Boys in Crisis

This is a video I did two years ago as part of my studies with the Gurian Instute.

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Mistakes

I worry that some students might get diminished by any negative observations. There is that theory about building high self-esteem, after all, and I certainly don’t remember my teachers caring about my self-esteem (and I didn’t like it). However, I’ve found (and read) that this approach is ultimately ineffective. Better is having very high expectations of each student. Sure, it is essential to balance positive comments with discussions of areas needing improvement but even this doesn’t quite work for me. What I have settled on for the moment is to care about the student’s work and reflect to them the strengths they’ve displayed and the areas for further work. I’ve tried hard to build a culture of kaizen (constant improvement) and one that accepts mistakes. “Cherish mistakes,” I’ve taught them, “being wrong is on the road to being right.” What I hope and expect will happen is that they will quickly learn they are working in a safe environment where all feedback is positive whether it highlights areas of strength or weakness.

School Staff

DQ2– What is the importance of building relationships with all school personnel (i.e. custodians, school secretary, librarian, support staff, etc.)?


A school is a VERY cramped environment.  Like a ship, everybody works in tight quarters and is forced together in cooperation regularly.  While teachers spend their days in relative isolation, they are nonetheless connected to the other site personnel.  To function optimally, a teacher needs all the other staff on her side.  Each member of the site team holds keys to smooth success, from lending a screwdriver to working out a snafu with books to navigating an arcane district form.  They also have the power to make things easy or hard.  They are human and consciously or unconsciously respond to how they perceive they are treated.  On a less practical more emotional note, working in a friendly environment beats the alternative by a mile.  The best way to work towards a friendly environment is to be preemptively friendly.  Finally and most importantly, I believe that students learn from our behavior and treating other adults with respect and friendship models not only how they might treat their peers but also how they should behave when they become adults.

The Whole Child

What is the most difficult task in integrating health and physical education with other subject matters? Why?

I think the most difficult task in integrating health and fitness education into other subjects is realizing the importance of such behavior. For far too long, our society – particularly the intellectual elite – has dismissed the physical and concentrated largely on the cerebral. It is not a unique observation to say that many educators treat education as an industrial process, where knowledge is poured into children’s heads. Fortunately the pendulum is swinging back towards center and current educational thought emphasizes child-centered and whole child teaching. In this vision of education, the decisions as to what if efficacious starts with the child. The question is how to optimally prepare our students for becoming creative, productive, successful, healthy, open hearted adults. This inquiry leads quickly to understanding a need for the re-integration of body and mind in the classroom. To teach a child, we need to take care of their intellect and their physicality simultaneously.

Two books I think every teacher should read are Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain and Strategies for Teaching Boys & Girls. The first book explains the research and practical results that show the critical connection between body health and fitness and brain health. Physical exercise not only builds a strong resilient body, it is essential to balancing the neurochemistry of the brain. The second book discusses a number of research based, child-centric strategies for helping children engage successfully in their own education. It emphasizes the need for relevance and novelty in lessons and the very high level of need for physical activity in the classroom. Complementing these two books is Brain Gym, a series of mental/physical activities to refresh, focus, and activate learning.

Unfortunately, mainstream education values classroom control above nearly everything. A teacher whose classroom appears chaotic, even if her children are excelling at performance criteria, will be viewed at best with suspicion. Control seems to be the primary fear of many educators. “Losing control of the class” is perhaps the biggest fear and biggest sin. The price of this is lower performing classrooms overall and a major equity problem for the large minority of students with strong physical needs and/or less powerful self-control mechanisms. The simple fact is we are educating our children unnaturally and many cannot or will not endure the discomfort.

It should be noted that this apparent indifference to the physical spill over into health in several ways. First, this indifference is clearly broadcast to most of our children on most days. Is it any wonder they too grow up not valuing the physical? Second, they certainly receive little formal training in health and there is little in the culture to support healthy decisions in the absence of such formal training. Third, being trapped in classrooms like egg laying hens does nothing to teach them of the joy of physical health and activity. Fourth, what PE we have often offer taxes their meager capabilities, leaving most with the sense that physical activity is unpleasant, hard, and something beyond their genetic ability. Finally, they are taught to subordinate health to other things society deems more important, two leading examples being achievement and convenience. Is it any wonder that so many Americans settle for fast food meals as they ricochet through their hectic lives?

