What is a parent to do?

Imagine you are a 5-year-old, entering formal education [kindergarten] for the first time. You have heard 30 million MORE words than your classmate sitting right next to you. How does that increased exposure impact you? How does the lack of exposure impact your classmate?

According to many recent articles, it plays quite a significant role in a child’s future progress in social and emotional skills, along with literacy in all its varied forms. So where do parents fit into this equation? It all depends on the home learning environment. And for too many children in this country, there isn’t an overly positive one, for any number of reasons.

What supports are in place to help parents foster a more positive home learning environment? There are community-based workshops, which may or may not be effective. There are web sites, brochures, and in-home visits, also with minimal impact or real sustainability in producing change. However, change of this type is not uncommon in adults, and other job training programs often show similar results and share similar concerns.

Do parents intentionally shy away from learning how to better impact their children’s lives or improve the home environment? Doubtful. So what is the problem? It may be lack of attention to a particular area, but also a matter of choice, or too many choices. It all seems to boil down to creating a way for parents to navigate the wealth of information to make the best decisions possible.

Educators, beware. Parents aren’t secretly keeping their best kids at home. What can we do to help bridge the gap, and work WITH parents, for the overall benefit of their children?

For more specific information and references to the research, visit the original article – Helping parents help their children

Making It Meaningful.

Project-based learning may seem like just another education buzzword. Every single thing we do in life may appear as a project. Publications, communication plans, and more, boil down to projects. Even things we do in our homes. Part of this process is breaking things down into chunks and working through them along some timeline.

What about in school? Where do we learn these skills? Students appear to be working on a lot of projects, displays, etc., but what really prepares us to complete projects in the real world? These are skills that today seem only applicable in the workforce. What happens in schools tends to be more time filler and not always something relevant or even intentional to a real-world problem. What if students of all ages were allowed the opportunity explore and discover? Remember, not all learning or discovery is earth-shattering innovation. It may just be an individual experiencing something for the first time.

Students at Raisbeck Aviation High School provide just one example of how students are being engaged in authentic and meaningful explorations. Students in this scenario are learning about the math and physics behind airfoil designs. Throughout the year, they explore, design, and test airfoil designs, documenting evidence for why one design is superior to another, followed by a recommendation for what they feel is the best design to meet the pre-determined specifications. They may not necessarily be creating the next generation of airfoils for the airline industry, but they are putting their skills and knowledge to the ultimate test.

In a real work environment, this is exactly how it works. There isn’t always going to be someone standing next to you explaining the next move and why. Individuals and groups must document their processes for exploring a particular problem and be able to explain what worked and what didn’t along the way.

What are some shifts you make in your classroom to provide a more authentic learning environment for your students? What ways do you turn those ‘projects’ into meaningful explorations?

Interested in hearing more about project-based learning from students in the aviation program? Read the original post from Getting Smart and listen to the podcast.

Original Post – Project-based Learning Connects Real World with Deep Impact

5 Ways Educators Can Use Ferguson as a Teachable Moment

Earlier this summer I shared a piece called “Critical Thinking & Civil Argument” on the Lumen Touch blog (you can read it here). In that post I discussed the importance of personal reflection in the face of trying social times and challenged educators to consider how they would be discussing difficult social, ethical and political issues with their students as school resumed. However, I kept things pretty general that time. For one thing, it was the middle of summer; I figured my readers had plenty of time to brainstorm their own executions on my suggestions. Plus, my reflections were sparked by controversy over a celebrity. Today is different. Everything about today feels more urgent.

Although the relentless optimist in me hoped that the anniversary of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson would not bring about renewed violence, the realist in me knew it was likely a forlorn hope; and this week has proved it to be so. Yet, in the face of fresh tragedy (for stolen life – no matter race or reason is indeed a tragedy), there is much opportunity for educators to use these events in extremely meaningful ways. Allow me to suggest a few:

Credit: Angela Hutti - fox2now.com

  • Discussion of the First Amendment: Freedom of speech; freedom of the press; freedom to assemble peaceably. Are these rights being upheld for demonstrators in Ferguson? A what point do their actions exceed these freedoms and become criminal acts? Is there such a boundary? What does the law say? What do students’ individual gut morals say?
  • Discussion of the Second Amendment: How much does this right protect justice or impede it in the current circumstance? How much does this right protect civilians or limit their protection? What does the law really intend for this amendment to accomplish? Is it being executed properly today?
  • The role of social media and other technology in (this and other) conflicts: In what ways do these influences help or hurt the cause of the protestors? Should bystanders be allowed to video happenings and post them? Why or why not? How does this discussion relate to freedom of speech? What dangers can the magic of video editing cause in presenting facts and shaping viewer bias?
  • Research and analysis of previous civil rights struggles: U.S. history is packed with comparative examples. Which ones are considered positive or successful in improving race relations? Which ones can be considered hindrances? What factors cause students to label them as one or the other? How do these examples compare and contract with factors of today’s racial struggles? What can be learned by these comparisons?
  • Statistics, analysis and FACT CHECKING: There are endless numbers to analyze and discuss when it comes to crises like the one in Ferguson. Think: factors that affect violent crime rates or gun-related crimes. Think: How those rates have risen or decreased in different geographic locations, age, race or gender demographics. Think: How poverty rates and levels of education influence those crime-related numbers. And importantly: where are those numbers and studies coming from? Have students look into the organizations funding the research. Are they special interest groups? What impact might those interests have on the information they present?

Bear a number of things in mind if you intend to conduct any or all of these conversations.

First, if you have not already done so (and be HONEST with yourself about this!), spend time in your own personal reflection. There will be questions and statements from students that will require guided, thoughtful responses from you so you must be mentally prepared. That is not to say that you are the final arbiter of the conversation or of student opinions; rather, you are to be the model for critical reflection.

Negotiate ground rules for civil discussion. When is a student allowed to speak? (When they raise their hand? When they’re holding the talking stick?) They must be able to share a reason to back the opinions they share. Articulate the reasons for and importance of these difficult discussions. Discuss conversational deal breakers (shouting, inappropriate language or racial slurs, disrespectful responses to peers’ contributions).

Find a way to end on a positive note. Have students share ways that their findings can be used for good – whether on a personal level, a classroom or school level, or beyond.

Finally, don’t be afraid to tackle these tough topics with your kiddos. You and I both know educations is not for the faint of heart. You’ve got this!