Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Way Things Are

I recently wrote this post for my main blog...but it seemed a shame not to share it here, as well:

Did you know  my printer broke? I mean...flat out busted. And right when I was gearing up to do the most interesting weeks of summer school (in my opinion)...two weeks of India, France, and Australia. I was so looking forward to these...and then...BOOM!!

I guess I could've begged people to print stuff for me...but the fact is that it is A LOT of paperwork (worksheets, coloring pages, graphs...and lets not forget my highly detailed and highlighted lesson plans)...but I felt guilty requiring that much ink from anyones printer but my own.

Hey...times are tough...and ink is expensive.

Likewise, to go and spend hours at a Kinkos sifting through my stuff and printing there didn't seem feasible either.

And besides, I have been known to get a sudden idea and run to my computer, look it up, and print the directions or article or WHATEVER...all on the fly. And I couldn't very well do that if my printer was...well...not HERE.

So...we stopped.

I mean...we still swam, and went to the beach, and the dollar movies. We still did scripture study, and had time for reading, and I broke out the old handwriting worksheets...but for the most part...summer school ended.

And I was kinda sad.

My kids weren't. Although they won't admit it while they are in the throes of school, they actually ENJOY summer school. When I'm gearing up for it, they get all excited about it starting. And when it's over, they are always mourning the loss. But in the MIDDLE of it...when they want to go out and play and I make them write their journal entries first...there's a lot of moaning and groaning.

So at first...they were all excited. More time to play!! More time to be on the Wii!!

After about 4 days, the: "Mama...what can I dooooooooo?" 's set in.

I hate the "Mama-what-can-I-doooo"'s.

Bane of my existence.


Anyway...there are so many things to write about...we have Brighams short career in football (and just like summer school, yet another example of not appreciating what you've got till it's gone).

And there's my birthday (which really is just a story about a cupcake, and might get relegated to the Food Chain portion of this blog).

And there's all the upcoming Back-to-School...what with insane supply lists (they get more elaborate every year), all the "special circumstances" that each child seems to have this year, and even the weather (we're already on storm name "G"...can you believe it? None of them have come close...but still...we're just careening through the alphabet and it's not even September!!)...

But today I wanted to share this article from the New York Times about over-booking kids.

I am a purist parent. And it's mostly because of finances. We simply cannot afford to put 5 children in every activity they desire. It's not that I wouldn't LIKE's just not feasible.

I think Kaitlyn would really benefit in private voice lessons and art or photography classes...just to build on her strengths. And Joseph could use private music lessons as well, along with joining a swim team. And Savannah wants to dance, and cheer, and play sports, ride horses, and learn music...all at once. And Brigham NEEDS a sport (although his foray into football was a slight disaster...but more on that later)...and Nicolette has a SERIOUS talent for gymnastics and/or diving...and I would LOVE to build on that.

But I just can't. I have them signed up for Scouts because it is the most reasonably priced activity there is...and I stay very active and involved in it so THEY stay very active and involved in it.

But finances aren't the ONLY reason...I also believe that children gain more from being at HOME...with their FAMILY...than they do out in the world. Children learn many of your kids picked up a swear word after hearing a random construction worker utter it as you walked past? (Just for note: My kids didn't need a construction worker...they learn all the swear words they'll ever many for special occasions...right from their mothers mouth every time she stubs her toe). I'd rather have my kids getting those learning moments at home...from me...than from a coach, teacher, or other parent. After all...I think there's a lesson to be learned about seeing your mother wash her own mouth out with soap.

It's not that I don't believe in extra-curriculars at all...I just believe in moderation.

And in almost direct contradiction with the above statement...I DO wish I could do more. And when I talk with other moms, and the conversation rolls around to: "Well...MY kid does____________________ (fill in the blank with multiple activities)"...I always get uncomfortable.

First of all, these moms that talk about the expense and the time commitments LIKE they're complaining...but they're really not. There's a hint of bragging in their voices, like we're all supposed to be impressed that their kids do 20 different activities a week, or spend every weekend traveling for various sports teams, or that her husband and her haven't seen each other for WEEKS because they're so busy chauffeuring different children to different commitments. And then, when other moms chime in about THEIR kids, and the sacrifices THEY make to ensure their future soccer stars and art prodigies are successful in the world of fame and becomes an almost-argument...the whole: "My-kid-is-better-than-your-kid"...which is really a cover for: "I'm-a-better-mom-than-you-are".

Eventually, these moms notice that I have not offered any assertions of my parenting prowess, and like hungry wolves, they stop bickering amongst themselves and collectively turn on me.

"What do YOUR kids do?"

And I am a deer in the headlights of a monster truck. And I weakly offer: "Scouting."

"That's IT?"

They are condescending...incredulous at my obvious lack of mothering pride. They gang up and start spewing random facts they read in their latest issue of US Weekly and Better Homes and Gardens about how kids NEED sports, and MUST have multiple extra-curricular activities to fill in the gaps of what they are NOT receiving in our budget-cut schools...and how will my kids grow up and be functioning members of society without joining three separate traveling tennis teams?

I'm all but accused of contributing to childhood obesity, the fall in scholastic performance scores, and the rise in crime.

"Busy children are happy children," I'm told...and with a sniff and a flip of their $250 highlighted hair with feather extensions, they stomp off to further berate me out of my presence.

I used to try and justify myself...I'll admit it, I was a little ashamed that we couldn't do more...and I wanted to prove that I was a good mother, too. I'd start by giving excuses because we have a large family on a single income, only one car, and that we do A LOT of activities together as a family. But these excuses often fell on deaf ears, and I realized that no matter what I said, these women held the opinion that I obviously didn't love my children, because if I did, I would happily go bankrupt paying their activity fees.