Having decided to go contrary to the culture, a classroom teacher who wants to integrate health and fitness into her classes is left on shaky ground. She will be seen to be out of paradigm and she will have little support, in most cases. It is a bit of a leap into the dark. She must integrate lessons on health and fitness, at the cost of other core instructional activities, and she must take the time to address the fitness/activity needs of her students. Some argue that crisp transitions between activities is key to better student performance. Industrial logic suggests that more time on task is more learning. A health sensitive teach will add physical/mental refreshers into transitions, lengthening them. Fortunately, research and practice both confirm that hammering core subjects constantly is inferior to a balanced schedule. Study after study confirm that less time on core subjects balanced with more time on PE, recess, art, and music leads to increased performance in core subjects. The leap into the dark will bear fruit, we know that. So what is left is braving the social stigma in the school community. This is where quiet dedication and a willingness for non-judgement information sharing can help the teacher and, perhaps, change the school environment for the better. It may not, the teacher may feel she is constantly battling her peers and administrators. Then it’s time to look for a more convivial work environment.

PE and Core Curriculum

What other subject area would you consider for integration with health, physical education, or both? Briefly describe how you would integrate the subject area with health or physical education. 

As is no doubt clear from my two prior posts on this subject, I have a somewhat non-canonical view of this question. I believe that physical activity is essential for a successful elementary school program. Most students of this age absolutely require frequent opportunities for physical movement. The requirements that we impose on children as young as four years old to sit still and “properly” is unreasonable. Certainly there are many who can and do comply but also many that cannot and begin at a very tender age to suspect that “school is not for me.” For this reason, and because the power of “play” to cement learning is so strong, I believe that the kind of physically active learning games discussed in Dynamic Physical Education are extremely appropriate for use in the homeroom “core” education. I think children need to move their bodies every half hour, if not more frequently. Anything that gives them this opportunity is good, and the more playful learning becomes, the more effective the learning and retention. So my view is that the integration needs primarily to go the other way, PE needs to be continually integrated into core subjects.

Certainly there are opportunities to integrate core subjects into PE as well. Students can and should learn not just the rules of the sports they play but the history. In that history they can learn the history of the times as well. One brilliant and perfect example is that equality has always been a hallmark of sport, yet there have been notable moments in history (1936 Olympics, segregated baseball leagues) where that spirit of equality has been famously violated. Then, having been exposed to the fascinating history of sport (so many famous battles, the football “Ice Bowl,” Mets vs. Red Sox in 1986, on and on…), it is logical to integrate literature. By giving students the opportunity to read exciting books about these dramatic sporting moments, we create the possibility of books being interesting, a concept that is certainly not obvious to many students today. Science and math can be linked in how an ice hockey rink is cooled or the physics of hitting a home run 278’ or the brain science of concussions and football (or soccer). There are many ways to use the natural excitement so many students have about sports to extend that interest into “core” learning. Most students just need a reason to care about what we are teaching them and sports can be that reason for many students who haven’t otherwise found one.

Be Nice. Work Hard.

I did my classroom observation last week in the room of a legendary teacher. The mature behavior of his 5th grade students is famous. Classroom management is an area of particular interest for me so I was excited to see what his class looked like for an entire day. It was extraordinary. At 7:10 am, during pre-school music practice, I was immediately offered a bottle of water by one student, then a minute later, by another. The students were quiet and respectful throughout the day – without exception. To be sure, when they played baseball first period, they were normal kids – except that they were uniformly supportive of their teammates and their opponents. It was extraordinary how much time was saved and how much less tiring the day was (especially because the day was 7 am to 4 pm…).

