Showing posts from 2012

"Bridging the Gap Between Math and Art" Scientific American

We need to stop boring our students and work to instill a love of learning and an excitement to be in school. I become more and more convinced all the time that this is the foundation of a great learning environment-fostering a place where kids want to be. A place where they really want to come everyday. Is this a bit pie-in-the-sky? Maybe, but I choose to believe that we can make schools places that crackle with excitement instead of snooze in boredom.

I remember taking math in high school; I got good grades, but I was bored stiff! In fact I hated it and learned very little. It's not that I hated the subject; I hated the unimaginative methods used to teach it--ones that were mired in the outdated paradigm that we still throw at our kids today: drill and kill and make no relevant connections to why we were studying this stuff. Why do we do this to our students? Why can't we find the joy in learning? Why can't we put the reasons why we need to learn this stuff out on the ta…

Thoreau Knew it in the 19th Century!

How much time do our students spend in their seats? A good question to think about as we move back into our classrooms. Another question is how many of them need to "move to think" as Sir Ken Robinson reminds us. Henry David Thoreau knew it back in the 19th Century as he wrote in his journal:

Get Moving!How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live! Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move my thoughts begin to flow--as if I had given vent to the stream at the lower end and consequently new fountains flowed into it at the upper. A thousand rills which have their rise in the sources of thought--burst forth and fertilize my brain. . . . Only while we are in action is the circulation perfect. The writing which consists with habitual sitting is mechanical wooden dull to read.

Take stock of your students when you go back to school and see which ones need to move around to get their thoughts to flow.The dividends may be huge.

"Fear and Anxiety Effectively Shut Down Higher Order Thinking" from MindUP

As educators we are in the communication business--whether it's with students, parents, administrators, colleagues it doesn't matter. In order to communicate well, we need to have the language to help others understand. To that end I'm always on the lookout for cogent, succinct language that will make any point I'm attempting to make accessible to the given audience. Lately I've been on a search for such language to explain how stress, anxiety and fear will shut down learning. Mindfulness Educator Lori Corry gave me an insightful lesson and introduced me to the MindUP curriculum from the Hawn Foundation. Here's the language that I understood and think others may as well.

When we are calm and peaceful the filter [amygdala: an information filter regulated by our emotional state] is wide open and information flows to the prefrontal cortex, where the brain's so-called executive functions take place. On the other hand when we are feeling negative and stressed out…

8 Ways to Reduce Stress at Work (or at School)

Stressed employees dread coming into the office each day. These workers are often distracted and produce substandard work. Workers can use several strategies to reduce their stress levels and work more effectively.So begins Eric Thompson in his blog post "8 Ways to Reduce Stress at Work" on worthwhile read.

Most of us can probably relate to this regarding work, but with a few minor modifications it would fit in school as well and look something like this:

Stressed students dread coming to school each day. These students are often distracted and produce substandard work. Teachers can use several strategies to help reduce student stress levels and help them learn more effectively.
Brain research is telling us that this is true from a physiological standpoint: students cannot learn when they are stressed out--it's just not possible. So the solution is to take the time to help relieve student stress so they can be ready to learn.

Here are some of…

So...What are Executive Functions Anyway?

I see this term start to show up more and more in the educational lexicon, so I thought it might be a good idea to find a working definition and put it out there for the readers.

This is from the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders:

The term executive function describes a set of cognitive abilities that control and regulate other abilities and behaviors. Executive functions are necessary for goal-directed behavior. They include the ability to initiate and stop actions, to monitor and change behavior as needed, and to plan future behavior when faced with novel tasks and situations. Executive functions allow us to anticipate outcomes and adapt to changing situations. The ability to form concepts and think abstractly are often considered components of executive function.