And so...I stopped arguing, and let them tirade against me...figuring that they weren't exactly the kind of women I'd want to make friends with anyway.

I, personally, can't stand reading Us Weekly.

And, as time has gone on, I've stopped feeling (as) ashamed. True...I still wish I could do more...but not to prove to other moms that I am, indeed, a qualified parent. But rather because, as I previously stated, I see a lot of untapped potential in my kids, and I wish I could help them develop it. I would like to assist them in finding a sport, or hobby, that they truly enjoy.

But alas, the world is an expensive place. Gone are the days that you could go to the local community center and sign your kids up for a slew of classes. Everything is privatized, and EXPENSIVE...amounting in hundreds of dollars a month for membership fees, supplies, uniforms, gear, food, gas, and competition entry fees (in my area, some sports, like swimming and horseback riding, require you to enter so many competitions a month in order to stay on the team).

And I do believe that too many activities can hurt your children. I believe kids need down time to relax, to engage in creative play away from technology and structured activities (getting my kids away from technology is tough...getting ME away from technology is tough).

I believe that families need time together...that meals need to be shared, that regular activities and meetings need to be scheduled and honored...but also that impromptu moments need a chance to blossom.

And I believe that moms and dads need time to re-connect...time alone without the pressures of kids and family. And that can't happen if you're always heading in different directions.

Everyone has a different situation. I'm not saying that sports and classes are in of themselves bad things!! Like I said...I wish we could take part in more activities...but not an endless conveyor belt of extracurriculars. You may have that kid that really IS a prodigy, and traveling soccer is exactly what your kid needs. But I believe the majority of activities are just overkill.

I think a lot of kids don't need ten different sports and five different classes. I don't think that if the only time you spend with your kid is in the car while you shuttle him all over town necessarily makes you a good parent.

Every once in awhile, I find an article that agrees with me...and this is one of them. I encourage you to read it. Whether your a feather-extensioned soccer mom, or a dedicated homebody like's an interesting read.

And you can weigh in on this debate...ARE children over-booked? And what does that say about us, as their parents?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Educational Value of Creative Disobedience

Think I'll ever get the nerve to homeschool my kids? I don't know...but this article (printed in Scientific American) makes me want to...


The educational value of creative disobedience

    “The principle goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done - men who are creative, inventive and discoverers” –Jean Piaget

Looking back on my childhood, the times I remember most fondly were spent with my father, learning how to be a scientist. He’s not a scientist himself, though—but an artist. He’s one of those people who knows a little bit about everything, quite a bit about most things, and loves sharing those bits of insight with anyone that will listen. He is a perpetual observer, a noticer of peculiarities, a collector of knowledge. Being a relentlessly curious child, I saw him as my walking encyclopedia. My afternoon routine consisted of perching myself on a stool in his workshop, peppering him with random questions as he worked.

Why do chameleons change color? Can lightning follow a trail of water? Why do we go in the basement during a tornado? How do those guys karate-chop planks of wood without breaking their hand? (Because I had tried this myself and believe me, it wasn’t pretty.)

No matter how silly or trivial the question, he always had a generously detailed answer for me, thick with scientific evidence. I was perfectly content with this symbiosis until one afternoon—I must have been about 7 or 8 years old—when everything changed.

The Irresistible Taste of Color

There was a question that had been plaguing me for days, and I wanted my dad’s full attention. He was working on a new project, so I bided my time, respecting his need for silence during his creative flow. I loved watching his process, trying to imagine what was going on behind his eyes right before his pencil struck surface. His arm moved swiftly across a large sheet of paper, effortlessly laying out a composition in a series of graceful sweeps and snaps of the wrist, a conductor creating life in a symphony of strokes, dancing and multiplying before me. The intensity of his concentration was clear in his grimace. I held my breath. A minute or two of heavy staring at the page, a few more swipes at the paper, and he stepped back, smiling to himself. That was my moment.


“Mmm hmm.”

“What are   black holes ? I mean, how do they work?”

He turned to me and laughed a little. I had managed to shock him with my latest inquiry.

“What specifically do you have a question about?” he asked. He was probably regretting buying that set of World Book Encyclopedias, which I had since claimed as my own.

“Well, where does all the stuff go after it gets sucked inside? I thought matter couldn’t be created or destroyed? It has to go somewhere, right? So—where does it go?”

“I’m not sure,” he responded “I don’t think it follows the same rules.”

I was stunned. He didn’t know? How? Why? In my young schema of the world, my father knew everything there was to know. I looked to him to be The Teacher of All Things Important in Life, and I was watching my reality crumble away in one unanswerable question. Realizing for the first time that my father was not a god was life-altering enough, but my world changed in an even more profound and quite unexpected way: in that uncomfortable moment of dissonance, when my thirst for knowledge went unsatisfied—I was exhilarated. There was a scientific mystery, and neither one of us knew the answer. It was ridiculously exciting, and I didn’t quite know why, but I was drunk with wonder. We spent the rest of that afternoon discussing black holes—looking through books, making little diagrams, trying to make some sense of theoretical physics—together.

My mind awakened that day. I fell in love with not just knowing things, but in solving mysteries. No longer content to just get an answer, I went seeking answers, pleased with my newly discovered investigative prowess. And when I came upon something interesting, I shared it with my Dad, and we discussed it like colleagues, sorting out the little pieces of the puzzle together—not always succeeding, but having a splendid time trying.

It was as if a whole new color was added to the world’s palette that my eyes had never noticed before. More and more hues revealed themselves in time. Life became deeper. Things moved slower, had more parts. There was so much I didn’t know, and so much I wanted to find out, layers upon saturated layers of discoveries waiting for me to uncover. I was hooked. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was when I first became a scientist.

The pain of withdrawal

I wish I could say that was the happy ending of my childhood story. Instead, it was the beginning of a rather torturous developmental period. My new outlook on life, which could be summarized as “Don’t tell me—I want to figure it out myself!” was not an attitude that went over too well in school. For many years I struggled with wanting to please my teachers—listening to directions and following the rules—but feeling creatively unfulfilled and unchallenged. At times I had an instinct to speak up and offer an alternate explanation, or an urge to try something a different way, but I quickly learned that only ‘undisciplined and obnoxious children’  challenged authority and caused disruption. These were not the kinds of students that teachers favored. I learned to ignore the pangs of my creative spirit, which only seemed to bring me misery when answered.
As much as I loved learning, school was uninspiring and left me hollow. I saw school as a necessary time commitment, but not much else. I ended up doing most of my learning and exploration on my own with whatever tools I had at my disposal—books, observation, watching people, and of course—my imagination.
Obviously my love for science and learning was not completely destroyed by my early school experience, or I wouldn’t be where I am today. But I certainly bear some scars. Now that I know a lot more about neuroscience and psychology, I wonder:

What effects did the discouragement of creativity and independence have on my developing brain, and how much of it was permanent? How much of a role did the inflexible, rule-dependent nature of school play in my cognitive development, versus my own independent or   experiential learning?

Even bigger question: Was school helping or hurting my intellectual growth?

Before I answer those questions, let’s take a look at this from the other side first—how creativity and exploratory behavior is diminished by traditional teaching models—then I’ll explain how that relates to intellectual development overall.

We already know that everything we do changes the brain in some way, but to help frame this in a practical context, I’m going to put out a few broad hypotheses to consider as we look at some research and discuss what it means over a child’s lifetime.

Hypothesis I: Teaching and encouraging kids to learn by rote memorization and imitation shapes their brain and behavior, making them more inclined towards linear thinking, and less prone to original, creative thinking.

Let’s take a look at our typical education paradigm: From the earliest days of school, we hammer specific scholastic values into our students: pay attention, watch the teacher, imitate what the teacher does, stay in your seat, don’t question authority, and receive praise. But instead of teaching children to think, we are teaching them to memorize. Instead of encouraging them to innovate, we expect them to follow the outline and adhere to rules.

There are two very interesting studies recently emerging from the field of developmental psychology that address the issue of early childhood education and teaching methodology. The first one, by Elizabeth Bonawitz and colleagues, has to do with direct instruction and the limits it puts on exploratory behavior. The second , by Daphna Buchsbaum and her team, looks at imitation of action sequences—what situations and specific criteria make a child likely to imitate an act, or to perceive it as a “correct” answer.

Alison Gopnik, a researcher that worked with Buchsbaum on the second study, wrote an article for Slate, Why Preschool Shouldn't Be Like School: New research shows that teaching kids more and more, at ever-younger ages, may backfire, in which she explains both of these studies and what their results imply for learning. The two studies each took a different approach to assess how teaching style influences learning, but both drew the same conclusions. The type and intensity of direct instruction we give children, from a very young age, has a profound impact on how they approach learning and creative exploration. They found that too much direct instruction—showing a child what to do, rather than letting him figure out the solution himself—can severely affect his ability and/or instinct to independently and creatively solve problems, or to explore multiple potential solutions.
Gopnik explains:
    “Perhaps direct instruction can help children learn specific facts and skills, but what about curiosity and creativity—abilities that are even more important for learning in the long run? Two forthcoming studies in the journal Cognition one from a lab at MIT and one from my lab at UC-Berkeley —suggest that the doubters are on to something. While learning from a teacher may help children get to a specific answer more quickly, it also makes them less likely to discover new information about a problem and to create a new and unexpected solution.”
This “new and unexpected solution”  she is describing is at the core of creativity, and what we should be encouraging in children. However, it seems that by directly instructing children—giving them the answers to problems, then testing them on memory—we are inhibiting creative problem solving, to quite a significant degree.

She goes on to describe one of the methods used in her study on action sequences:
     “…[We] gave another group of 4-year-old children a new toy. This time, though, we demonstrated sequences of three actions on the toy, some of which caused the toy to play music, some of which did not. For example, Daphna might start by squishing the toy, then pressing a pad on its top, then pulling a ring on its side, at which point the toy would play music. Then she might try a different series of three actions, and it would play music again. Not every sequence she demonstrated worked, however: Only the ones that ended with the same two actions made the music play. After showing the children five successful sequences interspersed with four unsuccessful ones, she gave them the toy and told them to “make it go.”
The same nine sequences were used with all the children. The only difference: in one group she acted as if she had no idea how the toy worked—trying out different actions until it made music—and in the other group, she acted like a teacher—telling them to watch her, making it clear she was showing them the correct sequence to get the toy to make music.  The children who were shown the “correct” three-action sequence (the direct instruction scenario) were indeed able to imitate the researcher and get the toy to make music. Good, right?
Well, the “correct” three-action sequence demonstrated by the researcher was not actually the best solution; a two-action sequence worked better. However, the three-action sequence was the one demonstrated, so that’s what the children imitated. No need to explore other possibilities, right? The scientist in me likes to think that I would totally be the type of kid to find my own solution to make the toy work, but then I remember how obliged I felt as a child to follow the teacher’s rules, and it saddens me. I probably would have performed exactly as the children in the study.
Gopnik explains,
    “When she (the researcher) acted clueless, many of the children figured out the most intelligent way of getting the toy to play music (performing just the two key actions, something Daphna had not demonstrated). But when Daphna acted like a teacher, the children imitated her exactly, rather than discovering the more intelligent and more novel two-action solution.”
That last sentence is key. When the teacher instructed the children and gave them a working sequence, they were able to replicate that correct response effectively. Some would say that the children “learned” that information. But what did they learn to do? They learned to imitate. The fact that they generated the less intelligent response immediately, then stopped looking for alternate solutions, is quite troubling to me. Yet this is the type of behavior is expected and encouraged in most schools. Do we want children to learn how a system works, exploring lots of possible solutions—even if some of them fail—or to merely copy one “correct” method of arriving at a solution? What happens if that one solution stops working? Then what?

As a behavior therapist, teaching children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and other learning disorders, this has been one of my hot button issues, and the subject of quite a few battles I’ve had with defenders of the   Errorless Learning paradigm. The goal shouldn’t be getting a correct answer; the goal should be learning why that particular answer is correct, and why others are not—as well as knowing when and if there are multiple correct answers to one problem.

What these two studies showed, is that children are very susceptible to adult instruction. We seem to be hard-wired as children to turn to adults for direction, and from an evolutionary perspective, this would make sense. But the inclination to obey and follow adult instruction is both good and bad. On the one hand, if very young children weren’t instinctively driven to listen to adult directions, there would be some major safety concerns. Let’s face it—the world can be a dangerous place. But we’ve come a long way since the days of running from wild beasts in the woods and living in caves.

Creative problem-solving skills are increasingly important in this age, and over-instruction inhibits their development. We shouldn’t be so quick to teach everything to a child in explicit detail and hand him the ‘Instructions for Life’  just because we know things and he’s still naive—that prevents him from developing the urge and the ability to explore and solve problems independently. Also, what if the adult is occasionally (gasp!) wrong?

Hypothesis II: Teaching kids to ask questions and think about problems before receiving the solution encourages more non-linear, divergent and creative thinking, to produce better innovators, problem-solvers, and problem-finders.

The studies we just discussed looked at how direct instruction and teaching imitation of one solution can inhibit creativity and exploration, so now let’s take it to the next theoretical level, only this time—reverse it. If restricting kids from asking questions and teaching them one solution (or giving them the correct answer) inhibits creativity and encourages less innovative behavior, then what happens if you encourage asking questions and require them to think problems through and come up with their own solutions? Will this tend to result in greater creativity over time? What about learning? Will they learn at the same level as kids who are taught in a more traditional method?

You know what? There’s data on that, too. Short answer: Yes. Also, they’ll learn better.

In previous post I wrote on increasing your intelligence, I mentioned a study done by Dr Robert Sternberg, called The Rainbow Project [PDF]. The goal of this project was to find out if it was possible to develop both teaching and testing methods that were a better measure of the quality and quantity of material learned over a college course. He wanted to see if by teaching creativity—both using creative teaching methods, as well as teaching students to think creatively about a problem—then testing for practical application of the material learned, if more learning took place. Basically, he wanted to show there was a better way to learn rather than sitting in a lecture hall, listening to facts being presented to you.
His results? A huge win. As I summed up in my previous article:
    “On average, the students in the test group (the ones taught using creative methods) received higher final grades in the college course than the control group (taught with traditional methods and assessments). But—just to make things fair— he also gave the test group the very same analytical-type exam that the regular students got (a multiple choice test), and they scored higher on that test as well. That means they were able to transfer the knowledge they gained using creative, multimodal teaching methods, and score higher on a completely different cognitive test of achievement on that same material.”
There are an increasing number of studies on educational methodology that demonstrate the same types of results—they find increased learning and participation in classes that use an integrated approach to teaching, as opposed to the traditional lecture. A recent report in Science showed that a group of students taught by an inexperienced instructor, but one that utilized hands-on demonstrations and student involvement, learned twice as much and was more engaged in a Physics course, even when compared to a similar group taught using traditional methods (lecture) by a highly rated experienced professor.

The quality of the instructor didn’t have nearly the impact on student learning that getting the students actively involved in the learning process did. Just by moving the students from passive observer to active participant, you are lighting a fire in the brain—making more connections across association areas, increasing plasticity, and enhancing learning. Not only that, students that are more actively engaged are more intrinsically motivated to learn—no bribes or artificial rewards needed, just pure enjoyment of learning .

So the good news is, the brain is plastic, and these types of thinking patterns can still be taught, even into adulthood. It may take more work to break habits of behavior the longer you’ve engaged in them, but the brain can still adapt to new ways of thinking.

Here’s something to consider: those last few studies involved college students. Can you imagine how much increased learning could occur over a lifetime if we started utilizing some of these teaching principles in grade school?
The fringe benefits of teaching for creativity

In this age of innovation, even more important than being an effective problem solver, is being a problem finder. It’s one thing to look at a problem and be able to generate a solution; it is another thing to be able to look at an ambiguous situation, and decide if there is a problem that needs to be solved. That’s a skill that isn’t really targeted by traditional teaching methods, and in fact, it is often discouraged. In order to teach problem finding, more creative methods must be utilized. Rule-breaking , to an extent, should be tolerated and encouraged, and yes—even taught.

Teaching how and when to break rules and take creative risks isn’t a neat and clean process—it can get a little messy, and errors will be made. But we should be aware of this from the beginning and reward smart risk-taking, even if it leads to an error.

You need to make mistakes in order to learn. If you never know why an answer is wrong, you will never be able to come across a novel situation and make a good decision about how to act. Making errors and struggling through problems is what increases cognitive ability . Spending time pondering a question, weighing choices, thinking about whether or not an answer fits, and why—this is what drives positive change. That’s what learning is. That’s what our education system should be focusing on.

So how can I put this information to use?

Data and research is interesting to read about, but you may be thinking: How do I use this information? Direct instruction discourages creative thinking, but I want to encourage my child to be an independent problem-solver. Yet I want to provide him/her with a rich learning environment, so completely backing off seems counter-productive. What are some other ways I can teach my child and encourage independent problem-solving, while still providing guidance, without falling into that single-solution-answer-trap?

Glad you asked! It’s really not difficult, just takes a little more time and patience. I’m so used to taking this approach with my young clients, that this has become my baseline response pattern to children’s questions.
When your child asks you a question, rather than immediately delivering the answer, hold back for a moment, and say, “I’m not sure—what do you think?” He may be unbelievably off-track with his answer, but that’s ok. At least he tried. If he gives an obviously incorrect answer, explain why it’s incorrect, or why that method won’t work, maybe a give a general set of rules for that condition. And if it’s a novel response, and there’s the slightest chance it may work, consider that possibility and reward that response like he just won the gold medal. In fact, reward all attempts at novel solutions to problems, even if he makes errors. Provide differential reinforcement, though—more praise for answers closer to the correct one—so he has a benchmark to gauge the worthiness of an acceptable response. This teaches him to make decisions about choosing the best answer, given a selection of multiple correct solutions.

Another method I like to use is purposely making a mistake, such as getting ready to play a game, without having a critical piece there, like the spinner (you can increase the subtlety of the missing piece as he gets better). Act as if you have no idea there is a piece missing, and see if he catches it. If he realizes the piece is missing and brings it to your attention—reward this like crazy. He is on his way to being a problem-finder, which is exactly what you want.

Finally, take a lesson from the research referenced earlier on imitation patterns—don’t always play the role of teacher. When you act like a peer, engaging with a child on his level, he is less likely to imitate you and expect answers. He will probably be more independent and try more things out on his own if he isn’t inclined to turn to you for instructions on what to do.

Time for action

In summary, we’ve looked at quite a bit of information that shows traditional teaching methods:

1. Encourage linear, single-solution thinking, rather than exploratory learning (rewarded for the single correct answer, i.e. standardized tests, conformity is expected)

2. Hinder creativity and discourage innovative thinking (once students have the answer, they aren’t motivated to look for alternate solutions; errors are not rewarded when resulting from a potentially beneficial risk)

3. Don’t measure up to other types of integrated teaching models in regards to the amount of information retained by students (less effective at actually teaching material)

4. Aren’t as motivating or engaging for the students (students report less satisfaction and show poorer attendance)

5. Really aren’t that much fun for the teachers, either

So—why are we still using these out-dated methods in our schools?

The biggest problem I see: once the research is conducted, the data collected, and the conclusions drawn, the researchers move on to the next study and everyone forgets all about that most important part—putting the research to practical use in actual schools with real students, not just subjects in a lab.

I see this as a collaboration problem and a funding problem, especially in regards to the research done with new technology and education. First, when teams collaborate on this type of research, there should be a final leg of the initiative that involves implementation, in the event of a useful outcome. I realize you can’t set up implementation programs ahead of producing a valid result, but there should always be an option of a Part II. That Part II should automatically considered for funding, provided there were significant results from Part I that support it. Nothing more frustrating to me than to read a fantastic study on new educational methodology that really works well, like increased student learning utilizing virtual world technology, only to find out the team went on to the next new problem to solve and the findings were left to collect dust in a journal because there was no money or plan to get those results put to actual use. It makes a few headlines, provides for an exciting read on a few websites, then: nothing. Is that really solving the problem? That’s only the first step.
Once data has been provided that demonstrates the usefulness of a new educational method, as a society, I feel we are obligated to make sure steps are taken to put it to actual use. Otherwise, why are we funding educational research, anyway? Just because it’s cool or fun to see what kinds of positive change is possible? Don’t we actually want those changes implemented in our own kids’  schools so they can benefit as well? I see lots of talk about the government’s new commitment to funding non-traditional research on education, but what about the next step? As well as funding the research behind these studies, we need to think of some funding to get the methods implemented in practice.

Now of course, there are exceptions —schools that have gone the extra mile to implement brain and technology research in actual classrooms, and their efforts should be applauded. I also know of several experimental schools that are doing their best to encourage creativity and fight against the traditional model, but it’s not enough. We need more of this—much more.

Some final comments

I can look back on my childhood and see the transition from passive to active learner, at first asking questions and receiving answers, accepting them as truth, not bothering to contemplate other possibilities. I think as a child, that’s our baseline. But once I crossed that bridge over to the other side—experiencing the pure joy of solving problems and arriving at a completely novel solution—it was painful to try and cross back, just for the sake of conformity and obedience to whatever the status quo stated was appropriate behavior for someone in my position. Once you’ve taken flight with your ideas and experienced all those brilliant colors, is it fair to force a child to live back inside a box, lined with a black and white filter?

I’ve shared my own personal story, but I am not the only one who has lived it. Many children today face a similar fate, and it’s tragic. Whatever curious drive any one student might have entering school, it is pretty much beaten out of you by the time you graduate. The lucky few are the ones who are too stubborn to follow the rules arbitrarily. They suffer the consequences for their rebellion, but might have a supportive other (typically a teacher or non-family adult) that provides just enough encouragement to keep them on their path, even when it proves to be treacherous. Walking that path alone is scary, lonely, and wicked hard.

We say we want children to achieve at the highest level—to be the next generation of great scientists and innovators and artists and world leaders—yet the system we’ve put in place makes it nearly impossible for each child to reach their potential. Those worst off are typically the ones whose unique skills and talents we need the most—the most creative thinkers, the natural innovators, the ones who find comfort in the discomfort of not knowing, fearless in the pursuit of their vision.

What is supposed to be the most critical learning period for shaping children into the leaders of tomorrow has evolved over the years into a stifling of the creative instinct—wasting the age of imagination—which we then spend the rest of our lives trying to reconnect with. The time has never been more ready for systemic change than right now, and we’ve never had better tools to achieve this level of creative disobedience, to successfully prepare our children for the big challenges that lie ahead. It might be uncomfortable and take a bit of work, but our future depends on this radical change in order to survive.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Summer School 2011: Week Three - Ireland

Week Three – Ireland (July 4-July 8)
Monday –

Start with a prayer
Read scriptures together as a family

Opening exercise: Where’s Columbus?
Explanation: Columbus has hidden clues for us to learn about our first country, and we need to find them in order to know where we’re traveling next. We’ll all need to work together to find the clues…
Clue #1: The place we’re going is lush and green…sheep graze on grass all day to grow thick wool…when the sheep are shorn, the wool is made into a kind of thick thread called _________.
Clue #2: A long time ago, the poor farmers of this country mainly grew one vegetable…and in 1845-1852 a disease struck that vegetable that caused it to rot. A million people died of disease and starvation during this time, and approximately a million more fled to the Americas…including some of your ancestors. This vegetable grows under the ground…what is it?
Clue #3: The people of this country love folktales and legends. Most of them revolve around the supernatural. Can you find a book featuring Scary Tales from this country?
Clue #4: This country loves the color green…in fact, it is often referred to as “The Emerald Isle”. Which room is painted a light shade of green?

After the clues are found, and the country is guessed, have the kids sit at the table and do a quick introduction of the country of Ireland. Give each child a map and flag to color. While they work, talk about facts of Ireland.
Have them include their papers in their binders
Vocabulary: Ireland, rainbow, leprechaun, potato, Dublin, myth, banshee, shamrock, sheep, potato
Explain what each word is and why it’s important to Ireland, then:
J, S, B: Write each word 3x each      N: picture match w/words
Craft: Columbus needs a helper to teach us about Ireland…someone who has a lot of luck. He has a friend named Eirnin (ER neen). Eirnin is very slick and crafty, and likes to play tricks on people. Can you guess who…or what…Eirnin is? (a leprechaun)
A lot of times, we only think about leprechauns on one day of the year…do you know what that day is? (St. Patricks Day)
But in Ireland…leprechauns are around every day of the year. They are very tricky. Rumor has it, that if you catch one, he has to tell you where he’s hid his pot of gold!! 
Let me read you a story…(read Leprechauns Never Lie)
Eirnin is a very special type of leprechaun…he doesn’t have gold…but he has lots and lots of luck…SPECIAL luck…the kind of luck that helps kids do well in school and have fun learning.
Do you think we can help Columbus catch his friend Eirnin so he can give us the luck we need to learn about Ireland??
Fun Snack: Use Lucky Charms to bait the Leprechaun…put extras in baggies to eat later during the movie…
Journal: If you could catch a leprechaun, and ask him for any wish…what would it be?
At this point, we should be just about done for the day with our “lesson”. However…we are going to walk to the library, and when we get back, we will probably go swimming at the pool or have lunch first and THEN go swimming. After swimming, when it’s time to “wind-down” in the afternoon, we can have a time set aside to read…and watch the movie for the day. Then, if the kids want, they can practice Spanish. This will usually take place during a time of day that it is storming…so they will be good indoor activities to keep kids busy and engaged. I’m always trying to avoid the: “Momma, what can I doooooo?” .
Library: Walk to the library and have kids sign out books…everyone getting AT LEAST one on Ireland.
Reading : read books from library. Or read from books on Ireland at home. Introduce this weeks Book Report Activity…Reading Rainbow. A story fact goes into each color of the rainbow.
Movie: Darby O’Gill and The Little People

Computer : Everyone gets to study Spanish for their lesson

Tuesday –

Start with a prayer
Read scriptures together as a family

Opening Exercise:  Beach Day!! (no lessons today)

Wednesday –

Start with a prayer
Read scriptures together as a family

On Wednesdays, we’ll be cooking food from the countries we are learning about. Everyone will get a chance to help.

Opening exercise: Read a book on Ireland

Cooking: Irish Soda Bread

While kids are taking turns baking their own Irish Soda Bread, the others can work on their vocabulary and journaling activities
Vocabulary: J, S, & B: Write definitions for each word using the computer or dictionary…help each other out!! 
N: Write each word in your best handwriting
Math: After Vocab, do this…
Journal:  Imagine that a young Irish immigrant has magically time-travelled to our day. You need to get him/her up-to-date with the times!! What do you do?

Movie: Today is Dollar Movie Day at Regal…go to the movies!!
Reading: Special reading time…either individually or as a family
MORE Movies: If additional indoor time is needed due to weather…watch Far and Away

Computer: Spanish Lessons

Thursday –

Start with a prayer
Read scriptures together as a family

Have kids dressed in bathing suits today.

Opening Exercise:  I’m going to do a little experiment…and it’s a clue to as what we’re learning about today. Let’s do it…and see if you can guess what we’re going to learn about…

Science: This experiment helps explain how rainbows are made…

Let’s go outside and make our own rainbow…
Make a Rainbow
What You Will Need:
  • a garden hose (connected to a faucet outside)
  • a sunny day
  • permission to go outside and use the hose
What To Do:
  1. Get the hose and turn the faucet on.
  2. Stand in a spot where the sun is behind you, shining on your back. (You will be able to see your shadow in front of you when the sun is behind you.)
  3. Put your thumb over part of the nozzle of the hose so that the water creates a spray when it comes out.
  4. Hold the hose out in front of you and turn slowly. Keep you finger over the hose to make a spray. Watch for a rainbow to appear above the water.
What's Happening?
A rainbow should appear just above the spray of water from your hose when sunlight hits the water at the right angle. The water from the hose does the same things that rain does to make a real rainbow in the sky - it refracts the beams of sunlight so that they separate into their different colors. You can see the colors in the rainbow that appears above the water. The rainbow you made is much smaller than one you would see in the sky. Do you know why? It's because the water from your hose is only spraying in a small area. If there were more drops of water for the sunlight to hit, you would see a larger rainbow. 
Let kids play in the water…everyone has a turn making a rainbow…

Vocabulary: J, S, B: write a fully structured and grammatically correct sentence using the vocabulary words. Be creative!!

N: draw a picture for each word on a 10-frame paper
Math: Have everyone open a package of Skittles and graph how many colors are in each package. 
Special Snack: Make rainbow cupcakes


“Look kids,”  Mom said, “there’s a rainbow!!”
Sure enough, a giant rainbow was arched across the sky. It seemed to be right over the house.
“Mom,” said Joseph, looking very excited, “I think the rainbow is ending right at the park across the lake!! Look, can you see that golden glow just above the trees?”
“I see it!! I see it!!” Brigham exclaimed, jumping up and down. Nicolette started jumping excitedly next to Brigham. She could see the beautiful rainbow and the glittering glow, too.
“Joseph…I think you’re right!! What should we do?”
“I know what we should do!!” Savannah exclaimed.
What happens next?


Reading : Special time set aside for reading, either individually or as a family.

Special Snack: Frost Rainbow Cupcakes (with “cloud” frosting) and enjoy!!

Movie: The Secret of Kells
Computer :  Spanish lessons

Friday –

Start with a prayer
Read scriptures together as a family

Opening Exercise:  Today is a more “grown-up” version of Ireland. We will be watching a PBS documentary called “In Search of Ancient Ireland” that tells a lot about Irish history and lore. It is 3 hours long…and may carry over into later in the day…

Vocabulary Test Today With Prizes For Correct Answers!!
Movie: In Search of Ancient Ireland

Journaling, and Art: Make a travel brochure for Ireland…highlight special features, interesting facts, local lore…whatever you feel would make someone WANT to travel to Ireland. Draw pictures. Do your very best work…(can be worked on while watching the show)
Finish Movie and/or Reading (whichever order best suits the day)
Computer: Spanish lessons
Book Reports: Fun activity where kids can present books they are reading…present Reading rainbow mobiles.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Summer School 2011: Week Two - Basic Mapping Skills

Week Two - Basic Mapping Activities (June 20-24)

Monday –

Start with a prayer
Read scriptures together as a family

Opening exercise: In order to properly study geography…we have to be familiar with maps. After all, we have to know where we are going!!! We’re going to need the help of our trusty explorer friend, Columbus, again…

Make clues to locate Columbus…either as a Treasure Hunt, or with cardinal directions.

1.      Stand at tree with the rope swing. Turn to face East. Take 10 steps and look for a rock with a strange symbol.

2.      Turn towards the south  and go 20 paces. Turn to face West and walk until you reach something that is against the law to park in front of.

3.      Face North. Look for a flower the same color as the fire hydrant. 

4.      Turn East and locate a portal. Pass through the portal and into the dwelling. Continue North until you reach something on your right that ascends. Take the ascension until you reach higher ground. Look for a marker to give you further instructions.

(at the top of the stairs, lay out an arrow on the floor made of sticks pointing into the boys room. Make another arrow just inside the boys room pointing to a dresser. Hide Columbus in one of the drawers)

Vocabulary: Map, North, South, East, West, Compass, Key, Mile, Globe, Scale, Legend
J, S, B: Write each word 5x each      N: picture match w/words

Mapping Activity: Give each child a small treasure to hide within the house. On a sheet of white paper, have each child draw a map of the house and to mark the location of the treasure with an “X”. Also, have everyone write directions for how to find the treasure near the bottom or on the back of his map. Collect the maps, the redistribute them to the kids. Let them find each others treasures and keep them!!

Fun Snack: We’re going to decorate sugar cookies like Compass Roses today and eat them!!

Journal: If you could travel anywhere is the world…where would you go…and why?

At this point, we should be just about done for the day with our “lesson”. However…we are going to walk to the library, and when we get back, we will probably go swimming at the pool or have lunch first and THEN go swimming. After swimming, when it’s time to “wind-down” in the afternoon, we can have a time set aside to read…and watch the movie for the day. Then, if the kids want, they can practice Spanish. This will usually take place during a time of day that it is storming…so they will be good indoor activities to keep kids busy and engaged. I’m always trying to avoid the: “Momma, what can I doooooo?” .

Library: Walk to the library and have kids sign out books…everyone getting AT LEAST one on geography, traveling, or a country they are interested in.