The reason I bring this up here is that taking risks and making mistakes is such a critical part of learning. Creating an atmosphere where that can safely take place is perhaps the hardest thing for a teacher to do. Even extraordinary teachers often don’t intrude on (or know about) the subtle interactions between students. I am coming to believe that the classroom atmosphere has to be something that follows my students 24 hours a day. While this sounds over the top, a classroom can’t be safe if the students are mocked for their in class mistakes away from my sight. Of course, such an intention can’t be fulfilled through coercion. I have no reach beyond the classroom. However, it can be achieved (as demonstrated above) with the proper teaching as the school year begins and reinforcement as it proceeds.

The classroom I observed has a motto, “Work hard, be nice.” Nice is a core value reinforced everyday. Students who misbehave while other students are talking are asked, “You’re acting as if Jorge doesn’t matter. Does Jorge matter?” Harsh, but very true and very effective. As for discipline, the teacher has a simple rule: the class activities have to be interesting enough such that not being allowed to participate is punishment enough. The teacher holds himself and all his students to an extremely high behavioral (and academic) expectation. It works beautifully.

In his class, there is no issue pursuing questioning with struggling students. There is no issue when students make mistakes. In fact, he said at one point, “Thank you for getting it (a math problem) wrong and allowing us to learn with you.”

I think the ultimate testament of how effective his strategy is came in reviewing the answers to the same math quiz. When the teacher asked if anybody had gotten a particular problem wrong, one of the students raised her hand and said that she’d gotten the problem right but didn’t really understand it. Now that’s something special and something to aspire to.

Hands-On Learning!

How does incorporating inquiry-based strategies help with classroom management and eventual learning in the classroom?

One of my foundational quotations comes from an earlier UoPx text, “Students who are succeeding rarely misbehave.” Inquiry-based teaching strategies help with classroom management by reducing the pressures that create the need for “management.” By engaging students in novel, relevant, hands-on activities, they become fully engaged in the learning. When this happens, the need to “manage” their behavior all but evaporates. I saw this in my lesson in our last (History & Social Studies) class. With Google Maps on the Smart Board, there was ZERO misbehavior. Even with Star Wars or a similar movie showing, there is a certain amount of boredom and acting out. But movies, however riveting the first time, lose their power over time and, more importantly for this discussion, do not involve hands on activities. However engaging a movie, it is passive. Active lessons with interesting content fully engage the learner and eliminate misbehavior.

This leads to the answer to the second part of the question. Engaged learners are effective learners. How is it that a child who can’t remember how to remember the first three Presidents of the United States can remember the entire starting lineup of the Los Angeles Dodgers and their batting averages? Relevance! The students have constructed meaning for the baseball players, but apparently not for the dead Presidents. Inquiry-based education allows, encourages, and even demands that students construct their own meaning. In this way, the learning persists and provides an effective base for future equilibration. In addition, direct contact with the learning situation raises the probability of “perturbation.” The more the activity is student-constructed and open-ended, the greater the chance of creative, problem-solving experiences. Not only is this effective in sticking knowledge into context and long-term memory, it also teaches problem solving itself. This is almost certainly an even greater gift than the knowledge of a particular aspect of math or science. High school teachers may correctly assume the students remember nothing from middle school but the problem solving techniques, confidence, and mentality that the students internalize will serve them forever.

 

Reference

Lang, H. R., & Evans, D. N. (2006). Models, Strategies, and Methods for Effective Teaching. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

 

 

Authentic vs. Inauthentic Education

Describe the difference between authentic integration of other subject areas into the history state and national standards. How does it differ from inauthentic integration?

The irony of this question is that it is one that doesn’t seem to be asked (or at least taken seriously) too often in many classrooms – or for that matter in the chambers where curriculum, standards, and assessment policy is created.

One of my very favorite quotes on education is from William Butler Yeats, “Education is not the filling of the pail, but the lighting of the fire.” I think this is as good as any way to distinguish authentic and inauthentic. If we are merely “filling the pail,” we are educating inauthentically. On the other hand, with lessons which “light the fire,” we are teaching authentically.

