Posted by P.I.E. | March 25, 2013
At PIE, where we are proudly Partners for Innovation in Education, we champion all manner of thought leadership in “whatever works” to get our children to learn in the best, newest, most exciting ways for the future – and rightly so! Who can be against being innovative in education, indeed?
But there can be little use in even trying to innovate when we keep battling a bevy of old enemies. There are the traditional old baddies, and they’re serious: Poverty. Crime. Drug abuse. Countless more. But just as challenging are the more subtle, insidious – and basic – that we too often overlook.
In my extensive experience in tutoring, I have come to realize the most successful students are the products of a sturdy three-legged stool:
1. Positive, engaged parents.
2. Top-quality teachers and schools who care about the student and won’t settle for mediocrity, ever.
3. A hard-working, healthy, well-adjusted student who has her priorities straight herself.
Most of all, these three players – parents, student, and teacher/school – work together, and hard, at all times to make sure the student really does learn.
And all must understand that “learning” does not mean rote memorization and regurgitation – which, sadly, is what most people probably actually do in most schools today, a la the way we “learn” our Pledge of Allegiance. We should truly know what we are taught, and what it means, not just become able to recite it for next week’s test, or mumble it at public events.
Robert A. Heinlein invented a wonderful four-letter word – grok – in his classic science fiction novel “Stranger in a Strange Land.” It means to truly know totally and thoroughly – to understand profoundly and intuitively. Or as Heinlein himself put it: “
to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed.”
Our ideal in learning any subject should be to not just gloss over it, nor to sorta-kinda “get it,” nor to more or less understand it, but to grok it. If you grok it, then you’ll truly be able to apply your TOTAL knowledge of that concept to … the Next Thing You’ll Be Learning. And that’s … um, the whole idea of education – which is exactly why our education system usually doesn’t work very well for most people.
Let’s be honest: Because most students don’t have that sturdy three-legged stool in place, they don’t really learn the way they’re supposed to. They gloss. They don’t grok. Sometimes they don’t even go to school. Or they go, but stoned. Or they get home as soon as they can, so they can spend hours playing video games and shopping. Daily. All year. With dozens of their friends. So do their parents.
So yes, let us do innovate, by all means. But more than anything, we must make these basic, essential, elementary fixes. And most of all, we must lead by example.
Grok and roll.
Posted by P.I.E. | March 14, 2013
Last spring, two very exciting things happened for the “brainy” kids at Kilgour Elementary School. First, the school’s Brain Bowl team won the city’s championship, in a thrilling, upset victory.
Then, PIE announced that first- through sixth-graders had developed “Lemon Smash,” an Android financial literacy app. Northern Kentucky University’s Informatics students wrote the coding for the app, which is for sale as a revenue generator on Google. (Play or buy it here:
This year, it’s getting even better.
PIE is again spearheading a student-focused app project centered at Kilgour, but available for all students in Cincinnati Public Schools: an app incubator program. The idea is to encourage anyone to write an app for something – and potentially make money from it.
We’re still a long way from proper props and parity for the respect that the brainy students in our schools deserve, compared with the reverence our culture has long reserved for athletes. But in recent years, we’ve made great strides.
Sports, to be sure, merit high respect in countless regards for all they offer: the incredible achievements made before our very eyes (and behind the scenes) by the amazing and talented athletes of so many types who compete for our schools and communities.
But now, in greater numbers and with as many thrills and as much pride, we are hearing cheers for chess champions, as well as winners of spelling bees, geography bees, and mathematics competitions. Engineering students have long challenged one another to see which teams can accomplish absurd feats with outrageous, Rube Goldberg-like contraptions – and now these contests are getting more attention on national television.
We can all see and applaud why this trend is important: Intellect matters – and it cannot be publicly championed enough. For years now, it has been universally acknowledged that if American education is to improve, and indeed thrive, it must excel in the STEM subjects: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
And we must have the fortitude to acknowledge that those are the hardest intellectual subjects to master. They take the most time, the most focus, the most grit, the most determination. Except for math, they also tend to cost the most money.
