Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Comic Books and Chemistry: a Perfect Match!

When I was in 8th grade my history teacher had us learn about economics through, of all things, a comic book, and now almost 40 years later, I can still remember it. So what does that say about learning? It says to me that the material, which I found incredibly boring, was presented to me in a medium that engaged me-hence I truly learned it. Later when I got to high school I found myself bored to death in a chemistry class and distinctly remember having to memorize the periodic table. Why I had to do that, when I could have just looked it up when I needed the information, I'll never know. I did it, but didn't care about the information or understand why we were learning it, so I remembered if for the test and promptly forgot it. Sound familiar?

But after looking at the University of Kentucky site The Periodic Table of Comic Books by John P. Selegue and F. James Holler, I wish I could go back and study it this way. Like the economics unit in my Junior High days, I would probably still remember something from high school chemistry.

Does this look at all tantalizing to you? How do you think it might look to a high school student who is not excited about learning this material? That's the key now isn't it?

History of Chemistry in the Comics Click here to see what's new at the Periodic Table of Comic Books.

Many thanks to trulygreenfish for tweeting this link.

Standing Up in Class: an Option to Enhance Learning for Students

Think about how you position yourself when you read a book, use your laptop or peruse through a newspaper or magazine. Chances are sitting in a hard, straight back chair in front of a small desk doesn't rank high on your list. In fact as I write this I'm stretched out on a chaise in our living room with my computer resting on a portable laptop desk. Fact is we all have preferences as to how we'd like to be positioned when doing these tasks, so the question of why do we limit student options in this same area is a natural one to ask. We need to break out of the mindset of what the classic classroom looks like. Schools need to adapt for the betterment of the students; the students shouldn't have to adapt to the physical aspects of the school.

The graduate program I went through at Lesley University met for one weekend a month; we would start at 5pm on Friday and go till 10, then go from 8-5 on Saturday and Sunday. Now for much of that time we were up and moving, but during those times when being seated was the norm, I would very often find myself standing, a nearby bookcase providing a perfect spot. Maybe that's why this Hartford Courant article "A Stand Up Idea to Shake Things Up in the Classroom" prompted a great deal of thought and this post. The writer Sara Cody discusses the use of stand-up desks and how one Connecticut elementary school is starting to place them in classrooms. In discussing this change Larry Sparks, Assistant Principal of the Roaring Brook Elementary School in Avon says, "teachers have to understand that their objective is not to get them [students] to sit but to achieve. For the kids, if they can improve their concentration while standing, all the better." Other schools across the country are using yoga balls and bean bag chairs for the same purpose.

Now I'm not endorsing this product or receiving any compensation, I just wanted to see what one of these desks might look like and happened to come across this one. I've also included the description.

Safco 1208GR AlphaBetter Large Stand Up Student Desk - Centuria Grey

"For many students everyday classroom life involves trying to sit still, taking focus away from learning. With the AlphaBetter Desk students are able to stand up during the school day and move around without being a distraction to their classmates or teachers, all while improving their concentration. This completely new way of learning is creating a more productive learning environment. Research has shown standing alone can burn extra calories, and with the ability to move around students burn more excess energy and improves focus. FEATURES: The Pendulum Footrest Bar: The swinging motion helps burn excess energy and calories Top finished in gray Phenolic, a damage resistant polymer plastic. Adjustable height for grades 3-12."

The point is we have to take a long, hard look at the way we set up our learning environments and consider if we are doing the best for all of our students.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Student Voices on "Education Evolution" We Learn Creatively

Sir Ken Robinson posted this video on Facebook, and I am so glad he did. It's been my contention all along that the real positive changes in our educational system are going to come from the students up, and these young people are making their voices heard loud and clear. Now it's up to teachers, administrators, government officials and other stakeholders to listen and act. Please go and check out what these students are producing, as they hit it right on the head.

From their site
"Welcome to edevolution, a video project thought of and created by G/T  middle students in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Thank you for taking time to watch the video and visit this website! For more information about what the Education Evolution is and what it means, take a look at a quick summary of us here or head to the blog page.
Don’t know why you’re here or came here by accident? Watch the video anyway!"

