Monday, November 24, 2014

Getting to a Deeper Level of Learning

Creating rich learning experiences that move young minds beyond factual memory - experiences that require them to dig deep for understanding - is a goal here at Parker.  On a walk through classrooms on Friday here are a few of the activities I saw that engendered deeper thinking:

4-5 students had divided into to teams to write several bills for the state legislature. They were deciding which bills were worthy of taking all the way through the legislative process in a mock session.  Bills and laws sponsored by Parker assembly members and senators that were deemed worthy: Recess Law, Medication Bill and Apple Pie Bill (new state dessert).

6th graders were launching toy cars around the room, making them crash.  They were testing Newton's laws of force and motion by sending one car faster than the one it hit, or at the same speed, and investigating and interpreting the results.  Next up: teams began brainstorming and drawing designs for Rube-Goldberg contraptions that would demonstrate five types of energy transfer.

Pre K students were baking pumpkin bread. "Cooking calls for identifying, sorting, ordering, measuring, counting, timing and observing, while at the same time providing exercise of small motor skills," teacher JoAnn Bennett says.  To find out about more the learning that happens while cooking together, scroll down in JoAnn's Pre K blog to the Looking Deeper section. 

Katarina Schwatrz in her article Beyond Knowing Facts: How Do We Create Rich Learning Experiences for All Students describes the competencies that define deeper learning:  mastering content, critical thinking, effective written and oral communication, collaboration, learning how to learn, and developing academic mindsets.

Deeper learning is a crucial component for developing curiosity, passion and confidence.  Plus, it's just so fun!

Friday, November 7, 2014

The curious brain

"Curiosity really is one of the very intense and very basic impulses in humans. We should base education on this behavior."  Mananvi Singh, NPR

The questioning brain - wondering, asking, seeking - is the brain that remembers things.   When curiosity is piqued, the brain's pleasure centers light up and memory is heightened.  What's Going on Inside the Brain of a Curious Child, an article in MindShift, is an interesting read that has implications inside and outside of classroom.  It appears that sparking curiosity in children actually gives their brains a shot of dopamine.  All the more reason to make school a place that invokes questioning and engages children's curiosity. No wonder Parker kids love to come to school every day! 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Getting kids to sit still

I love the things that neuroscience re-teaches us.  In this great article called The right- and surprisingly wrong - ways to get children to sit still in class we learn that the ways at Parker that we get children to "sit still" are supported by science.

We have lots of recess every day.  It's outside, unless it's raining.  Kids roll down hills, explore in the woods, and are determined to master the monkey bars.  (As it turns out, running around, rolling down hills, and hanging upside down are essential activities for stimulating the inner ear - leading to development of balance.)

There's Muddy Boots Club, too, and sled-riding in winter.  We have 2,000 Steps for middle school - a time in the morning for walking and talking - recess, and an outdoor "brain break" every afternoon.

Founder of TimberNook, a nature-based development program, Angela Hanscom says, "All (that's) needed is time and practice to play with peers in the woods – in order to foster emotional, physical, and social development."

It is interesting that the things that children do naturally - rolling down hills, building giant block structures, or lying upside down on the furniture - are almost absent in traditional school settings.  By giving children time to do what they love, they can much better do what we adults need them to do (for at least a little part of the day) - sit still.