But they must be conquered – and not just by a handful of our very brightest young people – if America is to be dominant in the most crucial services and industries of today and the future: defense, aerospace, computer science, all types of engineering, and so many more. Our students must be graduating, and in large numbers, “career-ready” in these areas.
Thanks to PIE’s efforts to promote STEM-based programs that produce real results such as Lemon Smash – along with the ever-louder cheers for Brain Bowl, engineering and computer heroes, and so many more – we’re getting there.
Just don’t call it revenge of the nerds. It’s simply respect for intellect.
(Full disclosure: Two members of the victorious Kilgour Brain Bowl team were children of PIE Founder and Chief Executive Mary Welsh Schlueter.)
Posted by P.I.E. | February 26, 2013
The concept of the IEP – or Individualized Education Plan – is probably familiar to most in America now. Kids who need specialty help with their studies can often get it, whether because of disabilities or owing to being behind in their learning, if their parents, doctors or caring educators see to it.
Unfortunately, an IEP is often onerous: It can be an administrative hassle for the educators, parents, and students. Some see the plans as special advantages, which they’re not supposed to be at all. And they can cost a lot — despite the benefits.
But shouldn’t all students’ educations be as individually tailored as possible to begin with? Clearly, we can’t hope to have one-to-one teacher ratios. Nor would it be within our wildest dreams to be able to afford individual study programs according to each child’s specific interests, as many college students do.
But learning should be much more than just what takes place in the classroom, and in the school.
Yes, we say and hear that so much that it’s become trite – but too few of us apply it with enough truly individual energy and sincerity. The best parents, of course, are wonderful teachers from the first days of their children’s lives – and woe to those who send their kids off to kindergarten without already knowing their letters, numbers, colors, and so much more (and not just from television and video games, either)!
Obviously, we must make an imperative out of teaching our children how to learn on their own as well – at every opportunity. They should love being curious, and to wonder, and to marvel at virtually everything, as appropriate, both on their own and with others. Asking good questions (and “dumb” ones, too) should be encouraged, not frowned upon; trying new and goofy experiences would seem to be no-duh stuff for all youngsters.
Or, at least one would think. Yet, it’s amazing how often otherwise rational parents seemingly constantly try to restrain kids from exploring their worlds in reasonably safe, yet exciting, creative, and yes, educational ways. Taking the stairs up the highest city building might seem nuts to a worn-out 35-year-old mom, but your 11- and 9-year-olds just might be able to do it – and run back down again – and thank you their whole lives for it.
Some of the most privileged ancient Greek youths had personal tutors in the persons of men who instructed them in not only academe but in all manner of life in general. Some of these grew into among the wisest and most learned scholars of their day. We can’t possibly hope to have that sort of intensive “individual educational plan” today – but it’s yet another thing to recall as we try to re-invent all aspects of excellence in education.
As Former First Lady Hillary Clinton noted, our schools, parents, teachers and communities form “a village” surrounding our children. The responsibility lies within this network to “teach our children well.”
Posted by P.I.E. | May 3, 2012
I love words. I love reading the dictionary for fun, and discovering and sharing new words. Reading and writing are two of my favorite things. Curiosity, just to be curious, is another.
And I love how kids are so much smarter and better than most adults usually give them credit for. A lot of kids even assume they’re dumb, or that they misbehave a lot, I guess because that’s just what they get told. And I disagree.
I have been volunteering in a classroom of fourth-graders this year. I have a feeling they’re going to change my life. Each of them, in their own way, has continued to amaze me.
I’ve been taping up a “word of the day” most days, just to amuse them, and because I know they can learn more exotic and fancy words than they usually get in their textbooks. So I have shared with them words like penultimate, defenestrate, aa, piffle, and tintinnabulation.
Recently, one of the students asked me, “What are the most difficult words?” Some might find that a silly question, but I thought it was great! It was great because it made me think – for the whole weekend…
I decided there are several kinds of difficult words. One would be the most difficult words to say to another person, such as “I’m sorry” – especially when you really, really don’t want to say it! Who hasn’t had to go through that one?! On the other side, “I forgive you” is often just as difficult.
