Thursday, December 31, 2009

Monday, December 28, 2009

Cursive Handwriting Is Obsolete

It is time that we finally stop teaching cursive handwriting in schools. It deserves no place in the curriculum. What is the point of taking up so much valuable time in teaching a skill that will not be used. Instead, why not get serious about making sure children develop effective touch typing skills?

How many schools in Maine still require that cursive writing be taught?

What are your thoughts? Disagree? Agree?

Wikipedia: Cursive, Penmanship
Touch Typing - Cursive - Why?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Edublog 2009

Richard Byrne's Free Technology for Teachers blog wins again! He is a social studies teacher at Oxford Hills High School. Congratulations, Richard!

The Edublog Awards 2009

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Nation's Report Card - Math

By Pam Kenney

The results of the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) in math were released December 8, 2009. 18 school districts across the country participated in the study, and the scores allow the public to follow over time the progress of our students' math achievement.

At Nation's Report Card, you can view national, state, and district results for grades 4 and 8. The graphs and tables are excellent and allow you to compare scores from 1990 through 2009. You can look at the information adjusted according to gender, race/ethnicity, type of school, family income level, student disability status, and English language learners. Also, there are links to a press conference about the TUDA Mathematics report card and a narrated presentation on the major findings.

Everyday Mathematics is credited by Washington, D.C. public school teachers and Chancellor Michelle Rhee as one reason why students there have made significant gains in math achievement at both the 4th and 8th grade levels since 2003: "... an increased focus on the use of games, calculators and written responses -- to help students demonstrate their reasoning in solving a problem -- helped drive the gains in scores in the national assessment, known as NAEP." While I agree that deepening children's concept grasp and understanding of problem-solving is vital to success in math, I continue to be unsettled by the relative unimportance of practice and mastery in "reform math" curricula like Everyday Mathematics. My questions, then, are these: Are schools, such as those in D.C., using supplemental materials to fill in the gaps in EDM, thus contributing to the rise in scores? Or - are tests like the NAEP also so focused on the "whys" of math that even studying their results won't tell me whether my fourth grader knows 6*7=42? I don't know the answers to these questions, but I'm going to find out.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

MLTI Webinar: "Getting to Know VoiceOver"

Announcement from MLTI Team:
There is still time to register for Thursday's (December 10th) webcast:
Getting to Know VoiceOver, facilitated by Cynthia Curry. VoiceOver is known as Apple’s built-in screen reader, but can be better described as an accessible interface for everyone. Not to be confused with text to speech, VoiceOver provides voice description of all onscreen elements, features a caption panel, and allows users to control their computer using only the keyboard. Our guest, Steve Sawczyn of AT Maine, will demonstrate why VoiceOver is a tool that all educators should get to know. Most importantly, we’ll discuss how we can improve our UDL practices by understanding the unique learning needs of students who are blind and have low vision. You can find a link to registration at

Registrants will receive a link to the WebCast as well as login information.

WebCasts will be held each Thursday at both 3:15 pm and 7:15 pm. To learn more about these webcasts, please visit:

Google Chrome Browser for Mac

Monday, December 7, 2009

Everyday Math Revisited: Parents Stand Up

By Pam Kenney

About three weeks ago I posted a commentary on this blog critical of the math curriculum Everyday Math. I was prompted to write it because I was receiving an increasing number of calls for help from parents whose elementary-age children were struggling in math classrooms using Everyday Math, and parental attempts to assist them at home were frequently not successful. The post generated more than 20 comments from both parents and educators. From the strong feelings expressed in those comments and from subsequent independent reading and research, I have become aware of a grassroots movement among parents anxious to become an integral part of the debate about how math is taught in our schools. For the first time in many years, parents are so frustrated by and angry about the trend by our nation’s school systems to adopt “reform” math curricula, they have banded together to stand up and fight for the kind of elementary math instruction for their children that will provide the concept grasp and computation skills necessary for success in math at high school and college levels.

One group, the United States Coalition for World Class Math, is made up of “an ever-growing group of state coalitions comprised of mathematically literate parents, many of whom are scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and educators who want nothing but excellence in Mathematics Education for the students of our country, the United States of America.” The focus of its mission is to urge each state’s department of education to develop core curriculum content standards in math, using as guides the curriculum standards from countries with the highest scores on international math tests as well as those from the U.S. states with the highest math rankings. Calling for standards that will prepare children for success in college and beyond, it recognizes the importance of input from research mathematicians and university math professors as well as from K-12 educators and professors of math education.

