Posts Tagged ‘Understanding Students’

Much of what we think we know about the brain is…wrong

December 3, 2012

BrainRules-Paperback_NYT-redband.inddWarning! The following information may be hazardous to your professional health. Read with care.

“Cutting off physical exercise—the very activity most likely to promote cognitive performance—to do better on a test score is like trying to gain weight by starving yourself.” (p. 25)

“Businesses and schools praise multitasking, but research clearly shows that it reduces productivity and increases mistakes.” (p.93)

“If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you would probably design something like a classroom.” (p. 5)

These are three of many favorite quotes from John Medina’s fascinating book, Brain Rules — 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Much more than just another education tome or flavor-of-the-month theory, Medina’s work is solidly research based. His 12 rules focus on what we know about how the brain works—exercise, survival, attention, short and long-term memory, stress, sleep, and several other key topics. In every instance, Medina presents the science behind the concept and then offers ideas for investigating how the rule might apply to school and work.

His examples are excellent and compelling—taking advantage of exercise to stimulate learning, more walking and movement throughout the day; eliminating stressful environments so children can learn more productively, and; remembering that we (all of us) do not pay attention to boring things. Yes, these do sound like common sense, but you will be surprised about the compelling school and work connections.

A molecular biologist at the University of Washington School of Medicine and the director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University, Medina was a keynote speaker at a recent conference I attended. I don’t know many molecular biologists, but he certainly has to be one of the funniest ones around!

While I love the book, you may want to watch the videos first, because as Medina says, “vision trumps all others senses.” The videos are short, focused, funny, and very, very thoughtful. I recommend them. In fact, I suggest you substitute them for reruns of Big Bang Theory or Friends and watch these videos with your family.

You will be glad you did.


Middle Grades Students Continue to Amaze Me

December 1, 2012

A couple weeks ago, we hosted our second annual international conference on iPads in the Primary Grades. Like last year, we had a core of student reporters from Auburn Middle School tweeting each of the sessions.

We were a little taken aback when one of our keynoters, Jennie Magiera, Digital Learning Coordinator for the Academy for Urban School Leadership in Chicago, came to us quite upset that we hadn't leveraged one of our best resources.

It took us a minute to realize she was talking about our Middle School students. “Have you talked to them?!” she asked with passion! She had just spent an extended period of time talking with them, asking about their tweeting, what they thought about the conference, and what they were learning.

We knew they were doing a great job tweeting from the sessions (we were watching the twitter stream), but we hadn't had the kind of conversation with the students that Jennie had. “They have amazing views on their learning, on what it means to be asked to report on the conference, on primary students using iPads, and on Customized Learning!” she chastised. “Why aren't they doing a keynote?!”

Jennie is high energy (in a good way!) and it's hard to say no when someone makes so much sense. So we made a half hour during one of our keynotes for 3 of the students to be in a panel facilitated by Jennie.

And we were blown away by what they said!

In addition to the keynote, Jennie asked each of the students to blog about their experience tweeting the conference, and even had them do a Google Hangout with some of her teachers back in Chicago. You can read those posts and see the screencast of the Hangout here.

It is way too easy to forget that middle grades students have (useful) opinions about their learning and the world around them, if we are only smart enough to ask them! Thanks to Jennie for reminding us.


If you're interested…


Let’s Put the “Middle” Back in Middle Level

April 11, 2012

There are a lot of discussions of what should happen in school for 10 to 14 year olds. It’s driven by a lot of factors: implementing the Common Core, increasing graduation rates, getting ready for high school, work readiness, making kids more compliant, a global economy, 21st Century Skills, Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind, the demands to know and be able to use technology… And on. And on.

I’ve even seen middle level organizations get distracted by these issues, starting to be led away from their focus…

It’s not that I don’t think these goals for education are important. They are. I’m just reminded of the saying, “keep the main thing the main thing.” I don’t see these issues as the main thing, even though I think of them as goals or issues that could support the main thing.