And then there are the classic, incredibly difficult-to-define words, such as love. Millions think they know what it is, but go ahead: Try to say what is! Look it up in even the best dictionaries, and most never seem to quite get it. (One classic agreed-upon definition is that love falls into general types, including brotherly, romantic, and agape. But many philosophers and poets say that even that approach falls short.) And there’s always that first, awkward, amazingly magical moment when we just have to say “I love you” to a very, very special person, for just the right reasons. Talk about difficult!
Words we use to deliberately hurt one another definitely fall into the category of the “most difficult.” Fortunately, I hope that most people learn early to brush these off as being only the insults they are, although that takes enormous strength that I can often not imagine.
There are very, VERY tricky words that you don’t want to go around saying out loud in mixed company, even as a joke. There are many of these kinds of difficult words, and I guarantee you they WILL get you in trouble. I’m sharing only one example, on condition that it not be spread around: It’s haboob. It’s Arabic, and it means giant sandstorm.
And then there’s the special case of showing the enormous courage it takes to Tell – to turn in someone for doing something that could get them in serious trouble. From when we’re tiny, we’re taught not to “tattle.” But what happens when you see something that’s a serious crime? What if it could put the person in jail? And what if it’s a friend, a neighbor, even a relative? If you Tell – whether your identity is kept secret or not – you could be saving lives, or keeping more people from being harmed, by showing enormous courage.
Some of my very favorite examples of difficult words are when bystanders stand up to help people who are being picked on by troublemakers or bullies. If someone is being made fun of for having a cleft palate, for example, and therefore talking funny, a bystander could be an instant hero by stepping in and saying, “Excuse me, but he can’t help talking that way because he has a disability. What’s your excuse?” Do it loudly, in a crowd, and refuse to back down until the bully answers. It can be difficult, but try it: With a few friends by your side, be a hero bystander.
But I know the words this very thoughtful young man was really referring to: the amazingly huge, often hilarious, truly real English words that are generally never actually used, but just laughed at.
Here are just a small handful that I know about (and no, don’t ask me to pronounce them – or spell them! – I just happen to know about them from my readings over the years):
Sesquipedalian: I might actually put this one up in the classroom. It means “lots of syllables,” and literally means “a foot and a half long.”
Antidisestablishmentarianism: a philosophy opposed to separation of church and state
Floccinaucinihilipilification: the estimation of something as valueless (hey, Shakespeare made it up, so it’s officially a word). And, almost 500 years later, a U.S. senator used it on the floor of the Senate.
Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia: the irrational fear of long words (yes, really!)
Aaaannd the killer (literally!) – currently the longest word in the English language – even though it’s a chemical name … for the tobacco mosaic virus:
Acetylseryltyrosylserylisoleucylthreonylserylprolylserylglutaminylphenylalanyl- valylphenylalanylleucylserylserylvalyltryptophylalanylaspartylprolylisoleucyl- glutamylleucylleucylasparaginylvalylcysteinylthreonylserylserylleucylglycyl-asparaginylglutaminylphenylalanylglutaminylthreonylglutaminylglutaminylalanyl- arginylthreonylthreonylglutaminylvalylglutaminylglutaminylphenylalanylseryl- glutaminylvalyltryptophyllysylprolylphenylalanylprolylglutaminylserylthreonyl- valylarginylphenylalanylprolylglycylaspartylvalyltyrosyllysylvalyltyrosylarginyl- tyrosylasparaginylalanylvalylleucylaspartylprolylleucylisoleucylthreonylalanyl- leucylleucylglycylthreonylphenylalanylaspartylthreonylarginylasparaginylarginyl- isoleucylisoleucylglutamylvalylglutamylasparaginylglutaminylglutaminylseryl- prolylthreonylthreonylalanylglutamylthreonylleucylaspartylalanylthreonylarginyl- arginylvalylaspartylaspartylalanylthreonylvalylalanylisoleucylarginylserylalanyl- asparaginylisoleucylasparaginylleucylvalylasparaginylglutamylleucylvalylarginyl- glycylthreonylglycylleucyltyrosylasparaginylglutaminylasparaginylthreonylphenyl- alanylglutamylserylmethionylserylglycylleucylvalyltryptophylthreonylserylalanyl- prolylalanylserine
(And by the way, spell check does NOT like that one.)