There is now an active state chapter of the national group, the Maine Coalition for World Class Math. Maine parents who are concerned about their children’s progress in math and the suitability of the math textbooks chosen by their school districts will find not only a sympathetic ear at this site, but a wealth of information, too. One particularly interesting and thought-provoking link provides visitors with the coalition’s “Design Principles for K-12 Mathematics Standards” that “address the major deficiencies and defects that currently plague far too many of our state mathematics standards.” One pertinent complaint of the Maine Coalition for World Class Math is that today’s math reform movement has led to the widespread adoption of curricula like Everyday Math. Many critics of Everyday Math argue that it attempts to teach children the conceptual “hows” and “whys” of math in such depth and in so many different ways that it fails to do a good job teaching the computation skills necessary to ensure the mastery of basic arithmetic. Its spiral approach (a method that moves from concept to concept and back again without clear mastery goals built in), a scope that is too broad and a sequence that is not logical, an over-reliance on calculators, too many confusing ways to solve simple problems, and little requirement for practice are common criticisms. Parents are concerned, too, that many of the Everyday Math methods have not been explained well to them, and they feel removed from the vital school-parent partnership.

The Coalition for World Class Math has had its share of criticism. Many educators feel it, and other groups like it, are advocating a return to the teaching methods of the 50s and 60s that emphasized rote drill at the expense of conceptual understanding. I don’t believe that perception is accurate, however. What thoughtful parents are desperate for today is a balanced approach to teaching math. They understand well that their children need to internalize the whys behind long division, for example. But they want their youngsters to know instantaneously that 6*8=48, too, and that takes practice. I believe their plea to schools is this: If it helps kids understand the process of long division better, teach them initially using a partial quotients method. But, also, teach them the long division algorithm that they will be required to use throughout their school careers. Don’t do away with drill; require enough basic facts practice to guarantee mastery. Parents know it takes diligence for children to become excellent math students, and they want their kids to work hard.

Please give parents more credit. They, just like teachers, want the best possible math instruction for their children. They are not uninformed or hopelessly out of date. In fact, the parents I work with would love to help schools improve their math instruction. The current reform vs. back-to-basics math debate shouldn’t be seen as an “us vs. them” movement. Parents have a lot to offer, they know their children better than anyone else, and their views deserve to be heard and thoughtfully addressed.

Senior Exhibition/Projects in Maine and Beyond

Morse High School (Thanks to Michelle Gabrielsen)

Noble High School: Senior Exhibition Support Site

MDI High School: Maine Exhibitions Assesment Project

Other States: Assessing Through Senior Exhibitions & Projects

Riverdale High School Senior Exhibitions

Northeastern High School Senior Project Guidelines

Graphic Credit

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Fairy Tales

"Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed." ~ G. K. Chesterton

Fairy Tales @ LIM Resources

"For those who immerse themselves in what the fairy tale has to communicate, it becomes a deep, quiet pool which at first seems to reflect only our own image; but behind it we soon discover the inner turmoils of our soul - its depth, and ways to gain peace within ourselves and with the world, which is the reward of our struggles" ~ Bruno Bettelheim

"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." ~ Albert Einstein

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Local Government Issues

@LIM Resources

Photo Credit

Mrs. Deraps at Mt. Blue High School

Literacy and Technology Pilot in Western Maine

It was a pleasure to discover the Literacy and Technology Pilot site this afternoon. It is sponsored by the Western Maine Educational Collaborative and facilitated by Darlene Bassett, educational consultant, BPI.

It is accompanied by Darlene's blog, Literacy and Technology Pilot, BPI and WMEC.

Power of Pets and Laughter

by Ed Latham

I was having a fairly rough day this week. I was on the road long hours and had many teachers I was working with in a very short time. I returned home the other night and my son noted that I was looking worn out and a bit bummed. I agreed with his assessment. He told me to wait right there and then brought over his computer. He challenged me to not laugh and not smile at all while watching this video. I was unsuccessful in meeting his challenge and even a few days later have to laugh and smile at something so simple. Have a look ...

Pets and how they play are so positive on human emotions and outlooks. Watching a playing kitten can help to completely change a person's mood. Think about some of the horrible stories we hear in schools and in student lives. Don't you think some of our students need little videos like this more often. Heck, we adults probably need stuff like this much more. Do you have any quick feel good videos you can share?

