Friday, January 16, 2015

Teaching Children to Love the Earth


Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping 
than you can understand.
                                                    -William Butler Yeats

Faced with the realization that our Earth is in trouble ecologically and that most scientists believe we are in the middle of a sixth extinction event, the question of teaching our children to care about our planet is a very timely one. Children today are increasingly "plugged in"to say the least.  If they happen to venture outside they are usually wearing headphones and effectively tuning out the world. Conversely, unplugged children are resilient and natural leaders in the outdoors if given the opportunity.  To teach them to love the earth is simple.  Get them outdoors to experience nature and the love of the earth will come all on its own. Here are some fun ways to do just that.

1.  Plant Something
This can be as easy as a planter full of cherry tomatoes.  Start small with this one, it doesn't take a large garden to reap the benefits of getting dirty hands and watching something grow.  Plants are magical!  My own daughter is so excited to eat something that she has grown in the garden.  We planted this fairy garden of herbs a couple summers ago.  These plants still end up in all sorts of dishes in our home.


2.  Take a Hike
Not all those that wander are lost!  I am lucky that I live in the southwest in beautiful country.  A few hours from Phoenix and you find yourself in the blissful forests of Flagstaff.  Taking a hike is not only good exercise for kids but it surrounds them with earth's grandeur.  When my brother and I were young our parents told us that we could hike anywhere we wanted within site of our camp.  What freedom that was!  We got to know the outdoors on our terms.  This set the stage for our deep love for the earth and probably my geology degree!  Hiking is a must do for children.

3.  Visit a National or State Park
It is always amazing to me how many children in my classroom in Phoenix tell me they have not visited the Grand Canyon when it's a few hours up the road!  These are places that have been set aside for their spectacular scenery and earth history.  Most of my fondest memories of childhood were of time spent in a national park.  The United States boasts some of the most extraordinary natural settings in the world.  Get out there and use them!  Your kids will thank you!



4. Visit an Animal Sanctuary or Nature Center
If you are lucky enough to have one of these in your area definitely visit.  These places usually have wonderful hands on activities and exhibits.  Many teach children about threatened or endangered animals and teach kids to pay attention to animals in their environment.  We have a butterfly sanctuary near our home.  I like to visit because it is a real "zen" moment with butterflies the size of your hand fluttering around.  They have a great film on the monarch  butterfly and why it is decreasing in number as well.


5.  Get Involved in Conservation 
You undoubtedly build a future for our planet if your kids understand that animals are vulnerable because of our activities.  There are probably many groups in your area that work to conserve animals and their habitats.  In the Phoenix metropolitan area we have threatened burrowing owls.  These owls live underground in burrows usually made by a rodent of some kind.  I have also seen them in storm drains and irrigation ditches.  The are threatened by urban sprawl and anything that may cover their burrow.  Working to relocated and build new homes for these birds is something my seventh graders do as a part of our ecology unit.  They work very hard to build something that is very important to this tiny bird.  They look at their roll as stewards of the earth very differently after this project.

Finally, to understand the benefits of getting children into nature please read Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv.  It is a wonderful book that really describes the difference between today's plugged in child and children of the past and what we can do about it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Teaching Science Through Mastery Learning

Mastery learning is not a new concept.  It has been alive and well since the 1970's.  In a nutshell, it allows students to only move on when they have mastered a concept. How do you know when they are ready?  You test them. If they don't pass the test then they must go back and review until they pass.  Unfortunately, it isn't utilized enough in public education. This may be due to time constraints in the classroom, as well as, the amount of planning it requires at home.  Why would a teacher want to attempt this?

Benefits
The benefits to teaching using a mastery learning model are many.  If you let your students choose the activities they want to do, your engagement in your class will skyrocket.  This only really works if you have many activities that are exciting and varied.  Science lends itself well to this because teachers can integrate hands on projects into the unit along with written activities. In addition, students actually work harder using this model.  What?  That can't be right!  Amazingly enough, it is.  My students actually had more work to do during our mineral unit this year, but got more accomplished in a shorter amount of time.  I believe it is something to do with control.  If they believe they are in control, they work harder and are more motivated.  That leads us to a wonderful side effect of teaching in this way, higher grades!    If students have to pass a test to move on then guess what, they pass!  My students have higher grades and a deeper understanding of relatively difficult concepts when I teach expecting mastery learning.

Setup
Now comes the hard part....planning.  I would start with one unit at a time.  Maybe not all of your units will work using this type of model.  I started with my minerals unit which I am very passionate about.  I used a menu type plan which I called Menu O' Minerals.
Everything in the Appetizer category must be done.  These are mostly teacher directed activities.  In my case it was mostly notes and a reading activity using a thinking map.  The main course has different expectations.  I kept one mandatory activity in this section called mineral ID lab.  After they finished this lab they were required to complete 4 other activities and then take a test.  If they passed the test they earned a grade of a 3, which is "meeting standards" in our district. If they did not pass they did two more activities and retested. Students who had passed the test then had a choice to do two additional projects (dessert) to earn a 4, which is an exceeding score.  The difficultly lies in choosing activities that motivate and move students to a deeper understanding of the topic, and at the same time, managing a myriad of projects at once.

