Tag Archives: Education

An Apple a Day…

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Last year, Apple® sold almost 5 million Macs and I am certain that almost as many people purchased an Apple® mouse to go along with their computers.

Now the students in one of Ms. Spunt’s math classes have literally given new meaning to the Apple® mouse. Using challah, a bagel and yes…… even a real apple…..these young engineers found a way to create their own computer mouse complete with working right and left click controls.

Sixth grade student Jacob W. led the way attaching wires to a circuit board and gathering his classmates together as they explored the basic principles of engineering. Strawberries, bagels, challah, and a shiny red apple all became the electrical conductors needed to control the movement of the cursor on the computer screen. Within a short period of time they succeeded in proving that their apple mouse was just as effective as the one first developed in the mid-1970s.

One might argue that a GOOD school is defined as a place where teachers deliver lessons and provide answers to students so they can learn. But I believe that a GREAT school is a place where teachers guide the students towards self-discovery of the answers through hands-on activities and real-world application of learned skills and concepts. Engaging students in the creative process of learning is as valuable a lesson for the teachers as it is for the students.

This is just the beginning for Jacob and his classmates as the excitement of engineering makes its way to the Posnack middle school in the Fall. As Albert Einstein so eloquently stated, “Education is not received. It is achieved.” And creating a working computer mouse out of your teacher’s lunch is a really great achievement indeed!

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Be a Champion…

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Although I no longer spend my days in one classroom or teaching a specific subject area, I still search for ways to make a connection with the students I encounter daily. Whether it’s through the implementation of a new program that makes learning more engaging or simply giving a “high five” to students passing by in the hallways, making that connection is at times even more important for me than it is for the students.

No one enters the field of education looking for fame or fortune. Some of us may have always felt the desire to teach and inspire, and knew long before entering the workplace that this was where we belonged. Others like myself, entered through the back door – unsatisfied with an alternate career choice and looking for a chance to make a difference. Regardless of how we arrived, the objective remains the same — make a connection with students, inspire the leaders of tomorrow, be a champion to a child. 

One of the greatest champions to children for over 40 years was Dr. Rita Pierson. Her belief that “every kid needs a champion” continues to be a mantra for teachers everywhere and reminds all educators of the real reason we go to work every day. Sadly, Dr. Pierson passed away in June, 2013 – but her spirit and inspiration remain thanks to a TED Talk that has been viewed over four million times. Her Ted Talk can be viewed below. If you’re a teacher, I know you will feel inspired and perhaps even recognize yourself or your students in her meaningful words. If you are not an educator, you will still feel that connection, knowing that teachers everywhere continue to strive to be a champion to a new generation of learners.

I’m Inspired…

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I have a new favorite word this week. It’s a word we’ve all used from time to time, and in a variety of contexts. It’s a word that brings to mind visions of hard work, dreams realized, and hopes for greatness in future endeavors. It’s a word that makes me smile broadly when I think about it being used as teachers teach and leaders lead. I like to think of my word as a super-hero action word – a verb that soars above buildings and goes where others dare not venture.

I have a new favorite word this week and that word is INSPIRE.

The dictionary definitions alone create a feeling of wonder and the determination to plow ahead. Entries found in Dictionary.com include “to fill with an animating, quickening, or exalting influence,” “to guide or control by divine influence,” and “to fill or affect with a specified feeling or thought.”

WOW! Just reading these definitions makes me want to go out and conquer the world. So what does this word have to do with education? EVERYTHING!

A misconception is that anyone can be a teacher given a college degree and an affinity for working with children. It’s true that oftentimes, important skills like classroom management, assessment design, and lesson planning may not really be perfected until well after entering the classroom. But it takes much more than a teaching degree and a state certificate to turn a teacher into an inspiring force. It takes teachers who INSPIRE students to take on challenges that they might not think they are ready to face. It takes teachers who INSPIRE students to not worry only about the right answer, because as history has taught us, what’s right today may actually be obsolete tomorrow. And it takes teachers who INSPIRE and nurture an innate curiosity in students while cultivating the seeds of learning with attention and care.

Hopefully in our lifetime, we have all encountered teachers who have INSPIRED us to do our best, be our best, and bring out the best in others. I see many of those teachers every day, as they arrive at school early and leave well after the last bell has rung. And as an educator, I too continue to be INSPIRED by others who embrace change, think “outside the box,” and create an environment that questions the status quo.