Literacy in Maine

@LIM Resources Wiki. Feel free to edit.

Monday, November 30, 2009

K12 Online Conference 2009

Join this great online conference, starting today, here.

Telstar 3 Group: Classroom Management & WebQuests

Monday, November 30 - 3:30, Crescent Park School, SAD#44

Is it good writing?

by Olga LaPlante

At some point in my life, I subscribed to the Current Events by Izzit. The site offers other classroom ideas as well, and they often have a somewhat controversial content, which is great - whether you actually agree with the writings and clippings from press being of high quality - for generating discussions, because they often contradict the mainstream news and accounts, and I wouldn't bet my money to say that they are unbiased. Again, the value is in generating a discussion, plus the lessons have questions, and vocabulary to learn.

Anyway, this lesson was published just recently - the lessons are free and they stay online for a couple of weeks. This will make you chuckle at least, but also make you think. I would love to see comments on this one.

PS. Mind the beautiful English language, with words like "mark" (Br) and "sit" for "grade" and "take" (Am) or references to A Level English Exams.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Featuring the Work of Jerry Bracey

I just discovered that Jerry Bracey recently passed away. In his work he had battled the misuse of statistics and testing. If you haven't had a chance to see his work, I encourage you to do so.

The Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education, 2009

32 Principles of Data Interpretation

32 Principles of Data Interpretation Grouped

Education Hell: Rhetoric vs. Reality

Summary of His Work: Gerald Bracey

Jason Ohler: In Tribute to Gerald Bracey and His Campaign to Keep Education Pundits Honest

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics” ~Disraeli (popularized by Mark Twain)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Please Be Proud of Me"

By Pam Kenney

“Please be proud of me even if I don’t get all the answers right…”

The publication in 1981 of David Elkind’s The Hurried Child focused national attention on a growing trend by educators and parents to push our children to grow up too soon. Schools taught kids to read, write, and add at earlier ages than ever before; parents prodded them to excel. The hours after school, on weekends, and even during summer breaks were filled by music lessons, sports practices, academic enrichment classes, and specialty camps. Elkind worried that our increasing tendency to push children to achieve success early would have a disastrous effect unless we changed our collective expectation.

Almost 30 years later we not only haven’t mitigated the pressure we place on our children, we are hurrying them more than ever. When I was an elementary school principal, I worked with children who were under so much stress from unrealistic parental expectations that their fingernails were bitten to the quick, they lied to their parents about assigned homework, they cried in school when they couldn’t grasp a new concept immediately, and they hid or threw away papers with even average grades on them long before they could reach a parent’s hand. Every teacher recognizes the panicked look on a child’s face when she realizes she didn’t do well on a test. “Mom’s/Dad’s going to kill me!” is a too common refrain.

Something’s got to give because:

-Although the overall suicide rate decreased slightly from the early 1990s through the early 2000s, the rate of teen suicide increased 6%. For children 10-14, the suicide rate increase during the same period was 100%. According to the CDC, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for young people from 10 to 14.

-Child psychologists report a staggering number of youngsters with chronic stress-related headaches, stomachaches, phobias, and free-floating anxiety.

-Girls as young as seven or eight are dieting to achieve an impossible standard of thinness.

-Serious sports-related injuries have increased several-hundred fold for elementary age children.

Experts offer a variety of suggestions for parents to begin to come to grips with the hurried-child syndrome. I’m certainly no expert, but my plea today is for parents to relax the expectations they have for their children. School is a place to learn, and learning is a process. No child understands everything the first time, and some children need weeks of patient instruction before they can grasp a concept. For some children, learning to read is a slow, painstaking process, but eventually they will read. Learning math facts is torture for other kids, but they’ll remember them at some point.

Please try hard to emphasize the positive when talking to your child about grades. If a mark is lower than you had hoped, find out what the trouble is. Look for progress during a school year and help her set realistic goals for improvement. Expecting your child to make straight A’s is almost always unrealistic and unreasonable. Above all, please don’t yell, spank, or restrict privileges when your son or daughter brings home a grade lower than an A or B. A raised voice and punishment not only don’t motivate your child to work to improve his grades, they dangerously undermine his self-confidence and sap his incentive to learn.

