September 19, 2013

Using Gifted Strategies With All Learners

I have a basic/core belief that good teaching has the same basic skeleton no matter who or what you are teaching.  Some of the elements that I would put into that skeleton are:  make the subject matter relevant to the learner (or teach something the learner finds relevant), appreciate and adapt to the needs/learning styles of your students, go deeply into subjects of interest and nurture the desire to know more, believe in the students' ability to learn.  I believe that teachers who engage their students and teach in the context of relationship with those students will be more successful in meeting the needs of struggling students and of academically advanced students.

Margaret Gayle and Sandy Darity have conducted real world research that shows that using methods designed for gifted learners benefits all learners.  On top of that, young kids who receive this kind of teaching are more likely to be labeled gifted later on.  In article by Camille Jackson, the researches tell us why.  "Darity and Gayle say the project works because it nurtures students regardless of their race, socioeconomic status, gender or learning ability."

It nurtures students.  That's why it works.  It sees each students as possessing the ability to understand the material, to learn and grow.  It allows them to use their strengths to accomplish mastery and expects that they will be able to do it.  I want to look into the methods used a bit more, but they also refer to students learning at their own pace.  Differentiation of some sort (I suspect through open-ended products) is also part of the formula.  When we respect the prior knowledge/skill level of each student and teach big, meaningful concepts to everyone, it's the perfect set up for growth and development.  You can find Camille Jackson's article here along with this video.

August 23, 2013

Our First Week of School

I am so excited about this school year!  The Academic and I started "school" on Monday and it has been a great week.  Starting school means that I pick a novel or other literature for us to study and plan science and history lessons.  

We also started doing math activities from Family Math and the Academic is reading The Life of Fred Pre-Algebra with Biology in addition to his work in ALEKS.  This is math on the first day of school.  He is doing an algebra problem with those cubes and beans!

We are using the Kingfisher History Encyclopedia as a spine for our history studies and reading other literature to round it out.  We'll be doing related activities and writing.  I will also be organizing our Earth science studies to connect with history.

For science we are using a text book supplied by the charter school we have enrolled with.  I have some other resources, but I don't have as much confidence with science.  The text book includes demonstration activities and experiments.  We started with chapter 8 because it fit the pre-history unit that I had planned. Here we are on the first day doing an introductory activity.

First we put equal amounts of water into two clear cups.  Then, the Academic added salt to one of the cups. Next, he added food coloring to the saltwater cup.

When we poured the salt water into the plain water, we could see the green salt water sink to the bottom. The top layer was still mostly clear and the bottom was green.

Ok... that was what was supposed to happen.  The first time we tried it, the salt water just mixed evenly with the plain water.  The whole thing turned an even shade of green.  So, we tried again and added more salt to the salt water (a LOT more) and it worked.  This illustrated how the more dense parts of Earth sink to the bottom.  We're learning about Earth's layers and plate tectonics.

We're currently studying plot and character development by reading Boy of the Painted Cave and working through questions and activities that I put together. (I am hoping to have this unit completed and ready for sale very soon.)  The Academic is also doing Vocabulary from Classical Roots A and Easy Grammar 6+.

Within the next couple of weeks we'll be adding guitar lessons and Rosetta Stone Spanish lessons.  The Academic will also be participating in classes one day per week and group history/science activities that complement our studies.  

It's going to be a good year!

August 18, 2013

Becoming a Curriculum Author

One of the activities that I have given some time to this summer is writing curriculum.  I have always developed curriculum for my classroom and for my own children, but preparing guides for other people is a different thing.  It has been challenging and I am learning quite a bit.

I started by writing some reading fluency passages that are based on 6th grade history and science topics.  I chose to start there because I found a teacher that was looking for passages and the Academic is a 6th grader, so my efforts will benefit him.  I have posted two packages so far and plan to add more.

I am currently working on a literature unit for a book called Boy of the Painted Cave by Justin Denzel.  I have posted a package that includes the introductory power point and a painting activity. Both highlight prehistoric art and could be used without the book. I am still working on the rest of the unit and will post it soon.

You can find all of my offerings at the Teachers Pay Teachers website.  In fact, TpT is having a back to school sale today and tomorrow.  My things are 20% off as part of the sale. Most other teacher/authors are discounting their products as well.  If you use the promo code: BTS13 you will get an additional 10% off the sale price.

Click on over and take a look.  Let me know what you think!  

Growth Mindset

I recently read an interesting article about how kids respond to being told they are "smart."   The article sites some interesting research that compares kids' performance when they are told they are smart or good at something with kids' performance when they are told that they must have worked hard/tried hard.  The kids who are encouraged to believe that their own effort effects the outcome are willing to try harder tasks and actually achieve at a higher level in the end.

The article, How Not to Talk to Your Kids,  is lengthy.  I was more than willing to read the entire thing because I believe this is a core concept that we need to understand.  For years experts have talked about self-esteem issues that children have.  We have all tried a variety of techniques for building self-esteem.  Often, the result is lavish praise. The research that Carol Dweck is doing suggests that much of our "solution" is actually contributing to a larger problem.

Here is a short video where Carol Dweck give a very brief summary of her basic research.

Growth mindset is something that people are starting to pay attention to.  Before I finished the school year last year, we watched a video related to this in a staff meeting.  The Academic and I have joined with a charter school for our homeschooling this year and in a beginning of the year parent conference we watched a video about growth mindset. I hope more people start to think this way and that schools and parents will act on this information.

What do you think?  Do you tend to have more of a growth mindset or a fixed mindset?  What were you told as a child?  Did it impact your success?  I would love to hear your thoughts.  Leave a comment!

August 2, 2013

The Importance of Perseverance

I have always believed that learning to work hard and sticking with things is way more important than being able to do hard things easily.  It is one of the reasons that I chose to homeschool.  I wanted to be sure that the scholar athlete experienced challenge in his academic pursuits.  I never intended to push him just for the sake of achievement and I tried to avoid frustration.  However, I quickly found that he became frustrated with anything that he didn't automatically understand.  I found myself constantly reassuring him that everyone makes mistakes and lecturing about how no one can learn if they only do things they already know how to do.  (Disclaimer:  I don't believe early academics should be pressured.  I think young children need to develop a joy in learning.  We did fun activities, read aloud, went on field trips, played, and only spent a small amount of time on paper pencil activities.  His resistance was clearly not about appropriateness - as an educator who has espoused a developmental philosophy that was where I questioned myself the most.)

Those were emotional and sometimes difficult times.  I doubted myself and sometimes wondered if I was pushing him to much.  I'm sure there are things I could have done better, but I'm glad that I stuck with the plan.  It taught us both valuable lessons.  I think grit is something that I am short on and it is something my son is still learning.  However, I have watched him make mistakes, then work to fix them.  He didn't make the baseball team he wanted to be on, but worked hard to improve his game with the team he was on.  He takes disappointment and even failure in stride and I am very thankful for that.

Moving Beyond the Page recently posted this video.  It reminded me once again how important character is.  Grit is a trait I wish I had more of and as I head into this new season of homeschooling, I feel that I need to work on this more with the Academic.  He has been in school for the last three years and the lack of challenge frustrated him.  I'm gearing up to help him face challenge.  I am praying that we both develop more perseverance this school year.

July 6, 2013

Learning How to Code

I am really excited about a website my husband heard about.  It's called CodeAcademy.  The Academic and I are both taking a course called Web Fundamentals which teaches HTML and CSS.  The courses are free and are very well designed.  They have courses of study for jQuery, JavaScript, Python, Ruby, and PHP as well as courses focused on projects and APIs.  Did I mention that enrollment is free?

June 25, 2013

Productivity for Your Family

I came across this TED talk as I was looking for more information about the effects of chronic stress.  Mr. Feiler suggests an idea that can help you deal with the stress of family life.  I found it interesting that he decided to use a business productivity model (a completely different perspective than I have ever had) to look at parenting and came up with some of the same ideas that I have come to value over the years.  I didn't find his approach revolutionary, but it confirmed that the ideas I espouse are logical no matter how you come to them.

All the parenting books and programs that I have ever liked have a few things in common.  They center on developing a loving relationship with your kids, they emphasize teaching personal responsibility, and favor natural and logical consequences over punishment.  Many times they suggest having the kids problem solve or come up with their own consequences and often suggest family meetings.

If you liked this video, you may want to take a look at Conscious Discipline, Accountable Kids, or Love and Logic. Sometime I may post my reviews of each one. For now, I will say that Conscious Discipline does the most to help parents become the people they want their kids to be.  It includes family meetings, responsibility, and logical consequences, but it majors on managing emotions (of the parent and the child.)  Accountable Kids includes family meetings, logical consequences, and ideas for building relationships, but it majors on teaching kids responsibility. Love and Logic seeks to maintain loving relationships and develop responsibility, but majors on using natural and logical consequences.

