Thursday, September 29, 2011

SMARTboard Expertise

One of my student teachers, Erika Kirslis is completing her student teaching in Julie Roger's first grade class at Allenbrook School in Williston. For several years, Julie has been an expert in, and advocate for, the use of SMARTboards in public school classrooms. Julie can now develop her own applications though the use of Studio 10 software for use on the SMARTboard which means she can use it to teach whatever she feels the students need to learn and she needs to teach using this incredible piece of technology.

So far, I have observed Erika incorporating the SMARTboard into her instruction for two math lessons she has taught and she has done it brilliantly. Today she was teaching the students the concept of sequencing using coins. She had prepared a repeating pattern using quarters, dimes and nickels and was asking the student to continue the pattern. One of the wonderful things about the SMARTboard is the ease with which things can be done, even by first grade students. In order to continue the sequence all the first grader needs to do is place her finger on the appropriate coin and drag (a copy) to the next place in the sequence.

After the students had completed two sets of three iterations of a pattern Julie suggestions they say the coin sequence chorally as a rhythm. At that point I couldn't help but suggest that what they were doing in the first example was musically 3/4 time since there were 3 coins repeated in the pattern. In the second example there were four coins in the pattern so it was in 4/4 time. There are so many connections between music and math.

Once again this is a wonderful example of the incredible quality of the public school teachers who host our student teachers as well as those students in field placements in other courses. We are all at St. Mike's very grateful to have such great role models.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Different Perspective

Last week I observed one of my student teachers teaching a lesson using the Fundations reading and writing program. It was a first grade classroom and the students were learning how to say and form letters of the alphabet. Now I'm not an expert in the area of reading and language arts so I tend to see these type of activities through the lens of a math/science person.

The lesson involved using four horizontal lines to help children form their letters. At the top was the "sky line" where the tall letter start or end. Next was the "plane line", the upper limit of letters like a,e, c and so on. Next came the "grass" line, the line upon which all letters rest, and finally the "worm line" or the lowest line where letter like g and p finish their tails.

Each line is represented by a picture; the "sky line" by a cloud, the "plane line" by a Boeing 757, the grass line and worm line by grass and a worm respectively. The more I looked at the image of the four lines and associated pictures projected on the screen in the classroom the more confused I became. Every large plane I've ever traveled on has flown above the clouds as in the picture above. I would imagine many of the students in the class have flown and marvelled at all the fluffy white clouds as they look down on them through the window. I wonder if they were thinking about this? Probably not, but it's an interesting example of how the things we spend our time working with bring a specific perspective to how we see the world.

All the Elementary Education majors at St. Mike's are required by the Vermont State Department of Education to take a second major. I wonder if the types of second major the students are studying affects the way they see teaching and education? Maybe I'll ask them.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Teaching Gardens at St. Mike's

In my Schools and Society course this week the readings focused on a part of the book that describes good schools; schools such as Summerhill in England, the Central Park East Schools in New York, the Met in Rhode Island and the HiPass schools. In Addition to having a focus on the individual student and the establishment

of authentic learning communities the guiding tenets of these schools also include the belief that genuine learning must occur outside the classroom as well as within and that there has to be a connection between the two.

The Teaching Gardens at St. Mike's are a wonderful example of the way the classroom can be taken outdoors. This weekend another feature was added to the Gardens that enhances their value as part of an extended learning community.

A series of signs has been added to the Gardens that help people
from 8 to 80 learn more about the plants through words and symbols.

The signs are the work of Professor Valerie Bang-Jensen and senior SMC elementary education major Courtney Smith.

Courtney, a double elementary education and religious studies major designed the signs during the summer with a VPAA summer research grant. She designed the five signs using visual and verbal text (symbols and words) to help educate visitors

to the gardens about the purpose of each garden. In addition to being visited by SMC students and staff, the gardens are becoming
a destination for classes of students from many local area schools.

In fact, many of the groups of children who visit the gardens are accompanied by SMC education majors who are completing their student teaching experience in public school classrooms.

Many SMC faculty also hold their classes in the Teaching Gardens when the weather permits.

The Teaching Gardens are also a central theme in an integrated First Year seminar co-taught by Professors Valerie Bang-Jensen (Education) and Mark Lubkowitz (Biology).