Children want desperately to please their parents, and they should be doing just that. They work hard and try their best day after day in school. I firmly believe that our children are gifts to us. As parents, one of our gifts to them must be to expect a lot less perfection, to remind ourselves every day that they are works in progress, and to let them know by word and deed that they are loved.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Critical Thinking Memories

Question: Can you remember when you became aware that you could think critically?

Was it in school or out of school?
Did someone model it for you?

PLC North Session #3 "When" & Other Nifty Tools

Tuesday, November 17, 3:00, Dirigo High School


LearnCentral & vRoom

Learning in Maine now has an annex space at LearnCentral. Join LearnCentral and get a free (3 participant) Elluminate vRoom for synchronous learning.

LearnCentral Webinars

Today, Monday, November 16th, 8pm Eastern(US): Cool Video Projects and How To Do Them with Rushton Hurley. This month one of the Next Vista Digital Dream Team group will introduce a school where multimedia is infused in the entire curriculum, as well as tell about a project he is doing. LearnCentral Link:

Tuesday, November 17th, 8pm Eastern(US): The monthly PBS / Classroom 2.0 webinar on teaching. "Helping Kids Understand Viruses and Vaccinations with Sid the Science Kid." LearnCentral Link:

Wednesday, November 18th, 8pm Eastern(US): The new Learning Game Series. This week: Drawing Lesson Plans from Gaming, a Case Study of Caduceus, an online learning game built as part of Children's Hospital Boston's "Generation Cures" initiative. LearnCentral Link:

Thursday, November 19th, 8pm Eastern(US): Howard Rheingold Presents "Howard's Brainstorms!" Part 2. The topic will be "Thinking about Thinking Tools." Howard will briefly summarize some of the foundational documents in this area, recap via screensharing and TheBrain, and then facilitate a discussion inviting questions from the community online. LearnCentral Link:

Saturday, November 21st, 8pm Eastern(US): "Succeeding with Web 2.0 Projects" with special guest Terry Freedman. Last year, Terry Freedman worked with 6 primary (elementary) schools and one secondary (high) school to secure around 800,000 dollars'-worth of government money and run a project involving podcasting and making videos. LearnCentral Link:

Representing Reality

Notes from the 11/12/2009 Webinar with Phil Brookhouse

Afternoon session recording

Evening session recording

Friday, November 13, 2009

What's in your school's way to a brighter future?

by Olga LaPlante

This survey from Dangerously Irrelevant may be helpful when you are trying to identify areas for change in the future to ensure that your school/district is making more progress than it is currently. Check it out and offer your responses. Even though it is called "3 minute survey" it doesn't take nearly that long.
3 Minute Survey

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Everyday Math: Yea or Nay?

By Pam Kenney

Over the last few years, many school districts across Maine have adopted Everyday Mathematics as the math curriculum for their kindergarten through sixth grade students. The program's development by the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project began more than 20 years ago, and the first textbooks were published in 1998. Since then it has been implemented, then rejected, in school systems across the country, often because children taught using Everyday Mathematics consistently fail to meet state math standards. Frequently called "fuzzy math", it eschews rote learning and relies on spiraling, a method that introduces children to a concept but quickly moves on to another concept before mastery is achieved. Concepts are re-introduced throughout the school year with the hope that, through repetition, the kids will learn them. Unfortunately, spiraling doesn't work very well. Top math students are bored, average learners are frustrated because, just when they are starting to "get it", another topic is introduced, and children who are struggling in math are overwhelmed and give up in despair.

The seeds of Everyday Mathematics and other programs like it started to sprout more than 50 years ago with the launch of Sputnik I by the Soviet Union and the subsequent realization by U.S. educators that our students needed more difficult math and science courses to help the country excel globally. One result of that decision was that the rote-learning focus of math instruction at the time was replaced by one that emphasized the "whys" of math. "Carrying" and "borrowing", for example, were replaced by lessons on re-grouping and learning about ones, tens, and hundreds. That shift was needed and changed how math was taught for years. The problem now is that we've made the "hows" and "whys" of math so important that we've relegated concept mastery and computing skills to secondary, undervalued positions in some math curricula. Everyday Mathematics is a prime example of the new philosophy, and its inherent spiraling and neglect of mastery have had a negative effect on learning. I think many Maine schools jumped on the Everyday Mathematics band wagon without researching its many drawbacks thoroughly enough; and math programs are so expensive, it will be a long time before these schools can afford to replace it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Monday, November 9, 2009

ePals Webinars for Maine

Maine Connects at ePals

Come to a one-hour free webinar to learn how to join the ePals Global Community and find partners for your classroom or students. Also, learn how to sign up your students to use free, safe and protected ePals SchoolMail, featuring TRUSTe certification of child privacy.

