Monday, March 28, 2011

A Mathematical Coincidence

The concert for St. Patrick came and went on March 20 and was a major success. Around 325 people attended the concert and donated the remarkably coincidental sum of $2011 to the Tom Sustic Fund for families of children with cancer. The three guest performers Liz Carroll, Mick Maloney and Billy McComiskey were sensational and kept everyone's feet tapping for over 90 minutes.

In the first half we were treated to the irish dancing of the Beth Anne McFadden Academy of Irish Dance as well ast St. Mike's own Celtic Knights dance group. In between the dancing the Sleeping Knights a cappella group provided a wonderful rendition of an Iish Lullaby. You'll find the Celtic and Sleepless knights and many more student clubs on the Student Organizations page.

Many students worked hard to make this such a successful event and there are so many clubs and activities that are generated and run by students that I often think John Kennedy's famous words could easily be modified into "Ask not what your College can do for you - ask what you can do for your college".

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

St. Mike's goes to San Francisco

One of the on-going successes at St. Mike's is the wonderful Teaching Gardens, a collaborative project between Professor Valerie Bang-Jensen (Education) and Professor Mark Lubkowitz (Biology). Last week, a new dimension was added to the project when Professors Bang-Jensen and Lubkowitz invited two students, Courtney Smith '12 (Education and Religious Studies) and Sara Williams '12 (Biology) to accompany them to the NSTA conference in San Francisco to make a formal presentation about the Books in Bloom Project, a section of the Teaching Gardens.

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) conference is a major international conference and it's quite an honor to have a paper accepted for presentation.

For Courtney Smith, a future elementary school teacher, the conference gave her insight into the role of science in education; "As presenters we were well received and I think we pulled off an engaging and informative workshop. This experience was exciting for me as an education student because it opened my eyes to the importance of science education in our schools by giving me helpful tips and strategies for enriching student learning."

For Sara Williams, a scientist, the conference inspired her to think about how non-scientists view science; "From attending the NSTA Annual Conference, I have learned to view science from a teachable perspective, and how important it is to communicate scientific concepts in a way that is understandable by an audience that may not be familiar with those topics. This experience has sparked an interest in me to become a biology professor.

While in San Francisco, they took in a few of the sites including a glimpse of the tsunami that devastated Japan as it arrived on the west coast of the US.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day

It's March 17 so Happy St. Patrick's day to you one and all. It would also be my mum's birthday had she not passed away in 2005. She'd be 90 today; her name was Pat too.

Sadly St. Patrick's Day coincides with Spring break at St. Mike's but we will be having our 6th annual Concert for St. Patrick on Sunday. More about that on Monday. Tonight, my band, the Highland Weavers will be entertaining a large and festive crowd at the Double Tree Inn; a great place to stay if you are visiting St. Mike's. That's my daughter, Marie, on the keyboard.
My son Andrew sometimes plays a couple of songs with us. Here he is with his new Bodhran, an Irish drum, that he got for Christmas.

We don't have a Music Education major at St.Mikes but you can put a music major with your Elementary Education major as a second major. There are also lots of great music courses offered by Music Department faculty in voice and instrument.

It's great to bring out a guitar of roll out a piano and sing songs with your Elementary School class a couple of times a week when you are teaching.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Clocks Fall Back

I am determined not to miss the clocks "falling backwards" this year.  It's already happened in the UK so I have been warned. It's been so warm and un-fall-like recently that it's easy to miss the event. I completely missed the "Springing forward" because it was such a dark and dismal time of the year this year.

The changing of the clocks in Spring and Fall is one of the most difficult concepts to teach young children. It's such an abstract thing and yet it affects everyone. Time, in hours and minutes, is a man-made construct. It's really the daily rotation of the Earth on its axis that gives us day and night. The two things are related but not "glued" together, so to speak. We can "slide" the hours and minutes construct/scale back and forth on the Earth-related time scale to optimize the daylight time available to us. Here's a neat web-site that shows day and night as it's actually happening as well as the time anywhere in the world. Put a small piece of "post-it" on your monitor screen next to the line that shows night-time and leave the website up for half an hour or so. When you return to the screen you'll see how much it has changed.

