Sunday, April 19, 2009

"Bullet Train Approach"

Marlene Armstrong is holding a discussion on the Susan Winebrenner book Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom and recently threw out a question about pacing. It reminded me of a discussion I had two years ago with Rory at Parentalcation on the same topic. I decided to post my comments to Rory on Marlene's blog rather than retyping my thoughts. That reminded me to post it here to see who's reading.

To Marlene: I agree with "faster isn't always better" but picking up the pace for bright kids would help a lot and would cut down on what they hate most--repetition. Research shows that gifted students need 1-3 repetitions to learn something where the average learner needs 17 repetitions. Could the gifted learners be delving deeper? or extending what they have learned?

Whatever you do make sure that they aren't helping the slower learners catch up! Gifted kids hate doing it and even if they don't hate it, they are there to learn new material, too.

There are many obvious problems with moving through the curriculum at your own is a comment I made to a guy I was arguing with on this exact topic a couple of years ago. Rather than retype I'll c/p what I said to him about the 'bullet train approach' to teaching, in this case mathematics.

To Rory May 2007:
"I actually agree with what you say “One have to learn a set of skills and knowledge during certain number of years to survive (and be successful) in the human world”. But maybe I’m more of a realist. I’ve been teaching for 25+ years and have had my 3 gifted sons in public schools and state universities for that whole time. (They are now grown—a lawyer, a chemical engineer and a philosopher)

I have always been concerned about the lack of academic rigor and the pace of the curriculum in schools, especially grades K-8. I am a special education teacher who provides services for gifted kiddos. I teach in a Title 1 school in a large suburban school district. Here are the facts—50% of our students are children of poverty, do we leave some of them behind in our quest for “a set of skills”? 25% of our kids leave during the year and are replaced with new move-ins, do we leave them behind? Some are underachievers and choose not to perform, do we leave them behind? 20% do not speak English as their primary language, do we leave them behind? Many have no parental support, do we leave them behind? Some are gifted girls who just want to “fit in”, do we leave them behind? Some of them only come to school 3 or 4 days a week, do we leave them behind? We’ve established who gets left behind.

OK, now we have this forward moving group. Some are moving faster in math, some reading, some computers, some history, some science, some art, some music. Are you going to be the person that schedules these kiddos into classes with teachers qualified to teach them? Let’s take math for example…you have 8 kids ready to move forward through pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, Pre-Calc etc. Who is going to teach them? If they don’t take the class at a high school they won’t get high school credit; if they don’t take Honors they won’t get a 5 point A and it will affect their GPA. The teachers certified to teach them have 7-12 certificates, so cannot work in an elementary school. Let’s say, this does work—and you can find a highly qualified math teacher to teach them and they get the credit they need for their high school transcripts no matter their age-- 8 years old, ten years, old, etc. Then what?

They need to be driven to the local college or university for advanced classes, they can’t drive—parents work all day. Are you as a tax payer, going to have your local school district provide transportation? Then what, doesn’t this kid still need Science instruction? History instruction? English instruction? Does he go to grade school for this? middle school ? high school?

Does he need recess? Gym? Choir? Fieldtrips? Does he need to learn how to work with others? Have time to think about what he is learning? Think critically and creatively?

For those parents and teachers who want the “bullet train approach” claiming faster is better, I have seen no workable solutions—just a lot of complaining. If you want changes in your child’s school then lead the charge, if the schools won’t listen change schools, if you can’t afford to change schools then home school. If you teach in a school that won’t listen then change schools, if you can’t change schools then change careers. We are all just doing the best we can. What I do is provide gifted kids with alternatives to low level discussions, slow progress, material already mastered and drill and practice—even if it is only 20% of the week—it’s better than nothing."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

School Supplies

Someone at CR 2.0 wanted a list of school supplies from back in the day. I started school in 1954 and compiled a list of this and that--can you think of any other school supplies we used? Cross post on A Very Old Place