So by now you may be wondering what happened this week to make me feel especially “INSPIRED.” It was a series of events, but in particular, a TED Talk video by a chemistry teacher, Ramsey Musallam. His three simple rules for teaching provide a pedagogy that can be used by educators in all grades and subject areas. Watch Dr. Musallam in the clip below and prepare to be INSPIRED.

 

Turning Mirrors Into Windows…

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I truly believe that everything we do in life must have a goal or purpose. Look around and you’ll see that most of what occurs has a specific outcome in mind. During this holiday season, the airports and roads are filled with travelers. Their goal? They want to arrive safely at their destination. Football, basketball, hockey teams? Their goals right now are to have winning seasons.

But how do we define the goal or purpose of intangible and wide-reaching activities like education? When asked why they come to school, an informal survey of elementary students turned up answers like “so we can learn,” “so we’ll get a good job,” and even “so we can make friends!” These all sound like worthwhile and lofty goals, but are these the only outcomes we expect when we ultimately see our children walk across a stage and receive their diplomas?

I recently came across a quote attributed to the well-known journalist Sydney J. Harris, in which he says, The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.”

I was reminded of this quote as I walked the hallways of our school and listened to the youngest students telling me that their favorite subjects were lunch and recess. I was reminded once again when I observed a fifth grade student ask his teacher why he had to learn how to multiply fractions because he was sure he would never use it again.

And it suddenly occurred to me that these students were simply looking into the mirror – they only saw education for what it provided them during one isolated moment in time. As educators, our role requires us to take students beyond their own personal reflection, and help them to make the connection to the world around them. In essence then, our goal really is to “turn mirrors into windows.”

We accomplish this task through the introduction of authentic learning – providing opportunities for students to use critical thinking skills, and creating a bridge between that which is provided in textbooks with the experiences and ideas that constitute the “real world.” We encourage collaboration among peers, for in the “real world” we rarely work alone without input or guidance from others. We insist on driving questions and asking things like “I wonder what would happen if…” because we know that problems in the “real world” seldom come with a neat set of multiple choice answers.

We are in the midst of an exciting time at our school. While students are busily working in the lower school, construction workers are even busier pouring tons of concrete as they prepare to erect the walls of the new high school. Every day, students look out the windows of the lower school building and watch the progress being made on the construction. I too look out the windows, but instead view it as progress being made for the future.

So as the first half of the school year comes to an end and we approach a well-deserved Winter break, please don’t forget that the learning doesn’t stop when our students leave the building. In fact, I would like to think that the learning becomes “real” when students are given an opportunity to apply what they’ve learned by moving beyond the mirror and exploring the world outside the windows.

It all STEMs from the beginning…

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In a previous post, I discussed the results of the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) which compares reading, math, and science literacy around the world. In this study of 65 countries and education systems, the United States ranked 26th in the area of mathematics and 21st in science. Additional international assessments such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) consistently show the United States lagging behind other countries. And in yet another related statistic, the non-profit organization, ACT, Inc., reported that last year, only 44% of high school graduates were ready for college-level math classes, and 36% ready for college-level science.

So, while the statistics may not reflect positively on the U.S. educational system as a whole, you’re probably wondering what connection these numbers have with the curriculum and instruction taking place at Posnack. The answer to that question can be found in a simple acronym …. STEM. The emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) is evident across all three divisions of our school. With dedicated science rooms and hands-on STEM labs, our students are exposed to these crucial subject areas in ways that extend across the curriculum and are relevant to the world in which they live. Teachers understand that in order to engage students in the learning process, they must provide instruction which stimulates the students’ interests, builds upon their prior knowledge, and promotes an inquisitive learning environment.

This initiative cannot wait until students have entered the upper grades. Before a student can demonstrate grade-level proficiency in the STEM subject areas, he/she must have already achieved a minimum level of proficiency in the skill upon which the scaffolding begins. This approach is evident in our Singapore Math program where, for example, the study of measurement begins in Kindergarten (length, weight, capacity) and continues through fifth grade with the conversion of measures and the volume of rectangular prisms.

Another example highlighting the importance of focusing on STEM subjects at an early  age was evident during a recent first grade science lesson. Students participated in an activity focusing on nutrition in which they identified the hidden sugar found in many foods and drinks. They were introduced to food labels and read the ingredients labels to locate the number of sugar grams. They then learned to identify the various “hidden” names  for sugar such as sucrose and fructose. An introduction to the metric system and the relative weight of a gram was explored. Different sizes and shapes of food and drink containers were used as the students estimated capacity and volume, and then compared their estimates with the actual measurement. The data was collected, graphed and the results analyzed. This simple elementary school lesson developed into a cross-curricular exercise integrating math and science. Similar lessons are found across the campus as teachers pave the way for young students to make the connection from classroom lessons to real-world application.

photo 3It may be hard to believe that early exposure to these skills is going to encourage students to pursue a career in a STEM related field. However with almost 6 million STEM-related job openings just last year alone, now IS the time to give our students the foundational knowledge and analytical skills they need for future success. And just maybe….with a foundation like this, Posnack alumni may one day be responsible for boosting the U.S. rankings to the very top.