Stress Relief Can Be the Key to Success in School from Scientific American

It's becoming more clear to me all the time that as educators we need to provide a safe container in order to facilitate learning for the students who are entrusted to us. It's not just a "nice thing to do" for the kids as more and more brain research is telling us that students cannot learn when they are under great stress. The prefrontal cortex which oversees executive functions is compromised when a person is under great stress and when this happens...learning does not. It seems to be just that simple. One solution is to make sure our classrooms are safe and comfortable places for students to inhabit. Reducing stress at our classroom doors is the first step to laying the foundation for learning to take place. Mindfulness training is the next...but more on that in another post.

Scientific American's article "Stress Relief Can Be the Key to Success in School" by Clancy Blair goes on to say, "An even more insidious effect [of stress] is the assault…


As educators we are always searching for new and specific ways to gauge student learning and formative assessments fit that bill.  These strategies from are some of the best I've come across. Check them out. The quote from Easley & Zwoyer is right on in the sense of not making judgments but finding out what students are thinking which is part of the essence of great teaching and powerful learning experiences. It also addresses how we need to get away from being disseminators of information which is something we have been championing here for years.
TWENTY-ONE WAYS TO INVESTIGATE WHAT STUDENTS ARE LEARNING "If you can both listen to children and accept their answers not as things to just be judged right or wrong but as pieces of information which may reveal what the child is thinking, you will have taken a giant step toward becoming a master teacher, rather than merely a disseminator of information." -Easley & Zwoyer, 1975
Proof Points

"Dinosaurs Across America" and Reading with Pictures

Economics is not a subject that I'm remotely interested in and was even less so when I was an eighth grade history student. But why do I remember it so well even to this day? The teacher taught it to us using a comic book. This simply underscores my belief that having fun in class and delivering concepts to students in a way that they enjoy and are interested in makes for some serious learning opportunities. To that end I highly recommend Reading with Pictures (thanks to our reader Mat for bringing it to our attention)-check it out and see if there is something there your students might enjoy learning from.

Remember learning Geography in the old way with lots of those window-shade roll-up maps and memorization? If I could have learned this way I think I would have enjoyed it and it would have stuck with me. Take a look.

Geography, like many subjects, can be boring, fraught with the nasty notion that simply memorizing states and capitals constitutes…

Five Easy Drama Games for the Early Elementary Classroom from ArtsEdge

So many of the teachers who take our courses are hungry for quick and easy drama games to help engage students, enliven the classroom and help to teach that day's lessons. Here are five from ArtsEdge that are worth trying. Have fun!

Adjective Monster

Learning grammar the traditional way can be a mind-numbing experience to say the least; this lesson called Adjective Monster from the ArtsEdge/Kennedy Center website is anything but! Here's the summary from their site; this one is definitely worth a try.

"This lesson explores the connections between visual art and language arts, and how both are used to creatively tell stories and express emotions. Students will read the book Go Away Big Green Monster by Ed Emberley. They will be introduced to adjectives as descriptive words then create their own monsters using paper sculpture techniques."

Why do we teach what we teach?

The New York Times piece "Is Algebra Necessary" is sure to elicit strong responses on all sides. For me it raises a larger question: why do we teach what we teach? Is it because it has value for our students or is it because it's always been done that way and is propagating an outmoded educational system that was developed in the 19th century to train factory workers or is it something else? Worth thinking about.

Storytelling as a Pedagogical Tool

Summary of Daniel Pink's "Story" as one of the "Six Senses" as presented in A Whole New Mind
Pink describes story as “context enriched by emotion.” Traditionally, it is through story that important, meaningful information has been passed down through the generations.Factual information, so readily available to us through electronic media, lacks the "emotional impact" of stories. Emotion is the critical element that makes information relevant and memorable.
For Pink, storytelling is an art modality that demands interpretation and relies on both creative and critical thought processes. As human beings, we author our lives by assembling artifacts of our past, and creating narratives that reveal our world and our true selves. That is, we live our stories.Our stories reflect our years – the difficult storms and the peaceful joys. Therefore, sharing our stories adds more depth to life, gives more meaning to our relationships, and provides more context in ou…