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s say there are two levels to this. First, there is the way the lessons are taught. This is the basic stuff of being a “constructivist” educator, making meaning and showing the students how to make their own meaning. Authenticity is about making the lessons “real” and personally relevant, connecting them to other things in meaningful fashion.

Second, there is the subject matter. One of the struggles we have in many areas of education today is the relevance of what is being taught. From the previously discussed two forms of handwriting (aka the “cursive question”) to learning how to do math manually that can be done on any cell phone (and many watches) to teaching college prep material to non-college bound students, we have to wonder what authenticity there is for the students in these seemingly pointless (or at least wasteful) tasks? The challenge for our school structure here is to come to grips with what actually needs to be taught and why, thus re-truing to relevant, authentic material. The challenge for us as teachers, in the mean time, at the tactical end of this problem is to find authenticity in seemingly irrelevant material. This comes in two parts. First, we must find the intent of the curriculum designers and honor whatever piece this instruction is meant to be in the structure of overall knowledge. Second, we must find ways to relate this material to the students in spite of the burden of initial skepticism.

 

How can you encourage students to actively engage in using technology as a tool rather than passively receiving information from the technology?

In a sense, this is a trick question. I would teach my students to never “passively receiv(e) information.” Whether reading a book, watching a movie, or looking things up in cyberspace, critical think in essential.The internet is a wonderful tool. It’s range, simplicity, convenience, and ease of use are magical. It is also the least credible source of information available with no checks whatsoever on what is published. The first lesson for any social scientist is to be a wise, informed, and critical consumer of any information source. To the extent that lesson is internalized, the students simply need to be reminded to apply those same skills consistently in their internet use.

In a second sense too, this is a trick question. Technology is rarely conveying information to passive users. Technology is a tool that needs to be directed and those directions need to be continually refined. In important ways, the user is far more a passive recipient of information from more traditional sources of information, be they the New York Times or Fox News. Most traditional information sources are like a hose: you stand at one end and get what comes out. You can choose which hose, but that’s it for chioice. The internet is more like a vast university. It is full of tools, fellow seekers of information, and many, many libraries full of resources and information. it’s use is rarely passive.

In a more philosophical sense, education will have to make some major decisions in the near future about how much about how things work needs to be taught. We are rapidly reaching or passing the point where we need to know many basic skills. Whether it’s math calculation, spelling, grammer, APA formatting, or many other things, technological tools exist which make low level knowledge obsolete. There’s a truly brilliant TED Talk which addresses this is a powerful way. In this sense, we may increase the amount of passive information we receive (23 * 46 = 1058, for example) while using that saved effort and efficiency to be much more productive at active higher level (critical thinking) tasks.

In short, I think it is unlikely that technology will do anything other than increase the passive processing of low level information to free energy and time for higher level, critical thinking tasks. To the extent that it truly generates passive information, it is most likely due to the automation of traditional processes.

Tolerance

How will you use your local community as a resource for teaching social studies? How will you generalize and connect what the students learned about their local community to the world community?

As has been discussed in prior classes, my community is small, with little by way of significant cultural or social resources. However, being adjacent to Los Angeles, we have many resources nearby. One resource I feel very strongly about is the Museum of Tolerance. This is an emotional stretch for 5th graders, but a valuable one. At this museum, the children will learn about intolerance and its devastating consequences. This museum is local, but its subject is often events far from California. Still, it has exhibits on “Segregation in California” and particular emphasis on the situation of hispanic immigrants. No doubt, for some of my students, this later subject is anything but hypothetical.

What I particularly love about this museum (in addition to the overall message) is the lesson that little injustices can balloon into very big ones, that every little prejudice is a tiny Holocaust and a potential building block for a tragedy. Finally I love that it helps us to see that we are all potential victims and victimizers, that self-reflection and sensitivity is a life long discipline.

There are many less weighty resources as well: community groups from nearby representing particular ethnicities, enthusiasts in particular subject matter (from Civil War reenactors to model plane builders to dance lovers) and museums of many varieties. Everything is local and global. We are unified by the human experience. The challenge for a teacher is to be alert for the themes that tie us to the global community (and them to us) and be quick to share those with our students.