It’s Hard Work!

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Parents and teachers regularly struggle with finding a balance between challenging a child’s intellect and promoting their self-esteem. We want to stimulate and promote higher-order thinking skills while at the same time wanting to build a child’s confidence so that they feel good about their accomplishments. We want to push our children to succeed but are often concerned that pushing too hard will create an unhealthy amount of stress.

But when faced with this conundrum, we don’t realize that some level of stress is good and is, in fact, an important part of dealing with life’s challenges. This type of stress is often referred to as “eustress,” and was first identified by a world-renowned expert on stress management, Dr. Hans Selye. Eustress is the type of stress that makes us feel good and fulfilled, like the feeling we get when hitting a home run or scoring the winning goal. Eustress is what makes us want to practice our serve or free-throw over and over until it has been perfected. And from an educational standpoint, eustress is what a group of Fourth Grade students were feeling today when they were comparing the relationships between numbers in Pascal’s Triangle to a problem involving combinations of pizza toppings.

The recurring comment heard during this math lesson was that it was “hard,” yet the students diligently worked together in small groups, comparing notes and using a variety of methods as they pooled their collective knowledge in an attempt to solve the problem. When subsequently asked if they liked the assignment, they were unanimous in saying that although it was “hard,” they also had “fun.” As one student stated, “I feel like my brain just exercised!”

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The idea that hard work in school results in long-term success also made the news today when the findings of the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) were released. This international study compares the assessment results for 15-year-old students in the areas of reading, mathematics, and science literacy from 65 education systems representing approximately 80% of the global economy. Asian economies, including Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, once again consistently placed in the top ten across all subject areas. According to the PISA report, “Practice and hard work go a long way towards developing each student’s potential…”

The evidence is clear: we need to push our children to learn at the highest possible levels. Posnack teachers are encouraging students to move beyond their comfort zones, exercise their brains, and experience the feelings of satisfaction and achievement that result from eustress. Thomas Edison has been quoted as saying, “There is no substitute for hard work.” Whether it’s on the ball field or in the classroom, nothing can replace, as one Fourth Grade student called it today, “brain exercise.” And that’s just a fancy term for hard work.

 

Follow this link for more information on the PISA study.

http://www.oecd.org/pisa/keyfindings/pisa-2012-results.htm

 

au•then•tic – not false or copied; genuine; real

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We’ve all heard of an authentic work of art or an authentic document. But when we hear the word “authentic” do we make the connection to learning?

The term “authentic learning” is not just a new education buzzword. Authentic learning is taking place every day at Posnack, as it is in schools around the world. But what exactly is authentic learning, and why is it so important to the learning process?

Look no further than the definition in the heading above to understand the meaning of authentic learning – learning that is genuine and true; learning that can be connected to real life situations; learning that is original and self-directed.  This is the learning environment that we all want for our children.

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This quote epitomizes the idea behind authentic learning. How many times have we looked at our child’s graded homework or spelling test only to find wrong answers to questions that we know they drilled the night before?  Or when you ask your child how to find the answer to a math problem and they respond that they don’t remember how to do it? In an authentic learning environment, the emphasis is for students to learn through action, not through passive listening. Too often the emphasis is on memorization with the end goal being solely that of getting a good grade. While memorization does have its place (the multiplication tables being one good example), memorizing without understanding the process doesn’t enable your child to apply what they have remembered to real-life situations. Sure they may have memorized that 12 X 3 = 36, but if you showed them three egg cartons each containing one dozen eggs, would your second grade student be able to immediately make that connection as to how many eggs you have altogether?

Authentic learning involves the student in the learning process. Using what is referred to as the Socratic Method, teachers take on the role of facilitators as they respond to students’ questions with additional questions in their quest to lead the students to self-discovery of the answer. Authentic learning occurs when students take the lead and discover the answers through experiments, exploration, and project-based learning experiences. Authentic learning promotes critical thinking skills, and encourages collaboration, communication, and creativity. At Posnack, we are proud of the authentic learning experiences we are creating for our students as we encourage them to assume an active role in the learning process.