About the Author:
Bruce Holtgren is a former Cincinnati Enquirer editor who now volunteers with the Cincinnati Reads program as a tutor and in other capacities. He has worked with children with special needs for many years, and now hopes to pursue a M.Ed. and become a teacher. He lives in Cincinnati with his wife of 15 years.
Posted by P.I.E. | February 15, 2011
Roller coasters are exhilarating examples of algebra. Yes, it’s true. As a teacher of math, I wanted to engage my middle school students in a discussion of slope, utilizing the best, real-world teaching tool to enhance their learning experience. Roller coasters, comprised of multi-slope turns, altitude shifts, perceived force, and gravity changes are universal. The breathtaking, thrill-inducing, depth defying amusement park ride easily doubles as, a creative way to teach the algebraic concept of multi-directional graph lines, slope, and rate of change.
I needed to develop a solid method that was aligned to the objective but was totally hands-on. I have learned that when students are afforded the opportunity to experiment with concepts they gain a deeper understanding of why processes are mathematically possible. They remember and thus excel when assessed, not because they memorized a procedure, but because they were a part of it themselves. I decided the best way to teach slope was using something that all my students love: roller coasters.
The first day we worked with terminology and basics of slope: appearance, direction, naming etc. The second day is when the fun came for my students. They were strategically grouped by performance level and were given guidelines on how to build roller coasters using a tape measure as the track and a marble as the coaster car. Equipped with their materials and questions to answer along the way, my students were ready to embark on a real life Algebra adventure. As I watched them build various types of tracks I was amazed at how insightful the responses were. Even the lower performing students were able draw conclusions such as, the marble rolled faster because the steeper a negative slope the more gravity is acting on the marble or that roller coasters can’t be made with undefined slopes, vertical lines, because the car will fall off the track every time. It was amazing to see students so excited about Math and truly understanding why these concepts are important and how they make sense. They were thinking critically about the process. At the end of the experiment students were able to build their own designs and experiment with different slopes and levels of force to make their idea roller coaster a reality, if only on a small scale.
The next day was the second test of my method. Could my students apply what they learned from the experiment the previous day to other real-life examples such as walking up and down hills or across a straight road? It was profound to see how they were able to transfer and apply knowledge to make conclusions about other scenarios and explain the reasoning behind why the solutions they came to were mathematically logical. As with all teaching the final and true test of mastery comes from the student’s assessment on the material. My students had done so well in class that the exam scores were returned with no surprises. Overall mastery was 88%, which exceeds our class goal of 80% mastery on our Unit Assessments.
My teaching method for this particular topic was successful for two reasons: it aligned to the learning objectives, and it offered a real-life example that engaged students, using critical thinking skills. As a teacher, I can engage my students using various methods – but the most impactful are those that revolve around an experience relative to the world. It takes more time and creativity to engage these new learning opportunities. However, my credo: “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it” heightens retention of key math concepts for a lifetime and significantly impacts academic achievement. Try it sometime. Remember, even Newton used an apple to teach gravity….
About the Author:
Cincinnati, Ohio native, Alexandra Ball and 2005 graduate of Eastern Michigan University, holds a Bachelor of Arts in African American Studies with a minor in Spanish. She is a 2007 Teach For America Alumna and continues to work with the organization on a regular basis. Teach For America is the national corps of outstanding recent college graduates of all academic majors and career interests who commit two years to teach in urban and rural public schools and become leaders in the effort to expand educational opportunity. Ball, Math Department Head at Oakhurst Academy, was awarded Teacher of the Year in May 2010 and was voted by the student body as Favorite Teacher of the Year for the last three years.