1. Big Chief or Alladin Tablets
2. Crayon 16 pack (?) in early grades there were 8 colors, they were big and fat with one flat side
3. Big Husky wooden pencils with real lead
4. Pink Pet erasers
5. Cartridge pens, (fountain pen with nub; bought replacable cartridges)
6. PeeChee folders
7. 3 ring notebooks blue canvas cover w/ color-coded dividers; notebook paper with reinforcements (liitle white canvas circles)
8. purple memeographed handouts (they smelled)
9. metal lunch boxes and thermos' with glass liners (always got broken!)
10.In junior high and high school all textbooks had to be covered with brown paper
11. no backpacks--you just stacked up you stuff and carried the stack either in front of you or if you were very clever on your hip!
12. Sliderules, if you took advance math
13. Chalkboards and chalk
14. Black and white essay books for tests
15. LePage Glue--glass bottle with ruber top, top has a slit in it and you press the top on the paper and the glue came out or white glue (did it have a brush or a paddle) that would harden into a lump and there was always a kid who would eat it.
16. We put all our pencils and stuff in a cigar box.
17. This was the same time as white soxes, brown tie up shoes, petticoats, twin sets, girls never wore pants, Ah those were the days!! I'll add more as I think of more during this trip down memory lane.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Truth About Online Book Discussions

Crossposted on Classroom 2.0 2008

I teach gifted elementary students and have done about 8 different book discussions over the last 5 years using at first Blackboard and then Moodle. We read at least one SPECTACULAR book a semester (students come once a week). The platforms work about the same. I search the internet for high level book discussion questions (synthesis, analysis, and evaluation) and get permission from the author to use them. Why re-invent the wheel? I post each of the questions and have set up formal "rules" for responding, the goal being improved writing skills and improved reflective and critical thinking.You can see our book discussions here and use baguest for username and password.

OK, here are my editorial comments: None of the kids "love" it", they tolerate it. They will do it because I assign it. Their written responses have improved over time but they do not seem to do a lot of thinking before answering the questions. Generally the responses are mediocre no matter how much they loved the book, I get 1000 times more out of them orally. I respond to each entry and ask them to respond to each other, my comments and theirs seem shallow and repetitive. Even the kids that "love" to write, don't get off on answering the questions. I guess it is no different to them than answering the questions at the end of the chapter in a basal reader.

I've taught gifted kids for 25 years and I see their writing skills taking a nose dive---I blame NCLB, since they never seem to write much in the regular classroom but the online book discussion hasn't been the answer.

The best outcome I had to online question/response activity was with a Philosophy unit I did with 6th graders, Using David White's book we discussion a philosophical question in a group, then they reflected about the discussion and how it related to their lives. Finally I got some deep thinking!The kids are much more enthused about blogging, which you could do with another class. You could pose thought provoking questions like "What if electricity had been invented?" or "What would have happened if Walt Disney hadn't been born?" or "How would things be different if the South won the Civil War?" "Should all kids where school uniforms?" "at what age should a kid have a cellphone?" Then let them go at it, at least they'd have to think, organize their thoughts and reflect!!

You can see our blog here .So that's been my experience with online book discussions. It actually may be a better tool in the regular classroom since they have to answer the questions for a grade. In our gifted ed classroom we get much deeper reflection orally. Good luck and let me know how things turn out. N

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Gifted Readers

I teach gifted kids and you would think most of them are avid and rabid readers. Not the case--some of them don't (or didn't) read at all for pleasure. (I call them the 'math/science' kids). Anyway, several years ago I started developing a class library. Many of my older students have out grown the school library or it wasn't getting the series they wanted fast enough. So I have an "Adopt a Book" drive at the beginning of the year. I also carry a list of all the books with me so I can pick them up cheap at our local library's book sales.

Here is an outcome from our class library I didn't expect but has thrilled me---many of my 'non pleasure' readers (mostly boys) have started reading up a storm. AND it's all about getting the right book in their hands. I guess some parents don't have a clue what's "hot" and even some school librarians don't get the right book to the right kid. So--the point? I don't know, but I know there is a book for every kid--it's just finding a good match.

I want to do something with graphic novels but haven't started that yet.

BTW I started reading Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins to my 6th graders today--they love being read to, too. It's wonderful, I read it over the weekend--but for mature readers. I have other great books I could recommend if you are interested.

Friday, February 20, 2009

To Blog or Not To Blog: Part 2

Sue Waters sent me To Konrad's blog on Assessment after I whined in my previous post about my student bloggers. Here is my comment on his blog. We've had a student blog for almost three years averaging about 50 bloggers a year. I teach gifted kids, many of them brilliant thinkers and writers albeit reluctant.