June 21, 2013

Stress and the Brain

I was going to wait until I finished reading Brain Rules, then post my review.  However, the material I read today is so compelling that I just had to talk about it.  I was especially intrigued by the chapter on stress. 

Chronic stress is so toxic!  Brain Rule #8 is “Stressed brains don’t learn the same way.”  Dr. Medina’s evidence suggests that the more accurate rule is, “Chronic stress causes brain damage!” It is unbelievable how much damage stress can do to the body.

Brain Rules relies on a three part definition of stress.  1) There is measurable physiological response.  2) The stressor is definitely not wanted by the person.  3) The person has no feeling of control over the stressor.  When all three are present you have stress.

A little stress when you need a shot of adrenaline to get away from danger, or lift a car off your trapped baby is helpful.  The real problem comes in when the stress lasts for too long.  The stress hormones build up and cause problems.  It can lead to heart attack, stroke, and a depressed immune system.  It can also short circuit the ability to learn.

According to Medina, “Stressed people don’t do math very well. They don’t process language very efficiently.   They have poorer memories, both short and long forms.  Stressed individuals do not generalize or adapt old pieces of information to new scenarios as well as non-stressed individuals.  They can’t concentrate.  In almost every way it can be tested, chronic stress hurts our ability to learn.” 

This further convinces me of how important it is to be sure that kids feel safe and are in a loving environment, at home and at school.  I think it should be a wake-up call for all educators. Dr. Medina is careful not to give prescriptions because his research has not tested various remedies.  That is what educators need to work on.  How can learning environments (at home or school) be as stress free as possible?  Are there ways that schools or other organizations (churches, medical groups, etc.) can come alongside families and help them create less stressful homes?

As a parent, I was struck by the evidence that a conflicted, stressful marriage creates chronic stress for kids.  Dr. Medina sites Dr. John Gottman, who has done extensive research on what patterns lead to stressful marriages (and ultimately divorce) and has developed interventions to help.  He has also evaluated the effects of marital conflict on the stress levels of the children (as measured by stress hormones in their urine –very scientific.)    The evidence naturally leads to the conclusion that improving marital stability and overall peace in the home will help children learn better (and be healthier and happier).   I think I have to read John Gottman’s book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail…And How You Can Make Yours Last.  I may also look at Brain Rules for Baby to see what Dr. Medina has to say about parenting.

June 20, 2013

Enjoying Balance

The Academic is practically addicted to a computer game called Minecraft.  He has a version of Minecraft for every device he owns or has access to.  Knowing this about him, my jaw dropped when he said to me, “I’m sort of glad I haven’t been playing Minecraft as much lately.”  He went on to explain that he was appreciating the balance he was gaining.  He liked the flow of helping at home, spending time being active, pursuing other interests and then also spending time on his favorite hobby.

So, what does “balanced” life look like this summer?  We have been bike riding, jogging and swimming.  The Scholar Athlete has started football practice at the high school. The Academic joined the library’s summer reading program and has started learning to play the piano. (I am teaching him some, but he is doing quite a bit of self-instruction as well.) The Academic begged to “do math” over the summer and the Scholar Athlete needed some algebra practice, so both boys are enrolled in ALEKS math courses this summer. 
I have to admit that I am also enjoying the slower pace.  I have had time to read (currently Psalms, 1 John, and Brain Rules by John Medina), keep my house picked up, have the kids’ friends over, spend time with family, exercise, and start this blog.  I know that I will add other responsibilities as time goes on, but I hope I am establishing some habits that will help me stay balanced.

June 18, 2013

Recommitting to a Lifestyle of Learning

I am a teacher by profession.  When it was time for our oldest to start school, my husband (the Chemist) and I decided that a homeschooling lifestyle would be best for him.  In the area we lived in at that time, I found a public school program that allowed us the freedom to truly embrace homeschooling.   I loved homeschooling and would have continued homeschooling both my children through high school. 
Through a series of events that were not completely in our control, I ended up going back into classroom teaching.  The children were eventually enrolled in the same charter school where I worked and we all had a very good experience there for three years. 
My oldest (the Scholar Athlete) is now starting high school and we have opted for our local public high school.  My younger son (the Academic) has been asking to homeschool again.  A variety of circumstances (including sending the Scholar Athlete to regular school) led me to believe that this is the right time to quit my current job and join the Academic in a lifestyle of learning.
I will be studying the brain, learning, the Bible, and all the ways those three topics impact the family and relationships.  Along the way I plan to be intentional about nurturing relationships and sharing my learning with others.  This blog is part of my plan.