Here's another web-site that shows you the time instantly anywhere in the world. It's very difficult for children to grasp the idea that it can actually be tomorrow or yesterday at this very moment somewhere else in the world. In fact, a fourth grade student once asked me if he went to Australia and watched a horse race and flew home could he bet on the winner he had seen win the race and win the bet because he had watched it yesterday which was really now!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Thinking and Doing ala John Dewey.

Many years ago in his wonderful book How We Think John Dewey gave an example of inductive reasoning that involved one of the Lake Champlain ferries; this one, in fact, that is still running today. He stood on the car deck just in front of the wheel house and looked looked up. Above him was a pole sticking out from the wheel house some 15 feet long with a wooden ball on the end. (You can actually see it in the photo).

He started to wonder what it could be used for since there were no cables or ropes attached to it. He looked around and gathered information, reflecting on the relationship between all these pieces of information and what he already knew about things of a nautical nature. He noticed there was no pointed bow, just a ramp where cars boarded and left. He noticed how the wooden ball was just below the level of the pilot's window on the bridge and he noticed that the pole was right in the center of the boat. He then stood looking across the square "bow" of the ferry and noticed that it didn't seem to be aiming at anything like a pointed bow would. He then realized that the pilot used the pole with the ball on the end to aim the boat towards the ferry dock on the shore in the distance.

This dual aspect of Dewey's pragmatism is alive still in the St. Mike's undergraduate and graduate teacher education programs. Dewey believed that all teachers should have an "Inspired Vision", a belief about what comprises good teaching, and an "Executive Means", the ability to put that set of beliefs into practice. Neither is really any good without the other. Teachers have to be thinkers as well as doers; they need to base their practices on the best that is thought and said. This is why there are classes on campus for students where "Inspired Visions" take root and lots if practical experiences in schools where "Executive Means" are developed.

A long time resident of Burlington and professor at UVM John Dewey lies buried on the UVM campus near the Ethan Allen chapel.

One of the other things Dewey thought about on that summer day was why sparrows kept jumping up and disappearing into the front of the engine area just behind the front bumper of cars parked at the ferry dock. Can you work out why they were doing this?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

We Don't Test Students When They Learn to Ski

I've been wanting to blog all week but only depressing things kept popping up as things to blog about so I haven' t until now. Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the Cochran Ski Area which is a small but quite famous ski center in the little village of Richmond where I live not 15 miles from St. Mike's. The family owned business sprang to prominence in the 70s when Mickey Cochran was a US Olympic ski team coach and Barbara Ann was a downhill gold medalist. Since that time there has been a Cochran involved in Olympic skiing in some way or another at every Olympic games. Cochran's is now a not-for-profit organization with a mission to help young skiers and boarders master the slopes of Vermont and beyond.

The news in Education has been depressing on many fronts; the political attack on teachers' Unions in Wisconsin, the looming teacher's strike in South Burlington and the Federal Government's insistence in the perpetuation of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top; both empty slogans which have no true value or meaning to the many conscientious and dedicated teachers who serve our students.

Educational commentators and philosophers alike seem to be at a loss as to what is happening on the national level. We seem to have forsaken all that we believe is good and important in Education for the sake of testing students and holding teachers accountable for goals that are, at best, impossible, and at worst, destructive to what we believe education is all about. There's a wonderful letter from Herbert Kohl to Arne Duncan that speaks so eloquently to the dilemmas we are facing. There's also an interview with Diane Ravitch that raises many questions about what education should really be all about.

No test will ever measure a student's love of learning or desire to find sweetness and light. No test will ever inspire all students to become their best selves, or what Matthew Arnold once called "Aliens", individuals with the character charisma and knowledge to transgress social and class barriers in the pursuit of developing a good and just society.

We don't test students while they learn to ski and yet they nearly all succeed at some level because they have the desire. There's always a "race course" set up at Cochran's for people to test themeselves against, but of course, it's voluntary. Why can't schools be like this?