Join the largest global community of K12 learners, with 600,000 classrooms in 200 countries, in true global collaboration and learning! Also learn about the newest web 2.0 projects in ePals, Team Earth (conservation and climate change) and Digital Storytelling.

All Maine schools share a subdomain: This makes it easy for your students to collaborate with other students in Maine on state-specific activities.

Webinar times:
• 10-11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 13
• 4-5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 23
• 4:15-5:15 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 2
• 3:15-4:15 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 9
If you are interested in one of these webinars, please email Rita Oates, VP of education markets, at She will provide the URL, password and toll-free number to anyone who is interested.

Digital Storytelling Workshop at Crescent Park School


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Visual Vocabulary

Three interesting sites to see word connections:


ThinkMap Visual Thesaurus


More Resources for Developing Vocabulary at LIM Resources

Making Decisions

by Ed Latham

Some nine years ago, I started questioning the way we adults make decisions as a society. I have been looking at ad campaigns, listening to radio, looking over Internet sales pitches for many issues that have come to vote. Pushing a point of view seems to be a universal human quality throughout time. There is a rising concern about how people push, versus share, a point of view and what effect that is having on how we are raising our children.

We ask children to look at all sides objectively and then, after weighing the pros and cons, make a decision that the individual will feel good about supporting. Can we even do that now? The key word here is objectively. People are passionate about what they want and how they believe. What percentage of adults can put aside how we feel long enough to explore all options, then reintroduce our feelings into the equation and make a good decision? Parents and teachers often agree that students need to be able to process decisions considering both emotional and logical rational, but those same adults are increasingly unable to process that way as a social group. How then are we teaching our kids to do the same?

In some classrooms, there are no opportunities for discussion or variation of opinion. Even in some classrooms that allow for discussion, some students may feel intimidated if they don't agree with the teacher or their peers. In some of the most open discussions, there is a sense from children that someone has to win. Educationally, we have taken learning to the level where freedom of expression is squashed by fear of being not with the majority. When a student gets work back, they almost never care about what they need to improve on, they look to the number or score to see if they reached a high enough score to move on to the next level or at least keep adults off their case for another two weeks. Fear of failing is not only inhibiting learning in some students, but is causing society members to make decisions out of fear instead of making informed decisions based on considerations of emotional and logical reasons.

In most any political decision in the last 9 years, there are usually two opposing arguments. Here is where the problem starts. Both camps are based on strong human characteristics and yet there is never a middle ground in our "adult" systems. Therefore, there is a constant fear that if we side with A then we are good/bad. From a child's point of view, the student even sees option D. None Of The Above, until the child learns that even though the option exists, rarely is it ever utilized. The decision process for adults has almost become religious. Either you believe as this camp does or you are in danger of being excommunicated or shunned by peers. All of those pressures, to fall into one camp or the other, are all based on fear of rejection. No matter the outcome, one camp is feeling like a victim.

For our kids, many of whom see adult decisions as right/wrong, good/bad, supporting the country/against the country, we need to look at ways we allow for differences or middle ground and for exploration of systems that may allow for differences to exist more harmoniously. Already our youth face pass/fail, teacher's pet/problem child, fitting in/social outcast issues every day. Do our current practices of working with children help to create the very same fearful behaviors that have been guiding our political and legal systems for years?

The inability to use both camps of reasoning and still "fit in" is creating a society of people that are becoming more and more out of touch with making decisions blend rather than polarize. As a result, our society is becoming more polarized, and our kids are watching, while they listen to us continue to extol the virtues of good decisions, getting along with others, and being accepting of differences.