Middle level shouldn’t be about test taking, or getting kids to put aside their cell phones or Facebook pages, or high school readiness, or work readiness. It’s not even about “hormones with feet” (although, ironically, it does seem to apply to a couple teachers I know!). 😉

First and foremost, middle level needs to be about young adolescents: what are their characteristics and what practices are harmonious with those characteristics.

That is the “Middle” in middle level.

And the more we get away from that being our center (no pun intended), the harder it is to teach middle level students. That includes (and is perhaps especially true for) that list of important (but supporting) goals for middle level education I mentioned in the first paragraph.

You see, the irony is exactly that our believing in the importance of those goals, which has taken us away from the middle, has made it harder to achieve those goals. We can only achieve those goals with young adolescents when we put the Middle first.

So, how can we put the Middle back in middle level education?

I was part of a team that created two wonderful tools for AMLE for just that purpose. They are shared on AMLE’s website for you to use with your school and community.

Fundamental for Student Success In The Middle Grades is a self running presentation overview of the characteristics of young adolescents, an overview of national recommendations for this age group, and an introduction to some of the research on what works.

Middle Grades Education: Fundamentals and Research is a collection of 9 presentations with presenter notes on topics vital to understanding what works with 10-14 year olds.

Use these tools with your colleagues, your teaching staff, your parents, your communities, and your young people wanting to become teachers to remind us all what the main thing is in middle level education.

Let’s put the Middle back into middle level, so we can achieve all our goals.

The Importance of Unfamiliar Territory

January 8, 2012

I recently had the chance to feel, again, what students must feel.
A very kind teacher I work with is also a self proclaimed ludite.  Even though I have occationally caught him checking his email, Paul claims that I shouldn’t ever really expect him to use technology, let alone in his teaching.
Recently, he wandered into my room claiming embarrassment at having to ask for help.  He showed me his cell phone (the old fashioned “just makes calls” type) and told me that he only had a cell phone so that if he ever fell off the face of the earth, he could call for help (if there were cell reception!).  But now he had gotten a call, and possibily a message, from a number he didn’t recognize, but might be related to his reffing basketball, and could I help him see if there were a message and help him play it back.
Of course I would help!  But I was immediately aware that I haven’t used anything other than a smart phone for the last 6 or 8 years, and it wasn’t trivial figuring out which button to press to get to this feature or that.  So I fell back on the tried and true: trial and error.  
We spent a lot of time figuring out what didn’t work.  And at one point, I completely lost the new number, which had been on the screen, and in a panic thought that maybe I had made things worse for Paul, not better!  Eventually, I figured out that the phone could flip up and reveal a keyboard, larger screen and a couple more buttons, and we now had more options to try…
After a few minutes, I did find the way to access the Menu, and from there, discovered the way to get to messages (and that there were none).  Using the Menu, we could now also access the call log and find the number we were looking for, although we couldn’t figure out how to call the number from the log.  We fell back on even older technology and wrote the number down!
Paul and I had a good laugh and he thanked me and he headed off to find out who had called him.
Now this might be a story about how badly designed the old cell phone user interfaces are…
But for me, it was a story about unfamiliar territory…
A lot of people think of me as a technology expert.  That’s why Paul came to see me.  But it had been so long since I had used an old style cell phone that I really had little idea of how to help.  As Paul left the room, I was amazed at all the things that I had felt over the previous few minutes: cluelessness, embarrasment (it was technology; I should know how to do it!), frustration, panic, fear of failure, and then relief that I had finally figured something out that was close to a “right answer.”
And it made me wonder, how often had my own students (whether they were middle school students, high school students, college students, or teachers in workshops) had felt all those things because they too had been overwhelmed by being in unfamiliar territory.
And I realized that through my own comfort with my “familiar territory” (as I’m guessing most teachers feel about what they have taught for years) I had forgotten what my students must feel.  I had become less empathetic.
And I was suddenly greatful that Paul had taken me out of my comfort zone and reminded me what it felt like to be in unfamiliar territory, so that I could be more empathetic to how my students must be feeling.  
Maybe teachers should be required every once in a while to step way outside their comfort zone so they too can remember how their students must feel…
It’s Your Turn:
What experiences have helped you remember how your students must feel?

%d bloggers like this: