
I think my favorite time was designing paper airplanes and helicopters and testing them. The teachers did such a great job coming up with a testable question, carrying out a fair test, recording their results, and sharing their conclusions. Some of them even dropped their helicopters from the second floor balcony of the university center during their experiment stage. It was true, engaged, high-level learning. I was so pleased to see that the teachers often discovered some of the same difficulties as students do. Some became uncomfortable, at times, if a question arose to which they did not have an immediate answer. They were such a great group with good attitudes about learning. I sure hope all of them recognize that this sense of confusion and being unsure of an answer is a common struggle our students face. It is a struggle that is to be embraced rather than avoided.
I also loved the sharing aspect of this group. Every participant had something valuable to offer to the group at various times. I believe they are all excellent teachers and the fact that they were there and willing to participate to such a great extent reveals this fact. I'm privileged to have been part of this experience.
For those teachers who took part, thanks for being such delightful participants. I hope to have an opportunity to work with you again in the future! Remember, today is the first day of the rest of your life! Let it be an AHA! day!
Enjoy Pictures Here

Monday, June 11, 2007

Summer Vacation Delight

Time to reflect, recuperate, gather new ideas, and just relax. These are the essential ingredients needed to prepare for meeting the delights of the inquisitive minds that will be encountered in the coming school year.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Teaching - Job, or a Commitment to be Surrogate Parent?

Today's educators recognize that their role has vastly increased from the traditional responsibility of providing academic instruction. For any who have seen the inspirational teaching films, Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, and the new release, Freedom Writers, those incredible educators clearly made the difference in their students by investing their whole hearts into the students.
While families typically serve the function of nurturing children (Maslow's Heirarchy - Safety, Love, Sense of Belonging, etc), broken families lack these crucial components. The most effective teachers, therefore, attempt to meet these needs. Sometimes this can have negative impact on the teacher. In the Freedom Writers film, the teacher lost her husband primarily because of her commitment to her students. It could be argued that her commitment to students was a greater purpose than that to her husband because students outweigh the sole spouse and they were younger, therefore had greater potential to change lives (ripple effect).
It is frightening that teachers are more and more looked upon to fulfill family functions.
As a husband and father to 3 children of my own, it has become more and more difficult for me to provide the same degree of commitment to my students while maintaining my role as family man. This struggle, beyond any difficulties with behavior and school requirements, has caused me to question whether or not I will remain in education as a teacher. Is teaching just a job, or is it a full heart-level commitment? If it is more than a job, more of a family level calling, is it possible to continue in it for 20+ years until one achieves retirement? I think this is part of the reason that teacher burn-out is so common. Youthful, energetic teachers do it with a great degree of commitment and soon discover that it requires much more than a 9am to 5pm job for less pay, so they leave. No blame. Complete understanding. Even those phenomenal teachers we watch movies about seem to move on to different positions after those initial triumphant experiences. The frightening observation I've made is that this dilemma appears to be on the rise.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Education Issues Introduction

I've been teaching for 9 years. My credentials include a BA in Elementary Education with an emphasis on Behavior Disorders and an MA in Educational Studies. I've received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching for the year 2004 and many local awards including American Legion Teacher of the Year and Sam's Club Teacher of the Year. I've acquired the Toshiba America Foundation grant. I currently serve on a committee appointed by the governor of my state along with other business, political, and educational leaders from my state. Our purpose is to advance the Mathematics, Engineering, Technology, and Science fields on a state level.
My perspective in education and on life is broad. I grew up in a suburban, middle-class family and attended a public school that had a decent reputation. As a student, I detested school, considering it the nearest thing to prison for kids. I didn't enjoy learning (as presented in the classroom) until I began my university studies. I've lived in inner-city (Camden, N.J.) and worked intensively with the youth there and spent several months working in a school in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I served two years in the U.S. Army as an M1-A1 Tank driver and fought in the Persian Gulf War.
It is terribly sad to me to consider the early age at which I lost all interest in learning because I equated it to sitting behind a desk and completing a worksheet about a topic for which I cared not one bit. I came to see myself as a failure because I refused to complete all the extra work teachers wanted me to do at home. Today, I love to teach. I enjoy my students immensely and see my primary role as a motivator and one who strives to show students the great pleasure in finding things out. This blogspot will be used to share thoughts on education - public, private, and homeschool issues. I hope to explore hot topics and struggles that are faced in education on a personal level as well as the broad perspectives that impact states and the nation. I welcome thoughtful comments from all who experience education, whether it be as a student, parent, or educator.