How do we stop this perpetual cycle of decisions (kids and adults) made out of fear of not belonging or fear of causing someone to loose or someone to gain advantage? Insurance companies are thinking about changing health care based on personal choices we make. Many other aspect of "universal access" to things are going to go away because of the economics of a capitalistic society. The decisions we make individually are going to become more and more relevant as to how we are treated, not by other people, but by the government and businesses and organizations. This individual accountability for our decisions seems so polar opposite to the way social decisions are made (where you either gain with this vote or loose with that vote). I don't have solutions, but this polarization of emotional reasoning and logical reasoning is limiting individuals' rights to make decisions and not be punished for not conforming to either side of an issue. This is how wars begin and how conflicts continue to persist over huge tracts of time. Do we need more than two options? Can we even come up with a middle ground any more after discussion if people fear winning or loosing? Does the limitation on student choice in our education system help promote polarization into adulthood?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Let's Get Kids Excited About Writing! (Part 1)

By Pam Kenney

It's often difficult and frustrating to engage a boy's interest in writing projects. When I taught elementary literature/composition, one writing activity that was a sure winner was creating scripts for wordless books. Yes, I know wordless books are primarily for pre-readers, but the very fact that the story is told without text means the pictures are so detailed it's hard to resist adding words mentally as the action unfolds. Boys and girls alike love being authors, and a wordless book project can provide hours of fun, as well as surprising opportunities for acquiring important reading and writing skills.

Just giving children a few initial guidelines will be enough to get them off and running. One book I often start with is Frog Where Are You? by Mercer Mayer. In pictures only, it tells the story of a boy's adventures after his pet frog escapes from its glass jar home. I divide the students into groups of two or three and, after they have "read" the book, they start writing a script for the story. As they write, although they're having a grand time, they're learning about the beginning, middle, and end of a story, when to use sequence words, how to use and punctuate dialogue, how vivid word choice can enhance a story's enjoyment... I could go on and on.

Once the script is in its final form, it's time for the fun part. The kids love to add homemade sound effects to their story, including a ringing bell to signal when a page needs to be turned. I've had students spend hours experimenting with legos falling into in tin pan to simulate breaking glass, blowing through cardboard paper towel tubes to create winds sounds, clucking like chickens or barking like dogs, and having the times of their lives.

When all the parts of the wordless book story are in place, the next step is to record it. When I was a teacher, I used a tape recorder. Now, however, there are incredible resources on your computer that will fascinate any child: VoiceThread; Audacity; GarageBand (for Mac users); even iMovie (Mac users). I love Audacity because it's free, open source, and has all the bells and whistles you could want during a recording session. VoiceThread is great, too, because it allows you to invite your friends and relatives to listen to your children's creations. Stories can be recorded, also, to entertain preschool children.

When it's time to record, children working in groups usually choose one member to read the script, one to ring the bell when it's time to turn the page, and the third to make the sound effects at the appropriate time. Children working alone can do all three with a little practice!

Writing is laborious for a lot of children, but introducing them to wordless books is one way to make learning fun.

Some wordless book suggestions:

The Midnight Circus by Peter Collington
Tuesday by David Wiesner (a Caldecott Award winner)
The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher by Molly Bang
Will's Mammoth by Stephen Gammell
Good Dog, Carl books by Alexandra Day
Sunshine by Jan Ormerod
Frog Where Are You? and sequels by Mercer Mayer

Still more on wordless books at LIM Resources

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Evolving Involvement

By Pam Kenney

Every fall parents of upper elementary and middle school students struggle to define the role they should assume in the home/school academic partnership. How much homework support should they provide their children? How should the responsibility for their youngsters’ learning and academic success be apportioned among teachers, parents, and children?

There are educational theories to support a variety of answers to those questions, but my response is predicated on one strongly held belief: Parents turn over too much of the responsibility for academic achievement to the school and assume their children will excel with minimal parental input. As students move through the elementary grades, parents typically ease up on their involvement in homework every year. In fact, as a child’s homework load increases from the fourth grade through middle school, his parents need to be more vigilant about monitoring and supporting his at-home study time than they were when he was younger.

When students are in kindergarten through the third grade, the focus of the curriculum is reading, writing, and math, and homework is usually straightforward. For example, parents are asked to provide a quiet study area, listen to their youngsters read, quiz them on math facts and spelling words, and ensure that completed work and library books are in their backpacks. By fourth grade, the academic curriculum has expanded. Most children are fluent readers; formal reading instruction begins to account for less teaching time, and more emphasis is placed on reading in the content areas (social studies and science). Math teaching zeros in on problem solving in addition to computation. Pupils are asked to study for comprehensive tests and to complete long-term projects at home. In addition, classroom teachers are focusing on building organizational and study skills and helping students internalize the habits of responsibility and diligence started in the lower grades. It is at this point that parents must step up, not scale down, their participation in their child’s academic life.