When we reach out beyond the classroom walls both teaching and learning become more real and relevant to the lives of everyone involved.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sierpinski and the Joys of Learning Math

Many years ago I used to conduct regular Math Nights at local area schools to help parents develop an understanding of the new math program their children were using in schools and the type of math their daughters and sons were likely to bring home in K - 6th grade. They were nearly always lively events with teachers running parents through the math activities their children did in class and me finishing the evening with a Q&A session.

Earlier this week I was at Flynn school where I have two student teachers and as I walked the hallways to their classrooms I noticed some eye catching posters advertising the upcoming Math Night in October to which everyone in the school community was invited. What caught my eye was the Sierpinski triangle, a fractal, as shown in the picture, displayed on many of the posters.. There were also some posters with Escher-like tessellations all designed to catch the eye of the passer-by. Fractals (PBS- Nova), once thought of as a curiosity or an extreme art form, are now being used as mathematical models to explain all kinds of things in the natural world.

But there was more to these posters than just announcements. The work of Karyn Vogel, the Flynn and C.P.Smith schools math professional development coordinator, they were also communicating the aesthetic component of math, a critically important element if we are ever going to help students enjoy math for what it is, the science of pattern. Imagine learning to read and write without poetry, fiction, literature and creative writing? Imagine if the only thing we learned in language arts was the ability to read directions and write formal descriptions? Imagine if reading and writing were reduced to a purely utilitarian function?

I spent the day today at a conference on teaching math to children who struggle to learn math. The presenter was excellent but he made the points that "math ain't easy" and that "math learning has no ceiling". Learning to read is extremely difficult for many children, so is learning science or social studies. In fact, everything can be difficult in some way for some children. I also cannot think of a subject that has a "ceiling". One can study for a PhD, and beyond, in almost anything. If math was made as motivating to learn and as interesting as language life would be very different.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

First Classroom Experiences

In addition to supervising student teachers I also place my Schools and Society students in a classroom experience as part of their first Education course. Today, I spent four hours reading their journals of their first experiences as a teacher; for most of them, their first experience in a public school classroom not as a public school student. It's almost like the other bookend from student teaching and I can't wait to supervise my first student teachers who were also in my Schools and Society class.

Their journal entries are full of wonderful events, experiences and first impressions. One student shared how she wanted to raise her hand when the teacher asked the students a questions. Many students described how "terrified" they were driving to the school (they travel in groups so I can imagine the conversations in their cars!) until they reached their classrooms and the teachers and students welcomed them with open arms.

In their journals I asked them to respond to their first feelings about their first steps on the road to becoming teachers. Their responses were quite varied but for the most part it was an exciting and exhilarating experience for them. I reassured them that their nerves and worries were quite normal because this was something they wanted so much. It's so interesting how they mostly follow Fuller's Stages of Concerns model of socialization into the teaching profession. The first stage is one of survival, which is what they almost all go through during their first visit. It's the same in student teaching. They then become concerned about whether they are acting like a teacher, teaching properly and generally performing well. The final stage is their concern for the outcomes of what they are doing; are the students learning from them? Are they making a positive difference in children's lives?

The picture is of Matt Hadjun who came through our program at St. Mikes several years ago and is now teaching in a local elementary school and is one of our cooperating teachers. Life has come full circle for Matt.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Student Teaching is the Best

Part of my job as a professor of teacher education is to supervise students during their senior student teaching experience. This involves visiting each student in her classroom eight times during the semester. During each visit I observe the student working with children as they learn what it really means to be a classroom teacher. It's the time when they get to put into practice all the things they have learned during the courses that comprise their teacher education program at St. Mike's. Last year, because of other course load commitments, I wasn't able to do this. Only now, when I am once again supervising students in classrooms, do I realise just how much I missed this part of my job.

I now have confirmation of what I always thought; not only is it a critical part of our students' education it's also a critical part of my ongoing education as a teacher educator. I now realise that for a whole year, the first time in my professional life, I was cut off from the public school classroom. Looking back, I can see what I missed; no new stories about things children do; no new learning about the things teachers use in their day to day interactions with children. For example, I learned this morning that teachers at one of the schools where two of my students are, Allenbrook school in Williston, now have access to an IPAD2 cart that allows them to integrate this wonderful piece of technology into their teaching. I plan to use the iPAD2 in one of my courses this semester but I wasn't sure until this morning whether this was a realistic expectation for prospective teachers to develop their skills in. I also learned that we can no longer assume that children know how to use a traditional telephone. One of the first grade students had no idea how to hang-up an old press-button 'phone.

