Undetected and Undernourished

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Some of you have asked why I have been absent from Twitter chats, reading & responding to favorite blogs and why I’m not as visible on other social media outlets. It has been a difficult school year for my children. After working a full day, I come home to assist my children with their learning. Sometimes I’m reteaching material and other times I’m assisting them with numerous worksheet packets, test prep sheets, and endless amount of homework. That being said, I thought I would give you a glimpse of what our school year has been like. Please no negative comments. Instead, words of encouragement and support for Sophie would be much appreciated. Thank you ūüôā

I hear sobbing from her bedroom again. I hesitate to knock on the door. I know what she is crying about. A lump forms in my throat. My eyes well up. My heart is heavy. I sigh. I take a moment before I knock and ask to enter her room.

14368655_10211563700554859_2999918388971433763_nMy daughter, Sophia (#Sophiegirl) is my heart. She is my mini me. She has smiled and laughed every day of her life. She is our comedienne, our creative artist, and our resident athlete. It’s beyond difficult to see her so upset.

After numerous days and hours studying, memorizing rules and formulas for a math test, Sophie scored a 50%.

Sophie is a hands-on, creative, and visual learner. She is a thinker, “a doer”; she sees things differently. Every year we discuss her learning style with her teachers. We discuss how Sophie needs to make connections with what she is learning; her assignments need to be meaningful. Sophie doesn’t learn like other students in her 6th grade classroom; she does not learn in a linear way. She learns through creating, manipulating and questioning. She is passionate and curious about many things, and needs to express it. She likes a challenge. She likes to figure things out on her own. She is not accustomed to memorizing lengthy test prep sheets. In our home, my children know that learning is not memorizing facts. In our home, learning is anything but memorizing.

Once again, she had 3 days to study and to complete problems from a xeroxed math packet. Her anxiety and nerves were on HIGH alert. She put forth the effort and did not receive the success she was hoping for. Once again, we will reach out to her teacher, asking for assistance.

As I entered her room, I saw her on her iPad. Her eyes red, her cheeks tear stained. Her nose runny. She moved over and invited me onto her bed.

“You okay?” I asked.

She stared intensely at the screen, her eyes becoming moist. She bit her bottom lip (just like her mama) and nodded.

“Did you see my test?”, Sophie asked. “I told you, I’m just not good at math.”

“What are you working on?” I asked.

“I’m re-designing my house. I thought I would add more organized closet space as well as a more detailed laundry room with shelves and a counter. I’m just having a hard time with the measurement, but I think I figured it out.” she said.

As she showed me her creation on a home design app. She discussed how she needed to increase the dimensions of the rooms, which also increased the area of her house. The additional square footage would also mean an upgrade in the heating and cooling system. In the laundry room, she had chosen a plywood based counter but realized it would not be strong enough for the weight of a slab of marble. So, she made the decision to cut into her budget once again, to purchase a solid wood counter. She continued on about her designs, her budget, her measurements, the functionality and proportions of the space.

 


I sat there a bit dumbfounded. She has such an understanding of design, working within a budget, measuring and proportions. So many math concepts. She learned this all on her own. Why are we still drilling and killing our learners in math? Why hasn’t the xeroxed math packet died? Will her teacher ever realize her potential?

Sophie is a visual spatial learner. These learners think in pictures rather than in words and learn differently than auditory and sequential learners. They learn all-at-once, visually and creatively. When the “a-ha” moment happens, the learning is permanent. Visual spatial learners do not learn from repetition, or the dreaded “drill and skill” methods that we see in classrooms. They need to see the big picture first before they learn about the details. They are also non-linear, and do not learn in a step-by-step manner. The fact is, most teachers today, teach in their own learning style. As adults, this tends to mostly be an auditory, and sequential modality.

Success in today’s schools still depends upon a learner memorizing facts, handing in assignments, following directions and having fast recall. These auditory sequential skills are actually limiting the potential of all students to be successful, and gain employment in today‚Äôs world.

