Sunday, December 8, 2013

Educator Heaven; what I learned at TAGT

Chocolate and coffee may be the most common gifts I receive as a teacher, but this week I was have been privileged to receive one of those hard to come by, the world is a slightly better place, can't stick it in apple printed cellophane kind of gift; I've been given time. Time to stop and listen to experts in the field, co-warriors that are enthusiastic about becoming better learner sand educators. It helps that different choirs of teenage voices fill the corridors with Christmas carols, blinking lights adorn trees and lampposts, and the excitement of two weeks til Break are ever present, but that is beside the point. The real excitement comes from being surrounded by ideas, stories, strategies, tools and tips- I'm in educator heaven. 

Did I mention that Temple Grandin is here? I have decided she is going to make autism trendy. Today she talked as an expert in the field. The most important things I gleaned from her are the following.

Autistic kids are able to think in ways the rest of us can't. She showed pictures of how her brain might make pictures to understand something by showing multiple dimensions and possibilities. This ability to think in pictures often removes the autistic learner from being present in reality and interacting in what the rest of us would consider normal, common sense. She warned of the dangers of focusing on what someone cannot do instead of really trying to figure out what they can do. Not rocket science, but truth. Grandin is very aware that she needs to be taught these patterns to fit in with the good ol rest of us. However, she unashamedly stated her conundrum as to why the good ol rest can't think logically like she; I've found a new hero.  

For more information on Dr. Grandin's insights check out her website or watch her TED talk below. 

A breakout session entitled Igniting Curiosity in the Classroom proved to be incredibly inspiring. The speaker’s purpose was two fold. Kids need to be nurtured in the world to wonder.  And secondly kids are engaged in learning and creative thinking when they are curious about what might happen next.

They shared this video clip. It's only 4minutes; I dare you to watch it.

Father Guido speaks truth; please don't ask me about what I learned in the classrooms of North Park University. On a side note , I can easily recount many experiences outside of class that have shaped me and laid much of the framework of my adult identity. Yes, of course I want my students to master addition with regrouping, but what they really need is to be nurtured into exploring new concepts, their applications and ultimately connections to the real world. If I can create an environment where wonder fills the school day, then my students will be engaged and motivated to learn. I want to be that educator.

The second concept of incorporating wonder within the day makes sense. Don't most of us enjoy surprise and/or suspense when watching a movie?  Certainly some find these events stressful, yet it is likely that the vast majority become highly engaged when there is a vested interest in the possible future events.

The speakers challenged us to let students know that good behavior will result in a special event. She suggested - tell your students that if they pay attention during the lesson you will walk through the middle of an index card.  It's possible- check this out! 

Alright, enough sharing for today. It’s time to think about our Christmas around the World unit that’s coming up this week. Here's to a week of wonder!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

My Family's Pilgrim

Just before Thanksgiving we read the book Molly's Pilgrim by Barbara Cohen. If you haven't read this story before, I insist; you must read it! My seconds were wide-eyed as they were the innocent bystanders of Molly's difficulties fitting in. There's something amazing about a story that let's students step outside of their reality to care about a character that urges them to reflect on their own story! Did I already mention, that I love this book?

Anyway, in the story Molly learns about being a modern day pilgrim from her own Mother. Living in a border town, I knew some students were first, second or third generation immigrants themselves. What better opportunity to make some book to world connections then doing personal interviews and family research? Students took home a simple survey to complete with their parents, and returned excited to share what they had learned. Together we worked on creating presentations in Spanish, some even got to make digital versions of their pilgrim's stories as practice before the big class presentation. To hear students explain the facts about their family member's experiences, and then form inferences and opinions on their stories was mindblowing. I loved hearing the stories of their parents, grandparents and ancesestors. As we plotted their home countries on our google map, the big huge diverse world we live in became a little smaller; and we all were grateful for our family's heritages.