Conclusions
My initial thought was that students would stop when they passed the test, but miraculously this was not the case.  Most students passed the test and went on to complete the final projects.  In fact, when asked what their favorite topic in science was for the first semester, a majority of students chose minerals.  This may be the answer to the "inch deep and mile wide" teaching  that is so prevalent in most science classrooms today.  In any case, the benefits of increased motivation, higher grades, and deeper understanding far outweigh any planning obstacles.  In fact, mastery learning could be modified to fit any grade level or content area.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Valentines for Dolphins

In trying to find some way for my 7th graders to come to the aid of marine mammals, mainly the dolphins who migrate along the coast of Japan, I came across a unique way to protest.  This week of Valentine's Day will be a week of demonstrations against the inhumane treatment of dolphins culminating with protests on Valentine's Day.  It is called World Love for Dolphins Day.  One way to let your students be involved without actively protesting outside an embassy is to send dolphin valentines to the Japanese ambassador in Washington.

My students had the option of making a valentine or not.  Here are some of the ones that were sent to make it there just in time for Valentine's Day.

I think that this helped my students with being able to actively do something and speak out.  The address to send your own valentines is:

Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae
c/o The Embassy of Japan in Washington, D.C.
2520 Massachusetts Avenue N.W.
Washington, DC 20008


Saturday, January 25, 2014

What Can You Do About the Dolphin Hunt in Japan


On Monday this week I was bombarded by my students coming into class and talking about the dolphin drive in Japan.  The two questions that were asked the most were "Why?" and "How can we help?"  Seventh graders are sophisticated enough to demand good answers to these questions.

The "why?" is a very good question.  Japan wants you to believe they are some kind of tradition and therefore not something that should be changed.  The truth is these hunts were very rare until 1969.  There were only a few in the 1930's and 1940's.  The main driving force behind these hunts is money.  Some of the dolphins are sold into captivity for $150,000.00 or more.  The rest are either slaughtered for meat or returned to the sea without a great portion of their pod.  Some of the ones returned to the sea don't make it due to injuries or the loss of their mothers etc.  There has also been some talk that the killing is continuing because the dolphins themselves are seen as pests, and competition for fish.  In any case, the "why?" is very hard to understand.  These are unique social creatures who recognize their own reflection in a mirror, and have complex interactions with each other.  They may even have their own language.  It reminds me of a quote in the book Divergent by Veronica Roth, "Human reason can excuse any evil."  It appears the reasoning behind this evil is money, competition and so called tradition.

How You Can Help

There are a number of things you can do to help the dolphins in Taiji, Japan.  WAZA the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums could actually move to expel JAZA, Japan Association of Zoos the Aquariums because their members are violating their code of ethics.  Drive hunting is a true violation of this code.  To submit a letter to let WAZA know they need to clean up their act click here.

Boycott anything that showcases marine mammals and whale shows.  This includes Sea World and other aquariums and dolphinariums.  To take a pledge that you will never visit a dolphin or whale show click here.

Donate money to help the people on the frontlines in Japan here.
This helps monitor the cove and helps get translated copies of the documentary The Cove into the hands of the Japanese and other officials.  Caroline Kennedy had a copy of this.  Kind of makes you wonder how much it influenced her.

Educate anyone who will listen on the link between captivity and the slaughter in Taiji, Japan.  The Cove and Blackfish are great documentaries to tell your friends about.

Sign the petition and letter to world leaders to end the killing in Japan here.
They have reached their goal of 500,000 signatures but are asking for more before sending.

Share, share, share!  Tweet and share anything from this blog. Share this video as well.  
Tweet the hashtag #tweetfordolphins.  Get creative!  Make a video for You Tube about your views.  You could also share a video on Vine or Instagram.  Follow facebook pages like The Dolphin Project to stay current on what is going on.  

Telling my 7th graders what they can do is very empowering to them.  I would say that it is very empowering to their teachers as well.  I will do a follow up to this blog with more addresses and ideas as I find them.  Thank you for helping.


 


 



Sunday, December 1, 2013

Cyber Monday Sale!

Who needs black Friday when you have Cyber Monday?!  In this case it will be Tuesday also!  Teachers Pay Teachers is throwing their annual Cyber Monday and Tuesday Sale.  Most of the top sellers will be on sale that day. My store will be a whopping 20% off plus the discount already given at the site.  You will get up to 28% off.  Hope to see you there!


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Some Thanksgiving Lessons

Normally I am too busy to spend much time on lessons about Thanksgiving in my classroom.  This year, however, I have hour and a half classes and I am way ahead!  Our district always works the day before Thanksgiving, much to my dismay!  This year I have vowed to do a little lesson on how Thanksgiving came to be using this short film:
Then I think I will have a nice fun day by following it up with a nice free Thanksgiving Anagram worksheet that I have discovered recently.  You can find it at this wonderful Teachers Pay Teachers store here:
Thanksgiving Anagrams
This is a great anagram sheet because it's free and written for the middle grades.  Hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Class Dojo for Classroom Management

After sixteen years of teaching I have used the majority of classroom management techniques out there.  Basically most of them use a carrot and stick approach.  Students do the right thing and get the "carrot" or do the incorrect behavior and risk the "stick".  The "stick" could be anything from a negative to a detention or office referral.  More often the "carrot" is the more difficult thing to make appealing to a student. 


Enter "Class Dojo" a very interactive website and application for classroom management.  Class Dojo uses little monsters avatars for your students.  Your students can log in and change their avatar to a custom monster of their choosing.  My 7th graders liked this feature very much it was definitely a "carrot."  The program is very basic.  You choose positive and negative behaviors for your class and then reward or correct students during class.  You can project Class Dojo on a smartboard so that the class can hear and see when a positive or negative is received.  You can also have parents log in to Class Dojo to see how there child is doing or print reports which shows a pie chart of positives to negatives.

All and all, Class Dojo is a very smart techy way of managing the classroom.  I think it would would for very young children all the way up to middle school.  The website can be found here   www.classdojo.com

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