Math and Rhymes

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Some teach math with flashcards, some with videos, but this group of teachers uses rap and hip hop to teach math and other subjects.

Special thanks to Music Notes, a group of teachers and educators whose music and videos help students learn content in engaging and fun ways. Learn more at http://www.musicnotesonline.com and check out their latest video: https://youtu.be/eDZ_pgJZcWk

Short-sightedness is epidemic. The solution? Teach kids outside.

Short-sightedness is epidemic for modern kids. It’s tempting to blame screen time, but the problem really lies in the spaces where they live and learn.

A widely-read article in Nature by Elie Dolgin reports that short-sightedness “now affects around half of young adults in the United States and Europe — double the prevalence of half a century ago.”

Many ophthalmologists and endocrinologists believe there is a simple solution to this ongoing “myopia epidemic”: increasing children’s exposure to daylight. However, the solution is only apparently a simple one; finding ways to do so on an everyday basis is, in fact, a major challenge for schools, education professionals and parents.

This article discusses that challenge, suggests a quick and practical solution and offers three simple ideas to help school administrators, teachers and caregivers increase both quality learning and outdoor play time for young and very young children.

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]The Three-Hours-a-Day Challenge[/su_highlight]

The number of short-sighted young people is rising fast. It is tempting to blame the situation on the overuse of electronic devices and prolonged screen time; however, the core of the problem lies first and foremost in the spaces where each of us now lives, learns and works.

As Dolgin writes in his article, “The Myopia Boom”, “Retinal dopamine is normally produced on a diurnal cycle — ramping up during the day — and it tells the eye to switch from rod-based, nighttime vision to cone-based, daytime vision. Researchers now suspect that under dim (typically indoor) lighting, the cycle is disrupted, with consequences for eye growth”.

Scientists are conducting research on the production of retinal dopamine in children who tend to spend most of their time indoors — both in school and at home — at a maximal light exposure of 500 lux, whereas, according to Ian Morgan, a researcher at the Australian National University in Canberra, “children need to spend around three hours per day under light levels of at least 10,000 lux to be protected against myopia.”

Ophthalmologists have now issued a challenge to school directors, early education professionals, teachers and parents worldwide. They are asking us whether it is possible to expose the children in each of our countries to three whole hours of daylight every day based on the children’s — and our own — current lifestyles. Think about it: three hours a day, day in and day out, even in the wintertime. For many it seems an impossible goal. How can we achieve it?

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]Investing in Quality Time and Different Learning Goals[/su_highlight]

“Man is not shaped by his brain, but by the collective whole of all his organs,”
German pedagogue, Hugo Kükelhaus (1900–1984), liked to say.

If you are a teacher, I’d ask you to think for a moment beyond your program or curriculum. If you’re a parent, I’d like you to focus on what learning means over and above the acquisition of knowledge. Ophthalmologists are warning us that something has been disrupted in the organs that are responsible for the correct functioning of young people’s visual systems.

These organs have to relearn how to do their job properly; in fact, it isn’t just the brain that’s capable of learning, but the entire body, including each of our organs. So if you find the idea of a “myopia epidemic” disturbing, you might want to consider investing some time in finding innovative ways to help your young students nurture their own health, including the development of their bodies and organs.

Parents, too, can think up similar “projects” to undertake with their children.

Getting back to the three-hours-a-day challenge, some of you might wonder exactly how and what we can teach kids outdoors, and — in a real, practical sense — for how long. Personally, I believe it would already be a great start if each of you could find a way to work with your students out in the daylight even for just one hour a day.

Why not do a test run, investing 20 minutes of your class time once a week as an initial experiment? I’d like you to reflect on how much more children could learn and experience in the daylight, through simple actions to stimulate their vision, than you might have previously thought.

Set up a learning environment in advance by choosing a mix of materials from your classroom and from the nature outdoors. Think about how you feel in the daylight, far from the classroom, and observe what is going on with your students outside those same four walls. If the sunlight is too bright for them (or for you), you can change your location so that everyone can enjoy the light while keeping focused on the activities.

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]If it rains, let it rain![/su_highlight]

You’re going to need to train your own consciousness of space and time outdoors in order to teach there effectively, ensuring quality time in the daylight for children. But as soon as you find a way to get them outdoors, you will already have begun to increase their exposure to daylight, and their bodies and organs will immediately become more active in response.

It’s natural, in fact, for kids to look for hands-on learning experiences on their own. You won’t need to invent specific exercises to strengthen their vision; the daylight will be enough.

To help you with your “test runs” I’ve provided some simple, no-cost, hands-on ideas below. Observe the kids, play with them and enjoy!

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]Three Simple Ideas for Setting Up an Outdoors Learning Environment for Pre-K to Third Graders[/su_highlight]

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“The Humming Bucket”

Remember Peek-a-boo? While the goal here is not to help kids grasp the concept of object permanence, the Humming Bucket does make use of the psychomotor basics of that game, alternating light and darkness, sight and invisibility, and presence and absence. Here’s how it works: a child starts out by observing a bucket sitting on a tree stump outside in the daylight. She then puts her head inside the bucket and begins humming or buzzing to herself, experimenting with her auditory perception and feeling her body’s vibrations. She might choose to close her eyes to “look at” or simply concentrate on herself.

Afterwards she will experience the joy of “resurfacing” into the daylight. The “humming bucket” construction can also be used to improve children’s communication and language skills, and to help them find their way to resilience. All you need is a plastic bucket (or a large vase or soup pot) and a tree stump!

Advanced variations: The bucket gives children the opportunity to use their creativity to learn about shapes, circles, cylinders, cones, measurements and quantities; with the tree stump they can learn about rings, circumferences and numbers.

“The Cretan Labyrinth”

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This is a place/space that kids can explore in all sorts of ways: barefoot for experimenting with their tactile sense, balancing on the edges, moving backwards, forwards and sideways, going inside and coming back outside, discovering shortcuts and playing with their sense of direction. The most fantastic thing for children, though, is actually building the labyrinth. They can use sticks, stones and ropes to do so, or dig it in sand, mud or grass.

Advanced variations: You can accompany children as they hunt for natural tools for measuring the length of sticks or ropes, weighing the stones, and counting or estimating the length of their labyrinth in feet (or human steps). Designing labyrinths challenges children and helps them discover the complexity within simplicity.

“The Outline”

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Children love rocks! They love throwing them, rolling them and using them to build things. «While the child builds up the tower, she is actually building herself too,» wrote Kükelhaus in his reflections on the ways that bodies are able to learn. How about giving children an opportunity to compare natural shapes with their own shape?

Feeling comfortable in space is something children need to experience starting with their own proprioception. Learning in outdoor spaces allows them to explore how their body feels comfortable in relation to the earth and gravity.

Advanced variations: Using materials such as tree slices, bricks or bales of hay or straw, you can “sketch” a huge body on the ground and work on imagination and storytelling, or teach children about the human body by walking on the outline.

Sharing to Save Children’s Vision

It doesn’t matter what the area outside your facility looks like; it simply has to be a place out under the open sky. So if you can, try to invest 20 minutes of your class time, choosing materials for your students ahead of time and then enjoying yourself as you observe their natural curiosity in action.

I have no doubt that each of you will find ways to implement the above-mentioned three purposeful play ideas with success. And once you’ve gotten used to working outdoors in the daylight, just imagine how many variations you could think up to teach anything you want!

Don’t forget to gradually extend your and your kids’ time outdoors to one hour a day or longer and discuss how things went with your colleagues.
In conclusion, if kids are given the opportunity to do some quality learning out in the daylight for 60 minutes or so each day, in addition to the time they already spend outdoors before and after school, plus one more hour of outdoor playtime during recess or other free moments during the school day, they’ll be that much closer to the ideal three-hours-a-day daylight goal.

What’s more, as they learn outdoors and have fun playing, they’ll also be safeguarding their vision.

If you’d tried to implement my suggestions outside of your classroom you should really let me know about your experience — even if something’s failed!

This post originally ran on Medium. To learn more about the author’s work, please visit tommasolana.com.
Photo and illustrations: Tommaso Lana
Graphic editing: Chiara Lino

What I Learn from 8 Year Olds Every Day

If third graders inhabited the workplace, the world would be a more joyful, forgiving place. Alas, it’s not a possibility, so we must start with ourselves.

I’m a third grade teacher, which means that I’m lucky enough to spend my work week with some pretty remarkable human beings. Childhood is a magical time, but I believe that there is a very special breed of magic reserved for eight year olds.

I remember being in third grade like it was yesterday, perhaps because I spend my days immersed in the world of the eight year old. When I was in third grade, my priorities were few, and they were clear-cut: family, friends, play and schoolwork.

After school, I’d spend hours with friends, playing outside and wandering the neighborhood. I could often be found exploring the nooks and crannies of our area, getting lost and having adventures. And of course, I always managed to make it home in time for dinner and a bedtime story with Mom.

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]Unstructured time is important[/su_highlight]

As an 8 year old, I was doing just the right amount of activities. My load was developmentally appropriate and my life was balanced. I had plenty of time to just ‘be.’ As a teacher and an observer, it seems to me that the most content children are the ones who have plenty of free time after school – unstructured and uncommitted time. Perhaps not surprisingly, this is how it seems for adults too!

When I see parents signing their children up for every after school program under the sun, it makes me a little nervous. I believe that children need downtime as much as adults do –time all to themselves, with no particular plan, with nobody watching over their shoulder. We all need that time, and it comes to us only when we aren’t overscheduled.

As adults, we take on so much. We can make a decision to lighten our schedules, lessen the number of commitments we are obliged to, and focus on the handful that are the most important. So many parents are brilliant at giving this gift of time to their children but not as good at giving it to themselves. It is often the case that when there is no plan or structure, we find our spark.

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]Imagination is a tool for our growth[/su_highlight]

The undoubted highlight of our classroom schedule in third grade is Choice Time. This is a free period, during which some children choose to draw, others read, still others build with Lego or blocks.

Inevitably, children indulge in role play and imaginative play, escape into other worlds, and, always, laugh a lot – all this being the stuff of childhood. I love standing by and watching as the day’s ‘choices’ unfold – children will ask me for tape so they can make structures out of paper or make hats for a fashion show, or they’ll curl up on a cushion and just get lost in a book. Whichever choice they make, they are inspired, motivated and completely self driven.

An eight year old girl sitting in a tree in the English countryside.
An eight year old girl sitting in a tree in the English countryside.

When I was eight, I’d play with Barbie dolls and escape to an imaginary world – Barbie and her friends went to school, graduated from college, traveled abroad, sailed on boats, got married; they even learned some hard lessons. I realize now that I was trying out different versions of the life I thought I wanted, a kind of ‘choose your own adventure’ with Barbie dolls as props in endless rehearsals for my future life.

While I was making wallpaper for my Barbie Dream House, my best friends were drawing on their easels or creating whole worlds out of blocks.

At 8, children imagine and create situations, worlds, problems and solutions. They are, in many ways, empowered. They find their own solutions and retreat to their imaginations when they want to work through things and figure out the world around them, and they are more peaceful and resolved for it.

There are so many ways that adults can find to channel their spirit of imagination, too. Make something, build something, play Charades, do some improv or role play. Let imagination into your adult life, and do it alongside your children, too – they’ll love it.

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]Pursuing passions should be mandatory for us all[/su_highlight]

Growing up, I knew that I wanted to be a teacher. I would line up my dolls and then proceed to teach them what I thought they needed to know. “Children, here’s how you write a story”…Like many 8 year olds, I also wanted to do other things – I wanted to be a writer, for one. I would write stories that were ten pages long and always carried around a little notebook and pen set, ready to ‘report’ the news wherever I went.

Teaching and writing are parts of who I am, and they are more than a profession; they’re my passions. When I was eight, I didn’t know the word passion, but I chose to spend my free time writing, and pretending to be a teacher.

It seems to me that it is a huge pity if we as adults can’t make some time in our lives to pursue the ideas, projects, hobbies and work that inspire us. At the school I teach at, we recently got rid of homework. By doing this, we effectively gave parents permission to let their children spend their afternoons pursuing activities, hobbies, learnings and passions.

The results speak for themselves – our students are happy, energetic and eager to learn and ‘work’ during school hours, knowing that their evenings are free to pursue choice activities and passion projects. I wonder if we can’t get rid of some our adult ‘homework’, or at least marginalize it so we can spend more time doing what we love.

I know this takes a shift and involves setting real boundaries around how we use our time, but I believe there really are enough hours in the day to spend time with our passions, even if its just an hour while the baby is sleeping.

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]Showing vulnerability is brave, and forgiving is too[/su_highlight]

Just the other day, a child in my class was crying. Her tears ran, free flowing, down her face, and dripped down onto her sweater. Through her tears, she told me that she was worried because a friend had called her a name and she’d thought they were best friends until this had happened. By the time children reach third grade, they are able to put words to their emotions, and are often very articulate about how they feel.

After the tears, once the problem has been named and worked through, eight year olds have the ability (perhaps it is a special gift) to move past the hurt and to forgive and forget; to carry on like nothing happened– I see it on the playground every day.

There’s a lesson here for us; I think we can allow ourselves tears, raw honesty and vulnerability in our lives as adults, and then we can move on when it’s time to move on, because life gets richer when we let go of past hurts. We can take a leaf from the book of 8 year old behavior and follow up our tears with some exercise and some free time. Crying is a healing mechanism, as is forgiving.

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]Steer yourself in the direction you wish to travel[/su_highlight]

On the topic of this article, there is so much more to say. An eight year old is a gem of a person, caught between early childhood and adolescence. Middle childhood is a special time, because children at this age are increasingly more empathetic, articulate and reasoned about the world around them, whilst also remaining true to their most authentic childhood selves.

8 year old boy

As adults, we can try more often to channel the child within us. A sense of play, the spirit of imagination, the joys of free time and time spent with our passions, as well as the power of tears to heal and the ability to move past feelings of hurt…all this feels like a recipe for a more content adulthood. We have so much freedom as adults; using this freedom in ways that nurture, heal and inspire makes us happier.

I love teaching because every work day offers me endless opportunities to live my passion, use my imagination, and to be around happy, content, people. If third graders inhabited every workplace, surely the world would be a more joyful, forgiving place. Alas, this is not a possibility, so we must start with ourselves.

As Dr. Seuss wrote: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” When we choose to fill our lives with lightness, joy, passion and imagination, we become the very best kind of role models for our children.

Computer Tests Widen Writing Achievement Gap for Low-Income Kids

The Department of Education wants to move students to computerized tests, but low-income kids don’t get much practice typing on a computer.

The Department of Education wants to move students to computerized assessments. They’re faster, easier and cheaper to grade than hand-written tests.

However, as highlighted by (@jillbarshay) for Hechingerreport.org, a 2012 U.S. Department of Education study reveals a potentially major flaw with this plan: Low-income kids don’t get as much practice typing or writing on a computer as higher-income kids.

When it’s time to test their writing skills on a computer, the lower-income kids are slower and less able to write because they don’t know how to effectively type and edit with a computer keyboard vs higher-income kids who have better access to computers.

When tested with a pencil and paper, low-income students produced better writing using than they did with the computer.

Simply put, the “Performance of fourth-grade students in the 2012 NAEP computer-based writing pilot assessment” found that “the use of the computer may have widened the writing achievement gap.”

As quoted on Hechingerreport.orgSteve Graham, a professor at Arizona State University said:

“Your familiarity with the tool makes a difference. They actually do better writing by hand if they’re less experienced [with computers]. And if they’re more experienced, then there may actually be an advantage toward writing on the computer.”

Solutions might include teaching kids how to type efficiently on a computer keyboard. This also includes teaching how to cut, paste, delete and edit in a digital document.

Source: Using computers widens the achievement gap in writing, a federal study finds  on Hechingerreport.org

Challenging Assumptions About Teens, Tech and Teaching

I can’t stop thinking about the article “School Is About More Than Training Kids to Be Adults” by Micheal Godsy in the Atlantic. Godsy is a high school English teacher and baseball coach.

The article is mainly about why focusing on career and college readiness isn’t always effective  with today’s adolescents. But it also touches on four interconnected topics that our team at Parent Co. talks about often. Godsy’s article adds new context to these discussions.

Adults still make wrong assumptions about how and why teens use technology and social media.

Godsy shares an anecdote about how teachers at his school started using Twitter to connect with students, only to discover that very few teenagers actually even use Twitter.

Teens increasingly prefer Instagram and apps based on ephemeral messaging like Snapchat. Snapchat is currently used by just 4 percent of middle-aged adults. I personally don’t think most people over 35 will ever understand or adopt Snapchat in its current form. And if they do, Godsy suggests that teens will flee to whatever network is next.

Also, kids aren’t as interested in using tablets and smartphones in the classroom as most adults (and policymakers) assume. Godsy writes:

“One of the teens explained to me, ‘We like using our phones and laptops for games and talking to each other, but we don’t really want use them for school.’”

Adults don’t model aspirational lives

Godsy writes “It seems to me that many high school students don’t even like, much less admire, the adult world.”

Teens have access to many of the benefits of being grown up without the accompanying responsibilities.

“What about adulthood do I think should inherently appeal to teenagers? My students probably go on better vacations than I do, they eat food that’s just as yummy, and they certainly sleep longer. Adults, meanwhile, are washing clothes, cooking good meals, and driving their kids to practice.”

If adults seem miserable,  it’s no wonder many teens aren’t motivated  to “leave the kids table.”

Then again, maybe teens should get less and earn more

Godsy says that many  kids just want to be kids while they can. However, policymakers either aren’t aware of this reality or can’t accept it. Godsy suggests that while adulthood should be more appealing, adolescence should also be a little less luxurious.

“Maybe communities across the U.S.—from the small towns to the national stage—can give teens a little less and make them earn a little more.”

I can’t imagine this will be very popular in the US, but it makes sense to me.

The “Serial” podcast as an educational model

Finally, this is the fourth article I’ve read this week that mentioned how teens love the podcast Serial. In fact, Godsy had his class study Serial in place of Shakespeare.

This made me wonder: what if there was an educational model based a format similar to Serial? Instead of laying out educational material in a book, ebook, app or video, what if it was presented from multiple points of view in investigative form over several connected episodes?

“You can’t do it yet. Let’s keep practicing. You will.”

 

There’s an epidemic in our country. Parents and teachers drop “S” bombs right and left in front of children. The time has come to put a stop to the “S” word – Smart.

Stanford psychology professor Carole Dweck has spent the last four decades studying motivation and learning in children and adults. She’s dedicated her life’s work to understanding how people cope with challenge and difficulty.

Dweck suggests telling kids they’re smart fosters a fixed mindset. Children and adults with a fixed mindset believe intelligence and talent is fixed rather than developed. They spend more time trying to prove over and over again how smart or talented they are, rather than putting in the effort to improve or grow their intelligence or talent.

People with a fixed mindset shut down in the face of challenges or blame other factors when they fail. In Mindsets: The Psychology of Success, Dweck says “praise should deal, not with the child’s personality attributes, but with his efforts and achievements.”