I decided that I wanted to see if I could get my kids into the blogging habit so before Winter Break I made blogging mandatory. I only see the kids once a week so they were to blog at home. There was a 'reward/punishment' system built in to the requirement. 95% of the kids blogged/commented every week. The quality varied from "State Assessments ( and why they are completely and utterly ridiculous)" to "My Last Basketball Game" to "Why Am I Addicted to Gummy Bears". Comments too ranged from profound and insightful to stupid. BUT we were blogging.

Several weeks ago I decided to drop the requirement and the posts and comments dropped off considerably. Now I'm rethinking my purpose and what the next step is--I just realized after reading your post that the lack of give and take commenting was more disappointing than 'silly' initial posts.

There was so much focus on getting the task done (required post) that there was not the level of reflecting and thinking I was trying to engage the kids in. Thanks for letting me think more about this here--I know I can contribute in a different way. I'll be thinking about that. This was my aHa!!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

To Blog or Not To Blog: That is the Question

I'm struggling to find a balance between "requiring" so many blog posts a week, rewarding for posts, punishing for no posts or just letting it run its natural course. I made a huge effort to teach good blogging and good commenting and as long as I was requiring several posts a week I had a lot of participation--when I dropped the requirement, participation bottomed out.

I tried for two months to "make" everybody participate, I wanted to see if I could capture some kids who would not normally blog. I did capture a few, but mainly the bloggers are the girls who like to write. I get so furious at the laziness of kids, What to do? What to do?

RSS Feed: What Good Is It For Kids?

Live and learn left this comment on another post--I'll answer as best I can.
This must be a dumb question. WHY exactly do I want an RSS feed? What will my fourth students gain from it? Do you assign specific assignments based on the feed or is it just more info to expose them to? If you have time, this would be a great blog post for us newbies. If not, I understand!

RSS stands for "Rich Site Summary" or "Really Simple Syndication" and it is a format for bringing ever-changing news INTO you so you don't have to go OUT and look for it. It's especially helpful if you read a lot of blogs, instead of having to type in a URL or click an address from your favorites or go to your Delicious account, new posts from bloggers you read come INTO you on a "feed reader" (I use Bloglines) --you don't have to go OUT to find them. New feed comes in everyday. Here are the feeds we have coming into our blog.

So what does this do for kids? It can bring SAFE, up-to-date content into your feed reader, blog or website for your students to look at. The only reason I use it on my students' blog is so they can see some "news" or "interesting info" without having to waste the time searching for it. It's on the blog as possible prompts to encourage writing. Does every classroom need it? Hmmm--it you want to have control of what comes into your classroom via the internet then it's a great add. Let me know if I didn't explain that well enough and I'll try again.

PS Be sure to study the site before adding to your kids' reader--giving a kid access to it. News, like Newsweek, Time,New York Times, etc. sights might seem like a good idea but you have to deal with rapists, murders, carjacking, etc along with politics, weather and sports.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Doodle 4 Google Contest Is Back!!

The Doodle 4 Google Contest is back. See details below from the site. Last year our center had two state winners and the kids had a blast! Check it out, it is really fun. Be sure to supply plenty of templates!

… we use plants for electricity
… we make college free for everyone
… we give health insurance to all who need it
… we connect everyone by cell phone or computer

Welcome to Doodle 4 Google, a competition where we invite K-12 students to play around with our homepage logo and see what new designs they come up with. This year we're inviting U.S. kids to join in the doodling fun, around the intriguing theme "What I Wish for the World."

These are exciting times and both our country and the world are on the brink of significant change. At Google we believe in thinking big, and dreaming big, and we can't think of anything more important than encouraging students to do the same.

Registration closes at 11:59:59 PM Pacific time on March 17, 2009 and entries are due by 11:59:59 PM Pacific time on March 31, 2009. Teachers, you'll find everything you need to get started on the Registration page. Only teachers or school employees should register. Parents or students who are interested should contact their teacher to register them.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Podcasting: This Should Make You Smile

From Classroom 2.0 4/08

I have a great idea for podcasts. I have been stewing for weeks about learning how to do podcasts and teaching my kids how to do them. I've posted here and other places begging for the best instructions, videos or explanations. (You have been generous in helping--thanks)

Today a couple of my 6th grade girls had finished their research assignments and I was furiously helping others post assignments to our project website-- I turned and said to the girls -- "the computer guy downloaded Audacity, go figure out how to do podcasts---there is a new wireless mic in the blue box under the counter."

I went back to my work with other students--in less than 15 minutes I heard "We're done, Mrs. B. we've figured it out!!" I smiled at my co-teacher--and listened as the girls across the room were recording their first podcast and making plans our big project.