The task of completing homework assignments in the fourth through the eighth grades is often more time-consuming and difficult for the majority of children than in the earlier grades. Parents become increasingly less sure how to help or how much to help. In general, 9- to 14-year-olds need a lot of homework support from their parents. A common school policy on parental help is that teachers want their students to complete homework that is assigned primarily to reinforce a skill (a math worksheet, e.g.) on their own. Requesting that you not help your child with this kind of homework, however, does not mean a hands-off approach. Most teachers do want you to check his math and reading homework, for example, and have him correct wrong answers. If it is apparent he hasn’t grasped a concept, it’s usually better to send his teacher a note than to attempt to teach him what he doesn’t understand. In math, particularly, children are taught methods to solve problems that are different from how their parents were taught, and parent/child conflicts over the “right way” often produce angry outbursts and tears of frustration.

Most parents are familiar and comfortable with giving their children the help described above. The role of parents is somewhat different, however, when dealing with science and social studies homework, and many falter when children bring home assignments in these subjects. Here are some suggestions on how you can, and should, support your student as homework becomes less straightforward. The teacher may work with her class on a unit about ecosystems, for example. Although perhaps 50 minutes a day are spent on the material in school, additional at-home reinforcement is necessary to ensure mastery. Your child needs to devote time after school hours re-reading lessons, answering study questions, preparing for quizzes and tests, and working on projects. It is an unusual child who is able or willing to do those things on his own without being taught how. With guidance from the school, it is the parents’ responsibility to tell their children what is expected of them at home and to provide the support they require to carry out those expectations.

It goes without saying that parents can’t have appropriate expectations unless they know not only what their child is studying in school, but what organizational skills and study procedures are in place there, too. What is paramount to your child’s academic success, then, is your willingness to become informed about what and how she is studying in school and what her homework assignments are. It means becoming familiar with her assignment book, finding out when tests are scheduled, and working with her to make an at-home study schedule for tests and projects. It means checking not only that she has completed daily homework assignments, but that she understands what she’s doing and, if she doesn’t, writing or emailing her teacher to tell her so. It means requiring that she re-read that day’s science assignment in case there’s quiz even though she tells you she read it in school and already knows the material.

Above all, the prevailing atmosphere in your home must be that homework is a family priority. You must be willing to sit with your fourth through eighth grader and talk about what needs to be done and how to go about doing it. For many families that means reducing the number of after-school activities their children participate in. It may mean that some of your evenings will not be spent on activities you enjoy. Today, upper elementary and middle school subjects are not easy in public or independent schools. Your child will not be successful if he doesn’t work diligently in school and at home every day of the school week. He will not be successful if you expect schools to provide from 8:30 to 3:00 everything he needs to progress academically. They can’t do it. You must be an active participant; it’s one of your most important jobs as a parent.

Working with children at home can be trying for many parents. Children who aren’t used to having their homework supervised will initially balk at parental interference. They don’t want their parents involved, of course, because they know their days of a cursory reading of assignments and the slapdash completion of a math sheet are about to end. It takes effort to do your homework well, and exerting that effort is the last thing a lot of students want to do. However, if you are calm, matter-of-fact, and consistent in your insistence on solid effort at home, your children will slowly but surely realize that the conscientious completion of homework actually makes studying less arduous in the long run. For example, re-reading content area assignments nightly makes studying for tests relatively easy.

To parents who are worried about their children’s grades, I say this: During one nine-week grading period, become more involved with your child’s school experience. Work with him on his homework; help him set up a study schedule and a quiet place to work; quiz him for tests; talk to him about what he’s learning in science and social studies. At first he’ll probably fight you every step of the way, but keep telling yourself that you’re the parent, and you’re in charge. I guarantee the effort you and your child expend now to establish good study habits at home will pay off. His grades will go up, which will enhance his confidence and self-esteem. Someone once said nothing succeeds like success. And my experience with children tells me that when they start to do well in school, they are so buoyed by their success that studying becomes more enjoyable and less of a chore. Diligence can become a habit, and if our children are going to do well in high school and college when their parents’ influence inevitably weakens, it’s a habit parents must instill in them now.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

PLC South Session 2: Using the Macbook

Tuesday, October 27, 2:45, Hartford-Sumner Elementary School

Dirigo High School Tech Helpers

In some schools in Maine, students take an active part in helping to solve tech issues and in promoting technology integration. Dirigo High in RSU#10, with a program under the guidance of Mike Nolette, is one of those places. See just some of what these engaged and enthusiastic students do here and here.