Parents and teachers should not tell children, “You’re so smart!” Instead they should focus on recognizing their effort. Don’t say, “You finished that puzzle! You’re so smart!” Do say, “You finished that puzzle! I’m proud of you for sticking with it until you finished!”

Focusing on effort rather than personality attributes creates a growth mindset. With a growth mindset, brains and ability are a starting point. Talent and intelligence can develop and improve with dedicated practice and effort. People with a growth mindset are more willing to take risks, persist, and develop grit.

A useful phrase I use with my six-year-old and students is “not yet.” I want my daughter and students to learn that failure doesn’t reflect intelligence. Failure is part of the process to learning more and improvement. It’s okay to fail. Everyone fails.

Our daughter couldn’t hit a baseball last spring. We said, “It’s okay. You can’t do it yet. Let’s keep practicing. You will.” Midway through the season she started smacking the ball with her bat. She went from wanting to quit and refusing to bat in her first game to running on the field with joy and not wanting the season to end.

We reference that experience every time she wants to shut down when a task gets difficult. It helps for kids to visualize times they’ve failed and improved. It also helps when parents and teachers tell stories of times when they used a growth mindset and persevered through a challenge.

My students earn a lot of “not yet’s” on quizzes, papers, and assignments. I’ve stopped putting the focus on letter grades and redirecting their attention to effort. An ‘A’ or an ‘F’ doesn’t tell a student about their ability. Students work for ‘A’s’ rather than self-improvement or shut down when they earn ‘F’s.

Now I say, “Your paper isn’t there – YET. Here is what you did well, and here is what you need to work on to get there.” It’s incredible how shifting the focus to effort has changed the attitudes in my classroom. Students understand the concept of growth mindset and know that not everyone will get to the finish line at the same time, but we’ll all get there. We’re all capable of achieving success.

When parents ask me for advice when their students suffer from anxiety or struggle in school, I talk to them about fixed vs. growth mindset. Parents appreciate having a strategy they can use with their kids that will help them in all aspects of their development: academics, sports, the arts, and personal development.

Let’s stop using the “S” word and start praising effort. Let’s stop raising kids to live for “now” instead of “yet.” Start using “not yet” and focus on developing a growth mindset in your kids and yourself. It’s the smart thing to do.

You can learn more about the power of “not yet” in Dweck’s Ted Talk. You can download a free educator’s mindset tool kit here

The Future Belongs to the Brave

Today is NASA National Remembrance Day. We celebrate the lives of all the men and women who died for the sake of space exploration. It was 29 years ago today the Challenger space shuttle exploded, killing six astronauts and a high school teacher aboard the flight.

Approximately 17% of the country watched the shuttle launch live on television that day. I was one of them. Our third grade class got to see the launch, as part of our space unit. Mrs. Slater bounced with anticipation and excitement as we crowded our chairs together in front of the television wheeled to the front of the classroom.

I cringe at the memory of Mrs. Slater’s tears streaming down her face as we watched the shuttle explode. Teachers didn’t cry. Teachers didn’t die. My eight-year-old self vowed that day to never go to space. It was too dangerous.

Today I am a teacher and parent. I live for “aha moments” and mind explosions in the classroom. I take my six-year-old daughter on Internet field trips to space and conduct science experiments with her at home. Together we celebrate the joy and wonder of man’s quest for new knowledge.

President Ronald Reagan gave one of the best speeches of his career on the day the Challenger exploded. He was supposed to give a State of the Union Address that evening. Instead he addressed the families of the NASA tragedy and the nation’s school children:

Your loved ones were daring and brave, and they had that special grace, that special spirit that says, “Give me a challenge, and I’ll meet it with joy.” They had a hunger to explore the universe and discover its truths. They wished to serve, and they did. They served all of us.

Today let’s celebrate those men and women. Let’s take the time to share our curiosity and passion for learning with our kids. Take an Internet Field Trip through space in the Today Box archives. Play in the cockpit of a real space shuttle. Discover the red surface of Mars.

When the kids go to bed, enjoy Reagan’s speech. It’s a beauty.