I would have spent hours stewing and fussing and making sure I knew every in and out before I plugged in the mic, they just went for it. What a joy!


We were working on a huge Titanic project and students podcast as if they were someone (passenger or crew) on the Titanic. Each kid did a biographical sketch on a person, couple, family, or group and podcast that person. You can see the biographical sketch and listen to the podcasts here.

The most memorable part of this experience had to do with a 6th grade student. He is a brilliant student but was very anxious, OCD etc. he barely spoke above a whisper the three years I knew him. When he did his podcast he sounded like Tom Browkaw, his voice was loud, clear and he was 100% articulate. I asked him about it later and he, in his tiny little voice said, "Since my speech was written down I didn't have to worry about making a mistake." Go figure.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Speaking of Rick Riordan

The popular author of the Lightning Thief endorses a summer camp based on his books. You can read about Camp Half Blood here. It usually fills up very fast but they have just opened a new session. If your child is a fan of the author and his characters he/she would love this camp. It is only a day camp--no overnights. Here's what Percy Jackson has to say about the camp:

Dear Campers,

If you’re reading this, I’m really sorry. It means you’ve found out you are half-bloods, and now you’re in for a world of trouble.

I’d like to tell you things will get better now that you’ve made your way to our new branch camp in Austin. But the truth is you’ve still got a lot of dangerous work ahead of you. Train hard. Watch your back. And learn to cooperate with your cabin mates. Your life now depends on it. Monsters are everywhere. The gods are watching, and some of them won’t be on your side!

I know Grover will take good care of you. He’s a pretty cool satyr. (Just keep your hands, feet, and soda cans away from his mouth).

A few other words of advice:
1)Do not try breathing underwater unless you are absolutely sure you are a child of Poseidon.
2)Watch your wallet when you’re hanging out with Hermes cabin.
3)Do not try arm-wrestling with the Ares cabin.
4)And finally, watch where you step. The pegasi are not housebroken.

Good luck! I hope you survive the camp. If you do, maybe I’ll see you around next summer.

Peace from Manhattan, Percy Jackson

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Blogging Brainstorm

I had a brainstorm over winter break---many elementary kids NEVER do any authentic writing. OK, they write an occassional narrative or what ever it is they have to do for state assessment. BUT rarely do they write on a topic of their interest for other people to read. We've had a class blog, A Really Different Place, for three years and some of the posts are "extended analysis and synthesis over longer periods of time that builds on previous posts, links, and comments" (Will Richardson), some are low level chats.

All of my 5th and 6th graders have to blog once a week (at home) but I've decided to raise the bar. I decided that many kids don't know how to write an entry that will evoke discussion or reflection. So just the week we had a long discussion on Bloom's Taxonomy, talked about and gave example of the six levels. Then I used Andrew Churches' Digital Taxonomy blogging rubric and exemplars to show how different posts fall into different levels. Their task over the next week is to write a thought-provoking post that will generation discussion and reflection--and so far I'm very pleased. (Prizes will be given!!) If you want to see the results start at Recent Posts to see who's blogging about what.

I do wonder if fourth grade is too young for high level posts and comments---I teach gifted kids and what I notice about the difference between the 4th graders and the older kids is the 4th graders are still young, immature (as far as social topics), and oblvious to what going on in the world. They are still really self-centered and their worlds can be pretty small.

Another thing I've put in place from the blog's beginnings is "formal" writing, no chat lingo, no text language, no personal "diary" type entries. Let me know if you need any more info.

Crosspost Classroom 2.0

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Going Back To School

For four or five years in the early 90's our district's gifted program participated in Odyssey of the Mind, a national problem solving competition. We would introduce the problems in November, divide up into teams and start preparing for the local and state competition. The actual work would begin in earnest the day we got back from holiday and that's when all hell would break lose. The introduction of the problem and the brainstorming sessions in the late fall were great fun and the kids loved brainstorming possible solutions. I spent those years dreading the day we got back from break because one of the major components of the competition was NO ADULT HELP!! The kids spent the next six weeks floundering, while we the teachers tried to keep our mouths shut and hoped the kids wouldn't make fools out of themselves and of us. Boy did we waste a lot of time!

One year, I think it was 1991, I had two teams win the state competition and we got invited to the World Finals!! Of all the places in the world we could go, in 1991 the World Finals were in AMES, IOWA!! We were from Kansas--whoop-ti-do!

Several years after we stopped competing there was a big scandal in the OM community, I can't remember the details.

Now as the winter break ends I smile to myself and say "at least we aren't doing OM!"

Friday, January 02, 2009

Thoughts on Gifted Math Kids

David Cox and I were having a discussion about gifted kids over at Classroom 2.0, he sent me a message and wanted my to elaborate--it turns out my response was WAY TOO LONG for CR 2.0 messaging system so I decided to post it here in case anyone else was interested.

At the elementary level we explore all kinds of things; you can see all we've done in the last few years here.

In the Center our kids with math goals focus on problem solving--we have probably have 50 different types of activities which include all kinds of logic--matrix, grid perplexors, Venn Diagrams, etc. We also have Sudoku, Karoku, Crossmatics, Pentominos, tangrams, etc and 3D stuff like like 3-D Pentominos, Shapes and Solids, Google Sketchup, etc. We also have problem solving software and simulations.

The only math "curriculum" we ever teach is Hands On Equations--we've done that with as young as second grade. I like it.

Our district provides PreAlgebra for our more precocious math students in 6th grade, but it comes at a price. It's at 7:00 AM!! Not the best time for many bright kids who stay up too late. If they take PA at 6th, they take Alg 1 at 7th and go to the high school for Honors Geometry in 8th and so on.

Here's my observation about gifted mathematicians--they just get it. No matter what it is, if it deals with numbers, they just intuit how to do it, there is no "thinking". Many gifted kids are not gifted mathematicians (and of course you would see them in a gifted magnet school), the pleasers will work hard and learn quickly but they just don't "get it" like a gifted mathematician does. I've had many gifted kids who IQ is really lopsided 145 Verbal, 120 performance--these kinds of kids look pretty normal in a math class but excel in writing, language, reading, vocab etc. Scoring at the 99% on achievement test doesn't necessarily show this, the hard-worker-bees can score high but not have the "gift".

My observation about gifted kids in general--their skills, work ethics, and personalities vary as widely as the general population. Example---I've had kids who have been grandfathered into my program with 120 IQ, they are in the same class as the kid with an IQ of 160. The range (and ability) between the two is wider than the lowest and highest kid in a regular classroom. Depending on the criteria for your school, you may not have to have an IQ in the gifted range (135+). I have kids who are very hard workers and some who don't work at all, I have kids who are leaders in their schools and communities and kids who couldn't lead their heads out of a paper bag. I have kids who play 4 sports and kids who play 4 instruments. I have kids who are "most popular" and kids who have no friends. The more you know about gifted kids they better teacher of them you will be. Read Tamara Fisher's blog, Unwrapping The Gift, she's written some very insightful articles about gifted kids.

My observation about highly gifted kids---many of them have concomitant problems related to being just TOO smart, TOO outlying, TOO different. They are a poor fit for the way we teach them today, underachievement is entrenched by 3rd grade.

Here is something to think about---the average kid spends 80% of the time thinking and working in the lower levels knowledge, comprehension, and application. You can see this when you teach them something---they learn it (with 17 repetitions), then they understand it and they can use it. A kid with an IQ of 130+ spends 80% of the time thinking in the higher levels synthesis, analysis, and evaluation. You teach them something (with 1-3 repetitions) and they are already thinking of every other thing they know about that topic and how what you taught them applies to what they already know. (It’s why they don’t seem to be paying attention—they have long passed you!) They just THINK DIFFERENTLY. The more you know about them the easier they are to teach.

Here's a challenge to you---maybe you need to teach differently. Like Dr Phil says, "the best predictor of future performance is past performance". Maybe you need to ask different questions to get different answers. Maybe you need to shake things up!! Go read Dan Meyer's blog , he's a young math teacher that is asking some hard questions. Read his latest entry (and all the other stuff) on "The Math Text Book I Would Buy". He's suggesting a whole different way to engage kids with a focus on thinking!! Read the comments and look at Problem Pictures and what Hot Chalk has done with using Motocross to teach Algebra (suggestions from commenter). Amazing stuff.

I remember hearing a presenter respond to the question "How do we keep kids from plagiarizing?" with "Give them assignments they can't plagiarize." There is some connection to your comments here---if the question your kids are asking is "Is this the right answer?" then maybe you need to change the question!! Whew, did any of that make sense!! Keep in touch, N.