Reading : read books from library. Or read from books on geography at home. Introduce Book Report activity for the week…the kids will have to create a “Story Treasure Map”…a map that looks like a treasure map and takes kids from point to point in the plot…

Movie: National Treasure

Computer : Everyone gets to study Spanish for their lesson

Tuesday –

Start with a prayer
Read scriptures together as a family

Opening Exercise:  Beach Day!! (no lessons today)

Movie (For Later in the Day): National Treasure 2

Wednesday –

Start with a prayer
Read scriptures together as a family

On Wednesdays, we’ll be cooking food from the countries we are learning about. Everyone will get a chance to help. Since there isn’t a specific country we’re studying this week, we’re going to just make a family favorite that goes along with today’s theme.

Opening exercise: Today we’re going to “pretend” to travel to Yaya and Papas house. To start, we’re going to play “Yaya Says”…make signs for outside that have all 4 cardinal directions. Have kids “travel” to Yaya’s by moving according to the oral directions given by Yaya. 

Mapping Activity: Complete Worksheets 1 and 3 in The Mailbox Theme Series Map Skills: Primary Edition. After Worksheet 3, present them with their own “map” of the kitchen. Have a clue for each child where they have to follow directions and the map to locate items needed to make Chocolate Chip Cookies. 

Make cookies together.

1.      Enter kitchen from the North. Travel South until you see 4 plastic containers. Open the one that is the farthest East.

2.      One ingredient is kept in the only appliance on the North wall. The ingredient is oval, and breaks easy.

3.      Leave the kitchen and turn West. Go to the third storage unit, on the 4th compartment. Find 2 kinds of sugar, white flour, and Crisco butter sticks.

4.      Enter the kitchen again and travel South. Locate a cupboard above the counter. In the East side is a bottle of good-smelling liquid that tastes really bad.

5.      Turn West. Find an appliance that gets things hot. Inside you’ll find the BEST ingredient of all.

6.      Enter the kitchen from the North. Turn West and travel forward until you cannot walk any further. Look for a big, shiny bowl to mix everything in.

7.      Stand in the middle of the kitchen. Turn and face North. Walk forward about 8 steps and turn West. Find a shelf with cookbooks. Locate a paper with writing on it.

Cooking: Chocolate Chip Cookies

Vocabulary: J, S, & B: Write definitions for each word using the computer or dictionary…help each other out!! 

N: Write each word in your best handwriting

Journal: What is your favorite thing to do when visiting Yaya and Papa? Tell a story about it.

Movie: Today is Dollar Movie Day at Regal…go to the movies!!
Ramona & Beezus or Yogi Bear


Reading: Special reading time…either individually or as a family

MORE Movies: Treasure Planet

Computer: Spanish Lessons

Thursday –

Start with a prayer
Read scriptures together as a family

Opening Exercise: Today we’re going to be PIRATES!!! Pirates were masters at reading maps…

We’re going to start by doing a series of activities from my Map Skills book…all about One-Eyed Charlie, the pirate. The activities are easy and fun…maybe challenging for Nicolette and Brigham, but WAY BELOW what Joseph and Savannah can do…that’s okay, because they can help their younger siblings with the work…

Worksheet Practice: Worksheets 1-5 on pages 43-48 in The Mailbox Theme Series Map Skills: Primary Edition

Language and Grammer: This is a fun activity from Family Fun…have the kids read the text and unscramble the words/correct the spelling, and copy it correctly into their binders.

Vocabulary: J, S, & B: write a fully structured and grammatically correct sentence using the vocabulary words. Be creative!!

N: draw a picture for each word on a 10-frame paper

Read How I Became A Pirate, and then…Journal: If you were kidnapped by pirates, how would you escape?


Reading : Special time set aside for reading, either individually or as a family.

Special Snack:  Make Pirate Treasure Trail Mix
  • ¼  cup Hard Tack (Life or Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cereal)
  • 10  Creatures of the Deep (Swedish Fish)
  • 10 Peg Legs (small rod pretzels)
  • 5 Shipwrecked Bones (dried bananas)
  • 1 TBS Dried Scurvy Eyeballs (Golden Raisins)
  • ¼ cup Pirate Treasure (M & M's)
  • 10 pieces salted meat (chopped up Slim Jims)
  • 1 TBS Parrot Poo (peanuts)
Movie:  Pirates of the Caribbean

Computer :  Spanish lessons

Friday –

Start with a prayer
Read scriptures together as a family

Opening Exercise: I’m going to show you a word…and I want you to guess what it means:
(have this written on a large piece of paper) Cartography.

(give kids a chance to guess, and then tell them…)

Cartography is the science of reproducing all or part of the earth with as little distortion as possible. Since the earth is nearly spherical, a globe is the most accurate representation of the surface of the earth. Maps, however, are more practical since they are flat, portable, and less expensive to produce. Maps can also show a representation of the entire earth at one time.

A variety of different maps exists to serve specific needs. Political maps show the boundaries of governmental units such as countries, states, and provinces. Topographical maps (physical maps) show the shapes of landforms such as mountains and valleys. Transportation maps show highways, railroads, and airports, in addition to cities and points of interest. Economic or produce maps show the distribution of mining, manufacturing, and agriculture for a specific area.

Worksheet Practice: Miner Worksheets 1-5 on pages 35-39 in The Mailbox Theme Series Map Skills: Primary Edition

Vocabulary Test Today With Prizes For Correct Answers!!

Special Activity: Make a map for the kids to follow and have them go out and “dig” for jewels (Ring Pops) in the yard.


Reading: Special time set aside for reading, either individually or as a family.  

Movie: Titan A.E.

Computer: Spanish lessons

Book Reports: Present Book Report activity for the week…the kids will have to create a “Story Treasure Map”…a map that looks like a treasure map and takes kids from point to point in the plot…