Great teachers appreciate that no two students are alike and great teachers recognize differences among students due to readiness, interests, and learning styles. Many teachers try very hard to accommodate the various learning styles of their students, but this can be an overwhelming task, as some of the learning styles inventories and models are quite complicated. We live in an age where multi-modal approaches to teaching and learning are absolutely necessary for our learners’ success. Students need opportunities to engage in mastering concepts and skills by creating, exploring and working with hands on materials and integrated technology.

I know someday, Sophie will be a phenomenal architect and she will meet a teacher who will appreciate her way of thinking. Some day, her gifts will be acknowledged and celebrated. And someday, learning math and studying for a math test will not mean completing problems from a math packet.

Hang in there #Sophiegirl, we’re working on it.

 

 

 

 

The Importance of Building Bridges

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Directions were given. Materials were handed out. I walked quietly as to not disturb them.

Our learners were working in groups. They had numbered materials and images of various bridges. Their task sounded simple; create a bridge connecting 2 tables in the room.

Some groups began brainstorming ideas, other groups began construction immediately. There was one group…the second grade/third grade group…who had questions. I proceeded to assist.

Can we build from the floor up?

No.

Can we use pre-existing structures?

No.

Does it have to be a certain length?

No.

What if we run out of materials, can we have more?

No.

Can we choose more than one bridge design and blend them together?

Sure.

Is there a weight requirement?

Yes.

“We’re done!” I hear from across the room. I walk over to see their bridge. This group of fourth grade boys used 2 sheets of paper taped together to reach the other table, no support of any kind underneath. They mentioned it was “pavement”. I noticed the group of boys fooling around as I examined it. How would you lay the pavement down if there is nothing, not even land, to support it? I asked. They looked at each other, unsure of how to answer. “Keep thinking my friends”, ¬†I said.

I proceeded to the fifth grade group which consisted of all boys. These boys partnered up within the group. Unlike the fourth grade group, the two pairs seemed confident. Each pair were discussing ideas and occasionally would share info with the others . They constructed a rope and wood (popsicle stick) bridge. The bridge seemed well constructed but the group had difficulty deciding how to attach it securely to the ends of each table. They decided on tape, ¬†one piece of scotch tape at each end. They asked for the weights to see how they did. The rope and wood bridge held one weight. However, when a second was added it fell between the center of the two tables.”Don’t be discouraged, you all showed great thinking, keep working on it”, I said.

I watched my second and third grade girls work on their woven truss bridge. They used popsicle sticks for the base, that spanned the length of two tables. They wove Wikki sticks…like a woven basket… and attached them to the sides. “I think we need to add arches underneath for more support” one student said. “If this was a real bridge how would they know how much it would hold?” ¬†another student asked. “They probably would just drive cars over it to make sure”, another answered. “Nah, I think they use some sort of math to figure it out” someone else said matter of factly. “How could we make sure this bridge stays in place? Tape isn’t strong enough for this!”, a member chimed in.

This second-third grade group does not ask for assistance. They do not rush. They are on the floor, on the table, upside down and viewing their bridge from every angle. They were thinking out loud, experimenting and trying various ideas. They were accepting of ideas and willing to take risks. They discussed and talked throughout.

As I observe these groups, I can’t help but think of the different approaches each group took. I can’t help but think how, as teachers, we can fall into similar groupings. Some teachers will rush just to be the first to try out the latest idea or buzz word. These teachers hardly ever collaborate, only because they see collaboration as competition, they may also feel intimidated by others. Inevitably, they will also have to back track and reteach alone. Other teachers will construct and execute good solid lessons with a partner. Their lessons are student centered and teacher driven, but they may have missed the target on an area or two. Two is better than one mentality can bring success as well as¬†oversights. Other teachers will work together as a team to examine all avenues and ensure success. They communicate and share ideas; they take risks and work through problems. Most importantly they continue to question it all, seeking answers together.

I’ve been apart of these groups during my career in education. I’ve been on amazing teams. Teams that worked together, each of us playing a pivotal role in our grade level’s success. I’ve partnered with another teacher. This partnership of helping and guiding each other through new curricula, a new frontier. This partnership can be non threatening, simple and so powerful. ¬†I’ve also worked alone, not by choice. I worked alone because others did not feel the need to progress or to seek change. Choosing to abide by the status quo. This isolation is the most difficult to bear. I often wonder why teachers would want it this way.