Know of any others?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Maine Mom Blogs

List of Bloggers

Acceptable Use Policy for teaching with laptops

by Mike Muir

Recently there's been an interesting discussion on the ACTEM listserv (technology using educators) about what the consequences should be for students who violate the school's AUP.

Thinking about the early years of MLTI where we found that schools that had teachers using the laptops in engaging ways with students had lower breakage & theft rates, I got thinking about acceptable use policies for teachers and posted this:

I wish, too, that we had an Acceptable Use Policy for Educators - not for how they use it personally, but how they use it with their students.

I wish that AUP would focus on things like teachers promising that they would use the laptops to
  • do projects
  • promote curiosity and make content interesting
  • build constructive conversations and debate
  • open the world to students, taking them where they've never been before
  • bring experts into the classroom, regardless of where they are geographically
  • improving writing by finding what kids would love to write about
  • make complex ideas concrete and understandable
  • teach responsibility by giving students responsibility and finding out their questions & concerns about their world & work

And I wish that AUP would prohibit (or at least severely limit)
  • not using the laptops
  • locked down machines
  • strong filtering
  • electronic worksheets
  • simply looking up facts on the Internet (or worse - calling that a WebQuest)
  • using laptops as a textbook
  • drills for learning software programs
And I wish that AUP generated as much conversation about consequences of violating the AUP as the one for kids does.
So, what do you think should be in that AUP? (or it might be interesting to see what we believe the consequences for violating that AUP should be!)

What Do We Really Need?

Living Simply


Pie in the Face: Shaving Cream or Whip Cream?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Using PBworks for Adult Education Reading Class

Ramsey Ludlow has created a site using PBworks that allows an online learning environment for her adult learners. Again, it demonstrates the simplicity, utility, and ease-of-use of wikis.

MVMS Advisor/Advisee Wiki

I was thrilled to catch a post from Kim Hilton in the Mountain Valley Middle School First Class conference this morning. Being a proponent of the simplicity and utility of wikis, I was delighted that Kim had just set one up, called MVMSAdvisor, for resources in their advisor/advisee program.

Many schools seem to have a variation of this program, but all too often some busy teachers, with many irons in the fire, have difficulty in finding resources and activities to make the best use of this time. Enter Kim's new wiki!

For additional resources, see Process Skills at LIM Resources.

Want to have your own wiki? See Using a Wiki to Collect Internet Resources.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Teachers Games For Change: Part 1

by Olga LaPlante

First Session

Add comments to the blog

    • Opening Questions: Go to this blog and offer your responses.

      1. What do students need to know about a community's energy needs?

      2. If students were given control of energy policy, what might the outcome look like?

      3. Briefly share one example of an activity you provide for students in which the student can quickly and easily try different scenarios to see results.
      4. Check out students' responses on this blog.

Game: Energyville

Objective of the game:

You will create a one paragraph energy proposal that highlights major choices in energy policy based on your experience in the simulation (post it here).

Questions to explore the game:

IMPORTANT: RECORD YOUR CHOICES AT EACH STEP!!! You will need that record to make conclusions about effectiveness of your choices.

You may wish to use a record sheet like this one for data collection.

    After your first attempt, you may wish to try one of these challenges:

    1. start through level one with no renewable energies. How long and what challenges are faced in introducing renewable energies into your city? Can it get totally renewable over time?

    2. assume only green through level one, is it possible to replace the greens with conventional sources and have the city successful? Does green mean expensive?

    3. ***Additional reading and discussion***:
    Extension ideas back in the classroom/community:

    1. CFL video
    2. Ideas and FAQ:

      1. For this particular activity, it's important to have an engaging conversation with students. What are some of the things that seem unrealistic in this simulation? What are the assumptions that have been made and can we change them? What are the things that might be biased? What do we need to know to really affect energy policies and landscape?
      2. The hypothetical city in the simulation lacks lots of background information. To take this project to a more tangible level with real data on alternative energy sources to model events in a particular location, try this additional information. Energy Unit [requires MyWorld GIS, available on MLTI laptops; can be purchased or downloaded as trial for 45 days, which may be sufficient for one project without a license.]

    Link to Part 2

    Want to take a course? Check it out!
    The Game is On, Course Facilitator Olga LaPlante

    Intro Video: If books came after games


    Ed Latham

    Olga LaPlante