My weekly visits to classrooms keep me grounded in the day to day activities of teachers; the way students in K - 5 classrooms learn and behave. Being in schools on a weekly basis is a way of keeping me honest in the things I teach about in my other courses. I have three student teachers in first grade classrooms and one in a fourth grade classroom and they are all doing really well. The cooperating teacher we use in public schools are wonderful; skilled not only in working with their students but also in the challenges of helping their St. Mike's interns develop their teaching skills.

Friday, September 9, 2011

9/11 in the Classroom

For the last 15 minutes of my Schools and Society class today I thought I would give the students a group assignment of thinking about how they would handle the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 in a public school classroom. Each group chose a grade level spread of 3 - 5, 6 - 8 or 9 - 12. The goal of the activity was for them to think about how they would access resources and then identify the things they would talk about. Within a couple of minutes I realized that they all wanted to talk about their own experiences At the time, in 2001, they were all in fifth grade and so had a remarkable variety of experiences to share; a much better activity than the one I had originally thought of.

Some of the things they described were; how their teachers left the classroom and returned without saying anything; how some of them were asked to shepherd the kindergarten students from the school without telling them anything; how some of them were told nothing and knew nothing until they got home. Since they were all fifth graders at the time they were old enough to process what occurred that day. We ended the discussion by sharing thoughts about how to use Internet resources to help students in classrooms today to understand what happened that day in 2001 and how to process some of the terrifying images and videos they will see during the coming days.

Perhaps, a little too late, I made a September 11 web-page which includes many of the useful on-line resources that teachers have access to as they attempt to make the event part of the history and social studies curriculum. The event is still not specifically included in State standards and in very few textbooks.

On a personal note, I had my own "attack" in the form of a heart attack on 9/13 that required four bi-passes to keep me going. I was told at the time there was a dramatic increase in the number of bi-pass surgeries conducted in the week following 9/11. Such was the impact of the event that anyone anywhere close to having a cardio event was going to have it during that week. I've made a full recovery but remember so clearly the days following 9/11.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Knowledge is a Wonderful Thing

So is this a map of the United Kingdom, Great Britain or the British Isles? A passing comment by Professor Jeffrey Ayers started a couple of us thinking about the question of whether the three terms are synonyms or whether there are geographical or political differences between them. It is, actually, a map of the British Isles which, interestingly, includes Ireland, as well as the islands of Guernsey and Jersey off the coast of France and about 6000 other small islands (according to Wiki). The United Kingdom includes England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland while Great Britain includes just England, Wales and Scotland, the three countries joined together, as illustrated on this informative website.

There's a tendency in our current skills-based culture to trivialize the role and importance of personal knowledge in our lives and in the field of Education in general. When computers and technology were first integrated into school classrooms there was a sense among many educators that this instant access to knowledge would mean that students no longer would need to know or remember things. They could simply "look it up". The same happened fifty years ago when calculators began to appear. It was thought students would no longer need to remember their addition, subtraction or multiplication facts. How wrong they were.

Instant, independent access to knowledge is one of the things that makes an educated person. It's a great feeling to know things just because one does. The things we know, along with our thinking skills, are the tools we use to solve problems, conduct conversations, write, and generally be human. Knowing things we have taken the time to remember also helps develop our memory skills which in turn help us remember even more things with which to think..

Of course, not everything we are required to remember in school is useful, helpful, or even desirable. I remember learning the following when I was an undergraduate student; Arun, Ouse, Rother, Stour, Medway, Darnet, Mole and Wey. I memorized them so well for an exam that I can still rattle them off without even thinking about them. I even still remember what they are!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Geography of Water

This is Professor Richard Kujawa, a colleague at St. Mike's and a fellow countryman who also left the "auld sod" to settle in the US and ultimately Vermont. Professor Kujawa teaches courses in Geography at St. Mike's and recently won the college-wide award for excellence in teaching. He has also recently developed and is currently teaching a course called the Geography of Water, a course I wish I could take and a course that is remarkably current (pardon the pun) given the events of the past week or so. Here's a neat series of pictures that shows much of the damage.

I would love to take the course because many years ago when I was an undergraduate, geography was my second major to my Education Major. Just like today's prospective teachers in Vermont I was required to double major so that I was an "expert" in something. With this "expertise" I could be a curriculum leader, an advocate for geography in schools; I could light up children's' eyes with intimate details of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. As it turned out I ended up focusing on math and science but I can still pick out an esker or a drumlin, spot an erratic and locate a raised river bank. Such was my interest and passion for geography much of what I learned all those years ago still remains even though I have barely used it in all those years.

