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Posted by on in What If?

child with glasses

If a child can’t see well, he or she likely will have some trouble with learning. That’s a bit of a “duh” statement. But what if the child’s vision problems go undetected? After all, vision problems aren’t as easily observed as are, for example, hearing or speech problems.

Still, you might wonder how vision problems could go undetected when so many children have their visual acuity screened every year in school. Well, Wendy Rosen, author of The Hidden Link Between Vision and Learning, and a recent guest on Studentcentricity, tells us that there is a difference between vision and eyesight – and that vision-related learning problems affect one in four school-age children. She goes on to say these problems “are not recognized as a disability in need of attention because a staggering portion of our population does not know that they exist.” 

I certainly didn’t, which is why I found my conversation with Wendy, along with educator Jason Flom, so fascinating.

Wendy later added:

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Posted by on in What If?

Preschool STEM

While most early childhood teachers are comfortable with learning centers, fewer probably would say they’re comfortable with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), a real focus in education these days. But Deirdre Englehart, co-author of STEM Play, approaches learning centers through a STEM lens and believes themes can be integrated into centers to promote creativity and higher-level thinking. Deirdre joined me on Studentcentricity to discuss this, along with educator Jill Berkowicz, who is co-author of The STEM Shift.

Following our discussion, Deirdre contributed the following additional thoughts:

Most children are engaged in STEM when they play in learning centers. Teachers can enhance the STEM learning when they provide specific materials in centers and when they introduce activities prior to learning centers. In this way, teachers are not directing learning centers, but they can plant the seeds that may grow through play. During learning centers, teachers can observe children and consider the STEM connections. They can assist children, ask questions and interact with them in ways that do not disrupt the flow of play. At the end of learning centers, teachers can invite children to share activities, explain ideas or provide additional information that may strengthen and support learning. The use of language can help children to solidify ideas they had during play. Teachers can also provide specific vocabulary or share related information as children share their experiences.

Jill further elaborated:

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Posted by on in What If?

reading

When teachers assign student reading, it’s not usually the social-emotional domain that’s the focus of the activity. But if we’re to address the whole child, we have to be aware that books have an impact on students’ hearts as well as their heads.

That’s the focus of an article titled “Literature’s Emotional Lessons,” written by teacher Andrew Simmons. In it he tells the story of a 10th-grade student whose emotional reaction to Piggy’s death scene in Lord of the Flies caused her to flee the room. He writes

In my experience teaching and observing other teachers, students spend a lot of time learning academic skills and rarely even talk about the emotional reactions they may have to what they read—even when stories, as they often do, address dark themes.The Common Core Standardspush students to become clinical crafters of arguments and masters of academic language. While these are essential skills to possess, the fact that my other students appear perfectly comfortable not acknowledging and discussing emotional responses to literature may be as revelatory as this one student’s teary dash from class. Inundated with video games, movies, and memes, teenagers often seem hard to shake up. Characters are fictitious abstractions, and, without actors to bring them to life and makeup and digital tricks to make the drama feel real, students may strictly do the analytical work teachers expect without the interference of a significant emotional response. That’s a bad thing. An emotional response should be part of the curriculum.

Most likely, there’s some concern among teachers about the time such emotional explorations would take, considering there are standards to be met and tests to be passed. But there are standards for the social-emotional domain as well and literature provides a perfect jumping-off point for addressing them.

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Posted by on in What If?

stretching

Which has caused more stress among kids: the Great Depression or life today? According to a study cited in Brad Johnson’s book, Learning on Your Feet, five times as many students deal with stress, anxiety, and other mental issues compared to students during the Great Depression. If we really stop to think about that, we realize what an astonishing statement it is.

Stress, of course, isn’t conducive to optimal learning or to a positive classroom environment. Brad believes incorporating physical activity into the classroom, along with relaxation strategies, can help relieve stress. He and educator Oskar Cymerman joined me on Studentcentrity to discuss it. Following the conversation Brad sent me the following additional thoughts:

Sedentary education is the greatest disservice we have done to this generation of students. Students need to be more active in the classroom. Only 1 out 12 students today has the core strength and balance of students from the 1980s. This means students not only need to be more active but need to focus specifically on core and balance because they improve the executive functioning area of the brain. Executive functioning is responsible for mental focus, organization, and processing information -- all of which help students deal better with stress.

Although you would expect the conversation to revolve around the physical domain, these educators are quite aware of the mind/body connection, as well as the importance of educating the whole child, so it wasn’t surprising to me that they made connections to the cognitive and social/emotional domains.

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Posted by on in What If?

green dragon

Over the years I have read and discussed learning environments with a wide variety of educators. Teachers bringing in flexible seating, balls, couches, and standing tables all to create an atmosphere in which kids can be comfortable and enjoy the learning process. Then something happened ... my Principal, Mr Sears (@JSAPrincipal), went to see Ron Clark and came back talking about his school and how the classrooms are themed ... different ... take on a life of their own.

This got me thinking.

At the time I was teaching 6th grade Ancient World History so I decided to create something to do with world history. I was chatting with some students and the idea arose ... a high top table with some Roman arches. Not only will it create a new place to sit, but it will also be a teaching prop.

Here the students are sitting at the Ancient Roman inspired high-top seating area. The stools the kids are sitting on are converted desks. A local upholstery shop made some nice padded covers for the desks and the kids LOVE them.

The level of excitement the kids had was contagious. This high-top seating area changed the vibe of the class. I already had a nice sectional that was donated, but this piece I built was transforming my room. No longer was it just a classroom ... the classroom was becoming a part of history. As the end of the year was coming I began planning my Summer building activities to further transform my room. Then teaching assignments for the upcoming school year came out and I found out I was no longer teaching 6th grade Ancient World History, I was being moved to 8th grade US History from 1st Contact to the Civil War. It was all good, but I knew my plans had to be changed and more than likely my Roman arches would have to go.

The change in content was not going to deter me from my goal of transforming my learning environment. I just had to change direction. As Summer began I started doing some research. The initial plan was to create and Italian coffee shop, but so I was looking for something that would have the same type of feel. A place where people would meet and converse. My research led me to Colonial Taverns as they served as a place where people of all social classes could go to find out the news of the day and discuss events happening around them. One place in particular was the Green Dragon Tavern in Boston A place where revolutionaries met ... now this was my type of attitude I wanted to have in my class. I adopted the name Green Dragon Classroom and even came up with a logo.

Yes, I am patterning my classroom after a Revolutionary War meeting place. The Roman columns have been dismantled, recut and made into the Green Dragon Sound cart, which will hide my 21st century technology ... and my 15 inch subwoofers.

The top part will serve as a place to set the laptop, printer, and other tech supplies. Material will also be placed over the speakers to further hide them from view. The whole point of this is change the ambiance of the classroom from the mundane to something historical where the room becomes part of the teaching. In the works are two tables, one high top with built-in book shelf, and a broad display case. I am building all of these items using scrap plywood from a local business so the only real cost is my time and eventually the stain needed to give this furniture some color.

Will my room be as spectacular as the Ron Clark Academy? Probably not because they have a bit more money and donations than I do. I am just one teacher working on a budget of ZERO dollars, but you will be amazed what can happen when you set your mind to doing something.

Stay tuned for more posts on my Green Dragon Classroom adventure.

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