Authentic learning continues beyond the classroom experience as well. The development of critical thinking skills to solve real-world problems, gives children their first exposure to the complexity of the world around them.  In the “real world,” answers to problems are not always clear, and decisions are often made by analyzing the available options and solutions using a variety of methods. In the “real world,” we engage in extensive collaboration with our coworkers and peers, and rely on strong communication skills to articulate our message. These are the skills Posnack students are learning in the classroom today, and are ones which will serve them well in their adult life.

So the next time your child asks for help on their homework and wants you to just tell them the answer, start by asking questions. You’ll be surprised not only by how quickly your “authentic learner” may be able to derive the answer on his own, but also on his ability to explain the thought process behind the answer “authentically” as well.

Batman, Superman, Wonderwoman, and Edward Frenkel

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Are you wondering if this is a puzzle where you have to figure out which one doesn’t belong?

Well, it’s not a puzzle and all of the names do have something in common…. They’re all Superheroes!  Never heard of Edward Frenkel? Until recently, neither did I – but nonetheless, Edward Frenkel is now MY personal superhero.

Mr. Frenkel is an inspiring mathematician; one who recognizes that the way math is frequently taught in the classroom is creating a generation of children who think they are really “bad” at math. A tenured professor at the University of California at Berkley where his work includes research in algebraic geometry and mathematical physics, Mr. Frenkel was recently profiled in an article in The Wall Street Journal. Referring to what he sees as a deficiency in elementary math instruction, he is quoted as saying,

“It’s like teaching an art class where they only tell you how to paint a fence but they never show you Picasso.” He goes on to say “People say, ‘I’m bad at math,’ but what they’re really saying is ‘I was bad at painting the fence.’ ”

So, as educators and parents, how can we teach our children that there is more to mathematics than simply “painting the fence” or rote memorization of multiplication facts? Posnack teachers are following a pedagogical approach commonly referred to as the Socratic Method of teaching. Utilizing this approach, teachers continually ask questions of the students, facilitate discussion, and eventually reach a class consensus as to the correct answers. Students are also encouraged to produce and explain their own methods of thinking and problem solving in order to show that there is more than one way to reach the “right” answer.  This process of discovery not only results in a classroom where students are more engaged, but it requires the development of higher-order thinking skills. Both of these traits are vital to a student’s success in all academic subject areas, not only in mathematics.

Last May, in a well-publicized conference call, a senior IRS official announced that she was “not good in math” when unsure as to the answer for “one fourth of 300.” Political correctness aside, this statement reinforces the need for a change in our attitudes regarding math.

At Posnack, we are focused on being the catalyst for this change with new instructional methods being introduced into all classrooms. Obviously this change will not happen overnight, but if we can eliminate the “I’m not good at math” from our vocabulary, your child may one day join the ranks of Superman and Frenkel and be regarded as YOUR Math Superhero!

To see the Wall Street Journal article, please click here.

Posnack CFO Balances More Than Finances!

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Everyone would agree that a skilled educator is one who is successful at balancing many things at once. The needs of the students, the ability to multi-task, and the foresight to plan are just a few of the ways in which Posnack teachers balance the demands of the profession on a daily basis. Today, however, Posnack Faculty and Staff took the art of balancing to a new level.

As a kick-off to the 2013-2014 school year, the Posnack family headed to the Tigertail Lake Recreational Center for a day filled with Team Building exercises, rope climbing, canoeing, and even high wire balancing! Sure it was hot – but the heat and humidity didn’t stop the teams from honing their skills in listening, perseverance, and planning together – all-important skills that translate to success in the classroom. Many of the games and exercises will be used as “ice-breakers” when the students return to school next week, but the lessons learned and the ensuing collegiality will continue well beyond the start of school.

And what about the image of our CFO balancing up high with grace and ease? Well, that sight will remain as an inspiration to us all that there’s nothing we can’t do with a little bit of effort and cheering from our teammates!

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Abacus Math Coming to Posnack!

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Plans are underway to bring Abacus Math to Posnack in the Fall, beginning with our Kindergarten and First Grade classrooms! Students (and teachers) will be trained in the use of the Soroban, a Japanese version of the abacus which dates back to the 1600s. This proven method of mental math calculations can be taught to children as young as 4 and provides a strong math foundation with benefits extending to all academic areas. Both basic and advanced math problems can be solved with an understanding of the Abacus, including addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, as well as square root, cube root and even bank interest.

Watch this video to learn more about the Soroban, and share your thoughts. How do you feel about bringing Abacus Math into YOUR classroom?