Teacher education students at St. Michael's, and any other college in Vermont and most New England states, are required to have a second major in a liberal art subject; something like US Studies, History, Art, Environmental Studies, Math or English. Even those wishing to teach young children in the elementary school need to have an in-depth knowledge in a particular academic area; a requirement with which I wholeheartedly agree. A big part of education is the development of children's knowledge about the world, and if teachers have a passion for a particular subject, even in the kindergarten classroom, they will present children with wonderful intellectual role models, develop in them a passion for the subject, and become leaders and advocates at the school, district and national levels.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Education in Japan

I have always felt privileged to have known two systems of Education intimately; the UK and the US. While it's easy to compare using valued judgments it's far more useful to compare in terms of similarities and differences, how the systems are functions of the respective cultures and what each can learn from the other.

With this in mind I want my students to develop at least some knowledge and understanding of other Education systems so that they might better understand their own. Study Abroad is clearly the best way of doing this but getting to know students from other countries also helps.

So, last Friday, the students in my Schools and Society class got together with Pat Hoffman's class of students from the Tokyo Women's Christian University in Japan. For about an hour they talked about their respective cultures and systems of Education. We explored details such as how old are students when they first start school, how do they get to school, are students with special needs integrated into regular classrooms and what a typical school building looks like and a school day consists of.

We did this all in English, of course, since none of the St. Mike's students could speak Japanese. The students from TWCU taught us a Japanese phrase and how to write in Japanese script.

It was a wonderful experience for everyone as we all now know a little more about each other's culture and way of life. Later in the semester we'll be getting together with International students from a variety countries to help broaden our global understanding of how Education and the world in general work.

Friday, September 2, 2011

1927, 1977 and 2011

When I first came to the US in 1977 to study teacher education at the University of Illinois I had no idea I would be writing this blog 34 years later (even if blogs had existed in 1977). I graduated with my PhD in 1982 and began the long job search in an era when teacher education programs were being reduced because too many new teachers were hitting the job market. My wife Lucie and I ended up, unbelievably fortuitously, in Vermont where we have been ever since. We have never regretted the move for a single minute.

The flood of a week ago has again reinforced our belief that Vermont is one of the best places to live on Earth. Many of our neighbors in Richmond suffered significant flood damage and one of them quoted President Calvin Coolidge while thanking everyone for their support and countless acts of kindness as she dealt with the clean-up process. The quote was made by Coolidge when he visited Vermont after the epic flood of 1927 which downed over 100 bridges and caused much loss of life and suffering.

In 1927 Calvin Coolidge said " I love Vermont because of her hills and valleys, her scenery and invigorating climate, but most of all because of her indomitable people. They are a race of pioneers who have almost beggared themselves to serve others. If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the Union, and support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont".

It has been quite remarkable to watch people come together to solve problems, support each other, lend a hand and restore the basic elements of life that we all too often take for granted.
This, for me, is the reality of my American dream.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

1 To 3

I love playing in the Word Garden but I always feel guilty if I have to disturb someone else's stone sentence to make mine complete. Should I put it back the way it was? Their sentence will no longer make sense! It probably doesn't matter since the garden is a never ending constant work in progress.

I always think my job is a work in progress. each new semester seems to bring a change in something I do, say or realise during the first class.

Yesterday when I finally met the 21 students in my Schools and Society course I suddenly realised what an incredible experience it is to meet 21 new people all at the same time. A sea of new faces each as nervous as I am the first day of class. I always try to learn just the names on my class roster during the week leading up to class so I just have to put names to faces. I also take photos of each student which I put on eCollege so they can all get to know each other's names.

It's a neat experience being present for the first footsteps of people embarking upon a career in teaching. Their careers are all ahead of them and they are just beginning the path that will take them who knows where. One can teach in every corner of the world; one can teach anybody in the world, and one can teach about anything one likes. It really is the most open-ended profession one can think of.

One of the things we have been focusing on recently is the idea of preparing students for careers in Education in general and not just as teachers. In conjunction with the Career Development Office at St. Mike's we have set up a resource for Professional Educators.
This includes positions such as museum docent/educators, curriculum specialists, administrators, and education-related business opportunities.

Spend some time in the Word Garden; the stones themselves are so permanent but their positions so temporary.