July 24, 2014

Bike Helmet Ideas

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Kim on her bicycle


On Father’s Day morning, Kim decided to go for a bicycle ride.  As a cycling enthusiast, this decision was not out of the ordinary for her.  She tries to fit in a fifteen mile ride most days of the week and, when she has more time, she likes to ride even longer. On Father’s Day, however, Kim only rode for a mile because, as she rounded a corner very near her home, she hit a pile of sand and fell. When she fell, her head hit the cement curb and she was found lying unconscious in the road by a good samaritan who called 911. Kim’s only memory of this accident is waking up to find herself being lifted into the back of an ambulance.

Fortunately, Kim’s injuries were minimal.  She had a few scrapes and bruises and was extremely tired and weepy for about 48 hours after her fall. Now, a week and a half since the accident, we happily report that Kim’s only reminders of this accident are the faded yellow bruises on her face and a couple of light pink scars on her right hand.

In the days following the accident, Jan asked Kim if she thought she might blog about her fall and Kim’s answer was a definitive: Yes, if I can find a way to relate it to teaching. So, as you might guess, Kim has been trying to figure out how this experience relates to the classroom and has concluded that the best connection is the fact that when she fell, she was wearing a bike helmet.

You see, Kim hasn’t always been real safety conscious.  She grew up in an era when people didn’t wear seatbelts much less bicycle helmets and, having survived childhood, she was convinced that such precautions simply weren’t necessary. However, these days, New York state law requires children under the age of 14 to wear helmets when riding a bike, so when Kim’s children became old enough to peddle, she exchanged her bravado for common sense and began wearing a helmet as a role model for her children. After watching her sons take a couple of spills of their own, Kim started to wear a helmet when they weren’t even looking.  And thank goodness!  We don’t even like to think about how the tale of her Father’s Day bike accident might be different had her perspective about wearing a helmet not changed over time.

In our careers as teachers, we encounter lots of “bike helmet” ideas–you know what we’re talking about–those approaches, protocols, and practices that, while reasonable and relatively simple, we can easily imagine a life without them, which makes us a bit reluctant to embrace them. However, like Kim, we lean in and give it a go and when we do, we are pleasantly surprised by what we discover. What seemed like a moderately good idea evolves into a great idea–whether it was a certain lesson plan format, giving children time to turn-and-talk before answering, or adopting guided reading–that we cannot imagine living without and in some cases becomes so important that we feel infinitely grateful.  Our question for you is this: which approaches, protocols, and/or practices  have been your “bike helmet ideas” and how has leaning in to them influenced your teaching?

The River of Change

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On the third Wednesday in May, Jan’s six-year-old son, Victor, graduated from his third year in the Yellow Class at the local Montessori school–the equivalent of graduating kindergarten. At the mid-morning graduation ceremony, when the teacher called his name, he jumped over a long piece of blue fabric which was stretched across the ground in front of the line of graduates. The teacher explained that the fabric represented the “river of change” and that each graduate jumped over it to symbolize the child’s transition into elementary school and the way he or she was embracing the changes ahead.

Victor jumping over the river of change.

Later the same day, Jan was at the local botanical gardens with her twin eighteen-year-old boys, who would graduate from the public high school that Friday. She was trying to get a good photograph of them together (something she has been working on since they were wrestling toddlers). Seeing the stream running through the middle of the gardens, Jan told the older boys about Victor’s graduation ceremony and they all decided that the stream was the “river of change.” The remainder of the time in the garden was filled with quips, such as “Don’t drop the camera into the river of change” and “Christopher is going to fall into the river of change” and “Mom’s afraid of the river of change.”

The mood was playful in both settings, but the metaphor lingered long after the ceremony and the photo shoot. Amid graduation festivities, Jan spent the week thinking about change and how it is like a river.

It is constant.

It rises and subsides.

Resisting it will wear you out.

It is unavoidable if you want to get anywhere.

Standing at it’s banks can feel scary, but arriving at the other side can be joyful or, at least, satisfying.

That week, Jan’s fifth-grade, home-schooled son, Natie, “graduated” elementary school. The week was filled with passages. While each of Jan’s four sons crossed the river of change in that one week late in May, Jan couldn’t help but wonder if the broadest, scariest river crossing was her own.

Sons grow up. Mothers move over and let go. The river of change swells and rolls, and we arrive on the other side, even if we get a little wet.

Engagement: A Tale of Two Learners

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Jan’s eleven year old son, Natie, plays the violin. Since school is already out in Georgia, in an effort to help Natie broaden his vision of the ways music can enrich his life, Jan signed him up for a summer music camp. Camp Amped serves campers ages 11-18, clustering musicians into bands. Every day for two weeks, campers basically have band practice from 9:00-5:00. They set goals, receive tutorials from professional musicians, visit a music studio, etc. All the work, which doesn’t feel like work, is relevant, hands-on, and adapted to exactly what Natie needs.

Matthew, Kim’s thirteen-year-old son, loves science. He works extensively with Legos, thinks a lot about design, and has always demonstrated an interest in how things work.  He subscribes to Vsauce and ASAP Science on YouTube and regularly watches many of the videos they post. In science class this year, Matthew has listened to long, daily lectures about physics, astronomy, geology, and ecology, and filled out numerous worksheet packets that look like this:

Science Packet

Natie comes home from camp every day positively bursting with excitement. On the afternoon of the first day, Jan asked him what he was going to do the next day at camp. He said, “More awesome stuff.” He is more excited about this camp than he has ever been about Christmas or his birthday, and this is every day for two weeks. Consequently, Natie is more and more excited about music, practices without being asked, and is beginning to really think of himself as a musician. The days at camp are hard work; there is little “play,” but Natie has more and more enthusiasm and energy for his violin.

In contrast, now that standardized testing is over, and there is more flexibility with instructional time, Matthew spent three days last week watching The Lion King. In response to Kim’s protests, the teacher explained that they were studying ecology and watching the movie through that lens. Matthew’s homework (below) is a worksheet of words that he learned in second grade. In fact, almost all of the work in Matthew’s science class, which feels boring and laborious to Matthew, is in the form of lectures and worksheets; experiments are rare. Science class, which could easily be fun and engaging, is not. Consequently, Matthew dreads science class. He has less and less enthusiasm and energy for science.

Lion King HW

Learning can and should be inspiring and fun, and it should give kids energy. How we teach matters, all the way up until the last day of school.

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