If there is something I believe in when it comes to collaboration, I believe in this…

“The greatest resource that teachers have, are other teachers”

 

But sadly, teamwork and collaboration are not commonly found in schools. What keeps teachers from supporting their team and being a team player? Building a team based culture requires administration to set aside time and emphasize the importance of teacher teamwork instead of simply suggesting that it occur on its own. These meaningful conversations can open doors for sharing, for encouragement and insights while establishing the empathy that drives all great schools. Teamwork should not be optional.

With all the change that teachers are implementing in their classrooms, isn’t now the time to increase collaboration opportunities, be they formal or informal?  Does your school make space for teachers to engage in deep conversations about teaching and learning? Where and when do your best conversations with colleagues take place? I think the time has come to build bridges between teachers to strengthen their teams. How else can our students use us as their support structure?

Going Bananas Over Apps

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This summer was an extremely hot one. Often times the heat index surpassed the 100¬ļ mark. It was almost as hot as the Pok√©mon Go app that came out in early July. I remember being at Sunset Beach, NC with¬†my family,¬†as my children and their friends were playing it. They were trying to find and capture Pikachus, wandering throughout our complex, glued to their iPhone screens. They stumbled over curbs, bumped into people, and were even honked at by passing cars.

A day later, the Twitter buzz on how to bring Pok√©mon Go into the classroom developed. Before I knew it, there were numerous Twitter Educational Chats and blogs on enhancing units of study with the game. I even tweeted an article¬†about it. As I look back on it, I cringe a bit. I usually don’t jump on the bandwagon so quickly. I¬†am the fish that swims up stream. I like to question, and want to feel confident in what I am putting out there to my followers. As a cyber educator, I am not skeptical in using apps as learning tools. I use quite a few to enhance learning in my cyber classroom. I’m skeptical in an educator’s need to rush into using them. I have so many questions surrounding the benefits of using the latest app phenomena into a learning environment.

Why do we as educators feel the need to rush into incorporating “the latest app” into our learning?

Are teachers over eager, latching onto the newest apps, for that tiniest sliver of learning, or for an easy connection to their learners?

Is it about the learner or the app?

Are we robbing children of owning something for themselves?

When I look at the numerous apps my own children use (Instagram, Snapchat, PokemonGo, Musical.ly), I can’t help but think that we may be robbing them of the joy of exploration, discovery and ownership. I have seen it with my own children. My daughter Sophia greatly enjoys the arts. As¬†Ms. Creativity,¬†she thinks creatively, and sees things differently. She has even created her own line of plant based lip gloss for teens, infused with vitamins (lip gloss with raspberry juice, and hardened coconut oil). Sophia always finds the next hip app and creates something amazing with it. Musical.ly is an app she greatly enjoys at the moment. She loves to make music videos.When I asked her what app it was and if I could join in, she said, “Mooooom, really? Can’t this just be my thing?” Her comments¬†sounded so similar to my own youth, when my teachers would try to impress a class by reciting lyrics from a popular song. Some learners thought it was cool. But it made us want to find a “new” song because we didn’t like them in “our territory”. We didn’t want our “coolness” to be associated or connected to our teacher or any adult for that matter.

If we as educators rush to incorporate the next best thing, are we robbing our learners of their youthful identity just because we as educators are struggling to reach them?

I feel our learners need an identity. We as teachers don’t need to poach every single thing kids like and try to use it for learning. I think the older the learner gets, the less receptive they are of us, as educators,¬†hijacking their interests. In all honesty, I’m not sure Pokemon Go is the future of learning. The idea of using it in the classroom is still focused around finding things, not around powerful learning ideas, and being empathetic to student needs. Learners need personal connections, more than another learning fad.

The use of Pokémon Go as a learning tool has died down tremendously. I am sure that there will be another new and exciting app around the corner, waiting to be hailed as the next latest and greatest learning tool. As I write this though, I still have many questions surrounding the use of apps in learning. Are we personally experimenting with these new apps, trying to find the connection and relevance of bringing it to our learners?  How do you know which one will be the right one for your classroom environment? Enlighten me. What are your thoughts?