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Bring a Poem to Class that You Don't Understand

I love this idea tweeted by Carol Jago, she writes, "Don't be afraid to bring a poem you don't understand to class. Model your own process for making sense of what's on the page- what's obscure"

What a great idea to make sense out of something in front of and with the students in your class. Modelling this process will pay huge dividends with all students but especially those who give up easily saying they don't understand something. Of course these instances should be tempered by the fact that we should make meaning for ourselves based on a close reading of the text and not worry so much about what the author intended when he or she wrote it-it may be a fun exercise but who really knows?

Teachers should feel compelled to give up some control in the classroom and admit when they don't know something, while encouraging everyone to figure it out together. This has been a very important practice in my classroom, as it makes it okay to be wrong or not know something for the students, and it humanizes the teacher as a facilitator and not someone who is on an academic pedestal.

More Practical Examples of Formative Assessments

Check out the West Virginia Department of Education site for some more examples of formative assessments. Some great ideas here. Thanks to teachersharetp for the Twitter link to the site.

Harvard Professor calls Lecture Outdated and Largely Ineffective

Reading Dennis Pierce's excellent article in eCampus News on Harvard professor Eric Mazur's discussion that lecture is an outdated and largely ineffective way for students to learn. It seems like every day we read about or hear someone discuss the inefficiency of lecture as a tool for learning. So the question remains, why do so many educators keep up the practice? One possibility is that many people tend to teach the way they were taught and so the system propagates itself. If that's the case, then we need to break the cycle, and so, once again, we call for a paradigm shift in the way we prepare students to learn.

The article goes on to say "educators need to transfer information... but students also need to do something with this information to make it stick—not simply parrot it back during a test, but actually assimilate it and take ownership of it, so they can apply this knowledge in a different context. If students can’t do that, he said, then they haven’t really learned anything."

So the first key seems to be the transfer of information/concepts from teacher to student. Clearly lecture is the least successful method of doing this with most brain-based learning research putting it at 5-10% retention-hardly worth the time. Integrating the arts is a perfect way of accomplishing this-getting the students involved artistically or kinesthetically is a much more effective method. In addition it engages and energizes students because it is active and circular instead of linear. It is an exchange of ideas and not a one-way path from the teacher to the students.

The second key seems to be the assimilation and ownership of the material which can be accomplished by the students rehearsing with the material in order to make meaning out of it. Brain-based research is clear-that learning needs to be meaningful in order for students to really learn it. Gone are the days-if they were ever really there-where students will accept comments like this will "come in handy later in life" or they'll need it to "get into college". Those are just not enough. And shouldn't we be making clear to students exactly why they are learning something at the outset of the lesson or allowing them to reflect and communicate the meaning of the lesson for themselves.

Thanks to ASCD for the link on Twitter.

Monday, August 1, 2011

"Why Alternative Education Needs to Go Mainstream"

An interesting piece from Good Education on using alternative education models for all students. You can read the entire piece here. Something to really think about.

"Research shows that alternative education—small learning communities, individualized, personalized instruction, a low student-teacher ratio, and support for pregnant or parenting students—works to get dropouts back on track. But ironically, notes creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson, current education reform efforts like the federal No Child Left Behind Act are "rooted in standardization" even though we know that a quality education should "be about personalization."

Robinson, whose lecture on how schools kill creativity is the most watched TEDTalk of all time, was part of a forum on dropout prevention hosted last week by the HeART Project, a Los Angeles-based arts education nonprofit. If what we now call "alternative education" methods became mainstream, said Robinson, "we wouldn't be discussing the dropout rate." He also debunked the myth that students who drop out are reacting to the system as a whole: "For any student, the classroom they sit in is the education system and that's what they're dropping out of." But the kids who get into quality alternative programs fall in love with learning because they're getting an individualized experience—and the support they need to address particular life challenges, like being a teen mom or being homeless."