Thursday, September 30, 2010

Get rich or die tryin'

I found this fun lottery simulator from a tweet from unklar.

I thought it would be useful for a probability lesson. How would you use it?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Art Prize

Today my family visited the second annual Art Prize, a huge art competition displayed all over Grand Rapids. The art is displayed both inside and outside of buildings all around downtown and anyone who registers can vote for their favorite pieces, American Idol style. There were many incredibly creative pieces and it was a lot of fun to explore and find them. Some of my kids' favorites were the interactive ones that they could touch such as this sweet harp that "plays" based on sonar detection of sound waves or one of the many pianos randomly placed around the city.

We started the day parked in front of the Waters Building, a historic spot downtown. We arrived before the "official" start of Art Prize and wandered off to look at some of the outdoor exhibits. At the end of our day when we returned to our van there was a sign indicating that there were art entries inside. We went in and looked at the exhibits. Many were in small rooms off from a main hallway. We found this exhibit of hundreds of ceramic pieces that look like shells on a wood floor.

 My son immediately joined some other kids who were playing with the "rocks."

My daughter made her name with them, but my son started sorting out by color into ones that he liked the best.

I couldn't help but think about learning. I didn't have to tell my kids, "Go play with this art." I did not have to give them any instructions. They automatically started doing learning on their own. It is human nature to perform math-sort and organize- and to be creative and spell.

What if we used kids curiosity more in schools? I have been practicing spelling words with my son for two weeks. He does not like it and I think I hate it even more. What if I gave him a bunch of objects and had him "spell" his words? Would he "learn" them faster and better?

What if social studies showed a students a tool like How Big Really? and let students explore landmarks? Would students learn geography better? Would it lead to questions such as why was the Great Wall of China built?

What if history class started with today and went backwards? What if class started with current events and then would students ask how things got they way they are today?

I love the science class that I have with my son whether it is building a raft , walking in the woods, or picking vegetables from our garden. Science teachers who throw away the scripted labs "get" what learning looks like.

What if we skyped with students from other countries and then we taught students how to write letters? What if we studied the world's problems and used that knowledge for social action?

What if math "happened" when students needed it to solve one of the many questions these explorations would lead to?

What if Language Arts was sharing all of these amazing experiences with the world through writing, blogging, videos, and podcasts?

We don't need to teach students to be creative artists. We need to get out of the way and let them be artists!

I really think the "unschooling" movement has some very valid points of letting students play and learn at their own pace and in their own way. Maybe the definition of a teacher should be someone who creates wonderful learning opportunities and environments (read not scripted!) and lets kids decide what to learn in them.

I think one of the major problems with education today is that we do not trust students to learn. We then feel the need to control, force, and coerce them to "learn" what who knows who from who knows where decided are the "standards" for grade X.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sustained Silent Reading On-line

Every day during first hour at my school we have sustained silent reading except we call it GRAB for Go Read A Book. Each teacher with a first hour has a box of thirty books that students can choose from or students can bring in their own materials including books, magazines, or comics. As research shows (so I have heard, I don't have a source. It is one of those things that I have heard repeated so many times that it must be true:) reading ability will improve by this daily practice and it does not matter what is being read as long as it is at a student's level.

by Lessio
This year I am trying something new. I am allowing students in my class to read on the computer. I have put up a link to my Delicious bookmarks to free on-line books but I do not think most of them are reading from it. My rules are no games, music, or videos, but everything else is fair game. What I have observed students reading so far are comics and sites such as MTV or ESPN. 

I have also created a class diigo account so that students can bookmark and share their reading with each other. They have not used them too much so far but it has only been a few days.

I know that there has been some research lately about the effects of on-line activities and attention spans and some posts in other blogs (like here). 

I would appreciate any feedback positive or negative about what you think about this approach. I am pretty sure there is no research on this specific practice and am trying it out because it "feels" like the right thing to me, but I am interested constructive criticism.

So my question for readers is this: Do you think this is an effective way to increase reading fluency? 

PS: A quick survey of my class this morning and I have 4 students reading traditional books or magazines, 7 reading on-line books and comics through Google books, and 3 reading on-line news such as sports or entertainment. I think that is sweet!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Results of Math Icebreaker

Normally I start off the year with a boring going over the rules/syllabus the first day. I decided not to torture the students this year but to start with a hands on activity. So I tried the making the rectangle activity on the first day with my two 8th grade technology classes. By the way I changed it into a theme for a complete geometry unit if you are interested. I also made a chart for students to fill in with their data.

The students were interested in the pictures. They really had no idea about the construction processes. When we went outside most of the students immediately made the mistake of confusing area for perimeter. I asked lots of questions to re-direct them and to get them to re-think about the difference. Then the groups staked out quadrilaterals, some more square than others. One of my favorite parts was watching a student lay down on the ground to estimate six feet instead of using the tape measure. I challenged them to consider if their shape was a "perfect" rectangle.

At the end of the hour the students measured the sides and the diagonals. I had to go to each group and help with this. At first every group just wrote down the measurements that they thought they had measured. I told them that they must measure what their sides actually were and write down their imperfect measurements not what they meant them to be.

The next day we discussed how to determine whose was the best rectangle. We ended up having to define a rectangle which was a good activity for the students. I then showed them how the diagonals of a true rectangle are congruent and we talked about Pythagorean Theorem. I then showed them this video of an area proof:

We then talked about 3-4-5 triangles and I had students come to the front of the room and create a perfect 90 degree corner by holding three tape measures at 3,4, and 5 feet.

I was disappointed in the student's prior knowledge about the Pythagorean Theorem. None of them had heard of it even though a few of them had Algebra last year. I will repeat this on the first day of my class for the next three quarters. I will be curious to see if students do better later in the year after they have been exposed to more background knowledge in math class.