Archive | October, 2012

A thought about tracking

20 Oct

Most professional athletes spend their whole lives working towards their athletic goal, right? Middle school kids will get up and train before school if it means a leg up against their competition. Young girls training for the Olympics will move away from their families in order to train with the best coaches.
When we track students, we are saying “you are heading for college and success.” They believe it, much like these young athletes. They work for it, because they have a goal and someone (probably many people) who believe in them.
What if we put all students on the college track? What if we told all of our students that they were heading for college (or career, or major league sports)? How motivated would they be?
The principal at my elementary placement believes that all of his students can go to college. He is motivating the teachers to express that belief every day. Will it work? I believe so.

Middle School, and a missing part of history

20 Oct

Guys, I love teaching in middle school so much.

Yesterday, my Dyad partner and I team-taught a 45 minute lesson in 7th grade humanities.

The students read and thoughtfully discussed four articles about the use of Native American imagery in sports mascots, as an introduction to their Native American Culture unit, which includes reading Sherman Alexie’s amazing young adult book, Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian (if you haven’t read it, I highly suggest it. Alexie is a local author, who grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. He writes mostly about life as a Native American in the modern world – his writing is amazingly powerful.)
Our lesson, which was suggested by our co-teacher, was thrown together at the last minute – on Wednesday she realized that our class was a day ahead of schedule, so asked us if we wanted to teach on Thursday. Considering we had about 12 hours to plan, I think our lesson went extremely well.

The articles we had the students read were a mix of local pieces about a recent recommendation by the Washington State Board of Education for schools to do away with Native American Mascots, opinion pieces about the use of Native American Mascots, and a piece from 2005 about the NCAA’s ban on “hostile or offensive” mascots and nicknames. If you’re interested, you can check them out:

Native American Mascots Challenged in Washington

Lose the Indian Mascots

NCAA American Indian Mascot Ban

Time to Rethink Native American Imagery
The discussion went really well – these 7th graders had some really great things to say. However, one student made a comment that surprised me: “When we think of racism, we think of slavery and how horrible that was – but nothing bad like that really happened to Native Americans so we don’t automatically think of racism being against them.”

I had to have him clarify his statement because I was confused – by 7th grade, students haven’t learned about The Trail Of Tears? About forcing Native children to attend boarding school to erase their “Indian-ness?” About the Indian Removal Act? Apparently not – and come to think of it, I’m not sure I knew about those things by 7th grade, either. The history of the systematic destruction of the native peoples of North America is missing from our education system. Why? Because we are embarrassed? Because it makes us look bad? Because it opposes the view of early America as a vast open wilderness, waiting for Americans to make it what it is today?

I was struck with the horrible thought that our lesson, though well planned and interesting, was actually irrelevant because these students were lacking the background to understand all the issues. If that is the case, where do we start? When do we start? How do we start?

Screen Time

15 Oct

Last week’s post brought up some interesting discussion, both in blog-land and in class. My professor summed it up like this:

Talking about “too much technology” in schools is similar to talking about “too much paper in schools.” It’s a medium to use: a tool, not a subject.

If technology is used positively and in a well-managed way, then yes, it can be a great tool for teaching and learning. However, there is a large difference between passively staring at a screen and learning from a tool. This New York Times article from last fall discusses the “app gap” – the different types of screen time high- and low-income children are getting. The gist of it is, children from higher-income families spend time playing educational apps, while children from low-income families watch television.

So what does this mean? It means that some children – higher income children – are going to be prepared for a world where information is at their fingertips. A world where someone can go on a hike, discover an interesting plant, take a picture of it and immediately have information about the plant. A world where their curiosity can be sated instantaneously. Other children – low income children – are going to be prepared to be entertained and receive information passively (if at all). They will lack curiosity and the desire to learn new things.

Additionally, in my opinion, it means that children are spending far too much time in front of screens – nearly 2 hours a day watching TV or something similar, and less than a half hour a day reading or being read to. Even if children are watching “educational” television, they are sitting passively and not interacting. They might learn something, but only what the educational show is teaching – their curiosity isn’t piqued, their minds aren’t expanding, and they aren’t using the tools available to us in our modern technological world.

We have all this technology – and it’s obvious children are going to spend time with it, so the question is: What can we do with these awesome new learning tools?

A Study in Contrast

5 Oct

This was the first week of my Middle School placement, and I am struck by so many contrasting ideas and realities, I’m not really sure where my head is. Yes, I went from third grade to middle school; from 8-year-olds to 14-year-olds, but there is so much more to it than that. I went from a low-income school to a private school with tuition higher than mine. I went from a school where not all families have enough food, to one where each student has his or her own laptop.

The kind of teaching done at this private school is remarkable: teachers work together to create their curriculum, to suit the needs of the school and their students. Since private school are exempt from our state testing, the teachers are not teaching to a test, but instead teaching for content and understanding. Is this a better method of schooling? I am not sure yet, but I am forming opinions. The teachers not only have freedom from tests, they also have the resources available to do things like purchase several different class sets of textbooks, and draw their lessons from many different curricula.

Additionally, as I mentioned above, each student in their upper division (middle school) has their own laptop. I came from an elementary school with a set of 5-year old laptops per three classrooms. Students are mostly unfamiliar with technology beyond video games, and the idea of taking a computerized test is daunting for many of them. But, is it really better to have our children tied to technology? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2 hours of screen time for school-aged children. Should that limit include “educational” programs and homework?

I’m currently reading two books – Independence Days by Sharon Astyk and Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. They are both about the importance of living our lives closer to nature. Sharon Astyk focuses on our food sources, and specifically in Independence Days, about storing and preserving local food so we rely less on the global industrial food complex, which she argues is unsustainable and too reliant on fossil fuels. (Her blog is a great read if you’re interested.) Richard Louv is the inspiration for the “No Child Left Inside” movement, who argues that children today suffer from “Nature Deficit Disorder,” meaning they are disconnected from nature, instead focused on television, video games, and computers. He argues that this rise in technological addiction is directly linked to the rise in childhood obesity, depression, and attention disorders.

Both of these authors have my mind whirring and wheeling. I am having an extremely difficult time finding a balance between my belief that we need to live closer to nature, and my belief that children need access to current technologies in order to succeed in today’s world. If you can’t type or operate a computer, you will not get a job today – and what will it be like 10 years from now? However, the more we focus on technology, the less we seem to focus on the world around us.

Two years ago, I listened to this short segment on my local NPR station about an Outdoor-Only Kindergarten on Vashon Island, WA. It still sticks with me. It rains on Vashon, a lot, and yet these students don’t spend any time indoors. They are experiencing the world instead of reading about it. They are learning to interact with natural occurrences such as rain, mud puddles, and giant banana slugs.

Is there a happy medium between our increasingly tech-hungry world and living close to nature?

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